Thursday, March 9, 2017

Melting Into Our True Nature

Over the past few weeks, in between these final blasts of winter, we’ve enjoyed some beautiful spring weather.  While walking through the park one day, I could feel the thaw taking place both within and without.  My body felt warm, but there was a residual tingle of frostiness felt on my skin.  Small, leftover patches of snow were melting and merging with the soil, offering it much needed moisture to soften and prepare for the grass and flowers to grow. 

These weeks of transition from winter into spring have many ups and downs.  The wind becomes bitter and harsh while the sun grows stronger along with our yearning to spend more time outside.  The weather changes drastically from day to day and even hour to hour as Mother Nature begins her annual birthing process.

It takes tremendous energy and momentum for new growth to take place, and at the same time it takes tremendous surrender.  As the seed pushes its way to sprout and break through the soil, the snow is simultaneously surrendering its frozen form, helping to nourish the earth and support the new plant growth.  In observing this wild time of transition in nature, we too are invited to surrender our frozen ideas and visions on how life should be and embrace what we can’t control as a pathway to new growth in our lives.  Showing up for our self-care activities and practices offers us the space needed to soothe the ego from its fear, worry and anguish over the unpredictable chaos of life, and to cultivate the fertile muddy soil needed for sure and steady growth.  If we allow the ego’s frozen hold over us, which perpetuates our suffering, to gently melt like the snow into the earth, we then empower the part of us that can observe from a place of love and allow for new experiences to blossom in our lives.  While pain and chaos are a part of the human journey, if we allow it to meld with our overall experience of life, it then transforms into the colorful beauty that blossoms as the healing from those experiences takes place. 

Planting our seeds of intention and planning for what we desire are important aspects to manifesting a meaningful and joyful life, as well as co-creating the world we want to see for ourselves and others.  However, when we allow the mind to let go of its preconceived notions on how life “should” be or how others “should” be, we allow the things we can’t control to transform into the nourishment that supports us in living in alignment with our most authentic and true nature.  In turn, just as the soil softens in response to the snow melting, creating the mud needed to support new life, when we release the ego’s grip over us, the world around us begins to soften.  How we experience the journey of life becomes a beautiful gift, even during our moments of doubt and confusion.  We dissolve the labels of who we are or who we think we should be, recognizing that the light and the shadow aspects of ourselves are one, working in tandem to support us.  In turn our whole, healed and most authentic nature can thrive and express itself in beautiful ways within the confines of our human journey.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Steaming Cup of Self-Worth: Sustaining Our Personal Power

While meditating recently, a beautiful image of a steaming cup of tea came to me.  Breathing deeply into my lower hara center (the place 2-3 finger widths below the navel) I was contemplating the difference between self-worth and self-esteem.   We hear these terms used interchangeably in the world of self-development, but there is a different dynamic around each word.

The practice of Reiki works with three energy centers (the lower, middle and upper hara centers) and the yogic tradition works with seven main energy centers (Chakras 1-7). However, as our healing process and spiritual awakening begin, the lower energy centers (lower hara in Reiki and Chakras 1-3 in yoga) are emphasized.  Just as the tree can only grow as tall as its roots reach into the earth, our own awakening can only go as far as we are anchored into our connection with the earth and our personal power.  So much of our culture emphasizes what is happening in our external world that we often times forget to place value on how we feel about ourselves and our life experiences. Over time this conditioning leads to our personal power getting lost. It is no wonder that as people begin the self-awakening process, they lose interest (and patience) with tabloids and mainstream media.

In working with the Chakras, the lower three anchor us into our bodies so we can fully receive the blessings of life while simultaneously expending our energy to co-create with the universe. Chakra 1 which embodies the element of earth is where our personal energy rests, coiled at the bottom of the spine. Its Sanskrit name is Muladhara which means “root support”. It is where we house our energy and personal power, and own our self-worth. Just as a mountain stands tall and unmoved by what the elements do around it, when we fully own our self-worth, nothing can undermine how we value ourselves. As children, some people experienced their self-worth being worn down because of situations that stirred up fear for their safety. Children are vulnerable because of their need to rely on others to care for them and feel loved. When their sense of safety or feeling loved is threatened, a pattern of compromising their self-worth can develop. Fear is also an emotion associated with Chakra 1. In the system of Reiki, one of the first precepts we reflect on asks us to not worry or, in other words, not allow fear to have power over us. When we step onto a path of self-awakening and healing, the greater the experience of our whole and complete self, also referred to as the Higher Self, the more our self-worth can be expressed with ease in everyday life.

As I reflect on that image of the tea cup in my mind’s eye, I think of the cup itself representing Chakra 1. It is made of material from the earth, and it is the vessel that holds the tea. Chakra 1 holds the space for us to have and experience the blessings of life. The actual tea held within the cup represents the element of water embodied in Chakra 2. Chakra 2 or Svadhisthana, which means “sweetness”, is the energy center where we embrace the pleasures of life such as the indulgent aromas and tastes we find within a delicious cup of tea! Chakra 2 is where we begin to let go and relax into the present moment, taking in all that is good about life with a sense of appreciation. In the practice of Reiki, another precept we reflect on is a statement about gratitude and appreciation.

When we move up into Chakra 3, Manipura, we are connected with the element of fire, the spark of passion that inspires us to be seen in the world. Manipura means “sparkling jewel”. When we heat the water to make tea, we create steam. Chakra 3 is where our self-worth finds its outward expression in the form of self-esteem. It is the energy center where our power is expressed in a healthy way, neither relying on the acceptance of others nor needing to have power over others in order to keep its fires stoked. Without first anchoring self-worth into our being, self-esteem cannot be sustained. Our energy and power dissipate as quickly as they are attained. We are unable to set healthy boundaries, as we compromise our time, energy and money to please others, feel accepted or gain approval.  

The Japanese system of Reiki doesn’t work with the Chakras. However there are energetic and conceptual overlaps between the two systems. In Reiki we have the Joshin Kokyu ho which focuses the breath, and hence the mind, on the lower hara center in order to stay grounded and keep our inner fires stoked. Just as chakras 1-3 work in conjunction, Joshin Kokyu ho keeps us grounded and helps us sustain a balanced flow of energy in the physical, emotional and auric layers of the body.

While breathing deeply into my lower hara center and visualizing this beautiful cup of tea, I could feel the gentle flow of energy moving through each of the chakra centers. There was such a buoyant quality to it that I started laughing. I realized that in many ways, self-esteem is like the frosting on the cake. As our self-worth grows stronger and develops, the sweeter our own life experience becomes and the more inspired we become to share our joy and passion with world in meaningful ways.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Being Our Truth: Effecting Change from a State of Authentic Compassion

While I was in San Francisco this summer, I spent an afternoon in one of my favorite places, the Japanese Tea Garden.  When I arrived, it was a mob scene because of a special free admission that day.  As a result, finding a quiet spot to meditate was a bit challenging.  However, as I took in the beauty while walking around, I instead found that quiet space within myself.  Eventually a bench on the outskirts of the garden, behind the gift shop, presented me the opportunity to meditate in solitude.  As I gently dropped my eyelids and focused inward, the expressions of nature resonated all around me.  While the wind rustled the leaves in the trees, the sun melted the cool presence of the fog, and the scent of the earth merged with the residual vapors in the air.  In this moment of observing these subtle interactions of nature, I contemplated how the wind can’t exist without moving the leaves and the leaves can’t exist without directing the wind.  The sun can’t help but evaporate the fog, and the damp earth’s aroma naturally infuses the atmosphere around it.
And so it is with our human journey that we cannot be in this world, taking up space, without effecting others.  In considering this, the question arose as to how one’s most true and authentic nature can effect change.  How can simply being in our truth without filtering it to please others, or without using that truth to judge others be a powerful way to create change?  To exist fully in our truth, to anchor it into our being without needing words to explain it, holds a great deal of power, and the second we begin to compare and contrast that inner truth with the world around us, it’s power begins to diminish.  It takes courage to be fully present and embody our highest truth, no matter how vulnerable it makes us feel, and yet when we are unwavering in the light of that truth, a deep and profound transformation takes place both within and all around us.  We begin to act and respond to the world from that place of truth with neither the need to justify it, nor the need to impose it on others.  Just as the wind can’t control how a leaf will succumb to its force, we cannot control the response of others to how we present our most authentic essence.  But when we present it from a place of compassion, we experience less resistance in life, and a greater certainty that being true to ourselves will lead us to our greatest state of happiness and inner peace.

Being in a compassionate state is not a result of empathy or taking on the suffering of others.  Authentic compassion comes from the non-dualistic mind, the inner part of us that understands our truth does not need to fix anything or to make the truth of another wrong.  Authentic compassion reaches for an outlet of expression without attachment to an outcome or response, gently asking us to trust that the power within that state of being is enough.  Once we are able to experience this, all that is left is to remain centered in that state of authentic compassion and be a loving presence no matter what transpires.  

As we consistently show up to our Reiki practice, we are invited to experience deeper states of this unwavering compassion.  The Reiki precepts and meditation practices assist us in cultivating compassion within our daily lives.  The more we return to this state of being, the better able we become to hold space for others to discover this inner truth for themselves, in a way that is just right for them.  This allows for the veil between our spiritual inner knowing and our human personality to lift, enabling the two to merge.  

I often times talk about how the heart is where the self that is connected to spirit and the self that is connected to earth blend.  When we breathe fully into the heart, we allow that union to integrate even more deeply, and our state of compassion grows stronger with each exhale, creating space for its expression, despite the vulnerabilities that may appear.

Towards the end of October, spiritual traditions around the world celebrate as we enter the darkest weeks of the year and the veil lifts between the spirit and earth realms.  This is the time when ceremonies are held to take off the masks we wear when interacting with the world, and allow for the vulnerable space in our hearts to bring forth our deepest wisdom that longs to be fully expressed. This is also the time when the ancestors are honored for their generations of wisdom that holds space for us to be here today, in our truth.  

As we  prepare in mind, body and soul for nature’s quietest time of year, let us meditate to not only listen to what spirit has to say, but to breathe courage into our hearts to allow our state of compassion to be ever more present as we move through each day.  In doing so, not only are we effecting the world around us, but holding space for others to also effect the world from their most authentic state of being.

To fully and completely be in this world is to know and honor the truth of who you are and your unique gifts.  Holding a sacred space for their authentic expression returns to us the inner power, strength and resilience that carry us through our suffering and our joy, our self-doubt and moments of clarity, our grief and our reasons for celebration.  It is what enables us to inspire transformation without effort and effect change without resistance.  It is what it means to be in an unwavering state of unconditional love for yourself and the world.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Taking Root

I was recently browsing through a home magazine and noticed a short article about planting wild flowers in one’s garden to attract certain critters to help with pollination.  It isn't just a flower’s color that attracts certain species of butterflies, bees and moths, but also the shape and texture.  The flat shaped flowers tend to attract butterflies while the cone shaped flowers with multiple layers of petals attract bees.  The more wild and unkempt the garden, the more likely they will take up residence as well.

I found myself amused by this bit of information and how all that these flowers need to do in order to thrive is simply take root and be, and the world around them takes care of the rest.  Not that growing into a flower is a totally effortless process.  As a flower stretches toward the sun, exhibiting its beautiful color, shape and texture, it is simultaneously reaching its roots deep into its dark history in the soil from where it pushed through the surface.  As part of our human nature, we often times prefer to ignore the shadow aspects of our lives, especially when it comes to our own history, and mainly focus our attention on “reaching for the sun” by achieving what we think will make us happy.  Yet, when we do this, the aspects of the shadow self and its history will continue to show up as a mirror in our lives over and over again until we integrate it and appreciate it as a part of who we are and what makes us unique.  

There is the Buddhist concept of the lotus flower not being able to bloom without the mud to anchor its roots.  If we don’t integrate the different aspects of the shadow self and draw nourishment and wisdom from our history, we will continue to find ourselves unable to live fully rooted in the present and appreciate ourselves for who we truly are.  An Echinacea flower doesn’t look over at the rose and think one is prettier than the other.  It simply grows into its environment as nature programmed it, thriving from its butterfly visitations, while the rose is over in its own space hosting the bees that enjoy its nectar.  As humans, the more we appreciate ourselves for the natural gifts and presence we bring to the garden of life without comparing ourselves to others, the more we offer ourselves the opportunity to thrive in a way that is just right for us.  

Years ago my Reiki teacher offered me an affirmation that I use to this day as a reminder that in the end, simply being myself is enough.  I use it during my personal Reiki practice whenever I find myself overwhelmed by the things I think I “have” to do.  This affirmation is simply I am loved.  I am enough.  How often do we take a moment to consider that just being us is enough?  And in being so, do we trust that life can and will draw us to the sun to be nourished and shine?  We don’t have to earn our worthiness or deservingness to shine in our unique light.  It is already bestowed on us and as we recognize it for ourselves, we will recognize it for others as well.

The Sanskrit word “Namaste” means the divine light within me recognizes the divine light within you.  The more we honor this true divine beauty held within our own unique human nature, the more we can honor it in others.  In turn, just as a flower seed in the ground can’t foresee a butterfly coming into its life before it blooms, we will discover an unexpected pollination of blessings we could have never imagined as we allow our true and colorful nature to blossom.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Crusty Edges

I recently watched a documentary about Massimo Bottura, the chef owner of Osteria Francescana which is one of the top restaurants in the world.  Bottura’s ingenuity and creative stance has cultivated a culinary language of its own with dishes such as Oops! I dropped the lemon tart.  Two things struck me throughout the telling of Bottura’s story.  The first was his desire to return to the traditional foods of his childhood while engaging his own child like imagination to transform the food into an abstract work of art.  His famous deconstructed lasagna goes so far as to highlight the crusty edges, something that so many fondly remember as the best part of their mother’s lasagna.  The second thing that struck me was Bottura’s willingness to dance on the figurative edges of life and take risks as both an artist and a business owner.  His culinary genius is fueled by his ability to step back and observe the human relationship to food with fresh eyes, and his success is owed to his persistent exploration of the creative realm.

People frequently shy away from the “crusty edges of life” because the vulnerability that arises when exploring unknown territory can feel too overwhelming.  Instead, we shut ourselves off from creative expression altogether, fearing it will cause us embarrassment or lead us down a path of failure.  We prefer to remain safe on the well paved paths, confining ourselves to what is sensible, as we are conditioned to do as a society.  We don’t allow even a little bit of space in our lives to consider or explore the part of the self that longs to bust through the hard layers of the ego and bring forth something unique.  Even our school systems are structured to teach students how to pass exams instead of teaching them to question, explore and deconstruct what they learn in order to excavate new concepts and make new discoveries.  We aren’t taught the tremendous value that comes out of trial and error or failure, so we don’t even take small risks or explore anything off the beaten track.  

For over a decade, whenever I have shown up for my practice, reiki has consistently invited me to take on the role of a compassionate observer for myself and others, leaving judgment at the door, even when experiencing strong emotions around any given situation.  In return my own creative experiences have opened up to a whole new level of awareness and understanding.  Being in this space of a non-judgmental, compassionate observer in life doesn’t come naturally.  The human brain is hardwired to focus on our worries which are misguided “what if” stories drummed up by our unhealed past.  However, when we breathe and lean into our pain, sorrow or grief and observe it with an open and loving heart, we can move past our fears and allow a greater vision to take over.  The ego is asked to take a time out from its negative mental chatter and space is given for a higher perspective to shine through.

Practicing compassionate, non-judgmental observation cultivates an overall sense of curiosity in life.  This curiosity is what assists us in remaining open hearted even when we are navigating unknown terrain and feel raw and exposed.  We become the caretakers of our hearts for those uncomfortable moments when we experience vulnerability, hurt, disappointment, or fear.

Artists, scientists, philosophers and leaders who have propelled society forward throughout the ages did not shrink from the challenges that the unknown edges of life presented.  They weathered them and looked deep inside the crevices of the unknown to discover something new, never judging but always exploring with a childlike curiosity.  This process isn’t something specially gifted to a select few.  It is available to anyone willing to partake.  We just have to be willing to stand on the edge, lean over and take a look. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Calling of the Magi

One aspect of the holidays I’ve never outgrown is that underlying sense of magic as we approach the winter solstice.  As a child I was always looking for reasons to believe in the stories of miracles and mystical characters rather than trying to prove them simple figments of people’s imagination.  To this day, the contrast of the lights and candles against the darkness of winter as well as the warm spicy aromas of the season against the bitter cold return me to that inner child who anticipates magic and miracles.  

There is a recent post on Upworthy about a mom in California who was inspired to lend a helping hand after seeing photos of Syrian refugee families struggling to carry their children as they walk hundreds of miles to safety.  She started collecting baby carriers from members of her community and soon so many people jumped in to be a part of the cause, she was able to travel to Greece with ten other moms to personally deliver tens of thousands worth of baby carriers to refugees arriving on boats.  The beauty in this story is that instead of allowing her consciousness to fixate on the horrific aspects of the situation, she put her empathy, rooted in her love for her own family, to positive use, inspiring a resourcefulness that helped complete strangers on the other side of the world.  Reading this post reminded me of the story of the Magi who, guided by spirit, took a leap of faith and journeyed from the Far East to Bethlehem to deliver gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh to a child born in a stable, recognizing him as an incarnation of Christ.  To me, these treasured gifts of that time in history are metaphors for the unique gifts that are seeded in each of us which create their own miracles through acts of kindness like this woman’s.  

As the darkest day of the year approaches, the natural world invites us to journey inward to connect with our own creative ingenuity and discover the myriad pathways that can birth its manifestation into the world in order to heal, inspire, and propel humanity into its light.  Just as the Magi faithfully followed a star in the dark night sky to present the gifts they had to offer, spirit invites us to awaken to our own inner genius and allow its own magic to transpire and unify with the greater whole of life, the great light that resides in every sentient being.  

There is a vulnerability that requires courage, but more importantly a detached sense of curiosity, in order to present one’s inner gifts to the world, even when its purpose is to serve the needs of the greater good.  We risk judgment and ridicule, but when we fully embrace our sense of connectivity to the greater whole, a higher love removes the weight of fear.  Honoring a call to share with the world that which generates personal joy and fulfillment to serve a higher purpose is one of the greatest acts of compassion one can experience in their lifetime, as the process carries them to the deepest levels of connection with the authentic and loving nature of life.  To share this inner magic with even one other human being will have made this earthly journey all the more worthwhile.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Flutter of Stillness

Every year in October, just before the leaves peak in New York City, Central Park becomes a rest stop for the birds migrating back to South America for the winter.  During this time, binoculars and high tech cameras are everywhere with bird watchers behind them, quietly and patiently focused on getting a glimpse of these colorful but quick moving creatures.

As I was cooling off after a run one afternoon, I watched three birds dancing in the air in a pattern I had never seen before.  Their swift dives and smooth, swooping turns were magical, not unlike a miniature Quidditch match.  As their dark grey wings expanded, a beautiful bright yellow plumage was exposed.  After observing them for a few minutes, I determined that their dance was indeed likened to a Quidditch match, only the Snitch was a flying bug they were catching for lunch.

When I observe these beautiful birds stopping by every spring and fall, there is a childlike urge inside that wants to chase them to get a better look as they fly around; but then I recognize it is better to remain still, like the bird watchers, and allow the action to come to me.  Quietly observing this colorful flutter of activity creates a quality of peaceful, focused, stillness in the heart center that also comes about through other practices such as meditation, Reiki and yoga.  No wonder bird watching in Central Park has become such a popular activity that transcends both age and culture, as revealed in the HBO documentary Birders. 

Fall is the time when Mother Nature produces her one last flash of outward beauty and color, while simultaneously preparing to retreat into her heart center for the winter, reminding us that we too can find stillness in the midst of activity anytime we choose.  For a long time, I used to feel a bit nostalgic during the autumn months, as many people do, but in recent years I’ve learned to embrace this time of retreat into the darkest days of the year.  This is when our natural rhythms are given a chance to slow down, and in the stillness a renewed inspiration is allowed to shine through.  When Arianna Huffington gave a talk about her book, Thrive, she discussed both the practicalities and the wisdom around connecting with this inner stillness.  Backed by the scientific studies she includes in her book, she emphasized meditation and sleep as necessary ingredients to being focused and productive, but also for improving relationships and discovering greater meaning in our lives.

As I prepared for the first weekend course of this year’s Shinpiden (Reiki III) program, I reread a section from a book on Chinese medicine that describes change and transformation as being sourced from deep within, a different approach from western medicine which is about cause and effect.  While outer circumstances and energetic forces can resonate with the process of transformation, the actual change is internally initiated.  When we connect with this stillness that lies at the heart of everything, we begin to discover that the external flutter of activity in life frequently takes care of itself without any real exertion on our part.  And when we do direct our outward focus on the elements that resonate with what we value most in our hearts, the manifestation of what we desire becomes a joyful process.  The transformations that help us thrive will ultimately come about with ease and grace, without the ego trying to chase it down.

In the Reiki precepts, the practitioner is instructed to morning and evening place their hands in gassho (prayer position) to center the heart and mind.  As Arianna gave her talk, she led the audience through a one-minute meditation, anchoring everyone in a place of peace and self-compassion, exhaling fear and worry with each breath.  She reminded them afterwards that this space is available to them anytime, as well as being a powerful way to begin and end the day.  She also addressed people’s fear that if they unplug and let the mind become still, they will drop the ball and miss out on success.  In actuality, when we allow the mind to experience stillness for even just a few minutes, we begin to gain clarity and operate more effectively.

Overcoming any fears of the dark quiet stillness within offers us the opportunity to find renewed inspiration, as this is the space where the mind and body can ultimately recalibrate.  Anahata, the Sanskrit word for the Heart Chakra, means unstruck or sound made without two objects striking.  The heart is where we find unity with all of life, where we find our equilibrium to just be and allow life to take care of itself.  It is where we surrender and let go of the ego and all its attachments so we can begin to see our lives more clearly.  Without stillness we cannot experience the joyous dance of life.  Without darkness we cannot take pleasure in the colorful textures of the world around us.  Without emptiness we cannot appreciate the fullness of life, just as it is at any given moment.