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Archive for the ‘Meditation’ Category

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

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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

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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

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This is absolutely brilliant.  Enjoy!

Tabitha

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Warning:  F-Bomb Alert!

Let me begin this post by saying that I have the utmost respect for guided meditations and their ability to calm a raging mind.  However, let’s get real.  Some days have a razor’s-edge sharpness to them that seem to whittle away at your good graces and calm behaviour.  Some days we just need something a little….bit….stronger.  If you’re having one of those shit-kicker days, this one’s for you.

(If you are at all sensitive to strong language, just turn around and walk away.  This one is NOT for you.)

Enjoy!

Tabitha

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cherry-mirror

 

As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives. – Henry David Thoreau

I have had the beautiful privilege of having relationships with my grandparents well into adulthood.  My grandmother and I have known one another for 42 years, longer than so many relationships these days.  It is an awesome experience to move beyond the ignorance of youth and into a space where I can learn about my grandmother as a person, as a woman who has experienced many things.  It also means my mind has had more time to create troublemaking bullshit.

We are a rough, proud people with an independent streak that runs deep and wide, so the reality that age eventually brings with it fragility and a need for relocation and added support, comes as quite a surprise to a mind such as mine that prefers to live in denial around such things.  My mantra over the years has been that the only way I want to see my grandmother leave her house is in a box.  Not that I wished for my grandmother’s death, oh no.  On the contrary, I prayed over and over again that she be able to stay in that house until her last breath, and I convinced myself that it was what she wanted as well.

Imagine my shock when things began to play out in another way.  My grandmother, who has been on the waiting list for a retirement home for a number of years, finally got the call that a unit has become available.  And she accepted.  My grandmother will be leaving her house, but not in the way my mind had created, not in a box, but of her own free will!

Have you ever tried to take away a cherished toy from a young child?  It’s bedlam.  There are loud animalistic noises that sound like someone is being killed, and an obsessive, desperate grabbing, grabbing, grabbing for the one thing that is, “MINE!  MINE!  MINE!”  It’s very much like this in the mind as well when you try to take away the long-held story.

Quite simply, I freaked.  My mind was a roaring shitstorm running around from corner to corner screaming, “NO!  MINE MINE MINE!  MY NANNY!  MY HOUSE!  MY NANNY IN HOUSE!  MY NUMBER 27!  MY KITCHEN!  MIIIIIIIIINE!”  Oh my lord, it has been painful.  And ridiculous.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali speak of three types of mental afflictions that ultimately cause human suffering:  clinging, pulling away and denial. I have been suffering from all three as I hang on to a false story like a life preserver, pulling away from any possibility other than my false story, and shoving my head deep in the sand in order to avoid facing the situation altogether.

Running from reality is like trying to outrun your conjoined twin.  You can twist your head in the opposite direction all you want but that doesn’t change the fact that your twin, reality, is completely connected to you.  Best to stop, breathe, look and learn to live with this thing, right?  So, I stopped.  Stopping was hard, I won’t lie, but I did it.  I stopped and took this hysterical part of me to the yoga mat, to the garden, to the meditation cushion.  We spent a lot of time together.  There was a good deal of gut-wrenching crying that had me looking like this:

Bags_Under_Eyes_Secret_of_the_Puffy_Peepers-231x300It wasn’t pretty but, even though I could not see clearly from my physical eyes (due to unsightly swelling, of course  🙂 ), I could suddenly see from the eyes of my heart.  I could see that my grandmother was old, fragile, afraid and in need of help.  I could see she was ready and able to let go of the house in order to build a home somewhere else.  I could see her need for companionship and community, something she could no longer access at her current location.  I could see my grandmother having the strength to let go, to be free and to move on.  How incredibly selfish of me to ask her to stay, suffering deeply, for the sake of my mind’s story and my emotional comfort!  Suddenly the pathway of the mind shifted from “My grandmother is going to ‘the home’ to die,” to the new pathway of “My grandmother is going to this new place to LIVE!”  And with this shift has come a profound and solid peace.

My one teacher taught, “The mind is the cause of the problem.  The mind is the solution to the problem.”  No kidding!

If you have found yourself walking through your life disgruntled by some aspect or another, might I suggest you simply crack a bit of time in your world to sit with that feeling?  Just a few moments–in the car, in the bathtub, in the garden…Nothing laboured.  Not a project.  Not in an effort to change or fix things.  Just some soft, gentle time with the feelings, time to help you begin to familiarize yourself with the tapestry your mind has been weaving.  Often, all that’s really required to make a profound shift is this time.  It’s like walking into a dark room and turning on the lights; things automatically look different.

May you have the courage to stop, to stay, and to see.  May your afflictions, the things that cause you such great pain, simply drop away on the breath, with ease.  May your heart know space.  May your life be filled with love.

My Nan and me almost 7 years ago on her 80th birthday

My Nan and me almost 7 years ago on her 80th birthday

All my love,

Tabitha

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Most people sleep without resolving their tensions,

This is termed nidra.

Nidra means sleep, no matter what or why,

But yoga nidra means sleep after throwing off the burdens,

It is of a blissful, higher quality altogether.–Swami Satyananda Saraswati (1)

Tiruvannamalai, India, 2009

I find myself at The Singing Heart ashram in a country I never wanted to visit a day in my life.  I don’t handle crowds or extreme heat very well and India is the land of both.  I ended up here as a result of a long string of bizarre coincidences that I still cannot understand.  With the exception of my teacher, Felicia Pavlovic of Yoga Therapy Toronto (YTT), I didn’t know a soul.  The group was comprised of recent graduates of YTT’s teacher training program along with participants from India and a few strays, like myself, mixed in.  Our days were simple and rigorous–get up every day before the sun, practice yoga, complete your assigned chores, spend the day learning about meditation and yoga, eat, socialize, etc.,  but it was what we did in the evening that had me the most baffled and intrigued.  The second night, after we had settled in, we were instructed, after dinner, to prepare for yoga nidra.  We were to wash up, get ready for bed and come to the meditation hall in our pyjamas. There was to be as little disruption as possible after the session; we were to quietly go back to our rooms and to immediately go to bed.  I was suspicious while my travelling companions almost hooted with joy; clearly they knew about this yoga nidra stuff and they liked it.

It wasn’t a mad rush to the meditation hall after dinner since there isn’t much mad rushing happening at an ashram, but my companions were certainly eager to get going.  Inside the hall, candles were lit and everything was pushed aside, leaving an open, central space for us to lie in.  We were instructed to remain still for the duration of the practice and to follow Felicia’s voice as she guided us through the process.  No problem.  That I could do.  And we were to remain fully awake.  Hm…now that part was questionable.

Soon Felicia had us moving through and identifying body parts.  She had us visualizing detailed scenarios.  There was a rapid succession of images presented to us that we were to imagine to the best of our abilities.  None of it made any sense to me.  What was the importance of my right hand thumb?  Where was visualizing a trip up a mountain going to lead me?  Why a dark, starry night and a white, sandy beach?

It wasn’t possible for me to fall asleep that first time I experienced yoga nidra; I was too involved in questioning what was going on.  But that night?  That night I had the best sleep in years.  A long-time sufferer of insomnia, I knew that if this was some of what yoga nidra had to offer, I wanted more.  The following night and every night we practiced thereafter, I charged my way to the meditation hall like a football player, so I could find the “perfect” spot to settle in and move through the mysterious process of yoga nidra. I was hooked.

“Yoga nidra, which is derived from the tantras, is a powerful technique in which you learn to relax consciously…Yoga nidra is a systematic method of inducing complete physical, mental and emotional relaxation…During the practice of yoga nidra, one appears to be asleep, but the consciousness is functioning at a deeper level of awareness…In yoga nidra, the state of relaxation is reached by turning inwards, away from outer experiences.” (2)

In yoga nidra, we work through the three levels of tension:  muscular, emotional and mental.  Tension held on these levels creates strain, distraction and suffering in an individual.  Using yoga nidra as a tool, we work through these tensions and the often unconscious material stored up that leads to the creation of these “knots”.  As we work through the process, accessing, witnessing and then releasing emotionally charged and sometimes difficult material, we allow our personal energy to move more freely.  Without these hindrances that sap our energy, we are able to relax fully which then allows us to live with greater vitality.

In a very practical way, yoga nidra has been used to assist people suffering from anxiety and depression, heart disease, memory issues, post-traumatic stress, insomnia and much more.  It is becoming widely understood and accepted that chronic stress, something most of us face, creates disharmony in the human system which, over time, can lead to systemic breakdown and disease.  Relaxation techniques that work to counteract the effects of stress are becoming more commonplace.  Techniques like yoga nidra work on an even deeper level, striving to uncover the roots of chronic stress in an individual and to resolve the deeply held conflicts that work to create disharmony in the system.  Yoga nidra, like so many of these techniques, is best understood when experienced; some things simply defy words.

I will admit it, I am a yoga nidra convert of the worst kind–I believe everyone should experience this transformative process.  If yoga nidra sounds like something you would be interested in exploring, check with yoga studios in your area to see if they offer this practice.  You can also find a variety of practices on iTunes, on Amazon, or by contacting me.

“Through the practice of yoga nidra, we are not only relaxing, but restructuring and reforming our whole personality from within.  Like the mythological phoenix, with every session we are burning the old…habits and tendencies in order to be born anew.”  (3)

May you love yourself enough to investigate things that hold the potential to help you unfurl your wings so you can fly.  It is your birthright.

With the deepest of love, Namaste.

Tabitha

*  (1)  Saraswati, Swami Satyananda, ‘Yoga Nidra’, Yoga Publications Trust, 2009, p. 8.

    (2)  Ibid, p. 1.

   (3)  Ibid, p. 15.

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There’s been a lot going on lately with deaths, relationships standing on the rocks or ending, houses being sold and friends moving away.  Endings.  Loss. For me, this is the emotionally tough stuff of life.  In honour of the emotionally tough stuff, I offer this repost.  And for those who stand broken open with tender hearts bleeding, I offer one of my favourite Buddhist blessings:

May you be happy.

May you not suffer.

    May you know peace.

All my love and healing blessings,

Tabitha

—————————————————————————–

I don’t like endings and there have been a lot of them lately.  A friend’s mother died.  A long standing friendship has been blown apart on the tailwinds of a new-found romantic relationship.  My grandmother has moved from fierce matriarch to tender, fragile being in need of more care.  Endings make my mind go numb.  I don’t quite know how to deal with them and, when the tidal waves they cause are upon me, you will find me a blubbering mess at the most inopportune times and in the most awkward of places, like the grocery store or in a traffic jam.  But I never realized until recently, when I was preparing a piece of writing for submission, how much this aversion to endings bleeds into my life.

If I look back at my history of writing I find myself consistently struggling with how to end a piece.  Whether it be an essay or a poem, I am constantly wrestling with that last sentence, that final hurrah.  I want the piece to have impact, to end with a punch, but what I end up with is an ending that fizzles out like air slowly seeping out of a balloon.

I…don’t…like…endings.  I can’t cope with them.  I believe somewhere that if I just keep moving, if I can walk fast enough, I won’t have to face them, but like the rollerblader on a city park path, endings are upon me before I even know what’s coming.  They knock me over and leave me shocked and breathless.  I don’t like feeling out of control, groundless, and I certainly don’t enjoy the pain of the proverbial scraped knee as I rise from the sidewalk.

In fact, I dislike endings so much that I think I avoid beginning things in the first place; you never have to say “goodbye” if you’ve never said “hello”.  How can I devote more time to being a working writer?  What would my life look like THEN?  While I’m not fond of how I spend most of my days and I ache for change, change means an ENDING and, well, I don’t like them.  Better to sit in that comfort zone than deal with the discomfort of venturing into something new.  But is it better?

For me, lately, the pain of sitting in the comfort is becoming far more unbearable than the fear of having to face uncertainty and endings.  It may just be the time for that change.

Yesterday I went hiking in an area I’ve never visited before.  As I was heading back to my car I came across two women and a small boy.  We got to talking and one woman was quite astounded that I was alone hiking in a new place.  She thought that was “quite risque”.  Her reaction surprised me; I never imagined being afraid to venture out on new paths on my own.  I simply trust I’m in a safe space, I trust in my own abilities and instincts, and I believe I am looked after.  After some initial nervousness, I plunge in making my way bravely through new terrain, and I always trust I will make it safely to the end.  The end…safety…safety at the end means making it back to my car in one piece and so far, I always have.

I can do that when I’m hiking. I have complete and utter faith in all that is and the end is something I look forward to as an accomplishment, not a loss.  I wish I could do the same with as much grace and ease with the more amorphous aspects of my life.

My friend Heather has a wonderful circular tattoo on the inside of her forearm that reads:  The beginning is the end…..Or, if you jump in at another juncture it reads:  The end is the beginning….In its totality it runs endlessly as:  The beginning is the end is the beginning is the end……It never ends.  It always begins.  It always ends.  It………fizzzzzzzzzzzzzles.  🙂

Much love,

Tabitha

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