Monday, December 8, 2014

Embracing My Non Traditional Christmas Traditions

My nephew, Atticus, accurately displaying
my feelings about the Holiday season.

 "I think there must be something wrong with me, Linus. Christmas is coming, but I'm not happy. I don't feel the way I'm supposed to feel. I just don't understand Christmas, I guess." -- Charlie Brown

The holiday season is here, and I have to be honest, I'm not feeling the Christmas spirit. For starters, the temperature in Tucson is averaging around 75 degrees Fahrenheit with bright sunny skies. Sure, it gets chilly at night, but I haven't had to pull out my parka...wait...I don't even own a parka anymore. My collection of fun gloves and scarves that I wore during the cold Virginia winters have long been donated to Goodwill. 

The stockings were hung.
A glimpse of Christmas past.  2011.
I haven't celebrated Christmas in the traditional sense for the past three years. In my old life, I took great pleasure in all the traditions that were handed down to me from my family. I loved spending hours hunting for the perfect tree with my ex and his family, then decorating it while sipping hot cider as Bing Crosby belted out "White Christmas" in the background. I planned the great feast for weeks, and even did my part in supporting the economy by shopping for the perfect gifts for everyone.

Christmas went the same way every year for nearly 16 years. Christmas Eve was spent with my family: Mom, Sister, Granny, aunts, and cousins. We usually had a big dinner and then exchanged gifts. In later years, we all met for a holiday themed movie and White Elephant gift exchange. That night, my ex and I would exchange gifts by the fire and make plans for the coming year. 

Christmas Day was usually spent at my ex's parents' home. We would get up early and the gift exchange would take place as soon as we arrived, typically around 6:30 or 7:00 in the morning. After cleaning up the mountains of shredded wrapping paper and ribbons, we would spend the whole day helping prepare the dinner that we all shared around the festively decorated table.

That's the way it was. Every year. Until 2012. 

In some ways, I think the Mayan prediction of the end of the world in 2012 actually happened. For me, anyway. By December of that year, my whole life was different. I was different. I had ended my 15 year relationship with my ex and moved out on my own for the first time in over a decade. I was exploring my newfound freedom and forging my own traditions. 

Me and Mama Price
spending Christmas in the Bahamas.
It was during this time that my closest friend, Marsha, invited me to spend Christmas in the Bahamas with her family. We were all grieving the loss of her father, who had passed away the month before. None of us felt jolly or cheerful, and getting away to somewhere warm and sunny seemed like just what we needed.

It was bittersweet. While I was extremely grateful for the generous gift of this trip, we were all in mourning. Inevitably, the warm sunny days on the white sandy beach would give way to the dark cool nights and remind us that we were missing someone very dear to us. 

I began to cherish every moment I spent with my friends and family. We are on this planet for such a short time. We will all be gone while the trinkets we have exchanged over the years will remain. I would rather hang onto my memories of time spent together than a keepsake dust collector. 

That was the last time I ever exchanged gifts. When I returned home, I gathered my friends, and we hit the bricks delivering free hugs to holiday shoppers on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, Virginia. It was so much fun to see people actually get a running start and jump into our arms to receive a hug. I can't think of a better way to spend an afternoon. 
My friend, Jason, was part
of the Free Hug Brigade.
Surprisingly, most of the people
we encountered wanted hugs
from him. 

Christmas 2013 was a little different. I had just moved across the country two months before. I was still getting settled in, but I wasn't finished traveling yet. I made my way to a beach in Honolulu, HI in early December to earn my Brown Belt in the Nia Technique. Once again, I found myself in a tropical location during the start of the Christmas season. 

The shops were decorated in red and green. Christmas carols could be heard on the street corners as performers strummed their ukeleles. Every encounter with another person ended in "Aloha and Merry Christmas!", but it did not feel like Christmas to me.

One evening, I sat on a beach with my friend, Kristin, who had moved to Oahu just a few months before. As we watched the waves crash into the shore, we talked about how differently each of our lives had turned out thus far. Our conversation made me nostalgic for a Christmas with my family and friends, so I changed my travel plans to include a trip back to Virginia in time for Christmas.

As it turns out, this was not the best decision I could have made. In hindsight, I realized that I probably should have stayed in Honolulu. 

I traveled for exactly 24 hours to get to Charlottesville from Honolulu. I was exhausted and freezing. The cold winter air smacked me in the face as soon as I landed on Virginia soil, as if to say, "You idiot. You could be on a beach right now."

I was met with a not so warm welcome from a certain special someone. I didn't have transportation, and getting around the sprawling city in the cold proved quite difficult on foot. The best gift I received during that visit was that of silence. For two days, I was left in a big drafty house, alone with my thoughts. That is exactly what I needed. 

I reconnected with my mindfulness practices. I was able to forgive and move past my ideas of what I thought my impromptu trip home should have been like. I went to one of the best yoga classes of my life on Christmas Eve led by my friend, Jen Waine. It was a candlelit class, and as soon as I walked into the warm, dimly lit studio, I finally felt that familiar feeling I had been missing. It felt like home. It was during that class that I was able to move everything I wanted to say, feel, or scream through the gentle practice of leaving it all on the mat. What a gift.

The next day, my mother and sister picked me up and took me to the airport to fly back to Tucson. I spent Christmas Day in the sky. It was fantastic. I had finally let go of my attachment to Virginia as "home". I felt free. I arrived back in Tucson at midnight to find my friends waiting to welcome me home with open arms. It was a Christmas I will never forget, and I am grateful.

My memories of all those Christmases before 2012 are all blurred together. Nothing really stands out as truly memorable. They were ordinary by nature of the definition of the word "tradition". 

So this year, while hoards of people rush to the mall to fill their bags with shiny dust collectors, I opt to head to the park and sit on a blanket with a borrowed dog or my yoga mat. 

The only plans I've made is to spend Christmas this year with my new family in Tucson. We will make memories together and share precious moments. The non traditional Christmas is becoming my Christmas tradition, and it suits me just fine.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Revival of the Sisterhood

Chillin' with my girl, Hansel.
The sisterhoods. The lifelong friends and bonds that will never lessen. Years can go by, and I will pick up with each of those sisters as if a single day hasn’t passed. Only we can truly understand one another.” - Angela Ricketts

Recently I did something I haven't done in a long time. I talked on the phone with a girlfriend. For an hour.

Most people who know me know that I hate talking on the phone more than going to the dentist. In this day and age, it's faster and easier to chat, text, or email when I need to communicate with others, but during that conversation with my girlfriend, I realized that I had been missing an important piece of the social interaction pie.

When it comes to my friends, I have always found it easier to get along with men than women. I'm very choosy when it comes to adding women to my circle. I have very low tolerance for bullshit, game-playing, and insecurity. I prefer to be around women who are smart, independent, fun, and at times a little outrageous. Everyone brings something different to the table. 

The few female sister-friends I have are my true soul sisters. They are the kind of friends who would not ask questions if I needed a hole dug in the desert in the middle of the night. They would simply organize the event and assign who would bring the shovels, music, and beer. 

Shaena & Me. Friends from VA to AZ
Shaena and I met in 2008 when we were both working at the Cancer Center at the University of Virginia. She had an awesome job while I was stuck in the first job I ever hated. 

Shaena was the reason I showed up to work each day during that time. She and I shared a similar sense of humor, a love of spontaneously dancing in the hallways or elevators, and a passion for cake. When she moved away, technology made it easy for us to stay in touch. I even visited her in Arizona for the birth of her second child. 

Several years later, when I quit my job to begin my quest for happiness, Shaena sensed it. I remember confiding in her about my uncertain future and how terrified I was of not knowing what I was going to do at the time.  She listened patiently and then said, "I know what you're going to do. You're going to move to Tucson." A few months later, that's exactly what I did.
We're connected, as women. It's like a spiderweb. If one part of that web vibrates, if there's trouble, we all know it.” - Sarah Addison Allen 
Upon arrival to my new city, I relied on my mindfulness practices to keep me calm and even provide income. I began teaching yoga and Nia right away. Those practices helped me stay afloat while putting the finishing touches on the book

One day, I was teaching Nia to a group of women in the park. As an ice-breaker, the group's facilitator handed out pennies to everyone. We were asked to look at the year on the penny and then tell the group something significant from our life that happened during that year. Shaena's penny was dated 2013. When it was her turn, she told the group, "This year has been pretty shitty, but the best thing that happened was when I asked my friend, Kristy, to move to Arizona, and she actually came." Yeah, Girl. I sure did.

Private Yoga at Inspiration Rock
Mt. Lemmon, AZ
Moving to a new city meant I would need to rebuild my social circles. After landing a job at a world-renowned wellness resort, I was thrown into a mix of men and women. Suddenly, there were about a dozen new women in my life. I was surprised at how quickly I developed bonds between my female co-workers. In just a few months, I've enjoyed conversations and shared meals and experiences outside of work that have brought me tremendous joy.

One of my friends was recently going through a tough time. She really needed some peace in her life, so I drove us up to Mt. Lemmon one sunny afternoon. We made our way to the top of Inspiration Rock where we did yoga and deep breathing. It felt like we were the only two people in the world up there in all that silence.

Another new friend invited me to brunch at her home a few weeks ago. The kitchen was full of friendly faces and busy hands. Everyone was pitching in to help prepare the meal. There was so much laughter and warmth radiating from that space, it felt like home.
Ladies Who Brunch

While I have made many new friends in Arizona, I am grateful to also remain in touch with the other members of my sisterhood. Even though we may be on opposite ends of the country, or even the globe at times, I never feel as though our friendship has faded. A simple text, call, or message on Facebook is enough to keep our bonds strong.  

I've been in Arizona for almost a year now. Being over 2,000 miles away from my own family, it's been important for to form close bonds with other women. I have been fortunate to find women who have not only embraced me as a friend, but have adopted me as a sister. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Rave Reviews

We control the media more than we know.

Welcome to the age of social media. We can now post, share, like, comment, follow, pin, check-in, hashtag, tweet, and perform a whole list of other nouns that have become verbs in the blink of an eye. We can be instantly connected to hundreds, or even thousands of friends around the world. We have unlimited information at our fingertips at all times.

Today, it's more likely that we've spent more time chatting or messaging with someone we've never met than actually having a face-to-face conversation with the actual people in our lives. Many of our off-line relationships are but hollow representations of the seemingly deep connections we might perceive with our online audience. Have we succumbed to the Matrix after all?

We all know that social media is a great way to get the word out about an upcoming birthday party or a new product or class to try. It's a useful tool to raise awareness of social issues and to spark in-depth discussions on everything from hotbed political issues to what hairstyle Miley Cyrus is currently sporting.

I've used several different social media sites effectively to share this blog in order to reach over 5,500 readers in 63 countries to date. To my surprise, my last blog post was viewed by 2,000 people in 17 countries within 24 hours of posting it. Scientists are now studying the possibility of whether information can travel faster than the speed of light. Right now, it can't. However, the possibility of superluminal data transfer may be on the horizon. I googled it. And I love puns.

Many companies are now creating jobs for employees who do nothing more than post to social media pages. With just a few clicks on popular review sites, we can make informed decisions based on consumer reviews on just about everything, including where to eat, shop, sleep, play, or seek medical attention. We can even find a date for Saturday night without ever leaving the couch.

With the ability to share information so easily and quickly, we may be in danger of losing the love of exploration. Why try new things when we can just read the reviews?

By now, you may be wondering what this post has to do with mindfulness. As Peter Parker learned, "with great power there must also come great responsibility". We, the People, have the power to influence the opinions and decisions of others with the words we use. Sometimes we use that power to positively describe a product or experience. Many times, we do not. More often than not, we spin a web of negativity around an experience we had.

My general rule of thumb when leaving a review is to remember the advice my mother gave me: "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." Easier said than done. Every review I've ever left has been a positive one. Until today.

I've been dealing with some issues with my landlord lately about some conditions that have been handled in a way that is unsatisfactory to me. I have been patient for the past week, following all the proper channels to set things right. My efforts have been met with apologies and sympathy, but no attempts to actually fix the problems.

Today, my Tolerance Meter dropped below zero. During the interaction with my landlord, I informed her that I would be leaving a detailed and somewhat unfavorable review on one of the top review sites on the interwebs. As soon as the words left my mouth, something interesting happened.

I witnessed a physical and energetic transformation in the person with whom I was speaking. Her face changed. Her body language shifted. She was no longer meeting me with a stone wall stubbornness. Her eyes got bigger. Her jaw dropped a little. Her shoulders collapsed inward. She was exhibiting physical signs of....fear.

Whoa. I had not raised my voice. I had not used abusive language. I had not threatened bodily harm. I had not cleared the desk with my arm, which is what I really had an urge to do. (Thank you, yoga.) I simply stated that I was unsatisfied and that if the situation was not remedied immediately, I would be posting a negative review on a social media site...or two...or seven.

That's all I had to say. It was in that moment that I realized just how powerful social media really is.

The first thought that entered my mind after watching this woman melt in front of me was: "Don't be a dick." In yoga language, the term is "ahimsa" or non-harm. In other words, my mindfulness skills kicked in, and I reminded myself to display compassion, for myself, the other person, and the situation.
A good reminder.
"Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible." - Dalai Lama
I took a deep breath and walked away. I'm making a conscious decision to not post a negative review. In fact, this situation has opened my eyes to the need for more compassion in the world. Posting a negative review will surely impact this business. That will then trickle down and impact the employees and their families. It will, in the end, only make things worse for more people than I can be aware of at this moment.

It is not my intent to cause more suffering in the world. Sure, I'm still a little pissed off, but as long as my issue is fixed in a timely manner, then all my problems go away. How fortunate am I to have only a small problem in this day and age. I am grateful to have a roof over my head and a soft bed to sleep in. So many people do not.

Today, I choose to be more mindful of my social media interactions. I will still post reviews, but only when I have something nice to say. My mindfulness journey is far from over, but my backpack is getting full of the gear I need to make it across the rocky terrain. As I write these words, my issue is being fixed. I feel better already.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Eat the Damn Cake and Other Ways to Look 10 Years Younger

“Cake is happiness! If you know the way of the cake, you know the way of happiness! If you have a cake in front of you, you should not look any further for joy!”   C. JoyBell C.

I recently celebrated my birthday. One of my favorite games to play with people is to have them guess how old I am. It never fails...they always guess between 27 and 31. They are always wrong. When I reveal that I'm actually 37 years old a look of shock and confusion typically washes over their face. Then I'm bombarded with questions of: 

"How is that possible?!"
"What is your secret?!"

I don't spend hundreds of dollars on miracle face creams. I don't make myself choke down wheatgrass shots. I've never worried about being beautiful or staying young. I don't wear makeup. I don't try to enhance my eyes or my lips. I don't apply bronzer to get that "healthy glow". In fact, I don't follow any beauty regimen of any kind, and yet, I'm constantly complimented on my "beautiful skin" and my glowing complexion.

The truth is, I have no beauty secrets. I never considered myself beautiful until recent years. Growing up, I was the awkward kid with big teeth and eyes set too far apart. My hair was, and most of the time still is, out of control. I was too skinny and my feet were too big. 

I spent a lot of time trying to fit in, so I frequently sported the latest fashions and hair crazes. I remember a time when "The Bangs" were like a living, breathing creature atop my forehead. I wore blue eyeliner and red lipstick and oh-so-much mascara. It was as if every day was Halloween.

When I became an adult, I let go of trying to be like everyone else. I began to follow my inner voice that was telling me to stop putting all that crap on my face. I grew out the bangs and found hairstyles that complimented the shape of my face. 

In the past few years, I have turned my focus on beautifying myself from the inside out. I've been more concerned with becoming a more compassionate person than looking cute. Through the cultivation of mindfulness skills and consistent practice of yoga, Nia, and meditation, I've become a happier, more vibrant person. That inner beauty is what I think is being reflected to others when they compliment me on my skin or my good hair day.

Here are my top 10 tips on looking up to 10 years younger (or otherwise living a healthy, happy life):

1. Sleep. When the body is tired, rest. Make sleep a priority. Naps are magnificent. Do not settle for less than seven hours of uninterrupted sleep. Buy the best bed you can afford. I have a Sleep Number, and it was the best money I ever spent. Indulge in the softest sheets and blankets. Rest your head on firm pillows. Keep your bedroom dark and cool. Someone special or a furry baby to cuddle is also nice.

Eat the damn cake!
2. Eat Well. My relationship with food has changed in the past few years. Food used to be my drug of choice. I would dull the pain of a neglectful relationship with pasta. I would ease the sting of hurtful words with mashed potatoes. I would silently tell someone to go to hell (in my head) over ice cream. Once I learned mindfulness skills that help me become aware of my self-destructive eating patterns, I made better choices. Instead of eating my feelings, I started to address them. What do you know, actually telling someone to go to hell feels even better than eating ice cream. 

Now, my general rule when it comes to food is to eat well. I do not diet. I do not deprive myself of anything. It saddens me to hear people say "I'm on this or that diet" or "I'm off this or that food" or my favorite, "I couldn't possibly have another piece of cake". I just want to grab them by the shoulders and shout, "Eat the damn cake!" Who doesn't love cake?

If I want to eat something, I just check in with my body first. Am I wanting to eat it because it is going to be delicious and pleasureful or am I wanting to eat it to hide what I'm feeling? If the answer is anything other than "I want to eat it because it is going to be amazing and bring me pleasure", I don't eat it. In the past two years, I've lost 65 pounds and kept them off, without dieting. That is a whole other blog post.

3. Stay Hydrated. I've been living in the desert for almost a year, and I realize the importance of drinking a lot of water. The human body is 75% water, so go ahead, drink up! Water is important for keeping all of our bodily functions operating correctly. Brace yourself for my eye-roll when I hear things like "But I don't like water". That's like saying you don't like air, so you should just go ahead and hold your breath right now. The body needs it, so shut up and drink it. Add lemons, cucumbers, oranges, or whatever strikes your fancy. Just drink your 8 glasses a day. Period.

Nia on the beach in Hawaii
4. Play. This is what some people might call "exercise". I hate to work out, but I love to play! My cardio of choice is Nia, a blend of dance, martial arts, and yoga. It is the only form of movement that I have been consistently participating in for the past 8 years. I wish I could say that about all my unused gym memberships. 

I also like to run, and when I say "run", I mean move my legs in a forward motion at a pace slightly faster than walking. I am quite possibly the slowest runner on the planet, but I enjoy how my body feels when I'm doing it. Find some activity that you enjoy doing for at least 30 minutes at a time at least three times each week. That's the key to fitting in regular exercise. I'm not talking about exercising to lose weight. I'm talking about strengthening the heart to pump blood through your body and deliver vital nutrients to all your organs and cells. Again, the body needs it, so you might as well find something you enjoy doing. Move it, move it! 

Me and my yoga students
5. Get Bent. Do yoga. Seriously, do it. I have heard every excuse in the world why people do not do yoga. I have even used several of them myself. Yet here I am, a yoga teacher. Who would have thought that someone who hated yoga as much as I did would become a yoga teacher? 

Lately, it's the only thing that keeps me sane. I do yoga to stretch my body, but also to quiet my mind. There's no need to fold myself into a pretzel to accomplish this. I choose to move my body gently. I listen when she says to back off. I connect with my breath. 

Yoga enhances my Nia and meditation practices. It gives me the focus and mental clarity I need to make better decisions. It keeps me from punching people in the face. For that reason alone, I think everyone should do yoga. Find the style and teacher that are right for you. If you can't find joy and peace in a yoga class, take a yoga teacher training to figure out why. That's what I did. Click here to do yoga with me. Namaste.

6. Exercise Your Brain. Engage in activities that keep the brain active. When focused on completing a task, the brain does not have time to worry about the future or linger in the past. Learn something new. Play games that are mentally challenging. Read. Write. Learn a new language. Take a class. Do something every day that increases the grey matter under your skull.

7. Spend Time in Nature. Whenever I have a problem that I cannot figure out, I know it's time to go into nature. The answers to all our problems are within us, and sometimes the only way to unlock them is to go into nature, away from electronics and distractions. There's nothing like sitting on a rock that has existed for thousands of years to gain a little perspective. Try staring up at a tall tree and thinking about paperwork. Try looking at birds and butterflies and thinking about your to-do list. Try digging your feet into the damp earth and thinking about paying bills. Go ahead...try it.

My dancing Nia sisters in AZ
8. Find Your Tribe. Social interactions are important for our emotional health. Humans are social animals and we constantly seek out connection with others. I tend to surround myself with positive people who aren't afraid to be themselves. I gave up on pleasing others a long time ago. I like to spend my time with people who are genuine. 

We don't waste our time with smalltalk. We speak from the heart and share our feelings. We support and guide each other. We tear it up on the dance floor together. We have tequila shots and share meals together. Most importantly, we are happy to see each other and spend precious moments together. You know when you've found your peeps when they find you.

Yeah, I'm still afraid of heights.
9. Step Outside Your Comfort Zone.  Take risks. Explore. Travel to distant lands. Learn about other cultures. Try something new. My advice to the non-adventurous spirit is to start small. Add a jalapeƱo pepper to the scrambled eggs tomorrow morning. Find a new route to the office or the grocery store. If you're lucky, you'll get lost. Ask the bartender to make you a surprise drink, and actually drink it. Wear patterns with stripes. Write down all your fears and pick one or two to confront. 

I've written a lot about my "advenchas" in previous posts. Check out the one on the Fire Walk. That was way out of my comfort zone. I was scared to death, but it was also the most badass thing I've ever done. When we step into the unknown, it can be scary, but when we do so consciously and willingly, it can be incredibly liberating. 

10. Enjoy the View. Life is short. Live it with your eyes open. Take in the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and textures of all your experiences. If a situation is not going as planned, take a deep breath and look around. You might find that even a chaotic situation has beauty. See the world as though you've never seen it before. Be curious. Be playful. Be joyful. 
Me on my 37th birthday.
“You've got this life and while you've got it, you'd better kiss like you only have one moment, try to hold someone's hand like you will never get another chance to, look into people's eyes like they're the last you'll ever see, watch someone sleeping like there's no time left, jump if you feel like jumping, run if you feel like running, play music in your head when there is none, and eat cake like it's the only one left in the world!”  ― C. JoyBell C.
Bonus Tip: Above All Else...Have Love In Your Heart. The only time we have is now. Love yourself. Love each other. Follow these 10 steps and you too can look 10 years younger.

Friday, May 23, 2014

You Can't Take It With You

This view did not cost a penny.

What does it really mean to be free?

According to, liberty is defined as "freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction or hampering conditions". It's the "power or right of doing, thinking, and speaking according to choice". Yeah, that sounds about right.

I define freedom as the ability to do what I want whenever I want without having to consult with another.  I find comfort in the space of having freedom to succeed, but also the freedom to make mistakes. My mistakes are my greatest teachers. When I screw up, I let go of the anxiety and rest into the newly acquired lessons that I (hopefully) take away from the situation.

I've experienced independence from my family, my significant other, my friends, and my employers. I've made choices that were right for me, even though they might have seemed crazy to everyone else.

Lately, I've discovered a new kind of freedom. As I was preparing to move 2,000 miles from my home last October, I was faced with the reality that "you can't take it with you". I could only take with me what would fit in my car, so that meant I needed to shed over half of my possessions. My clothing, household items, books, etc., all had to be pared down to the bare necessities. At first, this was a daunting task. How could I part with all of my things?

My friend, Marga, sent me an article about a man who owns just fifteen items. That seemed a bit ambitious for my taste, though I admire him for it. He is truly free.

The hardest items for me to part with are my books. My worldly possessions are now dominated by my book collection.  More than 50% of the items I currently own are books.  I just can't seem to part with them as easily as the other things.  That old shirt, sure, it can go.  That hard back copy of The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, you must be joking.

Going through my items was difficult. Memories of good times and not so great times flooded my brain along with thoughts of "but I might need that one day". During the last few weeks that I lived in Virginia, I sorted through every item that I owned. As the time to leave grew closer, I became tired of going through all that stuff, and I found it a little easier to let go with each passing day. I began to ask myself, "do I really need this?" More often than not, the answer was no.

I sold, gifted, and donated nearly everything I owned. I managed to whittle my wardrobe down to just what would fit in one suitcase. That's winter and summer clothing. Everything. And I didn't even have to sit on it to zip it shut.

In this age that is driven by consumerism, I find it interesting that I really don't need very much.  It felt good to lighten the load.  It's been liberating to rid myself of all that stuff.  I find that I have more free time because I don't have to concern myself with mountains of laundry, loads of dishes, or tidying up things that might be scattered about.  Those things just don't exist.

When I arrived in Tucson, I relied on Goodwill and Craigslist to furnish my apartment. I'm using the term "furnish" loosely. I have a couch and a chair. My friend, Shaena, loaned me two tables and a coffee pot. The only thing in my bedroom is my bed, which I brought with me.

Life is full of simple pleasures.
Last December, I traveled for 24 days with only what would fit in my carry-on tote bag and my backpack. I went from Tucson to Honolulu to Charlottesville and back to Tucson with only three outfits, two pairs of shoes, my computer, my phone, four books, and some toothpaste. Oh, and granola bars. I did have a bunch of those in the bag.

I felt completely free. I wasn't tied down by possessions. I was able to explore wherever I happened to be at the time. I trusted that everything else I might need would be provided. And it was.

In Hawaii, I stayed in a hostel during my Nia Brown Belt training. My friend, Kristin, lived close to Honolulu, so I asked her to loan me a towel, a blanket, and a tea cup. She brought me the softest blanket and the most beautiful tea cup I've ever seen. More importantly, I got to spend time with my friend in the magical land of Hawaii.

After my time in Hawaii was up, I flew all the way back to Virginia. I did not have enough warm clothes to survive the winter there when I arrived, so I headed to the local thrift shop to acquire some winter gear. When I walked into ReThreads, the owner and my dear friend, Melissa, informed me that I had quite a bit of credit due to the sale of some of my clothing I had consigned when I left for Tucson. I ended up with four winter outfits for free. The best part was that when I left Virginia for Tucson later in December, I just returned the clothes to the thrift shop.

Last week, my friend, Hansel, invited me to a clothing swap. This invitation came at just the right time, because I had a few clothing items I wanted to retire, but I had not had a chance to get to Goodwill yet. I was surprised at how much fun it was.

For someone new in town, this was the perfect opportunity to meet new people. There were about thirty folks there sifting through the mounds of clothing. It was a potluck, so after stuffing my bag with new-to-me clothing items, I was able to enjoy some delicious food and mingle with the local Tucsonians. With events like this, I may never "shop" for clothes again!
Frugality is one of the most beautiful and joyful words in the English language, and yet one that we are culturally cut off from understanding and enjoying. The consumption society has made us feel that happiness lies in having things, and has failed to teach us the happiness of not having things.” ― Elise Boulding
I've become more aware of shopping mindfully. This means when I do shop, I shop locally, and I buy only what I need. In my opinion, there's way too much stuff in the world already. If there's anything I need, I can almost always find a friend who is more than willing to loan it to me. If not, I'll check Craigslist or the thrift shop. Usually, if I can't find it at that point, chances are I probably don't need it anyway. It also helps that I don't watch TV. I don't have ads bombarding me with the new and exciting things I'm missing in my life. My life is full enough, thankyouverymuch.

This new mindset has made me realize that I can be at home anywhere. Home is not about things. It's about people and experiences. I've been in Tucson for about six months now, and I still don't have much more than I brought with me.  And I love it that way. 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Sweet Surrender

"You have been stony for too many years.
Try something different.
Surrender."― Rumi

I have only ever claimed to be perfect in jest. I have done my best to embrace my imperfections and have made no excuses for them. As I continue to make mistakes and sometimes even learn from them, it still catches me off guard when others take it upon themselves to point out my transgressions. 

My immediate reaction is to become angry, defensive, and ultimately to withdraw. This usually results in hurt feelings for all involved, typically accompanied with harsh words, harsher glances, and the occasional flying object. These are patterns I have recognized in myself over the years, and it has been a difficult struggle to curb this behavior. 

It still amazes me that I can snap back into those old patterns in the blink of an eye. It's almost scary how quickly my dark side can rear its ugly head when the right triggers are present. I have a temper like Mount St. Helens, and when it blows, nothing (and no one) is safe from my wrath. Thanks to my mindfulness practices, I have become more aware of my tendencies in the past few years. The last major eruption occurred nearly ten years ago and resulted in me being estranged from my family for over a year.

I have always had a strained relationship with members of my family. I can't remember a time when I got along with any of them for more than a year at a time. During that time, I became a master brick layer, building walls around myself that even the Army could not penetrate. 

This often comes as a surprise to people who think they know me. It seems that I live a charmed life, and I've "got it all figured out". This could not be further from the truth. I have made tremendous progress. 

I have learned to let a lot of things go as a result of trying to live my practice. My Facebook posts are primarily positive, but the moment I post that I want to punch someone in the throat, everybody gets their panties in a bunch. I receive messages and emails asking me "what about all that mindfulness?" or reminding me "that is not very yoga-like".  

My reply is always the same: I am human. I get angry. I do yoga to keep me from actually punching people in the throat. It doesn't mean that I don't still want to. At least I can admit that. 

It seems that some people may have misinterpreted my mindfulness journey as the path to righteousness. I am grateful to have discovered techniques that make me more aware of my behaviors, but I have never adopted the "holier than thou" attitude. It is a daily struggle. I am not the Buddha. I am not running around town with a giant banner across my chest screaming "Meditation is THE way!" I have no interest in hunkering down in a cave for years to meditate in order to achieve an enlightened state. I'm just a human being who has seen glimpses of the person I want to be. 

That is why I do yoga. That is why I do Nia. That is why I try desperately to sit on my meditation cushion for more than 5 minutes a day, even when I don't want to.  By doing these things, I have been able to stave off a major volcanic blast for almost a decade. To me, that is incredible progress.

"What other people think of me is none of my business." -- Wayne Dyer 

Someone asked me the other day if mindfulness really meant self-centeredness. I thought about that for a few days, and what I've decided is that it's the exact opposite. I have become more compassionate, more giving, and more open as a result of adapting mindfulness practices. I understand that it may seem that I have thrown concern for others' feelings to the wind, but the reality is that I've stopped attaching to what others think of me. It doesn't mean I don't care about the other person, it's that I am choosing to not be responsible for their reactions to my behaviors.  

Ultimately, I have to make a choice. I can continue to keep my walls up, or I can choose to surrender to the present situation, no matter how uncomfortable it may be. Surrender is the hardest thing in the world for me to do. I used to think that it would be a sign of weakness to give up the fight.

Pay attention here, because this is the good shit: There is nothing to fight for.  As soon as I typed that sentence, my whole body relaxed. That is mindfulness at work.

Something amazing happens when we surrender and just love. We melt into another world, a realm of power already within us. The world changes when we change. the world softens when we soften. The world loves us when we choose to love the world.  Marianne Williamson

I sense my feet on the ground and my butt in this chair and my fingers on this keyboard. I am not at war. The situations that caused me to raise my drawbridge are not present here in this cafe. My family is 2,500 miles away. There is no immediate threat to my person. I inhale. I exhale. I let go. 

And my body softens. My breath is fuller. My heart opens. I notice that the hurt that I've been holding onto isn't hurt, it's sadness. There's also compassion in there, for those who feel I've wronged them, and for me. I surrender. There is only love here and now, and I am happy. In this moment. It is my wish that you are happy, too.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Forgiveness: It's What's for Dinner

People have to forgive. We don't have to like them, we don't have to be friends with them, we don't have to send them hearts in text messages, but we have to forgive them, to overlook, to forget. Because if we don't we are tying rocks to our feet, too much for our wings to carry!  C. JoyBell C.

Now that the book is published, I have time to get back to my reflective practices. I notice that since I have not been practicing regularly, I am quick to become irritated by situations that would normally not bother me. I think it has something to do with the fact that I just poured my soul into a book that is now out there for the whole world to see. My sleeping and eating patterns have been erratic, and I have felt fatigued. My body has been aching, and I know that it is telling me to get back into my movement practices.

This morning, I woke up early, and the first thing I did was get on my yoga mat. I literally crawled onto it and collapsed. I just laid there. After about 10 minutes of reverse savasana, I pushed myself up into child's pose. It felt so good. I found the rhythm of my breath and let it relax me deeper into the pose. After about 15 deep breaths, I moved into cat/cow and stretched my spine. The pops and cracks seemed to be saying "thank you".  

I've been thinking a lot about forgiveness lately. As I slowly made my way through my sun salutations this morning, my body was forgiving me with every stretch and every breath. I began to feel better. I returned to savasana after my practice, and as I felt my body release into the mat, I smiled. I'm back.

My body forgives. After celebrating my birthday for an entire month last summer, I had a lot to ask my body to forgive.  I remember going for a run the day after my last birthday celebration. I had not run for over two weeks, and I thought it was going to be awful.  I thought I would be back at the starting point.  

I started down the street, and I noticed that my body felt OK. Actually, not just OK. I felt pretty good.  My feet felt light, and it didn't seem to take as much effort as I thought it would.  Before I knew it, my 1.5 mile run turned into 1.77 miles, and more importantly, I was enjoying it.  My body remembered how good it felt when I ran nearly every day, and it responded by forgiving me so that I could enjoy running again.

My heart forgives.  In my exploration of compassion, I have made conscious choices to forgive the emotional lashings that my heart has endured.  My practice of compassion started with myself.  I am my toughest critic, and I discovered through my mindfulness practices that I can be downright nasty to myself sometimes. 

I have been fortunate to experience blissful episodes of loving exchange. When those relationships ended, there was always a feeling of loss, and the question of what went wrong pops into my head. When I can step back and see the bigger picture, I realize that nothing went wrong. Everything happened just as it was supposed to. 
True forgiveness is when you can say, "Thank you for that experience.” ― Oprah Winfrey
We are meant to experience loss and heartache. That's what makes us human. That's what makes us all more similar than we are different. Everyone knows what heartache feels like. When that familiar ache starts in my chest, I whisper the words my meditation teacher taught me, "Darling, it's OK to feel sad. It's OK to feel loss. It's OK to grieve. That just means that the experience meant something to you. Remember, I love you." And then I forgive myself and move on. 

My mind wants to forgive. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that I want my mind to forgive. This is where my mindfulness practices really come in handy. I am constantly in my head. Without regular yoga, Nia, or meditation, my thoughts can easily take over and make my life miserable. 

It's easy to say I forgive others for their words or actions that I take personally, but I know that it's not really they who have caused my suffering. I have chosen to take things personally, and therefore become angry or hurt. 

One of my favorite books is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. This book was introduced to me in 2007 during my Nia White Belt Intensive. I have tried to actively incorporate the teachings of The Four Agreements into my practice and my daily life since then. 

Here are the Four Agreements, in a nutshell:
1. Be Impeccable With Your Word: Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.  
2. Don't Take Anything Personally:  Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.  
3. Don't Make Assumptions:  Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.  
4. Always Do Your Best:  Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.
I began my personal forgiveness practice on April 1st as a gift to myself. The practice consists of me sending a kind word to myself every time I prepare to eat my evening meal. I've decided to serve up compassion and forgiveness as the first course of every dinner. I do this for me. It's a silent practice that only takes a second. It's a reminder, a prayer, a mantra, a gift. No one knows that I'm doing it, until now anyway.
The truth is, unless you let go, unless you forgive yourself, unless you forgive the situation, unless you realize that the situation is over, you cannot move forward." -- Steve Maraboli
Since incorporating this simple practice into my daily life, I have not been as hard on myself. I've found it easier to let go of the little annoyances that creep into my space. I let go of thoughts that are full of shoulds. I invite you to give this practice a try, and see what happens in your own life. 

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