Blog – thoughts on yoga & life

Check Your Investments

No, I haven’t become a Financial Adviser in my spare time. And no, I’m not actually talking about financial investments. Given all the volatility in the market during this global pandemic, I’ve sworn off even thinking about my financial investments, let alone checking on them. I’ve also become ever more aware of how fortunate I am to even have financial investments about which to be concerned.

“Life is good and we are blessed.”

~Erin Marie McG

But for now, let’s set aside thoughts of actual money and turn our thoughts toward other investments.

Hi, I’m Erin…

I recently received the news that a dear friend, Erin, has passed away. She was one of those people you may not see often, but when you do, you fall right back into step, without missing a beat. I met her through Habitat for Humanity, where I’m sure her first words were “Hi, I’m Erin….”. You see, she taught me about welcoming outsiders in. I witnessed her say that phrase over and over again (on job sites…at the softball field…at social gatherings) where she always went out of her way to welcome in new people. She must’ve learned early in life that it’s not fun to sit on the outside of a well-formed group. So, she was intentional to never let that happen in her presence. If you were new to the group, she wanted you IN the group.

She listened….truly listened. She paid attention to what people were talking about in a unique way. It was like she was listening with the purpose of figuring out how she could brighten your day at later point in time. So many people tell the same story: they had forgotten they even shared some detail with her but just when they least expected it, she would show up, bearing the gifts that were exactly what was needed. It could be something as simple as nightlights for your kids who were having trouble adjusting to their new home, a starbuck’s run to support builders, even when she couldn’t be with us building. Or it could be something as big as an expensive new tool to make the build site experience go smoother. She looked out for those she cared about. She was the best aunt to the nieces and nephews born into her family…and to the bonus ones she collected along the way.

She always, and I mean ALWAYS, had a smile on her face. Often accompanied with giggles. You can see it in every picture I have of her…smiles, giggles, LIG hat and t-shirt, surrounded by people she loved. Sharing her light. Teaching us to love the simple things like full moons and time with family and friends. To find the funny things to keep it all a little lighter. To support each other, to be kind to one another, to be a helper. To enjoy life. To learn new things and appreciate the arts. So many great lessons.

My friend, Nina, captured it well when she said “she didn’t invest in bullshit.” You wouldn’t find her caught up in drama, or spreading negativity, or ever doing anything intentionally hurtful or mean. Erin only invested in things that mattered. She only invested in things that would make this world a better place.

Side note: Erin would not appreciate us using that language to capture her essence. I can imagine her shaking her head just a little bit, softening her smile just a little bit, and giving me that look that says “you can find another way to say that without cursing, can’t you?” If you can imagine, there is sometimes cursing on a job site (even at Habitat, sorry to burst your bubble), and Erin really wanted us to realize we didn’t need that. That we could do better.

The world needs more Erins.

As I think about how to honor all of Erin’s lessons, I wonder how I can carry on the very important work that piloted her life. I’m checking in on my investments. What am I investing in? Where am I investing in BS that I can release? How will I carry on her lessons? How will I carry Erin with me as I move forward. My friend Kerry has taught me that one of the most beautiful ways to honor a ‘lost’ loved one is to make sure we carry them with us. That we don’t lose the lessons. Those gifts are never lost.

In these uncertain times, it is hard to think in terms of moving forward. It feels too uncertain to even make any plans. And yet, it also feels like I must make new plans…to take advantage of this unique place in time. We have an opportunity to evaluate our investments in a way we’ve never had before. Or at least, in a way we’ve never recognized we had before (it’s probably always been there). And I remind myself that the plans I make don’t have to be long-term….they can be just for today.

And just as it happens sometimes, my dear friend Summer Cushman dropped a sermon on me that speaks to this. You’re invited to listen: Let’s Not Go Back To Normal.

The Invitation

As we look forward to creating our new normal, the invitation is to check your investments. Even if you only “look forward” to the next moment of today. What are you investing in?

The Practice

Find a comfortable seated posture…any position will do. Legs can be crossed or straight or any combination of the two….let them take a shape that will allow you to sit up straight, with a bit of ease. Relax your shoulders down, away from your ears….close your eyes and begin to connect with how it feels to sit in stillness. Turn your awareness inward. How does the body feel as you sit here…in this moment. The muscles…. The joints….scan through the body and be fully aware of how it feels to just sit. To BE in this moment. We take a moment to transition away from the activity of our day and shift into our practice. There is nowhere to be and nothing else that needs our attention. Bring your awareness to your breathing and just notice your breath… without trying to change anything, just watch your breath coming and going. Watch your body receiving and releasing your breath. Notice how the breath comes and goes on it’s own, without any conscious direction from you. Notice the body shifting with your breath. And once you’ve connected with the rhythm of your breathing, explore whether there is room to lengthen it. Keeping an ease to your breath, let it be a little slower….a little softer. Let it nourish and cleanse you. Know that the rhythm of your breath determines the rhythm of other systems in your body….let your breath lead you to move with ease, calm, steadiness throughout our practice. Continue to watch the breath….let it settle and slow. Let it calm. Throughout our physical movements, watch your breath…when it starts to change in someway (if it gets shorter, or speeds up), it is likely a sign that something needs to shift in your movements or postures. Watch your breath and let it guide you.

These words. I say them often. Some version of this comes out of my mouth at the beginning of every class I teach. The underlined words really hit me today:

There is nowhere to be and nothing else that needs our attention.

Nowhere to be. Nothing else needs our attention. Set aside the activity. Notice how it feels to sit in stillness. In this moment of transition. Letting go of what we were doing…..and not yet thinking about what we will be doing. Just be here. Experience whatever is real for you in this moment. The full spectrum of emotions that come to you throughout these days. They are all valid. Experience them, without trying to make them be anything other than what they are. Be aware of your breath. Let it guide you.

The BTown Yoga Church Gatherings

What on earth is a Yoga Church? you might be asking yourself. Well, we are figuring that out and would love for you to help us with that.

What is it???

My dear friend Summer Cushman explains it here:

The Yoga Church is about Mystery and Love. The intention is to support you in your efforts to connect with Divine Mystery (however you define it) and build your capacity to love—we’re trying to learn how to love ourselves, our communities, and our world better.

Yoga is both a state of being and the practices that help us reach that state of being. It’s a vast spiritual science that includes so much more than postures. The root of Yoga is yuj, which means union. Yoga is the union of God and Self. Church is a word that signifies a community of people gathered together to explore and honor divinity. While the word church is most often associated with Christianity, it’s used by several non-christian groups including Buddhists and even atheists. The Yoga Church is not a Christian group that practices yoga postures. The Yoga Church is a gathering of diverse people with different religious experience and understanding, unified by their desire to live lives of intention, meaning, and mystery. Together we explore and honor the vast traditions of the East and West. Our only dogma is LOVE.

~Summer Cushman

If you would never walk into a church, this place is for YOU. If you walk into a church or synagogue or temple every week, this place is for YOU. If you would never try yoga, this place is for YOU. If you practice yoga regularly and want to dive deeper into your own spiritual practice, this place is for YOU. It’s interfaith and open to all.

History

I met Summer Cushman when I enrolled in my 200HR Yoga Teacher Training at CITYOGA in 2010. She was finishing seminary at the Earlham School of Religion and had discovered the healing powers of yoga. We stayed connected after training and I lived vicariously through her as she went on to dive into advanced teacher training and even yoga therapy training. She was then invited to be a part of a grant-funded project at Earlham that provided seed money to alumni who were interested in non-traditional methods of ministry. This is when the Yoga Church was born. She started publishing weekly sermon videos and I started watching! They were short videos recorded on her property out in the Pacific Northwest and they always offered rich food for thought and meaningful spiritual practices. Eventually she began to hold weekly gatherings in her town of Bellingham (another BTown! although they call themselves Bham 😉 ) and Summer took a chance and scheduled a retreat in the summer of 2019 to bring the community together.

Bringing it to Bloomington

I had the opportunity to attend that retreat last summer with Summer and some of the Yoga Church community members. I also got to attend her weekly in-person gathering in BHam and started to have a vision for how we could bring this offering to BTown as an extension of Summer’s work. When I asked her what she thought about that idea, she was so excited about the idea of the Yoga Church branching out to other communities. So, our BTown Yoga Church gatherings are a pilot project to see how we can do just that. We gather in community, take in Summer’s sermon, move our bodies, journal, and meditate; spending time contemplating the concepts shared and how they show up for us. This isn’t your traditional church….and it’s not a typical yoga class either. We are figuring out what it looks like and how it can be structured to best fit the needs of our BTown community. If you want to gather with others and dive into spirituality, we’d love to have you join us for this donation-based offering!

Looking forward to what this sacred gathering and the community that gathers will create! Much love,

~Marci

Links for more information:

I believe…

What DO I believe????

This has been something I’ve had on my to-do list for a long time. As a fully formed adult who has raised 2 <almost> fully formed adults, I wanted to get clear with myself on what I believe to be true. This has sat on my list of to-dos for a long time because if felt like quite a big undertaking.

Doing soul searching to see if my long-held beliefs are still really true for me sounds like a lot of work and a bit scary. In yogic terms, Svadhyaya can be translated to self study and it is not for the faint of heart. It can be scary to think that a long-held belief you’ve had may no longer be true for you….and what do you do with that.  I also had to let go of the idea that I shouldn’t make the list until I knew it was 100% (perfection being the enemy of progress, you know).   So, this is what came to me when I finally sat down to work on it. And I’m sure as soon as I publish it, more will arise for me….perhaps a Volume II will come down the line. But for now…in no particular order…

I believe in the power of prayer and stillness.

I believe in the power of hard work and determination.

I believe in a power much greater than myself.

I believe that power is within me, as well.

I believe that power is within all people, maybe even in all things.

I believe Jesus came to earth to show us the way.

I believe spiritual growth only happens with intention and is extremely personal.

I believe change is the only guarantee on this earth.

I believe when we grasp onto anything, we eventually will suffer for it.

I believe there are times when we are brought to our knees and the only thing we can manage to do is to breathe. And that process of breathing is enough.

I believe my heart has the capacity to grow 10x it’s size in an instant.

I believe that loving all people is a challenge and is challenging. We are here to navigate this obstacle course.

I believe my children have been my most significant teachers.

I believe people who hurt others have been deeply hurt themselves.

I believe there is much to learn from most of the major theological systems.

I believe in equality for all humans.

I believe there are people I’ve met to whom I feel a connection that transcends this lifetime.

I believe that laughter is really good medicine.

I believe it is not my place to tell others how to live their lives.

I believe there is a lot of miscommunication in this world that leads to a lot of wasted energy.

I believe eye contact is one of the most valuable tools in our toolbox. True listening another.

I believe I expect way more out of myself than I would expect of others.

I believe humans make things way more complicated than they need to be.

I believe life is messy and hard and beautiful and scary and exhausting and exhilarating and surprising and boring and happy and sad and fun and…and…and…and it’s the same for everyone.

I believe the more Christ-like I try to live, the simpler life becomes.

I believe we are capable of so much more than we think we are.

I believe my time is one of the most precious gifts I can share with others.

I believe that Love truly always wins in the end.

I believe we would all benefit from pumping the brakes on our lives. Look around and take stock of what you are blessed with.

I believe that underneath it all, we all really want the same things….to love, to be loved, to be safe and secure, to do meaningful work, to have something to show for our work, to experience joy, to be able to bear our struggles, and to do it all with a community of people we can trust.

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I invite you to the same undertaking. Spend some time considering what it is that you hold as true. And write it down. Get clear on it. Make sure your thoughts, words, and actions align with your beliefs.

~Namaste~  the light that lives within me sees and honors the same light living in you

 

Yogaville: a Place for Everyone

I recently had the honor and privilege of going on a journey with one of my yoga teachers, Marsha Pappas, to the place where she originally studied, Satchidananda Ashram Yogaville. Along with us, we took a group of women, many of whom didn’t know more than one or two other people.

Marsha and I arrived a day ahead of our guests to get settled in to the Lotus Conference Center (LCC), which happens to be the original building on the property. Yogaville is 750+ acres in the hills of Virginia with a gorgeous view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It houses the ashram founded by Sri Swami Satchidananda.  He came to the US in the 1960s and had a dream to create a beautiful, remote location where people of all faiths could come together and live (either for a short stay or as a permanent residence) in harmony with one another and the environment. It is a peaceful place and Marsha and I enjoyed a bit of time together to finalize plans for the weekend.

The beauty and peace of the place is palpable. Everywhere we were showed the beginning signs of fall and we thankfully even got to experience that crisp morning air we were hoping for.

As our group started to arrive, it was clear that they were all ready for a weekend away from the responsibilities of daily life. Laughter and connection came easily!

Mandala Cafe Hours

They also quickly discovered where all the contraband could be found.  You see, at Yogaville, there are very little sweets and no coffee to be found in the main dining hall.  No worries, though, the Mandala Cafe was there to fulfill those ‘needs’ and everyone was happy to steal away there when they could.

We attended many of the offerings the ashram had scheduled: Hatha, Yoga Nidra, Joint Releasing Series, Meditations, and even a Swami Talk. We were also quite fortunate to have a lovely practice space of our own. Meditation 101, Somatics, and a Chakra Basics gave everyone quite a bit to think about, talk about and experience.

We also found time for some lovely outdoor adventures where we walked among the trees for a little nature bath and visited the LOTUS (Light of Truth Universal Shrine) for meditation. The meditation hall of all faiths has such a differently energy…sitting still for 30 minutes has never been so easy!

It was quite delightful to see how this group opened up to one another in very real ways. We often have so many different hats to wear, labels to live up to, task lists to attend to that we can lose sight of what is real. We rush through our day-to-day lives just trying to make it through the day and we don’t realize how quickly it all can pass us by. Retreats are a lovely opportunity to set that all aside for a bit and just BE with one another. Get back to who you really are and enjoy just getting to know those around you a bit deeper. Many commented they felt like kids again, going off to summer camp….and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. It does the mind, body, and soul good to find those inner kids again….to play, explore, learn, laugh, cry, and truly just be in each moment! I am so grateful for each of these ladies and all they brought to this retreat. One thing we all have in common is that we want to do it again!  Planning for Yogaville 2020 is already underway….stay tuned!!!

Thanks to Marsha Pappas for photo contributions to this post and all her efforts over the years to share her love of yoga with her students. I love to nerd out on this stuff with her!