Well, it took quite a while for summer to arrive in France this year, but it’s finally here. Sometimes, the heat wrecks havoc on my appetite. Eating light and raw is easy and healthy. Here’s my latest raw creation perfect for hot summers.
Ginger Carrots in Lime with Peanuts
Grate carrots into a bowl.
Add a T of coconut cream (or olive oil if you prefer).
Add in a can of rinsed white beans.
Juice 1/2 of a lime and pour over carrots.
Finely chop a small spring onion and add to carrots.
Mince a square inch of ginger and a clove of garlic; add to bowl.
Season with salt and cayenne pepper or a splash of Tabasco.
Sprinkle with a handful of roasted peanuts.
I have confessed to my sweet tooth before. Because it can become a real problem if I’m not careful, I do everything I can to find satisfying alternatives that are delicious and better for me. Then the problem isn’t so much the need for a sweet treat as it is not eating too much!
I adore chocolate chip cookies, but I really don’t like white sugar and white flour. This recipe helps me satisfy my chocolate chip cookie craving, but it’s dead easy, super fast, and much healthier.
Here’s the recipe for one person. It’s good to do it this way at first to get the hang of the texture you want.
Yummy “Raw” Chocolate Chip Dough
Grab a package of refined almond flour (the kind used in pastry making).
Put some in a bowl (as much as you care to eat) and add a pinch of salt.
Sprinkle in some nice dark chocolate chunks or chips.
Add a t. of vanilla.
Now for the tricky part. You can use the sweetener of your choice: maple syrup, honey, or apple sauce. Put in too much and it’s going to be too wet. Put in too little, and it won’t hold together. You don’t need a lot! And in fact, as you mash it all together, you will find you need less than it appeared at first.
Ideally, you want to be able to shape the dough into little bite-sized balls. If it is too sticky, just add more almond flour. (To be quite honest, I rather like it when it is a bit too dusty and crumbly, but I can’t serve it to anyone else like that!)
Once you have cracked the single serving, you’ll be able to make bigger batches on intuition. But don’t eat them all! Put some aside (even freeze ’em) and you can make some Cookie Dough “N”ice Cream too.
Nom, nom nom. Nothing like food you can really sink your teeth into to satisfy. My latest colorful creation has plenty for you to chew on! Fresh fennel, crunchy sunflower seeds, snappy cucumber, and crisp carrot blend nicely with the flavors of nutty chickpeas and dill.
What I prepared fed me and hubby. But don’t sweat the amounts. Use your eye and trust your gut. That’s part of the fun.
Crunchy Fennel & Chickpea Salad
Chop a medium carrot
Chop a small cucumber.
Chop a spring onion or two.
Slice and then dice some fresh fennel.
Place the veggies in a mixing bowl and shower with the juice of half a lemon.
Rinse canned chickpeas, dry and add to bowl.
Add dill, salt, and pepper to taste.
Add a nice sprinkling of sunflower seeds.
You can also add a dash of balsamic vinegar.
Finish off with some parmesean cheese.
This recipe is wide open for options. Can’t find fennel? Substitute celery instead. No sunflower seeds on hand? How about some chopped almonds?
No parmesean left after last night’s pasta? Feta will do. You get the idea.
Call me crazy, but I get very excited over color. Vibrant colors in my environment makes me smile. There’s something about a bowl full of color that makes a meal all the more appetizing…even if it’s just one color like in this fabulous Tahini Carrot Salad. It’s cruncy, tangy, and entirely satisfying either by itself or on the side of something else.
Tahini Carrot Salad
Peel and then grate as many carrots as desired. I like a nice big chip as opposed to a scrawny little thread. Place the grated carrot in a mixing bowl.
Mix in a mashed clove of garlic and some fresh grated ginger.
Mix the following dressing to taste:
Add salt and pepper to taste while humming a happy tune and pour this over your grated carrots. Mix well. Then commence munching. Happy bunny?
One of my favorite restaurants in Asheville where I used to live was raw. I considered dining there a rare treat and never really considered making raw food for myself. I had it in my head it was far too labor intensive…all that slicing, dicing, culturing and sauce making. But lately, I’m having quite a ball exploring the world of easy-to-make raw dishes.
For a couple of years now, I’ve observed myself looking at raw food sites online, fantasizing about the colorful cuisine and dreaming about going off to some raw food cooking school. It finally dawned on me that “not having the right equipment” or “the amount of things I’d need to buy to even start” were not sufficient excuses to just diving in.
I’ve been asking myself lately the things in life that bring me the most joy. Healthy food certainly fits that bill…both in the making and the eating. So I decided no more excuses. I’d start simply and work my way up.
Not one for following recipies to the letter, ever, I skimmed some “easy raw food recipes” online to get a sense of the ingredients and ways to prepare things. Then I worked with what I had and made some experiments.
I’ve been loving my raw food creations so much that I decided to share some of them here with all of you. I love food. I love the way it looks and the way it tastes. But I’m also a very picky eater. There are many foods I just won’t eat no matter how “gourmet” they are. Food should elevate the body, mind and spirit. Food should be fresh and full of life…and prepared with the highest intentions. I hope you try this dish and discover just how easy and enjoyable it can be to eat raw too!
Zesty Zucchini Salad
Dice or spiral some fresh, organic zucchinis (about three cups worth) pondering the springy texture, subtle fragrance, and rich green skins.
Place in a mixing bowl with the following to taste:
chopped red chilis
juice of half a lemon
crumbled feta cheese
crumbled brazil nuts
and maybe a T of olive oil
soy sauce and/or salt
Mix while reciting the mantra, “OMmy goodness!” and eat!
Zesty Zucchini Salad looks awesome beside and tastes great together with my Tahini Carrot Salad.
Yoga is often believed to be about some ideal end point. Many students will strive to assume a posture they have seen another body do without taking into consideration everything it may have taken to get there. But when we aren’t initiating movement from the proper starting point, we risk injuring ourselves.
I always give my students options for sitting. I even offer the couch when I know we’ll be seated for some time. I’m always amazed that so few will take the options available, preferring instead to fit the picture they have in their heads of yogic sitting (I’ve been guilty of that too!). But there’s absolutely no shame in using props to achieve a more comfortable seat. In fact, it’s a sign of intelligence and body awareness. I hope this helps you understand why when it comes to sitting criss-cross-applesauce, also known as Indian style or easy pose.
Note in the picture below that the back is straight and the shoulders relaxed. That’s good and may be comfortable. However, the knees are just slightly higher than the hips, and that might cause problems:
In the next photo, the back is clearly strained, the knees are much higher than the hips, and the shoulders are at the ears. It’s actually not that uncommon to see people sitting like this in a yoga class. There’s an easy fix.
Simply place a block, rolled blanket, or cushion (or any combination until it feels “just right”) beneath your hips to raise them up:
Voila! The knees drop below the hips and everything else can relax upright:
Now let’s take a look at a seated forward fold (paschimottanasana). If the hamstrings permit, it is possible to sit upright, legs straight, both sit bones on the ground, shoulders relaxed:
From there, one folds forward at the hips and is able to extend toward the toes:
But if your starting seated posture is hunched or rounded, head dropping forward of the shoulders like this…
…the seated forward fold might look more like this photo below. The hamstrings aren’t getting the stretch. There’s no deep flexion at the hips and all the work is coming from the upper back, which can lead to injury. Plus, with the chest collapsed, what’s happening with the breath?
The fix is again quite simple. Just place that block (blanket or cushion) under your seat.
Now your spine is able to remain upright and your pelvis is not pouring out behind you in a posterior tilt:
From there, the forward fold is once again happening where it should, saving the body from excessive pressure, strain and injury. Though not pictured, it is also perfectly acceptable to bend your knees (or use a strap around the feet). In fact, it would have allowed me to lengthen my spine rather than collapse over my chest as I did:
Of course, once we move into a pose, we also need to move out of it safely. A picture can be worth a thousand words, but it can also be misleading. What one body can do with comfort and without strain doesn’t necessarily translate to another body. So use these photos as guides, not superlatives.
Even with these modifications to a posture, it is still essential to listen to your body, taking your time to journey into the fold, easing off when the body tells you to. Forward folds may be contraindicated for people with lower back issues, osteoporosis, or women in the late stages of pregnancy.
Sometimes, students tend to think of props as a last resort or get the idea that using them is somehow cheating. That’s a mindset that helps no one. Would you begrudge a person his glasses in order to read? Yoga isn’t about some ideal posture that every body should attain. It is about the ideal posture for your body. Make sure you give your body every advantage in your practice.
If you are new to the world of yoga and are thinking about or have just started a new practice, here are three crucial things to keep in mind and on track.
Breath is Key
Many people approach yoga with the pose as their goal. This is not suprising given that the postures are the outward physical representation of a much deeper inner process which can’t be photographed. Poses, on the other hand, are frequently used to depict the practice of yoga. Extreme postures are celebrated in photography or found peppering the pages of instagram. But the pose, especially some idyllic pose of perfection, is secondary to something else…the breath.
If you move your way into a pose and forget to breath on the journey, let alone can’t breath when you get there, you’ve lost your yoga. I’m not referring to breath practices commonly found in kundalini yoga where the breath is intentionally held; I’m talking about every other time when the breath is meant to continually function in an integrated manner.
If you’re holding your breath, it’s a definite, clear signal that A) you’re distracted for any number of reasons, possibly because you’re learning something new B) you’re trying too hard and overexerting yourself and/or C) you’ve lost your connection to yourself and are not in your body. In any case, bring your attention back to your body, ease off the pose, restore comfort, reconnect to the breath, and then repeat as often as necessary until the breath can move freely and easily. And hey, it’s a practice. Even seasoned yogis need reminders.
I like to tell my students to be greedy for oxygen…that this is one time and place where greed is okay.
Emotional Release Can Come Out of Nowhere
This one can be really disconcerting for newbies. Our bodies hold onto tension and stress that we haven’t fully processed. As we move our bodies, in new ways and old, and breathe more fully, that tension and stress can finally find its release. Emotions can unexpectedly rise to the surface as we practice, making us feel tender and vulnerable, anxious or self-conscious. Whatever happens, let it flow! Tears are not all that rare in yoga classes. No one will be shocked or rush to your side to embarrass you. In fact, yoga class is a great safe place to let it out. And you’ll feel much better, too.
If something is too much for you, you can also stop and rest. You can leave the room, too. Do whatever is necessary to comfort yourself, have space and feel safe.
I often share my own story of the first time I ever practiced kundalini yoga. I was doing a movement in frog pose and just started bawling. It came as a complete and somewhat bewildering shock. I didn’t even know why I was crying. Something just got released. I felt great afterwards and fell into love with kundalini practices from that point on. This may have been the first such experience, but it wasn’t the last. It’s just something that happens sometimes.
What Feels Weird Now (or Good) May (Not) Feel Great Later
Our bodies are in constant flux. What we can do one day we may not be able to do the next. Likewise, what we couldn’t do today may actually come easily another day. This is so important to understand because otherwise, you may think you are losing ground when you’re actually just experiencing a natural ebb and flow.
There are things I could not do when I first started practicing yoga. For example, I remember the first time a teacher told me to spread my toes as I stood in Tadasana/Mountain Pose. I looked over at his bizarre feet, gaping space between each toe, and then at my own…no space. I kept trying to get my toes to move apart. Nothing. Not even a fraction! Today, I can spread my toes without much thought.
Then again, when I was much younger, doing Urdhva Dhanurasana/Wheel Pose was a piece of cake. These days, I have to do a lot of preparatory fascia work before I can attempt what is these days a somewhat deflated wheel! It’s essentail to honor your body where it is each and every day and enter into your practice as if for the very first time.
In fact, it’s okay not to do certain poses if you are feeling fragile or unsure about them on any given day. I’ve been in classes where I’ve quietly done a completely different posture than the one being taught because I felt a little weak or “off”.
Yoga is an amazing journey, but it can be unnecessarily difficult if one approaches it from the wrong angle, causing a myriad of problems or bad habits. Be smart from the start. Let your breath be your guide. Lean into the emotions and feelings if may stir up. And above all, honor and listen to that amazing, complex organism of yours. It’s the only real guru in the room!
I admit it. I’ve never been known for my patience. I’ve always been the person passing everyone out on the sidewalk even though I’m not heading anywhere. I’ve been the one watching the clock…be it at work or play. Only in hindsight do I see all the ways that has caused me trouble. My timing has always been slightly off as I pushed things through, made things happen, or gave up way too early. I’ve screwed up or missed out on many of life’s opportunities thanks to this mentality. Years ago, I can remember being introduced to Feldenkrais thinking, “My god, what sort of torture is this!” for the meticulous, minute, and turtle-paced movements it required.
Now that I am older and wiser, I recognize the price I’ve paid for my inability to simply wait, and recently, I’ve discovered a new joy in slowing down. I don’t doubt that meditation has helped, but it was more the result of my recent yoga training and explorations into somatic movement. Now, I finally understand the immense value in slowing down.
With my interest in human consciousness and evolution, I’ve been working with a particular type of electronica music created by Shapeshifter DNA of Visionary Music for years. JoAnn Chambers, one of the creators, would regularly encourage movement to deepen one’s experience with the music. Though I would dabble in movement with the music, I usually found it too slow and spacey. There was no rhythm, no inspiration to move me. It was a block for me which I tried to move past unsuccessfully. I was more comfortable to sleep and dream with the music. It was also great to just listen to it in the background of my busy life or while driving. So, I worked with the music in those other ways, and I moved my body to different music, music that was somehow more predictable and danceable.
But recently, I learned how to engage with the music in a new way. It is outside the kind of dancing I am used to. It is me slowing down, even stopping. It is me waiting…patiently…until something moves. In fact, it is not always me dancing at all. It is me being danced or dancing with myself. And that dance is sometimes happening on the unobservable, cellular level.
Through it, I am exploring and communicating with the miraculous world of fascia, the connective tissues that run in various tension lines through the body. It is a watery world, a mysterious world, in which one tiny movement in one location creates cascades of movement everywhere. Fascia is so incredibly sensitive, so aware. And this type of moving is so healing, because it gently reveals places of tightness and adhesion, imbalance and rigidity.
When I teach movement classes, I always encourage my students to slow down, and I see them struggle with it. It is so contrary to our conditioning to go slow. Even when some students attempt to slow down, they don’t yet know that they’re still moving 5x too fast! I get it. I was one of them. To be honest, I still struggle with slowing things down. But I have the experience now to know doing so is important to the skills of deep listening, observation, and discovery.
It is only in slowing down that we can actually become aware of our choices, not just in movement on the dance floor, but in life. We can hear the quiet messages not just of the body, but of the spirit, that so easily get overridden. We can learn timing. We can learn to trust the flow. And maybe most importantly, we can begin to comprehend in a microcosmic way the universal truth of oneness…how one small thing ripples through and affects everything else.
Here is a video of an embodied movement exploration using Shapeshifter DNA’s Shamanic Dreamtime:
Meditation is wildly popular and its benefits repeatedly proven by science. There are groups of meditators all over the globe — in ahsrams, in offices, in neighborhoods, churches, schools, and health centers. Maybe you’ve even taken up a practice yourself. Would you be shocked if I told you that you may or may not actually be meditating?
“Then what they heck do you think I’m doing when I make that commitment to sit on a cushion or chair, close my eyes, and cease all activity?” you may be thinking. Well, it depends!
Usually, we are simply preparing for or practicing to meditate. We are concentrating our mind. We are strengthening our awareness of our awareness. We are watching our sensations, thoughts, and feelings. But all of these things are “a doing”. True meditation is not a doing. It is beyond doing.
Beyond the doing is where we discover actual meditation. It’s when the body stills, the mind quiets, and the watcher of it all dissolves into something bigger, like a drop of salt water in an ocean. It is completely effortlessness. We are not sitting and meditating. We no longer identify as a mere person. We see with the eyes of the Divine.
And the eyes of Spirit are not so enticed by visions and memories, fantasies and imaginings. The eyes of Spirit remain outside of time. Concepts are recognized as empty, meaningless…even the idea of meditating.
I’d like to explain a bit about the DielleCiesco.com logo and what it means to me and is meant to represent, even emit.
The bottom portion is the Tibetan letter “A”. A is said to be the original mother, giving birth to all. In that respect, it is itself the uncreated. It is the symbol of Great Perfection in the nondual practices of Dzogchen in which all phenomena arise dependent on conditions , fading away when those conditions end. Nothing that arises absolutely exists. What was before and alone remains is the unchanging and eternal.
The syllable is crowned by a lotus, a somewhat typical symbol in esoteric traditions for good reason, depicting rebirth, divinity and enlightenment. It is the very seat of the soul. A lotus rises up from the mud to bloom untouched, a thing of purity and beauty. The chakras, or energetic centers of the body, are often depicted with a lotus and statues of Buddha often set him upon a lotus cushion.
And finally, the lotus itself is crowned with a single pearl. I have always been drawn to the pearl as a symbol of purity, luminescence, and peace. In fact, my mala (prayer beads) is a string of mother-of-pearl chosen for these very qualities. There is also a reference to “pearls of wisdom”, and while an oyster hides the pearl within itself, many of our highest spiritual qualities are often hidden away beneath unprocessed trauma and the various “pressions”: depression, repression, oppression, suppression. One has to look deep within to discover our Divine Nature…and to be able to see it in others.
This logo is meant to remind me of Truth and the ultimate goal in all that is created and offered through me. I hope it communicates that energetically to others as well. When the designer showed me the final draft, I was nearly swept off my feet for the elegant beauty and potency of it. It radiated with something even I didn’t expect. I hope you can feel it, too.
Over my years of practicing, I’ve been exposed to several different styles of yoga each with its own benefits. I consider the following to be my “perfect combination”. They each target something that my mind, body and spirit need. I am referring to the following influences which anyone will experience in my classes, which I dub Yoga Fusion:
Hatha, meaning “effort”, is what people generally think of when they think of yoga. Indeed, it is the ancient foundation for most contemporary styles of yoga. To keep things simple, I refer to it here in those terms alone. Among other things, Hatha focuses on a series of poses, (standing, twisting, seated, prone, balances, backbends, and inversions) each held for a period of time while focusing on the breath.
The kundalini is said to be a serpent-like energy that rests at the base of the spine until activated and cultivated. Once cultivated, we have easy access to our true nature, innate healing potentials and inner guidance. It is a prescriptive yoga that targets a multitude of mental, emotional and physical needs from clearing states of anger to balancing our hormones to centering the mind. It is energizing, brightening, and works via the breath and body’s energy channels.
In this style of yoga, long-held resting poses target deep tissues, ligaments, joints, and fascia. It’s a great way to relieve long-held tension and improve flexibility. We resolve to be still and rather than stretch, we gently stress the tissues mentioned in order to lengthen them sweetly. It’s all about improving mobility and such an important balance to the strengthening we achieve via the more yang styles of yoga.
I was blessed to be trained in a mindful approach to yoga movement with Gemma Mallol’s Still Flowing Yoga team. Somatic movement increases body awareness and intelligence. It honors individual bodies as just that…individuals…one size fits one. It takes the stress and strain out of “exercise” and facilitates deep internal release.
When I was young, I was a dancer. I learned to push my body to do what is was expected to do. I never stopped to question whether or not I was hurting myself long-term. When I later adopted a yoga practice, I entered it with the same mindset…bend the body to the mind’s will! The somatic approach rescued me from that stinkin’ thinkin’ and has helped me realize that just because I can do something doesn’t mean I should. Now I listen to my body instead of my mind.
Somatic awareness makes yoga more about movement and less about poses. And it places the attention where it should be…inside!
Embodied Movement is organic movement as a self-expressive and creative practice. It is deep listening that arises through breathing, waiting, feeling, and responding.
A Final Note
While emphasis is generally placed on the asanas or postures in popular culture today, all true forms of yoga place equal emphasis on right living (yamas and niyamas), breathwork (pranayama), and meditation. Yoga was never meant to be a mere physical workout (although it serves that purpose very well) but rather a preparation for spiritual practices. It is a whole-life means to liberating one’s self from the psychological mind. If the yoga we practice isn’t raising us up, chances are we’re missing the point of it all. While that might all sound way “out there”, the proof is in the practice. What you give to yoga always gives back ten-fold!
There are all kinds of pain. There’s the pain we choose to ignore, even though we know it is there. There’s the pain we block unconsciously or because we don’t have the awareness not to. There’s the pain we consciously overcome because we must. And there are extremes of pain, from what we can to what we cannot tolerate, too.
But what is pain? Does it always mean that we’ve hurt something? What is it trying to tell us?
Many years ago, perhaps about 2006 or so, I went to one of those workshops where everyone walks on hot coals to demonstrate the power of mind over matter. It was winter time in the mountains of North Carolina, and there was snow on the ground. And good thing too!
I watched as everyone’s excitement grew, the energy being raised higher and higher with drumming and chanting. I was amazed as one person after another got in line for their turn and then walked across. Some walked very quickly, like it hurt, others just stood there in the middle of the blackened, red-hot coals as if they were defying the heat to burn them.
I observed and did my best to clear my mind. I neither wanted to hold a thought of fear that we were all nuts and that I was about to regret this, nor one of certainty that I would succeed unscathed. In fact, I didn’t want to think.
When something in me drew me forward toward the top of the six to eight foot long track of hell, I took a deep breath and walked. I was deliberate but did not tarry. Man, was that hot! I was so relieved when I got to the other side and stepped off onto snow.
My joy at having overcome my fears was quickly diminished by the growing searing pain coming up from my feet. I pretended as if everything was fine. I looked around. Was I looking at other people pretending everything was fine? It didn’t seem so. Some people were going back for seconds! I kept blessing the snow, standing there in my bare, burnt feet, in agony and growing fear.
Following the ceremony, I confessed to the facilitator that I was in serious pain. She helped me hobble back to the house and shared her certainty that I was not injured and that it was more about the massive energy I had just experienced. I wasn’t so sure in that moment, but she turned out to be right. She said I simply needed to receive that energy, be with it, allow it to flow. I didn’t quite know how to do that, but I set that intention. And I was absolutely fine the next day. I ended up with one teeny, weeny blister that didn’t even hurt when I walked.
Why am I sharing this? It’s a great story to remind us that pain is not an indicator of actual damage. Pain tells us that something is a threat, that we may be injuring ourselves. It alerts us that we need to change what we’re doing or become aware of something we’re missing. For me, it was an indication of two things: 1) once across the fire was enough for me and 2) there was a surging energy that I needed to allow to flow. I’ve no doubt that if I hadn’t worked with the energy of the pain I was feeling, I would have woken up unable to walk the next day, the soles (and souls) of my feet scorched. And I am also sure if my ego had convinced me to walk across the fire a second time, like everyone else, I would have regretted it.
It is natural to feel averse to pain and not want it in our lives, but it is not a mean or evil thing. In fact, it is entirely necessary, protective and loving. If we ignore it, we certainly pay the price, especially long term. But we need not fear it. Nor should we buy into the story that it is a life sentence that means more than it does. Today’s pain can easily evaporate tomorrow. Pain calls us to reflection, evaluation, and action. It’s that simple. Everything else is what we build around it with our disaster-fascinated minds and egoic pride.
So the next time you find yourself experiencing pain in yoga class, consider the message. You may still have time to heed it and prevent a bigger problem.
I’ll let you in on a most surprising secret. For many years, I stopped going to yoga classes. I stayed committed to my practice, don’t get me wrong. I just chose to practice at home, alone. Why, you ask?
Well, for starters, I didn’t really resonate with the types of classes that were available. For me, yoga has always been first and foremost a way of keeping mentally fit, not physically fit. But most classes out there always emphasized the “workout” or what I found to be a boring regime. Sometimes, I enjoy a heavy-duty sweat and endurance session, but generally, that kind of yoga just doesn’t do it for me. Years ago, it was a challenge to find a yin or kundalini yoga class, so I just used lots of videos, read, and stayed at home…in my jammies, even more comfortable than yoga pants!
Another reason I didn’t like going to classes was because of their size or the environment. Maybe it’s just me, but I really hate rolling around on a cold, filthy floor, and sometimes, classes were so large that it seemed pointless to be hidden in that crowd. I wasn’t going to receive any feedback, let alone a sense of community. It’s one of the reasons I am committed to keeping my classes small. (No, I don’t make as much money, but I’m in the business of quality not quantity.)
I also found classes a bit distracting sometimes, whether it was the voice of the instructor that set me on edge either due to tone or an endless stream of words, or their bizarre choice of music, or simply the pace of the class that barely allowed me to feel a muscle finally starting to elongate before being led directly into the next move. It all went too fast. At home, I could set my own pace and linger where I wanted…where it felt good. And I could relish the pauses and play my own music…or simply enjoy the silence.
And then there was the schedule. Sometimes, I simply didn’t want to go out at night or have to wake up for that early morning class. Practicing at home was a luxury that afforded me flexibility with my time.
Why am I, a woman who teaches yoga, presumably for a living, telling you all the ways that yoga classes can fail? Simply because it’s the sad truth.
But here’s some more truth. After many years of my at-home practice, when I finally decided to become certified to teach, it was only in the presence of teachers who knew how to teach and sharing in a group of unique bodies that I was made aware of the mistakes I’d been practicing alone. It’s fine to have a home practice, but it can lead to some serious blind spots. And if I’d kept on, I have no doubt I would be facing long-term injury in the near future. My training taught me all the places I was going past my edge, ignoring little signs from my body and doing things because I could, not because they made sense.
I am the first person to acknowledge that not every yoga class out there fits every person. They are each as unique as the people teaching them. But it is important to find a teacher who offers your preferred style of yoga and to work with him or her regularly. We “know stuff”, and that stuff can be the difference between a healthy practice or an ultimate injury. It’s worth the investment.
So will the yoga classes I offer suit you? I have no idea! I certainly hope so. The only way to know is to try and see for yourself. It might help to know that I am more in love with movement than exercise. I am equally in love with body, mind and spirit. I want to facilitate your own creativity and exploration. I want you to discover body awareness, and through that, an awareness of a truer self. I like options and doing new things in each (or at least every few) classes. I like sharing things that have helped my moods, anxiety, anger, and fatigue. I try to provide a tranquil and restful atmosphere, not a dusty, buzzing gym room. Sound good?
And hey, if public classes still aren’t your thing, I do offer privates. This is a great way to receive undivided attention, and you get to dictate music, pacing, and and practice elements. If that sounds lonely and you have a group of friends who want to try something with you, you can even arrange your own small group class on your schedule either in your own space or at the studio.
If you’d like more information about my classes or would like to arrange a one-on-one or special group, feel free to contact me.
It was in the year 2000 that I began my first of several shamanic apprenticeships in the Toltec Eagle Night Lineage of don Miguel Ruiz, author of the iconic The Four Agreements. Now, nearly 18 years later, those four little agreements mean as much if not more than ever. They have proven to be much more than the words that comprise them; they are little packets of deep wisdom that have continued to unfold and reveal themselves over the years.
While I was on my yoga teacher training in October of 2017, I realized that these four agreements have a place in my yoga practice, too. I present them here, not necessarily in the order originally presented!
Don’t Make Assumptions
As we practice, it is crucial that we neither make assumptions about what yoga is and isn’t nor what our body can and cannot do. In regards to the latter, it will always be different from day to day (see the 3rd agreement!). And in regards to the former, well, there are plenty of misconceptions about yoga in the Western world. It isn’t just some exercise program, though many have reduced it to such. Yoga is an ancient and holistic wellness system that engages the mind, body and spirit. When we take the reductionist view and turn it into a good workout, we completely miss the gems that yoga is meant to provide a life. If we’re teachers, we perpetuate this misunderstanding in a world that is desperate for the deeper gifts yoga offers.
This also applies to how we approach a pose. If we have some construct in our heads of how, say, Trikasana looks, we might take our body there with our mind and fail to feel the actual journey that the body takes there. This is a surefire way to be injured. Instead, we should come to a pose as if for the first time each time, taking our time and listening deeply to the body.
When we make assumptions, be they about yoga or meditation or someone’s motivation for doing something, there’s a pretty good chance we’re going to get it wrong, either putting ourselves in a box, putting someone else in a box, or just creating a lot of unnecessary drama.
Don’t Take Things Personally
Yoga has become a bit of a competitive sport, if not openly so, inside the heads of those taking classes. We see our neighbor doing a perfect wheel and we take it as a sign that there is something lacking in us. We watch the skinny ballet-like figure in the picture and compare our bulging selves. We do more than we should to save face and wind up with a pulled muscle.
There is nothing personal in having the body you were born with. Yes, it’s yours…for now. But what it looks like and moves like isn’t about you. It’s structure has been deemed perfect for you in this lifetime by something far more intelligent than the personal mind. If you have an injury or disability, it is not a punishment. But it is something to embrace and accept. Yoga is above all learning to accept ourselves. Sure, the Western culture tells us to work for the body we want, but yoga tells us to work with the body we’ve got.
When we take things personally, we believe they somehow identify us. We are overly enamored with the image and out of contact with reality.
Always Do Your Best
This agreement ties into the one above fairly seamlessly, but from another perspective. This is perhaps the most misunderstood of all the agreements because the mind’s idea of “best” often has nothing to do with our true capabilities, instead being a composite of the voices of parents, teachers, and peers that we somehow internalized to keep ourselves safe. We often conceive of “best” by comparing ourselves to others or by gauging our abilities according to some unrealistic expectation.
Our best will look nothing like another’s, and it may change day to day. It will be impacted by how tired or stressed or hungry we are. This agreement is perhaps one of the most important to our yoga practice because, if taken in the right way, it reminds us that gripping and striving have nothing to do with yoga while it also reminds us that sometimes, the high road is a more challenging road, but it is still the one to take. And finally, if we do slip up or behave in a way that is out of alignment with our principles, this agreement reminds us that we’ve made the agreement to do our best, so there is no need to judge ourselves for messing up! We did our best!
So do your best. Not less. But definitely don’t set yourself up to fail with unreasonable expectations either. It is just as bad to grip and strive and force as it is to collapse and give up. This agreement points to the Buddha’s Middle Way…free from extremes.
Be Impeccable with Your Word
This applies to the promises we make ourselves and to the way we speak about and to ourselves. If we say we are going to practice daily for at least 1/2 an hour, then we should honor that. If we aren’t, we should investigate why we aren’t living up to our word. This is also about not using the word against yourself. Thoughts or outward expressions of “not being good enough”, being “too fat or too clumsy”, or falling short in any way is not only a terrible way to treat yourself, it’s a surefire way of creating self-fulfilling prophecies.
This agreement has a particular importance for those of us teaching yoga. If we’re giving too many or meaningless cues or worse, cues that have no basis in our own felt sense, we are out of alignment with our yoga. That isn’t to say we can’t be metaphorical or poetic. But is what we are saying rooted in both our experience and our knowledge?
We also have to be careful about making something “wrong”. Just because a certain approach or technique or cue doesn’t work for us, that doesn’t mean it won’t be better for a student. Rather than taking it on ourselves to make those kinds of decisions, we need to offer options and modifications to our students, helping them to increase their ability to perceive their own bodies, sensations and feelings so they can intuit what’s best for them.
Be Skeptical, but Listen
This 5th Agreement, added some years after The Four Agreements was published, reinforces that curiosity is a critical attitude to cultivate in yoga. When we remain curious, the body is free to discover its own path. This agreement reminds us that WE are the guru. So as we are listening to a teacher in a yoga class, we remember to listen and share in the group experience of whatever pose is demonstrated, but also to be skeptical.
Does the way a posture is being shown make sense to your body? Is your body sending you signals that it is too much or not enough, or that it is having to grip or resist? And even then, be skeptical. Is it your mind that is telling you your body can’t do another repetition of something? Perhaps you are stronger than you think?
Our curiosity keeps us open, free to explore and draw our own conclusions. Yoga isn’t about putting your body into a pose. It is about finding what the pose might be for your body.
There were many lessons learned while on Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) for 30 days in Ibiza, Spain. I’ve written about some of them already (Part I and Part II). Today, I’d like to share my 3rd big lesson which was perhaps the most personal…and lengthy. Bear with me…
I mentioned in one of the earlier posts that one of the greatest challenges was sharing close quarters with a group of strangers. We were, for the most part, a house of “odd couples”, and there were times when irritations and annoyances were magnified. I should also mention that despite this, we all got along very well…considering.
Still, I found it hard to find my comfort zone among so many people. I am not only a highly sensitive person but also a full-blown introvert. Finding space, downtime, and freedom from stimulation was a bit of a challenge. There were expectations for us to engage socially, which was fine; I wanted to get to know people. But I was often faced with a choice. I need a lot less engagement than others. I like being alone. I need it to feel centered. So would I take care of myself and my needs and risk feeling isolated or would I fit into “other people’s rhythms” and meet the social expectation?
I am early to bed, early to rise by nature. The majority, however, enjoyed their late nights and weekend sleep-ins. Because dinner was served often after 8PM, I took to setting aside leftovers so I could eat my dinner as soon as classes were finished, giving me time to digest. That meant that I missed out on many dinner conversations and connections. Instead, I’d be in my room journaling, meditating, or listening to music before bed. When we had breaks, I’d often just want to go off alone on hikes or hang out by myself. And even though we had opportunities on the weekend, I didn’t really want to site-see. To me, it felt like a distraction from my focus. While I wouldn’t have minded getting off the top of that hill for a couple of hours, given the choice of relying on someone with a car and having to be out all day (or night) long, or being stuck at the house, I happily chose “stuck at the house” where I could recharge.
Most introverts sense the judgment that comes with being different, how extroverts might take it as a form of rejection, that we’re “too good for them” or “standoffish”. It creates a vicious circle as each “type” tries to establish their traits as normal or acceptable; it’s a form of self defense. (Of course, we live in an extroverted world, so I would argue that introverts have it harder.) Regardless, their is awkwardness on both sides, struggling to understand one another, and it all makes it that much harder to connect when we want to. I feared I was giving this kind of message in keeping my distance, so I had to overcome this fear of being perceived as judging as well as of being judged.
As an introvert, I actually genuinely like people, very much, but I like them in much smaller doses than the average person. In truth, my system simply needs more down time. While the extrovert enjoys talking, I get overwhelmed by the stream of words. While the extrovert feels energized by interaction. I, on the other hand, just wind up feeling drained and disturbed by the various vibratory fields of others. If there are conversations going and music playing all at the same time, it is simply too much for my nervous system. After a time, it brings on physical pain. My charge comes from time alone and in peace and quiet.
Within the first few days, I became aware that others were engaging with one another in a way that they weren’t with me. It wasn’t something intentional on their parts. I figured they must have been unsure about me, maybe even afraid to interact because they had yet to get a sense of who I was. Or maybe they just thought that I was “the person who didn’t want to engage”…a typical box every introvert knows. So that night, I made the effort to stay up late and engage in more conversation than I normally would. It was worth it. It broke the ice. And thereafter, even though I lived as I needed to, I felt like it was okay.
I spoke with my sister, another introvert, about this today. She brought up an important point…that introversion is often considered some kind of pathology. But there’s nothing wrong with us. We’re just different. We don’t need fixing. We don’t need pity. We simply need more space and a healthy dose of respect and understanding.
Regardless of where we fall on the extroversion/introversion spectrum, we’ve each got our stuff. The only thing we really need to deal with is our stuff. It’s so much easier than trying to deal with everyone else’s…or expecting others to deal with ours for us. Why should they? Sure, there will be misunderstandings and projections. So flippin’ what? Those will always be there until we become the sparkling-clean mirrors for each other that we were meant to be. And this will only happen if we each accept and deal with our own stuff!
Maybe it’s because I was finally able to release any last remnants of self-judgment over my introversion that any outside reflection of being judged was vaporized. I was able to deeply honor and accept my introversion on this journey, and I was fortunate enough to be with a group of people who were okay with that, if not at first, at least in the end.
So in summary, here is my third life lesson from YTT: I’m okay. You’re okay. We’re okay. Even when we’re not okay, it’s still okay. We only have to take what’s ours when it’s not okay. Okay?
One learns a lot of things at Yoga Teacher Training (YTT): asanas and yogic principles, anatomy, and sequencing, for example. It’s intensive in itself. Add to it tight quarters with strangers, lots of time for inner reflection, and heightened sensitivity and it all results in other lessons too, insights into the self or into life. Last time, I wrote about my mystical experience with a soap bubble, a lesson of our insubstantial nature. In this post, I’ll share another big lesson learned on my recent YTT experience in Ibiza, Spain.
In short: we never have all the information or all the pieces of the puzzle. It’s the nature of duality. Yet we are fabulous (and hell-bent) at generating meaning and judgments around very the sparse information we do have, convincing ourselves that what we’ve generated is absolute reality. In fact, though, details are always missing.
Our entire lives, if we don’t wake up to this realization, we are constructing confining and very often inaccurate boxes to place ourselves, our situations, our solutions and other people into. We leave little room for miracles, let alone facts. But the facts that might be outside of our perception might be enough to completely and irrevocably destroy those seemingly safe little boxes that give us the false sense that we’ve got it all figured out.
It all comes down to protecting ourselves. We are afraid of being neglected or disappointed, rejected or just plain wrong. This is the energy that lies at the heart of the need to draw conclusions, however erroneous.
Cases in point:
During YTT, I had volunteered to make breakfast one Saturday morning which historically consisted of oatmeal. Yet, after searching every drawer and cabinet, I could not find any oats. My mind, afraid of being accused of neglecting to provide what was expected, turned on those who were supposed to provide the goods in the first place! I went about preparing what remained…eggs, fruit, yogurt, granola, cheese, avocado, bread and tomato. I made my apologies, “There were no oats!” It wasn’t until later that day that I was in the kitchen when the damn bag of oats stared me right in the face. It had been on the counter all along. Seriously. Right in from of my face! Yet I had gone on a very long journey in my head which was based entirely on them not being there.
On another weekend, the house ran out of bottled water. Several of us emailed the facilitators to let them know. We waited…and waited. More emails were sent. We waited some more. The conversations that occurred around this were interesting. In my own mind, I began to question the amount of concern and care our facilitators had for our well-being. Having had an earlier interaction with them over water, I was holding that opinion as loosely as I could.
The water came eventually, along with someone who had just arrived that day at the airport. You see, it turns out, the facilitator that eventually brought the water had to pick someone up. She had other responsibilities. This is what delayed her. On the way, they stopped for water and couldn’t find any big bottles anywhere. They ended up getting small bottles. So, the effort was there all along. The concern and care was there all along too. But there were extenuating circumstances of which most of us were unaware. We didn’t know what we didn’t know, and so there was nothing to stop us from expressing our grumps. But how often do we grump with pieces of the greater puzzle missing? How often do we seek out validation from friends and loved ones that we are justified in our thinking about something? How often to we lack insight into situations pr motivations, past histories, and personal challenges of those we judge?
In another example, when I arrived at the house on the first evening, I was in a shared cab. We were told to look for a pink rock and turn there. What we eventually came across was a pink post on the left side of the drive that I could barely see in the dark from out the right side of the taxi. I couldn’t help thinking to myself, “That’s not a rock!” I took a photo of the post to show my partner just how “ridiculous” our directions were. It wasn’t until nearly three weeks later on a walk up the road that I could finally see the “pink rock” on the right side of the road. There it was…and had been, invisible to me from the right side of the cab. I admit, I formed judgments about the directions we were given while lacking this broader realization!
So three weeks later, I took a photo of the rock to remind myself of how ridiculous I can be! Now I have two photos that tell a story and remind me of this very important truth:
We are always missing information.
Always. The universe is that big and that complex. And no matter how much we want to make ourselves feel safe, secure, and like we’ve got it all sewn up, we don’t, won’t and can’t possibly.
Really, accepting this makes life so much easier. It becomes just plain silly, not to mention counterproductive, to jump to conclusions.
LOL – I just remembered a song by Annette Funicello about not jumping to conclusions, a throw-back to age 10 or so. The universe has been trying to teach me this one for a very, very long time! A shame I spent over 15 years of my life thinking I understood the 2nd Agreement of The 4 Agreements by don Miguel Ruiz: Don’t Make Assumptions. It’s clearer now. So, I’m a little slow!
If we can hold everything more lightly, our opinions, judgments, explanations and seeming realities for why things are the way they are, we might actually get an insight or two into actual reality! We give ourselves so much more space to breath, to receive more of that missing information (or not), and just maybe to receive a miracle or two.
This October, I spent a month in Ibiza, Spain doing something I’ve thought about doing for at least half of my life. I took a 30-day yoga and mindfulness teacher training with Still Flowing Yoga. In my next several blog posts, I intend to write about the three most significant lessons I learned there. I’ll start with the most mystical of them today.
Living in a house with a dozen or so people I never met was perhaps my greatest challenge…that and being stuck on top a mountain for 30 days with no where to run. I was often challenged by the noise, energies, lack of space, and differences in priorities.
One day, when I was about to be particularly challenged later in the day, I was sitting on the couch next to the yoga shala . The house was mostly quiet at that moment. I don’t remember if I was reading a book or on my computer. Something caught my eye over to my left. It was a soap bubble….out of nowhere. One single bubble that popped into existence in the middle of the shala. I looked at the kitchen, wondering if someone was washing up. Perhaps a bubble had escaped the sink…even though that would have been quite a stretch. But no. There were two people in the kitchen, but the sink was idle. Besides, the kitchen was fairly contained and quite a distance from the point of origin of this bubble, a iridescent circle no bigger than 2 cm.
It rose, dancing slowly, and floated toward a window. I thought to myself, half jokingly, “If this is a being with a message, come toward me.” At that point, the bubble abruptly changed direction (seriously!) and floated directly toward me, like Glinda the Good Witch. It took its time, passing right before my face as I leaned back out of its way, touched the pillow at the opposite end of the couch, and poof! I was stunned and delighted. But I had no idea what it all meant.
It wasn’t until several hours later that the full message came through. I was having “a moment”, grappling with age-old disappointment that had arisen as a result of a let down about something which seemed so important at the time. In the height of my inner tantrum, I realized that people are like bubbles. They pop into existence, into our living dreams, and just as quickly pop out again.
All the people who have ever disappointed me in life, where are they now? Yet that sense of disappointment that I’ve carried all these years, why does that remain? Is that as insubstantial as the people who brought it? Yes! Yes! At least it can be.
Everything is temporary and not nearly as solid, enduring, ego-challenging, and humor-stealingly serious as we make it out to be. Nothing.
And then I realized the greater lesson…I too, or who I believe myself to be, am nothing more than a bubble. I have popped into this existence to live the dream of Dielle, and one day, I will pop out again. Poof!
And I pop in and out of other people’s dreams too, just as they do in mine. I will bring some of them pleasure and some of them pain. I very often have no say in the matter, so maybe the bubbles I encounter in my own dream don’t always either. Maybe it is I who project meaning onto their mirror-like surface and vice-versa. Some mirrors are clear reflections and others may be a bit more distorted, but that’s all part of the fun house of life.
So rather than sweat the endless stream of passing events that happen and wish life’s lessons were somehow easier, better to enjoy and savor each little moment, be it fabulous or fuckery. Better to live in awe that bubbles appear at all to teach us our lessons, seemingly from out of nowhere.
We are bubbles, insubstantial little floating orbs that catch the light, but only for a time. We float and cross paths, sometimes lingering, sometimes moving on quite quickly. In the blink of an eye, we can be gone from one another’s dreams. Cherish the miracle of who shows up, no matter who and no matter what they’ve come to say or share. They’ll be gone soon enough.
To all the shining orbs I met in Ibiza, thank you for popping in and out of my dream to say hello and for the magical, mirrored surfaces only you could bring.
Despite that fact that there is now almost daily new evidence that supports the importance of and benefits received from meditation practice, there is still a lot of resistance to actually doing it. I’d like to take a look at that today. Why is it that so many people, often the people who need it the most, believe they can’t meditate or think it cannot help them?
I’m not saying it is the answer to everything nor am I claiming that one size fits all. (The latter idea is as far from my philosophy as it could be!) However, I do believe with every inch of my being that there is a form of meditation available for everyone be it through physical yoga, chanting, mindfulness, music, breathing, mudra, cooking, painting… One just has to discover what works best and then approach the activity with the proper intent.
So, what exactly are the reasons that come up for why people don’t want to meditate?
I can’t sit still that long!
I’ve heard a lot of people lay claim to this. The idea of “doing nothing”, even for 10 minutes, is too much to bear. The moment a person sits still, all the feelings, thoughts, and problems that she’s been pushing away with constant activity come flowing in like a tidal wave. It isn’t a comfortable feeling.
Early one, when I was forced to silently meditate sitting with my teachers years ago, I would be in absolute hell waiting for them to just get on with the teachings. I would hear myself begging for it to come to an end. Somewhere along the way, that agony left me. Gone. No trace. Poof!
Restlessness is a completely expected stage of meditation, often much worse in the beginning, but it also comes and goes throughout a lifetime of practice. (I can still feel restless from time to time.) If you aren’t willing to work through it, you are giving it power over you. If this is your sole reason for avoiding meditation, I urge you to simply sit with the resistance. The payoff is so worth it!
There are those who experience meditation as boring. Being still, following the breath, focusing on the body is not enough to entertain the raging monkey that is the mind. These types tend to need constant stimulation and input. They need the radio or TV on, even if they aren’t listening or watching. What do they think all that stimulation is doing? It is distracting them. It is stealing their energy and making it harder for them to know themselves. It is filling them up with worthless noise and making it impossible for them to hear their own answers. It has trained them away from the subtle of life to such an extent that they actually believe the universe could ever be boring!
I actually feel worse when I meditate. My mind is so loud!
Similar to reason number one, this resistance presents itself when people have a misunderstanding of what meditation actually is. They think they are supposed to have no thoughts at all, a blank and quiet mind. But that just isn’t realistic. The stream of thought is incessant. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s a misconception to think one isn’t meditating if one is thinking. Let the thoughts come. Watch them as they do. Then watch them as they morph and go. They are fleeting even if they are torrential! Don’t give them your attention and run around trying to extinguish them. Let them be. You keep quiet!
I’m too busy/I don’t have time.
This is such an empty argument. All it means is that the person doesn’t really want to do it. Sure, meditating for 20-40 minutes is ideal, but even 5 minutes before bed is better than nothing, and I’m sorry but everybody has 5 minutes before bed. Heck, even 3 minutes of focusing on the breath and body is sure to impact your sleep and dreams in a positive way.
I meditate on my own.
There’s nothing wrong with this. I meditate on my own all the time. But when I have groups at the house, I am always blown away by the force in numbers. I’m inspired by their challenges, insights, and energies, and I am often amazed at the depth of my own meditation when others are present and we are all supporting one another. The experience is enhanced. So, if you find yourself making excuses not to go to a meditation group or class, ask yourself if you are cheating yourself of a deeper experience. There is a reason that Buddha made the Sangha one of the three refuges.
Meditation is a waste of time.
Perhaps they’ve tried and “failed”, or they’ve never even bothered to try; they’ve simply decided. Really, if someone holds this idea, then they probably just aren’t ready to meditate for whatever reason, be it deep-seated fear, religious judgment, or some self-sabotaging beliefs. But it is based on a misconception. Meditation cannot be a waste of time. It can only be wasted.
The gifts one receives from a regular meditation practice are so glorious and liberating (and yes, challenging and difficult at times), but if you remain blocked by any of the above excuses, they are a treasure you will never discover. But don’t “try” and work through these blocks; none of these block, not even the latter, are substantial. Stop trying so hard. Meditation is an effortless state of simply being.
I want to return to a subject I broached during my 14-day journey with the Aka Dua. On day 12, I wrote:
Last night, I practiced with the Aka Dua before doing my guru yoga. I worked with some of the exercises in Arlan Cage’s book, Aka Dua: An Ancient Healing Energy for a New Era. I’m familiar with these exercises but in other guises and versions. It seems every teacher I’ve worked with has a slightly different way of approaching the techniques which bring about the same outcomes. Some might consider this a “purity of the teachings” issue. But it is one thing I have always loved most about the Toltec path. Even in Tensegrity, the teaching is to modify the exercise to best suit the individual. Aka Dua is meant to be a unique path; it is meant to evolve. It’s so different from the rigid forms I’ve experienced in other traditions in which the way of doing something is almost fanatically enforced [as if history itself is more important than innovation for our times]. I understand the danger of things getting watered down or appropriated so as to lose their power, but I hold the opinion that what one does with clear intent and dedication is not in threat…
For example, I know, as with yoga, ancient practices can become “bastardized”. The spiritual deepness and what are interpreted as the religious aspects are often reduced or ignored. It’s how yoga, the practice of union, turned into an injury-breeding competitive workout. It’s how drumming and sweat lodges can become nothing more than “trendy” experiences with little understanding of the actual traditions.
At the same time, I know there are many outdated superstitions implanted within various traditions…ones that say for example that a women shouldn’t play a drum or that certain symbols in dreams mean a particular thing no matter the dreamer. One has to count to 10 and spin around counterclockwise for the desired result. It all seems rather silly from a certain perspective, though those entrenched in such beliefs can be quite adamant about them, and possibly unaware of a certain level of enslavement to them. We are all, are we not, the slaves to our unexamined beliefs?
I also understand the dangers in blindly following false Gods. No one wants to think they themselves could fall prey to the cult mentality. The irony, of course, is that one on the inside is unable to perceive the situation with detachment. So, we can be guilty of cult-like or at least, fundamentalist behavior but are only able to see it “out there” in the behavior of others. Likewise, we can dismiss a teacher or teachings because of something we project upon them, some judgment or criticism, which only serves to keep us from the very thing that could help us become liberated.
I know there are those who hold the opinion that Aka Dua and other forms of energy healing are something made-up. But isn’t everything? I mean, at some point in time, someone, somewhere had to discover, name, and make up a story to explain what could not otherwise be understood nor transmitted. Aka Dua is described as originating from an ancient energy. But when it comes to its usefulness, does it really matter if Aka Dua is centuries old or in its relative infancy? Is it not the direct experience with a thing that should define our discernment of it? Is one’s own personal experience with something to be easily discounted by another person’s doubt?
Over the years, I’ve done a lot of work on my belief system. That is part of the Toltec journey (and any journey toward self-realization) and one I fully embraced. I am grateful to have broken through many of the structures I inherited through parentage, school, religion, and socialization. But perhaps the most important thing I have come to recognize in doing so is that it isn’t so much the thing as it is the faith in the thing that makes it powerful…or not.
Energy, energy healing, and/or faith healing are areas which cause a lot of debate in different circles. You can have those deemed”religious nuts” who decide their bodies don’t need the surgery and who end up either miraculously cured or dying as a result. There is also the spectrum of those who are terrified of healing and the means “woo-woo” practitioners might utilize to help them simply because it triggers an unacknowledged or deeply conditioned fear. You also have the intellectual skeptics who won’t even try something because it is so far fetched from the realms of their experience, but ironically there are also the skeptics who are desperate enough to try anything to find the miracle they hoped they’d find. And there are a myriad of other beliefs about what healing is, how it should be used, who is capable of it or not, and what works and what doesn’t. So what is the truth about it all?
I am a lover of truth. It is something I value highly. But there is a certain leeway granted to us all because we live in an illusion. We live in a dream. So there’s truth…something that cannot be altered…and then there is everything else. It is with that “everything else” that we can play. There is always a relativity to our beliefs; that’s the very nature of belief as the truth does not rely upon belief. I am thankful to have cultivated a fluidity with what I choose to believe, picking things up and putting them down again as necessary.
So despite any criticisms and speculations, it matters little to me whether anyone decides that Aka Dua is Atlantean or the machinations of a creative man taking what he had learned and making something new of it. What is important to me is what has come to me as a result of my faith in it…genuine experience of its potential and power and gifts. It aligns with me and my heart and my desire for the world to be free of ignorance, fear and suffering and it provides a new and very supportive structure for the work I find myself doing at this point in my life. But it is not nor has it ever really been separate from me. And of course, Aka Dua isn’t the only path to what “it” is either, nor the only inroad.
There is no question for me that Aka Dua has been a gift. That is my undeniable experience. I can say in what way, but an I say why and how? Not really. But does it matter? When I received my initial transmission, my commitment was to use Aka Dua for the benefit of all sentient beings in service to love, light and Truth. I am equally happy to have Aka Dua use me towards that same ends. That is because a) I know the power of intent and b) I know it all comes from and returns to that very same place from which all of it arises…that unknowable and unnameable source of all. Aka Dua is simply the shape of it with which I am now choosing to play. It is as much an exploration of myself as it is an exploration of anything external to me.
Do you know what it is to sit in the presence of unconditional love?
Last summer, I spent a weekend in satsang with a spiritual master. I don’t know what you might think of that phrase, dear reader. I don’t mean he’s a master of anyone but himself…a master of his own spirit. I don’t want to call him teacher because he really doesn’t have anything to teach, as he himself admits time and again. Teachers deal with knowledge, and I have no interest in acquiring more of that. Guru is often translated as “teacher”, so I prefer not to use that word either, although its true meaning, “disspeller of darkness” is certainly more to the point.
It has not escaped me how awkward I have felt telling people that I was going to sit with a “teacher”. I did this because they have some point of reference for teacher. If I said “spiritual master”, plenty of people would have looked at me funny, and too many people would think I had somehow given away my power to someone else, ready and willing to drink the cool-aid. In Customs at the UK airport, I had been honest about seeing a spiritual teacher. The response I received reminded me of when I was five years old and would speak of my imaginary friend. It felt just like that.
I arrived early on the first day of satsang. I was surprised to be one of only about 10 people already in line. My heart felt open, and I greeted everyone. Realizing I had time, I decided to get some breakfast. By the time I returned, the line had grown to about 25. As I waited in line, I looked around and felt so blessed. Here I was with open-hearted beings who understood. They’d experienced something too, and would not project their fears and judgments upon me…or if they did, they would not necessarily believe themselves. They wouldn’t look at me like I was crazy if I cried, nor assume I was suffering if I was. I felt safe, happy and grateful.
I was burning in the line. I knew exactly what I was going to say to Mooji given the chance. I was, in fact, determined to be the first person to speak to him:
“I was determined to speak with you, Mooji. I want to get as much as I can out of this opportunity. I came here to be seen by someone who could see me. I wanted to stand naked here and let everything show so that I knew from you, at least, I could not hide again. I don’t want to keep reinventing better versions of myself. I want to be done with myself. I want to burn, Mooji. I want there to only be ashes and not some damn phoenix that rises again. Help me burn, Mooji. I don’t trust my mind anymore. Help me relinquish this.”
Of course, none of that happened. And throughout the weekend, I’d have a pressing question or statement, raise my hand, not be called on, and so not even try the next time. Eventually, the questions and statements died away or morphed into something different, and I would again raise my hand. But I wasn’t one of the ones who ever got to speak.
Because I was early, I was in one of the first 6 rows very close to Mooji. I wanted this because, just as in the theatre, being this close allows you to be part of some special energy. Yes, it is everywhere, and yes, the entire audience can see the show, but only those up close can see the detailed expressions and sweat of the actors. It is easier to forget oneself and become part of the play. When Mooji entered the room, I spontaneously gasped. I couldn’t even see him over the heads of everyone in front of me, but I could feel him.
I loved hearing him speak. I loved the sensations that would flood me when his words felt as though they were meant only for me, answering some deep and unrecognized question within myself.
That afternoon, I lost my seat. Before lunch, they made an announcement to take all our belongings during lunch. Despite this announcement, many people left things on their seats thus saving their seats for the afternoon session. I was a little miffed at that and wished I too had ignored the rules! Fortunately, I was able to get a seat just behind the row I had been in because someone got up and left for some reason just before things got rolling again.
But my mood had changed. My mind became polluted. My attitude turned whiny. I kept thinking, “Why am I here?” I felt a little bored by the questions being asked…or sometimes jealous. I struggled to listen. Despite the effort, the truest words still landed softly and deeply.
I had to sneak out before everything finished because I had to meet my AirB&B host across town. I hated leaving and put it off to the last possible moment. I was a mess trying to find my bus…feeling rushed. As I left, the last thing I heard Mooji say was, “The whole world is late.” Somehow, I made it in time to my accommodation, and it was a sweet relief to have a base again after my first night in a hostel and having all my luggage with me all day.
That night, my muscles were a mess. I actually had charlie horses going off all over my body. It was somewhat disconcerting. I’d had plenty of water to drink. Something else was going on. My sleep was disturbed, too, but I somehow managed a little sleep.
The next morning, when I arrived for satang, the line was twice as long as the day before. While waiting in line, I began to journal some of my thoughts. Again, I was determined to speak to Mooji. I wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass again as I had yesterday. I wanted to get everything I could out of this experience. I had paid dearly and I felt like it was a matter of life or death. I wanted so desperately to say:
“I’m out of time! I came here as a matter of life and death and the weekend is half over. I feel two opposing forces in me. I feel I am in a vise. There is no room for truth in the ego and there is no room for ego in Truth. When all feels connected, supported, I forget everything else as having been my experience. When I fall from grace, it is as if grace never existed. The two worlds don’t seem to know each other. I came here to wake up, but I could just have easily gone to the beach or something. I could have given this body some pleasure and comfort, but instead, I came here. I’ve spent so much money to come here, but I feel disappointed. Why did I come here?
I don’t want to follow you, Mooji, like others here. I don’t want to need you forever. I want to accept the gift you are offering and go on with my life, whatever it looks like. I don’t want to need you. I want to walk alongside as an equal. If it is as easy as you say, then why are you the only one sitting up there? If it is truly as quick and easy as you say it can be, then why are so many of us choosing to remain in suffering and limitation? And if it takes a stroke of grace, then why the hell aren’t I at the beach enjoying myself instead of trying so damned hard?”
I was so desperate to speak with him that my mind convinced me that I could cut the line because somehow, my desire to be free was more important than a queue. It completely justified itself. It tempted me, “How much do you really want your freedom? If you are serious, then you need to show it!”
So when the queue started to move, I bee-lined for the door ignoring the 50 or so people ahead of me. I still can’t believe I did that! I wasn’t the only one who had tried this maneuver, though. In fact, it happened on day 1 as well, and I thought, “Those people have some nerve!” The venue was more on top of things on day 2 though and had made it impossible for us to push ahead, so I ended up roughly where I would have been anyway. My full lesson on this whole queue-cutting issue came later.
By the time we got inside, I was sitting once more in about the same spot as the day before, but I felt as though I had stolen it. I wanted the chance to speak and publicly declare my selfishness and arrogance and then offer my seat to another who felt the same burning I had felt, but who was not as fortunate to be so close. But I didn’t get the chance at redemption. I had to sit in my “stolen” seat and burn.
I had so many questions arise and fall that I felt as though I had lived a dozen different incarnations during the weekend. Something…or someone…would arise out of nothing, want to be seen and heard, but just as suddenly would cease to exist.
When we broke for lunch, after being reminded to take our things, I left a few things on my seat, unlike the day before, ignoring the announcement to “take everything with you”. Doing so allowed me the freedom to eat in peace without rushing back for a good seat. Actually, I wondered whether they would move everything this time, but with what played out in my head at lunchtime, it started not to matter to me if I had the same seat or not.
After lunch, I found I had again crashed. But this time, it presented as deep shame over what I’d done. I was seriously ashamed at myself for having cut in front of so many people as if I was the only one with a desire to be free, the only one who mattered. I was disgusted with my mind’s ability to rationalize the action to break the queue.
Sure enough, once they reopened the hall, I found they had moved the belongings of the people who had tried to save seats to a table in the back. Tricky devils. So I now found myself about 20 rows back. A giant wave of emotion overtook me as I waited for the satsang to begin, and I ran to the bathroom to stem the violent tears that came out of nowhere.
Once satsang started, something miraculous happened. Through Mooji’s pointing, I was able to let it all go…all my questions, all my stories, all my sins… My heart opened, and I was filled with the most magnificent gratitude I’d ever felt. All I wanted in that moment was to say “Thank you, Mooji! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”
I never wanted the afternoon to end, but of course, it got late. Many people were leaving, probably to catch planes and such. I was grateful that on this night, I had no where to rush off to. I was determined to stay as long as possible and milk every drop from this final day. That’s when a gift came…
With only a few minutes left to Satsang, someone 2nd row center departed. Though it seemed foolish to move for only five or so minutes, I did. Wow! It was even more powerful. Now I understood why people fought for those seats.
Mooji greeted people afterward but I couldn’t get close enough to meet him myself. I could have hung around and perhaps done so after an hour, but I was tired. And I knew he wouldn’t hang around all night to see each and every person waiting. I found myself walking back to my bus stop. My mind was going back and forth…am I missing my chance to meet him? But I trusted where my body was carrying me and let it go. I was at peace with it. I had received so much already, and I knew this was a gift that would keep on giving.
That night, I had the most beautiful dream full of love.
At the airport on the way home, I had arrived to the gate and boarding had already started. I went right through and onto the airplane. I was shocked to find the airplane mostly empty. Only then did I realize that I had boarded “priority” for no reason at all. I wondered why all those people were looking at me funny, but it simply didn’t sink in. Now I understood my lesson.
The difference is that many of the people that cut the Mooji queue may have done so without realizing what they were doing. I on the other hand did it with complete self-serving intention. I may have convinced myself that it was my desperation and will to awaken, that I was fishing for grace to grant me some boon. At the airport, however, I got to board my plane early as a direct act of grace. It was an accidental action from which I benefited. Cutting the queue was a stinky, egoic act whereas I was carried by a river to board the plane early. It is this river that I want to trust with my life…that I wish I had trusted in satsang.
Two days after the weekend, back at home, I had an ecstatic feeling sweep over me…something I’ve had before but not felt for a very, very long time. It’s sweetness and vibration was indescribable. I knew it would pass, so I gave into it and got as much as I could out of it while it stuck around. Despite the passing of such fleeting sensations, this journey marks a pivot point in my life, a deepening into spiritual maturity and a more peaceful daily life as well as a quickened path to acceptance of what is.
My two biggest lessons of the weekend: I am there before every thought, every sensation, every action and life is kinder and wiser than the mind imagines.