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Purpose And The Art Of Fearlessness

5 Feb

I woke up this morning full of fear.

Fear of what happens next, of where I’m going, of how little control I have over so many things. In my meditation today, I noticed I’m not only afraid of what might happen, but also of what might not. For the first time in a long time, I emerged from my morning sit feeling more anxious than I went into it.

I read an old piece I had written about bravery and still felt stopped. Feel the fear and do it anyway? Not today.

Rather than rush headlong into the day’s to-do list, I headed to Pete Guinosso’s Candlelight Flow class to try and give my anxiety some space to move and sweat.

At the opening of the class, Pete mentioned that today is civil rights activist Rosa Park’s birthday, which is celebrated in California as Rosa Parks Day. And he read us this quote:

Rosa Parks

As I moved through my sweaty vinyasa, twisting, balancing, I noticed how my movements had purpose. I have been practicing asana for a long time and my body knows what to do. Pete says “down dog” and without needing to think, I can move into that shape.

I know what must be done and I do it.

As we built and opened through the class, I worked through little difficulties: warming the hamstrings, noticing my resistance to one more strong abdominal hold, balancing in ardha chandrasana (half moon). These poses challenge me, but they’re possible. A little effort and I can get there.

We move into parivritta trikonasana (revolved triangle) and I remember how difficult I used to find this pose. As a new yoga teacher I was frightened to teach it,  because it required so much concentration to stay balanced myself, let alone balance and talk students through it. Almost nine years later, it’s effortless, to do and to teach.

I think I can

Our peak pose this morning was parvritta ardha chandrasana (revolved half moon). Already sweaty with exertion, I pushed myself into it. I felt that moment of wobble as I moved my eyes skyward, noticed the attention that was required to lift, extend and open. It really took something to hold the pose today. I could feel my muscles straining, my heartbeat in my ears, my breath working hard to be smooth.

But as I worked into one side and then the other, I was filled with a sense of achievement. It was hard and I did it. I didn’t fall. I kept breathing. I overcame.

I look at my life and I see how easy it would be to just keep doing the poses I know: to do things I find effortless and easy. There is a safety in doing what is right in front of you; of taking the options that are being offered. But I know choosing those options doesn’t bring as much growth. Life can be simpler, but it’s not as expansive.

I don’t want to be safe. I want to be BRILLIANT.

I want to inspire and be inspired. I want to have the kind of life that lives up to MY expectations, to do things that make ME proud. To be pulled into every day with purpose and passion.

Living from that space, there’s no room for fear.

Life a daring adventure

A New Year

3 Jan

Oh, 2014.

Last year was about risk for me. Risking my heart, my business, my relationships.

There was a moment during the retreat in Thailand that I stopped and looked around at the glowing faces of my students as they danced around the room, embracing each other, revelling in the week they had shared, and I felt possibly the greatest happiness I had ever known. First: I had caused that! I had so much pride that it had come together, that it was worth all the work and hours and preparation.

Shiny People

Mostly, I felt such a profound gratitude that I was able to share myself with these people and have it land with them in a way that made a difference in their lives. Doing this work has become about what I can give away, and it has been the most rewarding experience of my life.

And then I decided to move to the big smoke.

“Why don’t you stay in the wilderness?  Because that isn’t where it is at; it’s back in the city, back in downtown St. Louis, back in Los Angeles.  The final test is whether your experience of the sacred in nature enables you to cope more effectively with the problems of people.  If it does not enable you to cope more effectively with the problems – and sometimes it doesn’t, it sometimes sucks you right out into the wilderness and you stay there the rest of your Life – then when that happens, by my scale of value; it’s failed.  You go to nature for an experience of the sacred…to re-establish your contact with the core of things, where it’s really at, in order to enable you to come back to the world of people and operate more effectively.  Seek ye first the kingdom of nature, that the kingdom of people might be realized.”  
-Willi Unsoeld

I’m so excited about the possibilities of bringing this work to city life. It’s one thing for me to be balanced and zen in the jungle in Bali, on a beach in Thailand or Mexico. It’s quite another to bring it into fluorescent lit office buildings, to stressed workers, glued to phones and computers, panicking about mortgages, obsessed with having the latest products or thinking that life can never be any other way.

But how can I operate in that world and not suffer from the same malaise?

Be Yourself
My transition to San Francisco has plugged me back into the matrix, the perfect way for me to better understand and empathize with the people I am teaching. Yet I am also experiencing a world where kindness doesn’t always feel like the best answer; where rampant honesty is not always welcomed; where bringing your heart fully can mean being battered and bruised.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him.”
– Mahatma Ghandi

Is it naive to think I can “be the change I want to see in the world”?

I know when I show up with a full heart, good intentions and an earnest approach, my life feels more full, I expect the best in people and I feel more alive. Seeing the glass half full makes me happy.

But it’s also teaching me that bringing that energy is not always the best path. Sometimes, what’s needed is both a soft heart and a sharp elbow.

The Bhagavad Gita talks about ten Yamas, what we sometimes call the Yogi Commandments for ethical living. Dhŗiti, the sixth of these, has been translated as “to act with determination”, “patience” and “perseverance”. I love to describe it as “steadfastness”. You can read more about this tenet here, but at its core, practicing Dhŗiti, you “succeed in every undertaking by having a clear purpose, a wise plan, persistence and push.”

Smooth sea Skilled Sailor

“A ship that can endure and persevere on its course even when tossed about on the waves of a turbulent sea.” – Gurudeva

 

Sometimes, life here feels impossibly difficult. I’ve stood in front of an entire aisle of unknown brands of toilet paper and felt overwhelmed. Negotiations feel unkind. Showing too much of yourself, or admitting weakness might not be admired. Sometimes it feels like the work I’ve done to become more vulnerable and to wear my heart on my sleeve is a distinct disadvantage.

And yet, my students and clients seek that same openness. They are desperately looking for connection and a way to safely express a more vulnerable heart.

Maybe, what’s actually needed is more conviction to inhabit that space.

vulnerability

So with that, I declare 2015 to be a year of courage, growth and determination. 

I will bring my heart to every aspect of my life, even though I’m scared to do it. I will fail and get back up again. Reconnect with nature and myself. Be big and bold and vulnerable.
And practice, practice, practice, with ferocity. For all is coming.

Practice all is coming

Happy Birthday, Amy Poehler!

17 Sep

Amy Poehler Do ThingsAmy Poehler is such a source of inspiration to me.

Aside from being funny, quirky and super smart, (and creating one of my all time favourite TV characters, Leslie Knope) I feel like she encourages other women to the same level of empowerment. Oh, that we could all lift the others around us without fear that it comes at our own expense.

Here’s to another year of kicking ass, teaching us how to dream and supporting the doing of amazing things, Amy.

Thanks for being my spirit animal.

 

Books That Changed My Life

6 Sep

This week, I was set an impossible task by a dear friend: create a list of the 10 books that mean the most to me, or changed me, or touched my soul.

I immediately came up with 50 and had to cull ruthlessly. And then cheat, by tucking in 10 more at the bottom. Ahem.

So here are my ten, in no particular order.

1. The Time Traveller’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

the-time-travelers-wifeI wish I wrote it. So original, so bittersweet & beautiful. Don’t watch the movie.

2. Daring Greatly, Brene Brown

DaringGreatly_largeWhy vulnerability is a strength, a beauty and a connecting force. This book changed the way I do everything and how I see my role in the world. Watch her Ted Talk for an abbreviated version.

3. Looking For Alibrandi, Melina Marchetta

Looking for AlibrandiI read this as I was starting high school and it was the first time I realised other Australians grew up feeling like they didn’t fit in anywhere, just like me. Informed my first inquiries into identity, family  and belonging.

 4. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Michael Chabon Kavalier and Clay

A great friend put me onto this one. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

5. The History of Love, Nicole Krauss

History of LOVE

This one makes my heart ache, just thinking about it. I read it at a critical time and it was so healing. Made me believe again.

6. Wild, Cheryl Strayed

Wild

This memoir reminded me how important it is to go my own way, even if it doesn’t make sense to other people. And how important mothers are, so appreciate them while you have them.

 

7. Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert

eat_pray_love

Spurred my own overseas adventure, guided a different search for spirituality  and helped me realise I wasn’t alone in my wanderlust. It’s popular for a reason.

8. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist

The best 21st gift you can get anyone.

9. Travels, Michael Crichton

Travels

All kinds of journeys, described by an amazing writer. I aspire to his ability to communicate esoteric ideas in a tangible, pragmatic way.

 

10. In Full View, Lily Brett

In Full View

I read this at age 15 and could not believe how honest she was. Oh, to be so brave as a writer! I love the way she lets it all hang out…

And, because I feel GUILTY about not including these life changers…

Freedom, Jonathan Franzen

Incredibly Loud And Extremely Close, Jonathon Safran Foer

Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts

The Little Book, Selden Edwards

Conversations With God, Neale Donald Walsh

A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle

Bel Canto, Ann Patchett

Persuasion, Jane Austen

The Heather Blazing, Colm Toibin

Poser, Claire Dederer

What are your favourites? I’d love to see your lists…

Lost

17 Feb
Zambo early morn
Stand still.
The trees ahead and the bushes beside you Are not lost.
Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you,
If you leave it you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still.
The forest knows Where you are.
You must let it find you.
An old Native American elder story rendered into modern English by David Wagoner, in The Heart Aroused – Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America by David Whyte, Currency Doubleday, New York, 1996.

How To Be Alone…

14 Feb

Oh, Valentine’s Day.

A joyous combination of love, commercialism and expectation.

LOVE

However you feel about it, VDay is definitely enough to give you a pang to see couples holding hands and canoodling around the city.

I’ve had single Valentines Days, celebrated raucously with girlfriends or quietly and softly with a broken heart.

Coupled Valentines Days, marred by disappointments or swept off my feet by flowers, jewellery and romance. It’s just another day, but for a girl with love on her mind, it’s a great time to reflect.

Last year, I met a wise woman who invited me to imagine the man of my dreams. She had me visualise him, the energy I experienced around him and to feel the love I had for him.

Then she had me imagine my world without him, but to maintain those emotions and energies.

“They exist within you, whether or not he’s in the picture,” she said.

It was such a lightbulb moment for me.

Alone Genius idea Lyvia Alexandra
In yoga, we talk about detachment and the ability to cultivate anything we desire within ourselves. We can learn to be content with a situation as it is and as it is not.

I noticed I was carrying around an idea that love was only available if somebody came along and gifted it to me, as though my lovability was somehow contingent on someone else.

By paying attention to the feelings I had about love, I realised it can only exist inside me. As such, nothing anyone could do to take that love away from me.

Learn to Be Alone

I have the ability to cultivate love within myself. For myself.
For anyone or anything I want, really…

Suddenly, love becomes a permanent fixture.
Suddenly, I start to appreciate the things about myself that I was waiting for someone else to notice. I start giving myself the love and attention I have been patiently waiting for.

I adore this poem, written and performed by Tanya Davis  and beautifully filmed and illustrated by Andrea Dorfman.

Take some time to yourself this Valentines and appreciate your unique and wonderful heart.

You really are worth it.

Come As You Are

13 Feb

My parents have two super cute dogs.

Puppies

They are the most affectionate little guys – all they want is love, love, love, cuddles expressing love and more love.

I think it’s one of the reasons I love dogs so much. They’re so unconditional. They run at you with such abandon. It’s such a delight to walk into my parents house and have them rush to see me, skid to a stop at my feet and wag their tails so hard they almost fall over, such is their joy.

I often think they are how I would be if I wasn’t scared: of rejection, of looking bad, of looking stupid.

Rowlf is nine years old but still a sprightly, excitable dog.

I can't play piano, but I've never had lessons

I can’t play piano, but I’ve never had lessons

Harry was bought after my parents cat died and Rowlf started howling at the moon, missing his feline friend. Harry arrived home as a gorgeous bundle of black and grey fluff and has been tearing around frenetically ever since. He takes on dogs three times his size at the dog park and has a penchant for “walking” other dogs by grabbing their leads and pulling them around the park.
He’s quite the cheeky, energetic character.

As long as my back legs are on the step, I'm technically not out of bounds...

As long as my back legs are on the step, I’m technically not out of bounds…

When I arrive at the house, Rowlf races to the front door and sits at my feet: cuddles and pats are the reward for sitting. Harry runs to the door too, but once he’s completed his initial greeting, he always races off to grab one of his toys and trots back to excitedly share it with me.

This is a really cute behaviour, but it makes me think of all the times I have felt like I need to bring something or do something with the idea that it will be loved and I, along with it.

I notice it’s a cute behaviour of my own: I need to offer to do something or buy something or bring something to make my presence worthwhile.

As though who I am by myself is not enough.

It gets me thinking about how I operate as a human being; that I am operating from a place of lack or trying to make up for my failings.

For me, it’s often in interactions with friends where I will offer more than I’m even able to give. It’s a “like me” mechanism that I’m becoming more and more present to.

The more I’ve watched the dogs play out this behaviour, the more I notice that Rowlf, as the older, alpha dog, simply expects his cuddles and attention. Harry seems to feel he needs to work for it, wait his turn, bring gifts to validate his rewards. In all his running around, he misses out on some of the love and attention I have for him, ready to go, as soon as I walk in the door.

I’m seeing how much I do that in my life: I run around, stress myself out, spread myself too thin, all in the pursuit of making people happy, to help them like me, to be of service.

When really, the love is there, waiting.

I’m not saying I don’t want to be someone who helps or does favours or brings beautiful gifts. I just don’t want to do it from a place of fear that people wouldn’t love me if I didn’t do it.

That coming from my own security, sense of self and love, as a complete human, I have so much to offer, just as I am.

Pups 2

Change & Judgement

10 Feb

How do you reconcile terrible happenings?

Mary-Oliver-Quote-Box-of-Darkness_edited-1

One of my very first yoga teachers, Yong Kooi, used to tell this story after our meditation practice:

In ancient China, there was once a farmer. He was poor and had only an old horse to plough his fields. 

One day, when he was working the field, the horse dropped dead.

All the farmer’s neighbours said, “What a terrible thing to happen!”

The farmer simply said, “We’ll see.”

The neighbours admired his attitude and felt sorry for him, so they banded together and gave him a new horse. 
Everyone’s reaction now was, “What a lucky man.” And the farmer said, “We’ll see.” 

A couple days later, the new horse jumped a fence and ran away. Everyone in the village shook their heads and said, “How terrible! You poor man…” 
The farmer smiled and said, “We’ll see.”

China Horse

The horse came back some days later, followed by another horse. Now all the neighbours said “Look how lucky you are! TWO horses!”
The farmer said, “We’ll see.”

Later that year, the farmer’s son was thrown from one of the horses and broke his leg. Everyone in the village said, “What a terrible thing for a young man.” 
The farmer said, “We’ll see.”

Two days later, the army came into the village to draft new recruits. When they saw the farmer’s son had a broken leg, they decided not to recruit him.
All the neighbours were jealous and said “What fortune that he was thrown from the horse!” 
Once again, the farmer smiled  – and said “We’ll see.”

Moral of the story: Your reactions to events and circumstances may seem valid at that moment, but what looks like a setback could actually be a gift in disguise, or vice versa. And you won’t know which.
So spare your  judgements. Notice how quickly you apply them. Notice how much energy they take: the drama that comes with them, the tears, the ecstasy.
See if you can sit back, take a breath and say…”We’ll see.”

Don Draper

How To Be An Explorer

24 Jan

It has been 79 days since I’ve been on a plane.

Backpacking

This is not unusual in itself: I’ve been longer without travelling, of course. But this summer has been an experiment in staying put: in commitment, in consolidation.

It has been an interesting process. And by “interesting”, I mean, “a massive challenge.”

I’m used to a life that is not planned for more than a couple of weeks ahead. I’ve loved that I could, at any moment, jump on a plane or a train and be somewhere new. I’ve been addicted to that feeling.

I admit it’s much easier to feel that sense of awe when you are travelling. Being overseas, at any given moment, I can see something I’ve never seen before. That I might never see again! Of course it’s interesting: it’s NEW! It’s a surprise! 

The experiment has been in finding that feeling in the “every day” – how can you have a job and go to work and find time to exercise and see family and do laundry and eat well…AND maintain a sense of wonder?

It turns out, you can.

Don't remember days but moments

I started thinking of some of my best moments while travelling.

For me, they’ve often involved being outside: hiking, swimming, diving, exploring a town…
Overwhelmingly, the moments I remember best are ones where I stop, take a moment and breathe in exactly where I am.

(And, according to my photos, throw my arms wide and exclaim “I can’t believe I’m here right now!”)

The challenge of a few months in one place, my hometown no less, was to find that same sense of taking time and applying wonder.

I think when we’re back in our familiar surroundings, especially when we’re working, it’s easy to get into a grind that can make us forget all the beauty around us. The first step for me was making time to stop and notice. Scheduling a walk. Being outside at sunrise or sunset. Taking the dogs out and noticing how they interact with their environment.

Instagram has been an amazing tool for this.
(Check out my summer: @shinyhappyhealthy)

I tried to find one thing – a scene, a bird, a tree, a certain slant of light – that captured my eye. Just that act of stopping, snapping and sharing, helped me reconnect with my surroundings. And it helped me feel connected with my travelling community, when I saw how beautiful they found my hometown.

Then, last week, I came across this list from author/illustrator/creativity guru, Keri Smith. 

Explorer Keri SmithI love this list.

Here’s the thing: people come and visit where I live as tourists and exclaim how beautiful and amazing it is. Exactly as I do for places I visit overseas or interstate. The only difference is perspective.

I love the idea that I could be anywhere, at any given moment and completely surrender to and appreciate the beauty of where I am.

To be an explorer in my own life, throw my arms wide and exclaim: “I can’t believe I’m here right now!”

Resilience

14 Jan

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.
And that is why I succeed…
Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
– Michael Jordan

Sometimes, you have those days, those weeks, when it feels like you’re running in the same place. In mud.

The faster you try to run, the more you fall, the dirtier you get.

There are days when you just sit in that mud puddle and wallow.

But maybe, while you’re sitting there, you notice there is another way. A different way you never saw before.

Star gazing is good for the soul...

Star gazing is good for the soul…

I caught up with a dear friend yesterday. The past 12 months have been challenging for him. Finding his feet again, reestablishing his purpose. One of the things I noticed about him is his language.

He never says “but”, as in “I really loved that piece in the paper, but it wasn’t very long…”

He uses “and” instead: “I really loved that piece in the paper, and it wasn’t very long…”

Suddenly, something that might have been a criticism becomes a part of the positive. “But” is so often used to diminish or kill an idea, or make an excuse.  How many times have I said “I’d love to, but…”?

Imagine if you removed that excuse?

I don’t know why it makes such a difference, but it did to me. I left our meeting grinning from ear to ear and feeling like anything was possible. I caught his enthusiasm.

There is a great series on the American Network PBS called This Emotional Life that examines our reactions to our circumstances.

One study they refer to, lead by Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, shows that positive emotions are the “fuel” for resilience:

“They help people find meaning in ordinary and difficult events. Finding meaning in life events leads to more positive emotions, which in turn leads to a greater ability to find meaning and purpose. Fredrickson calls this an “upward spiral” of greater well-being. They also found that resilient people still felt as many negative emotions as less happy people, often very intense ones.
But they felt more positive emotions, and it was the positive emotions that accounted for “their better ability to rebound from adversity and stress, ward off depression, and continue to grow.”

“Their increase in happiness came from feeling good; not from avoiding feeling bad.”

If At First You Dont Succeed

This year IS going to be different.

Because I said so…