When The Present Isn’t a Present

It seems I keep writing (and teaching) about being in the present moment. But what if you are not enjoying what you’re doing, what if the present moment is unbearable? 

Obviously not all moments will be honkey dorey (love that word!). I had a moment a few weeks ago where I literally wanted to crawl out of my skin because it felt so uncomfortable. I did not want the present, I wanted to escape, I wanted to numb out. But I stayed and I was present with it— and although it still sucked, there was something surprisingly beautiful about being so radically present with my own suffering.

This is the idea behind mindfulness or stepping back and being a witness, or as I say in class, being in that place inside that never changes, despite your thoughts, feelings, or whatever happens to you in your life.

I also tried to remember what Pema Chodron would say: “notice your suffering and say to yourself, well isn’t this interesting?”

And even if you can’t, or if you’re not there yet, remember instant forgiveness. My teacher once told me that Yogi Bhajan (founder of Kundalini Yoga) once said to his students, “I am no different than any of you. The only difference is I forgive myself instantly.”

Luckily we are changing every moment. Our cells are constantly regenerating. The past is literally a moment-by-moment phenomenon. Every moment, every breath, is a new beginning on a real, physical level, where even if we can’t be present, we can always automatically forgive ourselves.

Advertisements

Another Birthday Wish For You

So I felt there was something missing from my last post about enjoying the journey of life without obsessing about the end goals and I realize now what it is.

The reason why I can enjoy the process is because I like what I’m doing. I chose to follow my passion. Just like the Howard Thurman quote says, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

I’m not saying your passion has to be a career choice; it can be a life choice, a way of being in the world.

One of the best ways to figure out your passion is to remember the times you felt the happiest in your life and recall what you were thinking and feeling about the world and find the common link. 

My birthday wish for you is to do what makes you come alive. Remember those moments, find the common thread, and incorporate more of that into your life. You will then give others permission to do the same. Don’t do it for me or even for yourself, but do it for the world.

A Journey, Not a Contest

We’ve all heard the saying that life is a journey, not a contest. Then one day you wake up and realize you’re…thirty. Yeah, I’m talking about me. And I realize how young and beautiful that is. But still, think of all those lists people talk about writing for themselves— all the dreams they hope come true by the time they reach a certain age: “By the time I’m thirty (or forty, fifty, sixty), I’ll…” Luckily I never made one of those lists, but I still didn’t imagine myself where I am now.

I’m not sure where or who I thought I’d be but it’s easy to become disappointed— to shake our fists and say, “but I haven’t climbed Mount Kilimanjaro yet!” or “I haven’t done this and this and this. Everyone else is doing this and this and this!” But I also didn’t think I’d be lucky enough to be teaching yoga and have two novels already under my belt.

The problem is we are so focused on goals that we forget to live in the moment. We don’t even know what live in the moment means (just try to sit and meditate, hellooo!). But what is the goal anyway? Really, what’s the end game? Life keeps going until it runs out, do we really want to rush ahead and beat everyone?

I remember in high school art class, a student once commented that she couldn’t wait to finish her project already. The teacher looked at her, appalled, and said, “why? I hate finishing, the fun is in the doing it.”

Likewise, I once read a comment by a struggling writer who said maybe his destiny is never to be published, never to share his writing beyond himself or his immediate circle, and maybe that was just as beautiful and valuable. Writing, he said, has intrinsic value.

Just like when we practice yoga— letting go of what we think the pose should be and simply being aware of our breath has value in and of itself (being aware of being alive is pretty awesome, isn’t it?)

The point is the journey, not the end goal. Not that goals are bad, I have tons of them. But maybe goals are only fun because of the process. In doing it. In living it.

Lastly, I did an exercise recently where I had to look back on all my happy memories and remember what I was thinking and feeling about the world that made me happy. It’s a great exercise, by the way (thanks Mastin Kipp!) I recalled the feeling of magic and wonder at the universe, how big and full of possibility the world seemed, how precious and achingly fragile life appeared.

This year, I want more of that. I don’t want to numb out and focus only on goals.

So here’s to remembering that life is a journey, not a contest.

My birthday wish for you is to stop competing with yourself and/or everyone else (just for a moment!) and simply enjoy the magical journey of being alive.

So You Want to Change the World?

A lot of us who go into the helping professions (teaching, counseling, advocacy, etc.) do so because of our desire to inspire change and make the world a better place. This is the reason I studied nonprofit management in graduate school, became a yoga teacher, and yes, even the reason I write. (In fact, sometimes it seems like writing is teaching, counseling and advocacy all in one— even in fiction.)

So how do we change things? “Not change the world exactly, but the bit around you” as David Nicholls in One Day writes?

Well… we can Do Good Things. Because the truth is we never know how far our reach is. Our impact is so much greater than what we can see.

“We can do no great things; only small things with great love.” -Mother Theresa

As some of you already know, I am the Krew Chief for LI Karma Krew, a community-based initiative whose mission, with your help, is to infuse the world with more positive energy by promoting acts of kindness, service, and community outreach in its many forms.

We work mostly through yoga studios to establish new opportunities for yogis from all styles and lineages to come together with the intention of serving the greater good. 


This month is our Pay It Forward/Do Good Things Campaign.

The Do Good Things campaign is as simple as it sounds.

Do Good Things.

 Image

Think of these cards as your reminders. It’s simple.

Step 1: Donate $1* in exchange for a Do Good Things card at your local yoga studio

Step 2: Perform an act of kindness and leave a DGT card behind

Step 3: When the recipient of your deed sees the card, they’ll know it’s their turn to “pay it forward.” As simple as that a new thread of kindness has been born!

*All donations will go towards buying fresh produce for a food pantry in Wyandanch!

Don’t Break the Chain!

               
   

LI Karma Karma Krew bought DGT cards from Karma Krew National

->100% of the proceeds go to support outreach efforts such as bringing yoga to at- risk youth

 

     

YOU go out and spread some love with Do Good Things cards

->Others Go out and Do Good Things

 

 

$ Donated by Balance Yoga from Charity Event-> LI Karma Krew

     

With $ from cards bought by YOU

->Karma Krew will purchase fresh produce for a food pantry in Wyandanch

 

 


Every day there is an opportunity for service. Here are some fun ideas for how to use your DGT cards.

•   Buy a meal or drink for a young couple or family sitting next to you at a restaurant or behind you in the drive through. Leave the DGT card with the server to give them after you leave

•   Tape a quarter to a pay phone with the DGT card.

•   Send a greeting card to someone for no particular reason. Include the DGT card.

•   Donate old books to the library and leave a DGT card in each book.

•   Fill up someone’s parking meter and leave a DGT card on the windshield.

•   Clean up the office “kitchen area” and leave the DGT card on the table.

•   Leave an extra large tip for your food server with a DGT card.

•   Leave a bouquet of flowers on someone’s front door step.

•   Bake goodies and take them to the police station, fire station, or hospital.

•   Let someone skip you in the long line in the post office.

•   Pay a local teen to mow an elderly neighbor’s yard.

•   Pick up litter on the street or in someone’s yard and leave a DGT card in the mailbox.

•   Leave your change in the vending machine with a DGT card for the next person.

•   Pay for the person’s toll behind you and leave a DGT card with the service agent.

•   Give someone a hug for no particular reason. Hand them a DGT card afterwards.

•   Give up your seat on public transportation just for fun.

•   Take ten minutes from your day and hold the door for people coming out of a local store. Hand each person a DGT card as they leave.

•   Collect all the shopping carts left in the parking lot and bring them back to the store front.

 

More about Do Good Things Cards: 

http://www.karmakrew.org/index_initiatives-dogoodthings.asp

Share how you used your Do Good Thing Card in the comments below!

Responding to the Stressors of Life

The person who continues to have the biggest impact on my teaching by far is Leslie Kaminoff. My committment to individualized breath-centered yoga is largely because of studying with him.

Check out his latest blog video (it’s less than 10 minutes and worth it!) It brings up a lot of questions about identifying with what we perceive– which is the hallmark of mindfulness, being present and basically “waking up” in the world.

The Enlightenment of The Dumpster

After you watch it, let me know what you think!

Writing and Yoga– Stop Numbing Out

The thing you’ll most often hear me say in yoga class is “feel your breath and feel your body.” It’s a reminder, not just to the students but to me as well. I say it so often because I really do mean it. I don’t mean just go through the motions.

Sometimes when I work with people (especially beginners) and tell them to move and breathe at the same time (lift your arms on the inhale, lower them on the exhale) they appear to go through the motions of breathing without caring to feel it. The truth is sometimes the last thing we want to do is feel.

Anxiety, anger, impatience, intrusive or painful thoughts, and just plain boredom can come up. I’ve mentioned svadhyaya before (self-study in Sanskrit) and it’s not everyone’s favorite thing to do. Really looking at ourselves means having to go deeper. Confronting things we don’t always want to see. We don’t always want to look at ourselves, to dig to the heart of our feelings and stories, and ask, Why? Why am I doing this or that? Why do I always respond this way? Why do I feel this way? What is my purpose? What am I’m trying to do here? Really looking means no longer playing it safe.

Even with writing, we don’t always want to go deeper. I’m sick of editing, bored of looking at the same characters. Basically, I want to be done. I want my story to be amazing and published already. After many revisions, I find myself zoning out, skimming over the same old words, not really bothering to look deeper. But when I challenge myself to truly connect with my characters and ask, Why do they feel this way? Why would they react this way? What is my purpose for this story? What am I trying to do here? I move deeper inside the heart of my story.

A shift occurs when I dig into the soul of my character, when I really explore how they would think and feel in different situations. The writing becomes much more raw. Of course, fear that I’m going to have to make lots of time-consuming changes often comes up. But my point was never to offer a dumbed-down experience. I want the words to be so alive that they walk off the page. And only three-dimensional characters create worlds of words like that. Only characters that I’ve plumbed the depths of their soul to write for are alive.

The best writers make us feel their words like we can feel our own bodies in yoga. We experience them, not just read them. And this can be the same in yoga too— we can experience being alive in our body and actually feel what it’s like to live in the shape our body takes instead of just “doing the damn pose.”

This is the yoga of writing and yoga of yoga— to embrace our three-dimensionality and all the range of feelings that may arise, to “feel our breath and our body” even if it’s not ideal. Because the point is to feel alive, not numb out. Do you really want to miss this moment?

Aside