Top 6 Lessons from my Grandma

1. Forget the wrinkle cream – go for Radiance.

My Grandma was BEAUTIFUL. Lots of people said so. It wasn’t because she was wrinkle free or had lustrous hair or because she ever stepped foot in a gym. She had a radiance that transcended the physical and came from years of working out her inner self. She had an undeniable light that radiated from her and around her.

2. You have enough to be happy right now.

I loved to visit with Grandma in her quiet apartment. One day she sat in her chair, in her 90s, with a blanket draped over her legs. She had developed severe, unrelenting neck pain. She wasn’t one to complain, but when asked directly about it she said, “Yes. It’s still there. I do hurt…but right now in this moment I have everything I need…to have a good day.”

3. Trust they will figure it out.

I was unhappy in my job for years. As I listed everything about it I didn’t like she kept asking me what I WANTED. Again and again (I see now) she attempted to redirect my efforts from fruitlessly focusing on the negative to looking toward the positive. I remember the exact moment she dropped it, looked directly into my eyes and said with conviction, “I know you’ll figure it out”. I had given her no reason to believe that, but she did. And, eventually, I did too.

4. It’s never too late.

Grandma was ahead of her time. She occasionally broke the rules and often took her own road. She was open to new ideas, new ways of thinking and of being. She kept growing and changing and learning. She had the courage to let herself fall madly in love in her 80s. She and Dan had a glorious, spectacular romance and marriage. That relationship was an inspiration to everyone lucky enough to be around them.

5. Be still and Listen

Grandma had a lot of interesting things to say if you were willing to wait through the pauses and let her find her words. She made a practice studying inspirational readings each morning and then sitting still and listening. It was through her that the most influential teachers and books came into my life. These teachings woke up my heart and mind and taught me to sit still…every day…and Listen.

6. You are the author of your story.

I grew up 3,000 miles away from Grandma and our relationship evolved mostly through letters. At age 35 I was finally living nearby and appreciating our face-to-face talks. During one of them she announced that she was at peace with the idea of dying soon and I panicked, “NO! Grandma! I just got here. We haven’t had enough time!” She let me go on for a while and then slowly said, “What if we decided we’ve had the perfect amount of time?”

We can do that. We can decide there is nothing to resist; nothing to regret; nothing to push against. We can decide we’ve had the perfect amount of time.

Marjorie Seelye
May 1921- September 2015

What’s Good?

shutterstock_95148214In the past couple of months, I have had several wonderful conversations with soon-to-be Moms. This always takes me back to own first experience being pregnant which was 22 years ago and yesterday. The contrast between these practical, thoughtful, organized women and the raw mess of uncertainty I remember being makes me wish I could make a cup of tea and offer some reassuring words to my younger, preggo self.

I spent my first pregnancy overwhelmed at the vastness of all that I would need to know as a new parent. All that I would need to teach this new little person. I read books, took in negotiations between Moms and their misbehaving children at the grocery store and watched my trail-blazing friends with their toddlers. The more I watched, the more I realized I was in over my head. This feeling would be the most extreme when I would visit my parents. They had all the answers. My Mom knows grammar better than most teachers I ever had, she can name just about any flower, tree, bush you happen upon and she did easily and regularly make us delicious meals, all perfectly timed (there have literally been times that my entree was ready a full day after the sides. Sadly, I am not kidding.). Once, she sewed (from scratch) a down vest for my Dad. A DOWN VEST PEOPLE! Yeah-after my visits with them, my overwhelm would turn to out right terror. And my Dad? Ask him anything. Serioulsy, ANYTHING. About the name of the clouds present that day, how to irrigate an orchard, wire a house for electricity or the function of the spoiler on the wings of a Boeing 747 during final approach. Anything– I am telling you.

But when my son, Sam, was born I learned the secret most new parents find out but never seem to talk about: The pressure is off because they are going to teach us far more than we can ever hope to teach them.

My boys are now interesting, strong and openhearted men of 20 and 22. I am thrilled to still be learning, expanding and evolving through the blessing of being their Mom; this happens sometimes in big ways, but mostly in small every day ways.

This is one of those seemingly small but absolutely perspective-rearranging lessons that I got from my youngest, Dominic:

Sometime during his senior year of high school, I noticed Dom and his buddies would greet each other as they arrived at each other’s houses, at school or on the phone by simply saying, “What’s Good?”  No hello first. No ridiculous beer commercial greeting of “Whhuuuuussss Uuuuuuupppp?”  Just simply “What’s good?” I smiled every time I heard this and thought it was such a wonderful way to frame the beginning of a conversation.

Then Dom started greeting me this way, in the morning or late at night as he was slipping in just before (or sometimes after) curfew. Every time, no matter what the hour or what I was doing, this simple question would make me pause and start scanning my memory for the most significant good thing to report.

A few years after witnessing and being the recipient of “What’s good?” greetings, I read the book Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson, Phd. and discovered that Dom and his friends had actually been dabbling in neuroscience. That this is not only a great way to greet a friend but it can actually rewire the brain. In Buddha’s Brain, Hanson claims that our brains are like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive experiences. This hard-wired negativity bias has been a survival mechanism, keeping our species alive all these years by scanning for threat. Here’s the rub, we are no longer running from saber-toothed tigers. Our cell phones, our busy workday, overpopulation and our commute home have become our saber-toothed triggers. Our sympathetic nervous system records these negative, stressful experiences and, unless we have a way of mitigating that stress, it can make us feel that we have a tiger chasing us through our day.

There are many practices that can help us diminish stress and our negativity bias, and you already know some of the very best or you wouldn’t be reading this blog. Yoga, meditation, prioritizing “white space” in your day and connecting with community.

Here is another: Meditating on what is good. Research supports this practice as increasing neuropaths ways for positive feelings. It is a meditation called “Taking in the Good” and this is how it works:

Take your seat, close the eyes and think of a moment in the last 3 days that made you smile, laugh or feel loved—a positive experience. Now for 20 seconds, hold that thought in your awareness as you try to “feel” that moment. In every cell you try to translate that experience into an exaggerated physical feeling throughout the entire body. You can contemplate the various qualities of the feelings it creates; bring a vivid picture of that moment into your mind. Now turn up the volume on that feeling, imagine your whole being soaking in that positive experience. Marinate in the felt sense of the experience. Remain curious and open during this practice and know that sticking with this memory as a physical experience may at first be a challenge. It is not currently how we are wired and changing wiring will take some time, dedication and effort.

If you would like to hear Dr. Hanson talk about “Taking in the Good” click on this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jA3EGx46r4Q

With Mother’s Day around the corner, I invite you to think of a sweet moment with your own Mom or simply witness a Mom in the trenches at the grocery store. Look for that magic moment, then see if you can wire it in.

And when you next arrive on your mat, close your eyes, drop into your breath and ask yourself, “What’s good?”

What’s for dinner?

Recently I attended a weekend training in Vancouver, BC with Judith Lasater, an internationally known yoga instructor. She asked us to take a few minutes at home the next day to jot down the five most common thoughts we had throughout the day. Sadly, my repetitive thoughts were not profound or enlightened or even remotely inspirational.

“What’s for dinner?” came to mind repeatedly throughout the day until I finally decided what to make and gathered the ingredients to begin. “What should I blog about?”, “Where is my phone?” and “Where are the dogs?” were also in the running.

My Mom, who has Alzheimer’s, has lost her ability to filter her repetitive thoughts and says them out loud over and over again but the quality of her ponderings are surprisingly similar to mine. I know I have grown irritated in the past after the thirtieth time (in an hour) she has wondered aloud, “where are the dogs?” but now I wonder if my irritation came from her beating me to the question? The most heart-wrenching statement that she repeats regularly is, “I don’t know what I am doing….” Alternated with “What should I be doing?”

This past weekend, we launched our 4th year of Three Trees Yoga Teacher Training. During the philosophy class, Karen taught that the “turnings of the mind” are called vritti (sort of rhymes with pretty and literally means waves or whirlpool) in Sanskrit, and added that once you know this word, it tends to sneak into your everyday vocabulary. We will often comment to each other, “I have vritti about (fill in the blank with the kids, our husbands, our parents, or any random irritation that has crept into our minds.)” Some of the students in the program suggested that “rumination” (the compulsively focused attention on the symptoms of one’s distress) and “perseveration” (The recurrence of a tune or thought in the mind) might be the closest words we have to vritti in English.

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, an ancient philosophical text, vritti appears in the second sutra or aphorism, and helps illuminate a definition of yoga: “yoga chitta vritti nirodha.” Though there are many variations on how this statement is translated from Sanskrit, one common interpretation is “yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” In other words, we do yoga in order to achieve a stillness and clarity of mind.

Unlike with ruminations, vritti are not necessarily negative, just repetitive. However, the repetition of the thought, the conversation, or the musing can distract us from being present or in other words, from being aware of what is happening right in front of us. If the vritti is a story we have been telling ourselves repeatedly or a conversation we have been chewing on, there is a tendency to identify the thought as truth and not just the idle distractions of a busy, stressed-out mind. Think, “My thighs are so fat.” “Why is he mad at me?” “I should have told her to _______________.” Or “What if such and such happens?”

Sometimes my Mom will sit motionless and stare into space for long periods of time. Seeing her like this is usually disconcerting and causes me to worry and even sometimes begin to act like a human-size vritti, peppering her with questions designed to get her moving. “Mom, you want to take a walk or play Scrabble…maybe watch TV?”

Lately I’ve been thinking that maybe Mom has finally achieved a state of calm, where the fluctuations of her mind have quieted and she has entered a state of meditation rather than catatonia. Perhaps I should be celebrating that, for once, she is not obsessed with the location of the dogs or wondering what she should be doing. Her countenance is as quiet and still as a lake… no waves…no vritti. After all, when babies stare over our shoulder seemingly at nothing, we say with a smile that they are “talking to the angels.” Maybe this is a full circle moment where my Mom is also re-visiting her celestial guides and instead of worrying, I should just smile? By shifting my perspective on her need to be still, I have allowed my own vritti about her well-being to quiet a bit as well.

Unfortunately, that has done nothing to help free me from the daily self-inquiry of “What’s for dinner?” And by the way, in case you were wondering, the dogs are under my desk, lying on my feet.

* Jeni Martinez is a yoga lifer. In order to have time to blog, she has had to give up flossing her teeth. (Please do not mention this to her dentist.) She lives in Twin Lakes with her twin teenage boys, her husband, her mother and her two dogs. She credits yoga with keeping her sane; her husband’s cooking with keeping her healthy; her boys for keeping her awake and her Mom for teaching her early on how to make the best brownies.

Inventing the word Efforting

It was day 7 of a 9 day intensive training in mindfulness. There were 50 of us and many came from other countries and were immersed in teachings that were not in their native language. Several times one of them would speak about the mental exhaustion that came with learning this way. I gave myself a mental note.  I really focused on it.

“Karen, do not take a training in a second language. It is just too hard.” Reserving some of my limited mental space for this important directive.

Then, I remembered, “You don’t HAVE a second language.”

There was absolutely no risk that I might sign up for anything whatsoever in a nonexistent second language! I laughed at myself for putting so much energy into remembering something that required absolutely no energy at all.
On the last morning of the training I recognized how often I do that. How frequently I make something effortful that will unfold naturally on its own. I saw my habit of “efforting”; of outlining and planning and attempting to organize the future.

So often, what is called for is simply “being.”
Any effort that might be required will arise naturally out of the being.
A question I am holding when I am on my yoga mat now is
“Where am I efforting? Where I am trying to make something happen when I could relax into being and just watch what unfolds?
And how does holding that question shift things in my mind, body and breath?”

Karen

Photo by Mike Summers – www.mikesummers.net

Meditations on Love from Unexpected Places

I LOVE Valentine’s Day! I know a lot of folks think of it as a Hallmark holiday but for me it has always been a day of getting to watch expressions of love as action (which along with chocolate, is my love language—but we’ll get to that later). For me, words can be wonderful, but action? Well, it can bust my heart wide open.

Having my heart busted open is what has happened for me every Valentines Day for the past 8 years. You see, I have a specific meditation practice that I do every Valentines Day. Have you seen the movie “Love Actually”? The ending (spoiler alert) shows clips of expressions of love between families, friends, and lovers all happening as they greet each other at the airport. I have never looked at an airport arrival area the same since watching that movie. Well, translate that scene to the Fred Meyers parking lot on Valentine’s Day. I sit in my car in the morning with my Starbucks drink and watch (mostly) men walk into the store with determination, fear, concern, bewilderment on their faces and walk out with carnations, roses balloons, chocolates. For the bewildered ones, all of the above. Then there are the kids coming out with something they are proud of for a teacher, a parent or a grandparent. It is love in action and it gets me every year.

How we love each other and find ways to love each other can be tricky. We all have unmet needs, we all have past wounds, we all have an ego that can jump in the way and muck things up; but I think for most of us there is an enormous discomfort with laying it all out there and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable. So this might knock your socks off, the way it did mine…

Recently, a sweet man and beautiful soul called me with a question that he had been contemplating since reading an article from Buddhist Monk and meditation guru, Thich Naht Hahn.   He asked simply, “How can I love you better?”

Can you imagine being asked that question? I believe my response was a 3-minute, “uhhhhhhhhhhhh” while my brain melted down.   It was like some small corner of my heart that had never seen daylight just had the blinds thrown open. When my brain was back on-line, my response was the truest thing I have ever said, “you just did.”

Since then, I think about that question a lot in relation to my sons, my parents, friends, my peeps in my 7am class on Mondays; I even thought it recently of a guy working at the pharmacy that I wanted to throttle (a story for another day.) I allowed myself to feel the throttling urge for a bit, but I eventually got to “love you better” with him. Which consisted of simply choosing to not throttle him, of course.

This Valentine’s Day, I invite you to melt the brains of the people you love. “How can I love you better?”

Their answers may surprise you. If they are speechless, like I was, pick up the book The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It’s a guide that helps you outline how you best feel and receive love (acts of service, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, quality time or physical touch). It also helps you identify which language resonates with your loved ones best, how they best feel loved.   Often times, we give in a language that we like to receive in, when the target of our love may have a heart that speaks a completely different language. There is a version of the book for every relationship: couples, kids, teens, singles even an edition for those in the military.

Brene’ Brown says “vulnerability is about having the courage to show up and be seen.” So I invite you, on the Valentines Day, be courageous, show up, ask good questions, melt someone’s brain. And don’t forget to ask this question of yourself as well. How can you show up for yourself, love yourself better, allow for more self –compassion with the same care that you do the people you love most?

In the spirit of this deep practice, I will meet you on the mat…and possibly in the Fred Meyer’s parking lot on Valentines Day.

Suzy

 

 

 

 

 

Another Way to Meet You on Your Mat

The three of us are sitting by a fire in the Cedarwood Hotel. We are on a planning retreat and contemplating our 10 year anniversary which arrives this June. Already we have repeated a favorite mantra of ours which has been joyfully proclaimed in the past while singing at the top of our lungs with Kirtan, dancing with a beautiful group of new training graduates, sun saluting amidst yogis and fishermen at the waters edge or whispered in the heart of a labrynth …
“We’re working right now.”

In 2005 we aspired to create a studio as a way to connect with others and build community around all things yoga. Time and again we marvel at the privilege of immersing ourselves in the practices that speak to our hearts along side others who share in that joy and inspire us at every turn. Yet through this decade-long journey we have found that running a business has a tendency to pull us away from our mats. We didn’t anticipate government audits, fighting to change tax codes, unreliable HVAC units , break-ins, and having to meet with so many professionals whose attire does not include yoga pants. Yet it was returning to our mats again and again that kept it alive and juicy and sustaining for us. We don’t get excited over paint quotes, but we are deeply fed by sharing what we are learning and practicing with you, who are willing to come and play.

Before we opened our doors, we made an intention that Three Trees Yoga would be a safe-space that builds community of like-minded hearts and minds and that the people who visit feel supported. Our intention now with this blog is to cast that net in a virtual way; for us to connect and continue strengthening our yogic community. In truth, we do it with trepidation. There is risk involved in putting ourselves out there in black and white with no take-backs; which explains why it has been lingering on our to-do list for a few years now. Yet something calls us to share our stories of how these ancient truths of yoga support and direct us in this real world of unexpected challenges and glorious surprises.   We hope this serves as another opportunity to meet you on your mat.

Suzy, Karen & Jeni