End of Year Reflections

The end of the year always comes with some form of reflection. Have I done everything I sought out the year to do? What were my achievements? Downfalls? Setbacks?

I headed into 2016 with a list of resolutions, like so many people. A lot of what I resolved to do revolved around furthering my spiritual state of mind through meditation, yoga, clean- eating, fasting, and being present.

As the year comes to an end, I have not become the meditation guru I had dreamed to be. Sitting quiet and still, in one spot, for a designated amount of time may be attainable on the occasion, but committing to a daily meditation practice fell out out of my reach.

Not that I didn’t meditate. I did. But not every day, not nearly as much as I had intended. I’m no where close to where I thought, one year ago, I’d be today. On days I meditate, I do so in thirty-minute intervals. Anything longer, my mind strays. More training will fix that problem, but I need to put in the time.

I can’t imagine anything more freeing than sitting in one place, closing your eyes so you are blind to all that is around you, with nothing but your mind, body, and soul at your disposal, and completely losing yourself to your own self, for hours at a time.

This state may not be something one can plan, but rather, is attained naturally through practice done organically. I need to stop treating yoga and meditation as words I cross off a daily “to-do” list.

If I forget to make a list, do I forget my practice?

Yoga and meditation need to be felt. Once my body grows to crave the serenity, the state of missing nothing that yoga and meditation provide, I won’t need a list to remind me to do my daily practice. 

It will become who I am.

 

 

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Photo courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Half a Year Gone. What Have you Done? ?

Today is June 1. The mark of half a year gone by. The time I usually reflect on the past six months in relation to the ambitious goals and optimistic attitude I had coming into the New Year.

I am sure I have the list of New Year intentions I resolved to accomplish written down somewhere, but have forgotten where I put it. (The list is probably in some convenient place I specifically chose so I wouldn’t forget where it is.)

Offhand, I remember the list being something like this:

Reading – Every new year begins with my resolution to read 52 books – one book per week – for an entire year. I have yet to accomplish this feat.  Last year I read 34 books. The halfway point of this year finds me at a measly 9 books. Although I am currently reading two books and plan to finish them this week, I am still way off target. Whenever I fail to reach the coveted 52 books, I settle for at least doing better than the previous year. To beat even last year’s number means I gotta kick it up – big time.

My struggle isn’t for lack of books. My kindle is filled with a plethora of authors I love, as well as authors I am just discovering, and my library card is always in my wallet for constant access. I have no valid reason for falling so behind. I love to read. I’m a writer. I have no choice but to love to read. If I didn’t, I’d have no business being a writer.

Sometimes I feel guilty when I’m reading because I tell myself I should be writing. But a writer learns while he/she reads, and will better at his/her craft the more they read, so I will no longer call it reading, rather research. 

The next time I spend a gorgeous afternoon under the sun engrossed in a great story, I will tell myself that what I am doing is the writer’s equivalent of a scientist conducting experiments in a lab wearing goggles and a lab coat. Research!

Blogging – I set a goal to write two blogs a week. This isn’t an overly ambitious goal. I did not set myself up to fail  because this is an easily attainable feat. Yet, if you keep up with my blog even just a little bit, you know that not only am I not writing two blogs a week, but sometimes I don’t even write one.

This failure isn’t for lack of having anything to say. There is plenty happening out there I have an opinion about. Hello, this is election year. There have been an abundance of headlines that caused me to seriously rethink the level of humanity and compassion in our country’s leaders. And this is sad.

But I hesitate to write here sometimes because I question why anyone would care what I think. Am I wasting my time with this blog?  I do this blogging thing because I was told authors needed it as one of their platforms. I know for certain my blog has been responsible for one book sale – one. But I don’t blog for the sales. I do it for that one person who may enjoy reading the words I write.

I easily forget at times that anyone, in any country with internet, has access to everything I write. A few of my friends read my blog and occasionally they’ll comment on something I’ve written, and I’ll stop whatever I’m doing, and think, “Oh yeah. I wrote that and you can read everything I write.”

Sometimes it’s a little awkward when I’m scrambling to remember if I revealed anything too personal. I will put some of my self-consciousness aside and just write about whatever I want – no matter how opinionated I may get.

Yoga and Meditation – I started doing yoga consistently about two years ago. I still practice, but I’m not where I thought I would be by this time. My dedication to the spiritual journey I set on a few years back has been interrupted. I used to practice yoga everyday, meditate nightly, and read spiritual passages.

I allowed myself to get distracted. It became too difficult to keep my mind at the steady pace and concentration meditation requires. The external noise around me got too loud, and I began to listen too intently. I let myself get upset about things I know aren’t important. I tried to control too much, forgetting the impermanence of life.

I can feel in my body and soul, in my self, where I lost the calming benefit, and clarity, daily yoga and meditation had once given me. I will get back to yoga with more consistency. I will slow my mind and remind myself that at this moment, all is well. I will read and retain passages that enhance my spiritual journey.

Writing – I am happy I have at least kept up with my writing. I have just completed an 80,000 word novel, the longest story I’ve ever written called A Penny on the Tracks.  This feat alone makes falling behind on most everything else somewhat bearable.

 

A writer writes.

Never forget that, writers.

Spiritual Journey

At the beginning of the new year I made a commitment to daily yoga practice and meditation. Like an excited new student eager to learn, I dove in the uncharted waters of Buddhism with the hope that this spiritual journey would help answer all of life’s mysteries.

It went well for a while, but soon my devotion drifted as the snowy weather transformed to sunny skies, and distraction got the best of me. Daily practice turned into three times a week. I let myself get lost, but if I have not yet found my compass, I may at least know which direction to look for it.

I’m meditating again. I’m training my mind to be still. This isn’t easy, but it wasn’t meant to be. To help me from losing my way, I recite my favorite verses taught by the Buddha.

“Don’t try to build your happiness on the unhappiness of others. You will be enmeshed in a net of hatred.”

“Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think. Joy follows a pure thought like a shadow that never leaves.”

“As an archer aims an arrow, the wise ail their restless thoughts, hard to aim, hard to restrain.”

“A trained mind brings health and happiness. The wise can direct their thoughts…wherever they choose.”

“Do not give attention to what others do or fail to do; give it to what you do or fail to do.”

“One who conquers himself is greater than another who conquers a thousand times a thousand men on the battlefield.”

“Be victorious over yourself and not over others. When you attain victory over yourself, not even the gods can turn it into defeat.”

“Wake up! Don’t be lazy. Follow the right path, avoid the wrong. You will be happy here as well as hereafter.”

“Give up anger, give up pride, and free yourself from worldly bondage. No sorrow can befall those who never try to possess people and things as their own.”

“Refrain from evil deeds, which cause suffering later. Perform good deeds, which can cause no suffering.”

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Just Try

I’ve been practicing yoga consistently for two years and each pose gets a little easier after months of repetition. Standing forward-bends used to strain my back, and even with my knees bent, my fingertips barely brushed the ground.

But after years of practice, standing forward-bends are one my favorite asanas. I can lay the palms of my hands flat against the floor, with straight legs, and the sensation that runs through my body is no longer straining, but rather soothing and relaxing.

It took time to get here, and even after two years of practice, six to seven days a week, I still have to do the modified version of many of the poses. I’m not yet strong enough to carry the weight of my entire body on my hands — but I will be — with more practice.

Aside from practicing yoga daily, I also meditate, and study and learn from books how I can deepen the spiritual impact yoga has had on my body and mind. I have altered my eating habits to fit a more compassionate diet because plant-based foods complement yoga better than any other diet.

Yoga has become such an integral part of my life, I was not surprised when I woke up this morning having dreamed of doing yoga.

In my dream, I was sitting on the floor with my legs spread apart. A man, who I assume was my teacher, sat across from me.

“Fold your body over your leg,” he said.

I lowered my body over my leg until my forehead rested effortlessly against my thigh, and my arms stretched forward and my hands bound evenly around my foot.

“I didn’t know I could do that,” I said to my teacher.

“That’s because you never tried.”

I opened my eyes this morning to the most powerful dream I have ever dreamed.

Just Try.

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A Time to Reflect

Today is Ash Wednesday. The first day of the forty days (not including Sundays) of Lent. Lent is a time to reflect on the days that led to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. We fast. We refrain from meat on both Ash Wednesday and Fridays. Fish isn’t considered meat. Only flesh from warm-blooded animals are off-limits. Sorry tuna but you don’t get a reprieve, in fact, your death rate probably spikes during this time. It’s true. Baked tuna casserole with crumbled potato chips on top will always make me think of Fridays during Lent.

Catholics are also required to give up something they really, really like because this isn’t a time to be festive. It’s a time to reflect on suffering. It is a somber time. Fast food, diet coke, potato chips, alcohol, candy, porn, whatever your guilty pleasure, you give it up. Except on Sundays. All bets are off on Sundays because Sundays are festive days. Sundays are the Lord’s day and we celebrate the Lord. Every Sunday. No matter what. Even during Lent. Meat may be eaten, as well as that favorite thing we gave up.

Truly. The rules aren’t so hard when we consider Jesus had nails driven through his hands and feet on a cross he would later die. All for our sins, AFTER he was brutally, nearly whipped to death, yet still, some idiot will complain about that ONE day during the week he or she can’t put pepperoni on their pizza or eat bacon with their eggs.

Hey, idiot, try some tuna instead.

Having said all this, I didn’t get my ashes today. I haven’t gotten ashes in over a decade because I don’t go to church. Aside from Baptisms, Communions, Weddings, and Funerals, I haven’t attended a regular mass in close to fifteen years…not even on Christmas. Even though I attended Catholic school from kindergarten through high school, my family wasn’t “strict” Catholics by any means.

Still, weekly church attendance was expected when I was a child and Christmas mornings were the worst. I’d beg and plead to stay home in my pajamas and play with my new toys. But that never happened. We attempted Midnight Mass one year to forgo the morning chaos, but there was so much singing and I was way too tired for all of that. I fell asleep against my grandmother’s snugly arm.

I’m not sure the exact moment I decided to stop going to church, but I do remember the Sunday morning when I listened to a priest preach the Homily. This was around 1998. A young man named Mathew Shepard had recently been beaten and left to die in a field, presumably, because he was gay. The priest condemned the act because the Church did not condone violence, and then he told the people sitting before him that if they knew someone who was gay to not hurt them, but instead, help them. Yes. Help them find their way because gay people were clearly lost souls. A little direction was all they needed. A compass, if you will.

The town I grew up in was home to about 18,000 people. We had two Catholic schools and two Catholic churches. Divide up two churches of the same religion in a not-so-big town, and that isn’t a lot of people attending each church, especially given not everyone in town was Catholic. This meant you prayed among a lot of familiar faces during Sunday mass. After the priest instructed his congregation to lead gay people from the everlasting damnation that was surely awaiting them, I looked around me. With those familiar faces came a lot of knowledge of who these people were and I was mostly unimpressed. Small towns talk and it scared the $hit out of me that my salvation depended on those @ssholes.

No way.

I had only been out a couple years to select friends and family. I was young, twenty, and very nervous about who knew I was a lesbian, so I did nothing as the priest spoke his words. I obediently sat still in my place in the pew and listened. But if that would happen today, I’d stand up and leave through the side door, (not the back) and let the door slam behind me so the entire congregation, including the priest…wait...especially the priest, knew somebody had just left. And that somebody didn’t agree with the bull$hit he was spewing.

But I wasn’t so bold back then.

This is the first Lent in years that I am taking part in. For a long time, I would intentionally eat meat on those forbidden days. Disobeying the rules made me feel good. I held a grudge against a religion I called my own for a long time. I know now that I wasn’t holding a grudge against God, but a grudge against the people who worshiped Him, because they hardly ever practiced what He preached. But through all the time neglecting His service, I never stopped believing in Him and had always felt (still do) that a higher power was watching me.

This keeps my conscience on high-alert.

By nature I’m a spiritual person. I recently started meditating twice a day. I sit still, cross-legged, on my bedroom floor. I close my eyes and repeat mantras over and over in my head. I do this while fingering yoga beads in my hands. The first time I did this I felt guilty because the beads reminded me of the Rosary. I can’t honestly remember the last time I prayed to the Rosary. I apologized to God that night while assuring Him that He wasn’t being replaced.

This is just something I need to do.I hope the clarity I gain through meditation will help strengthen the absent connection I’ve had with my former religion.

I’ve asked God to give me time. I’m still alive. So I think He’s okay with it.

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Photo Courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Yoga and Life

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At the start of the New Year, I resolved to practicing daily yoga and meditation. I’ve been doing yoga off and on for about four years. But if you’re off for two months and then on for three, and then off for another two, it is impossible to attain any of the life-changing benefits yoga offers. This past year I was disciplined enough to not go months without doing yoga and I have seen amazing results, but this year I will be better.

The first thing yoga taught me was to breathe. You may be thinking “who the heck needs to be taught how to breathe?” I know. I know. Breathing is the first thing we do when we enter this world. We take a breath via a cry, or a scream. What’s so hard about doing something every living being must do to survive? Well, everything and I was doing it wrong.

Through yoga I learned Ujjayi Pranayama. Ujjayi breathing is a technique of the breath which can be referred to as “the ocean breath.” Pranayama is a Sanskrit word that means “extension of the breath.” Prana means “life force” and Ayama means “to draw out.” Ujjayi Pranayama is usually associated with asana practice, the practice of sitting down (or any posture that helps with flexibility). Sitting still while restoring one’s mind is one of the tremendous benefits of yoga. Being able to stretch and attain certain positions brings peace to both body and mind.

But starting yoga is hard, especially if you aren’t flexible. I wasn’t flexible at all when I first stepped onto my mat. I couldn’t touch my toes without bending my knees, but every day I practiced, I got closer and the breath is what kept me from giving up. On the mat I learned to breathe through uncomfortable positions – not scattered breath – but long, deep breathing. A yogi or yogini takes what he or she learns on the mat into their daily life. I carried this technique with me throughout my day by not holding my breath in stressful situations. Breathing keeps the mind calm.

I touch my toes comfortably now and all forward bends (sitting and standing) are my favorite asanas. We hold past relationships in our hips so forward bends are a great way to release negative energies lingering from former lovers. The pose I once loathed has become an integral part of my practice. Such is the way with yoga? (Maybe one day I’ll be able to say that about the head stand, which I refuse to even attempt.)

After consistent practice, a yogi/yogini discovers what kind of diet works better with his/her practice. I have switched to a vegetarian diet because I have found it it works really well with the asanas. A vegetarian diet doesn’t interfere with all the bending and twisting positions in my practice. I feel this way of eating enhances my ability to perform each asana and because there’s a lot of self-reflection in yoga/mediation, it is beneficial to adhere to a compassionate diet.

A few days ago, I committed to doing two daily twenty-minute meditations for forty days as a way to clear my mind and begin a positive habit that I hope transforms into a life-long practice because meditation reminds me to live in the moment. I can’t change the past nor can I predict the future, but I can appreciate the now. My favorite mantra that I use in my mediation is “In this moment, all is well.”

In meditation I listen and am mindful. I’m not perfect in carrying this into my daily life, but I work at it.

“Listen more, talk less.” – Buddha.

Namaste.

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Photos courtesy of Freedigitalphotos.net

Credit to Wikepedia for the exact definitions I used.

Dream Without Fear

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A Personal Legend is what a person has always wanted to accomplish. When we are young, every person knows their Personal Legend because at a young age our dreams are big and we dream without fear, but instead with optimism and fervor. “But as time passes, a mysterious force begins to convince [us] that it will be impossible for [us] to realize [our] Personal Legend.”

An unexpected illness, a love we’re afraid of abandoning, fear of failure, or an envious person’s manipulation because they don’t want to witness us achieve something they could not, are all impediments that can destroy our dreams. But the worst reason for not pursuing a dream is believing we don’t deserve it.

Because we do.

I know a book that tells the story of a crystal merchant who has never done one of things the Koran obligated him, as a Muslim, to do – set forth on a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. It was something he’d desired since he was a small child, but when he grew up, he bought his shop and refused to leave the store in the hands of someone else. So he stayed, and every day, for many years, he watched, through his store window, pilgrims pass happily as they headed for Mecca.

When asked by a young shepherd boy, who was in pursuit of his own Personal Legend, why now the man didn’t go to Mecca, the merchant answered, “Because it’s the thought of Mecca that keeps me alive. That’s what helps me face these days that are all the same…I’m afraid that if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living.”

Some people want to realize their dreams, while others are content with merely dreaming about their dreams. But when we ignore our Personal Legend, the omens, signs, will speak to us, and remind us of our calling, but we’ll pretend not to hear. The sounds of the omens will continue and regret will take over us. And maybe the person we love and who loves us back will feel our resentment because they will think they are the ones who kept us from achieving our Personal Legend. And then, after time, “the omens will abandon [us] because [we’ve] stopped listening to them…[we’ll] spend the rest of [our] days knowing that [we] didn’t pursue [our] Personal Legend, and now it’s too late.”

Don’t let it be too late.

I believe life is more than what my eyes can see. I believe in omens. I look for signs. I meditate. I talk to the universe, whether it be the sun, the sky, the stars, the wind, the trees, the moon, or God, and if the universe can talk back, I want to be open in understanding its language. I’m on a journey. I go it alone right now, but I know if my love ever comes, she won’t prevent me from realizing my Personal Legend because true love will ride the journey with me. I know what it is I must do. I know my Personal Legend.

“To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation.”

But only you can choose your destiny. Not even fate can do that for you.

“And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” But you have to want it so bad that it exists in your every breath and then listen to the universe as it talks to you.

Follow the omens. Trust your heart. Dream without fear.

I’ve read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho three times. And I will read it many more times. It has guided me in my life when I needed it the most, and it will continue to guide me even when I think I need it the least. All the quotes above were taken from this book and all of the thoughts I express were influenced by this book, so really, nothing that I have written is truly of my own expression, but instead were completely inspired by the brilliance of Mr. Coelho.

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