Strange Fruits

I live a life in Spanglish, surrounded by exotic flowers, bright colors, blooming nature. Here are some of the things I eat regularly now. Ten years ago, prior to moving to Guatemala, I either didn’t know these existed or rarely to never ate them:

  1. Platano (Plantain)
  2. banana tree under blue cloudy sky
  3. Granadilla (Passionfruit)
  4. Papaya
  5. Freshly cut pineapple
  6. Pitaya (Dragonfruit)
  7. Tomate de Artbol (Tree tomato)
  8. Avocado (3 for a dollar)
  9. Cacao (Pure chocolate)
  10. Chia (Chan)
  11. Amaranto (Amaranth)
  12. Pepitoria (pumpkin seeds)
  13. Habas (lima beans)
  14. Kombucha/Jun tea
  15. Maracuya
  16. Bee pollen

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5 Ways to Find Balance & Bliss in Daily Life

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Our past does not have to define or confine us. We have the power to choose, now, in this moment, to say YES or NO or MAYBE. We have the power to affect our present and future, yet the wisdom to know that there are many things outside the realm of our control.

Finding our balance is lifelong work. If we were perfectly balanced all the time, that wouldn’t be much fun, would it? We wouldn’t appreciate the times when we find balance because there would be nothing to compare it to, no growth, just a stagnant, too-easy, status-quo balance.

Here are some wonderful ways to cultivate more balance and wellness into our daily lives:

1) When you wake up every day, repeat this Shantideva verse three times (Pema Chodron swears by it):

Just as all the Buddhas of the past
Embraced the awakened attitude of mind,
And in the precepts of the bodhisattvas
Step by step abode and trained,
Just so, and for the benefit of beings,
I will also have this attitude of mind,
And in those precepts, step by step,
I will abide and train myself.

Bodhisattvas are human beings who strive to benefit all beings (including themselves) and choose to stay in the human realm helping inspire everyone to achieve enlightenment. The precepts include a long list of things to avoid (killing, stealing, etc.), the Buddhist version of the ten commandments. What it all boils down to is cultivating openness, honesty, compassion, loving kindness and equanimity. 

2) Be in touch with reality. Remember the simple truths of life: everything changes; be kind and grateful as much as possible; eat things and consume ideas that are wholesome, nourishing, and in alignment with nature.

3) Be in touch with your breath, taking time each day for some yoga and meditation practice, and always cultivating loving relationships with self, family, friends and ultimately all beings and things.

4) Choose to slow down, shed toxicity and be patient. Awareness of how our minds and bodies and hearts work is the first step. Acceptance is the next. And, simultaneously, striving to improve, to be more disciplined yet more spontaneous, more natural and open. I know it’s paradoxical to be content with how things are in this moment and to set goals and achieve them. Life is full of paradox!

Thanks for reading! May this article be of benefit. Please pass it along to someone who could use it, if so inspired!

Happy Anniversary, Sanity!

pexels-photo.jpgThirteen years ago, I was locked up.

I was 24 years old in Austin, Texas. A bright, blossoming wounded made up girl-person flung far from the bleak overcast of depression or the jagged broken-record of anxiety. I was HIGH and flying ever higher. No one could stop me. I was a rainbow technicolor butterfly emerging from her chrysalis stupor. I was on fire, passionately delusional. I was all over town, dancing on tabletops. In and out of consciousnesses, enjoying nonstop religious experiences. I felt invincible and acted boldly. I was out of my mind. I was a puppet starlet drama queen going places: India, California, everywhere.

At the aptly named Flipnotics Coffeehouse on Barton Springs Road on April 16, 2005, the shit hit the fan. Long story short, I was taken away in handcuffs by the police to the psych ward, where they brought me back down to Earth with a thud and a plethora of prescriptions psychotropics, tranquilizers, chairs with straps and staff in white uniforms to do the strapping. Yet, in ten (long) days, I was released.

That was thirteen years ago.

These days, I am celebrating sanity, but more than that, I am celebrating life, freedom and yoga. I am grateful for all the people, places and lessons of those times in my tumultuous mid-twenties and since. I am welcoming everything, whatever may come, whether pleasure, success, tragedy or death.

I am celebrating my choice not to take the doctors’ orders and “just take two of these pills a day”. I am celebrating my choice to exit the box and settle well outside of it, surrounded by wildflowers, kittens, scattered toys, piles of books and notebooks, coffee trees, three volcanoes and a sparkling lake.

The Poetry of Retreat

Wake up well before dawn.

Set an alarm, just in case. I don’t want to miss a moment of the five a.m. sadhana.

Under the veil of darkness, stroll along the starlit, lapping lake to the candlelit temple where White Tara beams down upon us all every day and night.

Location: Sumaya, which means “a long awaited dream come true”; a.k.a. paradise found.

Akasha shares his personal practice with us, in such a down-to-earth, accessible and friendly way. Casually imparts the wisdom of years and decades of practice. So humbly, with the authenticity of actions and the nebulous precision of words. The time flies by.

Breathing, chanting, moving, holding, listening. Paying attention.

Sun rises, pastels paint the sky. We invite the morning light. The lake’s daily awakening. All the sounds, the water, the boat motors, voices, birdsong.

And now, a series of seven-minute chants. I read from the sheet and marvel at all the people in the room who has these long strings of Sanskrit syllables memorized.

Mid-morning Ashtanga practice. Powerful. Right effort. Knowing boundaries, challenging limits. Mountain men and women gaining strength, vitality. Soaking up inspiration from our teacher and his teacher’s teachers.

Just one week, and yet we go so deep, transforming energy on all levels. Strangers swiftly become sangha, friendships are forged over meals and spirit animal tarot cards.

Healing circle, full moon, New Year’s Eve evening; glowing hearts, positive energy, splendid synergy. Giving and receiving.

Inner transformation, outward evolution. Deep bow of gratitude, dream come true. The closing of one chapter leads to the opening of the next.

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Thank you. I love you. Please forgive me. I’m sorry. Namaste.

The Yoga of Yawning

By Michelle Fajkus & Charles MacInerney

{Read the full, original post on Elephant Journal}

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Only we humans, conditioned to be polite, suppress our urge to yawn. Our suppression of a natural, healthy, physical urge is actually detrimental to our health.

Yawning is an ancient and vitally important reflex. Human fetuses begin to yawn and pandiculate (stretching and yawning at the same time) during the 12th week of pregnancy. All vertebrates yawn—humans, primates, mammals, marsupials, birds, reptiles.

There is a misconception that yawning implies boredom, disinterest, or tiredness. Yawning helps us transition from wakefulness to sleeping at night, and it also helps us transition from sleeping to wakefulness in the morning. Yawning increases circulation of cerebrospinal fluid and plays a role in arousal. Yawning also helps us relax and reduce our stress levels, which is why Olympic athletes are often seen yawning prior to competition.

I (Charles) began taking yoga classes in Oxford when I was 11. At the end of the practice, during savasana (corpse pose), I went into a state of deep relaxation. When my teacher closed the class with an Aum chant, I started to yawn. Not wanting to be disrespectful, I tried to suppress the urge and when it got away from me, I covered my mouth.

After class, my teacher advised, “Don’t suppress the urge to yawn. Let it out,” and yawned herself. After that, I indulged in yawn after yawn, until my eyes watered, and I felt alert, calm, and happy.

In a workshop he taught at the Texas Yoga Retreat last fall in Austin, I (Michelle) witnessed the humorous way in which Charles can yawn with his entire body—mouth, arms, legs, fingers, and toes! He encouraged all of us in the class to practice yawning and considers it the perfect yogic “complete breath” and an underutilized form of pranayama. (Charles is one of the main organizers of the annual weekend retreat and always offers a few fun, fascinating workshops.)

The scientific community is just beginning to realize how important yawning is to our overall health and well-being. Repetitive yawning increases the beneficial effects.

Read more

The Trecena of Imox: 13 Days of Inspiration

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Happy new now! Today is the first day of the rest of your life — and of the Trecena of Imox in the Mayan Calendar.

The next thirteen days are ripe for creation, flow, trusting the universe, giving and receiving and connecting with the primordial Mother energy through the elements of earth and water. We are living in exciting times of rapid change, expansion of consciousness and development. The flip side of this, of course, is technology overtaking humanity and we, society, destroying our home planet. It’s overwhelmingly scary when the ground beneath us, and our attachment to the concept that “I am in control” is revealed to be an illusion.

According to Birgitte Rasin’s book, The Serpent and the Jaguar: “On Imox days, the Maya give thanks, ask for rain and water, and pray that their dreams and visions bring them beauty and wisdom rather than delusions and madness.” During these two weeks, the energy is ripe for us to “dive into the vast ocean of ideas, concepts, dreams and possibilities and possibilities” that Imox brings in droves.

The spirit animals of the Imox sign are the crocodile, dragon, dolphin and all sea creatures. The shadow side of this nahual is distrust and these days can often be challenging for those of us who prefer routine, stability, predictability.

The Mayan Oracle by Spilsbury and Bryner reports that Imox “represents the root source of life, the nurturance and support of primary being, and within it are found the primal waters of unity.” Imox is a feminine sign, unstable, creative, inspiring, dramatic and exciting. The number of Imox is one and its color is burgundy. Some Mayans and scholars of the Mayan cosmovision consider today, 1 Imox, to mark the beginning of a new 260-day cycle (13 trecenas times 20 nahuales = 260).

This poem, “Boast of Quietness” by Jorge Luis Borges, burst off the page of a book I picked up yesterday, and I want to share it with you now in closing.

Cheers, and enjoy this ride through Imox!

Writings of light assault the darkness, more prodigious than meteors.
The tall unknowable city takes over the countryside.
Sure of my life and my death, I observe the ambitious and would like to understand them.
Their day is greedy as a lariat in the air.
Their night is a rest from the rage within steel, quick to attack.
They speak of humanity.
My humanity is in feeling we are all voices of the same poverty.
They speak of homeland.
My homeland is the rhythm of a guitar, a few portraits, an old sword, the willow grove’s visible prayer as evening falls. 
Time is living me.
More silent than my shadow, I pass through the loftily covetous multitude.
They are indispensable, singular, worthy of tomorrow.
My name is someone and anyone.
I walk slowly, like one who comes from so far away he doesn’t expect to arrive.

 

Not Eating Animals

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“We need to change our way of thinking and seeing things. We need to realise that the Earth is not just our environment. The Earth is not something outside of us. Breathing with mindfulness and contemplating your body, you realise that you are the Earth. You realise that your consciousness is also the consciousness of the Earth. Look around you–what you see is not your environment, it is you.”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh

I became a vegetarian in college, inspired by my studies of yogic philosophy. To become vegetarian in Texas, the barbecue capital of the world, in the year 2001 was neither easy nor deemed acceptable by many of my relatives, friends and acquaintances. Nevertheless, I was a strict vegetarian (not vegan) for about ten years before backsliding into an omnivore I humorously labeled “flexitarian” — which basically meant I would eat meat on occasion, usually when on vacation in rural Colombia or Guatemala, where choosing not to eat chicken is totally unheard of.

Like the author of Eating Animals, an excellent, disturbing, inspiring and eye-opening book on industrialized agriculture and factory farming, my family and I would eat meat “only whenever we felt like it.”

I read Eating Animals a few months ago and it immediately inspired me to renew my vows as a strict vegetarian. I want nothing to do with the cruelty, torture and greed that is factory farming. Choosing not to eat meat that comes from factory farms is the first, most obvious step. Attempting to inspire others to make this choice is my duty as a writer and conscious human being, though I accept that I can only attempt to inspire. Only you can make the choice to change your consumption behavior. Perhaps cutting out all meat is unrealistic. Even cutting back by 50%, when done on a large scale by millions of people, will make a significant difference to our Mother Earth.

Here are some key quotes from Jonathan Safran Foer’s book (published in 2009), which inspired the production of a documentary that came out in 2017:

  • “Just how destructive does a culinary preference have to be before we decide to eat something else? If contributing to the suffering of billions of animals that live miserable lives and (quite often) die in horrific ways isn’t motivating, what would be? If being the number one contributor to the most serious threat facing the planet (global warming) isn’t enough, what is? And if you are tempted to put off these questions of conscience, to say not now, then when?”
  • “Perhaps in the back of our minds we already understand, without all the science I’ve discussed, that something terribly wrong is happening. Our sustenance now comes from misery. We know that if someone offers to show us a film on how our meat is produced, it will be a horror film. We perhaps know more than we care to admit, keeping it down in the dark places of our memory– disavowed. When we eat factory-farmed meat we live, literally, on tortured flesh. Increasingly, that tortured flesh is becoming our own.”
  • “It shouldn’t be the consumer’s responsibility to figure out what’s cruel and what’s kind, what’s environmentally destructive and what’s sustainable. Cruel and destructive food products should be illegal. We don’t need the option of buying children’s toys made with lead paint, or aerosols with chlorofluorocarbons, or medicines with unlabeled side effects. And we don’t need the option of buying factory-farmed animals.”
  • “Something having been done just about everywhere just about always is no kind of justification for doing it now.”
  • “Choosing leaf or flesh, factory farm or family farm, does not in itself change the world, but teaching ourselves, our children, our local communities, and our nation to choose conscience over ease can.”

I highly recommend reading this book. It’s not an easy read, and there were some particularly grisly descriptions of animal treatment that I had to skim over. Yet, it’s an important book to read and one that I wish every person on the planet would take the time to peruse.

“We need to consume in such a way that keeps our compassion alive. And yet many of us consume in a way that is very violent. Forests are cut down to raise cattle for beef, or to grow grain for liquor, while millions in the world are dying of starvation. Reducing the amount of meat we eat and alcohol we consume by 50% is a true act of love for ourselves, for the Earth and for one another. Eating with compassion can already help transform the situation our planet is facing, and restore balance to ourselves and the Earth.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

Love What You Do; Do What You Love

“Every day, think as you wake up, today I am fortunate to be alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others; to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others. I am going to benefit others as much as I can.”
~ Dalai Lama XIV

I get up in the morning and love that I woke up for another day of life on this amazing planet.

Despite the ache in my left shoulder blade and the fact that I will someday die, I can still go stand outside and listen to the birds sing, the wind rustling the leaves of the trees.

Love triumphs.

I don’t love washing the dishes, but I love having a clean kitchen so the inconvenience of washing the dishes becomes worth it.

The more presence and awareness I bring to each moment, each task, each conversation, each breath… the better I function. Trying to multitask just results in a bunch of things done with mediocrity.

I love to write. I love to read. I love to listen to music. I love to dance when I’m by myself. I love to gaze at flowers and the lake and volcanoes and sky. I love to hang out with my girl and my man. I love a free afternoon. I love coffee, chai, getting to work and having a productive morning. I love chocolate and yoga. I love love. I love me. I love you. I love Life.

I used to not love what I was doing. With my career, in my relationships. Once I realized this, I made changes. Small and big changes, over a long period of time, that have led me to where I am today. Which is nowhere. And everywhere. And the ideal place for me in this moment.

May all beings be love and be loved!

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