Friday, May 24, 2013

The dance of innovation and tradition

It is an incredible moment is when you start to notice personal shifts and transformation through practice, experiences, conversations with friends and time spent learning from great teachers.  I must say that in the past few months, this shift is really bringing into question the value of tradition and innovation. I've been thinking a lot about their respective roles, how each applies and what I would like my relationship to tradition and innovation to look like.  

I'll explore some ideas around these two concepts here because the question of tradition and innovation deserves some attention.  Where and when is each appropriate? Helpful? Needed? How do we keep tradition alive?  What does it look like to innovate intelligently?

Tradition and innovation both touch our lives in profound ways every day.  Innovators might argue that it is a natural human tendency to want to create, change and evolve through the development of more and more sophisticated tools.  This is a cultural value that we seldom challenge.  In the interest of evolving our consciousness however,  more and more we are leaning on spiritual traditions with varying degrees of commitment.  This is happening in many different ways in order to fill a vacuum that you could say is the result of a culture which has been about innovating, change, newness and pushing limits. 

Some of our ancestors weren't so busy loading dishwashers, checking e-mails and paying parking tickets and these people likely had a very different experience of life.  We have things to learn from those who dedicated their lives to exploring certain aspects of the human experience which, in our culture, are being neglected.  So where do we begin? How does this experience translate into ours?  Are these traditions of any value? Is there an element of romanticization going on?

I think that weather there is an affinity towards a tradition, a deep desire to innovate or both, start by being a good student.  Spend some time studying hard, recognizing the advantages as well as the limitations of your being, your culture, the time in which you live.  Read, practice, study and find good teachers.  Teachers you trust, who love you, who know more than you about the subject you're wanting to learn about, who want to empower you and who have a real connection to the tradition you want to learn about. 

Innovating from a groundless and impulsive place can create more problems than it solves.  Imagine a novelist who doesn't know how to spell, an economist who can't count, a surgeon who hasn't studied anatomy or a musician who doesn't know her scales.  Traditions are all around us and yet, we are often in such a hurry that we don't take the time to slow down and seek the knowledge or experience required to innovate intelligently. What would it look like if we were always to innovate from a grounded place, a place of experience, of knowing where you're coming from?  To create while thinking things through to some of the potential issues a given innovation might cause? To solve real problems and create the least amount of new ones along the way? There are many wheels we don't need to re-invent.  What if we dedicated some time to figuring out what those wheels are and what solutions have been developed and tried on in the past?

When we study traditions, we should be careful and aware of the context in which they were born and the context in which we want to keep them alive!  Tradition for the sake of tradition is dangerous and can be used as a tool for oppression, control and power over others.  It may also be that certain traditions simply don't apply to the culture in which we live.   We have to be smart and we have to be honest!  Lets be sure that we are choosing for the right reasons.  Are we rejecting parts of a tradition that feel inconvenient or uncomfortable to us?  Because we don't connect easily?  Are we being greedy in consuming the aspects of a tradition that we like and find seductive and exotic while discarding the rest?  Is there any sense that through skimming the surface we can get there? That we can have it all  without the time or dedication required to achieve the benefits of a deep commitment? Maybe, maybe not.  We can't have it all so it becomes important to figure out how we want to develop as a culture!

Weather we know it or not, we have a responsibility and each and every day we are collectively choosing the legacy we want to leave behind when we pass.  This is why I feel that there is a certain urgency around the issue of the traditions we choose to keep alive and the innovations we make.  With each choice that gets made, by default there is something that is not living on.  What values are informing the choices we make around what we continue to breathe life into?  

New technology and traditional wisdom offer us tools.  Our work is both to choose our tools wisely and to use them towards the enhancement of the experience of ours and the life of others.  When we come up against a barrier, a challenge, can we pause?  Can we stop and consider what tool we might need and where we can find it? Can we search deep and wide on the off chance that this same challenge has come up before and that someone has created, found or developed a tool which can help?

The ironic moment where things come full circle is where a tradition seems to come from such a distant place based on our present experience that it seen as something revolutionary and innovative.  When a tradition reminds us of something we have long forgotten, of a simple truth, of a universal human experience, this is where we must pay attention. This moment where amidst newness and excitment we feel connected to something bigger which reaches deep into the past and far into the future is one where it feels the choice becomes obvious. We desire nothing more than to gift this experience to those around us, to allow tradition to transform us, to gently and carefully innovate within a  tradition and keep it alive.

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Perspective on Stress and Tension

We all live with varying degrees of stress and tension.  Reducing stress is useful, if we are finding there is an over abundance of stress in our life.  Eliminating it completely however is futile and likely not what any of us want!  We choose stress all the time.  It is involved in many different areas of our life and often, the payoff feels worth the exertion because tension keeps us alive, it keeps us walking the tightrope, it is an essential part of the dance! Our world is one of yin and yang, night and day, darkness and light, earth and sky, joy and sadness and a world of stress and rest.  Stress itself is neither good nor bad but rather a reality of our existence which will affect us differently based on its quality and quantity.

What are the elements in my life which are causing stress?

From the perspective of our nervous system, any sort of stimulation counts as a form of stress.  Examples of this can range from a tiger attack, the sound of a car horn, a surprise poke from a friend, a bright flash of light and yes, of course, a vigorous yoga practice. So, contrary to what we might think on the surface, yoga really is not always a relaxing stress eliminating practice.

I'm not advocating for a blanket acceptance of all the stress that is present in our lives.  Our current western urban lifestyle often includes a great deal of extraneous and unnecessary stress.  Much of the constant stresses we experience become unconscious or less noticeable.  The same way we cease to hear the low-level hum of a refrigerator, we may also get used to a certain way of holding our body, of dealing with a challenging friend or colleague, of living on too little sleep, etc.  We don't notice anymore the tension which gets added to our life when we spend time in traffic or in crowded uncomfortable spaces.  We get used to all this holding and gripping which can create chronic patterns of stress and tension.  This in no way is a good thing.

What of the stress I experience is important, healthy and useful?

An over adbundance of stress will, in the long run tax our bodies and is at the source of most disease.  There are some signs that we're experiencing too much stress.  An inability to cope with even a small stressor may be one.  Feeling sick or tired all the time may be another. If we find ourself having seemingly uncontrollable cravings or moving towards an addictive behavior, it may also be a sign that some assessment of our stress levels are in order.

This process of identifying stressors is really important.  Not only can we start to identify stressors that we are willing to let go of, but we may also begin to notice where we choose unhealthy stress out of habit or out of fear for what we don't know.  This is where the unraveling process may get a bit more complicated or tricky... what is the fear that is driving us towards more and more stress in our life?  

How can I become more aware of the stress I carry and get better at dealing with it?

Enter, a balanced approach to yoga! A balanced practice includes at least two elements in varying degrees depending on what we need, what time of the day it is, how old, young, fit, relaxed, stressed we are.

Positive and healthy stress
We practice stressing and taxing the body with demanding physical postures and sequences in order to practice the ability to respond to stress in an efficient way.  If the body is healthy, a vigorous practice should feel hard without wiping you out completely.  If much of our time is spent being sedentary, this positive form of stress can not only help to keep us healthy and limber but it can be a way to move stagnation and to learn some great techniques and tools to help us deal with stress in a healthier way.

Learning to rest
Sometimes enough is enough and we just need to rest!  Our yoga practice can do this also.  Often the most challenging part of restorative and passive forms of yoga is giving ourselves permission to switch gears.  We practice deep rest.  Taking away all or as many of the stressors as possible, we take time to rest deeply and get the body habituated and sensitive to all the conscious and unconscious forms and patterns of stress that we hold in our body.

Recognizing what we need or practice to be is key! If stress has taken over, we may tend to want to keep pushing in that direction with more fire, movement and tension.  Can we instead allow for space, quiet and stillness?  I don't know about you but I want it all!  I want to experience all the subtleties of what a diverse approach to my practice can bring.  I would never choose to eat only one food for the rest of my life...why on earth would I choose only to move through my practice in the same way all the time?

Spending some time evaluating how much and what kind of stress is present in our life is almost always a useful way to spend some time.  Sometimes we need to experience the extremes to learn what feels balanced, normal, healthy.  So start the conversation with yourself. Ask some questions and most importantly, stay open to where some of the answers may lead you.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Always falling into love

Love... to be in love... I don't know that I can speak about love with any sort of authority though I have been privileged to witness some masters, some great lovers, not only of the romantic variety, and teachers of love in my life.

I can write about love from my imagination, through the lens of my finite being, of this place and time and from my experience of love and of the absence of it.  Much of my current pursuit is to find myself experiencing love as much and as often as possible.  Simple but not easy!

I want my life to be an experiment, a laboratory for all sorts of flavors, textures and qualities of love. I want my experiences to be ones where I easily tap into the abundance of love that is possible in every moment.  We are conditioned to identify and operate from an assumed scarcity when it comes to love.  We are taught to believe that some love is superior to others, that love is hard to find and that once we've got it we have to hold on for dear life.  What I keep coming back to and what my greatest teachers keep driving home is that there is no scarcity of love.

But why does it feel so challenging to experience love sometimes?  Because there is love that is easy and love that is hard. There is a reason that most love stories end with the first kiss.  This is the love that is easy, intoxicating, exciting, new.  This is the love that we can most easily identify because of it's intensity. There is truly nothing like the feeling of being in love.  It is amazing but like all incredibly desirable experiences, it can become an obsession, a fixation and an addiction.  Part of love practice is to acknowledge that sometimes love is easy and sometimes love is hard.

Can we practice love even when it is hard? Love feels harder when things are stale, stagnant, when we are grouchy or hurt, when there is a breach of trust.  Love is also hard when we dislike or feel indifferent towards someone.  These are all our greatest opportunities to practice love.  These moments of challenging love are when we can make love something we do and not just something that happens to us once in a while.

Practicing love amidst hardship, loneliness, boredom is where the challenge lies.  It is a noble pursuit to be infusing love into all the parts of our lives that feel tricky or sticky or rough.

What does this look like?  I am certainly not advocating for a blind denial of negative experiences or feelings.  Spending our time wishing things were different is in many ways antithetical to love practice.  Love and honesty absolutely must go hand in hand.  Honesty about what is present is the first step.  Can we hold space for all that we experience and approach our experience with as much love as possible.  We first love ourselves enough for our experience to be okay and valid.  We create space for the experience and spend time responding with clarity and gentleness.

So we act with honesty in the moments where love feels hard and then when love feels easy?  "When Shakti strikes, surrender with a smile."  We have turned the soil, planted the seeds and done the work and all that remains is to enjoy watching what will grow, blossom and evolve.  The brilliance is that we really do have the great privilege to experience love all the time.  Notice the easy moments of love in each and every day, take these moments in fully, they are there...  Perhaps in the perfect cup of tea, in the music that makes your soul soar.  Dive deep in to the love of the lingering hug from a friend, the moon, the sun, a deep breath or the feeling your body moving.

When we make love our practice, both when it is easy and when it is hard, when we allow more space for what is present now, for the relationships that exist in our life, this inevitably helps us to see that love abounds. We always have the capacity to be in love.  It is a choice, a practice and a surrender.  Love is not a substance to be acquired and it doesn't have to look a certain way.  Love is abundant and our work is simple.  Keep remembering love.  Keep acting from love. Keep being in love.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Setting smart intentions differently

Resolutions! We've all been doing it for years and generally with varying degrees of success.  Unfortunately, many of us discontinue the practice as it feels that we are incapable of keeping resolutions for very long.  An understandable choice; how are we expected to succeed at keeping resolutions when we've never really been shown how to effectively set intentions in the first place?  Smart change is lasting change!  This is something I am slowly discovering.  My new way of approaching change was kick-started in Mexico this summer where I had the privilege of spending some time with my teachers Katie Silcox and Chrisandra Fox Walker.

A big part of what I experienced during the month immersion that I did in Mexico was a completely new way of setting intention and creating change in my life.  Through an integral and multi-faceted approach, lots of hard work and honesty, we absolutely have the possibility of fulfilling our intentions.  Don't be fooled, however, I'm not here to say it will be a walk in the park.  This work is not always necessarily easy and does involve a level of self-honesty which can be challenging.  A few ideas...

Start with something small and concrete:

We humans have a vivid imagination.  Our ability to imagine can be a gift and a curse.  When we set grandiose goals that are lofty and deeply rooted in the realm of our imagination, this may mean that our goals are quite separate from the reality of our lives.  If this is the case, we risk the disappointment of not realizing them.  On so many levels, we cannot underestimate the unfortunate result of telling ourselves we are going to do something without following through.  This sends the message that we can't be trusted to act with integrity, that we don't do what we say we are going to do.  The more this happens, the further away we get from what we want and the harder it becomes to set goals and to believe in ourselves enough to fulfill them.

The flip side of this is that we build on success, however small that success may be.  Even a small accomplishment sends ripples of confidence into many other realms of our life so that when we make small changes and stick with them, we continuously create confidence in our ability to stick with it and to get closer to a life of integrity.

Figure out a timeline that works:

Not too near and not too far but just right is the key!  Again, until the summer, I didn't realize quite how important timing is.  Especially when the intention or goal is one that is related to a habit, which is most often the case.  When I use the words 'forever' or 'never again' this feels really daunting and makes it an appealing option to give up and weasle out of what I have set out to do. I found that for myself, setting a goal that spans over the course of one year was realistic.

This means that I have space for the freak-out and that there is also space for the freak-out to end! Where before I felt a sense of failure as soon as something was hard, giving myself a specific time line really changed this.  Relaxing around the freak-out phase without just abandoning all together makes things so much easier.  With a year ahead of me, I know that with time, the changes I'm trying to make will become easier and easier!

When trying something new, let something go.  When letting something go, try something new:

We are finite creatures with finite amounts of energy, time and resources.  Let's not forget that as we work towards real and significant shifts.  One really cool technique is that of linking a positive form of change with something negative that we wish to let go of.

Our actions and habits have a certain amount of momentum and energy behind them and the practice here is to re-direct that energy and momentum towards that which we really want to be feeding!  As disparate as the two may seem, when I think about what I really want in a moment when I'm feeling likely to engage in a negative action, maybe I can see more clearly how my motivation is slanted and this is really helpful for a double dose of positive change.

Speak it out loud:

Once the leg work is done, the counter-point to a new goal is identified and a time-line put in place, see if you can cement your idea to make it more real. Write it down!  Send yourself a letter!  Tell your friends!  Hold a ritual or ceremony!  Allow your goals to exist somewhere outside of your head...

Be kind to yourself around this entire process:

Change is almost never easy and it takes hard work and time to integrate.  When we frame our behavior or action as either a failure or a success, this can leave us feeling terrible when we don't 'succeed'.  Rather than berating yourself when things don't work out, see if you can try to identify what hasn't worked and make the necessary changes to your plan to up the odds in your favor.  This could mean scaling down expectations, re-framing the timeline or coming back to your motivations for the change you're trying to make.

Get some expert help and advice:

My intention here was to offer a few tools which have really helped me to make significant changes.  Much of what I'm describing is a simplified explanation of a very cool system of discovery and intention setting outlined beautifully in The Four Desires by Rod Stryker.  If you're interested at all in delving deep in the process of leaning more about yourself and of setting goals with depth and meaning, I can very much recommend working with this book.

A few really cool tricks to help make changes that stick! So as we sit, here towards the end of January, don't believe what they say... January 1st need not be the only day of the year where we resolve.  Bust out a journal, cup of tea and look within.   Be kind to yourself, be real, think about your goals long and hard, visualize your resolutions in space and time, think big but scale back it it all becomes too much.  We can achieve our goals!  Especially when we set them with vision, imagination and intelligence.