Top 10 Reasons to LOVE Puerto Rico

Ahhh… the island of enchantment. Since this month marks five years since I first arrived on the island of singing coquis and the world’s finest piña coladas, I thought I’d View of Atlantic Ocean from Viejo San Juanpay a little tribute. Never mind how I came about living here from the U.S., left and came back. Let’s focus on why, after a non-consecutive 42 months (3.5 years) of my living here, I still love this crazy Caribbean island!

1. THE PEOPLE (LA GENTE)

When people ask me what brought me to Puerto Rico, I always say the weather and the ocean brought me here. But what gets me to stay are the people.

Puerto Ricans are known worldwide for being some of the most beautiful people in the world, but they are just as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside.

If you’ve traveled abroad much you may know that natives are not always friendly to tourists. On my travels to Hawaii, for instance, I did not experience the same kind of welcomeness or friendliness.

SanSe 2017 - Puerto Rico

The people are great -here they are disguised in giant heads for the annual San Sebastian Festival!

In Puerto Rico, it is part of the culture for people to go out of their way to help people.

And Puerto Ricans especially love being helpful to tourists –  to share their knowledge about the island and get people where they need to be in order to find the perfect beach or waterfall.

Also, unlike many of the other Caribbean islands, you won’t find a herd of people trying to get you to buy something from them. Since Puerto Ricans are all U.S. citizens, and the U.S. dollar is the currency, Puerto Ricans live in a similar economy as the rest of the United States. (There are lots of exceptions to this, but when compared to some other Caribbean islands, you can expect to treat Puerto Ricans as equal fiscal consumers and vendors.)

Art Festival

Posing artist, Old San Juan art festival

But Puerto Ricans (or Boricuas, as they are known by their Taino Indian name) are not only helpful, but also polite and friendly. Do not be surprised if, as you are walking down the street, passersby wish you “buenos dias” (good morning) or if you sneeze, you here the wish of good health, “salud” or before eating you are told “buen provecho!” (bon appetit!)

Puerto Ricans are some of the most open and laid back people I have ever met. As a “foreigner” here I need to ask for help a lot. I can not ever remember a time needing help and being turned down. If whoever I ask can not help me, they will find someone who can.

I also want to point out that it’s not just the Puerto Ricans here who have made my life fuller, but also my “gringo” friends and people I’ve met from all over the world – Spain, the U.K., Dominican Republic, Columbia and Mexico and beyond – who are the bees knees because a) they want to explore the island as much as I do and b) they are often just as helpful as the Puerto Ricans since they also live abroad and know what it’s like to be a little out of place.

I love the people of Puerto Rico. Besides being super friendly and helpful, they also know how to have a great time.

But if you don’t like people there are also plenty of cats!Cat - Old San Juan, Puerto Rico

2. THE BEACH (LA PLAYA)


I don’t think I really need to say much here … the pictures speak for themselves.

I will say that whether you are into surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, sun bathing, kite surfing, wind surfing, paddle boarding or simply very good at drinking mojitos in the sand, Puerto Rico will not disappoint. Flamenco Beach in Culebra is often rated among the world’s most beautiful beaches.

My favorite thing to do in the world may be snorkeling … something about breathing under the water and seeing this entirely different universe of colors and creatures … it is truly magical!

Above is a slideshow of some of the beaches I’ve been to … and I’ve only been to a sampling!

3. THE MOUNTAINS (LAS MONTAÑAS) 

Rainbow, Puerto Rico

Rainbow over the Mountains of Puerto Rico

 

Puerto Rico is not just about the beaches – the entire center of the island is a big mountain range, known as the Cordillera Central. In addition to the only Tropical Rain Forest on U.S. soil (El Yunque), you will find all kinds of places to see beautiful waterfalls, go canyoning (aka repelling down steep waterfalls), caving, kayaking, climbing, hiking, biking and whatever else it is you like to do in forests and rivers and mountains.

4. RIVERS / WATERFALLS / CAVES / BAYS / LAGOONS

I love being near water … especially hearing the sound of water. There is something special about the energy of waterfalls – water hitting rocks continuously for centuries – that is so relaxing and peaceful. And actually, this isn’t just my perception – the idea of waterfalls making humans happier is backed by science.

Charco Prieto, Bayamon, PR - Camecosmica, Instagram Photo

Charco Prieto, Bayamon, Puerto Rico – Camecosmica, Photo Credit

The collision of water molecules generate negative ions in the air, but our bodies absorbs the negative ions as positive energy. When we breathe the ions in through the air they flow to our bloodstream, creating serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that helps increase our energy and makes us happier. Read more about it on WebMD – Negative Ions Create Positive Vibes.

There are so many caves, rivers and waterfalls to explore on the island that I doubt I will ever see them all. I am not brave enough to try zip-lining or cliff jumping, but you can also find many of these types of adventures and tour guides to take you on them.

If you are looking for a thrilling experience, spend the day rappelling down some of the island’s most beautiful waterfalls at Doña Juana Canyon Adventures.

If you like a more low-key adventure, Condado Lagoon is great for paddle boarding!


 

5. FROGS (COQUIES) AND OTHER ENDANGERED AND RARE SPECIES

There is a tiny frog indigenous to Puerto Rico called the Coquí, named for the sweet and short song he sings, “co-key, co-key”. These little frogs make a very loud noise and it is difficult not to hear them.

I live in the middle of the city in San Juan, and coquís put me to sleep every night. I have yet to ever SEE one, as they are very small and like to hide.

Even though it may seem like there is an abundance of coquís on the island, a few breeds are in danger of extinction. Two of them are already extinct – the Coquí Dorado and the Coquí Palmeado. Learn more about the Coquí here.  Or you can watch this video below.

LEATHERBACK TURTLES

In addition to Coquís, there are also Leatherback Turtles that come to the shore and lay eggs. They leave their eggs (usually around 100 eggs) in a deep hole they dig in the sand and then head back to the ocean.

The eggs take a few weeks to hatch and when they do, the little baby turtles have to make their way back to the ocean. They are ADORABLE.

Leatherbacks - San Juan Puerto Rico

New Born Leatherbacks – San Juan Puerto Rico

Also an endangered species, there are several volunteer groups that help look out for the turtles and help their hatchlings make it back into the ocean. I was lucky enough to have been with some friends and found some baby turtles breaking free from their shells one evening.

We called the Ocean Park volunteer group’s number and with 20 minutes there were about 15 other people all helping the 50 or so baby turtles start their new life.

Because of light pollution, the turtles are often confused when they hatch and go in the wrong direction. The volunteers help guide the way for them, allowing them to gain the strength they will need to survive in the ocean.

To learn more about other endangered species in Puerto Rico, like the Manatee and the Puerto Rican Amazon Parrot, there is a wonderful PBS Nature show called Viva Puerto Rico that you can stream on line.

According to PBS, “There are important conservation efforts underway in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to protect its endangered native wildlife from extinction on land and sea. Once home to ancient rainforests that covered the Caribbean island when Columbus first landed in 1493, centuries of development have impacted Puerto Rico’s rich natural resources. By 1900, only five percent of its rainforests remained, causing a major loss of habitat.”

6. THE SYMPHONY AND THE ARTS

Whether I want to see an indie rock show, a live salsa band, a jazz band, or spend the evening at the symphony San Juan, Puerto Rico has it going on. From Reggae to Bomba and Plena, Merengue and Bolero to Jíbaro music (Hillbilly music) and even Flamenco music and dance, there is no shortage of melody.

Orquesta Sinfonica de Puerto Rico

Orquesta Sinfonica de Puerto Rico

I imagine I could also go somewhere to listen to Reggaeton … but I won’t! 🙂 I have even seen a first-rate Indian classical music concert here. And a Bon Jovi cover band. Also, Madonna. Ok, ok I admit I did go to a Don Omar concert once.

A bonus about the Orquesta Sinfonica de Puerto Rico is that it is not as expensive as it is to see the symphony in any other major U.S. city – $10-$65 versus $100-$500. And they are just as good as any other top-rated symphony, IMO!

Besides music, there is a lively art scene, cuisine, theater and many, many super-talented people that make life on the island so very intriguing.

7. CITY LIFE – SAN JUAN IS A MAJOR CITY

I think I already mentioned that I love the beach and the symphony … but did you know I can walk to both from my apartment? Plus, housing here is super affordable when

Condado, San Juan Puerto Rico. Photo Credit: Angel Xavier

Condado, San Juan Puerto Rico. Photo Credit: Angel Xavier

compared to other major U.S. cities near the beach like San Diego, Miami, etc. In San Juan I get the best of both worlds – beach life and city life, not to mention, if I want to drive 45 minutes I can be in the mountains.

The city has everything I really need from health food stores and organic grocery stores to urban farmer’s markets, not to mention doctors, dentists, hospitals, etc.

According to World Population View, San Juan has a city population of 418,140 in 2017. That ranks it slightly behind Miami, FL (441,003) and way ahead of Pittsburgh, PA (304,391).

Add to the fact that Puerto Ricans often travel frequently to and fro New York City, they bring back with them a cosmopolitan air. You can see it in the fashion, but it is also evident in the art, food, music and theater.

Shopping here is also fantastic (despite that nasty 11.5% tax!) Because San Juan is the “New York City” of the Caribbean, people from the other islands come here to shop, making for a rather high-end experience at both the largest mall, Plaza las Americas, and the new (higher-end) Mall of San Juan.

And – not sure if this is good or bad – but there are a plethora of U.S. chain stores and restaurants from Chili’s and Starbucks to Lulu Lemon, Victoria Secret and Macy’s, plus a Walgreens or CVS on practically every corner.

Of course, as any major city, San Juan also has its share of problems in crime and poverty, so it’s not all roses. But living in a city always has its advantages.

8. BEING IN A DIFFERENT … COUNTRY? STATE? TERRITORY?

Viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico

Viejo San Juan, Puerto Rico (The Old City or Old San Juan)

Yesterday, the Statehood party in Puerto Rico that wishes to be the 51st U.S. state held elections to see who is in support of Statehood. It won in a landslide, but only something like 23% of Puerto Ricans voted – the rest were boycotting the election completely. Normally voting percentages are around 80% in Puerto Rico, so I’m not sure about the validity of the election results.

The status of the island as a U.S. Territory has a long history of contention. I am staying out of the politics here, and just want to share with you the benefits of being a person from the U.S. living in Puerto Rico.

  1. U.S. citizens do not need a passport to travel to Puerto Rico. Come visit me!
  2. The currency is the same; I don’t have to constantly try to adjust currencies in my head or in a bank.
  3. My cell phone works here and most cell phone service providers do not charge overseas fees if you are using a mobile plan from the States.
  4. I get to be in a different culture, but not be too far from “home”. It’s easy to get a flight to and from the U.S.
  5. I am able to practice and try to learn Spanish here, but I can always fall back on my English, because many people in Puerto Rico speak both English and Spanish very well.
  6. Every time I go to Viejo San Juan (Old San Juan) I feel like I am in Europe. Actually, when I went to Spain last year I thought to myself, while staring up at all the Spanish architecture and wrought iron balconies, I could have saved a lot of money by simply going to Viejo San Juan!

9. THE VIBE

There is a word in Puerto Rico, you hear quite often — tranquilo. It can be translated literally in English to calm or tranquil, but the equivalent would be more like “chill”.

There is a very relaxed and chill vibe here. I feel it in San Juan, but it is especially felt in the Western beach and surf towns of Rincon, Aguadilla and Isabela.

Part of this could be because Puerto Rico is home to the Bacardi Rum Factory, but another big part is because the people here really know how to relax and have a good time. They know how to have a party, throw a party and any weekend there are a number of festivals and fun things happening.

The biggest party of the year is San Sebastian Festival in Old San Juan that takes place at the end of the loooong Christmas holiday here, around the third week in January. It is LOUD; see pictures in the slide show above.

10. THE FOOD (LA COMIDA)

Chillo, Red Snapper and Tostones

Chillo (Red Snapper) and Tostones, Local Puerto Rican Fish and Food

There would be something seriously wrong with me if I didn’t discuss the food in Puerto Rico. I’ve been asked by a lot of people what the food is like here – is it Mexican, they ask? Nooooo…. it’s not Mexican. They aren’t too many Mexicans in Puerto Rico, so why would there be Mexican food?

If I am forced to describe it, I say it is Caribbean food, with loads of root vegetables and fresh fish, etc. But the truth is, it is difficult to explain because there are so many types of foods here. It is definitely not spicy: more on the salty, sweet and greasy side of things – in other words: super tasty!

The most famous dish in Puerto Rico is Mofongo which is smashed up plaintains that can be served as a side dish or as a main entry stuffed with chicken, meat, shrimp or jueyes, which is an amazing crab meat. Another local favorite are pinchos -BBQ chicken on a stick.

Everywhere in Puerto Rico you will find kioskos (kiosks) that can served bacalaítos (cod fritters), alcapurrias (usually a gluten free fried batter of taro root with stuffed meat, crab or lobster inside) pastelillos/empañadas (turnovers stuffed with meat). You can wash them down pretty nicely with a Medalla or Magna (the local beers).

Puerto Rico is famous for its lechoneras or pork roasts. You can see pigs roasting along side the road most places in the country side, but there is one area particularly known for lechons – Guavate.

If being vegan or vegetarian is your style, you may have a hard time getting by outside of San Juan, but in the city more and more vegan and veggie restaurants are opening and

Fresh fruit, juice and coffee in Puerto Rico with granola

Fresh fruit, juice and coffee in Puerto Rico with granola

there are more options for staying meatless in restaurants. Fresh fruits also run rampant – papaya, mangoes, quenepas, and little bananas are my favorites. Wash those down with a cold coconut water and you will be completely refreshed and hydrated.

The breads in Puerto Rico … maybe thanks to the Spanish(?) are amazing. Agua de pan (water bread) is my favorite. Pair it with sopa de pollo (chicken soup) and you will be in heaven.

The sweets are also insane. I can never decide between tres leches or flan de coco. And if you see something called a quesito … a cream-cheese filled crossiant — grab it and enjoy it with a cup of Puerto Rican coffee.

Puerto Rico, in my opinion, cultivates the best coffee in the world. When I travel, I take it with me because I can no longer withstand any other type of coffee. (Except maybe Indian coffee, which is a close call.)

Wow, there is so much good food here, I didn’t even mention rice and beans, a staple. I know that to many people rice and beans don’t sound appetizing – but they make them really well here and I find myself craving them often. YUM.


So I guess these ten reasons are a big part of why I stay here on this lovely island! While parts of living here have been difficult adjustments and I do miss my family bunches, I continue to learn and grow here and this island is making me a better person – I definitely have acquired more patience and tolerance, a disposition for “letting go” and certainly a more easy going attitude.

To close, here is captivating music video highlighting the beautiful and hard working people of Puerto Rico:

 

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Ashtanga – A Cure All Yoga Practice

I was in NYC last week for six days of morning ashtanga yoga practice with Parampara Guru R. Sharath Jois. This made my 15th full week of nonconsecutive study with Sharath, if I count my time in India (two trips) and a week in Miami. Having a mostly “self-practice” with yoga, I find it inspiring and invigorating to try to study from him when I can.

I went to the classes last week without high expectations for myself. After being chronically ill for the better part of a year and only recently in nearly full recovery, I had lost some agility. Well, more like I felt like my body was falling apart. My elbow was malfunctioning and had been for the past month or two, making it difficult for me to do plank position, which in Ashtanga is done between nearly every pose. I had carpal tunnel pain, my chest bones cracked every time I did an upward dog and I felt genuinely tired. I didn’t know if I was going to make it through the week, let alone the first day.

My sore elbow seemed trivial, however, in light of another student in the class: she had a prosthetic leg and was wheelchair bound. But that didn’t slow her down – she took off her removable leg and practiced along side everyone else. Inspiring! What did I have to complain about really?

Sharath Jois NYC 2017 Yoga Tour

Sharath Jois NYC 2017 Yoga Tour – Photo Credit: Sonima Foundation

Still, for me day 1 was rough. I thought day 2 would be rougher, but it wasn’t and my elbow started to work again. By day 3 I forgot all about my elbow and my carpal tunnel disappeared. By day 5 and 6, I felt like a super woman, even though I kept falling over in standing toe hold pose (uttitha hasta padangushtasana). Whatever. I had energy and didn’t hurt all over!

Many of my ailments are caused by chronic inflammation, a fairly common condition that you may also have experienced if you’ve ever felt aches and joint pains, had digestive issues or have an autoimmune disorder, like asthma or allergies.

Inflammation can be causes by toxins from bacteria (like H. Pylori) and viruses, as well as environmental toxins like air pollution and even from the foods we eat, mostly sugar or foods that break down into sugar.

What happens is that toxins that get absorbed into our bones, tissues, muscles, cells, etc. Toxins from the air we breathe to the food we eat to the chemicals we wear in our clothing are all being absorbed into our bodies, not to mention the make-up, deodorant, perfumes, etc. We absorb them into our skin. Even the plastic spoons and straws and utensils we use to cook have chemical toxins that our bodies do not like very much.

As this chart demonstrates, the autoimmune system has an effect on all aspects of our body.

Inflammation AutoImmune Toxins

To some extent, we sweat and digest most of the toxins back out of our bodies. But some people have an easier time absorbing and a harder time excreting toxins, which can make them sicker, more often.

Of course the effects of toxins is probably mostly minimal on most people … but who is to say too much is too much? When your migraines develop into weekly occurrences? When you are age 65 and develop psoriasis? Who knows to what degree toxins affects us and what would we do about it anyway? Change our lifestyle? We need more proof or a big wake up call for that to happen!

But me, I get sick far too often if I don’t detox somehow. This means drinking lots of water and eating healthy and eating foods that help lower inflammation. But that’s still not enough. I have to sweat it out and breathe it out. And a physical ashtanga yoga practice is the best tool I know for doing both those things, and at the same time!

For at least an hour and 15 minutes daily, the primary series of Ashtanga is what helps keep me alive. It keeps me from being depressed, it keeps me from having terrible allergies, not to mention makes me flexible and strong, mentally and physically.

I have been doing ashtanga for nearly 15 years (although only regularly for about 5 years). And I can assure you that if it were not for ashtanga, I would be dead either from being sick or from suicide. I don’t think I’m being over-dramatic here.

Last year, for instance, I became very sick after taking B6 vitamins and became “B6 toxic”. B6 Toxicity affected me in every way – I had muscle twitching, pins and needles sensations in my feet and legs, severe dehydration, heart palpitations, brain fog, ridiculously low blood pressure, severe digestion issues and severe anxiety. I had nerve pain and could not touch anything cold with my hands or feet or breathe in cool air, like in an air conditioned room. I had to put aloe up my nose to breathe in cool air to sleep at night. I had extremely oily skin and acne, and because I was so dehydrated, I had to keep drinking loads of water, followed by coconut water (for potassium) and salt to keep up my sodium level. This also meant that for about three weeks I had to wake up to use the bathroom every 90 minutes. It was a really stressful time that last for about two months.

After finding out I had high levels of B6 and that B6 Toxicity had happened to a lot of other people, I was relieved to know that I would recover eventually. I only took 10 over-the-counter vitamins of 100mg a day over the course of a month and, even though the medical community will tell you it is safe to take up to 200 mg a day, I became toxic very quickly. Your body only needs less than 2mg a day and some people, for whatever reason, do not or can not urinate the excess vitamin b6 out of their body.

It took me over two months to get back on track and six months to completely recover. For some people, it may take as long as two years to recover. It was the most awful thing that has ever happened to me personally. I took the vitamins because they were recommended due to other nerve pain I was having (probably from low b12 and folate, which I now take). Do not take B6 vitamins unless your blood levels are low for b6 and your doctor tells you to take it!!!

Anyhow … part of my recovery was sweating it out on my yoga mat. Had I not had this invaluable tool of ashtanga, I don’t know what would have happened to me. All I knew was that I had to practice, even with all that other stuff going on, and so I did, and it helped me get better, quicker.

The primary series of Ashtanga is called Yoga Chikitsa, which means “Yoga Therapy”. The whole point of the primary series is to purify the body. There are certain ways it must be performed and it should be learned from a teacher. Below are the poses in a chart. You can also stream a free video of ashtanga yoga led by R. Sharath Jois, here.

Ashtanga Yoga, Primary and Second Series Poses - R. Sharath Jois

The intermediate series of Ashtanga yoga is also shown in the above chart – it is call “Nadi Sodhana” which means “Channel Purification” or “Nerve Cleansing”. It is focused on purifying the body’s nervous system.

I’m so grateful for this yoga practice that I just wanted to share with you some resources and some background on my yoga journey. My advice is for anyone to do yoga if you want to get healthy or stay healthy – it is for everyone – young, old, small, large, strong, weak, flexible and stiff. I wasn’t flexible or strong before I started doing yoga and everyone has poses they are better at than others and vice versa.

Ashtanga Yoga - Sharath Tour NYC 2017

Sharath Jois NYC 2017 Yoga Tour – Photo Credit: Sonima Foundation

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The Steps of Chimundi Hill

You need not have eyes to find spirituality in India. It is everywhere. You can hear it – in the vedic chants streaming eerily from the robed men and women walking along the Chimundi Hill, Mysore Indiastreets at pre-dawn, or in the conch shells bellowing during a religious ceremony; you can smell it – in the incense, cow dung, and oils burning inside temples and shrines; you can feel it – in the hands of the pujari, or priest, as he takes your offering and marks your forehead with a vermilion tilaka; you can taste it – in the spicy richness of the dals and curries, the freshness of the papayas, pomegranates, and pineapples, all of which have been prayed over by the farmer who grew and sold his crop, his livelihood. Even if you’re not a spiritual person you will feel it because it surrounds, engulfs you.

I had only been in India for a little over a week when, after a 6 a.m. intensive and very sweaty ashtanga yoga practice, myself and three other yogis decided to climb the 1,001 stairs of Chimundi Hill. I had read about Chimundi Hill in my India travel book and knew that it held some of the most beautiful views of Mysore, India, where I was living for six weeks while practicing yoga. So we grabbed an auto- rickshaw driver, picked up his eight-year-old son, and the six of us packed into the rickshaw and went through the city on a 20-minute ride to Chimundi Hill. What a beautiful morning for a hike!

I wasn’t sure what to expect, nor did I even try to guess, as my eyes have been bewildered and my mind blown several thousand times over in the short time since I’ve been in Mysore. But I did assume that we were going on a hike, up a hill, and that should be nothing too out of the ordinary. But India is anything but ordinary.

When we arrived at the bottom of the 1,000 stairs up the hill, my jaw dropped once more. Mystical is the only word to describe it. There was still an early morning fog sweeping before a towering ornamental entryway to the stairs of the hill. Or, wait – maybe it was smoke or incense swinging past the towering gate? Whatever it was, the morning just became mystical.

Flowers, Chimundi HllI wasn’t sure if the tower was a gate or a temple at first. It was shaped sort of like a Hindu temple, with progressively smaller pavilions stacked on one another and ornate carvings of deities dancing and posing their way to the top, which must have been 60 feet high. I noticed there were monkeys fluttering about the entryway and my attention turned to them.

Monkeys! It was then that I realized, “I am in a foreign land and this is going to be no hike like I’ve ever experienced.” My senses were consumed with so many interesting sights and smells. I think I heard chanting. And birds I’ve never heard before cooing. And monkeys… making monkey noises!

Monkeys at Chimundi Hill, Mysuru IndiaAs we walked up the ancient steps made of layers of big rocks (I suppose being built in 1664 makes them “ancient”), I noticed that some of the risers of the stairs, also made of stone, were painted in red and white stripes. Indians must have tired of the boring gray stones after 352 years and decided to spruce them up a bit. Nothing in this country deserves to be without color, especially not sacred steps.

Just past the gate and before the beginning of the stairs there was a broken bowl-ish type of container that may have also been 352 years old. It was filled with bright red and yellow powder, with three yellow flowers lying on top. “What is this used for?” I asked my friend Kristina. “For praying, to put on your forehead,” she said. Of course.

View from Chimundi HillWe continued up the stairs in the crisp morning air, quickly noticing that not every step was of the same length. Some steps were only four or five inches high, while others may have been 18 inches high. We wondered what we were thinking, embarking on a one-hour hike after two hours of intense yoga. We began to keep a slower pace, taking in the brilliant views. And trying not to get out of breath.

There were shrines along the way. Shrines for Hanuman, Lakshmi, Ganesh, and Shiva, and other Hindu deities to see to it that we had a good journey. Many, sadly, were covered in graffiti.

hanuman shrine

Hanuman

There were other people making this trek, mostly Indians but some foreigners. We passed a beggar woman holding out her hand to us, a black dog asleep beside her. Her eyes were tired. Other people were sweeping debris off of the steps and asking for a few rupees in exchange for their labor.

India is full of so many colors, so much beauty, on one hand. It is filled with layer upon layer of the many colors of flowers, fruits, lentils, spices, saris, bindis, Gods, deities, and aromas. On the other hand, there is garbage everywhere, dirty children holding out their hands and pointing to their mouths. It is filled with much poverty and sadness, keeping things deep and real and extreme at all times.

We stopped along the way for some fresh pineapple pieces from a man selling them along the road. We noticed a group of people wearing all white jogging suits that read(in red) “Postal Training Centre, Mysore” on their backs. So that’s how the postal workers get in shape – they climb Chimundi Hill!

Nandi - Bull on Chimundi Hill, Mysuru IndiaThere are many cows in India, but I only saw one bull. His name is Nandi and he is 15 feet tall and 24 feet long. Once you climb 800 of the 1,000 stairs of Chimundi hill you will not miss him. We were told that the monolithic bull had just had his semi-annual oil massage, making it roughly the 700th massage this giant stone carved creature has received. This black and shiny beast is draped with garlands of flowers and bells. Painted on his forehead are the three white stripes representing devotion to Lord Shiva, his master, who once upon a time used Nandi as his vehicle.

Only a couple hundred more steps to go and we are meeting the rickshaw driver at the top of the hill for the ride back. But first, Kristina had mentioned a temple that she wanted to go 100_2309to at the top of the hill, Chimundeshwari Temple. This is my first Hindu temple experience, so of course I want to go inside. Kristina is much more versed at what one does inside a Hindu temple, so she leads the way as the rest of us follow.

As the four of us walk towards the temple, the carvings on the yellow-colored gopuram, or pyramidal tower, become more visible. There are several devas and devis carved into the sides of the gopuram, which is seven stories and about 130 feet tall.

Chimundiswari Temple, Mysuru IndiaWe stop first at a booth outside the temple to get an offering to bring inside. It is here where we also take off our shoes. The offering is a basket filled to the brim with two coconuts, a bunch of bananas, and what looks to me like several yellow carnations, a big Flower Offering, Chimundi Hill Mysurured rose, and a lotus flower. A young boy asks me if I want colors and I am confused
by what he means. I have no idea what he is talking about or what I am supposed to do with my basket of fruit and flowers, let alone some colors, but he drops the small packets on top of my basket anyway. I struggle to keep my overflowing and lopsided basket together, curious as to what I’m going to be doing with it anyway.

As the four of us make our way to the temple we realize there is a long line of people waiting to get inside. There is lots of yelling, or what seems like yelling (in a foreign language) and people are very excited to get inside the temple. People are skipping the line. People are coming back out of the line. It is a bit like being in an amusement park line for a ride; there is a maze of rows to follow. There is much confusion. We are the only white people in the line.

Soon, a man who was working(?) at the temple said we had to go into the temple separate (from the Indians) and that he would show us the way. Why we had to go in separate, I don’t understand. He warned us to keep our purses and wallets closely guarded. The temple was packed full of people and there were pickpockets, or so he said. Of course, and as we knew at the time, he would want compensated for guiding us through the temple. But it felt like a small price to pay to deliver us from mass confusion, so we followed him.

The guide shuffled us through silver plated doors engraved with more deities and past the small statue of Lord Ganesha, the remover of all obstacles. We were packed in tight in front of the shrine, in a crowded room with people leaning over the gates of the inner sanctum to see the solid gold idol of Durga, or Chimundeshwari, the Goddess of power and strength. Though the temple is thought to be built in the 17th century, the shrine may have been built as early as the 11th century.

100_2323We performed puja here by handing over our offering and were given blessings by the pujari, who marked our foreheads with a red-orange powder called vermilion. We also placed some rupees in the offering dish when the pujari held it in front of us, making sure each of us knew that we were supposed to give them money at this point.

The guide allowed us to take some photographs in certain places, but photos are not allowed inside the temple. There were men wrapped in long white cloth, beads around their neck with markings on their foreheads, some with the same markings as the bull, Nandi. There was oil burning, and flames surrounding the golden idol. We walked along and on another wall a niched window, or devkoshta, housed another deity. Here a pujari stood blessing people with oil.

100_2325We walked outside the temple to get a look at the Vimanam, as it is known in South India, which is the tower rising at the inner sanctum of the temple. At the very top of the Dravidian-style structure, which closely resembles the outer towering gate, there are seven spires pointing to the sky acting as antennas, connecting mortals to the divine.

There was chanting and bells ringing and still people were being herded through the temple like cattle and I pondered how anyone could possibly have the focus (or space) to pray at this temple.

Just as I was wondering if people actually prayed here or only came by to get a blessing from the pujari, we were given back part of our offerings – the coconuts, which had been cut open, and the bananas and some of the flowers. We took our offerings and sat down on the floor outside the shrine, where we proceeded to eat the fruits and sit quietly to pray, if we wished.

After eating and praying we paid our guide, picked up our shoes, and went to find our rickshaw driver. The boy who had laid the colors in my offering basket spotted us and tried to make me pay for the colors.

Once we found our rickshaw driver, he drove us to Anokhi Garden, a popular restaurant that serves a delicious “Western breakfast”, complete with scrambled eggs and French toast, and French-pressed coffee. After a morning of intensive physical activity we were all starving and it was good to be somewhere that felt familiar again. Kristina tied the flowers from the offering in my hair and I spent the rest of the day with my forehead marked in red with yellow flowers in my hair. I didn’t particularly feel any type of spiritual movement while inside the temple or while climbing the stairs (well, none that I noticed with the commotion of everything else going on, anyway). But still… I couldn’t help but to feel blessed, which on this day – in the midst of a beautiful, sunny day with wonderful new friends and delicious food in my tummy and the utmost gratitude for being able to practice at the yoga shala – I most certainly was blessed.A Cow, Mysuru, India

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The Subtleties – Ashtanga & Life

My mind was wandering during my yoga practice this morning and I began thinking about how I do the same thing every day – the same physical yoga routine that is – but actually how different it ends up being regardless of its strict sequence and rules of drishti (gaze), breath (even nose breathing) and asana (poses), not to mention the bandhas (locks).

I may feel completely different afterward or even during my yoga practice; I may not go as deep as I did the day before; I may cut out a few poses. Some days I sweat more than others or have more energy and sweat less than the day before. There are so many differences really, even though I wake up in the morning and it’s the same ol’, same ol’: ekam, inhale; dwe, exhale.

Baddha Konasana  - ashtanga yoga

Baddha Konasana

Usually when I describe my yoga practice to people, after telling them that I do yoga “on my own”, I give them the short answer: “Ashtanga yoga (the physical practice) is a sequence of poses, the same poses and so I do the same routine yoga poses every day”. Usually the reaction I hear is “Oh my God, that sounds so boring. I would never be able to do that.” But the truth is, that’s just the short answer and there is more to it. Every day, each pose is different because I may be able to stretch a little further (or not stretch as far) or maybe one day I can jump through easily and the next day, not so much.

Afterall, there are 44 poses in just the primary series of Ashtanga yoga, not including the vinyasas (jump throughs) so it’s not like there isn’t variation.

In this modern world, there are so many types of physical activities that people use to exercise, incorporating this and that and switching it up on a daily basis – running, spinning, lifting weights, aerobics, cycling, swimming, Zumba, Crossfit, water cycling, stationary surfing, trampoline workouts … the list goes on and on. Not to mention other physical activities – hiking, diving, climbing, sports, etc.

While these things I’m sure are fun (and I especially enjoy outdoor fitness activities myself) if I were to try to exercise every day using one of these methods, I would get so distracted with all the things there is to choose from, that I probably would never get off my bum.

There are so many distractions in the world, period. So much to do. So much going on. So much for me, me, me. What do I want to do next? Look at me. Where do I want to travel next? Look at me. What clothes should I buy next? Look at me. Read this blog and watch me post it on Facebook. Look at me.

It’s interesting that I even like Ashtanga at all. Because it’s full of rules and I hate rules. I hate traffic rules that don’t make sense. I hate the rule about waiting your turn – the squeaky wheel gets the cheese, IMO. I hate tax laws and “do not enter” signs. I hate that mostly ignorant people make up the rules that half the time don’t make sense or don’t apply to unique circumstances. I almost compulsively try to break all the rules or at least circumnavigate them. If you tell me “do it this way”, I will find a better way (or fail trying).

But Ashtanga is full of rules and I follow them all, or at least try to. Why? I guess because I have respect for it and it works and it’s genius. And I need structure or else I’d go crazy (let me be honest here).

So I stick with the mundane and the boring Ashtanga and you know what I find? I find that it helps me cope with life, which can at times also be monotonous and tedious. Because what I notice about life, when I really stop to notice the details – is that it’s not the same every day either. I may do similar things, especially in terms of working and eating and sleeping, but there are subtleties that can make a big difference whether I feel good or not, whether I can make someone else feel good or not.

And these subtleties aren’t always easy to see – you may have to be already comfortable in your routine to notice them, you may need the mindset to let you dig a little deeper, and you need the faith or focus that it takes to realize there may just be something more interesting to what merely seems, to use an old friend’s favorite word: quotidian. Amazingly, yoga has taught me all of this.

Noticing these subtleties more frequently, I can see – almost as-if from behind the scenes – how my mind is working. What is it attracted to or repulsed by? What causes it to feel happy or sad or anxious or tired? There are weird details all around us – and our quick reactions or even subconscious reactions to them inhibit us from appreciating them as they are – as-is – free of a negative feeling or a positive feeling. They just are and it’s up to us to decide what to do with them. We can ignore these feelings until they creep up on us later. We can deal with them now to try to get a positive outcome or maybe react too quick and get a negative outcome.

A cloud is a cloud is a cloud. But watch one float by and see how it changes and takes form. Watch how it clumps together and falls back apart. Watch it race through the sky or slowly glide. You will never see another cloud do that same thing again.

Appreciate it for what it was. And then let it go.

Girl running toward red barn

 

 

 

 

Posted in Attachments, Love, Personal Revelations, Yoga | 1 Comment

Faces That Pass By in My Mind as I Close My Eyes to Sleep

I see faces pass by in my mind as I close my eyes to sleep … it’s a black and white slide show of people whom I’ve never seen before. Some are hideous and some are beautiful. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the same two faces, men and woman and beasts. People who

look modern and people who look ancient and people from the future, people who belong to a different time. I see the very old and the very young and the in-betweens. They don’t haunt me and they don’t frighten me. I see them just as they are and I let them exist. Sometimes the faces change expressions and sometimes they turn into another face. I am awake, not yet asleep. Sometimes I open my eyes and shut them again. They’re only in my head, not in my room. They pass by quickly and morph from one face to the next face to the next. Maybe I will see 20-40 faces before I fall asleep or before my mind wanders on to something else and the faces disappear.

Even though I am just watching and have no attachment to these faces, I do get a slight and brief feeling of sadness when I see a grim face, happy when I see a smile, horror when I see a grotesque face. But these emotions pass by quickly because the faces change quickly … no more than a second or a half a second for each face.  It’s like I’m watching t.v. – I know it isn’t real, they are just the faces that pass by in my mind as I lay my head to sleep.

This started happening a few years ago. I don’t really remember, I can’t say I was paying too much attention. I was just trying to go to sleep. (I’m a bit of an insomniac some nights.) And then I started to think about more about the faces. Why was I seeing them at all?

I wonder sometimes if they are real people living right now somewhere on the planet. If that smile or that look of despair or that terrified face is actually happening somewhere right now and it’s being teleported into my brain. I wonder if they were real people or if I have seen these people before and don’t remember. I wonder sometimes if I was an artist, if this wouldn’t be a great opportunity for to draw inspiration. But I don’t remember the faces for long anyway.

The Moon - Carlsbad, CA

The Moon - Oceanside, CA

Sometimes I don’t see faces at all. I just close my eyes and wait until I fall asleep.

Sometimes I chant myself to sleep.

Rarely, but it does happen, I see landscapes instead of the faces. This is more fun because, unlike the faces, they are usually in color. Sunsets and oceans and trees and mountains. But it only happens for a tenth of a second and then it’s gone. I wonder, too – are these real landscapes in some far away land? I know I haven’t been to any of these landscapes, but maybe I will one day. Or maybe it was in a past life of vagabonding that I did see these picturesque visions.

I don’t know that I believe I had a past life. Maybe. It might explain why this life seems like the wrong one, more like I was placed on a planet that I don’t belong on, in a time I don’t belong. But I know that’s not true because the world is a perfect place just as it is and that includes me being in it and you too and all the rest.

Pacific Ocean

Sunset Over the Pacific

Yet we take it for granted, rarely even looking up at the beautiful painting in the sky, crafted especially for us to enjoy. Every day, different designs are chosen, changing color and form. From the time the sun rises in all its pink and bright yellow glory through the mid day blue skies of pluming clouds rolling past and over each other all the way to the end where any number of colorful events occur – silver, gold, bronze, pinks and purples and blues — they make the sunset sparkle and slowly fade. And then at last of course we get to see the night scene, filled with diamond specs and a looming moon.

And every day it’s different! Everyday it’s something new!

But even in perfection, the world is a terrible lonely place sometimes. And such a work in progress, make no mistake about it. But it has potential, it’s continually progressing, even though it probably doesn’t feel like it to you in this day, in this age.

Our lives are more like ocean waves … beginning with a force of gravity and h2O and some other elements that a scientist named and then slowly forming into a larger, stronger being that usually steps in line with the others. Maybe sometimes something different happens — the wave dies early, takes another direction, goes off on its own. But in the end, all the waves eventually land back at shore and dissolve back into the ocean. Just as we someday will dissolve back into the giant vastness of the universe, the arms of God.

ARISE and AWAKEN, for it is this life that is the dream.

One time I awoke from a dream, a bad dream in which I seemed to be frozen and then I broke free (this is technically called “sleep paralysis, a frightening thing as you can well imagine). I may have still been dreaming, but I thought I was awake. Anyway, what I saw, in my bedroom (after I broke free from my bad dream) was the most brilliant display of stars, bright shining stars and spinning in a way that, well, the way they were spinning just made sense. I believe I was awake, but it’s hard to say for sure. It made me so happy. I remember smiling and thinking I didn’t want this great spectacle to ever end. I remember thinking that I am just a part of those stars and that I was given a glimpse into some very special and small opening to see what it’s like. Unlike the faces and the landscapes I sometimes see before I fall asleep, this lasted for what seemed like five minutes, maybe even ten. But maybe it was only 30 seconds. It was time enough for me to take it all in and remain in awe for quite some time after.

The scientific name for seeing faces and landscapes and stars before you fall asleep is “Hypnagogic Hallucinations”. And before you ask, I don’t do drugs and I rarely drink and I’m not on any type of prescription medication.

I have lots of other weird things that happen in my sleep that have scientific names.

Lucid Dreams

S l e e p    P a r a l y s i s

Night Terrors

EXPLODING HEAD SYNDROME
(Yes, that’s a thing. Google it.)

It’s all just things going on in my brain and perhaps a scientist can put a label on it and he can hook up a machine to monitor my eye movement or my brain activity or even see what changes are happening in my brain during my hallucinations or dreams or whatever they are. These strange things are not so uncommon.

And a scientist can tell me that it is because this or that is occurring in the brain and give explanations for every turn in my brain. But the scientist can’t explain why I see faces and not cars. Why I see a particular face instead of another. Or even if they are actually real people living on the planet, which is unlikely, but you never know. Because there is so much we don’t know. We don’t know jack shit in reality.

Ah, reality. What is that? The world is simply full of zombies called you and me.

earth and sky upside down

Earth and Sky

 

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Gettin’ Trashy

I’ve been thinking about garbage lately. My garbage mostly. And how many paper towels I waste cleaning up cat puke because a disposable sop is so much easier than using a cloth and wringing it out and possibly risking gagging on the gaseous stench that was recently in my cat’s belly.

But paper towels aren’t the only garbage I ponder. What about all the tiny paper cups I waste when I go to the morning bakery and order café con leche? These petite paper cups are probably consumed by 30,000 people or more on this island alone every morning. I bet they are bursting out of plastic garbage bags and topping off landfills – do they decompose? I don’t know how long that would take.  And don’t forget deforesting – where did they come from to begin with? Even when I order my coffee “para aquí” they give me the little paper cup instead of a reusable, washable cup. Maybe that would be a waste of water. What’s more valuable — water or trees? I don’t know. I suppose I could bring in my own cup and make a special request. I must figure out first how I would go about saying that in Spanish. A simple thing like sipping some coffee. How much trouble does it cause, really? I don’t know.

In a scene from Season II of Mad Men (which if you don’t already know is set in the 1960’s), Betty and Don Draper enjoy a family picnic with their two children on a little patch of grass alongside the road. They are out cruising in their brand new Cadillac Coup de Ville somewhere in New York State, so it is presumed that the picnic takes place on either public property or property that does not belong to them. What makes the scene interesting is that after the picnic has ended and Don has asked Betty to “check their hands” to make sure the children wouldn’t dirty up their new sweet ride, Betty swoops up the picnic blanket they had been laying on and shakes it out, ridding it of the garbage that was left on top. The red and white checkered cloth flies up into the air in one big gust and the garbage falls to the pretty green grass. She wraps up the blanket, grabs the basket and walks up to the car where her husband and children are waiting. No looking back, the upper middle class family with a brand new car leaves the garbage on the ground, not thinking twice.

I have to say, watching them thoughtlessly litter made my stomach queasy, my nose wrinkle; made me uncomfortable in general — are these the kind of people to litter? No, I wouldn’t think so. But then I remember, ah, yes, this was the ’60’s and things have changed. Did families really used to blatantly litter with no shame? I guess they did.

The Draper’s littering might seem like a meaningless detail, but if you know anything about Mad Men you know there is nothing capricious or careless about the show — everything every character says and does, every single object placement on the set along with every background noise and setting serves a purpose: to make the show seem like it’s real (and very true to its setting in history). Betty and Don littering provide yet another detail in the show that, without anything actually being said about it, provides an insightful ambiguity, which Mad Men mastermind Director Matt Weiner is renowned for.

It’s obvious Weiner has something he wants us to notice with this scene. Right before Betty Draper shakes out the picnic blanket, we also see Don give his empty beer can a toss into the heavens. As if he was throwing it just to see how far it would go. We never do see where it lands.

garbageSo I’m sitting here staring at my garbage after eating un muy sabroso desayuno, which I asked to have “para aquí” but they gave me “to go” anyway. Plastic silverware was the only option. I didn’t have a reusable cup to give to the woman who served my coffee, so once again and maybe for the third or fourth time this week, I have used and then tossed a tiny paper cup. And it makes me think, HOPEFULLY, in the future when someone makes a movie or a TV series about what life was like in the year 2015, that people will shudder, just absolutely shudder, to see so much waste going on.

As for me, right now, I’m going save my plastic silverware because maybe I will use them again someday (but its doubtful) and I’m going to throw the rest of this stuff away, I guess thankful that it isn’t Styrofoam (?) I don’t know if I’ll buy a small reusable cup and start bringing it into the bakeries and cafés with me and confusing all the baristas, but I think I probably should.

I don’t know what else to do — I’m only one person. But it makes me wonder how DID we get from the 1960’s to where it was normal for litter to fly out of car windows to now, where not only is it illegal, but it’s really, really frowned upon, perhaps even more so than cigarette smoking (another bad vice of the Drapers). Were there ad campaigns about not littering? If so, who paid for them? Was legislature passed? Did small city councils pass bills or was it handed down at the Federal/State level? How did littering go from being a careless act everyone did to completely taboo?

And writing this, I am also struck by the fact that littering is not entirely taboo everywhere.plastic litter wrapped around tree I don’t know if there are fines against it in Puerto Rico, but it certainly is rampant, regardless. As I type this I am staring at a plastic wrapping entangled in a tree. It’s not the prettiest thing to look at. And where my parents live in Tennessee, I know my mother has considered putting up a sign in her yard that says “Littering is Trashy”. Because someone throws beer cans in her yard. Probably a throwback from the 60’s who didn’t get the memo.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Bend in The Road

“No fear, no fun.” This is what my yoga guru tells us after a student asks him about overcoming fear in an asana (yoga pose/position). A little fear is good (not too much), he says, but you have to work out how you can master the fear and go beyond it.

I’ve been practicing ashtanga yoga for maybe 12 years (very sporadically and inconsistently for the first 8 or 9 of those years) and what I’ve noticed is that wherever I am in my practice (stuck, usually – haha) is wherever I am in life. Whatever poses I struggle with or am able to achieve, directly represent my nature or my disposition – for good or bad.

Manju Jois Backbend Assist

Manju Jois, assisting a student in a back bend.

I could list a 1,000 examples. For instance, I have trouble being grounded in life, with my head always in the clouds, off day-dreaming. This is because my feet are flat and I have little muscles in my legs to draw me toward the ground, to keep me rooted. Overtime, I have worked on creating more of an arch in my feet and in reminding myself to stay rooted, but it’s always going to be a struggle for me. Another very explicit example is that my chest used to not be as open as it is now, and neither did my heart. I wasn’t as nice of a person; I felt less compassion for people. Through doing these yoga poses year after year, I’ve opened up my shoulders and allowed my heart to expand, physically and emotionally. This has also allowed me to relax, because not only do I have more compassion for others, but I have more compassion for myself.

An example of an “easy” pose (for me) that reflects my nature, and one in which a lot of other people struggle with and get stuck on, is Marichyasana D, or “Ray of Light” pose. This pose requires a strong twist and with that twist, an acknowledgement of the spine – the skeleton, the core – our innermost self. I am already introspective by nature and so this pose is pretty easy for me, though stretching and straightening the spine seems not to have limits. This pose is also said to release anger and I would say, in general, I am much less angry than I used to be, so something must be helping!

Every facet of my life can be analogized to my yoga practice, but the characteristic on my mind over the past several months has been fear. Earlier this year while I was practicing ashtanga in Mysore, India, Sharath, my yoga guru, would come by my yoga mat, point his finger at me and say “TOO MUCH FEAR! Hahaha…”, and then laugh at me. I think the first time he said it, I smiled and nodded, as if to say “Yeah, I know. I’m a chicken shit”. (Just a side note: Sharath probably wasn’t really laughing at me but this was my perception. And if he was laughing at me, I’m sure it was out of kindness and in trying to get me to laugh at myself. *Some people* take this practice way too seriously sometimes.)

Anyway, of course I had too much fear because what I was working on in yoga was being able to drop back into a backbend from standing on my two feet. I was standing up straight and then I had to fall back. Fall all the way back, and catch myself with my two hands. I had to trust myself to catch myself.

Now, if I had been one of those kids who had done lots of gymnastics or sports or dance or whatever, maybe this wouldn’t be such a challenge. But I am a very un-athletic  mid-, er…late-, thirties woman that spends most of her days bent over a computer screen. Of course I’m fucking scared to drop into a backbend.

BECAUSE I WILL LAND ON MY HEAD.

Sharath Jois assisting in BackBend.

Sharath Jois assisting a student (not me!) in BackBend. Screenshot from video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sAkcFuXAmXA

And, before I forget to mention, it’s not just a scary one-time thing – the requirement is to drop back THREE TIMES in a row. If I ever actually did do it during my eight weeks of daily practice in India, by the second time I went to fall back, my legs were shaking so bad that I never made it to a third time.

My legs were shaking. Isn’t that what usually happens to people when they’re scared?

And what was I scared of? Not trusting myself? The couple of times that I failed to catch myself fully and did land on my head, it really didn’t hurt that bad. Sharath would never have told me to “Go back!” if he didn’t think I COULD do it or if he thought I would hurt myself.

So I wonder how this “too much fear” relates to my life. I certainly seem scared to make any permanent decisions — about where to live, the type of person I want to love, about letting people love me, about being “good enough”, about making mistakes, about not following my true passions, and just in general being terrified of absolutely everything. Fuck! I’m terrified of absolutely everything.

OK, so how do I master this fear?

Two days ago the acupuncturist told me that all my strength was in my head. Everything is in my head. I took this to mean that my energy, my chi, or maybe my chakras, aren’t connecting correctly. The energy isn’t flowing through to my core, or my legs or my feet. It’s all stuck in my brain, apparently, causing me anxiety, paralysis even.

This morning, while practicing at the yoga studio here in California, it was time again for me to do these backbends. I was in the position to go back and I looked to the instructor for help. “Do you need help spotting?”, she asked. “Yes, please,” I said, knowing full well that what I really need is to practice going back on my own without a “spotter”.

“What if I told you that you didn’t need any help…” she said, “would you believe me?”

Ugh. I know she’s right. What am I so scared of? I know I need to let go of something, but what? Or maybe I just have to want it really badly. Or maybe I need someone to believe in me and make me do it. Or maybe this is just where I am and I have to be OK with it and work through it and bear the idea of needing even more patience.

I’ve been very patient lately. I used to be terribly, terribly impatient. I am now more patient than I ever thought I possibly could be. I’ve been patient while I waited for some mild back pain to go away. Patient while I waited for my sits bones to stop aching from over-stretching my hamstrings. Patient while I waited for the stomach troubles I’ve had for the last six months to go away. And, I don’t always like to share my personal life, but I’ve been extremely patient off the mat as well.

But, hell, I can’t quit now. It’s all a process. But I do get the feeling if I let myself fall in my life that I’ll be able to let myself fall on my mat, and vice versa. I know I can catch myself, but I don’t know that I can pick myself back up completely.

I guess for now, I’ll have to remember that the point of yoga is non-attachment. I can’t be too attached to the ideas I have in my head about who and what I want to be and I can’t give up on them either. It is the struggle of life, or the balance of life, depending on your point of view. The image below best sums up what I am trying to say:

Yoga Sutra 1.12-1.16

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Thankful to be Grateful

About four years ago, I began reading books in the bathtub (back when I had a bathtub!) I think I did it partially because I was so cold in the Pittsburgh climate. I would sit there for hours sometimes, draining the cold water and refilling the tub with hot water. My fingers would wrinkle. I would light candles and play music sometimes. But mostly I just read.

During this time in my life I was seeking answers. Why are we here on this mostly blue planet? Why am I the way I am? What can I do to do better? How does the world work? What am I supposed to be doing in it?

I came across a book that taught me some of the answers. I was in Barnes & Noble, physically, not online, and I was actually in the business section, I believe. I was looking for a business book and in Barnes and Noble they usually have a business “self-help” section, books that give advice on how to do better at business. This book was really small so I picked it up. Wait, that’s not why I picked it up! I remember now — I picked it up because the title was “The Science of Getting Rich“. Ha, it sounds cheesy at first glance. But, the Science? The Science. Think about that.

I expected it to be written in the last decade, but it was actually published in 1910, a year after my maternal grandfather was born. It’s author was born in 1860, before the Civil War began. I put it on top of my stack to browse through while I drank a chai tea in the café section of the bookstore, where I would determine which book(s) I should buy.

The Science of Getting RichI was captured by its old-style of language and the symbolic drawings on the cover.

“Man is a thinking center, and can originate thought. All the forms that man fashions with his hands must first exist in his thought; he cannot shape a thing until he has thought that thing.”

and

“It is a natural law that like causes always produce like effects; and, therefore, any man or woman who learns to do things in this certain way will infallibly get rich.”

So I bought it and I read it in the bathtub, I’m sure.

There are many things that I liked about the book, and I believe every word of what it has to say. Had I followed ALL the principles in the book, I am sure I would be rich. However, there is one thing that I got out of this book that I had been lacking in my life prior and thus made a noticeable difference in my life once I began to practice it (and I believe it did create wealth for me.) This one thing is maybe the most important thing I’ve learned to date. And it completely changed my life for the better: Gratitude.

Chapter seven of the book is entirely dedicated to gratitude and the importance of being thankful for what you already have in order to gain the things that you want.

“The whole process of mental adjustment and atonement can be summed up in one word, gratitude.”

Wallace tells us:

“The law of gratitude is the natural principle that action and reaction are always equal, and in opposite directions.”

And:

“The moment you permit your mind to dwell with dissatisfaction upon things as they are, you begin to lose ground. You fix attention upon the common, the ordinary, the poor, and the squalid and mean; and your mind takes the form of these things. Then you will transmit these forms or mental images to the Formless, and the common, the poor, the squalid, and mean will come to you…

…On the other hand, to fix your attention on the best is to surround yourself with the best, and to become the best.

The Creative Power within us makes us into the image of that to which we give our attention…

…The grateful mind is constantly fixed upon the best; therefore it tends to become the best; it takes the form or character of the best, and will receive the best.”

At the time in my life when I read this book, I didn’t feel I had a a lot for which to be grateful. I wasn’t that happy with my work, or lack thereof, and I felt alone and didn’t have the things I thought I wanted. And then I realized that I’m a spoiled brat. Because I had food. I had clean water. I had good health. I had a great family. So I began with these things, the things I did have. It made me much less discontent with the things I didn’t have and then, as the world did its magic, little by little I began to get the things I did want. There IS a science to it!

But being grateful is not the same as being thankful. I can be thankful that someone else is cooking a turkey for me today. But I am grateful for even having any kind of food on this often cruel planet in which I am just one of many. And nothing but fortune stands between me and the person who does not have enough to eat on this day. As Brother David Steindle-Rast points out in his essay “Are You Thankful or Are You Grateful?“, gratefulness is full awareness; thankfulness is thoughtfulness.

And today I am thankful for learning how to be grateful and for all of the pleasantries that have come my way since I learned this powerful mode of thinking.

 

 

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The Truth Is….


Pain removes the veil; it plants the flag of truth within the fortress of a rebel soul. ~ C.S. Lewis

Sometimes I forget how much people dislike the truth, especially when it pertains to their own selves. We say we want to hear the truth, but when we do hear it our reaction is to stuff our fingers in our ears and yell “Ah, Blah, Blah, Blah! I Can’t Hear You!”. Or worse, our reaction turns bitter and spiteful. But when something stings so much, isn’t it better to examine WHY it stings so much — isn’t it usually true that the only reason it stings is because it may, in fact, be true? And if so, and it hurts so badly, shouldn’t we try to address that problem – the truth hurting – so that we can move forward? So that we can maybe make that change, or at least acknowledge it enough to even be able to laugh about it? Instead, we often allow the problem to grow, fester and perhaps even sink us deeper in the mud. Why not address the truth head on?

Maybe we want to stay stuck.  We like spinning in the same circle just the same as the sun sets every evening and rises again in the morning. Being stuck feels safe, natural, normal, and maybe the only way we know. Or maybe trying to break out of it is just too difficult. We bury our heads in our work, our families, our friends, our drinks, and forget that the truth hurts. After all, who wants to face pain?

Yoga teaches us that pain and pleasure are one and the same. I say yoga, but there are plenty of other examples in this life that teach us that pleasure and pain are the same. Most religions make reference, for example:

Hebrews 12:11: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields other peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

People who have learnt to play the guitar know what I’m talking about, or their calloused fingers do. Anyone who does any physical activity knows pain and pleasure go hand in hand. No pain, no gain, right? And, of course, that life force that urges us forward to experience bliss and pain and heartache and happiness sometimes all at the same time is a prime example: sex.

We know we must endure pain sometimes to feel pleasure – it is a universal truth – that pains build character, makes us stronger. Yet we protect ourselves, are so guarding of keeping out bad feelings and having our ego slightly reduced that we go to great measures to prevent the pain/truth from entering our consciousness. We turn away from bad news, we ignore the beggar in the street, we insult the person trying to convey truth rather than try to actually hear what she is trying to say. We hide in our bubble and pretend that we’re OK. We do all kinds of crazy shit to convince ourselves that we’re fine, that we’re good people, that people like us, that we’re needed in the world. And we are, of course. But where’s the challenge? The real challenges that make us not just nice people, but the best people we can possibly be?

THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE. Doesn’t anyone believe that?

Not only do we hide from having to hear the truth, we also hide from having to say it. Even when we think someone needs to hear it, we refrain. We don’t want to hurt peoples’ feelings, cause riffs, unnecessary drama. Why should we be the ones to speak the truth – shouldn’t the person that needs to hear it be able to figure it out for herself? Most of the time it is better to mind your own business. So we are not only in a bubble to keep truth from entering our bubble, but also to keep truth from escaping. But what if someone asks to know what you think about a certain subject and, for whatever reason, you feel ambivalent in offering your true opinion? What if, during the course of conversation, a sticky subject comes up and you have the opportunity to express your true feelings? What do you say if you really feel the person you are speaking with should know the truth, even it might hurt his feelings? Will you tell the truth then? If someone wants to know the truth, begs for a sense of reality and you still hold back on it — is that right? I don’t think so, but I guess it depends on the circumstance. I forget sometimes that most people don’t want to know the truth, because I would think that I would want to know the truth if I were them. But maybe not.

An eloquent tongue is a treasured tool. Unfortunately, I am always misplacing mine.

Maybe you’re wondering why I’m saying all of this.

The truth is … I have a lot of things I want to say right now. And I’m not saying them and I’m not sure why. I haven’t written in this blog for months. Maybe I should have been more anonymous with it, perhaps I am afraid of what people think of me. I want people to see me in a certain light and writing in here might dim that light or at least point it in strange directions. Maybe I am afraid of pissing people off or don’t feel like dealing with people who have negative comments about what I have to say. Maybe I’m scared of the truth and that what I publish will make everything I say a permanent fixture rather than a continual thought process.

But it’s not just the blog, I want to tell people (in real life) how I feel, what I see in them and what I think they should hear, what I think would help them. But I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, crush their egos or step out of my bounds. So until my tongue feels more gentle and can offer words of encouragement and comfort while still speaking the truth, I’ll just keep my lips sealed and hope the truth is conveyed before them by a greater power. And use this blog as my outlet!

I don’t usually do this, but I’m going to ask you to do a little homework (and I will do the same). The next time someone is saying something and you feel a little cringe come over you — maybe you don’t want to hear what they’re saying and you stop listening or your heartbeat starts to raise a little or impatience builds in your chest — just do me a little favor: Ask yourself why. Why don’t you want to hear what they’re saying?

That’s all.

The Truth Hurts Quote

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Some Kind of Creed

I’ve learned some things over the last year or two. I want to share them.

  • There is good and bad in the world. Paying heed to the bad is a waste of time.
  • There is good in the worst of us but even in the best of us something terribly ugly can be found.
  • The world is shaped by thoughts. Really. It is. Choose them wisely.
  • Worrying accomplishes nothing. It’s best to be honest and do what you want to do. Emphasis on the “do”.
  • To understand yourself spend alone time with yourself, preferably outdoors.
  • Time goes slower when spending the day in nature. To prolong life, go outside.
  • Pay attention to what you see with your eyes closed. It is real.
  • Don’t turn away from perceived ugly – all things are filled with beauty and purpose. Even scary ocean things and dirty homeless people.
  • When you think of absolutely nothing, or attempt to, nice things spring to mind later on — helpful things.
  • If you travel far, you may miss your cat, but you won’t miss your possessions. They are not important.
  • To stop the negativity of others from affecting your own state of mind, put an end to it quickly – just switch the channel. It really is that simple if you notice it happening right away.
  • Nice friends can be found anywhere. Good friends are found by serendipity only. And a willingness to love.
  • Your mind does what your body does. This is subtle but potent knowledge.
  • Attachments (to ideas, things, people) ultimately lead to delusional thought. Hold on loosely. (Thank you, 38 Special and Bhagavad Gita.)
  • Breathe deep and even. If breaths are short, so is your temper. If breaths are deep, so is your patience level.
  • Smiling leads to laughter, laughter to fun and good memories. Seek out people and things to smile at.
  • Conquering small challenges, like Utthita Hasta Padangustasana, makes it possible to conquer anything.
  • Cloud watching is most effective when lying flat on your back.

cloud watching

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