Arc of Life

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Musings on Miles, Paris & Fear

Paris-black-white-rainListening to the soulful sound of Miles Davis Kind of Blue wash over me after a long emotional weekend, is there a more perfect song for reflecting, relaxing, ruminating while drinking a glass of Cabernet?  There is so much depth and texture in this song. The late critic Robert Palmer wrote, “Kind of Blue is, in a sense, all melody – and atmosphere.” The music floats through my head, penetrating and soothing my soul.

Paris was attacked three days ago. The world is indeed a scary place and humans do horrible things to each other. And yet it remains a place of infinite beauty. Letting go of the fear, letting go of the worry; fear and worry will not make terrorism, or bad people with guns go away, it will not stop violence. We must live our lives and seek out the good in ourselves, the good in others and the good in our world.

Absolutely everything is available to us — sorrow and joy, grievance and forgiveness, horror and transcendence — it’s all on the menu. It’s up to us where we put our attention.”—Josh Radnor

I borrowed this from today. Her post, Lizard or Lover? What’s your response to Paris? reminded me that we always have a choice in how we react to a tragedy. “Do we live from our lizard brain that’s urging us to fear, to retract, to cower in isolation? Or do we become the lovers, the higher selves that we all know is possible.

I needed to hear her message today.

I stepped out of my office a little after 3pm into a sparkling unseasonably warm mid-November afternoon. I was going to grab a coffee and go back to work but decided the day was simply too beautiful not to enjoy it. So I headed home, threw on my hiking shoes and headed for the woods with my dog Nelly.

Tragedy strikes but beauty remains; a walk in the woods on a beautiful November afternoon, a full bodied Cab and Miles Davis – our world is full of infinite beauty.

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue


Meditation – A Portal To Your Intuition

Meditation MIndfulnessIf I could impart one bit of wisdom to my three children as they move forward into adulthood, it would be to establish a regular meditation practice.  In this chaotic universe, meditation can help us achieve inner peace, a more balanced perspective and increase mental clarity – something we could all use. I also believe that meditation can provide us with a portal to our intuition, an essential part of our human psyche that can help us find our own unique path in today’s device driven, harried world.

About ten years ago, I decided to take my commitment to meditation to a somewhat higher level. On a cold February night I ventured through the doors of Godstow (today this it is DNKL –  Tibetan Buddhist Center for Universal Peace), an idyllic Buddhist retreat nestled in the hills of Redding, Connecticut. I quickly became hooked. Every Monday night became my night to meditate and everyone in my family knew it. Before too many weeks had passed I suspect they all looked forward to it as I would return home in a decidedly more chill mood.

The group that converged on those Monday nights was pretty consistent and somewhat eclectic: a lifelong IBMer, a clinical psychologist and a former rocker were as eager to find their bliss, as was the veteran yoga teacher. Most of us would congregate in the kitchen, pour ourselves a mug of tea and chat a little before entering the meditation room. A sanctuary of sorts, a large open room with rich hardwood floors and a high ceiling with wooden beams. Each person took a blanket and pillow that had been neatly stacked from the previous session and found their spot on the floor. In the winter months, a warm fire glowed in the wood stove; candles and incense set the mood to “go within.” When our teacher, the Venerable Phunstock entered the room we would stand, face him, place our hands in prayer position at the breastbone and slightly bow in his direction. Phunstock would then lead us in a series of Tibetan prayer rituals.

Quite honestly, a newcomer might feel a little awkward trying to figure out what to do and when to do it; you’re bowing, then you’re kneeling, you’re up, then you’re down. I thought it best to stake out a spot at the back of the room for my first couple of classes until I got the hang of things.

Phunstock was a relatively young monk in his mid-thirties and dressed in a traditional red Tibetan robe. His guided meditation took about an hour and a half, beginning with the preliminaries, which consisted of focusing on the breath, silently counting each inhale up to twenty one, then repeating. We would then visualize a ball of white light floating in front of our third eye (that would be the space between our two physical eyes), visualizing the light move up to the crown of the head and then descending down into the heart center. A brief break for discussion would follow before completing the meditation.

I definitely had trouble seeing that white ball of light. I’d get it, and then it would be gone. And my mind would wander constantly. I was sure there had to be a right and a wrong way to do this, and in my need to do this “right,” I was sure I was doing it wrong. But something compelled me to keep coming back. And in time I found myself relaxing into the process. Stress eased and I gradually began to experience a calmness and clarity of thought that followed me into my hectic life. There were a few fleeting moments when I felt myself fall into the “gap” – the silent space between thoughts where no thoughts exist.

Sadly my Monday meditations would come to end. I must admit, it would be great to get back to a guided meditation class someday –­ maybe when my last child goes off to college this fall. However the habit of meditation is one I have held onto and I will never give it up; it deepens my awareness, connects me to the deepest part of myself and enables me to view my life from a new vantage point.

For anyone who is curious about meditating, has tried and failed or is looking for a guided mediation, I highly recommend these free online meditations from UCLA.


Driven By Fear

Biking Bar Harbor MaineI have been getting together with my three siblings and our families almost every summer for the past 26 years. It has been a wonderful thing and all nine cousins have this bond laced with love, blood and good dose of healthy competition. These summer vacations have also given all of us aunts and uncles an opportunity to be a part of our nieces and nephews lives and watch them grow up despite the miles that separate us.

I have one niece that has truly blossomed over the past couple of years. Out of the blue she up and moved to Israel about three years ago – a bold move for anyone – enrolled in school, made friends and entered into a serious relationship. What a fearless move. She reminds me a little of my 23 year old self.

So it came as a major surprise to find that she was full of fear last summer. It was a gorgeous August morning and our group of 16 was about to embark on a day of biking when she started in with all of her worries over what might go wrong during the excursion. What if I fall behind, what if my pant leg gets stuck in the chain, what if someone runs into me, what if, what if, what if?

I was bowled over by her litany of fear riddled comments. I tried talking to her rationally about her fears but it just seemed to add fuel to the fire, so I let it go. When we get to bike rental shop, everyone rents a bike and a helmet, everyone that is except my niece. She is not renting a helmet. Are you kidding me? As an avid biker I never get on a bike without a helmet. It is the first line of defense for a biker and the one thing you can do to protect yourself while riding. No, she was having none of it.

At one point during our bike ride we passed a car with a bumper sticker that said “Fearful People Do Stupid Things.” The message was timely to say the least.

The day progressed and none of her fears came to pass, which was good since she was not wearing a helmet. But as we biked along the beautiful Carriage Path Roads in Acadia, I reflected back on the role that fear has played in my life and suddenly my judgment of my niece began to subside. My niece was indeed very much like me. Fear ruled my life for many years. And while it propelled me forward, it also crippled me and forced me into a very narrow view of the possibilities of life. It is only now that I can look back and see how much this emotion ruled my life, and for the most part in a negative way.

It took me many years, but I finally hit a point where I realized that fear was not serving me in any way and I began to let it go. I am still propelling myself forward with a lot less fear these days and I have to say it is exhilarating at times.


How Well You Go Far

It’s not how far you go, it’s how well you go far.

These words came out of a 70 year old yoga teacher’s mouth during a yoga workshop I attended about a year ago. As someone who had always tried to push the envelope (and my body) when going into challenging poses, her words really landed and totally changed the way I approach yoga and life.

Admittedly some of this is timing; being ready and open to hear the message or the teacher shows up when the student is ready. After years of pushing and straining I finally saw that there was in fact another way and in fact better way to go deeper into the pose, a gentler way to treat myself as I sweated, strengthened and stretched my body. I now love yoga. I have moved from a love/hate relationship to a love/love relationship with my practice. When I do pigeon now – one of my most challenging poses – I go to the edge of mild discomfort not pain, I breath and I accept that this is as open as my hips are today.

It has taken time, patience and perseverance. I had to keep showing up and doing to the work, just like life. The changes in class have come gradually, my focus has shifted inward (for the most part), I listen to and inhabit my body in more intimately. It’s not a race and there is nobody to compete with when I am on the mat. I think more and more about how well I go far both on the mat and in my life.

Acceptance of oneself is a beautiful thing.

May you be happy

May you be safe

May you be joyful

May you be free

Yoga – Letting Go

Over the past 5 years – as life has become more challenging –  I have gradually been shifting my focus inward during my practice and finally seeing and experiencing yoga as the physical, mental and spiritual practice that it is. There is nothing to prove and nobody to impress (not that there ever was). I now do yoga for myself because it helps me connect to and strengthen my body, to focus my mind and to hopefully become a better version of myself.

I recently made the commitment to doing yoga every day for next 30 days. I would of course like to commit to doing it every day for the rest of my life but I will start with baby steps. Thirty days I can manage and if I get to the end of the first 30 days, perhaps I’ll go for another 30.

I have  been dancing around the practice of yoga for more than half my life. I wish I could remember my first formal yoga class but I can’t. When I was a kid, I remember looking at the black and white illustrations of yoga poses in a book my dad had in his library.  My very thin, old green yoga mat is a testament to the many years I have been dipping my toe into the yoga pond. I purchased it long before I embarked on motherhood 23 years ago, and when I took it to a class in New York City a couple of years back, the thirty something year old teacher said, Wow that must be a really old mat, they haven’t made that color in years. Ahhhh.

When my children were small, I would occasionally pull out my old green mat and attempt to do a little yoga when they were napping or at school. I suppose that whatever yoga I did at that point was good yoga because any yoga is good yoga, but I was not terribly committed. Time was partly to blame.

I am fortunate as I live in a “yoga heaven” of sorts and this has afforded me the opportunity to try a variety of practices over the past 10 years including Ashtanga (ouch!), Bikram (too hot) eventually realizing I was more of Kripalu type of yogi. A good teacher is key. This yoga heaven has also helped me to keep going back to class.

The real benefits of yoga did not fully reveal themselves to me until I started “needing” the practice. Before then I was engaged in a love/hate relationship with yoga. I loved the poses that were easy for me and I hated the poses that challenged me, the ones that made my muscles ache. Savasana was hands down my favorite part of class. And I spent way too much time looking around the room, comparing myself to the other students thinking, I can hold Tree Pose longer than her, or Look at him do Crow, I’m never going to be able to do that. Yoga was a little too much of a competitive sport for me at that point – not a good thing. But gradually I began to get stronger, the challenging poses began to get easier as I got stronger. I learned to breath noisily through my nose and stopped worrying or caring what anyone thought.

Bit by bit, I began to let go in class and I began to let go in life.



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