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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November 2016 Offerings

Happy Autumn!

I’m excited to announce some yoga activities coming up soon:

1) Day of the Dead Yoga Classes

Inaugural group yoga sessions on my patio in Pasajcap (halfway between San Marcos La Laguna and Tzununa)

Monday, OCT 31 @4:30pm

Tuesday, NOV 1 @ 8:30am

Wednesday, NOV 2 @ 8:30am & 4:30pm

*RSVP to yogafreedom@gmail or 4970-4727

2) The Art of Healthy Living: Yoga, Cooking & Permaculture Weekend

November 11-13 @La K’zona, Lake Atitlan, Guatemala    Get more info here!

3) Thanksgiving Yoga Retreat

November 23-27, 2016 @EarthLodge / near Antigua      See details!
I hope to see and practice with you soon!
Namaste,
Michelle

Winds of Change

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Point Arena Lighthouse  Mendocino County  California USA

It’s 8 Iq today. Iq is the Mayan sign of wind.

There is a gentle breeze or none right now in the living room. I am still, settled, in Sacramento. The sacrament. The sacred mundane. Waking up in a quiet house full of relatives asleep. Soon enough the coffee will be brewing, the people chattering, retiree household bustle. Waking up in a familiar, cozy place.

Tomorrow, we’ll be waking up on a train. Tonight, we take the night train north, northwest. The Oregon Trail. To a bend in the river and a port by the sea. Then a jet engine propels us yet further, all the way to Canada. The Columbia with a U, of the British variety. To the mountains. Belly rumbling to the sound of the now-brewing coffee, in anticipation.

Saying farewell to my parents, my partner and embarking on a mami-hija adventure for the next couple of weeks of catching up with beloved old friends in the Pacific Northwest until our return home to the nest by the lake in the south.

We are blowing in the wind, going with the flow, making plans and showing up, early or late or changing the plans or dropping the plans. Breathing the breath of life. Remembering gratitude, gratitude, love, kindness, compassion, gratitude again.

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Kite surfer, California Coast

It’s Okay to Feel.

{Originally published on Elephant Journal.}

There is a common myth about meditation that it means always being calm and collected, never being upset, sad or freaked out.

It’s simply not true.

While meditation and mindfulness practices can help us become more tranquil, centered and patient, they do not eliminate difficult emotions.

On the contrary, it can seem to exacerbate them, especially as we begin or deepen our practice, because there is nothing to do but sit (or stand, or walk) there and be with those emotions, allowing them to rise up and pass away in due time.

As I was reading a book a few months back called Planting Seeds (which is a guide for anyone interested in introducing children to mindfulness and meditation) by Thich Nhat Hanh and members of his sangha, I came across this little gem which jumped off the page and deep into my heart immediately:

“Breathing in, I’m bored. Breathing out, it’s okay to be bored.”

It was in the context of a chapter on teaching children how to observe and accept their feelings, whatever feelings they are experiencing in that moment: joy, sadness, boredom, anger, confusion, frustration, contentment.

I saw right away that this simple technique could also help adults.

Could also help me.

And so, I’ve started using it every day in my classroom, which this year miraculously consists of just three homeschooled fifth grade students. In our morning meeting at the start of each “school” day, we ring the Tibetan bowl and take turns sharing our feelings, if we want.

Most days, the kids will say something like, “Breathing in, I feel happy, excited, happy and excited. Breathing out, it’s okay to feel super happy and excited.” They then elaborate on what specifically is making them feel so blissful and excited. One of them often says, “I’m happy because today’s today,” which never fails to melt my heart.

Sometimes, though, they (and I) admit, “Breathing in, I feel tired, sad, worried, confused and grateful. Breathing out, it’s okay to feel tired, sad, worried, confused and grateful.” And often, we elaborate on why. In this way, we get to know each other better and realize that we all share similar emotions and challenges.

This technique is wonderful because it reminds us that whatever is coming up for us is okay. It doesn’t need to be changed, repressed, pursued or pushed away. It just is what it is. And it’s always changing.

I hope you’ll give it a try. If you’re a teacher, try it with kids or teens, and let me know how it goes. May it be of benefit!

What Yoga Isn’t.

Originally published on elephant journal.

“Yoga is the mere or sheer participation in the wonder of Life as it is already perfectly given.”
~ Mark Whitwell, Yoga of Heart

The word “yoga” has become popular, mainstream and confused.

The question for today is: are we practicing actual yoga? Or are we making our yoga yet another item on our endless task list, an appointment in our weekly agenda after which we can go back to being miserable?

Are we creating spiritual practice just to have something to do or to attain enlightenment or flat abs or the perfect life?

The teacher is within. A guru can light the path, but only the yogi can walk that path.

Every yogi has her own practice.

There are as many yogas as yogis.

Yoga isn’t asana.

Yoga isn’t meditation.

Yoga isn’t ethics and morals.

Yoga isn’t studying the Gita or the Sutras.

“You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state.” ~ Sharon Gannon

Yoga isn’t a lifestyle; yoga is life.

Yoga is not a lineage. Yoga does not require any particular equipment, apparel or paraphernalia. Yoga is not just on the mat. Yoga is not just in a studio. Yoga is not just formal practice.

Yoga isn’t the conscious inhale and exhale.

Yoga isn’t perfect balance.

Yoga isn’t New Age relaxation.

Yoga isn’t flexibility.

Yoga isn’t mindfulness.

Yoga blesses us with well being and freedom from inflexibility, weakness and chronic imbalance. Freedom from rigid beliefs about life, God and our own bodies and abilities.

Yoga is the dance of the soul, the root of the smile, the hollow center inside the space that fills the heart.

Yoga isn’t exclusive.

Yoga isn’t expensive.

Yoga isn’t a business or a marketplace or a commercial for the happy, healthy, mindful life.

Yoga is who we are and always have been.

“Yoga must be adapted to our needs, and no standardized approach will work.” ~ Mark Whitwell

We mustn’t integrate Yoga into our lives—that would be impossible, as it is already integrated. What we can do is learn certain movements, exercises and breath techniques for our body type and personality. What we can do is meditate and cultivate mindfulness and heartfulness throughout our days and years on the planet.

Yoga is realization that we are the energy to live fully, serve others and give love, kindness and compassion to all beings, including ourselves.

We are practicing everywhere, all the time, whether we know it or not.

Yoga is union.

Union of what?

Not the little self to the Big Self. Not the ego to the divine. Those are already connected, and there is no way of separating Us versus Them or me versus God.

We are nature, and nature is us. Yoga helps us realize that.

Sacred September

Hello, there. Welcome to a new month… well, it’s already the third day of the month, but I’m just now getting around to checking in.

I haven’t been writing as much lately.

There are, after all, so many distractions. Essays I want to read. Photos I want to upload. My daughter’s incessant viewing of Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox on the iPad the past few days… or her wails when I finally take it away. Emails coming in, needing replies. The Facebook.

For the past few months, living in a new place and starting a new job, I’ve been feeling in touch with the ground, the earth, getting my foundation re-established under me. A lot of lower chakra work. You’ve gotta go down to go up, as they say.

I have not been doing writing practice — I have not been writing daily or with any real regularity and definitely not feeling inspired until very recently. And now I am so inspired, with so many ideas, so many plans and projects that all I can really do is sit still and sink in before attempting anything else.

I have been rereading random chapters of Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. So inspiring, so common sense. The basic premise is to write as a zen practice. The #1 top writing book of all time. Or, my favorite, anyway.

This is a month for gratitude, change, work, transformation, stillness, movement… Happy September!

p.s. What do you think of the new yogafreedom site design?

Metta Check-in

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Metta is a simple, peaceful and powerful technique of visualization and repetition of aspirations, or good wishes.

Here’s an example of a metta meditation that you can adapt for your own personal practice:

I sit on the ground with my legs crossed. I sit tall, feeling strong and grounded. I gently close my eyelids, and in my mind’s eye, I see my own face as if I’m looking in the mirror. I say to myself,

May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I be free from suffering.

Sometimes, this flows smoothly and easily. It feels splendid to offer myself these loving wishes. Other times, doubting voices arise in my mind. (“Why should I be happy?” “There is no freedom from suffering.”) Whatever comes up, I simply notice.

Next, I see my two living grandmothers sitting before me.

They are 89 and 92 now. I see them in their old age and I see them as I remember them as a child. I see them as the young, glamorous girls they were in old photographs. I hold their hands in mine and say:

May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be free from suffering.

This is easy. I love my grandmothers. They are wonderful. It feels natural and pleasant to send them these positive wishes.

Now, I see myself sitting there along with my two grandmas. I see my flaws and my strengths. I witness my body and my mind. I see my other beloveds have joined us. My parents, my husband, my daughter, my brother, my sister, my soul mates.

May we be safe.
May we be happy.
May we be healthy.
May we be free.

I see an acquaintance. I see the cashier at the corner store. I see the security guard who stands calmly outside the bank all day. I see the new neighbor.

May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be free.

I see an enemy. I see someone who has stabbed me in the back. I see people who have gossiped about me and slandered my reputation. I see difficult people, individuals with whom I have had disputes and conflicts. At first it’s impossible, but eventually I soften up and say, even to them,

May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be free.

I place my palms together and visualize the metta as a green light in my heart center. My body begins to glow with this green light, like an electric bulb.

The light then gets brighter and more powerful and spreads out from my body to cover my entire house, street, neighborhood, community, town, city, region, state, country, continent.

It extends beyond the land, permeating the oceans and continuing to shine across the whole Earth. I see that all beings and myself are one. I repeat the metta aspirations for all sentient beings:

May all beings be safe.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be healthy.
May all beings be free.

I feel grateful to be alive, to be a human, to have this opportunity to live, learn and love every day.

May we love and be patient.
May we serve and benefit others.
May we share and live in harmony.
May we be at peace and live with ease.

Do you practice metta? What aspirations do you use?

Mindfulness for Beginners: Anchoring to the Present Moment

anchorMindfulness is more than awareness of the present and “letting go of the past and future”—it’s a daily practice that helps us develop loving kindness and compassion, as well as equanimity, patience and focus.

When we think of “meditation,” we often visualize a person sitting in lotus position with their fingers perched on their knees in a certain mudra. This is one of thousands of ways we can meditate. Mindfulness meditation can be practiced in any moment, during any and every activity (or non-activity, such as sitting, lying down or standing still).

Formal practice blends into informal practice over time with intention and effort.

We become more present and feel more alive in this moment, right here, right now.

The simplest way to meditate is by finding an anchor to keep us in the present moment.

Here are some suggestions:

Mantra
Candle flame/fire
Mandala creation/coloring
Bell
Listening to Music
Chanting
Sounds in the environment
Breath
Sensations
Emotions
Metaphor
Writing (stream of consciousness)

The possibilities are endless! What other ways can we keep anchored to ever-changing present?

“If you think you’re free, there’s no escape possible.”Ram Dass

Read the full version on elephant journal.