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COMPASSION

I began really thinking about compassion in college. I was preparing to spend a summer in Australia volunteering with other young people and our group was encouraged to read Henri Nouwen’s Compassion. This book really opened my eyes to the idea of compassion being much more than just doing nice things for people.

Fast-forward 20 years and in November of 2018 I had the privilege of attending a Boundless Compassion retreat with Joyce Rupp in Bowen Island, British Columbia. The week was spent exploring themes of compassion: self-compassion, compassion for creation, compassion and marginalized people, etc.

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I believe it is possible for compassion to be a way of life. And as I continue to look around at the current state of our world, I’m even more convinced that compassion will be the guiding force that helps heal the suffering.

I have never been so aware of the suffering of our Black sisters and brothers than I am now. It has become increasingly clear just how much systemic racism impacts the daily lives of so many from access to healthcare and housing, to police brutality, mass incarceration and the continual threat of white supremacy. I have felt helpless and overwhelmed at times and wondered, “What can I do?” Compassion reminds us to start with ourselves, changing our heart and lifestyle to help lessen the suffering of others.

As I continue to examine my own heart I know these are steps I can take:

  1. Educate– There are SO MANY resources available. I can read books and articles and listen to interviews and podcasts (by people of color).
  2. Advocacy– I can advocate for better practices from local, state and national government by contacting legislators. I can use my voting power to support candidates who are vocal about the necessity to end systemic racism.
  3. Build Community– I can make an effort to get to know my neighbors and seek out opportunities to interact with people who are different than me.
  4. $$$ Power– I think it’s important to acknowledge that money is a powerful tool. Our money has the power to support local businesses, minority-owned businesses, political figures, organizations working for social justice, programs for people impacted by systemic racism.

It’s easy to be discouraged and overwhelmed. Instead, let’s choose hope. Let’s choose to be a compassionate presence each day, whether we are writing/calling our legislators, sewing masks, preparing meals for frontline workers, grocery shopping for a neighbor, joining protests or just trying to become more informed on issues of injustice.

WAITING IN DARKNESS

Some of life’s most powerful changes take place in the darkness. This particular season of life has offered many opportunities to observe nature. The correlations between the natural world and our current life experiences are quite remarkable.
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Yesterday I harvested several pounds of carrots from our garden. I planted those tiny seeds in December and January. For months, just beneath the surface, in the dark, depths of fertile soil, nature was at work. I simply watered, pulled a few weeds now and then and waited. Although I had glimpses of their growth (green, leafy tops), I had no idea what was happening down below or what the final product might be. Let’s just say, I’ll be trying lots of new carrot recipes in the coming months!
We are fortunate to live on a canyon. There are many native trees, succulents and flowering bushes. I can’t help but think how much nature is enjoying the stillness and quiet that Covid-19 has caused. The birds and butterflies are especially active. I’ve seen species I’ve never noticed in the 10 years we’ve lived here. It’s incredible. I remember as a young girl being fascinated with butterflies. How could a caterpillar (a creepy, crawly insect) become a butterfly (a flying beauty)? What a mystery!

 

Science tells us that caterpillars spend most of their time eating. Eventually hormonal changes occur and they lose interest in feeding. They seek out a sheltered, safe spot and begin spinning a little silk pad which becomes it’s chrysalis. The change inside the chrysalis is slow and gradual. The metamorphosis is incredible as the insect is changed completely from the inside out. Complete transformation takes about 2 weeks. But some species survive the winter in their chrysalis for several months.

It feels like we are living in one of those in-between times of life. The reality of painful loss(es) clings tightly to the possibility of moving on. I find myself waiting for something to happen and hoping things will change for the better. I want so badly to believe that this quiet obscurity will transform me, transform us, transform the world. What if we viewed this time as our chrysalis? What if waiting in the darkness is the transformative stage that is a necessary predecessor to the unfolding of a hope-filled future? How willing are you to wait in the darkness? What sort of transformation have you been experiencing over these last few months? How can you tend to your body, mind, heart and soul during these difficult times?

Our day of emergence will come. But how will we emerge? Will we be unchanged, simply falling back into life as we knew it? Or will our emergence come with a revival of joy and compassion for the Earth and all its inhabitants? May we emerge with a newfound respect, love and appreciation for the divinity of all creation.

REST

“Come to me, all who are weary and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Anxiety is no joke! Symptoms and experiences range but I imagine most people will agree that anxiety is NOT something they desire for themselves or others. Yet it is so prevalent. According to Mayo Clinic there are over 3 million cases in the US each year. I was a pretty anxious kid. I missed over 30 days of school in 2nd grade for upset stomachs and in 5th grade was diagnosed with an ulcer. Although I was never diagnosed with anxiety and did not receive professional help, I can now look back and easily proclaim that I had major anxiety. I was fortunate to be symptom free from my early teens to my late twenties. But life events in 2009-2010 rekindled childhood experiences of extreme worry, feeling nervous, tightness in my chest and increased heart rate. I would obsess about certain things and catastrophize others. I was fortunate to have so many tools available to me, to reach out and get support. I started therapy. I discovered yoga. And I had a supportive husband and friends to confide in and to support me. I also had a spiritual director who encouraged me to rethink my prayer life. I began to pray the verse above, especially at night, when my anxiety was most intense. I just wanted to sleep. I just wanted my mind to slow down, to be still.

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Rest is an interesting thing. At this peculiar time in life, I’ve been thinking a lot about rest. As our world began to change in March, I found myself energized. My daily life really wasn’t changing too much. I’m not navigating working from home or homeschooling children. Although I have missed teaching and practicing yoga in the community, our family is not reliant on that income to survive. I’m used to spending lots of time at home. So for a couple of weeks I made lists, lots of lists….all the grand plans of things I would do while the world was shutdown. And I did some of them. And then something shifted. I slowed down. I was tired and moody and unmotivated. I was watching a lot more Netflix and endlessly scrolling through social media. I blamed it on an unusual week of rain in SoCal. But then the sun came back and I was still lethargic. So I started listening to my body and began to rest. Sometimes I just sat in the backyard listening to the birds. Other times I took a bath or read a book. Many times I just crawled back into bed to sleep.

At times I’ve resisted rest. I’ve equated it with quitting or being lazy. My perfectionism and fear of failure made it difficult to choose rest. There was a need to keep going, to strive, to produce and to accomplish. Rest meant I’d have to work harder later. Won’t I get rest when I sleep? “But even sleeping isn’t restful for the person who can’t rest when they’re awake,” says licensed psychotherapist, Sarah McLaughlin. “If the brain is in a constant stress-state during awake hours then, in many cases, it is losing or has lost connective pathways that tell it to decrease or stop the stress response.” This may result in the stress hormone cortisol being released during sleep.

McLaughlin defines rest as ceasing work and worry, as “being, rather than doing.” Rest is possible when we shift from the external to the internal, making time and space for our inner selves, our minds and our creativity. It requires our whole being–mind and body–to be engaged in a restful state and to be present to the experience of rest. Here are just a few ideas on how you can truly rest.

Get curious. Begin asking yourself why you’re not resting, about the thoughts and feelings that drive your need to stay busy. Maybe explore one of these questions: If I weren’t so busy, would I feel like a failure? Would I fear losing the approval of others? Would I fear becoming stuck?

Understand and value rest. The majority of people are in a constant state of stress. McLaughlin notes that 70% of visits to the doctor are due to stress-related health issues. Rest is the only way to engage the part of our nervous system that allows for relaxation. It helps us show up for others and ourselves.

Practice Mindfulness.Take 5 minutes to sit outside. Engage all your senses. Feel the sun on your skin. Notice the colors that surround you and the sounds you hear. Allow yourself to be completely present in the here and now. Or, say to yourself, “I’m going to rest now.” Be intentional. Take several long, deep, slow breaths. Really focus on your breathing and connect with your mind and body in the present moment.

Focus on yourself. Take the time to discover how you’d like to rest. Focus on what grounds you, helps you feel alive and connects you to your true self. This will be different for everyone. Some find cooking meditative, others absolutely dread it. Maybe you like to journal or draw. Maybe sipping coffee in the quiet is your thing. For others it might be practicing yoga or watching the sunrise. Whatever helps you shift from absorbing external stimuli to tuning into your own body, thoughts and feelings…..DO THAT!

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Many of us have forgotten how to truly rest. Our negative narratives have caused us to replace true rest with superficial, stimulating activities like scrolling through social media and playing games on our smartphones. The good news is, we can rediscover how to rest fully and wholeheartedly.

 

It’s not surprising to hear that during this pandemic prescriptions for anxiety are up 34%. People are sad, lonely and scared. These are unique and challenging times. There is help out there. You are not alone.

If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others

I’d love to hear how you are dealing with the stress of life these days. What does rest look like for you?

Home Practice

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Studios have closed and group classes are cancelled. Now is the time to develop your home yoga practice. Don’t stop practicing yoga because life has thrown us a curve ball. Now more than ever we need the benefits of yoga. Follow these basic steps to set yourself up for success.

 
1. WHY– Answer this question with something positive. And write it down. This will help motivate you on the days you don’t want to practice. Do you want to improve your physical health? Maybe you need a daily sense of peace and calm. Or is it a way to practice self care in the midst of a difficult time?

2. WHERE– Once you know why you want to develop a home practice, next, decide where you will practice. Don’t allow your space to be an excuse for not following through. Whether you roll your mat out on the kitchen floor or choose to practice in your bed….it doesn’t matter. Just define the space you will use. If you are lucky enough to have a spare corner or room, great. Light a candle, use a houseplant, decorate and make it personal and meditative. But if your space is full and you share with others, no matter, simply decide where you can practice each day and commit to it.

3. WHEN– Some of us are more schedule oriented than others. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. But let’s all acknowledge that we are more likely to follow through with a home yoga practice if we commit to a certain time each day. This is why we join studios and community classes. The accountability helps get us to our mats. Whether it’s morning, mid-day or evening, pick a time and get going.

4. HOW– If you’ve been practicing yoga for some time and/or have a bit of initiative you might feel comfortable coming up with your own sequences. Great, get moving. Most of us would prefer some guidance and lucky for us in this age of technology, there are many resources readily accessible to us. Whether it’s DVDs or YouTube videos, Apps or online studio classes, try different things until you find something you like. If you’d like specific suggestions, please email me and I’d be happy to point you to some of my favorites.

5. GET STARTED– Once you’ve taken the time to answer the Why, Where, When and How, it’s time to get going. Share your plan with a friend or family member, accountability really does help us all. And set an alarm, and make it recurring for each day.

I am here to support your journey. If you have any questions regarding a home yoga practice or want suggestions or tips along the way, please reach out.

SLOWING DOWN

The idea of slowing down has intrigued me for some time. For years, life felt too busy and internally I often felt restless and discontent.I had the privilege of choosing to work part time instead of full time, which allowed me time and space to think about my priorities, a luxury most are never afforded. Ideas about time, money, relationships, consumerism, food, justice, opportunity, community, health and wellness began to converge. Opportunities to read, listen, learn and engage with others all influenced some
lifestyle changes.

I can’t necessarily make life slow down but I can choose to rebel against societal norms of always being busy and instead enjoy life. Many of us find ourselves at a unique time and place in history with the current global pandemic. Much of life has slowed down….against our will. This forced slowing down may be causing some anxiety, fear, frustration, sadness, disappointment, etc. Not only are you navigating your own emotions, you are likely dealing with the emotions of family and friends as well. Be kind and gentle with yourself. Let go of pressure and expectations.

Although this time of slowing down has been thrust upon us against our will, I believe there are some things we can do, some positive choices we can make in the midst. Maybe one or two of these ideas will resonate with you.

1. DO LESS– Clearly for many this is already happening. However, it’s likely that if you’ve been stuck at home for a few days, you may have already created a new routine, a daily schedule, trying to keep yourself occupied and productive during quarantine. What would it feel like to make the conscious choice to do less? Focus on what’s really important, what really must be done, and let the rest go. Create space between your appointments/tasks so you can move through your day with more ease and leisure.

2. BE PRESENT– It’s not just enough to slow down and do less, you need to be mindful of whatever you’re doing at the present moment. This is much easier said than done…..but when you find yourself thinking about something that happened in the past or something you’re going to be doing later on, gently bring yourself back to the present. Focus on what’s happening in the present, what you are doing, observe the environment around you, or others you are interacting with. This can be challenging and takes practice.

3. APPRECIATE NATURE– Most of our lives are spent in offices, at jobs and in our homes. This is ever more true right now as many of our cities/states/countries have us staying home to help stop the spread of COVID-19. But there are still ways we can connect with nature. I live in a very urban part of San Diego. I’m fortunate enough to have a beautiful backyard that backs up to a canyon and have always enjoyed sitting outside watching and listening to the birds. But for the last week, it’s a whole new experience. There are no longer construction crews causing noise pollution. I rarely hear sirens or cars of any kind. Various birdsongs fill the air and I hear distant crows from roosters at City Farmers Nursery. Regardless of your surroundings, we can all step outside to feel the warmth of sunshine or the coolness of the breeze. And if all else fails, watch a nature video. Try doing something at least once a day to connect with nature and notice the impact this has.

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4. DISCONNECT– How many of us always have our phone on and accessible? Don’t get me wrong, I’m so grateful for technology, especially at this unique time. It’s a wonderful tool to help us stay connected to those we love. However, there is also the risk of constantly being interrupted by a call/text, the onslaught of information we can access anytime/anywhere and the tendency to be available to everyone all the time. It’s hard to slow down when we’re constantly checking messages, scrolling through Facebook/Instagram and reading news updates. It’s also been proven to increase stress and depression. So why not choose to unplug? Maybe that means turning off your phone for a couple hours each day. Maybe it means only checking the news once a day. Find what works for you. And if this is a subject that interests you, I highly recommend the book Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. And if you’re wanting to support a local bookshop, buy it from Bluestocking Books (they can ship anywhere).

5. BREATHE– Our breath is our greatest asset when it comes to slowing down. When you find yourself stressed out or speeding up, stop, pause and take a deep breath. Take a few. Really be present to your body and feel it filling up with fresh air. Inhale peace and serenity. Exhale all stress and tension. Inhale light and love. Exhale your fears and worries. By paying attention to your breath, you come back to the present moment .

What helps you to slow down? What are some positive things you are noticing or experiencing during this unique time in life? Leave a comment below, your experience may be the encouragement someone needs to hear today.