5 Ways to Find Balance & Bliss in Daily Life

pexels-photo-133372.jpeg

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!
Advertisements

Dedicating the Merit of our Practice

sambhogakaya-buddha-56a0c54b5f9b58eba4b3acf3

(Read the original on elephant journal)

The other day, I stood alone in the temple in front of an altar full of a stunningly beautiful and potent mandala of crystals, Tibetan singing bowls, and Buddhas.

As I breathed with my palms together in prayer in front of my heart and wished that the journey my family and I are about to embark upon be safe, peaceful, and joyous, for one brief second my mind was clear and radiant.

I realized that this wish for myself and the two beings closest to me (my husband and daughter) was simultaneously a wish for all beings without exception. The pure and simple aspiration, “May the journey of all beings be safe, peaceful, healthy, and happy” welled up from that indescribable source that lies within each of us and is ever surrounding us all.

Dedicating the merit is fundamental to all meditation. It is absolutely essential and not to be overlooked. Here is an example of a dedication of merit you can recite at the end of your practice:

May the earth be wholesome everywhere
The world blessed with prosperity
May the poor and destitute find wealth
And the stooping animals be freed

May every being ailing with illness
Find relief at once from suffering
May all the sickness that afflict the living
Be instantly and permanently healed

May those who go in dread, have no more fear,
May captives be unchained and set free,
And may the weak now become strong,
May living beings help each other in kindness.

May travelers upon the road,
Find happiness no matter where they go,
And may they gain, without hardship,
The goals on which their hearts are set.

From the songs of birds and the sighing of trees,
From the shafts of light and from the sky itself,
May living beings, each and every one,
Perceive the constant sound of Dharma.

~ Shantideva

Airplane Meditation

{original post on elephant journal}

planesky

I’ve always loved flying.

As a girl, I would have dreams of flying, floating above the earth, having been gifted the ability to lift myself and defy gravity, slowly levitating further and further up into the treetops—and higher, looking down upon the earth below without fear.

My first plane trip was as a toddler when my mom took me to California. I don’t remember it consciously, but perhaps that experience lent itself to my lifelong fascination with air travel.

At age 14, I boarded a plane alone for the first time—again to California—to visit a close friend who had moved there. I remember looking down upon the land, so in awe of the shades of green, the yellow and brown patterns of the fields, the tiny cars on city highways, and the hills and mountains we passed over. I remember the amazing feeling of being in the fluffy white clouds, careening as if magically through the vast blue sky.

I’ve taken countless plane trips since then, and I’m always awed by the experience—especially the liftoff and ascension into the sky.

I recently came across this intriguing “meditation for the jet-set,” in a book by Osho. Whether you love flying or feel anxiety around it, may this guided technique be of benefit!

“When gravitation is less, and the earth is very far away, many pulls of the earth are far away. You are far away from the corrupted society that man has built. You are surrounded by clouds and the stars and the moon and the sun and the vast space. So do one thing: start feeling one with that vastness and do it in three steps.

The first step is: for a few minutes just think that you are becoming bigger…you are filling the whole plane. Then, the second step: start feeling that you are becoming even bigger, bigger than the plane—in fact, the plane is now inside you.

And, the third step: feel that you have expanded into the whole sky. Now these clouds that are moving and the moon and the stars—they are moving in you. You are huge, unlimited. This feeling will become your meditation, and you will feel completely relaxed and non-tense.” ~ Osho, Meditation: The First and Last Freedom

Step out of the Bureaucracy of Ego

Chakra 7thI’ve been thinking a lot about escape lately—and the comforts of home.

Escape is a myth, an illusion. There is no escape. This is it. Here we are.

Yet, paradoxically, there are many escapes—even more than the good old standards like binge-drinking, drug use, overeating, sex, TV, caffeine, and shopping. Reading, writing, and speaking just to hear oneself talk can all be forms of escape. Even yoga and meditation can serve as escapes and feed our addictive personalities.

“It is important to see that the main point of any spiritual practice is to step out of the bureaucracy of ego. This means stepping out of ego’s constant desire for a higher, more spiritual, more transcendental version of knowledge, religion, virtue, judgment, comfort, or whatever it is that the particular ego is seeking.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism

I have created a comfortable home. I have an awesome life—which is not to say that I don’t have struggles and stresses—but, my struggles and stresses have evolved and diminished incredibly due to the lifestyle I have chosen to live. One of simplicity, natural beauty, mindfulness, and loving kindness.

This life I am currently living has bloomed and flourished thanks to discontent. In my 20s, I was discontent with the standard life I had been conditioned to embrace: the hamster wheel of school, higher education, attainment of degrees, career promotions, two-week vacations, professional existence until retirement, and death.

Even earlier, I was discontent with the dogma I had been conditioned to believe—that I was an “original sinner,” full of faults, needing to confess, repent, and be redeemed or saved. That Jesus was the perfect, white-skinned, blue-eyed son of God, crucified for my sake. I was discontent with the contents of my mind, my moodiness, my manic depression, my irrational anxiety, my being told to just take one of these pills every day to make the pain go away.

Now, it’s clear to see that my discontent was a great gift.

Keep reading

Collected Writings 2010-2017

51hV0yux+mLMoving abroad eight years ago was a rebirth for me.

The choice to uproot from my home country, the United States of America, and plant new seeds in my host country, Guatemala, suddenly changed my whole life and lifestyle.

I was bestowed with the best gift of all: time. I used my newfound abundance of this magical time and mental space to focus on my personal yoga and meditation practice—and to hone my writing skills. I started this very blog on WordPress in early 2010. In October of that year, I crossed my fingers and submitted my very first article for publication on Elephant Journal. (I’m so grateful that they accepted it and hundreds more since!)

Over the years, I’ve maintained my passion for yoga and writing, though of course both practices have fluctuated over time and with the influence of life, work, partnership, parenthood and all the little moments that make up our days.

I’m delighted to present my latest e-book offering: The Best of Yoga Freedom. These collected blog posts and essays from the past seven years deal with everything from developing and deepening spiritual practice to stories of shame and sexual healing to heart advice on long-term partnerships and healthy, simple lifestyle choices. If you’re new to this site, this is an ideal place to begin.

The book is available on Amazon/Kindle. If you would be interested in reading and writing a review, please connect with me and I will gladly send you a free copy.

Thank you for reading!

{Get your copy of The Best of Yoga Freedom}

4 Favorite Dynamic Dharma Teachings

buddha-meditation

I met the Buddha in Mountain View, California, in the autumn of 2003.

I had achieved my dream of moving from the Lone Star State to the Golden State. I’d been practicing yoga on and off for a decade but had never really delved into meditation outside of my yoga practice.

Shortly after relocating to the Bay Area (also known as the land of endless holistic health opportunities), a simple flyer prompted me to show up to the Mountain View Zen Center group sit one evening with an authentic beginner’s mind.

I sat on a black cushion facing the wall in a quiet room with about 20 other people sitting on black cushions facing the wall. I had no idea what to do, other than sit there and breathe. There was no technique given, no guided meditation or direction, no incense or music.

I remember finding it exceedingly weird to be just sitting and breathing and staring at the white wall. I remember stifling the urge to giggle at times. I remember the near constant stream of thoughts: What am I doing here? How long has it been? How much longer? What if I fart? What am I going to eat for dinner after this? Am I doing this right?

Without further ado, here are a few of my most beloved and life-altering gems of dharma wisdom. May they be of benefit!

1. Life is suffering. Suffering results from clinging. There is a way out. Mindful awareness of the eternal now is the way to peace, wholeness, and bliss.

2. All we need is metta.

Metta is the practice of sending love, friendliness, and kindness to all beings without exception.

May we be safe. May we be happy. May we be healthy. May we live with ease. May we be free.

3. Let go like a warrior.

Spiritual practice is all about letting go of our tendency to constantly dwell in the past and/or the future—and instead, fully embracing the present moment (in which, sometimes, we are recalling memories of the past or making plans and projections for the future).

“Training yourself to be a warrior is learning to rest in basic goodness.” ~ Chögyam Trungpa

4. Reconnect with awareness in every step.

Gratitude is the strongest and most durable foundation for our lives—remembering that each breath is a gift. Life is not about eternal happiness. It is about being real, being here, witnessing and holding space for all that arises. Reflecting, growing, modeling health and genuine humanness. It’s doing the inner work each day so that our light can shine out and benefit others.

“You have to remember one life, one death—this one! To enter fully the day, the hour, the moment, whether it appears as life or death, whether we catch it on the in-breath or out-breath, requires only a moment, this moment. And along with it all the mindfulness we can muster, and each stage of our ongoing birth, and the confident joy of our inherent luminosity.” ~ Stephen Levine

Read the full version on elephant journal

Smiling Meditation & Homemade Toothpaste

Last week, the planets aligned, and a long-awaited dream came true: I learned how to make natural toothpaste.

I had long since learned the dangers of fluoride and other substances and additives in “mainstream” toothpaste brands such as Crest and Colgate.

For years, I’ve been buying supposedly natural, “organic” toothpastes from the store. However, where I live in Guatemala, these are imported and prohibitively expensive. Plus, they all have some questionable chemical foaming agent. We are conditioned to believe that toothpaste needs to foam in order to make our mouths clean.

I’d heard how easy it was to make a natural toothpaste at home, yet I never took the crucial next step of learning how. So last week, I took a workshop on aromatherapy, in which we learned the basics about essential oils and also made a few products to take home, including deodorant, insect repellent, and toothpaste.

The toothpaste is made from coconut oil, which is liquefied and mixed with bentonite clay and drops of peppermint, clove, cinnamon, and ginger essential oils. We also added stevia powder as a natural sweetener.

However, having a fresh, clean mouth and lovely teeth is only half the battle. Our smiles must also be real.

Here are instructions for practicing smiling meditation, as taught by the amazing Thich Nhat Hanh in his classic book, Being Peace.

“During walking meditation, during kitchen and garden work, during sitting meditation, all day long, we can practice smiling. At first you may find it difficult to smile, and we have to think about why. Smiling means that we are ourselves, that we are not drowned into forgetfulness. This kind of smile can be seen on the faces of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

I would like to offer one short poem you can recite from time to time, while breathing and smiling.

Breathing in, I calm body and mind.

Breathing out, I smile.

Dwelling in the present moment

I know this is the only moment.

‘Breathing in, I calm body and mind.’ This line is like drinking a glass of ice water—you feel the cold, the freshness, permeate your body. When I breathe in and recite this line, I actually feel the breathing calming my body, calming my mind.

You know the effect of a smile. A smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your face and relax your nervous system. A smile makes you master of yourself. That is why the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are always smiling. When you smile, you realize the wonder of the smile. ‘Dwelling in the present moment.’ While I sit here, I don’t think of somewhere else, of the future or the past. I sit here and I know where I am. This is very important.

We tend to be alive in the future, not now. We say, ‘Wait until I finish school and get my Ph. D. degree, and then I will be really alive.’ When we have it, and it’s not easy to get, we say to ourselves, ‘I have to wait until I get a job, in order to be *really* alive.’

And then after the job, a car. After the car, a house. We are not capable of being alive in the present moment. We tend to postpone being alive to the future, the distant future, we don’t know when. Now is not the moment to be alive. We may never be alive in our entire life.

Therefore, the technique, if we have to speak of a technique, is to be in the present moment, to be aware that we are here and now, and the only moment to be alive is the present moment. ‘I know this is the only moment.’ This is the only moment that is real. To be here and now, and enjoy the present moment is our most important task. ‘Calming. Smiling, Present moment, Only moment.’ I hope you will try it.”

I vow to smile. I vow to try it. I vow to be grateful—to see the beauty on the path—right here, right now.

Purification Practice Mantras

20140807-052859.jpg

One of the first formal meditation techniques I learned, at an Ananda Yoga center in Palo Alto in the autumn of 2003, was a simple mantra.

We were instructed to repeat silently—mentally—with each inhale, “I am,” and, with each exhale, “peace.”

Practicing this way even for just a few moments, I felt like peace was pervading my entire body and mind.

I have shared this method with countless yoga students over the years, but I’ve moved away from mantra meditation in my own personal practice, in favor of other techniques.

Recently, though, a dear teacher brought to my attention the value of purification practice. When I admitted that I don’t have a regular purification practice and asked her for a mantra, she suggested that I chant Gayatri mantras each morning for 20 minutes.

I dug up an old mala and diligently have begun to start each morning meditation with 108 repetitions of a sacred mantra, counting each one on a bead—sometimes aloud, sometimes internally.

I am an amateur again, reconnecting with my beginner’s mind.

Here are the classic mantras I’ve been working with, in case you’d like to incorporate this powerful method into your spiritual practice. May they be of benefit:

1. Om/Aum

“You are a cosmic flower. Om chanting is the process of opening the psychic petals of that flower.”  ~ Amit Ray

Continue reading