Thoughts

  • Hey Friends, I know its been awhile since I've written. I have been joking that instead of calling this the Word of the Month, I should call it the Word of the Year *insert sheepish emoji*. Thanks for your patience, and please read the bar to the left as I have some really exciting offerings coming up!

    Happy May the Fourth!

    I love Star Wars! I am that geek who spends way too much time re-watching ALL 7 episodes (yes even episodes 1-3), the Clone Wars, and Star Wars Rebels. I relish in the experience of being whisked away to a galaxy far away, where the technology, species, and environments may be exotic to my earthly existence, but the human (or humanoid, or alienoid) experience resembles the same triumphs, aspirations, heartaches, and doubts of my own Soul. 

    In all sincerity, I consider Yoda one of my greatest teachers. Perhaps it is his ageless wisdom, perhaps it is Jedi heart, or perhaps it is his signature broken grammar, but Yoda's conveyance of universal Truth, of the Force, penetrates my often scattered mind and concealed heart. As he began to create Star Wars, George Lucas was inspired by various mythologies, including those of eastern philosophies, and believed that great stories of Universal Truth could unite us. 

    Like all great Jedi, Master Yoda recognizes, utilizes, and honors the Source of Life that flows through all galaxies, all living beings, and every spec of matter. Yoda simply is a willing conduit for the power in the universe which enhances our participation in life and brightens our perspective. In the Star Wars universe we know this energy as the Force, in Yoga we call it Prana. 

    “Prana is the soul of the universe assuming all forms.
    It is the light that animates and illuminates all.”
    ~The Prasna Upanishad

    Prana, or the Force, is the universal principle of energy, movement, and expression. It is born from the vastness of Brahman or the Source of all existence.

    bṛh - to be, or expand: to make firm, solid, promote
    men - definite power, supporting or fundamental principle

    The tangible Universe that we live in is the physical realization of pure love and unconditional acceptance, or Brahman. As we look up at the night sky, we see that the black canvas of space graciously holds every galaxy (especially those ones far, far away:), every star system, every solar system, every planet, every atom, every cell, and every being within its reach. The Universe, or Brahaman doesn't judge the timing of a star's life-cycle nor does it prohibit any of our choices, deeds, or perceptions. It is simply a container that welcomes every experience and allows every bit of us. Brahman allows us and our flow of Prana to be.

    Prana wants to move. It wants to move through us to create new moments, thoughts, and feelings, for the sole purpose of expanding into something new. When space and stillness is created, Prana flows.

    pra - to fill, constant, 
    na - Movement

    If movement and allowing are the building blocks of existence, as yogis (or Jedi) our work is to experience, cultivate, and direct this vital life force into the universe.  In the moments that we experience stillness and acceptance in our own bodies we nurture a free flowing breath. In the moments we open our minds and release the grip of judgement and criticism, when we open to the flow of the Force, we harness the power of light and we realize that we are the stuff that stars are made of. 

    "For my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us and binds us. Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. You must feel the Force around you."  
    ~Yoda, Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back

    May the Force Be with You!

    Andra

  • One Last Time - Punar Milāna

    Earlier this month I flew into San Francisco for a whirlwind vacation. In the span of two weeks, I studied with my Yoga teacher Scott Blossom, visited a dear friend in her new home of Santa Cruz, returned to my childhood home for the first time in three years, went to Disneyland with my whole family, and then returned to the Bay Area to see my niece graduate from 8th grade. Hands down, it was one of the greatest trips I have had back to Cali since I moved to New Orleans over 12 years ago.

    One of the best parts of going home (in addition to spending time with friends and family) is seeing and snuggling my family dog. From the moment Rudy came into my life, I was mush. His avid love of playing ball and his insistence on snuggling used to consume my free time. My appreciation and longing for him set me on the path of crazy dog lady. He opened my heart and showed me the importance of expressing affection. Really, because of him, in the last 11 years I have loved, smothered, cared for, adopted and/or fostered over 20 dogs. Missing Rudy inspired me to go on petfinder and adopt my Pedro, which led my husband (then boyfriend) to adopt my Josie, which led to Luna, then Milne, Maggie and a slew of fosters. As I like to say, Rudy started it all. 

    Obviously, I was excited to see this little guy once again. As we opened the door to my family home, I immediately looked for Rudy to come and bark hello. Alas, there was silence. As my parents greeted us and exchanged hugs, I continued to listen for him, but still, there was silence. It wasn't until we entered the kitchen that I saw him lying in his bed, exhausted, savoring his rest. The once baller who never use to tire was too tired to lift his head. 

    While it was wonderful to be with him, hold him, and love on him once again, there loomed the unspoken truth, it was time for me to say good-bye.

    I have been struggling to find a sanskrit word that embodies what I want to say about how we say good-bye to those we love. A few good ones came to me:

    Pranidhanat - Surrender
    Vimoka - Letting go
    Moksha - Liberation (from the cycle of life and death)

    And while these words express wonderful principles, neither their ideas of freedom nor of release, convey the essence of the peaceful and appreciative good-bye I seek.

    While road tripping, my husband and I listened to the score of Hamilton countless times. I have been especially impressed with Christopher Jackson's portrayal of George Washington, in fact, as my heart lay heavy in my chest, I could hear his peaceful and loving voice confidently singing to me 

    "We’re gonna teach ‘em how to
    Say goodbye!
    Teach ‘em how to
    Say goodbye!
    To say goodbye!
    Say goodbye!
    One last time!"


    It was in these words through Mr Jackson's voice that I found peace. It is how I realized that this was my last visit with Rudy and it was time for us to say good-bye, or punar milāna. 
    There are many parting phrases in sanskrit that imply slightly different intentions and blessings, punar milāna conveys the idea that parting is only temporary. 

    Punar - again and again, repeat, once more
    Milāna - coming together, contact, union

    When one says punar milāna as a good-bye, what they are really saying is, until we meet again. 

    What becomes of us when these physical bodies that we live in meet their end is up for debate. Whether or not I will "see" Rudy again remains unclear to me, but what I do know is that he set the foundation for all the canine love that has been and is in my life. I know that the spark of love he ignited will continue to burn, and though earlier this month I had to say goodbye one last time to the Rudy that I have known, the love he awoke within me and the delight of togetherness that he fostered, shall be repeated again and again. 

    My dear Rudy, punar milāna.

    Me with my Rudamuffin.

  • Word of the Month - Bringing Ahimsa to Life

    Whew! The May Edition of Word of the Month is out, and just under the wire:). The reason for the late arrival is that this was a challenging one for me to write. My disclaimer, the following is a bit intense......

    The month of May is always quite special for me as it holds many important days:

    May the Fourth Be With You (Star Wars marathon with my hubby)

    Cinco de Mayo In addition to guacamole and margaritas galore, this day also happens to be my teaching anniversary

    Revenge of the Sixth (another excuse to watch Star Wars)

    National Geek Day (the anniversary of the release of Star Wars on the 25th) a celebration of all things Geekdom: Star Wars, Harry Potter, Battlestar Galactica, Dr Who and so on and so on......

    My Birthday (I turned 38 on the 26th)

    My Anniversary of Moving to New Orleans (12 years on the 28th)

    Memorial Day A day to appreciate sacrifice

    You may have noticed a more widely celebrated holiday that I left off that list, Mother's Day. While I do celebrate my mother on this day, for my own sanity, I skirt the holiday with great caution. In the first few years of my marriage, my dogs (aka my husband) would adorn me with snuggles, flowers, cards, and even gifts for Mother's Day. I joyfully owned the title of "Doggie Mama Extraordinaire" (in fact, my first business cards included this designation on them), but as the years have progressed and the name "mom" has evaded me, I have turned away from celebrating this day.

    Fast forward to the night of the 25th. All seemed to be going well. I was out to dinner with my husband, sitting on a balcony over Magazine Street, enjoying the weather, when without warning, a wave of sorrow engulfed me. For the first time in my life, my approaching birthday was not a marker for celebration or a time to dream up the year to come, but rather a painful reminder of what I long for. And at that moment, I disengaged from my husband and the moment.

    I looked away.

    I stopped talking.

    I shut down.

    I turned into the sorrow.

    I felt betrayed by myself.

    I am not one to run from pain. Life and Yoga have reminded me time and time again that true peace and contentment are achieved when we see ourselves and the world for what they truly are and we find acceptance. However, at that moment, the pain was too intense to see the situation clearly, and that is where my true Yoga practice began: Ahimsa.

    The practices of yoga are vast and at its foundation are lifestyle observances and restraints (Yamas and Niyamas) that are to be practiced continuously. The first of these is Ahimsa.

    Often translated as non-violence, this observance asks that we engage our selves in peaceful thoughts, speech, and deeds that promote goodwill and loving kindness in the world. As stated in Patanjali's Yoga Sutras,

    ahimsa pratishthayam tatsannidhau vaira-tyagah

    or as translated by BKS Iyengar in Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

    "When non-violence [in speech, thought, and action] is established, one’s aggressive nature is relinquished and others abandon hostility in one’s presence."

    In other words, the outcome of practicing ahimsa is peace. For most of us, this is obvious. We are raised with the instruction not to hit our siblings out of frustration or to name call on the playground. Its clear, violence to others is wrong.

    But how do these guidelines apply to us in our treatment of our own person? Violence invokes the imagery of extreme reaction. As long as one doesn't attack, is that the embodiment of Ahimsa? This is where I find looking at the etymology of the word helpful.

    himsa - injury, harm; a - not;

    ahimsa - to not injure, to not harm.

    Behind deeds and words are thought. As life presents painful circumstances, the mind attempts to justify reality and provide a sense of reason. While knowledge and information are key ingredients to a grounded experience, the mind alone cannot deliver us from the burdens of disappointment and self-loathing.

    Yamas are wise characteristics that are said to be our true nature, meaning we practice these observances in order to reveal that these virtues already lie within us. Beyond the endeavor to both abstain from behaviors and thoughts that enhance harm the practice of Ahimsa is a commitment to see the peace of the heart. As we find ourselves in volatile dialog (with ourselves or others), the first step in the practice of Ahimsa is a willingness to observe such tendencies and then we actively commit to thoughts, words, and actions of kindness and compassion. When we feel the pang of anger or the grip of rage the practice of yoga requires that we choose a softer stance. Yoga (both the practice and the outcome) cannot solely be achieved by the control of the mind, but through the integration of the heart.

    So, the night before my birthday, I returned home from dinner and cried myself to sleep. The pain in my heart didn't last too long, because by the grace of practice, actively offering myself compassion, I realized I had a choice. I could focus on what is absent in my life, or I could choose to celebrate what I do have, a wonderful life, in a beautiful city, with loving husband, and vibrant friends. I chose the latter.

    Namaste,

    Andra