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Posts Tagged ‘hope’


I am always amazed at how things often have a magical way of unfolding.

This past weekend I was supposed to go camping with my meditation group. We had had it on the calendar for a while and I had gotten the time off from my weekend job. I was excited as this would be my first camping trip in years and I looked forward to going deep, in the stillness of nature, with my sweet little meditation group.

But as it often does, things come up and as the weekend got closer, unfortunately a couple of people had to cancel and in the end we decided to postpone. I was disappointed, but I knew we’d go another time.

However, as the weekend unfolded, and different plans began to take form, I was blessed to witness something so magical, so inspiring, that I knew I was exactly where I was meant to be.

My good friend Rebecca (also from said meditation group) and I decided to go for a day hike in Tennessee Valley, just a handful of miles north of the city. San Francisco summer was full on: it was hot, sunny and clear blue skies; the perfect day for a hike to the beach.

When we got to the parking lot, we decided it was too hot for sneakers and slipped into more comfortable shoes for the fairly flat walk to the beach. Rebecca put on her favorite pair of flip-flops and we made our way to the Pacific. It was a beautiful day at the beach. It was hot, but there was a perfect, soft sea breeze and for once it was actually warm enough to wade in the water (a rare thing in San Francisco).

Photo by Rebecca Fettig of http://goldenpointsf.com/

Photo by Rebecca Fettig of http://goldenpointsf.com/

We left our shoes in the sand, went into the water, and waded around happily for a while at the shore. Walking along the beach, the tide was clearly coming in and the waves were catching us by surprise and splashing playfully against us. Set against the shimmering water were the beautiful California hills, limestone cliffs jutting up dramatically against the sky.

We walked around a rock and at that moment, we saw a big wave coming. Rebecca managed to run away from it, but I on the other hand was not fast enough and got a refreshing sprinkle.

With the tide coming in so fast, our thoughts turned to our shoes and it occurred to us that we hadn’t even thought about how far they were from the water. We wondered if they were even still there, or if they had been whisked away, sacrificed into the sea. We began walking back the short distance of the beach, preparing and laughing to ourselves about the prospect of having to possibly hike back to the car barefoot.

As we got closer and closer, I saw no shoes in sight. I was convinced they were long gone and I chuckled. Yes, it would be unfortunate, but it makes for a great story, so the humor in it did not escape me. However, as we made our way back to the spot where we thought the shoes were, a friendly woman asked us if these shoes were ours, pointing to the wet, sand-covered shoes. Yep, that was them. The tide had in fact tried to steal them away from us, but thanks to the kindness of complete strangers, we would not have to go shoeless that day. That was just one of the magical encounters of the day.

I tell this part of the story because it is relevant to the next part. If we hadn’t found our shoes, we wouldn’t have ventured out on our next adventure and we wouldn’t have experienced the most magical encounter of all.

As we began making our way back towards the car, along the dry, dusty path, we saw several different trails, to the left and right, meandering up and over the rolling hills. We knew we didn’t have loads of time, and as the trail heads were marked with their corresponding mileage, we decided to take the shortest one, a 1.9 mile trail up to the right. And off we went.

Shortly after embarking along the path, suddenly we were under a canopy of trees, in what I can only describe as a tiny enchanted forest. We crossed over a sweet little bridge over a trickle of river and the sun was magically filtering through the trees. Within the rest of the dry, hot landscape, this little oasis seemed very out of place. We reveled in it.

Emerging out of this small grove, we then started heading up and up over the hill. As we got further along and it began to get steeper, Rebecca began to hesitate. She was uncertain if her flip-flops would be able to handle the slippery slope back down and she of course didn’t want to fall. We knew we weren’t prepared to do a major hike in our chosen footwear, but we figured we’d go as far as we could. So we paused for a moment as she tested out the security of her footing beneath her.

In that moment, I looked up and saw something I will never forget. I turned to Rebecca and in response to her question about whether or not we should keep going, I said, “Look up and I think you have your answer. Let’s keep going.”

She looked up and saw what I saw. There was a man, with not one, but two prosthetic legs, walking carefully down the steep dirt trail, ensuring that he had his footing as he went. And if that isn’t incredible enough, not only did he have two prosthetic legs, he also had one prosthetic arm. And this man was hiking, by himself. Are you blown away yet? Because there’s more. Yes, more. On top of having three prosthetic limbs, this amazing human being was also carrying a mountain bike over his shoulder. This man (perhaps a veteran of war?), who through some unknown turn of events was left with only one natural limb, was spending the day hiking and mountain-biking. Rebecca and I were completely dumbfounded.

As the man (who was quite good-looking by the way- just sayin’!) walked by, we greeted him and asked him how his day was going. He returned our greeting with a friendly smile. We asked him how much farther it was to the top and he told us we were about 65% of the way. We wished him a beautiful day and kept on going. And as we continued up the hill, our hearts were blown wide open. We, both of us, were absolutely in awe of this beautiful spirit, this incredible being whose story we knew nothing about, but who clearly had the immeasurable strength to overcome so much adversity. And we stood in wonder of the resilience of the human spirit.

We got to the top of the crest and looked out at the breathtaking scenery: romantic, rolling hills colliding with the churning ocean, and a group of hawks soaring majestically above. I was filled with goose bumps. Rebecca and I looked at each other and we acknowledged the absolute gift with which we had just been blessed; the absolute wonder and testament to the triumphant nature of the human spirit. The two of us were overflowing with amazement and gratitude.

Tennessee Valley

In the end, I’d have to say I’m pretty happy that our camping trip got canceled because I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that encounter for the world. It was an experience by which I was deeply humbled, a gift for which I am truly grateful, and a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life.

And if ever you find yourself thinking that you are incapable of accomplishing or overcoming something? Think again.

“Although the world is full of suffering,
it is full also of the overcoming of it.”

~ Helen Keller

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Today is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States, a day of giving thanks and expressing gratitude for all of the gifts in each of our lives. Thanksgiving as a cultural holiday is all about turkeys and stuffing, pumpkin pies, laughing with family, watching football, playing board games…so many different ways for families to come together and share their joy with one another. For many families it also involves saying Grace at the dinner table.

I remember as a kid being very uncomfortable with this concept. I didn’t come from a particularly religious family, so for me saying Grace was synonymous with praying. It was something that religious families did, something that for me involved that awkward and elusive word “God.” It was simply something that was not part of my vocabulary and it was definitely something that felt a bit too ritualistic for my taste.

I have now realized that while saying Grace is a practice performed by many different religions and spiritual traditions all over the world, at its core the concept really has nothing to do with the institution of religion itself. Grace is simply about the attitude of being grateful, expressing joy for all of the beautiful things in your life. It is not about wishing for more, but instead it is about being grateful for exactly what you have, whatever or however little that is. And I have also realized that it is far more than just a mere ritual of words. The act of saying Grace, the proactive and conscious practice of gratitude has much, much more power than one might possibly imagine.

The Gratitude Tree by Nick Wormell

Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, has spent his whole adult life centered in and sharing the practice of gratitude and gratefulness. He explains gratitude as having two inter-related branches: one is gratefulness and the other is thanksgiving. He describes gratefulness using the image of a bowl, as a representation of life. As one has the experience of feeling so appreciative, so full of gratitude, their bowl gets filled to the brim, just to the point where it is almost overflowing. You’ve all felt this sensation at some point in your lives: When you are so grateful for something that has occurred to you, perhaps the news that you landed the dream job, perhaps a dear friend or family member giving birth to a healthy baby. Whatever the situation may be, you are so elated and bubbling over with joy that you feel the sensation of the bowl filling up with happiness and gratefulness.

As you focus on these jubilant life situations and wonderful emotions, as you feel the overwhelming sense of gratitude and appreciation, the bowl gets so full that it begins to overflow into the second branch of gratitude: thanksgiving. As a result of feeling the ecstasy of the absolute fullness of life, you now begin to attract beautiful things back into your life. As your own gratefulness overflows, thanksgiving brings ever more bounty into your life. And as you begin to become aware of and consciously focus on your feelings of gratitude, you notice that as they get more powerful and more a regular part of your life, so too does the flow of abundance into your life.

This awesome power of gratitude has become ever more evident to me as I’ve studied more and more about the power of the mind, the power of our thoughts to impact our surroundings and our experiences, the power of our emotions to attract beauty into our lives. As I wrote about recently in my post “The REAL Secret,” our thoughts do have power, both for good and bad. And if we can allow ourselves to live with conscious awareness of what we are thinking and feeling, and if we can harness our thoughts to focus on the beauty, to feel absolute joy and gratitude for any and all of the positive elements in our lives (regardless of what other negative elements may exist), magic will happen. By focusing on that for which we are grateful, by practicing gratitude every single day, by seeking out the beauty and the positivity in every waking moment, we can create our very own cornucopia of abundance.

Looking back on my awkward childhood relationship with the concept of saying Grace, I now look back and nod with understanding. I now get it. I understand why people say Grace and I fully appreciate how powerful a practice it actually is. And while I am still not a religious person and probably will not be holding hands around the Thanksgiving dinner table to say Grace, I realize that I don’t have to. I hold gratitude in my own heart, in my own way, every moment of every day. And my cup (or bowl) runneth over…

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I love Joseph Campbell. I think his writings and his philosophies were and continue to be brilliant and thought-provoking, and when I read his works it is clear to me that he was tapping into a deeper, ancient fountain of wisdom. “Follow Your Bliss” is one of his most famous statements. We all know what that means: follow what it is that brings you true joy, and you will find true happiness at the other end. While I agree with that in part, the problem is that we humans tend to take it too literally. What do I mean by that? Well, here’s the thing: if you are living a full life, there will be dozens if not tens of dozens of things (hobbies, activities, careers, etc) that bring you Bliss. So how do you know if you are following the right one? 

When I was a kid, like many little girls I dreamed of being a dancer. If I had followed that Bliss, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t have turned out very fruitful for me. But would it be because I didn’t try hard enough or that I didn’t set a strong enough intention and stick with it? Nope. Not at all. It would in fact be because I don’t believe I was good enough. I loved to dance, but truthfully I was only an average dancer. And as I watched the top students go on to be stars in the Nutcracker, I knew they had something that I didn’t. They were born with a talent that I knew I did not possess. Was I being too hard on myself and giving up too easily? Nope. Even as a child I had enough wisdom to know that not all dreams are meant for all people. Since moving to San Francisco, I’ve met a woman who is one of the soloist ballerinas for the San Francisco Ballet. When I watch this woman move, it is clear to me that she was born with a true gift: she was born with this special talent, but she was also born with the perfect stature and grace to be a ballerina. I was not. I believe this was her Calling. And I know that it was not mine.

Later on in life, in my late 20’s I found myself writing an extensive thesis to President Bush about all that was wrong with our foreign policy. Even as I wrote it, I found myself wondering “Wow, where is THIS coming from?” I was passionate about foreign affairs. So following that Bliss, I quit my job in Boston and moved to Washington, DC where I enrolled in a Master’s program in International Affairs at George Washington University. I was going to solve the Middle East Crisis, that was my goal. I was following my passion, my Bliss, so surely I was on the correct track. Right? Wrong. It didn’t take me more than one semester in Washington, DC to realize that I was NOT a bureaucrat, that the life of a government employee would not in fact bring me Bliss, that it would instead bring me soul-numbing frustration. So I left graduate school and gave up on that dream and went on to another. One could read that and tell me that I had simply quit, that I had given up. But here’s where they’d be wrong: one major mistake that we make as stubborn human beings is not knowing WHEN to give up, when to change gears. I did not quit. I simply was aware of the sign posts, and when the sign said “turn here” I paid attention and turned instead of wasting more time on what I knew was the wrong path. I had followed Bliss, but it was the wrong Bliss.

That experience of dropping out of graduate school was a perfect example of trial and error and this is what I think is so important with helping us to truly find the Bliss that we are meant to find. Many of the things that we LOVE to do, that truly bring us Bliss, are not in fact our true Calling and would actually be better simply as hobbies. This is what I realized about foreign affairs. I realized that I could simply read The Economist weekly and engage in intellectual debates with my like-minded friends. But it didn’t have to be my career, my livelihood. It could instead simply be a hobby. Years prior when I had been a Zoology major and was determined to fulfill my childhood dream of going to Africa to save all of the endangered species, I was disappointed to find myself earning C’s and D’s in the challenging science classes: chemistry, physics, etc. This brought me the same realization. I could love animals, and I could volunteer my time and donate money to animal charities (which I do), but it did not need to be my career. I knew that that path was met with too much challenge for it to be my true Bliss.

As we are such a stubborn race, so many of us foolishly cling to false ideas of what we think is our Bliss, and instead we lose the opportunity to be open to something that we never might have imagined. Several days ago someone told me that they had followed their Bliss to be a musician, but that it had only led to a life of pain. I would then argue that that was the wrong Bliss, and not the one that was truly that person’s Calling. When you’ve found your true Calling, it is true that the Universe conspires to help you: doors that were previously shut tight suddenly blow open for you, the right people show up into your life to help you at exactly the right moment, and magic happens. I know this because this has happened to me since I started writing. And here’s the beauty in this statement: I never in my life wanted to be a writer. Looking back, it would never have been my Bliss. So how can I then say that I support the idea, even somewhat of “Follow Your Bliss“. Because writing actually IS my Bliss, I just hadn’t yet discovered it. There was a whole path out there that I never would have considered for myself, one that I never would have imagined would bring me Bliss. So how could I have found it? I couldn’t have. I had to be OPEN to IT finding me. And once it did, that’s when I knew this was a Bliss I could follow. And just as with the trial and error that I had tried previously, I tried this path. And that’s when the doors started blowing wide open.

Peter Tileston, my high school band director

Life is not meant to be difficult, and so often we waste so much time swimming upstream, and we fail to recognize that the fact that we are being met with nothing but obstacle, challenge and uphill battles is actually the Universe trying to hit us over the head and tell us that we are on the WRONG path. And if we would just let go, and let the current take us downstream, we would find that life can be so much easier, and beauty that we never would have imagined will come to us. So many of us are clinging to ideas that we THINK are right, but we are too afraid to let go and surrender to the idea that there may be something entirely different meant for us. What about that person who had followed their Bliss into a life of pain as a musician? Perhaps, their TRUE Bliss would have been not in being a performing musician, but rather as a teacher, bringing the magic of music to others? I was blessed with an incredible music teacher and band director in high school. This man had gone to school for music and I’m sure at one time or another thought that his Bliss was to be a professional musician. But I can tell you that from the 1,000s of students lives he has impacted, and the beautiful and life-changing lessons that he instilled in all of us, that this man had found his Calling as a teacher.

What about the person who is clinging to the idea that they are meant to be an artist, they are trying to follow their Bliss, but instead it has led to a life of struggle and destitution? That is not true Bliss. Perhaps if this person opened themselves up to other ideas, they might find their true magic in doing art therapy with disabled children. Perhaps the person who is certain that they are supposed to be a famous, published author, is actually instead meant to be the one-of-a-kind, special teacher who nurtures and mentors the NEXT Nobel Laureate. Or perhaps it’s something entirely different than what we want and imagine for ourselves. Perhaps the person who insists that their Bliss is to be a filmmaker is actually meant to be an internationally-renowned Yoga teacher? This one is actually a real-life example of which I just learned. When I was living in Los Angeles, one of my earliest yoga teachers who inspired me onto the path of yoga was this fabulous teacher named Tara Judelle. She is an internationally-renowned Anusara yoga teacher who travels the world leading workshops and now lives in Bali teaching yoga in paradise. I did not know this about Tara, but just the other day she posted this message: “9/11 marks the 10 year anniversary of my decision to stop making films and start making change as a yoga facilitator- be the change.” I was shocked because I had never known that she had previously been a filmmaker. All I knew of her was that she made magic on the mat as a yoga teacher. It is clear to me now that by releasing her career as a filmmaker, she was able to find what I believe is her true Bliss, her true Calling: to be a soulful, beautifully impactful yoga teacher who spreads light, and Bliss, all around the world.

Tara Judelle

So how do you find YOUR Bliss? Trial and error. Try lots of different things, explore all of the different activities and adventures that bring you Bliss. BE OPEN: Be open to the idea that any one of those examples of Bliss may in fact be better meant as a hobby and not actually as your Calling. BE ATTENTIVE: If life is too difficult and wrought with challenge, and is not simply flowing, the Universe is trying to tell you something. Listen. BE FLEXIBLE: When you get these blaring sign-posts from the Universe be willing to change gears, be willing to give up what you are doing and turn to the right and try something else. Be like the water and go with the flow. BE BRAVE: Be willing to try something completely new, something you never would have imagined. You just never know what Calling may find YOU.

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Today I am 36 years old. I am single, childless, and now… jobless. This was not the plan.

Now, if you think you know where this story is going, you are probably wrong. This is not a sob-story about how my life did not turn out as I had planned. Quite the contrary.

From the time we are children, we are taught to prepare and to plan. We are taught to get good grades so that we can go to college, and get a good job. We are taught that we are supposed to get married, settle down and raise a family. Well that was certainly my plan. When I was 17 my high school Spanish teacher asked us to write an essay about where we thought we would be in 10 years. Looking back at this essay is one of my favorite things to do to this day. As my 17 year old self, I described how at age 27 I would be living on a farm in Vermont, with 3 kids and 2 dogs. Now anyone that knows me well is surely laughing out loud right now. For one, I am so not a dog person! Second, the thought of living outside of an energized, bustling city makes me want to curl up and die! But of course at age 17, I had such a narrow perspective on the world. What I wrote in that essay was all that I could possibly imagine from my limited experience.

Well, thank goodness life does not go as we plan. Since I wrote that essay, I have lived in a foreign country, I have lived in 4 different cities in the US, I have traveled to 4 continents and 18 countries. I have loved furiously and passionately, and I have lost, to the most painful depths of my soul. I have laughed and cried feverish tears of joy. I have experienced love, in its purest form, and I have experienced pain and betrayal in its ugliest form. And I have learned more hard lessons than I can count. But most importantly, I have lived. And not passively. I have experienced every emotion to its extreme high and low. I have drunk life and have let it fill up every ounce of my being.

So this all sounds great, right? Well, yes, but I’ll be honest; As wonderful as all of that sounds, when I found myself in my early-30s, and heard the loud ticking of my biological clock, it was very painful to watch friend after friend getting married and having children. After all, I’d always known that I wanted children, that was one thing that had never changed and that I had never questioned. Doctor after doctor kept asking me, “Do you plan to have children? If so, you should get started.” “Gee, thanks for the revelation.”, I would think to myself, “Let me just snap my fingers and make that happen.”

For the last few years I have been wrestling with these demons, feeling sad that it was apparently not in my cards to have this lovely life of marriage and family that I had dreamed of all of my life, and saw so many friends enjoying. The grass looked greener elsewhere.

Well, as many of you already know, I have lived through a “dark night of the soul” during these years. And the beautiful thing about living through such a period, is that if you are strong enough, brave enough to trust and let go, you will learn some profound universal secrets. One of those secrets is that try as we might to plan our lives, it will inevitably not go as we plan. And the sooner that we let go of our life “plan”, and the sooner we surrender to the Universe, the sooner it will all fall into place.

Over the past few years, I have gotten so good at the practice of letting go and each time I have truly managed to surrender myself to the invisible forces, I have experienced nothing but awe and magic. I have also learned that because our own view is so myopic, we very rarely have the capacity to even imagine what the Universe can create for us. So we can fret and toil and plan all we like, but at the end of the day, we may be defeating ourselves, because the Universe may have something so much more spectacular in mind. And this is what I have realized.

I am 36 years old. I am single, childless and jobless. And I am happy. I am no longer worried about the biological clock, nor fretting about if I will find my true love. Instead, I have surrendered, and I am filled with excitement and anticipation about what the Universe has in store for me. For I am looking at the grass over there, and I have to say, it’s pretty damn green over here.

Photo by Robert Michie, http://www.robertmichie.com

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As previously featured on http://bayshakti.com/

In 2007 a profound betrayal and subsequent loss of my best friend plunged me into the darkest years of my life. Despite my anguish, I somehow mustered up the strength to make the bold (or arguably stupid!) decision of moving across country to Los Angeles, in part to fight for love, only to find myself rejected and abandoned, jobless, friendless, and completely alone. The years that followed can only adequately be described as a truly “dark night of the soul”.

After almost a year of endless tears, sleepless nights and an inability to eat much of substance, almost as an act of desperation, I dragged myself into the neighborhood yoga studio. I had actually been looking for a pilates studio since yoga had always aggravated my rotator cuff in the past, but in a twist of magical synchronicity, the only studio I could find that was walking distance from my apartment was City Yoga, an Anusara yoga studio. “What on earth is Anusara?”, I thought to myself. I’d never heard of it, but decided to give it a try anyway.

That step was the beginning of what would metaphorically save my life. For most of 2008, the only thing that got me out of bed in the morning, was the yoga. The people in the studio were so at peace, so Zen, so warm and loving…but I was not. I was drowning in pain and anguish, and as I went through the motions of the different yoga poses, often on the verge of bursting into tears, I found myself wondering if my teachers could sense my sadness. Every day that I went to the yoga studio was an effort. I had to drag myself out of my apartment and force myself into class, despite my incessant feelings of hopelessness.

Then one day, something inside of me started to shift. While I still felt intense grief on the surface, deep inside of me a profound feeling of love was starting to stir. So I kept on going to the yoga. With each class, the powerful feelings that surged within me began to rise further up to the surface, beginning to slowly, but surely push the suffering away. And I began to notice that when we’d chant Om and the Anusara invocation, that my body and spirit would hum. I immediately recognized the value and power of sound mixed with silence and so I began my own meditation practice to supplement the yoga. Further emboldened by the warm and loving energy of the Anusara Kula, I began to soak up the vibrations during our group chanting, letting it wash over me.

I continued to go to yoga, and as many of my fellow Anusara yogis can attest themselves, magic began to unfold. I began to feel strong, full of light, and I began to have a more powerful and profound capacity for love than I’d ever felt before; a type of universal love that I find myself at a loss to explain to people outside of the yoga community. I would leave the studio feeling complete Bliss and as light as air. And as I continued to do the difficult personal work that is both necessary and ultimately enlightening, when one walks through a “dark night of the soul”, I began to feel that I embodied the energy of the Phoenix rising from the ashes. It was palpable. And as is one of the main intentions of Anusara, I knew that I was stepping into the flow of Grace.

Magical things began to happen. I began receiving psychic messages and I received a very powerful epiphany which revealed to me a major insight as to my life’s purpose on this earth. And so I continued to go to yoga. Grace continued to flow and the different aspects of my life all began to align in synchronistic perfection, culminating into the move to my new life in San Francisco. Since that time I have expanded my circle to become part of the wonderful San Francisco Anusara Kula, and with the help and guidance of my wonderful teachers, I continue to expand my awareness and my heart.

In the Anusara I have discovered a “magic bullet”. I now know that no matter what life throws at me, no matter how difficult are the challenges that present themselves, no matter how tragic or debilitating, that I can find peace, strength, harmony and ultimately bliss, through Anusara. Armed with that knowledge, I have risen from the ashes and fly boldly into 2011.

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