Virus and Vaccine

Virus and Vaccine

I meditate. I take deep breaths. I bring my attention to my body and notice the subtle shifting and pulsing that is present in me. My throat feels constricted and my heart beat quickens for a few seconds. I know what I want to say but I don’t know how to say it. I want to be helpful and I want to offer resources that support personal growth but I feel uncomfortably ill equipped to teach…but this is the truth of where I am. COVID is still present in our communities and in our psyches. It has also exposed a deeper even more virulent and difficult to detect virus, RACISM. Our sheltering in place restrictions have loosened, and I have invited friends over to my house to have social distancing dinner, but I can’t help but think as I engage and try to relax with friends, do you have the virus? How do I really know if the virus is present in someone?  What about the virus of racism? Do you have it? Do I?

I have learned a new word – ANTIRACIST. I googled, anti-racist practices. The first site to come up was the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, with an opening quote from Angela Y Davies, political activist, philosophe

r and author;

“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist.”

I have never thought of myself as racist. How could I be? After all, I am a person of color. I married a black man and have children who identify as black. I have personally experienced vicious hatred because of the color of my skin and the way I was dressed. When the bo

ys were little, six and two years old, my parents, the boys and I enjoyed a wonderful meal at an Indian restaurant for dinner after visiting the temple. We were dressed in our beautiful Indian clothing. As we left the restaurant and were walking to the car, two white young men started yelling and screaming loudly at us to go home to our own country, raising their arms shouting with profanity that we didn’t belong in America. I was paralyzed w

ith rage, fear and confusion. It really sunk in for me that some people might view me as “not American”. Fast forward a decade, during a vacation in a small town in northern California with family friends, my older son, who had just graduated high school, was walking alongside a lake road in the middle of the afternoon with his childhood friend who is white, petite and blond. A police car trolled alongside of them for about 15 minutes before speeding off. He said it made him self-conscious, like he was being put on notice. Even now, I am always aware of my skin color, and I always look around the room, any room I am in, for people who share my skin color. So I can’t be racist right? In his book, How to Be an Antiracist, Ibram X Kendi, offers this definition of racist;

RACIST: One who is su

pporting a racist policy through their actions or inaction or expressing a racist idea.

By that definition, I am racist. The path of my childhood was far from the traditional American experience, but nonetheless, born in Wisconsin, and having lived there until I was 11 years old, I preferred white over my brown skin. I played with the white, blonde, narrow bodied Barbies of that era and learned what it meant to be beautiful, and I was not it. I rejected my Indian upbringing and wanted to hide my heritage around my white friends. I was in 3rd grade when busing made my all white (except for me and one other Indian kid) elementary school speckled with more black and brown faces. But even then, I have known, benefited fro

m and supported white privilege. I am a racist because even now I worry about offending white people by raising the issue of race. I am guilty of having to

ld my boys to take off their hoods when wearing sweatshirts, or pull up their low hanging pants, so that someone white wouldn’t feel intimidated by their teenage tallness and blackness. I have supported the status quo. I am a racist because of my inaction on the topic of racism.

I do feel regret for my racist beliefs, but I also feel emboldened and grateful, because now there are tools. I have mindfulness, and that allows me to see more past my habitual conditioning. I heave learned through meditation, to question my thoughts, to see their deep roots, which in turn depersonalizes and destabilizes the potency of the underlying false belief. I learn to practice turning towards my discomfort and sit with it instead of rejecting it by pushing it away. I turn towards myself with compassion, instead of blame and judgemen

t. And now for the first time in my life, there is enough critical mass of pain and discomfort to make me want to no longer be racist. The opposite of racist is antiracist.

ANTIRACIST: One who is supporting an antiracist policy through their actions or expressing an antiracist idea. ~ Ibram X Kendi

To me, with mindfulness, I can and want to become antiracist. I began writing this morning, nervous and feeling hesitant about what to say, afraid to take on the complex and shameful topic of racism. But now I feel relaxed and even a little happy because by sharing with you, I have taken one more step in vaccinating myself against virulent virus – racism. If you would like to explore this with me, I am beginning to read Ibram X Kendi’s book, How to be Antiracist, and welcome open discussion with you.

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Finding Refuge

Turn towards your refuge.

Last night I had a conversation with a dear friend and dharma sister, and as I recounted and shared with her all that has been happening with me in my personal world and the collective larger world, I realized a few things; emotional pain is present and I feel steady and calm . Both are true and exist simultaneously. It was a non-binary moment, where I wasn’t feeling either one way or another, both feeling/mind states were present.

Without my yoga and dharma practice, I swing from one thought to another, from one emotion to another, and why wouldn’t I? Our nervous system and conditioning is by default built for this. The images and verbal clashes of protests against racial injustices continue to land in my body, but so does the beautiful and hopeful celebrations of graduating seniors everywhere. The fires we worry about each year here in Northern California have begun, and I hugged my friend and it felt good. The emotional fatigue of processing all of this takes a toll.

Philosopher Shri Nisargadatta, so beautifully said, “the mind creates the abyss and the heart crosses it”. 

In times like these I am reminded to turn towards my suffering. I reach with my heart for the beautiful teaching of the three jewels; the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. This teaching, pulls me out of the interpretations and views of life in the ordinary, binary elements of good/bad, like/don’t like, want/don’t want, and gives me something to orient towards, essentially buddha-nature. It formulates the universal truths, the dharma, to guide me through the confusion that arises, and then it reveals the love and support of the collective beings that have come before me and walk alongside me, the sangha, in this lifetime.  For me it is the place where the heart takes refuge.

What is your refuge? Where do you turn for wisdom, truth and loving support?

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Save the World and Floss

Save the world…

I don’t remember the name of the meditation teacher who shared the story of this coffee mug, nor have I ever actually seen a coffee mug with these words, but the idea of its existence with its pithy motto has made a deep and lasting impression on me. Imagine a coffee mug, of some size and color, sitting on a desk with the following words,

 

Things to do today- Save the World and Floss

It is true. Our lives weave together these two realms; the BIG picture and small personal self. Back and forth, our thoughts, desires, conscious and unconscious behaviors and actions swing between these two domains. The first is the macrocosm, the world, made up of political, social and economic systems and institutions, while the latter is the microcosm, the individual, the unit, the personal identity. The inter-play of forces between the macro and microcosm are there in every moment, and in everything. At times it feels like there is a huge divide between the world out there and our personal circumstances and other times it’s all smooshed together. So many people have shared with me the dissonance they feel, how their personal realities of COVID and sheltering in place are not the experience of the “others” they see on the news, people whose livelihoods and families have been annihilated by the virus. Sometimes, it is the opposite. A person living in a private hell realm, while the rest of the world goes about its business unaffected. Both of these scenarios ring true. Then there is when both the individual and the collective are imploding, disintegrating and or deconstructing itself. This has been my reality this past week. It has been a week of deep grief and loss, on all fronts and I am on the floor, hurt, and exhausted.

In 1936 F. Scott Fitzgerald published a series of autobiographical essays called “The Crack-up” in Esquire magazine. In it he began,

“Of course all life is a process of breaking down, but the blows that do the dramatic side of the work—the big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside—the ones you remember and blame things on and, in moments of weakness, tell your friends about, don’t show their effect all at once. There is another sort of blow that comes from within—that you don’t feel until it’s too late to do anything about it, until you realize with finality that in some regard you will never be as good a man again. The first sort of breakage seems to happen quick—the second kind happens almost without your knowing it but is realized suddenly indeed.”

There is definitely a breaking down, institutionally and personally, I see it. In Sanskrit there is a word ‘Lila’ (pronounced leela), to represent the cosmic play or sport of the Gods. I imagine our beloved blue planet as a ball being tossed back and forth between two divine beings, while all the world’s humans are being upended and thrown about with the back and forth play of the ball. The United States death toll from COVID has exceeded 100,000, the overt examples of the insidiousness of racism, the collapse of businesses, climate chaos in the world….the list goes on and on. However, Fitzgerald adds,

“the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”

Ah yes! Once again, I can come back to yoga for solace and guidance. The Yama-s and Niyama-s that I have mentioned to you before are exactly the prescription for this world gone crazy. It is the ladder that we can use to climb out of the dysfunction that we are habitually supporting. Master teacher BKS Iyengar said it so beautifully when he wrote in Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,

when man becomes unbalanced, he seeks to change not himself but his environment, in order to create the illusion that he is enjoying health and harmony.” He goes on to say, “The student of yoga learns to balance himself internally at every level, physical, emotional, mental, frees himself from this hellish to-ing and fro-ing and lives in harmony with the natural world. Because he is stable, he can adapt to outside changes. The flexibility we gain in asana is the living symbol of the suppleness we gain in relation to life’s problems and challenges.”

The yama-s are the ethical guidelines to use to navigate the spaces between the individual and the collective. They are often stated in the negative form, but here I would like to present my understanding of them in the positive. They are life affirming (ahimsa), penetrating truth (satya), empowering through generosity (asteya), conservation of resources (brahmacharya) and happiness from simplicity (aparigraha). By cultivating these qualities in ourselves in all circumstances it keeps us trained inward and not looking outward to blame and judge others. The niyama-s are the personal practices that further support the development of the yama-s. They are purity of thought and action (sauca), nurturing contentment (santosa), heat of transformation (tapas) the study of oneself (svadhyaya) and seeing the divine in all beings (Ishavra pranidhana).

Recent personal losses and tragedies in the world have me reeling. It feels like the beginning lines of Yeats’ poem, The Second Coming,

Turning and turning in the widening gyre  
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

When these conditions arise, I take the advice I so often give others – turn inward, get quiet, listen to the heart. I am in need of some retreat time. Therefore, this next week I will have a reduced class schedule, which will allow me to turn inward, to investigate and nurture myself in the ways that I know support me and uphold my way of being in the world. I trust that you too will continue to do the tough work of uncovering the layers of conditioning that keep us entrenched in habits that are doing harm to ourselves and others.

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Honoring Memorial Day 2020

Memorial day reflection…

For my international friends, Memorial day in the United States is the day set aside to honor the fallen service-members of the military. This Memorial Day, 2020, is set against the backdrop unlike any other I have known in my lifetime. I pause to honor with my thoughts and heart those who have served in the armed forces and have bravely died. For twenty years I was a military spouse. I can easily recall the Air Force dedication to the core values of “integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do”. The Service-members of the United States armed forces have honor and morality deeply etched into their being. My heart also opens to those who served any length of time, and to those who are still serving, for they too sacrifice so much for the moral mission. And then of course I think of the families who have loved and grieved for their military loved ones. My heart melts with compassion.

There was another Memorial Day, 2002, that awoke a collective remembrance of valor and honor. Our remembrances expanded to include the first-responders and the great loss of our fellow citizens. Looking back at a New York Times article from 18 years ago, these words feel prickly but also resonant today.

 “On this particular Memorial Day, it is also worth wondering what we have asked of ourselves since Sept. 11. Have we asked only that we be allowed to heal, to get on with our lives, to return to normalcy? Or is there something more we might demand of ourselves and each other?

Here we are today, and once again, the compassion flows as we further expand our remembrance to include again all the first-responders and daily medical personnel who are bravely, tirelessly working to tend to the sick and dying. The magnitude of the loss of life globally to this pandemic astounds. As everyone is having frank conversations about what life will be like as we re-open the economy and what it will look like to relax some of the quarantine mandates that we’ve been living with these past two months, it is a great moment to pause. In a newsletter I received there was this quote from CEO Dave Hollis.

“In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.”

How do we reflect on that? We can certainly take a lesson from our armed services sisters and brothers and look to our core values.

What really matters to you?

As a yogi and a meditator, I look to the Yamas and Niyamas in the yogic system and the 5 Precepts in the Buddhist ethical system to guide my thoughts, actions and behaviors. I am far from perfect, but I can confirm that it gives me tremendous comfort and clarity to know that I have a framework to rely on when I am unsure of what to do.

Over the course of the next few weeks I will flesh out these ethical frameworks in more detail to show their present-day relevance. Reflecting on our values offers us strength and clarity as I imagine it did and does for all those heroes who are fighting for our freedoms and way of life.

Wishing you all open-heartedness as you pause to remember all heroes this holiday.

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Duck Meditation

Duck Meditation

Many years ago I remember listening to a Tara Brach podcast and in it she shared this poem, The Little Duck, by Donald C Babcock. It’s words and meaning have really stayed with me over time. I don’t exactly remember the particulars of when I first heard the poem, but there must have been some kind of personal chaos happening for it to have struck such a deep chord.  As I take in the current news (in small doses), I am gripped with fear, anxiety and uncertainty. I share the same concerns and worry as my neighbors and community, about balancing the health of the economy with the need to practice safety for the health of us all. However, I am reminded by my yoga and meditation practice to pause before I blame, judge and react. Often when I feel tossed about by circumstances not in my control, I remember the message of the poem and the wisdom to practice duck meditation.

The meditation is a deep enduring practice of equanimity, which to me means finding poise right in the midst of chaos. It can also mean ‘clear seeing’, which implies a spacious and wise understanding into the nature of things. A sort of ‘big picture’ view. Remember the Indian parable of a group of blind people all touching different parts of an elephant and declaring what an elephant is based on the part of the animal they were touching? As we see and hear and experience the events unfolding, is it possible to not only think about our own personal view, but to take in something larger? What equanimity is NOT is indifference or a passive resignation. The main message of the spiritual teaching in the Bhagavad Gita is the practice of equanimity. It is taking action, in accordance with one’s dharma, without being attached to the results of the action. Again, is it possible to think and act in alignment with our principles and values at the same time let go of personal narratives of success and blame depending on the results of action? I am not sharing this with you because I have perfected the practice of equanimity. I share this with you because I am in the blender of life, AND my heart/mind senses the truthfulness of the equanimity practice as a supreme teaching of how to be in this world.

Practice equanimity with me this week…

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Daily Routine

Your daily routine matters.

Let’s be honest…we will be sheltering-in-place for longer than we want. If we use the tools of our yoga and meditation practice then the instruction is to name that discomfort; what Pema Chodron calls the “squeeze”. This is the place where what we want and where we are don’t align. In her very helpful book, ‘When Things Fall Apart’, she explains, “There is a perplexing tension between our aspirations and the reality of feeling tired hungry, stressed out, afraid, bored, angry, or whatever we experience in any given moment of our life.”  That tension is the squeeze. 

Having named the experience as the “squeeze”, it reveals our resistance. The next step is to ask yourself – how do I work with this? There are two parallel tracks to use to work with the squeeze. We can “work” with it formally in our meditation practice and on our mats as we feel our body in motion. I often use the words to my students and to myself,

‘soften into the experience of this moment’. This is a simple yet so challenging practice of coming back, kindly, into the moment just as it is, during meditation or yoga practice. Practicing in this way builds the capacity to be with the ever changing reality that is life.

We can also work with it informally, which equally holds a transformative power. For me, creating a conscious NEW daily routine, that includes taking care of myself physically, emotionally socially and spiritually is my practice for meeting my resistance. We are always creating habits and routines, but naming the squeeze and relating to it kindly, gives the freedom to choose where and how to place the energy intentionally. Otherwise we simply continue to feed the resistance, the addictions, the unconscious patterns of behavior. We see it in ourselves and others, and all over social media in the hilarious memes that are being circulated. Humor is certainly one way to help us see the pattern, the next step is to take action. If you haven’t already created a new daily routine, start now. And if you have changed how your day unfolds, I would love to hear about it! Tell me about your new routine, how is it helping you release the pressure from the squeeze?

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How are you settling into this new normal?

The past few weeks have been exhausting even though I have barely left my home. It has been a blur of activity and nonstop effort on my part to move my life online.

Sundays are the day I typically look at my upcoming week to prioritize what I hope to accomplish, and I can honestly say that this is the first week I feel like I’m settling into a new normal. I am taking in the buds that are flowering all around me; my intoxicating jasmine and heady orange blossoms are telling me that life is still right here. Do your laundry and taxes, cut the grass, and go about the business of living life.

It appears that some of my mental chatter has quietened, my nervous system doesn’t feel quite so out of whack …. is this what it feels like to habituate, to adapt, or dare I say – evolve? It makes me wonder how it is for you. Are you beginning to settle into this new normal?

I have spent many moments on silent retreats working with a group of mind states that are called the “hindrances” in the Buddhist lexicon: restlessness, dullness, wanting and not wanting, and doubt. Whatever breakthroughs or insights I have ever had occurred when these mind states were not actively draining my energy. In the absence of the hindrances, there was spacious clarity, everything was okay. I remember hearing Joseph Goldstein in a dharma talk saying that every time he thought he had a problem, he decided he didn’t. This week feels like the mind state is shifting with softer edges and less pressure.

The thing is, even the word, hindrances, carries with it a feeling of “badness”, like it shouldn’t be there. But it is there…. sometimes…. and sometimes it’s not. It comes and it goes, and It’s all part of this life. Recognizing and seeing the states of mind is part of the mindfulness practice. Allowing life to be as it is, reminds me not to make it bad and wrong when it is present. It also reminds me, as I am seeing right now, that the human body, mind, and spirit adapt. Everything in us yearns and wants to move toward balance and ease. How are you supporting or placing hindrances to that natural current that wants to be expressed?

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We’ve been training for this….

At some point in your yoga and meditation journey, you have had moments of discomfort…

and you were asked to reflect, how are you relating to the discomfort that is right here in the moment? Where is it living in your body? Is it possible to meet the experience with kindness and compassion?

It wasn’t a test then and it isn’t a test now my friends. On our mats and on our cushions it was the training exercise that builds our capacity to be with what is uncomfortable. And we are definitely working with our discomfort personally, and globally. The question is still the same, how are you meeting yourself when the waves of discomfort arise?

As difficult as it may seem to access the peace, ease and/or connection to others that you felt after a yoga class or a meditation, now is not the time to abandon your practice. Instead, get closer to yourself, find opportunities to reinvest in your mindfulness path, whether through movement or stillness. The desire to connect with one another is not wrong but our familiar ways of connecting with another are being challenged, find new ways to connect!

Every day since the shelter-in-place advisement came, I have read “A Poem for My Daughter” by Teddy Macker. The poem opens with “It seems we have made pain some kind of mistake, like having it is somehow wrong. Don’t let them fool you – pain is a part of things…” Later in the poem he says, “Life appears to be fundamentally ambiguous. Wily, everycolored, unpindownable. For evidence of this, spend time with trees. Over and over they say, there is no final word.” This is a profound teaching in this time. If there is no beginning and there is no end, then there is only now…Let’s be together in this moment.

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Yoga Teacher Training – Is it right for you?

Yoga Teacher Training – How do you know if it’s right for you?

Let’s say you love the way you feel after practicing yoga and you’ve been doing it fairly consistently for a while. You hear about a yoga teacher training and you wonder, should I do that? Could I? Do I really want to teach yoga? Let’s pause here and explore these questions….

There is loving yoga and then there is LOVING yoga. Do you enjoy the occasional class or do you feel a commitment to making it onto your mat consistently? A good teacher training program is a deep dive into the practice of yoga, with a lot of time, sweat and even tears involved. It’s not that you have to give up your life to practice yoga or do a teacher training, but its important that you enjoy and love this practice enough to make a commitment to developing and growing in it.

This is a picture of me with my very first yoga teacher, Mr. Narayana Pillai. He planted the seeds that I have nurtured for almost two decades! I am forever grateful for his teachings.

Shop around and make sure that the training program length suits your schedule, temperament and learning style. There are so many teacher-training programs available that you will find one that is right for you. You may be drawn to an exciting and adventurous one month immersion yoga study abroad, and come back a yoga teacher! On the other hand, that kind of intensive study may not be aligned with how you learn best. Consider what is the ideal learning environment for you. One weekend a month, like the Bend Yoga Teacher Training program, might be suitable if you would like to integrate the teachings into your daily life and at a slower pace.

The historical roots of yoga come from India, but much of it has been adapted, blended and evolved into how you are practicing today. Generally speaking, in the west, the physical practice of postures is the element most emphasized as being yoga. But when you invest into a teacher training program, you will be exposed to much more than studying poses. You will study anatomy, yoga philosophy and learning a new language; Sanskrit words but also the language of cuing in a class.

This exposure to the multi-faceted yoga path directs the yogi (person who practices yoga) to turn inward. There is a good amount of self-reflection, and personal inquiry built into the teacher training program. Based on the love and commitment you are making to growing in the path, there is also an element of willingness to be vulnerable and to do the inner work. Teacher training is not about making you a better or different person, its about using the wisdom of yoga to deepen your personal connection with yourself. This might involve change, but it could also be a clarification or validation of the truth of who you are.

All this talk of change and vulnerability is daunting. But the good news is that you gain a yoga family when you commit to a teacher training program. Unlike your biological family, you get to choose your yoga family, so make sure you like them! Get to know your teachers, their philosophy and style of teaching. Having a personal connection to your teachers of the program speaks to the essence of the teacher-student (guru-shishya) relationship.

Lastly, at the end of teacher training program you will have gained all of the knowledge, skills and support to teach and share this practice with others. But you don’t have to. Many people take a teacher training program to enhance their own personal practice. Some people make the investment as a career supplement, and some go on to teach full time. You don’t have to decide or know that you are going to teach yoga when you start the program, if you have all of the above qualities/interests.

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Coming home after travel to exotic lands, people ask me, how was your trip? How do I answer that question? Most of the time, with a quick, “It was great!”.  Sadly this does not give the person asking the question any real information at all.  How do I communicate the essence of the experience? How do I find the words to share the many subtle ways in which I have come home a different person? Do I even fully comprehend how this journey to distant places has planted within me the seeds for new and profound changes? At the moment, I see the seasonal quality of my life. When I left home, it was winter in my homeland and in my heart, and now there is a tingle of hope and little buds of excitement for whatever comes is new and promises change…

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