Monday, July 4, 2011

Every Moment We Have The Opportunity to Begin Again

Beatles Reference?

Recently, at a restaurant here in Rishikesh, a friend and I got into a conversation with a young man who queried “what exactly is a spiritual path?”  He, an Indian man from Mumbai, had just been told by a Western friend of his that he wasn’t spiritual enough because he wasn’t on a spiritual path.   He was openly agitated by the comment. 

First thing’s first, I must say that I was a bit perplexed that a person who is presumably on the “spiritual path” would feel the need to rate another human’s spiritual efforts.  I wonder what spiritual path he’s on.  Second thing’s second, the word “spiritual” is a bit overused in some circles and its meaning is debatable in most every circle so it is always difficult to begin a conversation, particularly one that could evoke some strong feelings, that centers on such a subjective word.

In any event, my agitated new friend took the Yoda approach: “Do or do not.  There is no try.”  Translation: There is no path to spirituality.  You either exist in peace with yourself and the world around you, or you don’t.  His sentiment reminds me of a quote from the Dalai Lama that I love: “There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.” And while I respect and agree with both of these sentiments, I still feel that we are all on a journey or path.  The path varies for each of us.  Some of us are on several.  We’re on the path to spirituality; happiness; peace; acceptance of our past mistakes; getting over any childhood issues, living more fit lives; downsizing our possessions; upgrading our possessions, decorating our homes; loving our jobs; improving our relationships; maintaining a better diet; finding that special someone; starting a family; maintaining a better attitude in the face of things that are hurtful, annoying, ridiculous; and on and on…

Perhaps it is as simple as “Do or do not.  There is no try.”  Maybe.  Could be.   I wish.  It hasn’t been that simple for me.  Instead everyday, I wake up and I try.   I try with yoga poses that I haven’t mastered.  You don’t just pop into the scorpion, for example.  Or when someone makes a mean, unexpected comment, of course, the optimal situation would be to ignore it.  Remember: “There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way.”  Except for that’s crap when you are reeling from a negative experience.  You’re not happy - maybe you’re angry or hurt.  Perhaps you’re thinking of what you should have said, or what you should say, or what you should do now…and none of those thoughts fall into the “happy thought” category.  What do you do?  You could take negative counteraction.  You could take positive action.  But most importantly is to observe what you feel.  Get to know that anger.  Accept yourself.  Then realize that every moment you have the opportunity to start again, to get back on your path…whatever path that may be…back to happiness, back to loving your job, back to loving yourself, back to fitness, back to starting your family.  We have a choice of what this moment and those that follow will look like.  So someone is actively detracting from your present happiness.  Choose you, when you’re ready.  No worries how long it takes.  Eventually, the decision to get back to the path comes faster and faster, until you no longer step off the path (at least not on that issue).

All of this reminds me of a fantastic story called “Autobiography in Five Chapters” from a book I love, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying:

1) I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost . . . I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

2) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I’m in the same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

3) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I see it there.
I still fall in . . . it is a habit
My eyes are open
I know where I am
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

4) I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I walk around it.

5) I walk down another street.

Cheers to you and your path!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Don’t You Folks Have Jobs?

After travelling around Asia and before law school, I lived in NYC.  For a good part of that year plus, I worked as a waitress at a few restaurants around the city.   I lived a simple worry-free life.  I worked mostly dinner shifts, which meant that I had the best of both worlds: I got off just as Manhattan night-life was heating up and I didn’t have to wake up in the morning after a night of being way too cool for the woman I am today J but could still enjoy New York during the day.  Anyway, I remember thinking to myself when I would walk around the city before my evening shift began: what are all these people doing hanging out during the day?  Don’t these people have jobs?  So I’d try to rationalize the whole thing, saying to myself, well, some of these people have to be waiters/work the evening shift like me, then a good number of people are likely on vacation from these jobs that they may or may not have, there must be a number of students in the mix, perhaps a good number of folks are new to the city and looking for jobs, friends and family visiting friends and family, starving artists….  I was never quite satisfied with the list of options I came up with because there were soooo many people just hanging out…some relaxed, some anxious, a good number of folks crying (break-ups I always assumed).  In any event, I was lucky to have company during the day as I wandered the city and it was fun making up stories about the people I saw.

When I arrived in India, I found myself with the same questions about my new yoga compadres, all the folks that have passed through for one-week yoga retreats, and the many folks that I’ve run into at restaurants and cafes.  What are all of these people doing here?  Don’t they have jobs?  How can they all afford to take off weeks from work to come play in India?  For that matter, shouldn’t I have a job to get back to?  Oh yeah, I quit after a moment of clarity that I wasn’t happy being a lawyer became unwavering assuredness that I wasn’t happy being a lawyer.  So that’s my story and I’ve got all the time in the world to be here.  What about these other people?

Before I left, I assumed that the course would be filled with recent college grads and college students on summer break.  I was wrong.  My course is filled with an amazing, and diverse group of backgrounds and perspectives: A choir/orchestra conductor who took a year off to take a hard look at his life; a recent divorcee who is doing a real “Eat Pray Love” trip, a police officer and mother who worked her butt off to accumulate enough time off to come here; a television producer who decided that some “me time” was well overdue; a woman recently laid off from a international company who plans to travel for at least a year before thinking of another job, a woman who’s been traveling through Asia for seven years since she realized that she was an unhappy marketing exec; a teacher’s assistant who is between jobs; a college professor (he’s been working since he got here) who wants to be able to teach at the yoga studio his family is starting in New Mexico; three masseuses from posh resorts and cruise ships; an established puppeteer who gave up a lucrative career to learn how and when to say “Yes” and “No;” an entrepreneur who’s presently learning that “No.” is a complete sentence.

The great thing is that I could go through each person in the program and identify how they’ve helped me to better understand myself and the human condition, or how they’ve resolved an issue that I’d been grappling with by sharing their own unique stories and perspectives.  It’s so interesting to think of how much it took to get this exact group here, together this summer.  People have told me that it just happened to be a slow time at work, they couldn’t get into the April teacher training course so they came in June instead, they were added at the last minute after a spot opened up….  Indeed, I could have continued to push through with my job (the sensible option some would say) and I wouldn’t be here….  One thing is clear though – our group seems to have been orchestrated for each individual’s personal progress.  I am so grateful to be here. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Love The One Your With

Angry little food stealer on top of the roof of the German bakery where we were having tea.

Hanuman, the Monkey God, opening his chest to show that Rama lives inside his heart.

Me in front of the Ganges after a rigorous Ashtanga Vinyasa class.  I was smiling because I didn't realize that I was soon to be in severe pain.  It felt so right when we were in the class....

First week and a half down, four and a half more to go.  

Right off, let me say that the program has been all that I hoped for and more - amazing classes and teachers, wonderful students, and extraordinary growth in my yoga practice.  Folks have been asking about the program so here are a couple of links to my school: and

Over the past few years, my mind has been filled with resistance to what is.  I constantly replayed the same negative thoughts: I don't want to be at work right now; I’m too fat; Why is this happening to me; This should be going better; I need to push harder; I can’t believe I said that; I'm so angry that he did that; and on and on and on.  

Just one week into Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) has taught me that the best way to be happy is to love what is rather than constantly focusing on what I'd rather have, or be, or be doing.

Example 1: My three-month old computer was broken due to an aggressive lack of knowledge of how to get it to accept a wireless password that it was ostensibly rejecting. I was upset and annoyed.  My new computer!  The guy didn’t know what he was doing?  Why’d I let him make the change instead of trying myself?  Why’d I even bring my computer?  How am I going to get my blog posts up?  I lost so many business files and pictures!

Once I pulled myself together, I realized a few things: (1) my thoughts were making me angrier, so I needed to stop them before they drove me crazy; (2) the computer is still under warranty so it’s fixable but not until I get back to Amsterdam; and (3) life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.  My computer breaking was a reminder that I came here to relax and unplug…and the universe helped me (against my will) to do just that.  I can no longer sit on my computer in my room, I have to use the public computers.  As a result, I leave my room more and am much more social than I probably would have been.  In addition, when I am in my room I am able to focus on more important things than whether Anthony Weiner really sent a pic of his manhood to a 21 year-old via twitter.  So loving the one you’re with means radically accepting the things you cannot change (thanks, Anne!).

Example 2: Yoga is also teaching me to love the body I’m with.  Before beginning this program, I was constantly pushing my body to do things that it had no desire to do.  My old goal was to beat my body into submission.  Here, we are taught to do each asana “with love.”  This means that instead of pushing my leg into some ungodly position that it’d rather not be in and likely pulling a muscle, I take my time with each pose and I work my body only as far as it is willing to go.  After a week, I’ve seen more progress with love than I’ve seen with years of aggression.  Training my body with love means that I respect and appreciate it for all that it has gotten me through, that I care about it enough to take the time to make it even better, and most importantly, that I listen to what it tells me.  What a difference from where I was.

Next time I'm dealing with a situation that I can't change, I hope that I'm able to see the positive and realize that "what is" is probably greater than anything I could have imagined.  And next time I find myself in a situation I can change, I hope that I employ my new understanding: namely that: negative energy does not and cannot lead to positive results.   Good luck on your personal journeys!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Part 2 of “Get That Gecko Out Of My Room”

The sunrise from the car my first morning

Holy Cows outside of a market in Rishikesh

So far so good!!!!  It took about 20 hours to get from Amsterdam to Rishikesh, which included a 7 hour drive from the Delhi airport to Rishikesh Yog Peeth immediately after getting off the plane.  Upon arrival in my room, I was keenly aware that it was time for some Karma Yoga (in the form of cleaning).  So out into the wonderful world of shops, rich Indian culture, cow poop and flies to purchase the supplies I needed.  Good times.

Feeling some relief after cleaning, I started unpacking and thought to myself, wouldn’t it be great to plug up my laptop so I can listen to music…well that resulted in two unfortunate events: one, I blew the electricity in my room; and two, on my way out of my door to admit my ridiculousness, a freakin’ gecko ran into my room (it turned white to match the white marble floors except for its little black eyes – you’re not fooling anyone, little gecko) and then it turned around and said to me: “Nice to meet you, we’ll be roommates for the next six weeks, chump.”  So, I now had two issues to discuss with the fine folks downstairs.  Getting the lights back on was a snap…getting the gecko out of the room turned into a small ordeal ending in me screaming (at a hushed level of course) and doing the “Please don’t crawl up my yoga pants” dance outside of my door (what is the point of that little flair at the bottom of yoga pants anyway?)  In any event, it was a lovely sight.
Why is this Part 2 of “Get That Gecko Out Of My Room?”  Well, last year my mom and I stayed in an amazing, old hotel outside of Jaipur and there was a gecko in the room when we arrived.  I was fine with it (so I said at the time) because the room was huge so I figured he’d go to his space and we’d go to ours.  My mother was having none of that and so began the first saga of GTGOOMR (I’ll spare you those hilarious details).  In retrospect, I was probably fine with it because my mother was there…. Part one of “Where’s My Mommy?”  We shall see.

Classes start tomorrow at 5:00am (not 6:00am) and with good reason - it is about 105 degrees here during the day!

Interesting aside if you have some extra time:

For those of you who have flown into the New Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport before, you’ve probably come to expect the hectic scene one encounters upon exiting the airport.  Hundreds of cars (so it seems) coming to pick up family members, panhandlers looking to take your luggage to your taxi or at least help you get it in the trunk, and myriad taxi drivers looking for fares and picking up fares.  Although this can understandably be very overwhelming for some, I found it to be a fun, super-sensory experience.  Well imagine my surprise when I walked out of the terminal on Friday night and found a quiet, pristine setting of, what is in my memory: white marble, palm trees, and beautiful lighting.  Taxi drivers were lined up in a very orderly fashion, chatting it up - many of them in white uniforms, and most of them holding signs with the names of their fares…WTF happened!  I was just in Delhi last year.  Are you kidding me?  So it goes….  

Monday, May 30, 2011

Here we go...

I'm such a perfectionist, I can barely write my first entry...but since this is a self-styled diary, I guess that rambling and honesty are perfectly acceptable.  

I decided to start this blog (on the almost eve of my trip to India to begin Yoga Teacher Training at Rishikesh Yog Peeth) to share my experiences and progress on my yogic path with my friends, family, and welcome onlookers.  For years I wanted a more consistent yoga practice and to do a yoga teacher training program.  Over the past year, my practice has become much more consistent.  Because of my busy work schedule, however, a yoga teacher training program had not been an option.  Now, after a very, very early retirement from the practice of law, I am able to pursue this long-time dream.  Guess whose sooo excited?!

For the interested and skeptical, I plan to pack this blog with pictures and documentation of my journey.  Yoga is supposed to be a fix-all, fountain of youth.  Let's see what following a (relatively) strict yogic lifestyle* can do.  My guess is that, at a minimum, the asana practice (yoga posture practice) will wage an all-out attack on any of my lingering ideas of perfectionism.  This I welcome.

*  Beginning June 6, 2011, I will switch to a strictly vegetarian diet and my days will consist of the following:

06:00 a.m. to 07:00 a.m.
Pranayama and chanting
Mon to Sun

07:15 a.m. to 08:45 a.m.
Teaching of Yoga Asana
Mon to Sat

09:15 a.m.
Mon to Sun

09:45 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.
Lecture on Yoga Philosophy
Mon to Sat

01:00 p.m.
Mon to Sun

04:00 p.m. to 05:00 p.m.
Lecture on Human Anatomy and Physiology
Mon to Sat

05:15 p.m. to 06:45 p.m.
Teaching of Yoga Asana
Mon to Sat

07:00 p.m. to 08:00 p.m.
Teaching of Pranayama and Meditation
Mon to Sat

08:30 p.m.
Mon to Sun