Freedom and Liberation, 40 Years in the Making

Never mind what the haters have to say about the trappings of turning 40. Mid-life and over the hill, my ass! And yes, I did just say ass, TWICE!

From where I stand, 40 seems to be the exact right number of years needed to walk the earth, facing trials and triumphs and learning how to appreciate the polarities at both ends of the spectrum. That’s right, the real gifts of this milestone have everything to do with a 40-years-in-the-making perspective on life that I’m in awe of being able to call mine.

To me, turning 40 represents a surprising sense of freedom, the likes of which I’ve not experienced since my youth, but with the added bonus of a broader perspective, more experience, and whole lot more wisdom.

I’m talking about the freedom of shedding layers and feeling safe enough to take off the façade of perfection.

Freedom from falsehoods and limiting beliefs I’ve finally been able to set down like bags of garbage.

Freedom from the fallacies and rigid definitions of what it means to be a woman, a wife, a mother.

Freedom from the heaviness of all the expectations, including both the ones I accepted from others and the ones I imposed upon myself.

Freedom from the need to derive my sense of belonging and worth by putting the needs of others ahead of my own.

Freedom from the sick and twisted compulsion to continually sell my ideas, and myself, short.

Freedom from unnecessary guilt and shame, about…you name it. (Not sure if there even is such a thing as necessary guilt, but you catch my drift.)

Freedom from playing the role of the victim.

Freedom in the realization that there are absolutely no guarantees and I have no control.

Freedom from caring too much what others think about me. (Okay, maybe I’m not totally there yet, but I am working on it.)

I’m not sure exactly what it is about 40, but it feels as though all the jigsaw pieces are finally beginning to click into place. The shapes and patterns and colours are starting to interlock and fit together just right. The outlines of each individual piece dissolve and reveal one breathtaking composite image. The vivid watercolours continue to bleed into each other to create a beautiful mess infused with the grace and love of both the darkness and the light.

I absolutely love this Sophia Bush quote.

I absolutely love this Sophia Bush quote.

And while I’m on the subject of light, just last week I had the honour of attending the Step Into Your Starring Role retreat, led by the mesmerizing Tanya Geisler. About midway through the afternoon during a break, with her unique brand of sincerity and shoot from the hip candor, the luminous Tanya, whom I had only just met the same day, remarked that I really have my “stuff” together. My ego jumped up and down with the giddiness of a young child and squealed with delight, as she was a genuine and unbiased witness to the work I’ve being doing on myself.

But this simple exchange did so much more than stroke my ego, it marked an important point in my continued evolution, my liberation from the shackles that have kept me frozen with fear and paralyzed by perfection. I know this is true because the ‘me’ from five years ago wouldn’t have been able to sit with her words. The ‘me’ from five years ago would have  squirmed with discomfort. The ‘me’ from five years ago would have refuted Tanya’s observation, handing over the reigns to my imposter complex with a string of nonsense about how she must be mistaken and I must just be good at faking it. But in another surprising twist of fate, that’s actually not what happened at all.

Do you want to know what really happened? In a sense, I stepped into my starring role, and I got bold. After taking a moment to collect my thoughts and let Tanya’s words settle into my soul, I took a deep breath in and simply said “thank you”. I had allowed myself to be seen AND accepted a compliment in one fell swoop. And you know what? It felt really good.

So as I sit here on my birthday eve, reflecting on this step and the many others that have brought me to this point, I’m excited to finally be showing up for the party that is my life. I am grateful for all my blessings, as well as the struggles, knowing each one has brought me to now. There’s been a lot of toiling and trudging to reach this place, and yet I know the real big and meaningful work of my life is likely just getting started.

But I’m really curious to see what lies on the other side of this proverbial hill. And I am wearing a smile about a mile wide because I know I’ve finally arrived, right where I need to be. 40 is here and it’s right on time.

Signing off with an amazing song lyric from The Strumbellas that couldn’t be more apropos for the occasion.
“I don’t want a never-ending life. I just want to be alive while I’m here.”

Check out the video for this great song here.

Lessons from the Universe, Cooked Up in the Kitchen

I awoke yesterday morning with extremely dry, cracked skin on my fingers. This was unusual for me, as the skin on my hands is normally very soft and smooth, so I noticed the difference right away when my fingers caught on the sheets and duvet cover as I made my way out of bed. Later, rolling my thumb over my index, middle, and ring fingers on my right hand accentuated their roughness in contrast to their normally smooth surface. I got lost for a moment in the motion of rubbing my fingers together, as I pondered what may have caused them to become so rough over night. And then I remembered how the glass baking pan shattered into countless shards as I opened the over door to remove dinner the night before.

The moment the pan was met with a blast of cooler air from the outside, the glass cracked and popped and shattered. I was a bit stunned trying to make sense out of what had just happened. My first reaction was to rescue dinner from the wreckage. With extreme heat blasting me in the face, I fumbled to fish the Basa filets from the shards of broken glass on the solid rack that divides my oven into two separate heating compartments.

The next most pressing issue became addressing the piles of broken glass that were strewn across my kitchen floor. I called out to my daughter, asking her to bring me the vacuum, which despite hooking up normally did not work—no power, no suction, no nothin’. This moment of frustration added insult to injury, because the dog was now nosing around through the debris, as I am sure he could smell the juices from the fish mixed in with the glass. My daughter came to my aid once again, taking the dog outside while I resorted to using a broom and dustpan to clean up the mess.

By this point, I was tired, frustrated, and hungry. With the remainder of the glass contained to the oven’s main compartment and warming drawer, I decided to leave the rest of the cleanup until after dinner, which would allow time for the oven to cool and then I could also figure out what was wrong with the vacuum. Sensing my exasperation, after dinner my husband kindly asked what he could do to help with the clean up—bless his heart and bonus points for him! So together we removed all the interior racks from the oven to clean out the broken glass, picking up the larger pieces by hand and scooping up the smaller pieces with a hand broom and dustpan.

Upon reflecting on the many challenges I encountered while trying to get dinner on the table the other night (in a week I am PMS-ing, no less), I believe I handled the situation much differently than I would have only a few short years ago, when I most likely would have yelled wildly, cursed profusely, possibly lashed out in anger, and ultimately broken down in a heap of sweat and tears. Instead, I believe I handled these challenges with a good measure of maturity and grace. At the very least, I did the best I could with what I had and let go of what was beyond my control. And for someone who has a strong history of reacting in situations such as this, I’d definitely call that progress.

As I sit here now, intermittently rubbing my fingers together feeling the friction as the rough skin catches, I continue to rehash the experience in my mind, knowing there’s a lesson in everything we are presented with in life. It’s all part of the grand design, after all. I honestly believe recognizing and learning from these lessons is where true growth takes place, which is why I bother to continue thinking about it at all. And while I’m still decoding the deeper meaning behind the events that went down in my kitchen the other night, I do have a couple of thoughts I’d like to share…

The first thought is how the first thing that comes to mind is not always the cause, the reason, or the lesson. Rather, it’s sometimes necessary to dig a little deeper and question the validity of your initial assumptions, such as I should have done when I first attributed the cracked skin on my fingers to picking up the pieces of broken glass. This is because I later remembered that, while everything was taken apart to remove the bits of broken glass, my husband and I took the opportunity to thoroughly clean the inside of the oven. So the more likely cause of my excessively dry skin was the heavy-duty highly corrosive chemical cleaner we used to clean the greasy food residue out of the oven. Doh!

I chose to share this little story because I think it’s a great example of how, as humans, we are prone to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms our preexisting beliefs or hypotheses, while giving disproportionately less consideration to alternative possibilities. This is an actual psychological phenomenon referred to as confirmation bias, which basically means we are more likely to see what we want or choose to see. From this simple understanding of how our minds are naturally hardwired, I strongly believe we should always be willing to question our initial assumptions and remain open to other possibilities that don’t necessarily align with our beliefs. If you are someone who is at all interested in thinking about, learning, and understanding our world and the people in it, or even from the standpoint of advancing your own personal growth, it’s helpful to know that real and meaningful change takes place when we are willing to challenge ourselves to consider differing points of view.

The second thought I had is how the glass baking dish I used to cook the fish had been subjected to opposite extremes of a high heat followed by a sudden blast of much colder air. Therefore, although I was shocked and stunned in the moment, it isn’t all that surprising that it literally cracked under the pressure. This reminded me again of human nature, and how we often subject ourselves to extremes when trying to handle the stress, pressure, and expectations of our everyday, modern lives. Likely from the fear of appearing to be weak, we compromise our own health and wellbeing by taking on too much—until we reach the point of not being able to take any more and then we crack. Oh, by the way, I am speaking from the direct experience of having been there and done that. But if we choose to see my glass baking dish as a reminder about the danger of trying to remain strong under pressure for too long, we understand the importance of learning to recognize the warning signs and taking action before things get too hot and completely out of control. This begins with throwing the “if you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen” mindset right out the window.

Taking time for yourself, reaching out to ask for help when you need it, maintaining strong personal boundaries, and ensuring you’re getting enough rest should no longer be regarded as forms of weakness. Rather, these are the marks of a strong person who understands the importance of self-care and their own self-worth. So what I’m really trying to say here is that you are important and worthy of your own attention. We all are. And paying attention to your own needs along the way is certainly preferable to cracking under the pressure of exceedingly high expectations and trying to do too much and then falling apart into a million irreparable pieces.

In the end, I realize the lesson I was supposed to learn in the kitchen the other night could have been one of the above examples, a combination of them, or it could have been something else entirely. In fact, it could have been something as simple as a test of my patience and resolve on that particular day. Heck, if you ask my kids they would probably tell you the lesson was that we should never have fish for dinner again.

But even if I’ve missed the boat entirely and if I glean nothing else from my reflections on the situation, hopefully this will serve as a reminder for me to at least remember to put on a pair of rubber gloves the next time I clean the oven.

Do you have something to add here, perhaps something to refute or challenge around the idea of confirmation bias, or an experience you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Remembering: A Love Letter to Ko Olina

I’ve been blessed to visit Ko Olina on the island of Oahu with my family a number of times, although there is some debate among us as to whether this year was our fifth or sixth trip. Regardless, our series of tropical vacations to this idyllic Polynesian paradise have not only offered me considerable time for relaxation and introspection, but also given me so much for which to be grateful. And you may be surprised to learn my gratitude extends well beyond the predictability of the precious memories I’ve created with my family.

Still, saying goodbye this time is a touch bittersweet when I think of all the fun we’ve had together on Oahu. Visiting the Dole Plantation, North Shore, Pearl Harbour, a few too many trips Leonard’s Bakery, Waimea Valley, snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, and countless hours of fun in the sun are definitely among the highlights.

Although it is difficult to capture in words the depth of what Ko Olina means to me, it’s nonetheless important that I try to do so because this place of joy has effectively changed me. It is the birthplace of my spiritual awakening, and I can honestly say I don’t think I would be where I am today without having experienced the elixir of its inexplicable charm and intoxicating beauty.

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I’m not too sure exactly why it is or how it happened, but Ko Olina has woven some strange and powerful magic over me. Whether it’s the extreme relaxation it induces, the salty ocean air, being close to nature, the immersion in the Spirit of Aloha, or some combination of all of these, it’s nothing short of amazing how this place has opened my eyes to a world of possibility and led me to a deeper connection with my true self.

For anyone who may not be familiar (and even I had to look it up to be sure my understanding was correct), aloha is commonly used as both a greeting and a farewell throughout the Hawaiian islands. The word itself is difficult to translate, though, as it encompasses many different meanings ranging from love to a friendly attitude of acceptance toward all things. The definition of The Spirit of Aloha that really resonates for me is: To consciously manifest life joyously (or the joyful sharing of life energy) in the present.

It seems more synchronicity than coincidence to me that I’ve been working on being more conscious and aware, more joyful, and more focused on the present moment for each of the years we’ve been coming. As a result, I’ve softened in my natural state of being, yet I am more bold in my dreams and actions. My compassion for others has grown and my heart is more open.

Our trip in 2013 is particularly memorable, as it served as the punctuation mark (a semicolon) between leaving a job I had been in for 12 years and starting a new one. Then, by some further divine guidance during our trip in 2014, I began to hear my heart whispering that I needed to leave my corporate job if I wasn’t happy there. Not long after returning home I gave notice, and the time since has continued to be about listening and heeding my inner wisdom.

I’ve written before about the ensuing process, which has entailed digging deep to learn about myself, excavating limiting beliefs, and remembering the many enduring universal truths my soul always knew. Again, I owe Ko Olina a huge debt of gratitude for showing me the way forward and setting me on this path of self-discovery. At the very least, you could say she lulled me into a position of surrender, allowing my truth to bubble up to the surface and helping me find the courage to break free from my fears. It’s really incredible how, progressively along with each visit, this place of joy has amplified my intuitive voice and encouraged me to peel back the layers to reveal the more authentic version of myself.

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In her infinite wisdom, this year Ko Olina gently suggested that the big wide world is calling. With her blessing of loving reassurance, she signaled to me that the time has come for us to expand our horizons by changing up our Spring Break travel plans.

And with that I give thanks to this place of joy for the grace she has shown and all the many gifts she has bestowed upon me over the years. For it is here, right beside the vast blue Pacific, trade winds blowing and sun smiling down on me, that I found a magical place where my remembering and my light intersected.

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From this trip I am most grateful for:

  • Reading Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsh, as it helped me to remember the energetic nature of our world, the remarkable power of thought, the importance of gratitude, and while I do not consider myself religious, that I am free to engage in meaningful dialogue with my Creator whenever I choose.
  • Two weeks of morning meditation and moving toward the light. In these moments of silence and stillness, I remembered I am not my mind.
  • Among a slew of scantily clad strangers lounging poolside and playing in the ocean, I remembered I am not my body.
  • Amid the lush vegetation of the Waimea Valley, I remembered my spirit is most at home in nature.
  • New friends, the kindness of strangers, and all the other signs that helped me remember love will always find me if my heart is open.
  • The realization that, when I set aside labels and judgments, I am free to remember the truth of who I am.

I remember I am (So’ham = I am that):

Expanding awareness.
Infinite potential.
Pure love and light.

I am not the same person I was when I first visited Ko Olina, and for this I extend my heartfelt gratitude to her for helping me remember.

Aloha & Mahalo,
Andrea

“Each soul is a Master—though some do not remember their origins or their heritages. Yet each creates the situation and the circumstances for its own highest purpose and its own quickest remembering—in each moment called now.”
Neale Donald Walsh
Conversations with God

P.S. If you’re searching for your true self, I encourage you to get quiet so you can hear what your heart might tell you. You may even want to try the So’ham meditation technique. Instructions can be found in this article on the Yoga International website.

Defining Moment

Memories of my past are patchy, at best. But I still remember, with vivid clarity, one of the first times I flew on an airplane. I was traveling for work, and was one of only four passengers on an eight-passenger prop.

With so few others on board, and maybe also because I was the youngest, the pilots provided me with a set of headphones to listen in on their communication with air traffic control. I was awestruck.

The invitation to connect with a front-row seat to their world of aviation gave me a sense importance. With an inside track and a bird’s eye view, I felt larger than myself. A surge of adrenaline rushed through my body, causing my heart to palpitate and stretch well beyond its regular size. The immersion of my senses was an unexpected thrill beyond that of my wildest dreams.

I can still remember how everything on the ground below gradually contracted as the metal bird lifted me higher and higher into the sky. Large buildings, roadways, foothills, forests, and entire sections of land shrinking away into tiny specs of dust before dissolving to nothing.

Making our way up through the cotton candy wisps of cloud, all of the big things became little things, and the repetition of a single word consumed my thoughts.

Perspective.

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Perspective truly is everything. Conversely, everything is also perspective.

Flying several thousand feet in the air at the tender age of 20, I began to comprehend how changing your position, your angle, your viewpoint can change the perception of what you see. The ability to alter your perspective has the potential to change your life, if you let it.

I thought to myself in that singular defining moment: I must remember this.

The miraculous, life-changing potential of perspective is something I hold true to this day, and most certainly always will.

“The smallest change is perspective can transform a life. What tiny attitude adjustment might turn your world around?”
– Oprah

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Trust is the Word

Despite any appearance to the contrary, I’ve always been a fake-it-till-you-make-it chick. And when I stop to think about why this is so, all signs point to an obvious lack of trust in myself.

Through my personal journey of contemplation and self-reflection over the past several years, I have realized there are some major chinks in my armour, not the least of which is an inability to trust myself. Further, this has made me painfully aware of another vulnerability: I cannot fully realize my potential on this planet until I have completely embraced the radical concept of self-trust.

Trust is inextricably intertwined with some other equally nebulous ideas. When I think of trust, I also think of BELIEF, CONFIDENCE, INTEGRITY, LOYALTY, FAITH, COURAGE, and BRAVERY.

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I honestly believe my reasons for lacking trust in myself boil down to 1.) fear and 2.) having an overly active loud mouth of an inner critic. It’s a bit of a chicken and egg scenario when I consider which of these came first, as they apparently fuel and feed off of each other.

But coming back to the concept of trust, turning this word back on myself has been an interesting exercise. I mean, it’s one thing when you realize that you’ve lost trust for someone whom you consider to be important in your life, but when that person is yourself, whoa!

I would argue that trust matters most in relationships of an intimate nature. And what is more intimate than the relationship one has with oneself? By this logic, trust is a biggie. It’s huge. The absence of it a major clue that, “Houston, we have a problem!”

It’s hard to like someone you don’t trust, and it’s hard to like yourself if you don’t trust yourself.
Leo Babruta

But I’m here to tell you, straight up, there is a void inside my soul where the trust button is supposed to be. It’s like a vacuum in which there is no air for my flame to burn. Heck, there’s not even a spark to light the flame. For some reason, the visual of a motherboard with an empty slot where the processor is supposed to be comes to mind. There’s a label with an arrow showing exactly where the trust processor belongs, but it’s just not there.

This visual demonstrates how integral I have come to believe self-trust is to pursuing and achieving anything worthwhile in this world, because, even though I’m no technology expert, I’d imagine a motherboard without a processor is virtually useless. Haha, virtually, get it? Similarly, without that trust ‘processor’ functioning in me, it feels humanly impossible to follow through on my purpose with the serious work of this life.

Trust is a funny thing. You can’t see it, touch it, taste it, or smell it. It’s either there or it isn’t. You know when it is there and when it isn’t.

And that is precisely my reason for choosing TRUST as the one word to guide me in 2016. It is the one thing I know am currently lacking and that has the potential to change the course and trajectory of my life.

Trust is something akin to a special brand of blind faith. It is the unwavering belief that, in the face of adversity and against all odds, life is going to work out exactly how it’s supposed to. It’s that unshakable place of being firmly rooted in the knowing that life is always working in your favour.

For me, trusting myself implicitly would mean defeating self-doubt and being so thoroughly self-assured that my every move is guided by a very cool (yet non arrogant) sense of confidence. The reliable presence of trust in my life would translate to avoiding the urge to compare myself to others and bypassing the impulse to second guess my instincts. Perhaps most importantly for me, embodying trust would be like knowing with everything in me that, no matter what the universe throws my way, ‘I’ve got this.’

When baking a cake, you make sure to include all of the ingredients in the recipe. When you’re building a life you love, you’ve got to start by trusting yourself.

If I sit down to write not having a concrete idea in mind before hand, I need to trust the ideas will come to me, and through me. And it all starts by having that trust in myself in the first place, to get my rear end into that chair and just start typing.

Trust is the fertile ground in which I have planted my seeds of intention for 2016. With its constant loving attention, I am better equipped to nurture my seeds and encourage their growth. With trust as the foundation of everything I do, I believe there’s nothing I cannot accomplish. And with some good, old-fashioned hard work, my efforts will finally take shape and flower into reality.

2016: I trust it’s my time to shine!

Trust words

Life as a Practice

I think most people are familiar with the terms ‘yoga practice’ and ‘meditation practice’, but has anyone ever heard of a ‘life practice’? I’ve been thinking it would be not only wise, but also prudent to view my own life this way—as a practice. Let’s just think about that for a moment, shall we?

Quite simply, a practice is something you do over and over on a regular basis. Practice. All life really asks is that we continue to show up, day after day, and give it the best we have. Practice. Life asks us for the consistency of showing up and putting in our best effort. Practice.

Many people live by the mantra that practice makes perfect, but I’d like to suggest that it’s really not about perfection at all. In fact, sometimes we’re so busy trying to be perfect in our daily lives that we miss out on the spirit of what it is to practice. In all our attempts to attain the elusive ideal of perfection, we forget that doing our best and then releasing—physically, mentally, and emotionally—is the better way.

By the way, I think this is the actual mathematical formula for the practice of life:

(Showing Up) + (Doing your Best) + (Releasing [x Infinity]) = The Practice

I am coming to understand how this is one of the most important (and perhaps also the most challenging) lessons we are meant to learn during our time on earth. It isn’t always easy, but that’s why we practice. Anything more than the practice is excessive and controlling. Anything less is a copout. Both extremes block the flow of life and the ability to surrender to our own inner guidance.

Distractions, challenges, and off days are guaranteed to come your way. But when we start to see these distrurbances as part of the practice, that’s when the magic starts to happen. They are gifts from the universe, lessons in disguise, if you will. They provide opportunities to dig deeper and learn to know ourselves better. They create momentum for our continued forward movement. And so, when we feel lost, tired, weary, or frustrated, all we need to do is have faith and keep showing up.

Having an off day, week, month, or year? No biggie. Be aware, assure yourself the world is not ending (because it isn’t), and then bring yourself back. You may figure out the lesson right now, or you may not. There’s no need to worry, regardless. That’s the beauty of the practice: as long as you keep showing up, life will keep giving you another chance to try again.

There is a quote often attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson that says: Life is a journey, not a destination. To me, this means focusing on the here and now, or emphasizing the process, rather than putting all your eggs in one basket and placing greater importance on specific outcomes. Rather than rushing through life, each moment should be given the proper care and attention it deserves. It means the whole of life is greater than the sum of its parts, so to speak.

Journey

The joke related to this quote is, when I met my (now) husband and he was still living at home with his parents, he had these words typed on an 8.5 x 11” sheet of paper attached to his bedroom wall. There was a typo on the page, and all I ever saw when I looked at it was the mistake. At the time the meaning was entirely lost on me. I suppose the punch line is that I’m finally getting the message over 20 years later.

Continually looking ahead and putting our energy into the next route marker or destination only robs us of today, whereas being here now for life allows events to unfold naturally. Approaching life as a practice is about enjoying the journey and being ‘all in’ for the ride. It is surrendering to the richness and fullness of the experience.

It goes without saying that I haven’t always had this understanding. Life as a practice is something relatively new I’m learning (and practicing) because I’ve lived the other way. I’d like to share this idea with others so they, too, can see how life is like a two-sided coin.

When you allow your life to be a coin toss and it comes up heads, you are ruled by the head (logic and ego); you resort to controlling; you need to be right; and perfectionism is your nemesis disguised as your ally. However, when you allow your coin to come up tails, you can be ruled by the heart; guided by the force of love and the knowledge of your soul; you open yourself to learn the art and magic of surrender; you trust life and go with the flow. This is what it is to practice life.

I’ve personally experienced the limitations of living from my head and ego, constantly striving for perfection, and being so attached to specific outcomes that I could no longer see the big picture. The costs were steep: losing my place in the present and sacrificing my happiness for some  far off place in the distance.

I now know better and I’m choosing another way—living from my heart. For me, life has become a practice that I must show up for every day. My practice is my commitment to let go, cut myself some slack while I hold myself accountable, and relish the sweetness of each day.

Do you approach life as a practice?

How are you showing up for life today?

To September and New Beginnings

Ah, September is here again, and this new month has filled me with a tremendous sense of hope and possibility.

September has always felt like the perfect time to reflect on the cycles of life, as well as to take stock of my blessings and recount all the things for which I am thankful. And because of the many transitions and new beginnings that occur at this time of year, I’ve always thought of September the way many others view January 1, as the start of a new year.

In almost seemingly perfect unison with the turning of the calendar page, the signs of the new season have begun to show themselves. The most obvious of these is how the leaves have begun to change colour, and some are even falling to the ground. And there’s also that familiar crispness in the air in the morning and at night.

With these changes I’ve noticed how many folks complain as they struggle to let go of the ease and warmth of the summer months, regarding this period of change solely as the coming of cold and darkness. But I prefer to view the approaching season for its more optimistic symbolism, as a season of ripeness, maturity, wisdom, freedom, change, and balancing the darkness with the light.

Selfishly, I’m quite pleased my family has returned to the structure and predictability of our routine-driven lives. And I’m ecstatic to once again be able to focus my energy on meditation, writing, and exercise—the activities that speak to my soul and keep me relatively sane in this crazy world.

On a more serious note, in all its deep and gloried hues of rust, orange, and gold, the fall provides a vivid reminder of the impermanence of our world. And as the leaves begin to release their hold on the branches from which they grew, we humans ought to heed the wisdom of the trees with our own willingness to release old patterns and shed the layers that will no longer serve us on our journey.

The concept of letting go continues to be a strong theme in my life. Almost daily, I need to remind myself of the need to get out of my own way and let spirit take charge. This idea applies as much to my writing as it does to all other areas, as I continue learning to trust in the magic of surrender so the work can naturally flow through me.

And with that said, I’m going to let you all in on a little secret: I am going to be a student once again, as I will begin a 200-hour yoga teacher training program, starting exactly one week from today. For me, this is a huge leap of faith and very much one of those feel-the-fear-and-do-it-anyway kinds of things.

I’m still unsure if I will ever actually teach a yoga class, but regardless it’s something I feel deeply called to do. When I release my attachment to the outcome of what will happen at the end, I am over the moon excited about deepening my personal knowledge of yoga and Ayurvedic philosophy while enhancing my own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual growth. So, even though I’m scared as hell and my voice is shaking, I raise my glass (of green juice) and say: cheers to September and to the magic of new beginnings!

What new beginnings are coming your way this fall? Drop me a line by commenting below or on Facebook…I’d love to hear about what fall means to you and what’s going on in your world.

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How do you measure a year in a life?

Three hundred and sixty-five days ago on a day much like today, I took a huge leap of faith by leaving my job in favour of devoting more time to my family, as well as to explore my passion for writing. There was something so magical and almost intoxicating to me about what I imagined I would be able to accomplish, and the one-year mark was the first and most important major checkpoint on the journey of this new life.

With one year having come and gone, I’ve struggled to use my time effectively and to create a solid routine for myself. I’ve been tripped up, time and time again, in my attempts to balance the obligations of running a household and raising two young children against the pursuit of my own goals and dreams.

And somewhere between the crushing expectations I place on myself and (learning) to relax my tendency to control every microsecond of my life, I became frozen in place. Frustrated and overwhelmed, I threw my hands up in the air and did nothing. And so I find myself one year down the road with virtually nothing to show for the lapse in time.

On second thought, perhaps it’s not entirely accurate to say I haven’t accomplished anything… I’ve read books and completed courses. I’ve done a great deal of self-reflection and personal work. And I feel, from the deepest parts of my being, that I’m inching ever closer to being reacquainted with my most authentic self.

When I set aside the disappointment I feel about the lack of writing I’ve done, what I can do is measure the past year in the valuable lessons I’ve learned. And so I’d like to share the top 10 big ones that I’ve had both the pain and pleasure of experiencing:

  1. I create my own suffering. It’s human nature, really. But once I really began to understand how my thoughts create my reality, I also realized that I can choose to see things differently, and there is tremendous freedom in that. This is a practice that isn’t easy, but it is definitely worth the effort.
  2. Everything is temporary. Impermanence is the way of the universe. This means I can change my mind, and I can change my self. And so I am. Change is the precursor of growth, so I am growing.
  3. Related to point number 2 above, it’s best not to become attached to anything, even the stories about my past. No, especially the stories about my past.
  4. Fear can be debilitating, if I allow it to have that power over me. That’s why when something really matters, I need to summon every ounce of courage I have and do (whatever that thing is) anyway. When given the choice between comfort and growth (and I always have a choice), I choose growth.
  5. It’s simply not possible for material stuff and things to fill the emptiness inside. Even if it does provide some satisfaction initially, the effects wear off quickly and leave an even greater emptiness in their wake. For this very reason, I find myself growing less concerned about the acquisition of stuff and more focused on experiencing life. At the same time, I have learned how letting go of stuff and things creates space for new possibilities. This realization is extremely liberating.
  6. Living a numb existence and being on autopilot day in and day out is really no way to live. Emotions are energy in motion, and must be acknowledged and felt so they can be processed and released. If not, this energy gets trapped in the body and will inevitably cause problems, such as spontaneously erupting like a volcano at an inappropriate time later on, or causing illness and even disease. What’s the moral if the story here? Feel my feelings. Feel my feelings! FEEL MY FEELINGS!
  7. Having a healthy dose of self-worth, nurtured by regular portions of self-love, is the absolute best way to nurture my personal power and live an authentic life. I am learning to love myself because doing so is essential to my happiness and success.
  8. I am far more important and powerful than I have given myself credit for. We all are. We’re all here for a reason; we have all been given this life to accomplish a particular purpose that is unique to each of us. And we are all connected—our thoughts, behaviours, and actions send ripples out into the world that have an effect on others.
  9. From a growing awareness around my own resistance, I’m learning how important it is to get to its source, such as understanding why a particular person or situation pushes my buttons. There’s two big reasons why this is so: 1) Resistance is fueled by ignorance and fears, therefore harboring resistance to change and simply to what is makes life more difficult overall, and 2) When you recognize resistance as a tool for growth, you can embrace and learn from the lessons that you are presented with, instead of being stuck on repeat. This one is definitely a work in progress and one that requires me to be fully awake to the present moment.
  10. I cannot underestimate the absolute value of faith, particularly in the face of adversity and in the absence of the fruits of productivity. And this is where I am reminded of the divine timing of my life. I trust that I am exactly where I’m meant to be, learning what I need to know, and that everything I’m doing now is necessary for me to move forward in the future.
  11. Ok, I know I said there were 10 lessons, but here’s a bonus just for you: Love will light the way (if you let it)!

faith_fearEven though I bought in to the idea of what I should have been able to accomplish over the past year, and subsequently admonished myself for falling short on my goals, I also know that undoing years of conditioning and patterns simply doesn’t happen over night. I am erasing the old, worn out recordings of my limiting beliefs and replacing them with a new inspirational soundtrack for my life. I can hear the music playing faintly in the distance, so know I am on the right track to creating a life I love.

Do any of these lessons resonate for you? Which ones in particular can you relate to and why? I’d also love to hear how you measure a year in your life.

I leave you with the lyrics to a beautifully fitting song, Seasons of Love from RENT
By Daniel Noonan
SONGWRITERS
Jonathan D. Larson

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
Five hundred twenty-five thousand moments, oh dear
Five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife
In five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year in the life?

How about love?
How about love?
How about love?
Measure in love

Seasons of love (love)
Seasons of love (love)

My Satya: To Be Among the Young at Heart

Satya is the Sanskrit word for thruthfulness. Truth is a commodity I value highly, probably because I’m a terrible liar. That’s why, as much as possible, I try to live by The Four Agreements, and make a point of being impeccable with my word.

But lately when thinking of satya or truth, I’ve been contemplating what “my truth” is. Although I’ve been pondering the subject for quite some time, along with studying Patanjali’s Eightfold Path of Yoga everything suddenly became so clear when I came across the following image. I’d say it was definitely a sign!

IMG_1205

Yup, that’s right. I just don’t want to grow up.

I’m not referring to denying reality or shirking my grown-up responsibilities. I’m talking about reveling in simplicity and finding solace by heeding the unexpected wisdom of childlike innocence.

In sharp contrast to the prevailing theme in our society that insists children should grow up as quickly as possibly, I believe there’s both magic and freedom to be found in approaching life more like I did when I was young.

Waking from a beautiful slumber to dream and scheme, in the way one can only before being told it’s too risky, crazy, or too far out of reach.

Greeting the enormous possibility of each new day with unbridled curiosity and sparkling wide-eyed wonder.

Playing outside from sunup to sundown, drinking in the fresh air and digging up the earth.

Riding bikes and climbing trees and splashing in puddles after heavy rain.

Discovering the joy in everything—from rocks and insects to cloud formations and hoola hoops.

Relying on nothing more than sheer intuition and my five senses to explore the world and find my path through it.

Trusting that every day brings with it the promise of a new adventure.

Believing I can go anywhere, do anything, or be anyone I want to be.

Knowing that love, creativity, and imagination are the very best fuel for living an inspired and truly rewarding life.

These are the beautiful truths my heart knew when I was created. And these are the truths I must keep coming home to, especially when my heart feels broken and my spirit shattered.

Forgetting, even if just for a moment, all my hurt and invisible wounds, this is when I remember the truth of who I am. It is in these moments that my soul’s light shines forth through my smile for all to see, just like when I was young. This is how my heart breaks free of its cage, to be alive in this moment, for this moment is all there is.

I don’t even know what to say about all those years I poured so much energy into wishing I was older and wiser, because now I understand I no longer want to grow up. And in case I haven’t been clear, it’s not even remotely an age thing.

It has taken me some time, but it seems I’ve finally figured out what it is I want most. My truth, my satya, my intention is to allow my spirit to grow younger, and to remain for the rest of my days among the young at heart.

childhood

I’m the cutie on the left, pictured here with my sister, Michelle. Circa 1980

Young at Heart
by Frank Sinatra

Fairy tales can come true
It can happen to you if you’re young at heart (young at heart)
For it’s hard, you will find
To be narrow of mind if you’re young at heart (young at heart)

You can go to extremes with impossible schemes
You can laugh when your dreams fall apart at the seams
And life gets more exciting with each passing day
And love is either in your heart or on it’s way

Don’t you know that it’s worth
Every treasure on earth to be young at heart (young at heart)
For as rich as you are
It’s much better by far to be young at heart (young at heart)

And if you should survive to a hundred and five
Look at all you’ll derive out of bein’ alive
And here is the best part, you have a head start
If you are among the very young at heart

Five Lessons Learned in Yin Yoga Class

Lately, I find myself being taken up with several new and varied fascinations—one of these being Yin. The concept comes from the Eastern philosophy that duality (Yin and Yang) are both present in all living things, essentially meaning there are two complementary parts to every whole. The idea further states that the whole is greater than the assembled parts.

Here’s a quick and dirty on Yin and Yang: While Yin is generally viewed a symbol of earth, femaleness, darkness, passivity, and absorption, Yang is revered as heaven, maleness, light, activity, and penetration. It is undesirable to have deficiency or excess of either yin or yang.

yin-yang-1280x800

Yang, as it applies to yoga, is more commonly practiced in our western world, focusing on movement and poses (asanas) that emphasize strength and muscular contraction. Yin Yoga, by contrast, targets the connective tissue of the hips, pelvis, and lower spine based on the premise that this tissue responds best to gentle stress over a long period of time. This is why Yin postures are generally held for anywhere from three to 10 minutes per side. Yin practice complements the more muscular yang style of yoga, and is said to restore energy, calm the nervous system, and helps individuals learn to sit in meditation. Further benefits of the practice include calming the mind, increasing mobility, reducing stress, assisting with TMJ and migraines, and promoting deep relaxation.

I was not really surprised to learn Yin is less popular in the west. In fact, I dismissed the thought of attending a class for quite some time, myself, not really understanding anything about the practice and ignorantly viewing it as an inferior form of yoga better suited for old people. However, as I was introduced to the benefits of meditation and became more aware of the state of my body’s energy system independent of my yoga practice, I was naturally and almost magentically drawn to try Yin.

Continuing with my practice over the past several months, I’ve come to understand how Yin is steeped in physical, mental, and emotional intensity. For me, Yin has become a weekly ritual of creating space to get safely uncomfortable, examine my own darkness, and gracefully release guilt, shame, and a host of other emotions that had become lodged in my hips, pelvis, shoulders, and sacrum.

In the safety and warmth of a candlelit room, the following realizations have continued to come up for me as lessons that I believe can be equally applied off the mat. I’m not generally a fan of the gimmicky nature of the Internet/blog post numbered list of reasons to do this or not to do that, but in my ongoing endeavor to be less rigid, here are the five lessons I’ve learned about life in Yin Yoga class (sometimes you just ‘gotsto’ break your own rules).

1. There is power in softness.
There is a time for power and a time for softness, both in yoga and in life. The balance lies in the contrast and knowing when which of the two is most appropriate. Yin Yoga is a lovely and gentle reminder of the place and purpose of softness, and the power that can be derived from it, because releasing resistance and allowing yourself to be passive without forcing, are, at times, what you need most. The act of surrender has long been a challenge for me, and I still struggle when it comes to putting this concept into practice off the mat. However, I am also reminded of how constant pushing, forcing, and attempts to control outcomes will eventually take their toll, culminating in exhaustion and burnout.

2. There is beauty in stillness.
As Yin Yoga poses are held for an average of five minutes, one of the most challenging aspects of the practice is remaining still, without moving, fidgeting, or adjusting. The ego-driven mind is a powerful adversary, delivering the temptation to move, scratch, or reach for a sip of water during these longer-held stretches. But when you can get to the place where you notice the thought of the desire for movement without actually giving in to it, the thought will often pass. What is left in that space, which would have otherwise been occupied with scratching or some other movement, is beautiful stillness.

3. There is freedom in accepting and “being” with discomfort.

“Yin Yoga is not meant to be comfortable; it will take you well outside your comfort zone. Much of the benefit of the practice will come from staying in this zone of discomfort, despite the mind’s urgent pleas to leave.”

Yin requires a high level of intimacy with the self—with our feelings, sensations, and emotions. While these feelings may also come up in other styles of yoga, it’s much easier to avoid them in classes that move at a faster pace. When subjected to longer periods of time in uncomfortable positions in Yin yoga; however, we have little choice but to “be” and “accept what is” in that given moment. The perspective Yin Yoga has provided me in this regard has been tremendously valuable, as I have noticed a strong aversion to feeling my own physical and mental pains. The lesson I’ve learned, though, is when I am mentally stuck in my everyday worry and frustration, I can bring the same kind of attention to the sensations in my body. Most importantly, by observing these thoughts and reactions and deliberately staying with them, they will eventually go away.

4. There is life in each breath.
Breath is life, and the highly meditative nature of the Yin Yoga practice requires that participants keep coming back to this fundamental truth, which I suggest is equally important off the mat. By focusing on each inhale and exhale, noticing the quality of the breath—whether it gets caught in a certain place in the body, is rough, or jagged, or it is fluid, smooth, and even—we remain grounded and focused in each moment Just keep coming back to the breath, on your mat and in your life.

5. There is growth in playing your edge.
The body’s edge in yoga is the place just before pain, but not pain itself. Consciously bringing the body to its various limits or edges and holding it is the way to gently nudge it toward more openness. In this way, time and awareness are the fertile soil in which the slow process of expansion will begin to blossom. As the range expands and the edges move, we gently push the envelope toward growth and change beyond our limitations. This concept requires a high degree of mindfulness, striking a balance between the body’s physical cues and how they are perceived by the mind. Just like in life, the key to growth lies in listening, honouring, and accepting. For me, this requires practicing a heavy dose of patience, too, which is yet another valuable lesson we all can apply off the mat.

I hope you enjoyed this list, and maybe even learned something that resonates for you.

Namaste.