The Holiday Timer

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The Holiday Season. It’s just rounded the corner and is only a few steps behind us. In a couple of days, it will be here. If you’ve looked around in retails stores, it’s been here for a while – since the day after Halloween. Christmas trees have been up and decorated, all things red and green is are on display, and we’re being encouraged to gear up for savings on Black Friday.

However, if we look around at nature, she is calling us to a very different experience. We are being invited to slow down and turn inward, as we move from the bounty of the dark/light balance of Autumnal Equinox into the increased darkness and starkness of the Winter Solstice. The light is softer and shorter, temperatures are colder, trees become bare, and colors shift from autumn’s red orange vividness into the muted gray tones of winter’s rest.

Like the trees releasing their leaves, we, too, are encouraged to let go and shed what we no longer need, to withdraw from the busy-ness of the external world and enter into the soothing, quiet space of interior silence. This darkness and stillness is a necessary component for growth, budding, and blooming; it’s a required element for the newness within to gestate, incubate, and come into manifestation in the spring. This is a very important time to slow down and put all of the sowing and tilling and weeding and tending and reaping….all the doing….on a much-needed pause.

And yet, it’s nearly The Holiday Season, which, as we typically experience it, bears little resemblance to our invitations from nature. Once Thanksgiving begins, instead of slowing down and tuning in, we are pulled fast-forward into the epic season of crazy busy: the shopping, the decorating, the cooking, cleaning, scheduling, partying, and everything else that goes along with all of that. For some people, this is a time of anticipation and great joy; celebrating wonderful traditions with a close-knit family. However, for others, it’s a time of huge anxiety; being around a dysfunctional family and all the stress and eggshell-walking that inevitably happens with that.

Take all of that and pat it into a ball and many of us end up with a huge, incongruent ball of conflict. Nature is saying one thing, society is saying the opposite, and if you’ve got to be around difficult and people like I did for a very long time…well, it can be really hard to maintain a strong sense of groundedness, connection, and self-awareness.

What’s a Yogi to do? Meditate more? Yes, maybe. But I found that the power lies in the pause: little one or two breath mini-meditations in the midst of whatever you’re finding yourself doing. Not only does the pause have power to help us to stay connected, but the real power lies in the remembering to pause. In order to pause in the first place, we’ve got to remind ourselves to do it. And when the going gets tough, the forgetfulness usually increases.

In the early days of my study with Erich, he used to talk about one of the best tricks I’ve learned for remembering to pause: a watch timer. This was way before the smartphone was invented. When my kids were little, I remember using the repeating timer function on my Timex watch as a reminder to pause during the day, to stop, breathe, and drop the current level of tension. I think I had it set for every couple of hours. The watch would beep and our whole family, actually, would stop what we were doing and take a conscious breath together. It’s a beautiful and very handy tool to use. After a while, I found that I didn’t need the timer anymore. It would beep, and I would find myself already present and aware. When the technique does it’s job and gets us into the experience over and over, we no longer need the technique as we did before.

However, when the dreaded Holiday Season started creeping up on me, I found myself trading self-awareness for anxiety. The family situations were so difficult that I couldn’t maintain my ground, even through all practice and years of study I had done up to that point.

One particular year was so intense that I knew there had to be something I could do to keep myself sane. “Ah, the timer!” I remembered. So, at that holiday gathering, I set my repeating timer to go off every 30 minutes. The room was so loud with everyone talking, so when it went off, nobody even noticed. I could reach down without even looking, hit the button which stopped and restarted it, take a breath, remember who I was, pull the awareness back into my center point, drop the tension, and keep going. After about an hour, I set it to go off every 15 minutes, and then I think I was down to about every 5 minutes before the end of that day. Again, nobody could hear it. Nobody, except my husband and kids, knew what I was up to. And I was able to manage my anxiety, stay present, keep my boundary strong and bright, and not lose myself to the dysfunction. It was one of the best holidays ever.

If your holidays are like mine used to be, give it a try. It’s such a great way to remember to stay centered. Many of the people who were so hard for me to be around back then have passed away; however, I still find that have a lot of residual anxiety when the holiday season rounds the corner. I’m feeling it now, actually.  In fact, I just reached down and set my watch timer for 30 minutes.

May we all find moments to pause as we move through this holiday season. May we experience the gift of presence, of slowing down, of letting the darkness wrap it’s healing cloak around us for a much-needed rest. Let’s relax into the simplicity, shed what doesn’t serve us and, if need be, set the timer to remind us to remember who we are.

Love and peace to everyone,

Carie

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I see you and I love you.

skye-farm-carie-jo-7090_origThere’s a lot of talk in the yoga world about love, that it’s all we need, that if we’re not feeling love then we’re feeling fear, and that a lack of love is what causes our so-called “negative emotions” – sadness, anger, etc. “Just be the loooove,” says a breathy yoga instructor in a video on a sunset beach with wind blowing through her golden locks.

Just be the love? What the heck is that supposed to mean? Well, it all depends on what we’re talking about when we use the word love.

The generally accepted use of the word has to do with attraction, with a feeling that’s more intense than like; a heart instead of a simple thumbs-up, as Facebook now offers us the option of expressing. If I love you, that usually means I really, really like you. Or if I love something, then I really, really like it. I love my husband, I love my best friends, I love my dogs, my kids, and I really love green. Oh, and coffee ice cream.

Does that mean that if I “just be the loooove” then I should be going around intensely liking everything and everyone? If I don’t love chocolate ice cream does that mean that I’m feeling fear? Or if I’m feeling anger because someone crossed my boundary or sad because a friend passed away, then I should get back to generating that feeling of intense like so that I will feel better?

No.

The heart has many colors, all of which are beautiful, valid, important, and useful. Anger helps us say “no” when it must be said, sadness helps us to let things go, and fear helps us to stop in our tracks when change has occurred so that we can listen more clearly for what action to take.

The definition of love that I use and work with is this: Love is the willingness to recognize that which is really real. The willingness to recognize truth. (I deeply thank my teacher and friend, Erich Schiffmann for those words, which have now become my words, too.)

Love is the willingness to recognize truth. And what is the truth in whatever or whomever is in my current experience? The important truth to recognize is that this thing or this person is the specific, unique expression of the entirety of Infinity, God, Source, Spirit. They are Spirit being itself as this particular manifestation, this person, this thing. Love is the willingness to recognize this truth in everything and in everyone. The willingness. It doesn’t mean we have to like everyone or everything, because we don’t. We won’t. Many people are really confused about who they are; therefore, they do hurtful things. We have to say no to these things, of course. As I said, anger helps us to give a forceful, “No, absolutely not!,” when needed. But we can say “no” with love, meaning when we are ready, we become willing to realize that they, too, are cut from the same cloth, sourced by the same source, as we are.

As we are? Ah, this means that the most important place to practice love, truth recognition, is right where we are: ourselves. Am I willing to see the truth in me? Can I be bravely willing, right now, to say that I – with all my endless faults and foibles – am also the beautiful and extraordinary expression of God, too? And…can I be courageously willing to let others see it, as well? So, not only is love and outward flow of being willing to see and recognize the truth in others, but it is also an inward flow of letting ourselves be seen. This means that if I’m being willing to see and recognize the truth in others, then I’ve also got to be willing to let others see and recognize the truth in me. Seeing and being seen. When these two things come together, it creates a harmony, a balance, a singularity: Oneness.

In the Freedom Yoga world, we have a mudra that nonverbally expresses Love, this unifying act of the willingness to see and be seen. I’m doing it up there in the picture. “I see you and I love you….and at the same time I’m letting you see me and love me.” It’s similar to the Namaste mudra, but, for me, is much more open and intentional.

We’ve been doing this at the Feathered Pipe Ranch with Erich for years and now I’ve brought it into my classes here in Texas. After I close the class with “Namaste,” we do this mudra with each other, with deep eye connection. People thought it was a little weird at first, but they love it now. You can actually simultaneously feel the outward energy transmission through your hands and the inward receptivity of openness. It’s a powerful way of remembering and embodying what Yoga is all about.: Conscious unity with Infinty. I used to teach at a studio with a glass wall, where students for the next class would be waiting. I would even turn to them and share the mudra. They, of course, had no idea what I was doing and probably thought I was some nutcase. It was fun for me, though.

So, really, being the love is about being the place where the willingness to recognize truth flows through us. It doesn’t mean that we will actually see and recognize the truth right now, but it means that right now we’re in the place of willingness with it all. And willingness is the first step toward growth, transformation, and a profound sense of freedom.

I see you and I love you.

Feeding the Faith, part II

Welp, it didn’t go like I wanted. My choice didn’t win. Yes, she got more of the popular vote, but the electoral college put him on top. But hey, that’s the way it goes. About half of the folks in our country are elated. The other half is devastated. This is the nature of our democracy and the election process: somebody wins and somebody loses. That’s the way it is.

My heart grows heavier each day, but not because “my candidate” didn’t win. The most dis-heartening thing for me in the last couple of days is the amount of hate I have seen on social media. If love trumps hate before the election, doesn’t love still trump hate after the election is over, even if our side didn’t win?

As Dave Grohl sings, “Its times like these you learn to live again. Its times like these you learn to love again.” As I see it, I have two choices available to me in times like these: feed the faith or feed the fear. Feed the love or feed the hate.

I am making a very conscious choice in times like these. I will not hate by wishing ill on the president-elect, his family, or anyone who voted for him. I will not fear monger by energizing the idea that our country is ruined or that it’s not going to hell. I will not be a xenophobe by continuing to dislike those whose ideas feel radically different and even foreign from my own. I will not take part in this terrible storm of hate. No.

I am choosing to fuel the love. Call it a new-agey yoga platitude if you like, but I’m calling it staying grounded in the truth and rooted in what’s real. I’m calling it fueling the healing, not only in myself, but in the collective consciousness of which we’re all a part. I am sending my new president-elect (even if I still cringe when I say that) and his family well wishes and prayers for peace, clarity, balanced judgment, and openness to be the president for all of us, not just some of us. I am energizing the vision of this all working out for the greater good. I am consciously embracing the idea that others see the world differently from me and their ideas are just as valid as my own, even though I don’t agree with them.

Yesterday, I mustered up enough energy to head to the gym, noticing my tendency to look at everyone I passed, thinking, “Yeah, you probably voted for Trump.” It didn’t feel good to catch myself trying to draw divide after divide. Each time I noticed it, I would stop and consciously feed the faith, feed the faith. I had a moment to run to the restroom right before class started and a flyer on the back of the stall caught my attention: “Take what you need,” it said. It was a flyer from a TAMU service sorority with those simple words on the top and across the bottom were vertical strips of paper that you could tear off, each with a word such as confidence, love, forgiveness, etc. Many were torn off already, but one was right there waiting for me: faith. I needed it and I’m keeping it.

 

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Election Eve: Feed the Peace

Election Eve. I think just about everyone is feeling the weight and heaviness of this political year. It feels kind of like we’ve been witnessing an ongoing boxing match for months and months that will finally, thank God, be over tomorrow. But, come tomorrow, about half of us in our country, maybe even the world, will be happy with the winner of this fight-–uh, election, and the other half won’t. The collective sense of feeling fed up and wiped out is palpable; so is the pervasive overtone of fear and anxiety.

When I cast my vote last Wednesday, I felt a very surprising and interesting feeling of lightness. A freedom. Not the type of freedom that comes from knowing I live in a democracy and that I was exercising my right to vote, though I was aware of that, but rather a freedom from being attached to a particular outcome. When I pressed the “cast ballot” button, put on my “I voted” sticker, and happily glided out of the fairly empty room, I washed my hands of this whole election. I’ve surrendered myself to the results, come what may. And the big insight that followed was this: Whoever wins this thing, be it Trump or Clinton, it will all be okay. Our country is not going to go to hell in a hand-basket, regardless of what the talking heads shouting at each on cable news are saying and despite the posts on Facebook from “news” sources I’ve never heard of are predicting will happen. Of course, I could be wrong, but the sane, rational, grounded, spiritually connected part of myself feels strongly that everything will work out. We will come together.

I’ve got faith in us as Americans, as humans living on our beautiful planet Earth. Yes, the squeaky wheels of the haters on both sides have been getting the grease of sound bites lately, but most of us in this country and in this world are not these squeaky wheels. Most of us are good, honest people who, fundamentally, want the same things: to live, love, laugh, feel free, and be at peace. I think when we take off the blue or red colored glasses that we’ve been viewing this election through, we will see that we have more commonalities which unite us, rather than more differences which divides us.

And, as yogis, I think it’s important for us to come together, as well, especially on a night such as tonight and in the days to follow. We all have our differences in the microcosm of the yoga community, to be sure. However, just as in the larger macrocosmic view, that which unites us is so much stronger than that which divides us. More than ever before, I feel that those of us who know how to get into our center point – and so many of us are highly skilled in doing this – need to do whatever we can to get there and hold this space for one another. Let’s use our strong visionary capabilities to visualize everything working out. We know how to do this. We can do this for ourselves and for the country and the whole world.

Tonight (as well as tomorrow and in the coming days), I invite us to turn off the TV for a few minutes. Put the phone down. Let’s settle ourselves into wherever we are and take some deep breaths together. In each of our mind’s eye, visualize things working out for the greater good. What does that look like? Feel it. Breathe it in. Breathe it out. Visualize each other rising up and embodying understanding; see ourselves listening to each other with compassion, forgiveness, and open hands reaching toward one another in love, regardless of what happens on Tuesday.

It only takes a few minutes to do this, but the few minutes that each of us brings to the collective consciousness can help, soothe, and heal the massive fear and anxiety on the national and global scale. It’s that powerful.

Yes, vote, if you haven’t. Do your civic duty and let your voice be counted. But let’s stay strong and not feed into the fear. Let’s feed the peace. Let’s feed into the faith in each other and in Spirit, who has us all safely held in the palm of His hand. Or Her hand.

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The Blessing Box

I’m a member of a Baptist, African-American, gospel church. It’s awesome. I’m not
Baptist. I’m a confirmed Episicopalian, Yogi, spiritual seeker, lover of experiencing God in as many ways as I can through various traditions and non-traditions. I’m also not African-American, either. Most Sundays, I’m the only white person there. Definitely the only redhead. But, I’ve never felt more at home, more welcome, more ME at any church anywhere. Every Sunday I’m washed with the experience of what is essentially Bhakti Yoga – feeling my oneness with God through the pathway of the heart and the emotions. Our collective church experience is always spontaneous and organic, which feeds my soul to the brim and overflowing. And every Sunday, I’m blown away by the Pastor’s sermons that always, every single time, completely correlate to what I’m working with in my practice of living the Yoga.

About a year ago, he introduced the idea of a Blessing Box. The idea is to get a box of some sort and write down all the good things that happen to you every day; blessings that come your way that you didn’t create. A grace evidence box, of sorts. Put a date on it, write down the blessing, and keep it in the box.

The Blessing Box

I thought this would be a great addition to my life. So, I decided to use this cool wooden box I’d bought years ago for our ten jillion remote controls. We never used it as such and it was collecting dust on my shelf. Inside I placed strips of cut up paper and a pen. My first entry was January 2014: Dillon made it safely back to the USA! My son had returned safe and sound from a study abroad semester in Sweden. I had been a worried mom for months and I was so grateful and incredibly relieved he was back in the states. My intended practice had begun: Write a slip of paper every day.

Now, this may not seem like such a huge practice but, for me, looking for the good things that happen in my life is almost a monumental practice. I grew up in a way that taught me to always look for the negative, for things that are going wrong, as a way to stay safe and protect myself. Of course, one always finds what one looks for, as they say. Seek and ye shall find. If I constantly look for what’s wrong, well, then what’s wrong is all that I will find. Here is something very tangible and easy that I can do that will actually help me look for, acknowledge, and record the great things that are happening all around me. And, when I flip back to my “nothing good every happens to me” mode, I can open this box and take out all the hard evidence of the contrary. Blessings are happening to me every single day, in so many ways. I know I’m not alone. If they’re happening to me, they are certainly happening to you, as well! The question is what are we looking to find?

What a blessing this Blessing Box has been to me. I’m writing about it now – a whole year later – because I had forgotten about the box. Somehow, I had reverted the Blessing Box back to its previous job: collecting dust on the shelf. I flipped back into the old mode and got spiritually lazy over sitting down and taking a couple of seconds to write down something good that happened to me. So, last night, I took the box down off the shelf and moved it into my Yoga room, right by my meditation altar, where I’ll be sure to see it every day. I opened it up and read all the evidence from 2015. Wow. I had, of course, forgotten about almost all of it. But here was my proof. I’m hereby recommitting myself to this practice of looking for the good, the great, the blessings. The more I seek, the more I will find. And the more I find, the more blessed I feel. The more blessed I feel, the less depressed and dis-spirited I feel. I feel more abundance, more joy, and much more excited and grateful be on this life journey. It all comes down to what I choose to look for. Today I’m choosing to count my blessings.

 

A Special Hug from an Olympian

Last Friday I was on my way to the gym for a group exercise class. It had been a busy week, as all of them are, and I was completely wiped out, looking forward to sweating out all of my frustrations and negativity.

It an interesting thing these days, riding my bike over to the gym, which is the rec center on the Texas A&M campus. There are so many students walking by, but instead of the usual moments of “Howdy!” that used to accompany passing by someone, most students are walking with their heads looking down at their phones. In fact, many of the other cyclists are doing the same. I was noticing this and thinking about the bizarre lack of connection that we occupy the world with, when, as Brene Brown says, we are hard wired for connection and that’s what we so desperately seek. In fact, I’ve read an article recently that talked about the real cause of addictions is a lack of connection.

It’s a rare thing these days to pass by a pedestrian and actually experience a moment of connection, a moment of “I see you” and “I’m letting you see me.” To me, that’s the real meaning of Namaste. When we put down the distractions and defenses down long enough to see each other, then we experience our oneness, our unity.

So, I parked my bike and as I walked up I saw lots of people with matching t-shirts and lots of tents set up outside the natatorium and remembered that the Special Olympics was going on. I also remembered seeing an ad in the paper a few weeks ago, asking for volunteers to help with the event. “Too much going on for me to add anything else to my plate,” I thought.

I had a few minutes before class, so I went over to the big bay window that overlooks the natatorium. There was an exciting whirlwind of activity in there. People warming up in one pool, scores being gathered and posted, participants greeting one another, a new race just beginning in another pool.

There was a young man, maybe he was an older boy, standing near me, also watching the activity through the window. Every time someone came up to the window next to us, he enthusiastically asked them, “Do y’all go here?” I suddenly realized he was an Olympian himself, a participant, and I wasn’t sure if he was asking if the people went to school there at A&M or if they were participating in the Olympics. Nobody seemed to even acknowledge him. I was struck by how refreshing this guy was. There seemed to be no filters present that made him feel self-conscious, or feel like he was bothering people by asking them questions….all filters that I strongly have cemented in place.

After they left, I asked him if he was a participant. He lit up inside and told me about all the events….the 25 m, the 100 relay, and a few others that I couldn’t quite understand. His radiance was so vivid and bright. It just seemed to be erasing my depressed funk with every breath. We talked for a few more minutes. I asked him where he was from – Dallas – and he asked me, “Do you go here?” I laughed and said, “Yes, a loooong time ago, back in 1987.” He said he had a cousin who graduated in 1986. Our exchange was extraordinary. Totally uplifting and full of genuine authenticity. It was beautiful, actually. The amount of presence that he had was indescribable. So very present. So in the Now.

I said I had to get to class and so I wished him luck for the next day’s competition and safe travels back home. I started to turn around to leave and noticed he was walking quickly up to me, arms outstretched. Before I knew what was happening, he embraced me in one of the best, most awesome, most needed hugs I’ve ever received. I nearly started crying and realized I was holding back “for fear of what other people would think.” As I walked away, he shouted at me, “Good luck!”

Up the stairs I floated. What a God moment. The veil, for just a few brief minutes, was pulled back and I knew what just happened was something so special. Love was permeating every cell of me. Wow. “Why can’t every interaction with a human be like this?,” I thought. “Why do I insist on operating with these ridiculous filters of constantly holding back who I am?” I watched how the veil slid back over my eyes, back into abnormal normalcy.

Next year, I’m signing up to work the Special Olympics.

Finding My Tribe

Boy, it’s been a long time coming. I have felt like a fish out of water, teaching Yoga in College Station, Texas, for as long as I can remember. As I wrote in a blog post last summer, I felt like I’d been living on the island of misfit toys. For so long, I have dreamt of having a Freedom Style tribe; people who are into practicing and living a guided-from-within life, not people who come to my class because it’s the one on the schedule at 6:00 at the gym or the studio. I have struggled and cried buckets of tears and wondered if I had misheard my calling. I mean, where are the people who really want to live this stuff, not just perfect their dog pose or stand on their head as a measure of “yoga success?” WHO CARES about that?! I sure don’t.

For a very long time, I was the lone yoga teacher here in my town. There were no studios here when I first started out. In fact, I taught at a gym, then ran my classes out of a church. Somehow, I thought I would attain success as a teacher if I ended up at a big, beautiful studio, with 30 or 40 people in my class. As I continued down my journey as a teacher, I began to realize that my teaching – though it was all I knew and quite normal for me – was definitely not the norm. The way that I practice, teach, and live Yoga doesn’t fit into the generally accepted notion that yoga is a physical exercise, a workout, all about pushing edges, “building heat,” holding poses for as long as the teacher says, with instruction after instruction, vinyasa after vinyasa, yoga selfie after yoga selfie. Ugh.

I remember teaching classes at two new studios recently, filled with the shiny hope of finally finding my people, my tribe, my kindred that I have so longed to find…only to discover that people at large studios aren’t interested in what I have to offer. I recall many times during my classes discussions on what Yoga is about, seeing people looking at their watches, wondering when we were going to get to the “real yoga.” I’ll never forget looking up during the meditation at the beginning of class one day to see a lady doing arm balances on the back row. God, where are my people?! My tribe?! Asana (the yoga poses) is such a tiny, miniscule, microscopic part of what Yoga is about. Why are people so focused on asana?? I just don’t get it.

I think I would either be insane or I would have quit teaching altogether if it weren’t for my saving grace: a place called the Feathered Pipe Ranch in Montana. Talk about tribe, this is tribe in the deepest sense of the word, for me. Every July for one week, 30-40 Freedom Style yogis gather together to discuss, meditate, and do freefom yoga together, led by my teacher, Freedom Style colleage, and sweet soul friend Erich Schiffmann. When I get to the ranch, I breathe a massive sign of relief because I am home. Everyone there gets it, they get me, and we all get each other. It’s like family. I’ve wondered all these years why I can’t find this sort of tribe in my hometown?

Finally, last spring, The Universe did for me what I couldn’t do for myself and I was gratefully plucked out of the studio environment, altogether. As they say, when a door closes, a window always opens. Turns out, a friend of mine decided to lease a small studio space in the back of a large house, which she has called Westward MindBody Works. It’s a light-filled breath of simplicity. I’m back to running all of my own classes again, and, much to my complete shock and surprise, I have finally found my tribe! I’ve learned that it was never in big classes at a fancy studio. It’s in a small, intimate environment of 10 students at a time, where I can get to know everyone and they can get to know me. I’m blown away by the people who truly grace me with their presence: profound seekers who want to discuss Yoga with a Capital Y, people who want to explore bhakti yoga – chanting, spiritual dance, working with mandalas – and people who want to live the Yoga on a daily basis. Finally, I’m home!! I feel like I’ve been in the desert for a long time and I’ve found my way to the oasis, taking a cool, long, much needed drink. Man, does it ever feel so nourishing and healing.

Jai, Freedom Tribe! Thank you, Universe. It’s been a long time coming and I am so, incredibly grateful. Gratefully FULL.

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