5 Ways to Find Balance & Bliss in Daily Life


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!

Tonglen Meditation Instructions

{From Grace and Grit by Ken Wilber}


Visualize someone you know and love who is suffering — an illness, a loss, depression, pain, anxiety, fear. As you breathe in, imagine all of that person’s suffering — in the form of dark, black, smokelike, tarlike, thick and heavy clouds — entering your nostrils and traveling down into your heart. Hold that suffering in your heart. Then, on the outbreath, take all of your peace, freedom, health, goodness and virtue, and send it out to the person in the form of healing, liberating light. Imagine they take it all in and feel completely free, released and happy.

Do that for several breaths.

Then imagine the town that person is in, and on the inbreath, take in all the suffering of that town, and send back all of your health and happiness to everyone in it. Then do that for the entire state, the entire country, the entire planet, the universe. You are taking in all the suffering of beings everywhere and sending them back health and happiness and virtue.

Getting off the hook.

As 2011 wound to a close, I read Taking the Leap by Pema Chödrön. The book is all about getting unhooked. Previously, I had watched Bill Moyers interview Pema and discuss shenpa. Pema teaches:

The usual translation of the word shenpa is attachment. If you were to look it up in a Tibetan dictionary, you would find that the definition was attachment. But the word “attachment” absolutely doesn’t get at what it is. Dzigar Kongtrul said not to use that translation because it’s incomplete, and it doesn’t touch the magnitude of shenpa and the effect that it has on us.

If I were translating shenpa it would be very hard to find a word, but I’m going to give you a few. One word might be hooked. How we get hooked.

Another synonym for shenpa might be that sticky feeling. In terms of last night’s analogy about having scabies, that itch that goes along with that and scratching it, shenpa is the itch and it’s the urge to scratch. So, urge is another word. The urge to smoke that cigarette, the urge to overeat, the urge to have one more drink, or whatever it is where your addiction is.

Well, as I have been absorbing these teachings and working with shenpa, strange and marvelous things have been happening, as if orchestrated by the universe to teach me some powerful lessons. For example, I spent the last five days of 2011 sharing a lovely house with a stranger who turned out to be adorable and amazing. (We were placed in the house together by mutual friends.) This occurred at the mystical Lake Atitlán, which happens to be my favorite place in Guatemala. It was intense and euphoric. We found ourselves thrust into a honeymoon without having had the relationship, engagement or wedding.

I would read, write, stretch, and bask in the warmth of the stone porch overlooking the lake and volcanoes; he would make breakfast and do the dishes and make jewelry and speak to me in Spanish. We played house, and it was delightful. All the while, I was reading Pema’s book and consciously working with the intention to unhook. It was easy to be present that week; I was on vacation mode, the whole scene was surreally romantic and near perfect. The trouble is, hooking up whilst also simultaneously unhooking is not so easy.

I wrote about similar topics in one of my first posts for Elephant Journal, back in 2010. The guy at the lake is a traveler. Just passing through. (Then again, aren’t we all?) I’ve been striving to avoid my normal traditions of daydreaming, fantasizing, ruminating and otherwise falling in love with the storyline. Last weekend, he told me he just wants to be friends. The painful emotional reaction I felt at that proclamation showed me just how very hooked I was, just how miserably I’d failed at dropping the storyline and living presently.

Pema continues:

Step One. Acknowledge that you’re hooked.
Step Two. Pause, take three conscious breaths and lean in. Lean into the energy. Abide with it. Experience it fully. Taste it. Touch it. Smell it. Get curious about it…
Step Three. Then relax and move on.

Step one. Check. All too acknowledged. Step two. Okay. Leaning in to the insecurity, jealousy, heartache, rejection, tenderness, vulnerability. Ouch. Curious… Step three. Breathe. Let. Go. Inhale “Let”; Exhale “Go.”

Moment to moment, we relinquish the precious thoughts, opinions, beliefs and ideas we hold so dear. By leaning into experiences of intensity, we can face reality, then let go and move on. And slowly but surely, with patience and persistance…

We get off the hook.

December 30 – Karuna (Compassion)

Here at Yoga Freedom, our motto is “compassion + action.” What compassionate actions do you aspire to in the coming twelve months?
“Finding the courage to go to the places that scare us cannot happen without compassionate inquiry into the workings of ego. The Buddha taught that flexibility and openness bring strength and that running from groundlessness weakens us and brings pain. But do we understand that becoming familiar with the running away is the key? Openness doesn’t come from resisting our fears but from getting to know them well.” ~Pema Chodron

Living in The Places that Scare You

For the record, I love the Guatemalan culture.

I live here. I adore traveling around this breathtakingly beautiful country. It is colorful, fascinating, complicated. I love the Spanish language, the lush gardens, the mammoth volcanoes, the diverse, kindhearted people.

I do not particularly like the city. The crime, poverty, ignorance and repression in Guate are not so lovable. The climate and the kind people and the scenery are wonderful, but let’s be honest; this place is far from peaceful.

This is not a criticism of Guatemalan people. There’s no use in the blame game. I realize that the USA and its supposedly superior government has had a lot to do with the long-term instability in Central America.

The US State Department tells us, “Guatemala has one of the highest violent crime rates in Latin America.  In 2009, approximately 25 murders a week were reported in Guatemala City alone.  While the vast majority of murders do not involve foreigners, the sheer volume of activity means that local officials, who are inexperienced and underpaid, are unable to cope with the problem.  Rule of law is lacking as the judicial system is weak, overworked, and inefficient.  Well-armed criminals know there is little chance they will be caught or punished.”

The fact is, I love living in Guatemala and am not leaving anytime soon.

I am a compassionate warrior. As Pema Chödrön writes in The Places that Scare You,

“The essence of bravery is being without self-deception.”

I like to deceive myself a little bit. I like to think I am safe. I like to feel somewhat in control of my life. Though I am all for free will, I know that control is an illusion. Anything can happen at any time, anywhere.

Rather than closing down, Pema suggests we open to vulnerability; from this comes lovingkindness, compassion, joy.

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Stop the Palinsanity.

“All violence is the result of people tricking themselves into believing that their pain derives from other people and that consequently those people deserve to be punished.” ~Marshall Rosenberg

{Read this on Elephant Journal.}

Wouldn’t our lives be easier if Sarah Palin was single-handedly responsible for the atrocities in Arizona yesterday?

She was not. Obviously. Today, however, I have zero compassion for Palin or her ilk.

An innate idealist, I want to believe that bigotry and verbal and physical acts of violence by people (wherever they may fall on the sane/insane spectrum) against  people of a different skin color or sexual orientation or political stance is ever so gradually dying out. That humans in my generation and younger are more open-minded and less likely to detest, shoot, and murder black people or Hispanics or gays or liberal politicians than, say, in past eras.

Upon hearing news of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the deaths of the innocent bystanders on Saturday, January 8 in Arizona, my idealism was invaded by pessimism. Hatefulness in thought, speech and, ultimately, action, is all too alive and well. Foreign Policy magazine warns of 16 potential war zones in 2011, including Zimbabwe, Mexico, Sudan, Pakistan, Lebanon, and right here in Guatemala. And with the firing of those bullets on Saturday morning at that Tuscon Safeway, even the United States is apparently a political terror zone.

A year ago, I was oddly compelled to research and write this opinion piece in which I defined “Palinsanity” as a psychological conundrum that debilitates victims by turning Americans (left, right and center) into frothing citizens who utter incoherent claims about our country’s demise.

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