The Left-Hand Turn: The Journey Into the Ranch

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The Feathered Pipe Ranch in Montana means the world to me. It has been an integral part of my spiritual journey: it’s influenced my life in more ways than I can count and continues to play a huge role in helping me to unfold into the truth of who I really am. Many of my most profound, life-changing moments of spiritual connection have happened at the Feathered Pipe Ranch; moments where I experienced, without a doubt, that there is indeed a loving Higher Power who not only has my best interests at heart, but is walking right beside me on my path and guiding my every step along the way.

For the past 15 years, every summer for a week in July, I have made the journey to the ranch. I was blessed to be Erich Schiffmann’s teaching assistant for 14 of those years. Erich has been my one and only teacher and those weeks every summer with him and my closest friends who I met there during those years were water for my soul. As the years passed and I started developing my own teachings and trainings, those July weeks assisting Erich at the ranch became even more sacred for me. They helped me return to the grounding element of service, which is how my work with Erich began, and kept me rooted in the place that has shaped and nurtured me into the person and teacher that I am today. This journey has become an annual pilgrimage for me.

This past year, 2017 the journey took a different turn. Erich had announced in 2016 that he would be taking a break from teaching and would not be back at the ranch. A core group of us decided to come back anyway in 2017, to be together at this crossroads and discover our new direction. (Incidentally, there couldn’t have been a more perfect place to gather for this reason, as this is precisely what the feathered pipe that the ranch is named for is all about. When native tribes were at a crossroads and needed direction, they would hang the feathered pipe in a tree, whereby it would be blown by Great Spirit, pointing the direction of the next phase of the journey.) I was honored to be the facilitator of our group, leading our morning sessions, anchoring us in familiarity, introducing some new ideas into the mix, and holding space for what was to flower from this giant change for all of us.

The pilgrimage continues this summer in a new way. I will be teaching my own week at the ranch during August 18-25, an offering of Freedom Yoga that I’m calling Be the Real You: The Art of Self-Trust. The week will be rich with all of the stories and teachings I have learned from Erich that color everything about the way I teach, practice, and live Yoga…and will also be infused with my own teachings and new discoveries that revolve around themes of authenticity, rightness, ease of being, inner listening, courage, and self-trust. I feel so grateful to have the opportunity in August to give back some of what the ranch has given me over the years. It’s going to be a wonderful week.

If you haven’t been to the ranch yet, it’s hard to understand how special it is. It’s not just another retreat center where you get away to feel better, do a bunch of yoga, and then go home, back to the grind. Feathered Pipe Ranch is a place of healing transformation that nourishes and fills your soul all the way up and overflows, so that not only do you feel amazing, but – and most importantly – so that you can take it home and begin to help nourish others and make a difference in the world. The spirit of the ranch will wrap its loving arms around you so that you effortlessly enter into your true essence. If you come this summer, you’ll see what I mean. The story of how the ranch came to be is nothing short of miraculous. It was birthed from deep intention, spiritual guidance and vision; you can feel that with every step you take and every breath you breathe while you’re here. When you come, you’ll hear the story for yourself and understand why, for example, there is a huge elk on the giant mantle inside our yoga space, presiding over all we do.

I love everything about the ranch and being there, but I especially love the process, the physical journey, of making my way there. The outer act of arriving always seems to parallel the feeling of inner arrival, for me.

My journey to the Ranch is a long one; Montana is a ways from Texas. For many years, I would get up at 3am, to leave at 4am to drive to Houston or Austin, fly to Salt Lake City, then fly into Helena. Now that I’m older, I leave later. 🙂 But because it’s a full day’s travel for me, I like to arrive a day early, Friday, and stay in Helena down in Last Chance Gulch. There are so many lovely memories I have of us gathering for dinner, reconnecting with each other, and of course, toasting my once-a-year martini with Anne, my bff who I met at the ranch maybe my second year there. After dinner, we’d walk down to the indoor carousel to get ice cream, and, inevitably, we would always seem to miss the closing time by about five minutes. So we would just enjoy the night air, talk about our anticipation of the week together, and marvel that the light at 11pm still looks like dusk. The next day we begin the wonderful drive to the ranch, usually stopping off at Real Foods – the sweetest health food store ever — and picking up a few necessary items, like the traditional black pepper kettle chips and dark chocolate. Then we’d hit the highway, enjoying the beautiful scenery, chatting in the van about the weather, how the year has been, how the ranch is doing, and if there have been any bear sightings yet.

Then we come to it – my favorite part about the trip: that hallowed left-hand turn off the highway that has become so very special to me that it brings tears to my eyes now just thinking about it. We turn left, leave the highway behind, and begin our inward journey to the ranch, into ourselves. The moment we turn left, I am aware of the holiness surrounding us all. I know that we’re embarking on such a special week – sacred, powerful, and meaningful – that I savor every moment of this drive in. I know that when I leave the ranch in a week, I will be radically changed.

We travel down this road for quite a while, through fields of beautiful green grass and tiny purple flowers. The gentle mountains stand watch for us in the distance, with their ageless strength. We wind around log homes dotted with wooden fences and granite boulders. After a while, we come to the fork in the road, with the hanging wooden sign that reads Feathered Pipe Ranch on the left side of the fork. I love this part of the trip. It perfectly illustrates one of the fundamental themes of Freedom Yoga: awareness of the ever present choice-moment that we’re always in. We come to a fork in the road of our lives and ask ourselves, “Should I go left or should I go right?” Instead of making the decision on auto-pilot, from past experience or our conditioned patterns, the practice is to pause and sense inwardly, and then dare to go with the choice that has the clear feeling of rightness about it. Left! Under the sign we go! Emotions swell into a crashing wave of joy and gratitude as I sink a little deeper into myself and exhale a few layers of tension.

We curve around, as the hills on either side of the road become steeper, lined with larger boulders of granite. I usually roll down my window and stick my head out of the car, like a dog in the back seat, so happy to be on this ride. I savor the smell of the piney air, the wind in my face and I smile with happiness too huge to hold back, knowing we’re almost there.

And then – and it always takes me by surprise — there it is on the right: the lake with the cattails, the grassy lawn with the picnic tables and Adirondack furniture, and the beautiful log lodge…all right there, all waiting for me for a whole year, just like I left them. We curve around the lake, drive past the dining hall and we’re here! Oh joy!! I jump out of the car, raise my arms overhead to the clear blue sky and thank God for allowing me to be here, yet again. I am home.

I can’t wait to make that inward journey together with you in August. You’ll see what I mean about that left-hand turn when you experience it yourself. We’ll all arrive at the ranch at various times on Saturday, August 18, get settled in, have dinner in the dining hall, and then come into that wonderful opening circle to begin our week. We’ll create a lovely space where we can let go of the defenses and pretenses we lug around, so that we can fully be who we are. The yoga that we’ll do every day — whether it’s asana, discussion, chanting, or maybe even some dance — will have a sense of ease and will be designed to cultivate self-trust and inner listening, and foster a deep experience of union with All That Is. There is nothing like sitting in the lodge’s yoga space, looking skyward at the incredible beams, looking out the windows to the mountains, and looking up at the beautiful, majestic elk who selflessly holds the space in the room for us. You’ll have time during the week to sleep and rest, get a massage from the healing body workers at the ranch, lay on the lawn, meditate amongst the prayer flags at the stupa, hike up to the ridge at Sky Farm, eat incredible nourishing food, have meaningful conversations with people, laugh like a little kid, and look at the stars that are unlike any you’ve ever seen before.

I hope you’ll join me. I really look forward to sharing the magic of the ranch with you, as well as the stories, teachings, and history that are part of my soul. If you have any questions about what we’ll do in our sessions together, or what the ranch is like, I’d love to hear from you.

Here are the details:

Be the Real You: The Art of Self-Trust

August 18-25 at the Featherd Pipe Ranch

https://featheredpipe.com/feathered_retreats/self-trust/

with love,

Carie

 

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Going Gray: A Spiritual Practice

“Don’t regret growing older. It’s a privilege denied to many.”

~ author unknown

 

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Last week, on March 7, I celebrated two huge anniversaries on the same day. March 7, 2010 was the day I walked into my first 12-step meeting and began a life-changing journey of recovery from codependency. These years have been a spiritual unfolding into profound sense of freedom and empowerment from within; such a beautiful parallel to the work I have done and continue to do with Freedom Yoga. I’ve learned to set boundaries, let go of people pleasing, and, above all else, be true to myself. This work has enabled me to become disentangled from who or what others say I should be, so that I can bravely reside deeply in my center point, the place of authenticity – the real me – where I find my voice, speak my worth and my truth, and let my gifts shine through.

Without these eight years of recovery, I know I would definitely not be celebrating the second big milestone in my life, and on the very same day, too: March 7, 2017 was the last time I had my hair colored. This is so huge for me. I can’t believe I’ve made it this far, actually. The decision to begin growing in my gray – and whatever color was actually present – was something that I had been agonizing over for years. With all the work I had been doing on letting my genuine and real self come to the surface with Yoga and recovery, I gradually began to experience more and more dissonance with continuing to keep my red hair as vibrant and gray-free as it was when I was in my 20’s.

Everything about the way I practice, teach, and live Yoga calls me to be as real and natural as possible and yet, coloring my hair felt like I was continuously rejecting who I am now, who I have become. I’m such a different person now than I was when I was 20, 30, or even 40. I’m 52 now, with plenty of lines etched into my face. I’ve had so many moments of expressions that this is how my face looks now. Why is the outer appearance of the gift of living for this many years and more considered to be something I should “fight” or not welcome? I love myself now and I love where I am now. Though my stylist is fabulous and I loved the way she made my hair look, the incongruence and inner tension of it being artificial was finally too much to bear. I was ready to really let more of the real me grow in and be seen.

It caused me to really do some serious pondering. What is beauty, really? Gosh, if I do this, what if I turn out to be ugly? Does beauty actually have to do with hair color? And what’s so wrong with gray hair, anyway? It is an outer sign of wisdom and experience, of a lightening that occurs as we soften from the hard edges of youth into a flowering of our true essence. Why is there such an obscure societal pressure for women to cover this up? Why is gray labeled as “distinguished” in men and when a woman goes gray she is seen as “letting herself go?” Why are men allowed by society to age, yet, women are expected to keep looking younger as they age? This is so very bizarre. And why is “young” considered to be a preferred state? Especially, as the quote above says, if age is a privilege denied to many, that means getting old is a privilege afforded to the very few.

So, one year ago, I decided to take damn scary plunge, stop fighting aging, and start embracing this privilege I have been given. Is it possible for me to welcome aging as an outward sign of the wisdom I have collected and integrated during my 52 trips around the sun? God, what if I look terrible, old, ugly, used up? I know, inwardly, I am none of those things, yet, will I be able to look in the mirror as the grays come in and see beauty in there somewhere? I had to find out.

This process of allowing and accepting who I really am has not been easy. This business of growing in my gray feels like a massive transformation that I am working hard to stay open and present to. Unbeknownst to me, I had so much of my identity wrapped up in being a redhead. Letting go of that has been really hard; however, it has been one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done because it has brought me closer to my real identity. Who do I say that I am? There are only two answers: 1) I’m Spirit embodied; the specific and unique self-expression of God/Source/The Divine; truly birthless and deathless…or 2) I’m something separate and apart from Spirit that is marching toward my demise. One answer is true and the other answer is illusion – truth looking like something else.

When I am rooted in my deepest truth (answer #1), I know that I am the Changeless One being this thing called “Carie” for a little while. And the Changeless One always and forever manifests Itself as what looks like constant change, impermanence, and ever-newness. My skin is different, my body is different, my inner world is vastly different, and, of course, my hair is different, too. It just doesn’t make sense to me anymore to chase parts of myself that have changed and are gone, trying to artificially re-create them, and yet be so resistant to embracing what is actually here, now.

Of course, I miss my vibrant red hair, but truth be told, it had lost its natural vibrancy a long time ago. It’s interesting to see a different me in the mirror with such a lovely softness around my face. My eyes feel brighter. I have grown to really love it, actually. My hair now feels like something of a crown, an outer sign of the inner work I’ve been doing for so long, and continue to do. I’m looking forward to it all growing in. It feels so good, like the real me is so much more on the surface of myself than ever before. But I have to stay with it, this process of allowing and acceptance. I do catch myself saying, “You idiot, what are you doing?” Then I smile and realize I’ve gone off to answer #2, take a few breaths, feel the truth, and get myself back to answer #1.

Lord, I Know I’ve Been Changed

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Vulnerability. It’s everything about the way I practice, teach, and live Yoga. Brene Brown, author, shame researcher, and one of my biggest inspirations in life, defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Her work informs nearly every aspect of the way I live my life, both on and off the mat. Freedom Yoga is a highly creative inwardly guided practice based on deep inner listening, courage, and self-trust. We listen for and become sensitive to feeling divine guidance, life direction, insights, revelations and then dare to actually do what we’re guided to do, on the mat, which eventually translates into our daily lives. Being creative – that is, allowing Creation to flow through me in all that I do – is everything for me.

Turns out that according to Brene’s research, vulnerability is the very birthplace of creativity. Not more study, more asana, more rules, but the ability “Let go and let God,” as it were. If I want to be changed, to grow, to feel my inseparable unity with Spirit, and truly live a guided from within life, flowing along on the river of Divine Creativity, then I’ve got to be willing to embrace uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. In short, I’ve got to let myself be seen.

That’s scary as hell. This means that I have to be willing to let go of my white-knuckle death grip of control and let the never-before-seen newness in. It means that I must be brave enough to let go of comparison and what other people think so that I can speak my truth, speak my worth, and tell my story with a wide open heart. When I’m in the teaching role, it means I must courageously stand in the exposing spotlight of sharing my teaching insights that feel out there on leading edge for me, even if I know others might not agree with them. If I want creativity to flow through me and not just regurgitate the past (as Krishnamurti said), then I can’t just watch others inspire me from the bravery of their vulnerability, and continue to sit on the back row of complacency, hoping to blend in and not be seen.

Interestingly, and much to my surprise, one of the places I have been able to cultivate vulnerability and letting myself be seen has been my church. For several years now, I’ve been a member of an incredible African-American church. I love everything about it. Spirit flows through everything about our church, from the way we sing without sheet music, to the freedom to dance and clap (refreshingly, never on the one), to the way people are guided to stand up and share their experiences, to the exuberant and heartfelt emotional praise that occurs every Sunday.

Most every single church experience of my past included zero vulnerability. There was an order of service from which there was never any deviation and the choir practiced to excruciating detail such there would be no mistakes. All of the possibilities for vulnerability were starched and pressed right out of there. Now, my church experience is a fluid sea of spiritual creativity, where what exactly will happen is always uncertain, but is always moving and deeply profound and exactly what everyone needed. Sunday after Sunday, the healing vulnerability continues to wash through the desert of my soul and nourish me beyond belief.

Though the church was the most welcoming church I had ever experienced, it took me a very long time to finally join the church. The level of vulnerability, being seen, and simply not ever blending in was very intense for me.  For so long, I felt like an outsider, being the only white person there. I was so afraid I’d do something wrong or be disrespectful in an unknown way, that I held back quite a lot. Finally, I got brave enough to join the choir and sing the type of music that truly feeds me, spiritually. Of course, my spot is smack in the center of the choir stand. Since everything is so Spirit led here, often we will sing different songs than we rehearsed or sing them in different ways than we rehearsed. This was terrifying for me! What if people saw me –of course they can see me – up there not knowing the words, looking like a total idiot?

Finally, I started to feel less and less self-conscious up there, more me. If I don’t know the song, it’s fine and I jump in when I can. I’ve really learned how to relax in the not knowing and in the uncertainty. After some time, I began to wonder, “Oh wow, wouldn’t it be something to lead those songs,” I thought. “To be able to be in a place where I could let go and improvise and riff like the song leaders do…wow…that would be amazing.”

Well, two weeks ago, the music director asked me if I’d be willing to lead a song called “Lord, I Know I’ve Been Changed.” We were doing some old spirituals for black history month. Apparently everyone knows this song and has grown up with it…except me, of course. I told her I’d give it a try, without too much thought over what that entailed. When you lead a song, you go up to the micropohone – yes, the mic – all by yourself, to sing parts of the song, all by yourself. At rehearsal, I was sweating bullets, but managed to quasi-sing my verses. Then…we got to the holding pattern of the choir, over which the leader is expected to riff extemporaneously. Eek!!! I couldn’t think of anything to sing, to say, to do except to feel the need to crawl into a hole and disappear. “I’m so sorry, I can’t do it,” I said. “You’re going to have to find someone else for Sunday, I just can’t do it. I’m going to lose sleep and be a nervous wreck.”

I felt relief. Driving home, I was thinking, “It’s good to know when to say no. Whew. Yeah, someone else will do it and I can just stay safe and blend in.” Vulnerability problem averted!

Two days later my pastor texted me an image with the word “Godfidence” and said “Let God use you on Sunday.” Oh man, I thought I was through with that. I thought about it, pondered, and decided I would give it a go on Sunday.

Sunday came and, of course I didn’t know it in advance, but my song was first. So, I stepped up to the mic with no idea whatsoever about what was going to happen. “Let God use you, “ said the text said. So, as the music was playing, I basically talked to the congregation and told them what I’m writing here in this blog about vulnerability. I talked about how scared I was and how hard it is for me to be seen. Then I closed my eyes, really let go, and launched into those lovely, slow and slidey old-school spiritual tones and words:

“Lord, I know I’ve been changed. The angels in Heaven done signed my name. If you don’t believe that I’ve been redeemed, follow me down to that old Jordan Stream. Stepped in the water and the water was so cold. It chilled my body but not my soul.”

I could feel myself being changed with every note. Something took over me and I don’t even remember what happened, really. The riffing part came and I riffed! Lord have mercy, talk about being seen!! But, somehow, I did it. It felt amazing. It felt like a baptism, like something monumental had occurred. I really do feel massively changed.

And I can’t wait to do it again. But not anytime too soon.

 

 

 

A Gift of Impermanence

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As I sit here, the sun is coming up through the window just to my right. Now, the light is splintering through the corner of my glasses and the yellow orange glow is starting to reflect off the warm earthy orange walls of my office space. It’s nice to savor this moment, because I know it will be gone in just a few more breaths. It will change; it will be different that it is right now.

Life is like this moment; it’s an ever-changing kaleidoscope of constant change. Creation is perpetual, always and forever manifesting Itself as things that well up into existence, look one way for a brief moment, and then shape-shift into what looks like something else for another moment. Things are constantly coming and going, shifting and moving; and yet, the world often seems so predictable and permanent that I just keep my nose to life’s grindstone and don’t even bother looking up to witness and appreciate the unfolding cosmic play. Most of the time, I’m living on the assumption that everything I have in my world will be exactly as it is today, tomorrow.

And then, inevitably, thankfully, something comes along to shake me back into awareness. Sadly, often it takes the death of someone I know to come back to the reality that all of us are going to make an exit at some point, that our lives as we know them are quite impermanent. We’re here for just a blink of an eye, and then we move on. Other times, the shaking by the shoulders into reality comes with something very lovely, like a breathtaking sunset that streaks across the whole sky for a few minutes, then Etch-a-Sketches itself into darkness. Two days ago, my shake came in the form of beautiful, white snow.

Snowfall is very common in the world, of course, but it’s a rarity where I live in southeast Texas. I’m 52 years old and have only seen snow here about 3 or 4 times. We often get flurries and “wintry mix,” which is wet and sleet-like, but the snow hardly ever accumulates on the ground or in trees. When it does “stick,” it only sticks around very briefly. Well, four days ago it was 80 degrees here and the next day a cold front moved in. The day after that, at 5:45 the flakes started coming down. It was totally unexpected. Big, fat, fluffy snowflakes – no wintry mix – poured down for several hours. I’ve never seen that sort of snowfall here. We stepped outside into a winter wonderland. It felt like that moment in The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy opens her door from black and white world into technicolor. Otherworldly.

Because this is such a rare occurrence, and one that is impermanent, snow here is like magic falling from the sky. Neighbors old and young were out in the streets, giddy like little kids, running up and down, laughing, shouting, “Can you believe this?!” After a couple of hours, everything was covered in a beautiful, soft, white, sparkling, gorgeous blanket of peace that landed on everyone and everything. That’s the thing about snow; the gift of it is a present for all, everyone and everything, not just some people and some things. It’s such a lovely equalizer of beauty and abundance that seamlessly stretches from one house to another, turning separations into a unified singularity. Each tree limb – large and small – was graced with a God-kissed highlight of Presence, and every house received free postcard-like holiday decorations. There was so much reflective light, even at 11pm, that it looked like daytime outside. All of us out there were fully aware of the miracle. Yes, indeed. That’s what it was.

I even cancelled my class the next morning, declaring a snow day. I knew all of it would go away quickly, so I wanted to go down to the park and take pictures and walk in it, hearing that sound of snow compressing under my feet that I typically only hear when I go to Colorado. I just wanted to savor the whole experience. It had already faded a great deal overnight, but was still so incredibly beautiful. The soft blue light of the early morning was magnified by the reflection of it in the snow. Every few breaths, I could see the change, the constant newness. A hint of blue sky began to peek through the gray and soon, the sun began rising, adding warm golden hues to the cool blue-grays. Little by little it began to look like snow falling all over again, as the white, dusky flakes started to fall from the trees. Once the sun came up in the sky, the glitter began its dance all across the white. Exquisite. Breathtaking. I knew all of this would be gone within a few hours. Such impermanence. And because I know it would be gone soon, I found myself drinking in as much as I could through all my senses.

And, sure enough, by 4pm, it was all gone. Except for a few bits of snow still on rooftops facing north, there was no evidence of what just happened. The grass is still green and the sky is blue. But everything is radically different. I’m different.

I’m so grateful for this gift of wonderful, miraculous, unexpected snow, which came and went in less than 24 hours. May it help me to stay present, appreciating and savoring each moment in my life, finding the wonder and beauty in the so-called everyday mundane. May it help me let go of what I think I’m so sure about so I can be a more full participant in this cosmic play, this ongoing dance of change and impermanence. May I remember to lift my head and keep looking and noticing the miracle, which is always present and always ongoing. Today, I’m choosing to not miss a thing.

The Timer Tool: Pausing Holiday Conflict

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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

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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