Reflections on Joyful, Full Hearts

Here we are at the "Happiest time of the year" as the song goes.  And so it is in many ways; spending time laughing and singing with family and friends you love and cherish, enjoying a traditional holiday meal, perhaps exchanging gifts, creating experiences that become memories and reminiscence years from now.  It is a time when your heart is full.

It is also a time of mixed emotions for some, of sadness and gladness, memories and reflection as some work through the fact that some of their loved ones are no longer here. Sometimes these feelings are pushed behind the tree, so to say. I propose that we take time as we bless our homes and families to bless, remember and be kind to those who have suffered loss of any kind in the past year.  Not to be a 'Debbie Downer,' but to be empathetic to those who are sad, to those who may not want to ruin your holiday by talking about their sadness.

It doesn't take a lot of effort to do.  So how do you do it, you ask?  By simple gestures of kindness; a warm, sincere hug and/or a listening ear.  Let the person know you care by saying something like, "I can only imagine that it must be hard at this time without (fill in the blank)."  In acknowledging them, in embracing them and their pain, you are doing a true Mitzvah, and act of kindness, that will be forever remembered and etched in their hearts. You are giving them an opening to express feelings. It is essential that we create the space for this, because in doing so we validate and allow our friend or family member to mourn their loss and cherish the memories at the same time.  

In conclusion, the best gift at this time of year is your caring heart.  Share it with others and others will share theirs with you, and they will all overflow with love.

ADVENTURES IN MINDFULNESS

 

My eight week journey to mindfulness, meditation and yoga via the Insight Center of Chicago, with facilitator Chris Chroniak and the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course, came to an end as my last class convened this week.  Gratitude is in abundance for this learning experience. 

My journey of yoga, meditation and mindfulness will continue on, for as long as my life time gifts me.  It is fluid and ever changing.  Having travelled the yogic path on and off for decades, it is interesting to observe my relationship with the path over time.  In sharing this story, I hope you see the possibilities, the simplicity AND feel the depth of contentment of travel on the winding road of mindfulness.

In my twenties, I discovered yoga at a studio in a three story walk up in Queens, NY.  At that time my concern was doing it ‘right,’ being able to keep up with my classmates and learning a new skill.  Sun Salutation was ‘it.’  Even then, my thin, lithe body was not able to bend in ways required to be proficient at this yoga flow.  But I persevered, enjoyed and grew from the experience.  And then, I went away for a while.

We moved across the country, became parents and began the every day experience of raising children.  Through that I learned that life, as John Lennon said, “is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”  The unexpected often appeared when I was least prepared.  In these younger years, I wish I knew more of the meditative experience of yoga, both to calm myself as an exhausted parent, and to teach my children how to calm themselves down when life got overwhelming. For much of their early years, formal practice was not part of my life.  Nor did I yet understand the connection of the asanas of yoga to meditation and the breath.

 

Soon I learned that doing the asanas, or specific yoga movements, was only one arm of an eight limbed philosophy of yoga.  The breath, too, was a significant portion of the experience. But still, I was relatively young, now in my late 30’s and ready to incorporate specific breathing into my poses.  Now my challenging pose was triangle, and the teacher at the time felt the right way was to get one arm completely down to the ankle in the pose while the other arm was raised above to the sky.  She also was not aware of props or doing what your body permits.  Even teachers need to learn. <smile>.

Feeling like a failure from that class, I left yoga and travelled on other paths, the path of health club exercise, the path of my own faith, and joined an interfaith group to learn about others.  Time passed, children grew, jobs came and went.  Yoga was not at the top of my to-do list, for a very long time.

I rediscovered yoga and the myriad of serenity it offers in my 50’s.  I had an outstanding, unique teacher named Wendy.  She had small classes, so there was lots of personal attention. When we stretched out in savassanah at the end of our class, it was more than the corpse pose, it was as important as the vinyasa flow we stretched and worked in.  With Wendy, I also learned about ahimsa, honoring my body.  So the idea of not being able to do a pose went away, as there were blocks and straps and cushions and bolsters and blankets to support me in my efforts.  What an eye opening experience!  I also learned about restorative yoga (a personal favorite), chair yoga and gentle yoga.  And meditation.  LOTS of meditation, combining breathing with ‘letting go.’  Not letting go in the sense of emptying your mind; I am not sure there is anyone who is breathing that can honestly say they can do that.  But to see your thoughts as just that, things that come and things that go, like the clouds in the sky on a warm summer day.  I learned to not be attached to my thoughts, and to be more of an observer of them.  THIS is yoga, THIS is mediation and the use of the breath.  It is interconnected and one and many things.  Yes, all of those.

I also discovered at this time in my life that yoga can be any stretch, when it is done with intention, kindness and alignment.  We can create our own vinyasa flow, our own series of movements that serve our individual bodies.  It is good, it is necessary and it is something I encourage others to do, too.  And breathing; a very good thing to do if you want to remain alive.  ALL of this is yoga.  All of this is meditation.  All of this is part of being mindful.

So I came and went on my yogic path; sometimes stayed for a long time, other times left for a decade.  The most important part is not that I went away for a while; it was that I returned.  The most wonderful part of practicing yoga, is just that, practice.  Try and try again.  Come to each session with what yogis’ call ‘beginner’s mind,’ as if it was fresh and new for the very first time.  Begin again.  What a gift that is.

And now, as my journey with my new friends at The Insight Center comes to an end, and our MBSR class is over. I create my own road to continued contentment, with my own meditations, mindful practices and yogic stretches.  Most mornings I do “bird meditation.”   I sit in my zen room - yes, I created one in my new home; it has African dundun drums, a tea table from Thailand, lots of Buddha incarnations, a southwest ladder to nowhere draped with mala beads; it’s a place that is truly sacred.  I sit in my zen room and pull up the window shades to expose my bird feeders and all the happy feathered beings that enjoy the bounty.  Watching them I feel peace, I feel all is right in the world, as they move forward and do what they have to do to survive.  While I watch them come and go, I do what I now know I need to do to survive the waves of my life; I breathe deeply, often saying a prayer of being thankful for reaching this moment.  And once again I am on the path.  I enjoy the moment that I am in, as it is the only one I have.  Namaste.