The Afterlife

 Back when I was in my early twenties and did crazy things like eat psychedelic mushrooms, I once had a vision. I found myself on a rock in a secret place deep under the ocean. Around me sat all of my female ancestors, welcoming me with great joy. They were all lounging about on the rock, with no cares, very happy, and completely peaceful. It was light and warm and expansive there. I remember feeling like I had walked into a spa, this atmosphere of profound relaxation, and…immense relief.

I knew in this moment that this was the afterlife. I knew I would be welcomed here when it came time for me to die. In fact, around this same time period, my grandmother died, and I dreamed that I ran into her at an actual spa, and she was vibrant and joyful and free.

I don’t subscribe to any particular religion. I don’t believe in a fixed idea of heaven or hell. I do believe anything is possible, and that there is some truth and some falsehood to every religion. I have also come across people in my life who feel so familiar, and so much like immediate family, that I tend to believe in past lives.

The only thing that I am sure of though, is that I don’t know. I believe that whatever happens after we die is so amazing that it is simply beyond our comprehension. I do not believe it is possible for us to truly understand what happens after death while we are still in our physical bodies, because we have no context to place it within.

Even this vision is diminished when I try to put it into words. I do like to believe that it’s real, though. I like to believe that my mom, who will shortly pass, will land here, welcomed by her ancestors, nourished by this circle of women, and rewarded for all of her hard work here on Earth.

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A Conversation with the Voices in my Head

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Let me introduce you to my new friend.

Went to a yoga class last week. It was awesome, the first one I’ve been to in forever. It also happened to be at the end of a three day juice fast AKA get-off-the-caffeine cleanse. More on that later. It was at the end of class, when we lay down in Sivassana, or Corpse pose, flat on our backs with our eyes closed, that the voice started talking to me.

“It’s no use, you’ll never relax,” the voice taunted. I looked and I saw him, there in my head. A little man, a bit like a gnome, a miniature tweaked out stress freak. Greenish wrinkly skin that accentuated every bone in his wiry body, big bugged out wicked-looking glowing eyes.

I sighed. “You again,” and I felt my body tense up, fighting gravity, resisting the gentle lull of letting go.

Then I remembered something I read once by the Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. I can’t find the exact quote, but the basic idea is to invite your challenging feelings in for a cup of tea, figuratively speaking. Welcome them into your home and embrace them.

“Come on in,” I said, “Have some tea,” and I whipped up an imaginary magical sedating elixir.

He stood motionless, eyeing me suspiciously.

I held his eye contact steadily, consciously working to see past his appalling presentation, because I know he has something of value to offer me. He has to. “You know, you don’t have to be so stressed out,” I said. “I know it’s your job and all, but you don’t have to do it.”

“Lady,” he said, shaking his head, “You gotta stop sending me mixed messages.” And he took a sip of tea. “Yum.” He exhaled and relaxed. I relaxed.

I reflected on that. There is something in my subconscious mind that believes I need to be stressed out, that I need to try so hard all the damn time. And that part of me calls this tweaker to do the job, and he makes my life hell.

The other part is the caffeine habit. I find myself having such an attachment to caffeine, such an impulse to consume it all the time. I sometimes believe I need it to function, that I can’t just let myself get through a wave of tiredness, relax and rest into it. The caffeine summons this little green mean machine, as well. He comes and fills me with energy, which is great. But then, when it’s time to wind down and rest, he’s still there, contracting my muscles and chasing my thoughts around in circles.

Always on. Always up. Always energized.

Exhale. I gave the stressball a refresher on his tea. “You’re right,” I said. “I do need to work that out.”

He drank more tea. I relaxed more deeply. “This is nice,” he said, reclining on my chaise lounge. “I could get used to this.”

My body melted further into the floor. And I remembered that the bliss of relaxation is so much more deliciously fulfilling than the high of adrenaline.

I decided on my new mantra: EFFORTLESSNESS

I poured a cup of the tea for myself and drank deeply. Slow inhale. Long exhale. “It is nice. I could get used to it, too.” I turned to the green man and smiled. He smiled back, a slow lazy smile.

I closed my eyes and all thoughts disappeared.

Awesome photo credit: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/central%20africa

The Bare Necessities

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It is so wild that I am sitting down to write my first post about my pledge to practice yoga/meditation on a regular basis, and as I look at my blog to see how long I have been doing this, I see that I made this pledge exactly one month ago today. How cosmic is that?

So, the last time I wrote about this, I was high from the San Francisco Salsa Rueda Festival, and I talked about movement as meditation. Since then, I have barely amazingly managed to keep up with my regular practice, and I have come up with some basic guidelines for myself.

1. Dancing does not count. I love to dance, and yes, it is a meditation, but if I count this as part of my regular yoga/meditation practice, I will never do yoga. And I will never sit and meditate. I will just dance, and I already do that so it doesn’t really count.

2. I need to be alone. This is time for me to check in with me, myself, and I. I can sit and stretch and twist all I want when I am around other people, but this is not me checking in with myself. It is merely me extending and exercising my muscles while socializing.

3. Listening to my hypnosis sessions does count, as long as I don’t fall asleep five minutes into it. I got one hypnosis CD for test anxiety, and another for Bruxism (teeth-grinding, which I have learned I do with a vengeance). They have been helping me a lot. I have a lot of anxiety in my life right now, and this is a way for me to stay on top of it. I am learning “to be relaxed more than I ever have before (actual quote from hypnosis CD).”

4. Hatha yoga is very different from sitting meditation, and I need both. Ideally, I would be spending 15 minutes minimum nightly just sitting in meditation, but I need to stretch my body to de-stress. I need more time to devote to both practices, and meditation is getting the short end of the shaft right now, because my body demands to unwind. And that is okay, for now, until I get through this very packed and crazy part of my life (I sense someone snickering and thinking, “The crazy times never end, you fool…”)!

5. My practice is about nurturing myself, not about self-discipline. My life is way too disciplined right now. I am studying for my LCSW exam, and let me tell you, this test is a motherfucker! Serious insomnia inducing, teeth-grinding insanity. And I am not a nervous test-taker. I am also juggling a job where I constantly hear horror stories and try to help people find light in dark places. And then there’s parenting my almost 4-year-old boy who seems to be getting hit by a massive wave of testosterone. My sweet little mama’s boy is now fluctuating between screaming at me, hitting, outright defiance, and extreme clinginess. Patience has been a true necessity that I have sometimes been short on lately. There are plenty of other stressors I could list, but they are either in the past, in the future, or in the not so central present, so i will not get into them, because thinking about them is making me chew my fingernails. The point is, I need quiet time, to give myself what I really need.

I am learning more about what I really need, because filling these needs feels really essential right now. I think I am listening to my deeper needs more than I ever have in my life. Simple things, like: get to sleep at a reasonable hour; cut back on the caffeine, alcohol, and sugar; eat healthy foods and take vitamins; communicate assertively instead of holding things in; don’t spend my precious energy sweating the small stuff; be grateful; and relieve stress with physical activity (including sex!!!).

I already knew all this stuff. These were the “shoulds” that were always in the back of my mind. But somehow, they are becoming the “wants” and the “musts” at the forefront of my mind. Challenging times bring us back to our foundation. I am digging deep and making mine strong.

Enlightenment through Dance

ruedaI am a long time believer in dance as a spiritual practice.

I’ve been learning and practicing a form of dance known as salsa rueda de casino, or simply Salsa Rueda for around 10 years now, and I believe it is an addiction I never will shake. Imagine square dancing in a circle, with an infusion of sensual salsa moves. The caller is also a dancer. It’s a playful and flirtatious dance that is about the most fun I have ever had in my life.

This is how I met my partner (in life, parenting, and dance). It is amazing to be able to share this passion with the person I love. It is especially a blessing that he is such a good dancer; I always appreciate coming back to him after a dance with somebody else!

I spent this weekend in San Francisco at the annual Salsa Rueda Festival. Teachers and dancers arrive from all over the country, actually, all over the world. There are 15-20 classes daily, and parties with dance performances and live music each night. May I repeat: so much fun!

My partner and I took a private class Friday with David Huo. He is the man that is responsible for introducing Salsa to China. He is on Chinese TV every day, and is an amazing dancer, stellar teacher, and a very kind person as well. I have a total and complete dance-crush on him. See him here; you will not be disappointed. It will be three minutes well-spent.

Inspired by three great group classes, plus the private with the master above, I headed out for a night of dancing with my partner and friends. About halfway through the night, after numerous dances and I-lost-track-of-how-many shots of tequila, I arrived at this Zen place.

Mindful movement, especially dance, is meditation. I am pure reception when I get into the zone, my ears open to the music, listening for cues that will tell me how to move my body; and my vision and tactile awareness completely tuned into my partner, picking up pulls and pushes and light touches that tell me what to do and where to go. Complete bliss. Total mindfulness. Highly recommended.

Hold Me Accountable to Myself, Please

Meditation

Meditation (Photo credit: atsukosmith)

I’ve been running like the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland lately. Between studying for my LCSW exam, parenting, working, and keeping up with my social life, I haven’t been allowing myself time to write. More importantly, I haven’t been allowing myself time to take care of myself.

When I don’t take care of me, I tend to get grumpy and melancholic, and I find myself talking to myself in a whiny voice a lot of the time. I get into this victim, “poor me” mindstate, and I forget about how incredibly blessed I am.

When I take just a little bit of time to take care of myself, everything shifts. When I stop and think about everything I have to be grateful for, my whole perspective changes, and suddenly life seems to be so worth it; I don’t want to miss even one moment feeling sorry for myself.

I’ve decided to challenge myself. For the next three months, I am going to spend a minimum of 15 minutes a day meditating and/or doing yoga. I can skip days, but I need to make the time up within a week. This means I need to do a minimum of one hour and forty-five minutes of meditation and/or yoga weekly.

Breaking this down even more, I know I will engage in these practices at least twice weekly, because I simply won’t do this much time in one day. And another great point, if I start my meditation and/or yoga practice on any given evening, it is very, very rare that I spend only 15 minutes. See, the hard part is starting. The challenge is getting myself away from the infinite amount of distractions and bringing myself here, to this present moment. Once I am here, I don’t want to leave.

Tonight, for example, I spent 45 minutes. I did some simple leg stretches, then started working on some swan stretches (not using proper yogic names, I know).

I noticed a weird stitch in my lower back, so I started working on some movement I learned years (& years) ago in a class with a yoga teacher who incorporated continuum movement. Basically, this means I got into hands and knees position, and wiggled and swayed my spine and hips whichever way felt right. This is so simple, yet so powerful, because it gets your body out of its stuck places, out of its habits, and opens it up in new, delicious ways.

Then I did some hip shoulder stretching, lifting my arm up (elbow next to head) and wedging my hand underneath whichever shoulder was stretching, and massaging myself this way, underneath the weight of my body. Complete bliss, and…ahhh.

I then did some sitting meditation (after a brief break from comforting my screaming 3-year-old, who woke up feeling too hot or too stuffy-nosed or whatever). I tried this Happiness Meditation, by Thich Nhat Hanh:

“Breathing in I calm my body.

Breathing out I smile.

Dwelling in the present moment,

I know this is a wonderful moment.”

I fucking love meditating. And when I don’t do it, I forget, and I think of it as work. But the really great thing is that the effort you put into and progress you make with meditation and yoga does not go away. When you come back, there you are, right where you left off. The wisdom you learn, you learn so deeply, and you naturally apply it to every aspect of your life.

Tonight with the meditation, I remembered something in a book I am reading about how one day for Brahma (the Hindu creator of the world) is 4 billion years for us humans. And I started to think of every second, and how teeny tiny that would be in this perspective. And then, I thought of some insects, who live to be just a few days old, and how maybe for them, in their experience, they have these incredibly long lives with a vast amount of experiences.

Gazing into the infinite also always brings up existential angst for me, but the smiling and the constant coming back to the present moment really helps with that. And the realizing that I need not fear loss and death, because, really I have nothing. I am a part of this cosmic dance, and I am in relation to other people, and I like to believe, or at least hope for, reincarnation, or something after death, in which I am still connected to my loved ones.

So, please, readers, help me on this journey. Hold me accountable to this practice. And join me, if you’d like. I would like, very much.

Stay Empty

ImageStay empty. Be a vessel, calling to you everything bright and good and beautiful.

Stay empty. Sit with your hunger, feel that ache, and seek to understand it.

Resist the desire to fill yourself with static noise, heavy food, meaningless chatter.

Put down the book. Turn off the TV and computer. Don’t answer the phone.

Go outdoors. Study the full moon. Howl like a wolf, longing for connection. Feel the               yearning.

Stay with the wanting. Don’t give in. Dive deeper into it.

Recognize the many faces of desire. Wanting for intimacy, sex, companionship. Appetite for food, for sweet, for salty. Searching for temporary escape, for alcohol, for drugs. Cravings for distractions, for senseless stories, for entertainment, for gossip.

Dismiss each demand. Remove the many masks, one by one. Don’t run from the sorrow you may discover underneath. Calm the fears, rock the despair to sleep. Listen to it, feel it, learn from it, and let it go.

Stay empty. Feel the wanting bubble up inside of you, insistent to be filled.

Find the deeper desire, the vast openness beneath the desperate demands for illusory things.

There is something that drives all of us to live and to love, and this is it.

Stay empty, until you see this, and then drink and drink, and let this holy water be your guide.

Stay empty, until you know you are already full.Image