A winter meditation

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The hustle and bustle of holiday madness! A full schedule of parties! A million things to do: send the holiday cards, trim the tree (or three!), wrap and deliver gifts, wrestle with crazy holiday traffic…

Now…stop. Shhhhh. Can you hear it? The quiet contemplation of the winter season.

The shorter days give way to darkness and candlelit quiet. The trees are bare, the ground is cold and dry. Everything is asleep, resting so that it can all reawaken and be reborn in the spring. We run ourselves ten kinds of holiday cookie-stuffed tinsel-decked ragged at exactly the time of year that nature is calling us to be still and listen.

shiva linga mudraShiva linga mudra is a wonderful practice for this time of year. Bringing breath and awareness to this very potent hand mudra can calm your nervous system and gently encourage healing by opening channels for the flow of prana (energy).

Shiva is the god of destruction. The destructive power of Shiva is needed to help make space for new beginnings, just as the cold barrenness of winter is needed to give the seeds and roots buried deep underneath the earth the chance to rest well and begin their journey toward new growth in the spring. Or, if you prefer the language of Advent: now, we wait.

To harness this healing power, simply hold the left hand at the abdomen, fingers together, forming a cupped shape upward. With the right hand, make a fist and place it into the cupped left hand, thumb pointing upwards. Close your eyes and meditate, imagining that your left hand contains all that needs healing, and the right hand is destroying it, grinding it into dirt to make room for vibrant, healthy new growth.

I like to practice alternate nostril (nadi shodhana) breathing after this meditation, just to continue to balance the breath. It’s very calming, perfect for the quiet, dark energy of winter.

I wish all of you a very happy holiday season, full of fun and light and magic! But I hope you’ll also make room for a different kind of magic: the dark, cold, quiet of winter, a very beautiful and necessary part of the cycle of all life.

 

Change is (always) coming

trust in the unknown

I’m a casual student of astrology. A rank amateur. A weekend warrior. I don’t claim to be able to look at your chart and tell you what lies ahead for you, or what you should be focusing on. I’m gonna leave that to the pros.

But in the past year and a half or so, I have come to understand that the phases of the moon, and the astrological signs through which they move, are really helpful in contextualizing the constancy of change. And they provide me with a means to work with that energy instead of allowing me to view myself as a victim of circumstance (or lunar caprice).

Most of us spend a lot of time and energy seeking stability. We want to get to a point where things are running along comfortably and on schedule. We want to be able to relax, exhale, and enjoy our lives as they are. Smooth sailing. Cruise control.

But we know life doesn’t really work like that. As the old saying goes, the only constant is change. The past three years of my life have brought so much seismic change that I am unrecognizable from the person I was before.

And the phases of the moon remind us: that’s exactly as it should be.

The changes in our lives aren’t always dramatic, but they are always transformational. Sometimes it’s the process itself of weathering change that transforms us. Because change, my loves, is coming. It’s always coming, no matter how thorough and well-conceived and executed your plans. And for added fun, just having gone through a life disruption doesn’t exempt you from experiencing another one. And another one. Shaking your fists at the heavens or kicking the dog* or snapping at your family isn’t going to change the nature of change. Change just is.

So the spiritual practice here is to cultivate the inner stability you need to weather any storm. Yoga and meditation are useful tools in teaching us to detach from our knee-jerk emotional reactions and observe them more objectively. What is triggered for us when we are confronted with change? Where do our attachments lie: A sense of certainty? Security? A desired result? A sense of identity?

Get curious. Inquire further. Go deeper still. Once we identify our attachments, we can examine from where that programming originates. Are we holding on to limiting beliefs or unresolved traumas that need to be released or healed?

New moons, I have learned, are great times to set an intention. So for this new moon in Taurus, set an intention to release attachment to the status quo, and to be curious and gentle about change. Because change is coming. And even when the change is really hard, it usually brings needed transformation and opportunities for growth and healing.

Happy New Moon in Taurus, friends! May the changes in your life bring you ever closer to the person you were always meant to be.

 

 

*I better not ever catch you kicking a dog.

**The above graphic contains a quote I saw somewhere that really resonated with me, and I wanted to share it with you. I don’t have an attribution for it. But I’m never going to knowingly use someone else’s intellectual property or emotional labor without attribution, so if you know whose original brilliance this is, please do let me know. And in the meantime, I’m grateful for it and hope it serves you. Thanks!

 

A quick little anxiety-buster

I had a conversation with a dear friend over lunch today. She and I remarked that anxiety seems to be rampant these days. When I was in graduate school, depression was referred to in all the textbooks and by experts as the “common cold of mental illness.” But I honestly think anxiety has surpassed that.

And it’s no wonder. In a volatile and arguably traumatic sociopolitical environment, where we are constantly bombarded with information and images that tell us who we’re supposed to be and what we’re supposed to value, it’s little wonder that we’re all triggered to shit. According to one recent study, up to 33.7% of the population are affected by anxiety disorder during their lifetime.

Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, fear-based stress and anxiety can be debilitating. Job worries, financial strain, relationship struggles, and unresolved trauma can all play a role. And it’s causing real problems in all aspects of our lives: mental health issues, all kinds of somatic disorders, substance abuse, and disconnection from loved ones, to name just a few.

While I don’t want to generalize my experience to everyone, I can tell you that my yoga practice has been invaluable in shutting down anxious thoughts before they take hold in my body. First, connecting my movement to my breath has enabled me to slow down my mental processes enough to notice how my body actually feels when my stress begins to build. Second, yoga helps ground me to the present moment.  In coming weeks, I’ll post a short and simple anxiety-busting yoga sequence you can use anytime you’re feeling that tension build.

In the meantime, maybe you’re out and about or lying in bed, or somewhere you can’t just drop into child’s pose right there on the floor. So here is a three-step, “in-case-of-emergency-break-glass,” anxiety-busting 911* for when feelings of stress and anxiety creep in:

  1. Breathe. Take a couple of deep breaths. After one or two nice deep breaths, inhale deeply on a count of four, then exhale, lengthening the breath slightly, maybe to a count of five. Inhale for four, exhale for five. Continue this for a few rounds. Your body sensations may feel heightened by anxiety, your thoughts racing. Notice these things. Don’t try to change them. But don’t attach to them, either. Focus instead on your breath. Keep that inhale and that lengthened exhale.
  2. Ground yourself in the present moment. Continuing your breathing, take a moment to look around. Notice your surroundings. Feel the earth underneath you, supporting you. Place your hands, palms facing down, on the earth or your knees or thighs, and become conscious of the connection of your palms to the surface they’re touching. This is the only moment that exists. And in this moment, you are safe.
  3. Repeat silently to yourself: In this moment, I am safe. On the inhale, add your mantra, “In this moment.” On the exhale, “I am safe.” Anytime your anxiety starts to ramp up, just return to your inhales and exhales, and the mantra.

Repeat this until you feel the physical sensations of your anxiety subside. I sometimes struggle with anxiety-based sleep disturbance during times of great stress, and this is what I do to get past it and go back to sleep. I hope it serves you.

What’s in YOUR anxiety-busting toolbox? Comment and share!

 

*Assuming you are not in an imminently life-threatening situation, obviously!

 

Treat yo’ self…to some boundaries

 

Bath bombs! Chocolate! Wine! Going out! Staying in! Netflix! Treat yo’ self.

Self-care. It’s a thing. Don’t believe me? Search up the hashtag #selfcare on Instagram, and you’ll see a whole range of suggestions on how to salve your stressed-out soul, from cookies to bath salts to sweatpants to weed. Self-care, it seems, is in the eye of the beholder. And with a few exceptions, you’ll see it depicted as something you do after the fact: treatment, as opposed to prevention.

There is definitely a place for a night in and a long bath. I personally love a night in (I get bored in the bath). But I’d argue that the most effective technique for your own self-care is setting good boundaries.

and now i will do what is best for meIt’s not as easy as it sounds. We want to avoid conflict. We don’t want to disappoint others. We compare our insides to other people’s outsides, and want to appear as though we can handle it all. Or, we grew up in homes in which we learned that our job was to “be good,” please everyone, anticipate the needs of others, never make waves, never take up space, absorb the negative emotions of others and reflect back only a smile.

So to avoid conflict, we go along to get along. Except, not really. We accept treatment that we really shouldn’t, because we don’t feel that we have the right to set boundaries. We make decisions that aren’t aligned with our best interest in order to avoid “drama.” Or, we expect people to be mind-readers, feeling hurt when someone crosses a line we never actually drew. “I shouldn’t have to tell them!” we protest. “They just should have known!”

The bottom line: we fear abandonment. And sometimes, it happens. But in not drawing boundaries, we abandon ourselves. And that takes a toll after a while. We feel resentment start to build up. Our relationships break down. We begin to distrust. We feel used, disconnected, helpless.

Really, rather than threatening relationships, boundaries help preserve them. So what are some good boundaries? Only you can say for sure what you are and are not willing to accept in a relationship or exchange of energy, whether that relationship is personal or professional, familial or with a stranger. Some basic boundaries include who is or is not allowed to physically touch you and when; how you and your partner speak to each other in a conflict; whether your kids are allowed to have company when you’re not home; or how much work you’re willing to take home on a weekend. But if you’re feeling hurt, angry, or resentful about being treated a certain way, that’s a pretty good sign that you could use a boundary there.

If you’re looking for a road map for how to create good boundaries, you could do worse than looking to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The first two of the Eight Limbs of Yoga, the yamas and the niyamas, set forth guidelines for moral and ethical treatment of others and of oneself. We’ll be talking about those on the blog, too.

Let me leave you with this. It can be really scary to set a boundary, especially when you fear the reaction or feel as though your job is to make others comfortable, whatever the cost to yourself. I’m telling you, that is not the case. If you’re feeling a lot of resentment in a relationship, or feeling like you have to eat more than your share of dirt, know that this is a MAJOR sign that it’s time to make a change and decide how you want to be treated.

Peace,

K x

 

 

 

 

Sometimes you gotta play hurt.

The Buddhists say that all life is suffering. It’s the first of the Four Noble Truths.

Suffering isn’t constant, of course. We all experience hard times, and they inevitably pass or at least get better. This too, we say, shall pass. And it’s true.

The Four Noble Truths go on to tell us that our suffering is caused by attachment to that which we desire. If we can learn to release our attachment, we will no longer suffer. This sounds very esoteric, but it isn’t. My mother recently told me a story from her childhood. She wanted her father to buy her something (I forget what the thing was – but some object of her desire). She was told no. She protested. So my grandfather asked her, “Does it hurt you to want it?” She replied, whimpering, that it did. And he responded, “Then stop wanting it.”

I’m fairly certain that my Nazarene minister grandfather was not versed in the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. But he did hit on something very important: It is the attachment that causes the suffering. We want a thing we do not have, or that someone else has. We wish for things that are one way to be another way. We do it all the time. And please don’t misunderstand me: I’m not dogging desire. Our desire is what propels us forward. Without desire, there would be no aspiration, no striving. Just so we know, though: it is our attachment to desire that leads to suffering.

Life is full of suffering, from first-world problems to devastating trauma. The dishwasher floods the kitchen. We lose the election. The lover leaves. The job falls through. Our child is in trouble. We get the diagnosis. Suffering is all around us, and we experience it on both the individual and a global scale. We carry that weight, and the toxic stress that attends it.

But we’ve got things to do. Life goes on. We have bills to pay and children to raise and work the next morning and people for whom we care and who love and need us. If we collapse under the weight of every setback, we stop showing up for ourselves and those we love. We lose our happiness and then our health. We cease to function. We lose our sense of purpose, that striving – the desire that keeps us alive even as we suffer.

So we have to find a way to keep moving forward. There are plenty of approaches people take to this. I mean, you’ve got options. You can…

  1. Continue to white-knuckle your way through. Suppress your grief and fear. Show no signs of cracking. Build that wall, baby.
  2. Kill the pain. Shop it away, eat it away, drink it away, screw it away, sink into the anesthetic of screen time fantasyland, dull it, numb it, avoid feeling it by whatever means is available to you.
  3. Blame someone else. Your asshole ex, your boss, “those other people,” politicians, God, the world. Focus on your self-righteous anger so that you don’t actually have to face that your problems are sitting there, not evaporating, waiting patiently and probably piling up while you rant and rave to avoid feeling your own heart break.
  4. Continue operating as though nothing is wrong, because this situation is painful but at least it’s not unknown. Change is terrifying. Remain inert. Hope that perhaps someone else, or the situation, will change so you don’t have to.

You can do any or all of those things, and I’ve tried a few of them myself. Maybe you have too. And in so doing, we hurt ourselves and others. But there are other ways to cope with the debilitating pain and loss and grief that is in our human condition to feel. And cope we must, because we are friends and partners and parents and children of parents. We must, because none of us is an island. All of us are connected – we are one with each other and with whatever name by which we call God. When we hurt, the world hurts. And by healing ourselves, we heal those around us.

Maybe you are suffering. Maybe you are scared. And yet you still have to hold your whole shit together. That is something I can help you with, if you need it. But I want you to do more than just stay upright and muscle through. I want you to experience the beauty and joy of living, the promise of liberation, even as you are experiencing very real pain. I promise you: you can do this. You can emerge with strength you never imagined you had, and with insight no person or set of circumstances can ever take away from you. I know because I did it and continue to do it, and I’m no different from you.

I’ll be sharing stories and resources on this blog, and I’m working on developing a workshop that will incorporate yoga and meditation with other tools to take a holistic approach to dealing with the adversity we all experience as long as we’re breathing on this earth.

This too shall pass. But until it does, you’ve gotta play hurt. Give me a shout. You don’t have to do this alone.