When our kids started to talk, we realized how repellant it was to us when words like ugly, stupid, dumb and hate came out of their little mouths. I am sure they can both remember us saying, “We don’t say those words, please choose a better word.”
These days we hear the word “hate” often. We live in very polarized times, and we are encouraged to hate those who are not like us, think differently from us, and make different choices than we would make. We are also quick to respond to anything that goes wrong with hatred toward the person responsible. Someone cuts off us off in traffic, they become a villain. Our order isn’t quite right and we spew awful words at the waiter. It’s as if our filter for our actions has a hole in it. Social media is certainly a driver of this trend. Unfortunately people can say whatever they want to someone online and not have the emotional consequence of seeing the hurt it causes that person.
What if, as a daily practice, we censored ourselves from even saying the word “hate” and erased it from our vocabulary? Then in turn encouraged others to do the same. What if it became a four-letter word for our kids? I know this sounds almost utopian, but it’s my belief that small changes can steamroll into bigger changes. Its like a pebble thrown into water, the small splash it makes widens into bigger and bigger rings unit it becomes a wave arriving at the shore.
Eleanor Roosevelt said, “If human beings can be trained for cruelty and greed and a belief in power which comes through hate and fear and force, certainly we can train equally well for greatness and mercy and the power of love which comes because of the strength of the good qualities to be found in the soul of every human being.”
The above photo is of Tao Porchon-Lynch when she was 97 years old. She was 101 at the time of her death this past February, taught classes into her 100s, and held the Guinness world record as the world’s oldest yoga teacher.
She loved ballroom dancing, wine and high heels, saying the high heels brought her to nature’s most elevated places like Machu Picchu. She is an inspiration even if you don’t have a yoga practice, because her zest for life never wavered.
My birthday is here and I love that it coincides with the new year, a time when new intentions are often set. “Be like Tao” might be my mantra for the next year. I have never been a numbers person and once I hit my 50’s I began to lose track of how old I actually am. You could blame it on forgetfulness, but I prefer to think that I have stopped attaching a number to my chronological age. In my opinion, numbers set limits. Why do I now have to be defined by my age?
Part of this thought transformation started a few years ago after reading “Goddesses Never Age” by Christiane Northrup, M.D. She coined the phrase “Ageless Goddess” and her book is full of ideas of how to more fully embrace wherever you are in your stage of life. She asks the question, “Who would you be if age weren’t a factor? Support your well-being through habits that nourish and delight you instead of habits rooted in old defense mechanisms or shame. Addictions, avoidance behaviors, and people pleasing are common behaviors that become habit for too many women who are afraid of or uncomfortable with the regular expression of difficult emotions. We can push feelings like grief, resentment, shame, and rage back so far into our subconscious that we have no idea what we are holding on to. And these emotions secrete inflammatory chemicals into our bloodstream day in and day out, which causes aging. For a goddess to enjoy vibrant health, she has to learn how to grieve and rage without apology and then commit to experiencing more exalted emotions and experiences. That’s how these old, stale, and destructive energies can be released. And that is how we remain ageless, which is our birthright,”says Northrup.
In yoga there is a term called Prana, which represents your life force energy. Healthy eating habits, yoga, exercise, positive thinking, pranayama (yogic breath practices), sleep and meditation all stoke the fires of Prana. This life force energy then becomes a type of shield to help you deal with whatever comes in a healthy way.. “Whatever you put in your mind materializes. Within yourself, there’s an energy, but unless you use it, it dissipates. And that’s when you get old,” says Porchon-Lynch.
So as I reflect on 2020, and look forward to 2021, I set my intentions with these ideas in mind. This past year has taught us all so much. For me, I learned what I truly need to be happy. The desire for material items has been released. I now know that my joy comes from my family, my friends and life’s simple pleasures. In the new year, I want to be fully aware and embrace each moment. I want to remain open to what comes my way and feel that I can say yes to new adventures. I plan to use my full yoga tool box to stoke the fires of Prana to help me live life to its fullest.
“I don’t believe in age,” says Portion-Lynch. “When people ask me about age, I tell them to look at all the trees around them. They’re hundreds of years old. They may look as if they’re dying at the moment, but they’re not; They’re recycling themselves. And in a couple of months, they’re going to be reborn again.”
Auspicious New Year to each of you. Thank you for the support of this blog and my zoom classes through this past year. I am truly grateful that you supported this step out of my comfort zone. It is my hope that 2021 feels lighter and happier for all of us.
"And now let us believe in
a long year that is given to us,
new, untouched, full
of things that have never been."
~Rainer Maria Rilke
My dear friend Jen sent me the perfect text the other day. “This has been the weirdest longest shortest year ever.” It’s hard to believe it’s now December, nine months since everything came to a grinding halt. In some ways it feels like just yesterday that we were trying to figure out what this virus would mean to all of us. And in other ways, it feels like years ago. Time has actually gone by just as it always has, but it has felt different this year.
Prior to the pandemic we were a society moving at breakneck speed. Our devices are made to work quickly and efficiently so that information, goods and services, and communications are all at our fingertips. That in turn helps our lives do the same. Then we were forced to slow down. For many of us that has been a difficult thing. Moving quickly can be a way of not allowing ourselves time to dig too deep into what is going on around us.
Being forced to slow down can actually be a great gift. I found a quote relating to this by Pico Iyer in Tias Little’s book “The Practice is the Path,” and I think it resonates with that idea.
“In an age of speed…nothing could be more invigorating than going slow. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention. And in an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.”
Tias’ book has a whole chapter devoted to how speed gets trapped in the body. Our bodies have become addicted to the adrenaline rush of speed. According to Tias, “Speed gets trapped in the diaphragm, fascia, gut, arteries, and nerves.” This speed trap results in exhaustion, lack of concentration, high blood pressure, restlessness and lack of awareness. Tias says: “How do we take our foot off the accelerator? It begins in the body by slowing the heart rate, reducing the sympathetic drive (responsible for the flight-or-flight response), slowing the breath, lowering blood pressure, and sleeping longer and deeper. On the mat, we learn to break out of the “habit body” that is compelled by urgency and motivated by acquisition. We must learn the art of being through ease, stillness, and silence. In yoga this is called satchitananda – the joy of just being.”
It is my hope that, as the winter Solstice approaches and the days slowly become longer, we learn from slowing down. That we notice the passing of an hour, a day, or a week. And feel satchitananda.
‘Tis the season to be thinking of gifts for those we love. And along with everything else this year, Christmas has a different vibe and we may not get to be with those we love. I have been struggling myself with the idea of meaningful gifts for those I love and ways to spark some holiday cheer. Here are a couple of ideas I came up with:
The gift of a meaningful compliment Do you recall how it feels when someone gives you a compliment that really hits home in your heart? It’s one of the best feelings there is. For many years, I struggled to really hear and take in what people were saying when they paid me a compliment. I did not have the self worth to acknowledge my gifts. Now, I take them in and really feel them. I was given one this week by a dear friend and it brought me to tears at how heartfelt it was. Sincere compliments are the best free gifts there are!
The unexpected gift Is there someone you know that is typically not on your gift list? Why not surprise them with an unexpected gift. My neighbor just recently surprised us with a beautiful cheese board in the shape of a lotus flower. She saw it, thought of me, and it made my day. It’s amazing how it great it feels to receive an unexpected gift.
The pay it forward gift I love the surprise on people’s faces when their coffee or groceries get paid for by the person ahead of them in line. I just saw this week that the longest “pay it forward” chain started on Dec. 3 at a Dairy Queen in Brainerd, MN and lasted 3 full days. The 900 vehicle chain resulted in $10,000 in sales. I sure wouldn’t want to be the person that broke that chain! While we may not be out in public as often these days, the need is real out there. And what a great way to spread some holiday cheer.
Desmond Tutu puts is beautifully in The Book of Joy. “So… our book says that it is in the giving that we receive. So I would hope that people would recognize in themselves that it is when we are closed in on ourselves that we tend to be miserable. It is when we grow in a self-forgetfulness-in a remarkable way I mean we discover that we are filled with joy. In the end generosity is the best way of becoming more, more and more joyful.”
“A human being is part of the whole, called by us ‘universe,’ a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Albert Einstein
This quote is from “Words to Live By, Short Readings of Daily Wisdom” by Eknath Easwaran. The quote feels perfect for the time we find ourselves in. After so much divisiveness in our country, it’s my hope that there can now be healing and understanding. If we can get out of the “optical delusion” of social media maybe we can start dialogues that can widen our circle of compassion.
We are living in fear filled days. Fires, riots, violence, sickness and death seem to dominate our news and our conversations. And even if we try and filter our news and conversations, fear finds other ways to manifest itself. Fear can come from the being separated from something or someone that we think we need in order to feel secure or happy. Fear can come from being threatened by others. Fear can come from ignorance or self grasping. Fear can come from a past traumatic event that leaves a lasting influence. And, of course, fear of death can also have a very powerful effect.
When we let our fear or anger based emotions take up residence, it gives those emotions more power than they deserve. In yoga, we call these impressions Samaskaras. They are often compared to grooves in the road that get driven over again and again. Over time, these imprints begin to contribute to behavior patterns that can then lead to the forming of habits. Then that fear takes hold and feeds upon itself. One way to combat this negative cycle is to acknowledge the source of the fear and ask yourself why you feel this way.
Do you have a fear of losing someone or something?
Do you have a fear based on a threat from an outside force?
Do you have a fear based on grasping or ignorance?
Do you have a fear based on a traumatic event in the past?
Do you have a fear of death?
Once you ask yourself these questions and acknowledge their presence, say to yourself “I am feeling this way because of my fear of ______ and I am not going to allow these feelings to create a Samaskara.”
Let that fearful thought move through you and don’t allow it to stick or create a rut or groove. It’s as if your mind/body is a filter and you let the worst of it pass through, not allowing it to take up residence. Then see if there is something positive or loving to focus on in its place.
In the wisdom of Buddha:
The thought manifests as the word,
The word manifests as the deed,
The deed develops into habit,
And habit hardens into character;
So watch the thought and its ways with care,
And let it spring from love.
Born out of concern for all beings..
As the shadow follows the body,
As we think, so we become.