A LIMINAL SPACE

I celebrated my second pandemic birthday this past week. A year ago the world was just starting to acknowledge the harsh reality of being shut down. Gary was working from home and I was essentially unemployed since teaching yoga was prohibited. Our days were mostly quiet, venturing out for short walks with the dogs and the occasional grocery run. I was grateful for the birthday cards, texts and phone calls from near and far. Gary made a homemade gift and we ordered take out for the first time since the pandemic started (it wasn’t very good). And so the year continued without much change. This year, however, there was a marked difference. Being fully vaccinated, we felt free to take more calculated risks. We enjoyed an outdoor celebration, eating cake with friends (also vaccinated), a lovely beach walk and even visited a restaurant for the first time in over 13 months (and were the only people sitting on the patio). What a treat! The week also included some outdoor, socially distanced visits with friends and a return to what has become a favorite birthday tradition, ice cream cake with my Syrian birthday buddies. What a difference a year can make!

I’ve thought many times this past year about liminal spaces. The term “limen” comes from the Latin for threshold; it is literally the threshold separating one space from another. In architecture, liminal spaces are defined as “the physical spaces between one destination and the next.” In anthropology, liminality is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their pre-ritual status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite is complete.

Life is full of thresholds, some of our choosing, some not. I think about my experiences transitioning from fiancé to spouse, student to graduate. These were exciting and celebratory times, full of expectation and possibility. Some undesired and harder transitions include my parents divorce, leaving a job I once loved and the death of my father. I would characterize these liminal spaces as confusing, unsettling and doubt-filled.

In her book, Open the Door, Joyce Rupp says, “The term liminality indicates the uncomfortable ambiguity that develops when we are standing in the middle of a juncture of significant change. Liminality implies a disoriented vagueness in which we wander about searching for what seems out of reach. We lose a sense of clear identity, question what seems to be a dissolving relationship with our self” and perhaps others and the Divine. 

Uncomfortable ambiguity? Check. Disoriented vagueness? Check. Wandering? Check. Searching? Check.

I’m fairly confident none of us would have willingly signed up for this past year, living through a global pandemic as well as all the other social, political and environmental issues we’ve been facing. Who would deliberately seek this kind of discomfort? The liminal space of the pandemic has been a long one. And while it is not over yet, it feels as though we are on the cusp of a new threshold. Whether the liminal space is one chosen or is thrust upon us, each provides an opportunity for growth, self-examination, reflection and ultimately transformation. Full of mystery and requiring trust, liminality challenges us to surrender to the process of change while being unsure of what the future holds. 

Doris Klein offers some good advice when we find ourselves on a threshold:

When these times of mystery seem endless and our souls become weary of the stretch to believe, our prayer must be a simple request—that we be reminded that we have not been abandoned in this place to wander forever alone…for it is often a silent flicker in our heart, the tiny voice within, that whispers wordlessly, “You are always loved. You are never alone.”

May you be filled with peace as you remember those whispered words today.

SELF COMPASSION & YOGA RETREAT

What does it take to live a life of compassion? One doesn’t have to look very far in today’s world to see the needs are many and great. But what is compassion, really? Translated from Latin, it means “to suffer with.” Compassion is not the same as sympathy or pity. It’s not just the emotional response we feel when we see or hear stories of great suffering. The movement of compassion begins with awareness, causes us to discern our attitude and ultimately moves us to action, to enter into suffering, to get involved, to become vulnerable and to engage in the suffering of others. The four seeds of compassion are: non-judgment, non-violence (in thought, word and deed), forgiveness and mindfulness.

“In your relationship to your pain and sorrow, you cultivate the patience, forgiveness, and understanding that inform your relationship with all pain and sorrow. It would be naïve to believe that profound compassion could be found to meet the great sorrow in life if you do not hold yourself in the same light,” Christine Feldman.

The goal of the Self Compassion & Yoga Retreat is to help us recognize how our attitude and approach to self affects our ability to be a compassionate presence with and for others. We will explore what it means to be compassionate toward oneself, become aware of the continuum of compassion fatigue and strategize plans for compassionate self care.

All of this will be put into immediate action through the practice of yoga. We will live out the seeds of compassion: non-judgment, non-violence, forgiveness and mindfulness through our bodies, recognizing that the care and attention we give on our mats can be lessons of how to live off our mats. 

Join me April 30 (5-7 PM PDT) -May 1 (9 AM- 4 PM PDT), 2021, online via Zoom for this unique opportunity. Registration is now open. Early Bird Registration ($60) ends April 9thand price increases to $75. Teachers and healthcare workers receive $10 discount.

REGISTER NOW!

Heather Smith is a Yoga Alliance Certified RYT 200 and certified Boundless Compassion Facilitator. She spent years developing programs for refugees and immigrants, advocating for populations experiencing homelessness and as a bereavement coordinator with hospice.

YOU ARE GLOWING

Physicists define energy as, “the ability to do work,” and “the movement of an object against an opposing force.” The entire universe is made up of energy and our bodies are no exception. Trillions of cells are at constant work in the material system of the body.

Right now, at this very moment, as you sit here, reading, you are literally glowing. Your glow is weak, faint…but nonetheless, you glimmer. The intensity of the light you omit is 1000 times weaker than the sensitivity of the naked eye. The discovery was made in 2009 by Japanese researchers from Tohoku Institute of Technology.

 This is just one, very recent, example of the body as energy. 

But what about beyond the material system? Is it possible that the human body contains an invisible, energetic system as well? Long before modern technology and science, many ancient cultures knew that all living things carried a life force within them. One such system is the chakras. The chakras were first described in the ancient Indian text, the Vedas, over 3000 years ago and are still a staple of Ayurvedic medicine with parallels in traditional Chinese medicine.

I’ll admit that I do not understand the chakras well at all. I’m not even sure I fully believe in this imperceptible energy system of the body. And I’m not alone. Many, especially in the western world, see it as New Age hippie hoopla. But there is a growing number of folks in the scientific community who are offering some interesting research into the mind-body (physical/energetic) connection, including the late neuroscientist, Dr. Candace Pert. And it’s becoming increasingly difficult to argue against the mystery and wonder of the human being, even as science continues to explain the complexity of what makes us who we are.

What I do know is that by studying the chakras and using them as a tool in my yoga and meditation practice, I am able to achieve greater awareness and connection with my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual states of being. And that’s enough for me.

Chakra is an old Sanskrit word for “wheel.” This is because the life force, or prana, that moves inside of you is spinning and rotating. This spinning energy has 7 centers in your body, starting at the base of your spine and moving all the way up to the top of your head.In a healthy, balanced person, the 7 chakras provide the right balance of energy to every part of your body, mind, and spirit.

In her book, The Chakra Project, Georgia Coleridge describes the physical body as a house, with your surrounding energy field as a garden and the chakras as windows. “Windows need to be sparkling clean to let in light and air. In the same way, our chakras need to be clear and bright so the different energies that make up our life force – the magic stuff that makes everything work – can flow freely through our bodies and minds.” When energy is stuck, she likens it to a river where leaves, twigs and branches have collected. “It may be stagnant on one side and racing too fast on the other. Similarly, a chakra may be under- or overpowered,” she says.

By learning about the 7 chakras, I believe we can become more in tune with the natural energy cycles of your body. This knowledge can help us connect physical, emotional and spiritual imbalances with the chakras that empower them. And with those discoveries, we can begin to balance our chakras and live a healthy and harmonious life.

I invite you to take a few moments to tune into the body and feel the chakras at work through this guided meditation. You may sense the prana energy centers very lightly, very intensely, or not at all. Just remember that whatever happens, is okay.

REFLECTION

This past Monday marked the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year. Darkness is all around us. This year has brought tremendous hardship and suffering.  People are sick and dying at unprecedented rates. Hospitals in California and many other places are bulging at the seams and food lines wrap around our city streets. People are hungry, overwhelmed and anxious. 

There is much to be learned in the darkness. It’s a season for slowing down, turning inward and discovering that darkness does not exist without light. My heart is full as I reflect on this past year. Gary and I ended 2019 and began 2020 in New Zealand and Australia. It was a special journey as I spread my father’s ashes at Cape Reinga.It was also a time of unprecedented destruction as much of Australia was on fire.

In February I began teaching yoga at Christ Church Coronado and we welcomed Yui, a university student from Japan to live with us as she studied English at SDSU. Her stay was cut short in March when we entered lockdown for Covid-19. Since then, life has been interesting to say the least. We’ve experienced various revisions of stay-at-home orders, business closures and new information about this deadly virus.

In May I overcame my hesitancy in teaching yoga online and joined the rest of world in figuring out Zoom. Since then, I’ve been honored to share the practice with so many of you. I truly believe yoga is for everyone and now more than ever, I see the benefits in my own life as well as those I practice with. Thank you for showing up each week and your patience as we navigate new technology. Your support has meant so much. I’m truly grateful.

Photo Credit: Connie Lawthers

In addition to yoga, most of my time is spent walking our dogs, gardening, playing cards and doing puzzles with Gary. Our home life is simple and quiet. And for the first time I accomplished a long-standing goal of reading at least 52 books in a year!
We were fortunate to travel to Tahoe for a week and enjoyed a long weekend in Big Bear.
In the midst of darkness, there continues to be glimmers of light. As we look to 2021, let’s honor these long, dark days by turning to the light within. For some of us, that light may be shining brightly. For others, the darkness may be heavy and all-consuming. Regardless, trust that the light is there, however dim. And in whatever way, find a way to share that light with others.  The world needs your light now more than ever.

UNITY

I’m about halfway through Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America. It was originally written in the early 1970’s but his insight into culture, agriculture, human bodies and our connections to the earth and each other are timeless. 

I’ve considered myself an urbanite for many years now. While I fantasize about country living, or mountain living, the reality is, I like living 10 minutes or less to the closest Target. Modern conveniences and city life have infiltrated my bones. Though my daydreams sometimes take me to open spaces, with large gardens and lots of trees and a quietness I only experience now during long weekends away, I can’t really imagine not having neighbors nearby, or a taco truck just down the road.

That doesn’t mean I don’t consider the impact and importance of country life.I’m a proud Midwest girl at heart. Though my hometown was too small for a Target, a Wal Mart showed up while I was in high school, as well as an Applebee’s. We lived on the southeast side of town and it only took about 5 minutes to drive to the nearest farm fields. A drive through town and toward the northwest could take 10-15 minutes depending on red lights, then there would be more fields. These were not the small, idyllic family farms of Berry’s childhood. These were monoculture fields of corn and soybeans, 1000’s of acres, with rows extending from the road as far as the eye could see. Although a wonder in it’s own right we’ve come to learn a lot about this type of farming and it’s not all good news. In trying to produce as much as possible, as quickly as possible, the earth is being destroyed in the process. Farms are rarely family owned but rather a financial investment of “city folk” who are not involved in the actual work of the farm, some never seeing the land at all.  Bigger farms of single crops create soil erosion and top-soil depletion at unprecedented rates, resulting in siltation of rivers and estuaries, and lowering of deep-water aquifers due to extensive irrigation. Because the soil is overused, fertilizers and chemicals seem to be the solution for trying to replenish lost nutrients but are full of toxins harmful to the human body. These massive fields require larger, more expensive machinery resulting in debt farmers never expect to pay off. And the majority of “food” produced is not for human consumption. How do we justify this type of farming environmentally and economically?

This week many of us will be feasting. The Thanksgiving holiday in America has a long-standing tradition of being focused on food. And for us city-folk, it’s quite easy to enjoy meal after meal with almost no consideration of where that bounty comes from and what it is we are actually consuming. The convenience of local grocery stores and food delivery has a way of detaching us from our food sources.

Yoga teaches us about unity in the body, mind and spirit. It helps us rediscover the wholeness within ourselves. Unity does not end there. Our connection to the earth and to each other is also vital. Our wholeness depends on the wholeness of all creation. And we all have a part to play. I do not have answers to the problems of American agribusiness. But I do know the benefits of shopping at a local farmer’s market, buying produce in season and limiting my meat consumption. And the joy I experience when my fingernails are full of dirt as I pluck my homegrown carrots from our small piece of earth, is without comparison. Will you join me in finding new, creative ways to reunite with the earth and our larger human community? Please share any tips and ideas for how you build connection with the earth.