Monday, January 27, 2014

Cross-Country with Yoga

Lake Superior

     When I first set out on skis, I am quieted by the stillness of my surroundings. Every in-breath seems to bring along elements of vast sky, flowing river, quiet snow, stable ground. Each exhale, removing whatever is stale, in exchange for what is now. The body on skis becomes a new vehicle. At times, gracefully gliding from one moment to the next. Other times, struggling with some aspect of the experience.  

Sea Caves at Mawikwe Bay, WI
Like a yoga practice, cross-country skiing is sure to bring up diverse feelings and reactions to whatever is currently happening in life. To get past these reactions and into the now, breathing leads the way. A moving meditation is established, in sync with nature. 

Swishing past trees, I take in nature's demonstration of strength, beauty and perseverance. This demonstration encourages me to find those qualities within myself. Cross-country skiing explores a lot of ground, inside and out.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

How to Win a Climate Contest

A resting hill
     Sub-zero temperatures encouraged many Minnesota businesses and schools to close this week. This kind of week may cause people who live in warmer climates to feel extra fortunate, and blessed. While I agree that pleasant weather conditions are generally preferred, I'm also aware of the teachings and blessings that come from the cold as well.

If you have friends and relatives in year-round warm places, you may have participated in what sometimes feels like a climate contest. If you live in the mid-west, you're automatically considered the loser in this contest. I have heard shocked and disgusted reactions from those living in warmth. If it's cold or conditions are challenging in your area, you must be suffering constantly, insane, or unimaginative to be there, right? Perhaps some light can be shed on these judgments by reading this old Taoist parable, a reminder that none of us know what is 'good' or 'bad'. 

It is nice to be on a winning team, live in a winning climate, part of a winning marriage, relationship, job, etc. This sense of success, may even bring out the nasty old habit of gloating, defined as; "contemplating or dwelling on one's own success or another's misfortune with smugness or malignant pleasure." 

I've decided that the secret to surviving a climate contest, and competitive mind games of all kinds, is to create real joy. This kind of joy is highlighted in the Buddhist practice of mudita, or empathetic joy. Developing mudita, we learn to appreciate human nature and our ever changing circumstances. We recognize everyone as being complete and complex, and see the futility in making comparisons. The Buddha taught four sublime mind states, considered to be social attitudes as well. They are mudita (empathetic joy), loving-kindness, compassion, and equanimity. Mudita is a quality of joy available to everyone at all times, regardless of circumstances. This mind state is a salve for times when we feel the desire to feed off of the challenges of others (gloating). Mudita is also a remedy for resentment and envy, sometimes experienced as a response to the joy we see in another. In a state of mudita, the heart is full.

Click here for audio reflections and to read more about mudita.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Doubt is a Terrible Party Guest

Street art in New York City
     Spending time in a yoga community at the end of a year and into the next has become a mandatory ritual in my life. This year, I noticed that it had become too mandatory. After all, it seems more nourishing to ring in the new year with an open mind, rather than a doubting, or rigid one. At 8pm on New year's eve, I had finally found the perfect way to end the year. We would go to the Jivamukti Yoga School for some kirtan (music), followed by mauna (silence). However, my loved one and I had already agreed to watch some fireworks from the ferry. A compromise was made, we would spend a little time in silence at Jivamukti, and then go to the ferry.

Walking into Jivamukti, I felt the beauty created by an intention filled atmosphere. It was an honor to meet the space and community on a night of ritual. After relishing the silence for some time, we felt satisfied, centered, and ready to mindfully change gears. Or so I mistakenly thought. At the ferry building, I began browsing through the yoga program handed to us on our way out. I learned there would also be arati (light ceremony), prasad (blessed food), and an uplifting message from the revered founders of the yoga school. The evening program allowed folks to come and go, so in my mind, we could still go back!
Fireworks from Staten Island Ferry
Suddenly I was not where I wanted to be. I was trapped on a boat with my wonderful boyfriend, fireworks (thought by some to scare off evil spirits in the new year), and Ms. Liberty shining at us. Why was my mind resisting the last few hours and moments of the year? I read somewhere that doubt is a form of storytelling, or the lies we tell ourselves. My doubt story included the need to teleport myself back to the yoga school. If we wanted to have a proper meaningful time, we would have to get off the boat and run! I didn't realize I had invited doubt to my new year's eve celebration, but it showed up anyway.

Ultimately, doubt gave me the unexpected gift of compassion. Yes, doubt knocked at the door, and I let it in for an extended stay. I spent the end of the year dancing with it. I'm sure I will continue to greet doubt when it comes, but in the new year, I don't want to spend all night listening to it's tall tales.