How to Reflect on 2011 and prepare for 2012

Another new year is almost here and with it the annual pressure to decide how to pass this special moment.  In the past I was drawn to revelry and substance abuse of  all sorts.  I’ve driven drunk through police barricades and over stop signs, whooped it up in the crowd as the ball dropped in Times Square,  gotten completely wasted at a concert where John Belushi made a cameo appearance swigging champagne and spitting a shower of it out onto us in the audience, and of course I drove the 40 miles home barely conscious of the road. They say God protects fools, babies and drunkards and I suppose I qualified for all three.  I grew up during a time when smoking, drinking and imbibing chemicals was thought of as cool.  It was how I was taught to relax, enjoy and let off steam.  Over the past 15 years my approach to special moments has really changed.

    Source: Ebaum's World

I've come to treat the coming of the new year with great reverence.  I really try to reflect on the past year and contemplate how I'd like to form my future.  With this sort of thinking in mind, people have given me questions to ponder that helped direct me in my process.  They have been a great aid.  This year no one has given me directions so I have developed a list of questions of my own.  I share it here in the hope that these questions might be useful to you in your own process.

What did I learn in the past year?
If I could relive any moments (to re-experience them or do them differently) what would they be?
What new connections did I make that I value?
What old connections did I deepen and how?
If this last year was a book with a title what would that title be?  (subtitling allowed)

And in thinking of the New Year

How do I want to grow in the New Year?
What do I hope to let go of?
What do I yearn to embrace?
What new thing or things do I need to learn?
If I could title the coming year I would call it "The Year of  _____________________"

A lovely way to do this kind of thinking is to spend a day just sitting with these questions, cogitating, journaling, sipping tea, taking naps, doing relaxation practices, like the Five Minutes of Bliss, totally melting into it and sharing with someone or a group of someones.   Even spending an hour by yourself doing this can really help to frame what has happened for you and create the kind of future you dream of having.

Those earlier chaotic years now seem to me, to be expressions of how badly I was blocked at the places of reflection.  I was programmed to do and think of things a certain way. There was no room for feeling my way through, sensing my desires and then moving toward them, where ever this might lead.  There was no meandering.  It was all a head long thrust along established paths, some of which were very unhealthy.

Contemporary society does little to encourage lateral movement and god forbid we should back track or spiral or swirl.  Those are not the most direct paths to meeting the next deadline.  We are trained to constantly be going from A to B.  I hope in answering your questions you will open yourself to your full potential and every direction it is possible to take.  Going from A to B is great when it meets your needs.  To know about your needs though, it often requires a bit of meandering.

Get Mushy and Have Fun.  Wishing you All the Best for 2012 and Beyond.

Peace and Love,

Happy Hate Holiday!

Way back in the last century, I had a professor in college, named Ray Birdwhistell, who was a friend of famed anthropologist Margaret Mead and a great Yogi.  I'm not sure if he ever did a pose but when it came to telling the unvarnished truth he was unparalleled.  One of the truths he imparted is that most holidays are hate holidays and that the bigger the occasion the higher the hate factor!

    Source:  Natali Chernozhuk

     Oh no you say, I love the holidays.  If that is all you feel around the holidays, you are in a distinct minority. For all the love and connection that goes on there are equal and sometimes larger countervailing forces at play.  For better or worse, the holidays are a time of reflection on the way we wish things were and how they are not measuring up.  They are a time to dredge up disappointments from the past and compare them to our current predicaments.  This is a time of year when we are expected to gather around with people we rarely see anymore and revel in a special bond we are too busy to nurture.  We have to spend all kinds of money we don't have trying to please people who are impossible to make happy.  Many of us have to travel great distances to wallow in all this discomfort and those who skip it are left with the loneliness of being alone when everyone is supposed to be together.  And don't even get me started of the sadness of remembering departed loved ones and peopled who are too aged or infirm to enjoy the season.  Does this sound like it doesn't suck to you?  I didn't think so.


     So what is a yogi to do?  If you are one of the people fortunate enough to be centered at this time of year or possibly even upbeat, looking forward to the chaos and the sharing ahead, give the people around you who are suffering a lot of room to move through their stuff.  All the frustrated travelers, angry customers, disappointed relations, depressed souls need to vent and share and be cared for.  And if you are one of them give yourself a break.  The days have been markedly shorter.  Your primitive mind is afraid that the world is dying.  No wonder your energy is low, your temper short, your desire to share at a low ebb.  All this is happening while the world around you is exploding with messages about how great you should be feeling.  Ho, ho, holy shit.  Give yourself great latitude and  listen to the difficult feelings that come up.  Have some hot tea and take care of yourself as best you can.  Once you do you may have something left to share with others.
     So, recognizing the truth of the situation, where does that leave us as yogis?  Grousing about the hateful nature of the holidays?  Not in the least.  Learning to love all of it is our challenge.  The hard parts, the sad parts and the tidings of comfort and joy.  Accepting it all and letting it all pass through us and encouraging others to do the same.  That is where the hate holiday becomes a love holiday as we unite in our common humanity.  Rejoice with the joyful and weep with the downcast and love everyone, including yourself as best you can.  I'm sure Ray Birdwhistell, loving curmudgeon that he was, would approve.
     From me and mine to you and yours I wish you Peace and Love this holiday season.


Five Minutes of Bliss: One Minute At A Time: Samadhi For Busy People

I've been writing this Five Minutes of Bliss column for about three months now.  When I first came up with the idea I thought 5 minutes was the minimum time needed to settle, shift into a relaxed mode and have some time to enjoy it but in fact Nirvana may be only a breath away.  For years I've been interspersing very short periods of meditative mind with my normal, more generally outward focus.  I find these brief, often one minute or less, periods of "contemplation" to be soothing and richly supportive of conscious lifestyle.  Plus, I think they prepare me to enjoy longer periods of absorption when I make the time for them or I'm fortunate enough to naturally slip into them.

    Source:  Fountains of Wayne

Here is a truism I learned from a Sales Manager I had many years ago, during a brief period when I was trying to sell radio time.  Very few things I picked up at that time have remained with me, so this really resonated.  He told me that the things we do a lot of we become very good at.  We enjoy being very good at things.  We do things that we enjoy a lot.  It is a virtuous cycle.  Dropping below surface attention, exploring deeper realms can become an ingrained habit in this way.  Do this a lot and you will become very good at it.  You will enjoy being very good at it and so you will want to do it a lot.  And so on.

Here's How:

You may be wondering, "When do I try these short meditations and how do I fit them into my busy, ultra full life?"  Here's some ideas that I have found useful to get you started, hopefully you will find many more.

The concept is to stay in the present moment more of the time by consciously willing your mind to focus on what is happening in the here and now, on the level of first order awareness, the perception of sensations or on revery that is at most one step removed from first order perception, that is, thinking about something you are experiencing.  Reactive states that take us away from first order awareness and into judmental thought are avoided here as are thoughts about the past and the future, except in so far as they directly relate to what we are experiencing now.

Well that is a mouthful.  Fortunately, like many practices it is easier done than said.

One of the things I often do on autopilot is taking a shower.  If I'm not careful, I can enter the shower, bathe completely and leave it barely having felt any of the activity because I was so wrapped up in thinking of what I'd be doing after I was done showering, later in my day or some other time.  This "thinking" in the shower was so ingrained for me that it was a perfect time to open up to the beauty of the moment.  So now, on a good day, I bring my awareness to the sensations of showering, the warm moist air in the shower chamber, the way it fills my nasal passages and soothes them, the feel of the water driving against various parts of my body, the smell of the soap and smooth touch of it sliding on my skin.  And then I notice a scab and I remember cutting myself and then I call my self an idiot for being so careless and then I start worrying that I'll never get the hang of.....  And I've washed half my body and I have been anywhere but in the shower, so I take a deep breath and attempt to return to feeling the roughness of the washcloth as I rub the tops of my feet, filling myself with the tingling of the hot streams of water as I rinse the detangling creme from my scalp, the relaxed warmth of my freshened body and so on.  Ahhh.  I can have my own spa moment before rushing into my day and it is only a turn of thought away.

    Source:  Regular Joe

The practice of return to focus and letting go of wandering mind is a core meditation practice and can be developed and strengthened in this way.  Another place I like to enter the present moment is when brushing my teeth.  Again it is a place I habitually think of anything else but what I am doing and it is very rich and pleasurable to stay with first order consciousness during this experience.  Our mouths have more nerve endings in them than any other part of our bodies so it is a place rich with sensation and really enjoyable to explore.  Just feel the the floss in your hands and between your teeth (since I've started doing this I have begun to look forward to flossing in a big way!), then feel the swish of water as you rinse and smell the minty scent of tooth paste, delighting in the brush as it gently massages your teeth and gums.  This can be a wonderful sensory treat.  A fun gift you can give yourself that starts your day with joy.  Here's a tip to make maintining this gentle focus easier.  Switching the hand that you do things with.  This helps to slow you down and bring your activity into awareness.  It works for brushing hair and teeth, shaving and other things.  When something is new or difficult it will naturally hold your attention making it easier to stay with it, so if you are righty use your left hand and if a southpaw give your right hand a try.

    Source:  Travel and Smile

In this way I've enjoyed picking my clothes out and getting dressed, doing the laundry, putting air in my tires and many other solitary tasks.  I've got special strategies for keeping my mind in the car while driving, on my food while dining alone and on my feet and body moving through space while walking.

Being with others complicates the process of single pointed attention and can make the practice even more rewarding.  Some time back I was in my office talking to a colleague when I found I was getting anxious for them to finish speaking as they went on and on.  I wasn't getting any new information and I felt trapped, wanting to escape and get back to my own work.  Then I noticed how smoothly my colleagues corduroy shirt molded around his body, how soft and warm it looked. This lead me to take in the beauty of the hair growing out of his neck and  head and the simple humanity of his flow of breath.  I sensed his sincere desire to be of service in that moment and was filled with a love for him that transcended my impatience and replaced it with appreciation.  I focused on what he was saying with renewed interest, not because it was helpful to me, which it still was not, but because it was an expression of this beautiful human in front of me.

Similarly, staying with sensation when involved with others can give you clues to your own reactions which you can choose to follow or not.  You can notice the tension building in tightening muscles or the excited feeling in your stomach and heart or the forward thrust of your head and body when you feel interested and drawn in and so on.  Bringing these things into awareness can be clues to how you want to proceed, avoiding, modifying or becoming acclimated to things which make you uncomfortable, seeking, repeating or perhaps saving things you like for later.

Sometimes it is a shock when we let go of habitual thought in the middle of a busy day and come into awareness of physical reality.  We may notice how tense we are, how we may have forgotten self care as we notice the dryness of thirst or the pressure of a full bladder and now we can address these things and feel a sense of ease.

One final practice I think may be useful to you as you move through your jam packed life, is to take a short break in between things.  Before getting off the bus or getting out of the car, before leaving your desk and going to a meeting, at any point of transition taking a moment to see how the last thing we were doing left us and to note the what anticipatory feelings the next thing coming up brings on.  Again, noting first order sensation and what it means to us.  This is particularly nice to do when preparing to leave friends or loved ones before going out to face the world.  Acknowledging any sadness or anxiety that might be felt as pressure behind the eyes or agitation in the stomach, consciously, can make it easier to express love and happiness even though difficult feelings are rising.  Perhaps you will communicate how hard this moment is for you.

As I approach the end of this article I notice that my feet are wrapped around my chair legs and my eyelids feel heavy.  I'm feeling ungrounded by not knowing what activity I'll be taking up next and tired.  I've put my feet flat on the floor to feel more rooted and I'm considering taking a nap, though if it was not Sunday, I  might be considering having a chocolate covered coffee bean.  Om Tat Sat.

After you try this, I'd love feedback on how it went.   Plus if anyone has some favorite times to "come into the moment" that you'd care to share about, I'd love to hear about that too.

5 Minutes of Bliss: How Are You? : A Deep Self Check

Here's a practice that continually surprises me and offers me magnificent insight into myself and how I receive others. I'm calling it, "How are you?", because it answers that question in a very deep way and offers insights into how I can feel more more fully connected to those around me.

          Source:  Sensation

The other day I asked a friend and fellow yogi, Jeff Davis, in an email, how things were going and he responded not with the typical, "Fine," or "Great," or some such perfunctory and obscuring remark but rather with this: " The November light alters my moods, and the other day a phrase came to me about how I feel in my body and soul these days: The Moods of the Woods ~ shadowy and difficult to see far but always richly textured and mysterious." Wow. I really got a sense of what was happening for him and felt encouraged to share about some dark days I had had recently and how I was responding. It took our dialogue to a level I appreciate, one that is real and speaks to our common experience as humans on this earth. In order to dialogue like this however, deep listening must be going on. Being in touch with and feeling comfortable sharing about our inner stirrings is not much encouraged in our consumer culture. We often don't have or create the time for such exploration and sharing. These are things we each have to cultivate on our own and if we are lucky with the help of supportive friends.

One way to get in the habit of this is to ask yourself, "How are you?" or rephrased "How am I?" and then really listening for answers. 

Here's how:
In a comfortable seated position or even laying on your back, take a minute or two to settle with attention to your breath. Feel the expansion and contraction of your lungs and stomach, pelvic girdle and shoulders, all the places affected by your breathing. Notice the cool dry air flowing in and the warm moist air flowing out, following its path. Become aware of the quality of your breath, shallow or deep, full or truncated, hurried or relaxed, without judgment. Don't try to do or change anything, just notice the flow of sensation and take it in. When you are ready, let your mind scan over your body for any sensations that are calling out to you. You may notice pain, tenseness, agitation, excitement, warmth, relaxed feelings, tingling, pulsation, itches or anything else. You may have difficulty coming into contact with your feelings, or you may not have a name for what you are sensing. It is all OK. Whatever seems most present to you, whatever is most captivating your attention, settle on it. That might be on something particular or the interplay of all of it. Let your mind rest gently on the area associated with this interesting perception. If the sensation shifts that is OK, continue to gently but clearly keep your mind focused on this area.

Here are some questions you may want to ask yourself to explore what message this area is sending to you.

What is this sensation trying to tell me?

What can I learn for this?

Is this a familiar sensation? 
When and under what circumstances can I remember having this feeling before?
You may want to reach all the way back to the first time you experienced this or stay more recent, whatever feels productive.

Relax and follow silly ideas and ideas that "make sense". Just stay with the area(s) of sensation and interact interpretively. Relax and have fun.  Your own truth will resonate when it arrives.

Once you have gotten the hang of it, this can be done anytime you have a few minutes to comfortably sit and watch your breathing and track the sensations in your body. A few nights ago, I had spent a short while, before leaving work, doing, the Chakra Balancing Pranayama and was feeling very open. On my way to shopping, I was able to drop in and note how I was feeling, as I drove. Working with what I learned gave me some insights and helped me to let go of something. And here's what continually flips me out. If I hadn't consciously decided to do this practice I never would have noticed what was happening in my body. It was going on but I was totally unaware of it. Shining the light of gently focused attention onto it illuminated some really interesting stuff.

Once I relaxed and settled and gently scanned my body the most prominent things I noticed were a tension in my shoulders and a burning in my chest that included the vague sense that I wanted to vomit since my lower throat muscles felt slightly clenched. Staying with the chest and throat area I realized this was not a familiar sensation for me but it reminded me of times when I had had heart burn from rich food or was sick.

As I settled with these feelings I remembered a call I had had just before I left the office from an angry customer. She had ordered a pair of pants that we were out of. We did not let her know right away, since we thought more might be arriving soon. Ten days had passed since she placed her order and she was very disappointed when she called me only to learn that we were out of the pants. She laced into me saying we had terrible company and should be ashamed and that she would never buy from us again. I had no good reply. I apologized and said I understood how she could be upset but really I was thinking, "Cmon, this is only a pair of pants, what are you so angry about? I don't deserve this." I felt constrained from saying that since I wanted to be a polite customer service person and got off the phone frustrated after assuring her I would refund her money.

As I continued to explore my feelings with this experience in mind, the burning and nausea seemed to me to be the bottled up anger I had about being treated harshly and the nausea was likely a result of me wanting to vomit out my difficult feelings and rip into this woman. Once having seen this I was able to do some self soothing, telling myself, I did nothing wrong. Every once in awhile I am going to disappoint someone. Holding the anger is only hurting myself; in a way, taking on her role of beating myself up. I recognized this was natural but not helpful. Bringing all this into consciousness helped the feelings to recede.

It wasn't until the next day, though, that I was relaxed and open enough to have an even deeper insight. This woman had ordered her pants for a retreat she was going on. I'm guessing she really wanted to look good when meeting her new companions and that it was important to her preparations to show up looking yoga sharp. Her anger was laden with her disappointment, social anxiety and fear and her need for acceptance and love. Now I really did feel badly for her. I still couldn't change the situation but I was sorry to be a part of what caused this suffering for her. Hopefully, the next time I am in a similar situation I will be able to be genuinely sympathetic, even in the face of an angry expression.

Under normal circumstances, I like to try to settle with the top two or even three sensations that come up. I like to thank the area of the body I have just explored for what it has offered me and then move on to the next one. Once I have opened up to all three areas of sensation, I like to linger and remind myself of all I have learned today and thank myself for taking the time to do this and thank my body for all it has shared.

This practice has lead to more surprises than I could ever have imagined. It is great way to open up to what is real for myself in the moment and see the way my body holds onto experiences that are long over. Sometimes the way I feel seems opposite to the way I am acting, like when I am acting angry when I am hurt, scared, or disappointed. It is a great way to go beneath the "big feelings" to what is going on underneath.

This morning I am glad to report I have an excited alive feeling at the top of my stomach and a tingly feeling in my fingers. I am happy and feeling creative and ready for action. There is also some pressure behind my eyes and my shoulders feel tired which I think is my fear that I will lose my upbeatness when I move into the work ahead of me today. Bringing this fear into consciousness, hopefully, will make it possible for me to try and not lose contact with my happy creative self as challenges emerge and I am confronted with negativity. Wish me luck!

After you try it, I'd love feedback on how it went. If you have any questions about the instructions, please let me know.

More great words from Jeff Davis and information about his creativity consulting can be found at his Tracking Wonder website.

5 Minutes of Bliss: Coming Into Your Body with Chakra Balancing

The fast paced, competitive world we live in can be a brutal, isolating place.  Most of us have become numb in some way as a means to survive it.  Unfortunately, while shutting out things we don't want to take in, we also lose the ability to listen to our inner stirrings.  I was very closed off in this way and it has been a big obstacle to coming into contact with myself.  Fortunately, with time, practice and a strong desire to listen one can begin to tune into their inner stirrings and befriend them, rather than tuning them out and avoiding them. One practice that helped me begin to identify and accept the felt sense of emotions in my body is Chakra Balancing.

     Source:  Susan Reep,

When I learned this, it was hard to find information about the chakras.  There were a few books that gave the locations and some ideas about what each chakra related to, but the volumes of material about these energy centers that are available today just wasn't around.  Plus, the tradition that I follow is all about self exploration, which means that we are encouraged to search but often are not told very much about what we will find.  It is enough to know that inner peace lays out there somewhere.  Exactly what each step toward it will be like we have to find out for ourselves.  So, when we were taught chakra balancing, it did not come freighted with many details of what each chakra was meaning.  It was enough to have some basic knowledge and then feel our own way through it.  That said, having this sketchy map of the wheels of energy in the body and developing the desire to listen to what they were trying to tell me, opened my own rich inner realms to me in a way that has deeply informed my life ever since.

Source: Tommyji:

Here's how to do it:
       Chakra balancing pranayama requires three things.  1)  Knowing the basic locations of the chakras.  2)  Knowing the color associated with each chakra.  3) Knowing the bij mantra of each chakra.  The way it works is this.  Find a comfortable seated position with the head erect, shoulders back and down.  Breathe deeply and evenly.  Focus on the location of the first chakra, the root chakra, muladhara in sanskrit.  It is the seat of groundedness found just above the anus, in front of the tip of the spine.  The bij mantra is lam, the color is red.  Singing lam seven times in one breath in a mid tone that vibrates down to the area of focus, visualize the color red filling this area.  Lam, lam, lam, lam, lam, lam, lam.  Do this 3 times. Then go to the next.

2nd chakra, svadistana in sanskrit behind the pubic bone, seat of creative spirit and sexual expression.  The bij mantra is vam the color is orange.  Intone vam seven times in one breath in a mid tone that vibrates down to the area of focus and visualize the area filling with the color orange. Vam, vam, vam, vam, vam, vam, vam. Do this 3 times.  Then go to the next.

3rd chakra, manipura in sanskrit, the solar plexus behind and a little above the naval below the sternum and inch or two in front of the spine.  It is the seat of a desire for power, fame and material success.    The bij mantra is ram, the color is yellow.  Intone ram seven times in one breath in a mid tone that vibrates down to the area of focus and visualize the area filling with yellow light. Ram, ram, ram, ram, ram, ram, ram.  Do this three times. Then go to the next.

4th chakra, heart chakra, anahata in sanskrit, the spiritual heart area just to the right of and behind the physical heart, a few inches ahead of the spine.  It is the home of warm connection with others, affiliative nature and giving spirit.  The bij mantra is yam, the color is green.  Intone yam seven times in one breath in a mid tone that vibrates down to the area of focus and fill that area with green.  Yam, yam, yam, yam, yam, yam, yam. Do this three times.  Then go to the next.

5th Chakra, throat chakra, vishudha in sanskrit, behind the Adam's apple.  It is the seat of communication, truth and rational mind.  The bij mantra is ham, the color blue.  Intone ham seven times in one breath in a mid tone that vibrates down to the area of focus and fill that area with blue.  Ham, ham, ham, ham, ham, ham, ham.  Do this three times.  Then go to the next.

6th Chakra, third eye, ajna in sanskrit, between the eyebrows back near the base of the brain, an inch or two ahead of the spine.  It is the place of intuitive knowledge.  The bij mantra is om and the color is indigo.  Intone om seven times filling the back of the head with indigo.  Om, om, om, om, om, om, om.   Do this three times.  Then go to the next.

7th Chakra, crown chakra, sahasrara in sanskrit, at the top of the head.  It is the place of connection with the divine, the infinite, the spirit realms.  The bij mantra is OM and in this case we say it only once for the full length of the breath while filling the top of the head with violet.  Do this one time only. OM.

Sit for a minute and feel the effects.

Regular practice of Chakra Balancing will make it easier for you to take in and accept the varied and rich messages your body sends you in the form of sensation.  The first step in a dialogue is being able to listen.  An important conversation with your body can begin here.

When you do this and have some positive experiences to share or any questions, I'd love to hear about it.