abundantlifevegan

Spiritual Musings, Creative Inspiration, and Simple Vegan Recipes


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Musings on Mindful Eating

 

“When you are truly here, contemplating the orange, breathing and smiling, the orange becomes a miracle. It is enough to bring you a lot of happiness. You peel the orange, smell it, take a section, and put it in your mouth mindfully, fully aware of the juice on your tongue. This is eating an orange in mindfulness. It makes the miracle of life possible. It makes joy possible.”- Thich Nhat Hanh

I haven’t posted much in quite some time, frankly because I have been rather overwhelmed  way too busy and imbalanced! I am working full time as a therapist, and teaching yoga in several different locations—including my new fave—a donation based class on Sunday mornings in a local downtown brewery.

I love teaching yoga, and in fact, I find it the most fulfilling and energizing practice in my life. Seriously. I love it that much. But I found myself teaching so much (6 days a week!)—that I was not practicing the very first principle and practice of yoga, which is “Ahimsa.”

Ahimsa is translated in a few different ways, most often as non-violence, but also as non-harming, and even compassion. With all of these practices and principles of yoga, we must start with ourselves. Practicing compassion, love and non-violence towards oneself may seem very easy if we are a person who generally has good self-esteem and believes we take care of ourselves and our health.

One of the biggest reasons I started to eat a vegan diet and practice a vegan lifestyle, was because I felt so profoundly in my life the connection between myself, and the food that I eat. I knew I had to begin my practice of ahimsa by changing my food choices, and making the conscious and ethical choices I felt were best for me.

Recently, I have realized that even though I may eat a compassionate diet that does not harm animals and has as small a toll on the planet as possible, I am harming myself. Not because of the foods that I am eating, but how I am eating. Rushed, with little awareness, and with more fear, stress and anxiety about the events of my life and my day than gratitude for being nourished.

Today is the first day of a new month, and I love new beginnings. I am declaring April the month of mindfulness, not just in my eating, but I am going to start there and return to the first principle of yoga as I do so. We are all worth this compassion and this return to connection.

If you need help in learning to eat mindfully, I encourage you to read further from Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings, and practice his meditations on mindful eating. You can find more here: http://www.chetday.com/mindfuleating.htm

Take the time to savor and know that we are nourished by more than food. Namaste.Small Buddha_Banana_by_papamook

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Radical Honesty: I am a Piece of Work!

Time for some radical honesty here folks. Honesty with myself, with friends, with those I love. Some of this is hard to say, but somehow sharing makes it better, taking it out of the dark and into the light.

So what’s my big secret? Sometimes it’s all just an act. The positive, upbeat, healthy vibrant woman you see at work and in the community, yep—there are days when it’s all a show. There are days that I am just pretending like it is all okay, everything is good and wonderful—because I am supposed to, right? I am a therapist, a yoga teacher, all about mediation, and mental balance, and go get sunshine and eat some fresh fruit!

But guess what? The truth, the real truth, is that some days I feel so stuck in the ruts of my samskaras (mental and emotional patterns), stuck in habits that do not serve me, stuck in ways of being that serve only to bring me down, that I feel I can never change even though they are incongruent with my true self.

Yep, you heard right. I have a lot of mess, regret and frustration in my life. I have fears about my future, my health, my finances, and my spiritual progress.  Mainly, I worry a lot about getting it all right—having control, grasping for some solid ground to stand on.

More and more I realize that my fear comes from a deep seated belief that maybe I am not enough. More and more I realize that all my clinging to security, stability and permanence is just that—clinging, attachment—and that the only way to deal with the fear is to embrace it. To sit with the knowledge that there is no permanence, security or conformation in the external world.

Pema Chodron said it in best in her book When Things Fall Apart. She writes:

“We think that if we just meditated enough, or jogged enough or ate perfect food, everything would be perfect. But from the point of view of someone who is awake, that’s death. Seeking security or perfection, rejoicing in feeling confirmed and whole, self-contained and comfortable, is some kind of death…we are killing the moment by controlling our experience.”

And that is the trap I fall into again and again and again. My samskara is to work just a little harder—eat more perfectly vegan food, meditate more, exercise more, smile more, try harder and keep striving the fears away.

If I control enough, my mind habits tell me, I won’t have to feel the loss, or experience this fear, or feel insecure about how I am. I won’t have to miss my family, wonder about the bills, doubt my competence, feel afraid or alone.

In those moments I am forgetting that feeling, experiencing and going through the loss, the fear, and the anxiety is what it means to be human. To experience life fully, is to know the depths of despair and the joy of freedom. AHHHH! So here I am trying to escape from the very things that makes us awake and alive!

And this is where it gets tricky for me. How do I change the habits that I know do not serve me, if it means I have to experience some form of suffering as I go through the change? It’s not that I want to embrace suffering with open arms, but I don’t want to run away from it either. That denies me the very thing that makes me, and all of us, human.

I believe the answer can be found in our willingness to step into the unknown. If the mental habits and patterns that I have formed have kept me in a place that is unhealthy for me, I have to be brave enough to go forward into a strange “in-between space” before developing new, healthier habits and patterns.

I have resisted changing some of my ways of being, because I have become utterly convinced that these patterns make me WHO I AM! When I accept that these patterns, are simply that—patterns—and nothing more—I can step into an even more evolved version of myself—no longer dependent on these habits and ways of thinking to define myself.  Exciting Stuff!

As we let go of the old habits and patterns, new ones will form—but luckily the new ones can be positive, and can help us to chip away at the habits we once believed defined us, and come a little closer to knowing our True Self.

What can you let go of in your life right now? What patterns, beliefs and habits do you hold on to because you’re comfortable with them, identify with them, or don’t know how to function without them?

I promise you, you will never get it right. You will never have it all under control. But have faith that when you embrace the chaos that emerges, we can illuminate that part of yourself that is solid, unchangeable and Divine.


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Embracing the Transformative Power of Change

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On this first day of Fall (also called the Autumnal Equinox) we begin to observe the change from Summer to Fall. At first the outward changes are subtle. The sun rises later, night comes more quickly. My morning walks have been darker; I have started to watch the sunset on my evening strolls.

On the day of the equinox, day and night are almost of equal length. This only happens twice a year, when the Earth’s axis and Earth’s orbit around the sun combine so that the axis is neither inclined away from or toward the sun.

For many of us, the change in the season invites inward symbolic change as well. The equinox arrived at a momentous time in my personal and spiritual life, as the yoga school where I have been teaching and practicing yoga is now closing its doors for the foreseeable future.

I am saddened not only for the shala, but I am also grieving the loss of community. The friendships that developed there kept me grounded and grateful since moving to Durham, in a new place and in a new city—yoga was the connection to others and what has made this city feel like home.

Just as the seasons change and invite a time of reflection, I have reflected on how this change in our yoga community is an opportunity for inward change. Personally, I can reflect on what my intentions are in teaching, embrace the joys of being a student, and even embrace stillness. Often I find a busy teaching schedule, in addition to full time work, leaves little time for personal practice, which is a MUST (for me) in order to be grounded enough to teach.

Teaching yoga is truly my greatest joy in life, as I connect with others on a transformative level—in a unique place where body, mind and spirit can be changed from the inside on the journey to discover who we truly are. The outward change is subtle—just like the shift from summer to fall—but when we embrace change, we can allow ourselves to be carried by the flow of the universe, which is our true-self, never changing and always free.


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Risky Business

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

As a young therapist and yoga teacher—I often question my capability to teach or to counsel. There are moments I seem to believe I am an imposter. Not qualified!

In the context of counseling, I often get caught up in feeling the need to say the “right thing.” I get caught in a stream of doubt about what I do say—  (Maybe that wasn’t the most “therapeutic” thing to say….Did I self-disclose too much?…..what if I just made things worse by being honest….)

As a yoga teacher, a similar phenomenon happens—(what if I am not teaching this correctly? What if the students all know I am a fraud? Did I mispronounce utthita trikonasana again? Did I forget to do a half moon balance on the 2nd side…..)

I have a wonderful supervisor at my work place, and he reminded me this week that my job is never to say the right thing, but to be myself. Only when I am connecting with someone from a place of authenticity can genuine connection transpire. Truthfully, that is why I went into the field of counseling—to connect.

That’s what teaching yoga is about for me too.  If you’ve ever taken a class with me, you know I can be pretty goofy—but that’s who I am. When I am overly focused on saying the “right thing,” getting all the Sanskrit names right, taking myself too seriously— I am not being myself, not connecting, and sure to lose my flow as a teacher.

So even though some days I feel inadequate or “underqualified”— I still dive in to my therapy, yoga teaching, blog writing, and art making. I have to put it all out there, because if I wait until I feel like I am an expert, good enough, appropriately qualified, etc. etc. I will never start.  I have to take a risk, plunge in and do the things I love, that make me come alive. Otherwise I am being selfish— holding back from the world the gifts I was meant to share.

It may be easier to wait to do those things we love, but at the end of the day I would rather take a risk and mess up, than wish I had made that connection.

Are there places in your life you are holding back because of fear or being a fraud, or not being “good enough?”

Are there risks you wish you would take, but tell yourself “not yet?”

I promise you, you are already good enough. When you are genuine and operating from a place of authenticity— you are more than qualified, in fact, you are the expert in that moment.  Move away from that safe and comfortable place, let yourself make mistakes and get messy—- because that is where the magic happens.


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Self Love is a Spiritual Act

Nearly every yoga class you will ever take closes with the Hindu greeting “Namaste.” This is most often translated as “I see and honor the divine in you.” This recognition of the divine is extended not only to the person you are acknowledging, but to oneself. It is an inward greeting as much as an outward one, as all beings in creation are Divine.

When I truly contemplate the notion of being part of Divinity, recognizing it within myself—I feel a little pompous, arrogant, and presumptuous. Me, divine? What? I find it easier to see the Divine spark in another than in myself, but I also know that our first duty is to love and honor ourselves. I think much of my hesitation stems from a Judeo-Christian conception of God, which is in the process of change for me.

In order to see the Divine within myself, I had to let go of the idea that God is an omnipotent “being in the sky” and instead embrace a God, which theologian Paul Tillich refers to as “The Ground of our Being.” Although Tillich is a Christian Theologian, this way of understanding God need not be confined to Christian thought, as it is applicable to all people pursuing a more expansive way of viewing themselves and others as spiritual beings. Tillich mean that God is the basis for the existence of all things, and that God is the ground upon which all being is based and from which it proceeds. Namaste, right?

Since I acknowledge that I am a being, and the ground of my being is from God—I can start to recognize that I am not separate from God (or The Divine, if capital “G” God is a difficult word for you. I get that too.)

This may seem like “heady” spiritual speculation, but stick with me here! If we want to recognize our spiritual nature, must honor God both in others and ourselves. And I think the best place to start is with the words we say to and about ourselves, both inwardly and outwardly. Or to put it another way, we must eliminate negative self-talk if we want to find God.

Would we not consider it unkind, unloving, perhaps unforgivable, to talk to others the way we sometimes talk to ourselves? I often catch myself blaming, accusing, or criticizing myself, not just for tiny mistakes I’ve made, but for even being less than perfect! (Anyone ever been there?) Or for not being able to solve problems over which I have no control. I call myself weak, lazy, incompetent, plain not good enough.

My challenge—to all of you who can relate—and to myself of course, is to consider the elimination of negative self-talk as an act of surrender to God/ The Divine.  We are the authors of our own stories, and we can choose to speak stories  of truth, gratitude, self-love and honor, or we can tell stories that deny the very existence of the Divine in us.

I believe we are all spiritual beings, but to be a spiritual person, we must become our True Self. And our true self, the Ground of our Being is Divine. Our first task in becoming who we truly are is to love God, and in so doing, love ourselves.

Wild, right? I hope this didn’t set you off on a tailspin–I hope these words can serve to remind you that in loving and honoring yourself, you are loving and honoring Gd.

Each time we replace a negative thought with a positive one, we are speaking a prayer of peace into the universe. This is an act of spiritual progress and a manifestation of love.

What will your prayer be? Please share and help another choose Self Love as their constant prayer. Namaste.

 


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Presence, Love and Yoga

The city of Durham, NC is experiencing a yoga explosion. We offer a lot of yoga here, from Patanjali’s Place, to Ride the Breath, Bull City Yoga…and of course my yoga home Samadhi Shala–there are numerous places and spaces to practice and a variety of teachers to learn from.

Another studio just opened today in downtown Durham– Durham Yoga Company– and I had the opportunity to take a class from a talented and passionate anusara teacher, Olynda Smith. It was the second class the studio had ever offered– and the place was jam-packed! Wow! How incredible to see so many different people coming together to experience what this practice could offer.

Although Anusara is not my practice, I think it is important to support and encourage yoga in a variety of venues and styles so that people can find what speaks to them. Like religion, ethnicity, even political parties (gasp!) I find when I practice yoga in a style that is different from my own– I experience more connections than differences. Whether it is alignment based, flow style, kundalini, or ashtanga– the practice of yoga always returns to presence. Being present in your body, in your breath, in the sensations in your toes, or even your inner gaze— what spiritual teacher Ram Dass calls “being here now.”

Olynda shared a quote from Tara Brach, a Buddhist meditation teacher and psychologist during this morning’s practice. She stated that “Presence is the purest form of love.” She explained that when we are present to the moment, everything in our lives becomes richer. We experience things more fully; smell smells more strongly, see colors more vividly.  And that was when I had my “aha” moment, when the practice and the teachings came full circle.

When we are embracing the present moment, and whatever that moment may bring, we are practicing love for ourselves. And that is a rockin’ realization right there! Just by showing up for myself, my thoughts, emotions and experiences—I am loving in the purest form. Wow.

Somehow by grounding through the four corners of my feet, and following the rhythm of my breath, I learn how to love more purely and more fully. I have known for a long time that practicing yoga has helped me to be a better person, and now I am starting to realize why.