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!
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Dedicating the Merit of our Practice

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(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}

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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.

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4 Favorite Dynamic Dharma Teachings

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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

How to get your groove back

Healing the 2nd Chakra

2ndchakraSwadhisthana chakra is the Sanskrit name for our second energy center and translates to “sweetness” or “sacred home of the self.”

Imagine your mind as still as water in a vast lake.

Breathe in a long, deep breath of inspiration, then let the exhalation go naturally, easily. Repeat this technique for a few moments. Notice how your breath sounds like the ocean waves that are forever crashing upon the seashore. Feel how your body moves. Let your energy take on the physical qualities of water, flowing to fill its container. Breathe in a sense of arriving totally, right where you are.

The element associated with this center is water. The sense is taste and the color is orange.

The key dynamics with the sacral chakra have to do with integration of male and female, sexuality, sensation and feeling, movement, change, balance, emotion, and pleasure. If the root chakra is unity and oneness and the groundedness of being, then the sacral chakra is duality, represented by the two-way street of attachment and aversion, desire and relationship.

Many of us on the planet could use some major balancing and healing of our essential second chakra energy. When our energy is out of balance here, it can show up as sexual repression and frigidity, or over-the-top promiscuity. Our sexuality, if not healed, can cause a range of problems in our physical, emotional, and mental bodies.

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6 Radical Spring Cleaning Suggestions

 

“I dedicate the merit of the occasion to all beings. This gesture of universal friendship has been likened to a drop of fresh spring water. If we put it on a rock in the sunshine, it will soon evaporate. If we put it in the ocean, however, it will never be lost. Thus the wish is made that we not keep the teachings to ourselves but to use them to benefit others.” ~ Pema Chodron

Mid-March is upon us, and in our household, it’s time for some serious spring cleaning. There’s much more to it than traditional chores like dusting, sweeping, washing, organizing, and rearranging….Here are six alternative ideas to spruce up our spring selves.

1. Sweep out the mental cobwebs.

Partake in morning, noon and night meditations. Just a few precious moments at sunrise, midday, and sunset can clear our minds. Gaze up at the sky. Connect with the breath. Resist the urge to check your phone or mentally compose your next email or status update.

Think of it as sweeping out the dusty corners of your mind, opening the windows and inviting in a refreshing breeze for tea. No matter what problems, joys, and dramas we are currently dealing with in life, we can choose to set them aside and just be for a little while, multiple times each day.

“I am going to try to pay attention to the spring. I am going to look around at all the flowers, and look up at the hectic trees. I am going to close my eyes and listen.” ~ Anne Lamott

2. Do a spring cleanse.

Spend a day (or, better yet, a week) eating extra mindfully and lightly. We don’t have to go to the extreme of the master cleanse (the one that use lemonade, molasses, and cayenne pepper mix) in order to get the benefits of a detox. Cut out alcohol, coffee, dairy, cheese, white sugar, and enriched flours. Eat fresh fruits, raw salads, or lightly steamed veggies. Drink loads of natural juices, herbal teas, and pure water.

Resetting our diet is a powerful way to spring clean. Just be sure to ease out of it gradually by reintroducing foods like brown rice, potatoes, and whole grain breads, as opposed to diving back into eating meaty or fried dishes, right after your cleanse officially ends.

“I tried a juice cleanse, and it was a total disaster. For the eight hours that I lasted, I felt like I was on the brink of starvation. For me, it’s about making the right choices.” ~ Ivanka Trump

3. Practice “spring of consciousness” writing.

Keeping a diary costs nothing, is freeing, and can be extremely therapeutic. Use a new notebook or open a new document on your computer. Set a timer for 5 or 10 minutes and just write your heart out. Whatever you’re thinking or feeling, let it spill out uncensored onto the page. No stopping, no editing, no planning. What comes out needn’t be legible, logical, or lovely. It doesn’t have to come out in perfect sentences or even make sense.

This is your sacred, private space for expression. Go back and reread it at the end of the day, month, or year. Take time for reflection, noting how you’re evolving, growing, and healing. Save the pages, or burn them in letting go ceremony.

“I want to do to you what spring does with the cherry trees.” ~ Pablo Neruda

 

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Groundhog Day Inspiration: Reflecting on the Mundane & Magical

As I leaf through old journals from six and seven years ago, I notice how much has changed, and in many ways improved, in my personal life, since then.

It’s a challenge to get through the diaries sometimes, because they starkly show me how intensely neurotic, insecure, and obsessive I was, in my own handwriting. I’m grateful to feel more generally grounded, trusting and accepting these days. Thanks be to yoga and mindfulness.

And yet. Early February’s full moon eclipse in Leo really did a number on me. Still is. You, too? And today is the new moon in Pisces. More shifting sand. March commences on Wednesday. Venus is retrograde. Love is in the water.

I have been delving into new material, gaining new perspectives, shifting paradigms, slightly, almost imperceptibly. Swallowing my pride. Realizing changes that need to occur. So much is being processed, digested, reflected upon, slowly understood. It is good, and it is not easy.

I’m a bit sheltered from the present political sh*tstorm in the USA, due to living south of its borders and consciously limiting the amount of news articles I consume. Nevertheless, my heart goes out to all the folks suffering from anxiety, depression and the like, much of it the direct result of the new administration’s white-supremacist-fueled fear mongering and illegal, immoral abuse of power. I remember all too clearly feeling that way in 2004 when G. W. Bush was re-elected, which now pales in comparison to the current conundrum.

I recently re-watched Groundhog Day, the 1993 comedy starring Bill Murray in which every day when he wakes up, the main character finds himself in the hell realm of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, always the same freezing morning of February 2nd. At first, he is confused (how is this happening? why isn’t anyone else in the movie being similarly affected?), then freaked out and desperate (attempting suicide in a variety of ways, to no avail), then manipulative (learning the backstories of the townspeople and his coworkers, primarily with the aim of getting into Andie MacDowell’s pants), and ultimately surrendering (not until he truly lets go of his ego and authentically strives to help others will tomorrow finally come).

Lately, I, too, have been feeling like every day, every week is the same. I wake up in the middle of the night, unable to sleep for hours, sometimes resting anyway, sometimes–like now–getting up and reading and writing. At some point, my eyelids droop with exhaustion, and I go back to bed. I rise again as the sun rises, and my four-year-old girl makes a sour face at me when I kiss her good morning. A few minutes later, she is in a better mood, back to her sweet and cuddly little self. I plop down on the sunny balcony and sit and breathe. My fabulous black cat, Oscar, curls up in my lap, prompting me to stay a little longer. (He is a feline Zen master.)

So there I sit, listening to the birds, breathing, starting with a grateful heart. I send out loving kindness to my aging parents and grandmothers, my beloved partner, daughter, myself, friends, family, water protectors, neutral acquaintances.

I think of the wise words a friend posted on Facebook last month, along with a head shot of the 45th U.S. President.

Can you LOVE this Man?

Can you feel COMPASSION Toward this Man?

The CHALLENGE: I would suggest that those of us who claim to be Christians or adherents of Buddhist philosophy pray for him or hold him in our good intentions/in the LIGHT. Otherwise, we are really not who we pretend ourselves to be.

I try, and fail, to send metta to He Who Shall Not Be Named and his newly-appointed cabinet of leaders with whom I disagree. May you be safe, happy, healthy and free, I try to say but cannot force myself to genuinely feel it. Universal compassion is put on hold. Like all things, it has to unfold in its own time, organically.

I step away from the cushion and delve into the informal practice of the rest of the day. I eat some papaya, pour a cup of tea, and settle in to open my computer and get to work.

Like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day, it gradually dawns on me that getting out of my own head and caring about and helping others is the way to freedom from the mundane. It is the path and the goal.

And so I write, in loopy, messy cursive, endless checklists and poetic stanzas and love letters and random streams of consciousness, as therapy. And so I publish a blog and attempt to connect my heart to yours for this one precious moment. And so I read and feel an immense and simple gladness that the words on the page make sense.

I feel grateful that my old diaries deliver little gems of wisdom that I wrote down so many years ago, like this one:

“Just as the ocean has waves or the sun has rays, so the mind’s own radiance is its thoughts and emotions. The ocean has waves, yet the ocean is not particularly disturbed by them. The waves are the very nature of the ocean.

Waves will rise, but where do they go? Back into the ocean. And where do those waves come from? The ocean. Thoughts and emotions rise from the mind, but where do they dissolve? Back into the mind.

Whatever rises, do not see it as a particular problem. If you do not impulsively react, if you are only patient, it will settle once again into its essential nature.”

~ Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

May every moment and experience wake us up and be of benefit.