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

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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.

7 Sacred Directions ~ Weekend Retreat

June 23 – 25, 2017

“Hold on to what is good even if it is a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe even if it is a tree which stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do even if it is a long way from here.
Hold on to life even when it is easier letting go.
Hold on to my hand even when I have gone away from you.” ~ Pueblo Blessing

On this weekend retreat in the land of eternal spring, we’ll voyage through the seven major energy centers in the body: root, sacral, solar plexus, heart, throat, third eye and crown and the seven sacred directions: east, west, north, south, above, below and heart center.

The circle is open to all levels and all body types. Take time to unwind in our lakeside paradise… enjoy group practices, wholesome vegetarian cuisine and free time for reading in the hammock, spa treatments, swimming or simply being.

Schedule

Friday

3:00 arrival & settling in
5:00 opening circle
6:30 welcome dinner

Saturday

8:00 yoga & meditation
9:30 breakfast
11:30 chakra workshop
1:30 lunch
3:00 cacao ceremony
6:30 dinner

Sunday

7:30 breakfast
8:15 Mayan fire ceremony
10:30 closing circle
12:00 lunch & farewells

*Also being offered September 1-3

Learn more!

Location: Villa Sumaya

Summer 2017 Weekend Retreats @ Lake Atitlan

Retreat at Lake Atitlan, one of the world’s most beautiful lakes, surrounded by lush flora and fauna, colorful Mayan villages and three volcanoes.

Here are eight great reasons for us to create the time and space in our lives for retreat, whether it be a single morning of silence in our own backyard or a week of yoga in Guatemala:

  1. Unplug from devices and reconnect with the simple perfection of this one wild and precious life, right here and now
  2. Deepen our formal and informal practices of yoga and meditation
  3. Connect with the glory of nature and the elements of earth, fire, water, sky and space
  4. Be empowered by group energy to cultivate with greater discipline and focus
  5. Do our own inner work for the benefit of all beings without exception
  6. Learn more about our mind’s habit-patterns and escapes
  7. Forge bonds with new spiritual friends through laughter, tears, sharing stories
  8. Devote our time, money and energy to holistic healing and self-love

I’m thrilled to announce the following group retreats for the 2017 rainy season —

 

SUMMER 2017

3-Day/2-Night Weekend Retreats
June 3-5 ~ Wellness Weekend @ La K’zona (Saturday to Monday)
June 23-25 ~ Seven Sacred Directions @ Villa Sumaya
July 7-9 ~ Writing Down the Chakras @ Villa Sumaya
July 21-23 ~ The Path of Beauty @ Villa Sumaya
August 5-7 ~ Seven Sacred Directions @ La K’zona (Saturday to Monday)
August 18-20 ~ Writing Down the Chakras @ Villa Sumaya
September 1-3 ~ Seven Sacred Directions @ Villa Sumaya

Themes

Wellness Weekend: Chakra Yoga, Art & Cooking ~ 

Workshops will cover mindful eating, walking meditation, chakra basics, creative practice (writing, visual art, music, etc), incorporating seeds, nuts, ferments, preparing easy, minimally-processed, highly-nutritious and delicious dishes, making sprouts, growing greens/radishes & making delicious green smoothies.

Seven Sacred Directions: Yoga, Ceremony & Celebration ~

We’ll be practicing yoga with a focus on the 7 chakras and 7 sacred directions, celebrating and reflecting with a cacao ceremony and a fire ceremony.

Writing Down the Chakras: Yoga, Meditation & Journaling ~

This will be a weekend to practice conscious being, breathing, moving, relating, expressing, and creating. We will share in the group practices of yoga, mindfulness, meditation, writing and also allow plenty of time for reflection and integration.

General Schedule

Friday arrive & settle in / 4:30 opening circle / 6:30 dinner

Saturday 7:30 tea & fruit / 8am yoga / 9:30 breakfast / 11:00 workshop or ceremony / 1:00 lunch, free time / 4:30 learning circle and practice / 6:30 dinner

Sunday 7:30 tea & fruit / 8:00 closing circle & fire ceremony / 10:30 brunch

To get more info or join one of these sacred circles, please write to Michelle via yogafreedom at gmail dot com!

Namaste~

Birdwatching

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Good morning
Sunrise meditation
Sitting or standing
On the wooden planks of our little cabin’s balcony
Every morning the same yet different
Notice the pastels in the sky

Midday meditation
There is no one right way to sit
There is no one right way to practice
Isn’t everything practice, after all?
Isn’t everything life unfolding?
Suffering is to be accepted, not evaded
Difficulty, sadness and death are not optional
But neither are joy, celebration and beauty

Tune in to the birds’ heart songs
Gaze at the cloud formations billowing slowly
Contemplate the water, so blue and sparkly, rippling
Listen to the wind, the leaves, the trees
Watch the birds swoop, fly, flutter from branch to branch
Watch the thoughts swoop, fly, flutter, stutter, compete, judge, opine
and all the rest
Watch the sensations in the physical body and the energies in the subtle body
Watch the emotions come and go
Sunset meditation
Good night

Neutral Holiday Greetings to You!

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We don’t celebrate Halloween.

If I eat a Thanksgiving meal on the 4th Thursday in November, it’s only because I’m willing to fork over $20 (in local Guatemalan currency) in exchange for carbs, gravy and the company of my compatriots.

Someone asked me recently if my child is excited for Christmas. My daughter doesn’t even know who Santa is. She doesn’t know what Christmas is.

She doesn’t know who Jesus is. She is almost four years old, and we have consciously chosen not to indoctrinate her with religion, except of course dharma yoga. Which isn’t a religion. (Or is it?)

It’s not really been a conscious choice, this non-celebration of Christmas. It’s more of a choice to celebrate everyday life. I find I do not miss the holiday pop music in the least.

The life I live now is drastically different than the life I lived growing up, or even the life I was living ten years ago in Austin, Texas.

Not better or worse, just different.

The trees are my Christmas trees. The stars at night provide enough twinkle and the moon enough light for evening strolls. The present moment with my family is the real gift, and we feel no compulsion to buy things and wrap them in pretty paper and give them to each other on December 25. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

So, in conclusion:

Merry Today! And a happy new Now!

There is a lot of bad news out there. And then there’s the constant stream of information, useless and useful knowledge, the barrage of noise with the occasional bursts of beautiful music. May we choose carefully that which we are feeding our bodies, our minds and our spirit. May we give and receive love freely. May all beings be happy, safe, healthy and at ease.

Yoga, Heartfulness & Writing Retreat ~ January 21-28, 2017

What better time than now to recharge and rediscover balance, bliss and freedom in daily life? We’ll invite wisdom and love to guide our intention throughout the retreat in order to help expand our consciousness and center us in our hearts.

Join us for a special time of renewal as we practice awareness and moment-to-moment acceptance through yoga, mindfulness and writing sessions. Enjoy spa treatments, eat wholesome vegetarian cuisine and take time to unwind in a lakeside paradise.

The path of beauty weaves together the practices of awareness, wisdom, kindness and compassion. Take time for yourself in our beautiful, natural setting to walk this path.

What’s Included

  • 7 nights of accommodation at beautiful Villa Sumaya on picturesque Lake Atitlan
  • 3 daily delicious, home-cooked, well-balanced, vegetarian meals plus 24 hour tea/coffee and water
  • Tuition for daily group sessions, including mindfulness-based meditation, yoga asana, breath work, restorative and yin with essential oils (mat & props provided) — 12 sessions total
  • A one-hour treatment at our on-site Harmony Spa
  • Use of our solar hot tub (sun permitting)
  • All taxes

Not included: Transportation costs, optional extra activities and excursions (e.g. Trip to San Juan/Santiago/Chichi, Kayak/hike tour, Mayan Fire Ceremony), tips to Villa Sumaya staff.

Daily Schedule

Saturday, January 21st
3pm Settle in
5pm Opening circle
6:30pm Welcome dinner

Sunday, January 22nd
8am meditation
8:30 breakfast
10:00 orientation
11:00 Root chakra workshop
1:00 lunch & free time
4:30 Sacral chakra workshop
6:30 dinner

Monday, January 23rd
7:30 breakfast
Optional – Mayan Fire Ceremony 8:15 a.m. (Cost will depend on the number of participants)
12:00 Solar plexus yoga practice
1:00 lunch & free time
4:30 Solar plexus chakra workshop
6:30 dinner

Tuesday, January 24th
8am meditation
8:30 breakfast
11:00 Heart chakra workshop
1:00 lunch & free time
4:30 Heart-centered Yin Yoga
6:30 dinner

Wednesday, January 25th
8am meditation
8:30 breakfast
11:00 Throat chakra workshop
1:00 lunch & free time
4:30 Kirtan and sound healing workshop
6:30 dinner

Thursday, January 26th
8am meditation
8:30 breakfast
11:00 Third eye chakra workshop
1:00 lunch & free time
4:30 Crown chakra workshop
6:30 dinner

Friday, January 27th
8am meditation
8:30 breakfast
11:00 Kundalini Chakra Yoga Workshop
1:00 lunch
3:00 Cacao ceremony /Closing circle
6:30 dinner

Saturday, January 28th
7:30am yoga & meditation
9am breakfast
11am departures

Pricing & Registration

Singles: $995 USD

Bring a friend! Doubles: $730 per person

Bring two friends! Triples: $660 per person

*Special discounted rates for full-time residents of Lake Atitlan–please inquire!*

A $200 non-refundable deposit is required to hold your space. For more info or to sign up, please write Michelle (reservations@villasumaya.com).

Why Our Lives Are Not a Journey

This video is a gift. The imagery may be a little over the top but the words and adorable British accent and candid tone of Zen teacher Alan Watts are well worth 4 and a half minutes of your day.

Our cultural conditioning has us in a rat race. Achieve, achieve, achieve! Win! Don’t be a loser! “Man up!”

The good news is that we can choose to step off the giant hamster wheel at any time.

We can choose to slow down, to quit overscheduling ourselves and our children, to quit working for the weekend. We can choose to sit and drink a cup of tea and do nothing else. We can choose to silence our devices and let our minds’ endless chatter settle down for a change.

We can choose to leave a soul-sucking school, relationship or job in favor of pursuing our passions.

It’s neither easy nor automatic, but making the choice, taking the vow, to move toward a slower-paced, more meaningful, heartful and mindful life can start to affect us today, right now in the most amazing of ways.

Your life is not a journey, and it is a journey. The path is the goal. There is no there there. It’s right here and now, and nowhere else and at no other time than this.

So quit scrolling, quit searching, quit seeking, quit criticizing, quit worrying.

Simply sit, stand, walk, listen, look… and soon you’ll see.