California, calm, creativity, peace

Beautiful: My LA Adventure Taught Me to Be a Tree in Winter

9d2275bf25fe5c1d448e48e7aff6128d“I realize there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.” ~ Jeffrey McDaniel

My LA adventure is drawing to a close. The last few weeks have been a kind of magical transformation for me. I stopped trying to force my experience here and just let it be whatever it wanted to be. It was both liberating and invigorating. I could delight in the hazy sunshine and the gorgeous trees and the cool air without asking anything of them, knowing that they ask nothing of me except to be seen, felt, and experienced.

It’s not in my nature to stop inquiring, to stop digging, but it’s kind of lovely once in a while to take the advice of John Lennon and Paul McCartney and let it be, knowing there will be an answer. Trusting that somewhere along the line that answer will rise up when it’s good and ready. The more we let go, the easier it is for that answer to rise. Sometimes the very best thing we can do is just stop, take ourselves out of the equation, and wait.

It takes nerve to wait. We worry that we’re wasting time, our most precious and irreplaceable resource. Here in LA I found that in a calm mind resides every answer we need. They’re there all along – our only job is to get out of the way and listen. Let the answers rise. They always do.

Tony Bennett may have left his heart in San Francisco, but I’m going to try my best to bring a little Los Angeles back with me. In the hustle and bustle of New York City’s streets, I hope you’ll be able to spot me as the calm in the middle of the storm, leaving a wake of peace everywhere I go. New York is where I’m needed. That’s where I’ve got something to give.

Thanks, LA, for taking me under your wing and for teaching me more about me than I ever thought possible. I’ll never forget you.

calm, cooking, faith, food

Beautiful: Baking and Breaking Bread – Acts of Trust and Faith

My first loaf of homemade bread, baked in my new dutch oven

Baking and making bread is one of the simplest, most satisfying pleasures in the world.

Last year I began to challenge my long-held belief that I cannot bake. I made a personal vow to teach myself some very simple baking recipes. True to form that was not enough. Given my frugal ways, I began to take a long hard look at grocery store prices. “Why does fresh pasta and bread cost so much?” I wondered. “And if it costs so much, why is it so often not that tasty?” I decided to try my hand at making my own, and made the resolution that this year I wouldn’t buy any bread or pasta.

My pasta adventures are coming along. With proficiency in basic egg pasta dough, I’ve moved on to incorporating ingredients like spinach, beets, and carrots to create healthier options. (More on that in a future post.) It was easier for me to start with pasta because it’s so logical: mound the flour and add the eggs, salt, olive oil, milk, and a dash of cinnamon (yes, cinnamon!) to a well in the center of the flour. Knead, roll, cut, shape, boil, eat. There’s a lot of tinkering in pasta making and I love to tinker.

Bread baking? That’s a different story because the baker has so little control. The ingredients must be measured precisely and then the baker has to walk away, exhibiting extreme patience. 18 hours of patience, to be precise. The flour, yeast, warm water, and salt do some type of magic rising dance and voila – dough, ready for the super hot oven! Baking is an act of trust and faith in something that we cannot manipulate. The yeast and heat from the oven must be allowed to do what it does best all on its own, without our assistance.

But oh, the final result is well worth it. I used this bread recipe, followed it to the letter, and literally ooo’ed and ahh’ed over the result. Thick, golden crust and a moist, chewy interior. Slathered with butter and 3 berry jam, along with a mug of green peppermint tea, it was the perfect way to begin my Sunday morning.

No more store-bought bread for me. I’m a baker.

calm, courage, holiday

Leap: Make the Resolution to Keep Calm and Carry On in 2013

263671753155567547_mSQFUXiU_c In the aftermath of Christmas and the realization that the Mayans somehow miscalculated our demise, we’re about to get crazy with resolutions. I’ve been making my list for weeks.

I took a good look at that list over the weekend and here’s what I found: I’m basically going to carry on as I have this year. As in 2012, I will invest in my writing, yoga teaching, and creative projects in the name of good causes. And that’s enough.

You don’t need to get sucked into the frenzy either. Think about the things that gave you the most joy in 2012. Do those more often in 2013. Think about the people who inspired you the most. Spend more time with them in 2013. Think about those things that you put aside because they seemed too scary, too risky, or just plain impossible. Resolve to take just one step toward breathing life into those ideas. That’s all the resolution you really need.

Carrying on in this tough world (especially in the face of difficulty), staying calm, and continuing to smile and breathe is an achievement in and of itself. And these simple things work wonders. They change lives.

calm, feelings, free, meditation, yoga

Leap: Catch and Release – a Lesson in Breathing and Letting Go

From Pinterest member

“Why do we work so hard on the (yoga) mat? We concentrate and focus so that we can then let go. It’s why we practice the limbs of yoga. It’s the reason for everything we’re doing here.” ~ Mel Brasier, ISHTA Yoga Senior Teacher

On Sunday, we studied bhastrika, a pranyama (breathing) technique in our yoga teacher training. It requires that we fully let go on the exhale, catch the breath, and then fully engage on the inhale. We need both pieces to feel the full benefits of the technique. It’s challenging because if we don’t catch the breath on the bottom of the exhale, then the inhale happens automatically rather than intentionally.

Mel explained to us that this intention of full concentration and full release mirrors the limbs of yoga that we study. First we focus, through our actions on and off the mat, and then we let it all go. We don’t get cold; we release heat. We can’t try to relax; we release our tension. We can’t draw breath in; we create a vacuum within our bodies that makes room for breath. We can’t try to reach samadhi, or the bliss state; we just allow our concentration to fade and then disappear to create a blank screen.

The difference is subtle but powerful. It’s like riding a bike – we concentrate so hard as we’re learning to balance, then we get it, and then we can let it go to fully enjoy the experience of the ride. We begin by gaining control over our own bodies and minds, and then we understand that control so well that we’re able to let it all fall away so that we’re left completely free. Freedom and bliss are found in that pause between the inhale and exhale when we stand on the very edge of our pure potential. All we need to do is show up and let ourselves be.

calm, commitment, community service, kindness, time

Leap: The Dalai Lama’s Rules of the Road

I need to post this up in my apartment, particularly as I begin this new chapter of my life that involves great risk in an effort to achieve a life of my own design. Words to live by.

The Dalai Lama’s 18 Rules For Living

1. Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
2. When you lose, don’t lose the lesson.
3. Follow the three Rs: -Respect for self -Respect for others -Responsibility for all your actions.
4. Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck.
5. Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly.
6. Don’t let a little dispute injure a great friendship.
7. When you realize you have made a mistake, take immediate steps to correct it.
8. Spend some time alone every day.
9. Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.
10. Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.
11. Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you’ll be able to enjoy it a second time.
12. A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.
13. In disagreements with loved ones, deal only with the current situation. Don’t bring up the past.
14. Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.
15. Be gentle with the earth.
16. Once a year, go someplace you have never been before.
17. Remember that the best relationship is one in which your love for each other exceeds your need for each other.
18. Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.

calm, creativity

Leap: Grow Creativity and Decrease Anxiety Through Solitude in the Dark

“You cannot be lonely if you like the person youre alone with. ~ Wayne Dyer

On the heels of my post about the value of quiet time alone, I read two articles in the Times – one of the age of anxiety and one of the danger of the new groupthink a.k.a collaboration. Both articles, from different vantage points advocate for the same course of action – disconnecting from others in order to alleviate stress, free our creativity, and do our best work. Both articles recognize the importance of interaction – we are social creatures – though they favor the idea of casual interactions as a break from intense personal work as the sure way to breakthrough ideas that generate valuable contributions to humanity.

Though my weekdays are jammed with work, classes – as a teacher and student, events, and seeing friends, I have tried very hard to guard my weekends as mostly me time with a special exception here and there. (Well, me time with Phineas, if you must know.) It’s felt a bit selfish, and also incredibly wonderful. I often shut off my phone, turn on my music, and spend time in my cozy little uptown apartment in the sky doing exactly what I want to do, exactly when I want to do it. It’s liberating to not dash from here to there and back again.

Silence is proving to be golden – for my creativity, curiosity, happiness, and confidence. I have time to think, dream, plan, and wonder. There’s a magic in it. By the time Monday rolls around, I’ve literally forgotten any stresses from Friday.

In Sunday’s Times, I also read an article in the real estate section about the virtues of dark apartments, of which New York has many. Writers, artists, musicians, and entrepreneurs featured in the article talk about their dark homes as places where they can get away from it all whenever they feel the need for escape. The beauty of making a home a sanctuary is the ability to come and go from solitude on a whim, at any moment. Walk through the front door, and they’re in a place of peace and tranquility. Walk outside the front door, and interaction is available everywhere. It is the best of both worlds.

As the year of the Dragon, 2012 is ripe with opportunity. And I can’t help but think that the very best way for us to seize the day is to seize every chance we get for some peace and quiet wherever we call home.

calm, care, clarity, commitment, community, healthcare, meditation, silence, simplicity, yoga

Beginning: The Moment We Miss

“The moment we most often miss is this one.” ~ Robert Chodo Campbell, HHC

My heart is still singing from the Integrative Healthcare Symposium I attended on Friday. It felt so good, so nourishing to be in the company of so many people who think about health and wellness as a spiritual and a physical journey. I found confirmation in my beliefs that have largely been from my gut as medical doctors from the world-class medical facilities such as Beth Israel and top research universities presented their research and advocated for a more holistic approach to heathcare in the US.

We started Monday morning with a presentation by Robert Chodo Campbell and Koshin Pauley Ellison, two Buddhist Monks who co-founded and co-manage the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care. We did some meditation exercises that have given me weeks worth of material for this blog and for ideas for my SXSW session that is coming up in Austin next week. They shared stories about their work as the co-directors of Contemplative Care at Beth Israel Medical Center, where I’m hoping to do some type of volunteer / intern work.

One of the lines that really hit me was Chodo’s quote above. We are constantly trying to get somewhere. This is not a new revelation. They actually joked about the idea that nothing they teach is revolutionary – it’s ancient wisdom. And still, as often as we hear it, we don’t always take the idea into our hearts. There is still so much opportunity to improve our awareness, to cultivate more gratitude.

They counseled us to take a breath, a full, conscious, beautiful breath several times throughout the day. When we finish a phone call, take a breath. When we complete a task we’ve been concentrating on, take a breath. And when our thoughts are racing by us, close the eyes and count 1. No complicated mantra needed. Just focus on counting to 1, over and over again until the racing mind, the monkey mind, calms down.

There’s a lot of beauty, a lot of blessing, right now in this moment. In every moment. Take it in; it’s yours.

I love the beauty and simplicity of the image above. It appears on the NY Zen Center’s website.

This blog is also available as a podcast on Cinch and iTunes.

calm, clarity, happiness, harmony, meditation, yoga

Beginning: The Zen in You

This image is available at
“The only Zen you find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up.” ~ Robert Persin via @Urban_Zen

During my yoga teacher training, my teacher Tracy would talk a lot about focus. One of my classmates asked her when we would know that we had tamed our “monkey minds”. She replied, “when you can meditate at a bus stop in Delhi.” We laughed. She didn’t; she was quite serious.

In that moment I started to think about different groups of people who could benefit from yoga if only they had access to affordable, conveniently located classes. It became clear to me that I truly wanted to provide yoga to underserved populations.

I came to yoga after a particularly difficult struggle with insomnia and anxiety. It took quite some time to crack the code because I didn’t really have a guide in the process. I had to figure it out on my own. Now that I’m healed, I want to be the guide to others that I wish I had when I started my practice.

I only have one thing to teach, and it’s simple though not easy. Robert Presin captures it beautifully in the quote above. You have everything you need. All the answers. All the abilities. All the knowledge. It lives in your gut. You know what you need to be well and whole. You don’t need to go somewhere else. You don’t need a new job or a new relationship or a new home. You don’t need anything except what sits within you now, at this very moment. Allow it to be.

We desperately seek happiness, peace, and harmony. We scurry around looking for it in every far-reaching corner. Just stop and sit. Close the eyes, draw the breath in, and then release it. You don’t need some fancy techniques or even the vocabulary to describe what’s happening. Just sit, breath, and be. Don’t perform. Don’t try to make an impression. Just watch and feel the breath.

This is the only practice that matters. Once you master it, once you can be fully present, the peace and happiness you want so much is readily and plentifully available whenever you want it, wherever we are. On top of mountains and at over-crowded bus stops. Your peace travels with you.

This blog is also available as a podcast on Cinch and iTunes.

calm, holiday, time

My Year of Hopefulness – Think of Today

“I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.” ~ Albert Einstein

December 26th, forever relegated to its place as ‘the day after Christmas’. A lot of people sleep in; many are on vacation; it begins the long, slow slide into the new year. A day of “lull”, and well-deserved after the shopping, eating, visiting frenzy induced by December 25th.

Given that Albert Einstein was one of the greatest visionaries to ever live, I’m not sure that his quote above is entirely truthful. He actually thought about the future quite a bit, particularly when it came to his work on General Relativity and the Manhattan Project. What I think he was doing was trying to remind us that if we focus too much on the future we lose sight of the opportunities right in front of us today.

It would be easy and quite understandable to let this week float on by as just the week between Christmas and New Year’s. It may even cause some of us to build up some nervousness about the impending new year, or we could just look at 2009 as a lame duck year, almost finished and therefore not worth any more effort. With some creativity, we can still get our much-needed rest and make this week a happy and productive one.

If I learned anything in 2009 it is that our days, all of them, are terrible things to waste. This week I’ll curl up on that comfy couch and reach for that magazine or book that’s been waiting for me. I can relax and spend time with my family and friends without feeling rushed. I can get my plans in order when it comes to my impending GRE. I’ll take time out for yoga every day as preparation for my yoga teacher training class that starts in February. Whoever said that productivity and relaxation had to be mutually exclusive activities?