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Archive for the ‘Dharma’ Category

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I haven’t always been the best parent to myself. Bad decisions aside, I used to be my own worst critic, hurling a ridiculous, endless litany of insults and harmful non-truths at myself daily. Accomplishing even the simplest of tasks required a drawn-out inner battle where me and my strong-willed inner child self would grapple for victory.

It went something like this:

 

Me: “Sarah, go brush your teeth.”

 

Strong-willed inner child self: “No! I don’t want to go brush my teeth. I hate brushing my teeth!”

 

Me: “Sarah, it’s time to go to bed. Go brush your teeth.”

Strong-willed inner child self: “No! I hate brushing my teeth!”

Me: “Sarah, this is ridiculous. You are a grown woman. Why do we have to go through this every single night? Go brush your teeth.”

 

Strong-willed inner child self: “No!”

And so on and so forth.

 

Some nights, she’d win and I’d go to bed with dinner rotting on my teeth. Most times though, I’d win and tumble defeated and minty fresh into an exhausted sleep.

This went on every day, at least two times a day, for the majority of my life.

Then, finally, I decided I was sick of it. I was sick of the insults, sick of the relentless battle, sick of feeling bad all the time.

I wasn’t getting anywhere by fighting and guilting myself into each and every task, and I sure wasn’t winning any popularity contests with my inner child by constantly putting her down.

 

Something had to change.

 

Now, I’ve read all the self-help books and all of the insightful information about changing your negative thoughts into positive ones by the sheer power of your will, but for some reason, these positive mantras soon gave way to the old and before long, I was arguing with myself in the bathroom mirror again.

Here’s how I fixed it:

I decided to be a supportive and loving parent to myself. I began to tell myself how proud I was, how much I was loved, how truly awesome I was. I listened to all of my complaints, secrets, worries, fears and dreams with an open and loving heart. I gave myself permission to feel my feelings and bought myself treats to celebrate even the tiniest of accomplishments. I gave myself permission to play and have fun. I told myself I was strong and for some reason, I actually believed it; believed it in a way that was deep and soulful and unbending.

And that is how I do everything now, from resisting the urge to hit the snooze button just one more time to brushing my teeth to overcoming my fears – by telling myself:

“Sarah, you are strong enough to do this.”

And I am.

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There is a 5K run happening in the city tomorrow and the thing that caught my eye about this particular one, was the slogan the participants are wearing on their t-shirts: “I’m skipping the New Year’s Day hangover”.

It’s cleaver and funny, but the thing that stands out even more, is that these people are choosing how they want to feel in the new year rather than what they want to attain. It seems as though it’s a trend that is picking up momentum.

Each year, we make these passionate, determined, optimistic, and sometimes desperate pledges to change ourselves. We set our sights on a goal and then feel disappointed and lost if it isn’t met. We as a society place so much emphasis on external attainment and external achievement – get married, get a job, get money, get a mortgage, get, get, get, get, get, get, get. But how can we possibly meet a goal and feel successful when there is another goal just beyond that one or a higher measure of success or another thing to get? How many times have we told ourselves, “I’ll feel happy when I…” only to get into that school or land that job and then postpone your happiness ever longer until yet another milestone has been surpassed?

So, this t-shirt got me thinking – what if instead of focusing our New Year’s resolutions on what we want, why not focus instead on how we want to feel?

We all want to feel healthy, creative, bountiful and happy. We all want to feel important. We all want to feel loved. So when you focus on the feelings and sense of well-being you wish to experience rather than the external achievements and measures of success, you are tapping into a much larger and stronger force. You are merging your desires with those of your fellow humans, creating community and camaraderie with those around you.

So try this – pull out a journal or a piece of paper and write “I want to feel” and then let your desires be heard. Focus on how you want to feel in 2013 rather than what you want to attain and not only you will welcome a rapid shift in energy that will help you and others move towards creating and experiencing more feelings of joy and love, you’ll also have the support of all of the rest of us who want to feel that way too.

Best wishes for a heartfelt and passionate new year!

Peace, love, and good feelings –

Sarah

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“Before you try to keep up with the Joneses, be sure they’re not trying to keep up with you.”

–Erma Bombeck

 

Take a moment to fill in the blank:

 

My life would be better if _________________________.

I will feel successful when I  ________________________.

If only ___________________, then I’d be happy.

 

There have been many times in my life when I believed that the secret to my happiness was “somewhere out there”. Just the other day for example, I had a moment where I honestly believed that my life would be greatly improve if only I bought a pair of $200 pants from Anthropologie. I mean, I NEEDED those pants. My future happiness depended on it! But, I didn’t buy the pants. And surprisingly enough, my life didn’t fall apart on the spot. After I left the store with my bank account intact, I took a walk in the park, found a sunny patch of grass and laid on my back to watch the clouds. And in that moment, I felt truly happy.

 

In this media driven society and in a city like New York especially, we are continually surrounded by people who are more talented, have more money, wear hipper clothes, have hotter bodies or prettier faces or cooler hairstyles… And we want what they have. We hold ourselves up beside them in comparison, and we feel bad when we inevitably don’t measure up. But of course! How can we feel happy when we continue to feel that we aren’t good enough just as we are?

 

Yoga has the power to teach us sustainable happiness – The second of the eight limbs of yoga is the Niyamas, translated as the observances or how we treat ourselves. One in particular, the second of the five Niyamas is Santosha or practice of contentment. When we let go of our desire for something someone else has or something outside of ourself, we step ever closer to finding true contentment and happiness. Santosha requires our willingness to enjoy exactly what each day brings and to be happy with whatever we have, whether that is a lot or a little. It requires daily practice, but over time, we uncover the hollowness of achievement and acquisition; while material wealth and success aren’t evil, we learn that they can never in themselves provide contentment.

 

This doesn’t mean killing  your ambitions or life dreams – Santosha instead helps you destroy all the unnecessary ambitions – things you don’t need. Without the mindless chatter of desire and longing, you have more energy to work on your dreams and ambitions with a pinpointed mind.

 

Get started on your path towards contentment right now – begin by focusing on your breath. With your eyes closed, allow yourself to feel whole and perfect, just as you are, right at this very moment – not once this or after that, but exactly as you are right now. Carry that with you as you move though your day and keep in mind that you, yourself, exactly as you are, are supremely beautiful.

 

Namaste,

Sarah

Yoga Pose for Contentment:

Warrior II

 

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From a lunge, turn your back heel to the ground and come up to standing. Open your arms parallel to the ground with your hips and torso facing center and your eyes gazing out over your front hand.

In this pose, your back hand is reaching into your past, your front hand is reaching into your future and your body is firmly rooted in the present moment. Breathe and connect with where you’ve been, looking towards where you’re going, but remain in the now, feeling the sensations in your body and mind.

 

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“In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.”
–Benjamin Franklin

After months of procrastinating, I just this week sent off my tax returns. And while adding up my receipts, this Ben Franklin quote kept going through my head. The thing that kept me from from getting my taxes done earlier – as I am typically quite an advanced planner, is that I am also preparing to move to a new apartment. Taxes weren’t the only thing I found myself avoiding; I’ve been putting off packing too.

At first it didn’t make any sense. I’ve been talking about moving for quite some time and I am actually looking forward to it. But I couldn’t bring myself to begin packing. Over the three years that I’ve lived in this apartment, I’ve grown to become rather comfortable here. I created quite a beautiful sanctuary for myself and I found that I have been reluctant to take the pictures off the wall, gather up all my little treasures, put them into boxes and go somewhere else. It is the change I am resisting – that other pesky little thing we can all be certain of – that things change.

Even now, looking outside my window at the magnolia tree in the backyard bursting with flowers or the daffodils that seem to have sprung up overnight, I am reminded that in nature, there lies a world that continuously gives and receives, gets and let go. Each season transitions to the next, the new moon becomes a full moon, leaves fall and new leaves take their place.

Our lives and events are governed by the same universal cycle – birth, growth, decline, rest, and renewal. Endings are not an exception to the rule, they are the rule. So why then do we blame ourselves or others when we are faced with change? Why do we fight so hard against it?

Maybe we believe that there is something wrong with endings, that they are unnatural. Perhaps, like myself, we are comfortable and want to avoid the temporary upheaval that change will bring.  Do we fear the unknown? Is it because we are not in control of how and when endings and change will occur?

Whatever the reason, yoga teaches us that change is not only inevitable but necessary for growth and transformation. So instead of resisting the changes that will undoubtedly occur, try celebrating them. When we graduate from school, it not only signals the end of an era but the beginning of a new one and we have a “commencement” ceremony. When you experience an ending of any sort, think of it in the same way – as a commencement ceremony, a new beginning.

Life is schoolroom and in many cases our endings are graduations or promotions to the next level. Most of the time, endings come because we have learned one lesson and are ready for the next, or we’ve exhausted a situation and it’s time for a change of scene and new possibilities.

So as we head into Spring and towards the many changes that we will all face, recognize their necessity in your life, for when change appears, you can be sure it has a purpose. I’ll be keeping this in mind as I begin to load up my things into boxes, and tip my graduation cap in honor of the next stage in my life.

Namaste.

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“What you are is what you have been. What you will be is what you do now.”
~ Siddhartha Gautama, Buddha

I love this quote. I have it hanging above my desk. It’s a nice reminder that every day, I have the power to determine my future. As we move towards the new year, it is not only natural but socially encouraged for us to look forward and to take steps towards bettering ourselves. With just these few words, Buddha teaches us that as students of life, it is good to look at where we are coming from in order to see where we are going.

Where we are now has been determined by the past – the choices we’ve made and the paths we’ve followed have brought us to our current place in life. It’s a life that we’ve created. We are all creators of our circumstances, good and bad. Even a mess takes creativity to occur. The phrase “Bless your mess” is a call to take responsibility for your life. None of us are victims here. At any given moment, no matter what your life situation, you can turn it into something better – the trick is to not get stuck on how bad it is today. Your creativity led you to this place and your creativity can get you out of it too.

Think about it. Creativity is a thing that comes to us when we are shaken up, when things go wrong. That’s when the brain wakes up from auto-pilot and begins to think about how to do things differently. I remember a quote from “180° South” where Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia said “The word adventure has gotten overused. For me, when everything goes wrong, that’s when adventure starts.” Wherever you are, you can use your situation as a launch pad for something new and better.

One of the yamas, or principles of yoga is Aparigraha or “non-attachment” which encourages us to approach change with curiosity and possibility rather than attachment and loss. Change is ongoing and inevitable. Suffering comes when we grasp or hold tightly rather than remaining open and curious to the winds of change and what they have in store. Something that I like to do when I am feeling overwhelmed, sad or stressed is to take a moment to journal. I begin with some deep breathing, emptying my thoughts and arriving at an intention to learn. Then, I ask myself the question “what’s not working?” and let the pen fly. I don’t put myself under the pressure of needing to find a solution to these problems right away. The only thing I need to do is write out what it is that is causing me discomfort. More often times than not, the answers are already there, I just needed to first state the problem. Usually, I discover that I am unhappy because I am putting the needs and desires of others before my own, or that I am stuck in inactivity because I am afraid of failure, or that I am feeling bullied by life because I have forgotten my own creative power over it.

When we take responsibility for our lives, let go of our attachment to old systems, beliefs and fears that are no longer serving us, and remain open and curious to what change has to offer, then our future becomes what we want it to be.

Buddha reminds us the importance of looking back in order to look forward. So as 2012 approaches and you begin to gather your thoughts around stating intentions for the new year, take the time to celebrate all that you’ve created so far. Make a list of all of your greatest achievements, from birth to the present, acknowledging your creative power in action. And then make a toast to yourself – to all that you’ve been and all that you will be.

Happy New Year. Happy New You.

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