ROAD TRIP! Pack Your Bags! A journey begins with knowing where you are. How can you get to where you want to go if you're lost to begin with? Now, clearly not all of us are lost. But any amount of stress (good or bad) in our lives can make us feel a bit off balance. These 8 steps are designed to bring us back to balance, back to wholeness and bring a sense of peace even when times are tough.
I didn't make these steps up. They came from a guy who read a bunch of ancient hindu/yogic texts. He found that they all had the same 'threads' of information in them, so he compiled all these threads and turned them into the Yoga Sutras (sutras means to suture...with thread. Get it?). He culminated these into an 8 fold path that is designed to bring us closer to our true Self (which is to find the aspect of spirit inside us that connects with God or Allah or whomever or whatever you feel connected to...maybe it's nature).
2 things to note: 1) You can find a link to a contemporary translation of the Yoga Sutras on my resource page. And 2) the strange looking words in brackets below are sanskrit - an ancient language used by some yogis. I've included them only if you're interested, but just know there will NOT be a test.
Step 1) Avoid Potholes (yamas) “Live so that when your children think of fairness and integrity, they think of you.” - H. Jackson Brown Jr.
When we embark on a trip, we need to restrain ourselves from overpacking, telling lies at Customs, and smacking our spouse when he or she forgot the passports that they promised they would be responsible for. When we practice restraint in areas of our journey, it makes the rest of the trip more manageable. When practicing restraint (in yoga we call these the Yamas) there are 5 things to consider...
1) Don't be Hating! Not smacking your spouse for forgetting passports is easy. Not thinking they're a total imbecile might not be. But violence starts from our thoughts. All our wars started when one person thought badly about another person, then that person in turn got all pouty and thought the first guys was a jerk. What are your wars and should you pick your battles more wisely...like not at all maybe?
2) Don't Lie! For example if your'e at customs and you say you didn't bring food over the border, but really you're packing the most amazing peppered cheese from the country you just departed from (hypothetically speaking). Carl Jung asks us to check in by asking "What is so dangerous in the moment about the truth that you are choosing to lie?"
3) Don't Steal! So the hotel shampoo is one thing. But what else do you steal on your journey through life? Do you steal attention? Do you interrupt people? What are you stealing when you do this?Ask yourself who am I stealing from?
4) Know when enough is enough: 1 or 2 margarita's on the beach in the hot sun...no problem. But we all no what more than that will get you. Allow yourself time to enjoy the things you love, including the piece of decadent chocolate cake. Enjoy the hell out of every morsel. Eat it with your eyes closed. Eat it the way Meg Ryan enjoyed herself in the diner on 'When Harry Met Sally'. Then when you're done, you too will be satisfied and one piece is all you'll need...not the whole cake.
5) Are you a Packrat? - pack light. Deborah Adele says "let go and pack lightly for our journey through life; all the while caring deeply and enjoying fully." Suitcases hold our clothes...and our psyche holds our baggage. Don't acquire more and more things in hopes you fill up an emptiness or avoid this sense of unease all together. Consumerism is a socially acceptable form of addiction. Ask yourself what the purpose is to purchasing each item. Is there something you can give away or recycle so you become a part of the flow of giving and receiving. Then ask yourself if there are thoughts you're storing away that need recycling too. Clearing your house of unwanted things and clearing your mind of unwanted thoughts, gives you breathing room. Get rid of the stuff inside that's just taking up space. Give it away so recycling can take it's rightful place in your mind, your house and within your community.
Step 2) Keep your hands on the wheel (niyamas) “It's not what we eat but what we digest that makes us strong; not what we gain but what we save that makes us rich; not what we read but what we remember that makes us learned; and not what we profess but what we practice that gives us integrity." -Francis Bacon, Sr.
So just as there are things we need to watch out for on our journey. There are also things we need to notice. Things that will make the trip go smoothly. In yoga we call these observances Niyamas). And they are:
1) Please Bathe! Cleanliness is next to Godliness. So yes, shower please, but we must learn to clean and purify not just our bodies, but our minds and our words as well. Be conscious of the words you choose and there effect on people. But before you speak ask yourself "Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?" That quote was originally Socrates I think and revised by Sri Sathya Sai Baba
2) Be Cool with What you Got! stop noticing what you don't have for a second. Stop comparing your trip with your friends trip. Stop thinking you got ripped off at the buffet because they didn't have your favourite ambrosia (who even likes ambrosia?). Stop thinking your hotel is better than so-and-so's hotel. If you stop the nonsense what are you left with? Whatever it is that's left is a gift. Be happy with it. Feel how lucky you are to be right where you are...even if it's with a shitload of bills and your kids won't talk to you. You are, and you have, exactly enough.
3) Be Disciplined! Some people like to exercise on their trips (i don't). Now on the "journey of life" it's important to be physically fit, for sure. But disciplined isn't just being physical. When we discipline our mind by avoiding gossip, self-judgment, and the like, we fine tune our moral compass, build strong character and we can change the course of our life. We move towards the things we say are important even if it requires us to struggle at times. The constant practice of returning our minds and bodies to balance and peace, allows us to maintain said peace during difficult times...when it really matters.
4) Who Am I? When we go on a trip we get to find out who we are and what we're made of. Who am I in relation to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the Italian men and woman. Who am I when I feel really lousy or super happy. How can I have a better experience of myself in these circumstances? How can I experience another persons company so we both learn from the interaction...even if it tears our guts out. If I loose my job or worse, a loved one, where does that leave me? What does it mean about who I am? How do I approach life? If I have a clearer understanding of myself because I've been brave enough to do the work and dive deep into the scary places, when the shit hits the fan, I won't crumble. I'll be sad, but I'll be standing with feet on floor, mind clear, and heart intact (even if its heartbreak I'm dealing with).
5) Let it Go, Already! We're wound so tight as it is. Then you plan a trip (your journey through life) and the micromanaging and mini-dictator in you arises (or is that just me?) It doesn't mean to throw your hands up, resign and pout. It means let go of how you think it all should be. Ask "how do I want to experience this journery? Who do I want to experience it with?" not "This is the itinerary and we have to stick with it or I'll frigging' loose it, people!" See a difference?
Step 3) Breathe Deep & Enjoy the Ride. (pranayama) "Breathe and all will be revealed, love and all will be healed. This is yoga."-Seane Corn
So, you arrive at your destination and your bags didn't. Or, you forgot to pack your birth control on your first romantic weekend away with your new beau. Or, you think you left the tub on, and you're 30 miles over Greenland. What are you gonna do? Hopefully you've practiced the first 2 steps - if not, introduce any variation of the above now. Also...breathe!
Hopefully you can start incorporating deep breaths that bring you into a relaxed state before the emergencies happen. This calms down your nervous system which triggers the mind and body to relax and you can make clearer choices from a more balanced state. Practicing relaxing the tummy will help your lungs fill up more. I do this throughout my day and I pay attention to the fact that I'm 3 dimensional...YOU ARE TOO! So, try expanding into the front, back and sides of your torso when you inhale. And when you exhale, gently pull the bellybutton in and and up (sort of like the letter 'J') so that you exhale all the stale air out of the bottom of your lungs. There are many breathing techniques we do in yoga that you can google. But I like keeping it simple.
Here's a great breath practice from my friend Elizabeth Stenning of Find Your Balance Yoga: If you're looking to create peace, or compassion, or kindness in your life, then 1) When you inhale silent say to your self "I am peace (or whatever your word is)", then pause at the top of your inhale. 2) Then when you exhale say "I feel peace" (then pause at the bottom of your exhale.) NOTE: The pauses are only for a second or 2 so don't pass out! This has a surprising effect on the body and mind. Thanks Elizabeth!
Step 4) Stretch After a Long Trip (asana) "You cannot do yoga. Yoga is your natural state. What you can do are yoga exercises, which may reveal to you where you are resisting your natural state." -Sharon Gannon
Ever been so uncomfortable in your own skin that you felt like crawling right out of it. Well that's what yoga postures are for. If yoga's not your thing though, you might want to try walking the dog, joining a spin class, try surfing, or anything at all that gets you moving...yes, sex helps too!
When we stretch and strengthen the body it brings us into natures rhythm. We feel more connected to ourselves and our environment. We can release tension in the body that prevents us from taking deep relaxing breaths. Yoga, or mindful movement of the bod,y triggers all the systems of the body to get online and support us in maintaining or returning us to our natural healthy state. When the body is calm and well, the mind is free to open to a new attitude or way of viewing our life circumstances.
Step 5) Look around (pratayahara) "Silence. All human unhappiness comes from not knowing how to stay quietly in a room." - Blaise Pascal
You're on a trip! Leave your cell phone at home. No need to check emails or texts. The office will do just fine without you for a while. Take the time to notice your new surroundings. What do you see?
We're bombarded by technology. We're checking our social media accounts and texting in order to maintain relationships that used to involve having coffee and a natter with each other. Not to mention the fact that we're pulled in a lot of directions and wear a lot of hats. So it's no wonder that ADD is on the rise. No wonder anti-anxiety and depression medications are so common place. Don't get me wrong, I think they have there place and i've seen the benefits on family and friends. But let's not neglect the fact that we can do things that bring healing into our lives and help alleviate the stress that we've, at times, allowed to consume us.
When the body is strong, but relaxed (as the previous steps have helped us with) We can then prepare the mind. Close your eyes or if that makes you uncomfortable, gaze softly down your nose so we can give our 5 senses a break. We bring our attention inside and notice what we see there. We hear the outside world happening as we sit with our eyes closed, but we ask ourselves to listen now to our breath. After a while, begin to notice any sensation inside. What do you notice about your physical body. Then ask yourself who is noticing the body. If your thoughts are all over the place as mine often are, can you play a game by trying to separate one thought from another? This is pratayahara or withdraw of the senses inward. It gets easier with practice.
Step 6) Pick one activity (dharana) "Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” - Buddha
When we travel there is so many new sites to see and activities to try. If we tried them all we might not get to enjoy any of them completely. So we make a choice on focusing on one or two key things in order to really experience them. That's what we'll do with this step. We'll concentrate. Now that you've gone inward as the previous step instructed. Can you focus your attention on one thing. Maybe it's a thought, or a sound. Maybe just silently saying the word 'Peace'. Maybe you could gently stare at a candle flame. What you focus on doesn't really matter, it's the focus that matters. Asking the mind to concentrate takes a lot of discipline (as mentioned in step 2), but discipline now prepares us to stay present for lifes sticky situations. Ghandi said "One has to find his peace from within. And peace, to be real, must be unaffected by outside circumstances."
Step 7) Enjoy the surf! (dhyana) “What's encouraging about meditation is that even if we shut down, we can no longer shut down in ignorance. We see very clearly that we're closing off. That in itself begins to illuminate the darkness of ignorance.” Pema Chodron
So you're on holidays and you decide to try surfing. You concentrate on the instruction (practicing step 6). So you're totally ready to surf, right? Wait a sec...That's a big wave...CRASH!
Like surfing, concentrating intently on one thing is actually really challenging. But when you get in the zone, you feel the flow of the waves (the breath), your concentration can become so sustained that you don't even feel like you have to think about it anymore. That's meditation, or at least the idea behind meditation. Its' simplicity can be the exact reason why so many people try meditation and why so many people give it up. Because, although the concept it simple, its practical application can appear daunting. I encourage you to stay with it if only for 2 a day. I promise you'll feel better for it.
Step 8) Let go and enjoy (samadhi) "Enlightenment is the key to everything, and it is the key to intimacy, because it is the goal of true authenticity." - Marianne Williamson
When you focus enough and you don't even have to think about how to surf anymore, you just do it. You intuit the waves, and magic happens! I mean...forget about it. There's nothing like it - no words to describe it. You ride the wave (even if it's for 3 seconds) and you don't just ride it, you ARE the wave and the ocean and the fish, and the people on the shoreline celebrating with you!
At this point, we let go of trying so hard at life, at yoga, at work. We trust this sensation of going with the flow. We actually step into this flow and realize we are connected with everything...this surfboard, this wave, the ocean, the shoreline. We're connected to and with our friends, families, our perceived enemies.
In this step, we finally understand that getting to this point was a result of all that we've done, but that strangely it is by letting go of all that we've done that we feel it.
All that we did was effected by all that we felt, which was a result of all that we've thought. So if my thought's effect my feelings, and my feelings effect my behaviour, then what I think expands outward and what I do contracts inward. I effect you and you effect me. And at this point I realize I AM you and you ARE me. And nothing else matters, but that. Because knowing that I might hurt you, I hurt myself. And knowing that I love you, I love myself. Call me selfish, but I'll make better choices in accordance with the experiences I want to have, the feelings I want more of, and the thoughts that will bring unity to me, my family, my community, my planet.
I hope any of this information serves you well on your journey. Many thanks! Namaste, Lesley