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My backyard

It’s a funny feeling when one recognizes that things are balanced.

I know what it feels like to be at the peak of the mountain, and in the valley far below. While I suppose most folks are happy at the peak, I’m wary because I know that won’t last and I’ll soon be sliding down (hopefully not too far). When in the valley at least I can be hopeful that I’ll be climbing out soon enough. One only slides as low as the highest peak, and I’m fortunate that my swings aren’t too dizzying.

But lately… things just feel good. Almost too good, like… afraid to talk about it goodness. I don’t want to jinx myself. I think  I’m in a balanced place and can actually feel it. Instead of rushing past it, I’m kind of simmering in it;  I’m enjoying the feeling of contentment mixed with the curiosity of what will come next.

I haven’t blogged in a long time.

I’ve had ideas rolling around in my head, but none of them wants to bloom. Perhaps they’ll emerge some day. I have to let them do as they wish – they won’t be forced, it just pushes them further down into my subconscious. Sometimes these little nuggets pop out better as Tweets or Facebook statuses.

Something I have wanted to write about is my practice between March 4 and April 25. Due to unusual circumstance, work was incredibly busy and stressful for those seven weeks. I had to work late many, many nights which threw my meditation and exercise practices way out of whack. What saved me is my belief in mindfulness – that every thing I do during the day can be meditation if I choose to be mindful. I had mentally prepared and decided that I would choose to stay calm, have a sense of humor, and consider it all selfless service or karma yoga. Even though the stress and long days actually sent my resistance so low that by the end I got a nasty cold (I am rarely ill), I never freaked out, yelled or snarked at anyone, and kept a smile in my heart the entire time. Ego is pretty proud of that! (Body was pretty angry once the exercise kicked back in.) My tattoo and LIVE SLOW signs helped keep me focused. I’m so visual.

Much has happened in the world.

The Arab Spring made me think about a Nostradamus show I saw years ago once that predicted an evil, Arab-looking man would come to rule the entire world. Yet here are the youth of Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya (to name a few) choosing to protest and fight for change in their countries. It’s an interesting turn of events, and I hope the people in Arab countries find a way to live productive, peaceful lives. Maybe I’m naïve, but I believe Arab moms want to see their children grow up healthy, strong, educated, and peace-loving. Just like all the other moms around the world.

Osama bin Laden is no longer walking this Earth, which can’t be a bad thing. It’s not in me to cheer any death, but I understand why some did and if that’s the emotion they were feeling then fine with me. He’d been on the lam so long, now that he’s finally gone it feels odd – like when a childhood celebrity dies… I can’t believe it actually happened and everything is a bit different now.

I found the whole Obama birth certificate thing funny. You just knew the minute they released it someone would pick it apart and claim it’s Photoshopped. Puh-leeze. As for Donald Trump… when nonsense like him actually affects political polls, that is a sad moment in American history.

Hopefully an idea will decide to bloom soon because I like to write. It has been a pretty nice spring so far, with summer right around the bend and I’ve been able to spend more time outside watching my trees sway in the breeze. Inspiration can’t be too far.

Because I am such a visual person, my SLOW campaign (mentioned here with another link back to original 2009 posting) keys on having little signs posted all over in places that are obnoxiously in my line of sight. For example, I stick them on my computer monitors, my dashboard in the car, my medicine cabinet, and above the spot where I dump my purse every evening. I move them around to other annoying places as soon as I realize I’ve stopped looking at them.

The current signage was, literally, a slow sign such that you’d see in a construction zone on the highway: a yellow diamond with black type saying SLOW. These are getting pretty beat up, and I barely see them anymore so I’ve updated them:

I’ve added verbiage to this version as an extra reminder of when I should be doing something slowly. I don’t list every opportunity (the list would have gone on forever), but this is enough to jar me into mindfulness. These are now printed about 2″ x 3″ and I’ll be posting them right away.

LIVE SLOW in 2011!

For a long time I’ve been searching for a way to keep a physical reminder of my practice in front of me.

For my SLOW campaign, which will be moving into 2011, I printed out little signs and hung them all over. They work as long as I occasionally move them so they stay annoyingly in my line of sight, and I will not only continue using them, but I’ll be freshening them up with a new design.

The slow signs don’t represent my entire practice, however. I wanted something that was with me all the time, like a mantra I could see. I’m a very visual person. I tried jewelry: bracelets, necklaces. But I get sick of wearing the same bracelets. No, time for something else, something a bit more – ummm, permanent?

Ah, a tattoo! I got one on my ankle years ago, so I  knew what to expect. Now, the difficult questions of: what, where and when? I’ve been pondering doing this for a very long time and had an idea bouncing around in my head. I received a lovely silver pendant from my hubby a few years back: it’s a small square with the word “shanti” embossed on it.

Shanti translates to “peace” in english, and has always been my default spiritual mantra. For me, the word “peace” sums up a slew of concepts including non-attachment, balance, non-duality, contentment, lovingkindness, joy, and more. There is a quote that I really love:

“Peace 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.”

Because you will never escape noise, trouble, and hard work. Or pain, stress, and jerks either. You have to be able to deal with those things without being dragged through the emotional mud.

But, I digress….

This summer my friend Karen told me she was thinking of getting a tattoo so I took it as a sign and we decided to go together. She researched the place while I finalized my artwork.  I knew I wanted it on my wrist, a place that is in front of me all the time. It took time to get all our details in order, which landed us in the middle of the holiday season as well as a freak blizzard. It was even snowing today; when I asked Karen if we were going she wrote back, “YES!” And off we went.

The top symbol is “Om”, which has too many meanings (or, perhaps, non-meanings?) to go into in this post. The bottom symbol is “Shanti”. The tattoo as a whole basically translates to “universal peace”.

I’m pretty pumped up, I think it came out great. One of the tattoo guys said I was putting it on upside-down, but what would be the point if I couldn’t read it? It’s there for me, not for everyone else! I often wear a stack of bracelets on that wrist anyway which will obscure it. But that’s okay.

I just like knowing it’s there.

Our home under 34" of snow

Maybe it’s the holidays or maybe it’s the 34″ of snow that fell last Sunday, but I’ve felt very grateful for my material possessions lately – especially my home. We don’t have a spacious house, somewhat over 1300 square feet on a 100′ square lot, but it is at least 50 years old with many charming oddities built in. Our home is perfect for our family of three (plus two adopted furballs). Quite cozy, we have the downstairs painted in warm shades of cocoa, cream, and butter, with wood furniture and lots of art (much of it made by us). There are many filled-to-the-brim bookshelves, and lots of family photos. One of the dearest compliments I’ve ever received was  “This is a creative home with really good energy.” A fine compliment indeed for a family of artists, musicians, and a future architect.

“A house is made of walls and beams, a home is built with love and dreams.” ~Anonymous

Today I found Meagan’s post about her home, and it really struck a chord. I believe I understand exactly how she feels, especially about the ethereal aspects of loving her home. Walking into my home makes me feel like I’m entering a warm, cozy nest that has been built with great care from decades of love, kindness, generosity and compassion. We have a space that is infused with positive energy and spirit, laughter and joy.

Thank you, little cottage that is our home, for keeping us warm and dry and content to spend our days within you.

“Home is the place where it feels right to walk around without shoes.” ~Anonymous

I love the song Little Drummer Boy.

I love the Boy’s narrative, a simple story told with youthful innocence. I love how it illustrates that gifts, especially the best gifts, do not equate to money. I love how baby Jesus, his vision already so clear, gives back with what he has – a knowing smile. And I love how the Boy accepts this gift with utter grace.

As I walked out of work the other day, my senses lit up. I felt the warmth on my skin, looked ahead to bright green trees against beautiful blue skies, heard dozens of birds chattering in a tree, and I took a deep, warming breath into my lungs.

It occurred to me… is it easier to be happy (or content!) in the warm months, as compared to colder months?

Speaking solely for myself, I like warm months better. It seems there is so much more to experience: more colors, more sounds, more smells. I feel surrounded by positive energy and aliveness (yes, I make up my own words- deal with it). Ironically, I really don’t like heat; I can’t stand that sticky humidity feeling.

Not to disparage the cold half of the year! Winter is interesting… I like to examine the structures of the trees, or how the world becomes monochromatic during a snowstorm. A bracing inhale of frosty air can be invigorating! But the cold makes my shoulders feel like they are trying to curl into my chest, my skin dries out, and getting around town in the slush and wet quickly drains my energy.

How about you? Do you enjoy feeling the sun’s embrace? Or does a cold shiver up your spine wake you up?

Where the elves play

This is alongside a road I take to work everyday. I usually see it for half a second as I drive by, and I long to walk in there and sit in the mossy silence. Doesn’t it look like a place where woodland elves would come to play?

I have a ticket to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama speak tomorrow in NYC at the Cathedral of St. John. A few friends and I jumped at the chance to see him speak, and we’ll hopefully have enough time to eat dinner at Blossoms, a vegan restaurant.

I’ve been waiting patiently for several years to hear the Dalai Lama speak. I was disappointed to have missed him the last time he spoke in this area at Rutgers Stadium. A friend of mine went to see him there, and the experience she describes sounds incredible. Rutgers Stadium holds just over 50,000 people, and you can imagine that even with this peaceful crowd, the buzz of voices was quite loud. Kate described how as soon as he set foot on stage, the entire stadium went silent. Not quiet… silent. And the focused energy of all those people combined with his energy was enough to give you goosebumps and a chill up your spine.

From the bits of speeches I’ve heard and things I’ve read, I understand that Tenzin Gyatso is a funny man with a keen sense of humor. With his smiling eyes and peaceful manner, he reminds me of Pope John Paul II, another person I would have liked to hear speak. In fact, many of our great holy masters have been leaving us and moving on to the next part of their journeys. Because of this, I’ve been trying to hear as many of them speak as I can. I’m sorry I didn’t know about Sri Swami Satchidananda soon enough to hear him speak before he passed on in 2002. You might know him as the Swami who spoke at Woodstock, but I know him as the founder of Integral Yoga and from his translation and commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, a book that has – and is continuing to – change my life. I’ve been fortunate to hear Sri Dharma Mittra speak twice, so I’ve been blessed there. I attempted to hear Reverend Jaganath Carrera, a disciple of Satchidananda, speak, but he has been suffering from an illness and unfortunately wasn’t able to attend in person. We listened to a recorded talk instead, which was very interesting and I hope to someday see him in person. I have also been blessed to hear a wonderful talk by Lama Dvora, a brilliant woman and buddhist teacher, and would like to hear her speak again someday.

To me, these people are the real deal. I can only hope that their disciples are able to fully live the teachings and pass on the message to their students in a clear and truthful way. I haven’t heard any of the newer yoga masters speak yet, and I will admit to a probably ignorant bias. The great men and women I wrote about above don’t have huge marketing machines pushing yoga mats, meditation cushions, clothes and videos. Most of them have small yoga studios, not franchises, and many speak for nothing more than a small donation (as little as $5 or $10!). They’re there to spread the dharma, not become rich. It’s my own issue and I hope to be proven wrong, but wealth and selfless service just don’t add up in my book.

So, as I’m trying to live in the present moment and not think too much about the future, I’ve gotta admit that I’m looking forward to my day tomorrow and hope that it meets or exceeds expectation. But then… whatever is meant to happen will happen and I’ll take it as it comes.

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