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I was sitting outside yesterday, bogged down by feelings left behind by a disturbing dream.  It was loud back there, the air full of bird-song.  I thought back to a year ago when we first moved in to this house.  The backyard was overgrown, dark and desolate.  Nothing seemed to live back there except the most annoying maple trees that blocked the light and sucked all of the nutrients out of the ground.  You could hear birds up high in the trees but there was no reason for them to visit.  The absence of bird life made me shudder so out came the feeders.  One year later, the yard is alive with more goldfinches than I’ve ever seen in my life.  And somehow this gets me to worrying.

I worry a lot.  In fact, I think I live in a perpetual state of fear and angst, which gets worse over the winter as I’m stuck inside the house and inside my own head.  As the season is primed to change, to burst into Spring, I think it’s as good a time as any to fling open the windows of my mind, as it is to open the windows of the house.  Let’s get some air in here!

I don’t share this to burden you.  I’m not really looking for answers (unless you have them…hahaha). But sometimes, despite your best efforts, nothing works except to share.  So here I am opening the windows to what worries me most these days.

  • I worry that one day I might find myself in a situation where I will no longer hear the birds.
  • I worry that the cost of living will rise to such an extent that that I will be forced to live in a horrid and tiny place that denies me access to the ground (a yard).  I won’t be able to grow beautiful things.  I won’t be able to watch the birds and the creatures.  I won’t be able to smell the earth.  I’ll be stuck in a horrible pod, jammed in with a million other people living in their pods.
  • I worry about the long term effects of looking down at a screen all the time.  What will this do to our self-esteem to always be looking down?  What will this do to our ability to dream if we can’t look up at the sky?  
  • I worry that if we raise children in tiny pods (condos, apartments, townhouses with no yards) they will become increasingly separated from the Earth.  They will not feel grounded or connected to things larger than themselves.  They will fear Nature.  Then who will take care of Her?  And where will they learn to find quiet, space and solace?
  • I especially worry these days that every last field, meadow, open natural space will be bulldozed to build houses that I’m not sure we really need.  Where will we grow our food if all of the land is gone?  Where will the animals and birds live?  What will happen to our hearts and souls if we’re surrounded by concrete and lights, and we can’t get away from each other EVER?  Where do we find peace?  How do we survive?

That last point is especially hard for me.  It actually makes my stomach churn.  I can’t breathe.

You know, I write these words and they feel so empty.  They cannot possibly capture the feelings that all of these thoughts conjure up.  My one teacher has complete faith in the evolution of things.  I don’t think he would lose one seconds’ sleep over any of this.  I aspire to be like that one day.  Until then, this is it.

How about you?  Do you worry?  Do you fear things?  Are you able to give it air?  To a journal, a therapist, a spiritual guide, a friend, a partner, to God Herself?  I hope you have a place where you feel safe and able to let some of your burdens go.  If not, well, let me offer up this space here.  I won’t provide you with answers, but my ears and heart are open, because I understand worry and I don’t wish it upon anyone.

May your burdens be eased.  May your heart be soft and full of compassion.  May your mind be relaxed.  May you be at peace.

Blessings,

Tabitha

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Spark Your Light

Hello friends!

It’s been a long while since we’ve met in here.  I hope life is being good to you.  Life, as always, is being its wondrous self to me, although the currents and tides have been a bit rough for the taking.  I lost my father back in October and with him I’ve also lost my focus and equilibrium.  Ours was not an easy relationship, to be sure.  He was the one person I railed against the hardest.  As a result of his suffering from a lifetime of chronic and deep depression, I spent most of my life trying to shake him awake, kick him awake, love him awake.  Each dip into the black abyss of mental illness was another death, another funeral, another goodbye; I’ve buried my father a million times over.

Ironically, it’s my relationship with this man that has been my strongest motivation to follow the path of Yoga.  I didn’t want to be like him.  I didn’t want to keep falling and falling and falling into the trap of my own sick mind.  I didn’t want to get stuck to the spot, twisting and turning, and noticing only menacing darkness and warped thoughts.  I didn’t want my body to fall sick because of the misguidance of the mind.  I didn’t want my loved ones to have to bury me over and over again.  I didn’t want to miss out on LIFE, something so precious and fleeting, and something so often overlooked.  Watching my father’s suffering is what has kept me here, doing this often difficult and painful work.  So, in a way, my unhealthy relationship with a sick man has been a blessing in disguise.  Thank you, although I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

One strangely warm November day, after K. and I had finished stringing even more Christmas lights around the house, we were sitting on the back deck, admiring our work.  Lights bring us joy, especially during the dark, cold months of winter, so we have them everywhere (LED, of course, says K. 🙂 )  Along with the lights, I found myself lighting candle after candle as soon as the sky grew dim.  That warm November day, when the lights came on outside, and K. and I sat smiling, enjoying the simple beauty of colours and light, I heard myself say, “It’s like Life, isn’t it?  We have to be able to spark our own light.  We have to know that we can!  We have to go out and make the effort to turn the light on.  No one can do it for us.  We have to walk ourselves over to the switch and make it happen.  I wish my father had known this.”

Yogis would argue that there is nothing we actually have to do.  They would teach instead that the light is our pure essence and always there.  What has happened is that our own perceptions have dimmed so we can no longer see properly, like the sky on a cloudy day.  The clouds do not obliterate the existence of the sun.  The sun is always there.  We need only to know this deep inside, to know that the clouds are temporary and that they will pass in due course.  What we have to do is create an appropriate environment within ourselves that will allow us to notice when the sky becomes clear again, to notice the sun, and recognize the truth of how things really are.

Too many of us think clouds are real and solid and permanent.  Because of this, it is helpful to start the active practice of sparking our own lights.  To make the effort to go to the switch and turn the light on.  To strike the match, or spark the lighter, and set the candle on fire.  Then we can observe and remind ourselves of the old and ancient refrain, “As without, so within.”  Let the outer environment, light and bright, become my inner environment.  Let me reconnect with my already-existent inner flame.  Let me notice.

I have wishes and prayers for all of us.  I pray that we stop thinking that Life is something that happens to us, like it’s out to get us and we’re somehow victims of the ebb and flow of all that is natural.  I pray that we find the courage and strength to redirect the energy we use to escape reality, and turn it towards our own healing (Does it take as much energy to turn on the TV with the remote and stare off into space as it does to light a candle and observe it for a short time?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  Try it and see.)  I pray that we’re all able to see how our own descents into madness (We all do it.) harm those around us, and that we love them and ourselves enough to do what it takes to rise again.  I pray even harder that we understand we can rise, and that we’re worthy of the effort it takes to make it happen.  I pray that we realize that the mind is merely an instrument, that it most definitely does not run the show.  Something deeper is responsible for that!  Most of all, I hope we all manage to spark our own flames, over and over again.

Can I interest you in a lighter?

With all of my love,

Tabitha

The No-Silence of Life

All things have a ripple effect.

I think I was born a sound-sensitive individual.  For as long as I can remember, I have been able to hear a pin drop from what feels like nine miles away, and that’s with earplugs jammed inside my head.  It’s a blessing and a curse.  As a Yoga therapist, I am grateful for the ability to hear the subtleties of my students’ breathing.  It tells me they’re in distress or at ease when their words speak the opposite.  But it sure does make sleeping and, sometimes, even making my way through this busy world a bit of a challenge.

It’s this noise sensitivity and my introverted nature that draws me to the practice of silent retreats.  No speech for days.  No books.  No phones, iPods, magazines, journals.  Nothing.  Just the very intimate practice of sitting, day in and day out, breathing and moving mindfully with others.  My teacher, Dr. N. C. once said during a training session that there is no pure stillness where there’s life.  I would add to this that there is no pure silence for as long as there is life.

Think about this – there is always noise.  As I sit here typing this, I hear the blue jays screeching in the backyard.  I can hear the squirrel’s nails on the tree trunk as it climbs down with two walnuts stuffed into its face.  There is the fan running inside this computer, and the ticking of the keys as I type.  Cars move endlessly on the busy street behind me.  And my breath moves in and out.  In life, there is no-silence. We can’t change that.  But we can certainly take steps to refine the quality of the noise we make.

While in the depths of retreat silence, I began to understand more and more how we disturb one another, often without meaning to.  There are fire doors at each entrance to each floor of the retreat centre.  Big, heavy pieces of metal and glass, they make quite the racket as they slam shut behind anyone who wanders through.  At day 2 1/2 of the retreat, when the experience of not speaking became very real for us and the mind started to kick up a fuss, I could see how even silent distraction led to increased noise.  Those fire doors slammed endlessly, no one seeming to want to take the extra seconds required to hold the door so that it swung shut quietly.  Who cares, right?  It’s only a door.  We have places to go, anyway.

Who cares?  Our friends who are battling headaches. Our scared friends whose frayed nerves cause them to jump at the slightest sound.  The ones trying to sleep in their rooms right beside the doors.

It always matters.

The young lady next to me, increasingly contracted into herself in what seemed to be an attempt at disappearing, would energetically scream outward as her arm flung across the face of her neighbour in the dining hall, groping for a serviette, and disturbing her neighbour’s hand-to-mouth eating movement. The heavily tattooed woman in the flimsy tops revealed to us her story-symbols on her skin.  The constant squealing of my nostril as I worked through my pranayama (breathing) practice spoke to the congestion that would never leave me alone.

We are never not speaking.


While on retreat, I become quite obsessed with deer.  Inevitably, as I walk slowly and mindfully along the property trails, I come across these majestic creatures.  This last retreat was no different.

I was trudging along, making my way through the final hike of the retreat, when I came across deer tracks in the mud (No, the photo above isn’t mine.  🙂 ).  That was it.  My mind got excited and I began following the tracks in the hopes of having a bonding moment with Bambi.  I was hooked, meaning I was no longer being mindful of where I was or what I was doing.  I was craving an experience and that held my entire focus. That craving, plus a minor back injury, led to sloppy and loud movement.  Crashing along the trail, rustling leaves, snapping branches, and heaving breath, I had no idea that I was being observed.  All I could see was my own want, my own desire.  It never occurred to me that there was any other perspective, that there was anything outside of me.  But there was, and it was the very thing I craved.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flash of movement.  The very deer I had hoped to see were running away from me.  All of my crashing around had scared them; my desire and the “blindness” that came with it had driven them away.  But that’s not what really struck me.  What was profound about that moment was how those long-legged animals could leap away, over and through fallen trees and piles of leaves, without making a sound.  It was the split second visual of them running away that captured my attention, but I heard nothing.  Here I was a much smaller creature on two legs, crashing through the woods and making enough noise for 500 people, and these animals soared away as if on wings.

In that moment, the lesson came home to me – We are always communicating, even if we stop using words.

I want to be as quiet and self-contained as the deer.  I want to be part of my environment without blasting through my environment.  As much as possible, I want to exist here without being a disruptive intrusion to the others around me.  Because you and your peace matter just as much as me and mine.

It matters.


Coming back to the here and now, it is much quieter than when I first started.  The bird calls have temporarily settled.  The rush hour frenzy of traffic has come to an end.  There is a soft breeze in the trees but it’s barely a whisper.  And still we speak, interconnected beings on this planet, together at this time.  My breath, moving in and out, becomes a story to the rabbit eating leaves in the yard.  Like the wind and the water and the fire, we can roar and activate, or we can calm and soothe.  We are never truly silent.

In this moment, and then the next, and the next, what story are you telling the world around you?

It matters.

In peace,

Tabitha

Stay Shiny

You are here to be you.  Uniquely you.  Colourful you.  Joyful you.  Stay you and hug the ones who are uniquely shiny and walking alongside you.  The world needs your colour. (Click on the link below.  It’s a safe one.  😉 )

Blessings,

Tabitha

http://www.upliftedlife.com/how-society-kills-our-creativity-in-a-breathtaking-award-winning-short-film/

Wake Up – The Invitation

wake-up

I saw the phrase recently on a t-shirt:  Wake Up.  The t-shirt is part of a fundraising initiative to help bring the message of mindfulness to youth worldwide. Wake up. It’s a powerful phrase, isn’t it?  It can come in gentle, like a loving caregiver whispering their slumbering loved one awake. It can also come in like the bratty sibling who flings open the curtains, jumps on your bed and slams pot lids together until you open your eyes. Either way the phrase perks you up.  You become conscious, alert and engaged with your circumstance. And yet, so often, we live as if we are asleep. We engage in behaviours that numb us out. Not enjoying the sensations that course through us as we experience certain thoughts and feelings, we aim to banish them from our personal domain, only to discover that, over time, we feel less and less until, nothing at all.

I started to really work with the idea of waking up about a month ago when I decided to stop consuming alcohol. There was nothing particularly distressing about my enjoyment of the substance. I would come home at the end of the week, pour myself a drink, and sit down with my loved one to talk about the day.  The ritual was comforting and the taste of the drink was pleasant. But always, in the background, there was a certain disturbance. There was the fear of becoming an alcoholic like my father. There was the knowledge that alcohol contains no nutrients and, therefore, is useless to the body.  What’s more, it is poison to the body. Even more threatening to me was the fact that alcohol converts directly into sugar, a frightening prospect for someone who has diabetes running on both sides of the family.  How much of a risk was I willing to take? Apparently quite a risk.  Week after week I would continue with the behaviour, strengthening the habit.

It wasn’t until I started working with petitions before and after my practice – May I be happy…May I be healthy…May I awaken – that I started to feel deeply unsettled. May I awaken? How awake was I feeling? Practice after practice I would utter the words.  Week after week I would drink, and suddenly I noticed that I wasn’t feeling awake at all!  Alcohol, upon consumption, was dulling my mind.  Now I was getting concerned. Upon reflection, as I drank, I would feel more and more as I did when I was overtaken by depression.  My mental faculties were clouded.  I felt as if I existed in a bubble; I could see the world around me but I couldn’t directly connect.  I couldn’t connect with my environment and I couldn’t connect with my loved ones.  I wasn’t really there.  My capacity to corral the energies of thoughts and feelings diminished, so I found myself riding the tumultuous waves of mood swings, and uttering words I would never otherwise speak.  The monkeys had taken over the circus and I was nowhere to be found.

wild-monkey

This week, before class, two of my students were talking about a difficult situation.  One student said, “It’s enough to make you want to drink.  Just make it aaaaaaaall go away.”  I’m not sure what my face did, but it elicited a response, “What?  What are we supposed to do?  Just skip tra la la down the road all happy all the time?!”

No. Not in the least. But the invitation is to wake up. To wake up to the searing sharpness of life. To the pain and the ugliness. To the things that scare the shit out of us. To the things that confuse and distress us. To the things we’d much rather go blind to.  Why? Because, as Bessel Van Der Kolk writes in his book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma:

While numbing (or compensatory sensation seeking) may make life tolerable, the price you pay is that you lose awareness of what is going on inside your body and, with that, the sense of being full, sensually alive.

We cannot pick and choose our numbness.  We cannot say, “Oh, hey, I can’t stand the sensation of anger so, you know, block that out but keep the rest.”  No.  If we make the decision to go to sleep, we go…to…sleep!  

A year ago, at this precise time, I was standing in the Critical Care Unit as my step mother-in-law lay dying. That time is burned in my mind as one of the most agonizing, profound and beautiful times of my life. Nothing will call you to awaken like death. We need that contrast, the complete extinguishment of vitality, movement, connection, uniqueness to show us what it means to be alive and to live. 

I don’t know about you but I want to live! And if living means I have to endure the sharp pains and the distressing bits, well, I will buy the whole package, because it’s all precious and beautiful in some way or other, even if we can’t see it right now.

I won’t be the sibling who tears back the curtains and scares you awake.  Life will deliver enough of those messengers to you and to all of us.  Instead, I will be the soft whisper:  Wake up, friend. Come.  See? Look at all that’s out there.  Isn’t it grand? As my dear friend reminded me once, “We’re a long time dead.”  Come.  Live with me.

*raising my jar of tea* May I awaken.  May you awaken.  May all living beings awaken.

May we be free!  🙂

All my love,

Tabitha

bigstock_failure_grunge_text_3728194-1

There are two words in the English language that freak me right out.  At the top of the heap is “Death”.  Second only to that is “failure”. Last week, I received an email that contained this statement:

I do wish you all the best in this life Tabitha. May you succeed at almost everything you try ( you have to fail sometimes to keep it real)

It shocked the pants off me.  There it was, the other “F” word!  You can speak one hundred and fifty million words to me, but if you string “you” and “fail” together in a sentence, everything else becomes background noise.  I hear nothing but – YOU FAIL.  When I read those words in the email, my mind immediately raced to, “My god, someone in this world wants me to fail!”  Underneath that thought was a mound of steamy emotions and an urge to push away.  Not wanting to drown in it all, I decided to scoop it all up, walk it over to my meditation cushion, and use the heated word FAILURE as the object of my contemplation.  This is what I found:

The answer is not that important.  It’s where the question brings you that matters. – Adyashanti

I have always had a strained relationship with this concept of failure.  Hours of my life have been spent whining to therapists and friends about how I was afraid to do something because I was afraid to fail.  When I fleshed out the thinking, I would often hear myself say, “If I do this and I fail, I will die.”  So, in my psyche, for some reason, failure and Death are intricately linked.  On the day of the email, however, I asked, for the first time ever, 

What is this thing we call “failure”, anyway?

One of the meanings of the word, as defined in the Webster’s dictionary is “a lack of success“.  Success is defined as a “favorable or desired outcome“.

Where there’s desire, there’s suffering – A Yogic View

amazing-trees-our-mind-is-the-limit-wf3cfv-clipart

Patanjali, in his Yoga Sutra-s, goes to great lengths to explain the causes of suffering.  Like the roots of a tree, the very foundation of suffering is a deep misunderstanding about reality.  From these roots sprouts a sense of separation.  “I” become separate and different from “you”, and what “I” desire becomes of utmost importance to me.  In fact, I spend my days working to hook and reel in to me all of those things I desire, pushing away what I find to be most unsuitable, and fearing losing it all, including my own life.

If success means getting what we want, then failure means not attaining the object of our desire.  And when we don’t get what we want?  

SUFFERING!

Suffering in the form of painful thoughts – I’m a big, fat loser.  I’ll never amount to anything.  I’m completely unworthy of all that’s good in the world.  I’ll never be happy

Suffering in the form of stormy emotions – anger, depression, jealousy

Suffering in the body – acid stomach, pounding heart, exhaustion, lethargy, tension

Suffering in action – the urge to lash out, to retaliate; actually lashing out and retaliating; refusing to move forward and try new things

The Masters teach that where there’s even the tiniest seed of desire, there will be suffering.  It’s a guarantee!

Freedom

Patanjali never leaves us in this despairing place of recognizing suffering without offering a way out.  Indeed, he outlines very clearly what we can do for ourselves, and in relation to others, that can help us move towards freedom from suffering.  In this wonderful list he calls the yamas and niyamas are 2 “doorways” out and away from desire, failure, and the consequent suffering.  Patanjali calls these doorways samtosa (contentment) and isvarapranidhana (surrending the fruits of your efforts to something higher).  (These are very rudimentary definitions of the concepts that can be studied for a lifetime.)

Contentment is not an Eeyoresque type of resignation – “Oooooooh well.”  No.  Contentment comes when we know we have done all we can to attain a particular goal.  If the outcome is not what we had hoped for, we can rest easy knowing we did all we could to help the vision flourish.  When we surrender the fruits of our efforts, we can say, “Okay, well, this didn’t work out the way I had hoped, but, clearly, something else was meant to happen.”  It is here that we can find a deep reservoir of peace; all is well.

For example, last October I decided I would like to run a diabetes-focused Yoga therapy group on my own.  There was a space I had wanted to check out for many years and this gave me the best opportunity to do just that.  I discovered that the financial risk in attempting this series would be minimal, so I signed the rental agreement, put down the non-refundable deposit, and worked at getting the word out into the community.  What happened?  In simple terms, it failed. Not enough people signed up to run the group.  What happened instead?  Most unexpectedly, I was approached by a diabetes organization to run a group out of their location.  

So did I really fail?

NO!

I had a plan in mind.  I set to make that plan a reality.  I put in the required efforts.  I looked up to the sky (I really did) and said, “I’ll do all that I can. The rest is up to you.  If you want this to come to fruition, it will.  If you want something else to happen, show me the way and I will follow.”  And that’s exactly what happened, and what I did.  So, I may not have gained the object of my desire (running a group on my own), but there was so much more for me to harvest.  I had taken a risk and had grown from it.  I got to check out the location that had interested me for so long. I was invited in to teach what I wanted to teach, but didn’t have to do all of the annoying footwork of marketing, sign-up, etc.  

So.  Many.  Gains.

In the End, Failure is an Illusion

What I found deep inside my contemplation of the concept of “failure” is that it doesn’t actually exist.  Failure is simply a word we use to say, “I didn’t get what I wanted.”  The buck stops right there.  How can you argue with that?  You can’t.  Sure, you can choose to have what amounts to a complete tantrum over it, stomping around like a 3 year old and screaming, “BUT I WANT IT!  I WAAAAAAAANT IT.” But why?  Where does it get you? It gets you sick.  It gets you tired.  It gets you alone.  But if it ain’t happenin’, it just ain’t happenin’. Yes, have your feelings (quietly and in a contained sort of way).  Feel disappointed.  Feel scared. Feel it all!  And then, try compassionately shifting your focus from what you’ve lost, and take stock of all that you’ve gained.  Because you’ve gained something along the way.  You can trust that.  

There is Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself – Franklin D. Roosevelt

What started off as a spiral of harmful emotions, triggered by one sentence in one email, turned into the knowing that failure is nothing to be feared. You can’t fear something that doesn’t exist!  So the next time you hear yourself say, “I’m afraid to try because I’m afraid to fail,” stop, breathe, and think about this.  What you’re really saying is, “I’m afraid I won’t get what I want.”  But know, deep down inside, that you will get something. Desikachar would teach, “If you put in the efforts, something will happen.”  And if that something isn’t what you had hoped for, trust that you have the tools to manage the disappointment and keep walking.  Besides

You can’t always get what you want/But if you try sometimes/You might find/You get what you need. – The Rolling Stones

Now, go and be fearless!  🙂

With much love,

Tabitha

finger-pointing

We hear this question a lot, don’t we?  I think all generations have asked this question about those who are coming up the ranks.  Now it’s the “Millenials” who are catching the flak. Please watch this video.  It’s one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time.  While the focus is on the Millenials, I would like to stretch the message a bit further to touch all of us.  The message of this video is about all of us.  What the speaker talks about is for all of us.  Just watch……..and absorb.  And then, find the courage to contemplate:  How is this about me?

All love and blessings,

Tabitha

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