peace in themidst at Crab Tree Nature Perserve

Peace in the Midst

How can we find peace in the midst of difficult times? It’s been 20 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, yet we continue to live through turbulent times. American poet, environmental activist, and farmer, Wendell Berry wrote a poem in 1968 during another turbulent time in American history.Continue reading

Embrace your scars

Embrace Your Scars and Imperfections

“Let everything happen to you, beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

— Rainer Maria Rilke

gounded beingI was in the midst of writing this article when the COVID-19 virus epidemic was declared a pandemic. Our Illinois’ governor mandated a “stay-at-home” order for all non-essential service employees. Much of my work halted, and like everyone, I was trying to adjust to the effects of isolation and uncertainty. I reluctantly cancelled my June Greek Island yoga retreat. And, I wondered when, or if, I’d get to dance Tango again! But my spiritual teachings and practices helped calm me with an inner knowing. No matter what happens on the surface of our lives, there is an unshakeable ground of being that is eternally present.

As the saying goes, we must “look for the silver lining.” We can choose to shine light on the positives that arise during, and because of, this pandemic. We can also embrace the residual scars that reveal the underlying strength, beauty and wisdom that emerges as healing inevitably pervades.


Gold and silver

I was so disappointed when a treasured statue of embracing dancers broke into many pieces last year.  I thought maybe I could glue it together, or better yet find a new one like it on the Internet. When my search proved fruitless, I consulted an expert on how to repair this item. His fee was far too expensive, but he told me how I might do it myself. Because it was made of a soft soapstone, he cautioned that fragments could easily chip off. I gingerly glued the first two pieces together and waited many days before continuing with the next piece. When I finally got it all together, I was delighted to see it whole again—even though its imperfections were noticeable because of missing fragments.

Several weeks later, still admiring my accomplishment, I remembered referencing the Japanese art of Kintsugi in one of my articles many years ago, entitled, “Living the Wabi-Sabi Way.” When a piece of pottery has broken, the areas of breakage are mended with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Highlighting the cracks and repairs simply represents an event in the life of the object, and thus becomes a symbol of its fragility, strength and beauty.

embrace your scars Aha, I will paint the seams and imperfections with gold paint! As I did so, ideas began to flow on writing about Kintsugi as metaphor for life. Embracing our flaws, scars and imperfections offers us the opportunity to acknowledge our true strength, beauty and wisdom that comprise our essential wholeness.


Wounded, broken

Inevitably, circumstances shift and change and sometimes life seems to fall apart. Stuff happens, often catching us off guard. A relationship goes sour, a job is lost or put on furlough, finances take a hit—or we find ourselves in the middle of a pandemic!  While we are not made of ceramic, our emotions and thoughts can become rigid and corruptible (corrupt comes from the Latin word corruptus, meaning broken in pieces).

When the future becomes uncertain, we can fall into self-pity and victimization leaving us feeling utterly alone and broken. However, what has been broken or lost has the potential to be repaired or recovered. With appropriate resources a relationship may be repaired, a new job found, physical and economic health restored—maybe even better than before. If a void still remains, this creates space for new possibilities and opportunities…a chance to create life anew.

Suffering is a natural part of the human experience; experience that is essentially impermanent. We won’t live in this flawed and imperfect body forever—the surgence of COVID-19 has made this very clear. We don’t need to hide our wounds and scars or pretend nothing happened—any more than we need to ruminate over the past. Every scar has a story behind it, reminding us of a challenge overcome, a battle survived or even a funny moment in our lives. The key is to learn and grow from the experience, knowing that the hurt is over and to not let emotional scars linger as the story.

Emerging strength

Phoenix Often, we need to seemingly lose everything before we can rise from the ashes like the resiliency of the Phoenix. George Mumford, an aspiring basketball player at the University of Massachusetts, had injuries that forced him give up the game he loved. Pain medications led to heroin as emptiness left him spiraling downward. Finally, after turning to mindfulness meditation and getting clean, he was called to help Coach Phil Jackson and the Chicago Bulls, a team in crisis after the departure of Michael Jordan. Mumford has since coached a roster of champion clients from Olympians to corporate individuals.

Moving through challenging times makes us stronger. It’s a strength that emerges from within—our connection with our truest self, our core of being. Just as a physical wound heals from the inside out, there is an inner strength within each of us that arises to help us heal. The stronger we become with each circumstance, the greater ease we bring to each new challenge. We can heal collectively as well.

As I write this, I hear of all kinds of people throughout the world who are volunteering in various creative capacities to help us move through this pandemic.

Nelson Mandela recalled a time when he was reading a newspaper while flying with other passengers in a 20-seat aircraft. Suddenly one of the propellers began to sputter and stop. A sense of unease filled the cabin with concern that the other engine would keep running so the plane could safely land. Mandela continued to read his paper as though everything would be fine. Later, passengers remarked on how much his calmness helped them. What Mandela embodied and demonstrated is something we have within us—an unshakeable calmness and ease of being that cannot be broken or shattered and is always present.

Beauty and wisdom revealed

Embrace your scarsJapanese aesthetics value marks of wear from use of an object, and find beauty in what has been broken. In Kintsugi art, when a piece is missing from a ceramic bowl, a fragment from another broken object is fashioned to fill the void. We do this with broken bodies. When a leg is lost a new one can be attached to replace it. Rather than hiding the prosthetic, some people allow it to be freely visible as though wearing it as a badge of honor. Isn’t this an authentic display of inner strength and beauty?

It’s often said that when we bring something into the light, we see it more clearly. This is true of the flaws, blemishes and imperfections of our bodies as well as our lives. Regrets, lost opportunities and hurts, when left to harbor inside, can fester and cause more suffering. However, if we shine a light on them gilding them with our reflections on what we have learned, we begin to put ourselves back together.  We can then accept our true uniqueness—imperfections, deficiencies, challenges, warts and all.

The wisdom of Kintsugi also teaches that acceptance of change is inevitable.  There is a part of us that holds our authentic beauty, that is not broken, accepts everything and forgives our perceived brokenness.  When we can truly forgive ourselves, our inner beauty radiates. Thus, forgiveness brings us back to wholeness.

Life’s golden journey

vein of goldThe healing of our brokenness is sealed with a vein of gold that shines out from the core of our authentic beingness. We only need to regularly open our hearts, rest back and steep in this ground of being with whatever inner practice works for us—meditation, nature, connecting with a loved one. Our life journey then becomes a reflection of that golden vein which nourishes not only us, but interconnects with others throughout the world, the earth itself and the Divine Universe. The COVID Pandemic has brought us to our knees.

Being You

A Meaningful Life is Being You

“The meaning of life is to give life meaning.”

—Viktor Frankl, Holocaust survivor, neurologist, psychiatrist, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning

What gives life meaning? Through the ages that is a question that philosophers and religious scholars have pondered. Today psychologists and other scientists have intensified the study of what makes life meaningful. A wide range of answers has emerged. Some say it is finding a purpose or passion, while others contend it is being useful, living according to one’s values, or simply finding joy in all one does. The answer, of course, differs for each of us, and it can change in different phases of our lives, or even in a moment when confronted with a sudden tragedy. I believe having a meaningful life is being you—your best self! Being you is showing up with right action and right conduct in every circumstance in life.

What is needed?

Viktor Frankl, who was subjected to unspeakable brutality and depravation in four concentration camps, observed that inmates who retained some meaning in their lives were most likely to survive.  He believed it’s not about having what you need to live, but asking yourself, “What am I living for?” Frankl kept the memory of his beloved wife and his hope to be reunited with her alive, which gave his life meaning. A Vietnam POW spent his many years in captivity mentally designing the home he would one day build—which he eventually did!

If one is confronted with unavoidable suffering, Frankl recommended asking what could be learned from the situation. Is there any meaning that can be squeezed out of seemingly meaningless or even disastrous or horrendous happenings? In the aftermath of tragic events such as wildfires and hurricanes, and even mass shootings, countless people find meaningful ways to help others in distress, whether neighbors or strangers; they rebuild communities, and they take action to get laws changed. For Frankl, meaning came from three possible sources: purposeful work, love, or courage in the face of adversity.

Being you

Where do we find guidance on the path to living more meaningfully? According to Richard Miller, PhD, yogic scholar and developer of the iRest® Yoga Nidra training, there are times when we forget our true essence, our Divine nature, and we experience what is known as the kanchukas, or five limitations (limited ability or capacity, limited knowledge, limited time, limited body or space, and scarcity). When this happens, there are messengers who point us toward being as we truly are. Miller affectionately refers to such messengers as “The Pointer Sisters,” after the R&B singers who got their start in the 1970s and are still performing today.

Miller says that we are all seeking happiness in one manner or another, and this is the underlying motive behind every action we take. The Pointer Sisters surface within our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions and relate to beliefs we have about ourselves. We get to know the Sisters’ presence whenever we feel disconnected or constrained in our daily experience. Then they point us to our wholeness with questions to help us realign. Let’s explore the questions.

Feeling separate

SeparateHave you ever experienced a situation in which you felt powerless or limited? However hard you try to rectify the situation, nothing changes, resulting in feelings of frustration, anger, or unhappiness. This is an opportunity to step back and acknowledge that the Pointer Sisters are present and have a message to share. You can discover the message by asking, Who am I? Am I a separate powerless being, or is my true essential nature potent and unlimited? Allow yourself to acknowledge and feel these opposites.

You’re not likely to feel potent and unlimited right away. It’s like trying on new clothes or a new hairstyle that may take time getting used to. It’s not about doing but about coming to accept your true self as whole and connected. As a result, you will be better able to address the situation that brought you to feeling powerless and regain a sense of wholeness.

Feeling confused 

There may be times in your work, managing your finances, and other situations when you may wish you knew more. You may need to obtain more knowledge or training, or consult with an expert. But when it comes to knowing what can truly bring forth a meaningful life or make you happy, what you need to know is already inside you. Accessing this inner knowing helps you with important life choices and decisions.

Do you really need to go to another spiritual workshop or read another book or even this column to bring you more in touch with your true self? Those things may be helpful for a while, but if the teachings are about trusting and knowing yourself, then perhaps you should ask Why am I continuing to pursue these things? It may be because you enjoy connecting with other likeminded people—not because of limited knowledge.

Feeling a lack

As soon as you get that raise or promotion or your kid buckles down with his school work, you’re sure that you’ll be happy. Maybe it’s a new job or the perfect relationship or winning the lottery that you’re counting on to fulfill you. In the meantime, you feel a considerable lack in your life: what you have is inadequate; you desire something better. Or, perhaps you are clinging to what’s present in your life for fear of taking a risk.

You may believe that because life is imperfect you too must be imperfect. But here the Pointer Sisters pose the question What am I? The truth is that you are already complete. I often reflect on how Frankl handled his holocaust experience as a reminder.

Feeling time bound

time boundDo you find there is never enough time to accomplish everything? Anxiety, frustration, or fear about not meeting deadlines may ensue. There’s certainly no time for reflection on what makes your life meaningful. The Pointer Sisters here implore us to believe we are born, then we die; in between time rules our ability to be happy. There is a paradox here. When we are deeply engaged in meaningful activities (in a flow state, also known as being in the zone), it can feel like time stands still.

Instead of feeling constrained by time, what if you were to ask When am I in the flow of life? How can you integrate flow into your life and make it more meaningful? When you do, the past and future become less relevant—and you open yourself to the wholeness of your essential being, which feels timeless.

Feeling limited in space

Time and space are scientific terms used to describe our physical presence in this world. But these are limiting factors when it comes to acknowledging the spirit that inhabits your physical body. You may feel your body is constricted and contracted with all the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that surface throughout your day. But your physicality is not who you truly are. Ask yourself Where am I? You are the all-pervasive awareness at the heart of your true being.

Pointing to your wholeness

Pointing to wholenessTake a moment to experience this right now by closing your eyes, taking a few long, deep breaths, and feeling your connection with the surface beneath you and the space around you. Welcome the Pointer Sisters to be present as you welcome what you believe your true self to be. Feel the limitation of your body. Then allow yourself to expand as the Pointer Sisters point you to the wholeness of your Essential Being.

One of the Pointer Sisters’ hit songs was “Yes We Can Can”: “Oh yes we can, I know we can can/ Yes we can can, why can’t we?” Yes, we can all learn to live beyond our limitations—and thus make this a meaningful life.

Join one of my free iRest courses where you can learn how to live beyond your limitations and Hanna Somatics Movement for pain relief each Tuesday.

Joy and sorrow

Navigating the Landscape of Joy and Sorrow

“Trust life, and it will teach you, in joy and sorrow, all you need to know.”—James A. Baldwin

“Your greatest joy is your sorrow unmasked.”—Kahil Gibran, The Prophet

Most of us desire to live as much as possible on the sunny, joyful side of life and avoid the dark, sorrowful side at all costs. Whatever precautions we take, however, inevitably the darkness of sorrow shows up at our door. When it does, we may tailspin into feeling hopeless and alone. But as James Baldwin implies, our failures and losses offer important life lessons. The devastating situations we face provide the opportunity for deep inner healing and growth. Unmasking our sorrows, as Kahil Gibran says, allows our greatest joys to be revealed.

Opposites inform

masks of joy and sorrowJoy and sorrow represent two sides of the spectrum of life. Everything has its complementary opposite. Day and night, hot and cold, bitter and sweet—these help to inform our lives. We can’t truly know the experience of one without having experienced its opposite. Of course not all sorrow is the devastating kind, such as the overwhelming grief experienced with the death of a loved one. Less significant failures, wounds, and losses occur every day. You miss a turn and get stuck in traffic; you make a mistake at work; your partner misunderstands you.

Our culture rewards people for qualities of courage and strength, success and independence. Yet, the downside is that we can be mercilessly hard on ourselves for what we did or didn’t do. We all make mistakes. As a consequence, we may become stuck, ruminating on what went wrong. Or we can open up to what our mistake teaches us.

Unmasking sorrow

unmask sorrowSorrow may arise from a deep well within us. The conditions of our lives continually feed this well of sorrow. Early in our lives, wounds may form and get lodged in our body and psyche. Though they may be masked on the surface, their residue may continue to reverberate within us. This may take the form of negative thoughts and self-judgments, which may, even if we are unconscious of it, direct our lives. Without warning, this residue may spontaneously surface when we encounter another’s suffering. This often happens to me in the form of tears and heaviness in my chest or gut.

To unmask sorrow is to allow it to surface, be with it, and surrender to it. This surrender is not about defeat, giving up, or giving in. It’s about letting go of the resistance to feeling and acknowledging it. Resistance takes a lot of energy and can result in all kinds of chronic physical and emotional problems. Acceptance of our deepest hurts unblocks the energy and helps us become more connected to life.

Connection

ConnectionIn some indigenous cultures an individual’s wound, illness, or loss is not faced alone. Rather it’s encompassed by the community, which brings healing forces to the one who is suffering. Native American warriors returning from war are embraced by their tribe. Group rituals help the returning warrior process and ease emotional pain. Allowing feelings of sorrow and brokenness to be met with their opposites of joy and wholeness fosters true healing.

When we allow our hearts to open to another’s sorrow, our own burden may lighten. We may even, consciously or unconsciously, feel the other person’s pain as our own. Seeing that we are not alone in our inner suffering may enable us to harness the feeling of being connected to something beyond ourselves.

Well of joy

In addition to a well of sorrow, we also have a well of joy. Its contents are similarly determined by conditions in our lives. We may savor the taste of chocolate or a sip of wine, a beautiful sunset. Maybe a warm hug from a loved one, the birth of grandchild, or getting a job we’d competed for. Joy appears in laughter, a smile, a kiss, a hug, praise from another, winning an award, or being told we are loved.

Joy of a newbornThe desire for joy and happiness is perpetual in our lives, while the experience of it is ephemeral. As it comes and goes, it has the taste of bittersweetness, such as nostalgia for a place we once visited or someone who is no longer present in our lives.

True joy

There is something more beneath this joy and sorrow connection. At the core of our being there is another type of joy that is not dependent on life’s circumstances. It is an unchanging joy and is inherent in each of us. Everyday experiences can trigger the release of feelings of desire, delight, gratification, and exhilaration. These are actually messengers pointing us to this deeper unchanging joy and equanimity that exists independent of the objects and circumstances of our lives.

According to neuroscientist Richard Davidson, happiness isn’t just a vague feeling, it’s an actual physical state in the brain that can be induced through meditation. In iRest Yoga Nidra meditation, which I teach, we practice holding on to opposites like joy and sorrow at the same time. This ultimately enables us to open up to an expansive feeling of well-being.

From sorrow to joy

Deep sorrow can be channeled into something meaningful. Catherine Curry-Williams and her husband channeled their grief from losing their first-born child into forming an organization that has built 65 playgrounds in six countries. Through healing and forgiveness, Azim Khamisa, whose son was murdered while delivering pizzas, sought out the murderer’s grandfather, Ples Felix. They partnered to form a foundation dedicated to stopping youth violence through mentoring and education.

joyMaria came to iRest Yoga Nidra meditation sessions with deep grief over the suicide of her son, a veteran of the Iraq war. Within a year she was able to enjoy her work and family again. In a recent email she shared that iRest “continues to support me and help me to be mindful and live in the present. I strive to find JOY every day.”

Surrender, accept, trust

When our wounds, losses, or mistakes are faced lovingly they become integrated into the fabric of our being and help us continue to grow and even thrive. In their bouncing back from adversity, Catherine, Azim, and Maria demonstrate the resilience of the human spirit, which everyone has.

As a culture, we love rising up, but fear going down. Some say the true purpose of life is simply to “live fully.” In order to rise to this fullness, we must surrender to our pain and sorrow. Accepting and learning from them, allows us trust that in our deepest core reside joy and peace.

I invite you to attend my free iRest meditations on Sunday morning or Thursday afternoon, and Hanna Somatics Movement for pain relief each Tuesday.

holding space

Holding Space: Healing & Transformation

There are times when providing a supportive space (or holding space) for someone facing a challenge can be the greatest gift. The process of holding space means being compassionately present. And it may not be an easy thing to do—especially when the other is our child, aging parent, or intimate friend. Our tendency is to want to fix thingsContinue reading

Relieve stress

Relieve Stress: Three Simple Ways

Relieve Stress, Build Resilience, Find Inner Peace

Do you have trouble sleeping, suffer aches and pains, overindulge in food or alcohol? These are just some of the common symptoms of stress, the number 1 health risk in the U.S. What is the cause of your stress? Is it the news, deadlines or financial issues, challenging relationships? It may surprise you that none of these create your stress. The real cause is how you respond to them.Continue reading

beginnings from endings

Beginnings from Endings: Hope for Something Better

Every ending creates space for a new beginning to emerge—a seedbed of potentiality and hope for something better. It’s a law of nature that life continually seeks places to germinate. Beginnings from endings can be an exciting time for us with opportunities for change. A time to establish a new habit, relationship, city, or a completely new way of life. But it also means saying good-bye to what we have known, loved, or lost.Continue reading