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.

 

 

buddha

 

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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Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

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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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.

Getting Back

I think I was a better person when I was younger. I was less judgmental and more accepting. My mind was open and clearer. I welcomed new adventures without expectation because whatever happened I’d believed was meant to happen. I just went with it. I was less moody, less irritable. I was optimistic. I took each day as they came as though time would never desert me.

Now, I make presumptions I never used to and turn away from situations I don’t know, don’t understand. My mind is foggy, cloudy, hazy… every last inch of it. Optimism has turned to pessimism and a once open mind, now over-run by an over-analysis of everything. I look at the clock as if time were a girlfriend, packing her last suitcase, ready to say goodbye.

If this is life catching up to me, then I need to run faster because I’m only 38 years old and I want to live to be 100 without turning into Ouiser from Steel Magnolias. 

I meditate. I do yoga. This helps to bring me closer to myself. Everything around me slows down, almost disappears, and it’s only me. Me. Me. Me. And that’s not the way I live. I live for others, not for myself. Meditation and yoga has changed that and forced me to concentrate only on myself. This is hard, especially when you find out things about yourself you’d rather not know.

Ignorance is bliss for many, but I don’t want to be ignorant. I want to figure out how I’ve changed and why. And when I find the reasons I want to smash the blippity blip out of it so it never resurfaces again. Life took me away from me for a little while and I got lost.

Now, I need to find a way to bring a little of my younger self back to me because it’s been a long time and I kinda miss me.