abundantlifevegan

Spiritual Musings, Creative Inspiration, and Simple Vegan Recipes


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Why I am happier without Facebook (or at least less Facebook…)

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Of course this all started because of a conversation with my mother. Most of the time when my mother challenges me on something, I bristle at first, maybe get a bit defensive, and eventually come around to the conclusion that she is, in fact, correct.

About two weeks ago, my mother and I were chatting on the phone, and I was (as usual) complaining about how busy I am with my full time job, long commute and teaching several yoga classes a week. “I’m trying to meditate” I told her, but it still feels like there is not enough “space.”

“What about all the Facebook posts?” she queried. “Where is there room to be creative, to just think, to just be, with all the Facebook updates and sharing?”

Deep breath. Followed by several more deep breaths. Then the realization that she was absolutely, 100% right. Like many of us, I had access to Facebook on my phone, and on my computer at home, and literally every time I had a spare moment—I was checking Facebook or Instagram. Has anyone liked my post? Any good pictures to share? Have I been invited here or there? Etc. etc etc.

I decided at first to give it a week. One week, no Facebook, not on the phone, the computer anything. I admit—the first two days were very hard. I posted on my page letting people know I would be absent, and I was VERY tempted to check and see who liked it almost immediately! But after the first two days—I felt free. Yes, truly, I wanted to run around and wave my arms and shout “FREEDOM!!!” at the top of my lungs. Strange as it sounds—I was no longer tied down. It was so incredibly liberating to NOT feel obligated to check up on everyone’s life/ status/ baby photos/ vacation/ buzzfeed….

Some other things happened too. I was leaving the house earlier for work or the gym, because I didn’t have to check my phone first. I was enjoying the walks between the buildings on the campus where I work—because I was present, and not staring at the screen. I enjoyed the commute more, I either talked to my carpool buddy, or if she was driving, I slept. I felt more rested, more present, and that there was more “white space” in my head. When I got home from work, I would sometimes just sit, cup of tea in hand and (drumroll please…) DO NOTHING!!

In that same week, our desktop computer and my digital watch both died—as if the universe was coming together to say—“let go! You don’t need to be constantly connected, overwhelmed and burdened with the constant onslaught of information!” I even decided to take the Facebook phone app off of my iPhone. No more check ins, no more status updates. No one needs to know that I am at Durham Yoga Company for the 102nd time. Just sayin’.

After one week, I went back on— and discovered 4 messages, and 99 notifications. No way was I going to check all of those. And I had to laugh…there is also no way in hay am I that important! I made a commitment then and there to only check once a week. Just once a week. I would comment on or like things that were truly interesting, and then go. Go do something else. Connect with a real person. Breathe in the white space and feel grateful.

Thankfully, it hasn’t been that hard! I was worried that moderation would not be possible—but it is, and once you go off the Facebook for a little while, it becomes a whole lot less interesting.

To be fair, I am not fundamentally opposed to Facebook or any other social media for that matter. I love connecting with friends, and I DO enjoy seeing your baby pictures. (I also recognize the irony of sharing this blog link via Facebook. But I am grateful again that wordpress.com allows me to do that—otherwise most of you reading this would not see it, and would not consider possibly going on a Facebook diet. )

Changing my relationship with social media has changed my relationship with myself above all. I had become so hyper aware, hyper connected, and over informed—that my brain had lost the ability to truly pay attention. I had also lost the ability to just BE. Less connection with social media has helped me be more connected to myself, and with my priorities. And again, I am not against Facebook. But thanks to Mom, I began to see what I was missing out on in my own life while I was too busy updating my status.

Thanks Mom!

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Trail Running, Meditation and Homemade Chocolate

January has been a good month for me so far.  Along with sticking to a spending fast, I have also set a goal to return to a consistent meditation practice, as well as return to running (albeit in a different and way) than I have in the past.

Meditation is a practice that I have dabbled with for about two years now. In the past I have been consistent for a little while, then life would get busy—and I wouldn’t prioritize it any more. I know that I am a calmer, more grounded person when meditation is a regular part of my routine. I know that I am a sweeter wife and a more effective therapist when I simply start my day with deep breathing.

I have tried a few different practices, but finally two weeks ago—I found the key that makes meditation work for me.  I had the opportunity to attend a one day workshop on mindfulness, where I was introduced to the “gatha.”

In case you don’t know, gathas are short poems or verses that we can recite, regardless of where we are, to help us return to the present moment and to dwell in mindfulness. I finally found one that worked for me, and using this gatha as I meditate has helped me be consistent in my meditation for 10 days—the longest I have sustained a practice in quite some time.

The gatha I use is this:

Breathing in, I calm my body

Breathing out, I smile

Dwelling in the present moment,

I know this is a wonderful moment!

 

At the training we learned to practice like this, as you breathe say the words in parentheses silently:

Inhale (in)

Exhale (calm)

Inhale (out)

Exhale (smile)

Inhale (present)

Exhale (wonderful)

There are of course many variations of this, explained in Thich Nhat Hanh’s lovely little book, Present Moment, Wonderful Moment. I have found this little volume invaluable as I learn to practice mindfulness in my daily life. I am also learning that having a seated meditation practice is key for creating mindfulness in life. The other crucial piece has been choosing to meditate first thing in the morning, (rather than playing on my phone or on the internet, my usual morning routine!) Deepak Chopra calls this the “RPM” method—rise, pee, mediate. Trust me, it works. Some days I rise, pee, mediate, mindfully drink a cup of coffee, than meditate. But I am sitting, and practicing, and I can feel the difference.

One of the unexpected ways that my mindfulness helped me, was this past Saturday when I ran a 10 mile trail race—the first race I had done in nearly 3 years. It was a very cold, windy morning and I was wondering why I even signed up when we were waiting to start. As we started running, navigating single track trails, and alone with each other and the breath, I found myself reciting the gatha. And each step that I took was wonderful. I realized I had to focus as I ran in much the same way that I do when meditating. Each step, each breath, was something new. A new root, a new rock, a fresh patch of mud met me at my every step. I finished strongly (although I am not sure of my place or time—practicing some non-attachment with that!), and most importantly felt present throughout the entire run. I am eager to sign up for another trail race and practice my new favorite form of moving meditation.

One final piece to share—on my spending fast I challenged myself to make my own chocolate instead of buying the expensive “Endangered Species” chocolate bars I usually favor. I figured I could save money and probably make it healthier too. Enter the world’s easiest and healthiest homemade chocolate!

Dark Pecan Chocolate Bars

Ingredients:

½ cup cocoa (unsweetened)

½ cup coconut oil

1/3 cup coconut nectar

1 cup chopped pecans

Directions

  1. In a small pan, over medium heat, heat cocoa and coconut oil. Once combined, stir in coconut nectar.
  2. Once combined remove from heat and stir pecans in the mixture.
  3. Line an 8 x 8 pan with parchment paper, pour mixture into the pan, and spread with a spatula.
  4. Place entire pan in freezer, and let harden for at least one hour.
  5. Remove, slice and enjoy!

I recommend storing these in the freezer if possible, I had to store mine in the back so I wouldn’t eat them all at once. You could easily sub 1 cup of any chopped nuts you would like, or add dried fruit, coconut, etc.

Happy January friends. Enjoy deep breaths, time outside, and plenty of chocolate until we meet again!

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Embrace your Inner Goddess for May Day

Happy May Day! In case you didn’t know—today marks the halfway point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice. It is the day to welcome in fertility, growth, green things and warmth. Today is considered to be the height of spring, and a time to celebrate the feminine aspects of the Divine. We are opening to new aspects of ourselves, parts that have been lying dormant and waiting to emerge.

Although I wasn’t able to dance around a maypole today, I was able to dedicate my morning yoga practice to the divine goddess within and to share this with my students this morning. But I found myself asking the question: How can we connect to our divine inner goddess in our daily lives? What does that even mean?

Certainly the answer will be different for everyone, but as I meditated on what this would mean in my own life, the answer that emerged was embracing my creativity. I often allow myself to get so busy with the many responsibilities of life, my job, doing laundry, cooking dinner, working out, buying groceries, etc. etc. I simply do not make the time to create and recreate. Growing up, like many kids, I enthusiastically drew, wrote poems and stories, made sculptures, and created free of restraint, self-judgment or criticism.

Recently I was talking to my desire to start sewing lessons soon, and how excited I was to re-learn the basics. She told me that when I was much younger, I would sew without abandon—allowing myself to simply create and enjoy the process. I realized that I could do this again, even in small ways, if I was willing to let go of the need to have things look a “certain way.”

This afternoon, I took the time to sit down and draw an image of myself as goddess. I just picked up my colored pencils and began. Yes, the critical voice in my head chimed in several times—but the image I created brought my joy. In my goddess image I had pink, purple and blue hair, covered in leaves and flowers, smiling and calm.  Certainly no masterpiece, but just the feeling of putting color on paper brought happiness and a feeling of connection to something outside of myself.

I believe the  goddess within is made manifest in the simple act of creation. Creating a sacred time and sacred place to nurture this connection is one way, and a very powerful one, to connect with this inner goddess. So to honor my inner goddess—I will write, draw, sing, dance, and connect in any way to connect to this divine creative self. Happy May Day and may you see and know the goddess within!Image


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Spirit Calling

This past holiday afforded me the opportunity to look more closely at what I believe about the life of the Spirit (which is all life)….and how I can articulate it more clearly to those around me. It began with a conversation with my sister, and turned into a closer look at my spiritual calling.

This I believe…..

I believe in God, a Divine Higher power that is pure love, knowledge and truth. This same Divine nature which is the ground and the foundation of the universe is present in each of us too, and in all beings, regardless of age, gender, culture or religion.

This Divine inner nature, our true nature, is what connects each of us. As humans, we attempt to divide and separate ourselves, but because we are all truly spiritual beings, the core of who we are is the same. So try as we might we cannot ever truly be separate. Anytime we are attempting to be ourselves (our true selves) we are being spiritual and acting from this Divine center.

Of course people in different countries, contexts, environments and circumstances will follow a different path to connect with the Divine. This does not mean or imply that one path (Christianity or Islam or Judaism) is right and another is wrong. I believe it is all the same truth, but that due to our unique perspectives, contexts, environments and cultures we perceive and understand that same truth differently.

Although I do not consider myself a religious person, I am a spiritual person. I think that is a popular thing to say now, and I don’t mean to imply that there is anything wrong with being religious. I did get married in the Catholic Church, and my husband is a man of the Catholic faith. To this day I am very glad we made that choice as it provided a strong foundation for our futures together.

I also believe in spiritual calling, and that my personal calling is to connect. I connect to others, to nature, to myself and of course to that Divine Spirit and Ground of Being. (Thanks again Paul Tillich.) This call to connect is not about a job or an obligation, but this is the purpose and meaning behind all the work I do, personally and interpersonally, in my thoughts, actions and words.

This is also how I worship. I worship/ connect spiritually through still listening, ecstatic dance, heartfelt conversation, warm touch, close embrace, looking into another’s eyes. These are my spiritual practices, how my life’s work is manifest in the world.

I may not be a Christian, Hindu, or Muslim, but I do not see myself as different from these spiritual people. I am just as comfortable praising God/ The Divine/Love/ Light/ Pure Truth in Catholic Mass as in the Hanuman Temple where I learned to chant kirtan. This does not mean I have no values, or no moral compass, or a generic view of the spiritual life. It does mean that I know that the very heart, the core, and the foundation of each of these traditions worships the same God, practices the same Love, honors the same Truth. As humans we cannot see this and we let petty politics and cultural differences divide us. But love, truth, peace, and the Divine still unite us.

I daily say prayers and practice honoring and recognizing the Divine in the Universe. Daily I practice my spirit calling—to connect. Some may call this generic, New Age, or indecisive. In many senses it is. But I also recognize that I am on a journey, a spiritual journey—and believe that we all are whether we choose to see it or not. I also understand that I have a limited understanding of the spiritual realm inside this physical body. But still I choose to walk through my life on this physical earth with an expansive heart, open for more love, more truth, more wisdom and above all more God, and more Love, Love, Love.

One of my spiritual teachers told me that it is always more important to be kind than it is to be right. This is my moral compass, by inner guide, my religion if you will. When in doubt, choose kindness, choose Love , choose Truth, and that is being a spiritual person.


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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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Kindness to all, myself included. Let this be your mantra.

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
― Dalai Lama XIV