Reverence and Radical Self-Awareness

“Your crime lies in your ignorance.” Cicely Tyson

Greetings, darlings, and happy almost Valentine’s Day!

This time last year, which seems like a lifetime ago, I was up at Kripalu in MA for several days of self-care, yoga, meditation, music, dance, and continued learning. As a matter of fact, I intentionally planned that little retreat as a Valentine’s Day gift to my Self. I finally put gift certificates I had received for my birthday, the previous October, to good use!

Little did I know that, within weeks, everything was going to shut down due to the global pandemic and the art of quarantining becoming a “thing.” Little did I know that the days I spent at Kripalu were the launching pad for a 2020 filled with lessons and blessings of all kinds. That stay at Kripalu, and our subsequent “stay at home” mandate propelled me into a year of continued learning and personal growth. If you know me, follow my blog, or just happened to come across it, you know I’m all about the learning, inspiring, having a growth mindset and a commitment to self-inquiry and inner-investigation.

So… it should not have come to any surprise how my 2021 started. I knew “Reverence” would be my word for 2021 and, therefore, I had to take a deep dive into the reverence and sacredness of ALL things….my thoughts, actions, choices, decisions, practices, habits. It called for radical self-awareness. And what better way to delve into all it than to go back to Yoga’s roots, its history and philosophy!

Given the state of our world and all of us being called to unite to “help heal the soul of our nation,” it only seemed the logical thing to do. After all, the healing, revolution and evolution must first start within each and every individual! As with all things divinely ordained, a long time mentor and yoga teacher, whose online yoga community I’m part of, started our 2021 practice with weekly themes based on the ethical precepts of yoga philosophy otherwise known as the Yamas.

This is just what I needed! The 4 weekly classes and monthly processing call with Seane Corn offered us an invitation to deeply explore these principals. True to form, she also offered questions for us to explore and work on (often times when we were holding poses)- which I will share with you in a bit. Because you know how I feel about sharing. Sharing is caring…wink, wink.

You see, you don’t have to be a yogi to explore, employ and embrace these practices. They are simply ethical principles which guide us in how we relate to ourselves, others, our actions, thoughts, speech, the world, our planet and all sentient beings.

The purpose of this blog is to invite you to do some of your own radical self-awareness. Perhaps inspire you to look at ways you’re living and contributing, or not, to unity, peace, equity, justice, and healing our individual and collective souls.

My intention is not to go into the deep teachings of each of The Yamas, but to simply list them and some of their meaning and provide you with self-reflection questions. You can investigate them on your own with just a few clicks on your keyboard.

Ahimsa – Non-violence, non-injury, do no harm, loving-kindness, compassion for all beings:

What negative self-talk or unkind messages do you tell yourself each day?

Have you engaged in hurtful, harmful, judgemental, or negative talk, including gossip, to someone behind their back? Can you name a recent event where words or action caused harm?

Does your interaction with the physical world create harm or suffering? What about the food you consume, products you use, or the impact your diet has on our animal friends?

Do you watch movies, or read social media, or books that cause stress, fear, or frustration and perpetuate feelings of lack, comparison, or not enough-ness? How does this impact your well-being?

Satya- Truthfulness, right communication, honesty in behavior and thought:

Where are you with your integrity? With your truth?

In what areas of your life are you being dishonest and out of integrity?

How does truth inform your choices?

How do non-truths perpetuate harm? In what unconscious ways do you perpetuate harm?

What would it mean to live in truth and in love? What would need to shift within yourself for that to happen?

Asteya- Non-stealing, non-covetousness, not taking what isn’t freely given:

Where do feelings of “not-enoughness” show up in your life?

How are you robbing yourself of joy, contentment, or peace by playing small, negating or minimizing your talents or skills, or by overextending yourself?

How are you stealing from yourself or others by taking more than you need, including resources, time, money, food, attention, or even credit for ideas or visons that may belong to someone else?

In what ways do you steal from this world by not showing up fully as the authentic person you truly are?

Do you know what cultural appropriation is? And for yogis out there, how does Asteya apply to cultural appropriation and yoga?

How have we stolen from the oppressed to enhance the dominant culture? How have we benefited from it? Exploited it?

Brahmacharya- Moderation in our actions, turning inward, dedicating our energies to both our inner and outer work in the world, merging with the God consciousness and the Divine:

Since we went into lockdown this past year, what are some of the ways you have experienced excessive or indulgent behavior? It it in your sleep patterns, eating habits, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, TV, screen time, online shopping…?

What would happen if you chose one of these behaviors and committed to doing a “detox” for the next week?

Where do you experience a sense of lack or not enough-ness? Is it material? Physical? Since COVID, did a sense of lack show up in your need to stock up on toilet paper, can goods, hand wipes, etc.? How did you respond to that feeling of lack? What are other examples of lack in your life and your response to them?

Excess can include overthinking, overworking and over-consuming: things that our US culture often values above moderation and balance. Who would you be if you slowed down? How would that affect your identity? Where dod you learn that more was better?

Aparigraha- Non-grasping, non-greediness, non-possessiveness, non-attachment:

How do your wants differ from your needs?

Do you really need more things? If yes, what do you actually need? What are the things that bring you joy, and is this happiness fleeting or sustainable? Do you need more to sustain your joy?

Do you live minimally and sustainable, or do you covet and hoard? Is you stuff important to you?

In what areas of your life are you accumulating “things” just for the sake of having? What would it feel like to declutter you life and give things away or get rid of them?

Do you have a fear of losing what you appreciate and cherish? Do you cling to things too tightly?

How can you be more balanced and judicious in how much you take, use and keep?

Do you sometimes overeat, over-consume, overthink, overwork and how does this make you feel? How do any of these impact your identity or your attachment to how you are perceived by other people?

What limiting beliefs do you have and what is your attachment to these narratives? These include resentment towards other people. What would you experience if you could let go of these resentments? How has it served you to stay stuck in the story and unwilling to see a bigger picture as to why things unfolded as they did?

What does aparigraha mean to you and why is it a restraint? How does practicing non-grasping, non-possessiveness, non-attachment deepen our relationship to the Divine and move us towards liberation?

Darlings, there’s a whole lot of food for thought here! For me, this was the reset and focus I needed in my quest to bring more reverence and radical self-awareness to 2021.

There’s no excuse for ignorance or not doing better when we know better. Not in today’s world and not with all the available resources we have at our disposal….many of which are free!

I hope that in some way, shape, or form this blog has helped or inspired you. I hope it has got your wheels spinning or lit a fire under you. I hope you feel compelled to determine what radical self-awareness means to you and make a commitment to honor it. Lastly, I hope that you share this with anyone you feel could use it.

In closing, I will leave you with this beautiful and appropriate quote by Gabriel Garcia Marquez:

“Human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers gave birth to them, but…life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”

May we continue to rebirth ourselves and move forward with reverence and radical self-awareness so that we may heal our souls and the soul of our nation! JTC

My Guest Blogger… Act III

Sister Mother Friend

by Shannon Green

Sister: Technically I AM a sister. I have an older brother, but growing up I always wanted a sister. My brother was into sports, and I liked dolls and dress–up. Occasionally, we would play games together, ride bikes, do sibling-type things, and we would get along; but he would also tease me endlessly, and I remember tears flowing on many occasions.  Because we were not very close, I learned to play alone and entertain myself. As we got older, the teasing stopped and we just became two people living in rooms next to each other.

We were a grade apart in school and, once I started high school, we sometimes even shared classes. I definitely got the feeling that my big brother did not like me being in any of his classes. I don’t remember him ever taking me under his wing, showing me around, or introducing me to people. What I do remember are other kids coming up to me in the hallway asking me why I didn’t come with my brother to a certain party… feeling a little embarrassed and let down I would reply, “because he didn’t tell me about it.” I knew other sibling combinations at school where the older sibling looked after the younger, brought them to parties, acted like friends, and it definitely made me sad to realize that my brother seemed to prefer not to have me around. We were more like strangers who just happened to share the same last name and live in the same house. I distinctly remember being incredibly happy my senior year because my brother was going to be at college and I would now have the bathroom all to myself!  I can honestly admit that I did not miss him while he was gone.

As the years passed our relationship continued to change, and we grew a bit closer.  There was even a time in my late 20s when my husband and I lived with my brother in California. This time period probably brought us closer than any other, and I think we now even have a friendship, albeit a strange one where we rarely talk and still don’t share personal feelings. My brother even surprised me one time by calling me his “best-friend.”  Wow! I felt honored.

My brother is a very busy person, and we don’t see each other often. We mainly talk when I call him, but occasionally he surprises me with a phone call or random text message. I worry about him living alone, eating right and exercising enough, but I know he will never listen to his little sister. So, while I technically am a “sister,” I still  feel like I missed out on something by growing up with a brother. I always wished to have a “sister” of my very own … someone I could talk to about “girl” things, ask advice, share clothes, etc… older, younger, doesn’t matter. In my mind there seems to be a special bond between sisters, and I have always longed for it.

Mother: Yes, I have a mother. NO, I am NOT a mother. Growing up I remember always wanting to be near my mother. I wanted to cuddle and hug her. I wanted her affection and to feel safe. I was often shy, especially in new situations, and I remember I would try hiding behind my mother’s legs so people wouldn’t talk to me. I also vividly remember hearing her say things to me like “stop hanging on me” or “stop being so sensitive”.… I wish I had more memories of us doing things together and having special “mother/daughter” time, but I don’t. I do remember her taking time to be my Girl Scout Leader and that she volunteered as a Class Mom at my elementary school, but one memory that never seems to fade is that, during the four years I was on our High School Swim Team, she never came to one of my meets. This always makes me sad when I think about that.

I have a lot of hang ups about my relationship with my mother. I don’t feel like she has ever known who I am or ever tried to get to know me. Probably the most painful memory is the time I called her extremely upset about a very personal incident that had occurred. My husband and I had been hoping to start a family, but it just was not happening. As you can imagine, this was an upsetting time in my life and very emotional and stressful. On this particular day, we had just received news that my husband’s younger brother had gotten his girl-friend pregnant. I was devastated. I had dreamed for so long of starting a family and having the first grandchild in the family, and now it seemed like my dreams were crushed.

My heart was broken, and I felt like it had literally been ripped in two. I called my mother to talk to her, hoping to get some motherly love. As I was telling my mom the situation and waiting for her to offer me some compassion and love, the only thing I remember her telling me was that I needed to “get over it.” That is the memory I have… Those are the words I remember…  Maybe there were more words in the conversation, but I think I stopped listening after that. My heart was broken, and I was crushed by her words and lack of empathy and love. At a time when I really needed love and support, my own mother seemed to be invalidating my feelings as she told me to stop being so sensitive and just “get over it.”

That was the day I stopped telling my mother anything personal about myself. I tried for a while to see if I could change our relationship and make it more a little more friendly.  I knew people who talked to their mothers daily and had nice friendly conversations about life and personal issues, so I made it a point to call her frequently hoping that she would start to enjoy talking to me and reach out to me in return. But she never did. At one point, I was so distraught as to why my mother just did not seem to love me that I reached out to my brother. Since he was the only other person who knew her like I did I figured he might have some insight.  It was that conversation that made me realize she did love me and that she was loving me, but in her way, and I accepted that she was probably doing the very best she could. It was just that our styles of “love” are so completely different and, unfortunately for me, it just wasn’t the love that I craved or needed.

That conversation with my brother changed the way I viewed my Mom and helped me release the resentment I felt towards our relationship. Sometimes. we may not think that people love us when the reality is that they are doing the best that they can with what they have. The truth is that she is giving me the love she is capable of giving me, and I cannot be angry with her for doing her best. We may not have the mother/daughter relationship that I have always wanted, but I accept it for what it is and have released the belief that she does not love me. Arriving at that realization shifted something inside of me and helped me accept our relationship for what it is rather than what I wished it was.

Friend: Some people don’t like the kind of friend I am. Maybe I scare them off with my personality? I believe that I can come off as too needy, too bossy, and a bit of a know-it-all. Over the years I have realized these harsher parts of my personality, and I have worked on them. I think I have become a “softer” version of myself as I have matured. I have realized that I can be a bit much to handle, but I have also realized that some people just aren’t meant to be in your life for the long haul, while others are with you for a lifetime.

As a result, the friends I have are limited in quantity, but are of EXTREMELY HIGH quality. To say I love them like family is probably an understatement because I think I love them more than my family. These are the people who “get me.” They are the ones who stick around through the ups and downs. They know my struggles and successes. They are the ones I call crying or with whom I want to share good news.  They are the ones who provide support and bolster me up when I am having a rough time.

Over the years, we have stuck by each other on our respective journeys and evolution as human beings. We are miles apart in location but always just a phone call away. Throughout the years, our shared interests have brought us to similar paths as we explore the meaning of life and our purpose on Earth. These amazing women have become my “soul sisters.” In them I found what I was always craving as a child. I found big sisters and little sisters. In them I have found mothers and have been able to be a mother as well.

Recently, I read something that really helped put things into perspective. My friend Christy encouraged me (rather enthusiastically) to buy the book The Archetype Diet by Dana James. In the book the author talks about 4 archetypes of women. Very interesting stuff…I highly recommend the read. Upon reading the book and the description of the various archetypes I discovered, surprisingly to me, that I would be classified as “The Nurturer.”  The following passage describing the Nurturer Archetype really hit me, like an arrow in a bullseye:

“Because she was deprived of the maternal attention young girls need, she learned to fill this void by protecting and nurturing others, especially taking on the role of mother she lacked. Although the recipients of her nurturing could not make up for the failing of her own mother, she depended on them to give her the acceptance she so craved. By showing love to others, she hoped to get it in return.”  

After reading this passage, I realized that it described me to a tee! It was as if my whole life now made sense! Why I always wanted to check in on people and make sure that they were doing well. Why I always wanted to help my friends be successful, even back in high school helping them with homework or studying for a test. In college, I would be the one to drive to a party to make sure everyone got there and home safely. Why I always double checked that no one left anything behind, made sure people had enough to eat, and weather-appropriate clothing. Why I always felt drawn to take care of people and why I want to be there for them when they are having a difficult time, needing advice, needing to vent, needing to cry, or needing a hug.

According to Dana James’ chapter, The Nurturer:

Showing affection for others and caring for them is your gift and it should be celebrated. But choose the recipients wisely. Pause before you bestow your kindness, time, love, or money. Ask yourself if this person genuinely needs your help or if they can handle things on their own.”

It suddenly made sense. Why there were some people who seemed put-off when I tried to offer help. They didn’t want it. They didn’t need it, but I couldn’t see it. These past few years have helped me to understand many things about myself and, as I mentioned earlier, I feel like I have become a “softer” version of myself. I am working on my “hard edges” and learning to develop things like patience, managing expectations, and letting go of things I cannot control. I am filling my tool box with the help of Yaya and her book suggestions, but also with the time I set aside to read, journal and meditate. I have taken myself on as a student, teaching myself as I am learning and honestly trying to be the best version of myself I can imagine.

As a result, I have found that my relationships have improved. My friendships have deepened. I have become able to offer my help to those who genuinely seem willing to accept it, and it fills my heart with such love knowing that I am able to help… whether it is on the receiving end of a phone call or creating a spreadsheet. I told my friend Christy once that I did not know what my purpose in this life was, and that the only thing I wanted most and that I enjoyed the most was helping those I love. She was quiet for a moment and then said, “That is your purpose. Your purpose doesn’t have to be your job.”  I have to say that I think I absolutely agree with her.

I do not think it can be better expressed than in the below passage which closes out “The Nurturer” Chapter in The Archetype Diet:

“Embracing the positive attributes of the other archetypes will help you achieve balance and rise to the crown… When you layer in these attributes, you will transform from a Nurturer seeking to heal your childhood wounds to a woman who heals the world with her loving presence, compassion, dignity, and nobility.”

Sister Mother Friend….I have found these. I have become these. In my “Vibe Tribe” (the named bestowed to our retreat group back in April from the outstanding owner of the amazing Pranamar Villas Yoga Retreat Center in Costa Rica), I have found my FAMILY.  I feel loved. I feel understood and accepted in a way I never did before. Even more importantly, I feel these things from myself.

I now realize that I cannot put expectations on my relationships with people, whether it is my brother, mother, or friends. I must accept that what they are giving to the relationship may be the very most they have to offer at that moment. The most important person whose love I need to feel, and whose support I need in my life, is ME. In giving my love and support to others freely and openly, with no strings and expectations, I have found the love I always felt was missing. I have found a peace in my relationships and appreciate them for what they are –  not what I wish they would be. By letting go of how I thought things should be and accepting things for what they are, I have been able to find joy in those hard relationships that used to bring me pain.

You can’t be everything to everybody, and they can’t be everything to you. Sometimes, you find the love of a mother in someone who was just a stranger to you five years ago, and the relationship of a sister in a friend you have known for over two decades. Blood does not make the relationship. Accepting people for who they are, and releasing the expectations I set on them. created what I can only call “freedom” for me. By accepting situations for what they are, I now find myself less worried over outcomes and more able to enjoy the present. I find there to be far fewer conflicts in my relationships and much more peace and harmony.

Relationships, whether family or friend, are never easy. But I truly believe they can be made more harmonious.

  • Is there someone you wish you had a different relationship with?
  • Are you willing to try things in a new way?
  • Are you placing expectations on the relationship that is creating discomfort for you?
  • Can you release those expectations and instead accept that what is being given to you is the very best that can be given at the moment?
  • Have you examined your relationship with the most important person in your life, yourself?

Wishing you peace and love in all of your relationships!

I’m here if you need me…Your sister mother and friend, Blondie

 

 

The Art of Gratitude

“Sometimes we’re so busy chasing all the things we haven’t got that we forget to notice all the things we already have, the people in our lives and the fortunate circumstances in which we live.”

One of my earlier blogs, Rise and Shine…An Attitude of Gratitude, talked about how my gratitude practice came to be and the important part gratitude plays in my life. It’s my mainstay, my manifesto for living, my therapist, my guide and my fundamental source of joy.

I can’t say I would be the person I am today if I didn’t have a formal gratitude practice. I’ve relied on this practice to get me through some of the darkest and most difficult times of my life. Gratitude sets things straight for me, clears my head, re-centers me when needed, gives me an attitude adjustment and allows me to live a full, joyful, peaceful, meaningful and purposeful life. Without a gratitude practice I, too, may have slipped into the dark world of depression like so many of my family members and members of society.

Being a self-proclaimed gratitude junkie has its benefits. How so? Well, I’ve been in the dark, have had troubled times, been broken open and broken down, at times didn’t know how I’d take the next step (literally and figuratively), been surrounded by death and losses and torn apart by life circumstance…..like we all have been subjected to in life. However, the art of finding gratitude in those moments has always been a game changer.  In addition, I am able to commiserate and understand how we all get knocked down and find it difficult to get back up because I’ve lived it and have shared in the pain we all feel during such times. These experiences allow me to speak from experience and, more importantly, from the heart.

We all come across people who sometimes are in such a troubled or sorrowful state that they can’t seem to fight their way out of a paper bag. I’ve actually had people say that they have a hard time finding one thing for which they can be grateful. This I find hard to believe, but sadly there are troubled souls like this out there. Can you relate? Perhaps you’ve been there? Like I said, I think we’ve all been there in varying degrees. Perhaps you find yourself currently taking up residency in this state? Perhaps you are in a perpetual state of loss, grief, or darkness? Perhaps you don’t know how you’re going to get through the next hour or the day?

What we all must tap into is the knowingness that our nervous system can NOT be happy and sad at the same time. All it takes is a few seconds of identifying something we are grateful for, and our nervous systems shifts. We feel lighter, happier, and more hopeful. The more we do this practice and make it a routine, make it our default setting and our modus operandi, the more we will experience unimaginable shifts in our psyches, in our bodies and in our hearts.

It’s common for me to have numerous books and journals containing writing prompts on the subject of gratitude. So on this beautiful, first day in July, a sunny Sunday morning where the birds are chirping outside my window in the early morning stillness, I will share with you some prompts that will help you to keep your gratitude flowing.

The first one is more of an exercise and is especially useful if you do not have a gratitude practice. My intent is to list a month’s worth of prompts to set you on your way. While some of these require some thought, there may be days you’re just not into digging so deeply, so you can simply start with “I am grateful for” and list 2-3 things. By all means this is more than enough! You are more than enough. Now that is even a good place to start!

  1. Start by listing everything you are grateful for. List the big things, the little things, and everything in between. Write until you can think of anything else. And then write some more. This will kick off your gratitude practice and help you see just how much you have to be grateful for.
  2. What is one aspect of your daily life that you don’t always take time to appreciate, but that you’re actually grateful for?
  3. What are some of the things that are constants in your life – things that you’ll always find comfort in, things that you can always be grateful for?
  4. What is  one thing your parents taught you that you are grateful for?
  5. What are three of your physical characteristics that you are grateful for?
  6. What are three of your personality traits you are grateful for?
  7. What are three personality traits that you are grateful for in others?
  8. Write about one person who has taught you the most. What did they teach you and why are you grateful to have learned from them?
  9. What is one thing in nature that you are grateful for? What is something you can do to show your gratitude for this?
  10. Who is one person who is grateful for you? What have you done to make their life better?
  11. What are three things you are truly grateful for about your job (or hobby if you aren’t currently employed)?
  12. Do you have a spiritual practice that you are grateful for? What does it mean to you?
  13. Write about one book that you are especially grateful for. How has reading it changed you? If you could thank the author, what would you say?
  14. What is one talent that you possess that you’re extremely grateful for?
  15. What are you most grateful for about your home? What do you appreciate most about living there?
  16. Why are you grateful to have been born during this time?
  17. Who is a person or group of people from the past you’re grateful for? Why? What about them do you most appreciate?
  18. Write about something that has changed over the course of history that you are grateful for?
  19. We all make choices every day in our lives. Which choices have you made that you are the most grateful for?
  20. What is one thing your body can do that you are grateful for?
  21. What are you most grateful for about all the latest advances in technology?
  22. What animal are you especially grateful for? How do they make your life better?
  23. What music are you the most grateful for? Is there a song or musician who inspires you?
  24. Write one thing for each of your five senses (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) that you’re grateful for
  25. What is one way you’ve changed that you’re grateful for?
  26. What are you grateful for about the country you live in? What are you grateful for about the specific part of the country you live in?
  27. What is one surprise you’ve experienced that you were (and are) grateful for?
  28. Have you ever been helped by a stranger? If you could tell them how grateful you are for them, what would you say?
  29. If there’s anyone who you generally dislike, what is something about them that you’re grateful for?
  30. What is the most empowering thing you’ve ever done? What about this experience are you grateful for?
  31. When you look back on your life thus far, what are you the most grateful for?

Darlings, may you find gratitude in the littlest of things, as well as the biggest of things,  and may you be inspired to commit to a daily gratitude practice. If you already have one, as I do, may we find ways to deepen the practice and enrich each other’s lives!

Inhale Love & Light…Exhale Grace & Gratitude, JTC