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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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.

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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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

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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

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What Color is Your Aura?

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Victoria Pendragon – Artspan

Even if we cannot see it, our aura is always with us, surrounding us. It consists of the sum of its parts. Here are some ways in which we can connect with each of our seven main chakra energy centers:

The Root Chakra

To connect with our root chakra, we can stand up directly on the earth, and feel the ground through the soles of our feet. We can breathe deeply and feel thankful to nature, the earth, sea, and sky. We are nature—and nature is us. Connect with breath. Breath is life. Breath is always there for us, as long as we live. Breathe deeply. Inhale gratitude. Inhale whatever it is you feel. There is no wrong answer. Just keep breathing. You are safe. You belong. This is your home.

The Sacral Chakra

Water and movement are the keys for the sacral chakra. Walking, practicing yoga or tai chi, hiking, or moving near a river, lake, or ocean is ideal. Jump right in and take a swim! If natural bodies of water are not nearby, we can connect with the sacred sacral chakra in a pool, bathtub, or shower. We need to remember to be more like water and just go with the flow, accepting our desires and emotions, not repressing them.

Move. Shake it up. Travel. Stretch. Hike. Walk instead of driving everywhere. Bicycle. Practice yoga asanas. Keep your body dynamic. Listen to your inner voice. Dance when it is time to dance. And then be still.

The Solar Plexus

Solar plexus energy is related to our will, power, and purpose. This is the center of action, effort, and intensity. Practice core strengthening exercises, a new skill, hone your self-discipline. Fire is the element here. Participate in a fire ceremony or create your own. Light candles. Practice challenging yoga, pushing yourself to your limit. Do standing meditations.

The Heart Chakra

The heart chakra is where it’s at. This is where we, as a global society, need to be. We’ve been stuck at the third chakra (solar plexus) for a long time now, obsessed with work, ambition, and power. A lot of people are awakening their hearts and this is helping evolve the collective consciousness of humanity.

Green is the color of the heart. Immerse yourself in green, whether it be wearing green clothing, or being in a green room or forest. I personally adore practicing metta (loving kindness or loving friendliness), both formally and informally. That is, sending good wishes to myself, my loved ones, and ultimately all beings.

The element of the heart is air, so more breath work is prescribed for opening and balancing heart energy. Keep reading!