Thursday, September 11, 2014

Seasons Change: Letting Go of Alaska

Me and my very wise teacher.
     Experiencing the changes of the Alaskan seasons has totally refreshed my being. Instead of a clock, I have watched the Fireweed bud, grow taller than myself, bloom in glorious stages and now turn to white fluff blowing everywhere. Snow on the mountains was abundant when I arrived, disappeared, and very soon will return.

While here, I've learned to drive a boat, clean and can salmon and identify new plants. Digging up potatoes and winterizing the retreat center will be next, in addition to making jams from our wild berry picking expeditions. My taste buds still cheer thinking about the many buckets of blueberries, black (and red) currants, raspberries, watermelon berries, and salmon berries consumed these last few months. On a soul level, I've learned some things that are still hard to express with words.

It does seem curious that I ever questioned spending this time in Alaska. I had wondered if it would be "too long." Too long for what?! It has been the necessary amount of time to witness the natural world, with all of it's leisurely changes. It has been the right amount of time to really be here.

Fireweed in September
Together with the external changes in nature, I've noticed change within myself. An abundance of fresh air may be the reason for an increase in my strength and energy. This environment has promoted a true sense of balance, and reduction in overall stress. I feel closer to nature and much more, a part of it.

The closure part of this experience has begun. The inspiring child I've spent the summer with has started school. This has made it necessary to take longer trips to town. Slowly, I expect these town trips will help me welcome the return of cars and roads back into my life, along with commerce of all kinds.

Glacier kayaking
During this time, I am reminded of the wisdom pointed out in a dharma talk by a Vipassana meditation teacher. She mentioned that it can be a great challenge for some, to let go of formal meditation. At the time, I could not relate to such a dilemma. Letting go of  meditation was the easy part. Getting into it, the challenging part, right? Soon after that talk, I noticed a participant who was clearly immersed in the 10 day retreat. Sometimes, during retreat transitions, out of the corner of my eye, I imagined this person as a very advanced practitioner. At the end of the retreat, the man chose to continue his silence, while the other participants shared their insights and experiences. Suddenly, I wondered if he was someone who had difficulty letting go of retreat. Of course I didn't know his actual story, but the lesson from the dharma talk suddenly made more sense.

Mountains in early May
It is important to let go of our experiences (wonderful or otherwise), in order to continue to be present in life. May yoga & meditation practices help us be resilient, open to life, and willing to let go when necessary.

I may not kayak with a glacier again, but my mind/body/spirit will never forget the many gifts that being in Alaska has brought to my life. May adaptability be one of those many gifts as I get ready to switch gears.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

5 Reasons I Enjoy Being a Nanny

Kid lead exploration
     Although I am not a parent, I'm grateful for those who have chosen to be. If it weren't for them, I would not have the privilege of experiencing the everyday pleasures brought by the company of children. Sure, there are times when I've been able to relate to movies like "The Nanny Diaries," but the joys have far outweighed any undesirable elements.

Nanny positions have had a perfectly timed way of dropping into my life. I have come to recognize this work as part of my right livelihood. My current position (for the set period time of five months) is an ideal mix of teaching yoga, massage therapy, and spending time with children. There is also the added entertainment of living in community. Although this nanny situation may be unique, there are 5 things I have noticed about being a nanny which have been consistently wonderful:

1: Lightheartedness Required

There is no time for being grumpy. Going with the flow and not taking things personally are important job skills, which also happen to promote happiness!

2: Laughter & Learning

We all know laughter is good medicine and kids are inherently hilarious. Even though caring for children has plenty of challenges, frequent laughter keeps my overall stress level low. Along with the laughing, I learn (and relearn), many things forgotten. Kid's are constantly teaching me how to see life with fresh and original eyes.

3: Lack of Agenda

Children generally do not live for some other future moment in time. I find this lack of agenda refreshing. They prefer to linger in the moment (true quality time), with very few references to past or future. Since children prefer the present moment, it encourages me to stay in it too.

4: Supports My Yoga Practice

There are times throughout the day when children are engaged in something (alone or with siblings/friends). I take some of those moments to fit in a yoga or short meditation practice. Sometimes this catches their interest and they will join me. It must be an approachable, flexible practice, in case it needs to be abandoned it in a hurry. Practicing random yoga adds to a positive atmosphere for everyone.

5:  Unconditional Love & Honesty

Emotional ups and downs happen to everyone. I love how children tend to wear their hearts on their sleeves. I respect their directness, honesty, and most of all the generous sharing of unconditional love. One moment I may get an earful of opinions and frustrations, in the next moment there is a hand reaching out to hold mine. Grudges are very short lived, and forgiveness happens fast.

Sea star with hula hoop

I imagine that my life will continue to include the company of children. Finding a young friend to spend the day is always just a phone call away. Child energy puts more sparkle in my step. I may not otherwise think of photographing a sea star with a hula-hoop, wearing a bathing suit over my clothing, jumping on a trampoline dressed as a ninja, or having a luncheon in a cardboard box. Suggestions like these have become very important to me.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Living in Community

Community Living with a View.
     Personal dynamics are always shifting, making it impossible to maintain constant harmony in social situations, no matter the people involved. It's easy to understand why some choose to live in caves (or the modern version; a small studio apartment). Yet, cave/studio dwellers may not experience the internal struggle that comes when someone is blocking your way to the teapot in the morning. Keep reading to find out how this predicament might be valuable.

It could be loud chattering, a dismissive encounter, a distracting conversation, or some other unwanted scenario that becomes a stress trigger for someone. "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff (and it's all small stuff)," wouldn't be a best seller if it wasn't commonplace to have strong reactions to inconsequential things. We all do it.

Even under the most ideal conditions, collective living can still challenge my sense of sanity. Opportunities to bump up against the edges of my comfort zone seem limitless. Like many people, my comfort zone tends to expand and contract in accordance to my likes and dislikes. Once the ebb and flow of this equation is made obvious, detaching from personal preferences makes life breathe easier.

Observing habitual reactions during meditation is one thing, but being mindful in the presence of other people is arguably why we meditate in the first place. In meditation we watch thoughts come and go. In social living situations we have the same option, though the mind/ego may prefer the drama of taking every interaction personally.

Community living is showing me where I get stuck (lack of compassion), and how to get unstuck (compassion). In this five month experience, we are all working and living collectively to run a retreat center. I am so thankful we practice yoga and have the option of meditating together. These practices remind us all to live peacefully with ourselves, so we can leave peacefully together. So far, we are doing an amazing job.

The following mantra helps me during challenging social situations: We are all (including myself) doing the best we can in every situation.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Meditation Spaces

A space to meditate.
     In meditation our eyes are generally closed or downcast. Why then is an effort made for the beautification of meditation spaces? What is the purpose of making an altar when our focus is suppose to be inward?

I see the adornment of space as an intention to see beauty in whatever arises in the mind/body during practice. If my mind starts to feel too cluttered during meditation, I can reflect on the simplicity of my surroundings for support in coming back to the present moment.

On days when meditating seems impossible, setting a heartfelt tone for the space tends to change resistance into gratitude.

I have practiced meditation in yurts, halls, domes, and even in a meditation tower. Docks, big rocks, decks, and bedroom floors make perfectly fine practice spaces too. Some believe you should not meditate where you sleep, and never use sleeping pillows as meditation cushions. I have taken this advice, since meditating on a bed tends to bring on a serious case of drowsiness.

Simple altar.
Wherever you can find space to meditate, take a few moments to set a contemplative object (flower, stone, candle, or anything from nature that catches your attention). It's as if these objects continue to hold the physical space, so we can more easily move toward the adventurous journey of introspection. At the end of practice, opening our eyes, we are welcomed back to our surroundings with the loving tone that got us started.