VOCATION

I’ve found myself thinking about vocation lately. And not just vocation, but “work,” and “jobs” and “calling.” Growing up in an evangelical Christian environment, there was a great emphasis on God’s will for your life and the importance of not only discovering God’s will, but doing it. It’s no surprise that I, along with many of my peers, sensed a “call” to ministry from a young age. This “call” led to studying and preparing for ministry in the local church. By the time I finished graduate school, my idea of ministry had changed so dramatically I never imagined working in a church. Instead I found myself working at various universities as well as a hospice. There were aspects of all of these jobs that I enjoyed.

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However, in 2011 an unexpected opportunity presented itself to work at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. And for 7.5 years my job as the Ministries Coordinator was the most challenging, satisfying and rewarding work I had ever been a part of.

Next month will mark one year since I left that job. As a part of my healing journey after the death of my father, Gary and I agreed that I would take a year off and not work. The intent was to have freedom, time and space to grieve, heal and to just live without the pressures and responsibilities of a job. I recognize the extreme privilege this is and do not take for granted this immense gift.

As that year anniversary is fast approaching, I’ve been struck by how much has happened this past year and all the incredible experiences and opportunities I’ve had. I’ve traveled with friends and family exploring Europe, Puerto Rico and Canada, with plans to return to New Zealand and Australia this winter. I’ve started gardening again, growing food for my family and sharing some with friends and neighbors. I’ve volunteered time writing grants for a local refugee tutoring program. And I’ve had more time to spend with my favorite Syrian family, taking the girls on outings and helping one adjust to life at a new high school. I’ve been able to develop a more regular yoga practice and led a yoga retreat.

Since I was 12 years old I’ve always had a job, minus a few months here and there. Paper routes, fast food and retail account for my teen years. My parents emphasized the importance of working hard and earning money and learning responsibility. So as I continue to live into this season of life of not having a job or regular work or consistent income, I’m learning to let go of some old ideas about identity, meaning and purpose. Hindus and Buddhists use the word dharma like evangelicals use calling or vocation. But dharma seems to have less attachment to work/job and a broader understanding of life purpose. Although there may be a relationship between your dharma and what you do for work, it’s more about who you are, how you live and interact with the world around you.

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A friend recently recommended the book, THE FOUR DESIRES. I’m slowly working through and have been challenged to discover my “dharma code,” the individual expression of my soul’s purpose. So far I know that parts of my dharma code or vocation include: serving others, creating safe spaces, desiring all living things to experience Divine Love. My prayer is that regardless of a job title, I will live into my soul’s purpose, knowing in my heart that vocation and work are not synonymous.

GRIEF

This month marked one year since my dad died. It is the most significant loss I’ve experienced and I find myself still experiencing waves of grief. Certain sights smells, songs and stories are obvious triggers. But it’s the unexplained, unexpected moments of sheer sadness that catch me by surprise, that sneak up out of nowhere, that leave me breathless, tear-stricken and broken hearted. Grief is unpredictable and doesn’t follow any rules. There’s no guidebook or timeline and everyone’s journey is unique.

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Here are some things I’ve found helpful as I journey with grief:

  1. I quit my job– This is not something I would recommend to everyone. I would have likely quit my job regardless of my dad’s death, but this certainly expedited the decision. I no longer had the emotional resources or physical stamina to continue with such intense work. Although I loved my work for many years, this is a decision that I’ve never regretted.
  2. Self-care– This is a work in progress. It’s probably my mid-western, Protestant upbringing but “self-care” still strikes me at times as selfish or lazy and leaves me feeling weak. Despite all of that, I have done the following: participated in a weeklong retreat on Boundless Compassion, prioritized my health with exercise (see more below) and continued with psychotherapy and spiritual direction. I’ve also had days where I just gave myself permission to not “do” anything.
  3. Support group– As a former bereavement coordinator with hospice, I knew the importance and helpfulness of support groups. I just wasn’t sure it was for me. But I tried it. And I met some amazing people (all experiencing parent loss) and we shared about our loved ones and our experiences.
  4. Reaching out– This has probably been one of the hardest and scariest for me. I’ve called more than one friend to just say that I’m sad and having a hard time. I asked two friends to rearrange their lives to come to California and spend my birthday with me (and they did)! Not sure why this is difficult, given that I have the most amazing friends.
  5. Remembering my dad– I don’t think there’s a single day that’s passed that I haven’t thought about my dad. The reality is we talked everyday, sometimes multiple times a day. He was a significant part of my daily life and now that is gone. But I want to remember him. I want to share stories and hear other people’s memories….even if it still makes me cry. I’m grateful for the Nava family and the times we’ve been able to share this past year. They knew and loved my dad deeply and being with them is a joy.
  6. Yoga– I had no idea when I started my Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) in Feb. 2018 that 6 months later I would be saying goodbye to my dad. Upon returning to San Diego last August after a wild month in Illinois, I spent days on my living room couch, stunned and unable to move. When I eventually made my way back to yoga I found an emotional release I hadn’t anticipated. Being in a safe and supportive space, as well as the quietness and stillness throughout the practice, allowed my body to relax and release. Yoga has continued to bring healing physically and emotionally. It has also provided opportunities to try new things: teaching private yoga, teaching community classes, even leading a yoga retreat.
  7. Dogs– Sooner & Aussie provide incredible support. They are loving and affectionate. They also forced me to get up and get moving. Whether it was sitting out on the patio watching them chase birds or actually taking them for a walk, getting outside always felt good. And if I was having a sad day, I could just hold them and pet them and even cry on them. I’m convinced dogs just make everything better.

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I don’t expect I’ll ever “get over it.” And I don’t want to. I’ve been forever changed by the experience of losing my dad. My hope is that I continue to learn, grow and heal. What has been helpful this past year may change in the days ahead and that’s ok.

Grief changes us and shapes us. Hopefully it makes us more gracious and compassionate, to others and ourselves.

WILD

WILD

It is said that everything in nature is made up of five basic elements: earth, water, fire, air and space. These elements form the world we live in and exist within our body and mind.

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I’ve just returned from 10 glorious days in the Canadian Rockies. Days were spent inhaling the crisp, mountain air, hiking through canyons and around lakes, spotting animals in their natural habitat, even eating peanut butter sandwiches next to waterfalls. This world truly is magnificent. And there’s something so wonderfully healing and humbling about being amongst the trees, touching rock formations that expand millennia, pressing your feet into the soil and becoming the stillest you’ve ever been at the sight of a bear just a few yards away. It’s absolutely WILD. But the rhythm and life of creation does not exist “out there.” It exists within each of us.

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And each of the 5 elements offers unique qualities to our lives. Together, they make up our connection with all of creation. We share these same components with our fellow human beings, the food we eat and the environment we live in. Each of the elements informs and supports everything about our lives.

One way to honor our connection with everything around us is to explore the 5 elements in our practice of yoga and life.

  1. EARTH- The earth is our home. It is centered, grounded, authentic. It is the place we want to return to, a place of physical stillness that creates emotional and mental stillness.

In yoga, cultivating the earth element is all about establishing your foundation (feet, hands, sit bones, etc.) and maintaining an awareness of how our postures contribute to our overall experiences of stability and ease. Every pose is an opportunity to return home.

  1. WATER- Water is fluid, moving, changing, adapting. It offers connection. It shows up in our ability to consciously hold on and let go at the same time.

In yoga the water element helps cultivate a softness in our practice and nurtures a sensitivity to being responsive rather than reactive.

  1. FIRE- Heat, energy, transformation. Fire is experienced as intensity and abundance and ultimately delivers purification.

In yoga, fire lives in the belly, our center of power, intuition and freedom. Therefore it is critical to engage our core muscles, connecting to the spark at the center of who we are.

  1. AIR- Air fuels the body through breath. Movement, expansion and lightness are all qualities of the air element. It gives us rhythm, mobility, the sensation of openness. It is the very essence of life.

In yoga, air brings awareness to the breath. Breath control can be a great way to open and tap into the subtle channels of the body, clearing the way for energy to flow. Notice how the breath feeds the body and the mind, creating a sensation of lightness and openness.

  1. SPACE- It’s the container for everything. It is pure possibility and potential. It often feels like stillness, freedom, awareness. Creating space requires discipline but experiencing it is pure freedom.

Creating space in a yoga practice is a matter of being present and aware. Being able to discern what you’re holding in or holding onto, whether it’s a form of physical tension or a thought or emotion and then….allowing yourself to let it go.

While it is wonderful to connect with the elements in nature and if you can, I hope you will. However, regardless of the environment it is possible to connect with the elements within ourselves and in so doing, promoting health, life and vitality.

HOPE

In the last month I have noticed a slight shift within. It took me a couple of weeks to name it but I now realize there have been new sparks of hope welling up inside me. What is hope anyway? I generally think of hope as a feeling of positive expectation or desire. But I’m coming to realize there is also a dimension of trust. And this is where I struggle. Call it my Type A personality, blame it on my “control issues” or the fact that I’m an 8w9 on the Enneagram…..trust is HARD for me. Pair that with the current social/political climate in America, a sense of hopelessness almost seems justified.

Three basic needs comprise hope: attachment, mastery, and survival.

In their book, “Hope in the Age of Anxiety,” psychology professors Anthony Scioli and Henry Biller name 9 types of hopelessness: Alienation, Forsakenness, Uninspired, Powerlessness, Oppression, Limitedness, Doom, Captivity, and Helplessness.

So what has helped cause this shift for me? I believe it’s a combination of several factors. First, I listened to Michelle Obama’s audiobook “Becoming.” If you are looking for a story of HOPE, look no further. Her honest candor, vulnerability and storytelling are inspirational. Her sharing is deeply personal and political and continues to serve as a reminder that our current state of affairs is not how it has to be. Second, I attended my first Citizenship Ceremony with my friend Trinh. It was a day full of celebration. Over 800 people from 77 different countries gathered downtown San Diego to take an oath and become U.S. citizens.

After years of anticipation there was so much hope and gratitude. And those things seem to be contagious. I’ve been fortunate to spend quality time with some great people in my life. Whether it’s a walk with a friend, attending a concert in the park, celebrating friends getting married, or playing cards with my husband, having companions to share life with restores my hope in our common humanity.

I’m also limiting my exposure to social media and the news and spending more time in my garden and cooking. And dogs….dogs always make life better, especially these two.

So what gives you hope these days? I believe our sharing can help spread hope to others! And if you find yourself in a season of hopelessness, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. None of us can do this journey of life alone. Are there small steps you can take to care for your mind, body and spirit as you await the light of hope to return?

DISCOVERY

I was privileged to spend 7 days this month exploring the island of Puerto Rico with my Aussie sister Tania. It’s an enchanting land full of color, welcoming and animated people, scrumptious food, dynamic music……..endless worlds to discover behind each landscape.

The Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello & the First Lady, Beatriz Rossello promote art as it moves the soul, awakens the senses and at very special moments, represents the spirit of its people. In Old San Juan there’s an art installation, “Paseo de Sombrillas,” which is full of joy and fun and pays tribute to everything that makes Puerto Rico a unique place. It is said, “Just as umbrellas move fluidly with the wind, Puerto Rico is a place that flows and majestically embraces every challenge it faces.”

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How is the wind moving you in life? Are you able to flow with the wind or are do you find yourself digging your heels in, bracing for what might be difficult/unwanted in life? What would it look like to majestically embrace life’s challenges?

My time and conversations with Tania over the last few weeks have reminded and challenged me to remember that we have much less control in life than we like to admit. A false sense of security, a well developed plan, the illusion of power…..I must admit, I generally find all of it very comforting and quite satisfying. However, life is messy and complicated and unpredictable and challenging. Rather than fighting that reality what would happen if we postured ourselves (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually) to allow the wind to blow us with ease?

The practice of savasana continues to be a great teacher on how to put this into practice. How hard is it to be still? How challenging is it to consciously relax completely? The essence of savasana is to relax with attention, to remain conscious and alert while still being at ease. Practicing awareness while relaxing can help us notice and release long held tensions in our mind and body.

It’s hard to let go of the idea that everything important happens when you are moving and taking action. Yet a deeper part of us is often waiting for moments of stillness to reveal a new truth.

What sort of discovery has come to light during your savasana? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

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.Image result for yoga

“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 July 12-13 at Christ Church Coronado for this unique opportunity. Registration is open now. Space is limited to 25 participants. Early Bird Registration ($65) ends May 30th and price increases to $80. https://heathersmithyoga.com/self-compassion-yoga-retreat-registration/

Self Compassion & Yoga Retreat

 

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. Find out more at http://www.heathersmithyoga.com

Balasana- Child’s Pose

Balasana is a restorative, calming pose that relaxes and rejuvenates the body. The stretch in the back relaxes the spine. It calms the muscles, thereby helping to alleviate pain, especially in back, neck, and shoulders. The knees are also stretched and relaxed, and therefore, the tendons, muscles, as well as joints are healed and made ready for functioning. The pose resembles a fetal position and is said to provide physical, mental, and emotional solace. Do yourself a favor and practice this pose as often as possible. balasana

Step-by-Step Instructions

  1. Come to your hands and knees on the mat.
  2. Spread your knees as wide as your mat, keeping the tops of your feet on the floor with the big toes touching.
  3. Bring your belly to rest between your thighs and your forehead to the floor.
  4. There are two possible arm variations. Either stretch your arms in front of you with the palms toward the floor or bring your arms back alongside your thighs with the palms facing upwards. Do whichever feels more comfortable for you. If you’ve been doing a lot of shoulder work, the second option feels nice.
  5. Stay as long as you like, eventually reconnecting with the steady inhales and exhales of your breath.

Benefits of Balasana

  1. It calms the mind.
  2. It’s great for digestion.
  3. It stretches and strengthens the spine.
  4. It opens your hips.
  5. It reminds you that resting is a good thing. 

Safety and Precautions

Avoid Child’s Pose if you have a knee injury. If you are pregnant, spread your legs wider and don’t press your stomach onto your thighs. If you have a shoulder injury, keeping your arms by your side will provide the most support.

If you feel any pain, ease out of the pose.