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Awake! Say ‘Goodbye’ to the Half-Developed Life

How does one claim power? She goes through the fire like it was meant for her, not to defeat her. She explores the routes to get out of that fire and she does not recoil. After finding her way, she does not look back at the fire like it was a disaster, though its real-life events may be emotionally draining and full of loss. She claims the fire as hers. It is now a source of strength.

One thing that is on my mind lately is the lip service we give to the concept of healing, without personally believing we are a part of the promise. I can only speak to western tradition, but I am sure that this self-denial of spiritual gains is common across the spectrum. In the Christian tradition, many talk about the healing power of Jesus, of the love that God bestows upon “his” children, and of the continual support and communion we have with the Holy Spirit. However, over and over again, and certainly in my own life, I see evidence of an outright rejection of the promise. No, I am not talking about the “Jesus saves” generic dialogue that many spout and have not truly thought about from what (though, I believe this is a symptom of the problem.) I mean the fact that we can believe whole-heartedly that God will sustain the wellbeing of our friends – even our “enemies” – but God will not provide for our own needs. Part of the problem is that we do not know what we actually need.

You might be reading this thinking, “Well she has no idea what I believe…” This is true. I will say that my own experience shows me that I was living a life of full on denial of the gift that was offered to me. How do I know? I can list a number of things: anxiety, dependency, doubt in my abilities, fear of being let down by others… Each of these point to a lack of awareness of my own truth, which comes from accepting the promised gift.

Without diving into some serious psychoanalysis (of which I am clueless), my assumption is that it is just easier for us to say, “no thank you” to the promise because it requires change in our lives.

Yes, of course, we are promised love. Yes, followers of Jesus also believe that “sin” has been eradicated by his death and resurrection (though, how this happens varies widely from person to person – and I think that is beautiful.) There is a certain level of acceptance in the change that we must take for ourselves. Otherwise, we continue to live in a half-developed life (no damage to the status of our “sins,” if that is a part of your belief system.) This half-developed life is not what Divine Love wishes for us, though it is by our own choice that we accept or reject fullness.

Here is the deal, though. To emerge out of a half-developed life, it requires more than a tepid endeavor into the life of the spirit. Personally, while I believe our relationships, careers, and life ventures are all things that are affected by this change, they are not the number one focus. Rather, the answer to a half-developed life is living an awake life.

How do we get there? This is the age-old “life is a journey” concept. One never simply arrives at an awake life because it is an every day choice to say, “hello” to your true self. It is the continual decision to confront your truth each morning when you wake up and when you go to bed. It is difficult. Sometimes it will require tough things like saying “no,” or – heaven forbid – saying “yes.” It will mean that you must say “goodbye” (sticking with the greetings refrain here a bit more) to the person you thought you were or to people who are not meant to continue on the journey with you. It will most certainly mean welcoming newness – new people, new situations, new personal roles, new ways of seeing the light in others who are close to you. But at the very center of everything is the gentleness you extend to yourself while simultaneously welcoming the fire. This is hard to balance. The fire will hold loss and difficulties that we feel we cannot bear. Finding the balance does not mean going alone. Rather, it means accepting the resources and love that surrounds us to help move us through the fire – to help us find the path.

One major question that might arise is: How do I know my truth? First, I absolutely love that phrase: “my truth.” There is nothing else like it.

Caution: This does not mean one can alter actual facts.
Truth is more like a mental/emotional state of being.

You can find your truth by spending time with yourself and getting to know who you are, aside from the people and things around you. Namely, through meditation or prayer, which can come in many different forms. By taking moments to sit in the midst of quiet, you start to hear the hum of your internal sound or vibration. Thoughts will come, but you learn to let them pass without judgment – whether they are good or bad thoughts. You learn that your mind will continue functioning without you to designate its trajectory, and that is O.K.! Sometimes that is terrifying, but remember that it will not harm you. You are not your thoughts. In fact, meditation is not maintaining a mind clear of thoughts. That is impossible. It is cultivating a mind that is aware. Here, you will find your truth.

I urge you, if you have ever thought of trying out meditation, please do so. It is transformative. Here are a few resources to start you on the path:

Meditation Oasis

Insight Timer (app)

The Chopra Center, “Learn to Meditate in 6 Easy Steps”

New York Times, Guides: Learn to Meditate

 

 

 

The Well: Cultivating Personal Strength and Creativity

How do you know if your internal well is full?

Many of us live perpetually empty lives and it is revealed in anxiety, poor eating and exercise habits, anger, or a foggy brain. Sometimes it is a more nuanced symptom specific to the individual, but she knows she runs on an empty emotional tank. This is so common in our modern lives that, for some, it is difficult to even imagine what it is like to have a full creative or emotional internal well. They do not know the well is even empty! Feelings of disconnection or constant striving are just always there. There is no one culprit, but a myriad of things that keep us from a full well: stress at work, family life, past traumas, and etcetera.

*Yes. I used the word “creative.” Before you stop reading here and start to whine “But I’m not creative! Only people with _______ (insert character trait) are creative,” please continue to read. I believe the definition of “creative” has been narrowed so much it has been rendered meaningless. It is actually broad and expansive – and it applies to you. These magical beings that you place on pedestals are only creative because they put the work into it, or they simply tap into their creative center. We can all do this.

Aside from these things the biggest barrier to obtaining a full well is – surprise! – our own mind. Constantly striving for a whole life becomes desperate flailing as energies are thrown about haphazardly. We do what makes others happy. We do what we think “good people” do. We do what our physical bodies need. We simply try to breathe above the proverbial water.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, there are many ways to fill that well. Certainly, spiritual experiences will fill the well. Absolutely. However, at a certain point, many of us ask, “Well, what now?” What do we do with the knowledge that we can live our lives in grace? In The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, Julia Cameron insists the participant spend two hours a week filling her well. Meaning, she takes time away from family members or friends to focus on her personal, emotional, and spiritual needs (these are all related.) The participant could potentially fill this time with anything she wishes to do, but believes she has very little time in her life to do it. Some of my own “artist dates” included: a solo hike in the mountains, exploring a local bookstore, reading poetry by myself, taking a two-hour yoga class. The point is to do anything you want – as long as you are by yourself and it is fulfilling to your spirit.

Finding a measly two hours in a busy schedule is remarkably difficult to do – even for an introvert like me who loves spending time alone. Partners, children, and bosses ask much of us, a messy home calls our name, tending to work tasks takes time, dealing with an overgrown garden is a necessity, or committing to volunteer/charity work pull us in many directions. Our friends need us or we might feel like we miss out on something if we do not participate in a (perceived important) social event. We even fill our time with a commitment to others that makes us feel good about our lives – something that seems noble – without taking time to fill up our own well.

See, we cannot give to our loved ones or give our all to responsibilities if we do not function with a full emotional or creative well. Even if they are worthy tasks they are secondary to making sure we function as a whole person.

It goes without saying that “vegging out” in front of the television is not considered “filling the well.” We must be mindful of what we do with our brains and bodies during this time. We must jealously protect it.

Maybe we are afraid of what might arise if we let the other things fall away. What would happen if we stop helping others all the time? What if we made ourselves unavailable for two small hours a week? Nothing. Nothing would happen. Well, except maybe the emergence of potentially difficult emotions. A full well will push these to the surface and we get to “deal” with them. Divine Love will not let you falter, luckily, and is your partner in this creative experience. You were meant to be this way.

I cannot tell you what to do to fill your well. I will not write that one must participate in The Artist’s Way in order to find the space to expand. You know what is best for your spirit, but it is simply imperative to step away from others in order to fill your internal creative well.

Everyone is a creative being. This is where our humanity originates within us. Living as a creative person does not mean that you will immediately pick up a paintbrush and form a masterpiece, though some blocked creatives realize this is actually their outlet. When we take the word “creative” as a description for ourselves, it alters the way we think of our position in our communities, in our families, and it thoroughly permeates our livelihood. We walk with the confidence that we can be active participants in our lives and not function at the mercy of someone else’s personal motivation. We become creative in our workplaces, in the way we eat, in the way we move, and in our words. It influences our hand while we make food because we know what we make is inspired. Living as a creator impacts our speech: it is difficult to gossip or speak negatively about others when we see our words as a creative outlet. We are architects of relationships. As a creator, we take ownership of our lives.

Finding time to develop a full creative and emotional well is essential to living a full life.

You can purchase Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity here.

Spiritual Practice: SLEEP

“Sleep is a spiritual practice.” – Gabrielle Bernstein

I prayed as I shuffled the deck of cards in my hands that I would be guided through the day. Soft morning light streamed through the windows to my office as I sat in the first few moments at my desk. I pulled a card away from the others and read

Sleep is a spiritual practice.

Wait. What?

I sleep just fine these days, thank you very much. After perusing the affirmation/meditation cards I purchased a few months ago, this was the one that I thought I did not need. I have this sleep thing down and I am super proud of that accomplishment, since it was such a lonely struggle for a long time. Throughout graduate school, particularly when I took courses and taught undergraduates at the same time, I had a fraught relationship with sleep. This problem is now long gone and I am a sleep champ – I go to bed every night by 10:00 PM and wake up at 6:00 AM! Super healthy!

As I sat looking at the card in my hand, I mulled through my personal history with sleep. As a child I regularly woke reeling from nightmares and in adulthood I experienced a continuation of vivid dreams. I found myself, like others, amplifying my troubles in the dark for one or two hours, only to think back on their insignificance at 8:00 AM. Sometimes I used this time, embarrassingly, to attempt deep conversations with my husband. (What was I thinking?) There were nights that I felt very much alone, though my love was peacefully sleeping next to me. I firmly believe that a regular meditation and yoga practice alleviated these sleep troubles – so much that when I read the card this morning, I thought, “Shoot. I do not need this insight.”

Then it came to me – yes, I do! If sleep is a spiritual practice, then with my sleep past in mind, good sleep is a message that my body, mind, and spirit are growing in tune with each other. I prayed for a sign that the work that I do each day is productive. We can get frustrated if we do not see the fruits of our labor. This was my sign.

Sleep is a loaded concept for many. Sometimes sleep is an elusive foe, and there are those who make it a symbol of achievement. In twenty-first century American society, the concept of success is often tied with sleep deprivation – successful work life, successful education, or successful parenting. Rarely do we think of adequate sleep as a sign of successful health or spirituality, and thus a signifier of success in other parts of life. In my field, there is a running commentary about how academics and scholars keep an odd schedule and write in the wee hours of the morning, whether before or after their short bouts of sleep. I never held that belief and as a result, sometimes I feel that I am not pursuing an appropriate level of work to be prosperous.

This is bogus. I am here to affirm that sleep is a spiritual practice and one that should be in line with other health pursuits. It is fine to splurge occasionally, but the respect we give our bodies reflects the beliefs we have about ourselves: the way we eat, how we move, and our sleep habits. It is not fitting for me to give a set number of hours one should sleep, because – surprise! – I am not a sleep doctor. Each individual knows when her body is in balance. In fact, it may shift day by day or as the years pass.

Sleep is a spiritual practice because it is where our bodies find renewal. It is where we spend time in our dream landscape. It is even a place where we can meditate (Yoga Nidra.) Guard your sleep like it is a treasure that only you can protect. Of course, when we take care of children or have one of the other issues listed above, sleep is disrupted. We cannot just throw in the towel, though, and settle into ignoring this beautiful part of our lives. Know yourself. Find your balance and guard it.

You can find Gabby’s 62-card affirmations deck here.

How to Cultivate Gratitude Even When You Don’t Feel Like It

I recently came across the idea: “Gratitude is the greatest gift you can experience.”

Often these phrases pass like a bee whizzing by my ear, as I am sure they do with others. Though containing little grains of truth, clichés – or statements sounding very much like them – garner less attention than odd-sounding, infrequent bombshell quotes. However, the one above landed squarely on my heart and I continued to ponder it throughout my yoga practice this morning.

I suppose this is what they call “setting an intention,” though I did not ask for it.

What came to mind is that the statement does not make “gratitude” into a directive specifically to the “you” in the sentence. In other words, the end point for our gratitude can be outside of ourselves. Let me give an example. Gratitude journals are very popular right now. Personally, when I think of things for which I am thankful, I usually write: my family, my developing career, my house, my health… my… my… MY. Of course I am grateful for these things! I should be. But when I consider gratitude as the “greatest gift I can experience,” I realize it does not mean the “greatest gift I can experience for myself.” Gratitude does not need to exist in isolation.

Gratitude, is in fact, the greatest gift we can give others.
It is the greatest gift we can experience by giving to others.

Giving gratitude to others comes back to our hearts and spirit as elation because we realize our connectedness – our oneness – with those around us.

 

Try this:

  1. Take a moment to close your eyes and breath in deeply. Breathe out in a slow, gentle manner. Repeat this several times. Feel your body sitting in a chair or your feet standing on the ground. Feel yourself rooted to the earth. Go back to normal breathing, softly.
  2. Once you feel your body calm, begin thinking of all the things in your life you are thankful for: your home, your health, and your family… that new car you drive that won’t leave you stranded on the side of the road. All of that is fine. Consider all the things that make your life healthy and secure. Send gratitude to those people and things.
    3. Now think of the people who support you in your life. Think of those who care for you and help you to be the best person you can be. Send gratitude to those people.
  3. Consider the people you do not know who create or provide things from which you benefit: those who make the clothes you wear, grow the food you eat, who built your home, who repair the road you drive upon, or those who work in service to create a safe environment for you to live in. Send gratitude to these people.
  4. Once you widen your circle of gratitude to those you do not know, take time to dwell in the feeling of gratitude for a bit without offering it to anyone. Simply recognize the feeling. Enjoy it. Rest in it.

 

Once you are finished with the meditation (this should only take 5-10 minutes), take it with you throughout your day. You now know what it feels like without it being attached to a specific thing. Find opportunities to extend this cultivated gratitude to those you encounter. There need not be an instigator for the gratitude.
Not only will this send joy and love to them, you will also receive the benefit by standing witness.

This is the “greatest gift you can experience.”

 

Nourishment Beyond Food, A Few Suggestions

What nourishes you?

This is the question in my mind during yoga practice this week. It bubbles up over and over like a fountain churning through the waters of my spirit. In these sessions I feel like I receive necessary sustenance. My stiff, sleepy body needed it and my spirit craved it. So, throughout the day I contemplate the idea of “nourishment” and came up with a few principles for my personal journey. I wish to share them with you.

First, Merriam-Webster defines nourish:

  1. To nurture, rear
  2. To promote the growth of
  3. To furnish or sustain with nutriment; maintain, support

 

At the core is the idea of expansion – a word that has ambiguous meaning for me as an American woman. The expectation for ideal womanhood in this culture is that we limit the expansion of our bodies so that we take up the appropriate amount of space and we limit the expansion of our personalities and maintain a passive countenance. Words like “bossy,” “pushy,” and “loud” stand in contrast with “sweet,” “gentle,” and “charming.” The first set conveys negative sentiments while the second upholds an underlying feminine standard. I cannot tell you how many friends and acquaintances over the years jokingly confessed to not being “feminine” because they are bold.

This is the question: How are we to nourish ourselves if we must also take up as little space (whether concrete or abstract) as we can? How do we expand?

Nourishment is for the purpose of expansion and so it is in support of continual change. It is not restricted to ingesting plants and animals for food. Nourishment applies to every area of our lives: physical, mental, and spiritual. Below are a few of my ideas for nourishing these aspects for expansion:

  1. Eat good, sustaining food. A great rule to live by is eat more plants. You don’t have to give up mea, but when in doubt, eat plants. Eat more of them than anything else.
  2. Drink water. I begin my day with a 20-ounce glass – before coffee, breakfast, or anything else. We are dehydrated after the long night. Starting this practice is easy and it will become a habit quickly.
  3. Move the body. It does not matter what you do, do something. For years I thought to be “fit” meant establishing a workout routine that had me rotating through days of running and lifting weights at the gym. I enjoyed it most of the time, but often I had days or weeks of boredom and would begrudgingly drag myself to the gym. Now, I get excited to practice yoga every day and my body has never felt better! When we align our body with our emotions and find the movement that really fits, our bodies respond.
  4. Be kind to your body. It is yours and no one else’s. Be kind to other people’s bodies for the same reason. We can nourish our bodies with compassion and expand in these areas for greater physical health. Again, our physical bodies respond to the innermost parts of our spiritual bodies.
  5. Expand your brain. Read books. Read smart long-form journalism. Watch documentaries. Challenge your mind and dive into that very clichéd phrase: be a life-long learner! It is a cliché for a reason. Never settle for being the same person year after year, but take the time to dive into what peeks your interest. Lately, I am consuming book after book about yoga and meditation, which eventually pulled me into fourteenth-century Persian religious poetry. I’m not kidding! Hafiz is my homeboy.
  6. Take time to sit quietly. Look, we are all busy. I know. I get it. It is difficult to find two minutes to breathe some days, but the importance of taking just five minutes to focus on nothing else but the sound of your own breath cannot be overstated. Just like finding time to eat and move, our brains, and ultimately our spirit, craves regeneration and nourishment. While establishing daily meditation for 15 or 20 minutes at a time is great, some of us cannot see a way to fit this in the schedule. So, here are a few suggestions:
  • Take the time between the first alarm and the snooze to lie quietly in bed to assess, give gratitude, or just listen. (Suggestion by Faith Hunter.)
  • Before lunch, close your eyes and listen to your breath for thirty seconds to begin mindfully eating your food.
  • Before turning on the television in the evening, take five minutes on the couch to close your eyes and find your center. Your “center” is wherever your mind thinks it is located. For some it is around the heart, for others it is in the brain, and there are those who find their center in the stomach. Listen to your breath, then watch Jeopardy!.
  • Use Yoga Nidra before bed.

 

We must expand. We must grow. We must nourish ourselves.

The current trend is to do a planned “cleanse” or a diet reboot. I am all on board for this kind of experience. I believe we all should re-evaluate our relationship to food every once in a while. A bit of self-restraint can be beneficial to spirit and body. What makes me uncomfortable is the intense focus on food as the primary means of nourishment. It is the most obvious, after all. In this restriction there is confusion about what to put in our bodies. I see product placement and American consumerism and little direction about lifestyle change beyond using a company’s commodity. I see nourishment sold as merchandise for the comfortable middle class and healthy lifestyles turning into luxury items. This is not to say that those who use these products should feel guilty about their nutrition habits. Rather, it is much, much simpler to nourish our bodies with. We are massively misdirected. We receive cues to limit expansion and hear messages that nourishment is something to buy alongside our SUVs, designer yoga pants, and household gadgets. I guarantee that if you try to balance nourishment as a body/mind/spirit practice, you will feel it. Granted, it is not a quick fix. Every day requires work and I am the first to say it is not always easy.

Nourishment means growth and expansion, so we cannot stop.

Love and Grief: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Lately I feel more open to write about personal thoughts without indulging in the details – broad and open. It is more cathartic that way. This blog has become a resource to really process these thoughts and I appreciate those that take the time to read. We are creating community.

During my yoga class yesterday morning the teacher expressed the importance of acknowledging emotion, rather than running from it. “The Divine gave us emotions and we should not ignore them,” Amy Ippolitti says. She asked us to expand outward with our arms and legs in certain poses to let the emotions move through our bodies. While I am getting better at standing back to observe what happens in my emotional body, it is tough.

This week is tough. Someone very close to me is starting treatment for a serious health crisis and we are in a maelstrom. It is also the week that I decided, months ago, that I will end the thirteen-month breastfeeding journey with my son. My body physically feels the effects of loss. While it is not the grief one experiences with the death of a loved one, it is the grief that comes with loss of a previous life.

I want to pause to write a few words about breastfeeding and grief. In the last year I encountered numerous stories from friends and family who experienced some level of grief in their nursing journey. It made me realize that we cannot avoid these feelings no matter how hard we try. There were women who could not nurse past a few weeks, women who needed to discontinue because of health problems, and women who nursed for nearly two years and said “goodbye” to this sweetness – we all experienced some level of grief. Now I have my own. This morning I nursed Arlo for the very last time, and as my sweet little boy patted his small hand against my face, I felt a sense of closure. It is time.

Words can be so insignificant because they are only symbols of actual feelings. They are stand-ins for the real thing. Because of this, the word “grief” will have a different meaning for each person who uses it, no matter the definition in the dictionary. Words come with personal histories, memories, and feelings. When I use the word “grief,” I do not tend to combine it with “despair.” That is another sentiment all together. Grief is a valuable emotion that can illuminate the places most important in our lives. It is a deep form of love.

In less than two hours I leave for my first yoga retreat. I will drive through the glorious Shenandoah National Park to find my way to Yogaville – Satchidananda Ashram for Faith Hunter’s Spiritually Fly: Master Your Soul retreat. I planned this trip months ago, but now it seems incredibly timely. An ashram is a place of religious/spiritual retreat, originating out of the Hindu tradition, but Sri Swami Satchidananda (Sri Gurudev) founded this ashram to welcome people of all faiths. The central building is called LOTUS: Light of Truth Universal Shrine, and includes a meditation space for each of the major world religions. He wanted Yogaville to be a place of retreat for all of us.

I feel my spirit called to retreat. While a few weeks ago I looked to this as an opportunity to learn more about Faith Hunter’s work, I see that this weekend is necessary to prepare for the next steps in my life, which include supporting a few people very close to me as they embark on a difficult journey.

 

Here is my prayer for all of us today:
Let us be light. Let us find love in grief and extend it outward. Let us find peace and strength to actively use this love that connects us together.

Volunteers Wanted

Do you like to go outside?
Do you hike? Walk? Meander? Saunter? Are you a Flaneur in nature?
Are you a “mall walker?” Do you use a pedometer at work?
Do you also enjoy new and interesting things on the Internet?

I am looking for volunteers to use the National Park Service’s iHike program to assist in an exploration of the website. The NPS created a fascinating program geared toward getting more people outside under the federal Let’s Move! program, and I want to see how well it works.

iHike, The National Park Service

Please consider participating in a very low-key experience. No particular skills are necessary, just a willingness to have fun in nature and post about it through iHike.

If you wish to participate, please contact Sarah by May 5, 2017.

 

Pancake Day: Tradition and Ceremony in a Family

Months after my return to work and now that Arlo is settled in to daycare, I see that we are developing a routine around the house. I do not mention my husband, Dave, because his schedule maintained its rhythm and we fell into step with his days. Our household has a rhythm. It feels good.

One of my favorite things about our beat is the Saturday morning routine. Arlo and I call it “Pancake Day.” Dave/Daddy sings in the background as he gets ready for work,
“What do we want? PAN-CAKES!!
When do we want them? NOW!!”
He is a little salty that he cannot be a part of the pancake experience (but to be honest, he gets one as he walks out the door.) However, I know he realizes how important it is to me. Saturdays are my day with Arlo. There is no other day of the week that it is just the two of us anymore. It is like the “old days.” You know, like when he was three months old.

Lately I have been thinking about the idea of tradition and ceremony as it relates to families. There was not a whole lot of ceremony in my family growing up and, in a blended family, I watched as some traditions found establishment in one part of the family structure while bypassing others. Dave and I realized it was important to form our family foundation around traditions and ceremony. Often, in the twenty-first century, we think of tradition as relating to the holiday schedule, but my wish is to have regular tradition fold seamlessly into our family to form the web of security around us. For me, waking up on Saturday mornings and making pancakes with my son adds to this experience. Dave’s singing in the background and partaking in the goods in the few minutes before work, is also a part of it. In my mind, I have the fantasy that Arlo will learn to make the pancakes and over the years we will create new variations and eventually write a “Mom and Son” pancake recipe book. (But that’s just a thought…) So far, he seems to like pancakes. I hope it continues.

The Wanderlust Speakeasy Podcast recently aired a talk with Ana Forrest, founder of Forrest Yoga, titled “The Beauty of Ceremony.” It compelled me to begin thinking about the ways we can incorporate ceremony into our family life. Ceremony is another way to create rhythm in our days. It establishes the closing and opening of one situation to another, it binds us to those with whom we participate, and it establishes a sense of security and sacredness in our days. One thing that immediately comes into my mind is finding a brief moment of recognition with my husband and son before one of us walks out the door in the morning. I want to find a flash of mindfulness that cultivates a feeling of connection with each other before the busy day begins. Another common moment of ceremony in many families is the bedtime routine. Sometimes it is a whirlwind of craziness, but altering the angle in which we come into the experience – thinking of it as a brief ceremony before bed – will change the tone.

So tell me, what are the ways you cultivate tradition and ceremony in your life and with those closest to you?

Presently, Joy: Finding Happiness in Mindfulness


The problem is that religious nuts around the world have exported everything that is beautiful about a human being to the other world. If you talk of love, they speak of divine love. If you talk of bliss, they speak of divine bliss. If you talk of peace, they speak of divine peace. We have forgotten that these are human qualities. A human being is fully capable of joy, of love, of peace. Why do you want to export these to heaven?

There is much talk of God and heaven mainly because human beings have not realized the immensity of being human. It is obvious that the very source of life is throbbing within you in some way. The source of your life is also the source of every other life and the source of all creation. This dimension of intelligence or consciousness exists in every one of us. The deliverance of every human being lies in finding access to this deathless dimension.

To be joyful and peaceful within yourself every moment of your life, to be able to perceive life beyond its physical limitations – these are not superhuman qualities. These are human possibilities.

Yoga is not about being superhuman; it is about realizing that being human is super.

– Sadhguru, Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy (2016)

 

There is a lot of talk right now about joy and happiness in the yoga community. Spiritual teachers and yogis across the spectrum are publishing their thoughts on the best ways to free from the things that weigh down the spirit. Actually, a lot has been published in the last ten years about the state of happiness in general. It seems like there is a push towards sincerity and away from the pessimism of the last century. Digital media also allows anyone to publish their ideas online (this blog is case in point) and so if you are looking for direction, it can seem like an overwhelming flood of courses to happiness. But in the midst of the morass of advice, actions can get lost.

I’ve been meaning to write a little entry on the concept of joy, but also did not want to just add to the clutter. Since I am in my own search for joy, I thought I would write a little about that, rather than a few paragraphs of instruction.

Joy and happiness are found in one’s own search, not in following the leader. Eat, Pray, Love and Wild have their place. I could read thousands upon thousands of pages in inspirational books, but… joy is complicated! It is complex. One person’s journey to joy is drastically different from someone else’s.
I used to believe that line about “happiness is a daily decision,” until I faced postpartum depression. My ideas about happiness and joy were completely obliterated. I tried to make the decision to be happy each and every one of those days, but by four o’clock in the afternoon, with my mind feeling like it was under water, joy seemed elusive.

What I felt was intense love. I also felt intense sadness and intense anger – so much that it was easier to make the choice to feel numb. For me, PPD revealed itself in a force that was too much to bear.

Now that I am out of depression I am trying to take the time to reflect back on the experience, even if I combat feelings of guilt over lost time. That comes with the healing process. One thing I learned, though, is that there was actually joy and happiness in the darkness. I also have a new relationship with both concepts.

Happiness is not a decision one makes, but it is in fact, an action one takes. It lies in being present. When I think about the past or the future, all that comes with it is regret, anticipation, or worry. Even a positive anticipation for a future source of happiness creates the feeling of impatience.

Mindfulness is usually the word used along with “being present.” Looking back on the depression months, my most joyful moments were when I held my son before bed, or enjoyed bath time with him, sat for a quiet dinner at home with my husband, or found twinklings of contemplation in yoga. I remember these moments distinctly, actually. They are like a thread of pearls stringing my months together.

So I suppose in a way, happiness is a decision you make every day, but only if that decision leads to action. Simply choosing to be happy makes you contend with the fierce strength of human emotion. Trying to will yourself to be happy simply will not work! Choosing happiness over anxiety, anger, and insecurity must, must, must come with action. That action is simply: mindfulness.

Like Sadhguru writes in his recent book, humans are fully capable of experiencing bliss and joy here on earth, but we get so overwhelmed with emotion that we feel it is impossible. Our strength lies in the fact that we can look at the moments in front of us for what they are: opportunities for joy. Or not. Perhaps your moment is not joyful, but it will pass. I think the main thing that I am currently learning is that while emotions are legitimate, they do not necessarily reflect full reality. The only way to break through this barrier is through mindfulness, which brings peace.

Can Digital Technology Make Us More Compassionate to the Environment?

When was the last time you took a cell phone out of your pocket to snap a picture of a landscape or sunset for your Instagram account? #nature #mountains #sunset #inspiration #earth #outdoors #tranquility #breathtaking #OMG

Do you ever watch Youtube videos of summit groups on the top of Mount Everest or rock climbers in the High Sierra?

Are you super excited about the new season of the BBC’s Planet Earth?

Why are Americans drawn to experiencing nature through their screen? One could say that this is a natural evolution from the genre of naturalist writing (think: Thoreau) to the medium that most Americans consume today in a visually based culture. As cultural historian Karal Ann Marling writes, the increased popularity of television in the 1950s produced an American popular culture where the visual became the most important of the five senses.[1] The way Americans interact with the world today is directly connected to the visual aspect of things. In fact, reading about and looking at nature are entirely different experiences that may show us a little of what it means to be human. This is not to say that one must be able to see or hear in order to be “fully human,” but the ways we respond to this stimuli reflect our human nature.

Those who view nature through a digital screen attempt to fill a void, or try to solve the problem of separation through experiencing nature in any way possible. In fact, the practice of reading about nature versus looking at nature may have different impacts on the psyche. A study published in 2009 found that simply viewing images of a landscape or being around plants have positive effects on an individual’s intrinsic aspirations, as opposed to extrinsic aspirations.[2] The researchers assert:
“Nature can bolster autonomy directly by affording stimulating sensations (e.g., environmental stimuli that are naturally interesting and personally satisfying an that facilitate orientation to the present) and opportunities to integrate experience by encouraging introspection and a coherent sense of self, and indirectly by providing an alternative to the pressuring elements of everyday life. In either case, nature affords individuals the chance to follow their interests and reduces pressures, fears, introjects, and societal expectations.”[3]
It may be for this very reason twenty-first century Americans seek out the visuals of nature through digital platforms. Researchers found that just viewing images of natural spaces produce positive effects in an individual. The desire is strong and allows us to become more in tune to essential things like kindness and compassion, but does this desire translate to altruism toward the environment, as well? Is there a change in the relationship between humans and nature because of the digital “divide?” Or, rather, is there no real divide at all?

What is initially perceived as a thing that separates might in fact be instigated by anxieties for the unknown. Will digital culture change us so much that we will be unrecognizable to our great-grandchildren? Is pre-digital life obsolete? If we look at life one hundred years ago we certainly see aspects of culture that faded into the historical record for good reason. I think that we – our society – does not want to think of our ways as possibly irrelevant to future generations. The way we do things now is the best! Right? Perhaps it is not. I think the inclusion of digital culture into our experiences in nature might actually bring us closer to who we are and make us realize that we are actually a part of nature, not separate from it. By using digital technology we bring some aspects of ourselves – our culture – into natural spaces, instead of leaving parts of ourselves behind. We also bring images of natural spaces into our homes through these screens. Does this make us more familiar with the “wild?” Does it make us more compassionate to flora and fauna?

Of course, I have more thinking to do on this topic. In fact, it is the subject of my dissertation! What a coincidence! 🙂

[1] Karal Ann Marling, As Seen on TV: The Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994)

[2] Netta Weinstein, Andres K. Przybyiski, and Richard M. Ryan, “Can Nature Make Us More Caring? Effects of Immersion in Nature on Intrinsic Aspirations and Generosity,” PSPB 30, no. 10 (Oct 2009): 1315-1329.

[3] Ibid., 1316.