“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was thank you, that would suffice.” Meister Eckhart
Happy Thanksgiving to everyone in the US or elsewhere that is celebrating this week (and a belated one to my Canadian friends). Do you take time to give thanks on a regular basis? If you don’t already have a regular practice of gratitude, or giving thanks, this is a great time of year to start.
There is a lot of research that has been done in the past 10 years on gratitude. Findings show significant health gains (lowers stress, improves immune system function, improves blood pressure and heart function, and overall health improves) as well as improvement in a person’s resilience — recovering faster from both injury and trauma. Anecdotally, I know of a number of people, myself included, who find that a daily practice of noting things we are grateful for (whether journaling or just thinking about these things at a committed time) brings a sense of being able to stay present for more of our day, and a greater feeling of appreciation for what we have. Any of the above something you want in your life?
Another advantage to a gratitude practice is that anyone can do it. I have done this with little kids as well as people near the end of their life. I find that writing down at least three things I am grateful for daily seems to make me feel the benefit of presence and joy more so than just thinking about them. However, there are times when I just think of what I am grateful for at night before I go to sleep, and it is sweet as well.
I first began to practice this after my nearest sibling had died from injuries due to a car accident. It helped me to see that even though there were days I was consumed by grief, there were also gifts to be appreciated, like the 30 minute commute I had that allowed me the time to weep every day without worrying about who was around. As much as I missed her, I was grateful for having had such an amazing sister. I also realized one of the gifts of her death was that it brought my other sister and I much closer. I was grateful for the gifts within the tragedy.
I am not telling you that everything in life is rosy, and that we should be happy for everything. Yes, there is crap in my life, and I don’t want to cover it up or avoid the tough stuff. I just am grateful for what gets me through that tough stuff, even if it is simply feeling the sun on my face, or cuddling with my dog. Its not about spiritual bypassing, because you are not using this in place of handling life. It is breathing into and recognizing the grace of the moment, which can help me find the strength to handle what needs to be done.
If you are gathering with others to celebrate Thanksgiving or any of the holidays in the near future, try going around the dinner table and asking everyone to give at least one thing they are grateful for before you dig in. If you don’t have the chance to do it with others, do this for yourself, whether in your journal or saying it out loud. Try this everyday from now through the end of the year, see what this brings, and let me know how it goes. May it be of benefit for you and all others. I am grateful for all you are doing to live your best life, and for the ways in which you are spreading your light in the world.
“What an incredible experience!” This was the phrase spoken by all 15 people at the end of each day of our Peru retreat. It was a magical mystery tour and many of the mysteries were uncovered thanks to our amazing guides, pampa mesayoq (shaman), and healers. From the opening circle and sound healing to the final OM at the retreat center, from the Sacred Valley to the majestic Machu Picchu, we all felt empowered, blessed, and enlightened by the ancient civilizations and the mark they left on the world.
Days began with my yoga class tailored to the physical and spiritual path we were to embark on. A yummy farm to table breakfast was prepared for us with love by Francesca. We then took off to explore archaeological ruins, learn about Andean cosmology, and the Incan traditions.
During the week, we visited a total of seven different archaeological sites of Incan times, including a picture perfect visit to Machu Picchu. Of the three times I have been there, this, by far, was the best for viewing and capturing our visit there in photos. We were gifted with the sight of a condor circling Huayna Picchu — which only added to our guide’s explanation of the significance of the condor to the Andean people. Our guides: Jesus, Rauol, and Carmen were excellent — bringing their knowledge forth and answering the numerous questions we had. We also had the chance to visit the Paru Paru community who live up above the Sacred Valley. They welcomed us with open arms, showing us their simple yet beautiful lifestyle. We were humbled by their customs and genuine caring, and the sense of community they shared. After demonstrating the process of shearing, washing, spinning, dying, and ultimately weaving the wool into gorgeous and colorful works of art, we appreciated even more how the skills that have been passed on from parents to children for so many generations continued to bring them a life that was truly in harmony rather than destroying the nature around them.
At the end of the week, we all had time for spa treatments, and healing sessions with a Pampa Mesayoq, Don Isidro. Our last day, he led us in a ceremony to help bless the land and mountain spirits in return for all the blessings we had received during our week. This powerful ceremony still lives in my heart and has brought some insightful dreams in the nights since.
Going through significant changes in elevation, temperature, and weather, everyone found their personal journey, gracefully negotiating all challenges, and supporting each other along the way.
We quickly went from new acquaintances to caring friends. Jesus, our main guide, told us the first afternoon that the Andean philosophy was all about the heart. We embraced and acted on that from day one and are already talking about coming together again for a Tuscany Retreat in 2021!
I’m planning a workshop so I can reconnect with many of these folk and others next spring in NYC. There are so many of us seeking to share informative and healing experiences these days, and I hope to create a gathering in the city that will be just as powerful as the ones in Peru. If you weren’t able to be there on this retreat, I do hope that you can join me there.
Subscribe to my newsletter if you haven’t yet to find out where and when the next event will be. The calendar over the next year is filling with lots of good stuff–I hope to see you soon to experience the joy of community, the respect for mother earth, and a remembrance of how to live from the heart.
Love and light,
In the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, there are eight limbs of yoga described. Three of the last four are Pratyahara (withdrawing of the senses), Dharana (concentration), and Dhyana (meditation). In my early days of practicing yoga, I got the part about withdrawing the senses pretty well. It started to happen when I would do my sitting meditation, as well as occasionally when I was practicing the physical postures. Yet the difference between concentration and meditation eluded me for quite a while. I used to use my breath, a visual point of focus, a thought, or mantra to place my attention and then I called this meditation. However, what I was practicing was concentration. It was and is a worthwhile practice. Yet I then began to discover that what is meditation is actually beyond this one-pointed focus. I had read about it; knew this intellectually, yet it took a long time for me to distinguish the difference to being in a state of concentrating on just one thing rather than a meditative state. A meditative state, by contrast, is being able to have full awareness of everything, really being fully present for reality.
For all the years in which I was basically practicing concentration, the practice felt as though I was condensing myself, through my awareness to try to maintain my focus on that one thing. Whether it was staring at a candle flame, chanting mantras, or visualizing an object, it was the continual noticing that awareness had crept away from the one thing, and bringing it back over and over. It did help me to be able to focus for longer periods on things like writing blog posts! 🙂
I began to actually understood how meditation can be different. While they both look the same from the outside (me, sitting with my spine straight, eyes closed, stillness), the experience on the inside is way different. Meditation is expansion. As though this much-more-intense focus extends to every cell of my physical body, my mind, my heart, my energy, and all that is around me, and sometimes even stuff that is not around me, including other people, nature, sights, sounds, energy. It is a still, calm, awareness that is expansive, enveloping, embracing,…words just don’t do this justice. It is, in fact, when I have felt the absolute most alive I have ever felt. Aware AF, if it were to be condensed to a meme. It does not mean being ignorant of what has passed or what is to come. It is an embracing of all, without getting lost in any one part of it. While it has come about during my meditation practice, it has also happened to me when I have been deeply immersed in playing music, creating art, or absorbed in nature.
So while practice and meditative techniques are one way to get there, our life itself can be our practice. My underlying philosophy on my spiritual path is that life is to be lived, that we are here to enjoy, be present for the divine play of our lives. So the more time I can be in that state of presence, the more I truly enjoy it all, even the downs within the ups and downs. If there is sadness, what does it feel like to experience that in my body, my breath, my mind? How does it change the way I see and interact with the world around me? If there is joy, let me be present and explore in the same ways. If this sounds good to you, I suggest you find all the ways in which you can be here now. If you find that tough to do, reach out. I have some good ideas of how to begin to live your yoga.