Winter--A time for dreaming a more conscious life

Dreaming a More Conscious Life in Winter

Now that holiday celebrations are over, it’s time to put those New Year’s resolutions to work. Start the new diet, exercise regime, marketing tactics, job search, new business or work strategies, find a mate. There is no time like the present! Well—maybe not. And, maybe the Omicron virus is telling us to take a break, stay safe and take time for dreaming a more conscious life.


Turning Inward

What does nature do during winter? With the sparseness of the nurturing sun’s energy, nature turns inward and retreats. It becomes cold and dark. Creatures hibernate, plants submerge their energy into their roots and ponds harden into ice. Nature doesn’t go to the Bahamas for fun in the sun! Nature doesn’t push its high-energy button, because there is little energy to spare. If nature closes down its work during winter, why don’t human beings do the same? For most of us, work and economics runs our lives, and a hot sunny island may seem like the only way to retreat.

turning inward for Self-reflectionWith the increasing disharmonies we now face in the world, isn’t it time to rethink what governs our lives? Isn’t it time to learn how to live our lives with less effort and more ease, rather than with great effort and dis-ease? Isn’t it time to reflect on what is really important in our lives, contemplate our spiritual nature and how we fit into the bigger scheme of things? The work of winter is to store away and shut itself inside. It conserves until spring when the energy rises again. When nature retreats, an ideal time for self-reflection emerges.

 

Connection with our journey

Chinese medicine associates this time of year with the element of water. Water is essential to life. We are born in water and it comprises 78% of our bodies. Water can be forceful or serene, refreshing or murky, fluid or stagnant. Water connects us with our journey—our past, our ancestry and our destiny. It seeks truth, virtue and honesty, and reveals the hidden mysteries of our unconscious. Our thoughts and feelings are filled with secrets about our life, often deeply negative and self-destructive.

The emotion associated with water is fear. We fear change, failure, hurt, the unknown, loss, and abandonment. At the deepest level, we fear our very own death. In many ways, winter is a time of death, as parts of nature wither away. Water imbalance in the body may cause us to identify more deeply with our fears, outwardly expressed in un-ease, worry, tension, and phobias.

 

Surrendering to life

Surrender and releaseThe kidney is associated with the water element. Its function is to extract from fluid waste what is pure for recycling and send the impure to the bladder, its mate, for elimination. The bladder receives, holds and releases. Its true nature is adaptability, going with the flow. When we urinate, we surrender and release, yielding to the flow of life.

The kidney is considered the storehouse for the vital life essence—the very root of life. It regulates the amount of water in our body and all the organs depend on it. It does the work of warming, moistening and regenerating—lest we become cold, rigid, degenerate, or fearful.

 

Acceptance

Fear is governed by our ego, which holds onto patterns from earlier life. When we resist letting go of the toxic waste of our past, those dark secrets rule our lives. But these patterns are not part of our authentic self. When we learn to accept the past, release its power, dis-identify with the ego and live more fully in the present, we surrender to the freedom of being in the flow of life. When our life path is flowing well, it is like the flow of a river that adapts to the changing course. When it is not, it may feel like a quagmire in which we feel overwhelmed or in despair.

“When you surrender to what is
and become fully present,
the past ceases to have any power.”

 –Eckhart Tolle

Authentic conscious self

The surface of a lake may appear still as though nothing is happening. Yet, submerged is an incredible depth of conscious aliveness. This conscious aliveness takes place when we are dreaming during sleep.  When our true source or identity is never truly grasped, we experience doubt and insecurity, which stimulates fear. But truth is the absence of fear. When we go beneath the surface to the depths of our being where truth resides, we connect with our authentic conscious self, our gateway to the Divine.

Dreaming a more conscious life

dreaming of rebirthDeath is not the opposite of life, but of birth. The true work of winter is to go within, to gestate, germinate, and conserve essence. It is preparing for rebirth in the spring. Surprisingly, when we conserve our energy resources in winter, shed toxic patterns that no longer serve us, we are refreshed, renewed and ready to implement a better life plan when the elevated spring energies return to support us.

So, allow yourself to slow down and examine your life path. Use water for purification with baths or long showers. Contemplate your essence, life’s meaning and purpose. Dream, meditate, journal, brainstorm, visualize, create affirmations and goals. Engage your body minimally, such as with walks or gentle movement. Economize your energy essence. Preserve and regenerate your resources. Retire early and rise later, when you can. Spend more time in the warmth of friends and snuggle with loved ones. Live in sync with nature and surrender to the flow of the precious aliveness of life in the midst of dreaming a more conscious life.

Check my free classes of iRest Meditation and Hanna Somatic Movement, a gentle movement practice.

Happiness while not knowing

Happiness While Not Knowing

Not knowing when the dawn will come, I open every door.”
–Emily Dickinson

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many clients have shared their fears and anxiety about living in a state of not knowing. Will we and our loved ones stay safe? How long must we continue with all the restrictions and safety measures? When will work, play, and life in general go back to normal—if ever? These concerns are especially relevant for active older people who may wonder if their lives will ever be full again. Is it possible to be happy while not knowing what will happen?

We are born not knowing—and we are quite content in this state, as long as our basic needs are met.  But as life unfolds around us, we begin to learn that certain conditions have to be met—by ourselves and others around us. Still, our young minds remain curious and we have a sense of wonder as we discover new things, like what’s around the corner—in spite of being told “no.” As we grow older, we learn that to make it in life we need a plan, and we are highly rewarded when the plan results in success. But many plans fail and alternatives must be found. I have personally had to abort or revise many a project, goal, or dream—and have been much better off with the way things turned out.

“Happiness is the absence of resistance to what is.”—Rupert Spira

Not knowing: fork in the roadCertainty and change

Our brains feel rewarded when we make choices, and it doesn’t matter if the choice will actually be rewarding. It may seem strange that we would choose something unrewarding but certain, over uncertainty. But when we fail to decide or are uncertain, our brain conjures up negative scenarios that generate doubt and fear. We distrust uncertainty and ambiguity. Not knowing makes us feel vulnerable. The more we ruminate over uncertainty, the worse we feel. In contrast, when we know the answer or have a plan, we feel both safe and in control. Having a sense of certainty, we feel lighter, freer, and more content—even happy.

Being safe and in control, however, is ephemeral at best, as change is inevitable. But giving up certainty requires us to examine the beliefs that define us. These are the stories we hold to be true about ourselves and our world that have helped us feel stable and secure. We may try to hold on to our stories about the way things have been and yearn for the fruition of long-held dreams. In doing so, we not only risk wasting the precious life we’ve been given, but also miss what we most desire. Letting go of resistance to what is may enable us to discover our true self—and, as a consequence, happiness. That is authentic security!

Declaration: Pursuit of happinessFrom pursuit to acceptance

The U.S. Declaration of Independence states that the pursuit of happiness is an unalienable right. Unfortunately, the meaning of that right is often misconstrued. Much of our culture is geared toward seeking happiness in the form of experiences, relationships, and the acquisition of things. We seek to make it big financially so we can live the good life. We’ll be happy once things turn out a certain way: we land a better job with better pay so we can afford better clothes, fancier cars, and lavish vacations; or we retire early and live the good life. When we do finally obtain such material trappings, our sense of happiness is likely to be short-lived and we become possessed by a desire for something else.

Happiness eludes us when we spend our time longing for things to be better—or at least back to so-called normal. When we allow not knowing to continue to gnaw at us, this uncertainty becomes a form of suffering, according to Rupert Spira, the author of many books on spirituality. In The Art of Peace and Happiness he defines suffering as resistance to the current situation and searching for an alternative future. Learning to accept things as they are, as opposed to resisting them, opens us to our true nature and the knowing of our own being, which unfolds as happiness. Rupert says, this is pure meditation and the highest spiritual practice.

“Being at ease with not knowing is crucial
for answers to come to you.” –Eckhart Tolle

Uncertainty as helpfulUncertainty as helpful

While uncertainty may seem to dominate our lives right now, the core of our faith and spiritual traditions has always been cloaked in mystery. How can we knowingly grasp our place in the universe and the nature of all things? Yet research has revealed that most Americans believe in God or a higher power, even though this belief transcends reason.

Not knowing often makes us feel like we’re on shaky ground. How then can we feel grounded? Since the brain likes to be in control—and be rewarded for it—we can teach it to accept uncertainty about the future and actually be rewarded. Not knowing creates space for possibilities and opportunities to be revealed and for answers to be found. Remember when not knowing made us curious and we looked at the world with wonder and delight? Shifting our perspective can help us overcome our fears associated with uncertainty.

“To live in not knowing, or unknowing,
is to live in the joy of pure potentiality.”—Linda Hubbard

Walking in natureAcceptance

With simple practices like prayer, meditation, or walking in nature, we begin to appreciate uncertainty. The goal of embracing not knowing is exemplified by the Taoist practice of meandering meditation, which is simply following one’s thoughts without seeking a path. In all of these practices, acceptance can unfold into a kind of inner knowing where answers to our most pressing challenges can be revealed.

peace and happiness found in the most challenging circumstancesIn Spira’s view, not resisting not knowing leads to happiness, which he describes as “the simple knowing of our own being as it essentially is, that is not dependent on the conditions of the body, mind or world. It is our ever-present nature that lies shining quietly in the background of all experience and, when it is recognized, overflows into the foreground, pervading all experience with its qualities.” He says that peace and happiness are essentially the same—and can be found even in the most challenging circumstances and trying times, like those that all of us currently face.

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.

motivating passions

Embody The Five “A”s of Love

and embodying I was inspired to explore the five “A”s of love after attending a performance of Chicago’s Natya Dance Theatre’s new work, “The Seventh Love.” Based on the ancient Buddhist discourse known as “The Five Aspects of Love,” a narrative was brought to life through expressive East Indian dance and dialogue. The message: learning to embody these five aspects—attention, acceptance, appreciation, affection, and allowancehelps one attain a sixth, to embody perfect love. Continue reading