Wednesday, May 28, 2014

enlightened lamas and yogic buffets

i went to a meditation training this weekend with an enlightened tibetan lama.  we gathered early in a dupont circle row home on saturday morning--many practitioners, beautifully diverse.  i had just spent a week holding a lot of space for some inspiring women during our amazing retreat to west virginia and then for my family as we go through some medical issues.  spiritually i felt awesome, but physical i knew i was still depleted and i was looking forward to a nice peaceful dive into myself.  then i met these delicious wheat-germ balls.

rather, i met a breakfast spread of all kinds of breads and cookies that were obviously made with love and concern for quality ingredients.  i love this about spiritual potlucks. the problem was that i had already eaten a big breakfast at home of oatmeal and soaked flax and nice butter with a drizzle of maple syrup.  this breakfast was meant to carry me to our lunch break at noon, as my breakfast usually does.  one of my big health changes in these past nine months is that i avoid snacking.  i've found that if i eat three solid meals, my body feels good and my brain feels clear.

in ayurveda, we call this connection between digestion and mental prowess, agni.  it's said that one who worships agni--mostly but not overloading it and giving it time to properly digest intake of food before reupping--will enjoy perfect health.  from my own practice of it, meal spacing is key to my feeling at home in my body and mind.

but i've also had a lot of practice at enjoying buffets and a strong mental story that i will not miss out on good food when it's offered, especially tasty wheat germ balls.  ignoring my first thought to avoid them, i grabbed a ball.  texture-wise it was soft with a nutty taste and a hint of salty caramel.  i praised it aloud and then internally told myself i wouldn't eat another.  then i did. then i told myself i wouldn't eat anything else until lunch.  then i ate some trail mix.

i sat down to meditate and felt a burny kind of feeling coming from my chest.  i've learned to understand this as a signal that my digestion is going off-kilter.  it's especially strong when i eat a lot of sugar.  using my learned techniques, i breathed into it and felt compassion for myself.  then i made a plan to eat a light lunch.  right away, i felt better and sank into a deep silence where i was guided through different levels of internal light and felt the great spiritual power of the lama.

then we had a break and i ate another wheat germ ball and a chocolate chip cookie.  after lunch--which again would be it--i ate another ball, more trail mix, and a slice of heavenly chocolate avocado mouse pie with a date almond crust (again, love you yoga chefs out there).

when i sat down again to meditate, my body really felt bad.  i breathed into it but i couldn't find relief or compassion for myself.  i felt lumpy and right away a story started to pound down on me.  it told me i was out of control and this was the moment where i would gain back all the weight i've lost and along with it lose my mental clarity--all of the benefit of the good habits i had worked so hard to achieve.  again, we were being guided through the different levels of light and i could barely hear the words, because this voice in my head was so loud.

luckily, i know this voice.  i made friends with her during a 10-day silent meditation retreat five years ago.  of course, she had hung around before then, but there was so much other stuff going on in my mind that i couldn't quite identify her as someone that i had to watch.  she's quite nasty, goes for the jugular in my most vulnerable moments, and turns my most positive qualities back on me as shame.  she thrives on perfectionism and avoids intimacy--true connection--at all costs.  i wrestled with her for days on that retreat.  then, within the quieting of my my mind through the meditation techniques i was learning, i realized how weak she was and how much loves she needs. i let her into my heart but took away her deciding power.  

remembering all of this, i listened to the lama and relaxed my mind.  i reasoned that my body would be just fine and i could use this experience to make better choices in the future. i might still choose the wheat germ balls next time, because habits die hard, but all that awareness would be a step in the right direction.  it also seemed like a positive sign that the nasty voice had emerged again, because it meant i was getting to some vulnerable territory in my mediation practice. i've learned that hanging out there is an amazing place of growth and connection.  but it's hard work, especially when i romanticize spiritual practice enough to think i can get through a weekend of silent contemplation without a few tough moments arising. 

after a good nights sleep, i showed up for the second day of the retreat with a healthy breakfast in my stomach.  again, the table was laden with food--lox, bagels, sweet breads and everyone was enjoying them.  i took a few deep breaths, poured some chai and checked in with the actual hunger level of my body, which was low.  i wanted to enjoy the food but i also wanted to not repeat the previous morning. i stood in that tension until i overheard the retreat organizer say he needed someone to go buy envelopes. i immediately volunteered.  

once i was outside and breathing fresh air, i remembered how the during the previous day, the lama had stressed service to others as being very helpful on the spiritual path.  in that moment, i wasn't sure if i was serving the retreat by volunteering or if they were serving me by giving me a distraction from the minutia of my mind.  either way, walking in the morning sunlight, those esoteric teachings seemed to be applicable and working some very big and human magic in my life.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

yes, and...

this is a photograph of the cherry tree that lives beside my apartment.  it's always great to be at eye-level with a big lovely tree but once a year, it's amazing.  for a couple of weeks in the spring, she explodes into cotton-candy blossoms and is just unabashedly beautiful.  this year the blossoms were delayed due to some late frost but when they finally came around, it was more stunning than i remembered.  i spent as much time on my balcony as possible and opened my curtains wide each morning so i could worship her during my yoga practice. it felt like living with a goddess.

then it rained and rained for a couple of days and the blossoms washed away.  i felt like a little kid whose birthday passes and the next day realizes the length of a year.  it's been a rough winter for us in dc, and it seemed unfair that our peak passed so quickly.  but a few days later, i noticed pink buds popping out on other trees that were just as beautiful as the cherries.  but that didn't last either.  one morning this week,  i went for a rainy jog around the catholic university and saw the lawns were blanketed with pink petals.  it made everything quiet and holy. yesterday at the arboretum, the azaleas were in bloom.  one fuchsia one pulled me in so strongly with her color that i stood in awe and silence with her beauty.  she taught me things in that moment.

flowers are beautiful and they are not forever.  they are beautiful because they will not last forever and i know this and it makes me pay attention.  it makes me love them even more.

i'm feeling the realities of change in almost every area of my life.  since embarking on an amazing ayurveda course in september,  i've made big changes to my diet and lifestyle and lost 25 lbs.  i'm slowly getting use to a new body shape, buying new pants that fit and finding my way into formally elusive yoga poses.  in it, i've also met a mentor who is showing me step-by-step how to build a really smart business for myself as a healing professional.  it's deep work that is exposing my professional desire and how much i hold myself back.  last year, i was living with a partner and pretty content with my career, and now i'm a single dog-mom and realizing i have a lot of dreams for what i want to do in this world.

they're beautiful, these changes.  i'm so grateful to evolve and sometimes it's way too much for me.  i came home today after a lovely morning around my neighborhood and was flooded with so many emotions at once.  i did what i always do in those situations and dug for my notebook.  since starting the ayurveda course, i skip my morning pages and meditate instead.  but i've been craving them lately--usually in the afternoon with a cup of tea--and they never disappoint.

after throwing every emotion that i could on to the page, i wrote my way into some clarity.  the message that came through was that i am on the right path.  but being on the right path does not mean it will be easy. the right path has brambles and the right path is decidedly unsexy at times. the right path throws everything it's got in your face and watches intently to see what you'll do.  the right path has no guarantees except that it's the right path.  walking it is hard, kinda lonely and gives me an amazing sense of peace--because i know it's the right path.

change is hard but it's so necessary to evolution.  the people i admire most are ones who are always looking to build something new and become something bigger.  to me, it's not so much about outcomes, but more the thrill of life moving through me into action.  i want this action. i want to feel there has been a path from point A to B and that i could teach others how to walk it more smoothly. i want it all to be continually beautiful and when i can bear to keep on walking straight ahead, it really really is.