May 2017 be a year of waking up to the efforts of our soul to bring us on a path of being ourselves.
Efforts that sometimes involve the closing of the doors we so strive and struggle to keep open.
May we allow enough time for inner silence to hear the guidance from within leading us towards discovering the authentic and meaningful way in which our lives are meant to be lived, if they are to rise up to their unique and full expression.
It gives me great joy that, starting mid-January, I will be leading a new class of yoga and meditation in Yoga Kula Vienna, for folks who want to learn and use the practices of mindful movement, pranayama and meditation, on weekly, or even daily basis. It is for true seekers who want to go deeper into the ancient teachings of yoga, taught as a state of awareness and knowing of the Self. http://athensyoga.gr/?i=maja.en.schedule.534
Every now and then I will feel like the awareness leaves the breath only to enjoy the delight of coming back home to it.
Will we ever understand that high popularity of something is not it's quality certificate?
A holiday gift of….meeting yourself where you are
The holiday fever always makes me think of people for whom this particular season is exactly opposite of celebratory - triggering bulks of painful memories, an overall state of melancholy, loneliness or even depression. Chances are that all those celebration atmosphere components like lights, songs, and widespread smiling advertisements will aggravate the feeling of being alone and separate, dropped into a hostile place, just outside the holiday spirit by the circumstances of life.
So, instead of wishing happy holidays, I’m sending out a wish for sincerity, and all the courage that is needed to meet ourselves exactly where we are, at any given moment, or season, in time.
Here it comes:
On the days when darkness prevails, if you cannot access the light of your own essence, you can always hold on to the light of your basic humanly emotions. Yes, your feelings are very intelligent, and they can be very enlightening too.
You can begin to listen to the wisdom of your emotions as soon as you let go of the effort to shake off the negativity. Instead of forcing yourself to tune into the good vibrations of the season, take the time to really sit with yourself. Breathe.
Breathe and watch closely whatever arises, moment by moment. Take time to notice the impermanence of your troubling thoughts and emotions, and how each one arises from, and dissolves into the void, giving way to the next one. This in itself can bring about considerable relief, especially when done on regular basis.
Sometimes though, the attention you pay to the feelings will take you down the rabbit hole - the unknown territory where you get to meet the parts of yourself that you are normally trying to avoid. If that is the case, here is a list of reasons why I find that this scary place is highly worth the visit.
In the rabbit hole I meet my defenses/resistances. And I discover the gratitude for the protection they provide. I also receive insight about the wounds with origins that stretch far back in time, not only in the personal childhood pain, but also in our collective human pain and transgenerational suffering. These wounds will take a long time to heal. And maybe they never will heal. But knowing them intimately mitigates the pain and shame, however skillfully disguised, and releases me right into a better understanding of myself.
In the rabbit hole I meet my anger. And I discover the necessary boundaries and the importance of all those ideals that I stand for in life, like equality and justice, and different ways to take action about them.
In the rabbit hole I meet my doubts and mistrust. And I discover that every single paradigm I have ever followed or stood up for will eventually reach its expiry date, giving way to a new one.
In the rabbit hole I meet my envy. And I discover the self-hatred that lies beneath it. I become aware of different voices that helped shape my sense of self while I was growing up. I learn about the enormous power that the words have on a developing human being. This only makes me more sensitive and conscious about the choice of words I use with my children.
In the rabbit hole I meet disorientation, confusion and chaos. And I discover that the mind and intellect are not always to be trusted as the most reliable source of knowledge.
In the rabbit hole I meet my tears, grief, impatience, fears, guilt, prejudice, regret, projections, drama, and every other component of what it means to be fully and truly human. And yet, ultimately, whatever feeling I surrender to will eventually reveal the teaching it had in store for me. This information and guidance far exceeds what I could have obtained by exclusively mentally analyzing the situation, or even by thinking myself OUT of the feeling, in order to bypass the trip to the rabbit hole. Going IN is what will show me the way OUT, and hopefully, the way FORWARD.
And most importantly the sensitivity we obtain in this whole process is what makes us more connected and attuned to other people. On the contrary, the constant ignoring and repression of our pain, renders us incapable of cultivating true empathy. When our loved ones come to us with problems, and in order to stay committed to not letting our own pain surface, we will likely feel an instant urge to fix them into being happy again, sometimes with our ego skyrocketing into a role of a “greatly needed helper/fixer”. But when we have taken the path down the rabbit hole, we gain trust in the intelligence of this natural process of feeling and healing, and instead of fearing other people’s emotions and emotional reactions, we can offer our presence when their turn comes to dive in. All that shift just because once we were courageous and sincere enough to meet ourselves where we were, and come out of the hole a little more sensitive, a little more loving, a little more human than before.
Closing with one of my all time favorite Rumi's poems: "This being human is a guesthouse"
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Translated by Coleman Barks
I don't believe in New Year's resolutions. You'll either do the work needed or you won't. I doubt that the change of year will have anything to do with it.
Feeling truly loved by a person gives you something that feels like ground, on which you can stand whether strong or weak, always supported, and safe to be yourself. And at the same time it gives you a feeling of open space in which you can continuously expand, and create in whichever direction you choose, in complete freedom, and using your full potential. Thank you, my love!
I may not be comfortable with this situation.
I may not be comfortable in this conversation.
I may not be comfortable inside this room.
But I turn inwards and see, regardless of the space and time, I can always be comfortable inside this BODY.
Can you feel yourself being protected and sheltered inside the privacy of your own physical body?
Even though I was never idealizing Hilary's willingness or capacity to elevate the values of the feminine, her opponent is without a doubt an enormous set-back for women’s rights. A darkest darkness itself has come to "rule the world"! Ouch! Just when we thought we were getting somewhere.
My step daughter is 13 y.o. The other day on the streets of Athens, she received repeated vulgar/sexist comments by a 40 y.o. man! And yes, there were people around. And no, no one said a word!
So, putting these 2 things together, my concern is, will we fail to see that the US election is a reflection of a wider situation, and an alarm bell for the feminine populations around the world? Will we realise the urgency to wake up from the “equality dream” and start to take real action against discrimination, not just on the basis of gender, but on financial status, good looks, sexual/gender determination, race, ethnic background, and other?
The real feminine values are centered around inclusion, LIFE-CREATION, nourishment, healing, sheltering, LOVE and empathy. We easily get emotional, and that’s one of our greatest gifts.
BUT! To cultivate and nurture these inner qualities of ours, and to allow them to come to a full expression in the world, we need to come out of the isolation and competitive environments, and we need focus on creating groups, circles, and communities, where we will feel heard and supported, in order to truly thrive!
Honestly, I believe that one of the reasons that yoga has flourished the way it has in the world is that it is helping women reclaim their inner power, and it is fulfilling (to some degree anyhow) the NEED we have to gather together and support each other in the process of transforming ourselves, and thus changing the world.
But our weekly get-togethers have to start to go beyond the asana practice. The time has come, I feel. We need to get ourselves more organized in this business of making the world a better place.
Racist voices of marginalization and exclusion are gaining ground more and more all over the world, and that is a measurable fact. Instead of FIGHTING AGAINST, what we, women, are really great at is WORKING WITH. Let’s work WITH this scary world phenomenon in a way that, perhaps one day, we will be able to say to our daughters – thank goodness for those 2016 elections, because the fear and shame they shed, only helped us bond on a new level, set highest standards, and create new models of women working together for a better tomorrow!
I want to give a word of encouragement to parents whose child is struggling with the arrival of a new sibling.
For two and a half years Marko, my first son, was THE center of attention. When his sister Mila was born, he was hurt, confused, betrayed and angry, all at the same time. Purposefully spilling things on the sofa, pinching the baby, needing to wear diapers again, were a few of the many new behaviours . He was clearly trying to deal with the new situation the best way he knew how, and it was no joyride for any of us. Nearly a year passed by, with very little change in his attitude towards her. We worked with him in so many ways, with lots of patience, juggling between non-punitive techniques and setting healthy boundaries at the same time. And most of, trying to let him know he was loved and understood with all that he was experiencing. This meant that we would help him realise that ALL of the feelings and drives were accepted and embraced, even if not all BEHAVIOUR was allowed. When violent behavior was not allowed, but the feelings were, he’d end up releasing the pent up emotions through crying and raging, usually in our understanding presence in which he found a lot of comfort. And even though there were times it seemed these two would never get along, and even though there were times I did not manage to react in such an aware manner because my protective instincts (over the baby) would beat me to it, I know he knew and felt connection and support. And voila, 2,5 years after her birth, the two are inseparable. Playing together for hours at a stretch (with a healthy does of conflict of course), sleeping embraced all through the night, finding solutions together etc. I overheard him telling her that he will always protect her (!), which he indeed does. She is always asking for 2 of whatever she asks for, one for her, one for brother “Mamo”. When he is sick she urges me to make him some tea.
The times when our instinctive reaction would be to disconnect from our kids because their behaviour drives us crazy, are the times they actually need us to recognize and help them address their issue the most! Strategies of neglecting them, retreating our love, or redirecting of their attention to something else (and certainly not verbal or physical punishment) will never have the same effect like connecting with them on a deeper level. Connecting with them will help them feel safe during the transition time, and eventually find their peace with any new situation.
One of the most harmful things we can do to the world of tomorrow is to remain ignorant of the power we have to change the world today.
Slogan 49 of the mind-training practice from Tibetan Buddhist tradition called 59 Slogans of Lojong: "Always meditate on whatever provokes resentment".
Contrary to our instinctive reaction to escape, repress and avoid that which provokes resentment, and contrary to the widespread belief that meditation is about maintaining a peaceful, serene, thoughtless and motionless state of mind, we are invited to integrate whatever arises in the field of consciousness into the meditation experience. Day in and day out, with dedication, devotion, and considerable amount of compassion towards ourselves, until meditation (as understood in this sense), becomes a more permanent state of being.
A BIG thank you:
To the angry and intolerant strangers. When our paths on the street cross, I know it’s time for me to work on my own anger and intolerance.
To the ignorant ones, for reminding me to work on being more aware.
To my dear impatient children, for reminding me to cultivate and model patience, instead of screaming how you should be more patient.
To the confusing life circumstances, for inspiring a practice of clarity in me.
To the envious ones, for teaching me that I need to address my own envy, to learn to see through the illusion of separation between us.
To the hostile and resentful ones who are teaching me how hard life is without a sense of safety and belonging.
But most of all, THANK YOU, to all the loving, empathetic, generous people in my life who are dreaming of a better world, who are driven by a desire to grow and to reduce suffering in the world every step of their way. We may not always succeed in practicing what we preach. It may be a really bumpy road full of surprises, disappointments and set-backs. But please know that you are my daily inspiration! Without you I could never understand, or utilize, let alone be thankful for all of the above teachings.
When a feelng that you truly belong here deepens, you are highly unlikely to develop or maintain a belief that others do not so.
Faith does not require eradicating our humanly worries, disappointments and concerns about the events of our lives. It does not require extinguishing all that we imagine to be "negative" about the way we feel. Faith is a deep-seated understanding that, even in the darkest of moments, we are never disconnected from life, and life is never NOT conveying to us THAT which we need to know in order to grow. As such, faith can be cultivated and strengthened by practice. A practice of diving into the present experience, be what it may, where the life’s teaching is always waiting to be revealed.
You’ve been hanging out in Paschimottanasana for some breaths already. What does it mean to go deeper in the pose? Will you experience deepening if your breath deepens? If you start feeling greater steadiness and ease? Will it be deeper if your torso folds 2 cm closer to your thighs? Or if your mind releases the obsession about how deeply you are folding? There is no right or wrong way to be in an asana. And yet, to be able to change your conditioned patterns, you need to start being - repeatedly and persistently - lovingly aware of them.
Forward folds this week my friends, an asana category that is a teacher in itself!
After the rain come Sun...Your path will be greatly influenced by whether you are at ease with, or frightened by, the inevitability of change.
Clearly, a true insight calls for no argumentation, and requires no defense. But, as soon as it transmutes itself into the human language, it somehow instantly becomes self-appropriated. Out of nowhere, it starts to feel like "I" had an insight!
From that moment on, it is deliberately handed over to the world of interpretation, polarity, and consequently, argument.
The outside world is merely a reflection of our inner state. Increasingly integrating parts of the self through yoga practices, we start to see the profound connections and interdependence everywhere we look. From the separation dream we gradually wake up to the fact that our individual spiritual growth is both contributing to, and strongly dependent on the degree of evolution of the collective. Whether through meditation, mindful asana practice, aware and respectful parenting, acts of self-nurture, being in service to the underprivileged, or through simple random acts of kindness, yoga truly comes alive when the context behind our actions is a desire to contribute to the raising of the consciousness level of the humanity as a whole.
A good teacher will NOT leave you in awe at how wise or powerful he/she is, but will help you discover the wisdom and power within you. The teachings, when successfully transmitted, become a portal to the source, that is no less your own than is anybody else's.
Everything you do, from parenting to partying, from exercising to resting, from working to lovemaking, can be either an entry or an escape, depending on where you are.
A recongition of a deep soul connection happens in the most unexpected moments. A voice inside us telling us that there is more to the person than meets the eye. That your paths have crossed for an important reason. May we be grounded in the present time just as much as it is required to hear that voice, and learn what we were meant to learn from one another.
"Boredom is a chance to contemplate life" - I love this quote from psychoanalyst Adam Phillips. Many parents think that the key to raising healthy and intelligent kids is to give them as much stimulus and possible, to keep them constantly "busy", but finally psychologists are recognising that this is not necessarily the case.
A moment of pause has become my favorite practice with children. When they get bored, they get whiny. "I am boooooored. Mom, this is so booooooring". My instincts will tell me to rush in, and offer a game or a book. But, instead I try to stop myself from reacting too soon. I pause without interfering and watch (except maybe to acknowledge and validate their feelings "I see. You don't like it when you are bored"). Then the shift happens. Pretty soon, they are all excited again, onto something like making a magic castle out of carton boxes, or.embarking on a mission of rescuing their stuffed animals from an alien invasion.. in any case surely something way more creative than I would have come up with. And most importantly, it is THEIR creation.
In this article psychologists actually recommend boredom as a positive stimulus for creativity and as "an integral process of taking one’s time"
To pause in order to listen to what lies behind the phenomena, to understand what is a symptom and what is a cause, is the greatest skill one can master.
Perhaps 90% of our troubles require non-attachment. But then there are those 10% that require a passionate warrior!
Thank you my friends for your insights. I keep exploring. It is good to notice the "yogi" identity that has been created in myself and others. I love it when I manage to see through it, because just like any other identity, it will tend to create separation, bondage and hence suffering.
Creating union (with some) based on separation (from others) is no real union.
When I see though it, I laugh with it. But sometimes it goes unnoticed or under cover.
Here is my invitation for the next meditation class: "When feelings of envy or jealousy arise, do not discard them right away because of the discomfort they cause, or because of their "non-yoginess". Dive into them. Feel them intensify, even burn, inside your body. Bring them into your meditation. Contemplate and explore. Breathe with them, give them space, stay and observe.
If you stop resisting and surrender to their power, they can take you all the way to their roots, which is non other than a desire to be loved, to be whole, to return to oneness.
This journey is not easy. You are opening to the inner experiences that you've been shutting down for decades. And it can take a while until you see the worthiness of it all. But just like anything, it takes practice. It becomes easier. Even short trips are worthwhile.
Ultimately this exploration reveals to you that you have never been separated from the oneness. And neither have others been. Then if that's true, who can be jealous of whom? An inner smile will eventually arise out of knowing the truth.
But there can be no shortcuts :-)
Don't forget that all these physical adventures are here only for the purification of your mind. If your asana practice will cause more mental turbulence than it will eradicate, you may need more meditation to work with the mind
One of the numerous benefits of meditation is that you start to gain insight about the truths that need to be said, and when it is NOT the right time to say them.
Taking your life into your own hands and accepting responsibility for what goes on in it, paradoxically makes you feel LESS remorseful, and more forgiving towards everyone, including yourself. The sun only intensifies the whiteness of the snow...