Intention

My spiritual mentors remind me in many ways of the importance of intention. Beginning each day with awareness by taking 3-5 slow breaths and feeling my body is my first step. As I breathe I ask myself how I want this day to feel…yes, feel. I find this much more powerful than starting a list before I even get out of bed. For me, it isn’t about doing; it is about being. I know how I am being when I am aware of what I am feeling.

Today I want to feel peaceful, happy, loving, and compassionate toward myself and others.

This is my desire. It tells me what I want to realize when I ask myself tonight how I feel about my day. I move from to desire to intention by making a commitment to myself as I begin to look at what I want to experience and accomplish today. Once I have done my morning yoga & meditation, I sit with my coffee and make a list or check my calendar. This is my opportunity to let desire become intention. It is the same thought, the same desire, and now I commit to it and to myself and it is empowered by my intention.

Today I believe in mySelf as I live from the peace of my Soul. I am happy, loving and compassionate toward myself and others. I am faithful to the commitments I have made with myself and others today. 

An intention can be much more specific, of course. If there is something I have been avoiding, like making a dental appointment ūüėä my intention may include calling at a specific time and setting an alert on my digital calendar. If I have been wanting to shift the energy of my life by trying something new, my list may include signing up for a class or walking to the park to do yoga rather than staying inside.

Play with these ideas and see what shakes out. Keep it simple and clear. Find what works for you.

For me, today

I believe in mySelf as I live from the peace of my Soul.

Namaste

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Eye Contact

Are you aware when you make eye contact with someone? Do you really see that person? If it is a stranger, perhaps the cashier at a grocery store or restaurant, do you notice the color of their eyes? Are you aware of their Inner Being or just their outward appearance?

We’ve all heard it said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. It is true. In yoga we do eye gazing as part of our practice. For many people it is extremely uncomfortable. For some, it is an opportunity to connect with another without words. You simply soften your face, your eyes and your gaze and look, without interruption, into that person’s eyes.

As you stand or sit across from each other in silence, barriers begin to fade and a gentle awareness arises. This is a soul manifesting in a body. This is a Being seeing you through the portals we call eyes. You become aware of your own eyes as portals. You feel the Being, the soul that you are, seeing through the portals of your own eyes. The two of you are allowing your True Selves to see and to be seen.

Mindful eye contact or eye gazing done in a group or with a loved one prepares us for those momentary opportunities to look into the eyes of a stranger in a way that lets them know they have been seen. Once on a very busy day, I looked softly into the eyes of a cashier and simply said, “Good morning, Susan.” Yes, I had read her name tag. Because I said her name, she looked at my face and then into my eyes which, of course, were softly focused on hers. She whispered, “You are the first person since I was hired here to actually say my name!” She stood a little taller and smiled at the customer behind me as I left.

Oh, how we all need to be seen, to hear our names spoken with respect, to know that we are not invisible.

There were several effects of this type of mindful interaction that were a surprise for me when I first began to practice with others. When I look softly into the eyes of another person and have the intention of seeing the Being inhabiting that body, I am incapable of doing that person harm in my behavior or my thoughts. I see myself in their eyes as well. I cannot look into your soul without connecting with my own. When I allow myself to see you, I see myself as well and the love that wells up within me is for both of us. In the moment I experience this depth of connection, I know the Oneness that We Are. I cannot harm you without harming myself. Feeling love and compassion for you is feeling it toward myself because everything that touches you also touches me.

In the Oneness of All That Is, We Are.

The Power of Intention

Intention is a powerful thought form, an energy that guides my behavior. Please note that I said “guides” rather than “controls.” When I was younger, others instructed me to control my thoughts and my behavior. I wanted to be a good person so I set out to control myself. Generally speaking, it did not work very well. In fact, it created an inner atmosphere of resentment because I felt judged by the voices in my head and by those around me. I desperately wanted to be free to just be me. Lack of life experience and tools to know myself made that freedom impossible. In my late twenties, a loving pastor listened as I talked and wept in frustration. As I wound down, he looked into my eyes and quietly said, “Catherine, there are some things you just can’t understand until you have lived long enough to understand them. Let it be okay to just be where you are.” The door to personal freedom began to open.

As I awoke this morning, a mere forty years later, I lay with eyes still closed and slowly became aware of leaving a deep sleep to emerge into a new day. I let the process unfold and felt each moment bring me into this current reality. Some mornings I awake wondering where I was during the night because I feel a shadow of remembrance, a conscious awareness of something other than here. This morning I was grateful for a deep and restorative sleep. Moving has disrupted my sleep patterns so feeling rested is a true gift. I snuggled down and let myself be, appreciating this gentle emerging and the growing sense of this whole new day. As my mind became more awake, another dear mentor’s words came to mind, “Catherine, remember the importance of setting clear intentions each day (Richard Miller).”

For me, this means renewing my life intention which is to live mindfully from a place of love and compassion for myself and others. It also means taking a few minutes, before I leave my bed, to feel and visualize what I want this day to look and feel like. I picture myself moving through the day, accomplishing necessary tasks, interacting with others, and allowing my True Self to manifest through it all.

When I remember to begin my day in this way, I notice that the day unfolds with a clarity and gentleness that nurtures my soul and allows me to be present in each moment, whether the moment is fun and easy or challenging and difficult. For me, this is the true power of intention. Whatever the day holds, I desire to be in peace when I lay down at night. I want to look back over the day and know that I was present and mindful and that I “let it be okay to just be me.” And yes, that means to lovingly accept myself when I let the 8-year-old within take over and I act silly or thoughtlessly. My inner voice jumps in to remind me that even this is an opportunity to express love and compassion toward myself and others. Welcome to the human race, Catherine Ann. Welcome to the process¬†of learning to manifest your divine self while in human form.

On a different level, developing this practice of clear intention and mindful presence has also caused physical, material needs to be met more easily and with much less fear and anxiety. I feel more relaxed in my life because I am more aware of who I am. It is easy to love myself and others because there is no standard of perfection haunting me. Relationships are clearer and more fulfilling as I let others be who they are, honoring their process as I have learned to honor my own. Life is so much more peaceful and loving.

As I typed the last paragraph, I turned my head to look out the window and there on the wall sits a dove. It sat, turning its head side to side to see me more clearly. I stopped typing and returned the compliment, softly looking back and acknowledging its presence. It felt as thought this lovely bird had been quietly waiting for me to notice it. Several minutes passed as we interacted before I returned to the keyboard. As I continue to write, I now hear it cooing from a nearby tree.

I love the synchronicity of these small things in life! I am writing about ending my day in peace and a dove alights nearby to affirm my intention. Sweet.

Aum shanti shanti shanti. Aum peace peace peace.

Opening Your Heart

We are designed for balance and wholeness on every level of awareness and being. Most of us understand, at least on a rudimentary level, the process of homeostasis. The physical body actively seeks its balance 24 hours a day. Years ago during a six-month stint in diagnosis, my doctor encouraged me to stay positive as test after test failed to reveal the cause of my deteriorating health. He told me that it was a miracle any of us are healthy on any given day because of the billions of elements that must be in balance for us to be healthy.

Several years after regaining my health, I returned to college and majored in psychology. While volunteering on a crisis phone service, I spoke with one of my professors about memories of abuse emerging decades after the events. He explained that the psyche (in yoga, the mental & emotional bodies) also seeks balance and wholeness. As a person matures, the walls of dissociation begin to crack and crumble and memories emerge as the mind and emotions demand healing.

When threatened, we respond on all levels, drawing in toward the core to protect ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally. What many of us have not understood is how to release out of these natural and deep self-protective states. In my training with Integrative Yoga Therapy, I was taught to begin the process by opening up the body in order to open the mind and emotions to release stored energy and move into balance on all levels.

Opening the heart center provides a gateway for other energy centers to open and release blocked energy, whether physical or mental. The heart has to be open for us to receive the love and compassion we need to heal and grow out of hurt and trauma. Fortunately, the physical aspect is simple and, when done gently and consistently, leads to an openness to love and life.

You might begin by trying one or all of these. Sit quietly first and ask yourself what you need. Trust what comes to your mind and heart and go from there.

Stand with your feet comfortable wide apart and your arms at your sides. On a slow inhale raise your arms to the sides and up over your head. As you exhale, bring your arms to the sides and behind your back, interlacing your fingers. Inhale and raise your arms behind you to a comfortable level as you press forward through your chest. Take 3 slow breaths as you feel your chest expand and soften with each breath. Release your hands and inhale as you raise your arms to shoulder level. Exhale and bring them in front of you at shoulder level. Interlace your fingers with your palms facing away from you. Roll your shoulder blades apart and draw your breast bone inward. Take 3 slow breaths as you feel your mid-back expand and soften with each breath. Draw your hands toward your chest to release. Stand quietly for a moment.

Fitness Ball:  Sit on the ball for a few breaths to settle into yourself. Slowly roll and lay back with the ball under your rib cage. Let yourself release into the support of the ball and expand into your breath. If this is new to you, remain for 3 Р5 breaths and slowly come up. If you are accustomed to this position, stay on the ball as long as you like, keeping your awareness at the heart center and breathing slowly and deeply. Come up or off the ball slowly as your head is back while in this position. Be aware of what you are experiencing even as you release.

Yoga Bolster or Blanket:  If you use a blanket, please be sure it is thick enough when folded to be at least 4 inches high. If you have yoga blocks, place one or two under your blanket for height. Place your support under your body, aligning it with the length of your spine from the base of your head to your waist. Let your hips relax down to the floor and open your arms out to the sides at about shoulder level. This opens the chest and you can relax into the breath. Stay as long as you are comfortable, coming up slowly and quietly to preserve a sense of comfort within the openness.

With any or all of these techniques, it is important to hold a clear intention of opening the heart for the purpose of balance and wholeness. These suggestions may bring other options to mind that suit you more specifically. Feel free to play with ideas and find what works for you.

Peace be with you, fellow travelers. May your mind and heart be open. May you be healthy and whole. May you be free.  Namaste.

First Thought

The importance of mindfulness and being aware of the present moment are no longer new to most of us. Being aware of our own level of awareness is an ongoing practice. Mindfulness is easier in a yoga class because the teacher calls us to our breath and to what we are doing and experiencing in our bodies.In meditation, we are invited to focus on the flow of our breath and to notice our thoughts. How do we take what we are learning and practicing in a class off the mat?

I first noticed¬†my own awareness levels when my first yoga teacher’s voice began to live in my head. I would hear her guiding me to feel my breath or notice my thoughts when my mood shifted. Everyday things became lessons in mindfulness.

It took awhile but, at some point, I began to notice my first thought of the day. Rather than jumping up as I awoke, I would turn onto my back, place my hands on my belly and take a few slow breaths. I would notice my thoughts. Some mornings, my first thought was soft, peaceful and quietly expectant of the new day. Other mornings, my first thought was anxious, worried, or fearful. What happened during the night? For years I ended my day with thoughts of gratitude and fell asleep peacefully. Why would I wake up in knots at times? Then I became aware that those first thoughts were affecting my entire day. I needed a reset, a shift in how my days began. I was ending the day well; now I would begin the day well.

One of my teachers reminded me that intention is a powerful form of thought energy. It guides the flow and sets the tone for my experience. It is about consciously flowing with life rather than reacting or trying to control it. He suggested I become aware of my over-riding intention each day. Well, that was easy because I wasn’t forming one! And thus began my conscious morning practice.

As I realize I am waking up, I quietly begin to feel my breath and notice where my mind is going. What thoughts are forming as this day begins? My favorite times are when I am aware that my only thought is that I am noticing my thoughts. Ah yes, a clean slate for a new day, a new beginning. If my thoughts are already circling, finding worry or anxiety, I acknowledge that and begin to count my breaths until I am more present with my feelings. I feel¬†my hands softly resting on my belly and remind myself it is a new day and I can figure it all out later. As my body and emotions soften with my breath, I begin to ask myself “How do I want this day to feel as it unfolds?” Then I use my imagination (I image in) to see myself moving peacefully and joyfully through this new day. Details don’t matter; appointments don’t matter; problem solving doesn’t matter. All that matters in my imagination is my day unfolding from that inner stillness that is my True Self. Life will fill in the details later.

It takes longer to type this than it does to experience it. My little morning practice usually lasts as long as it takes me to do ten slow breaths and then “see” myself moving through my day in peace. I don’t look at a clock but it probably happens in about two or three minutes. Once complete, I open my eyes and slowly get out of bed. My first thought, consciously formed, has set the tone for a whole new day and all that it will bring into my experience.

What was your first thought today? Has it affected how your day is unfolding? Do your intentions guide you into flowing with life as it unfolds or do they lead you to think controlling yourself, other people and circumstances will make you happy? Is it time for a reset? Wouldn’t it be fun if your first thought each day resulted in love, laughter, and the ability to let life be easy?!

Then, after breakfast you could just go out and play!