Planting Seeds: Resolutions, Challenges, and Long Term Growth

Planting Seeds: Resolutions, Challenges, and Long Term Growth

As the craziness of the holiday season begins to wind down, my attention turns to the possibility of growth upon the clean slate of a new year. For several years I became jaded by all the people who excitedly signed up for self improvement only to fall off the wagon again and again within a few short months or even weeks… Or do they? Sure, most of us don’t keep our new year’s resolutions, but is it really true that nothing changes? Growth requires sustained effort. Some people will quit smoking again and again only to have it stick on the fourteenth try. So even if we don’t fulfill our resolutions perfectly, does it really mean we have failed? Or is this ritual of self improvement in the new year a healthy part of our long term growth? One sub sect of the resolution trend is the 30, 60, or 90 day challenge. This usually consists of a major lifestyle change for the specified period of time. It could be a dietary change, exercise-related, or something else such as sleep or computer time. The advantage of a challenge over a resolution is that since it is a set period of time, people may actually stick to it longer in order to complete the challenge. The disadvantage is that we might actually reinforce the deprivation-reward cycle that keeps many people from making lasting change by going back to our old ways with a vengeance once the challenge is over. Cory and Shanna Duvall, owners of Crossfit Asheville, recently came down on opposite sides of this issue. Cory wrote a convincing...
Attitude of Gratitude: the why and how of positive thinking

Attitude of Gratitude: the why and how of positive thinking

Our life is shaped by our words, we become what we think. –Gautama the Buddha As we gear up for the thanksgiving holiday, it is a good reminder to contemplate and appreciate all the blessings in our lives. While each of us has things to be grateful for, we also experience pain and suffering. I am currently going through a difficult time with someone I love very much. I experience periods of deep sadness, frustration, and grief. However, these negative emotions pass and the feelings of peace, love, and joy return surprisingly quickly. I attribute this directly to the practice and contemplation of looking for the good that I have been steadily engaged in over the last several years. According to the book “Buddha’s Brain” we have on average 60,000 thoughts per day. 95 percent of those are repetitive – the same thoughts again and again every day and multiple times per day. 80% of those are negative. That’s about 45,000 negative thoughts per day. Ouch. If we do indeed become what we think as the Buddha says, we had better figure out how to change those numbers. The desire for freedom and happiness seems to be a universal human desire. Yet we are bound by our thoughts and often resist the very things that will lead to happiness. The term optimist carries with it some connotations of naiveté and folly. We’ve all met people who are relentlessly positive and while they do seem happier than the rest of us, honestly, this trait can be annoying. Trite platitudes like “it’s all good man” seem to lack compassion for the...

Jnana Shakti: The Power of Knowledge

Last weekend I was standing with a couple of friends discussing the way that the finer points of alignment in a yoga pose intersect with yoga philosophy when one of them sighed. “We’re such yoga geeks” She said. “Sometimes I wish I was a beginner again.” We all nodded our heads in agreement remembering the innocent pleasure of discovering yoga. As a teacher, I can taste the giddy excitement of discovery when I teach beginners. The benefits and insights that arise from practicing yoga come quickly and copiously when you first begin to practice regularly. It seems that every practice brings new understanding and it lights up everyone in the room. Once people become more experienced they also become jaded. It is much harder to please a room full of experienced yogis than a room full of beginners. We want to taste the excitement of revelation, and we expect our teachers to deliver it to us again and again. Jnana shakti is the power of knowledge. When we discover a new passion, the first thing we do is to educate ourselves. We learn everything we can, and then try to tell everyone we know what we’ve learned. It is jnana shakti that convinces so many passionate yogis to take a teacher training, whether we wind up actually teaching or not. Thrilled with the benefits of our yoga practice, we intuitively know that sharing our knowledge will give us more access to it. According to the Samkya system of Indian philosophy (which greatly influenced yoga philosophy) there are 3 ways of knowing. Authority (someone you trust told you so), inference...

Icca Shakti: the power of desire

Everywhere we turn, advertisements are working to convince us that a product will finally satisfy our desire… until the next one. In a world where empty promises are as plentiful as drops in the ocean, many of us have become disenchanted with quick fixes and seek more meaning for our lives. As we delve into seeking for this meaning, many teachers caution us to beware our desires. This caution makes sense when we see the illness of the world caused by greed and thoughtlessness. But trying to ignore, suppress, or quell desire is not the answer either. Leaving aside the question of if it is even possible to transcend desire, it also serves a valuable purpose. Without desire, there is no action. What makes us get out of bed in the morning? What gives us the discipline to meditate or practice yoga? Desire calls our attention and spurs us to action. Desire is what brings us to life. Even the most shallow desires (a fast car, fame, sweet foods) point to deeper desires (freedom, recognition of our light, the feeling of being fully alive). Instead of moving mindlessly towards our shallow desires, if we practice inquiry and discover what deeper desire is behind it, we will be pulled towards our true nature. We can then begin to fill the emptiness that spurred desire with what our heart truly longs for: a connection with the divine, with our true nature. This is how my teachers describe the beginning of life: In the beginning there was one energy. This one energy was everything. Supremely powerful and completely free, there was nothing...

A Tale of Two Yous

Photograph by KatB Photography Have you ever been nervous for a job interview or a date and had someone tell you to “just be yourself”? What on earth does that mean anyway? If you’re anything like me, the command to be yourself is likely to make you even more self-conscious than ever. We have so many different identities and often take on different roles in different situations. Think about what you are like around your friends vs your family. The roles we take on in a given situation can be useful, but they can also start to change us in unhealthy ways. During my brief stint as a web project manager for a large multi-national corporation, I was called into the bosses office one day and given a talking to. Among several other offenses my two bosses told me that I was “very negative”. Wow. That threw me for a loop. When I first started the job, I noticed how much everyone around me complained. I decided that I would be a bright shining beacon of positivity in our gloomy basement office. Yet, little by little my determination to be the example of light eroded as I unconsciously began complaining in order to fit in with the corporate culture. Apparently, I went a little too far. As hard as it was to hear, I was grateful that my bosses pointed out my stinky attitude. The change from Positive Patty to Negative Nelly had occurred so slowly that I wasn’t aware of it. From that point on, I made it an absolutely unbendable rule that I would not say anything...

Are we all connected or are we all alone?

Photo by Louise Docker I’m writing from the yoga mecca that is Los Angeles where I’ve come to recharge myself.  At first when I was planning this trip, I thought about trying to schedule some workshops or classes to teach, but I am relieved that I decided not to work at all.  Instead, I am making my own mini-retreat by cooking healthy food with my friends, meditating twice a day, and attending as many yoga classes as possible.  Although I am always looking for new ideas to take back to my own classes, I am also savoring the chance to just be a student again.  I try to walk into each class with humility, open to the gift I might receive from each teacher.  Often (quite often) I notice my ego flaring up for one reason or another.  The teacher knows everyone’s name but mine and therefore compliments everyone but me.  I hit handstand in the middle of the room and wonder if anyone noticed.  I breathe a lot and laugh at myself.  I am able to see my ego more clearly against this unfamiliar backdrop. In a recent conversation with a friend, she was worried about how she was being perceived by her community based on comments they had made.  In that moment, it was easy for me to see that taking their comments personally was a waste of her energy.  We rarely know what someone’s intentions are when they say something that hurts us.  Yet, when I am the one who is hurt, that feeling overtakes logic and compassion.  We are often instructed to trust our feelings, but what about when...