Saturday, May 31, 2014

Yin and Yang Every Day

Everything was happening at once! Just climbing the steps out of the Long Island Railroad Station to 7th Avenue. Now that's an energizing experience! Sounds everywhere, different volumes and pitches, calling to me, repelling me, hammering, caressing.Walking west on 34th and up 8th Avenue brings more, more of everything. There are so many people! Traveling up- and downstairs, the people themselves are more varied than the sounds. Some are in business garb, dark jackets and slacks or skirts, light shirts, business shoes. Other are wearing jeans that were bought WITH the tears and holes in them. Still others have put what looks to me like random clothing - nothing matches anything. I love it all!

Everyone, everyone, has a cell phone. They are CONNECTED - to a person in another location, doing something very different from what these people are doing. That distant voice or text is attached to a being who is not experiencing New York City's 8th Avenue at 7am.

What about our connections to the world immediately around us? Are those connections still strong? Do we actually SEE the people around us, SMELL the aromas from the carts and out through the the open doors of the delis and bakeries, do we FEEL the pulse of New York City so much that our pulse aligns with it?

Attached here. Apart there. I love my Facebook connections and LinkedIn colleagues. I love talking to high school friends who live across the country, and I feel as if no time or distance is between us. We have been given the opportunity to connect and be close again. We've taken the challenge.

How many souls touch our each day on the streets of New York City? What lives are momentarily connect? What if one of those lives would have enriched ours, touched us, or made us feel safe in our own bodies again? Better still, whose life might We have touched, given a blessing, helped to heal, fill with laughter?

The Port Authority Bus Terminal is hopping. I love the excitement of people traveling! I like to watch them, guess where they're going, imagine why. My bus is ready to board. The ride to Lenox is smooth, unharried, and very pretty. I am blessed to be on a bus with considerate souls - nobody is screaming into a cell phone; nobody is blasting music; nobody is eating a noxious-smelling breakfast. At Lenox, we leave the bus and hop on the shuttle for the 3-minute trip to Kripalu.

The Berkshires are as dense with trees as NYC was with people. There is an absence of sound that is as powerful as the cacophony that I left four hours ago on 8th Avenue. The quiet has a sweetness to it. The whole invironment invite me to slow down, REALLY do nothing. The vast countryside surrounds me and the lake below is shimmering and very, very still.

New York City and the Berkshires - Yang and Yin for sure. I'm blown away by sensation in NYC and drowned in quiet a few hundred miles north, here on the steps of Kripalu. I couldn't or wouldn't want to be in either of these places exclusively - too much and too little. The notion and realization that my home is Long Island and THAT is balance.

Standing on my front stoop or sitting on my back patio I am completely comfortable. It feels right. The quiet of the morning is interrupted by a lawn mower, weed whacker, or (UGH!) leaf blower. That's fine with me.

It's nearly summer, and I've just endured a long winter. I loved that too. I need cold and hot, cool and warm.
We spend our time in a state of flux, from yang to yin and back. Embrace everything around you!
As the Taoist tell us, this too will change.

Thursday, May 22, 2014


Rituals - Practices that we engage in regularly. The regularity can be daily or yearly. The distances between them don't matter. What DOES matter is that they are our rituals. They might be work-related, self or family, spirit or body, mind or consciousness.

My childhood had rituals. Sundays were days for church and Sunday School, then a drive to Yiayia and Papou's house in Jamaica. The delicious smells - their fabulous, gigantic, glass-topped dining room table. Talking in Greek. The drive home. The Wonderful World of Disney. Bonanza. A perfect Sunday.

At the risk of alienating practically everyone, I'll admit that life seemed to have more sanity, more clarity, more groundedness, more calm, and yes, more joy, when moms were home. Something that could always be counted on. It's important for children for children to know that they can always count on something. And, I'm finding more and more, it's important for adults as well.

All of us kids, no matter our religion, had similar rituals. We all came home from school, had snacks, and then all went out to play. We all knew that the street lights coming on were our signal that we'd hear our mothers start to call.Whether it was matzo ball soup, avgolemono, or borscht, we loved our ethnic food, and especially loved going to friends' houses to try theirs. None of my friends had pasticcio at home, and I didn't have minestrone at mine.

We all had rituals. Our lives flowed in a certain, easy, way. Sure, we got into trouble, and the repercussions weren't easy. But even the trouble was part of the ritual. We knew our boundaries, and as kids, we overstepped them. We knew what would happen on Sunday, or after school, or Passover. As children, we needed that. Of course, we didn't know it at the time.

Life is different now. That stability has given way. We don't do the same thing every Sunday. We have no idea what our friends do. Most of us work far more hours than did our parents and we have far less leisure time. We do more, but somehow enjoy less. Parents make play dates for their children so that they can be sure that the kids actually PLAY.

What might happen if we set and intention to bring some ritual back into our lives? How might we benefit? What about our children? Would they be happier? Would they fare better in school? Might they engage in less violence? I tend to think so.

Consider getting up just 1/2 hour earlier, just for the purpose of ritual. Before rising, take 3 long breaths. Jumping out of bed and starting to take care of responsibilities is fine, but the responsibilities can wait 1/2 hour. If you were still asleep, they wouldn't be getting done anyway.

Stand. Stretch - upward, back, side to side, forward. Hang your head toward the floor. Let your head rest below your heart at least once per day. Preferably more.Take a few minutes to focus your attention on yourself. We rise from sleep and start thinking about what we have to do. Instead, in that 1/2, think about yourself. What your body feels like. How your emotions are flowing. Are you worried about something? Is there a pressing issue? If you were still asleep, you wouldn't be thinking about it anyway. Use your breath to help you regulate and balance your emotions. Find a mantra that feels comfortable and brings you joy. "This day is perfect." Just a few simple words. Don't just say them, FEEL THEM. Pick whatever resonates with you.

What about your thoughts? Should you check your email or get the newspaper? Neither. Remember, you'd normally be asleep now anyway. Just breathe. Feel it. Think about it.

Your children. Wake them 15 minutes earlier. Talk with them after breakfast before they leave. Make this a ritual. Use positive and happy language. Be excited for your day and for theirs. One thing is certain - in 24 hours, this day will be a thing of the past.

Take an extra 15 minutes with them at night. I have a simple practice that I do with my granddaughter, who is now 3 years old.

  • Bath
  • Teeth-brushing
  • Read
  • Lie on our backs with our hands on our bellies
  • Take 3 long, deep breaths
  • Think of 3 things that made us happy that day - talk about gratitude and thankfulness
  • Say "Thank-you" for all the people that love us

Surprise - they don't only make a difference for your children. You'll notice a difference in yourself. Once you start, whatever it is that you decide to start, you'll discover that you want to add more. Do it! Maybe, every Saturday afternoon, go to a park. Half hour. Don't make the times unreasonable. We are all busy, but amazingly, we get more done when we take time.

Days, months, and years will pass. You'll forget the overdue oil bill, the fight with your spouse, the hassle at work. You'll remember the rituals. They'll invigorate and inspire you. Be the master of your life.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


A Stream of Consciousness - Mine is more like a flood spilling over in every direction. What to do when you are frazzled? Do ONE THING. Then do the next. It is the simple act of DOING that begins to settle and organize my mind. The simpler the act, the better. Wipe off the counter, open a few windows. Make a small change in my environment. That always helps me. Just a simple task that requires no thought, only the satisfaction of having done it. Those small changes are not just external - they have an inward effect. Soothing. Organizing. Settling. Calming.

We can put our attention anywhere, but so often we chose the negative, painful, troublesome aspects of our lives. Is this the action of our earliest reptilian brains? Are we always in a state of self-preservation, attuned to any possible threat? The sabretooth tigers are gone, but our need to self-protect remains. We conjure up enemies where there are none to be found. Simply to insure our safety. When external threats are absent, we create internal threats. We magnify everything, creating an inner need to react and survive

The consequences are serious though. We BELIEVE that we are protecting ourselves, but we've in fact create armies of enemies much more threatening than the lone predator lurking in the grasses, or the mammoth bounding across the plain.

Knowing that we do this is the first step in changing our behaviors. We must change our thoughts and shift our focus. Think of one good thing. Just one. I am breathing. No big deal, you say? Well, try NOT BREATHING for more than two minutes. Suddenly you realize that NOTHING is as important as your breath. Simple. Not easy. Simple.

Take your breath with you. Of course! You say. Wherever I go, I'm breathing. Yes, but do you take your awareness of breathing with you as well? make that a part of your life - breath awareness. I mean REAL awareness. As you go through your day, notice when your breath feels tight or stuck. Notice when it flows. How deep does it go? Do you feel it all the way down deep into your torso, into Tan Tien, or is it stuck in your chest?

Notice your thoughts and emotions as well. See if they change as you pay attention to your breathing.

I have found amazing shifts. As a person whole likes things "just so," I am constantly noticing what is not "just so." A dish in the sink, a bulging hamper, crumbs on the counter, papers dropped on to my immaculate desk, a spot on the kitchen floor.

First, I stop. Stand still. Remind myself to exhale first. ALWAYS EXHALE FIRST. It takes the tension out of your body. Then, I look at the thing that is troubling me. I take care of it.

In the past, my mind would start ranting, "Why can't they clean their own dishes? Why can't he leave papers in my Inbox instead of all over my desk? Look at the floor - didn't they see that they spilled something?"

What good did those thoughts do me? Nothing at all. They certainly didn't wash the dish or the floor, or magically move my papers where I want them to be. What the thoughts DID do were to unsettle me far more than the things themselves did. It was my mind that went crazy. And that affected my emotions, and that affected my body. My outlook. Poor me! I'm the only one who care about anything around here. I'm Cinderella. All I do is pick up after people.

Breath is long forgotten now. That smooth, even flow has transformed into a torrent, a mess, unsettled, frustrated, constricted. Such power can a dish have!

Happily, those days are gone. The dish is clean of course, and the papers are where I keep them. The floor shines. I am my own master. I put on my dress and go to the ball.