My wife and I recently left our little blue paradise behind and ventured out on a road trip through Utah’s red rock country. We visited all five national parks in ten days, driving over 30 hours from Lake Tahoe to Moab and back. Along the way, we spent countless hours exploring some of the most surreal landscapes on Earth. After trudging around in the ice and snow every day for the last four months, we were more than ready for a change of scenery. Hiking in the red desert among towering hoodoos turned out to be the perfect antidote for our simmering cabin fever.
Taking in so many incredible sights has deepened my appreciation of the inherent beauty that exists in the physical word. Also, standing on the edge of various death-defying rock precipices has inspired a whole new understanding of the word ‘awe’- defined here as: “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.” The word ‘awesome’ gets thrown around a lot these days but, in this case, I believe it is the correct adjective to use when describing this experience. Now that we are back at home, there is a rekindled sense of wonder inside my heart. They say that traveling is good for the soul and, after taking this journey, I can understand why. Here is why traveling is so essential to your overall well-being:
1. Traveling makes you appreciate the world you live in.
The universe is an infinitely weird and wonderful place made up of countless stars and planets. We take it for granted that Earth is our home, but we really should take the time to look around and appreciate what an amazing planet this is. Scientists estimate that there are over 30 billion planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone, and that there are over 100 billion galaxies in the observable universe. When you consider the astronomical odds, it’s clear that we are blessed to be here on Earth. I may be a little biased, but this has got to be one of the best planets out there. We’ve got it all: oceans, mountains, rivers, deserts, canyons, lakes- not to mention all the beautiful flora and fauna that’s here. As far as planets go, it really doesn’t get any better than this. You could spend a lifetime searching the galaxy for a better place to call home, but I don’t think you’ll find a more aesthetically pleasing planet than the one we are already on.
2. Traveling makes you happy to be alive.
Nobody knows why we are alive on Earth right now. Life is the great, unsolvable mystery that we all face. In the end, there’s not a lot you can do about your existence- you’re basically here whether you like it or not- so you might as well enjoy the ride. However, I find that nothing makes me appreciate being alive more than coming face-to-face with the prospect of my own demise. Fortunately, this trip offered me the perfect opportunity to be genuinely afraid for my life.
The moment in question occurred halfway along a tall, narrow rock spine in Zion canyon. There I was, clinging to a metal chain, flanked on the left and right by thousand-foot drop-offs. I looked up at the towering rock spine ahead of me and I couldn’t believe that I had to go up there. An ice-cold liquid slowly spread from my chest throughout my whole body. I felt temporarily frozen in time and space, unable to take a step forward or backward. My legs, already exhausted from the long hike to the top, had apparently turned into rubber.
I quickly recognized that I was facing one of the biggest fears of all- the fear of death. I took a deep breath and considered my options. In a situation like this, there are really only two choices: feel the fear and decide to turn back, or feel the fear and do it anyway. I figured that, even if I did fall to my death, at least people could say that I died doing what I loved. I eventually pushed on, clambering to the top and feeling very much alive and invigorated in the process. Challenges such as this, when death is a real possibility, force you to recognize just how much value you place on your own existence.
I am not ashamed to admit that I was scared up there because I feel like fear is a very natural response to have in those circumstances. Fortunately, in my moment of wavering resolve, I recognized that my fear of death was simply an indication of how much I enjoy my life. It turns out that I really, really like being alive. Fear is always thought of as the enemy but, by recognizing where the fear stems from, you can prevent it from having a paralyzing effect on you. Besides, if it weren’t for the fear of death, getting to the top wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.
In conclusion, the reason traveling is so essential to your well-being is because it allows you to appreciate the miraculous nature of reality. Traveling takes you out of your comfort zone and allows you to see the world from a higher perspective. We didn't come into this world from someplace else, we were created by the Earth itself. The same mysterious force that created the sun and the moon and the stars also created you and me and everything else you see. Perhaps the best way we can honor the Creator is to venture out into the natural world and marvel in wonder at the beauty of Creation.
Smartphones were introduced to the public a little over ten years ago and, in that time, they have completely taken over our lives. It is now considered normal to carry around a miniature computer in our pockets that is millions of times more powerful than every single computer that NASA used during the lunar landing in 1969, combined. The smartphone has quickly become our most precious possession, causing a mild panic attack whenever we can’t locate it right away. It’s our camera, photo album, calendar, calculator, alarm clock, music player and GPS navigator. It’s also our means of communication via text, our primary connection to social media platforms, and our daily source for news, weather and silly cat videos. Some people have even reported using their phones to make real, actual phone calls. With all the benefits that the smartphone brings to our lives, it’s hard to imagine any downside to having one. However, spending too much time on your smartphone has been shown to have a negative impact on your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual life.
Using your phone is not necessarily a bad thing, but these days we are spending way too much time staring down at our devices. My research revealed that, on average, we check our phones 150 times a day, or once every six minutes. It’s gotten to the point where we are currently spending an average of 3 hours a day looking at our phones, an average that is increasing annually. Something needs to be done to reverse this unhealthy trend before it’s too late. Let’s examine the various ways in which smartphones can negatively impact our lives and see what, if anything, we can do about it.
1. Physical impact. Every minute you spend on your phone is sedentary time, in that you are not moving around or getting any exercise during this time. Too much sedentary time can lead to a whole host of problems from obesity to cardiovascular disease. However, perhaps the most prevalent physical problem that has come about in the smartphone era is an ailment known as “text neck.” When you observe people scrolling on their phones, notice the angle of their heads. The human head weighs about ten pounds but, for every inch that the head is angled forward, an extra ten pounds of pressure is added to the neck. This chronic forward angle takes the natural curve out of your cervical spine and causes your neck muscles to work extra hard just to hold your head up. By the end of the day, your neck muscles become strained and fatigued, leading to tension headaches and painful muscle spasms. To counter text neck, raise your phone up away from your lap when you are using it, keeping the weight of your head balanced squarely on top of your shoulders.
2. Mental impact. Paradoxically, our smartphones are actually causing us to get progressively dumber. There has been a number of articles written about smartphone addiction and the short attention spans that we are all developing as a result. But one thing that doesn’t get mentioned very often is how mentally lazy our phones are making us. Carrying around a smartphone means never having to think about anything, ever again. Thanks to Google, as soon as you are faced with any kind of question or quandary, you can just Google it and the answer will appear in less than a second. It’s like carrying around an extra brain with you at all times, one that is flawless at math, never misses an appointment, and knows the answer to every single question that ever existed. As a result, we no longer have to perform calculations, remember phone numbers or appointment times, or possess any factual knowledge. Also, when we blindly accept Google’s results as the indisputable truth, it robs us of the ability to analyze and reason. Instead of looking at both sides of an argument and reaching our own logical conclusions, we take whatever comes up first on the search page as the truth and barely give it a second thought.
3. Emotional impact. Humans need social interaction in order to feel connected, supported and validated. But, thanks to the smartphone, we have practically eliminated the need to have real human interactions anymore. We seem perfectly content to focus on our screens, ignorant of everyone and everything around us. When we do have something to say, we can easily text it or send it in an email, eliminating any chance of awkwardness or of accidentally saying the wrong thing. The problem is that we need genuine human interaction in order to feel loved, supported and acknowledged. As human interactions are replaced with digital interactions, we feel increasingly isolated and alone. Social media gives us the illusion that we have hundreds of friends, but the truth is that we are more disconnected from each other than ever before. Our full attention and presence are perhaps the greatest gifts we can give to each other, yet we have all been out to dinner and witnessed families sitting around the table in silence, each person immersed in their own social media feed. When did scrolling through random photos of people you barely know become more important than spending quality time with loved ones?
4. Spiritual impact. The spiritual path basically involves learning how to connect with your higher self and/or with a source greater than yourself. However, because of the smartphone, many of us have replaced our desire to connect to God with our desire to connect to WiFi. As human beings, we naturally seek connection with a higher source and, in many cases, connecting to WiFi satisfies that impulse. As a result, we don’t feel the need to seek any further. Another impact of the smartphone on spirituality is that we have fewer opportunities to experience the present moment. Rather than being comfortable and at ease in the present, we quickly reach for our phones in order to keep our minds distracted. Spending time in the present with an open and empty mind often leads to creative thoughts and spiritual epiphanies. Constantly distracting our minds doesn’t allow us the time and space for creative inspiration or for connection with our true source.
Chances are that you are reading this blog on your smartphone right now- and that is perfectly okay. The point is not to eliminate phone use, but rather to be smart about it. According to my calculations (that I just did on my phone), a person who averages three hours a day on their smartphone will spend over 45 days a year immersed in their little screens. Maintain this average over an 80-year lifespan, and you will end up spending 10 years of your life looking down at your phone. That is a significant amount time, therefore it’s important to recognize whether the time you spend on your phone is feeding your soul or if you are just keeping your mind busy. Our brief stint here on Earth means that time is our most precious commodity. Try not to waste your precious time on things that don’t really matter.
Life is an incredible gift that ought to be celebrated with joyous enthusiasm. Unfortunately, our common life experience has become less of a daily celebration and more of a daily chore. Instead of rejoicing in the miracle of existence, we spend most of our time complaining that we are running out of energy. We understand that the universe is this infinitely big, amazing place, but it doesn’t really matter because we’re still so tired. Generally speaking, people of the world are bored, stressed out and, in many cases, completely exhausted. At any given moment, I think the majority of us would rather just drop whatever it is we’re doing and go back to sleep.
When we are busy being tired all the time, we are not able to experience and appreciate the many joys of being awake. This is because, when we are tired, simply being awake and conscious feels like a drain on our resources. We find ourselves sleepwalking through life, faking it the best we can, secretly craving our warm cozy bed and the sweet release of unconsciousness. Meanwhile, daily life becomes a series of inconvenient tasks that we must somehow struggle through so that we can finally get back into our bed where we really belong. Inevitably, morning arrives, and we struggle just to open our eyes. For some, a steady stream of caffeine is the only way to fend off sleep and make it through the day. There has got to be a way to break out of this unhealthy cycle. What can we do to cultivate our energy so that we are no longer so worn-out all the time? Here are three easy ways to increase your vital energy right now.
1. Wake up. Being awake is easy. In truth, the eternal present moment is all there is and all there will ever be. Everything else is just the endless fluctuations of your mind. If you find that the fundamental act of being awake and alive is a drain on your energy, then you're doing it wrong. Simply being present and alert, opening your eyes and ears and paying attention to what's happening shouldn't be a drain on your energy. If it was, then listening to music on your stereo would be a tiresome task. You would only be able to listen to a certain number of songs before having to take a nap.
If you want to access the boundless energy of the present moment, simply center yourself. Allow the fluctuations of your mind to come to a still point. So much of your mental and emotional energy is wasted rehashing past events and anticipating moments that have yet to transpire. You toil away inside your mind all day long, judging your experience as either good or bad, right or wrong etc. You cling to the experiences that bring you pleasure while avoiding anything that may cause discomfort. Waking up means letting your mind rest. It means being comfortable in your body, peaceful in your mind and at ease in the present moment.
2. Release control. Only when you release control over the flow of life will you be able to find inner peace. Once you let go, no matter what happens, it’s all perfectly okay. You drop all resistance to the flow of events in your life, being at peace with whatever takes place in this moment. It’s the difference between a person that falls into a river and starts thrashing against the current, and a person who falls into the same river but quickly realizes that resistance is futile, so they simply relax and resolve to be at peace with wherever the current takes them. Both of these people are going to end up in exactly the same place, but which one do you think will get tired first?
3. Realize that you are made of energy. How can you possibly complain about being tired when you are literally made of energy? Well, technically speaking, you are made of matter but, as Einstein taught us when he wrote the equation E = mc2, matter is made of energy. Just how much energy are you made of? Well, to begin with, consider that the human body consists of over 37 trillion cells. Imagine all of these trillions of tiny cells working in unison to create the unique experience of you. Each one of your 37 trillion cells is alive and actively creating energy within. If you were able to tap into your own cellular energy, you would never feel tired again.
If your cellular energy is not enough to convince you that your energy is boundless, then what about your atomic energy? After all, a single cell consists of about 100 trillion atoms. As we know, each one of these atoms contains an enormous amount of energy. Think about how much energy is released when an atom is split. ln the case of a hydrogen bomb, it doesn't require much matter to create a huge explosion. In fact, the amount of matter used as fuel inside a hydrogen bomb is less than a third of the mass of a single dime. Meanwhile the energy released by the subsequent explosion after splitting those atoms is equal to between 15-20 Kilotons of TNT. Which is a staggering amount of energy for such a small amount of hydrogen. Now consider that you are also made of atoms. In fact, the human body consists of over seven billion billion billion atoms. Imagine if every one of your atoms were to spontaneously split apart. The amount of energy released in that explosion would be unthinkable- you would literally light up the world! Keep that in mind next time you feel like you don't have enough energy. When you learn to draw from the boundless energy that you consist of, your well will never be empty again.
February is the time of year when we celebrate love. While Valentine’s Day is commonly focused on the more traditional definition of love- specifically the courting phase of a romantic relationship- all those heart-shaped decorations can serve as a timely reminder about the importance of cultivating heart-based energy. Love is an energy that takes on many different expressions. Just as a prism reveals that white light consists of every color of the rainbow, so the energy of love takes on a multitude of forms. From charitable love to familial love to romantic love to Divine love... it’s all love! It all stems from a common place: the heart center. So, how can we get more of this heart-based energy flowing in our everyday lives?
To begin with, we have to figure out how to love ourselves. For many years I confused the concept of self-love with that of vanity. I thought that loving myself meant that I had to spend time gazing into the mirror, enamored by my own reflection. I’ve since discovered that loving myself really means nurturing myself. Self-love means taking care of my body by eating nourishing food. It means taking the time to stretch and breathe and receive healing bodywork. It means spending time in stillness, to quiet the mind, and spending time in nature, to revitalize the spirit.
Self-love is also about recognizing that ‘love’ is a force of energy that runs through the fabric of all creation. Love is fundamentally who we are at our very core. Ultimately, love is what this whole universe is an expression of. So, to experience the blossoming of love in your heart right now, you simply need to get out of your own way. There’s really no need for fancy temples or long, complicated rituals in order to access this fundamental truth: that your body is the real temple. The Divine experience takes place here and now, in this lifetime, inside this body, radiating through this heart.
The experience of love is an embodied experience because it takes having a body to experience it. The whole point of having a spiritual practice is to fine-tune your body and mind so that you can more easily access the flow of heart-based energy in your being. All you really need to do to experience this flow of love inside is to cease your internal resistance to it. You can do this anytime you like by taking a really big breath in and then completely relaxing any tension and resistance inside your chest as you breathe out.
If it doesn’t work the first time, try it again and again until your heart feels open and your chest feels warm and light. This heart-based energy is always there, ready to flow through you whenever you need it. All you have to do is remember to check in regularly throughout the day and make sure that your central channel is clear and tension free. To keep this channel clear, imagine a hollow tube running up and down your spinal column, connecting the top of your head with the tip of your tailbone. By releasing tension in your heart, you are unclogging this central energy channel, allowing heart-based energy to flow up and down your spine and to gently spread from your chest throughout your whole body.
Once the energy starts flowing, it's up to you where you decide to focus it. It's kind of like when you unkink a garden hose and the water starts flowing out- now you have to figure out where to aim the spray. Don't worry about making the wrong decision when it comes to expressing love. As I said in the beginning, there are infinite ways in which the energy of love can be expressed. As long as you are taking actions with an open heart, you really can’t go wrong.
Life is full of challenges. As the saying goes- the struggle is real. But, what does it mean to struggle against a challenge? The definition of the word struggle is, “to make forceful or violent efforts to get free of restraint or constriction.” To understand why we struggle, we first need to figure out what the restraint or constriction is that we are struggling against.
When people say that the struggle is real, they are referring to the amount of effort that it takes to solve life’s various challenges. In many cases, the force that you struggle against is the apparent weight of your problems. Also known as ‘the burden of responsibility’ or the ‘weight of the world,’ this is the omnipresent force that bears down upon you whenever the going gets tough. The more difficulties you face in this lifetime, the heavier your burden feels. Things can get so heavy that it feels like a fifty-pound sack of flour is sitting on your chest at all times, constricting your ability to breathe and move around freely.
To stop all this unnecessary struggling, you simply need to realize the imaginary nature of this oppressive weight that you've been carrying around. Your so called ‘problems’ exist solely inside your imagination. Your problems aren’t actually physical things; they exist only as thought forms inside your mind. I'm not saying you don't have ‘real’ problems, I'm saying that your problems are simply a collection of thoughts and feelings that you have about a particular set of circumstances. Since thoughts and feelings technically have no mass, it’s fair to say that your problems are, in fact, weightless.
If your problems are weightless, then there is no reason to tense up in difficult times because there is actually nothing to brace yourself against. When there is no longer a force that is restricting or constraining you, then you are free! The struggle is over. After releasing this imaginary weight, you will still need to solve whatever problem you are facing, but now at least you can be calm and grounded while you figure things out.
Next time you catch yourself struggling against the pressure, remain present and conscious. Instead of tensing up to brace against the weight, breathe and let it go. Rather than pulling your energy inwards towards your spine, practice radiating your energy outwards from your center. Constriction is a natural reaction when things go wrong, but being constricted doesn't help solve the problem faster- it just makes things more difficult. Letting go of the weight won’t stop bad things from happening- life will continue to present you with challenges to overcome. But, by releasing this imaginary internal pressure, it will be easier to remain balanced and focused in the face of adversity.
As the northern hemisphere reaches the apex of its tilt away from the sun, we enter the darkest time of year. As a culture, we have developed traditions that aim to keep our spirits high during this trying time. We band together with friends and family to celebrate, feast and delight in each others company. The emphasis is on spreading joy and cheer and good will to all. However, for many of us, the holidays are the most stressful time of the year. How could a tradition that is designed to improve your mood actually cause you to feel worse about life? The solution to your suffering may be a lot simpler than you imagine. Here are three helpful hints to free you from stress during the holiday season.
1. Realize that everything is you. There is no escaping this basic truth: that everywhere you go, there you are. Every situation you ever find yourself in, there’s you right in the center of it all, experiencing it. As such, every experience you can have in this life is subjective. Reality is not just a thing that’s happening- it’s a thing that’s happening to you. Therefore, if you are at a party and you are not having a good time, you ought to know that it is not the party’s fault. You really can’t blame a party for being boring because your experience of boredom is actually an experience of yourself.
The same goes for stressful situations like family gatherings. Is it really a stressful situation, or is it you that is feeling stressed? We go through life feeling like a victim of circumstance, trapped in the endless stream of life, powerless to overcome the current. Realize that you are the stillness at the center, you are the central filter through which reality is experienced. Everything that happens is essentially an experience of you. So, for goodness sake, relax and try to enjoy yourself.
2. Stop complaining. I was surprised to learn that the average person complains between 15-30 times a day. I actually thought it would be more, given that there are so many things to complain about. At any given moment, there is always going to be at least one thing wrong. Maybe it’s too hot, maybe it’s too cold? Maybe you’re hungry or maybe you ate too much and now you’re full? Are you tired? Does your back hurt? The list is endless - and don’t even get me started about the weather.
Cutting down on complaining this holiday season is a sure way to bring more peace and joy into your immediate world. First, understand that having a critical mind means that there will always be a part of you that is evaluating your experience and thinking of ways that it could be better. The problem is, we subconsciously believe that everything should be perfect, all the time. When everything is not perfect, which is often the case, it causes emotional distress. Complaining occurs when you proceed to share this emotional distress with those around you.
Like any habit, breaking out of the complaint cycle isn’t easy. It begins by paying attention to your thoughts. When you hear the inner critic speaking, pause for a second before giving voice to it. Are you about to unconsciously point out all the flaws that you notice? Ask yourself, will voicing this thought contribute to the collective joy experienced in this moment? If not, replace your original intention to complain with an expression of gratitude instead.
3. Practice gratitude. Expressing gratitude feels great and makes everyone happy. When you appreciate someone, it’s an expression of truth that comes from the heart. Sharing truth from your heart always feels good, but appreciation is a win-win- it makes the recipient feel good inside and it makes you feel good as well. You both get that feeling of openness and lightness inside the chest. Showing appreciation is a great way to generate more joy this season. Unlike complaining, expressing gratitude raises the collective vibration- and keeping the vibration high is the key to maintaining long-term happiness.
By taking these three hints on board, you are much more likely to have a “happy holidays.” Remember, it’s not actually the "holiday" that needs to be happy, it’s "you" that needs to take responsibility for your own happiness. Keep in mind, at any given moment, there will always be something to complain about. At the same time, there will always be something to be thankful for. Where you choose to focus your attention is entirely up to you. Choose wisely.
We often hear the word ‘namaste’ spoken at the end of yoga class. Some yoga teachers will even translate the sanskrit word for you, explaining how, “The Divine light within me honors the Divine light within you and recognizes that we are One.” This is a beautiful translation, but I have always been a little suspicious that a single word could have such a long translation into English. I also hold my hands in prayer, bow forward, and say ‘namaste’ at the end of my yoga classes, so I felt like it was time for me to do some research to determine the real definition of the word.
Finding out the literal translation of ‘namaste’ was a bit of a disappointment, to be honest. I had illusions about how saying namaste meant that I honor the divine spark inside you and I realize that the same divine spark resides inside me. I thought it was about recognizing the one, true light of consciousness that shines through us all. It turns out that ‘namah’ is actually the verb, ‘to bow.’ Whereas, ‘te’ literally translated as ‘to you.’ So, put the two together and you get, ‘I bow to you.’ This explains why namaste is typically said along with a bow, but it doesn’t explain where our convoluted western definition of namaste came from. Is it possible that we have been lying to ourselves this whole time?
I continued my research into this ancient word and I eventually found some redemption. I learned that the word ‘namaste’ was originally spoken only in instances when one is bowing in reverence to God. So, on a spiritual level, the ‘you’ that the bow is directed to is actually the Divine Self. Learning this small point helped to bring things back full circle because, with namaste, you are not just bowing to the physical person in front of you, you are bowing to the soul, or divine light, within them.
As with all spoken words, the intention behind the words is just as important as the words themselves. If you say ‘namaste’ while consciously honoring the Divine presence within, it creates a shared blessing. By placing your hands in prayer in front of your chest, you are strengthening your connection to the divine light that resides in your heart center. According to one article I read, “Namaste creates a loop of bliss to pass positive energy unto the one receiving the gesture. Heart centers and chakras are said to connect during the Divine saying.”
This is all well and good, but what about the notion that we are all ‘one.’ If I have light inside me and you have light inside you, then why is it necessarily the same light? To wrap your head around this, imagine it’s a sunny day and that sunlight is streaming in through a window. If you pull a curtain down in front of the window, it will block out all the light. Then, if you take a small pin and make hundreds of holes in the curtain, pretty soon you will have hundreds of tiny pinpricks of light. Each pinprick of light is individual and separate from every other pinprick of light. However, it’s all the same light- the source of the light remains the same, it’s just been focused into individual expressions. So, the next time you hear or say namaste, remember the source of spiritual light and take a moment to honor the way in which we are all connected.
Devastating wildfires ravaged California this summer, leaving much of the state covered in a thick blanket of smoke. The Lake Tahoe basin was no exception, as we witnessed our perfectly blue skies turn gray for weeks at a time. On the smokiest days, the fresh mountain air that we have grown accustomed to breathing took on the malodorous stench of a giant bonfire. Nerves were frayed and tempers were running high for locals and tourists alike as a collective uneasiness spread throughout the population. Together we struggled to stay positive and upbeat, exchanging forced smiles while the world burned down around us. Now that the worst of the smoke is behind us, let’s take a moment to see what, if anything, we can learn from this experience.
1.Taking deep breaths is not always the answer. Don’t get me wrong, in 99% of all the so called “bad” situations you find yourself in, taking a series of deep, conscious breaths will help ease any immediate tension and calm your reactive emotional responses. It’s just that, in the case of heavy smoke pollution, taking deep breaths is simply not the answer. Maybe that’s why this summer was so difficult for everyone: the one thing we could always rely on to help us out in a bad situation- i.e. breathing- was also the one thing we really shouldn’t be doing. With the entire population forced into taking short, shallow breaths, it’s no wonder there was so much collective stress. Now that the air is clear again, let’s relish the opportunity to relax our lungs and breathe fully and deeply once again.
2.Complaining doesn’t help the situation. Complaining draws attention to the situation. Complaining reminds everyone around you about what the problem is how it is affecting you negatively. However, complaining doesn’t really help put the fires out, it merely helps reaffirm the problem at hand. I did my fair share of complaining this summer as well, until I realized the futility of it. At some point I remembered that, although we were certainly suffering from all the smoke, we were still in a much better situation than the thousands of people who have been evacuated or have lost their homes to the fires. Yes- smoky air is terrible, it can completely ruin your day, but considering the hardships that others are going through, we really can’t complain.
3. The self and the environment are intertwined. Existence consists of the interplay between self and environment. One of the highest realizations you can have is that there is no real separation between you and the world that you find yourself existing in. The belief that you are separate from the physical world that you observe outside of your body is an illusion. Like two sides of a coin, self and environment are one and the same. You can’t have a ‘heads’ side of a coin without a ‘tails’ side just as you can’t have a self without an environment. That’s why nice, clear, sunny days make us feel so good inside. It’s because we are all mirrors, reflecting the world around us. This also explains why the summer was so difficult for everyone. Because when the sky is gray, it makes us gray. When the forests are on fire, it feels like we are the ones on fire. Rather than getting depressed about it, the best thing you can do is recognize that the negative feelings you are experiencing are the direct result of your compassionate nature. It means that you care. However, caring about something does not require that you suffer for it. It is possible to reflect the environment without internalizing it and making it all about you. It is a tremendous relief of internal tension when you realize that the wildfire problem is not actually yours to resolve. Your suffering as a result of all the natural destruction, while noble, is also completely unnecessary.
Now that the sky is blue again and the mountains have reappeared from behind the gray shroud of smoke, let's remember to appreciate how good a clear, blue sky makes us feel. We tend to take blue skies and fresh air for granted until they are taken away from us. We really can't control whether or not the smoke rolls into the basin, but we can control the way we react to our circumstances. In the meantime, let's remember to take full advantage of smoke free days by going outside and enjoying the sunshine whenever possible.
Imagine that it’s early in the morning and you are floating on Lake Tahoe. You are balanced on top of a paddleboard, grounded into your feet, with your hips relaxed and your knees slightly bent. The sun, still nestled behind the mountains in the East, is sending a warm yellow glow up from behind the treelined peaks. The wind has yet to pick up, causing the surface of the lake to be as smooth as glass. The horizon of the cloudless blue sky is fringed with pink and orange hues. The only sound you hear is your paddle as it gently moves in and out of the crystal-clear water. You take a deep breath and can’t help but smile as you become fully immersed in the present moment.
Paddleboarding is so much more than a trendy new way to get your exercise and strengthen your core muscles. Under the right circumstances, it becomes a moving meditation, with profound benefits for the mind, body and soul. Let’s explore each of these benefits in greater detail to discover what makes moments like this so transcendent.
1. The mind. There is something about stillness that brings great peace of mind. Standing on a perfectly calm lake, away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world, it is easy to let the constant chattering of the mind fade into a whisper and, eventually, into silence. Stillness is the natural state of the mind, the silent womb from which we all emerged and to which we will all return someday. The mind’s primary job is to think- to evaluate and problem solve and figure things out. However, when you are out on a paddleboard in the early morning, you realize that there is no need for problem solving because there is nothing wrong. There is nothing to accomplish or fix or change or compare to. The mind can finally be given permission to let go and be at peace.
The thinking mind is sometimes compared to a glass of muddy water. By continually agitating the glass, the sediment will swirl around and stay suspended in the liquid. By keeping the glass perfectly still, the mud will eventually settle down to the bottom of the glass, allowing the water to become clear. In this metaphor, our thoughts are the sediment swirling around, whereas the water represents the clarity of pure consciousness that is undisturbed by thought.
2. The body. One thing about paddleboarding is that you have to keep your body balanced or you will soon end up in the water. That means keeping your feet firmly planted, with equal weight between the left and right foot. It means standing up straight without leaning too far forwards or backwards. It also means staying loose and flexible in the ankles, knees and hips. If you are too rigid, the smallest wave will knock you off balance. The trick is to be strong yet flexible, rolling with the motion of the waves. You soon become aware of your center of gravity, located just below the naval, and you learn to rest your focus there. Also known as the ‘dan tien', this area is the source of energy and vitality in the body.
Floating on top of such a large body of water, especially one that is completely still, can also have a deeply calming effect on the body. This is because all matter is made of energy and, as a result, everything puts off a distinct vibratory pattern. Lake Tahoe has 39 trillion gallons of water and it emits an overwhelmingly peaceful vibration. How does this vibration affect us? Well, imagine that you have two brass singing bowls, placed side by side. Because the two bowls are made of the same material, you could strike the bowl on the left and notice that the bowl on the right will eventually start vibrating as well. So you see, since the human body is at least 70% water, we have no choice but to vibrate at the same peaceful frequency of the lake.
3. The soul. Perhaps the ultimate realization of the soul is that life is beautiful. Or perhaps it is that all of life, and everything in it, is 'one.' I like to think that our conscious presence on Earth is what brings the world into being. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and not necessarily in the scene that is being beheld. Imagine what sunrise on Lake Tahoe was like before there were any eyes present to see it. Or before there were hearts and minds here to appreciate it. Was it still beautiful?
That is an interesting question because, without a witness present, did it even really happen? Our witnessing of the Earth’s natural splendor is what makes it beautiful. Which is perfect, because our ability to recognize and appreciate beauty is what makes our time on Earth worthwhile. It’s what makes the whole creation of the universe worthwhile. Tuning into the soul means recognizing the fact that we are the witnesses- we are the ones that bring the beauty of life into being.
One of the benefits of being a massage therapist is that I get to spend a lot of time in a calm, clear state. Over the years, I have given thousands of massages- which means that I have spent thousands of hours perfecting my inner tranquility. By creating calmness within, I am better able to share intuitive touch and healing energy, helping to foster relaxation in my clients. It is not always easy to maintain this equanimity throughout the day. However, I have learned a few tricks that I use to keep the peaceful vibes flowing. Here are a few suggestions that will help you remain calm regardless of your circumstances.
1. Stay grounded. One piece of advice that I received many years ago during my massage training at the Esalen Institute is to always stay in your feet. It sounds obvious, but we tend to forget that energy naturally seeks the ground. After all, a grounded electrical circuit is far less likely to get fried by a power surge than an ungrounded circuit. This is because all the excess energy will travel down into the earth and be neutralized. The best way to ground your energy is to be aware of your feet on the floor. In this way, any excess energy that is released during a massage gets sent down into the Earth instead of being circulated throughout your system. Keeping your feet relaxed and firmly planted on the floor not only allows you to stay balanced, it also prevents other peoples “stuff” from becoming your own.
2. Maintain good posture. In yoga, they speak about the importance of the “shushumna,”the central energy channel that runs up and down the spine, connecting the top of the head with the base of the pelvis. When this channel is open, prana (life force energy) can flow freely throughout the body. When the shushumna is blocked it can lead to feelings of stress, anxiety and ultimately to disease within the body. The best way to keep the shushumna open is to maintain good posture. This means that you have to be aware of the times that you let your posture go. My worst habit, especially when massaging, is to tuck my chin. This not only puts extra strain on my neck, it completely cuts off the flow of energy through my throat. Other ways to block the pranic energy flow include: furrowing the brow, clenching the jaw, shrugging your shoulders up towards your ears, letting the spine slouch, and tilting the pelvis too far forward or backward. Keeping your head balanced on top of your shoulders and your spine perpendicular relative to the floor helps to create a calm and balanced energetic state within the body.
3. Relax your breath. Our lungs are made up of smooth muscle tissue, however our breath is primarily the result of the diaphragm and intercostal muscles contracting and releasing. The diaphragm is located at the base of the lungs and, when it contracts, it pulls downward, causing the chest cavity to become longer. When the intercostals contract, they pull the ribs upward and outward, causing the chest cavity to become wider. The result of these two processes is that air streams into the lungs (otherwise known as an inhale). An exhale occurs when these two muscle groups relax. If you are trying to be calm for long periods of time, then you need to avoid holding tension in your lungs and in your breathing muscles. When you are stressed, it feels like the rib cage is pulling in towards the spine. The abdominal muscles lock up, preventing the diaphragm from performing optimally. Stress can make the chest and lungs freeze up, causing the breath to become short and shallow. The best way to keep calm is to ask yourself, "Are my lungs relaxed right now?" Bringing attention to your internal tension is often enough to release the 'grip' of anxiety, allowing the lungs to soften and the breath to flow freely in and out.
By practicing these three suggestions, you should be able to remain calm no matter what situation you find yourself in. You may even come to the realization is that there is, in fact, no such thing as a stressful situation. This is because situations, in and of themselves, are not stressful- it is you that is creating the stress inside yourself. How you choose to interpret a situation determines whether or not your breath gets tight or stays loose. However, if you remember to stay grounded in your feet while maintaining good posture, with an unclenched jaw and relaxed lungs, then there is no way that stress will ever overwhelm you again.
I'll leave you with a quote that is up on the wall in one of our massage rooms. I've read it almost every day for five years now and it still has a calming effect on me every time I see it:
"Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart." - Unknown
I recently returned from an immersive teacher’s training program at the Yandara Yoga Institute in Baja, Mexico. During this time, I learned how to teach Yin, Restorative and Bhakti Yoga. It wasn’t easy, but I somehow managed to survive endless days of stretching, breathing, meditating and singing. After that, we would eat a healthy meal and then stretch again, followed by even more singing. In between all the yoga and lectures were fleeting moments spent chatting with my classmates while we relaxed in the sunshine. Ok, it was not really on the same level as my hike to Everest basecamp, but it was still a worthy challenge. Here are some observations from the 100 hours I spent at yoga school:
1. Sitting is difficult. Having to sit on the floor was perhaps my biggest concern going into this training. The fact is, I have never been comfortable sitting down cross legged on the floor. My hips and ankles are very tight, causing my knees to jut upwards at a comical angle. I end up having to engage my core to stop me from falling over backwards. This core tension prevents me from breathing deeply and eventually throws my back into spasm. I wish I could say that, by the end of the training, I was sitting comfortably in the lotus position but, alas, that was not the case. I’d say I was almost to the point where I could just about endure sitting on a bolster for an hour or so- then I’d have to stand up to get some feeling back in my legs. I’ll never understand why the ancient yogis didn’t just use chairs- maybe they hadn’t been invented yet?
2. Yin yoga feels amazing. As the perfect counter to all the hours I spent sitting on the floor, I was also practicing Yin yoga at least once a day. Up to this point, I have always been a flow yoga guy, happily bouncing from one pose to the next. Little did I know that the real magic of yoga is found when you slow down and let the stretch really sink in. Yin yoga primarily involves deep hip-opening postures and forward bends, held for 3 to 5 minutes at time. Honestly, we did many of the yoga poses that I tend to shy away from due to my hips, hamstrings, and knees being so tight. It was an exercise in humility to face my physical limitations, especially in a room full of advanced yogi’s. However, when it comes to yoga, I learned that being more flexible doesn’t make you more spiritual. Even if you need to use two blocks and a blanket to hold a pose comfortably, as long as you are taking it to your ‘skillful edge,’ you are going to get the benefits of the stretch. Ultimately, in the quest for enlightenment, it doesn’t really matter how far you are able to bend.
3. Restorative yoga is deeply healing. If you think that Yin yoga sounds relaxing, then you’ve got to experience restorative yoga. This is the style of yoga in which the goal is to completely relax and release all stress and tension from the body. Deep postures are held for up to 15 minutes with the aid of straps, bolsters, blocks and blankets. It’s like taking a series of power naps as you lay in various yoga poses while being fully supported by props. Our restorative classes were often held in the evenings, right after sunset. It was in these classes, holding poses for extended periods of time while releasing all inner resistance, that I experienced the most profound healing effects. Letting go of the chronic tension in my hips and spine felt so nice. It was like warm honey, slowly dripping through my vertebrae and into my joints. I never knew that practicing yoga could be so relaxing.
4. Yoga is an energetic state of being. When you are in state of yoga, or ‘union,’ it’s as if your personal energy circuit is complete. A completed circuit allows an energetic current to flow freely throughout the system. In a state of yoga, you are connecting to a higher vibration, one that generates from deep within. This energy radiates outwards into space from the center of your being. It then circles back to the center before radiating outwards again in a perpetual loop. One way to maintain this energetic cycle is to dedicate yourself to a daily spiritual practice. I learned that practicing hatha yoga, meditating, eating well, exercising, breathing and singing mantras all day long really can make you feel more vibrant and alive. After ten days of yoga, I felt more clear, centered and balanced than I have in a long time.
In conclusion, what I learned at yoga school is that walking the spiritual path is not the same as taking the easy way out- it requires sustained effort and dedication. Yoga, when practiced consistently, can feel make you feel great. If you are lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of what it’s like to be at one with the entire universe. However, you can’t just attend a random yoga class here and there and expect to feel wonderful all the time. Being a yogi means committing to a lifestyle, one in which you take the time to love and heal yourself every day.
My home for ten days.
Sitting on the floor.
Long walks on the beach.
Featuring beautiful sunsets.
The simple fact that you are here, experiencing life as a human being on planet Earth, is nothing short of miraculous. Yet, for various reasons, people tend to think that life on Earth is not as valuable as life after death. For all the adventure and beauty that this world has to offer, we are often told that the real paradise is the place that we go to after we leave our bodies. Physical existence is often thought of as less important than the idealized, spiritual existence that supposedly awaits us in the great beyond. However, it might be a big mistake to take this lifetime for granted, especially when there is no real guarantee that another life begins after this one ends. We need to fully appreciate this life, because the most enjoyable aspects of physical existence are not going to be readily available to us in the spirit world. There are countless reasons why life on Earth is better than the afterlife, here are three of them:
1. Food. One of the best things about being alive on Earth is the fact that you get to eat every day. There are just so many delicious flavors and textures to experience and appreciate. Sometimes the need to constantly quell our hunger can get a little tiresome, however there is nothing quite as satisfying as a good meal. If there is another life after we die, chances are that eating food will not be a part of it. Without a body, there will be no need to take in calories and nutrients. Without teeth, there can be no chewing. Without taste buds, there will be no flavors to experience. Without a stomach, you can never feel satiated. Eating food is one of the essential pleasures of life, so take the time to enjoy all the deliciousness while you are here on Earth because you might not get another chance to eat again after this.
2. Gravity. As a solid being made up of physical matter, you are subject to the same laws of physics that govern the rest of the universe. As a result, the force of gravity is always pulling your body downward toward the Earth. This sounds like a bit of a drag, but physically existing within a gravitational field is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, gravity makes it possible for you to do all kinds of enjoyable things. Take skiing and snowboarding, for example. All you need to do is get up to the top of a snowy mountain and then let the force of gravity do the rest.
Although the idea of a perfect afterlife holds a great deal of promise, I am sorry to say that there won’t be any ski resorts in the beyond. To ski, you first need mountains that are covered in snow- something that can only happen in a physical universe. You also need to have a body if you want gravity to have any effect on you. So, remember to go out and enjoy the laws of physics while you still can. I encourage you to run, jump, dance, ride a bike, climb a rock, go swimming- enjoy all the activities that are only available to you here on the physical plain.
3. Massage. Many of us can’t wait to get through the earthbound stage of existence so that we can finally be free of our bodies and return to a pure, energetic state of being. However, possessing a solid form does have certain perks. For example, as physical beings, we are blessed with the sense of touch. You will not be able to get a massage after you no longer have a body. While it’s true that your muscles can sometimes ache and feel tight, it’s also true that releasing this tension and stress feels amazing. Getting a good massage is one of the best experiences you can have in this lifetime. Unfortunately, massages will not be available to you in the afterlife due to your inherent lack of form. So, remember to experience the gift of healing touch while it is still a viable option.
I don’t claim to know what happens after we die. Hopefully it's something so indescribably wonderful that my life on Earth will pale in comparison. However, if I get to the heaven and I’m given a golden harp and fluffy cloud to sit on for the rest of eternity, then I’m going to be miserable. Honestly, if there is no food to eat, no mountains to ride and no massages to give and receive, then I think I’ll ask if I can go back to Earth for another spin. Given the choice, I think I'd rather have a body, thank you very much.
In conclusion, we need to change the way we think about our time here on this planet. Life is not some substandard experience that we have to endure in order to get to the real paradise on the other side. In many ways, this life is it. This world is the paradise that we have been seeking all along. And there are plenty of reasons to celebrate physical reality, it's not just limited to the three I listed. Everyday things that we take for granted like laughing, singing, dancing, hugging, kissing, and creating music and art are all possible thanks to the physical properties of existence. What is your favorite thing about being alive?
Life is a subjective endeavor. When it comes to reality, there is what is happening right now... and that is it. The entirety of our life experience takes place right here in the present moment. Everything else is just our personal interpretation of what's going on. Yes, we have memories of present moments gone by and expectations about future moments that have yet arrive but, let's face it, these only exist as thought forms inside our heads. The present moment is all that there is- all we can do is choose to accept it or reject it. Knowing this, it is more important than ever to be conscious of the way that we react internally to what is happening around us. Our unconscious tendency to resist the present moment is one of the leading causes of stress in the modern world. Here are some ways we can move away from a state of chronic resistance and into a state of acceptance.
1. Watch your expectations. One of the most common reasons to reject the present moment is because it does not measure up to the perfect moment that you conjured up earlier in your imagination. Be careful of perfectionism because it sets you up for failure every time. Life isn't always perfect, sometimes there are errors, flaws, and unforeseen circumstances which occur despite your best intentions. However, just because something goes wrong on the outside doesn't mean that something has to go wrong on the inside as well. Better to accept imperfection and stay calm and balanced within than to resist imperfection and suffer through the resulting stress.
2. Be patient. Another cause of resistance towards the present moment is our subconscious desire to escape this moment and get to the next one. It's not that the next moment is necessarily better than this one, it's just that we have grown tired of this moment and we can't wait for it to end. It doesn't really matter what the next moment is, just as long as it’s not this moment anymore. This is how impatience works and it has a way of ruining everything. When you spend all your time wanting to get to the next moment, you are missing out on your chance to be in this one. This resistance comes up all the time, so be aware of it. You could be having a lovely meal at a restaurant and be genuinely enjoying yourself. Then, at the end of the meal, you ask for the check and it takes far longer than expected. Suddenly, what was a nice, pleasant moment turns into an unbearable hell. Why do we now feel so trapped and desperate to leave this place? It’s because we have moved from acceptance of the moment and into a state resistance to it.
3. Be grateful. A major shift takes place in life when you stop fretting about all the things you don’t have and start appreciating what you do have. Without this basic gratitude running in the background at all times, you can never truly be satisfied. We all want a better life, a newer car, a bigger house, a better job etc. It’s okay to want these things, there is nothing wrong with having goals. However, if you determine that you are failing to live up to your own lofty standards, then you are going to get depressed. You have to begin by being grateful for what you've already got or else you will find yourself in a state of perpetual resistance to what is. Try making a list of all the things that you are grateful for. Anytime you find yourself feeling down because you wish you had more, come back to this list. The truth is, you don’t really need more, bigger, better things in order to be happy in life. Happiness is found moment to moment, as long as you remember that you are whole and complete already.
In conclusion, being in the present moment means consciously choosing to cooperate with it. Don't worry, you will have plenty of time to practice making this choice during your lifetime. Life will continue to throw various circumstances at you and you will always have the choice to either accept or resist the present moment. A stress-free existence means letting go of the need to control and learning how to go with the flow. So, the next time you are feeling dissatisfied, see if you can catch that feeling and then let it go before it ruins your ability to fully be here, right now.
Falling in love is an incredible experience! There is that giddy feeling of expansiveness inside your chest, along with butterflies in your stomach. There is the feeling of being uplifted, as if you are walking on air. There is the overwhelmingly positive notion that life, right now, is perfect- just the way it is. Then there is the recklessly optimistic feelings about the future, full of happiness and unlimited possibilities. If only we could feel like this every day. Well, maybe it is possible, but first we must learn how to be in love with life. Here are three steps to help you on your journey.
1. Let it go. To be in love, you first have to fall in love. And “falling” in love suggests the need to surrender yourself to the process. If you want to be in love, you first have to let go of the struggle, the constant tension and inner strain that accompanies the human experience. We waste so much of our energy trying to control what happens in life. Let go of the need to be in control- release any regrets about the way things went in the past, along with any fears about the way things might turn out in the future. Let go of feelings of shame, blame and unworthiness. Let go of self-doubt and the unrelenting pressure you feel to survive and succeed. As you begin to let go of the basic struggle of daily existence, you will notice that you now have all this extra energy available to you. You can then take the energy that you have been wasting on worry and regret and learn to cycle this energy back into your being, raising your vibration in the process, while giving you access to boundless energy. It’s like the deep sigh of relief that you take upon realizing that there really is no need to panic- that everything is going to be ok.
2. Connect to Source. While it is known by many names- Prana, God, Reiki, the Life Force- all these names are referring to the same thing- the omnipresent, infinite field of pure love, consciousness and creative intelligence that we can all tap into if only we knew the right method. Here in the third dimension, we tend to think of Heaven and/or God as being “up there,” above us. So, naturally, when we go to connect to Source energy, we imagine bringing it down from above, through the top of the head and into our being. If this technique works for you, then great! However, this method assumes that there currently exists some sort of barrier or division between you and this infinite field of Source energy that underlies all life. The truth is, you are it! We are it- this is it! So, instead of grasping for the Light, simply relax and let the life force come to you. Source energy doesn’t come from above or below, it generates from deep within your being. This is the same life force energy that is present inside each and every cell that makes up your body. To channel the Source, simply cease all internal resistance to it. First, imagine an infinite field of light. Then, release the unconscious grip surrounding your spinal column. Breathe deeply into your heart, release all pressure in your throat and dissolve all barriers and blockages inside your head. And that's it... keep breathing and let the light shine through!
3. Act lovingly towards others. It's known as the Golden Rule and it is the central message of all of our world religions- to treat others the way that you would like to be treated. Love is often confused with the blissed out feelings of infatuation that you experience when you first have a crush on someone. But, to really be in love, you first have to own it- you have to be love. And to be love, you must act towards others as if you are love. Fortunately, there are billions of people on Earth, which means you have billions of opportunities to practice kindness, compassion, and patience towards others. It really comes down to an individual choice. Do you choose to behave as if you are, fundamentally, an expression of love? Or, do you want to pretend like you are not really this Source energy, manifested into physical form? The choice is yours. However, if you do decide that, deep down inside, you are love, then it is imperative that you act accordingly.
Every 365 days, our planet reaches an arbitrary point in its elliptical orbit around the Sun and we all get together to celebrate the end of one revolution and the beginning of the next. At this point in time, we take a long look at ourselves and resolve to make positive changes. We seek to atone for our past transgressions and commit to healthy habits for the new year. In reality, our commitment often wavers after about a week as we slip back into old, familiar patterns. 2018 is still young, however, and everyday is an opportunity to institute change. In an effort to be helpful, we have compiled a short list of easily attainable goals that are sure to improve your quality of life.
1. Watch less television. It is a sad fact of life that many of us would rather watch TV than have our own, real experiences. Inexplicably, we prefer to watch an electronic simulation of reality instead of actually participating in life. At our jobs, we can’t wait for the day to be over so that we can finally go home and do the things we love to do. Unfortunately, many of us don't really know what it is we love to do, so we switch on the television instead. Television offers us a realistic replica of the real world, except that the experience is limited to just two of the five senses: sight and sound. Because of this, we may watch a show about a family going camping in the woods, but we won’t be able to feel the warmth of the fire, nor can we smell the campfire smoke or taste the delicious s'mores being prepared. Unlike real life, watching television does not require our active participation, just our passive observation. We end up silently witnessing a dulled-down version of reality, passing off other people’s highs and lows as our own. This is no way to experience life. Watching television here and there is not a problem, just as long as it doesn't become the defining feature of our existence.
2. Drink more water. At the very least, try drinking a big glass of water as soon as you get up in the morning. The human body is over 70% water and, during sleep, you are not drinking water for about 8 hours straight. Therefore, you wake up dehydrated every single morning. Dehydration has many side effects, but mostly it makes you feel tired and groggy. Most people counteract this grogginess with a big cup of coffee. While drinking coffee will definitely wake you up, it will also leave you even more dehydrated in the long run. Drinking a 16-ounce glass of water when you wake up is the best thing you can do to counteract dehydration and get your day started right. It not only hydrates all the essential organs, it also flushes out toxins and kickstarts your metabolism. On top of everything else, it makes you feel great. Give it a try and see for yourself!
3. Stretch more often. At Well Being, we will always check in with our clients before a massage to see if they have any issues that need to be addressed. The most common complaints we hear is that their necks are sore and their backs are stiff. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a client follow this up with, “I just need to stretch more- I don’t stretch at all. I know that I should be stretching everyday but I never do it.” Well… why not? It’s so strange that we all know exactly what to do in order to be happy and healthy, but somehow we can’t bring ourselves to actually do it. Perhaps, by default, we naturally seek the path of least resistance. When it comes to stretching, doing nothing is inherently easier than doing something, so we often end up taking no action whatsoever. Meanwhile, our spines stiffen up and our supporting muscles go into spasm. It doesn’t have to be this way- suffering is always optional- but only if we are willing to do our part. Imagine how good you would feel if you stretched your body regularly. Now, stop imagining it and start living it!
4. Stop trying to be perfect. One of the most prominent barriers to spiritual growth is the false belief that we are not quite there yet. Our consistent desire to improve ourselves stems from a deep seated belief that we are simply not good enough. We believe ourselves to be broken and in need of fixing. In truth, all we really need to do to be happy in this life is to love ourselves unconditionally. Yet, we purposely withhold this self-love because we feel unworthy of it. We have in our minds this ideal standard, this vision of the perfect human being that we are supposed to become. Once we get there, we will finally be able to love ourselves. However this idea of perfection is a complete illusion. There is no final endpoint, no moment when we achieve our vision of the ideal self. There will always be more to strive for, more to accomplish. It makes far more sense to love ourselves right here and now- flaws and everything. By doing this, the lifelong struggle to be perfect can finally end and we can move onto more important things- like enjoying life.
What do you think of when you hear the word Yoga? It is a symptom of our modern day obsession with physical form that Western Yoga has become synonymous with back bends on the beach in front of the sunset. Every day on our media, we are bombarded with images of beautiful athletes bending themselves into impossible Yoga poses. While it is encouraging to see that Yoga has made its way into mainstream culture, the real meaning of Yoga seems to have been lost in modern times. By clearly defining Yoga, perhaps we can shed light on the original intent of this ancient spiritual practice.
Yoga is a system of self-realization that dates back thousands of years into Vedic scripture. The Yoga Sutras were originally written by Patanjali sometime between 200-500 AD. In these Sutras, Patanjali explains exactly what Yoga is all about. Spoiler alert: it has nothing to do with being super flexible or looking good in spandex pants. At the very beginning of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali gets straight to the point and defines Yoga as: Yogash citta vrtti nirodha- Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. This can also be translated as: Yoga is the practice of stilling the mind.
What are these fluctuations that Patanjali is referring to? Simply put, he is talking about the constant chatter that is always taking place in our heads. Have you ever noticed that, when you think, you can hear your own voice speaking quietly inside your mind? Left unchecked, this inner voice will just ramble on and on forever. We are always thinking about something, which reminds us of something else, which leads to more thoughts, and so on. Every time this happens, we are taken out of the present moment. Most of us aren't even aware that we are doing it. Becoming aware of that incessant inner voice- and realizing that this mind chatter is not actually who we are on the inside -is the first step in Yoga.
While the goal of Yoga seems simple on the surface, it is not always easy. That is because the mind is conditioned to stay active- always observing and judging, remembering the past and planning for the future. This constant background chatter doesn't mean that there is anything necessarily wrong with us, that is just the way the mind operates. The mistake we make is when we identify ourselves with our thoughts instead of the empty space in which these thoughts are taking place. Moving beyond identification with the mind and the ego and into the infinite space of Divine consciousness is the Yogic path to self-realization.
What we think of as Yoga- stretching and holding poses- is actually called Asana. Asana is an important aspect of Yoga because it means treating your body as a temple that houses your infinite spirit. However, regular Asana practice is just one aspect of the discipline. In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali lists a total of eight branches of Yoga. He taught that by committing to these eight aspects, you will ultimately realize a state of 'Yoga' or 'Union' with the higher Self. Very briefly, the eight branches include Yama- ethical behavior, Niyama- self-discipline, Asana- practicing postures, Pranayama- breath control, Pratyahara- sensory withdrawal, Dharana- concentration, Dhyana- meditation, and Samadhi- a state of pure bliss in which you realize your connection to the Divine as well as the inter-connectedness of all living things.
Unfortunately, many people who practice Asana are not actually practicing Yoga. If you perform your Yoga postures without the intention of stilling your mind and seeking self-realization, then you are not really practicing Yoga- you are just doing calisthenics. The next time you practice Yoga, pay close attention to the wanderings of your mind. Focus on your breath and watch your thoughts as they come and go. Work on catching yourself anytime you get swept up into a thought stream- always returning back to the present: this moment, this breath, this inhale... this exhale. In this way you can learn to disassociate yourself from the constant chatter that takes place in the foreground of your mind and begin to identify with the infinite space of consciousness that is present in the background of all experience.
Finally, as with anything in life, Yoga is a process. As such, try not be disappointed if you don't reach Samadhi right away. It's about the journey, not the destination. Yoga is a discipline in which the ultimate goal and the practice required to attain that goal are one and the same. The whole idea is to surrender into the flow. Remember that it's not about flexibility or looking good on your Instagram posts. Yoga is about stilling the mind to the point that you can realize the true nature of Self, everything else is just gymnastics.
Nowadays, it seems like everyone is in a hurry. Everywhere you look, people are rushing around trying to get things done. I don't think anybody can honestly say that they enjoy being in a hurry or that they prefer feeling stressed over feeling calm. However, for some reason, we often find ourselves in a rush. Why do we willingly put ourselves through this desperate panic on a daily basis? By taking a closer look at hurrying, perhaps we can break free of this unconscious cycle and prevent it from negatively affecting our lives in the future.
First of all, hurrying is not always a bad thing. We have to recognize that there are some very legitimate reasons to hurry. For example, if you are enjoying a day at the beach and you learn that there is a tsunami heading your way, then you really need to get inland in a hurry. Another example would be if you are pregnant at home and you notice that the contractions have begun. In this case, you need to hurry up and get to the hospital, right now! However, with the exception of life or death predicaments, hurrying is a completely unnecessary inconvenience. In fact, 99% of all hurry can be avoided simply by leaving the house earlier.
As a responsible adult, you will be called upon to show up at certain places at specific times. Whether its going to a dentist appointment or showing up to work, it's always best if you get there on time. Whether or not you leave the house with just enough time to get there, or with plenty of time to spare, is completely up to you- you create your own reality. It depends on whether you want to be nervous and frustrated on the way, or if you want to feel calm and content on your journey. We need to become aware that we are the ones making the choice to hurry. By not leaving the house on time, we are actively sabotaging our happiness and health.
So, why do we do it? My theory is that we must unconsciously enjoy the adrenaline rush that accompanies our hurried state. In other words, we do it for the rush. Think about the last time you were in a hurry. Your heart rate increases. Your blood pressure goes up. Adrenaline and cortisol are flowing through your veins, causing you to feel focused and alert. If you need to drive to get to where you are going, which is often the case, you will have to drive your car as fast as you can, mentally pushing the cars in front of you along, as if the force of your angst will somehow make the traffic move quicker. If the car in front is going too slow for you, your emotions quickly turn to anger as you begin shouting at the driver through the windshield, unleashing a barrage of insults on this "idiot."
The point is that it doesn't have to be this way. By bringing awareness to our tendency to cause stressful situations and then react to them, we can begin to move beyond emotional reactivity and towards conscious mastery. Hurrying is a choice we make and so is being stressed out. Even if you are in a hurry, you are capable of moving quickly without letting it affect you emotionally. Driving fast doesn't mean that you also have to be gripping the steering wheel, freaking out on the inside. In fact, it's easier to go fast without all the urgency and anxiety getting in the way. So, the next time you find yourself in a hurry, ask yourself if all the stress and nervous energy is actually helping you move faster. Then take a deep breath, drop the panic, and continue on in a calm and collected manner. Maybe you will be late, maybe you won't. But, at least you won't be showing up at your destination all frazzled and out of balance.
Why do we worry? To this day, excessive worrying has yet to solve a single problem. Still, many of us spend our valuable time worrying incessantly about what the future has in store. We even get worried that all of our worrying is having a negative impact on our health. Worrying about how much we worry sets up a vicious cycle with no relief in sight. However, if we can better understand what worry actually is, then we can significantly reduce the amount of unnecessary stress and anxiety that we experience on a day-to-day basis.
The first thing to understand is that worrying is not always a bad thing. On the deepest level, worrying means that you actually care about something. For example, if you are worried that your car might get stolen, it means that you value your car and you care whether or not somebody takes it from you. Likewise, if you are worried that you are going to lose a loved one to a serious illness, it means that you care deeply about that person. After all, if you didn't care about them, then you wouldn't be worried. That said, the secret to living a worry-free life is not to stop caring, rather it's to recognize when worrying is serving you and when it is not.
Sometimes worrying can be of benefit. For example, if you are worried about doing well at your job interview the following day, then you are more likely to spend your evening preparing for it. In this case, your worry caused you to take appropriate actions to mitigate failure. However, if you then stay up all night tossing and turning, worrying about the job interview - imagining in great detail all the things that could go wrong- then your worrying is not helping you out at all.
The key to neutralizing worry is to recognize that all worrying takes place inside your imagination. As conscious beings, we have developed the unique ability to picture possible futures inside our mind's eye. When we worry, we imagine the worst possible scenario happening and then we react emotionally to it, as if the situation is really taking place. Again, this isn't necessarily a bad thing- our ability to predict potential hazards before they occur in real time has been key to our survival as a species.
It becomes a problem when we get obsessed with our imaginary future, unable to separate ourselves from the worst case scenario that exists inside our heads. When this happens, we end up suffering twice. We suffer once with dread and then again when facing the actual consequence. The key is to be in control of what we imagine. Instead of suffering from the terrible future that you have dreamed up, try imagining a future in which everything works out perfectly.
As the saying goes, "Worrying is like praying for what you don't want to happen." Therefore, the antidote to worry is to focus your mind on what you do want to happen. The next time you are worried, try picturing the best case scenario instead, allowing yourself to feel the positive emotions associated with that particular outcome. In other words, focus on what could go right instead of what could go wrong. Doing this may or may not affect what actually happens next but, even if things go horribly wrong, at least you only had to suffer once. By being aware of our tendency to project negative futures, we can shift away from unnecessary stress and anxiety and begin actively manifesting positive circumstances instead.
Human beings have a tenuous relationship with time, mainly because the concept of time is very difficult for us to define. Time, as we experience it, is both subjective and objective. It's both an illusion and very real. Subjectively, time 'flies' when we are having fun and 'drags' when we are not. Objectively, we can view the phases of the moon, the growing of our fingernails and the graying of our hair and determine with certainty that days, months and years are passing by.
We treat time as if it were a commodity. We tend to believe the assertion that "time is money," and so we try to spend time wisely. We are always finding ways to save time. We really don't like to waste time and, honestly, we wish we had more time. Unfortunately, many of us feel like there just isn't enough time and, as a result, we often get anxious because we feel like time is running out.
As an example, now that September has arrived, notice that people around you will start to say, "I can't believe how quickly this year has gone by. Where did all the time go?" That is the thing about time. Despite our best efforts to stop it or slow it down, it keeps relentlessly marching on into infinity. I think people get particularly nervous when September arrives because, eight months in, we now find ourselves in the final four months of the year. We are no longer at the beginning of the year, or even half way through it. September signals the beginning of the end. We are running out of time - winter is coming!
However, it doesn't need to feel this way. If we are able to better understand what time is, it may help soothe the desperate feeling that we don't have enough of it. The first thing we need to do is let go of the illusion that time moves in a straight line. In school we were taught to create 'timelines' in which events appear to occur in a sequential direction, starting on the left and ending on the right. From this we get the false belief that time moves along in a predetermined direction, with one event leading into the next. However, time does not 'move' because it has no physical properties- it cannot move. Time is right now, unfolding here in the present moment. Time never actually goes anywhere.
What we commonly think of as time is really just changes in the spatial relationship between physical objects. Imagine, if you can, the Universe before the Big Bang occurred. No stars, no planets, no moons- nothing at all. It's interesting that, devoid of all physical objects, there is no time, just eternal presence. There is no time because it is impossible to track one object's progress through space in relationship to another object.
The Earth's position in space relative to the sun is the basis of our objective concept of time. The Earth spinning on it's axis, wobbling like a top, and orbiting around the sun is what gives us our days, seasons and years. Much like the ticking of a clock, we recognize that a unit of time has passed whenever a full circle is completed. Time is not moving forward in this scenario. Time stays in one place, eternally present. Meanwhile our planet spins, wobbles and circles it's way through empty space.
Instead of a using a timeline, perhaps a more accurate metaphor for the passage of time is to imagine a perfectly still body of water. Then imagine a large rock dropped into the water from above. After the initial splash- which takes place in the present moment- a series of ripples begin radiating out from the center and continue radiating outward forever and ever. Another way to look at time is to imagine a boat crossing a body of water. The people on the boat are in the 'now,' experiencing the present moment as it occurs. Looking back, they see a wake moving away in a long v-shape. The wake was created in the present moment, but now it is in the past- a distant echo of what once occurred here in the now.
Next time you feel like there isn't enough time, take a step back and realize that, actually, all you have is time. Time is not running out- time is all that there is. In reality, the present moment is the only thing you will ever experience. You cannot go back and live in the past any more than you can travel forward to the future. All you can ever do is be here right now. By remaining rooted in the moment you will never run out of time again.
Have you jumped in the lake today? If not, I highly recommend it. There is a reason that locals refer to Lake Tahoe as the ‘Blue Pill.’ Legend has it, a dip in the lake will cure whatever ails you- like a magic panacea for the mind, body and soul. It really does feel amazing, though- so cleansing and refreshing and invigorating! It is nearly impossible to go swimming in the lake and not come out with a big smile on your face.
I think we all instinctively know that being around (or in) water is good for us. But, what is it about water that makes us feel so good? I did some research on this topic and here are some things I learned:
1. Views of blue water boost well being. Researchers have studied the impact of living near various bodies of water. They coined the term ‘blue space’ to describe the time people spend gazing at bodies of water. Studies determined that increased views of blue space are “significantly associated with lower levels of psychological distress.” Other benefits of experiencing more blue space include improved mood, increased vitality and healthier sleep patterns. Blue spaces were even found to be more effective than green spaces (forests, rolling hills etc.) when it comes to overall stress reduction. Simply taking in views of Lake Tahoe, with its blue skies and even bluer water, is going to have a positive impact on your health.
2. Water is a powerful source of negative ions. Negative ions are oxygen molecules with an extra electron attached to them. They are most prevalent in fresh air and around natural water sources. High levels of negative ions in the atmosphere have been shown to increase our ability to absorb oxygen and boost our serotonin levels, helping to alleviate depression, relieve stress, and increase energy. Lake Tahoe holds about 41 trillion gallons of water. Maybe the reason it feels so good to jump in the lake is all the negative ions you are breathing in. It's comforting to know that just being in close proximity to the lake is going to make you feel better. You don’t even have to jump in. (Although you’d feel a lot better if you did.)
3. Water puts you in a mindful state. Wallace J. Nichols, author of “Blue Mind: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do,” believes that everyone has a “blue mind” which he defines as “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment” that naturally arises whenever we are in, on, or near water. Gazing at water, observing all the subtle ways that it flows and ripples, allows your mind to take a break from the constant barrage of information that defines our modern world. In this state of “soft fascination,” as Nichols puts it, the mind finally has space to daydream and create. Studies have described the many health benefits of increased mindfulness, including lower stress levels, relief from mild anxiety, pain and depression, improved mental clarity and focus, and better sleep quality.
After reading this blog, I hereby challenge you to take the Blue Pill. Put down your device, switch off your screen and immediately go jump in the lake. It is scientifically proven to the best thing you can do for your well being. If you can’t quite fathom the effort it takes to go for a swim, then at least go there and breathe in some negative ions. Remember to gaze deeply into the blue space for an extended moment, taking time to observe the waves as they lap gently against the shore.
Then go jump in... seriously, what are you waiting for?
Here in Tahoe, the arrival of summer can feel like a mixed blessing. On the one hand, after enduring the most epic winter ever, we welcome the sunshine and warmth with open arms. On the other hand, the summer season brings with it a sudden increase in potentially stressful situations that can rob us of our inner harmony.
Let's face it, Lake Tahoe is a beautiful place. Seriously though, it looks like some kind of magical paradise out there right now. It's no wonder this area is so popular- everybody wants to go to paradise, right? And, as long as Tahoe stays beautiful, there will always be lots of people who visit every year. Rather than railing against the inevitable, let's learn to manage our personal stress levels more effectively. The following is a list of things you can do to keep from losing your cool during the busy summer months.
1. Be breath aware.
The next time you are stuck in heavy traffic or find yourself at the back of a ridiculously long line at Safeway, notice what the situation is doing to your breath. That anxious, desperate feeling you get like you are trapped inside some kind of hellish torture chamber is most likely because you are holding your breath. The core abdominal muscles tend to clamp down, the throat tightens up, and you are left taking short, shallow breaths into the upper chest. It's very difficult to conduct yourself rationally when this occurs. If you aren't getting enough oxygen, then it's not long before panic sets in and you begin to question whether or not you will be able to live through this horrific ordeal. Being aware of the times when your breath locks up and then learning to breathe easily is the key to releasing the unconscious grip of anxiety that threatens to ruin your present moment. Breathing consciously and fully, without any internal resistance, will always bring your being back into balance.
2. Be body aware.
Tuning into and releasing tension inside the body- before it has a chance to negatively affect your mood- is one of the best ways to regulate your stress levels. If you think about it, so-called ‘difficult’ situations are not stressful, in and of themselves. It is your emotional reaction to a given situation that determines if it is stressful for you or not. The next time things get stressful, pay attention to what is happening to your body. Besides a tight abdomen and chest, other signs that you are getting stressed include sweating, grinding your teeth, furrowing your brow and/or making fists.
Another way to control your stress levels is to regulate your internal body temperature. Anger is a 'hot' emotion- someone who is 'hot tempered,' for example, is thought to anger quickly. The same is true when describing a 'heated exchange' between two people. The next time you get angry on a hot day, check to see if you are actually, physically hot. Maybe your emotional state is a reflection of your body temperature. In which case, maybe you really do need to 'chill out' a bit before you react with anger.
3. Practice forgiveness.
A lot of people in town means there are a lot of cars on the road. I hate to break it to you, but people are going to cut you off. That's just the way it is- it's one of those things in life that you have no control over. The good news is, how you respond to such an affront on your dignity is totally up to you. The immediate temptation is to lash out with a series of furious curse words and elaborate hand gestures. However, unless you are in an emergency situation where every second counts, having to gently tap your brake pedal once in awhile is actually not that big of a deal.
The real problem is that we have such a high opinion of ourselves. It's like, how dare someone cause a minor inconvenience to someone as important as me? Don't they know who I am? Viewing the situation from a different angle, driving around during the summer in Tahoe is actually the perfect time to practice forgiveness. The next time someone cuts you off, forgo your bruised ego and move straight into forgiveness. Just try it and see what happens. Instead of shouting "f*ck you!" try saying "I forgive you! This isn't easy at first but, don't worry, you will have plenty more opportunities to practice forgiveness out on the road, I promise.
4. Stay Hydrated.
The link between dehydration and stress is well documented. While Tahoe can get pretty hot during the peak summer months, it is also exceptionally dry here. Human beings are about 70% water and therefore we need to keep drinking water during the day or we start getting stressed out. It’s a vicious cycle because dehydration causes stress and then stress causes more dehydration. Chronic dehydration is more prevalent than you think. A recent study estimated that 75% of Americans are functioning in a chronically dehydrated state. I say ‘functioning,’ but the truth is probably closer to ‘dysfunctioning.’ Not having enough water is similar to not having enough oxygen in that it is not long before you start feeling desperate and begin acting irrationally.
By practicing these four suggestions, you should be able to stay relaxed this summer, regardless of what situations you encounter. Remember, it’s not the circumstances you are witnessing as much as it is your reaction to them that is causing you stress. It’s up to you to keep calm and composed. And, of course, if all else fails, then you can always go jump in the lake and let the cool water wash your frustrations away.
For many of us, being on a spiritual quest is what defines us as individuals. We build up our identity around the idea that we are seekers of truth. We often get so involved in the idea of our search for connection to a higher power that we often miss out on the next crucial step on the path. This next step involves transitioning from the level in which you imagine yourself as a 'seeker' to the level in which you behave like a 'finder.'
I prefer to think of life as a beautiful mystery rather than a puzzle that needs to be solved. Yet, I have also spent countless hours thinking thoughts like: Who am I? What am I? Why am I here? Questions that don't really have answers but nevertheless appear to be so important to solve. As a culture, we are dissatisfied with the myths that have been past down to us through the generations, causing us to search out other cultures and religions in a never-ending quest for connection. We demand real answers! We want the Truth with a capital 'T.'
I think, on some level, we are all trying to find ourselves. That's what the spiritual journey is all about, right? But 'finding yourself' is kind of a deceptive phrase because it suggests that there are two of you. There is the 'you' that is doing the searching and then there is the 'real you' that is hidden away somewhere, waiting to be discovered. However, in reality, there is only one 'you.' The one that's doing the searching- that's you! The seeker and the sought are, paradoxically, one and the same. What you have been searching for this whole time is, in fact, the essence of what you truly are.
Identifying yourself as a 'finder' as opposed to a 'seeker' does not mean that your spiritual journey is over. On the contrary, things are only just getting started. Being a 'finder' doesn't mean that you can give up spiritual practices like yoga and meditation. The difference is that while you used to do these things because you were seeking the truth, you are now doing them because you are living the truth. The truth is that you are a human being that is alive here on Earth. You are a being, just like me- just like everyone else. Why you are here is a complete mystery, but living inside the mystery is part of the fun. All I know is that it feels great to be alive in this body and that we truly are blessed to be here on this beautiful planet with all these other amazing people.
Finally, being a 'finder' doesn't mean life stops being difficult. Life is always going to throw new challenges in your path, that's how you learn and grow as a person. You don't have a lot of control over what happens to you during your lifetime, but you can take responsibility for your own physical, mental and emotional well being while you are here. Being a 'finder' means that you no longer see yourself as a victim of circumstances- as if you were on a tiny sailboat at sea in a thunderstorm, getting tossed around by giant waves. Instead, you begin to identify as the ocean itself. You realize that, by deepening your breath and focusing your mind, you are able to bring the surface of the 'ocean' into perfect stillness- to the point that it becomes like a mirror, reflecting the sky.
Have you ever had a dream in which you became fully aware that you are dreaming? This can be an empowering experience because you suddenly find yourself in a world of your own creation, where the only limit is your own imagination. You feel like you can do anything you want- you are the master of your reality. This powerful feeling of limitless potential is what the process of awakening feels like.
As I discussed in my previous blog, we all have our own ideas about the pursuit of enlightenment. We tend to believe that, if we can just clear our minds of all this excess chatter, we will one day reach the ultimate level of realization in which all illusions of separation from the Divine creator will melt away. All mental concepts of self, time and space will dissolve into beautiful white light as we become One with All That Is-undifferentiated from the universal consciousness of creation.
This sounds terrific. But, even if this profound experience of oneness does eventually occur for us while in deep meditation, it can only last for so long. At a certain point we will need to get up and get on with everyday life. Regardless of the level of understanding we reach about the true nature of the soul and our place within the universal whole, the world is going to keep going on the same as it was before. The only difference is that we will experience our reality with more clarity.
In our quest for spiritual growth, we often get so focused on the big prize of 'enlightenment' that we forget to appreciate all the little moments and details that happen along the way. Awakening is the realization that enlightenment lies inside each and every moment that makes up our experience. It's about appreciating the journey for what it is and not fixating so much on the reaching the destination. It's about waking up to life here and now.
Come to think of it, we already have a lot of experience with awakening. For example, what is the first thing you did this morning? You woke up. You were asleep and now you are awake. You moved seamlessly from one state of consciousness into another. You awakened from a dreamworld that was conjured up inside your head and into the real world that exists outside of yourself.
Awakening is the realization that your self, along with this world and everything in it, is also taking place in your head. Everyone has pondered the philosophical question, "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" My question is, would this world exist at all without someone there observing it? For example, we all know that thorns are sharp but that is only because our skin is so soft. Boulders are only heavy because our muscles are not strong enough to lift them. Mountain streams are calming, sunsets are beautiful, roses smell sweet, sunshine is warm - all because of the fact that we are here witnessing these things. We make the world what it is. Our presence brings physical existence into being.
Awakening is understanding that the inner world and the outer world are one and the same, like two sides of a coin. 'Self' cannot exist without the presence of 'physical reality' and vice versa. It's like waking up inside of a dream except that you are waking up from the day-dream of your Ego and from the illusion of separation between yourself and the world you inhabit. The next step is to become a willing collaborator and active creator in this thing we call reality. This life is your experience in the physical plane of existence. You are the creator of your reality. What are you going to create while you are here?
After enduring one of the biggest winters in recorded history, Lake Tahoe is more than ready for the rejuvenating energies of Spring. Walking around in the forest, I am amazed to see flowers blooming and trees blossoming after enduring many months of harsh conditions. Surely it would have been easier just to give up all hope but, in an incredible display of resilience, trees and plants that were buried under ten feet of snow somehow have found the strength to continue on.
When it comes to resilience, we could learn a lot from nature. Because, is it just me, or have the last six months been a particularly challenging period of time? I'm not just talking about the weather either. What we have endured socially, politically, psychologically, emotionally, environmentally- it's enough to make anyone want to throw in the towel. Yet, just like the forest buried in snow, we also need to find the strength to keep going. Beyond mere survival, we also need to figure out a way to thrive.
Why does a tree tend to blossom in the Spring? It's not because the tree is trying to blossom. It can't exactly close its eyes, hold its breath and strain really hard until flowers start popping out of its branches. My theory is that a tree blossoms because it is the nature of a tree to blossom. Given the right timing and circumstances- enough water, plenty of sunshine, etc.- a tree will naturally blossom. Blossoming is part of its DNA. Although we as humans tend to think that we are somehow separate from (and superior to) nature, we are very much a part of the natural cycle of life. Therefore, it is in human nature to blossom as well, given the right circumstances.
What does it mean for a person to blossom? We can't exactly sprout flowers from our limbs, but what we can do is harness the transformational energy of Spring in order to obtain radiant health and well being. It begins by letting go of the past and releasing all the negative energies that had us bogged down. The winter is finally over, what happened then is over now, let's move forward. The time is right for us to blossom, all we need to do is set up all the right circumstances for it to happen.
So, what can we do in order to thrive? We simply need to set up our daily habits in a more conscious way. Let's begin by following the example of nature and making sure we get enough water and sunlight. On top of this, we all need proper rest and nutrition. We need an exercise routine to keep ourselves vibrant and strong. We need to learn how breathe and relax and let go on of stress and negativity. We also need to meditate regularly to keep our minds calm and focused in the present moment. Finally, it's important to enjoy ourselves. Enjoying our lives means doing the things we love to do on a regular basis. While we can't force a transformation to happen, by setting up the right routines, our blossoming becomes inevitable.
As spiritual seekers, many of us are on a quest to attain enlightenment. But what, exactly, do we mean by this? There is a prevalent view in Western society that, if we can meditate for long enough, one day we will suddenly reach the ultimate "Aha!" moment which will lead us to transcend our human form. All physical barriers and illusions will seemingly melt away and we will be left in a state of Divine union with the Creator. We imagine a life in which we walk around on clouds, unaffected by the trials and tribulations of ordinary life. However, in our unending quest to transcend the physical world, we are completely missing the point- which is to experience and appreciate our physical existence without any internal resistance to it.
When the Buddha reached enlightenment, the ultimate realization that he came to was actually quite ordinary. He understood that, as human beings on Earth, everyone is faced with the same basic set of circumstances. There really is no escaping the human condition that we all find ourselves in, so we are better off accepting our circumstances rather than trying to escape from them. He recognized that the cause of human suffering was our desire for things to be different than how they actually are. For example, we wish that life was not a terminal situation, that we can go on living forever without the threat of disease or death. We wish that we were perfect beings and that nothing bad would ever happen to us. As a result of our attachment to this desire for perfection, we find ourselves in a constant struggle between the way things are and the way that we wish things would be.
Enlightenment is not a single moment, faraway in the distant future in which we finally attain spiritual oneness. Rather, it is an everyday process in which we recognize whenever we are in a state of internal struggle against the present moment and then consciously move into a state of acceptance and cooperation with whatever is happening. The illusion of enlightenment is that there is an Ultimate Realization out there and that, once we are finally able to attain it, life ceases to be difficult. The truth is, you can come to the profound realization that everyone and everything in the universe is One, but you are still going to have to do the dishes once you are finished with dinner. You can understand deeply that time is an illusion and that everything is fundamentally taking place here in the present moment, but you are still going to have to take out the garbage once a week.
That is why, in the Zen philosophy, they treat the ordinary, every day world with such reverence. Because, ultimately, this ordinary world is "it." This life, this world, this present moment is what is happening. This earthly life is our training ground for spiritual growth. Our goal should not be to escape from our physical existence, rather we should embrace the gift of life that has been bestowed on us. That doesn't mean that we are passive in the face of tyranny or that we stop fighting for what is right, it means that we do so without the presence of internal conflict. We strive to move through life without resistance just as water flows effortlessly down a mountain stream. In this way, every moment becomes an opportunity for spiritual advancement. In any given situation, simply tuning into the breath will let you know whether you are in a state of acceptance or resistance with what is happening. The tendency is to hold your breath whenever you find yourself in a difficult situation. Then you let out a sigh of relief when everything turns out okay. The challenge is to keep a steady flow of breath regardless of whether or not your mind is labeling the situation as "bad." You know you are on the right path when you don't even need to take a sigh of relief because you were conscious enough to not hold onto your breath in the first place.
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being.