The air is thick with the scent of lavender, heavy with the warmth of bodies at rest. A single strand of white lights twists, dances, curls along the floor where it meets the rising wall, hinting at the outer boundary of the otherwise darkened room.
I rise from a state of complete rest, quiet inside my body, after a Restorative Yoga class with John. I am curious about what sounds I will invite into the already perfect silence and stillness enveloping me. I set up my sacred space, an altar to my joy, my circle of support, my ability to love and to transform, to play and to create.
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I settle in to the energy of these objects on my altar, which bring me peace and freedom even as I step closer to the edge of vulnerability in the open space.
The sound of the shruti box calms me, grounds me with a gentle yet firm foundation. It is both undulating and constant, a launching pad into the infinite as well as a soft place to land and be nurtured.
I invite sounds from all who are in the room. Immediately we are one – a chorus. Singers who don’t need to know the song, who simply listen and offer what comes naturally from within. A sigh, an exhale, a melodious note – it doesn’t matter. We are in this space together, experiencing this magic together. We enter the practice as one.
Yiwen begins to invite bodies into motion, the sounds of conscious breath now filling the room. I move with these energies, selecting sounds from the instruments available to me – my voice, a chime, a violin, a kalimba, a drum.
We dance together – sound and movement, breath and vibration – as one.
Finally, we arrive at a point of stillness. Silence. There is nothing more complete than this particular silence. We feel it from the base of our spines to the tips of our fingers. We experience it in this way as a result of our journey together, our collective ride over the waves of breath, movement, and sound.
As the class comes to a close, there is a pause. It is as if we want to preserve or bask in this feeling for just a little longer. We open our eyes, now brighter, smiling from within. We know, without saying a word, that we are welcome here.
You can join me and Yiwen Chang for Yoga & Healing Sounds class on the 2nd Sunday of each month, 5:30pm to 7:00pm at Prajna Yoga & Healing Arts Center in Belmont, CA. This Sunday, February 12, I will be collaborating with the unique sounds of Jovani, whose paintings are currently on display at Prajna.
Last year I made a vision board for who I am and how I feel when I express my creativity. I had devoted 2010 to my Core of Peace, and I was setting a new intention for 2011.
I didn't know exactly HOW my creativity would be expressed. But by making the vision board I connected with images and words that captured how I knew it would FEEL to be in that place of expression.
I let go of the HOW, because I didn't - and couldn't - know at the time what the exact steps would be.
I breathed deeply into the feelings of my own creativity, and allowed images to attract me without needing an explanation or a meaning or a concept. They were just images that I loved, for no "reason" at all.
Here is the vision board I made:
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I have it as the wallpaper image on my laptop, so every time I open my computer, the images enter my consciousness. Most days, I don't sit and deliberately stare at every image on my screen, but I know they are there.
I haven't thought about that vision board in many months. I have gone about the business of living, of staying in my Core of Peace, of letting some things go, and picking up other things, of planting seeds and watching them grow, all the while noticing that I cannot force growth to happen any faster than it already is.
Last night I looked at it again.
It was with a sense of amazement that I noticed how many of the images had actually come into my reality during 2011. In other words, my visions had come true!
While I was holding the intention to express more of my creativity in 2011, I lived by the mantra, "First Feel Free." The actions that resulted from that feeling included walking away from a commercial lease, and six months after that, downsizing my belongings by about eighty percent and moving out of my two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment, and into my boyfriend's two-bedroom, one-bathroom house, with a kitty and a big backyard.
We started a vegetable garden.
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We climbed to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite, after months of training with progressively longer hikes every weekend.
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I fell in love with the outdoors, and discovered a new interest (er, obsession) in backpacking.
Our band, Chinese Melodrama, stumbled into a new niche combining our love of supporting local businesses and the taste of wine, by providing music at local winery and wine bar events.
I got so busy living that my writing and videoblogging could no longer keep pace with the rate at which I was accumulating experiences. I let go of my need to report on every single learning and observation I had about the world, and began to just fully soak in the experience.
Meanwhile, another dream came true, with the opening of a brand new yoga and healing arts studio just a few blocks away from my new home. It was also another example of letting go of my grief over "not having a yoga studio anymore" and allowing the magic of life to arrive at my doorstep. I now find myself on the roster of musicians for the Sunday evening yoga and healing sound classes (starting in September, I'll be playing the second Sunday of every month), and working with the studio to coordinate events with my community of healing artists, musicians, and poets.
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Looking back at my vision board, I can count the images that have arrived in my reality since that day last year. I have found myself in the woods, on the top of mountains, at the rocky shores of the ocean, standing in awe of a sunset, opening my arms to the expansiveness of the sky, praising the stillness of the forest, celebrating my own beauty, and playfulness, and togetherness with a companion.
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All of this, once just a vision, is now my reality. All of this is who I am and how I feel when I express my creativity, letting go of the HOW and opening to the expansive mysteries of the earth and life.
The old saying goes, "Be careful what you wish for."
Today I'm reprinting a blog post I wrote over a year ago, on my Truth Love Beauty blog. It resonates with me right now, which is comforting. The truth has a way of standing the test of time. It also reminds me of a topic I have not talked about on this blog - the observations and lessons I learned from teaching violin to more than 30 toddlers in the Silicon Valley for five and a half years. These descriptions bring me back to a time that was filled with joys and challenges, and ultimately catalyzed a whole new way of being and learning for me.Here it is:
Does all the woo-woo, positive psychology, self-help talk make you feel a little queasy or, at best, skeptical? Does an email with the subject line, “You can do it!”, make you want to “Report spam” faster than you can hit “Delete”?
When I worked with parents and their children in a coaching/teaching environment, I learned that there are many ways we adults try to encourage our kids. We all have a default style of communication that is a product of the various influences in our lives – our own parents, our many teachers, our older siblings, our bosses, our mentors, or even a conglomeration of all the ways we DON’T want to be like any of those people. What I’ve learned about effective coaching I first saw by watching children who were actually allowed to learn. It’s simple: all a kid wants is to know what it feels like to try, and to know that they’ll be OK if they fail. If you give them those two things, they’ll try over and over again with great enthusiasm, and pretty soon (or maybe a lot later) they will succeed.
The second half of this – letting them know they are OK even if they fail while trying – is tricky. I saw so many adults sit beside their child and just watch, hands folded across their chest, while their child tried, making no attempt to help, and remaining motionless in response to anything the child did. Sure, they were “there”, but I would sometimes wonder if they were actually in the same room as we were. I’ve also seen the other end of the spectrum, where a parent would literally lunge forward and want to take over, rather than allow their child to try something that they might not “get” on the first attempt. They preferred not to witness a failure than to allow the child to try.
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I never figured out a way to coach parents to see their own tendencies in these situations. First of all, I was too busy trying to do my job coaching, witnessing, and encouraging the child. Second of all, I was frozen in astonishment at some of the parents’ behavior, not knowing how to address these things in the time allotted, or in front of the child.
These are, of course, excuses. The truth is I did not know how to hold the space for adults to really open up to what was going on. In some ways, it takes more skill and more patience to get an adult to open up than it does for a child. Despite a great deal of one-on-one time and attention for each student-parent dyad, I did not create a structure that allowed me to address holistically all the influences that are at play in a child’s learning. I had annual “review” meetings with parents, but these were perceived as “performance” reviews for the parents, where they would wait expectantly to receive some sign of approval or validation from me. Only rarely did anyone feel safe enough during these meetings to actually share their fears, their inadequacies, or their deepest questions about the purpose of their enrollment. It was mostly a veiled love fest, a hopeful yet sometimes tentative confirmation of everyone’s desire to continue with the relationship as it was. There were always a few cases where I wanted to discuss some of my real concerns about the appropriateness of continuing as the teacher for a particular child. Somehow, it never felt safe for me to voice my truth in these meetings. I would agonize over these for many days and sleepless nights leading up to the meetings, and would search for the right words, which rarely came to me at the right time. Why was it that I had never created that kind of relationship in which the truth could be told without blame or judgment? Why did I not have those skills?
By the time I started waking up to these truths, and learning how to hold this kind of space, I also saw that it was beyond the scope of my work to heal entire families, especially under the auspices of producing a children’s violin performing group. Some might say that I gave up. Maybe. But what I know now is that nothing changes until you accept things as they are. And, healing happens one person at a time, starting with myself.
My discovery of the healing capacity of the mind and the body came not from my medical school education ten years ago, but from a more recent search for my own inner peace and joy, which was catalyzed by my physical body sending me signals of debilitating pain. Something was not working in my lifestyle, and I could have chosen to ignore it and power through, or remain curious enough to explore it. I chose the latter. It opened me to a path of mental clarity and inquiry that I know will continue as long as there are thoughts running through my head. I did not take pills. I did not see a doctor or therapist. I slowed down. I rested. I created space in my life to ask the questions I was genuinely curious about. I tried new things. Simultaneously I recommitted to my yoga practice that had been abandoned during the same period of time that my body developed its pain. The combination of mind and body training, which focuses on gentle, consistent work on flexibility, balance, and strength, is what awakens me every day to the calm energy of joy I have within me. I love this kind of training because it is training for life. Not just “modern” life, or American life, or life as a woman, but being fully alive as a human being on this earth.
Now just because I’ve gone through this amazing shift doesn’t mean I’m going to wave a flag at my clients and say, “You can do it!” and expect everyone to leap into their own states of bliss. I saw the many ways that parents say this to their kids.
The same words – “You can do it!” – might come out of one parent’s mouth, with a crisp, angular tone of voice suggesting something like, “You BETTER be able to do it, or I’ll look like an idiot for spending all this money on lessons and believing you could do this!”
Or another parent’s “You can do it!” might be said without much conviction and with more pleading, meaning something like, “I know you don’t want to do this, but would you PLEASE do it for me?? Just this once?? I’ll buy you anything you want after this if you just do it for me….please???”
Yet another parent’s “You can do it!”, voiced with some disbelief and shock, might be taken to mean, “Don’t make me look bad, because I know I spent all week sitting there practicing with you every day, and you could do it at home! Now DO it!”
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The meaning behind the words changes when it is said from a place of genuine love and compassion, without attachment to outcomes. “You can do it” can also mean something like, “I am not you. But I’ve been exactly where you are, not knowing whether or not I can, not being able to see how I will ever get there, feeling the fear of pain, of humiliation, of not being enough. And having faced all of that and moved through it, I know you can do it. I’m saying it not as a command, not as a way to alleviate my own stress, not to make this all about you, so that I can transfer the blame if it doesn’t work out. I’m saying it so that you hear my belief in your spirit, in your ability to find it in yourself to do whatever it is you need to do, to take whatever time you need to, and to be wherever you are right now. I’ll be right here to witness you – to celebrate with you, and to catch you when you fall – as you learn to trust yourself.”
Said from a calm core of peace, love, and patience, there is no greater elixir when we are feeling afraid.
[Originally published on my Truth Love Beauty blog here.]
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There are a few things I remember always knowing about myself, ever since I was three years old. I remember being in the back seat of the car, when I was three, hearing my parents and brother talking about someone getting into "Harvard". Something about that word rang in my ears. I asked what "Harvard" was. I don't remember what they answered, but I do remember thinking, "Someday I'm going to go there."
I let it go for the next fourteen or so years. And then I ended up going there for college.
At some other point in time, I remember falling in love with the sound of the French language. I loved learning a foreign language which enabled me to speak elegantly, fluidly, gracefully. It contrasted so much with the angular lines and frantic tempo of the Chinese dialects I heard in my family. And, like music, it was a doorway to a secret world that expanded my ability to understand others and express myself in a different way. I remember thinking, "Someday I'll study at the Sorbonne." It seemed like a throwaway thought at the time, but I remembered it. And I ended up doing just that, as a scholarship winner for six weeks during the summer between high school and college.
Six years ago I defrosted another set of childhood dreams. For as long as I can remember I have pictured myself living in California. I was fascinated with what it symbolized, and with the images of it in my mind. The sunshine, the ocean, and the ideas of freedom and innovation appealed to me inexplicably.
I also wanted to "be like my violin teacher" since the first moment I saw her when I was three years old. At the time, the image of a solitary woman walking into a room, commanding the respect of hundreds without raising her voice or raising a hand, was something that captivated me. To boot, she wore three-inch stiletto heels every day and a perfectly coordinated suit ensemble, with pantyhose, makeup, and perfect hair. Seeing her at least twice a week and sometimes every day of the week for fourteen years, I can count on one hand the number of times I saw her wear pants instead of a skirt or dress. Somehow she represented an exciting set of possibilities, so different from the other women in my life.
These were the images I carried with me to California to start my own violin school in 2004.
My dreams came true.
I became that image of "perfection" that I held in my mind as a necessary part of the package. Even though in my heart I intended for my school not to have the political in-fighting, favoritism, and vicious competitiveness among parents that was a constant undercurrent in my teacher's school, knowing what I didn't want was only a first step. I was swept away by the strong tide of other people's definitions of what success should look like. I knew this, and I observed with frustration all the things that were missing from my school despite its outward appearance of success, but I didn't quite have the awareness to envision and declare what I *did* want.
When I finally began to wake up to what I did want to bring into my life, there was a growing clarity that I needed to walk away and create something new.
The gift of walking away was creating the space for me to recognize that my dreams are always coming true.
What you are believing in each moment - with or without knowing you believe it - becomes the reality you create, moment by moment.
I've begun to get a lot more conscious and aware and specific about what I'm believing. I recognize that once I am able to see and clearly state a belief, and then truly let go of it (as my life has shown me time and time again), I can rest in the peace of knowing that all of my dreams are already coming true.
My life has shown me that I am truly blessed in every moment, and no experience is ever wasted.
On my "bucket list" of dreams are the following items, mundane and otherwise:
work as a barista in a coffee shop (a dream since high school)
teach yoga or do yoga outdoors every day
live in a tropical place
work on a farm
produce a Broadway-style musical, write a movie screenplay, or write for a character-driven television drama
write books (yes, plural, and not the kind that are glorified pamphlets...at least one of them will be a memoir, and another will be a tell-all fictionalized account of my adventures teaching violin to kids of Silicon Valley elite, a la "Nanny Diaries")
be a spiritual teacher
be a healing artist
be an inspirational speaker
dance and sing and be free
I smile, knowing that all of these dreams are already coming true right now. There is such peace in knowing that the only thing I need to do is allow.
This morning, as I was driving to the grocery store, there were these thoughts running through my head:
"What if I could just relax into ACCEPTANCE of myself, exactly as I am right now?"
"What if I could treat myself as if right now, exactly as everything is, it IS all exactly as it should be?"
I was trying to examine my recent thought patterns which were centered around "concern" for a variety of things in my life: was I spending enough time doing the right things, was I doing enough yoga, was I eating enough fruit and vegetables, was I working hard enough on the right things for my business, was I spending too much time on "non-productive" activities....
The list went on and on, and nothing seemed to be "clicking" or "flowing" during the past few weeks until the rare moments when I just let go and did the ONE thing right in front of me.
This morning, I was thinking about the feeling and energy around doing JUST THIS, RIGHT NOW. What is it about that thought which creates flow? It's certainly not a state of heightened anxiety and pushing and grasping. It's not an energy of worrying.
It's exactly the opposite. It's LETTING GO of all the worrying and relaxing the mind completely.
The mind - mine at least - wants to quantify and list and remind me of everything that still ISN'T done, NEEDS to be done, SHOULD be done. The mind isn't designed to be still and quiet. Its job, for which I’ve trained it systematically throughout a lifetime of schooling and high performance, is to be a machine constantly generating new thoughts, forming associations, laying down memories, accessing old information, recalling it on demand.
The mind is a beautiful thing...some of the time.
But then there are times when it gets in the way.
So back to this morning. I was breathing into that feeling of imagining if I could regard myself, as I was right in that moment -- driving my car, with my bank account, my number of clients, my schedule, my health, EVERYTHING about me -- as exactly the way things should be, in fact the ONLY way they could be.
What would that feel like? Who could I be if I felt that way toward me in this moment?
And then the phone rang. It was my friend Louise (that’s not her real name, but she’s a real friend).
She called to talk because she was having difficulty with a family situation across the country. She was being pained by the thought, "I wish I could be there. I just don't know if I should be here right now."
It was causing her to look at everything in her surroundings as "not right". The noisy neighbors, the cars going by on the street, the dogs barking. Nothing felt right as she experienced the world through the lens of thinking, "I shouldn't be here right now."
As I listened to her agonize over this, it occurred to me and I gently reminded her, "Louise, the only place you can be right now is exactly where you are."
"Oh that feels so good to hear. It feels like peace," she said.
And as I took in the reality of those words myself, I saw that wishing you could be anywhere else, right now, is fighting reality. When you're fighting, you know how you feel. Just imagine it. You're at war. You're battling. You're kicking and screaming, wishing it would be over soon.
Who wants to be around a person who's fighting right now? Not me. And how much time do we spend in our thoughts, fighting who we are right now? That was where my mind had been taking me so often during the past few weeks, believing and dwelling in thoughts about what was missing, what wasn’t arriving, what hadn’t been done.
There is such wisdom in the peace and space of RIGHT NOW. Louise could decide in the next minute that she is going to go through the steps to move herself from being here to being with her family: purchase a plane ticket, pack her bags, get herself to the airport, and so on.
But RIGHT NOW she is here. Until she settles into that feeling and accepts what she can do from the perfect place of RIGHT HERE, she is trapped in her own world of fighting with reality. Disconnected from herself and therefore less available for the family she loves so much.
I also asked her to consider what possibilities for healing were contained in the reality of her being HERE while her family is THERE right now. Could it be that her different perspective, several thousand miles removed from the hospital, doctors, and other distressed family members, is in fact a healing energy for the ones she loves the most and wants to take care of? Does she absolutely KNOW that she "needs to" be THERE, and not right here, right now?
The answer was "No."
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NO Thinking...Just Listening, and Play
Our talk led to a discussion of negative thinking that she has been noticing related to a different part of her life – her romantic relationships. "I've been thinking ‘It won't happen’ or ‘It'll never work out’, and I realize that I'm blocking things from coming to me. What were you thinking when all those good things happened to you this summer?"
"It was NO thinking!" I blurted out.
And it felt like such an opening, a blossoming realization to say that out loud! NO thinking!
After hearing that phrase for the first time over a year ago in relation to the state of improvisation, I felt like I finally got it, on a whole life level, today.
NO thinking is SPACE. It's not filling yourself up with affirmations, or convincing yourself to get rid of negative thoughts (which I've found always involves some level of self-castigation). It's not ADDING anything to your already active mind.
It's simply becoming empty. And we rage against emptiness because we are taught to be so fearful of having nothing at all.
I have felt the complete joy and freedom of empty mind when I've been in a state of pure listening and improvisation. It feels so good.
So good, in fact, that it feels criminal or forbidden. I've asked, "Is it true that life really is this good??" in disbelief, my mind wanting evidence to prove it could start punishing me.
Now I know that the true nature of life feels good, when we experience it from the SPACE of NO thinking.
And two things I read this week have come together to complete this picture. Both are from the Tibetan spiritual teacher, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, author of the book, Tibetan Sound Healing.
The first - Letting go.
It's such a popular term now, thrown around in yoga classes and self-help workshops all the time. Rinpoche says that when we say, "Let go", we usually focus on what we are parting with, rather than what is revealed, when we let something go. In other words, we dwell on the loss, instead of dwelling on the beauty of the new possibility unveiled.
The second - Effortless doubts and spontaneous problems.
We are so quick to believe that things will go wrong, and problems will arise. We might even accept the mantra that life just has to be hard, and that’s just the way it is. Rinpoche says, "Everybody understands effortless doubts and spontaneous problems. We always seem to have some good reasons for doubt - intelligent, educated, and philosophically profound reasons."
But when it comes to feeling joy, compassion, or love, we suddenly need proof. We seem to believe that none of these qualities can *spontaneously* manifest or effortlessly arise. It is easier for us to imagine having a problem than it is to imagine being happy without a particular reason.
And so, it’s time to ask yourself, is it true? Can you absolutely know that your doubts are TRUE? Can you absolutely know that joy cannot arise spontaneously, but problems can?
I invite you to explore your own answer to these questions.
Meanwhile, what I found today for myself was the feeling of SPACE from NO thinking. And I'm going to rest there right now.
This post grew out of my reflections on being confused...read Part 1 if you haven't already.
With all the talk of clarity, power, intention, success, and purpose, it can be a little intimidating to acknowledge when you have a moment of confusion.
But there is a time for confusion.
And until we can acknowledge and admit this to ourselves, we cannot move through it. We gloss over the surface of it, trying to fix the outer appearance of our lives, staying busy and enrolled in things, buying more, doing more, hoping that all that activity will make the confusion go away.
It's true that action and forward motion is such a powerful antidote to feeling stuck and ruminating for too long. But I've also found that acknowledging the truth, and being able to rest in the feeling of truth, is an essential starting point.
From "Woo Woo" to "Win Win"....where's the balance?
There seem to be two ends of the spectrum in the world of self-help and personal development. At one end are the offerings which many people call "woo woo", which encourage us to slow down, create space, and connect with our internal guidance and spirit. For a typical "high-achiever" person like me, what's frustrating about these offerings is the apparent lack of structure, total acceptance of all possibilities, and absence of clear end-points, none of which feel totally authentic or effective. I've found, however, that dwelling in this discomfort, and being with it at a time in my life when I was receptive to change, was exactly the healing environment I needed.
At the other end of the spectrum are the myriad wealth and success and "winning at life" programs designed to provide formulas for achieving the material goals we think will help our feelings of dissatisfaction or angst. These I call the "outside in" approach, where money or an organized living space or achieving higher status of any kind is used as a gateway to attaining the lives we think we want. At first glance, these leave me with a distasteful feeling, because I feel that our culture is already sufficiently addicted to material proxies for inner peace.
I've found that there is a place for using the tools at both ends of the spectrum at different times in our lives, and the real challenge is to discern what's appropriate, and how much to use, for where we are right now.
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Balance in life turns out to be a lot like seasoning a good dish - just the right amount of the right ingredients yield a delicious result.
In order to create your very own unique taste, you might start gingerly, adding just a dash of this or a dash of that. Or you might be zealous and overshoot at first.
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But you'll never know until you TASTE it yourself!
No recipe can really tell you exactly how to make the dish to your liking...it's only a guideline, and your tastebuds are the final, and only significant, judge.
Similarly, no expert or guru or formula can really tell you how to achieve the balance you desire in your life. You'll just have to start trying to learn...and be willing to be confused every once in awhile. Just think of it as your clue that you're actually moving and changing in some way.
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Life balance is about your ability to respond to constant changes and your willingness to learn to trust yourself. You can enhance your abilities by increasing the range of tools available to you, and by practicing them consciously.
But in the end, remember that you are the best teacher you'll ever find.
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Bouillabaisse photo credits: http://cookthink.com (top) and http://johnmariani.com (bottom)
A refined definition of being "open" occurred to me while in yoga class today, lying in Supta Baddha Konasana, reclined cobbler's (or bound angle) pose.
Being open does not necessarily mean being open to absolutely everything. It may mean being open to the realization that you prefer NOT to do certain things. It's part of the willingness to allow this realization to flow in and to learn to trust the truth of your own experience.
Copyright Lisa Chu, The Music Within Us, 2009-2019.