Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Tag: yoga

#4: Surrender

This is a tough one for me: SURRENDER.

I’m a control freak. I’m a Virgo. I’m analytical, always thinking, always organizing, always trying to make sense of things and bring order out of chaos. So surrendering in any way is very, very challenging. But it is something I am working on (see, even in trying to surrender, I am controlling!).

This act of surrender is something I practice in yoga. Giving in to a pose and whatever it brings. Giving in to a practice wherever it takes me. Observing, noticing, not getting attached to pain or discomfort or the urgent desire to relax and come out of a pose because it’s too challenging. Surrender is easy when a pose is relaxing (like child’s pose or shavasana), but surrendering when a pose is challenging is where the practice really becomes practice. How do you just let something go and be without effort? At what point does trying to be become just being?

So I practice surrender in yoga. And then I practice surrender in real life. What’s the difference between giving up and surrendering? In some ways, they can be seen as the same thing. However, I think surrender has a bit more intentionality, discipline, and purpose than just giving up.

We’ve been searching for an apartment for the last month or so. It’s quite a feat, looking for an apartment that fits all our wants and needs, within a price range that is affordable for two non-tech-salaried people, in the Peninsula – the heart of Silicon Valley. It’s almost impossible. We’re competing with Google and Facebook employees, transplants to the area, who are making easily twice our salaries (combined). It’s discouraging. It’s frustrating. It’s infuriating seeing how much landlords will charge for a tiny one or two bedroom apartment, knowing that someone will take it at that price because they can and they have to! And yet, we try. So giving up would be literally just giving up and not putting in the legwork, the effort, and the research. I think surrendering means doing what we can and then leaving the rest up to the universe. Having hope, having a positive attitude, putting worry and anxiety aside, and thinking knowing that the universe will provide.

What comes to mind is the serenity prayer:

serenity-prayer

Serenity in surrender. Peaceful acceptance. Giving it up to the universe to provide.

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Removing Barriers

As I am still in a state of transition, I have been coming across mini-projects to overcome places in my life that I have often found to be abhorrent, impossible, undesirable…  just that I dislike or even “hate.”  But truthfully, there is very little in this world that I hate (people, places, things, etc.).  Hate is such a strong feeling.

Here are some of the things I’ve been tackling with the mindset that I don’t want barriers to get in my way to doing anything:

  • RUNNING.  Ironically, I was on the track team in high school.  More as a way to keep in shape in the spring than for any love of running or track and field activities.  I ran sprints and threw discus and did the lophotong jump.  Whenever we had to do long distance running, a few laps around the track or around the school, I just about died.  I hated it.  I hated the feeling of being out of breath, of the pains in my side and lungs, of pushing myself beyond my comfort zone.  Throughout my years in college and after, I’ve taken on running here and there, both indoors and outdoors, knowing that I didn’t really enjoy it; but it was a good, cheap way to stay in shape.  In Boston, I started running a bit when I lived in the city, near the Charles River, but over the years, I stopped and had no regrets.

I’ve started running again since I’ve been staying in Arizona where the weather is amenable to outdoors-running until it gets scorchingly hot.  I’ve been inspired by some friends who’ve been running marathons and long-distance for fun.  I’ve also been inspired by reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk about When I Talk about Running— a great read whether you’re a runner or not.  And I’ve also been inspired to do some of this “overcoming barriers” work for myself.  My solo-travels was about that to some extent.  Getting my scuba-diving license was about that, too.  Renting a moped in Pulau Pangkor without an international license and put-putting around that hilly island was about that, too.  Overcoming fears, taking down walls, getting over things I’ve disliked or resisted.

Because I am totally undisciplined when it comes to running (strange because I can be so disciplined about other things in my life), I decided to take on the “couch to 5K” regimen to start.  I’d heard good things about it from various sources.  I also looked at the regimen, and it seemed manageable.  I’m now on week four!  And so far, so good.

It’s amazing the voices that come up in my head when running.  At first, all seems good, and then as it starts to get challenging (I get winded; my legs feel strained; my lungs feel pressured), the voices telling me to take a break, to stop, to give up are so loud.  It takes all my willpower to quell those voices and keep going.  The work really begins when I want to stop (see my post about the practice of yoga and willpower— so relevant).

For now, I’m just trying to take each run for it is, another step.  Trying not to think too far ahead or think about the past and my dislike of running.  It’s definitely easier when the weather is nice as it has been in Arizona!

  • MAKING BREAD.  I brought back some sourdough starter from New Zealand from one of the families I stayed with, almost making a loaf of bread every week.  I’ve always had an inexplicable fear of making bread.  I think photo(1)it’s a “I’m not worthy” type of complex.  I was afraid of yeast and sourdough was another level beyond me.  I’m not sure what the fear was based on– fear of killing the little bacteria, fear of doing something wrong and failing, I guess.

Once I revived the starter and got to making the bread, I’ve tried various recipes and methods.  I’ve had to negotiate the dryness and elevation of Arizona and where my parents live (about 3500 ft above sea level).  And I’ve been using different types of flour– wheat, spelt, rye, white, multigrain.  And I’m finally getting the hang of it, after a bunch of loaves.  The key is having enough honey to add sweetness to the bread.  Also, kneading it enough to make sure everything is incorporated.

I haven’t eaten store bought bread in several months, and I’m loving it!  All that goes into the bread is the starter, flour, water, salt, some oil (I’ve been using olive oil or flaxseed oil), and some salt.  I even experimented with a loaf by adding fresh rosemary.  Yum!  There’s nothing like freshly baked bread.  This is a denser type of bread than the usual yeast breads, but I’m loving the whole process!

Doing even these two seemingly simple things– running and making bread– has taught me so much about how much we blow our barriers and challenges out of proportion.  They become monsters in our head, made up of irrational fears and dread.  And when we take the steps to break down those walls, the shadows and darkness are dissipated to reveal a beauty before unseen.

There are more things I am afraid of, that I dread or dislike; but for now, I’ll go with these two activities.  Nourishing my body in these two ways, building my willpower and my stamina.

Willpower

Willpower is something I used to hear about when I was younger.  Willpower to give up something for Lent (I was raised Catholic).  Willpower to not open all the presents at once on Christmas Eve.  Willpower to save the good Halloween candy to draw out the enjoyment.

At the yoga teacher training I attended a month ago, our teachers brought back the concept of willpower; and it was like being visited by an old friend, a friend that I had mixed feelings about.  A friend that I was happy to see because I always learned so much when we were together.  But whose visit also brought up some pain because this friend pushes me to my limit and beyond.

I was at a yoga class yesterday, and the teacher said something that brought back my “friend,” willpower: the practice of yoga begins when you want to come out of a pose.  In other words, when we are at our edge of comfort and safety, starting to feel the pain and the burning of muscles, and we want to come out of those sensations– that’s when we breathe, notice and observe, and sink deeper into the pose.  It’s a huge test of willpower.  We want to come out of the pose to relieve the feelings of pain and burning– that’s the ego talking, saying that we might hurt ourselves or that we just CAN’T DO IT.  But we can.  And as we breathe and bring a calmness to the pose, we find that the ego is just talking.  And we CAN do it.

And isn’t life like that?

I think one of the reasons I haven’t heard the word “willpower” used in awhile is that we’ve created so many ways to avoid willpower.  We have machines, gadgets, technology to make things easier for us so we don’t have to exert any willpower because something else will work for us.  Machines to firm up our abs (instead of just doing 100 situps a day).  DVR and TIVO to record our favorite shows so we don’t have to patiently wait for our show’s regularly scheduled time.  Overnight shipping options so we can order something and get it right away.  Email and texting so we can communicate instantly with others.  Instant remedies (like surgery) to lose weight fast.

I’ve been learning to find my willpower these past months:

  • doing a morning sadhana (spiritual practice) every morning since the start of my yoga training.  An hour to an hour and a half of stretches and basic yoga poses, finding my breath and awareness each and every morning.  It’s not been easy, waking around 5:30 or 6am and doing the same poses everyday.
  • holding poses for longer than usual– sphinx for 5 minutes, downward dog for several minutes several times without coming down.
  • going on a hike or walk when I don’t really feel like it.
  • not spending hours on the internet, surfing absentmindedly.

downward-dog

They are little things, but I’m realizing how hard it is and yet gratifying to take each step.  By doing these little things and noticing what feelings and thoughts come up when I do them, I’m finding that I’m building my willpower.  I can hold poses longer in yoga.  I can wake up really early day after day.  And I don’t give up as easily.  Sure, it isn’t fun to wake every morning when it’s still dark out, but by the end of my practice, I’m so glad that I did.

Where do we have to use any willpower these days?  How can we cultivate more human willpower that isn’t technology based?

Uni-tasking

I recently participated in a yoga teacher training.  Yes, I am now certified to teach yoga (whatever THAT really means).  I learned a ton at this training, some of which I hope to unfold here.

One big realization was how stressed we are in today’s society.  Everyone basically lives with a baseline stress level that is normal, and anything above that becomes normal after enough time of dealing– work life, personal life, and even extracurricular life.  It all adds to our stress levels.  A big contributing factor to all that stress is that we’re multitasking EVERYWHERE.

Image

At home, we go online while watching TV while eating dinner.  We fold laundry while talking on the speaker phone to a friend while watching TV.  We cook dinner while talking on the speaker phone while thinking of the schedule for the upcoming weekend.

At work, we check email while participating on a conference call on the phone while eating our breakfast.  We chat with our colleagues while checking email while thinking about our to-do lists for the week.  We go from meeting to meeting to meeting while making notes on other matters and checking our email on our smartphones.

This culture of multitasking is celebrated and valued.  In fact, I remember having that as one of the interview questions I would ask potential hires– “Can you multitask?  Give examples of your ability to multitask.”  I pride myself in my ability to multitask well.

Some research shows that multitasking is actually “bad for us” or that multitasking shows an inability to focus.

What we talked about at this yoga training was that when we are multitasking, we are operating at a high stress level which taxes the sympathetic nervous system (adrenaline pumping, the “fight or flight” response kicking in) leading to adrenal fatigue and other stress-related illnesses.  In addition, we lose the ability to be completely present in any situation because we’re always attempting to be in multiple situations at once.

What a realization that was for me.  As I thought about it, I realized that I really was ALWAYS multitasking, and that includes thinking about other things when I’m doing something.

So I’m working on uni-tasking and being present with whatever I’m doing at the time.  Focusing on chewing and tasting when I’m eating.  Focusing on the feel of the ground under my feet, the breeze and sunshine on my skin when I’m hiking.  Focusing on breathing when I’m driving.  Focusing on being with the people I’m with when I’m with them. Focusing on every word when I’m reading a book.  Focusing on one web page at a time when I’m online.

And wow, it’s really hard.

My brain wants to jump to so many different things and to stay active and busy.  My life has  become like web surfing where I have multiple windows open at the same time, and I jump from link to link, spiralling deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole of cyberspace with no real focus, losing myself and the present moment in the process.

Image

When I am able to get even a minute or two of real presence and attention to what I’m doing (because that’s all I can manage most of the time, before my brain starts off again on its search for multi-stimulation), it’s such a relief.  I’m in an oasis in the madness of today’s technological freneticism (is that a word?).

Yoga gives me that space to practice uni-tasking and awareness.  Just breathing in child’s pose with no thought of what came before, what comes next, what’s for dinner, what my neighbor is doing.  And from my yoga mat, I take that practice to my everyday life.  Just breathing while sitting in the car, while walking down the stairs, while taking a shower.

Can you uni-task?

Aspirations Revisited

It's been awhile since I checked in on my aspirations. For those who haven't read all my posts or my other pages, my “Aspirations” were developed as part of a course I audited at UMass Boston's Critical and Creative Thinking program called Action Research for Professional, Educational, and Personal Change (I think that was the full title). The Aspirations were goals that I set for myself and then I was going to check back in on them after I took various Action Steps over time. I was hoping that these Aspirations would set me on a path of personal change and growth to feel more life fulfillment and purpose.

So here are those Aspirations. They all are really being solidified and developed during my New Zealand WWOOFing and travel in different ways:

  1. I want a job where I can be in a team of colleagues that are smart, action-oriented, and creative where we are pushing each other to think and act innovatively. Being at Seresin, I've seen that it is possible to have a work environment of passionate, committed, and caring people who are motivated by a common goals both at personal and professional levels. I've also seen that where I worked before coming here. The big thing for me will be to find a team again when I return to the U.S. to pursue whatever my career path and plan becomes (I have some burgeoning ideas which aren't ready to be shared for the blog. Stay tuned…).
  2. I want to live in a city/ community where I know my neighborhood and where I can be involved in making positive changes. I'm definitely feeling solid that going to a local level (local economies, neighborhood based change and connection) is really where my heart is at. I think the question still remains about “where” that place will be concretely when I return to the U.S., but wherever it is, I want to look into things like co-ops, co-housing, community gardens, and other structures that enable community and neighborhood building. I've seen the importance of that in the two WWOOFing experiences I've had thus far– the importance of supporting local economies instead of corporate, globalized institutions.
  3. I want to make travel a part of my life. Traveling in New Zealand, my love of being in new environments and meeting people from other backgrounds has been confirmed. I love seeing new landscapes, hearing different accents and languages, and trying new foods. And WWOOFing is a really cheap way to travel and to have a more meaningful experience than the typical tourist's sightseeing madness. I'm not saying one type of travel is better than the other, but for those who feel that travel is beyond their means, WWOOFing is definitely an affordable option.
  4. I want to be more involved with food justice and systems, alternative economies, social entrepreneurship, social change initiatives and innovations. This aspiration keeps coming up again and again in my WWOOFing experiences so far. I'm developing a stronger critique for the food industrial complex and an understanding of the magnitude of our dependence on fossil fuels. We HAVE to change our ways proactively or it will be thrust upon us. And to me, it's as simple as starting to grow your own food, getting the hang of it, and then helping others do the same. I think gardening is a revolutionary act. And not gardening just for oneself, but collective gardening– to feed ourselves, our families, and each other.
  5. I want to take more risks. Just quitting my job and coming out here with no idea of what I'll be doing next was a big risk. Probably the biggest I've taken yet. I'm still playing it pretty safe by setting my plans weeks in advance. But I'm trying to try new things and not hold back too much.
  6. I want to learn to trust my inner voice, my gut feelings (which I haven’t always done which has caused me to hesitate and not take risks.) Along with the previous aspiration, I'm trying to do this more, just by virtue of not having a return ticket home, as one example. Or not having my entire itinerary planned out more than few weeks ahead at a time. That's big for me, a Virgo-organizer. It takes a lot of will to just let things go a bit and not be so hyper-organized and planned-out about everything. Along with this, though, I am learning to live in and enjoy being in the moment more– breathing in the fresh air, looking around at the mountains and the trees and just soaking it all in, listening, really listening, to all the different birds around. I haven't been using a watch and time just passes and I'm really enjoying that aspect of life– going through the hours and just being what I am doing at the moment– weeding, pruning branches, flinging cow-poo-spray, drinking a cup of tea, listening to the wind.
  7. I want to build more structured reflection and action planning into my life. The blog has been helping me do this, and I've also been doing personal journalling. The blog helps me to be more structured in my thinking, and getting comments from readers has been wonderful moral support but also a sounding board for what parts of my writing resonate with people. I still need work on being more systematic about some of my reflections, but the blogging has been a great tool for documentation.
  8. I want to become a yoga instructor and practice moreI'm really thinking about this seriously. Trying to practice a little each day (even 10-15 minutes of sun salutations and some other asanas), and I'm going to be researching yoga teacher training programs when I return to the U.S. I was hoping to do a training while I was out in Southeast Asia, but the timing for programs doesn't work. So I'll go back and do an intensive course when I return– hopefully a program that's like full days for a month, living at the premises and eating, sleeping, breathing yoga. I'd love that! And then I would love to teach youth, elders, and others who don't usually have access to yoga classes.
  9. (added June 2012) I want to train for and enter a triathlon. This requires more intention. I really want to do something like this and build up toward it. For now, I've just been walking a lot. Biking a few times to and from the Home Block (a 3 mile ride), which shows me how out of shape my legs are for biking. I'll have to work on this more.

I'm grateful for this opportunity to leave behind all my responsibilities and trappings to come on this journey. All that has led me here– support from family and friends in all its forms (spiritual, financial, moral, intellectual)– has enabled me to have these experiences. This blog is one way of giving back– my learnings, my education, my experiences hopefully hold tidbits of hope, knowledge, and inspiration for others.

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