How's Your Happy?

 
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People often comment to me that I always seem so "happy". And I'm not going to lie, it's true, I'm pretty much wicked happy all the time ... but it's not because my life is always amazing (although it sure feels that way) or because things always go my way (hello, murdered mom). The key for me has been that I've learned that it's not my circumstances that determine my happiness or quality of life - it's my thoughts and my choices. 

A Course In Miracles tells us that we're not at the effect of the world and that what's happening "out there" is not the "cause" of my suffering. Our mind is actually "the cause" and the world is simply "the effect" of our own thinking. "It is an outward reflection of an inward condition." So, it's about being vigilant for the quality of our thoughts. It's about taking 100% responsibility for your own happiness. It's about which teacher - ego (fear) or Holy Spirit (Love) - that you're going to choose to help you interpret the world around you. 
 

As you can see from this picture, I was a happy kid. Then some big, scary shit happened and I didn't have the tools yet to navigate it all. I felt victimized by my life and the things that seemed to be happening to me. I suffered for many years - feeling out of control, scared and anxious, to the point that I started to develop severe physical and psychological symptoms of IBS, chronic stress and a touch of the OCD. (Just ask my sweetie, there's a reason why all our can labels face outward.) Ha!

When I was hit with all those overwhelming situations - I took what ACIM calls... "a detour into fear". But I'm happy to report that "I'm Baaaaaack". As LL Cool J says in his famous song "Mama Said Knock You Out... "Don't call it a comeback, I've been here for years." Ha! I've actually been back for a while now and while that trip into darkness was a wild one, and at times feckin' brutal - I think in some ways it was also totally necessary and in the end, I'm truly grateful for the experience.

The Course tells us that "peace and happiness is your natural inheritance". So if we're not feeling at peace, if we're not feeling an inner happiness then we have simply chosen the wrong teacher. And good news is - we can always choose again!

That doesn't mean that we'll end up walking around with smiles plastered to our faces - while we silently rage underneath. Hell no! This isn't a fake it till' you make it kind of approach. Those days of sucking it up and stuffing it down are over. You gotta' feel your feelings people! You don't deny them. You don't pretend like everything is "fine" when it isn't.

Don't be weird.

If somebody dies, you let yourself be sad. If you need to cry, you do it. Need some time to grieve, take it. But we also don't want to build a permanent altar to our suffering and start worshipping there. We don't want to make victimization, smallness, fear, separation, blame, shame, or anger a false idol. Been there - done that and I can tell you - it's a feckin' sham. Your relentless "suffering" doesn't prove that you loved more. Nobody is asking you to crawl around on your hands and knees until you're bruised and bloody. 

I've heard my teacher Marianne Williamson jokingly say, "Even Jesus was only up on the cross for 3 days. Get down already - we need the wood." Ha!

If you'd like to talk about how to "get your happy" back, please go to my website! I'm currently accepting new Fearless Flow Mentoring clients (and I only have a few spots open), so if you’re really ready to transform and you'd like to apply for your FREE "Live Free of Old Shit Breakthrough Session" - CLICK HERE. 

If you know of someone else that might find this helpful - please share and pass this along or make a personal introduction. I'd super appreciate that!

So Much Love,

KK

A BLANK SLATE

When my sweetie Chris and I first got together, he was still navigating a difficult divorce. So one day, I decided to give him a necklace as a gift. It was a simple thing really - it had just a plain black cord with a rectangular piece of silver hanging from it. The metal was flat and smooth with no designs, words, or marks on it. When he opened it I said, "This is for you. It's a blank slate. A fresh start." And he smiled. The magic of a New Year is that it also presents us with the gift of a BLANK SLATE. It's a chance to start over and to finally let go of yesterday's grievances and nonsense and bullshit. It's a bonafide opportunity to surrender all your old stories, so that you and the Divine can write some new ones. I mean, if you really really want to, you can have a repeat performance of last year and drag all your old hurts, judgements, dramas, victimizations, excuses and stuff from the past right into 2016 - but really, why would any sane person want to do that? Ha!

Lesson 68 - A Course In Miracles teaches us: "Love holds no grievances... It is as sure that those who hold grievances will suffer guilt, as it is certain that those who forgive will find peace."

What if you would make the radical choice for love and forgive everyone for everything? What if would surrender all the barriers that you have built against your awareness of Love's presence? What if you decided to set aside all the cheap, petty ways you keep yourself small, stuck and separate that actually cost you so much? What if you - just once and for all - chose to lay down your arsenal of weapons?

Right now, we've all got a choice to make. We can either move forward with the intention and commitment to choose Love and live from a place of Divine Guidance (by putting something smarter than us in charge) - or - we can keep serving the small, ego-self by choosing Fear. Both options are available to us 24/7 - but, one of them is a miraculous path that leads to peace and freedom - while the other is a fast track to suffering and the experience of hell.

Now you would think that knowing this would make the choice abundantly clear and frankly, wicked easy. And yet, you'd be surprised how many people would rather cling to their ole' familiar misery than take a shot on inspired Divine Love. The thing is, that you can have healing and happiness right NOW, in this moment, but it requires your conscious participation. You have to be willing to set down the chalk, pick up the eraser and wipe your board clean. You've got to say goodbye to your limited human vision of "how it was" - so you can enter the Spirit's unlimited realm of how "it could be".

The good news is, in the beginning, all that Spirit asks of you in order to act on your behalf, is a little bit of willingness on your part. Just like a teeny-tiny, little bit, you know .... all you need to do is take a deep breathe, soften your hands and loosen your grip - on who and what you think you are, and who and what you think God is. Allow yourself to be washed clean of the past, forgive yourself and others, so that you can become a blank page that the Beloved can write upon.

BURN YOUR BOATS

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In October, I was lucky enough to spend an evening with my beloved teacher and friend 

Marianne Williamson

when she spoke at the Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge.

She shared many important things that night that landed in my heart but two things in particular deeply struck me. The first comment was about Commitment and it triggered a memory that took me back to a day about 20 years ago in Santa Barbara, CA - when I was helping Marianne pack for her book tour. She turned to me and said, "You know Karen, life is not going to take you seriously, until you start to take life seriously."

And at the time, I remember getting pissed off. I was like, "What do you mean? I'm serious! I feel things and think things." But I had totally missed her point. It took me about 5 more years to GET what she was trying to teach me. That I had to stop screwing around with trivial matters and focus my mind and attention on the work that I'm here to do. I was being called to start showing up for what A Course In Miracles (ACIM) calls my "individualized curriculum". 

1) At her talk, Marianne said (and I'm paraphrasing), "Terrorists don't wake up in the morning and go, 'Well, maybeI'll bomb something today.' No, they are unwavering and fierce in their conviction and commitment to Hate. Our job is to be as equally and fiercely committed to the power of LOVE - becauseMiracles arise from conviction."

I remembered that ACIM teaches, "Prayer is the medium of miracles. It is a means of communication of the created with the Creator. Through prayer love is received, and through miracles love is expressed." So, it's comforting to know that one of the ways we can all step up our Love game and stand more fully in our conviction is through daily prayer.

2) The other thing Marianne said that made me almost jump out of my seat with a shout of "AMEN, SISTER! PREACH!" - was in response to someone in the audience asking her if she would be willing to be the leader of a new grassroots "Nonviolence Committee" that they were trying to create. Marianne first commended them for taking inspired action - but then she politely declined their offer and said that she didn't want to be the head (or leader) of anything. She explained:

"The age of the soloist is over. This is the age of the choir. Looking back at what history has shown us with Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, JFK and Bobby Kennedy - we know that they can kill the soloist. But when enough people come together in Love - you can't kill the whole choir." ~ MW

She went on to say (and she did not say it without reverence for her own life) that she was at an age now where, "It's a scarier thought that I might not do what I came here to do, than that they might kill me if I try to do it."

And BAM!! - once again my heart was set on fire by the luminous spark of my kick-ass mentor! I wanted to high five everyone around me, like "Yes! Yes! Yes!" because that's exactly how I've been feeling lately. I'd rather be unpopular, alone or even killed - rather than stand around helpless like some sort of silent, terrorized "sheeple".

It's just my opinion (and honestly - take it or leave it) but I think it's high time for folks to stop messing around and DO THE WORK. To once and for all - get right with themselves, forgive their past, and get crystal clear about who they are, what they stand for and what they're committed to.

No more pussy footing around, no more "Well, maybe I'll do my meditation/prayer/yoga practice today if I feel like it", no more dumbing down your message, or trying to make it (whatever your "it" is - your writing, music, art, teaching, etc.) palatable to everyone. No more fear about upsetting people or "turning them off" with your spiritual "hippie" talk (Ha!) and your belief in the power of God, Divine Love and prayer.

The time to commit to your individualized curriculum is now. It's time to throw your hat in the ring and let the consequences of your Love conviction and Self expression be what they may. At least you'll be able to say - I did my best. I stood for something. You can go to the end of your days peacefully knowing that you looked your life (and your Self) square in the eyes and said, "I'm All In."

Which got me to thinking about the Greeks, the Vikings and the Spanish Conquistadors. OK, just stay with me here... Now these guys took their passion and "commitment" to a whole new level. These suckers did not fool around. They're the crazy dudes that lived by the hard-core philosophy of: BURN YOUR BOATS.

You see, when these warriors set off to conquer a new land, they did not have an ounce of defeat in mind. Their vision had laser like clarity and their spirit was so determined - that upon landing on the shore of a new country, they would boldly and immediately set their own boats on fire. T

hey had no Plan B. There was no room for turning back, no option for retreat. They were courageously and unflinchingly committed to victory that

 losing wasn't even a possible choice - because in that particular situation - to lose was to die.

Now I'm not suggesting that you walk around your life setting everything on fire - but you know, sometimes there just might be a few well worn bridges - to people, to victimized ways of thinking, to worn out old habits, to a list of grievances - that could benefit from some burning. So do yourself a favor - strike a metaphorical match and let that shit go.

The fire that I would rather you stoke is an internal one, that in Yoga we call: Tapas. Sometimes it's translated as heat, fire, friction, or discipline. And that's what we could all use a bit more of - a little burning off of our fear, laziness, and self-sabotaging  excuses. We have to go against the grain of habitual patterns that often keep us stuck, playing small and caught up in the illusion of separation. We have to be willing to jump in and smolder in the kiln of Divine Love.

The truth is, you can't do Yoga half-assed. (I mean, you can, but really why bother?) In Yoga, we're asked to be devoted to our daily practice and to the God of our understanding. In order to do this, we need desire, discipline, dedication and determination. We have to want to move beyond just the physical asana practice, so we can discover the exponential yogic roots that support and surround us. We have to take a big breath, sit down, get quiet, flex our spiritual muscles and then dig in and dig deep.

Like my meditation teacher

Eknath Easwaran

teaches about choosing a mantram to repeat - to help soothe and calm our loud, crazy minds - he cautions, that once you pick a mantra that resonates with you - DO NOT CHANGE IT. Do not flip flop back and forth. "If you do, you'll be like a person digging shallow holes in many places; you will never go deep enough to find water."

The miraculous thing about Yoga is that it doesn't demand that you burn all your boats at once. It does however ask you to eventually stop messing around and light the damn kindling already. Ha! What I mean by this is - let's say for example that you're a "yogi" that still likes to eat animals and their by products, or you drink a lot of alcohol or wine, or smoke a bunch of cigarettes or weed or engage in promiscuous sex. Some of the great teachers of Yoga, like Paramahansa Yogananda - have said that by all means you can still continue to do those things - HOWEVER, you shouldn't be surprised that when you do finally get serious about your Yoga and you commit to living the foundational principles (Yamas & Niyamas) and practicing all 8 limbs of Yoga as taught byPatanjali in"The Yoga Sutras"- that the desire to do these things will naturally fall away.

I can only say from my own experience, that that's exactly what happened to me. I slowly realized that I was trying to "wake up" to my true nature and all those other things did was put me back to sleep. When I got tired of goofing around with the other stuff and finally got serious about my own life - well, as predicted - life got serious about me. (That Marianne is such a smarty-pants!)

I'd like to add that getting "serious" doesn't mean that you become a tight ass dullard and can't have any fun! As I always tell my students - you can devote yourself to Love and God and still have a total blast.

So as we head into 2016, with a brand new, clean slate of a year on the horizon, I'm curious to know - What do you want to get serious about in your own life? What do you want to create and commit to? How do you want to show up and stand in your conviction? Think about it and if you feel moved to share - please let me know.

I'll leave you with this:

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets: Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it."~ WH Murray (Scottish Mountaineer & Writer)

I hope you all know how much I believe in you! Wishing you all a glorious and blessed Holiday season.

LOVE ALWAYS WINS

Denise Robert
Denise Robert

When I was at my hair appointment on Tuesday - I read a story on FaceBook about a 62 year old, local woman, Denise Robert - who was out for a walk on Sunday night in a "safe" Manchester neighborhood and was randomly shot and killed. I said out loud, "What the f*ck is wrong with people? The world is going f*cking mad!" My friend who was cutting my hair, told me that Denise Robert was the Auntie of the fiancée of one of the other hair stylists at the salon. She was working that day, so she came over and we talked about it for a bit. I found out later that evening that Denise is also the sister-in-law of one of my old, beloved students (who recently lost her 14 year old daughter just two years ago.) All of this, it hurts my heart.

Here's the thing about murder - it has an explosive, exponential effect - way beyond what people untouched by the vicious act can fathom. One person's life might be taken but this entire family (Denise was the oldest of 12 children) and all of those that love her - will never be the same.

This kind of insane shit right here - this senseless, cowardly, brutal violence - is one of the MAIN reasons why I teach yoga.

For those of you not in the know, the first foundation of yoga is NONVIOLENCE. Which, you can imagine, as the kid of a murdered mother, really appeals to me. Now, as an adult, I teach and share yoga - as a way to bring the light of love to the darkness of this insane world that we've created. Yoga is one of my ways of rallying back against the tyranny of violence. Only my "weapon" of choice is LOVE.

One of my favorite quotes is from one of my spiritual heroes, the great Mahatma Gandhi, who said:

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall - think of it, always. " 

And so this is what I do. When the world seems to have gone completely crazy, when I see brutality, war, rape, slaughters, shootings and violence all around me, I keep my mind on God. When my mind shifts to all the suffering, I do my best to come back to sanity, where Spirit dwells and keep my thoughts, words and actions aligned with the ways of the Divine. I remind myself again and again that in the end - Love always win.

In Chapter 11 of A Course In Miracles - God or The Ego there's a great passage that says:

"You make by projection, but God creates by extension. The cornerstone of God's creation is you, for His thought system is light. Remember the Rays that are there unseen. The more you approach the center of His thought system, the clearer the light becomes. The closer you come to the foundation of the ego's thought system, the darker and more obscure becomes the way. Yet even the little spark in your mind is enough to lighten it. Bring this light fearlessly with you, and bravely hold it up to the foundation of the ego's thought system. Be willing to judge it with perfect honesty. Open the dark cornerstone of terror on which it rests, and bring it out into the light. There you will see that it rested on meaninglessness, and that everything of which you have been afraid was based on nothing."

That little spark of love in your mind is enough to lighten the darkness that we often find ourselves in. We must bring this light FEARLESSLY with us and bravely hold it up so that we can shine the light of the Divine on everything we see. This is how I try to make my way in the world. 

I hope the person who killed Denise Robert is caught. I hope that he/she is held 100% accountable for their unthinkable actions. And I hope that we don't just let Denise's tragic story be another blip on our media screens - a hot topic for one minute and then quickly forgotten the next. 

Please, let's not "get used to" this kind of stuff. Let's not go numb to violence and mentally check out whenever we see a horrific story. Let's consciously choose Love instead of Fear. Let's do our best to eradicate every ounce of violence that lives within our own hearts and minds - because changing the world is an inside job.

TURN ON THE LIGHT

Bapuji - Swami K
Bapuji - Swami K

Open a newspaper, go on FB or read your Yahoo News Feed and it's easy to feel overwhelmed by the frightening stories that appear. Beheadings, mass murders, water droughts, factory farming, starving children, people burning down churches and arguing over flags! Yikes! It's enough to make you feel like we're moving backwards and living in crazy dark times.

So when students and mentoring clients ask me, "I'm just one person, what kind of difference can I make? What can I really do to change the world?" I often tell them what my teacher Marianne Williamson once told me, "We are the lamps, God/Spirit is the electricity - but the light only works if you plug it in first."

What she was passing on to me, is what both Yoga and A Course In Miracles also teach in their own way - that our job is not to fight the darkness, our job is to simply TURN ON THE LIGHT. In order to be a force for good in the world - you have to first learn how to be a receptive conduit to the Divine.

One of the ways that you can do that is first thing, every morning (before you go out an inflict yourself on other unsuspecting people) - take some time to do your spiritual work and consciously connect to Source.

Just like we train and work out our physical muscles, we also have to take time each day to build our spiritual muscles too. It's this daily discipline of yoga, sitting for meditation, doing the Lessons of ACIM, forgiving, reading the great books of the faith traditions, chanting mantra, praying, counting your rosary (or whatever YOUR pathway to the Divine is) that will teach you how, in times of darkness, to turn on your own inner light.

It won't be easy and nobody else can do the work for you - but if you want to be the light, if you want to be liberated - from your suffering, from your fear, from the tyranny of your own ego mind - if you want to be an instrument of peace, then you must show up consistently for your LOVE practice. You have to be fiercely determined, disciplined, dedicated and and devoted to shifting your mind from Fear to Love. 

No more playing small, no more blaming everyone else, no more waiting for the other guys to fix things. This changing the "outer world" is actually an "inside job". We do not fight the darkness OUT THERE - we simply turn on the light IN HERE!

As Swami Kripalu gently tells us:

"My beloved child, break your heart no longer. Every time you judge yourself you break your own heart. You stop feeding on the love which is the wellspring of your vitality. The time has come. Your time. To live, to celebrate, and to see the goodness that you are. You, my child, are divine. You are pure. You are sublimely free. You are God in disguise, and you are always perfectly safe. Do not fight the dark, just turn on the light, and breathe into the goodness that you are.”

Keep turning on your light and shining bright!

LOOK FOR THE HELPERS

Fred
Fred

(Graphic Credit: EmilysQuotes.com)

I've always been a sensitive person. Ever since I was little, I've been really aware of other people's (and animal's) emotions. Able to feel subtle shifts in their moods and changes in their vibe/energy and whether I liked it or not, I could also sense their suffering.

My mother, who I believe also had this "sensitivity", nurtured and held dear this part of me. I learned rather quickly however, that my step-dad wasn't a big fan of all that touchy-feely shit. A master of "sucking it up and stuffing it down" - I figured he either didn't see or appreciate that sweet part of my nature or he wasn't interested in cultivating it in any way. Point in fact, this guy just didn't allow any room for weakness. So, to survive it all, I learned to put on a pretty good tough act. I never completely shut down that feeling part of me - but I didn't allow myself to show it much either.

I remember when my step-dad used to come home from his Fall weekend hunting trips in VT. He'd proudly pull into our narrow, cracked driveway with a honk, announcing not only his return but the arrival of a dead deer tied to the roof of his Buick. In our small garage, he'd slide the body of this beautiful animal he'd killed down off the top and onto the hood of his car. Then he'd wrap course rope around it's long hind legs and he'd string it up over a rusty metal S hook suspended from the ceiling. It would hang upside down with it's pink tongue protruding from it's mouth and it's front legs stretching limply toward the cold, concrete slab of floor.

Over the course of a few days, when he'd get home from his shift at Wonder Bread, he'd go to work on that deer. First, he'd slice it open from shoulder to groin with a shiny 8" Buck knife that he always kept sharp. He'd gut that gentle, harmless creature, removing it's innards and dumping them into a plastic pail on the floor. I'd hear the slop of intestines and other vital organs fill the bucket and then he'd begin to methodically skin the deer. Slowly cutting and peeling back it's thick coat of fur off it's body, inch by inch, away from the meaty muscle below.

Sometimes, he'd have me hold the body still to keep it from swaying side to side as he cut the deer apart, piece, by piece, by piece. He'd crack jokes and talk about the venison stew we were going to have later for dinner. I hated venison stew. I hated venison anything.

And the truth is, as much as it all scared me, as much as it broke my 8-year old heart, I would still stand by like a good little helper and hand him whatever tool he needed or doing whatever thing he asked me to do, to get the job done.

But after he would leave the garage, to go inside and wash the blood off his hands, I would crouch down and stroke the soft head of the deer and I'd whisper in it's ear, "I'm so sorry". Most times I'd cry, but I'd always make sure to wipe away my tears before going back in the house.

Years later, after my mother's murder, when I discovered Yoga, ACIM (A Course in Miracles), Veganism (Compassionate Eating) and other Love centered practices that expanded not just my mind but also my heart - I gave myself permission to return to and honor my true, empathic nature. This decision to drop the "tough act" - meant that I would now allow myself to feel it all. Which means that a lot of days, I feel way more than I'd like to. Which also means (if I'm being totally blunt) that I sometimes momentarily get truly fucking horrified, outraged and crazed by the insane amount of greed, voluntary ignorance and cruelty that I see happening in the world.

The upside of this kind of spiritual work is that your heart opens up - the difficult side of this kind of spiritual work is that - yep, you got it - your friggen' heart opens up and occasionally it also gets broken. And when you make the choice to move through the world with a sensitive heart and a more aware mind, you start to see, way more clearly, the suffering of others - both humans and animals - and some days the weight of it all can feel like it's almost unbearable. 

But here's what I learned, if I choose to focus only on all the bad things that happen, like the murders, rapes, genocides, wars, sexual slavery, mass shootings, bombings, bullying, beheadings, racism, factory farming, animal testing, global warming, endangered species, OMFG - I would not only become totally overwhelmed by despair, but also completely paralyzed by Fear. I would buy into the insane illusion that this world that we have self-created is REAL (and kind of a nightmare) and I would in turn be rendered useless. 

So, what do I do instead? First things first, I remind myself, as many times as I need to, what ACIM has taught me to be true: "ONLY LOVE IS REAL". Which means, I try to keep my mind focused on the Light, the Good, the Sacred, the Holy. That doesn't mean I'm not aware of the Dark. Trust me, I get it, I've seen that shit in action. But I just don't buy into it. I don't give it my power. I choose to Forgive My Humanity and Stand In My Divinity. I hold firm to my belief that the way we overcome it all is through LOVE. So that's where I put my attention.

One of the other practical things I do, is follow the advice of one of our beloved childhood pals and teachers, Mr. Fred Rogers, who so brilliantly once told us,"

"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in the world."

So when I start to feel like I just can't bear one more negative newscast, whiny FB post, gossipy video or picture of what some horrible human being did to some poor helpless animal - I make sure to turn to the LIGHT. I head as fast as I can in the direction of the helpers. Knowing that there, in the midst of the do-gooders, the peace makers, the compassionate, fierce souls that dedicate themselves to Love - I will find the courage, tenacity and inspiration that I need to keep going. I make sure to spend some time and be in their presence and borrow some of the fire that drives them, to rekindle within myself that bright torch of Love. 

love&rescue
love&rescue

As you guys may know, some of my favorite "helpers" are my friends over at PEACE AND PAWS DOG RESCUE in Hillsboro, NH. It's founders, Melissa and Bo Hannon are not only wonderful, funny people, they've also dedicated their lives to helping dogs in need. Their mission and motto is, "To match the world's best dogs, with the world's best people." So far, through their tireless dedication and devotion, they've rescued more than 2,300 dogs that would otherwise have been euthanized. The magazine Modern Dog just did an awesome feature on Peace and Paws called "Love & Rescue" - you can read it by clicking HERE.

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We got two of our own furry kids, Scooter and Peanut ("The Littles", aka: The Boondock Saints) from Peace and Paws a couple of years ago and we recently started spending a few hours there on Sundays whenever we can. It's funny, because as "volunteers", it might look on the outside like we're helping them - but the truth is, those hours sitting on the floor, petting and playing with pups, talking with my fellow dog-adoring friends - I' really clear that they're actually helping me!! Those visits are one of the ways that I restore myself to sanity, and remember all the Good/God in the world, and get to honor that sensitive, animal loving kid from my childhood.

If you want to be a helper yourself, consider becoming a volunteer at an organization that calls to your heart, or speak up about something in your community that needs to change, or donate some time or money to a good cause. If you'd like, you can make a donation to support some of the sweet pups in need at Peace and Paws by using this direct link:http://peaceandpaws.org/site/get-involved/donate/

They also have a Wish List of things that are needed at their Ruff House Retreat Adoption Center (like doggie beds, blankets, towels, paper towels, dog toys, etc.) that you can give to me at class and I'll take it with me when I go to visit!

PS - I also have to say that looking back as an adult, I realize that my step-dad was loving me in the only way that he knew how. And maybe he did see that sensitive kid and maybe he wanted to protect me - to prepare me for this difficult life. So he taught me how to be tough. And the truth is, that toughness did serve me. And some days, when it's needed, it still does. So maybe in his own "unique" way - my Dad was trying to be a helper too.

I hope you all know that you've all been such wonderful helpers for me too. I'm blessed and grateful for your presence in my life. Thank you. xo

MENTORS & TORMENTORS

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As most of you already know, two of my greatest passions are yoga and writing. The more I've practiced both of these creative arts, the more I've discovered a deep spiritual connective thread that weaves the two of them together. So much so that in 2006, I offered my first Yoga & Writing workshop at my studio.

The relationship between the two has become so exciting and beautiful to me, that whenever I take a yoga training or attend an author reading, I always make sure to bring anotebook and pen because I know at some point, the teacher or writer is going to say some brilliant thing that illuminates yet another connection between the two, and it will be so fantastic that I must write it down and highlight it with neon markers and scribble in big, bold letters in the margins - YES!!! YOGA & WRITING!!! I've been doing this for years.

Last week, I was happily attending one of my favorite writer's conferences down in Florida. I adore it not only because it gets me out of cold-ass NH in January, but it also allows me to spend eight glorious days, totally geeking out with about 100 other book lovers, readers and writers.

While the whole week is a total blast, one of the things I love most is getting to spend some quality time with my writing friends and mentors. (There's a photo of some of them above.)

Each day at the conference, we get to workshop manuscripts, go to author readings, attend lectures and discussions on craft, and learn about everything from revising your first draft, to getting an agent, to how to start your own small publishing press. Book nerd heaven.

About midweek, there was a discussion called: My First Novel - Mistakes & Successes with best selling authors, Lori Roy, Laura Lippman and Andre Dubus III sitting on the panel. During the Q & A - the topic of mentors came up.

And while each of them shared their thoughts and advice on the subject, one of the things that Laura said almost sent me flying up and out of my seat like some sweaty enthusiastic, parishioner, at a big revival tent somewhere in the deep south that had just heard the preacher say something so glorious that it was almost impossible to just let it slide on by without making some sort of a “Praise the Lord” testimony.

"It's good to have mentors - but tormentors will take you a long way too." 

When I heard those words come out of her mouth - I felt like stomping my feet, raising my hands to the heavens and dancing around in the aisles shouting, "Hallelujah! Can I get a witness? Amen!" I resisted the urge, so I wouldn't scare the crap out of the people sitting close to me but I did start scribbling away in my notebook like I'd been possessed. YES!!! YES!!! YES!!! YOGA & WRITING!!! WOOHOO!!!

You see, I've been telling my students for years that as nice as it is to have supportive, loving people in your life, do not discredit the power of the assholes. The button pushers, the bullies, the bastards, as much as we hate to admit it or accept it, are some of our greatest teachers, too.

And for me, it goes even beyond that. Tormentors are not just people. They're also the things that scare you, piss you off or make you feel less then. They're the weight gain, the death, the job loss, the cancer diagnosis, the cheating spouse, the addiction, the childhood abuse, the sad victim story you keep telling yourself or the old baggage you've been dragging around behind you for so long now that you've been leaving a trail of bloody bits and pieces of your unhealed self every where you go.

That "fill in the blank" obstacle, reason, excuse - you know, the thing(s) that keeps you playing small and feeling separated from God/Source/Spirit. Whatever it is that prevents you from stepping into your power and Divinity, those walls you've built against the awareness of Love's presence and the multitude of ways you've blocked the flow of miracles that are trying to come into your life. Yeah, all that shit - those are tormentors too.

However, remember what Laura said, "... Tormentors will take you a long way." But here's the thing, you've got to be willing to change your mind about how you see them. As Lesson 28 of A Course in Miracles directly guides us, "Above all else, I want to see things differently." 

So, how do we do that? How do we flip it and shift our perception of Tormentors into Mentors? Well, first thing first, you've got to know that it's an inside job. Here's another clue from super, smarty-pants buddhist nun, Pema Chodron. She got it right when she said, "If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher."

I would dare to say that anyone or anything can be our teacher (our mentor) if we change the lens through which we're viewing it.

If we come at a person or situation and look at it through the illusion of Fear, we will see an attack or a tormentor. However, if we choose (and trust me, it's a decision only we can make), to soften our hearts, or to let go of what we think it is, if we're willing to turn our thoughts over to the Divine, to Holy Spirt, to our Spiritual Team and ask to see this person, this thing, this situation through the forgiving eyes of Love.... I'm telling you - you'll be amazed at how your perception and your life can transform.

One of my greatest mentors, Marianne Williamson taught me, "Love is what we're born with, Fear is what we've learned here." 

All that God/Spirit/Universe/Higher Power needs is a little bit of your willingness to surrender our version of events. You must on some level consciously want to see yourself and your tormentors differently. Now, you don't have to understand it, you don't even have to like it, but you do have to want it. The truth is, our biggest tormentors only exist in our own mind. Healing, is an inside job. Just crack open the door of your mind a tiny bit and let some of that light shine into the darkness.

When you build your spiritual muscles through daily practice and learn to shift your perception from limited human sight, to limitless Divine vision, when you start to experience the world from a place of Love instead of Fear - all of life becomes a mentor, especially our previous tormentors.

Right now, I'm working on developing an online course that I'm calling: Creating Fearless Flow - that I hope when finished, will give folks some down to earth, practical tools to help navigate this kind of spiritual process. And you can bet your bottom that it will involve both some yoga and some writing! In the meantime, just know that the Universe has got your back, Love is on your side and you're surrounded by a kick-ass team of Angels that are always there for you, ready to help.

NEW BEGINNINGS

Cory, Mom, Kasha
Cory, Mom, Kasha

"Tis time New Hopes should animate the world, New Light should dawn for New Revealings to a race weighed down so long, forgotten so long..."  ~ Paracelsus (Robert Browning)

I'm so excited about this New Year! I just know that 2015 is going to give us all plenty of opportunities to practice being more loving, compassionate, creative and kind. So many wonderful new chances to share the Love and be the Light.

A Course in Miracles says: "Teach Only Love - For That Is What You Are." In ACIM, to "teach" means to demonstrate. Which means, you don't have to take out an ad in the paper, or make some big announcement on Facebook, or get up on a box on some street corner (although that might be fun to watch!) and preach about how in 2015 you're going to be a kick-ass Pilgrim of Love.

All you have to do is get your heart and mind right each morning and then go out there and simply live your life. It will be through your daily thoughts, words and actions that your dedication and devotion to God/Goodness, to Love/Spirit will reveal itself and leave it's sweet, tender impression on your brother's and sister's hearts. Living your life in Love - this is your yoga practice.

As I've probably said a gazillion times before, if you can stick your foot behind your head, that's great. If you can sit for 2 hours of meditation, cool. If you can chant all 40 verses of the Hanuman Chalisa, awesome, but when you're done doing those things, if you go out into the world and act like a selfish asshole, then you're not doing your yoga.

Yoga asks more of us. This practice asks us to bring our awareness of our highest Self into everything that we do. That we try to see the Divine in all beings and creatures, that we do our best as Yogi Bhajan says, "To be the forklift" and raise each other up. Only building one another up in Love, never tearing down out of Fear.

So this is my New Year's request of all of you, and even thought it's a small favor, it's a long story, so thank you in advance for reading, as I ask for your help to bring hope, love and buoyancy to one of our fellow yogis - Mr. Cory Daiker.

(Just so you know upfront, he's given me 100% permission to share his story with all of you. What he doesn't know, is why I want to share it.) 

For the past year or so, I've been mentoring Cory. This isn't unusual as you guys know, I offer Spiritual and Yoga Teacher Mentoring. What makes this situation special is that Cory is 3,000 miles away from me in CA. And he's also in prison.

Long story short, he's not in there for anything violent. Let's just say that Cory had himself a little habit, and to support that habit he decided to become a "gardener" of sorts. Much to his surprise, he had a natural gift of a green thumb. The kid could grow some shit - are you with me? So he uses his talents legitimately and starts out working for a small medical co-op. But then, one thing leads to another. And even though Cory smartens up and gets out of the business, moves back in with his mom (that's her in the picture with him) and enrolls himself in community college - it's already too late, a previous situation catches up to him. But he does the right thing and turns himself into the Marshals and he ends up getting a shorter sentence due to the good changes he made before going to prison.

So, this is when it gets interesting. In October of 2012, while he's incarcerated in FCI Lompoc, he discovers yoga! One of the other inmates, whose been in there for 10 years and is self taught, invites him to his yoga class and gives him the B.K.S. Iyengar book, "Light on Yoga." Cory reads the book, starts his own daily practice and over the course of the month becomes hooked.

Lo and behold, over time, Cory slowly starts to teach other inmates too. Nothing super formal, just sharing what he's learned from the different yoga books he started reading (his mom sends them to him) and from his own practice.

This is where I come in. His mom Kathy reached out to me in 2013 on Cory's behalf (she found me online) and asked if I would be willing to work with Cory and mentor him? She said he was thinking that when he got out of prison, he might like to one day become a yoga teacher!! I thought that was pretty cool and I was like, "OK, I've got to talk this guy."

And that's just what we've done. Via long emails and in short 15 minute phone conversations (you're not allowed to talk more than that) - we've talked - a lot about yoga and all kinds of things and I've gotten to know him.

Over the past 15 months, Cory has completed an incredible recovery program. He was such a positive presence in his group that the leaders chose to make him a mentor to others. He's continued with his exploration of yoga and like any student knows, some days go better than others. It's truly difficult to maintain a consistent practice in prison because, as you can imagine, you can't really let your guard fully down. The fact that Cory continues on is remarkable to me.

He also become vegetarian and has been able to put some of his innate gardening talents to use. He's been working to replace the existing hydroponic system to a fully organic system that doesn't use heavy salts as fertilizer. He said to me one day, "It's kind of funny to do new things, taking and using old knowledge I gained for illegal purposes and re-tasking it for something positive. This is the first time I can grow things and not worry about failure and I'm having a big breakthrough that I think could be quite beneficial to the farm industry and urban farming and it feels awesome!"

He's also working hard to cut out sugar (not easy with prison food), caffeine (he had headaches for days) and because of his work in the garden, he's able to eat some organic greens and even juice them a little. He can't wait to get out and once again be able to control his own diet. :)

His hope is to someday maybe teach yoga to people who are in recovery. We laugh a little sometimes because he's never even had the chance to take a yoga class at an actual studio yet! But my hope is that when he gets out, he'll land in the perfect yoga community somewhere in CA and they'll be as welcoming, friendly and supportive as I know you guys would be.

The other day, Cory wrote to me and one of the things he shared landed so deeply in my heart - he was talking about humility and gratitude and said,

"Just today, I had this crazy moment when I was standing in the garden watching the birds play and the hummingbirds and dragonflies flying around and the sky was so blue and it hit me. Oh my, I'm in jail. And I get to watch all this beauty. How crazy. So right there and then, I sat down in lotus and gave thanks for this day and how grateful I was for things to land the way they did and allow me all this. I thought this experience of jail was going to ruin my life but it has made it so much fuller and probably stopped me from slowly destroying my body over time. So, I can't believe I'm saying this being a prisoner but, I am thankful for jail and what it did to save my life."

If you guys could have seen me smiling and crying and pounding my desk repeatedly in glorious joy!! YES, YES, YES - HE GETS IT!!!

I was thrilled for him that he'd had that personal revelation and it made me so happy, that I wanted to celebrate it and do something nice for Cory. So, this is where you guys come in. Don't worry, I'm not asking for any money. Just a few minutes of your time. So this is my idea...

Cory will hopefully be getting released in November 2015. Fingers crossed it all goes great but in the meantime, I'd like to send him some words of encouragement. I'd like for him to know that even though we're far away, he already has a yoga community rooting for him and cheering him on - as he finishes up his prison time.

All I ask, is that if you could shoot me a quick email with a few encouraging words for Cory - whatever your heart inspires you to write - and I will collect them all and put them together in one big New Years email to surprise him. It will not include your email address or any kind of identifying info, just your "forklift" of a note and your first name.

Thank you in advance for those of you that choose to participate. It means a lot to me and I know it will mean the world to Cory (and his mom)! This is just one fun way that we can start our New Year with more love, compassion, kindness and creativity!

Wishing every single one of you a beautiful and blessed New Year. May you continue to shine and keep lifting each other up!

DAILY BLESSINGS

Every morning, before my feet even hit the floor, I routinely start my day with prayer. No matter what's going on in my life and no matter how busy my day is, I do not get out of bed until my prayers have been said and conscious contact has been made between me and the Divine.

I usually start of with a couple of familiar ones from my Catholic childhood, the good ole' Lord's Prayer and a little Hail Mary (although I admit to changing the line "pray for us sinners" to "pray for us children" because it just sounds, I don't know, so much nicer - than being called a big, fat sinner first thing in the morning.

I always recite the prayer of St. Francis (a beautiful invocation from one of my favorite saints that I also use for daily Passage Meditation) and throw in another another sweet one that I learned years ago from Marianne Williamson that helps me turn myself over to the Beloved and turn down the volume of my critical ego-mind. Then, I chant a little Ganesha Mantra (Ganesh is my main man and the remover of obstacles and God knows I need as much help as possible getting out of my own way!)

I also call upon my Spiritual Team and I've got to say, it's a pretty bad-ass team comprised of humans, animals, Gods/Goddesses, saints/sages and angels from a bunch of different faith traditions. First thing I do is offer up some gratitude for their presence in my life and give thanks for all the gifts I've been given. I learned a long time ago that things that don't seem like a gift in the present moment, often turn out to be - so I make sure to also say thank you, for any current challenges I'm experiencing and any button pushers that happen to be showing up.

Then, I ask my Team to bless and keep all of my brothers and sisters everywhere - which also includes all the animals - and pray that we find our way from the darkness to the Light, from ignorance to Truth, from the unreal to the Real and that our hearts and minds be returned to Love. I ask that we all may learn to live and create in what I call, FEARLESS FLOW.

I also take a few minutes to reflect on my daily lesson from A Course In Miracles and then wrap it up with two more ACIM prayers that basically ask God/Love to be in charge of my thoughts, words and actions - so that I can do my best to be truly helpful in world, rather than walking around doing a bunch of stupid stuff or saying a bunch of sarcastic things. (Now grant it, this isn't always easy because sarcasm is a skill set that kids from Lawrence master into an art form at a pretty young age - plus, old habits die hard - but with God on my side, all things are possible.)

I do all this kind of stuff everyday because I know for a fact that:

A) Just like I need do some physical movement each day to keep my body strong and flexible, stable and mobile, steady and at ease - I also need to do the same for my mental, emotional and spiritual body.

B) Life is going to throw me some curveballs once in a while and if I align myself with Spirit first thing in the morning, I'm setting myself up for a day that is grounded in Faith, Devotion and Love.

C) When I consistently do this work, it significantly lessens the likelihood of me acting like a total colossal asshole.

D) In the unlikely event I do start to act like a TCA, I am now conditioned to come correct and get myself back on the Love Train pretty quickly.

I've seen proof positive how maintaining an unwavering, daily prayer practice has helped me to build my spiritual muscles, so instead of reacting to people and things like a crazy person, I can choose how I respond to the world around me.

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Case in point, when we lost our power on Thanksgiving Eve and the top of a massive pine tree snapped off and to took a header onto and INTO our house and it not only made two holes in our roof but also crushed our chimney cap so we couldn't use our propane fireplace for heat and our generator wouldn't start for two days and I couldn't send out my Thanksgiving Newsletter to all of you and the lovely folks at PSNH kept giving me false hope and wrong restoration times and we ultimately lost our ability to shower and flush toilets for 5 days and to add insult to injury on the 4th day the whole street except us and another neighbor, got their electricity back - and despite all this, I was still positive and hopeful and polite (except for that one tiny instance when I sarcastically told the guy at PSNH, "Dude, you guys are killing me right now with this shit.") But other than that, I was cool. I was even genuinely happy for our neighbors when they got their power back a whole 24 hours before us and thought "good for them" - rather than wanting to walk up the street and huck rocks through their happy, lit up windows. :)

I'm telling you, if you show up, if you do this work with sustained willingness and enthusiasm, you will experience more joy, more freedom from suffering and more liberation from the tyranny of your own fearful mind! Prayer helps you to take all that spiritual knowledge that floats around in your smarty-pants head and draws it down into your sweet, loving heart where it can be transformed through Divine Alchemy and be used by you to serve the world in brilliant, creative ways. 

So, as we move into the New Year, maybe you'll consider taking up your own daily devotional practices. Perhaps it will involve yoga, pranayama exercises, prayer, chanting mantras, meditation, reading sacred texts, writing in your journal, doing the rosary or other beautiful ways of connecting more deeply to your Divine Source and Spiritual Team.

I can't tell you which practices you should do (I mean I could but you don't really need me - just simply get quiet, go within and ask Spirit for guidance) - but I can tell you that with a sustained practice of discipline, dedication, determination and devotion - you'll gather some powerful tools that will help you to navigate your life with more love, grace, compassion, forgiveness and a sense of humor. Try it for yourself and let me know how it all unfolds!!

Thank you for another wonderful year. It's a true honor and delight to share this journey with all of you. xoxo

CREATING COMMUNITY

I'm so delighted to say that our 1st Annual - NH Yoga Retreat at the Mountain View Grand Resort was a total blast! I was blessed to co-create and share the experience with three of my amazing friends and fellow yoga teachers, Elizabeth, Roseann and Nicole!

At the end of my Saturday afternoon class, as the four of us were looking around the room at all of the beautiful yogis relaxing in savasana, we all started to tear up. We couldn't help ourselves. It was truly magical! Over 70 yogis, from 4 different studios and 3 different states (NH, MA & RI) all gathered together for a weekend immersion of laughter, love, friendship and heart-centered community!

I think it struck us all so deeply because as studio owners and teachers one of the biggest parts of your dream and vision is to create a safe haven, a scared space where people can come together, feel at home, be at ease and see their own beauty and brilliance reflected back to them through others in their spiritual community.

As I often say in class - "Nobody else can do this work for us but we don't have to do it alone."

One of my beloved teachers Eknath Easwaran always talks about the importance of  Spiritual Fellowship. Here's part of what he has to say:

"Spiritual friends are what Buddha would have called "right companionship." Everything we do, he reminds us, either adds or subtracts from our own image as human beings. What we give our time and attention to, what we talk about, what we read about, the people we are close to - all these contribute to either a higher image of the human being or to a lower one.

Cultivate time with people whose companionship elevates you. We can seek out goodness in people. We can seek out what is noble in human character. We can look for goodness and nobility in choosing our friends, in choosing to whom to give our attention and our love. It is especially helpful to spend time regularly with others who are basing their lives on the same spiritual values. When you are trying to change your life, you need the support of others with the same goal...

It should be no surprise then that an essential part of the spiritual life is joining together with those who are spiritually minded, those who want to promote our growth and who want us to promote theirs. This should not be considered a luxury or an indulgence. The Buddha would say that most people throw themselves into the river of life and float downstream, moved here and there by the current. But the spiritual aspirant must swim upstream, against the current of habit, familiarity, and ease. 

It is an apt image. We know how the salmon fights its way along, returning at last to its original home. Those who set out to change themselves are salmon swimming against the relentless flow of the selfish life. Truly, we need every bit of support we can get; we need friends, loyal companions on the journey. We have to do the swimming, of course; nobody else can do it for us. But there will be an easier and swifter passage if we can swim with those who encourage us, who set a strong pace and will not stop until they reach their destination. The burdens are shared, easing them; the joys are shared too, multiplying them.

In Sanskrit, this sharing is called satsang. The word derives from two smaller words: sat, meaning "the good" or "truth" or "reality," and sanga, meaning "group" or "association." Thus it signifies the seekers of the highest, banded together."

And this is exactly what we did at our retreat! We all banded together - we supported and celebrated one another, practiced and laughed together and I believe felt a genuine connection from heart to heart ~ Spirit to Spirit.

This month as we celebrate Thanksgiving,  I want you all to know just how much I appreciate and adore all of YOU! Thank you for being a part of my community for all these years. And if you're new to our community - welcome, welcome!! It's because of you beautiful beings that I get to share what I love and live my dreams. I'm deeply grateful, honored and blessed to experience this journey with all of you!

BE YOUR AWESOME SELF

Something happened to me this week, that's actually happened to me many, many times before. I normally keep my big mouth shut about these kind of things, not wanting to name names, call people out or embarrass anyone. But the outcome of this latest situation was so good, so positive that I've decided to share the story with you!

So here's the thing, when you do anything in the public eye, especially if you do it at a level that some folks might consider "successful" or original - your work, your website, your writing, your creative "stuff" is probably going to get noticed. Now, it's super cool when people see your stuff and it moves them, lights them up, and inspires them in turn to create their OWN original stuff!

But, you know what's not so soothing? When those same people like your work, your website, your offering, your idea - SO MUCH, that they go ahead and decide to steal it. Now, I know we're all linked as one conscious mind and we exist in some sort of primordial creative soup, so nothing is truly original, blah, blah, blah - I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about when someone checks out your website and verbatim steals your shit right off of it! They blatantly "borrow" snippets of your layout, your text, your language, your workshop. Sometimes they can be so bold as to copy the whole kit and kaboodle! (Which is what happened in this latest instance.)

I don't know why people do this. Maybe they're afraid they don't have any good ideas of their own. Maybe they're lazy and figure, well she's already being successful at it, why reinvent the wheel? Maybe they secretly hope nobody will notice. Maybe they think that I won't find out.

But, I know a lot of people so this stuff has a funny way of making it's way back to me. You'd be amazed at how many times over the years, I've been told or discovered that someone had lifted my stuff. Now, as a writer (and especially one who's also married to a professional musician/singer/songwriter) we take intellectual property, copyright and Trademark stuff very seriously. So when faced with this kind of blatant stealing, I am not at all impressed.

However, I do my best to respond to the situation from a place of love instead of fear.

THIS IS NOT ALWAYS EASY. 

When this kind of thing happens, the Lawrence kid in me has no interest in being nice. So at first, I get pissed and think ALL kinds of unloving thoughts. Things that if I said them out loud they might actually revoke my "yogi" card. So I let that Lawrence kid part of me say what she needs to say, in private, for a few minutes and then I get down to the business of forgiveness. Once I let the wave of anger move through me -  I try to get back to the greater question of how can I approach this situation with kindness, compassion and the greatest outcome for all in mind?

THE ANSWER VARIES.

Sometimes, I just let the trespass go. If they're a chronic offender, it's just not worth the time and energy to say something to someone when I know they're going to flat out deny it, because they aren't able or willing to see or admit that they do this kind of thing habitually. Also, if they need to be a follower all the time - if they don't trust their own Divine Inspiration then on some level, they're already suffering.

Sometimes, I reach out and try to be subtle and very gentle and approach it with kid gloves, because I don't think that their intention was to be malicious. They were perhaps just clumsy or ignorant of their own fear and made a bad subconscious choice.

Sometimes, like this latest incident, I take a more direct approach. I pick up the phone and very nicely but firmly say something like, "Hey, I know we've never met and I'm sorry our relationship is starting out this way but seriously, what the f*ck? I mean you totally stole all of this content off of my website!" Now granted - it's not the funnest phone call to make - but in this case, it REALLY needed to be done.

A lot of times, especially in the spiritual community, we get super sensitive about calling people out on their shit. I mean, someone will act like a total colossal asshole and then we'll all tip toe around it because we don't want to come across as being all "judgy" or "lacking compassion" or God forbid, not being "yogic".

This lack of not wanting to call a spade a spade, this fear of being confrontational and choosing to turn a blind eye instead is kind of like a version of Spiritual Bypassing.

The truth is, you can point out a pattern or habit and bring it to someone's attention in a firm but kind way. You can say, "I see you doing this and it's not OK, it's hurtful to yourself and others." You can say, "I'm not going to let you get away with this because I know you're capable of so much more."

SOMETIME'S THE MOST LOVING THING YOU CAN SAY TO SOMEONE IS, "NO"!

So that's what I did. I picked up the phone and laid it out for the person. And you know what? We ended up having a great conversation! They totally admitted what they'd done, sincerely apologized and promised to remove the page from their website immediately.

As we talked, as the person explained why they did it and what was going on with them, I said, "Look, all this stuff you're telling me about yourself - all this stuff that makes you YOU - this right here, is YOUR website copy!" We had a good laugh and I said, "God/Spirit did not make you so that you could be more like me - you're here to share your own unique gifts and talents. You're not supposed to be like me. You're not supposed to sound like me. You're supposed to be like you and shine your light in your own way. The world doesn't need another Karen Kenney.  What they need is the best you!"

YOUR JOB IS JUST TO BE YOUR OWN AWESOME SELF!

be yourself (2)
be yourself (2)

As I said those words out loud, it took me back to a time about 20 years ago, when I was talking with an older, wiser woman. She asked me, "So, what to do you want to do with your life?" And I said, "I want to be the next Marianne Williamson!" and she paused, looked me in the eye, smiled and said, "Why don't you just be the first Karen Kenney."

I'VE NEVER FORGOTTEN THAT MOMENT.

You know, there's an old Jewish story about a great Hasidic master named Zusha who lay crying on his deathbed. His students asked him, "Why are you so sad? You have a been a great man and have done so many wonderful deeds. Your place in heaven is assured!"

Zusha replied, "I'm afraid. Because when I get to heaven, I know God's not going to ask me why weren't you more like Moses? Or, Why weren't you more like King David? God will ask, 'Zusha, why weren't you more like Zusha?' And then what will I say?!"

So I extend this now to you. How do you want to serve the world? What has God/Spirit/Loving Life Force/The Muse put in your heart and mind to create? We each have our assignments. We each were given our own special abilities and strengths. We are all meant to be receptive vessels for Divine Inspiration to flow through.

You don't have to copy another person. You don't have to be afraid that you aren't enough or there isn't enough. This is an abundant Universe! You don't have to compete and compare and try to fit in! The world doesn't need half-hearted attempts at you being like the other guy. What the world needs is beautiful YOU!

YOUR BALCONY PEOPLE

Two weeks ago, I had the true pleasure of spending 5 days of intensive writing and training with these amazing women: Sylvie, Kathleen, Regina, Jodi, (Kasha - Suzanne's mom and our yummy snack provider), Katie, Dulcie, Suzanne and Minton! (Plus Jeff, our amazing photographer and memory maker!) These beautiful women are not only fierce and fearless writers, they're also a powerhouse group of performers, speakers, artists, coaches, editors and workshop leaders.

It was an honor to learn, explore and dive deep with each of them under the compassionate and mindful tutelage of Author, Book Shaman and Literary Visionary, Suzanne Kingsbury, who's the founder of the Gateless Gate Methodology that we were studying. I'm proud to say that not only have I made some new lifelong friends and gathered new tools for my craft, but I'm now also a certified Gateless Gate Writing Teacher! (Weekly Writing Salons coming soon! Yay!)

Salon
Salon

The reason why I'm telling you all this, is because two months ago I wrote a piece called "Finding Your Spiritual Team" and somewhere in there, I talked about the people you choose to surround yourself with. You might refer to them as your friends, your group, your pack, your crew, your people or your tribe. These are the folks that totally get you, love you and support your dreams and they're a super important part of your journey.

Now, if you're lucky - nestled amongst all this sweet goodness of your beloved tribe (kind of like the prize at the bottom of a Cracker Jack's box) - you'll also have a few of what I call, your "Balcony People".

Balcony People are the friends, family members and sweeties that are totally crazy about you! The enthusiastic cheerleaders that would stand up in the balcony at your gig, show, book reading, music recital, sports game, Ironman race, wedding, play or performance (you get the picture) - and swing their jackets over their head and make a total ruckus on your behalf. They're the friends that would hoot and holler and stomp their feet and call out to you how awesome you are. Not afraid to tell anyone that'll listen, all the things they LOVE about you!

They're the ones that adore you, edify you, celebrate you and cheer you on! And these aren't the one handed, polite, air clappers trying to look oh' so cool either - these are the "Where the Wild Things Are" aren't afraid to make a total feckin' rumpus kind of people! And once you have these folks in your corner, once you know that they've got your back - your life will never be the same.

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Because they are the ones that aren't competing or comparing, they aren't jealous or insecure, they're not trying to steal your ideas or tear you down, they're not afraid of how bright you shine - they're the ones that have done their own deep work, the ones that have faced their own shadows side and remembered to turn on the light! They're the ones that know how to Forgive Their Humanity & Stand in Their Divinity.

And this allows them to recognize the spiritual power within you too and hold the vision of you at your highest - so when you do go out into the world and create something that is good, beautiful, authentic and sacred - they can't help but recognize it for what it is and cheer -Woohoooo! They get the gift of edifying others and the joy of making a rumpus and putting some loving energy behind someone else's vision, accomplishments and dreams. They understand the theory of sympathetic joy and practice it whenever they can. Knowing that since we're all One - whenever another person rises up, they automatically take the rest of us with them! So their buoyancy lifts you up too and in this way we're all reflecting the light and helping each other find our way home. And if enough of us actually do this - miracles can happen!

This kind of holy magic is what I got to experience during my Gateless Teacher Training and these kick-ass women now have their very own special section up in my balcony! (and they sure as shit can count on me being up in theirs!) Knowing that they're there, that they see me, honor me and love me - makes all the difference in the world.

My motto for the Gateless Experience is this: "If you're lucky, you get it before you die."

GET OUT OF YOUR OWN WAY

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I was hanging out with a few friends and we got to talking about our goals and dreams. We each shared what we hoped to create over the next few years. Part of my vision included: finish writing my book and getting it published, teaching more workshops, creating a Yoga & Writing retreat, offering more Yoga Teacher Training modules at various studios and one day presenting at places like Kripalu, Omega and Esalen. And then I jokingly told my friends, I also wanted to put together a 30 Day Online Mentoring Program called: "How to Get the F*ck Out of Your Own Way".

After we finished laughing, I realized it's actually kind of a good idea - so stay tuned. But seriously, here's my point, it occurred to me a while ago that in order to realize my own dreams and bring forth anything helpful or authentic into this world, "I" actually needed to get out of the way, so something much greater than me could come through.

In order for me to create something genuine - whether it was writing a story, putting together a yoga workshop or organizing a retreat, the best thing I could do was keep the "I" to a minimum. I've figured out, after much trial and error, that many of the obstacles I’ve encountered in my life, happened when there was too much I (Ego) thinking going on. Rather than try to figure out what "I" needed to do - I had to start asking God/Spirit what it wanted me to do.

Truth is, even though it's possible that I might have some innate gifts, an occasional decent idea and plenty of good intentions - it's actually Spirit that helps me to create the best stuff and get shit done. It's the mysterious Divine that powers my creativity and births any goodness that I hope to cultivate in this lifetime. This energy, this fierce force of Love is something that moves THROUGH me, like electricity through a light or water through a hose. I'm just the vessel - a vehicle used for delivery - but you can bet your sweet ass that I'm not the Source.

It became clear to me that if I really wanted to help myself and others - so we could discover our purpose and be of use to humanity - then I had to find ways to tap into my Source. I'm a lover of the mystical, but I'm also super practical. So I needed to figure out some down-to-earth ways to not only consistently access this abundant stream of Providence and miracles that was trying to flow my way, but I also needed to remain vulnerable, open and receptive to it.

This would require building both my physical and my spiritual muscles - so I could hold the space of the unknown and learn how to trust the ideas, intuition and inspiration that came through from Spirit - which I happen to call God & "My Team". And then, on top of all that, I had to have the guts, hardiness and courage to apply the guidance that I received to my ordinary daily life.

I was smart enough to know that if I truly wanted to cultivate change within myself and in the world, I had to take the time to sit my ass down, get quiet and establish a daily, conscious connection to Spirit. What was a little harder for me to wrap my head around was that in order for anything to truly happen, I also had to be willing to SURRENDER. In yoga, this practice is called Ishvara Pranidhana.

To the Ego mind, surrendering to God and practicing humility is kind of like getting a death threat. You're basically admitting that your way of doing things isn't working, you don't really have a feckin' clue and that you just might need some help. You're acknowledging that you're pretty sure there's a better way and you currently don't know what it is. To the Ego, this thinking is blasphemy!

It wasn't just enough for me to practice postures, read yoga books, pray, meditate or repeat my mantra - I also had to let go and take my hands off the wheel. I had to take a leap of faith, turn my life over and let Divine Intelligence, which is sure as shit smarter than me, take the lead. I finally grasped that I couldn't just trust Spirit with some areas of my life - I had to turn over the whole kit and kaboodle. My writing, my business, my finances, my hopes and dreams, my creativity, my health, my judgments, my fears, I mean - EVERYTHING - had to placed on the altar, so it could be altered.

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It was time for me to stop relying on my own wits, my own plans, my own strength. As long as I relied on those human things alone - I would effort, I would struggle and I would suffer. As long as I insisted on relying on "me", I would be afraid. I finally understood (thick headed Irish kid that I am) that when I let go and got "the F*ck out of the way", what remained was God. When I subtracted myself from the equation, what was revealed was Divine Intelligence. The source of wisdom and eternal LOVE that always exists beyond the scope of my limited human body and mind.

I think so many of us have forgotten who we are or what we are. We suffer from some sort of spiritual amnesia. We've lost sight of the truth of ourselves and we can't find our way home. But, when we consistently make time for spiritual connection - gradually but inevitably - we start to remove all the blocks we've built against the awareness of God's love and holy presence. When we practice stillness and get quiet - we can learn to access the power of Grace and intuition that's within us all the time and let the false and the fear fall away. In this way, we learn to ask the Beloved to reveal his plan for us and to be in charge our thoughts, words and actions. And so it is that I start my day - each and every single one of them - with this ACIM inspired prayer:

Dear God/Spirit,

Please have me go where You would have me go.

Please have me do what You would have me do.

Please have me say what You would have me say, and to whom.

Please use me, please use me, please use me.

Thy will be done. Thy will be done. Thy will be done.

So each morning starts with me putting my Spiritual Team in charge and on the job. Anytime I start to get fearful, annoyed or suffer in any way - I know it's because my Ego has tried to start driving the bus! Ha! My only job is to keep letting go, keep getting out of the way and keep allowing Love to lead me. I hope you've been letting your own Divine Intelligence lead you too!

A LEAP OF FAITH

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It's been almost a year and a half since I let go of my large space that was the home base for Quest Yoga. At the time, I'd been running Quest as a traditional studio for 10 years and I had a community of people that I deeply adored. I was happy teaching yoga, leading workshops and offering Thai Yoga Massage but I knew that something was missing. The Divine had placed another vision in my heart and I knew the time had come to answer the call.

I've been a reader and lover of books my whole life. My mother shared the magic of reading with me from a very young age and even though we didn't always have food in our house - we always had books. After my mother died, it was reading books and writing in my journal that truly saved me. 

You see, I was a writer long before I became a yoga teacher. When I opened Quest Yoga, it was a blessing on so many levels to be able to share what I loved with others - but running a studio didn't allow me to spend the time I wanted or needed to write my book.

My memoir is about my mother's murder when I was 12 years old. It's about my journey to make some sense of a childhood tragedy and find forgiveness not only for my mother's killer, but for a family shattered by her death. It's a story about grief and love, about holding on and letting go, and ultimately about discovering the gifts that lie at the heart of our deepest, most painful losses. 

So back in October of 2012 - I realized that if I dropped dead on the spot - my biggest regret would be that I didn't finish my book. I knew that in order for that to happen, something big had to change. It became clear to me that I had to find a way to work smarter, not harder and also create some time and space for my writing life to receive the attention it deserved. 

I knew that by letting go of my Quest Yoga space and changing the way that I offered my classes, I was risking disappointing a lot of people. As someone who hates to disappoint others, this was a wicked hard decision to make. On top of it all, I didn't know if the whole crazy idea to have a smaller space, do more Mentoring and Privates and offer only two big group classes a week would even work. I had no idea if I'd even make enough money to pay my bills. 

Despite all this, I knew that I had to take a leap of faith. I trusted that Divine Intelligence was guiding me and that my Spiritual Team wouldn't let me down. So in January of 2013 - I jumped! It was a total act of Grace.

Here we are, 17 months later and I just got the wonderful news that the first 25 pages of my memoir in progress is going to be published in the SABAL literary journal later this year! It's such fantastic timing since tomorrow, May 7, is the anniversary of my mother's death. With Mother's Day just a few days away and her birthday coming up next week, I can't think of a better present to give her. I like to think that my mom would be proud of me.

As a further bonus, I just got a call from a dear friend, telling me that she's been contemplating making some big changes in her own life for a long time. She hadn't taken action yet because she knew that if she were to do this "big thing" to feed her own soul - it would also disappoint a lot of people. She'd been afraid to take action but then shared that it was my leap of faith that inspired her to finally take her own! I'm so proud of her for choosing love over fear, for following her heart and going after her dream.

And this is my hope for all of you too. That you'll slow down, shut off your electronic gadgets, get quiet and have some honest moments of communion with yourself and your Beloved. That you'll listen for your own still voice of Spirit and when you hear it - have the courage to follow through. We never know when the last exhale is coming... So ask yourself - What would you do if fear weren't an issue? What would you create if you chose only Love? If you're ready to find out and want to take your own Leap of Faith - let's set up a Spiritual Mentoring session! 

A big fat hug and thank you to each and every one of you for your love and support as I/we navigate this journey together. As Ram Dass so beautifully says - "We're all just walking each other home." Take that leap of faith and keep shining your beautiful light!

NOTHING ENLIGHTENED ABOUT PLAYING SMALL

unnamed-2I was hard at work on my book last week - totally engrossed in my writing - when my sweetie Chris Lester yelled upstairs to me something about somebody winning best... blah,blah,blah. I couldn't really hear him as my mind was focused elsewhere and as he often says, "I'm deaf as a haddock." So, when I came downstairs to see what the fuss was about, he told me that I'd been chosen "Best of Concord - Best Yoga Instructor" by The Hippo. I was like "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?" Holy crap, I loved Diff'rent Strokes when I was a kid (sorry I digress).

I was taught by my mom to be a polite kid. When someone says or does something nice, it's my natural instinct to say Thank You - to let them know that I appreciated their kind gesture. So when I got the surprise news about the whole "Best of" thing, my first thought was, "Geez, I should say thank you to whoever it was that voted for me." My second thought was, "Yeah, but remember what happened last time you did that?"

Long story short is, the last time I was voted - Concord "Best of" - the Hippo Press called me to say congratulations and then asked me about running a thank you ad in their NH Best Of's magazine. I consulted my business mentor at the time and he thought it was a good idea. When I met with their marketing lady, I sat with her for over an hour explaining to her why this was so weird for me, as a yoga teacher to even win such a thing.

I told her that I've never asked a single person to vote for me, so how I won is totally beyond me. Plus, the whole idea of any one yoga teacher being the "best" is kind of silly. I mean, I'm not even sure what the criteria is for that kind of thing. I explained to her that I was really hesitant and uncomfortable about acknowledging the "best-of" publicly. I told her about the whole yoga, no competition and ego stuff and she assured me that she would create something tasteful - a little thank you to the voters. We also planned a few follow ups that would highlight my schedule and some special events I had coming up. Simple and to the point I thought and I let it go.

Until, it got back to me that a few people in the yoga community were talking shit about the whole "Best of" thing. I was floored when I found out and I'd be lying if I didn't say that at the time, it really hurt my feelings. I'm not going to get into the who's and what's of it because it's in the past and it no longer matters - but what did matter is here I was again, right now, hesitating to say thank you because I feared that my intentions might once again be misunderstood. I was letting my past experience of Fear - get in the way of my present experience of Love.

I sat with that for a bit and then remembered that I have the opportunity in every moment to choose Love over Fear. I came to the conclusion that it was kind of ridiculous that I was afraid to show Love - that I was nervous about saying thank you and publicly acknowledging that some really sweet people not only took the time to vote but even thought to write my name down - because I was afraid that it might be judged as "unyogic" to do so? Again, I had myself another -"Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?" moment.

So I sat down, got quiet, had a little chat with God and my Spiritual Team and within moments two things happened. First, I heard the lyrics to a song by Cloud Cult float through my head - "You've come too far to care what they say. Now you're the only thing in your way." Next, I heard my spiritual mom Marianne saying to me - "There's nothing enlightened about playing small, Karen" and I almost bust out laughing.

For those of you unfamiliar with the famous Marianne Williamson quote - here it is in its entirety:

 "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond all measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us.

We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.

Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

It became real clear to me that I couldn't let my fear of what others might think, stop me from following my own heart. If my acknowledging the "best of" thing was going to ruffle some feathers, so be it. What people think of me is ultimately none of my business and the people who truly know me - understand who I am and what I'm about. Those who don't like me or get me... well, just remember my previous blog post - If Everyone Likes You, You're Doing It Wrong.

 So, in the end, I decided to trust my own gut instinct and post a little thank you on Facebook and of course say something here, to you guys - my beloved yoga community. I hope the message is received with the intention in which I sent it - to humbly say thank you, that I love you like crazy and if I could vote for "Best of" yoga students - you can sure as shit bet that The Questies would be my number 1 pick!!

 As my friend Kasey wrote to me, "I'm so happy your yoga students had the chance to express the way they feel about you!" I hope you all know how I feel right back! I adore you and it's truly an honor and a privilege to share yoga with so many beautiful people. Blessings and love to each of you. Your support and kindness means so much. xo

 

HAPPY 11th ANNIVERSARY

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I still remember so clearly the day I graduated from my Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training back in March of 2001. I'd already been subbing some yoga classes at a gym I'd been working at as a personal trainer but now I could officially say - I was a yoga teacher. I was giddy with excitement to start spreading my love of yoga!

Back then, there weren't a bunch of yoga studios in the Concord area. There were a couple of teachers in town that taught small groups and there were a few offerings at the YMCA and at The Yoga Center where I took classes - so I had to get kind of creative about where I could share my bubbling enthusiasm for yoga.

I organized a class at a church in Northwood, taught a couple of weekly classes at The Yoga Center in Concord, at Express Fitness in Hooksett and at SNHU in Manchester. Plus I had a private client close to Penacook. In the spirit of karma yoga and service - I also reached out to ConcordTV to see if I could offer a free televised yoga class to people who otherwise couldn't make it to a class for geographic, financial, health or incarceration issues. They loved my idea and "The Yoga Show with Karen" was born!

In 2002, after a year of running around like crazy, I decided I wanted to open my own studio. No more hauling my ass and my props all over southern NH. I wanted to create a special place to fully land. I started putting together a plan and in January of 2003, Quest Yoga was founded.

I look back at that time in my life and my teaching with great affection and humility. Since then, I've learned so much about myself, yoga and what it means to be a teacher. I have to laugh (and sometimes cringe) when I think about those early years. Sigh.... that's why it's called "a practice" and not "a perfect".

There's just way too many fantastic students, stories and memories to adequately sum up what Quest Yoga has meant to me. I can say that I feel deeply honored and ridiculously blessed that I've been given the opportunity to serve through Yoga. I can only hope that Quest Yoga and our wonderful community, which I have to say is made up of some of the most lovely and beautiful people, has also touched your lives in some small way too.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for all of your continuous support of me, Quest Yoga and our beloved Questie family. You've had my back over the last 13 years as I've created, explored, taken leaps of faith and tried to stay true to the Divine call within my heart. Quest Yoga wouldn't be possible without each of you. I may have brought it forth into the world - but it's your amazing Spirit that gives it life.

QUIET STILLNESS OF KNOWING

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So everyday I am surrounded by the beautiful crying forth of the ideas of God. One of which is you. ~ Mary Oliver

Each day you're given a chance to consciously connect with the Divine. Take some time to be in the quiet stillness of knowing. Listen deeply - be open and receptive to what’s trying to come to you. Then, let Spirit move through you - your work, your hands, your words, your art. Write your stories, paint your pictures, do your dance. Just please keep calling forth your own beautiful ideas. Keep showing up, keep shining your light, keep creating with the Beloved. It takes guts to answer the call of your heart - but the willingness is all.

I'm so excited to bear witness to where this journey will take us. I'm so grateful to share this magnificent life with you.

 

ARE YOU A YOGA POSER?

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I was at a funeral recently. It was a beautiful service where so many people gathered together to celebrate and honor the life of a remarkable woman. As members of her family and friends got up to speak about her, they all echoed similar sentiments. That she was incredibly kind and selfless. She was always quick to lend a smile, a helping hand or share a meal. That Marilyn was always willing to be of service to others.

They talked about her deep and sincere Christian faith and her passionate but not pushy love of God. How she spent so much of her time devoted to supporting and guiding others. The one thing that came through for me again and again as each person shared their memories - is that they all believed that she truly "walked the walk". She strived in her thoughts, words and actions to emulate the teachings of her compassionate Beloved - which for Marilyn was Jesus.

You see, Marilyn didn't just go through the motions. She actually lived her faith. She didn't just read the Bible - so she could memorize and later quote scripture at people. She didn't just learn all the beautiful hymns of her church to show off her musical ability - she used them like mantras - singing them quietly even as her body was giving out and falling away. She kept God in her thoughts, in her encouraging words and in the good deeds of her hands.

Marilyn didn't keep her spiritual knowledge just on the level of her mind - she let it drop down into her heart - where she could embody her beliefs and live from a place of love. She let Spirit flow through all aspects of her life not just when she was in church. This is what real spiritual practice requires of us: Discipline, Dedication, Determination and Devotion. Marilyn had these qualities in spades. The way she lived her everyday life was her spiritual practice. Her life, like Gandhi, was her message.

This got me to thinking about Yoga. About what it means to "walk the walk" as a yogi and how we choose to show up in our own daily life and practice. These days, it's super easy to get confused about what "Yoga" even is. Now that yoga has become a "billion dollar industry" - people everywhere are trying to get in on the big yoga deal. Even companies like McDonald's are using yoga images to try and sell people their crappy food. It's getting over-the-top ridiculous.

This ancient practice, which is meant to help turn our focus inward - so we can experience spiritual integration - meet our true selves and unite with the Divine - is now being practiced in yoga studios equipped with disco balls and black lights. Is now being taught at yoga festivals packed with thousands of people - that feel more like frat parties than sacred pathways to the Beloved.

With the skewed cultural representation of yoga and the current trend of classes morphing into fad-style hybrids like: Salsa Yoga, Yoga & Wine Tasting & Karaoke Yoga - yes, you read that right - KARAOKE YOGA - (just writing that makes me want to bang my face off my keyboard) - it's easy to understand why people don't get the bigger picture of what Yoga really is. Or why so many people think that "yoga" is just a bunch of stretchy exercises done by skinny, white women in $100 yoga pants (or in the case of "Naked Yoga" - no pants at all.)

So what does it really mean to practice Yoga? What does it mean to "walk the walk" as a yogi? Well, I'm certainly not the authority on all things yoga and there are probably plenty of people that would disagree with me (and I'm OK with that) - but what I can share with you is what I've been telling my students for years:

"You know, if you can do Crow pose or balance on your hands or stick your feet behind your head - that's fine, enjoy that. But just know, when you leave my class - if you go out into the world and you act like an asshole - then you're not practicing Yoga."

Here's the thing, "mastering" fancy poses is not the bottom line. Our practice might start there, but hopefully it doesn't end there. We're not just trying to open up our tight hips, we're also aiming to open our hearts and our minds. If we stop at the level of the physical and only concern ourselves with being an awesome "yoga poser" - we're kind of missing the point. Trust me, I've met more than my fair share of super flexible and super mean "yogis".

We also can't stop at the level of the mind. Which means that memorizing a few sanskrit chants or zen-like quotes that you can regurgitate at will, doesn't cut it either. When life happens and a friend is suffering - they don't need you to recite some clever bullshit - they need you to be able to sit with them - hold their hand - help them breathe, or laugh or cry until they can cross over to the other side of their pain. People need us to be both willing to be vulnerable and strong enough to hold the compassionate space. We need to be able to face the dark and access the light of our hearts. This is where the real yoga practice comes in.

This is also ultimately one of the reasons why (in my opinion) we even do the yoga asanas in the first place. The postures don't just help us to build our physical muscles, they also strengthen our spiritual muscles. They prepare us for what happens once we step off the mat.

What the poses offer us, is a chance to put ourselves in positions - where we experience (over and over again) some sort of sensation. Maybe a bit of discomfort, a grip of contraction or a feeling of fear. And in that moment - we're given an opportunity to make a conscious choice. We get to decide - "Am I going to use my breath to meet this discomfort in the pose (or in my relationship or in my life) with an expanded awareness, with openness and with love or am I going to meet it with my habitual conditioned response?"

Am I going to run, bury my head in the sand and ignore what I'm currently feeling or am I willing to stay and breathe and see what's beyond this un-comfy pose or this awkward moment? What if instead of doing what we always do, we were to meet each pose, or person with curiosity, non-judgment or friendliness? How might things be different if we learned to quiet our frantic mind and could approach life with steadiness and ease?

For these are the magical moments when we can start to transform. When amidst the fear, the death, the betrayal, the diagnosis, the divorce - we find the courage to face our stuff and each other with a sense of calm and a sense of humor. When we learn to navigate the frailty of our Humanity with the power of our Divinity - miracles can happen.

My meditation teacher Easwaran puts it simply like this: "The Bhagavad Gita, says that 'Yoga is evenness of mind'. When you can keep your mind on an even keel in good fortune and bad, in pleasure and pain, when you can be kind to those who like you and to those who do not, then you have reached the state of yoga: You Are Free."

Trust me, this is not always easy to do - but this is what the practice prepares us for - how to live! Sure, we'll screw up again and again but by the grace of God, with enough fortitude, forgiveness and faith - we get better at aligning ourselves not just physically but also spiritually - so that we can access the place within us where God and Goodness already dwells. So that our thoughts, words and actions start to reflect the truth of who we really are. So that we can respond to both yoga postures and our life from a compassionate place of Love - instead of a reactionary place of Fear.

Yoga asks us to move beyond the poses and tap into the entire spectrum of this ancient art, philosophy and science. Yes, we still encounter the physical (through postures & breathing, etc.) but we also work with the mind (by withdrawing the senses away from the external world, cultivating one pointed concentration & stilling the mind through meditation) - so that we can gradually transcend the ego-self and realize a profound connection with the Divine.

The whole foundation of Yoga is built upon sound ethical standards and spiritual observances that help us to make mindful choices on how we conduct ourselves in our daily life. Suggestions from the wise beings that have come before us, the Yamas & Niyamas of Yoga are rooted in beliefs like: non-violence, honesty, non-stealing, moderation and non-greed. They guide us to practice cleanliness and contentment, to study spiritual texts and ourselves, to surrender to the God (of your own understanding). When we "walk the walk" of Yoga - hopefully we're moving in the direction of selfless service and inner peace. If you're current practice is not helping you to become more authentic and loving - it's not working. Perhaps it's time to try a new approach?

So let's set an intention for 2014 to work on our own Discipline, Dedication, Determination and Devotion. Let's commit with joy and enthusiasm to diving into the full depth and breadth of this amazing practice. Let's move beyond the limited body and awaken to living with an unlimited Spirit. Let's explore what it means to live our Yoga and discover what being a yogi really means to you!

 

(*Photo credit - Thanks to Recovering Yogi for the super funny picture!)

 

TO HAVE COURAGE FOR WHATEVER COMES IN LIFE - EVERYTHING LIES IN THAT. ~ St. Teresa of Avila

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Can I just tell you how much I absolutely LOVE this quote?! I was first introduced to it by my meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran. When I read it - it went through my eyes, into my mind and then dropped straight into my heart. What echoed back was a resounding YES!

It reminds me of what the Sufi poet Rumi tells us in his beautiful poem The Guest House. He wildly encourages us to greet each day with open arms and gratitude. Knowing that whatever comes, even the stuff we don't like, has been sent as a gift (and a guide) from the Universe.

THE GUEST HOUSE 

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. 

A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. 

Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they are a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight. 

The dark thought, the shame, the malice. meet them at the door laughing and invite them in. 

Be grateful for whatever comes. because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.

 It takes courage to welcome EVERYTHING. I know that it can be so hard in the midst of sickness, heartbreak, disappointment and loss to muster up our courage. It's not always easy to remember, when we see and experience so much suffering, that we're children of the Divine and that we're made from the all that is good, beautiful and holy. It can be hard to find our footing, stand our ground and face our fears when we feel lost or abandoned and we've momentarily forgotten to whom we truly belong.

What I've found, is that cultivating courage for life takes willingness, faith and deep trust. In order to access my courage, I must look beyond my limited human capacity and call upon the unlimited power of Spirit. That force of love and light which is eternal, that casts out darkness and already exists within me.

I don't know what the exact answer is for you - in terms of tapping into your own courage - but I can share what has worked for me. I can say with the utmost confidence that it has been my consistent, daily practice that has saved my ass time and time again. Making a commitment each day to move my body (devotion in motion) AND carving out quiet time for the mystical and the sacred. Some of my personal practices include: Yoga, A Course In Miracles, Prayer, Passage Meditation, Mantra, writing, reading, spending time with my furry kids, etc.

What all these practices do, in their own unique way, is help remove "the interferences to the awareness of love's presence" and remind me of this one simple truth, as stated in A Course In Miracles:

"God is with me. I cannot be deceived." 

 

It can be kind of hard to go within, call upon the Eternal and develop a solid relationship with your true Self, when your mind and hands are so busy with the temporary distractions of your iPhone, iPod, iPad, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. Make a conscious choice to put the devices down and consider instead - taking a comfortable seat and plugging in to your breath and your Beloved.

Knowing that I don't have to figure it all out and face it all on my own, knowing that God/Universe/Spirit/Higher Power/Love/Insert Your Own Word - has got my back and is guiding me from beyond - allows me to release my fear and muster up the courage I need for whatever comes in my life. I know that if I can do this, then you can too!

DON'T SHRINK - DON'T PUFF UP. STAND ON YOUR SACRED GROUND.

Puffer Fish

Last month I had the opportunity to watch a live stream video event that was taking place at The Omega Institute. It was called "Find Your Own Strength" and it featured a conversation with three women that I totally dig: Brené Brown, Joan Halifax Roshi & Elizabeth Lesser.

There were some brilliant insights shared that night but this one thing that Brené Brown said really struck me. I wanted to share it with all of you because I think it might be helpful especially as the Holidays draw near.

For many people, the Holiday season means getting together with family. Depending on the kind of relationships that you've had with your folks, your siblings and the rest of your extended kin, this can either be a super fun or super challenging time - especially in cases where there may have been an abusive, addictive, neglectful, combative, or competitive history.

Being with family sweetly puts us face to face with those we love - but it also often places us in close proximity to those we regard as our biggest PITA (pain in the ass). Even though PITAs are ultimately our greatest teachers and a gift on our spiritual journey - sometimes we just want to get through a meal without feeling bad about ourselves and without throwing insults or in some cases, plates of food.

What Brené said that night - can definitely help us to navigate the awkward, irritating and annoying situations that might come up. She told us about an encounter she'd had with a woman who always ruffles her feathers. A bona fide button-pusher who'd mastered the art of asking seemingly innocent questions that were not so secretly disguised as personal digs.

Brené said that she could feel herself about to react to this woman's latest poke at her mothering skills but she caught herself. She paused and what happened next is what A Course in Miracles would call, well, a miracle. Brené didn't use ACIM language to describe her experience but from what she shared - I could clearly hear that there was a shift in her mind from fear to love.

Before uttering a word back to her antagonist PITA, Brené started to silently repeat her authenticity mantra over and over again: "Don't shrink. Don't puff up. Just stand on your sacred ground that God gave you."

She said that doing this helped her to diffuse the situation and kept her from reacting in an equally unkind way. This was friggen' brilliant! It totally summarized and brought together many of the ACIM teachings that are already so near and dear to my heart.

Let's break this awesome message down:

#1 - Don't Shrink:

A Course in Miracles - Lesson 153 tells us - "Be not afraid nor timid."

My spiritual mom Marianne Williamson is known for her famous quote that starts: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond all measure..." In that quote she goes on to say - "Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you."

 # 2 - Don't Puff Up:

It's kind of a natural animal instinct that when we feel threatened or attacked, we either try to make ourselves small (shrink) - or big (puff up). Even if the threat is a mental one and not a physical one - we either cower, run or come out swinging. (Which one do you do? I think it's important to know this stuff about ourselves.)

However, A Course in Miracles - Lesson #153 teaches us - "In my defenselessness my safety lies."

To paraphrase, it says - "This world gives rise to defensiveness. For threat brings anger, anger makes attack seem reasonable and righteous in the name of self-defense. Yet defensiveness is a double threat. For it attests to your perceived weakness. Defenses are the costliest of all the prices that the ego mind would have you pay.

Defenselessness on the other hand is strength. It testifies to recognition of the Christ/God/Goodness/Love in you. Defenselessness can never be attacked, because it recognizes strength so great - that attack is folly, or a silly game a tired child might play, when he becomes too sleepy to remember what he wants. We will not play such childish games today for our true purpose is to save/serve the world and we would not exchange for foolishness the endless joy our true function offers us."

#3 - Stand on Your Sacred Ground that God Gave You:

OK - still kind of paraphrasing here - but Lesson 153 continues, "We recognize that we need no defense because we are created unassailable. We cannot fear, for we have left all fearful thoughts behind. And in defenselessness we stand secure, serenely certain of our safety now, sure of salvation; sure we will fulfill our chosen purpose. Be still a moment, and in silence think how holy is your purpose, how secure you rest, untouchable within its light.

In time, with practice, you will never cease to think of God, and hear His loving Voice guiding your footsteps into quiet ways, where you will walk in true defenselessness. For you will know that Heaven goes with you. 

We rise up strong in the Beloved, and let our weakness disappear, as we remember that Spirit's strength abides in us. We will remind ourselves that God remains beside us through the day, and never leaves our weakness unsupported by His strength. We call upon this strength each time we feel the threat of our defenses undermine our certainty of purpose. We will pause a moment, as He tells us, "I am here."

So, if we've been created "unassailable" - knowing that we cannot be attacked or defeated. If we know that God remains beside us through the day and that Heaven goes with us everywhere. Then what could we possibly have to defend, attack or fear? When we find ourselves faced with a person that is not acting their best out of their own fear - we don't have to react, we don't have to shrink or puff up - we just have to take a few deep breaths, use our spiritual tools and practices and stand on our sacred ground of Love.

When my ego mind gets triggered out of Fear - it's of great comfort for me to remember that I can always choose again. I can always choose Love. I can make a conscious decision to Forgive My Humanity and Stand in My Divinity.