Going Inward

closing your eyes
the awareness is flooded by breath alone
the soft hiss of air going in, air going out
a subtle rustle behind your ribcage
reminds you of pulsing life within

the peace you find in this silent stillness
the soft sense of comfort that resides there
is not a separation from the world
rather it is our ability to dissolve, to let go
and be submerged in the One

going inward, is going away
it's surrendering the whole idea of self
setting aside all the stories that you cling to
remembering that they are not real
rediscovering what is

that peaceful place, that's what's real
the softening of body and mind
the deep undercurrent of all existence
is always there waiting for you
to recognize, to rest in 

A Soul Confined

Consciousness drips into these physical bodies, these vessels, so small and cramped. The universe is separated and confined inside of flesh and bone and electrical signals. We squirm and stretch and try to remember why we feel so strange now. Energy that once knew all, is left alone and cut off, forced to see through an unfocused, limited lens.

Some souls, young souls, are easily persuaded to forget about this flowing source from which we’ve been torn away. They smile and slip seamlessly into their new roles, happy, lighthearted, supposing they are whole. The old souls are not so easy to let go. A vague memory lingers of something more, of a connection now lost, of freedom obscured and shrunken down to fit within these new forms.

There is not enough space in here. My soul shuffles and feels suffocated by new boundaries and earthly limitations. This fear, this isolation, this uncertainty, these are all new, they aren’t right. The formless memory of the limitless expanse once inhabited causes friction and doubt. Blinded by the illusions that permeate and penetrate every perception, we anguish in confusion and discomfort. Why am I like this? I wasn’t always like this. Something is different. Something… something is wrong.

Unable to accept the new parameters of living consciousness, unable to feel these new forms of connection offered to us, will live in a surreal state of stupefaction. Equally frightened by life and by death, we float through the foreign rituals expected of us, always wondering, why? What is this? I can’t quite understand. I know there was a time when I understood. Why can’t I now?

Tasked with learning to trust, learning to follow the open-hearted ignorance of those that seem to flourish here. Allowing their smiling faith to support us and carry us through our fear. We don’t have to understand right now. Our job is not to understand, but to experience. These small, fragile, confining containers are gifts to be enjoyed and explored. Vehicles of vastly new, unlimited perspectives.

Let us not be afraid of that sense of something more. It is still there waiting for us. We have not been cut off, just reconstituted. We are these new bodies for now, but it will not always be so. When flesh and blood falls away, we are freed, not forgotten. We will all find our way back to that deep, soothing hum of all there is. We’re still a part of it even now. Trust in that oneness that flickers in your heart from time to time. Your soul is not mistaken, the sensation is true. Let it be a comfort to you on your journey and let it hold you above the painful illusion of an ultimate end. You don’t have to be afraid. Keep going.

The Intersection of Spirituality and Business

People who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish desires and schemes that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For love of money is the root of all of evil and some having pursued its power, fall from faith and end in sorrow.

Saint Timothy
Money and Spirituality. Group Game, Russian House #1, Jenner, 20 June 2021

Affirmations are still new territory for me. I’ve been trying to incorporate them into my life for a few months now. I have a couple apps that will generate one randomly for you every day. Although I still find the ones I come up with myself to be the most beneficial, which is to be expected. Getting back to the apps though, there are all genres of affirmations to choose from. There are affirmations for love, health, positive energy, self care, inner peace, etc. These are all beautiful and exactly what I anticipate an affirmation to feel/sound like. The ones that stand apart for me are the “financial” or “monetary” affirmations. These ones leave a bad taste in my mouth.

I’ve been seeing a lot of these types of affirmations recently. I’ve also noticed the realm of manifesting being infiltrated by similar motivations. Far be it from me to tell anyone what to do in their own spiritual or self-healing journey, but in my opinion, these money focused affirmations and manifestation efforts are ill-suited to the overall energy of any spiritual movement. Self-love, self-care, healing, personal growth, even abundance do not have anything to do with property or possessions, monetary or otherwise. The journey of the soul is not concerned with such such trivial, worldly pursuits and interests.

The idea of money and, what I perceive as, the ego’s desire for monetary wealth clash horrendously with things like affirmations, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, gratitude, etc. Yet as these practices become more and more popular, I see them being co-opted by capitalism, self-interest, and greed. I’ve heard many of the otherwise positive yogis, psychologists, life coaches, and so on that I follow attempt to justify their focus on and mild obsession with business and making money. There is a hint of defensiveness as they try to explain why they have every right to charge people for their advice and services and partner with toxic corporate advertisers. They even lay the groundwork to promote others doing the same thing.

Now, don’t misunderstand me. There is nothing wrong with starting your own business or wanting to live comfortably in life. However, these things are separate from spirituality. Trying to intertwine these opposing energies is damaging to the pure, selfless, loving nature of the spiritual practice. If you want money because you believe it will afford you safety and peace, why not skip the middle man and focus on the safety, peace, and ease that you are truly seeking? Maybe these things will come to you in the form of greater income, but money itself should never be the goal.

When it comes to the purely business side of things, I’m not exactly sure what position I hold. I don’t expect yoga teachers or life coaches to work for free. They have to make a living somehow. Even so, it has always felt dirty to me to charge for my classes. Especially charging as much as my studio does. My goal when I became a yoga teacher was not to make money. It was to give back to my community by sharing the transformational gift of yoga with as many people as I could. I had always planned to get my certification and teach for free, whether in person or online. My teachers even addressed this urge during our training in order to discourage such behavior. They framed it as if I would be cheapening the entire industry and making it harder for other teachers to make a living, which was not my intention. I guess with this in mind, I don’t think it’s unethical to charge a reasonable amount in order to support yourself, but I draw the line when people start getting rich. At that point I do really feel as though you’re taking advantage of people in a particularly egregious way. It reminds me of those awful “for profit” ministries.

In an ideal world, I think all of these spiritual teachings and services would be purely donation based. Then, those that were able could give more, while still allowing the less fortunate to have access to these ancient healing methods. I don’t know how we could make this work in practice, but the energy of this idea feels more right to me. Otherwise, I am just reminded of those awful “for profit” ministries taking advantage of people who are desperate to improve their lives. Spirituality, like traditional religions, should not be about accumulating personal wealth. It is completely antithetical to the ideas and practices being taught. As I said, I don’t know what the answer is, nor do I pretend to. I just had to speak my mind about this issue and how much it concerns me. Let me know your thoughts on this. Sometimes I feel like the only one who finds it unsettling while it appears to become more and more prominent every day.

Financial psychologist: Why it's important to ask yourself this money  question now

Connection and Awe

Growing up in Christian household, I never quite understood the reverence and awe people felt in the presence of religious iconography. My grandmother had crosses, rosaries, and paintings of Jesus all over her house, but I never fully understood why. Even in the Eastern religions which I am now more familiar with, I never quite grasped the purpose of the shrines people make with pictures of their gurus or other’s they admire and aspire to embody.

At the same time, I knew that similar rituals and symbols were very meaningful to all different types of religions all around the world. Many times I have been tempted to make my own little yoga shrine, but never have because I don’t know whose portrait I could possibly add to it. I don’t really have a guru or any particular religious or spiritual figures that inspire strong emotion in me. If anything, anyone that I could imagine adding would just make me feel awkwardness and embarrassment instead of admiration. It always felt like there was something important about this that I was missing out on though.

Finally the other day I was presented with an interesting alternative way to spark feelings of awe, connection, and wonder. The comparison was made between religious feelings and the feelings some of us get when we immerse ourselves in nature. Nature! Why hadn’t I thought of this before? The forest can be my church, the plants and animals my gurus and teachers. Now that creates meaningful emotion for me. Not the image of some imaginary demi-god or revered old man. I can’t believe I didn’t make the connection sooner.

Nature is what humbles me and fills me with wonder and awe, not human beings. Why would I admire a human being when I can admire mother earth instead? I don’t need a religion. I don’t need gods or gurus. All I need is the natural world all around me. Nature is what I honor and respect, what makes me feel connected, not mankind. Especially when all my life, humans have come off as proudly separate from and even above nature. Whereas I have never felt special or superior for being the species of animal that I am. In my eyes humans are more of an abomination than a miracle of nature.

I thought it was a beautiful idea to replace the ritual of church on Sundays with a weekly morning nature walk. I want to make more time for quiet reflection in the woods, alongside the river, or even just in my backyard. I want to meditate on the feelings that fill my heart when I watch the sun setting or listen to the soft cadence of rain. What could be more beautiful? What could be more awe inspiring than the miraculous mystery of this Earth? Instead of placing pictures of spiritual leaders up in my sacred spaces, I can add acorns, rocks, dried flowers, etc. These items fill me with much more joy.

I thought I’d share this idea with anyone that may also be interested in actively incorporating more reverence and awe in their life, but who doesn’t identify with any particular religion. Let me know if you decide to give this a try or if you have any other things you use to stir up feelings of connection and wonder.

Main | Nature NB

Learning to Be Happy (Even When You Don’t Get What You Want)

True Contentment: In Simplicity — SECOND CITY CHURCH

The other day, while listening to a talk given by the American spiritual teacher and guru, Ram Dass, he said something along the lines of: Learn how to be happy even when you don’t get what you want. For some reason, the way he said these words really struck me. There is something about listening to the gentle, slow, thoughtful voice of a spiritual leader that allows simple ideas to penetrate directly to your soul. Since then I have kept that idea close to my heart.

It’s so easy to forget that external circumstances don’t dictate our internal state. Finding contentment where we are now, doesn’t mean that we won’t want things anymore. However, we won’t allow the outcome of these wants to decide how we feel. Certain desires are easier to let go of than others, but it’s important to remind ourselves that we always have the power to let go and reside in happiness.

All of us already know how to do this to a certain extent. We have varying levels of wanting. We may want to have a certain fruit for breakfast only to realize that it has spoiled and we must find something else to eat. Depending on who you are, this usually isn’t enough to ruin your day or mood. We simply think, “oh, rats” and prepare another food. On the other hand, we may be planning to get married only to have our
fiancée leave us at the alter. That’s not going to be as easy to let go of as a rotten mango.

I wonder, though. How much the variation in reaction has to do with our preconceived ideas about the “appropriate” reaction in each scenario. When I used to get upset, it genuinely felt like I had no choice. Then in addition to not getting what I wanted, I felt an added level of suffering due to a feeling of powerlessness. There is a certain freedom in simply knowing we have the ability to choose.

When my ex left me the last time, I remember feeling frustrated that now I’d have to go back to being sad and miserable. The idea of doing that seemed so repulsive to me that I decided I didn’t care if that’s what I was supposed to feel. I decided to discard my ideas of what I thought society expected of me in that scenario. I didn’t want to be sad anymore, and for the first time in such a situation, I realized I had the choice not to be.

Sometimes just remembering that we have that choice is enough. This doesn’t mean that you’ll never experience sadness, anger, frustration, or suffering again. There are some times in life that we actually want to feel sad, and that’s okay. There is a difference between holding space for a genuine emotion and feeling trapped by one.

The next time I find myself not getting what I want, rather than getting upset and ruminating, I’m going to use it as an opportunity. Each time something doesn’t go the way you planned, it’s an opportunity to practice being happy anyway. One of my favorite questions to ask myself is: Can I love myself even though…? Fill in the blank. Now I’d like to add another question: Can I be happy even though….? Sometimes phrasing the issue in this way allows us to see the choice we have. When I’m getting down on myself because of some small flaw, asking the question, “can I still love myself,” brings things back into perspective and reminds me what really matters. If I can still love myself anyway, why bother being upset about whatever it may be? The same goes for “can I be happy anyway.”

Asking these types of questions also helps me be more lighthearted about the problem. Sometimes the answer isn’t clear in that moment. Then I become curious. Can I? Let’s find out. It can be fun to explore our own hearts and minds and find a path back to happiness. And just like paths in the forest, these paths become more worn and easier to follow the more we use them. So don’t worry if your mind seems like particularly dense woodlands right now. You can still make those paths. Even if it’s hard at first, know that it only gets easier.

Ram Dass talks about 'Becoming Nobody,' the documentary on his spiritual  journey | Datebook

Finding the Feeling

For years now, I have practiced yoga, meditation, and gratitude daily. While I’ve definitely noticed improvements in my mental health since implementing these practices, it still feels like the changes I’ve experienced have been underwhelming. I thought that after such diligent effort over so many years, that I would be further along in my spiritual journey by this point. I still struggle daily with feelings of inadequacy, guilt, shame, anger, jealousy, fear, anxiety, etc.

In the beginning, these daily practices were done very intentionally. It was easy to remain mindful because everything was so new to me. However, after solidifying these routines, they became just that, routines. Many days I find myself just going through the motions. That is the reason I haven’t been able to enjoy more of the benefits ever after so many years. I also think this may be a reason some people find themselves giving up on yoga, meditation, and mindfulness all together.

We must always be careful not to allow these things to become just words, just routines. Going through the motions may be better than doing nothing at all, but it isn’t going to result in the profound changes we’re seeking in ourselves. Yoga isn’t about the shapes the body takes, it’s about where the mind goes, learning to watch our own thoughts, learning to let go, to make peace with our perceived flaws or shortcomings, and so much more. In the same way, a daily gratitude practice isn’t about how fast you can list things off, or being able to fill up a whole page. It’s about the energy, the emotion behind the things your listing.

It’s almost funny when I think about it. I don’t know why I would expect writing a list of things I’m grateful for to be any different than writing a grocery list considering the way I normally feel while doing so. I usually don’t feel anything at all. If anything, I feel annoyed. “Ugh, I don’t have time for this. I can’t think of anything to write. Why am I such an ungrateful person? Why is this so hard for me?” That’s usually the kinds of thoughts occupying my mind as I struggle to think of enough bullet points to fill the page in my gratitude journal. Saying the words, “I am grateful,” isn’t enough. You’ve got to feel it too.

Now for some people this may just be something that blossoms naturally from doing the practice. That’s how it is for all of us at the beginning I think. But for an emotionally blunted person like myself, after the initial novelty of the practices begins to wear off, it takes a bit more effort to uncover that emotional energy. Words and actions may help to illicit certain feelings, but we can’t allow ourselves to become to distracted by the words and actions alone. It’s the energy, the emotion, the sensation, that really matters. Having the emotion without the words, will still work wonders. Having the words without the feeling behind it, does nothing.

So the next time you embark on any mindfulness practice, try to focus on the energy behind your intention. What is your goal in doing this practice? What types of feelings and emotions are you trying to invite into your life? Are you trying to train your brain to quickly list things? Or are you trying to train your brain to actually experience a certain kind of energetic state? If you want to be able to more easily experience gratitude, you’ve got to actually practice feeling grateful, not just telling yourself you are.

This may be a lot more difficult of a practice, if you’re like me. I really struggle to get in touch with my emotions. If someone told me to imagine what love feels like, I’d feel confusion and maybe anxiety rather than love. If that sounds like you, try this short exercise:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Take 5 slow, deep breaths in and out.
  3. Now, imagine someone or something that you love. At first, you might still struggle to feel anything. If that’s the case, keep concentrating on more and more details. You might try to remember and recreate in your mind a memory with this person/animal/object.
  4. Once you’ve got a clear image in your head, move back into your body. What types of sensations are you experiencing? What do you feel and where are you feeling it? Maybe you feel an opening in your heart space or a lightness in your stomach.
  5. Whatever you’re feeling, focus on those bodily sensations. That is love. Not the words, not the thoughts, but this, right here, this feeling.
  6. Stay with that feeling for awhile, breathe into it, explore it, try to savor the subtleties of it so that you may more easily call yourself back to this energetic state in the future. Try to memorize every aspect.
  7. When you’re ready, you may release the practice and open your eyes. You can come back to this practice as many times as you need to. Eventually it will become easier and easier to cultivate this feeling whenever you want to.

If you’ve been practicing for a long time like I have and are just now coming to this realization, no worries. Obviously it took me this long to realize too. No need to be harsh on yourself about it or feel like you’ve just been wasting time up until now. The foundation you laid by “going through the motions” has led you to a place where you’re now able to delve more deeply into your practice, to add a new layer to your daily routine. We all move through our spiritual practice at our own pace, with our own unique obstacles along the way. Honor where you are now and keep moving forward.

If you have a daily gratitude practice, maybe today try to list only 1-3 things. Rather than quantity, focus on the quality of emotion behind each listed item. Let me know how it goes! I’d also love to know: What does love feel like in your body? What does gratitude feel like to you?

Gratitude Journal for a positive mindset - The Happi Empire

Fire Element

As a kid, I was always really into things like horoscopes. I’m not sure I ever fully believed them, but I thought they were fun and I still do. I lost interest for a while as I got older, but became intrigued again during my yoga teacher training. One of the teachers at my studio does natal charts. Up until meeting her, I had no idea that horoscopes were so complex. I thought it was all based on your sun sign and nothing more. Once you add in all the other layers such as your moon, your rising, the different houses, etc. it can become a much fuller and more accurate picture of a person. There is still so much I don’t understand about it, but would love to learn.

Yesterday, just for fun I decided to try out one of those free natal charts online. I am honestly still surprised by how accurate it was. Not only did it shock me how well I saw myself reflected in the horoscope, but I was shocked because no matter what type of “test” I take, the result seems to remain consistent. There was an unbelievable similarity between what my natal chart said and what the results of my Myers-Briggs Personality Type Inventory said. And it wasn’t just mine. Both of these tests revealed similar things for my boyfriend as well.

One of the main things I have taken from these various tests is that of the four elements, I identify most with fire. I am filled with passion and conviction. I am easily angered and can come off as aggressive when speaking about something that means a lot to me. These are things that I’ve recognized in myself for a while now. The part I only connected to this recently is my constant desire and longing. I am always reaching, searching, consuming, feeding the fire inside me. Nothing is ever enough for me. I don’t know when to stop. I am constantly trying to fill myself with food, drinks, drugs, activities, etc. But instead of being filled, I burn right through it all. The fire inside simply glows brighter for a moment, then demands more.

I’m not quite sure what to do with this information. I’ve known for a long time that nothing external will ever be able to bring me lasting peace, happiness, or comfort. Still, that hasn’t kept me from trying to satisfy myself with whatever I can get my hands on. I suppose it’s always helpful to have more of an understanding about myself and why I am the way I am. It’s just my nature. There is nothing wrong with me. We all contain aspects of the four elements inside of us. I just need to practice getting in touch with the other three that are not as prominent inside of me. Then I will hopefully be able to feel more balanced and complete.

Photo by Justin on Pexels.com

Psychedelics

Alex Grey 2 - Hads Trippy - Image via Thingstolookathigh com

Yesterday I watched a Ted Talk discussing the effects of psychedelic substances on the brain. I clicked on this video absentmindedly, not really expecting it to tell me anything I hadn’t already heard before. To my surprise I was given new insight into why my psychedelic experiences have been the way they are. It also gave me even more reason to believe that psychedelics really do allow us to connect to some deeper consciousness, a divine connectedness. It is a glimpse beneath the veil of our earthly illusions, and the things we think and perceive in these altered states are perhaps more real than the reality our sober minds produce.

I knew that taking psychedelics altered the way our brains perceive the world. I knew that they break down our biases and inner walls so to speak. They remove the shackles of our well worn neuronal connections and allow us the freedom to explore the vast possibilities of our consciousness and perception. What I didn’t know is that this brain state is very similar to one we’ve all experienced before: childhood. Apparently a child’s brain works in a very similar way to a brain on psychedelics. Isn’t that fascinating? I had often described my experiences with LSD as being a child again in a new world. Nothing is taken for granted. Everything is fascinating and new. There is so much joy and curiosity and discovery to be had.

As children none of us were too enmeshed in certain ways of doing things or seeing the world. There were many more possibilities open to us. As we age, our brains naturally start to sink into patterns, strengthening certain neural networks while allowing other, less used pathways to shrivel and shrink with disuse. Eventually we begin to feel trapped in our ways of thinking and seeing the world. It feels impossible to change or view the world from a fresh perspective. And in reality, while it is still quite possible for us to change, it will be much harder than it might have been when we were younger.

Imagine a cart being pulled over the soft earth. Once you’ve made tracks in the dirt, it is easier to follow those tracks again. The more you follow those particular tracks though, the deeper they become. Eventually it will be quite difficult to make new tracks or break out of the ones we have been taking. A child’s mind is an image of virgin land, no tracks, no footprints even, just a great expanse of possibility and wonder. This is one of the reasons, I believe, that adults tend to enjoy children so much. While our own minds may feel incapable of breaking free of our patterns on their own, spending time with a child is sure to be full of surprises and new experiences. Children have the ability to pull us in new directions we would have never considered on our own. Kids are funny. Kids are weird. Kids are surprising, unpredictable even. That is the magic of a newly developing brain. That is the magic we may all experience again for ourselves with the help of psychedelics.

This comparison to a child’s mind helps explain a lot of the experiences I’ve had with LSD. The idea that psychedelics are able to break down our preconceived ways of seeing the world only strengthens my conviction that the feelings and truths I’ve experienced in that altered state of mind are real. LSD isn’t making me hallucinate or become delusional. LSD helps me to break through the illusions that I live inside of. It helps me see the world for what it is again, through fresh eyes, with the innocence and imagination of a child. I don’t for a second believe it’s a coincidence that one of the reoccurring perceptions people come away from a psychedelic experience with is that we are all connected. There is a powerful feeling of connectedness, contentment, joy, peace, trust. It is reconnecting with the wisdom of the universe, a deep sense of reassurance that everything is as it should be. There is also the ever present image that everything in life is a cycle, and that it’s okay to have faith in and surrender to that cycle. Now more than ever, I feel confident in that belief.

Alex Grey's “Gaia” | Pinkocrat

The Psychedelic Experience

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

I was watching a docuseries on Netflix the other day that briefly delved into psychedelic drugs. I am always fascinated to learn more about any research being done with them. They didn’t have any information that I hadn’t already heard elsewhere, but did they did refer their viewers to a book written by Timothy Leary, an American psychology and strong proponent of psychedelic drugs. The book is called The Psychedelic Experience and it is essentially a guide book for using LSD and other psychedelic substances. Basically it is intended to help individuals get the most out of these experiences psychologically and even spiritually. I have yet to read through the entirety of the book myself, but I am very eager to complete it. Afterward I plan to use what I learn from it to help myself achieve a profound, transformative trip.

I think anyone that has used LSD would most likely be an advocate for it’s legalization and use. I personally think that everyone should experience this drug at least once in their lifetime. Even without any direction, LSD has produced for me some of the most wonderful and important moments in my entire life. The experience, if done in a comfortable setting among people you trust, has the potential to be indescribable. I like to call it a “mental reset.” When I am feeling particularly downtrodden or hopeless, I’ll plan a day to drop acid. The experience reminds me why this life is so precious. It calms my mind and soul. It brings a contentment that lasts for days or even weeks after.

And this is how I feel after a merely recreational trip. I am so eager to discover what taking LSD with a true intention for the experience will be like. I have been in desperate need a some major change in my life for quite awhile now. I believe this type of spiritually focused psychedelic experience is exactly what I need to help me realign and return to my core values.

In the past, I haven’t much liked taking LSD alone. I know people that prefer it that way, but for me it has always felt somewhat empty, at times even sad. I’ve always felt like the presence of others has heightened the experience. However, for this next trip I plan to embark on, I want to do it alone. I think having a clear intention will allow me to have a deeply meaningful solo trip. I’m hoping to be ready to give it a try either at the very end of this year or the very beginning of the next. The perfect time for a mental reset.

I know most people are hesitant about recommending anything for every person. But that said, I genuinely think that psychedelics are something that every human being should experience for themselves at least once. As long as you are an adult, mentally stable, and have prepared yourself, I think it will be a life-changing experience in the most positive way possible.

Never do anything just because someone else told you to, though. You know yourself and what you’re comfortable with far better than I ever could. This is merely me giving my opinion. If you are interested, however, I highly suggest you read Timothy Leary’s book beforehand. True to his desire to share psychedelics with the world, there is a free PDF version of the book here. I hope at the very least that everyone will learn about these incredible substances and the potential they have for humanity.