A blog about yoga, life, health and healing.
The other day a friend said to me, "I wish I was half as calm as you are."
At first I thought, "Yes, I am lucky to have been born this way." Then I thought, "Hey wait just a second, I deserve a little credit for my calm state of mind."
I actually work at it. I may have been blessed with a certain amount of mellow but, my dedication to practicing yoga and meditation, combined with a commitment to being aware of my thoughts, words, and actions at all times (mindfulness) is what helps me to keep a peaceful state of mind even when things are stressful.
They say that, "The mind takes the shape of whatever it rests upon."
This isn't just an anticode. It is actually a proven fact. Studies on the activity of the brain show that whatever we repeatedly experience through our senses, thoughts, and behaviors, will slowly begin to shape the brain. So according to Rick Hansen in his book called, Just One Thing, the saying above should be modified to, "The brain takes the shape of whatever the mind rests upon."
In a nutshell, we have millions of neurons that fire and connect to each other through synapses in different areas of our brain. Depending on the information we are taking in through our senses, our thoughts, and our conscious or unconscious activity, specific areas of the brain which control specific responses will be activated. Whatever neurons are the most stimulated will get stronger, thereby strengthening that particular area of the brain. The areas that go unused or under-stimulated will wither.
So, this "experience dependent neuroplasticity" is how your brain takes the shape of whatever your mind rests upon. Whatever you repeatedly experience will alter your brain which will result in your tendency to a particular mind state.
This is why practicing the mind state you would like to develop makes sense. If you are fearful and would like to develop the part of your brain that is responsible for bravery, experiencing situations where you FEEL brave will improve the likelihood that you will respond to day to day challenges with less fear.
If you are anxious and would like to develop a mind state that is peaceful and calm, experiencing situations where you FEEL peaceful and calm will improve the likelihood that you will respond to day to day challenges with
It all comes down to practice, which author Rick Hansen says is "simply taking regular action (in thought, word, and deed) to increase positive qualities in yourself and decrease negatives ones." Just like exercising your muscles will make them stronger, exercising short but consistent bouts of relaxation will help to strengthen your ability to respond to stress in a calmer way.
In essence, no matter who we are or what we were given, through the practices that we commit to, each of us has the ability to "sculpt" our mind. To quote Hansen one more time, "how you use your mind changes your brain". Keeping this fact in mind, make sure that the changes you are getting are the ones that you want.
The other night I helped a man push his broken down car off the road and into the parking lot of a local department store. I thought it was a little odd that he wanted it backed into a specific spot, which required turning the car all the way around, but he was steering so I followed his lead.
I asked him if I could call a tow truck or a family member to help him. He said no thank you. Then I asked if I could drive him home. He hesitated so I asked him again. "Can I give you a ride home?"
His answer broke my heart. "I don't have a home. I live here." he said, pointing to his broken down car.
It was 8:30 at night so I offered to get him dinner. He told me he was fine and had eaten already. He said, "Thank you and God bless you" and got into his car, shutting the door.
My daughter and I felt numb as we walked into the department store in search of new tablecloths for our upcoming Mother's Day celebration. We had been imagining the beautiful day we were about to have sharing food, shelter, and love with forty of our family members.
We lost all interest in the tablecloths as we imagined the man sitting alone in his car while we celebrated.
In a feeble attempt to help the man and alleviate our guilt about being so fortunate, we bought him a pillow and blanket and walked back to his car. I saw genuine appreciation in his eyes as he reached through the half opened window for the bag.
I laid awake in my comfortable bed most of that night listening to the rain pouring down on the roof. I couldn't stop thinking about the man whose address could be called Parking Lot Road. I wondered why I was so fortunate and he was not.
The next morning I called a local shelter to find out the check in procedure. I picked up a breakfast sandwich and drove back to his car-home prepared to rescue him from his parking lot. As I approached his "front door" which was open a crack to let fresh air in, he smiled and waved. When I suggested that he check in to the shelter, his demeanor changed completely.
"I would rather die right here in this car then go to a shelter!" he said with conviction. Waving his hand toward his new blanket and pillow that was neatly folded on the seat, he said, "I am fine here. I have everything I need." Then with a smile of gratitude, he took the bagged breakfast (that I had forgotten I was holding in my outstretched arms) and pulled his door shut. As I walked away I heard him say, "God bless you."
When I was driving home, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. I felt like my heart was breaking. I was surprised at my strong reaction after my experience with the homeless stranger.
In my ten years of living in New York City, I had seen many homeless people and was never affected like I was by this man. Back then, to avoid feeling sad and uncomfortable from the sight of another human being living in such a horrible way, I would think to myself, "If I give them money, they'll probably buy booze." or " Why don't they go to one of the shelters that my tax money pays for." Thinking these thoughts was a way to ease my discomfort and protect myself from feeling too much.
As I sat in my car wiping away tears of compassion for a man that I didn't know, I realized that practicing yoga for the past fifteen years has changed me.
Yoga has encouraged me to feel. If you don't want to feel, don't practice yoga. In yoga you will you feel your body in a way that is often unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and you will be asked to stay, experience, and breathe into that discomfort. Through this feeling practice, you will naturally become open to feeling your emotions and you will gain the ability to stay, experience, and breathe into them as well.
When you stay, experience, and breathe, you become conscious of how you feel.
Compassion is defined as "the sympathetic consciousness of another's distress together with the desire to alleviate it." Recognizing your own suffering in a compassionate way helps you to show compassion for others.
Looking back at myself from years ago, I realize that my strategy to avoid pain was to close my heart so that I didn't have to feel it. What I didn't know at the time is that closing my heart to pain was also closing my heart to love.
The Buddhists saying, " In order to truly feel love, each of us must carry a little pain in our hearts" is a reminder that keeping an open heart is the only way to experience life fully.
I learned a lesson from a coat. Buying it cost me money, but losing it was priceless.
It was a maroon, down, three quarter length Mountain Hardware coat that I ordered online. It was the end of the season so it was fifty percent off. I really wanted it in black but they didn't have my size. I settled for the maroon color thinking, "Gee I am not crazy about the color, but it's such a good deal and I need a lightweight warm jacket....I can't pass it up."
The first day I wore it I still wasn't crazy about the color, but the coat served it's purpose.
I got so many compliments on my coat that day that my opinion began to change. Initially, my coat was just serving a purpose as an inexpensive, lightweight and warm covering for my body. After people began to tell me how great I looked in my maroon coat, it began to take on a whole new meaning.
Every time I wore that coat, I got attention. People would say, "Ooooh, I LOVE your coat! Where did you get it? The color is great! It has such a flattering fit! It looks so good on you!"
Before long, I would put on my coat and feel like a million bucks. I thought I was so cool in my coat. I remember passing a mirror and thinking, "Wow, I am so good at picking out coats. Everyone wants this coat!" I was so proud of myself in that coat. Then I thought, "Geeze Cara, it's a coat for God's sakes! Get over yourself".
Soon after I had the too big for my britches moment, I went to put on my really awesome maroon coat that was just as cool as me, and it was nowhere to be found. I looked everywhere and retraced my steps, but it was gone.
As I searched for the coat, I felt two conflicting emotions. One was disappointment because I was attached to my coat, it brought me attention and made me look great.
The other emotion I had was relief. I realized that I had identified so strongly with my coat that I began to confuse the lightweight and warm covering for my body with who I was. Somehow I had infused that coat with my sense of self. When I was wearing it, I thought I was so cool! I was acting ridiculous and losing my coat was a reminder to me that a material thing doesn't change who I am. I was relieved to find that I was still the same person even without that coat.
The word identification comes from a latin word that means, "to make the same". When we identify with our material possessions, we are giving them a sense of ourselves. In essence we are making them the same as us. I did that with my coat.
We can identify with more than just our material possessions. Infusing our sense of self onto our jobs, our bodies, our financial status, or even our beliefs can cause us to feel a strong and unhealthy attachment to them. When we use our possessions to define ourselves, we confuse those possessions with who we are.
Our ego will spend a ton of energy trying to defend and hold onto the possessions that we have identified with. This can be exhausting, stressful, and pointless because sooner or later, in life or in death, we have to give them all up.
In A New Earth; Awakening to Your Life's Purpose, Ekhart Tolle says, " Letting go of attachment to things is impossible. Don't even try. Attachment to things drops away only when you no longer seek to find yourself in them."
When our possessions no longer define us, we realize that they are just things that we have in our lives right now. According to Tolle, with this knowledge, we will see that deep inside and beyond our thinking mind, every single one of us possesses "all the things that truly matter - beauty, love,creativity, joy and inner peace".
With this in mind, I can ask myself, "Without my really cool coat...am I still really cool?"
My answer, "Yes I am".
Heaven gained a beautiful blue eyed angel on April 23, 2014.
The angel is my great-nephew, Brady McKeefrey.
When I looked at his parents at the funeral of their baby boy, I was heartbroken for them. I was also in awe of their strength, maturity, and devotion to their family.
In an attempt to save their baby boy's life, who was born without a functioning immune system, my young niece bravely moved away from her two small children and her husband to get the best care for Brady. He needed a thymus transplant, which was his only hope for survival. While Brady spent seven months at the Duke University Hospital Center, my extremely strong and devoted niece stayed at the Ronald MacDonald House to be close to him. Her husband, parents, in laws, brothers, sisters, and children took turns visiting her and the baby to give support, love, and hope. Unfortunately, despite the best medical care and the greatest love from his family, the tough little guy didn't survive.
This tragedy drove home to me the importance of FAITH. Without it, an experience like losing your child would be enough to push you over the edge from where you might never return. Having faith in something bigger than yourself can help you to get through some of the most difficult times of your life.
At the cemetery, the priest said, "Don't ask why, you will never get an answer. Just have faith that Brady is with God." Having faith requires an acceptance that life often unfolds in a way that we may never understand.
Keeping our hearts open to the belief that there is a greater purpose for our suffering and the suffering of those that we love will help us to let go of the anger that can grip our hearts when an unexplained tragedy occurs.
This tragedy also drove home to me the importance of FAMILY. Whether related by blood or not, the LOVE and support of a family can help you get through the most difficult times. I witnessed this truth at the funeral of my great-nephew. I could feel the love shared by everyone who was struggling to cope with the deep sadness at the loss of this magnificent child.
In her book, When things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, Pema Chodron wrote, "Life is glorious and life is wretched. It is both. Gloriousness and wretchedness go together. One inspires us and the other softens us."
When faced with the wretchedness of life, having a strong faith, a supportive family, and a commitment to love can carry you through the pain so that when the gloriousness appears, you will be ready to embrace it with a soft and open heart.
For Brady's parents, the wretchedness of losing him will never go away. But the gloriousness of loving and raising Brady's adorable big brother Ryan, and sweet big sister Shea, will help them to continue to live their lives with inspiration, faith, and the love of their blue eyed angel in their hearts.
All Abhyasa Ahimsa Aparigraha Asmita-Ego Attachment Baron Baptiste Beginner's Mind Bramacharya Carl Jung Clear Seeing Colorless Comfortable Discomfort Creating Spaciousness In Mind And Body Cultivate The Opposite Deepak Chopra Dharma Empty Your Cup Enthusiasm Equanimity Family Fight Or Flight Great Vows Inner-awareness Inner Critic John Kabbatzinnb2faff332d Listening Mirrors To Ourselves Monkey Hunting Non Stealing Patanjali Pause Pillar Pleasure And Pain Posseses Us Practice Pratipaksa Bhavana Pratyahara Present Moment Present Moment Awareness Respond Instead Of React Samadhi Samskara Santosha Satya Sauca Sensual Pleasures Shadow Side Spirituality Steadiness And Ease Sthira And Sukha Strength Sustained Attention Svadhyaya There You Are Thich Nat Hahn This Too Shall Pass True Self Uncertainty Universal Truth What We Possess Wherever You Go Wisdom Yoga Philosophy Yoga Sutra 1. 14 Yoga Sutra 1.33 Yoga Sutra 2.33 Yoga Sutra 2 37cfe9965fa2 Yoga Sutra 2. 46 Yoga Sutras