Sunday, August 29, 2010

Seeing with more than our eyes

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart.
Helen Keller

When we think of seeing, we first think of seeing with our eyes. But Webster's dictionary defines seeing as something more: "to perceive as if by sight", "to come to know", "to perceive the meaning or importance of", "to imagine as a possibility" are a few of the definitions. Helen Keller could not see with her eyes, but she saw so much more through her dedication, curiosity, sensitivity, and appreciation.

When Helen was 19 months old she became ill and ended up losing her sight and hearing. At first she felt terribly frustrated and alone in her dark world, but then Anne Sullivan appeared as her teacher and helped her to "see" again. Helen's first major breakthrough was when Anne held Helen's hand under running water and spelled the word water with her fingers into Helen's hand. Suddenly Helen understood the connection of the wonderful cool something that was flowing over hand with the word water. As Helen expressed it, " That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!"

Without the use of her eyes, Helen began to "see" the wonders of the world around her. She tapped into her gifts to be able to communicate and connect with people. She could put her fingers on peoples' lips and understand what they were saying. Although she could not see the moon, she knew it was there. The feel of a breeze on her skin, the spaciousness of the air around her, the luminous warmth of the sun, all touched her deeply. She could not take her sight for granted because it wasn't there.

It was the love shared between Helen Keller and her teacher that helped her accomplish things that would never have been expected of a blind and deaf person. Anne showed her how to start learning the connection between words and their meanings. Helen had the fire in her heart to pursue her learning passionately. She opened herself to exploring all that life had to offer without holding back.

When you practice yoga, try closing your eyes and noticing. Feel your breath, feel your feet, feel your core, feel your skin. Go deeper into the pose by moving from your heart. Take time to notice your pinkie toe, notice the space between the top of your shoulder blades, feel deep into your hip sockets. Remember your intention, release negative thoughts about yourself and others, fill this space with love. Find a way of seeing without your eyes. Dedicate yourself to the art of awareness. Remember your teachers that have come to you in many shapes and forms. Practice being a beginner and finding wonder in the simple things of life.

Let the words of Helen Keller find a place in your heart: "Truly there is more in us than we dream; for we are parts or shadows of something more intense and greater. We know ourselves only imperfectly. We never fully realize our possibilities, but very near us, touching every one of us, is the Source of all Light, the Sovereign Alchemist who will enable us to transmute the lead of life into gold if we desire it with our whole being, and are willing to work faithfully for its realization."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Take a ride with the ocean swells

Moving with strength and gentleness, ocean swells often travel thousands of nautical miles before reaching the shore. They are initially generated by wind, but as the storm dies down the waves lose their breaking tops and often combine to form swells that carry a calm, powerful energy on their journey.

Water is not compressible, so swells contain the energy that was created from the original storm. As part of the vast ocean, swells are stable and move in groups. They have different heights, depths, and different periods (time between the wave crests). The longer the period, the more speed and energy the swells carry and the larger the breaking wave will be when it reaches the shore. Swells coming from different directions are constantly joining together or canceling each other out. When swells get close to land in shallow water, the energy of the swell shifts and it becomes a breaking wave as it rolls into the shore.

When we watch the ocean with the swells rolling on the surface, we can feel their calming influence. Their magnitude, vastness and continuous motion are soothing to our nature. We somehow begin to feel part of this energy.

In a way, our breath is like the swells on the ocean. Yoga helps us to slow down and focus on our breath. It rises and falls like the swells moving on water. Breathing slowly and evenly, with more space between our breaths, gives us more energy and more benefits. As we practice yoga, we want to move with our breath. Just as a swell is a transference of energy across water, our breath transfers energy in our body. When a swell gets close to shore, the swell gets slowed down by ocean bottom and sends energy upwards causing the swell to get taller, and form a breaking wave. The same type of energy transfer happens in yoga when we firm our muscles and hug our arms and legs inward. We get an upward lift of energy and our body actually lifts upward.

If you close your eyes and visualize the ocean with its waves and swells, you can begin to feel the pulsation and movement of the ocean energy in your body. Sometimes we loose sight of this intimate connection. That leads to feeling alone and unsupported. But when we come back to this connection, it leads us to the place where we already are; part of the magic, mystery and abundance of the natural world around and within us.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Use knowledge to find wisdom

"It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom."

Are we guaranteed at birth that we will be wise in our old age? "Older but wiser" is a common saying. But is it true?

Wisdom cannot be faked. We can feel wisdom in another person. It is a sense that they know themselves deeply without excessive ego or self-doubt.

Mahatma Gandhi had no military training when he decided to stand up to the well-equipped British army. How was he able to use nonviolent civil disobedience to gain independence for a nation? How did he inspire thousands to resist fighting back when they were being beaten during a peaceful march? The suffering of the protesters worked to unify India in a way that England finally realized they no longer could retain control of the millions of Indians under their colonial rule. Gandhi said, "Nonviolence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man." Gandhi had a strong belief that the law of love rules mankind. He believed that if hate was the controlling energy, we would have been extinct a long time ago. His wisdom was felt by others and mobilized a nation to secure victory without a weapon.

The wisest men do not think they know everything. They know that wisdom comes from a sense of wonder, a feeling that there is so much to learn and understand, the belief that the mysteries of the world will never be completely revealed. When the oracle at Delphi said that Socrates was wiser than anyone else in Athens, Socrates decided to test this by questioning the men considered wise by the Athenians. Socrates concluded that, while each man thought he was wise, in fact they knew very little and were not wise at all. Paradoxically Socrates knew he was not wise at all, which made him the wisest since he was the only person aware of his own ignorance. He only claimed to understand the path to the pursuit of wisdom.

The owl is a symbol of wisdom in many cultures. She is said to be clairvoyant with acute vision, seeing what others cannot see in the dark. These talents, along with silent observation, make the owl a great hunter. Wisdom abounds in nature and the owl is one expression of that wisdom.

So what is the difference between knowledge and wisdom? Wisdom lies beneath the surface guiding us to we live and act upon that wisdom without conflict of thought. Knowledge is something we believe to be true, but may fail to act upon. Knowledge lies on the surface and has not been totally infused it into our core making it our own.

Yoga can be taught but ultimately the path of yoga is to find the teacher within. We can do a pose, but what we feel is important. The feeling and the doing are in constantly interacting with each other. Without the breath we will never find the depth we seek in our practice. Yoga can be an exercise, but it can be so much more. We can keep yoga on the surface or we can bring it deep into our core. When we know ourselves deeply, yoga becomes an expression of that wisdom. It infuses our poses with strength and lightness.

Knowledge can be taught and sought after. It leads the way to wisdom. Wisdom is a life long experience of learning and seeking. So even though there is no guarantee we will grow up to be wise, if we humbly follow the path of seeking wisdom, we will grow old with peace and equanimity.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Expanding Awareness

"To see a world in a grain of sand, and Heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour."
William Blake

How often do you notice the soles of your feet? We tend to hide our feet in shoes and only go barefoot inside or on comfortable surfaces. Our feet are one of the most sensitive places of our bodies with several acupressure points that treat our emotional and physical well-being. Running or walking barefoot over roots and stones in the woods will stimulate these points. Our feet are actually a gateway to our whole system and stimulating the acupressure points is a great way to massage your internal organs and systems.

Everyone has probably jumped into a cold river, ocean or lake. Remember how every cell of your body felt alive, invigorated and tingled with a sensation that made you gasp with a sensation between shock and delight? How often are we aware of our whole body at once in this dynamic way? What a fun way to stimulate our circulatory and lymphatic systems while increasing our metabolism.

When we eat do we truly savor our food? Most of the time we mechanically chew a little bit and then rapidly swallow so we can get another mouthful in. Being more mindful and conscious of each bit of food has enormous takes patience but pays off in the long run. It aids our digestion without building excess toxins, it improves our immune system, it reduces the amount of food we need to feel satisfied, and it promote clearer thinking and a healthier nervous system.

Yoga helps us go deeper into places we tend to just skim on the surface. Focusing on breathing fully through our noses and slowing down the breath is something we typically are too preoccupied to notice. We end up breathing fast and shallow breaths that cause poor posture and keep us alive but that is about it. Although our breath physically goes to our lungs, we can energetically send it anywhere in our bodies to open and relax those areas. The poses help us to feel deeply in places of our bodies that are typically closed and tight like hips and shoulders. By bringing our awareness to undernoticed places like the mound of our big toe, the bottom tip of our shoulder blades or the back of our heads we impact our whole body and nervous system.

What do the soles of our feet, a jump into cold water, mindful eating and yoga have in common? They all teach us to be more intentional and conscious in our thoughts and actions. They help us to expand our awareness and how we live life. Accidents often happen when we are careless and not really present. We can live wide awake or we can live half asleep. Which do you choose?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Finding Opportunity

If opportunity doesn't knock, build a door. ~Milton Berle

Opportunity is around us all the time even if we do not see it. Sometimes it appears as a gift that comes to us effortlessly. Other times it comes in the form of an obstacle that can be transformed into opportunity.

A brilliant example of this kind of transformation is the story of Tom Sawyer who was given the chore to whitewash his aunt's fence one summer day. At first Tom was melancholy at the thought of having to spend a Saturday painting instead of playing with his friends. But as he began to paint and his friends passed by he pretended to be so absorbed in painting that it piqued the curiosity of his friends. By pretending to like what he was doing and telling his friends that it took great skill to whitewash a fence properly, he began to trade his friend's treasures for a turn at whitewashing the fence. Soon the fence was painted by his friends and Tom had become a wealthy lad in the process.

Rocks in rivers can be seen as dangerous obstacles but for the seasoned boater they create opportunities to rest in an eddy behind the rock or boof off the edge of the rock and get airborne for a second. Rocks are what form the character of the river. If you keep looking at a rock that you don't want to hit, then you will probably end up hitting the rock. But if you want to avoid the rock, then your focus needs to be on where you want to go. If you view the rock as something friendly to play with on the river, that is where your focus should be. The same is true of any obstacle we want to avoid or transform into something positive.

Yoga gives us the opportunity to fully be with our breath. Our minds are so occupied with our daily lives that we rarely focus on our breath. In fact, we typically breath with only 10 percent of our total lung capacity. When we focus on deep full breathing we increase our oxygen supply, decrease toxins in our bodies, increase our circulation and improve our mental clarity. Many places in our bodies tend to be tight - like hamstrings, hips and shoulders. Although this may seem like a limitation to yoga, it can be an incredible opportunity to open those tight areas and understand more about those muscles and joints. Yoga teaches us to expand our viewpoints and to listen to and respect our bodies. It helps us to understand how the body and mind are deeply connected and affect each other on many levels.

Life is often what we make of our current situation. Why do some people see opportunities where others see few options? Introspection and sensitivity to others can strengthen our ability to expand our perceptions. Determination, open-mindedness and the desire to learn more about this amazing world we live in, will clear our vision revealing opportunities that allow us to blossom into ourselves.