Learning to Fly

Live life to its fullest

Grounding ourselves March 6, 2009

Filed under: inspiration — jennsheridan @ 2:25 pm
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There is nothing quite like uprooting yourself to remind you of how important it is to be grounded. This week I’ve felt somewhat disjointed and out of focus. Normally that happens because I’ve allowed my morning practice to slip. However, if anything, I’ve intensified my morning practice this week as I recognized how necessary it was to my remaining centered through this transition. I thought maybe I had just overdone it over the weekend, and these were signs that my body still needed to catch up on its rest, but if that were the case I would have expected to see improvement from day to day this week. Yesterday as I was out taking a walk around my building, it finally dawned on me what’s been missing — my sense of being grounded. I’ve had this DailyOM article on reserve since last summer as a wonderful reminder of both the need to be grounded and how simple it can be to ground yourself in a breath, in a moment. Today I plan to follow its advice, as well as some of my own from last spring, and spend some time with my feet firmly planted on the earth, breathing in that grounding energy and restoring my sense of balance, of connection, of my roots. Namaste.

Being A Strong Container
Grounding Ourselves

We often hear people telling us to ground ourselves, but we may not be sure what that means and how we might do it. Grounding ourselves is a way of bringing ourselves literally back to earth. Some of us are more prone than others to essentially leaving our bodies and not being firmly rooted in our bodies. There’s nothing terribly wrong with this, but while we are living on the earth plane it is best to stay grounded in the body.

One of the easiest ways to ground ourselves is to bring our attention to our breath as it enters and leaves our bodies. After about 10 breaths, we will probably find that we feel much more connected to our physical selves. We might then bring our awareness to the sensations in our bodies, moving from our head down to our feet, exploring and inquiring. Just a few minutes of this can bring us home to bodies and to the earth, and this is what it means to ground ourselves.

We can go further by imagining that we have roots growing out of the bottoms of our feet, connecting us to the earth. The roots flow with us so we can we always move, but at the same time they keep us grounded. We receive powerful energy from the earth just as we do from the forms of energy we associate with the sky, and our body is a tool that brings these two energies together in a sacred union. When we are grounded, we essentially become a strong container in which our spirits can safely and productively dwell. This is why grounding ourselves every day, especially at the beginning of the day, is such a beneficial practice. Fortunately, it’s as simple as bringing our conscious awareness to our bodies and the earth on which we walk.

Photo: “Cross section of a tree’s roots,” originally uploaded by Aaron Escobar

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Do nothing May 29, 2008

Filed under: practice — jennsheridan @ 2:01 pm
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“What I call “doing the dishes” is the practice of loving the task in front of you. Your inner voice guides you all day long to do simple things such as brush your teeth, drive to work, call your friend, or do the dishes. Even though it’s just another story, it’s a very short story, and when you follow the direction of the voice, the story ends. We are really alive when we live as simply as that—open, waiting, trusting, and loving to do what appears in front of us now . . . What we need to do unfolds before us, always—doing the dishes, paying the bills, picking up the children’s socks, brushing our teeth. We never receive more than we can handle, and there is always just one thing to do. Whether you have ten dollars or ten million dollars, life never gets more difficult than that.”
~Byron Katie

My left brain, intellect, masculine side is still stir crazy this week. All it wants is to do do do do do. Yet the messages I’m getting from the Universe are: There’s nothing to do. There’s only being. Something wonderful is being born from this stillness. All you have to do is to sit still and allow it to come.

One would think this would be a wonderful message, something to rejoice at. Don’t we spend most of our lives wishing we had more time to relax, to be at peace? But my body and mind are just itching to be active. I’ve felt listless, uncomfortable, even lost. Why is that, I wonder? Where is the fear in just being? I don’t have any answers today. Really, I think even the questions are just my mind trying another tactic to get me to be active.

Instead, my practice today is simple: breathe, and be aware that I am breathing; eat, and be aware that I am eating; listen, and be aware that I am listening; live, and be aware that I am alive; see the world around me, enjoying it through each of my senses; don’t do anything. Namaste.

Photo: “PEACE,” originally uploaded by Alex

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Reconnecting May 27, 2008

“When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
~Will Rogers

We all have those moments, days, weeks where it feels like we can’t keep up, we aren’t centered or grounded, we’re separated from Source. I don’t know about you, but when it happens to me, I have this sense that it will require a grand gesture to turn it around. Missed a few days of meditation? Then I must need an hour-long meditation plus two more hours of spiritual practice to catch back up. And then when I don’t have the time or make the time for such a long practice, I judge myself as lacking and sink deeper into the darkness.

The thing is, of course, we’re never completely closed off from Source and no matter how disconnected we feel, reconnection is literally only a breath away. Once the awakening has begun, once you’ve had a taste of the experience of your deep connection to Source, it doesn’t take much to bring you back there. Here are a few simple tools you can use throughout your day to either help you remain connected or reconnect you as needed:

Breathing. We are constantly breathing, in and out, all day long, each and every day. It is something we are generally unconscious of, but try bringing your consciousness to this natural process, recognizing with each breath that you are alive in this moment, right now. Do this for a few moments or a few minutes, depending on where you are and how much time you have. It’s amazing how this simple technique can bring you quickly back to yourself, to you as observer, as awareness, to the now.

Be Here Now. The key to happiness is to stay present in this moment. I find that a simple mantra can work wonders in helping me remain present when I find my mind wandering into past and future events. I’ve been using “Be Here Now” recently, although any mantra will work. I’ve also been playing with the idea that whatever I am doing right now, it is my life’s purpose to be doing it, and so I remind myself of that as I work. It is a great way to turn any activity into a meditation and almost always brings me up out of whatever dark thoughts were trying to take hold in my mind into the space of light and peace that is always available in the now.

Music. Listening to music can be a quick and easy way to reconnect. Our bodies are energy and we are all vibrating. Music is also a vibration, and when the two vibrations meet, we can experience a deep harmony. I know for me there are a few tracks that from the first note I feel myself transported. If you don’t already know what works for you in this way, I recommend exploring the many examples that are available these days developed with the intention of positively affecting people’s vibration. My current favorite is Jonathan Goldman’s Waves of Light, although I also enjoy the Brainwave Suite and the second track of Kelly Howell’s Retrieve Your Destiny. The Globe Institute for Sound Therapy & Healing is a great resource as well. They have a collection of CDs available in their store with demos for you to sample. When you visit their website, they have a selection playing, “Awakening,” that instantly transports me, and I often leave the page open in the background while I’m working so that I can stay in that sense of the divine no matter what I’m doing.

Nature. If you have a wee bit more time, try connecting with the natural world. If there’s a park or a forest nearby, go for a short walk. Try taking off your shoes, feeling the grass or dirt beneath your feet. Connecting with the earth directly is a quick and easy way to literally ground yourself through the earth’s energy. When you don’t have nature readily at hand, try observing the flora and fauna around you. Flowers in a vase, a house plant, a pet, a bird outside your window — take a few moments to really experience these examples of life that can be found just about everywhere, using each of your senses. You may feel how they radiate energy just like you do. Or you may just notice their simple beauty. Whatever comes up for you, the natural world provides so many examples of the essence of life that it can become a great way for you to reconnect with your own sense of that essence within you.

The key here is really it only takes a moment to remember what it is we already know–that we are one with the Source of all life and that the only moment that truly is is this one. When we come into that awareness, we are in contact with the power of the universe, with the divine. Try playing with a few of these tools this week, maybe by setting up a reminder alarm to go off a few times throughout the day or by using them when you start to feel yourself slipping into unconsciousness. I think you’ll find it only takes a moment to turn your day around. Good luck, have fun, and let me know how it goes! Namaste.

Photo: “That my life would depend on the morning sun,” originally uploaded by ThunderChild the Magnificent

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Surrender March 26, 2008

Filed under: inspiration,practice — jennsheridan @ 11:11 pm
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“The more you struggle to live, the less you live. Give up the notion that you must be sure of what you are doing. Instead, surrender to what is real within you, for that alone is sure. As stars high above earth, you are above everything distressing. But you must awaken to it. Wake up!”
~Baruch Spinoza

Surrender is a dirty word for many people. I’ve known folks who have been on the spiritual path for longer than I’ve been alive who still have great resistance to the concept of surrender. When you look at the primary definition on dictionary.com, it’s really no wonder: to yield (something) to the possession or power of another; deliver up possession of on demand or under duress: to surrender the fort to the enemy; to surrender the stolen goods to the police. Even the definition that I’m using doesn’t sound much better on the surface: to give (oneself) up to some influence, course, emotion, etc.: He surrendered himself to a life of hardship. There’s great fear that surrendering means we’ll have to give something up, or even just give up in general. But what does “giving up” really mean? To me, anyway, it means to stop trying. And boy oh boy, is there ever a lesson for me in that. There is great power in ceasing to try to do anything. It’s like Yoda says: “Do or do not. There is no try.” The more we try the less we do, not to mention the more we get frustrated.

One day last week I was working on some things having to do with my finances and I could feel myself getting anxious about it–never a good sign. As I was trying to shake off the anxiety, I had an image pop into my head of Liz Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love, when she was lying on her bathroom floor crying and talking to God. This image was quickly followed by one from the movie Saved! where one of the Catholic schoolgirls is kneeling by her bed crying and praying wildly. I thought, well, I’ve never tried it–who knows, maybe it’s exactly what I need to do. So I went into my living room and knelt down, going almost into Child’s Pose with my forehead touching the floor. I just started talking out loud, expressing how I was feeling about money and where I was looking for resolution. Before I knew it, a flood of emotion came out and I started to cry, ultimately lying there with my head on my arms repeating, “I just need some help, I just need some help,” over and over again. Suddenly, I felt this deep sense of calm and stillness come over me–I moved into a seated position and sat there for a few minutes breathing in my newfound peace. Before I could get up and go back to my work my phone rang–it was a friend who wanted to pay me to do some work for her. I burst out laughing and when I hung up I simply said, Thank you.

I’ve invested a lot of energy lately trying to surrender–what happened that day was that I actually surrendered. I gave up in the sense that I stopped trying to do anything. My intention was in place, but I was holding on to it so tightly there was no room for the Universe to provide. By letting go, by surrendering, I opened myself up to solutions I never could have forced into being. In the end, surrendering isn’t about giving up anything–it’s about moving yourself into alignment with Life so you can begin to accept all the good that Life has to offer. This process reminds me of the poem at the beginning of Wayne Dyer’s Your Sacred Self:

Broken Dreams
author unknown

As children bring their broken toys
With tears for us to mend,
I brought my broken dream to God
Because He was my Friend.

But instead of leaving Him
In peace to work alone,
I hung around and tried to help
With ways that were my own.

At last I snatched them back and cried,
“How can You be so slow?”
“My child,” He said, “what could I do?
You never let them go.”

What are you holding on to? What are you ready to receive? Can you begin to see how you might surrender it to the Universe, thereby allowing it to come into fruition? Take the leap of faith with me this week–truly surrender whatever it you find yourself holding onto most tightly. Experience the deep peace that surrender brings, and see what shows up to support you. Namaste.

Photo: “Sweet Surrender,” originally uploaded by What’s in a name…

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Breathing in, breathing out March 16, 2008

Filed under: connection — jennsheridan @ 6:01 pm
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We could say that meditation doesn’t have a reason or doesn’t have a purpose. In this respect it’s unlike almost all other things we do except perhaps making music and dancing. When we make music we don’t do it in order to reach a certain point, such as the end of the composition. If that were the purpose of music then obviously the fastest players would be the best. Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point. And exactly the same thing is true in meditation. Meditation is the discovery that the point of life is always arrived at in the immediate moment. ~Alan Watts

Hanging out with a good friend last week, she mentioned how much trouble she’s been having relaxing during acupuncture. Her mind just keeps working, her thoughts keep coming up one after another such that she has trouble relaxing. I suspect we can all relate to this, a mind that doesn’t slow down enough for us to relax. Of course, the more we try to make our thoughts dissipate, the more our thoughts crowd in. It’s akin to the pink elephant experiment–when you’re told not to think about a pink elephant, what’s the first thing that happens? A pink elephant pops into your head. When you try not to think, it’s like your mind is drowning in thoughts, they just keep flooding in and you can’t escape them.

Meditation is the best way I know of to train your mind. When you first begin to practice, your thoughts may merely laugh at your attempts to slow them and keep on flowing, keep attempting to distract you. The more your practice, the more you build your “meditation muscle,” the more you can use your meditation to slow down the flow. Actually, it isn’t likely that your thoughts are really going away–what’s more likely is that you’re sinking deeper into depths of your mind where stillness resides. Imagine the disturbance of the water on the surface of a pond, how there are ripples and waves, leaves floating on it, birds taking their baths, and animals quenching their thirst. There’s all this activity on the surface, however if you were able to get below the surface into the depths, you would find quiet, stillness, peace. That’s the place meditation brings you in your mind–but like anything else in life, it takes training. So here are a few tips and exercises that you might find useful as you are getting started with meditation.

* There’s no one right way to meditate. Now, I know people who will definitely disagree with me on this, but I come from the school of thought that says meditation is a personal experience. If you’re worried about not being able to do it right or even wondering what “right” really is, don’t. Relax, let go of all notions of “should,” and you’re already in a much better frame of mind to become a successful meditator. The goal is to practice being still in whatever ways work best for you. I’ve got a few suggestions that I’ve found useful to get you started, but I would recommend being open to any new ideas you have, books that you discover, people who you run into along the way. Even after you’ve found methods that work for you, exposure to new methods can help to round out your practice.

* Set your time in advance. Whether you choose to listen to music or simply to focus on your breath, you should know in advance how long you are going to sit. Especially when you are just learning meditation, you will want some sort of timer to help you know when your time is up. The mind plays tricks on you and in the beginning you will likely think you’ve been sitting there forever even if it’s only been a few minutes. Take the wondering associated with it out of the equation by setting a timer for yourself or by choosing a guided meditation or song selection that last for the amount of time you are planning to meditate for. Start with something that feels manageable, like five minutes, and work your way up. My goal is to sit for 30 minutes each day, but I have a minimum I’ve set for myself of 15 minutes. Find something that feels good to you, something you feel like you can commit to, and make the time to do it daily.

* Breathing. One technique that works for me and can be done anytime, anywhere is to focus on your breath. Even if you only have five minutes in the morning, before a meeting, or between classes, you can find a place to sit, close your eyes, and pay attention to your breathing. Take a few deep breaths to start and relax your shoulders, your body. As you breathe in through your nose, feel the air as it crosses your nostrils. As you breathe out through your mouth, feel the air as it crosses your lips. Having that one thing to focus on might be enough for you, or you might want to repeat “Breathing in, breathing out” or even just “In, out” in your mind. If you find your attention wanders, don’t worry about it or get frustrated with yourself, simply bring your attention back to your breath.

* Watch your thoughts. Another process that might work for you is to watch your thoughts. Take a step back into your awareness, become the observer, the one who is aware of the thinker. As thoughts come into your mind, don’t react to them or create further thoughts around them. Just watch them, notice them, and let them go. The idea here is to practice non-judgment, to practice not following where the thoughts lead. You will always have thoughts, but you don’t need to let them be in control.

* Focus on a mantra. While a mantra can be used at any point in the day to help bring your awareness back into the present moment, it can also be used to help focus your meditation. If you’re interested in exploring this idea further, you might find Eknath Easwaran’s book Meditation useful. While not exactly a mantra, his method of meditation is to drop the words from a prayer or spiritual poetry into your mind one at a time, almost like they are prayer beads. Elizabeth Gilbert also talks about the use of mantra in meditation in her book Eat, Pray, Love. The one that ended up working for her was Ham-sa, a Sanskrit word meaning “I Am That.” Or you might try something like one of the guided meditations in Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Blooming of a Lotus. The first one has always been my favorite:

1. Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.

2. Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment.
Breathing out, I know it is a wonderful moment.

The idea here is to give yourself words for your mind to play with, but not to go along with them. So the words fall through your mind and you let them fall, you do not follow where they go. If your mind wanders, bring your attention back to the mantra. If you’re using a longer one, you can either repeat the line you were just on or start from the beginning.

* Listen to music or chants. When I first learned to meditate, I was taught a relatively strict way. And I struggled, and struggled, and struggled. My body would itch, my thoughts would wander constantly, I would think that my timer somehow hadn’t been set properly and I’d sneak a peak at the clock to see if I’d really been sitting for as long as it felt like. My mind and ego won that battle more often than not, and I’d either get up before my time was up or I’d be antsy the whole time. It was a frustrating process, and as much as I knew the mind could play tricks on you, I couldn’t seem to get over the idea that I was just awful at meditating, that somehow something was wrong with me. At what point did this frustration shift into the love affair with meditation that I have now? When I added listening to meditation music to the breathing technique mentioned above. For me, listening to something solved the superficial issues I was having and let me dip into the deeper parts of the well. The music gave the top layers of my mind something to listen to, the fact that the track was timed meant that if it was still playing I was still meditating, and a sense of peace developed in me that had been missing for over a decade in my meditation practice. Does that mean my thoughts never wander? No. But it means I’m operating from a place of peace and tolerance that enables me to be gentle, to shift my focus back on to my breath, to use the discipline that meditation has taught me. You can find all sorts of great meditation music online, in music stores, and on iTunes. The gong music on Music for Deep Meditation: Tibetan Singing Bowl is a great choice, although it may be long for beginners. However, any instrumental or new age music can be used. If you don’t have any in your collection, Comcast’s digital radio has a great channel called Soundscapes, and Narada has several collections available that I would recommend as good introductions to the genre.

* Use guided meditations. Many people I have known find guided meditations a useful place to begin. In my early days of meditating I found that they gave my mind too much to do, which made the wanderings more pronounced, but now that my meditation practice has developed I’ve found a few that bring me to a new level of awareness, including my current favorite, Kelly Howell’s Awakening Kundalini. Check your local metaphysical bookstore–many of the authors writing today have come out with meditation CDs including Wayne Dyer, Joan Borysenko, and Louise Hay. Or, if you have a handheld recorder you can record your own voice taking you through a guided meditation as well.

* Meditate in a group. Group meditation is an excellent way to get started, or to continue your meditation practice. Find a class or meditation group near you–whether you begin attending regularly or just drop in occasionally, you will definite learn to feel the difference between meditating alone and in a group. Friday night I went to a talk at East-West, a local metaphysical bookstore, and at the end of one of the guided meditations the speaker commented on the power of the energy in the room. Having experienced meditators present had helped to elevate everyone there, enabling even beginning meditators to experience much deeper meditations than they would have had on their own. Plus, you will gain exposure to new meditation techniques that you may choose to incorporate into your personal meditations moving forward.

Whatever you choose to do to get started, remember to be gentle with yourself. The habit of a lifetime is not going to disappear in five minutes. However it will begin to slow down a little bit with each successive five minutes, ultimately reaching a place where you begin to see its results, to appreciate the shift that is taking place. Some day, whether it’s six months from now or six years from now or even 16 years from now, you will be able to look back on this beginning and smile. So go ahead, start today. Take five minutes right now to relax, let go, and use one of these techniques to begin your meditation journey. The sooner you begin, the sooner you will reap the benefits. Namaste.

Photo: “Meditation Center,” originally posted by Linda N.

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Drifting February 17, 2008

Filed under: practice — jennsheridan @ 12:20 am
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I have to laugh at myself sometimes. Yesterday, my thinkArete.com Big Idea that comes in a daily email was about “drifting.” It essentially was talking about the patterns we fall into that take us off course, that distance us from our Source, from our goals. Some of the examples he uses of ways we all drift are: “blame, criticize (my personal favorite), judge, lecture, ignore, explain, or withdraw. If, for some odd reason those don’t work, just try these: control, be sarcastic (!), procrastinate, watch TV, complain, get overwhelmed, justify, go shopping, (whatever you do, definitely!) don’t breathe, interrupt, get righteous, space out or worry.”

The reason this makes me laugh is that yesterday, I drifted. Not all day, but for a substantial portion of it. Mostly I was in to withdrawing, procrastinating, and spacing out, but I’m sure there were other things in there as well. While there were several reasons for that drift, at the end of the day, aren’t they all just excuses? Isn’t it all just your ego throwing up resistance to keep you off balance? The funniest part about it all is that I was completely aware of what was happening. I observed myself getting off track and instead of taking steps to rectify the situation, I threw myself into it whole hog. Perhaps that is why I was able to, from time to time, pull myself out of it long enough to clean the kitchen, make the lasagna I’m entertaining with this evening, take a friend to the airport. And perhaps it is also why I was able to get up this morning and get back on track without a massive effort. My home is spotless, I did my 4 mile training walk, went to the farmer’s market, and I still have time to sit down and do a blog post before I get ready for my guests to arrive this evening.

Today’s thinkArete.com Big Idea was about “shifting,” what we do when we want to “get back into Ease and Flow.” The gist is that we have to breathe, and breathe again, and breathe some more, which I take to mean we have to take time for conscious connection to Source, and to ourselves. It certainly feels significantly better than drifting does, you can actually feel the shift taking place in your body. And I suppose that is what life is about, really. While we all strive to be on track 100% of the time, we’re human, and we make mistakes, we drift off course. The trick is not to stay there, to make sure we take the time to shift, to reorient ourselves so that we’re moving in the direction we consciously are choosing to, the direction that feels like it is taking us towards our goals. And be gentle with ourselves in the process. I don’t know about you, but I can always use a reminder of that. Namaste.

 

The grounding, Part II February 7, 2008

This process of grounding is truly a process. While I did finish the task I set out to accomplish yesterday, it did not leave me with the feeling of relief and order that I was hoping for. The good news is that I can now be lazy and not have to look for things (ha ha ha). The bad news is that it seems the whole apartment needs this type of overhaul. Our place is pretty small and our hobbies tend to take up a lot of space. The office bears the brunt of this and until we have more room in which to set up a system of organization that can actually be maintained, order really needs to be restored fairly regularly or we just have to live with the consequences. Office aside, the kitchen really needs to be tackled, and then when that’s done, I should really do something about old magazines, and then go through the paperbacks to see which ones can be donated to new homes, and then there are closets that need some reorienting, and then . . .

When does it end? At what point does getting organized become just being a perfectionist, or only seeing what’s wrong instead of being able to see what’s right? Or is that just “all or nothing” thinking, where if one thing is organized then everything else should be, and if one thing is disorganized everything might as well be? And what about Nietzsche’s discovery, “You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star” — where is there room for my creative chaos?

As with everything else, it seems, I need to find a balance here. Order enables me to be still, to reduce distractions, to see clearly, and chaos enables me to mix things up, to get silly and crazy and messy and see what happens. Order provides the grounding so that when I am open at the top, truly connected to that divine creativity that is calling me to expand, I can be stretched yet maintain my connection to the earth. One of the reasons I love Yael Naim’s Far Far so much is that she’s talking about that birthing process, praying for something to happen to her, feeling the beautiful mess inside and recognizing where it will lead. “I guess I’ll have to give it birth / To give it birth / There’s a beautiful mess inside and it’s everywhere.” Sometimes things have to get messy before we can get clear, but that mess needs space in which it can live and breathe and feel safe once the birthing process is complete.

So I will continue to ground myself, to get organized and nurture myself and my family. And I will continue to reach out into the stars, to let things get a little messy and see where it leads, knowing that I have laid the foundation that makes it possible for me to find order and clarity when I need to. Namaste.