Resting in The Ease of Being

It’s the final eve before our last day of our Maui family vacation. My daughter, son, and husband are all snuggled into their beds. I’ve just done some pre-packing to make life a little easier for myself tomorrow, and as I sit down with my feet up and a glass of red in hand, I am called to reflect on the last dozen days we’ve spent together here .

Maui has been good to us. Our accommodations were great. The weather has been fantastic. We’ve had some phenomenal food, including our fill of some of the freshest ocean-caught fish. We’ve enjoyed fun activities, and the wonderful company of family and friends, both old and new.

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And as I sit here sipping my wine, I can’t help but ask myself, “What has been the real story or theme of this vacation?” This is not a simple question to answer. Sure, I have some definite ideas on the subject, but it’s complicated, and I’m not even sure I fully understand. In any case, I’ll do my best to explain…

It’s an idea that seems to be following me around lately, wherever I go—even 5,000 kilometers from home across the Pacific Ocean. It first appeared a few months prior to this trip when a friend and I were discussing the contrast between the states of doing and being. The conversation centred around how we’d both been caught in the trap of constant doing, and were consequently feeling the effects of our (somewhat self-imposed) rat race; the pressure of accomplishing our goals crushing us with the constant plaguing thoughts of inadequacy and not measuring up to the world’s standards or our own potential. To put it bluntly, we were both a little…miserable.

The remedy to the loss of self and suffering that accompanies the extreme state and preoccupation with doing, we concluded, must be found on the flip side. That glorious place where thought subsides, stillness prevails, and we are…well, we just ARE. The shift to the state of being is synonymous with a move from being led by the thoughts in our head to following the truth of our heart.

In being, we are more likely to see the beauty around us, to find joy in simple pleasures, and to be content with the presenting reality, whatever it may be and regardless of whether that reality is considered good or bad. When we are in this state of being, we are more responsive to the richness of life in each moment, and more able to trust in the unfolding of the universe, opposed to feeling the need to manipulate and control situations to satisfy the needs and preferences of the ego. In being, we do not try to impress others by pretending to be something we are not. We are not looking to “be” any certain way; we just are the truest version of ourselves, pure and natural.

Given the sharp contrast between doing and being, it’s not hard to see how people get lured in by the charm of going on vacation; the saviour of taking a break from the craziness of their everyday lives and the busy-ness that comes to define not only their schedules, but also their identities. For many, vacations are the most personally and socially acceptable way of slowing down and moving from doing mode to just being.

It’s more acceptable to relax on vacation, versus the constant challenge of doing—the state of mind that focuses on getting things done, driven by what is desired, required, expected, or feared—that dominates the way we live in western culture. In other words, it’s not expected that we accomplish much, if anything, on vacation, whereas we have a never-ending list of duties, responsibilities, obligations, and goals in our day-to-day lives. We are almost always striving to achieve something, not only because this is how our society is run, but also because it is how most of us have come to define ourselves (based on the ego).

Seeing the polarity of doing and being as two completely opposite ends of a spectrum has highlighted for me how it’s not desirable to spend too much time at either end. Rather, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each and to be aware of my own natural tendencies in order to stretch and flex myself from one side to the other, as the situation dictates, or even to find the middle ground when necessary. You know what they say about too much of a good thing, right?

“Life is an immense happening. You can go on a trip, you can go on vacation, you can go to the other side of the earth, but you can’t escape life. You can go to the moon, but you still can’t escape life. You can’t escape existence.”
~Adyashanti, Falling Into Grace

Having said all of this, I feel like I’ve achieved a healthy balance of doing and being over the past 12 days, and that I am inching ever closer to uncovering my authentic self because of it. I also believe this time of learning and self-reflection has been an important part of my metamorphosis. As I undergo these important changes below the surface, I can feel myself becoming more self-aware and aligned with the truth of who I am.

And so I find myself here in this very sweet vacation-induced spot that rests delicately in the balance between the doing and the being. From this beautiful place, I’d like to offer a quick recap of a few of my favourite moments from our Maui vacation:

  • All the awesome “un-ness” of being on vacation—being completely undone, unscheduled, and unplugged (to a greater degree than normal) has allowed me to unwind and has been undeniably relaxing and rejuvenating, like a magic reset button for my central nervous system. Aaaaaaahhhhh.
  • I am grateful for having had the luxury of doing what makes my soul happy (and not feeling guilty that I should be doing something else instead), such as reading while lounging poolside, yoga, running, daydreaming, dining out, and napping.
  • Being wrapped warmly in a soothing blanket of the sun’s rays. I bow in reverence to the mysterious healing power of the sun—its light and heat a balm to my soul, not to mention how it melts away my hard, jagged edges and transforms me into a kinder, gentler version of myself.
  • Witnessing the ever graceful beauty of the palm tree port-de-bras, as the fronds dance and sway gently in the breeze, reminding me that it’s better to bend under pressure, than it is so to break from resistance.
  • The tranquility of going with the flow of floating above a coral reef teeming with colourful fish while entrusting my safety to the universe, given the strength and direction of the current.
  • Traveling over 5,000 kilometers from Edmonton to Maui to get together with a friend, who happens to live about five kilometers away from me at home.
  • Having a first-hand appreciation of the meaning of “Maui midnight.” Given all of the fresh air, activity, and time spent outdoors, I don’t think I was ever awake later than 10:00 p.m., and that’s saying something cause just staying awake until 9:00 in Maui is a feat in and of itself!
  • The commanding presence of the surf and sea. You can’t help but be in awe of its power and the emotion it evokes. I dare you to try.
  • The magnificence of the vegetation and trees along the road to Hana, branches growing toward each other from the outer banks of steep valley gorges to form a lush canopy of green. Their beauty is surpassed only by their majesty.
  • Being reminded that all living things, in their natural state, are a reflection of love. I am comforted in the knowledge that love is the natural state into which I was born and also where I will ultimately return, in this life and beyond.
  • Knowing how amazingly blessed I am to experience all of these things, as well as to be able to witness, with sincere appreciation and gratitude, the significance of it all.

So as the sun sets on yet another magnificent family vacation, my final parting thought is one of deep gratuitude to the island of Maui for sparking my inner fire and allowing me to see the natural beauty in all living things, for showing me the importance of balance, and for helping me to remember I am love.

Mahalo
xo

 

 

Just for Today

Tap. Tap. Tap.

Is this thing even on?

Hi, it’s me. I know it’s been a while. Like 56 days, I think. But who’s counting?

So, the kids are back in school and it’s eerily quiet in my house today.

The sounds of doors slamming, footsteps thumping, and raised voices fighting have been replaced with the soothing nothingness of an ambient hum.

Today no one has expected me to referee an argument. No one has come to me hungry, looking for a snack only 20 minutes after they ate their last meal. And no one in my house is whining about being bored, eyes fixed on me as the sole proprietor of fun and entertainment.

Needless to say, I’ve been looking forward to this moment—secretly, or then again maybe not so secretly—and actively counting down to it for the past week.

I am basking in this glorious alone time. I love the peace. I relish these silent moments. I’m soaking it all in on a deep, cellular level.

I can be quite extroverted when the situation calls for it, but I am an introvert to the core. This time is very much essential to my sanity and overall well-being.

But much more than that, this time affords me the luxury to get quiet and listen to the tiny whispers of my soul. It is in these beautiful moments I remember that the truth of who I am is not who or what my ego self would have me believe. I have nothing I need to do right now other than to just be. Best of all, there’s absolutely nothing I must prove to anyone.

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The shift from doing to being—from living a life ruled by the voices in my head to being guided by the truth in my heart—is something I must constantly bring my awareness back to, over and over again. ‘Just Being’ is deceptively tricky, and it is perhaps the most important work I can do, here in this lifetime. It represents the totality of what it means to be the best me I can be. This is my commitment.

Yesterday is gone and tomorrow hasn’t arrived.

So, even though the kids have returned to school and there’s at least a thousand things waiting to be completed on my to-do list, I am committing to the practice of just being.

Just for now.

Just for today.

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.

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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.