Where do we go from here?

You know, I feel I’ve been writing an awful lot but it hasn’t be here. And it’s time to connect what I’m exploring with who I am, which is what I believe this blog to be. Me, in words.

Whenever I travel, I meet people who are above me and below me on the social totem pole. I meet people who have more and less than me, who understand more or less than me, who feel more or less the same way that I do. It’s a new experience on this trip to San Antonio that I look forward to the responses of others, the interactions of others, to shed light on and make sense of the life I live. For a long time I lived ignorantly in the reality that I already knew all that I needed to know. That I was always right. That I could trust myself, and perhaps no one else. While the latter statement may still be true, the others have met their demise. I have risen out of my graduate program (as I hope many others do) realizing that I know nothing. That I am rarely “right.” That I have so much more to learn that I cannot possibly learn in one lifetime. In fact, I have come to believe that the most dangerous people on Earth are those who believe they have nothing left to learn. Those who believe that they have all the answers.

Particularly in light of the past week and “he who shall not be named” (a fond title I borrow from a past lecturer), we confront a reality that I have not yet know within my lifetime. One of explicit racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ageism, and simple injustice. And yet, I feel surrounded by hundreds, thousands, even millions of Americans who are likeminded in their beliefs, values and compassion for all others. This weekend, at a Global Religions conference in San Antonio, TX, I leave not necessarily optimistic, but hopeful. And I understand that although the state of our world is in peril, that we are in good company. I was reminded by fellow yogis that relying solely on our intellect will surely kill us (from the inside, out). Living in a linear world of “this, then this, then this,” shows us the way to self-destruction and climate debacle. While living in a world of intuition, of feeling, of compassion, even of fantasy – of heart and consciousness – allows us to live happily (not ignorantly) but positively contributing to a society we can never save, but still save ourselves. This way isn’t isolationist, in fact it’s quite the opposite; it’s all embracing.

I gladly take on those who tell me I live in a fantasy world, that “when I grow up” and shake off my rose tainted glasses, I will see how foolish I was all these years. To them, I can only say that I hope to God (whomever she may be) that this is never the case. That I believe the only contribution I can give to the world is my ability to see beyond the struggle. To offer hope, and love and compassion, even in our darkest days. And if the horrors are all true, if we are facing a decline in civility of humanity, bring it on. Because I know that, until the day I die, I will stand in my truth – which only means that I am full of love. And I will love everyone I can wrap my arms around as long as I am able. Why? Because what service is there in doing anything else? Hate, violence, skepticism, doubt, and fear are only signs there is more work to be done inside. And once we figure out our own selves, work our own shit out, through yoga – learn to love the face, the body, the being we see in our reflection in the mirror – then and only then can we move forth and see the beauty in the outside world, in Nature (most fully) and see all others as this same absence or fulfillment of love.

Start by confronting those feelings and thoughts inside that you don’t want to deal with. This is our work. Our “dharma” in Eastern tradition, our purpose. This is our work. And, it is work. It takes months, even years to face. But know that when we raise out of this hell (which may in fact be the “hell” referenced in Christian Scripture) there is only joy, praise, love and heaven on earth. Seek community in yoga, in Buddhism, in Christianity, in business partners, or whatever your community might be. Seek community and know you are not alone.

If you ask me: Are you religious? I am not. If you ask me: Are you spiritual? I am. If you ask me (as many have) under what lineage? I say: many. I see the truth in every system of beliefs. And to those I may not yet fully understand, I embrace with welcome inquiry. I want to understand. There is not a single person on Earth who does not live and die with the same aspirations for love, prosperity, family, and kinship as his/her neighbor. Only cultural ideals and misinformation divide us. Don’t confront your enemy with hate but kill them with kindness. I have no regrets living this way. And intend to continue living the same. Because, I can’t see any other way.

Love, love, love.

A

The Ungrateful Prom Queen

I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to be someone I wasn’t. And, what’s worse, I didn’t even know I could be anything other than what I thought I was. I didn’t know I could be happier, but I felt like I could – and I should. My stress level was out of control, trying to be someone that not only met, but consistently exceeded others’ expectations. At first it felt like I was doing well accidentally (winning awards, getting straight A’s, and surrounded by friends) but eventually it became harder to maintain a record of excellence. But, this was my identity. I pushed through. Vulnerability isn’t “cool” in any setting and I didn’t want to appear weak or incapable. No one wants to hear, “I can’t handle/don’t want to take this on.” There is a reputation to uphold, grades to get, positions to win.

I was Prom Queen. Did you know that? However, I was also Class President the same year, which made me also” Chief Prom Planner.” Unlike most girls my age, I dreamed of watching the moment I was creating for the King and Queen play out; from their crowns, to their walkway, slow dance and even the variety of roses for the Queen’s bouquet. I never dreamed of being the one on the dance floor, the one receiving the crown and bouquet. The moment was beyond surreal. And, in the end, I felt somehow disappointed. I never had my moment of pride for creating the perfect moment for others. My own strange dream, or vision of what “would” happen never happened. And, somehow, I haven’t been able to feel good about that title ever since.

It’s funny and eerie, the amount of control the brain has in navigating our lives. Connotations, or neuro-pathways, reinforce our initial impression which is based on the “story” we ourselves have created. Soon enough, we create a narrative around our increasing sense of reality or opinion on a certain issue. (Political parties, for example, representing our personal narrative of what is “right” and “true”.) The stronger the neuro-pathway, the easier this idea or thought comes to the front of our minds, automatically assimilated into our personal narrative and view of reality. We can give conscious awareness to break a certain thought pattern, or perhaps a new stronger neuro-pathway of opposing view emerges from self-study, or education. Our emotional reality and even material reality (where/when/why we take action) is dictated by our inherently formed thought patterns.

Prom Queen = shame, embarrassment, undeserving. This is one of many possible realities.

This moment has passed along with many others like it. I could have been more malleable, more open, more willing to participate with, rather than against, the unfolding events before me. I could have enjoyed, thrived, allowed myself to fill with joy, awe and gratitude; but I didn’t.

So next time, I decided, I’m going to be ready.

Well, next time is now.

In an incredibly serendipitous series of events and countless misfortunes along the way, I have found myself with an amazingly compassionate and lovable pitbull – and a yoga studio…In Florida. That’s: I have a yoga studio in Florida.

After ten years in Boston and LA combined, I am back at “home” with my parents living in North Port, FL where the air is clean, the water is warm and the yoga is damn good. I’m bringing LA love and Northeast academia to SW Florida to bring traditional yoga to the people. It’s such a gift, despite any sacrifices along the way. My journey is just beginning. And, it’s my job (in yoga) to recognize that.

There is an opportunity to be grateful in every moment, not just the momentous ones. Regardless of how much you have or how much you’ve received in life, our mental wellness or self-regulation dictates our attainment of happiness. The oh-so-elusive purpose, light and self-compassion that drives every person forward can be found and maintained through practiced awareness cultivated through yoga practice.

Perhaps my “Ah-ha” moment was the idea that I could ever be unhappy in the face of magnificence. I needed to find out why and how I could find more value in every experience in my life. A journey in yoga ensued and I haven’t looked back.

Happiness isn’t in the yoga. It’s in the ability for a person to forgive themselves. To love, challenge and care for themselves. And, to learn to love all others.

I’m proud and privileged to commit to working toward this sense of discovery full-time. It’s a dream. I hear my heart say: Be present. Rejoice. The universe hears all that sh*t you’re throwing out there. Just be. Be happy.

Go easy on yourself. And know that others – even the seemingly “perfect” out there – are going through a similar process. We all just want to be in community, accepted just the way we are. Start with yourself (= meditation, yoga, self-care) and the rest will come.

Woo! Exhausted and exhilarated. So grateful for all those who have supported and stood by me along the way. The journey continues at North Port Yoga

 

xo Love,

Amy

Living your Truth (the true grassroots movement)

Every conversation, and every challenge brings us clarity. In our individual process, our unique life, we’re all creating our own story. And at times, I know I get all too anxious to know how the story ends…

But, of course, this is just wishing time away. Valuable, irretrievable time, which in culmination builds our lives. And I imagine one day, not too far away, I’ll be wishing for more.

This insight drives me to incorporate, but not always rely on my heart, as well as my head in decision-making. Because, if we’re only here a short time, it’s reasonable to hope that we make the most of it. So we can look back at our lives lived, our own story, with a full heart – and no regrets.

There are many ways to go about this, and no wrong way. But, there is your way. A concept I’m particularly interested in – which is a theme of the ancient texts and textbooks we’ve been reading in school – is that of individual “duty,” or as I’ve come to understand it as, one’s unique “purpose.”

In Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita (written in approximately 300 C.E), Krishna (the eighth worldly incarnation of the god, Vishnu) imparts to the great warrior Arjuna before he enters into battle: “Now, if you will not undertake/ This righteous war,/ Thereupon, having avoided your own duty and glory,/ You shall incur evil…Your right is to action [duty] alone.”

Many centuries later, in the 19th century C.E. Ralph Waldo Emerson (a Harvard graduate) founded the Transcendentalist movement here In the United States. In his ground breaking essay, Self Reliance, he belabors the significance of individual authenticity for the benefit of society, to evoke and unleash one’s own genius (more here); ultimately, in my favorite line he states simply: “But do your work and I shall know you.”

In the 20th century, Mahatma Ghandi (or the “great soul” in Sanskrit) had the courage to voice his beliefs and to publicly advocate for the liberation of India from British rule. He is credited with the nation’s success, and yet the U.S. – not India – was the first to recognize his honor and integrity as an individual force for empowerment. Ghandi credits his courage to God (or his higher power), and simply shared with all who inquired that it was his duty, his purpose on this Earth to serve out this work. (Bob Dylan used the same allusion to “duty” to describe his experience as a musician and songwriter, as that of a conduit; receiving messages to share with the world from and as part of something bigger.) Ghandi read the 2nd chapter of the Bhagavad Gita every morning, and cited it for motivating his voice and leading his service for the sake of humanity throughout his life.

Not long after, Martin Luther King Jr. led the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. Today, we celebrate his work annually, and recognize his name as synonymous with efforts for justice and peace. MLK too read Chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita regularly, and specifically revered it as his source of inspiration, in conjunction with the Bible, in motivating his work.

Nelson Mandela served as South Africa’s first black chief executive (President) and first democratically elected individual in the early 1990’s. Prior, he served 27 years in prison for standing up for his beliefs to end the apartheid and embrace racial equality, justice and peace. Mandela also credited the Bhagavad Gita for inspiring and motivating his service throughout his life, and up until his recent passing in 2013.

Well, maybe it’s our turn…to believe in something bigger.

I have a dream that yoga as a philosophy and a worldview is a source for empowerment. That it is undeniably and inextricably connected to individual, societal and global politics as a vested belief system and lifestyle (with a physical practice to aid in this process), representative at its core of truth, justice and peace; that it has the power to inspire people to their fullest potential by motivating them to speak and live by their own Truth (and thereby, also enjoy life more fully). Inspired by a higher purpose, if not a higher power, yoga is nondenominational and nontheistic. It doesn’t require prescribing to Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, or any religion at all. For instance, my higher power is the Universe: a force I believe to be greater than myself, which – as the sun and the moon guide our existence – provides comfort, predictability, and an opportunity for fulfillment of purpose for each and every creature that lives within it.

Purpose, truth, duty. It’s heavy, for sure. But yet, we see the Earth degrading beneath and around us, and the large majority of the world’s population suffering in ways we in the U.S. could never imagine, if only in our worst nightmares. This is life. This is it. And, we create it – past and future. We are responsible for it, and for how our individual behaviors impact the greater whole, the entirety of the human race, and the world around us.

This realization is scary, and perhaps the most daunting task that can and will ever be set before us. (And so, we see many of today’s politicians turning a blind eye.) But again, what’s most important to recognize is: we create it. We control it; what will remain for future generations and the course of our own lives. All we need to do, as individuals (perhaps the best and greatest grassroots movement) is to live truthfully and cultivate a real personal sense of compassion and peace; and others (even the most unlikely among us) will follow. According to a December 2012 study, over 20 million Americans practice yoga regularly – and the number continues to grow. What if all of these people united their practice* as a way to explore and ultimately live out their Truth, their “duty” – while losing weight and reducing stress at the same time. [Rupert Murdoch and Oprah Winfrey reportedly meditate every day…anything is possible.] * (yoga = “yoke” or “union”)

I still strive for clarity of my own purpose, my own duty. And I understand this is a life long journey, and that we may never fully realize the fruits of our labor during our time on Earth (but we can plant the seeds…) The biggest, and most challenging part of this process is trust. To trust that if you are a good person and you are open to new possibilities, that the right one’s will find you, and soon you will see clearly your purpose, and your duty – for your own happiness, for the prosperity of those you love, and thereby for the betterment of the greater whole, the human race, and Mother Earth.

I believe it, because great men (and unspoken women) before me believed it. And through this belief, they accomplished what no one else before them was able to do. By simply changing their own lives, they changed their nation and the world.

Trust. For the betterment of our nation, for the safety and prosperity of future generations, for the love of life and in gratitude for all we’ve been given, I urge you to listen and trust in your own authenticity. (That voice inside you that tells you what’s right and what’s wrong – even if it goes against what other people are doing, or thinking, or even saying…) We all innately want to be great: Mahatma, “great souls.” All we need to do is stay open and trust (according to the great’s before us, practicing yoga regularly makes this much easier, even effortless and blissful); because the world is broken, and every voice can and should be a voice of reason, a role model to bring about hope in our own small way. By always learning, growing, and living our own Truth –  we can all be that voice.

With love and in honor of those who paved the path before us, to venture into our own authenticity and our own genius. There is always a light.

I hope you might join me (in your own way) in committing to using your lifetime to explore and relinquish your own: Let your light shine!

Namaste,
Amy

Photo Credit: Alex’s Photo Blog from Jama Masjid, Old Delhi, India (2011)

My Year in Yoga

Sometimes following your dream means going down the unpaved road. The challenge is to trust that what awaits you at the end of the road is far beyond your wildest expectations. From a fellow traveler, do trust. You won’t be disappointed.

Those who know me well are well aware that the past year has been a little bit – or, a lot a bit – out of the ordinary. Moving to California was one thing, but forfeiting my career in government affairs, vowing to take up Yoga Studies, and accepting a graduate assistantship in religion and ecology – I think it’s safe to say I may have lost a few people along the way. But that’s okay, because my new venture is all about awareness. My love affair with yoga has thus far centered around my own growth and discernment, facing the harsh realities of post-college life and working them out on my mat. Through my five years of regular asana practice (or the physical practice of sequenced yoga postures as we all know them) I’ve found more self-confidence, focus and ambition than I ever imagined possible. In short, I believe my regular yoga practice has put me on the fast-track to becoming the best version of myself, and with this comes an overwhelming sense of contentment, and happiness. Goodbye fears, insecurities, and anxiety! Hello fabulous and all authentic me! It takes consistency, but pays off 100 fold. I’m in the best shape of my life, I’m the happiest I’ve ever been and I’m pursuing my dreams in a way I never could have imagined: by obtaining a Masters of Arts in Yoga Studies degree from Loyola Marymount University (LMU).

Now I want to give a disclaimer, because I realize in my very introduction I’ve painted myself as an over-enthusiastic (perhaps unstable), yoga obsessed 25-year old – nothing too original about that. But what is unique is that my journey in Yoga Studies has begun, and will continue, in unadulterated openness. I was drawn to the M.A. of Yoga Studies program and to LMU for their explicit over-arching mission for universal acceptance. If you don’t already know, LMU is a very catholic university. But the mission of this program is to explore commonalities of diverse religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity – to uncover the historical emergence, and contemporary significance of yoga. I don’t think there’s one way to find happiness, contentment, and a trim physique in this life. There are many. And people are unique, and deserve infinite opportunities to explore themselves and their interests to find their own path to obtaining these things. I do believe, however, that yoga is a powerful tool in this pursuit; the actual benefits of which have yet to be thoroughly researched and documented under the scrutiny of Western culture. While mainstream society begins to embrace the proven health benefits of yoga in hospitals and doctor’s offices throughout the country (woop, woop!), there is still more. I believe yoga has extensive socio-economic benefits through which yoga can fundamentally empower and transform individuals to do better for themselves and their families, despite perceived limitations of background or circumstance. This means: raising families above the poverty line, rehabilitating troubled or imprisoned youth, eliminating social side effects of mental illness, inspiring decision-makers to better serve the public and our environment, increasing the number of minorities in public office, and the list goes on…At a time when our country and our world are imploding with violence and chaos, and our leaders have proven ineffective to assuage the storm, I believe this awareness holds the key to restoring individual contentment and promoting universal acceptance in the U.S. and across the globe.

So, here I am, a part French-Canadian/part English/all-American Westerner devoting my life to Yoga Studies to explore just that. I want to give you the proof you’re looking for, that yoga is valuable to you and the people you love, beyond a 60-minute destress session and the potentiality for six-pack abs (although these aren’t bad side effects either). Armed with a B.A. in Public Advocacy, several years of government affairs work in the public and private sector, a published manuscript on the socio-economics of gender disparity, and a new endeavor as Assistant Editor for an academic journal in global religions and social ecology, I won’t let you down. (And I hope you’ll check back for small bits of enlightenment I discover along the way.) Challenge accepted.

I look forward to sharing and always appreciate your thoughts and reflections.

Keep on flowing xx

Amy