Tag Archives: breath

The Power of Deep Stillness

treesnlight

I’m having a hard time integrating back into the cacophony and anxious energy of Los Angeles after a contemplative weekend deep in the Northern California redwood forests at Ratna Ling Buddhist Retreat Center. Here I am yesterday saying goodbye, feeling completely refreshed, on my deck enclosed by lush woodland. The stillness and silence and peace ran deep this past weekend—at first surrounding me, embracing me—then sprouting from within. Just listen to the sounds of life sustained by these ancient trees. Maybe cut off the TV, close your door, put in earphones, shut your eyes and listen again.

 

All weekend, I became more reflective, less talkative and deeply relaxed. I meditated, took silent walks, sketched, read, wrote, and yes, did amazing daily yoga classes with soulful Gloria Baraquio. (For those who wanted more, there was a sound bath with Lauri , essential oils workshop, sacred texts talk, sacred art class, FOOD (and more delicious FOOD), a library full of Tibetan literature and art, as well as a variety of massages and therapies to indulge in at theMandala Wellness Center.) For me, however, this weekend was mainly about reconnecting with nature. As a little girl who was raised in the South on property jutting against a horse farm, I used to sneak into the woods, the pre-Civil War trails, and lean against the trunks of huge pine trees with roots softened by emerald and sage moss and icy white lichen. I’d listen to the wind make shushing sounds through the branches above, as winking bursts of sunlight pierced through. Sometimes a deer might wander over curiously, just as they do here at Ratna Ling.  This past Memorial Day weekend I welcomed a relief from the intensity of LA. As a child, however, I sought nature as a refuge from the loudness of our house with its large family. older siblings who’d fight, or parents fighting, or TVs and stereos on simultaneously, teenager phone conversations, usually drama of some sort. The energy was too charged for my sensitive ears. The sounds in those southern horse trails were similar to those of the redwood forest, and just as calming, yet still vibrant with activity; a celebration of life. In Ratna Ling I could hear mocking birds, wood peckers, sweet singing Wrens, bellowing toads, screeching crickets, scurrying geckos—all creating a mesmerizing chorus. On my birthday I sat on the rustic deck of my cabin reading, and at one point, a huge butterfly landed on my book. Another moment, a large turkey vulture landed on a branch a few feet away. I watched as a momma mocking bird dive bombed it over and over, likely protecting a nest, finally bothering the vulture, 5 times its size, to spread its mammoth totem pole wings, shading my chair on the deck, as it flew away. The energy felt in this forest was calm, peaceful, purposeful, relaxed. My mind cleared of distractions. I focused. Thank goodness there was no cell reception. I needed this mental clearing.

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treetops

Perhaps that’s why returning to Los Angeles was especially hard. The high-pitched beeps and announcements at the airports, then screaming tourists at a local fair, loud intoxicated fiesta goers in my beach town, neighbors blaring music and TV news that wafted through my window like toxic gas—all creating a stunned anxiety within me. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t relax. Even talking with a friend, at first, was jarring as I could heard her blender going, her TV on, her dog whining, then barking, the dish washer sputtering to a start, some more water flowing in a sink, all as we spoke on the phone. Am I like this? I worried. And the answer is yes. Yes I am. I expect that most Americans juggle. We rush, do, do more, multi-task, barely listen fully, worry, pile on more commitments that we can’t complete and keep going—while allowing ourselves to be bombarded by anxious news announcements, or negative talk shows, eliciting a fight or flight response within us and amping up our cortisol. It’s no wonder we can’t hear our intuition. Our center for calm and knowing and creativity.  It’s no wonder every-day life that is hectic creates confused, interrupted thinking. It’s hard to finish projects in this state of mind. It’s hard to prioritize and focus on what’s really important, what your Dharma is, rather than seeking object referral or approval. We have to clear out the noise, sweep away the distractions, center ourselves and listen without judgement to what comes up. Our frenetic life, especially for many parents who are frazzled by over-scheduled activities and interruptions, can feel the drain. I didn’t know how drained I was, until it all stopped and sat still and I breathed deeply. There is another way to live.

Today, I miss the woods. I miss the simple focus. I miss going to sleep with the sounds of crickets and waking to birds singling as the sun rises, illuminating redwood limbs reaching toward each other, like fingers making an ink stain on my window. I thought a yoga class would help me integrate, but the music was too loud, the thumping music was too loud and a teacher was screaming over it. I wasn’t relaxed when I walked home.

So I guess it’s a good thing I was asked if I’d like to come back to Ratna Ling to host a yoga and writers retreat later this year. I get to return and I get to take some dear writer friends with me. I can’t wait to introduce them to this haven that will allow them to get centered, ignore their fears and focus on their writing, their unique stories they all are compelled to share. We’ll flow to vibrational yoga, breathe deeply, take meditative walks in the woods, enjoy Tibetan meditation movement with an expert … and write from a place connected to Source. Stay tuned, as I work out the details. Proceeds will go to Dharma Publishing, created by Ratna Ling’s founder, Tibetan Lama Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, who has spent more than 45 years preserving sacred texts, literature and art. I’m honored to support such a worthy cause, while helping fellow-writers tap into their inner voice, find peace, calm, stillness, confidence. I’ll write more later when details are sorted. 🙂

In the meantime, maybe you’d like to join me this week as I meditate with the intention of re-claiming stillness, letting go of distractions, and finding mindful focus while at work, while at play. Here’s to a week where we can feel calm, peaceful, playful, free, content, loved, secure, safe, inspired, centered, clear, balanced and compassionate.

Love & Light,

Laura xo

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Embracing Chaos

Heartgarden

So, I cried today. Hate to admit it. Maybe a little over the weekend too. Life is hectic right now. I’m trying so hard to be mindful, but I’m doing so much solo, somethings gotta give. There was a gas leak because my landlord didn’t install the dryer properly. That was scary. And then trying to get my son and pick him back up from beach camp every day this week (school starts Sept. 6!!) has been stressful. First I take my oldest to school by 7 a.m., then I’m racing to the studio to open it in the morning, get it cleaned and ready for the 9 a.m. class, then race with my son to the beach drop off spot and then back and it takes an hour at least with parking being nutty. It feels like I just can’t get it all together. I raced so fast to pick him back up by 2 p.m. the other day that I nearly ran a stop sign. I can barely leave the hot studio before 2 with all the work that needs to get done. Most afternoons and evenings involve racing to pick up my oldest, then soccer practices, then taekwondo, then my yoga classes I teach (that fill me with gratitude and peace). I don’t know what I’d do without the yoga. Because I literally feel like I’m teetering on many days. My landlord laughed at me the other day and said “girls can do anything boys can do, you’ve got this.” That was his way of getting out of doing something that needed to be done at the house that is in disarray with lots of things still broken. I thought I’d cry. I can’t handle one more job. I’m still writing too, so yesterday I had to finish an article, and edit another chapter in my spare time. Ironically, like yoga, the writing centers me. I just wish I could figure out how to balance all the family demands a little easier and find more time away from parenting when I need to.

So I missed a dear friend’s funeral last weekend because I couldn’t get sitter coverage and my ex is rarely free. It was a family friend who helped take care of my mother, an aunt to me my whole life: she did my hair, she made my prom dress, you get the idea. Family. I’ll send a letter, it’ll be ok. My oldest was in a soccer tournament anyway, so 5 games Saturday and Sunday and I needed to be there, the boys were super aggressive. But I may miss my real aunt’s funeral at the end of Sept in Maine, and even though my ex will be in the States, he is choosing not to help. Something’s gotta give. After cleaning the studio and two races back and forth for the beach camp pickups, then back to the studio, after cleaning it, I just sat down in the girls locker room and cried. Probably because I’m tired. Probably because I feel so unsupported.

It’ll be ok. It always is. I’ve been doing this solo parenting gig for 8.5 years, right? I’ll dip into savings again and hire a sitter and go to Maine. It’s worth it.

Life is hard now, but as Buddha says, it doesn’t stay hard forever: “Life is a circle of happiness, hard times and good times. If you are going through hard times, have faith that good times are on their way.” Buddha

For the rest of today, I will mindfully be present and grateful that I am safe, I am healthy, that my boys are amazing, healthy and happy and that I am mainly surrounded in my life by sweet, thoughtful yogis. I am thankful to have kicked the social media habit, too, as I need not compare my life with others. This is my life right now. Today is hard. Tomorrow will be better.

Love & Light ~

L. x

A Moment To Pause

SAMSUNG

The boys and I hiked up to the top of one of the highest canyons in Malibu to get this vista of Catalina Island and the vast Pacific Ocean. Taking a moment to pause, especially when at a distance, can truly give you a better vantage point. It’s easier to put things into perspective when you give yourself that distance and that moment to take it all in.

Lately I’ve been thinking that this is applicable to everyday life—although it takes much more effort. Trying not to react instantly, or to flare with anger, or to over-react—takes more than just patience. I think it takes practice. Ironically, in order to have a better relationship with those I care the most about—I’ve come to realize that I need to find a little bit of distance, or detachment, to create a mental vista for clarity and calm.

Maybe this sounds a bit nutty for some of you? But have any of you suddenly become irritated with your child who is not listening to you and who continues to do something that you’ve asked him or her not to do? Do you find that, without thinking, you snap, yell, grab an arm or say something that you wish you hadn’t? It’s easy to do isn’t it? When I react instinctively, I can literally feel my heart beat faster, my breath get fast and shallow and all clear thought escape the building.

It’s now mid-January and I’ve determined that the best New Year’s resolution for me is to try, not only to be more present, but to carve out the ability to be calm in the midst of storms. (I don’t want my children to carry with them memories of a parent who ‘loses it’ on a consistent basis.) To do this, I’m going to try to take a deep breath and count to five whenever the munchkins start misbehaving. (Unless of course, it’s a dangerous situation, like one of them running into a street!)

As my yoga teachers and Deepak Chopra have all shown me—it’s almost impossible to overreact while breathing deeply. Try it with me. Take a deep breath and fill up your lungs completely. Hold it at the top and count to five slowly. Now, breathe it out, slowly and deeply. Can you imagine your heart or mind racing while you’re doing this? It’s virtually impossible.

I was reminded twice this week of how important this breath break is. The first was a yoga teacher who said she wanted to focus on finding a pause before reacting. Her goal for the week was to pause during stressful events in order to choose the right reaction, instead of reacting. Then two days later, I snapped at my boys. After trying to get James to sleep for two hours unsuccessfully, his big brother comes into the room, making too much noise and knocking over and spilling the humidifier. Was it the end of the world? No. What did I do? Overreact and chastise him. Of course, I immediately apologized, and realized how I should have reacted.

Hopefully, taking a deep breath, holding it for the count of five and slowly letting it go, will give me the vantage point I need to then deal calmly with any stressful moments with the kids—or in life in general. I’ll let you know how it goes!