mystics

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.

unnamed-2
unnamed-2

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

Get-out-of-your-own-way1
Get-out-of-your-own-way1

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.

Let-Go-Let-God
Let-Go-Let-God

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

unnamed
unnamed

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!

HAPPY 11th ANNIVERSARY

unnamed
unnamed

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

Otter

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?

SpiritualNameIphone1

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

courage1

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!