The Nature Of Obstacles

The Hindu god Ganesha, the god with the elephant’s head, is beloved by millions as the remover of obstacles.  His name is often invoked at the beginning of a new venture; he is thought to bring his followers good luck and fortune.

He bears the head of an elephant because one day his mother, the goddess Parvati, asked him to guard the door while she bathed.  He did so faithfully, denying even his father, Shiva, entrance.  Shiva was not pleased that Ganesha was standing between him and Shiva’s wife, and so he cut off Ganesha’s head.  Feeling contrite almost immediately, Shiva ordered his servants to find a replacement head for Ganesha–they returned with the head of an elephant, and Ganesha has been known as the Elephant God ever since.

Elephants represent wisdom, and not just any wisdom, but that of your higher self, the self that exists before and beyond what you think of as your life.  This wisdom is what counsels us to choose love, to create beauty, to forgive, to seek, to trust.  This wisdom is what teaches us that all of our obstacles exist only in our minds.

Ganesha is the Remover of Obstacles, but in this well-known story, he is himself the obstacle, standing between mother and father.  It is his head that is removed, and then transformed into a symbol of higher truth.  This is the greatest teaching of the story:  we are our obstacles.  What stands between us and the love and light we seek are our thoughts, our fears, our resentments.  To be free, we must replace the thoughts that stand between us and joy with the thoughts of our higher selves, our true wisdom.  Only then may we be transformed into all we are capable of becoming.

Only you can remove your obstacles.  Only you are the chosen hero of your story.  You have the power to transform darkness into light, because darkness is nothing but the shadows of empty thoughts.  Trust in your own wisdom, and allow your obstacles to be transformed.

News: Her Future & Website Updates

Two quick news items:

First, HerFuture.com selected my Wabi Sabi post for this week’s Blogs We Dig!  Check out all the featured blogs here.  Thanks, Her Future!

Second, I added a new menu, For A Windy Day, to my website.  You will now be able to go directly to some of my past posts on Myths & Stories, Love & Relationships, Meditation and Ways of Peace.  I hope this will make it easier for you to navigate the website and find just what you’re looking for.

Thank you all for your support–it means so very much to me.

With love,

Jennifer

How To Make Your Life One Long Vacation

Sunrise over Lake Tahoe

The secrets to a good vacation and a happy life are one and the same.  After all, we are born explorers.  We tend to forget this when we aren’t in new places.  But there are always new things to discover, even in our own backyards.

1.  Live as an explorer.  Be open and ready for adventures.  Realize, as you look around your surroundings, that you may never see them quite the same way again.  Learn what you can.  Take notes.  Take pictures.

2.  Expect the unexpected.  Appreciate and savor where you are and what you are doing.  Learn all you can about others and their ways of life.  Adapt to your surroundings.

3.  Take the time to study your maps, but also be willing to get lost.  Plan your day, but don’t be afraid to abandon your itinerary and linger in a sidewalk café.

4.  Suspend judgment.  Recognize that you can’t know everything (good tourists know how to listen and ask questions).  Ask for help when you need it.  Help others when they need it.

5.  Focus on what matters most–exploring, learning, relaxing, having fun, spending time with loved ones.  And always, decide to enjoy yourself!

Playing The Game

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.  ~George Bernard Shaw

The older we get, the more consumed we are by work.  We want to do more, have more, accomplish more.  We think that all these things will make us happy.  Someday.  We think that by doing things that don’t make us happy, by suffering for our duties and obligations, we will earn our happiness.  But, intuitively, we know better.  We know that happiness follows joy, not suffering.

Why this preoccupation with how diligent we are, how focused, how much we suffer for duty?  Why not, instead, pride yourself on how much fun you are having?  Or, better still, on how much fun you can make your work?

When I worked in the corporate world, the days that flowed the best were the ones in which I embraced my job and treated it like a game, rather than resenting and struggling against it.  Dressed in my suit, briefcase in one hand and a coffee in the other, on my way to another oh-so-important meeting…  I was playing at being a lawyer.  Some might say that this isn’t a serious way to approach a career, yet those were the days that I was at my brightest, quickest, most capable and most hard-working.  I was not succumbing to stress and fear.  I embraced the game, and I played it well.  The most successful lawyers I know are the ones who enjoy practicing law, who see the fun in it.  Is that so surprising?  Those who enjoy what they do always do it best.

Is it so different from what we learned as children?  We dressed up and pretended to be teachers, soldiers, hairdressers.  Even the most ordinary and mundane professions seemed glamorous and exciting.  We couldn’t wait for the day when it was real.  Yet when that day came, we started to take our lives seriously, and lost the fun of the game.

What we really desire is to keep playing.  To make the difficult, challenging and boring moments of our lives interesting, exhilarating, an adventure.  And why not?  Why not change your point of view, and embrace the game rather than the fear?  Whatever you do with your day–work in an office, care for children, serve drinks, cook dinner–make it a game.  Use your creativity, your sense of wonder.  Life can be as much fun as you let it be.

Journey Into Stillness: Meditation & Wabi Sabi

I have practiced meditation for years, for many reasons.  Most often because I am tired, or anxious, or because it seems like the right thing to do after yoga.  Most of the time, it feels good.  Afterwards, I am calmer, more centered, more balanced.  And besides, all the wisdom traditions of the world counsel us to practice meditation–they must be on to something.

But because I have devoted these 40 days to a more intense meditation practice, I have begun to ask myself:  why meditate?  Because it feels good and makes me kinder and calmer are all good answers, sufficient on their own, and yet because it is the focus of so many different religions and spiritual practices, I want more than that.

So this morning, as I meditated over a hot cup of coffee, I asked the wind:  why meditate?  And heard this answer:  Because it is an opportunity to stop and see, feel and hear a moment that will never come again.  Because it allows you to embrace the wabi sabi nature of the world and your life.

Meditation is not another project for your to-do list.  It is not something else you need to do or obtain to prove yourself spiritual.  Many people meditate to be calmer, more patient, more enlightened–and this may be the result–but the real reason to meditate is simply to allow what is to be.  To allow yourself to be.  To rest in the now.  Not so that you can check “enlightenment” off your list.  Not so that you can achieve some standard of perfection you have set for yourself.  But rather, so that you can learn to embrace imperfection.

Wabi Sabi teaches us that everything is imperfect, impermanent, unfinished.  We spend most of our time ignoring or denying that fact.  We either cling to what is before us–our relationships, our possessions, those things we think we want–or we push it all away, hold it at arm’s length, because we know it cannot last.  Meditation is an opportunity to practice a different way, a way that neither clings to what is nor denies it.

When we meditate (which is to say, when we are firmly rooted in the present moment), we allow ourselves to experience what is before us.  We really hear the birds sing; we feel the wind through our hair.  We taste the blackberry melting on our tongues; we allow the colors of the grass and flowers to flood our eyes.  No moment will ever come again in quite the same way, but when you allow a moment to fill your senses, when you experience it fully, it becomes a part of you.  You may not remember it later, but you don’t need to.  It is you, and you are it, forever.

This is why it is not important how you meditate.  How long, where, with what tools–those are all just guides to lead you into the here and now.  What matters is that you open, and open again, and again.

We forget, in the rush of our lives, to be present.  We fall back into our old habits of clinging and pushing, clinging and pushing.  With meditation, we practice being, accepting, allowing.  We train ourselves to see the world differently, to experience our lives differently.  We learn to delight in the changes, rather than fear them.  We learn to love what is, even as it moves and transforms.  And finally, we allow ourselves to merge with time and space, forever entwined, a dance without beginning or end.

Out Of The Past

When we look at the world, we see our thoughts.  There is nothing we see that does not have a story attached to it.  The story may be a memory (a cup bought on vacation; a gift from a treasured friend), or it may be an opinion (I like this; I don’t like that).  But whether we are aware of it or not, we attach stories to everything we see, and those stories all arise from the past, because the past is all we know.

Our stories are not necessarily bad things.  But they are only stories.  To see something fresh, something new, as if for the first time, as if you had no idea what it was and no opinion about it–that is to see something truly.  When you stop seeing only the past, you are open to possibility, to the future.

This is why all the sages counsel us to be here now–to stop dwelling on our thoughts of the future and the past and to be in the present.  Because to be in the present, without limiting it to what you think it is or should be, is what allows you to make the best decisions, to express yourself fully, to enjoy the flow of life around you.

Enjoy your stories, but do not forget that is all they are.  Let them go if they aren’t serving you; create new ones.  Start with where you are, and with what is possible.

Everything begins here.

Embrace

Once you have truly seen something–seen into its heart and understood it–you can never not see it again.  It is always there, always whispering, always waiting.  It is the awakened Beloved.

Find the quiet beauty, the hidden perfection.  Let yourself be guided by truth.  How do you know when you are hearing the voice of truth?  It does not taste of fear.  It does not blame, reject, accuse.  It forgives.  It is kind.  It is the best in you, the best in others.  And it is always there, waiting for you to choose love over fear, hoping that you will listen.

So put all of your eggs in one basket.  Stop hedging your bets.  Act as though you trust the God you believe in.  Give your all to love, to light, to hope.  And remember:  your life is not yours to fix.  It is yours to embrace.

Journey Into Stillness: Books On Meditation

“[M]editation is like any other intimate relationship:  it requires patience, commitment, and deep tolerance.  Just as our encounters with others can be baffling, scary, and even irritating, our encounters with the self have their own moods and flavors.  Like any other relationship, this one changes over time.  And it is best undertaken with love.”  -Sally Kempton

My 40 day journey into stillness begins today.  Have you decided to join me?  Are you still not sure?  There is no right answer and no right way to do this.  Start now or catch up later–the path will always be there, waiting for you to explore it.  Try it now or try it later, but know always that the journey is your own.

Whether you are committed to your practice or only mildly intrigued, you may be looking for more guidance about how to begin.  I gave you some of my ideas about meditation here; here are a few of my favorite books on meditation:

Meditation Made Easy, by Lorin Roche.  This is “come as you are” meditation.  It is an excellent introduction to the simplicity of meditation, and demonstrates how easy and enjoyable it can be.

Meditation Secrets for Women: Discovering Your Passion, Pleasure, and Inner Peace, by Camille Maurine and Lorin Roche.  Roche teamed up with his wife, Camille Maurine, to write a book specifically geared towards women.  Throughout history, most formal meditation practices have been practiced and taught by men, to men.  This book takes a unique approach to meditation from a feminine perspective.

Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  A landmark book on meditation.  Kabat-Zinn discussed different meditative practices in small, poetically written chapters.  This book is both clear and inspirational.

Meditation for the Love of It: Enjoying Your Own Deepest Experience, by Sally Kempton.  Sally Kempton is a frequent contributor to Yoga Journal.  When you are ready to dive deeper into the many facets of meditation, particularly those arising from yogic wisdom, this is a lovely place to go.

The finger that points at the moon is not the moon, Zen and Buddhist sages tell us.  To understand meditation and, more importantly, ourselves, we must not only think and study–we must also practice.  We must explore.  And we must be patient with the process, for meditation is a path different from that of our daily lives.  Going inward is foreign territory for most of us.  The roads are not always clear; our journeys are not always what we expect.

Although no one can take the journey for us, we can learn from those who have gone before.  May you find the teachers you need, but always remember that your best teacher lives within your own heart.

“Give up to grace.  The ocean takes care of each wave ‘til it gets to shore.  You need more help than you know.”  ~Rumi

Kindness

Joy, kindness & love–my mother & me, 1979.

For my mother–my muse and inspiration for joy, kindness and love, and for all the mothers who see and nurture the beauty of their children.

Magic lives in the most simple acts of kindness. When we are kind, when we notice the kindness of others, we invite more beauty and grace into the world.

Kind people are more beautiful to us. We trust them, we cherish them, even if their gifts are not always trumpeted. True kindness requires intelligence and courage. It is a quiet power, but one that is unique and formidable. We love kind people; we want to be around them. We love ourselves when we act from a place of compassion. When we act from a place of love, we understand the divinity in all things, feel the oneness that mystics and sages sing about.

Acts of kindness do not ignore the self–after all, the way we treat ourselves mirrors the way we treat others. We cannot deal with ourselves cruelly and still be good to others, or the other way around.

But kindness can often go unnoticed, simply because we forget to look for it. We notice when others neglect us, when a careless word causes us pain. Why not look instead for the ways in which we are loved, the ways in which our love is reflected back to us? Assume that others are good and kind; assume always that others are doing the best they can as they walk their own paths. Trust the beauty and goodness in yourself, and don’t be afraid to share it.

“My religion is kindness.” ~Dalai Lama

Journey Into Stillness: An Introduction To Meditation

In anticipation of 40 days of meditation beginning on May 15th, here are a few guidelines for developing your own practice:

(1)  Follow your own inner rhythms.  Your meditation practice should be as unique as you are, as personal as your connection with the Divine.  Trust what calls to you.  Trust what feels right to you.  If you feel peaceful, expansive, open, then you’re doing it right, whether you’re sitting, lying down or dancing.

(2)  Allow change.  No two days are quite the same; no two meditations are quite the same.  Some days you may feel blissful, other days it will be a struggle to sit still.  Embrace the changes.  Experience it all.  If something doesn’t feel right, try something else.

(3)  Be open.  To where you are, who you are and all that is.  Give yourself to the moment you are in, including how you feel, the noises around you, even the so-called interruptions.  They are all part of the practice.  Don’t expect to silence your thoughts, just let them be.  When you find yourself dwelling on your thoughts (and you will), just let them float away and return to your practice, again and again.

(4)  Go slowly.  Meditation is a practice, not a race.  Take your time building a practice.  As you begin your 40-day practice, if you are new to meditation, commit only to spending at least 30 seconds in meditation.  That is enough.  Over time, 30 seconds may become 2 minutes, then 5 minutes, then 20.  There is no reward for more time spent, and it is far more important that you focus on connecting with yourself than it is that you check off how many minutes you spent each day.  Two minutes in true stillness are far more valuable to peace and happiness than an hour spent watching the clock and worrying over tasks waiting to be done.  Remember, the path of stillness is a journey, not a destination.

(5)  Explore.  There is a kaleidoscope of different meditation techniques available to you.  Try many; use whatever sounds the most appealing, the most delightful.  A few suggestions:

Focus on your breath as it flows in and out of your body.

Focus on the feel of your heartbeat–feel the pulse of your life.

Use a mantra.  This can be a sacred Sanskrit word, such as Om (the sound of the universe), Sat Nam (“truth is my name”) or So Hum (“That I am”).  It could also be an affirmation that inspires you, such as “Love,” “I am peaceful,” or “I am at ease with myself and others.”  Use one that resonates with you.  Experiment.

Use music or guided meditations, especially when you are beginning, to lead you into meditation.  I sometimes meditate to Aine Minogue’s Celtic Meditation Music; I also like Gabrielle Bernstein Meditations and Spirit Junkie Guided Meditations.  (Gabrielle Bernstein also has free meditations available on iTunes–they don’t have the beautiful music of her cds, but are still a lovely guide into stillness.)  The yoga teacher, Janet Stone, recently released a new iPhone App (Yoga with Janet Stone) which includes some beautiful, guided meditations in addition to yoga practices.  The iChakra App is another good resource if you’re interested in Kundalini mantra meditation.

Sometimes the path to stillness involves movement.  Try a walking meditation, or do an activity you love, such as knitting or baking, with gentleness and presence.  Or lie down if that feels best to you.  Don’t worry about falling asleep–if you do, it only means you needed that more than anything else.  And meditation is all about supporting the parts of you that need support and finding your own manner of peace.

(6)  Bring all of yourself into your meditation–your fears, your anxieties, your sadness.  This is your chance to be whole, to embrace everything you are, the beautiful, the brave, the fragile, the rebellious.  Your feelings will not hurt you.  Explore them.

(7)  Just listen.  Tune into what your body is whispering, to what your heart is telling you.  When you listen closely enough, you may find yourself awakened to Truth, able to translate the voice of Love.  Write it down.  Share your discoveries.

(8)  Watch for magic.  Time spent in meditation always finds its way back to you.  When you open to the magic of the moment, it grows around you.  You have more energy, more patience, more love to give.  You find the right action arising naturally; you flow with your life rather than against it.

If you have questions or suggestions of your own, I would love to hear them.  What ways have you found to cultivate peace?  When are you called to silence, and what have you found there?

However you choose to journey into stillness, may it bring you home to yourself.

Namaste.

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