Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring has sprung

The first day of spring is one of my favorite days of the year. Every season is my favorite until the next season comes, but I love watching the days lengthen and the feeling that the world is waking up from its winter slumbers. Today I feel such deep gratitude for the path I find myself on, for the blossoming that is taking place inside of me, for the beauty that is showing up in my life and the world around me. There is an incredibly bubbling of ideas and opportunities happening for me right now, which just feels so timely with the advent of spring. I want to celebrate, to dance and sing, to be silly and playful and, well, me--yet another thing to be grateful for!

While working on a project this morning, I stumbled across some fun blog posts talking about spring. I had lots of fun and learned so much from some of the posts I found that I wanted to share them with you. Consider this Jenn's ode to spring, ending with a lovely poem from the wonderful Risking Everything collection.

For anyone who is curious about how the vernal equinox works and why we are celebrating the first day of spring on March 20th this year, I give you the farmers' almanac:

For the Irish, spring began over six weeks ago:

Spring on the farm means a new season of growing potential:

I loved this celebration of rebirth and renewal by a self-described eclectic Wiccan. Now where'd I put that Chia Pet?

Curious about what happened on this day in history? And hey, happy anniversary, Legoland!

Welcoming spring means celebrating a happy new years for the Persians:

And finally, some lovely photography celebrating spring and the Persian new year:

i thank You
by e.e. cummings

i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday;this is the birth
day of life and love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Photo: "Believe in the Spring!" originally uploaded by Hamed Saber

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Count Your Money

I did my taxes today. It was an interesting experience in staying present, in accepting the situation without negativity or fear. I'd been expecting a sizable refund since I didn't work in the fourth quarter last year, but it turned out we owe money because not enough was being withheld from my husband's checks. I turned to my book The Wealthy Spirit for a little inspiration and was reminded of a great budgeting method Chellie Campbell includes. I put together my own versions of the Low, Medium, and High budgets she describes and I already feel better about my finances. I'd like to share her wisdom with you here today--maybe you'll find it as useful as I did!

Count Your Money
Day 18 of The Wealthy Spirit by Chellie Campbell

"A man who both spends and saves money is the happiest man, because he has both enjoyments."
~Samuel Johnson

To achieve success, you must think positive and send out ships. But if you want to achieve financial success, you have to add the third step: count your money. Keeping track of how much you're making, how much you're spending, and how much you're saving will tell you how effectively you're doing the first two steps. In other words, budget.

I suggest that everyone should have not just one, but three budgets, all with complicated names: Low, Medium, and High. You start with Medium Budget, which is the average income and expenses that you have right now. Then you create Low Budget--this is your bare-bones plan to reduce expenses if you have an unexpected financial problem such as a bill or reduction in income. Then create a High Budget--this is your goal budget, how you're going to spend the money you plan to make in the future. If you don't have a plan for how you are going to spend and save it, you won't have a reason to make it, or if you do, you might fritter it away on low priority items. These flex-budgets will give you a written plan to follow, no matter what happens with your money. And each budget is only for one month.

People hate budgeting because they're afraid of Low Budget. They think that's the only budget there is and that they'll be stuck with it forever. Who'd want that? No wonder people don't do budgets. But Low Budget is never forever, it's just for now. Anyone can go on Low Budget for a month! And when you're on it, stay light-hearted about it and double up on your prosperity affirmations. Make it a game! See how much money you can avoid spending each day. Look for opportunities to trade or barter services. Clean out your home and have a garage sale. What work can you do part-time that would also bring in extra cash? What can you fix instead of buying new? Create new outfits to wear by mixing and matching separates in new ways. And each day you succeed in conserving your cash with creative ideas, congratulate yourself on your wisdom and money mastery.

The real fun is creating High Budget. This is your Prosperity Plan. Spend some time each day looking at it and feeling rich. What do you want to have and do when you're on High Budget? Go shopping and price-compare for the best values. (Just because you have a lot of money doesn't mean you have to spend it foolishly.) Get pictures and brochures of the things you really want and put them on your wall. Start a special savings plan for major purchases. Be specific: if you want a new car, what make, model, and color is it? What features and options does it have? Smile and feel the pleasure now as if you already owned it. Affirm your ability to create this abundance in your life. It won't be long before it shows up!

Today's Affirmation: "I spend money wisely and happily, blessing myself and others."

Photo: "money roll," originally uploaded by zack Mccarthy

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A New Earth -- The Core of Ego

Jenn's thoughts and learnings from the third week of A New Earth: The Oprah Web Event.

Awareness is the power that is concealed within the present moment. . . . The ultimate purpose of human existence, which is to say, your purpose, is to bring that power into this world.
~Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

Another great week with the A New Earth web event based, of course, on another great chapter of the book A New Earth. I'm having a lot of fun with this process, especially knowing how widespread it is. Crossing the street to go to the theatre Sunday night, I overheard two women talking about the book and the webinars, women who probably wouldn't have come to this experience without Oprah's help. It totally feels like Oprah is inciting a revolution of consciousness, and I, for one, am happy to be a part of it!

As always, there is nothing new under the sun--Eckhart is simply providing a new perspective on spiritual teachings that have been available to us for millenia. There's just something about the way he does it, about his personal presence and his interplay with Oprah, that I'm finding truly inspirational and entirely practicable. I love taking this stuff out into the world each day and applying it in new ways and seeing what happens. Here are a few of the highlights from this week's class that I'm looking forward to playing with this week:

* Your true power lies in being yourself. This was the strongest message for me this week, even though it was a relatively small part of the class. Perhaps because someone like Oprah is involved in this process, the power of this concept becomes larger than life. As Oprah herself said, and Eckhart confirmed as well, Oprah's success has essentially been because of her ability to be herself on television. She spoke of her early career as an anchorwoman and how she would put on a persona when she was behind the desk, and how that broke down for her and she learned to be herself. Her show reaches so many viewers because people see her as genuine, as authentic, as someone they can relate to and talk to themselves. It calls to mind the idea that August Gold and so many others have talked about in terms of there being a place for you in this world and you are the only person who can fill it. You are unique, and when you show up fully as yourself, it's as if the universe recognizes an alignment and works to empower it even further.

* Change begins with you. There is only one person you can directly change and that is yourself. As much as we do not want those close to us to suffer, as much as we want to be able to help raise them out of their suffering, ultimately that responsibility is theirs. That's not to say that you cannot be there for them, support them, provide assistance to them, however the only person you can change in this situation is you. The best thing you can do for yourself, and ultimately for anyone, is to bring yourself into a place of awareness, of presence. Being present with your loved one, not wanting anything for them, just being conscious when you're with them, gives them a space in which they might be able to begin to heal. If you find your thoughts slipping into worry regularly, take time to get out of your mind and go into your body, feeling its aliveness, several times throughout the day. Worry itself is a condition of the ego--what is worry but thoughts chasing themselves around in a circle? It serves no purpose other than to pull you into the ego and keep you trapped in a place where it is difficult to stay present. Worry pretends to be necessary, but it doesn't actually have a useful purpose--becoming aware of this will help you to step back, detach from the worry, and help you to find the present moment, the only moment, the now.

* Complaining does not serve a purpose. Complaining, like worry, has no real purpose. It's a way of getting stuck in something that has happened in the past, but nothing comes of it. Complaining isn't usually intended to help correct a situation--it is more often a side effect of taking things personally and is tied up in the need to be right and make someone else wrong. When you bring someone else into the complaining, it's the ego's way of seeking validation and strengthening your position. Now, this does not mean that you cannot take action to bring about change in a situation. Eckhart's example from the second chapter was about what happens when the soup you ordered is served cold. If you pitch a fit and complain to your dinner companions and yell at the waiter making him wrong, then the ego has taken over. However, if you take the ego out of it, you can simply state what the situation is without negativity. You aren't making the waiter wrong, your ego is not invested in the outcome, you are just looking to rectify the situation and have a delicious meal. When your goal is to resolve a situation without blame, often things go much more smoothly--as the other people involved aren't being made to feel wrong, they aren't as likely to feel the need to make you wrong, reducing or eliminating the conflict.

* Consume mindfully. Someone called in about being aware of things she shouldn't do and doing them anyway, for example eating French fries or drinking too much. Eckhart spoke about how the ego lives in a constant state of "not enough," so it is always seeking things to fill itself up, like food or alcohol or things. The problem isn't the the consumption itself--the problem is in the overconsumption, going along with the ego's "more, more, more!" mentality. So don't ban yourself from eating French fries or drinking wine or having dessert, but bring mindfulness, awareness, consciousness into your consumption. When eating French fries, eat each one consciously, enjoying it, savoring every bite. Pay attention to your body as you go. It is likely that after a few French fries, your body will send signals letting you know it doesn't need any more, whether it's that you're not hungry any longer or they just aren't as pleasurable as they were when you started. The goal is to not pass this point from enjoyment into eating the French fries because they're there or because you're sad or whatnot. You can apply this to anything. When you're drinking a glass of wine, enjoy each sip until you reach the place where you've had enough. Savor each bite of tiramisu, but put your fork down after the last bite that truly feels pleasurable. The flavor and enjoyment is usually in the first couple of bites of anything. If you are truly present and listen to your body, you won't feel the need to overdo.

As always, it's about bringing more awareness into your daily life. This moment is the only one that is real, so notice it, experience it, be truly aware of it, then let it go and move on to the next one. It is literally a life-changing process, allowing you to awaken to your own magnificence. Have a little fun with it, and let me know how it goes! Namaste.

Photo: "Hypericum Chinense - Core," originally uploaded by Jun

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Monday, March 17, 2008

Hoover, we'll miss you

There is nothing quite like losing a pet. They are part of your family, offering unconditional love and showing you a way of life that is playful and carefree. They bring so much joy into our lives that we want them to live forever. Even after 13 years, I'm still grieving the loss of Dandelion, who was my best friend growing up, and I have occasional flutters of pre-grief for my girls, Gryphon and Morgan, and the other cats in my family, even though they should all have long lives still ahead of them.

Nothing quite prepared me for the news I got this morning that my grandparents' cat, Hoover, didn't make it through the night last night. I still think of him as an overgrown kitten--he was only a couple of years old and so feisty, so full of vim and vigor. My cousin had adopted him originally, and when work sent him to Hong Kong for a few months, Hoover got to have an extended vacation at Grandmama and Granddaddy's house. He became a member of the family during those months and never left. He loved the big windows in the dining room and living room--about as close to watching TV as kitties get--and spent much of his time up on his cat tree observing his domain. Although mostly he wanted to get outside and show those birds and squirrels who was the boss, he loved to watch them through the glass and fantasize...

Hoover was a playful kitty, and nothing that moved was safe. He slept with me the last time I was visiting, which was great for the first few hours. Unfortunately, my feet move when I sleep and Hoover just couldn't resist attacking them in the night. I also returned home with my hands a little worse for wear--Hoover loved to nibble on me when I played with him, or pet him, or tried to give him treats, or really do anything in his general direction. But Hoover was also a loving kitty, with a big rumbling purr and rough tongue that he used liberally to give himself (and me) baths.

While Hoover was never a lap cat, he was still a joy to have around. I know I will miss seeing him perched in the window the next time I get to visit my family in Georgia. And I know Grandmama and Granddaddy will miss him each and every day. Hoover, we are so glad for the joy you brought into our lives the past couple of years. We'll be thinking of you in kitty heaven, where I'm sure you're finally getting to play with those birds live and in person. Namaste.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Kabir quote

Look at you, you madman, screaming you are thirsty and are dying in a desert when all around you there is nothing but water!

Breathing in, breathing out

We could say that meditation doesn't have a reason or doesn't have a purpose. In this respect it's unlike almost all other things we do except perhaps making music and dancing. When we make music we don't do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment. ~Alan Watts

Hanging out with a good friend last week, she mentioned how much trouble she's been having relaxing during acupuncture. Her mind just keeps working, her thoughts keep coming up one after another such that she has trouble relaxing. I suspect we can all relate to this, a mind that doesn't slow down enough for us to relax. Of course, the more we try to make our thoughts dissipate, the more our thoughts crowd in. It's akin to the pink elephant experiment--when you're told not to think about a pink elephant, what's the first thing that happens? A pink elephant pops into your head. When you try not to think, it's like your mind is drowning in thoughts, they just keep flooding in and you can't escape them.

Meditation is the best way I know of to train your mind. When you first begin to practice, your thoughts may merely laugh at your attempts to slow them and keep on flowing, keep attempting to distract you. The more your practice, the more you build your "meditation muscle," the more you can use your meditation to slow down the flow. Actually, it isn't likely that your thoughts are really going away--what's more likely is that you're sinking deeper into depths of your mind where stillness resides. Imagine the disturbance of the water on the surface of a pond, how there are ripples and waves, leaves floating on it, birds taking their baths, and animals quenching their thirst. There's all this activity on the surface, however if you were able to get below the surface into the depths, you would find quiet, stillness, peace. That's the place meditation brings you in your mind--but like anything else in life, it takes training. So here are a few tips and exercises that you might find useful as you are getting started with meditation.

* There's no one right way to meditate. Now, I know people who will definitely disagree with me on this, but I come from the school of thought that says meditation is a personal experience. If you're worried about not being able to do it right or even wondering what "right" really is, don't. Relax, let go of all notions of "should," and you're already in a much better frame of mind to become a successful meditator. The goal is to practice being still in whatever ways work best for you. I've got a few suggestions that I've found useful to get you started, but I would recommend being open to any new ideas you have, books that you discover, people who you run into along the way. Even after you've found methods that work for you, exposure to new methods can help to round out your practice.

* Set your time in advance. Whether you choose to listen to music or simply to focus on your breath, you should know in advance how long you are going to sit. Especially when you are just learning meditation, you will want some sort of timer to help you know when your time is up. The mind plays tricks on you and in the beginning you will likely think you've been sitting there forever even if it's only been a few minutes. Take the wondering associated with it out of the equation by setting a timer for yourself or by choosing a guided meditation or song selection that last for the amount of time you are planning to meditate for. Start with something that feels manageable, like five minutes, and work your way up. My goal is to sit for 30 minutes each day, but I have a minimum I've set for myself of 15 minutes. Find something that feels good to you, something you feel like you can commit to, and make the time to do it daily.

* Breathing. One technique that works for me and can be done anytime, anywhere is to focus on your breath. Even if you only have five minutes in the morning, before a meeting, or between classes, you can find a place to sit, close your eyes, and pay attention to your breathing. Take a few deep breaths to start and relax your shoulders, your body. As you breathe in through your nose, feel the air as it crosses your nostrils. As you breathe out through your mouth, feel the air as it crosses your lips. Having that one thing to focus on might be enough for you, or you might want to repeat "Breathing in, breathing out" or even just "In, out" in your mind. If you find your attention wanders, don't worry about it or get frustrated with yourself, simply bring your attention back to your breath.

* Watch your thoughts. Another process that might work for you is to watch your thoughts. Take a step back into your awareness, become the observer, the one who is aware of the thinker. As thoughts come into your mind, don't react to them or create further thoughts around them. Just watch them, notice them, and let them go. The idea here is to practice non-judgment, to practice not following where the thoughts lead. You will always have thoughts, but you don't need to let them be in control.

* Focus on a mantra. While a mantra can be used at any point in the day to help bring your awareness back into the present moment, it can also be used to help focus your meditation. If you're interested in exploring this idea further, you might find Eknath Easwaran's book Meditation useful. While not exactly a mantra, his method of meditation is to drop the words from a prayer or spiritual poetry into your mind one at a time, almost like they are prayer beads. Elizabeth Gilbert also talks about the use of mantra in meditation in her book Eat, Pray, Love. The one that ended up working for her was Ham-sa, a Sanskrit word meaning "I Am That." Or you might try something like one of the guided meditations in Thich Nhat Hanh's The Blooming of a Lotus. The first one has always been my favorite:

1. Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.

2. Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment.
Breathing out, I know it is a wonderful moment.

The idea here is to give yourself words for your mind to play with, but not to go along with them. So the words fall through your mind and you let them fall, you do not follow where they go. If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to the mantra. If you're using a longer one, you can either repeat the line you were just on or start from the beginning.

* Listen to music or chants. When I first learned to meditate, I was taught a relatively strict way. And I struggled, and struggled, and struggled. My body would itch, my thoughts would wander constantly, I would think that my timer somehow hadn't been set properly and I'd sneak a peak at the clock to see if I'd really been sitting for as long as it felt like. My mind and ego won that battle more often than not, and I'd either get up before my time was up or I'd be antsy the whole time. It was a frustrating process, and as much as I knew the mind could play tricks on you, I couldn't seem to get over the idea that I was just awful at meditating, that somehow something was wrong with me. At what point did this frustration shift into the love affair with meditation that I have now? When I added listening to meditation music to the breathing technique mentioned above. For me, listening to something solved the superficial issues I was having and let me dip into the deeper parts of the well. The music gave the top layers of my mind something to listen to, the fact that the track was timed meant that if it was still playing I was still meditating, and a sense of peace developed in me that had been missing for over a decade in my meditation practice. Does that mean my thoughts never wander? No. But it means I'm operating from a place of peace and tolerance that enables me to be gentle, to shift my focus back on to my breath, to use the discipline that meditation has taught me. You can find all sorts of great meditation music online, in music stores, and on iTunes. The gong music on Music for Deep Meditation: Tibetan Singing Bowl is a great choice, although it may be long for beginners. However, any instrumental or new age music can be used. If you don't have any in your collection, Comcast's digital radio has a great channel called Soundscapes, and Narada has several collections available that I would recommend as good introductions to the genre.

* Use guided meditations. Many people I have known find guided meditations a useful place to begin. In my early days of meditating I found that they gave my mind too much to do, which made the wanderings more pronounced, but now that my meditation practice has developed I've found a few that bring me to a new level of awareness, including my current favorite, Kelly Howell's Awakening Kundalini. Check your local metaphysical bookstore--many of the authors writing today have come out with meditation CDs including Wayne Dyer, Joan Borysenko, and Louise Hay. Or, if you have a handheld recorder you can record your own voice taking you through a guided meditation as well.

* Meditate in a group. Group meditation is an excellent way to get started, or to continue your meditation practice. Find a class or meditation group near you--whether you begin attending regularly or just drop in occasionally, you will definite learn to feel the difference between meditating alone and in a group. Friday night I went to a talk at East-West, a local metaphysical bookstore, and at the end of one of the guided meditations the speaker commented on the power of the energy in the room. Having experienced meditators present had helped to elevate everyone there, enabling even beginning meditators to experience much deeper meditations than they would have had on their own. Plus, you will gain exposure to new meditation techniques that you may choose to incorporate into your personal meditations moving forward.

Whatever you choose to do to get started, remember to be gentle with yourself. The habit of a lifetime is not going to disappear in five minutes. However it will begin to slow down a little bit with each successive five minutes, ultimately reaching a place where you begin to see its results, to appreciate the shift that is taking place. Some day, whether it's six months from now or six years from now or even 16 years from now, you will be able to look back on this beginning and smile. So go ahead, start today. Take five minutes right now to relax, let go, and use one of these techniques to begin your meditation journey. The sooner you begin, the sooner you will reap the benefits. Namaste.

Photo: "Meditation Center," originally posted by Linda N.

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