The Relief of Letting Go

This weekend I had a revelation.

Or maybe more like a remembrance. Or maybe a bit of both.

Saturday night was a sleepless night. I’d been working hard for a few weeks—clearly a little too hard—on a work project. So often when I become fully engaged with something, I start to obsess a little—and become entirely too focused on the results. Which in turn creates worry.

This is exactly what had been happening. I’d been working hard, but the results I’d been hoping for weren’t appearing, which then generated stress.

So there I was wide awake most of the night, unable to get the rest I so desperately needed, filled with worry and doubt.

I finally did fall asleep, though, and then slept long and hard. But not until I realized that what I needed was a serious day off. No work. No lists. No schedule. No ‘accomplishments.’

Just rest. Freedom. Release.

That’s when the realization came.

Not when I was trying to force it, asking myself, what am I doing wrong? Why am I stressing? Why can’t I sleep?

But when I let go and just allowed myself some real freedom.

Then I remembered some essential lessons yoga offers us—and has offered me many times over in the past.

The first comes to us in the form of a sutra. Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah. (Patanjali yoga sutra 1.12)

“The way to a settled mind is through practice and letting go.”

Or as Alistair Shearer so eloquently puts it: Mental activity is settled “through the practice of yoga and the freedom it bestows.”

Isn’t that simply lovely?

There is a dichotomy here for sure. Yoga philosophy tells us that sustained, regular and repeated practice is necessary. And yet, at the same time, we are to be in a state of release. How is this possible? How does this work?

Here is where another of my very favorite yoga teachings comes in. This one comes to us from the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most beautiful of sacred Indian texts.

The Gita tells advises us to do our work diligently, wholly and completely dedicated to whatever our service to this world might be—whether it is cleaning hotel rooms or leading a multi-national corporation or tending to our children or an elderly parent or serving as a clerk in a quiet office or healing from a major illness—without attachment to the results of our labor.

Now that’s the tricky part, right? In this goal-oriented, ‘success’-seeking culture of ours, that seems downright antithetical.

But I’m here to tell you, that’s where true peace resides.

The Gita puts it this way:

Seek refuge in the attitude of detachment and you will amass the wealth of spiritual awareness. Those who are motivated only by desire for the fruits of action are miserable, for they are constantly anxious about the results of what they do. When consciousness is unified, however, all vain anxiety is left behind. There is no cause of worry, whether things go well or ill. Therefore, devote yourself to the disciplines of yoga, for yoga is skill in action. (Chapter 2, v. 49-50)

The key word here is ‘detachment’. This doesn’t mean we cannot pay any attention to how things are going in order to assess which actions to take or how best to approach our work. It means not clinging to certain results. It means allowing spaciousness that will permit whatever it is that is meant to be to come forth—often in ways we ourselves might not have imagined or been able to create, no matter what effort we might have applied.

After all, if we truly are doing our best, diligently applying ourselves to our work/service with our best attitude and an open heart and mind, what more can we do? Attachment and worry actually tend to deter things from coming forth as we attempt to control things that most of the time are beyond our control anyway!

I know when I can find this balance, when I can put my heart and soul into my work while releasing the results, that’s actually when things start to flow. And I am most definitely happier and more at peace when I do so.

This will be the focus of my classes this week—this beautiful combination of effort and release.

I invite you to join me for this experience of practice (abhyasa) and letting go (vairagya). (For a schedule of this week’s classes, please click here.)

But no matter where you are, may you enjoy the relief of sweet release, the relief of letting go.

May it be so.
Cindy

The Power of Gratitude

Dearest Ones,

Lately I have really been noticing how practicing gratitude daily makes my life better.

More peaceful. More joyful. More balanced. 

I recently went through a bit of a rough patch and one of the things that really helped me move through it with at least a modicum of ease were my daily gratitude practices.

Every year at the beginning of November, I facilitate a women's gratitude retreat. (This year’s is coming up soon - and the early bird rates are ending soon. Please scroll down to learn more! Or click here for complete info.)

Last year after the retreat, I decided to continue two of the practices we explored. I continue to practice them daily.

One of them is a daily gratitude calendar. At the end of every day right before retiring to bed, I sit in my ‘contemplation chair’ and think of one thing from the day for which I am most grateful and write it down in the little pocket calendar each person received at the retreat. Then at the end of the month, I read through all that month’s gratitudes. Without fail, my heart fills to the brim with these memories, these moments of delight, this endless gratitude for all the gifts of my life.

The other practice I have created for myself is a weekly ritual. At the retreat, we did a little mutual appreciation exercise where each of us wrote a note to each other participant listing the things about them for which we were grateful. These note cards were placed in an envelope for each of us to take home. Each week, I draw one to read, a way of remembering our final closing circle and all the love and appreciation contained there - but also a way of reminding myself, through the words of others, the many beautiful qualities I possess, the gifts I hold within. When I lose touch with just what those are, it is so incredibly uplifting and heartening to receive this reflection through those with whom I spent those sacred days on retreat.

This is why I offer this retreat. To help us all remember the bounty and beauty of the world in which we live - as well as that of the world we hold within.

This is why and how gratitude brings us joy and peace and light. 

This is why it is so very important to our wellbeing - and truly is the gateway to grace.

So simple - and yet so very, very profoundly transformational.

If you are a woman, I hope you will consider joining me this year on this sacred gratitude retreat. Tell your friends. Invite the beloved women in your life. Share this opportunity with those you know who could use a little extra self-nourishment, a little extra love, a little lifting up. And, most importantly, seriously consider offering this time and replenishment to yourself.

You are worth it. You so deserve it!

If you are not a woman, perhaps as an expression of your gratitude for the beloved women in your life, you can share this opportunity with them - or maybe even offer it as a gift! This gesture of your gratitude is guaranteed to uplift you, too.

This retreat is an absolutely beautiful way to step into the holiday season and beyond - and will provide you with the tools you need to enjoy the busy days to come in a much more calm, peaceful, joyful way than you otherwise might.

Early bird rates are available through Sept. 30.

For complete details and to register, click here.

I hope you will join me on the path.

With deepest love and appreciation for you,

Cindy

“The Power of Gratitude” image by Lydie Baudry (Maui, Hawaii)
Musings cover photo by Cindy Novelo (Medina River, Texas Hill Country)

Weathering the Storms of the Mind

Stay in the center of the circle and let all things take their course. ~ Lao-Tzu

Today as I sat in meditation I was reminded—again—of just how important meditation is to my overall wellbeing.

I’ve been using a guided meditation of late called Sitting Like a Mountain, by Dr. Julien Lacaille. You may have heard me mention it before.

In this meditation we are asked to envision ourselves as a mountain—calm, steady, serene, majestic—and then begin to notice the weather patterns in our mind. Is it sunny and bright? Or are there some dark clouds and/or emotional storms coloring our inner landscape?

Well, let me tell you. I’ve had a big one brewing the last couple of days. And you know how that can be! When it’s stormy and dark it’s hard to imagine the sun. Those dark clouds can be all-consuming and feel impenetrable, making it pretty hard to function. Right?

But when we can take a step back as this meditation asks us to do—to become the ‘seer’, the witness, and to observe the inner landscape of the mind—we can then also see the clear vast sky that holds those storm clouds. This then allows us to see that those dark menacing storms are just weather. They are temporary and will pass. They are not who we are. They are not our essence. They are just clouds.

This is the power of meditation. It helps us return to our calm center, to ‘stay in the center of the circle’ and let things take their course, as Lao-Tzu so wisely counsels us to do.

It does not mean we need to bury our emotions or feelings or try to sweep them away. Rather, it encourages us to stay calm, allow what needs to happen to happen, and know that with time, this, too, shall pass.

And that in the meantime, just like the mountain, we are equipped to weather whatever might come our way—rain or shine, calm or storm.

I invite you to join me on this incredibly rewarding journey.

May it be so.

Cindy

“Weathering the Storms of the Mind” image by Cindy Novelo (Salida, CO)

Where Do You Find Your Strength?

This week in my yoga classes I've been focusing on strength.

Not just physical strength, but also mental and emotional strength as well. They all work together. And yoga can help us develop more of each one.

It has really gotten me to think about just how many places strength can come from - from physical exercise; from meditation, yoga, prayer and other contemplative and spiritual practices; from the natural world; from the support of loved ones and the bonds of community; from believing in our intrinsic worth, value and ability; from self-care in all its many forms; from ritual and routine; from rest; from taking a break; from a refreshing change of scenery; from letting go of negative self-talk; from service; from offering random acts of kindness; from spending time in the fresh open air; from silence and stillness; from surrender and letting go of all our struggle and striving and allowing ourselves to just be.

And so much more.

I found a beautiful meditation using the imagery of a mountain - and all its stability, strength, steadiness, vitality, majestic presence, peacefulness, and forbearance - the way it just remains there, strong and steady, regardless of the weather, the storms, the sun, whoever walks upon it or whether anyone comes to see it at all... I have really been enjoying it and and have found exceptionally beneficial.

If you have the Insight Timer app, it is called Sitting Like a Mountain, by Dr. Julien Lacaille. I highly recommend it! Or you can just bring the image of a mountain to mind - and open yourself up to feeling whatever qualities most inspire you about that image within your own being.

Where do you find strength? And how will you tap into that strength today?

May you believe in you.

May you find the strength within to face whatever challenge you might meet this day.

May you be happy.

In Peace,

Cindy

“Where Do You Find Your Strength” image by Jane Bodle

The Delight of 'No'

Don’t forget that ‘No’ is a really, really complete sentence.
— Dita Manelli

Isn't that a great reminder?

Yes is a good word. And so is no.

In fact, it is often our 'no's that open up more and more space for the wonderful pleasure of saying YES to the things that really allow us to step into our highest good, the we we were meant to be.

This week I said no to a dear friend's request for assistance in translating a document from English to Spanish that was really beyond me. I love her and it was for a good cause and maybe I could have done it with a lot of struggle and a lot of time and some assistance from some native Spanish-speaking friends. But it would have been a struggle—and would have taken precious time away from the tasks that will really use me and my gifts in a much better way (that's my yes!)

My no for today is to staying up late tonight. I'm gonna go to bed early. Yep. Even on a Friday night.

Which is going to allow me to say YES to rising early tomorrow morning and listening to the birds and watching the sunrise and having a full, sweet, productive morning. Yea!

What will you say no to today? And how will that open you up to a more beautiful yes?

Meditation as a Mirror of Life

For a blissful month or so after returning home from the week-long silent meditation retreat I attended in late April, there was no place I’d rather be than my meditation cushion. I longed to be there. My cushion had become a delicious refuge of peacefulness, quiet, serenity.

It was heavenly.

But then… as I returned, slowly, but surely, to my duties, my daily routine, life in the ‘real’ world, things shifted.

Today when I sat to meditate, I realized just how often my mind wandered. Renowned meditation teacher Jack Kornfield likes to compare the wandering mind to an excited puppy you are trying to train. OH, look! There’s a squirrel! Oh, wait, check out that person over there! Hey, what’s that smell?

Yep. That’s what the mind is like so much of the time. That’s certainly what my mind has been like lately - both on and off the cushion. What was that errand I needed to run? Let’s see, what poses do I want to include in tomorrow’s yoga class? Where will I go on my next vacation? Oh, yes, tonight I want to plant those coleus starts and go to the store and clean the fridge and… etc… etc… etc…

Today when I caught my mind wandering in meditation and realized just how often it has been doing that lately I thought how much our meditation practice—or whatever other spiritual practice we are engaging—is a mirror of our life.

Yep, the mind wanders off. Yep, we get distracted from our practice—sometimes for days or maybe even weeks on end.

The beauty of all this is, though, that each time we wander away, we have the capacity to wake up to the fact that we have wandered. To realize that we have become distracted from the practices that nourish and feed us.

And to return to those practices, just as we can return the mind to focusing on our breath or lovingkindness or whatever the focus of that day’s meditation might be each time we sit in meditation.

The same is true for whatever other life endeavor we are undertaking. Each and every moment allows us an opportunity to return to the path. To begin again.

When we notice how far we have wandered from the path, the tendency is to berate ourselves. To judge ourselves for wandering, for becoming distracted, or perhaps for abandoning our practice altogether.

When in fact, this is a moment to celebrate - for we have just awakened to the reality of our world. We have noticed what is happening. And when this happens, we have the opportunity to make a wise choice about where we will go, what we will do next.

So do not despair! No matter how many times you wander —during any given practice or life endeavor—or any day or week or year—take heart!

And begin again.

This is life.

This is the path.

Yea, YOU!

Wishing you a wonderful day of new beginnings,

Cindy

“Meditation as a Mirror…” photo by Jane Bodle (Villa Taranto, Italy)

A Call to Joy

Recently I finished listening to a wonderful book - The Book of Joy - a conversation between Archbishop Desmond Tutu and The Dalai Lama. It is rich with so many wonderful reasons to celebrate joy and many suggestions for how to do so.

Then a few days ago, when searching for the source of the quote above that was shared with me by one of our teachers at the silent meditation retreat I attended in May, I came across a truly wonderful article by meditation teacher James Baraz - the very person who had shared the quote with us at the retreat!

The article was entitled “Lighten Up”. Isn’t that wonderful? He was talking about how so often we think our spiritual practices must be serious, that they don’t include joy, when actually these practices are the very route to joy! And that joy is essential to true awakening.

He says, "We all know what it’s like to get trapped in dark, constricting states of mind—and how useless it is, in terms of awakening, to dwell there. That is exactly what the Buddha taught: we don’t need to stay stuck in greed, hatred, and delusion. Life can be lighter, more workable, even when it’s challenging...When we are not attached to who we think we are, life can move through us, playing us like an instrument. Understanding how everything is in continual transformation, we release our futile attempts to control circumstances. When we live in this easy connection with life, we live in joy.

Joy has many different flavors. It might overflow from us in song or dance, or it might gently arise as a smile or a sense of inner fullness. Joy is not something we have to manufacture. It is already in us when we come into the world, as we can see in the natural delight and exuberance of a healthy baby. We need only release the layers of contraction and fear that keep us from it.”

So joy is naturally there within us. It is there, if only we are willing to allow it to surface. When we do so, we are actively cultivating joy. In their book, this is what Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama reveal to us. They are both intimately aware with deep struggle—and yet have found a way to continue to live their lives joyfully. 

And so can we!

This can also be done by purposefully cultivating what the Buddhists call “wholesome mind-states”—compassion, love, generosity, happiness—our own, and for the successes and joys of others. These things create happiness. In ourselves and most often in those we offer them to as well.

We can also learn to pay more attention to the times we are naturally feeling joyful - and to rejoice in them. Not to try to hold on to them as grasping only causes more suffering. But to be present for these moments, to allow those feelings of natural joy to really fill us up, to stop and rejoice in these feelings. This actually changes our body chemistry and also teaches our mind to bend towards delight, to see beauty and delight where otherwise we may not have, and to do so with more and more frequency.

We come to see that the positive feelings we all have—happiness, joy, delight—facilitate our awakening and help us to keep our hearts open.

As James so beautifully says, "…relating to the present moment with joy is a choice we can make. Discovering this can change our lives. Whether we are paying careful attention to wholesome states when they arise, reflecting on gratitude, or feeling the delight of living with integrity (which the Buddha called “the bliss of blamelessness”), we can access joy by shifting the focus of our awareness to what uplifts the heart.”

So let us allow this to be our focus this day—“shifting the focus of our awareness to what uplifts the heart.”

And enjoying whatever lies before you today!

Wishing you a beautiful day—wherever it may take you!

Rejoice!

Cindy

Finding Your Ground

Finding Your Ground

After leading a women’s retreat the weekend before last (sublime! :)), I returned home to a visit from my adorable and very active little grand baby which was immediately followed by a trip to Tulsa for more wonderful family time. It was all absolutely lovely - but also a whirlwind of activity.