If I were to pray…

If I were to pray,
I would ask the life energy that buzzes inside to grow.
I would feel it as it touches each molecule and vibrates on,
out beyond the boundary of my skin…
Life, vibrancy,
At the heart of every moment
Light that erases angerdoubtjealousydepressionresentmentandonandonandon
Light that burns my universe clean and opens my heart.
Breathe in this moment.
Greet the breeze, the blossom, the birds,
Greet the motorcycle, the leaf blower, the truck turning too close to where you stand.
Send your fear down into the earth where it may be healed and transformed.
Bring it back up as a spring bubbling up with new life.
If I were to pray,
I would feel the light, the energy that holds you and holds me in one embrace
and I would know that you are held by a beauty, a force, so vast
that nothing could ever do anything but
multiply
our joy.

Amen.

– Karen Gatlin, February 2014

Grasping the First Two Limbs

Three steps are required to reach the state of absorption:
repetition, understanding, and sincerity of purpose….
An attitude of humility and receptivity is essential
to catch any light of knowledge that comes.
– “Yoga, the Iyengar Way” by Silva Mehta

Let’s see… instead of focusing on the confusing and the complicated -in the spirit of fostering Contentment, let me think about the Light I’ve experienced during the past week . Some highlights:

  • Breakfast and good conversation with a friend
  • Phone, email and text connection with my daughters, family and my friends
  • Weekly fellowship and spiritual/philosophical conversation with my Tribe
  • A good 90 minutes of yoga (I will omit the 60 minutes of wacky, spinning-out, crazy mind yoga)
  • A couple of lovely walks
  • Good conversation during a workshop about the Eight Limbs of Yoga
  • Fun afternoon picking out my birthday present (a guitar) up at Mountain Music in Tehachapi and coming home and playing until my fingers were raw
  • A spectacular session with my counselor/spiritual coach in which I had a footbath, reflexology and talked about old wounds and a readiness to heal
  • Many warm conversations with my partner and the promise of many lovely adventures in the near future as we plan our spring and summer

From the workshop, led by Shanan, on the Eight Limbs of Yoga (that focused on Yama and Niyama), some concepts that jumped out at me were:

Contentment – This may be one of my many life challenges – fostering contentment. But this is a lovely project, right? To spend time turning around perfectionism and nit-picking and live into gratitude and appreciation for the grace of being.

Generosity/Non-Hoarding – Generosity seems to be one of my gifts – I like to give what I have to others and share my good fortune – I never keep money in the bank for long (and it isn’t because I buy much for myself). I spend considerable time critiquing myself for what I accumulate in closets and storage areas. But perhaps I should be gentle with myself because my “hoard” is relatively small by American standards? HOWEVER, letting go of what I accumulate without guilt or fear of scarcity is an ongoing challenge. When I do this, the reward in inner peace is great. I am most peaceful when I have the least stuff.

Kindness/Non-Violence – In the big areas of non-violence, I’m doing well. Like others who spoke in my class, the small unkindnesses that seem to pop up cause me the greatest challenges. Little sarcasm and put-downs. Thinking I know better than another person how to live their life. Arrogance. Ego gets in the way here. This thinking is in total conflict with reality (i.e., “He/she should do what I think is best.”) Perhaps kindness includes respect for how others choose to live their lives even if it seems to cause them problems or unhappiness?

Truthfulness/Non-Lying – Again, in the area of big stuff, we’re good. In the small stuff, I’m not honest with myself, others, when I try to frame things in the best light and make myself look good. Strangely, part of self-honesty for me is probably lightening up a little bit and being more generous in my self-appraisal. There’s another kind of lying I do when I view myself as bad or not worthy. This definitely is intertwined with opening to more kindness.

The other thing that I heard at the workshop that I am going to meditate about is the need for “repetition and familiarity” – things I often wish to skip over. I want to master things instantly. Instead, I was reminded that we need to take the time to repeat even short periods of asanas (postures), pranayama (breathwork), and meditation each day so that they may begin to be a part of us (I’m sure the same goes for whatever your own spiritual practice is). Seems fairly obvious, right?

Okay, let the practice begin (again)….

8 Limbs image

Down-shifting (and shifting Up)

Reaching out to other people carries a Divine power,
whether recognized as such or not.
Divine power isn’t metaphorical but literal,
actually releasing calming chemicals in your brain.
…Spirit does more than calm you; it heals you.
It reverses entrenched patterns.
It is nothing short of miraculous.
– Marianne Williamson, A Course in Weight Loss

Stuck in inertia again. How does this happen???

One Day: Sailing along on the wind of spirit, I am open to the universe and its revelations. I am motivated and moving. Finding my true Center, nothing can throw me off balance.
The Next: I have trouble getting out of bed.

OR alternately:

One Moment: Plans, great ideas and goals for the day.
The Next: Two hours have gone by and I’m still scrolling through Facebook, feeling the big Blah.

The thing I love about Byron Katie and Eckhart Tolle is that they have both had their big “aha” moments while in their sluggish, dark and depressed modes. They were not practitioners of some big system or followers of a certain way. Each had a simple shift in perception and awoke to reality – which was more wonderful and simple than they had ever imagined.

I believe one of the messages the universe has been trying to send me lately is that what I need for peace of mind is not about doing more. It is about the shift in perception and knowing I have already done enough. More doing is not going to help it now.

Part of my problem, is that my pattern when I am alone and not “doing” is to sink down low. If I’m not busy and productive, then I kind of submerge into isolation and negativity rather than resting in tranquility. That may be why yoga or a morning walk turn the key for me – they literally move me out of inertia and help me find balance. If I don’t have a group or a friend to hang out with, this is crucial for me.

Yesterday, meeting with a friend and chatting one-on-one brought me to life, group discussion later gave me insight and serenity, but later on in the day, individual dynamics within a group sent my head to swirling. When faced with some tricky social waters to navigate, I decided to bail. In that particular situation, maybe it was a good decision.

Allowing myself these occasional ungraceful moves – kind of ungainly and not totally open and honest – is the beginning of a shift in perception for me. It is okay. I’m doing my best to be loving and compassionate with all – including myself. It is no longer my expectation that I have to do things perfectly or take care of everyone around me. That’s a new one, and I’m still learning.

I’m also learning that solitude and isolation are two distinctly different things. Solitude is the time we take for self-nurture, rest and reflection. Isolation is when we seek to escape from those who love us, when we mentally and physically punish ourselves, and when we’re most at risk for addictive behaviors (for me today, that means over-eating, not exercising, and too much “screen time”).

So, being gentle with ourselves, the solution is awareness. Breathing, stretching, doing any small constructive activity (taking a shower, doing the dishes, putting in a load of laundry) when I get into this place is a good start. My spiritual counselor even talks about “shaking it off” like dogs and other animals do. Get up and shake that negative energy off! Put on some music, perhaps, and move around. Dance a bit! And reach out to others – whether to offer help, to snuggle up, or just for a chat – any breaking of isolation is a start.

This simple stuff shifts our perception within the moment and breaks the energetic barriers we  build. Ahhhhh…what a relief! Everything I’m seeking is available to me here and NOW. Who knew?

Allowing It to Unfold

 “So when we cry out for Help, or whisper it into our chests,
we enter the paradox of not going limp
and not feeling so hopeless that we can barely walk,
and we release ourselves from the absolute craziness
of trying to be our own – or other people’s – higher powers. Help.”
– 
Anne Lamott, “Help, Thanks, Wow!”

Can you believe it? We don’t have to be other people’s higher power. I don’t have to fix everyone’s problems or figure life out so that others can be enlightened. I just have to take care of me.

On top of that, it is okay to ask for Help! Who knew? I keep striving for perfection when no one ever really thought that was a good idea – and certainly no one ever thought it was any fun. I keep believing I need to be self sufficient when there is a whole interdependent universe of creative resources that I could lean on and draw strength from.

The other astonishing thing is that although there is a universe inside me and all around me, I don’t have to invent it myself or make things happen. It is my job to witness it, give thanks for it, and tune in with awareness – but the whole spiraling miracle doesn’t depend on me to keep it swirling. Whew!

My moment of awareness today was a flash of recognition: When I get uncomfortable, I tend to fall back on old habits, old addictions, old patterns. Those things have temporarily lifted discomfort in the past. However, none of these things has sustained me. The only thing that has ever sustained me is letting go – leaning into the wave and letting it lift me and pull me along.

I wonder how many times and in how many ways I’m going to have to repeat this pattern? But something must be changing. I no longer fear the process. Riding the wave is so wonderful, I know I’m going to eventually paddle out there again and trust.

Treetop Herald

Bird & redwoodAs I headed out the door last night on my evening stroll, I had birds on my mind. Feeling a bit grumpy because I wouldn’t have time or light enough for a full walk, my mood soon lightened. (Note to Self: Remember to bring a camera rather than a phone to give witness to such moments.)

HERALD

Above the cement parking lot,
a flock of blackbirds
dance in the light
as the sun shares the last rays of the day.
Moving in perfectly synchronized motion,
they swish like of a piece of silk,
or a wave lapping on the sand.
People rush by in cars,
oblivious
as last light nears.
High on the branches of trees above,
one, two, then more birds gather
and wait.
The light ebbs as car doors slam
and engines race.
Above it all a song rings out
in tribute to the sun –
to another day on this earth –
to life.
Atop a thirsty redwood
perched Christmas angel-like
a lone robin
waits in stillness
watching,
honoring
light.
My spirit lifts
in union
with the herald
singing in praise
of the moment –
the gift of a day.

(-Karen Gatlin, March 11, 2014)

Messages from Above

(Rumpled Blue Jay, Julia Warner)
(Rumpled Blue Jay, Julia Warner)

Most of my observations these days are from my walks. As I’ve said, this is a very good practice for me. Walking my little feet down the street shakes loose the cobwebs. And the occasional feather…

FEATHERS

When my mother died,
we cleaned out her home.
Among her collections –
of coins, stamps, rubber bands –
we discovered feathers.
Feathers of every color, size and shape.
We shook our heads, laughing.
My sisters and I threw each baggie and coffee can
filled with blue, brown, white, gray feathers
in the trash
with thoughts of mites and germs.
This morning, like so many mornings,
I left my home in sneakers, sunglasses and baseball cap.
Looking up, always up –
watching for hummingbird, jay, and nuthatch,
sparrows, doves, the occasional swallow or finch.

On the coast, I spend hours watching
while pelicans glide, float, and dive –
setting my soul back in harmony,
de-cluttering my crowded mind.
Simplifying.
Purifying.
Setting me free.

A small blue feather settles on the sidewalk,
and I bend, shaking my head, smiling,
telling my mother that
at last I grasp her message.

– Karen Gatlin, February 2014

Fresh Start

photo 2On the other hand, I think it is possible that Lent isn’t something I need to revive for myself these days. Instead, I just need to get out of my head and into my body.

I re-read my morning pages and came across these two poems which applied again today.

CHOICES
“To yoga or to walk?” that is the question.
Either will do.
The point is to allow the incessant indecision
of chatter in my head –
the inertia –
to settle or unravel or leave.
Thoughts circle round in slower, tighter patterns;
stuck in a circular maze that turns in on itself
and halts
to a standstill.
Putting on my shoes,
opening the door,
words and sentences spray like droplets from a sprinkler
scattered on the earth
in glorious motion.
The toxic muck of stagnancy becomes fertilizer
mixing with air, dirt, and green.
The poison is diluted and transformed,
becoming energy and breath in the wind.

MORNING

The morning sounds begin…
Rumbling of dreams and whispers of ghosts
clog my arteries
like bacon fat.
I invite these phantoms to speak and have their say,
then wash them away with soap and hot water.
The slate wiped clean,
I tie my worn shoes, put on my hat,
and turn the temperamental lock,
opening to a new adventure.

(-K. Gatlin, February 2014)

New Beginnings

flowerAsh Wednesday 2014…

The branch that was nearly bare last week
bursts with leaves – shiny, delicate, green.
Finches and sparrows dart among moist, shady branches.
Showing off, the grass glistens with dew.
Irridescent leaves and blades
reds, greens and yellows, too –
translucent and shimmering with new life.
Opening my eyes, I am awake to beauty;
Breathing in, I am reborn, soaking in new life –
potential and possibility
in each moment.

My phone lights up with words
calling me back to tasks,
to familiar thoughts and worries.

Will I breathe this new breath
and be a bearer of new life
or return to habitual anxiety
as I reply?

Today is Ash Wednesday. I wouldn’t have remembered except for the posts on Facebook and the foreheads of various people (who I’m assuming were Roman Catholic) in Trader Joe’s this afternoon, marked with a gray cross. On the drive home, I felt a pang of displacement, of being “without a community.” As I have continued to think about it, I realize that I do have a spiritual community, it is just more diverse these days and more spread out geographically.

My local spiritual community embraces Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Hinduism, and accepts a person’s freedom to walk his or her own path – with or without God at the center. In many ways it is a community which reflects my childhood upbringing – equally diverse – and my years in Twelve Step circles where members are free to define their Higher Power or God as each person understands God. Throughout my years of Christian ministry, this has always been my core. It is freeing to both return to my spiritual roots and to open new doors to deeper understanding.

Still, I honor the Christian tradition which has been my home and teacher for over twenty years. I am finding more and more – and this pertains to my thoughts on Ash Wednesday – that I reject much of the institution but I embrace the heart of the church – the life and teachings of Jesus, the wisdom of various prophets and disciples, the legacy of people learning what it means to live life in relationship with the living Spirit of the Holy.

If Lent is about death, guilt, rejecting one’s own worth and embracing only God’s worth, then I don’t think I it is my path. But if it is about spiritual housekeeping and renewal, deepening one’s relationship to the Holy, embracing each moment as a revelation of the Sacred, opening one’s heart in compassion for all living beings, letting go of ways of living that keep us stuck and which blot out light and life, then I can get with that program. That, after all, is what I am now dedicating myself to each day.

When I think of the ancient concept of Ash Wednesday as a day to meet with one’s spiritual counselor, have a heart-to-heart conversation, and commit to doing a thorough inventory of oneself in the weeks to come, I’m all for that. The intent isn’t to identify “wrong” or sin or flaws. The point is to open to the Sacred, and, if necessary, to remove obstacles to that opening.

Byron Katie defines God or the Sacred as Reality or “What Is.” She teaches us how to live in Reality. Eckhart Tolle talks about the difference between living life attached to the “pain Body” versus living life from one’s inner or eternal self or body. He teaches about the transformative quality of living in the Now. Pema Chodron, Lama Surya Das, Thich Nat Hanh and others (like the Dalai Lama!) teach about awareness, awakening – seeing our egoic mind and lower self along with our higher self, our Buddha nature. They teach ways of awakening the Buddha nature within each one of us.

Christians who are truly centered in Jesus’ teachings do much the same thing using different words and practices. They open their eyes and awaken to the “Kingdom” or Realm of God which is present for us in each moment, in every location – and become aware of the image of God, the image of Christ revealed in each person we meet.

So today, I will play in the dirt a little bit, transplanting some potted plants. As I play, I’ll reflect on the concept of “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” and think about the transient quality of my current reality and the eternal nature of my deepest self and its unity with the same nature in all living beings. I will light candles and blow them out.

I hope to open to joy, to the eternal, in as many moments as possible. And breathe in that life-giving breath – stretch my body, bend and release tension and fear – so that I may approach each person and creature I meet with love.

Namaste.  Peace.