Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Your Inner Walk-In Closet

Over the course of this year, I’ve heard so many people talk about how everything in life seems crammed in.  There is the need to work longer hours, while still taking care of family and home life, and then there are the multiple ways we communicate via text, email, and social media that constantly divert our attention.  While the digital era has made life easier, it has also made heart centered communication and human connection more challenging.

I was recently talking to a friend about how life in New York City feels like an overstuffed walk-in closet.  Everything one could ever need or want is there, but we are so crammed in both physically and mentally, sometimes there isn’t enough space to see and appreciate what we have.  While NYC does have its own unique dynamic, I suspect many who don’t live here feel the same way.  In a modern, fast paced lifestyle, it’s very easy for the mind, body and spirit to mirror this and become like that overstuffed walk-in closet.  We’re constantly thinking and worrying about what’s next or getting overstimulated by messaging and social posts, and so our being does not get a chance to calibrate. 

When one cleans out a closet, there is a physical and emotional feeling of freedom and lightness.  Sometimes there is also a sense of gratitude due to all the wonderful things from the past that are rediscovered.  Perhaps this is why more and more people are turning to practices such as meditation, reiki, yoga and other disciplines that require the mind and body to surrender to the present.  They offer space for the “inner walk-in closet” to get cleared out.  The more regular the practice, the more fully one can return to center when life does get chaotic.  Taking the time to quiet the mind and calm the heart is one of the most empowering things you can do on a daily basis, and all it requires is you and a clear intention.  It allows us to move through life with more grace and take pleasure in and appreciate all that is good in the here and now.

With the onset of winter and shorter days, we have many holidays that celebrate light.  This is a great time to light a candle, quiet the mind and allow spirit to shed light on all the great gifts that reside within us.  I invite you to do this simple meditation I’ve written:

Inner Walk-In Closet Meditation

Read this meditation a few times before you begin, so you can remember the steps.  You can take as little as a few minutes to do this meditation or as long as a half hour or more.  Try doing it several times over the course of a few weeks and see how it evolves. 

Find a place to sit quietly in a chair or on a meditation cushion, or you can lie down on the floor.  You may wish to light a candle, burn some incense or play some soothing music.  Gently close your eyes and relax your facial muscles.  Take some slow deep breaths, expanding your lower abdomen on the inhale, allowing your body to release and relax on the exhale.

You see before you a door.  Take a few moments to examine the door, its color, texture and design, as well as the details of the doorknob.  As you do so, a light begins to stream from the gap between the door and the floor.  You turn the knob and find yourself stepping inside a walk-in closet.  Take a few moments to adjust to the light and look around you.  Are there boxes, books or clothes?  Or are there a lot of objects piled up inside?  Is it neat and organized or cluttered and in disarray?  Is it empty, or is it overstuffed and in need of purging?

As you look around, a box of some sort catches your eye.  You open the box and look inside.  Take some time to connect with what is in the box.  It could be an actual object or it could be something abstract like a color, sound or word.  What does it mean to you?  Is it something connected to your past?  Or does it remind you of a forgotten desire?  Does it symbolize something you’ve been trying to release from your life or does it represent advice for a challenge you are trying to overcome?  Or is it reminiscent of a happy memory?  It could be something that reminds you of a lost loved one or of someone you’ve wanted to contact.  The possibilities are endless, so take your time and connect with what is inside this box you have uncovered and what it means to you.

When you are ready decide what you will do with what is inside this box.  Will you use it or throw it away?  It may be time to release what is in there or it may be time to connect with the thoughts, feelings and ideas it inspires.

When the time feels right, take a few deep breaths, imagining you are stepping out and closing the door to the closet for now.  You can always return whenever you need to take inventory of your life or to empty out the mental and energetic clutter.  Gently open your eyes and write down any details you wish to remember.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Letting Happiness Catch Up to Us

I recently listened to a wonderful two hour discussion on the subject of happiness that His Holiness the Dalai Lama held with three other religious leaders.*  Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke of a story about an 18th century rabbi who was watching all these people in the town racing about their day.  He finally stopped someone and asked what he was running around for and the man replied that he was trying to make a living.  The rabbi asked how did he know his living was in front of him and that he wasn't actually running away from it?  Rabbi Sacks equated this story to our pursuit of happiness and how we are often times so busy pursuing what we think and society tells us will make us happy that we forget to pause and simply allow happiness to catch up to us.  He went on to say that this is the purpose of the Sabbath in the Jewish faith.  Rabbi Sacks’ anecdote struck me, as this indeed is the purpose of any meditative or spiritual practice, to center ourselves so that the blessings of life are given a chance to come into focus for the heart, mind and soul to enjoy.

Earlier in the conversation, Rabbi Sacks spoke of there being two types of happiness.  There is the happiness we feel as an individual and then there is the happiness we cultivate through sharing it with others.  It is the gratitude for our blessings that we share in our relationships and within our communities that renew and strengthen our joy.  He calls this a spiritual happiness which is the greatest renewable energy there is as it reinforces and deepens our sense of joy, love, friendship and trust.

When asked about finding happiness in the situations that bring us suffering, the Dalai Lama spoke of being able to look for the blessings that result from the changes the suffering initiated in the first place.  Rabbi Sacks cited Genesis 32:26 when Jacob, who has wrestled with God throughout the night, says to him, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”  It is when we move through our suffering and discover even more meaningful blessings in life that we can embody a deeper sense of joy.

Seyyed Hossein Nasr, a professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University, discussed the meaning of the word beauty in Islamic culture and that beauty also means virtue.  As the conversation unfolded, his point was that as we appreciate our own inner beauty as well as the beauty held within the world around us, we experience the presence of the Divine.  He describes happiness as the permanent state of the soul and when we practice gratitude, we tap in to this eternal state of joy allowing it to be expressed through virtue.

As we “harvest” our blessings through the many different cultural and spiritual traditions that take place between now and the end of the year, let us take some time to quiet the mind and center the heart in order to allow our happiness to “catch up to us”, and in turn share it fully with our loved ones and community in the spirit of appreciation for all that is.

*A recording of this discussion can be heard at the website for On Being (

Monday, September 8, 2014

Playing the Fool

This summer the world lost two special celebrities who touched many people’s lives.  The moment I heard the news of Robin Williams’ passing, I was taken aback by a wave of grief.  Then I realized it was because of my personal memories of going to see his films with my grandmother.  I remember her talking about Dead Poets Society for decades.  But when we saw Patch Adams and Awakenings together, I witnessed a part of my grandmother I almost never saw.  These films had reached into her heart and touched a vulnerability that she rarely let anyone see.  As a strong, loving, but stoic woman, the idea of showing vulnerability was out of the question.  Yet underneath the surface flowed a wealth of tenderness and sensitivity.  Just as a farmer digs for wells, Robin Williams’ characters had found a way to dig a well for her sensitivities to flow and find expression, if for just a couple of hours.
As I reflect on Robin Williams’ work, what I love most is what he was often times criticized for and that was exposing his raw side.  As a society we are conditioned from a young age to keep our inner world deep in the shadows, and Robin was willing to play the fool by exposing the full and colorful tapestry of his human experience.  Through his work, he reminded humanity that we all have seeded within the soul a childlike vulnerability that seeks creative and playful expression.  He held up a mirror, reminding the world that within the shadow self resides a goldmine just waiting to be discovered.
People who are sensitive and experience the full range of human emotion are often times judged as weak.  In reality, however, it takes great strength to be able to experience the depths to which human emotion can go, and Robin was one of those people.  Unfortunately, the extremes took him too far, too early.  This leads me to question why society doesn’t fully embrace those who have stronger sensitivities to life, and view them as leaders who shed light on how one can experience his or her emotions while remaining strong.  Perhaps if we did, this less traveled road would be a little less lonely and a little less painful for those who feel like misfits against the back drop of society.
Some of the greatest works of genius resulted from someone willing to stand out on the edge and play the fool.  Joan Rivers was another example of this.  Her whole life was spent on the edge, breaking the glass ceiling for female standup comedians, while ignoring all those who told her she had no talent.  Joan never denied her vulnerable side to the public.  Just like Robin, she held up a mirror to humanity and said it’s okay to be yourself, your whole self and nothing but your SELF!
When we deny or hide in the shadows the parts of us we fear will make us look foolish, we are missing out on the chance to be of service to others who may also be too afraid to admit their own vulnerabilities.  It becomes a missed opportunity for humanity to heal its shame just a little more and to bring out the best in ourselves.  The next time you realize you are keeping a part of your authentic side locked away from the outside world, ask whether or not someone else could actually be having a similar experience.  As Joan would say, “I succeed by saying what everyone else is thinking.”

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Listening to What Echoes in the Heart

Several summers ago, I was relaxing in front of the TV on a Sunday evening when out of nowhere a cricket flew through my window and landed on my bookcase.  Now for those of you in the suburbs or countryside, this might not seem like a big deal, but for a city dweller, living in a third floor walkup, this is a very rare occurrence to say the least.

As the cricket played on for the rest of the evening, I turned off the TV, made sure he was out of reach of my cat (who was growing increasingly excited), and quietly listened to his song with my full attention.  I remembered falling asleep as a child to the sound of crickets in the summertime and took this moment to fully appreciate the little guy’s heartfelt solo performance.

The wisdom of cricket reminds us to listen with our hearts, to feel the vibration of what is being said, and let the sound echo what soul is expressing through our natural sensitivities and intuition.  With fast paced modern communication styles, information often passes through as just words and the full experience of what is being communicated gets lost in the flood of data.  Taking the time to listen with our hearts has almost become a luxury.

As part of the training for the reiki master program this year, we did an exercise on reflective listening through body language.  Instead of repeating back what the person was saying, we tuned in to how they were holding their body and the rhythm of their breath.  Just by finding ways to subtly experience the other person’s physicality in the conversation, we were able to listen with deeper a understanding of what was being expressed and experience more compassion for the other person.

Listening from the heart instead of the head doesn’t come easily in this day and age, but when we get the opportunity to do so, it becomes a gift for both parties involved.  The speaker feels heard and the listener receives an expanded awareness that opens the heart to a deeper state of compassion.  The art of listening in this manner is cultivated over time and through practice and not just when we are actually listening to someone.  When we sit to meditate, practice reiki, yoga or tai chi, play a musical instrument, dance, or engage in any other activity that requires us to be fully present, we are deepening our ability to quiet the mind and tune in to the sensual and intuitive sensitivities that enable us to become better listeners.

Summer is the time when Mother Nature is at her peak of expression with both the animal and plant kingdoms fully awake and active due to the extra warmth and daylight.  This provides a wonderful opportunity to quiet the mind and center the heart to receive the messages she offers us whether they come from a small cricket, the sound of waves at the beach or a gentle breeze.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Sprouting the Questions

As spring emerges, some of my favorite moments are when, as e.e. cummings put it, “the world is mud-luscious”.  Buds are beginning to appear on the trees but they aren’t quite ready to blossom, and the earth is softening in order for the vulnerable process of sprouting to begin.  I remember gardening being one of my favorite activities as a child.  I loved the messy feel of the moist and musty smelling soil in my hands as we made the mounds for planting the seeds.  Not knowing how it was all going to turn out made it a pretty magical process for a child.  Days and weeks later, fragile green threads of life would mysteriously emerge, still not clearly shaped into what they were to become.  I learned during those few weeks of sprouting that too much watering would drown the plants and not enough would cause them to shrivel up before they could take root and fully grow.

When I think about those moments of vulnerability that nature experiences year after year, season after season, never knowing the outcome until it’s already happened, I laugh at the contrast with our human nature whenever we create anything.  How often is there a dream seeded within us that we give up on too early because there is no guarantee for success or a high rate of return for our efforts?  How often do we attend with full abandon to what uniquely inspires us beyond meeting our basic human needs in life?  As a culture, we are at a cross roads, questioning what has real value and meaning to us.  The answer to that question has six billion unique answers which makes this an exciting time both individually and as a society.  The structures that once gave us reference points for where we “should” be in life are dissolving, and now the answers must come from within.

There is a vulnerability that one experiences when they take the risk to start something new, whether it be returning to school, starting a business, getting out the paints from art school or training for a marathon at the age of fifty.  There are times when we can experience this vulnerability with ease and grace because the process is more interesting to us than the results, while at other times we can experience various states of anxiety caused by not knowing the exact outcome.  Just as Mother Nature shows up every spring (though a little late this year) to begin her creative process anew, we as humans are meant to show up for our creative process despite our uncertainties.  When we plant the seeds of intention and see something emerge, that is the moment to surrender the questions and be compassionate with the fear and uncertainty about the outcome.  That is the time to step back and allow the mysterious part of the process to unfold.

There will always be questions and unknowns in life.  In learning to live out the answers without knowing them beforehand, we begin to thrive in the face of vulnerability.  Success is something defined by the ego, where learning to thrive is propelled by the higher self, the source from within that yearns to create through each of us as a unique human being.

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes by Rainer Maria Rilke:

Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

Have a beautiful spring everyone and no matter what is sprouting in your life, may there always be joy in your heart.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

What Do Yellow Butterflies and Angels Have to Do with Football?

About 20 years ago, around this time of year, I was going through my very first breakup with a boyfriend.  As many can relate, the first can often times be the hardest, and that was definitely the case for me.  However, when I now look back on that time in my life, the heartache isn’t what I remember as much as certain small details.  One such detail is that my ex would every winter wear a big blue jacket with the GIANTS logo across the back.  Once we broke up, all I kept seeing everywhere I went that winter were guys wearing this jacket.  It drove me bananas!  Having just moved to New York City and juggling my catering jobs with dance classes, auditions and rehearsals, I was running around the city and using the subway a lot.  So whenever I dropped a token (yes, we had tokens back then folks) into a subway turn stile, I was guaranteed it meant there would be a spotting of some guy wearing that Giants coat.  Little did I know back then I was getting a big lesson in how co-creation and the law of attraction work.  As I was focusing on the lack of this person in my life, the universe was kindly bringing forth a visual cue to match my emotional state. 

Fast forward twenty years and thank goodness I’m not mourning the loss of a Giants, Sea Hawks or Broncos fan in my life, as I’d be finding this week just a bit challenging.  Instead, I’ve had the joy of actually experiencing a much more playful lesson in the law of attraction.  Over the holidays I had the pleasure of partaking in a five day ritual in which I consciously invited the arch angels into my home and meditated with them, asking any questions I’d like.  That same week I also decided to read E-Square by Pam Grout which is the latest bestselling book on the law attraction.  In this book, Pam has the reader ask the universe to present yellow butterflies to them over the course of 48 hours.  Now, this being the dead of winter, the inner skeptic would immediately take over.  However, as soon as I finished reading that chapter, I looked up and right in front of me, on my desk, was a birthday card I’d kept from one of my closest friends and on it was a huge yellow butterfly with gold glitter on it.  Not even a minute had gone by and the universe was responding.  I couldn’t stop giggling over this and told another friend of mine a few weeks later.  He sent me this picture of a yellow butterfly ornament he found while walking down the street saying “Now you have me looking!”  

Between doing these exercises in Pam’s book and meditating with the arch angels, winter brought forth a delightfully magical energy for me this year, and it was great timing as we are clearly having one of the coldest winters in, well, 20 years.  The night the angels arrived for the ritual that had been sent to me by a dear friend of mine, they too were answering my questions almost immediately and in very obvious and funny ways.  When I ask myself what has made these experiences so joyful and seemingly magical, I realize that it is because I’ve taken pause to listen to spirit not with my ears but with my heart.  When we seek spiritual guidance and support through prayer, meditation and ritual, the most important part is to silence the mind and open the heart to what spirit is expressing.  Spirit does not communicate to us through the linear mind.  Spirit speaks to us through the symbolic meaning we encounter in our daily lives, holding up a metaphorical mirror to reflect our inner state, for that is ultimately where our experience of reality is sourced.  Our job is to let go of our fear, understanding that at the essence of everything there is only love, and when we align with that essence, the world ultimately transforms into whatever we choose it to be.

So whether you are looking for a certain outcome for your favorite team this weekend or you are simply seeking a little more brightness and joy to get you through the second half of winter, take a moment to let go, breathe in the loving presence of the divine and know that what you seek is already there.