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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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.

Boundless Gratitude

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Thank you for this sage.

Thank you for this moment.

Thank you for this life.

Thank you for the birdsong.

Thank you for the lake.

Thank you for this breath.

Thank you for the sky.

Thank you for the volcanoes.

Thank you for the flowers, fruits and food.

Thank you for love, and the moon.

Thank you for friendship and family.

Thank you for yoga.

Thank you for music, art, being, gratitude.

Thank you for seeing and looking, listening and hearing.

Thank you for the trees.

Thank you for the cats and dogs.

Thank you for all the animals.

Thank you for the ocean and all the water.

Thank you for the world and the universe and stars.

Thank you for my body.

Thank you for my mind,

Thank you for my soul.

Thank you for my heart.

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

Clear Lens Moments

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It was one of those days when the air was washed and polished like a lens. Everything was crisp and clear. Springtime in California.

I could see each individual leaf shimmering on the tree and was simultaneously taking in the whole tree in its magnificent glory. The colors were more vivid, the wind more meaningful, each breath poignant.

As I drove away from Green Gulch Farm, I felt a natural high like none other. Each moment, whatever it contained, was perfect, abundant, simple and miraculous. It wasn’t until leaving the Zen center grounds after my five-day personal retreat that I realized how much more mindful I had become. I was ultra-sensitive to my surroundings, noticing the details, savoring the natural beauty all around me, more embodied in my body than maybe ever before.

This blissful state of heightened awareness lasted for a good week or two. That was April, 2004. Now, with the gift of retrospect, I can pinpoint a few other moments in the 13+ subsequent years in which my formal practice seeped silently, secretively into my everyday life. Tiny moments of illumination. That time in my bedroom in Guate when I was doing a standing backbend and the epiphany hit me. A voice that spoke from deep within said, “Move to the lake.” I cried tears of sudden joy, because I knew then that Lake Atitlan was where I was meant to be.

Another clear lens moment occurred January 6, 2013, as I was sitting on a hospital bed, listening to Across the Universe on repeat on my headphones, having taken the doctor’s orders to calm down so that he could perform the unexpected c-section. Jai Guru Deva, Aum…. nothing’s gonna change my world/nothing’s gonna change my world. Limitless undying love that shines around me like a million suns… I shifted from fear-fueled sobs to a quiet, tranquil state. When I saw my daughter’s little face and perfect head full of dark brown hair, my mind was empty of anything but love (and morphine of course; thank you, epidural!).

The air was washed and polished like a lens, too, one midsummer’s day in 2001. I was sailing on Lake Travis with my family. I could see the water and sky, could perceive the spectacular sunset and feel that I should be appreciating its beauty and the gift of my life, but depression absolutely blocked any absorption of gratitude, happiness or even okay-ness. Depression distorted the lens, making everything blurry and hopeless.

My most recent clear-lens experiences have been less monumental, more everyday. The little moments, the frequent pauses when I can sit still, take a sip of tea, look around and soak in the beauty. The gorgeousness of the lake and volcanoes never fails to astound me. I can even (sometimes) see the beauty in the disarray in which our household is often found. The stuffed animals lined up in the hammock, the pile of storybooks by Jade’s bed, the muddy paw prints our dog leaves on the wooden planks of the patio.

I am eternally grateful to Guatemala, every human and animal, stone and flower, fire and body of water that has crossed my path in my time here. The breeze has cleansed the air and polished my lens in such wonderfully unexpected ways.

Earth Heart

I had just fallen asleep when the earth shook.

An 8.0 magnitude earthquake had hit the coastline of southern Mexico, and we felt it here at Lake Atitlan in Guatemalan highlands several hundred of kilometers away. My husband and I jumped out of bed, looked at each other, deer in headlights.

I always think they will pass and they always do. I have never been in the epicenter of an actual earthquake zone, only felt the shakes (temblores) on the periphery. Many times I have felt those, over the past eight years living in Guatemala. Prior, my weather fear in central Texas had been tornadoes. Austin was too far from the coast to get much damage from a hurricane, nowhere near as vulnerable as Houston, Corpus or Galveston.

This one lasted a longer time than most, but due to my half-asleep state, I didn’t register anxiety as much as curiosity. Why won’t it stop? Our daughter continued sleeping soundly, so we stayed in the bedroom of our tiny two-story cabin and moved with the earth. Finally, it did cease and no aftershocks came.

Now I wonder, what will it take for us, as humans who live on Earth, to care for our planet? I wonder if it is even possible to reverse the course we are already so far gone on?

I live at a lake, a beautiful lake which absolutely should be a World Heritage Site, should be protected, a national park, a trash-free zone, something. Anything.

This lake appears to be gorgeous and healthy, from a distance. There are three mammoth volcanoes looming over its southern shore. I am on the north side, with a view of these three beauties every day, though partially obscured by trees, I can see the lake and volcanoes from the balcony where I write.

I have, especially over the past two years, come to live a much more earth-loving, “eco-friendly” life. I no longer have a car. I no longer use electricity, only solar power. I no longer have a flush-toilet, only a dry compost toilet. (Yes, I still use cars, electricity and flush toilets when I’m not a home. But I’m usually at home.) In fact, I have not left this lake basin, except for a brief weekend at the beach in February, in eleven months, since returning from my last trip to the States (and Canada).

Now, British Columbia is on fire. Washington and Oregon are on fire. Southeast Texas is underwater. Florida is underwater. Bangladesh is underwater. So many more places around the world experiencing floods, forest fires, rising temperatures, extreme weather. Climate change.

From the outside, the lake looks pristine. Its clarity is better than in the recent past, especially those times over the past decade that have brought major algae blooms, a thick film of greenish yellow cyanobacteria that eventually turned blue and purple and brown, stinking as it decayed.

The lake looks clean, but it is not. It is suffering from a lack of oxygen. This is a lake that was formed by a volcanic crater many millions of years ago, and has no rivers going out to the ocean. The rivers feeding into the lake contain chemical runoff from the farms now mono-cropping corn instead of growing diverse vegetables, grains and fruits as they used to. And untreated or poorly treated sewage from the dozens of villages around the lake basin. And many tons of trash: plastic, styrofoam, rubber, more plastic.

Hence, unless drastic action is taken by the communities and individuals around the lake, as well as the Guatemalan government to outlaw both littering and contamination of the lake at the corporate level, this beautiful gem of nature has a death sentence. No one knows for sure. Maybe 7 years. Maybe twenty?

Isn’t the same the true of the entire planet Earth? She appears to be okay, if you’re not in an area ravaged by natural disaster or an “underdeveloped” nation with trash lining even its most remote rural trails. Some people can even deny the reality of climate change still, because they haven’t witnessed firsthand a heatwave or the rising ocean reducing the shoreline. How long does the Earth have to live, unless we change our ways?

I don’t have the answer, and I feel so helpless when I learn about the vast, greedy corporate/government misuse of funds and desecration of the environment. I can only change my own behavior and try to influence those around me.

When are we going to wake up? It’s seriously now or never.

I stumbled upon this infographic the other day. This has cemented my decision to have only one child. My daughter is perfect and she’s not going to have any biological siblings. I want to pass a healthy, glorious, wonderful earth onto my grandchildren, onto all future dwellers of this plentiful planet.

This has also renewed my commitment to vegetarianism. A plant-based diet. This is not to say I will never ever eat meat, but I plan not to be lax about it, even when visiting Texas over the next couple months. Delicious, nutritious vegetarian options are always available. It is a choice. Mindful eating: plant-based, smaller quantities, slow eating, appreciation of the food, its ingredients, cook, server.

I feel good about not having a car. I drove one from age 16 to 29 in the USA, then for another few years here in Guatemala. It is a luxury and a freedom, a vehicle. I enjoy driving, going places, road trips. However, not having one is, according to this study, one of the best ways to positively impact Earth. Walking. Biking. Taking public transportation (and fewer transatlantic flights).

May we wake up and start caring more for ourselves, our fellow humans and our mother Earth. May our daily actions and practices serve to benefit all beings and our precious planet!

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I Speak for the Lake

“One of my favorite subjects of contemplation is this question: Since death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing?” Pema Chodron

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Health is the most important thing. Health as in balance, vitality, proper use of energy. Right action. Wisdom. Our health, in the larger sense of where we are, is in our families and homes—in the water and the soil.

The most important thing is to stop polluting the planet. To cease contamination, to halt habits that are destroying not only our precious, sacred Lake Atitlán, but all bodies of water—including our own human bodies, which are 78 percent water.

The most important thing is the health of both individual and community. Both family and globe. However, global thinking is a bit like magical thinking—too conceptual, unfathomable, oversimplified. Local, present-moment, current, heart-centered thinking is what’s needed.

We are all (to some extent) guilty of being ostriches, and we need to pull our heads out of the sand. Pachamama, Mother Earth, is crying softly—but, before long, she’s going to start screaming. Sometimes she shrieks in silence, and only some of us are awake enough to hear—alert enough to listen.

We must speak for the lake, for the forest, and all the species. Write, and talk, and make documentaries, and raise awareness, and inspire action in ourselves and others.

Instead, most of us, myself included, are increasingly distracted by busyness and by using technology as a toy, rather than a tool too much of the time.

What is the most important thing? Earth. Breath. Air. Oxygen. The lake is suffocating. We need to give her her lungs back, to let her breathe, let her keep inspiring and feeding everyone who comes into her aura, her basin.

Earth is the most important thing. This grain of sand, this blade of grass, this flower petal, this cloud formation, this ocean wave, this full moon, this universe.

If planet Earth goes, we all go. Pay attention to the cries of Mother Earth, of “Grandmother Atitlan.” Pay attention to what you are putting into your body, mind, and heart. Pay attention to how you sit and stand, move and behave in the world, in our home.

The time is now.

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