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The Lotus Flower  symbolically represents a human being’s growth, potential and creation.  The lotus flower rests on the surface of the water, requiring its roots to go deep into the mud below, so that it can rise to the surface and unfold into its beauty as we see it, the lotus flower.

While life itself ebbs and flows and I can reflect back to many years that were murky and challenging…I even named my business after just getting through one of the muddiest years of my life,  I liken 2016 to one of those years.  Personally, I moved into the year covered in mud, and it felt more like I was sinking into it, rather than floating above it.  I was unclear how the year would unfold, and as I reflect on its happenings, I am aware that 2016, while murky in some ways, was spacious in so many others.  Thanks to the slimy, gritty, and tenacious mud that was sitting just below the surface, 2016 provided me with an opportunity to connect to what is most important, it forced me to go deep and align myself with the people, experiences and opportunities value the same thing.  This year I am so grateful for the time and space of alignment.  I feel more connected to the surface of the water, aware of the murkiness that inevitably waits below to present itself when it is ready, however, the light too, presents itself when you allow yourself to go into the dark.  This year the light was in the community of family, friends, students, colleagues and professionals who helped reflect it back.

Moving into 2017, I believe this year is a year of alignment.  Like the lotus flower that rests on the surface of the water, I too feel like this past year as allowed me to sit on the surface of the water, to look underneath the surface at the murkiness below, and to use it to grow, upward, onward and into the light.

I believe now more than ever, we need to spend time with other individuals who are in alignment with our values, so that we can mirror our own light onto each other.  The mud does not leave us, nor does the light, the practice is in the willingness to go under and rise above, over and over again.

 

“NO MUD, NO LOTUS Both suffering and happiness are of an organic nature, which means they are both transitory; they are always changing. The flower, when it wilts, becomes the compost. The compost can help grow a flower again. Happiness is also organic and impermanent by nature. It can become suffering and suffering can become happiness again.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Since my visit to Seattle this past September, I have immersed myself in the FISH Philosophy.  It began with a brief visit to the Seattle Market where we stopped to pick up fresh veggies for dinner and happened to walk by the Pike Place Fish Co.  I quickly tried to normalize the scene.  In front of us there was fish flying, men singing and rhyming, all amongst exchanges of smiles, conversations and dollars bills.  I tried to normalize the scene, curious as to if this was an impromptu show, or the everyday scene.  My friend quickly informed me this was the Pike Place Fish Co. and everything was happening as it should.  I was amazed at the energy, the playfulness and pure happiness that was an embodiment with both the customers, fish employess and all those passing by.

My friend’s husband gave me his book, FISH Philosophy, as I continued to talk about the scene we witnessed at the Market that day.  The FISH Philosophy embodies three principles:  

1) Presence
2) Play
3) Make Their Day

I immediately connected with the all three , more recently attempting to embody the principle of ‘Make Their Day’ with an intention and awareness to act in ways that are kind and compassionate and as a result in service to the good of all.  In addition, I have been practicing making the assumption that everyone is out to make the day of everyone else, trusting that they are doing the best that they can for that to happen.  This was challenging the other day when I saw the parking ticket man write out a ticket and when I heard a woman cursed pedestrians for walking on the snowbank brushing snow back onto the driveway, however, with a great amount of curiosity, I silently wonder how they are simply abiding by the principle ‘make their day’ in their best possible way.

This morning, I caught myself forgetting..  It was early, ~ 5:30am and I was across the road shovelling my neighbours driveway so that both of our cars could get out of the driveway.  After about 15 minutes of shovelling heavy, icy and wet snow, a large plow drove by.  I watched him do a U-turn and make his way back towards me.  I stood back waiting and assuming (the moment of forgetting) that he was going to push more snow in front of me and was silently dreading it.  Instead, he drove his plow into the driveway and cleared the rest of the snow out of the way.

I waved with as much gratitude that could be expressed from a smile and a hand in the air, but my heart was full and my day was made.  I also paused to catch myself in my first assumption – remembering that I was standing there waiting for him to plow more snow into me.  This assumption was the  easiest.  The more challenging assumption and harder to receive was that he made an intentional U-turn to make my day in the best possible way.

I didn’t get a chance to use my words to think him, but I sure did in my wave and my silent extension of gratitude.  To the snow plow driver, thank you for starting off my day with your generous and kind gesture.  It spiralled into a change in my attitude for the day, and one that I intend to bring forward into the season and beyond.

What if we were all out to make each other’s day?  What words and random of kindness, of appreciation or of gratitude would serve in making the day of another?

For random acts of making someone’s day and the mirror of happiness, this short video says it all.


May the FISH philosophy of ‘making their day’ be a spiral of happiness onto ourselves and others.

 

“There is the brightest of lights within the darkest of skies.”  As I said this aloud to my yoga class on Monday night, with the intention to connect our awareness to the energy of the Supermoon that was glowing above, I stopped myself to contemplate what I just said aloud…”there is the brightest of lights within the darkest of skies.”  Surely this is what the world needs to not just hear in the moment, but truly trust, or at the very least, it is what I need to trust.  

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The results of the election this week were hard to hear.  As a Canadian, living in the neighbouring nation, I think it is fair to say we were in dismay with the results.  I have tried over and over again to try practice empathy with everyone over the past week, particularly those living in the US.  I have been imagining how dark the world feels to some of them.  This practice of empathy of hard. The hardest it has been for me in my intentional practices and studies of empathy over the past 10 years.  What is it really like to be living in the US right now?  What is it really like to try to walk authentically through the streets of each state?   I have no idea.   I have been going through this over  and over in my head. I have put myself back in the streets of NYC and I have been imagining walking the streets as I did the year of Coaching for Transformation.  I imagine walking through them with a sense of connection and presence and yet I wonder if it feels more divided than ever.  I hear and have talked to my friends of whom have already been teased and taunted for who they are and I feel disheartened and depleted.  


It feels dark and as I repeated the words this evening, I was reminded of why I practice…to remember the light.  To remember that even on the darkest of nights, there is a moon and there are stars to shine bright.  Tonight, the moon is the closest to the earth as it has been in 70 years.  I can’t help but wonder if everything is in the right place at the right time to remind us of the light.  Mother Nature always has a way to help us and to heal.  Tonight, I believe she is close to us for a reason.  In the brightest of forms and the brightest of lights, dear Mother Nature is not just allowing us to feel her presence, but to see her too and inviting us to trust and love her, to trust and love each other and to trust and love ourselves.  The moon is a clear reflection of the light and the brightness that is within us all…sometimes it is so dark we cannot see it, not to mention feel it.  The events in the world this week have felt that way.  So dark it has been hard to see the light.  Thank you once again dear Mother Nature for showing up so close to us tonight, in the form of femininity to shine your brightest of lights in what seems like the darkest of times.  May we trust ourselves, may we trust each other and may we trust Mother Nature to help us trust  the light.

In prep for a night walk during our recent Renewal Retreat at Windhorse Farm, Jim Drescher provided us with a few words of wisdom to help ease the group’s fear and anxiety that may surface when walking into the unfamiliar presence of darkness in the forest.

“Allow yourself to be seen in Nature,” he said.  Jim continued reminding us that the practice of being seen takes a great amount of courage and vulnerability.  At night, it is dark and a challenge for us humans to see, however, the nocturnal beings that we can’t see will be certainly be able to see us.  If we allow our fear to prevail and walk in protection of ourselves, the animals won’t get a glimpse of the kind and compassionate beings that make up our humanness and provide a sense of connection with them.

The walk that we took in darkness was a magical reminder of how easy it is for us to walk in darkness.  To protect ourselves from being seen authentically, from leaving with fear of the unknown.  The walk through the forest reminded me that night that being seen was more than just being in a room with the lights on in the presence of others.  As Jim Drescher said, being seen is a practice of courage and vulnerability.  It is moving through the darkness and stepping into that which is scary.  

I realized as I explored the forest in darkness on my own, that in allowing myself to be seen in darkness, my brightest light was alive.  I heard myself laugh in my most childlike way, I climbed trees and bounced over branches in the most adventurous way, I felt free and alive…and I cgongouldn’t see a thing.  I trusted my surroundings so much that even in darkness the unknown was freeing.  

While I watched myself bound through the forest with my other senses heightened and the child in me alive, I felt a vast amount of happiness.  I didn’t quite fully understand that this was all part of the letting go with a willingness to be seen until the next morning.

The following morning, Martha Purdy and I woke up before all the retreat participants and walked down to the lake and sat in front of the gong to prepare the fire for the morning meditation.  It was still dark with just a glimpse of the sun rising.  As we stepped onto the path to make our way back to the lodge, a large owl swooped in front of us.  I didn’t realize it was an owl immediately, however, it had the largest wings I had ever seen.  It flew in front of us and stopped on a tree.  It was in this moment that Martha and I exchanged a silent moment with the owl who unbeknownst to us had been watching over us as we prepared the fire that morning. We stopped and exchanged gazes.  For a very brief moment, the owl stopped and allowed us to see him in the same way that we were open to be seen.  The exchange was breathtaking, we watched it majestically fly away again and silently made our way back to wake the group.

Seeing the owl was momentous for me.  Firstly, it reminded me of the words spoken last night that to be seen takes courage and vulnerability.  It was my reminder that NOW is the time to live with courage and vulnowlerability.   The opportunity to be seen can happen at any time by anyone, now is the time to practice.

Secondly, the owl reminded me of my Grandmother. She collected monuments of owls throughout her lifetime.  It would have been her birthday this weekend and it is each time this year that I contemplate her life and her death.  Another reminder for me that NOW is the time to be seen and embrace the preciousness of life.

Thirdly, the owl was my own subtle reminder of the greater support that exists when you trust a greater presence.  This requires vulnerability. It seemed like my Grandmother stopped by the retreat as of to say, “live courageously,  live authentically, be vulnerable…and if not now, when? And don’t worry, are never alone when you allow yourself to be seen.”

“Look Deep Into Nature and you will Understand Everything Better” – Albert Einstein

Nature has been my source of adventure, my source of inspiration, and my source of healing for as long as I can remember.  I have used this quote over the past year with intention to spend as much time as I can outside.

Nature and all of her elements hold the essence of connection for me and while there have been many times that I could have easily avoided going outside, I have discovered, that my intentional immersion into Nature has proved to be a great source of inner peace and contentment and as a result an outer presence of compassion and empathy for others.  I might even say that looking deep into Nature actively going deep into the woods, or far out on the Ocean has been a source of looking deep into myself to greater understand my own true Nature.

This, to me, is  yoga.  Yoga invites us to take a similar path of looking at the essence of who we are to understand everything better.  The Yoga-Sutra’s of Patanjali provides us with a template, a step by step guide to lead us to our true Nature.  I believe that our true Nature already exists, these practices are means to clear away the mud and the murkiness that covers the light.  Luckily, just like Nature, the practices are readily available and the spiritual practices can begin at any time.  “Atha yoganusasanam”  Now begins the practice of Yoga….and Now begins the practice of Yoga….and  Now begins the practice of yoga.

The practice of ‘Now’ as described in the first Sutra is an auspicious meaning indicating “at any given moment” we have the opportunity to take to path of understanding.

As is Nature.  Now is the time to go outside.  Just as the practices are readily available, so is Mother Nature.  I was positively reminded of this recently after a weekend of Yoga Teacher Training.  This weekend was particularly heavy with a various emotions and a call to support each other as peers, students, friends and teachers was at its strongest.  I had a moment during the weekend that I stood back to observe the mutual support that was present and became aware of how lucky I am to be on this path of yoga and a witness to this love, care and support to each other.

When the training was over, I went to the seaside. I walked through the trails and climbed the rocks of Duncan’s Cove.  I became mesmerized with the families of seals playing on the rocks and in the water just a few yards away.  They were joyful to watch.  Some were pausing in stillness on the rocks, as if we were sitting in silence together. Others were bobbing up and down and playfully riding the waves.

 

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As I watched each seal respond differently to the waves, I was reminded about the power of play as an integral practice of yoga.  While we practice yoga to understand the true Nature of ourselves, this requires a great amount of discipline balanced with intentional pauses and play, as the seals naturally demonstrated this evening. Each wave of life is an opportunity to look deeper…and when we pay close attention to the wave, we can skilfully choose how we respond in a way that speaks to our true Nature.

Just a few hours ago, I was observing yogis supporting each other as the waves of life came crashing down, merging into the Ocean of reality.  Now I stand by the seaside, observing the seals playing.  The presence of the Ocean and the power of play could not speak to me more clearly.  It was as if Mother Nature was speaking directly to me, inviting me to stay a little bit longer.  To connect, to listen, to observe and to play.

Thank you dear Mother Nature for this reminder.  Sometimes the waves crash.  Sometimes the waves roll.  Sometimes the waves ripple…we are in this Ocean of life, may we continue to ride the wave and support each other and playfully riding the waves along the way.

The Tragically Hip’s concert this past Saturday has proved to be a momentous awareness for me and seemingly the majority of Canadians both living local and abroad.  I watched the full three hours of the concert in Kingston Ontario, and have been tender with tears and filled with awe since the emotional and striking performance. While words of joy, sadness, grief and celebration help me understand the sensitivity of my emotions, it is the exemplar qualities of human nature as a source of leadership that I am inspired by.

The humanness demonstrated on Saturday night encompasses qualities of vulnerability, courage, humility, selflessness, dedication and pride (to name just a few…) for an individual, a collective of individuals and a country as a whole.

My grandparents taught me early that it was a privilege to live in Canada and throughout my travels in my 20’s, I was reminded of that on countless occasions. While I have always been aware of this privilege, it was not until Saturday night that I felt a great amount of pride to be Canadian and gratitude to be living in Canada, a country that is guided by values that I consider to be integral components of leadership.  

The courage and vulnerability begins with Gord Downie and his band mates.  I was drawn to his courage and ability to embrace a cancer diagnosis, to stand in the center of a stage with his charismatic presence combined with tears, screams and peaceful gazes. I witnessed and I experienced the many realms of human emotion in just three hours. The humble presence throughout the triumphal show that Gord Downie chose to present as his legacy is inspirational.  His leadership to his band, his fans and to Canada showed me a way of leadership with grace and glory in the most challenging of times.  

The selflessness of CBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Company, has also filled my heart with joy and hope. CBC stopped covering the Olympics in Rio for the full three hours so that the Tragically Hip’s Concert could be accessible to all.  Thank you to CBC for connecting our National population through music.  This decision to me is the heart of leadership, a selfless act that benefits the whole. 

Thank you to the Tragically Hip, for helping me to step into the awareness of the privilege and pride of what it really means to be Canadian.  This ability to care, connect and be in community is the most meaningful to me.  Saturday night I listened, I cried, I connected and I was gracefully led into the space of my own humnanness, deeply connected with the humanness of every other Canadian.  

This model of leadership is empowering and mirrors my own sense of willingness to lead with courage and vulnerability. May each one of us step into our own source of leadership as a means to look deeply into ourselves to be our best self available.  

This is leadership.  This is yoga.  This is our life.

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For as long as I can remember, Halloween has been one of my favourite days of the year.  The opportunity to take on the role of a magical, enchanted character, to dress as if I was living in a fairy tale, or to be accepted taking on a dark role as a witch or a monster, typically undesirable representations of qualities within that I would not want to surface.

I took pride in my costumes, and even more pride in what they represented, a part of me that I was  unconsciously either unwilling and scared to reveal, or a part of me that was longing to be be expressed.  For this one day of the year, I eagerly and excitedly anticipted the opportunity to express myself freely.

This perspective changed for me significantly six years ago.

In 2009, I dressed up as a “Who”,  from Whoville, a fictional town created by Dr. Suess and I hosted a Halloween costume party, inviting others to also put on costumes and come as someone else other than themself.  This was the same evening that I spoke my last words to my Grandmother sending her love and wishing her peaceful passing as she prepared to leave this world just a couple hours later.  I remember standing in my perfectly articulated “Who” costume.  On the outside,  I looked joyful, playful and wondrous, on the inside, I was grieving, feeling a vast amount of sadness, loss and despair.  The “Who” on the outside was a covering of the essence of the “Who” on the inside.

The spiritual path of awakening invites us to reflect, “Who Am I”.  An invitation to look at the parts of ourselves that we hide and are scared to reveal, as well as the parts of ourselves that are divine and wholehearted, longing to be born.  The Tantric path does not separate the two.  This path invites us to move into the space of who we are.

As we spend time in these practices, we are invited to spend time with ourselves.  The silence and the space provided in these practices, allows for an opening and transformation for the inner beauty to surface.  Amongst this beauty and grace also lies sadness, sorrow and anger.

My desire to wear a costume on one day of the year, has changed with my desire to take my costume off the other 364 days of the year.  The more I understand “who I am”, the more I am willing to show up with a sense of vulnerability to be seen for all the characters and the qualities that reside within.  Some days I reveal myself as a witch, while other days a graceful goddess, and others something as simple as a silent tree or bluejay flying free.  All encompassing and all embracing, I am beginning to replace my costumes everyday with my divine nature.

Looking back, I am grateful for the “The Who” costume that I was wearing the night my Grandmother passed.  Grateful that it reflected my playful, light-hearted nature on one of the darkest nights I remember.  Yoga reminds us that the two are not separate and this practice has taught me, if nothing else, to embrace who I am, to let go of who I am not, and to wear the costume of my divine expression everyday, so that the other 364 years, I don’t have to hide behind the “Who”.

On the night of All Hallows Eve, may the costume that we choose to wear, equally reflect a part of ourselves that we are willing to reveal and manifest into Who and How we want to express ourselves.

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The opportunity to awaken is readily available.  It is beyond getting out of bed when your alarm tells you it is time to wake up and begin your day.

Awakening is reoccurring and has the potential to happen now, and now, and now.  Each moment is an opportunity to awaken.  Waking up is a state that occurs after one is asleep.  Awaken is the action of waking up.  The art of waking up, is an art that requires presence, openness, and a willingness to explore what is possible, and is never not there.

Awakening is reoccurring.  It is not something that happens once.  It is a light bulb insight or idea, a new feeling or awareness, a body movement, a new connection, creating relationships…stepping out of the old and into the new.

Each day we wake up, we wake up to a new day.  Each time we Awaken, we awaken to a new possibility.  This is transformation, infinite and ever expanding.

Given that the art of awakening takes practice and patience, one of the best things you can do to awaken to something new that is true to yourself is to pause, to give space for awakening to happen, to listen, to trust your intuition, to retreat and step away from your daily habits, routines and relationships, to be open and to step into each moment with curiosity and love.  What are you awakening too right now?

 

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I recently ran into someone that I have not seen in while.  Excited to see this individual, I immediately asked how they were doing.  They responded excitedly, “Good –  busy”, followed by a list of activities that were keeping them busy.  In my mind, as they were naming their busy list, I was already trying to formulate my own,  not actually listening to the items on their list as I don’t think I heard past summer bbqs, however, the list went on for a good minute that I was clearly not present to.

I caught myself trying to formulate an appropriate list in my head, and realized, I was not so busy, and equally content, but wondered if that would be an acceptable response when it was my turn.

I currently have a well balanced schedule, with just the right of time for work, play, practice and meditation…and I don’t feel “busy”, but rather, I feel “happy”.  When it was my turn, I replied that I was “happy”,  I didn’t complete a list, or note the things that were keeping this way  as I noticed it was the space and the silence creating the feeling of happiness.

I rode away with wonder and curiosity…is busy the new good?  If so, does busy mean we are happy?  When life is not so busy, and there is time to read a book with a coffee in the morning after a peaceful meditation, all before a day’s work, with time in the evening to play with friends, pick food from the garden and enjoy a home cooked meal before the night’s end.  When days feels spacious with time for wonder and curiosity, and certainly not busy, is it OK to respond “happy” noticing only the space that has created that happiness?  It certainly is worth a try!

Do you want to define your happiness by all that keeps you busy?

Busy is the new happy

There is nothing I love more than the exhilarating feeling post an invigorating yoga class, refreshing ocean swim or energizing bike ride in crisp fresh air.  It’s the post work out glow, the release of stress, the confidence and aliveness that brings an overwhelming sensation of happiness that permeates on a cellular level.   Based on current research, it has become no surprise that when I sit in meditation, I feel as awake and alive as I do post any intense exercises.  How is this possible?

Meditation is an exercise of the mind.  Just as our body needs movement and practice to tone our muscles and keep our systems in good health, our mind requires a similar discipline.  Meditation is an exercise of the mind that stimulates our brain and and provides the tools necessary to keep the mind toned, focused and healthy, so that we can live with greater clarity, happiness and less stress, worry and anxiety.  Read the science behind the practice with this interesting research directly related to the powerful practice and benefits of meditation.  Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain.

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