Soft Peace and Childlike Wonder

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As I write, it’s December 23, 2019. We’re fully into the “holiday season” and the big day is almost upon us. And, I think for the first time ever in my entire life, I am calm, completely at peace, and immersed in joyful simplicity.

Typically, what I call the “holiday season,” the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, is the hardest time of the year for me. It’s historically been the season of getting together with dysfunctional family members that I would ordinarily never choose to spend time with, and being around all the chaos that comes with that. In order to quell the inevitable turmoil, my old pattern of controlling perfectionism kicks into high gear, agonizing over the absolute best presents for people, wrapping them in the most beautiful paper and ribbons, having a fully decorated house, a gorgeous tree, and flawless family portraits to send out. It’s so ridiculous. And stressful and tense and awful. And then, to top it off, there is the issue of the incongruous square-peg-in-a-round-hole fit of my spirituality into religious dogma. I’ve never believed the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth to be actual fact, but rather a metaphorical and mythological story, somehow pointing the way to something much deeper than the “facts” presented in various churches I have attended.

So, every year, right before Thanksgiving, the “here we go again” brain grooves of the holiday season start running. Even though many of those dysfunctional family members have passed on and aren’t even in my current holiday season experience, the grooves are so deep that they’re still there and my awareness slides easily into them, like a needle on a vinyl record, playing the same tune the same way.

This year, I decided to create some new brain grooves.

I decided to have a 4-week “calm and centered for the holidays” class; 4 weeks of discussions, study, and practices to keep us anchored and grounded in this difficult time for many. I wanted to be intentional in walking through these holiday weeks in the spirit of exploration and change and wanted to walk through them in the divine company of the amazing people in my Freedom Yoga community. We began the Monday right after Thanksgiving and finished last week.

When I decided to create the class, I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do. Over my 20-plus years of being involved with Yoga, I have learned that “I don’t know” is the preferred place, the desired space I want to occupy when I’m opening myself to guidance and allowing something new to be created. Letting go of what I think I know is paramount to creation flowing in. And what came in really surprised me.

The vision came to revolve the 4-week class around the 4 weeks of Advent, as told in the Godly Play Advent story. Godly Play is an early childhood Montessori-based curriculum that I taught in the Episcopal Church a long time ago when my children were very young. It involves mystery and wondering, with the knowledge that children are still very close to their innate sense of the presence of God all around them.

The guidance communicated to me was that in order to create new brain grooves for the holiday season, I would need to enter into the mystery of this holiday season like a little child. I would need to let go of everything I thought I knew and dive fully into the gift of the present…the now…and be taught anew.

I had forgotten how special the Godly Play Advent story is. I borrowed the materials from the Episcopal school where I teach pre-K and shared the story with my new “calm and centered for the holidays” class and also one of my restorative classes, as well as two pre-K classes at school. This story is deep and profound, full of childlike mystery and wonder.

The story opens with this sentence: “Everything is changed.” It’s about the journey toward Bethlehem from four points of view: the prophets, the holy family, the shepherds, and the magi. The beauty of storytelling in the Godly Play way opens each child (or each yogi!)  to individual interpretation and deep wondering. For me, this journey toward Bethlehem represents the journey that each of us makes toward the re-emergence of the light inside ourselves, the birth of the light after a winter solstice season of darkness, quiet, and gestation. Each of us is a prophet on a hope journey, someone who listens to God and points the way for others; each of us is Joseph and Mary on a faith journey, staying the course even though it’s rough and we get tired; each of us is the shepherd, being terrified when we hear messengers of God, yet joyfully following the message; each of us is a magi, someone through whom deep spiritual wisdom flows; and…each of us is the Christ child, a gift from God to help light the world.

You can watch a beautiful version of the story here.

Week one of our class series was the prophet theme of hope and expectation. Prophets know what matter most; they look, listen, notice, and point the way for others to notice that something amazing is happening. Good things are happening and good things are coming, if only we stop and pay attention. What do you want to experience this holiday, this the new year, with a certain event? Get clear on it, make a mini vision board, draw a picture, write words, whatever it takes, and put this up where you can see it every day. Take time to do a noticing practice – pause all movement and thoughts and listen to a piece of music, light a candle and really watch the light, or simply get outside and look at the world like a little kid would, being wowed by everything. One night during the prophet week, I was sitting outside on my porch, noticing the world, looking at the light on the leaves, the shadows, the colors, and just before I went inside, a great horned owl swooped down in front of me and landed in the top of the tree beside me. I couldn’t believe it. I never would have seen her if I hadn’t been out there sitting quietly, noticing the world in soft peace…which were my hope/expectation words for what I wanted to experience this holiday season.

Week two was the holy family week of faith.When we know what we’re looking for and expecting good things, then our faith becomes strong. We begin to have confidence that good things are gestating, coming our way. We’re able to rest in the expectation and hope, even when things are hard or don’t make sense. We’re able to persevere and keep going with trust and patience. Part of this faith journey involves knowing when you need to stop and rest and feed your soul. What kinds of things feed your soul? What things do you love doing that help you draw strength from Spirit? During this week, we incorporated a few practices to feed the soul: simplicity – make one batch of cookies instead of 10; do one thing at a time, get out in nature every day, immerse in silence at some point every day. This year, I put up the tree only. My husband and I agreed to give one gift only, under $20. Instead of presents everywhere under the tree, like usual, there is one present only for each recipient. It’s enough. It’s so nice. Oh, and that flawless Christmas portrait this year? It was taken on a phone in the spur of the moment, before we left to take my son and his girlfriend to the airport. I’m wearing sweats and my hair had been up in a ponytail all day. It’s fine and I didn’t stress one little bit about it. In fact, soft peace was happening.

Week three of our journey was the shepherd week of joy. When the hope is clear, the faith is strong. When the faith is strong, we experience a feeling of subtle joy; a sense of well-being and a beautiful feeling of oneness with everything. We have the image of the shepherds out in the fields, keeping watch over their sheep when suddenly a bright light appears in the sky that scared them half to death and voices, which scared them even more. “Don’t be afraid,” the angels said. “Run and go see what has happened and tell the world.” These themes of staying awake and being present are hugely important in allowing joy to flow through us. If the shepherds were out in their fields on their phones, texting away like most of us do constantly, they would have missed everything, the whole mysterious miracle. Not only that, but this joy journey of the shepherds, and this place everyone was traveling toward, wasn’t a palace or the Hilton. It was a barn with a dirt floor and animals all around. What could be simpler? As much as we chase joy and try to find it “out there,” as soon as we slow down, become present, notice the more of what’s in our experience, and simplify…there it is…because joy is our natural state. And when you know what to look for, when you know the state of mind required to feel it, you’ll see and feel more of it. I was certainly feeling more of it.

Week four was the magi week of wisdom. Plato once said, “I am the wisest man alive…for I know one thing and that is that I know nothing.” Wisdom has everything to do with surrender, with letting go of that which we hold onto so tightly: knowing and being right. It’s only when we are able to rest in the place of “I don’t know” that they mystery of divine wisdom flows into our awareness. Spiritual wisdom is mystical; that is, it only comes from direct experience. It’s soft and quiet, like snow falling. Simple. Natural. And the whole point of spiritual wisdom, inner guidance, intuition, is to dare to follow it, to put it into action. So take time to meditate, to pay attention to what The Universe is guiding you to do. Nothing could be more important. Week four of the holiday season and I couldn’t believe how good I was feeling.

Of course, the last part of the story is the birth of the Christ light. Our light. The light of The Infinite as it comes up through us, guiding us, giving us joy, faith to rest in the mystery, and so much hope.

Presenting this child’s version of the Christmas story to my yoga class and revolving the class series around it was completely unexpected. Somehow, it allowed me to bypass the religious story that I never really identified with and helped me enter into the mystery of something so deep and profound: the light within myself. New brain grooves have definitely been created and I feel amazing; clear, buoyant, and just fully me. I never would have thought it possible to experience such a new thing at this time of year: real hope, strong faith, actual joy, deep wisdom and, of course, soft peace.   

The Georgia Blessing

When our daughter was a senior in high school in 2015, a friend of hers had a cat that had kittens. I knew what was coming the day we went over there to look at those adorable little kitties. We finally gave into the begging and pleading to bring one of the kittens home: the sweet little Addie Cat.

We love cats, but we have two dachshunds, Duke and Daisy, who would really enjoy killing a cat, as well as any other animal that might come into the yard, much less the house. We worked out a system for Addie to stay upstairs and to come downstairs only when the dogs were out. Then we trained Addie to start being able to go outside into the world. She would come right away when we called her name, usually dropping down from one of the huge oak trees in our yard. The dogs constantly barked at her through the doors and partitions that always separated them. And there was the time when she jumped out of our arms and, like supercharged lightening, Duke chased her up the stairs and had her pinned to a wall with his teeth. It was a bit stressful at times, but we grew to love Addie and she was part of our family.

When she neared her first birthday, she started getting sick. She would meow strangely when I picked her up and she soon began to be in a lot of pain. The vet did tests and noticed her white blood cells were oddly high. None of the medicines seemed to help and she was getting worse – not eating, not drinking, and not wanting to be touched at all. We finally took her to the vet school here and she was diagnosed with lymphoma. It was such a sad day. We ended up deciding to free her from the intense pain she was living with and chose to let her go on from this life. It was gut-wrenching awful. She was the sweetest, most loving little kitty girl we had ever known.

For weeks I cried and cried and sobbed and sobbed. I even made a grief altar, with pictures of her on it, her favorite toys, her collar, and some candles. That really helped me dive into the grief and let it move through me.

Interestingly, just a couple of days after Addie passed, I noticed some cats appearing in the yard. They would just sit in the grass, looking out at the world, like little sentries keeping watch. It was almost as though they knew what happened and were showing up to give me some comfort that Addie was okay. They seemed to be telling me very clearly that Addie thanks us for freeing her and sends her love. It did not seem coincidental at all, to me.

One cat, in particular, a little black and white kitty with gorgeous amber eyes (whose
markings are called a tuxedo cat, I later learned) started showing up next to the house, behind the shrubs near the front porch. She was a little ragged-looking and even had a bit of her ear missing, which I guessed was from a fight of some sort. She was so fearful and skittish; when she saw me in the window she would look terrified and run away. She also looked really hungry. Of course, I still had lots of cat food – even several cans of the epic primo wet food that we gave Addie. So I put some of that out on a little dish and put it out for her. Peeking out of the window, I could see her creep up anxiously and scarf down the food. Every time she’d see me, though, she would bolt.

After a few months, she was coming up to the back porch to eat, and after a couple more months, she would even come up when I was sitting there. I’ll never forget the day when she let me reach over and put my hand on her while she ate. She did nip at me quite a bit at first– not too hard – but would tug on my clothes with her teeth, which earned her the name “Bitey.” It wasn’t the most endearing name, so I finally decided to call her Georgia. She would come when I called her and, very interestingly, she’d often drop down out of one of the big oaks.

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Georgia this afternoon, happy to have her picture taken.

She brought another friend along, a cat that looks so nearly identical to Addie that I named her Grace (aka Gracie). Interestingly, she had a ragged ear, too. A friend told me that these cats were ferals and had been part of a trap/neuter/release program in town. The ear nick was a sign that the cats had been spayed or neutered. In spite of my firm insistence of feeding and loving two cats only and no more, soon we were feeding Sandstorm, then Melon, then Black Jack, then Little Jack Black. We have six ferals now that we feed and love. But Georgia is my favorite.

I was thinking about all of this today because just a few minutes ago, Georgia and I were sitting out on my deck and she was sleeping in my lap. I noticed she was walking around out back, so I went out, sat down in the chair, and she jumped up in my lap, curled up, and started the purr motor. She has no idea what a blessing she is to me. That little one has healed all the holes in my heart that were gaping open when Addie left us. I never, ever take these moments when she sits with me for granted. Every time she comes when I call her and every time she sits in my lap it just feels like I’ve been sprinkled with the magic dust of remembering and knowing, without a doubt, that Spirit/God/Source is real, that there is an Infinite Love at work, and that miracles really do happen. All I have to do is look around to experience it. It’s usually in the simple things right in front of me.

We sat there together for a good half hour. I was a little cold, but it was so lovely to just be there with her, looking at the changing leaves, breathing in the air, feeling our sweet connection. Nowhere to go and nothing else to do, except receive the miracle of divine love, right here on my lap and all around me all the time.

I am grateful for so many things, but especially today for this blessing of simplicity, this blessing of Georgia, My Georgia. A normal, everyday occurrence in the world like a cat on a lap doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but wow – it’s a huge deal, for me. I’m so glad I said “yes” to the invitation to slow down and feel that wow and remember that there is so much more going on that I’m aware of most of the time, and that the magic dust is actually always sprinkling…if only I slow down to notice it.

Keeping the Magic Going

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A few weeks ago, I returned from an amazing and life-changing week at the Feathered Pipe Ranch. This was my 16th annual trip to the ranch. Being there feeds my soul; it’s part of who I am. Every year feels transformative, but this year was different: I am deeply and profoundly changed. Our group gathered together from across the country and created one of the most amazing weeks I’ve ever experienced. We discussed, meditated, and explored Freedom Yoga in various creative ways, both on and off the mat. We helped each other to relax into uncertainty and spontaneity; we opened ourselves to inner guidance and infinite possibilities; and bravely let Creation move through us in everything we did all week long. We laughed, we cried, sang, danced, shared stories, and became the living art. We even painted our faces and chanted on a mountaintop; an epic experience I will never forget. But most of all, we let our true selves come to the surface and shine. We let ourselves be seen. I feel so real and so fully me; in fact, more so than I’ve ever felt in my whole life.

Many of my local students came on the retreat with me, which was a dream come true. Last week in class we had a wonderful discussion about keeping the retreat experience going. One student mentioned how fully authentic and real she has felt since returning home, and how things are flowing so nicely in her life. Then she voiced her worry and concern that all of this would soon go away in a few months and she’d be back to the way she was before the retreat. “How do I keep this going?” she asked.

One of the amazing and healing things about going on retreat, especially being at the sacred land of the Feathered Pipe Ranch, is that you have the opportunity to fully immerse yourself in remembering who you are. Many of the typical things that we employ in our daily lives to keep us locked in a perpetual state of forgetfulness are removed for a whole week, such as driving to work, dealing with everything that the 40168277_10215243438033620_6399218928479895552_nworkday brings, the incessant multi-tasking, figuring out what to make for dinner, etc. During the retreat week all of that is gone. There is nowhere to go and nothing to do except slow way down, turn inward, stay with the experience, let the unbelievable beauty wash over you, and watch your natural joy and childlike wonder bubble up to the surface as you start laughing more and being wowed by everything around you.

And then, at the end of the week, we take this profound, magical mountaintop experience of spiritual awakening and assimilate it back into our daily lives at home. This can be quite bumpy, which is why it’s often called “re-entry.” It’s difficult to come back into the world of forgetfulness and its accompanying tension and stress, when you’re wide open and in a full state of remembrance. The contrast, which we don’t usually notice, feels huge after a fully immersive retreat experience. The question becomes: How do we come down off the mountaintop experience and go back into the valley of everyday life without losing ourselves again? How do we keep the magic going?

A similar phenomenon happens when we go to our regular yoga classes, too, but on a much smaller scale. We leave all the “stuff” behind for a little while and after class we feel so great, so genuine and full, but then we’re often back to habitual tension of forgetfulness as soon as we put the key into the ignition to go home. In fact, I’ve been asked this same sort of question in class many times: How do you keep this experience going when you go back out into the “real world?”

Whether we’re talking about a fully immersive retreat or simply being in a great class for an hour, the answer to keeping it going is this: you do Yoga. I’m not talking about asana, the yoga poses that you do on a mat, which have become inaccurately synonymous with the word Yoga. Rather, I’m talking about capital-Y Yoga: conscious unity with Infinity. Yoga is the art of living a spiritually connected and guided-from-within life. It’s about remembering who you are: the specific and unique self-expression of The All, and letting that flow through you freely.  The trick is keep that going. Remembrance of the truth and living life from the fullness of that perspective is what’s real; it’s the real world. It’s the thing to keep coming back to, again and again, as many times a day as you’re able.

When we come off the mountain and go home, that’s the real world, too. There’s no “real world” and “unreal world.” There’s the real world only, experienced either clearly or unclearly. The difference in the experience is not caused by external sources, but rather the internal choice that we make of remembrance of forgetfulness. There is no force outside of ourselves that will come and take away the transformative experience that we have encountered on the mountaintop. There isn’t a black cloud that will eventually sweep over us, stealing our sunshine. The change in experience, which seems dependent on our location or the company we’re with, is simply the result of a choice that we ourselves make. And every choice is either built on the foundation of remembering our divinity or forgetting it. Each choice ripples out effects that we can feel and experience. So, if we’re not sure if we’re remembering or forgetting, all we have to do is look at what we’re experiencing – calm and peace, or tension and conflict?

Therefore, the power to keep the mountaintop experience of remembrance (of Yoga) going, as we go about our daily lives, lies within ourselves. Living the Yoga, remembering who we are, feeling the effects of calm and peace and being ourselves fully, is our natural state that’s empowered from within. We actually don’t have to do anything to keep it going; we simply just have to stop doing the forgetting.

For many years in my teaching, I have worked with something I call the “minimum edge.” In the asana practice on the mat, I encourage students to become skillful at finding the minimum edge in the pose, to be right there where change is just starting to occur, where you can just begin to feel the outer sensation of the stretch, for example. In that place, we immerse ourselves in the feeling of rightness and then practice following it in, wherever it leads, in minimum edge increments by minimum edge increments. This makes one extremely sensitive in the body, really being able to feel change as it’s happening, rather than after it’s already happened.

This is a great tool for coming back into the conscious experience of Yoga, but can be applied in reverse, as well. When we start to lose the experience of Yoga, the experience of remembering who we are, and begin sliding back into forgetful-world, it’s a process, a movement. You will begin to feel the minimum edges of changing sensation as you morph your way out of rightness. You will begin to feel the outer edges of dissonance, the very beginnings of conflict, of wrongness. The trick is to then catch yourself right there. You’re in the very center of the choice moment. You can continue to go down Forgetful Road if you want – the choice is yours and yours alone. With each step you continue to take forward down the road, the feedback of effects will increase. If you keep walking and disregard the feedback of effects, they will have to intensify quite a lot before they get your attention. Finally, you’ll be a tense, stressed-out mess, thinking, “Yeah, I knew that amazing feeling I had was too good to be true.”

The power is in the pause. Stop. Breathe. Feel. Ask yourself, “What is the quality of my inner experience right now? What am I choosing for – remembrance or forgetfulness?” The full-body pausing practice of seated meditation really helps to cultivate the ability to slow down and stay in the experience of remembrance, so that we learn to stay less in the experience of forgetfulness. With practice, you can access this ability to check in with yourself in moments of natural pause during the day, like the red light, or standing in the kitchen waiting for the microwave to ding. And, with practice, what I’ve found is that all the moments of pausing and remembering link together so that now, I have way less of a “re-entry” experience than I used to have. I’ve learned that the quality of my experience, which seems dependent on external factors outside myself, is actually entirely dependent entirely upon what I’m doing internally with my awareness. This is hugely empowering! It’s up to us. No one and nothing can take away the shiny radiance that we feel when we’re on retreat or even when we’re in a great class. All we have to do is keep on doing the Yoga.

~

I would love for you to join me at the Feathered Pipe Ranch June 22-29, 2019 for another magical week of Freedom Yoga, authenticity, laughter, community, and creativity. This is a life-changing week that will feed your soul. All the details are here: https://featheredpipe.com/feathered_retreats/freedom-yoga-retreat-2019/

 

 

 

The Leap of Faith

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This picture says it all.

This is how I feel when I’m at the Feathered Pipe Ranch. This moment was from several years ago, during one of our July retreats with Erich Schiffmann. I say “our” because being at the ranch with Erich and all of my dear friends whom I’ve met there over the past 15 years, was always like a family reunion every summer. I’m so grateful to my friend, Robyn Gibson, for capturing this moment of something we used to love to do at the ranch: swinging on the rope swing.

This was a big, giant – I mean giant – rope swing that was attached to a cable between two huge pine trees, where you could swing out over the lake, let go, and drop into the water. Some of us realized that even if we didn’t want to drop into the water, we could swing on it anyway. It always took us a few days to work up to getting on the swing because it was so damn scary. We had to walk by it and look at it and give ourselves time to muster up our courage to get back on it. Usually, by the third or fourth day, we were ready.

Now, there’s a lot you can see in this picture up there, but there’s also a whole lot you can’t see. For starters, the length of the rope and the height of the attachment to the cable. The rope was really long and the attachment was very high up. Those big, tall, supporting pine trees would sway and flex every time someone was swinging. Secondly, I don’t know exactly how tall that ladder was behind me, but those first six rungs or so in the picture were just the bottom part! The entire ladder was very tall and had a little square plywood platform on top for standing – or, more accurately, for getting up your courage to jump off.  This is why it always took several days before we were “swing ready.” Plus, did I mention you swing right down through those huge pine trees out over the lake?

So, on the designated day at the appointed time, the swingers would gather over at the ladder. Who was going to go first this year? With a smile, you’d grab the bottom knot of the rope and hold it while make your way up those sacred ladder rungs.

Now, this was scary in itself because with each rise of a rung, there would be a little more tug from the rope. The higher you went, the bigger the tug forward. So, I’d go up a few rungs, sit there, look out over the lake and feel that ever-increasing fear with the ever-increasing tug of the rope. Then, I’d go up a few more. Wait. Feel my heart rate increasing. Then (and my palms are actually sweating right now, just thinking about it)…I’d creep up to the top platform, staying small, keeping my center of gravity low and then s l o w l y stand up. Oh my God. It’s such an exhilaratingly terrifying place to stand. I mean, I’m on a shaky board ladder, on a tiny little perch way, way up there, knees bent, leaning forward, feeling the strong pull now of the rope, beckoning me to let go and jump…and there’s the lake and everyone else way down there….

The only requirement now is to let go of the thinking. I mean, all I have to do is jump and I will naturally land on top of the little wooden seat that’s hanging down out there, several feel in front of me. It’s not a thinking activity. My body knows what to do. It’s either do it or don’t do it. It’s either jump or climb back down. I have a choice. Nobody is making me jump. I want to jump. Oh God, this is soooo high…

Then, in a huge act of self-trust, I take a breath, take a leap of faith, and jump. It’s a freefall for what seems like forever, going down and down, like a giant slide between
those two huge pines, and then a graceful swoop waaay out over the lake and way up into the Montana blue sky. The scream that comes out of me is always primal and comes from the depths of my soul. It’s awesome. The swing goes back and forth – gotta be
careful not to hit the ladder on the swing back in. And then I lay out my whole body, Rope Swing.jpgletting my feet go way up into the air first, looking backward at my friends on the terra firma. (There’s Anne doing the layout.) We’re all screaming and laughing and now. The swing slows after several passes out over the lake and back and it’s easy to hop off. Well, sometimes easier than others! But wow, it’s unbelievable taking that plunge and that wonderful leap of faith.

1625801_109568486987_3495553_nThis swinging practice we had at the ranch is a whole lot like Yoga. Living an inwardly guided life, with one ear turned toward The Infinite in all we do, calls us to let go, take a leap of faith, and sometimes jump into the unknown. But when we leap, the net will always appear, just like the little wooden seat always ended up right under me, to support me and carry me out over the lake and up into the sky. And then we soar into places we never thought possible. There is nothing more freeing.

A few years later, the pine beetles took out those two massive pine trees and the swing had to be shut down. It’s open again now, with new supports and even a new ladder. I haven’t been back on it since the old days. Maybe this year, when I get to the ranch in August, I’ll give it a try. I’ll at least walk over to it and think about it for a few days and see if my courage wells up.

 

I invite you to join August 18-25 at the Feathered Pipe Ranch for our week-long retreat – Be the Real You: the Art of Self-Trust. This is a sublime week celebration, laughter, community, creativity, and open-hearted authenticity. We’ll explore the themes of Freedom Yoga, the practice of inner listening, courage, and deep self-trust, and give ourselves permission to color outside the lines, release comparison, and bravely be the ones we are waiting for. 

 

Feathered Pipe Interview

Hi, everyone!

This is an interview I did recently with my dear friend and board member of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, Clint Willis.  It will appear on the Feathered Pipe website later in July, but I wanted to go ahead and share it here, so you can get a feel for what my teaching style is like and what to expect from our August 18-25 retreat, which I’d love to have you be a part of.

Love, Carie

~

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Carie Garrett will lead her second Feathered Pipe retreat,
 Be the Real You: The Art of Self Trust, August 18-25 in Helena, MontanaShe recently spoke with us about how she’ll work with yogis to foster inner listening, courage, and self-trust. It’s going to be an amazing week of community, love, healing, sharing and growth.

 

FP: What’s at the core of your approach to teaching yoga?

Carie: My approach to teaching yoga revolves around themes of heart-centered vulnerability, authenticity, and creativity. I’m interested in being the place where I’m living a guided-from-within life, saying “yes” to Creation flowing through me in all that I do and all that I say, bravely being the real me and letting myself be seen. I’m highly inspired by the work of Brene Brown, author and shame researcher at the University of Houston. Her research has shown that vulnerability, which she defines as risk, uncertainty, and emotional exposure, is the birthplace of creativity. So, learning to relax into the state of not having everything figured out, being willing to fail, and just being real is so important in living a creative, inwardly guided life. When we trust ourselves skye-farm-carie-jo-7090_origenough to bravely be who we are and let ourselves be seen, something really powerful and transformative happens which is healing for us, personally, and actually for the whole world, collectively. The world is in need of our gifts and what each of us has to offer.

 

 

FP: Facing our vulnerability can be challenging!

Carie: Right, most of us don’t like the feeling of uncertainty and exposure. I like to feel like I’m in control, I like to know what’s going to happen, and, man, that letting myself be seen thing is still very hard for me. It often feels so much easier to hide and stay small and try to protect myself in a made-up safety net. But that doesn’t serve myself or anyone else. You can’t squeeze any creative living out of that. It’s like kinking up the garden hose and wondering why the water won’t flow out. The tendency is to think that other people, especially the teacher, have it all figured out; that he or she never struggles or has issues. But we all struggle. We’re all trying to make sense of this trip of a thing called life on planet Earth. It’s a wild ride!

FP: How can Freedom Yoga help?

Freedom yoga is a highly creative practice. It teaches us to live in the place where we are present in the brand new Now moment, listening to The Infinite/Creation for our every move. We learn to relax into the space of uncertainty, of not having everything figured out, of not knowing how it’s gonna go. This is vulnerability. It’s the place of infinite possibilities. From there, we open ourselves to options and choices and bravely give
expression to the thing that’s feeling most right and keep following that wherever it leads1096258_orig (1)
us. Doing this cultivates a huge sense of self-trust. Instead of looking to others to tell us what to do or reflect our truth to us, we’re powered up from within to be who we really are. The more we practice this in the microcosm of the mat, the more it translates into the macrocosm of life, such that Freedom Yoga becomes a way of life.

FP: How will the retreat foster that experience of showing up?

Carie: Just being at the ranch in general fosters this experience. Slowing way down and being held in a sacred place is such fertile ground for this work. Our sessions will build a strong sense of community and togetherness. This creates a foundational space of love and openness for us to begin to set down our pretenses and defenses. Letting go of tension, in all its forms is the key. Tension is the “tone killer,” as we will discover. Once we start to let go of the self-imposed grip, we come back into our tension-free, natural alignment. And when that happens, being who we really are is the inherent result. We’ll be exploring various themes of that through meditation, movement, and group discussions.

FP: There’s a fair amount of group discussion on your retreat.

Carie: Yes, it’s my favorite part! So much good stuff happens in these discussions. Somebody will ask a question or make a comment, which leads us off into an amazing learning adventure. These are always so powerful and mind-blowing. People often talk about their struggles, or how to apply these lessons to everyday life. The most important
part is the listening that takes place. One way to start letting go of tension is to shift into
listening mode–to be quiet and hear what others say. That experience of hearing and veronica-katherine-1_origbeing heard is similar to the feeling of seeing and being seen, and opens doors for continued connection during the retreat: in the dining hall, out on the grass by the lake, walking up to the stupa. People go deep with each other. Lots of cool conversations happen.

 

FP: Spending a week with a bunch of other Freedom Yogis at the Ranch can definitely be a peak experience.

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Carie: I’ve met some of my closest friends in the whole world over the past 15 years at Feathered Pipe Freedom Yoga retreats. If something goes down for me and I need support, these are the people I call. We share something sacred during the week. We take off masks and show up–totally, beautifully, and simply. The community is a huge part of the experience. But you can also be alone when you need that time–there are so many quiet corners of the ranch where you can recharge and just drink in the sheer beauty of the place.

We can’t wake up by ourselves. We need others to hold up the mirror for us–and we need to hold up the mirror for them. Everyone has to bring their gifts forward for community to function. In the class or retreat environment, we’re all there to help each other do that. This retreat is about that.

FP: What else can we tell folks about what to expect?

Carie: This can be a profoundly moving experience. When I’m on retreat at the Ranch, the real me comes to the surface. I can see it in the mirror. The lines in my face seem to fade as the deep layers of tension evaporate and my real face emerges. I’m like “Oh! There I am!” Everything starts to feel more vibrant and alive. I can just be myself, not worry about what anyone else thinks, as I drop into that sense of self-trust. It feels clean and buoyant and light, like I’m in the flow of universal river. I just let go of the oars and lie on my back, and let the current take me. It feels fearless.

I also want people to know that this will be a creative week, with a lot of different types of experience. We’ll meditate and do yoga and talk. The things we do on the mat will be easy and accessible to everyone. Some of it will be restorative, some of it will be freeform, and some will be guided. We’ll give ourselves permission to get out of the box and color outside the lines. We’ll also make some art and do some journaling. We’ll chant
and we will dance and we will come alive!

1640621_origWe’ll walk up to the ridge together and watch the sunset. We’ll laugh and we’ll cry…at least I will cry. It’s just such a beautiful, profoundly moving week for me that I’m always crying such good, healing tears. If you want to get back in touch with who you really are, deeply connect with Spirit and experience something different…this retreat could be a good one for you.

~

I would love nothing more than for you to join me for this healing and transformative week at The Feathered Pipe Ranch: Be the Real You: The Art of Self-Trust, August 18-25. Please let me know if you have any questions and I look forward to seeing you there!

The Thief Called Comparison

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“Comparison is the thief of joy.” ~ Teddy Roosevelt

 

I talk about this quote a lot, it’s been with me for years and years, and I’m sure I’ve written about it in several blogs. But, it bears repeating: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

Part of what Yoga helps us to do is to turn inward, to become familiar with consciously inhabiting our own center point, such that we shift from a habitual, external focus in the world to an internal focus of presence while we’re in the world. We learn to drop anchor into the steadfast constancy in ourselves – our closest contact point to The Divine – so that we stop drifting around on the choppy waves of the ever-shifting world outside of ourselves. We practice this in the slow context of the meditation cushion and mat, so that we learn to be anchored within as we go about our daily interactions with the external world, where everything flies around at warp speed.

Maintaining this tether of centered-from-within presence while in the fast-moving world is hard and I am most definitely a work in progress with it all. It’s getting easier that it used to be, but I still find myself losing my center sometimes, letting my energy and power drain out to other people, other situations, and other things outside myself. When I choose to do this, I slowly pull my anchor in and start drifting. I know this is happening when I start to lose my joy, my grounded sense of self, which feels terrible – as it should. And if I don’t catch the awful feelings as feedback of how I’m choosing to use my awareness, I find that I easily revert to a very old pattern of looking “out there” for my sense of self so that I can feel better. Every time I choose to look outside of myself to feel better, I make a pact with that old thief who takes away joy and all other good feelings: comparison.

Instead of slowing down and reclaiming my grounded center, which is what’s needed and is the only way for me to feel better, I start looking around at other people, what they’re doing, and make the comparison that other people have it all together. It’s easy to look at others and the way they present themselves in the world and think they have a perfect life and don’t ever struggle about anything. Because of this comparison I make, the resulting feeling is to think that something is somehow defective in myself and I don’t have enough of what they have; which puts me into a state of lack. Feeling less-than and feeling like I am not enough or don’t have enough is like gasoline sitting next to the fire of low self-worth. If I choose to pour that on the fire, it’s only going to get bigger.

I find that the Facebook experience can really ramp this up. I post things, like this blog, for example, or vacation pictures, or something I’ve been doing or thinking about…and then I scroll through the news feed to see what my friends are up to. My goal is  connection at the beginning of the scroll. Facebook is a great way to stay connected to my friends and when I’m centered and anchored in who I am, I love seeing what people are up to. I enjoy celebrating their joys and smile with their smiles. However, if I have chosen to pull up my anchor and drift, losing my ground and my center, my desire for inner connection becomes an experience of outward comparison.

Instead of an interactive experience of real-time conversation, where there’s a back and forth exchange of energy, an outward pulse and an inner pause, I’ve noticed on Facebook, that my sole focus is outward – on others. When I scroll through the news feed, I’m doing nothing but looking at other people’s stories, other people’s pictures, which are like visual sound bites. If I’m not anchored in my truth, comparison rears it’s ugly head. How can it not? It’s the by-product of being adrift on the choppy waters. If I continue to let myself scroll through the news feed without the inner anchor dropped, tethered to my joy, feeling my abundance, feeling that I am enough, appreciating my unique individuality…well, all of that slides down the drain and I’m using what I see to fuel my state of lack. Suddenly, I’ve poured the gasoline on the fire.

Here’s what I begin hear in my head: “Wow, everyone else has the perfect marriage – look how happy everyone is. They probably never argue or have any issues to work out. Oh, gosh, look at that, people going to a family reunion and actually enjoying being around all those relatives. Man, everyone else goes to Europe except me – I’ll probably never have the money to see Paris, like I’ve always dreamt about. Oh, God, look at her body. I’m 53, I have cellulite that won’t go away and saggy skin I can’t do anything about and now I’ve decided to let my hair go gray. And great, I’ve been doing Yoga for more than 20 years and I can’t even bend my body with any semblance of that that. I suck. What is wrong with me?”

Comparison is the thief of joy.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

The thing is that most of us don’t post pictures on Facebook of ourselves going through hard things, feeling less-than, feeling scared of life, anxious over the state of perpetual not-knowingness and not having things all figured out. We don’t talk about feeling less-than, or feeling frustrated and overwhelmed because our lives don’t seem to compare to those of others. We like to post and share our successes, but we don’t post about the foundation upon which success is built: failure. In order to walk, we must first learn to fall. And there are a whole lot of us in the world walking around, which means there has been a whole lot of falling happening. We all fall. Every single one of us. Birds have to learn how to fall before they can fly. In order to rise up, one must first fall down. We don’t like to talk about that so much.

There is no such thing as the perfect anything. Each of us is on our own path, never before seen by anyone, and struggling is part of it. If we were able to get underneath the visual sound bites of Facebook posts to the whole stories behind the pictures of apparent perfection that we see, we would indeed discover trials and hardships behind every one of them. We all fall, we all fail, we all feel insecure, and none of us – nobody – has it all figured out. None of us are perfect, no matter what any pictures look like, but we are all ENOUGH. We are enough. We have enough, we are beautiful, we are gifted, talented, and here to let our innate brilliance shine out into the world. The world is in need of what we’ve been given.

One of the things that’s been important to me as a yoga teacher is to share my own struggles, to share how hard things can be, and to clearly say that I don’t have things figured out. It’s so easy to think the teacher has it all together and lives in a constant state of bliss. Not true! This business of living the yoga is not for the faint of heart. It’ll pull you out of your comfort zone, it’ll bring you to your knees at times. That’s part of learning to walk the path through uncharted territory. As we keep going, listening inwardly for how to take each step and bravely putting one foot in front of the other, we will discover who we really are: The Divine being Itself right there where we are. When we allow ourselves to be the place where that shines through, we become healed and changed, which heals and changes the world.

So, I just wanted to say: “I do not have it all figured out” and “I don’t know.” These are some of the most freeing and empowering words in my vocabulary. It’s taken a whole lotta years walking forward on my path for me to let these words come to the surface; more than 20 years of yoga and meditation, over 8 years of recovery work, and what feels like lifetimes of a slow growth of courage welling up inside myself to let go of the pretenses of appearing to have my life perfectly stitched together. I don’t. Nobody does, despite how things appear on the surface. That’s why we’re all here on planet, I think; to to get our hands dirty in the soil of this earth and the uncomfortable messiness of embracing this wild trip of a ride of being spiritual beings embodied as humans for a while. Though we walk together, each of us is on our own journey. Let’s not let comparison steal our joy.

~ namaste

 

“How are You?” ~ The Trance of Negativity

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We had a discussion in class a couple of weeks ago about negativity that has rocked my world, to say the least. One of my students brought up the question of how to stop the constant commentary about everything that’s wrong. This is a commentary that starts inwardly and then gets expressed outwardly into the world, as a way of interacting with others. It always seems to be in search of someone else to agree with it, because once two or more are gathered together in an agreement of idea, it becomes strengthened. We had a very interesting dialog about all of this and it’s been on my mind ever since.

I’ve actually been watching this phenomenon of negativity for quite some time now. It all started years ago when I began asking a very intentional question whenever I’m in front of a class teaching: “How are you?”

This is a plain, simple, three-word question that, for me, gets right to the point of why I’m asking it: connection. I want to know how my students really are, how their day was, how they’re feeling. I want to know what they’re bringing in with them so I can organically weave together a class experience that’s tailored to where everyone is at the moment. I don’t ask “how are you” to exchange superficial pleasantries, which is, strangely, often the level of where this question lives in our society. Superficial pleasantries and surface-level chitchat sucks the soul out of me. I want to dive under the chop of the surface water and drop down with people into something real: an actual experience of shared feeling, empathy, and heartfelt community.

When I started doing this in class (and subsequently doing it more in my daily life), I began to notice something very interesting. The response to my “how are you” query would fall into one of two answers. The first would be a flat-line response: “Good.” Or the even flatter answer, spoken with a monotone and no pause whatsoever: “Good-how-are-you.” How bizarre. The purpose of the question is to foster connection, but what was actually happening was zero connection whatsoever…just as if I had never even asked the question at all.

The second response that I began to notice was a litany of everything that’s wrong. “How are you?” “Ohhhh…I was stuck in traffic because of all the college students. None of them know how to drive. The roadwork is still going on. They never finish anything; it’s such a mess, a constant construction zone wherever you drive. I hate it.” To be clear, this type of second response I’m talking about is not someone who is sad or hurt or dealing with some type of real struggle. Those situations naturally seek real connection and empathy. What I’m talking about here is a trance-like, outward flowing stream of negativity that surrounds someone and travels with them wherever they go, sort of like Pigpen’s dirt cloud. It has a repellant quality, which doesn’t create any sort of connection, either.

Unlike the response of “good,” which is kind of like a big old wall that you can’t get around, the litany of negativity is insidious. As I mentioned earlier, it seems to be constantly seeking someone to agree with it, sending out big tentacles like a giant squid. Once another person drops into that negativity by agreeing with it…”Yeah, they can’t ever fix the roads around here”…then a new, stronger stream of negativity is birthed and rippled out into the world. Whoa.

The more I noticed this sort of negativity as a response to an invitation for connection, the more it really started to get my attention. First, I was really puzzled as to why this would this be an answer given to the question of “how are you.” I mean, “good” makes sense in a way, but a litany of negativity says nothing about how the person actually is, such as: “I’m feeling stressed out because traffic was so intense.” But then what stopped me cold, right in my tracks was this sentence I said to myself: “Wow, I’m so glad (speech slowing)…I don’t…(speech screeching to a halt)…do…that.”

Oh my God, I actually do this. This trance of negativity is so subtle and seductive that I didn’t even recognize that I had been under its spell.

I grew up with the trance of negativity in my family of origin; it was the way everyone communicated, actually. I remember being a little girl at my grandmother’s house at Christmas or some other family get together, listening to everyone talk only about how awful everything was. The answer to every single “How are you?” became a litany of how terrible everything was – the traffic, the drive, the this, the that. It’s interesting thinking back on that now, because I was always listening from some other room. I think even way back then, I knew something wasn’t right about that and didn’t want to be in the room with it.

But we often adopt those old familial patterns such that they become our own familiar patterns. This negative pattern becomes a sort of a walking trance state that feels like normal. I think a lot of us get caught in this eddy of negativity, such that it becomes our pattern of being in the world and our pattern of interacting with others. I certainly was caught in it.

My big realization, though, lies in this idea that I’ve read about in lots of different places: In order to keep it, you’ve got to give it away. There are many ways to interpret this idea that include sharing and being of service to others, but I’ve always understood it and applied it to things such as love, peace, and calm. The idea is that when I’m giving love and peace away – that is, when I’m emitting it out into the world – then that is the experience that flows through me. Whatever is flowing through me at any time is what I get to keep.

And here’s the mind-blowing thing: We are always emitting something. That something comes from whatever we’re centered in.

Whoa, so when I am flowing out the trance of negativity, then that is what I get to keep. This is a huge insight for me. Negativity has a certain feeling/tone. It makes me feel down and dis-spirited, depressed. It’s separation mentality in a very clever disguise; so much so, that I didn’t even recognize it. Negativity does not feel good; it makes me feel terrible. And then I when I have cycles of feeling down and terrible, I wonder what’s wrong and what caused me to feel this way. I only began to connect these dots this week. My trance of negativity brings me down! I hadn’t even realized it. And wow, and not only does my own personal litany of negativity bring me down, but when I join in the litany of negativity of others, which is so easy to do on social media, then down I go, as well.

The question then is what am I centered in and emitting, or giving away? There are only two choices: separation mentality (not experiencing my unity with The Divine) or yoga mentality (consciously experiencing my unity with The Divine). And the effects of those two choices are either conflict or peace. Tension or calm. If I’m not sure which one I’m centered in, I just need to have a look at the effects I’m experiencing, which is something I’ve been doing for a long time. But wow, when I’m too-tranced over to do that – because, obviously, sometimes I am – then all I have to do is look at what I’m agreeing with and what I’m giving away. Because, man, that is certainly what I get to keep.

So, how am I? So very grateful to have had this massive realization this week. Feeling very thankful to be on this ever-new journey of learning and self-discovery called Yoga.