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You Are a Blessing

I do not know who to credit this image but it is fabulous!

It was my birthday recently but I am determined to celebrate every day of this month-not by boozing-up or eating cake every day but by taking care of myself and celebrating my life.

In the past, I’ve had little enthusiasm for my birthday. But, someone gave me some great advice last year that shook me–it changed my way of thinking and being.

She asked me “What are you doing to celebrate your birthday?” I gave my usual response…oh nothing really I don’t like to celebrate it very much.” (The fact was for some reason I always felt melancholy on my birthday.) She said to me “What happened to you? When did you stop celebrating your life?” That question hit me like a blow to the heart. Did I not appreciate my life…was I just floating by? As painful as it was, I knew the answer…

My husband committed suicide on Ash Wednesday in 2003. He did not seem depressed to me…he wasn’t lying around in bed moaning about the darkness and hopelessness of life. He was going to work and getting things done. I was oblivious to what was going on inside him. At that time, family doctors were giving out samples of “mood managing” pills with a “let’s see how this one works” approach. I don’t think they realized the damage they were doing in the constant stops and starts. I am sure this contributed to his instability. I didn’t even know he was taking anything until after he died.

I am sure he felt out of control. He did not ask me for help. He did not confide in me the depths of this overwhelm. Sure, he complained to me about this or that but never said he was in danger of committing this act. We had fun times, went on dates, he still did so much for me. The day before he died we took the little ones to see Barney Live (creepy dinosaur!) When we got home he ran me a bath and poured me a glass of wine. He took care of me. The next day we met at the Cathedral for the noon Ash Wednesday service. I took my daughter to art class, he went home and killed himself. Who knows why people do what they do.

It is so important to me now to help people find the tools they need to nourish their mind and heart. My grief (and my guru) led me to the study of Yoga and Ayurveda. I have learned so many things about myself and what I need to reduce my own pain and suffering. I do still suffer though…obviously. I have dark moments, dark days where I feel overwhelmed and exhausted. Some days it is harder to find light than others. This is the stuff of life. But despite the details, despite my depression, despite my anxiety, despite my PTSD from finding my husband’s body in the garage, despite my overwhelm there is a bottom line and here it is: It is a blessing to be a human being and to be alive...I am a Blessing! The details of your life may not be ideal. You may be suffering in health, finances, creativity, depression, sobriety, relationship…any number of things. But, your heart knows the truth of this bottom line. Say it to yourself over and over. Let it inspire you to keep going. Ask your Divine for help or direction if you need to but stay with the bottom line. There is a reason you are here. You are a blessing. Believe that.

Healing is Holistic

What is the number one therapy? Change your life. Oh, but how do we do that? If we have a goal of reducing stress, losing weight, reducing our depression or anxiety, we typically go through a process of mentally trying to figure it out, or we kick in our willpower and forge our way ahead. Unfortunately, using these methods, we run out of steam very quickly and fall back into old habits.

The sages of the East have long known that we are multifaceted beings. Specifically, in yoga philosophy, it is known that we have three bodies ( the gross body, the subtle body, and the causal body) and five layers or sheaths (the food sheath, the energy sheath, the mental/emotional sheath, the intelligence/discrimination sheath, and the bliss sheath). Sometimes, you will see the layers represented visually as a spiral. These sheaths intertwine and interconnect. To achieve our goals of health and well-being, we have to take care of each of these layers.

When I work with clients, I  assess, and bring attention to, all of the layers of their being to promote the desired result. For example, it is documented and scientifically validated that if one does not breathe deeply and diaphragmatically, there is a greater occurrence of anxiety. So sometimes, to treat anxiety, I need to teach clients how to breathe as well as modify their nutrition and provide tools to calm the nervous system.

Also, we are all different in our needs, and one method that works for one may not work for another. The treatment modalities of yoga therapy and Ayurveda are centered on the individual, not on the particular imbalance. This is why it is best to find a guide for your health and not simply grasp at answers that you find on social media or the Internet. Self-care means taking care of each layer of ourselves, constantly assessing how we can nourish ourselves.

The physical body, the outer-most layer, requires nutrition and lifestyle modifications that are specific to one’s physiology. The energetic layer requires breathwork training to keep the nervous system calm and less prone to episodes of fight or flight. The mental/emotional layer requires meditation, prayer, and study to understand the root of one’s state. Unfortunately, we are not taught how to manage our mental and emotional life. There is no class called “Acceptance 101” or “Managing Life 101.” We do try to manage the ebbs and flows, the highs and lows on our own, usually by using rationalizations or intellectual analysis, unfortunately, a lot of times in isolation. Finding healthy nourishment for the mind (mantra, affirmations, inspiration, loving community in which to share) is essential. Practices in developing one’s intuition help build internal trust and resilience, and we find a healthy level of discrimination from which to operate. Finally, connection to the spiritual, one’s concept of the Divine, helps to move through one’s daily struggles in a posture of surrender. It is very stressful to believe that we are alone in this world, solely responsible for ourselves, our happiness, and our well-being.

Once we understand our duty to all of the layers of our being, accepting the ebbs and flows with equilibrium and grace (a practice for sure!), then we become more compassionate with ourselves and the world.

Fortunately, the sciences of yoga and Ayurveda supply the tools we need on our journey of self-discovery. The purpose of these philosophies is to establish a way of living that removes pain and suffering so we can live in a state of joy.

If you are interested in working with me to find your joy and balance…shoot me an email at justina.namaste@gmail.com, and we’ll work together to find the best fit.

Thank you for your interest in my work and my blog.

Namaste.

 

Bear

A bear is a furry person, a relative, that goes underground when the earth sleeps and emerges when it wakes. Giving Voice to Bear, David Rockwell.

BEAR

For my birthday this year, I have started a Facebook fundraiser for the Appalachian Bear Rescue. I have always felt a connection to bears. I have a collection of bear figurines from all over the world. I have been gifted bear images, wood carvings, and journals. I have never seen a bear in the wild, but it terrifies me to think of a world without them.

Some years ago I read in Living with the Himalayan Masters that my guru Swami Rama had a pet bear named Bhola for company as he wandered through the Himalayas. His own guru called Swami Rama a “bear charmer.” 

Bears are honored across the world. Indigenous populations in North America have said that bears are half human because of the similarity to humans in their physical structure. They stand on their hind legs and occasionally walk upright. They stand and reach for berries and have amazing dexterity in those large paws. The blackfeet word o-kits-iks means both hand and bear paw, and the Ojibwa called bears anijinabe, which also meant Indian. Several tribes claim to be direct descendants of bears…that the spirit of the bear is there in all of their gatherings. Remember the Disney film Brother Bear? The bear and the boy were one. Bears can shapeshift into anything. The bear’s fierce maternal instinct, their diet, their knowledge of plants and herbs all were revered by native people. Because of their knowledge of plants, the bear is associated with health and medicine. If you are suffering from an illness, you can call in the spirit of the bear to help you find the right medicine. 

Bears encourage feelings of security and grounding. Did you have a teddy bear as a child? Just looking at images of bears is enough to feel more stable. I carry a silver medallion in my wallet that has a bear carved on one side and on the other it says “Draw upon your inner strength and potentials.” This is the energy of the bear…strong, patient, and resourceful.

There are an infinite number of stories about bears. They have their own mythology in which they display all of the characteristics of human beings, yet remain godly. Bears in these stories are kind and generous or fierce and destructive, depending on the intent of the speaker/writer. Do you know the myth of Devil’s Tower in Wyoming? It varies in detail from tribe to tribe, but essentially some children were running from bears and the Divine saved them by lifting up the earth and raising the kids to the sky. The bears were left to claw at the sides of the tower as they tried to climb up. It was easy for me to imagine this happening as I stood in front of Devil’s tower years ago. It is a sacred place. 

Bears can be dangerous, it’s true. They deserve our respect. They are also wonderful gentle giants that need our protection.

Please, donate to my fundraiser.

If you are interested in reading the book Giving Voice to Bear, you can find the link below.

For further reading:

Mysteries and Fish

I just read something that I am dying to share. Do you remember the Dr. Suess book “A Fish Out of Water?” It is about the boy that buys a fish and is warned by the pet store owner not to feed the fish too much, and of course, he does and the fish keeps getting bigger and bigger. The boy transfers the fish from vases to the bathtub, and eventually floods his house. Then, the boy calls the fire department and they come to take the fish to the community swimming pool. Gutted, the boy has to call the pet store owner (Mr. Carp) to come and help him. Mr. Carp comes, dives into the pool and POOF the fish is restored to his normal size.

WELL…

I am reading the book “Jnana-Yoga” by Swami Vivekananda and there is a story of the great sage Manu sitting by the Ganges River when a minnow swims up to him for help. He takes the fish and puts it in a pot of water. The little minnow explains that he is being chased by a much bigger fish and wants protection. Manu takes the fish home and by morning, the fish no longer fits in the pot. Manu puts the fish in a tank, and the fish becomes as big as the tank. The fish is moved to the river, and the fish outgrows the river. Then, Manu puts the fish in the ocean, and the fish explains that he is actually the Divine Creator and He has come to warn of the great flood. He tells Manu to build an ark, load up all the animals in pairs (sound familiar?), climb on board with his own family and wait for the flood to subside so he can repopulate the world…and we are all called “man” because we are the descendants of Manu.

Stories of the great flood are present in so many cultures. But, I am just so tickled by the similarity of this myth and the Dr. Suess book. And I wonder, did Dr. Suess know this story? Is that where he got the idea. Do I want to research that? Well, not really. I want to finish this book by Vivekananda. So, if anyone can provide real answers to this question I would be interested to know.

 

Reading in Yoga

I am experiencing heartbreak today. I am sad, disappointed (in myself and other), and feeling generally like a failure. These tears are purifying me and letting this negativity pass through me. I know that (mind), but I’m trying to know that (heart). I am a sensitive person and easily overwhelmed with emotion sometimes it’s hard to see beyond the rush of feeling. Once I know, the pain is processed through, and my heart speaks up to remind me that I am on the right path, no matter how hard the road seems. ‘Don’t get so attached,’ it tells me. Remember we are all one and here fulfilling sacred contracts. Ok, I say, but for now, I’m going to sit with my sadness and disappointment and cry.

One of the ways my heart guides me is through books. Magically, a book will be presented for me to read (recommended by a friend or I’ll just randomly pick up and open to the “right” page), or a memory from something I’ve read will pop up to soothe my aches. Today I am thinking of Viktor Frankl, not because my pain is anything close to what he experienced (as if there were a pain scale) but more because I need to be reminded of a bigger purpose, a more expanded view of life.

Viktor Frankl was imprisoned in several concentration camps during WW II, Theresienstadt, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Kaufering, and Turkheim. His optimism in the face of unspeakable cruelty, constant abuse, and unimaginable hardship confirm the belief that once an individual finds a meaning for life, then any situation can be endured. He promises that “suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.” Frankl is not suggesting that we suffer unnecessarily–that would be masochistic–rather, we find meaning and purpose in our suffering.

Frankl practiced logotherapy, meaning-centered psychotherapy. The root logos is Greek for “meaning” or “will to meaning.” This therapeutic technique allows an individual to encounter and then reorient one’s life toward that meaning. In other words, once an individual finds his/her dharma, hopelessness and futility fade. Dharma is a Sanskrit word that means the role we are to play in life, our duties to perform. It is one of the four principle aims of human existence as illustrated in the ancient texts of Vedic philosophy. The other aims are artha (prosperity, wealth), kama (pleasure, self-gratification), and moksha (liberation). Dharma is a personal code of conduct that helps us secure our place in society and our path to liberation, and a successful life.

But, as Frankl asserts, “what matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.” This can only be determined by practices of constant self-inquiry and self-reflection. Be mindful of conformism, only performing actions because everyone else is doing it, or doing what other people want you to do (totalitarianism). The only remedy is to offer oneself in service to life. This means performing our actions with heartfelt love, for love itself, rather than any reward or recognition. He reminds us, too, that “human kindness can be found in all groups, even those which as a whole it would be easy to condemn.” We cannot discriminate, but treat everyone with love and respect as we perform our duties. This is the ancient wisdom of Yoga also.

One of the most important steps in discovering our meaning in Yoga is to practice self-inquiry (svadyaya in Sanskrit) and to acknowledge all the wonderful things you have accomplished. Perhaps you could create a “life resume.” What have you done that you are proud of? Then, ask yourself, what is mine to do going forward? You may need to ask this of yourself moment to moment. When confronted by a request of action, ask yourself, is this mine to do? Take a few moments to reflect and answer honestly yes or no. Look back at challenges and your “knee-jerk” responses, are they helpful or harmful? What patterns of behavior do you see in yourself? What patterns of thought?

Healthy mental tension (these acts of self-inquiry and self-dialogue) suspends an individual between what one is and what one is to become moment-by-moment. The confusion of “figuring out” what we are meant to do next is healthy. It helps us improve our discrimination in determining ours and not-ours. Surely, if we try to run from our responsibilities and what is ours to do, the karma will catch up to us sooner or later.

Practice right living, finding the meaning in your life moment to moment. Start by reading the book “Man’s Search for Meaning”…it may provide you with the inspiration that you need. Then maybe you too can remember it during challenging times so that you can be motivated to push on…fulfilling your Divine path and purpose.

         In a word each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. Viktor Frankl