Friday, August 19, 2016

Inviting the Flow

I recently read a story about the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps. To put his achievements in context, if Michael were his own country, he’d hold historically, more Summer Games medals than 90 other nations. How’s that for dominance?

But the article that peaked my interest was not about his shining moments and Olympic glories. The story I read was about his descent into the shadows.  Prior to the London Olympics, Phelps had lost his passion for swimming and was struggling to understand who he was in life. After the 2012 London Games, he was in deep despair. The USA cover boy was arrested for DUI twice, went to rehab and had even contemplated suicide.

But Michael was able to hang on, to plug back into the world around him. When Phelps lost his way and could only see through the lens of depression, his long-time coach (and surrogate father figure), Bob Bowman reflected back to him the Michael he saw and loved. Instead of talking today about a tragic ending to an incredible life, we’re talking about a new father, 6 more medals and a renewed faith. But I’ll guarantee, it was a knife’s-edge between those two outcomes.

What's on the top is a reflection
of what's on the bottom
His story is a reminder to me that if you wait long enough everything changes. There’s no escaping this fact. If you’re on top of the world, it’s a short drop to the bottom. And when you’re at the bottom, if you have faith and do the work and surround yourself with those who offer you the whole picture of your beautiful self, you’ll eventually rise again.

For most of us mere mortals, it doesn’t take the form of the spotlight on a worldwide stage.  It comes in the nuances of life; laughing with our family and friends, feeling secure and loved, offering forgiveness, making a connection.

Look more closely and you’ll see that this is not about the rise atop a podium or a fall into despair. This is about becoming adept at riding the wave that is life.

If you’re only inviting the crests of the waves, you’re missing the point.  You must also choose to churn deeply down into your shadows, your regrets, your mistakes, and let them inform your life too. Only then are you embracing the full capacity of the human condition. And then the ride is so much more worthwhile. 

To be fluid, and step into the flow is the work of a yogi, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve ever rolled out a mat or pressed back into a single downward facing dog. (Movement is only the reflection of our capacity to engage the subtle energies).  The real yoga is inviting life’s every turn.

Yes, given time, everything changes. The most egregious hurts can find healing. Our greatest joys can set the table for our deepest sorrows. We only need to pay close attention, keep our hearts wide open and learn to love life…no matter what it offers. And in our moments of transition we must trust, with every breath, that we are always held by grace.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Planting Days

These are the days I remember as planting days, when the air is still cool but the sun warms you just enough to make it enjoyable to be outside.

Growing up in New Jersey, we had a big yard shaped like a horseshoe – a brick and concrete patio grew out from behind our garage and at either side, you could enter the yard.  From the left, you lifted the latch on the small, wooden gate and ducked under a trellis of roses.  On the right you made your way down a short and haphazard grey, concrete slope where my, and my sister’s faded initials were etched.
My father planted his garden, his piece de resistance, on both the left and right sides of the yard. He would turn and rake the rich, black soil until it looked soft and inviting enough to lie down upon. Then, he would crouch down for hours on end and painstakingly create a home for each plant, nestling each seed or sprout into the ground.

During the planting days, I would help my Aunt Lydia as we placed young marigold flowers and zinnia seeds into the soil next to the garage – our flower garden grew next to the yellow, white and red rose bushes of the yard.

One year, before I had reached my teens, (when I was still interested in being by his side as he worked) my father planted a three foot stick in the ground and surrounded it with a ring of bricks. “Are you expecting you can grow a tree from that stick?” I asked incredulously, thinking my father to be both foolish and magical at the same time. “Everything wants to grow.” He told me. “You just have to provide it the right conditions.” (My father also placed a bowling ball upside down on a metal stake in the garden – some sort of primitive meditation ball I suppose, though secretly, he was probably hoping a bowling alley might spring up!)

That stick stayed in the ground for a few years – smack in the middle of the horseshoe, unchanged. I don’t know when I first noticed the small green buds pushing through its woody skin. And in the course of a season the sapling seemed to suddenly grow twice as tall, stretching up to the sun as it reached its unseen roots down into the earth. 

Years later, on my visits home from college, I would walk into the yard and marvel at the young, healthy tree that stood where a stick was once planted into the soil and given the conditions and permission to grow. It was a real, living tree, with a canopy of branches and leaves that cast a healthy, green glow on a sunny day.

Many more years passed.  I was in only thirty-three when my father passed away. We had to sell the house. The backyard is gone now – sold to the car dealership behind for parking space.  The place where my father grew a bountiful harvest of fruits and vegetables for our family, paved over.  The rose bushes and marigolds and splendor of new growth exists only in my memories.

…And the tree,
the tree that once grew up from a stick…
that’s gone as well.

Only the lesson remains…

Everything wants to grow.

And so, I cultivate the proper conditions with every step of my journey through life, turning the soil and preparing for new growth and opportunity and adventure to take root and blossom.  I often must remind myself to slow down, to be patient, because all new beginnings take time.  And even when life seems to just sit there, looking like that stick in the ground, unchanged and dormant, there must be trust that it is moving and churning and preparing to break through.  So while it does, I won’t complain. I’ll continue to do the work and when I need to rest, I’ll find a comfortable place to sit, a place where I can feel the cool air settle on my skin.  I’ll close my eyes and as I breathe, I'll gently turn my face to the warming sun.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Distance Between Us

“Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.” ~ Ranier Maria Rilke

Marguerite and I are celebrating our anniversary this coming weekend. We’ve been together for more than 25 years now and every day is truly a gift. The most amazing blessing I’ve ever received and it makes my life full and joyful and rich. Recently a friend asked the typical question “what’s your secret?” and I joked that it’s because I spend a lot of time away!  But the truth of the matter is it’s much simpler than that…we respect and love the distance between us.  We hold that space as sacred. 

on our wedding day
As much as we have the things we love to share and participate in together, we also have our own separate passions and interests. We are completely loving and committed without being co-dependent. We can honor that distance between us that “makes it possible for each to see the other against the whole sky.”

That space in between us does not separate us or drive us apart, it offers perspective and draws us even closer.  The space between us can hold the hurt when there is sadness, the fear when there is uncertainty, it can hold the hopes of our dreams and the sweetness of our joys.  The distance between us is an active space in which we live our lives both separately and together.

I think the more we engage with each other on this planet, the more we need to honor the things that set us apart.  I’m a huge believer that peace comes not only from recognizing we are all alike, but also, by respecting the boundaries of our differences.

How boring this world would be if we were all the same.  I grow so tired of those who want to “erase” the things that label us as different. (and there’s a ton of that going on in the yoga community – believe me!) The fact of the matter is, we ARE diverse, and when we can embrace and make room for those disparities, we can not only live more peacefully, we can live more lovingly, able to see one another “whole against the sky.”

The distance between us is fertile ground. Tend it with great care. That's where love grows.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Who Are Your Five?

Recently I was speaking with a friend and he reminded me of something motivational speaker, Jim Rohn had once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” 

He didn’t say the five people you are closest to, love or admire the most, it’s the five people with whom you spend the most time.  That can be co-workers, schoolmates, roommates, family or friends.  (I’m hoping dogs count!) Makes you stop and think a moment, doesn’t it?  My guess is you are figuring out your five right now.  Are you happy with who those folks might be?

To put it another way, my teacher, Douglas Brooks will often remind us, “You are the company you keep, so keep great company.”

The energies that we surround ourselves with create the reality in which we exist.  Often, we may be unable to completely control the people we allow into our space; like the boorish or disgruntled co-worker or the negative in-law. But we should seek to continually surround ourselves with others whose traits we most admire. If you value optimism, happiness, gratitude, hard-work and the like, you need to seek out the influences in your life who can bring the energies of those qualities into your world.  In other words, find your tribe.  Seek out those you admire and weed out the negative influences.

Isn’t it strange that the most personal act of “seeing ourselves” can only come in reflection? You could look down your nose and cross your eyes until the cows come home, but until you look into a mirror and register its reflection, you can’t truly “see” yourself.  It’s the same thing energetically. We can only really see ourselves in the reflection of others. It’s within our power to choose who becomes our “emotional mirror” in life, reflecting back the qualities we shine out to the world. That's a HUGE responsibility. Do you choose to surround yourself with loved ones who will support and encourage you? Are you choosing to be present with some who often reflect back negative or depressing qualities? Take a moment to think about whom you allow into your inner circle and the qualities they bring that might enhance your existence and make space for you to flourish. 

Now think about what you reflect back to others. Do you often offer reasons for why something can’t be done? Or do you offer a reflection of your loved one’s best qualities? Again, you get to choose how you exist in this life.

The gardener doesn’t make the rose. She tends the soil and waters and weeds the earth, creating an optimal environment for growth.  The flower that blooms is a result of the environment in which it has been nurtured.  What’s in your soil? How much of your day is spent in front of a digital device? How much of your day is in deep, meaningful interaction with others? What do you nourish your body with? What are you choosing to feed your soul with? These elements make up the soil from which you grow. You want to live life more deeply, more passionately, more optimally? Who and what you invite into your environment are enormous factors in the equation.

Move from an empowered seat and make the best choices.

It’s just food for thought. And a place we can all probably improve.

So...who are YOUR five?

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Choosing to Dance

Several years ago, my life took a turn. I was slowly beginning to feel stagnant and uninspired, like I was starting to lose my way.  That’s not a comfortable, or an acceptable place to be for me.  I’m always optimistic, expectant, moving towards new experiences.  That’s my comfort zone, it’s who I am inherently.  When that part of me began to dull I noticed that I was becoming increasingly tired and jaded.

Things were good in my life, don’t get me wrong.  Actually, things were great. Personally, I relished spending time with my beloved, I lived in a comfortable home and I had my own flourishing business in a career that fit me well.  But something was missing.  I grew complacent.  Nothing was sparking me, nothing was fanning the flame of passion in my life.

Let’s pause here a moment for a storybreak…

For several years I’ve been studying the temple tradition of Southern India, Hindu mythology and how it applies to our lives today.  There is a story about a divine dancer named, Nataraja.

There was once a dangerous forest where the sages had ventured into with their families. They left society, wandered outside the boundaries, put down stakes and built a community.  Slowly though, they began to become complacent.  They lost their passion for life and fell into the cycle of things staying status quo, being numbed to the divine gift of their lives. (Much like suburban New Jerseyans)  Needless to say…this does not sit well with the gods, because life is designed to be savored, in continual movement and growth.

Shiva, the all powerful being decides to intervene, and when Shiva comes to town, you’d better watch out.  Known as the destroyer, he shakes things up wherever he goes.  Shiva takes the form of the beggar, Bkshatana (imagine a version of Brad Pitt in a loincloth – you get the picture.) and comes into their enclave.  His best friend, Vishnu, takes the form of Moheni – which is delusion, desire (now, insert an image of Angelina Jolie.  Got it?)

Moheni turns the heads of the sages, winning their attentions, distracting them, while Bhkshatana slips in and begins to seduce their wives.  He is irresistible and soon, he has provoked their passion.

Now, even though the sages are enamored by the irresistible Moheni, they ralize their wives are falling for the handsome vagrant and they instantly become jealous.  And that jealousy saves them, it turns them back towards their wives, it reminds them of their lost passion, what they truly love.  The sages, enraged by Bhkshatana, begin to attack him. That’s when he thwarts their every move as he transforms into the divine dancer, Nataraja.

The iconography of Nataraja tells you all you need to know about life.  In one hand he holds fire, which represents destruction.  In another he holds a drum, the instrument of sound, the instrument of creation.  He reminds us that you must burn down what is no longer working to make room to welcome something new.  It’s not something to be seen as bad, it’s simply the cycle of life.

Nataraja dances in a passionate frenzy, but his face holds incredible peace.  His body is twisted, asymmetrical in its presence,  yet he remains perfectly in balance. 

His presence sparks the desire of the sages for their wives again, and wanting to be wanted, the wives are stirred.  Passion for life is restored.  And the world begins to turn once more.

Nataraja, the dancer is a form that induces a churning.  He provokes us to move from stagnancy and onto the paths of desire.  He re-ignites the fire of our hearts and inspires us to accept the invitation to engage in every breath of life.

Each morning, as I sit for meditation in front of Nataraja, I am reminded of this myth and how it informs my own life on a daily basis.  My meditation works on me, not because it is magic, but because it is a practice.  It is a practice that shapes me and puts me in touch with my own desires, the authenticity of my heart and it informs my choices.

Two years ago, I chose to move from the stagnancy, to begin to change my focus, to find the spark in my creative life again. 

I would often say back then, that I was stuck because I could not see the path ahead, the goals in front of me, so I stopped walking.  I stood on the path, without movement, because I couldn’t clearly see what was waiting around the bend. 

But now I understand that I was wrong.  My path isn’t something that already exists.  My path is what I create. 

The choices we make determine our outcomes.  The choices ARE the path.  When we stop choosing, we stop moving.  When we start to make choices, we lay the road in front of us as we go.  The path doesn’t “lead” anywhere.  The path is where we “choose” to walk, with every step we take, we create it.

Now, I’ve started an endeavor that’s been in my heart for over a decade.  It’s an enormous undertaking and every day I need to recommit myself to the project.  But I realize that its existence is dependent only upon my choosing it.  If I say “this is too hard, I’m shutting it down” – it ceases to exists.  If I say “I’m taking the next step and moving forward and continuing to breathe life into it” then, it continues to be in motion.  And one day, through my efforts (along with my team) we will birth this idea, an idea that began as nothing more than a desire and a choice to move in its direction and it will exist as a concrete presence in the world.

I had to let go of a lot to move forward. I needed to burn some things down to make room for the creation of the new.  It wasn’t an easy decision, but I know it was the right one.  

I had to choose to reaffirm the passions of my relationship with my beloved and, like the sages, understand the value of what I hold in intimacy.

I had to reinforce my belief that, like the dancer, in the middle of chaos I can source peace, in the middle of upheaval, I can find balance and beauty and grace.  And that, how I CHOOSE to be in my life, IS my life. 

And every day I paint my reality on the canvas of my life with the choices I make.
And every day I lay the path before me brick by brick with the choices I make.
And every day I re-engage my heart’s desire with the choices I make.
And then, with every choice, with every breath…I kindle the flames…and I dance.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Laws of Attraction

I was on the phone with a friend today, someone who I haven’t spoken with in quite awhile, and we were catching up on each others’ lives.  We were discussing how as we grow older we become increasingly focused on living a valuable, successful existence. She said to me, “You know, it may sound simple, or even foolish, but no matter what I do with my day, even if it’s small things, if I can look back at my day and find that I was happy, that’s enough.”  It’s not foolish at all, it’s perhaps the most wise thing I’ve heard anyone say.

I often think about success, achievement and happiness in relation to where I place my gaze.  When we focus on gratitude and on the positive, we often come out of the experience of our day with a sense of fulfillment.  When we can engage with others in deeply loving, supportive and honest ways, we feel a sense of peace and connection.  And the opposite holds true, when we more often look to what we don’t have, or build barriers and deprive ourselves of connection, we spin in a depressing, unfulfilled, negative space that aches to be filled. 

It’s a matter of degrees between hope and hopelessness.  It’s really that simple.

Happiness isn’t a slave to what you have or don’t have.  Happiness is a PRACTICE.  Happiness is a CHOICE.  Happiness is being open and soft not only to the world around us, but to ourselves.

I’m not saying that there aren’t times that test us, when we feel loss or grief, when there’s a challenge to our health or the well-being of a loved one.  Those are exceptional spaces.  But those are also the spaces that when we have “practiced” gratitude and positive focus on a regular basis, we can use that practice to help guide us more gently through the difficulties.  Some people call upon their faith, some people place their faith in their own inner strength.  Whatever the trials before us, it’s the foundation that we build that faith upon that matters most.

If you’re a human being, sometime during your existence, you’ve looked at yourself with a lack of love and thought, “I’m not good enough.  Not brave enough.  Not smart enough.  Not this enough or that enough.” This is the place where we begin to cultivate sorrow and scarcity.  Again, changing this is a practice.  It can’t just be a thought, it has to be an action.  Sometimes, it's as simple as starting the day by saying aloud “I’m enough, I’m blessed, I’m grateful.”   But unless that attitude is consistently cultivated and nurtured, it’s too easy to let the negative messaging of the world around us seep in and take root.  It’s like exercising a muscle.

As I move into new spaces with my life, as I engage along the path to new journeys, I find those degrees between hope and hopelessness to be as thin as a knife’s edge.  The choices I make in what I surround myself with, the messaging I feed myself with and where I choose to pinpoint my focus make all the difference in determining the outcome of my day.   And deep down, I’ve always known, as my friend so beautifully expressed, the only litmus test that counts at the end of that day is answering the question, “Was I happy?”  And tomorrow I’ll continue to focus on what nourishes and enriches my life.

A day is a valuable commodity.  We’re only given a limited supply, so each one matters greatly.

Choose happiness today.
You are beautiful.
You are brave. 
You are enough.

Start there and see what blossoms.

Thursday, September 24, 2015


The chill yielded its hold on the air to the warmth of the mid-morning sun as I set out upon the calm waters of the lake. I was alone, a sole kayaker on a small body of water tucked away in upstate New York.

I’ve often said, here on the east coast we get five absolutely perfect days of weather each year, days that make you feel the fullest possibility of life right down to your toes. Days that make you realize you are alive. I got married to the love of my life on one of those days. This was one of those days.

My paddle sliced easily through the clear water, carrying me away from the shoreline.  I passed over an entire world of algae and plant life, undulating enchantingly just barely below the surface.  I skimmed my hand across the water and could feel the green tendrils tickle my palm.

I glided further from the shore and nature continued to unfold majestically before me. Lotuses dotted my path like brilliant, white jewels scattered sparsely among the lily pads.  I watched as a hawk soared effortlessly overhead - its enormous shadow following it in spirals along the treetops beneath its wings.  I made my way toward the far corner of the lake where I had spotted a blue heron perched among the cattails, regal in its stillness. The trees on the hilltops surrounding me were artfully painted with the first signs of Autumn’s arrival.  I lifted my paddle from the water and allowed myself to become a part of the scenery. 

Soon the small ripple of the current took me subtly into its arms, and although I had my eyes set on the far east side of the lake, I leisurely drifted south.  I did nothing to correct my bearings, I just observed. 

…That’s when it occurred to me that kayaking is a microcosm of life.

If you’ve ever been kayaking, you know that it’s important to keep your balance.  It’s a task that’s not particularly difficult.  Choose a solid place to root your feet.  Settle into an even pattern with your breath.  Most important though, you have to sit back.  If you are tense and you sit forward in a kayak to paddle, your movements as you stroke tend to throw off the equilibrium of the boat.  You have to relax, settle in, and enjoy the ride. 

Just like life. 

I’m grateful I have built a solid relationship, a place where the beginnings of my adventures take root, a place where I can plant my feet and dare to try anything.  

My breath guides me through everything I do, and when I engage with it, I’m coming home to myself.  It brings me fully present to the moment.  

When I’m unsure and tense and leaning too far forward into what’s next, the world gets shaky and I flirt with disaster.  Part of my retreat time here at Omega Institute is just settling in, sitting back comfortably and inviting what’s next. (It's the magic of this nurturing space, offering its visitors the opportunity to take a moment to slow down, recognize and tune into the vibration of what they seek.)

I’ve also learned that with minimal effort, I can be true to my course. Even the smallest engagement with the water, the mere suggestion of direction, will start me where I wish to go - and momentum comes to aide my journey. But if I sit frozen in fear, still on the lake, my idle paddle not daring to touch the water, I become a passenger to the whim of the currents. 

Mostly, I’ve learned to pause, and become conscious to the truth that I’m part of the scenery too, an integral part of the universe that created me. I’m a small piece of the whole picture and without my presence, the picture would be certainly changed.  It gives me a sense of wonder, a feeling of place and that makes me feel less alone on my journey.

May you find a serenity in life today, a connection to feeling a part of the whole.  May momentum reward your efforts and carry you towards your desires.  And may you have the courage to sit back and enjoy the ride.