Santosha – Contentment

This Wednesday marks three years since I started meditating daily. I celebrate today by writing about my yoga book club topic for this month from the Niyamas – Santosha.

This concept, contentment, has been an enjoyable one for me, especially considering the ways in which the messages we receive via so many channels are meant to induce longing within us. They convince us that we lack something outside of ourselves to be happy.  The emotions we feel then drive us toward what brings us pleasure, and move us toward avoiding discomfort or boredom.

By staying centered and aware of what is going on within us, we can stay in a place of contentment rather than longing. We can be grateful for all the amazing gifts this life brings, and the plethora of blessings that have come our way. We can realize the freedom that most of us enjoy to choose the responses we want to bring to our circumstances.

Santosha with Willy
My cat Willy is very good at Santosha, something I am still learning.

I am starting to understand that life is about 50/50 – about half positive emotions and half negative. Without some of each, we would never know true joy, and we would never be able to empathize with the pain we all experience as humans.

When we come to accept this reality, and to feel content without constantly seeking, we experience what Swami Rama noted, that “contentment is falling in love with your life.” Nothing is missing in this moment. Life is complete as it is right now.

Are there places in your life where it is hard to be grateful? What if you could embrace all of the changing dynamics in your life, and dance with them? What if you could see them as temporary, as ever-changing, and just a part of the greater flow? 

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cristy@meximinnesotana.com

Love affairs

I once took a sick day from a temp job because I was reading a book I loved so much I literally could not put it down. That was in my 20’s and the job was in an office, for a bank, nothing I was passionate about, though it paid the bills.

Lately I have been toying with the idea of writing fiction, and there is a story that I have begun getting down on paper, a few paragraphs here & there in my journal. There are a few characters forming in my consciousness, and it is a “road not taken” kind of story perhaps relating to aspects of my own life. But the characters are distinct from me, and seem to have minds of their own.

I’ve been considering how to get more time for my writing. Even though I have not interviewed yet for a position that is kind of exciting to me, I worry that a new job means I would have to focus more on that work, and less on my own creative endeavors. Then I remember the advice that Liz Gilbert gave to a writer during her podcast “Magic Lessons.”  It was to “have an affair” with her art, which in her case was painting.

affair
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She explained that people who are having affairs, despite having busy lives, somehow find a way to fit those steamy encounters into their lives. The affair provides a nuclear energy boost, and even though it is not front and center in terms of one’s time and one’s external priorities. Sneaking away to do this thing is delicious and exciting. And our creativity has a desire to have an affair with us.

This feels like where my writing resides right now, in that “stolen” morning time before I get myself ready for work. It is sort of a sacred time for me, and while I keep up the appearance of a “normal” life on the surface, I like having this other aspect of me. I do not share it with everyone (or in the case of this fiction, anyone), and yet it excites me.

When I stopped doing a daily post for a while, thinking I would give myself more time, I actually struggled with getting the energy to get my “regular” things done. While I know I do not have to post publicly every day, but then I *DO* need to generate my work anyway. Because it sustains me and thrills me.

There is some part of me that knows that if it were the main event in my life, it would not feel this exciting and thrilling. Keeping a life that sustains me, and work that pays well, as long as it is not too all-consuming, allows me to find excitement and spark during these stolen moments with words, color and creativity. And perhaps that is why it is so appealing, because it is a treat I give to myself.

Are you having an affair with your art? Do you sneak in the time no matter what else is going on? I would love to hear if this concept resonates with you. 

 

Desires

Were you taught from a young age that desires are dangerous?

I think many of us who grew up in a Judeo-Christian background probably absorbed this lesson early in life. Those of us who have struggled with food issues or with other addictions may stop trusting our desires, since they seem to lead down a path that is destructive.

desire
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Last summer I started working my way through a book by Danielle LaPorte’s book called The Desire Map: A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul. She sets out a process to examine 5 major areas of life, Livelihood & Lifestyle, Body & Wellness, Creativity & Learning, Relationships & Society, and Essence & Spirituality.

Since I opted to put the process away in August in order to focus on planning details for my wedding in September, I thought January would be a good time to return to it, and complete the process since I have some big goals this year. Reading back through my responses from the summer, not a lot has changed.

But one thing that stood out to me was my response to the prompt “Pleasure feels:” At risk of being a bit vulnerable here, I wrote down the words: amazing, forbidden, dangerous, excessive, tempting, all-encompassing, elusive, desirable, moving, shared, exciting and peaceful.

I recalled the time I had read Martha Beck’s book, The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life. Menu item number 3 was Desire. She explains that our true desires and yearnings are what lead us to our soul’s purpose. Martha Beck is a genius, by the way. If you are ever facing major career shifts or changes in your life, pick up one of her books (the other I really loved was Finding Your North Star but I will read anything with Martha’s name on the cover).

Prior to desire, she focuses on stillness and truth. If you cannot get truthful with yourself, then you cannot reveal your true desires. I still struggle with this, but I am learning. Many of us have spent years repressing our desires, so we sometimes do not even know how to recognize or voice them. We are out of practice in detecting them.

We think: maybe that desire for chocolate cake is bad and wrong. In fact, the chocolate cake is most probably a “mask” for a true desire, which is to take loving care of ourselves, and indulge in some pleasure.

In August of 2016 I decided that my “desire” for a glass of wine as soon as I got home each night was something I wanted to change. It really was less of a desire and more of a habit, and since our brains like to stay efficient, habits can be hard to change. But the first thing I noticed when I took first a 10-day hiatus was that my anxieties and doubts came up. Yup. Alcohol serves a purpose. It dulls out those feelings.

wine glasses
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What I realized is that I was using wine to space out situations I did not want to confront. I also used it as “social lubricant” for work dinners I attended, and other events where I knew I would interact with groups larger than my comfort level (about 4). I realized that I was buffering my discomfort in these situations, and that it was unnecessary.

But I had to come up with a story for why I would decline the wine. It turned out to be this, and it is totally true: alcohol messes with my sleep. Since sleep is precious to me, it just is not worth it. That turned out to be a justification that my coworkers could accept, and regardless of whether they were accepting about it, I was committed.

Since then I have found that I get more sound sleep, I have less cravings for sugar, and I am able to experience “unclouded” feelings. Sometimes that sucks! I have to admit it, our buffers dull difficult emotions. But now that I know I can handle difficult emotions, that they are temporary vibrations in my body, I do not reach for wine. In 2017, I had a drink on probably 5 occasions, usually for a special event and planned ahead of time. I am not an alcoholic and I do not count days of sobriety.

But I have the confidence that this choice, far from dampening my desires, has done more to clarify what I desire long-term than anything else. So it is worth it, and I am grateful I realized how much better my life is without it. The clarity that has come from realizing I have a desire for more creativity and self-expression has led to much more satisfaction with the kinds of work I choose to do. It is right and it is good to take pleasure in that, not a sin.

Cheers, amigos! Toasting you with my glass of La Croix sparkling water. I hope you fulfill your desires for 2018.

 

 

Un-buffering your life

We are often taught that going “outside our comfort zone” is where the most growth happens. I believe this is true, to a large extent. Our human species evolved to seek comfort or pleasure and avoid pain. These impulses largely kept us alive, along with developing communities which could provide protection and safety in a wild world.

bird rising watercolor

But as humans evolved to go beyond our basic necessities, we must also evolve in our consciousness. We must make different choices beyond survival day-to-day in order to respect the long-term sustainability of ourselves and of our planet. I write this knowing that many people around the world lack clean water, or sufficient food to eat, and I am aware of my privilege in writing these words.

The practice of creativity and if making things purely for own pleasure is one magnificent part of our existence. Whether composing songs, decorating one’s home, writing a story, or playing with color on canvas, we are a species that delights in using our imagination and creating something from nothing.

Liz Gilbert writes and speaks so elegantly of this in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and in her podcast Magic Lessons. I am grateful to have re-discovered her work, along with uncovering the Joy Diet book I have by Martha Beck last fall. Also around that time I found the work of Brené Brown on vulnerability and courage, Daring Greatly among them, but I recommend any of her books.

As I confronted my habits of “buffering” my emotions through alcohol, food, over-working, etc, I realized that I needed to slow everything down. Right before I reached for that drink, or chocolate, or “buy” button to get myself out of my feeling of discomfort, I needed to pay attention to what was going on in my body.

tissue healing watercolor

Typically what I discovered was that an uncomfortable emotion was present. It might be loneliness or fear. It might be a response to avoidance I had about doing certain tasks at work, or anticipating a difficult conversation and not knowing how I wanted to speak my truth, while respecting another person.

Mostly what I found is that I used my buffers to avoid or resist the truth that I was feeling in my own body. When I learned some tools like meditation and yin yoga to help me get “comfortable with discomfort” I realized that I could sit with a feeling and just experience it all the way through, without resisting it and without attaching to it.

Once I acknowledge the emotion, named it and thoroughly sense where it resided in my body, I can move on, and not let it hijack me or my behavior. But that process of slowing down, feeling an emotion all the way through, without reaching for my phone, something in the fridge, or some other distraction, has radical implications.

Paying attention and becoming fully aware of what is happening not just around me but within me feels like a “magic” tool. I accept things as they are, embrace the suck, or just note when I feel fear, uncertainty, doubt, rage or discomfort. That allows me to examine what thoughts and stories feed these feelings.

variable infinities

When I back up and understand that emotional and physical cascade that resulted from certain thoughts, I can question whether those thoughts are even true. Sometimes I can do this from a “thought download” or a hand-written journal I use daily to get out all the junk that piles up in my curious monkey mind. Other times, it is locked in there pretty deeply, so I use some other medium, like pastels or watercolors to tease it out.

I joke with my husband that these always turn out like 2nd grade art projects (I posted some examples today). They are not really for anyone but me, but at the same time, they sometimes give me clues to what is really going on in my psyche. Words can do this for me, but sometimes they fail me. That logical, rational, ego-driven part of my mind can protect me mightily from my inner truth.

The ego knows some truths may be painful, and require me to make certain changes in my life, definitely stepping outside the comfortable world I know. Since my brain is trying its best to take care of me, to keep me ensconced in safety, it does what it knows best, seek pleasure and avoid pain.

after the rain watercolor

And yet, this is not the path where personal and spiritual growth happens. Often it takes a painful life event to get us to a place where we MUST make some change. Sometimes there is a powerful realization within us that we have become too comfortable. In my past, I find that I tend to “make trouble” for myself when things are a little too comfortable.

Looking back, I see how many times I was running from something, rather than facing up to it. Or how many times I tried to avoid my discomfort and fear, by keeping myself from know some truth that was billowing up within me. I feared as soon as I acknowledged it, I would need to change MY WHOLE LIFE and would disrupt my loved ones’ lives around me. I did not realize I could take action steps toward what was next, at a pace that worked for me.

Sometimes we must leap into the fire and destroy the previous life (or lie) we have lived, if it was not authentic to the essence of our being, who we really are. And I believe sometimes this fire burns from within, and allows us to rise from the ashes of our prior belief systems which no longer work for us.

As we un-buffer, and become comfortable with discomfort, we develop courage and determination to rise up and do what our soul calls us to do. May you, dear reader, slow down and know when your buffers are getting in the way of your highest purpose.