This love letter is coming late to you for no other reason than it's been really hard to put together the mess of thoughts in my mind, to add value to the global conversation that it seems no one in my community is a part of yet, to decide whether I should be chiming in on a topic that feels so out of my depth. There is an entire movement of more insightful and informed voices that need to be heard, who are speaking truth to power and who deserve our deep listening. Like so many of us, I have spent time during the last weeks listening to some of them and quietly reflecting, preferring the false security of silence to the treacherous territory of honest communication. But of course, the fact that I can choose whether I engage at all is a result of my privileged status. So here I go, adding my part to the conversation which is ultimately no different from the same inquiry I offer at the start of every class I teach:
Notice what is happening around and within you.
Welcome yourself as you are.
Set your intention.
Direct awareness to your breath.
Let breath guide your movements.
I'm curious about how this simple invitation to move with awareness can support meaningful participation in the larger movement for justice, equality, and ultimately, peace.
Yoga comprises a philosophical system which encompasses both the path and practices for living awake. But it is not the practices like asana, pranayama, and meditation themselves that instigate and sustain inner revolution, which necessarily precedes any kind of social or systemic change. They are tools to be implemented for a purpose. And while doing your sun salutations with a clear and benevolent intention will, certainly develop your muscles of awareness (among numerous other benefits), no amount of downward dogs is going to ensure justice and equality for all lives. For that, we have to get off the mat, step away from the cushion and do the work that is ours to do right now.
One way that a consistent practice will help discern what is your work is that, if you are practicing with awareness, you will find the difficult spots, the dark places where there is tension, where the prana, the life force, gets blocked. At first, you notice it as pain in the body. Then maybe you see a habitual thought. The more you exercise your muscles of self-awareness, the more awake you are to yourself--your whole self. The sunshine and the storm clouds. Your soft belly and your hardened jaw. Your ancestral wounds and your acquired biases. The evolutionary habits and the outdated ones. Your blind spots and your brilliance.
It's uncomfortable and sometimes embarrassing, also inspiring and even heartbreaking to encounter our whole self, particularly our shadows. And the tendency of the Yoga and wellness communities (and I fully recognize myself in this cohort) to project only good vibes does nothing to support the translation of awareness into action. Yet there are tools within Yoga to help us move beyond awareness and into action. Specifically, the quality of tapas, or effort, is both a requisite for and a result of Yoga practice. In the same way that the motivation to practice grows the more consistently we practice, our capacity to translate awareness into action increases the more we act with awareness.
Just as we begin an asana practice as we are, welcoming what is here without attachment or aversion, what if we come to the conversation about racism, inequality and systemic oppression without attachment or aversion, but with awareness? How might that help to heal more than our broken bodies and our fatigued minds? We'll begin exploring these questions and many more in our Women's Circle this week. It's a small start, this simple initiative to engage each other in a brave discussion, and it's one way that we can put awareness into action and do the work.
I've lost track of which version of #planbe we are on, which is maybe a great thing because it means that we are living more in the flow and less out of habit. Nonetheless, as we again adapt to the changing circumstances and the regulations imposed by an external authority, it feels increasingly important to strengthen the our ties to our inner authority, or what in yoga, is called buddhi.
The root "budh" means "to be awake," and buddhi is our capacity to be awake to the reality of our true nature or sat-chit-ananda (truth, consciousness, bliss). Wisdom resides in buddhi whereas manas is the seat of the mind. Georg Feurstein, a prominent scholar of Yoga, explains in The Deeper Dimensions of Yoga that while the mind relies on the physical senses for information which it processes to produce knowledge, buddhi refers to the "higher mind" which governs "a particular kind of knowing which relates not so much to the finite world of physical or psychological realities but to the Spirit." This knowing within you is the source of inner authority and it is a reflection of Pure Consciousness so that, when we allow this intuitive intelligence to guide our thoughts and actions, we start responding to life rather than reacting against it.
Lately, as we have been emerging out of quarantine and into a world where human interactions are mediated via plexiglass, screens, and masks, the sense of isolation feels somehow stronger. From the awkward dance we do around each other now, negotiating the space between us, trying not to touch our faces and stifling the urge to cough, and definitely NOT sneezing, we are confronted with ordinary choices like whether or not to wear a mask or send our kids to school or plan a visit to family that now have a whole new set of potential outcomes, none of which are guaranteed. And since the new "normal" of mask and glove-wearing, hand sanitizing, and physical distancing inhibits our sense organs and thus impairs our mind's already-compromised ability to make judgements, it is crucial that we develop our capacity to operate from intuitive intelligence. While buddhi lights the path to enlightenment, reinforcing the ties to our inner knowing is not just a matter of Self-realization, it is also a matter of survival.
As I too confront formerly mundane choices, I keep catching myself with the question: am I reacting out of fear or responding from awareness? Not surprisingly, it's usually the former. But even asking such a question brings me out of judgement, worry, and fear into the realm of inquiry where curiosity reigns. In this realm, it becomes possible to drop what my mind knows and open to door to the deep knowing within. To seek less for what is right and wrong and more for what is true. This is the territory where buddhi dwells. It's not a place you visit once and stay forever; it's a journey of forgetting the way and then remembering you're already here over and over again. And of course, the discipline and devotion that we cultivate through a Yoga practice is key for strengthening both our commitment to and capacity for being present with this inner wisdom.
So whether you are joining us as we resume gathering at our sweetest sanctuary starting next Wednesday (hooray!!!!) or venturing back into your community, may we enter into the space with the intention to connect to the deep space of wisdom within and to recognize and honor that light in each other. In this way, we will navigate the way forward, whether we're figuring out how to greet each other or how to pay the rent, with consciousness, clarity, and especially compassion.
The sun is setting as I begin this love letter, which means that it's far later than usual for me to be writing to you. And though there's always so much on my mind and in my heart to share with you, it's through the writing that I discover what is really there. My friend Sandra calls it "think-talking" and each week, I dedicate several hours to "think-writing." Each piece is more of a entry point into a larger topic; the beginning of a conversation that I'll continue in my own head and journals, through my practice on the mat and in life, and in spiraling, ongoing conversations with some of you.
And it's these conversations, with myself and with others, that nourish, sustain, challenge, and shape me. In fact, even even more significant than the ideas themselves is the feeling that arises between us when we communicate sincerely and openly. The experience of this shared feeling, of resonance, transcends the limitations of language which can only ever point to an experience much like a photograph or a video capture a moment in time, but cannot replace the experience of being present in the moment. And still, we take photos and we "think-talk" as a way to open the space for the feeling, the connection within and beyond, to arise.
This is a photo of the sunset I was watching last Tuesday evening as I had the last phone conversation I will ever have with my grandmother. It was difficult to understand her words through her slurred, stroke-impaired speech, but nonetheless, her deep and truly unconditional love shone through like the golden sun beaming past the clouds in the pale blue sky. Though I will never again hear her tell me the stories of her childhood growing up amongst the endless orange groves in southern California, I will always be listening for the love she communicated.
Someday, I will write more about my grandma and how her legacy of love lives through me and the many lives she impacted as a daughter, sister, teacher, wife, mother, aunt, grandmother, volunteer and friend. But for tonight, as the sliver of a crescent moon shines in the darkening sky, I'll end at this beginning and trust that, these simple words will point us towards reverence and remembrance, where we meet with gratitude and with grace.
Those of you who join for Rise + Shine know that I often pull a card for us to guide our individual and collective inquiry. This past week, in response to the request to know what is needed right now to move forward: Acceptance.
At least Life has a sense of humor! Ask how to move forward and the response is naturally, be right where you are. This is the dance that we are always in, how to be present and also participate in life. As householders, ordinary folks, it is not our path to sit still all day (though maybe we've become a little better at that lately). Our work is in the world. And right now, as many of us are in transition out of this prolonged pause, it is so clear that there is no manual for how we must proceed. There never was.
So, instead of moving forward by trying to go back to the way things were, what if we stayed in the pause a little while longer? Not necessarily alone in our houses, though that may be in order, but in the space of not knowing. Instead of rushing ahead to recuperate, let's take our time to re-create.
There's a beautiful practice of breath-retention called Kumbhaka that is a pillar of pranayama. Between each inhale and exhale, there is a natural pause. When we practice with Kumbhaka, we extend the pause. When done skillfully, it creates a feeling of stability, ease, and clarity. It builds trust and resilience. When there is a struggle in the body or resistance in the mind, the feeling can be truly terrifying and the effect is usually to try to control more or just give up completely.
We've all been experiencing a kind of Kumbhaka, a spontaneous pause, in which we've found ourselves in this in-between place. For many of us, this has been a struggle--and not without good reason. For others, it has been truly sattvic, peaceful and harmonizing. For most, it's likely been a bit of both. But the inhale is coming, and instead of clinging to conclusions or grasping for certainties, we might instead seize the opportunity to intentionally hold our breath, to be still even as we are going ahead, to give ourselves and each other the grace to not know, but to trust that, sure as the next breath, the way forward will arrive.
Tonight I am full of the sweetness of a day spent taking care of myself and holding space for others to do the same during our first Digital Day Retreat. While nothing can replace being together in person, it's incredible to experience that we can share a palpable sense of togetherness that transcends the screen. In my bubble of family life and on-line classes, I have been touched by all of the sincere and genuine connections that are arising.
While driving home, I saw dear Katja. Anyone who comes to Mytree will know Katja because she is such a dear and dedicated part of our community. I pulled the car over and jumped out, so excited to give her and her friend Alice a hug....and then I remembered. No hugs. Of all the adjustments we are making in our lives, this one is the hardest for me.
There will be many more moments in the next days like this, when we will respond automatically to an ordinary situation, only to remember things are different now. Some of these will be easier than others and what is hardest for one person will be no big deal for another. Likewise, for some this quarantine period feels like a gift, and for others, a nightmare.
Either way, through this experience, we are all gaining insights and examining our lives. Questioning life before and envisioning life after. And learning, over and over, what it means to live in the present moment. Thank you to those of you who have shared in various ways your notes to your post-quarantine selves. In the coming weeks I will be curating and sharing them in some form; if you'd like to contribute yours, whether with your name or anonymously, please send it directly to me.
One of the the gems that has come through these last weeks for me is the creative potential that flows freely when I release my grip on expectations of how things should be and open my mind to notice how things are. I forget this as often as I forget the no-hugs rule. But when I remember to receive instead of to resist, each moment, even the difficult ones are "opportunities to merge with what is." This line is from a poem called "Even in the Struggle" by Tara Sophia Mohr that we read in our retreat today. She continues:
"Most of us don't step through the doorframe.
We stay on the known side.
We fight the door, we fight the frame, we scream and hang on."
Whether you are stepping through willingly or clenching onto the frame of familiarity, we are at a threshold. We may not have hugs, but we can still express kindness and care in the way that we greet each other on the side of the road, in line at the supermarket, and on the other side of the screen. May we treat ourselves and each other with compassion as we pass through the doorframe, arms open, receptive to the possibility that:
"You are being loved not in spite of hardship, but through it.
The thing you see as wrenching, intolerable,
life's attack on you,
is an expression of love."
Sending you a big, virtual hug
Tomorrow marks 40 days since we began our quarantine at Mytree. This is an auspicious number in many traditions: in numerous cultures, it is the amount of time that a woman rests and recovers after giving birth; in Islam, mourners grieve the deceased for 40 days, Christianity and Judaism share multiple significant references to 40 days (and years), and it is also the length of time that ships "suspected of carrying a disease" were kept offshore in 17th century Venice. This practice of quarantine derives its name from "quaranta giorni" which means "40 days" in Italian.
In all of these examples, 40 days represents a complete cycle, the time required to recover in order to return to the world. And though our quarantine continues here in Ticino, there is a palpable shift with more cars and bikes on the roads, more people on the trails, and the government's recent announcement of a plan to gradually reopen businesses and schools. A few weeks ago, the thought of being at home indefinitely provoked a mix of feelings including a fair dose anxiety and desperation. Now, with the possibility of recommencing regular life routines in a couple of weeks, I'm feeling anxious about letting go of life in the slow lane and returning to busy-ness as usual.
I've been listening to Glennon Doyle's newest book, Untamed, and that in it, she talks about having an "Up Self," or who she is when she's feeling happy, connected, and content, and a "Down Self," who she is when she's feeling anxious, depressed, and disconnected. Glennon shared that she writes notes from her Up Self to her Down Self so that, when in the throes of depression, she can remember what is important to her, that she loves her life and her family, that she is more than the depression she is experiencing now. Then, she writes from her Down Self to her Up Self telling how she feels so she can get the help that she needs.
Glennon's notes inspired me to offer the idea to our Women's Circle of writing notes to our Post-Quarantine selves. In our last gathering via Zoom, we took a few minutes to jot down and then share some notes about the lessons, insights, experiences, habits, inspirations, and relationships we want to remember and carry with us into life after quarantine. I want to extend the invitation to you to join in writing a note to your post-quarantine self. You are welcome to proceed as you please, but in case you need some ideas, you can start here with one or more of these inquiries:
How have you felt during this time? What have you learned about yourself? How have you been surprised, challenged, inspired, changed? What are the gems of wisdom, inspiration, and insight you want to carry with you? What ways of being, doing, and thinking do you want to leave behind and what do you want to bring with you?
I've continued to work on my note and it's becoming my way of processing this experience; of preparing myself for the return. One thing that has come through is my own desire to transition with intention and integrity. To that end, I'm dedicating next Sunday, April 26 to offering us all a Digital Retreat Day. Whether you are in the middle of your quaranta giorni or about to transition back into the “real” world; whether this time at home has felt like being on holiday or being in hell, setting aside some time to nourish yourself and connect with others through will enable us to emerge from our cocoons resilient, radiant, and ready to apply the lessons of our individual recoveries to our collective healing and transformation.
Of all the gifts of a dedicated Yoga/Life practice, perhaps the most profound and precious is the sense of being at home in your Self.The misconception (avidya) of separation which is the root of suffering, according to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, is also the path back towards unity. Yoga is both the yoking of two entities and the union itself. It is the decision "between a body and mind....to be whole" and the body/mind which was always one.
In Yoga for Real Life Donna Farhi explains that "the word Yoga describes both a state of purified perception and the practices associated with attaining this clear way of seeing. The two meanings of the word give us some insight into the intimate link between the effort required to attain understanding and the imminence of realizing that which is already present within us."
We seek outside of ourselves for home, wholeness, love, peace, contentment, serenity and so on simply because of a fundamental misunderstanding that what we are seeking can be found somewhere else, with someone else, sometime in the past or future. The path and practice of Yoga offers tools and technologies to guide us towards a complete recognition that what we are seeking is right here, right now. Yoga invites us to turn attention inwards to align awareness with presence and reconnect to the roots within, a network which intimately and infinitely connects us to Spirit Source God Universal Consciousness the Divine.
A beautiful mantra which expresses this truth is this portion of the Gayatri Mantra, also translated by Donna Farhi:
"Everything on the earth, in between, and above is arising from one effulgent source. If my thoughts, words and deeds reflected this complete understanding of unity, I would be the peace I am seeking in this moment."
om bhur bhuvah svah
tat savitur varenyam
bhargo devasya dhimahi
dhiyo yo nah pracchodayat
Chanting this mantra is one simple way to come back to the home which is already and always within.
Detox is Not a Dirty Word
What do you think of when you hear the word “Detox?”
Weird green juice?
Missing out on fun?
Unfortunately, the imbalanced approach to detox popularized by a culture that prioritizes external appearances over inner peace has taken what is a totally natural process and an essential component for health and made it into an extreme deprivation-based regimen that, instead of promoting well-being actually inhibits it. In simpler terms, the way we do Detox in our culture is all wrong.
The first mistake we make is WHEN we detox.
The Spring and Autumn Equinox are the ideal times to detox—not the dead of Winter when we require more sustenance to balance more extreme temperatures. All you need to do is see what is happening in nature as the season shifts from winter into spring to understand that for something new to arise, something old must be shed. Seeds sprout only after laying dormant, butterflies emerge by shedding their cocoons. The same is true with us: our evolution requires that we release what no longer serves us.
In fact, Detox, or the release of waste, is an integral part of the natural cycle of life. Detoxification is happening constantly, but most of us are ingesting more toxins through the food we eat, the products we use, the clothes we wear, and the air we breathe than our body is able to eliminate naturally. A seasonal detox aligned with the energy of movement, however, helps to balance and accelerate this natural, ongoing process.
The next issue is WHY we detox.
Like so many things, detox is often marketed to prey upon our fears and insecurities. So like so many health initiatives cloaked in the disguise of self-improvement, detox becomes about a quick fix. Something we can do once and then go back to the way we were living instead of being a great way to introduce healthier habits. Maybe you have heard the gimmick Detox to Retox? Instead of creating lasting changes, this approach does more damage than good. But one of the best results of an intelligent detox is the potential to make significant shifts to your routine.
This is not about getting your body bikini-ready—though glowing skin, toned muscles, and a feeling of lightness are part of the natural process of releasing toxins—it’s about feeling vibrant, awake, and aligned with the natural rhythms of life. Detox gives us an opportunity to press the “reset” button.
Having a clear intention for why you want to Detox helps to keep you focused throughout the process, and having a group of people to support you and hold you accountable has a huge impact on your ability to stick with it and enjoy positive results for a long time.
Finally, HOW we detox is, of course, the most crucial factor.
As a naturally-occurring process, it makes sense that when we detox, we would want to support what our bodies are already accustomed to doing. But many detox approaches go completely against our natural rhythms, giving the body a complete shock that may give initially impressive results but fail to create any significant, lasting changes.
And while detox usually focuses on the physical body, as we know, an holistic approach that takes into account all aspects of our wellbeing will have the most impact for our total health.
Having the support of guides who understand the natural process of detoxification and can provide specific support for everything from meal plans and shopping lists to encouragement and moral support is invaluable. So is having the connection to others who are going through the experience with you. And whether it’s your first time or your 50th, each time you go through the process, you will learn something new and have a unique experience.
Ultimately, like everything really, your experience of a Detox depends on how you approach it. You can set yourself up for a great Detox experience by timing it right with the seasonal shift around the Equinox, by having a clear and positive intention, and by aligning yourself with experienced guides and a supportive group.
Most nights, I find myself lying in bed in a darkened room, talking about death. This evening ritual begins mundanely enough, with putting on pajamas and brushing teeth and then, somewhere between the story and the prayer, Maverick inevitably asks a question like: "How does your Soul get into your body?" or makes a statement like: "When you die, can you ask your new family to bring you back to our house so we can be together again?" After a few minutes of wondering together about the magnificent mystery of it all, the focus turns to Pokemon or Paw Patrol, or sometimes even, to the soft snore of two exhausted humans. A few years before my curious second child was born, I was confronted with a simple question that helped to change the trajectory of my life:
"Are you having the conversations you want to be having?"
At the time, I was doing a job that felt like exactly that while struggling to balance life with a toddler. I felt a keen sense of living out of alignment and a yearning to reconnect to myself and my path. So I started to pay attention to which conversations lit me up and which ones drained my energy. I observed how I felt during and after talking to someone, and noted those people with whom I felt a spark and others who put out the fire. And I suffered when I realized that much of my daily interactions drained and dampened me. While some of it was the content, more often it was the quality of feeling between myself and the other person. Ultimately, it meant letting go of a lot, which eventually gave more space to seek out inspiring, challenging and nourishing conversations with people with whom I feel alive, connected, and heard.
Sure, I still engage with people I love (and some I don't) in plenty of ordinary, even boring, discussions (most of them related to the weather and household duties, let's be honest). And while they may not ignite my passion, these strategy sessions ensure that kids are fed, bills are paid, and, when necessary, rainboots are worn.
The point is not to ensure that every time you open your mouth some extraordinary insight lands, but rather, to become aware of the quality of your conversations, both with others and with how you speak to yourself, and to choose the ones you want to be having and who you want to have them with.
So while it's true that conversations about death are not the typical bedtime topic, and not at all what our 9-year-old daughter wants to discuss (or most people, for that matter) it is my joy to explore big questions with our 5-year-old who embodies Rilke's recommendation to "Live the questions now." For it is in this space of wonder, of "being comfortable with uncertainty," as Pema Chödrön calls the challenge of daily living, that we come to understand and connect, to evolve and align.