Great news everyone, we can relax! All the fear around the latest superbug is true. You can get sick and even die. It’s also a fact that we are interdependent and of course we can catch each other’s sickness no matter how much we buy into the delusion of separateness. We are connected, not separate.
Of course, we’ll do our best to not spread the germs but is the panic and shock around this virus helpful? Is a dysregulated nervous system due to constant stress, warnings, upsetting news cycles and anxiety supporting a healthy immune system to help us stay well?
The reason we can exhale is the fact that you can get sick and die has been true every moment of your life. If we are surprised by the news of illness and demise perhaps, we’ve lost site with reality. Since the first breath we took we’ve been dying. We’ve all been dying and being reborn our whole lives. This latest virus scare is one of the greatest teachers our culture has received in a while. Although we never wish for a disease to happen it is what is happening. How painful is it to resist reality? The recent panic shows how disconnected we are in the west from the reality of life. The Buddhists have known about impermanence and interdependence and have been teaching how it can heal us for more than 2,600 years.
The story of the Buddha is that he was protected from the realities of real life locked away in a refined palace. In this place he had all the finest material things, best foods, highest intellectual teachings, opportunities to have sex etc., and it wasn’t satisfying to him in a lasting way. Somehow, something wasn’t quite right, he was still craving more or tired of what he had. Sound familiar?
All the worldly things only gave him temporary pleasure but never lasting peace. He finally left the village (symbolic of choosing the spiritual path that leads away from confused, mainstream material culture) and snuck into town. Even though his parents were trying to keep the eventual Buddha (awakened one) from seeing reality he looked down an alley and saw an old person; he looked down another and saw a sick person; next he saw bodies at the charnel ground dead and decomposing. He realized in that moment that this was reality. We are all going to get sick and die. Some of us will get old. This is the truth. Is it really a surprise that we can get sick and die even today?
Those that are tuned into reality can breathe and relax. It doesn’t mean we sit back and do nothing to reduce the spread of this virus. In fact, we should consider meditating daily to regulate our nervous system, increase our resilience and tune into our inner healing system by shutting off the news after we learn the basic info needed. We can also stay healthy through self-care, a vibrant diet and the use of our basic intelligence to care for ourselves and others . To reduce our suffering around fear is also the best thing we can do. It is wise to align with reality and stop fighting the truth of our interconnectedness and mortality. When we feel out of control it’s helpful to tune into what we can control. And, what we can control is our relationship to what is happening. The teachings say that pain is unavoidable, yet suffering is 100% optional. The only time we suffer is when we fight our reality just like we’re doing now with this latest virus.
There’s really no need to panic. We can see this as an important wake up call. Every day that you leave your family and friends to drive to work you could easily die on your car ride. Sickness and death have no predictable timing. It’s truly magic and a gift that we are even here today to read these words. You may have noticed that you have friends and family who died at all ages of life. You’ve probably heard of famous people that have died. No one at any time is immune to sickness and death. We’ve never had a guarantee that we’re going to live a long life.
I wonder if we can use this latest scare as an impermanence practice. It’s something the Buddhists do every day. They reflect on the four thoughts that turn mind to the dharma (practice). They meditate on four things - precious human birth, impermanence, karma and defects of samsara. This helps the practitioner come to terms with the reality that this life is precious (when lived in practice); this life is short; that what we do in our unenlightened state of confusion will create a painful future result (so we better wake up and practice truth) and that we all lose the people, places and things we love and have things happen to us that we don’t want to happen. In other words, in our ignorance we suffer unnecessarily. Simply by tuning into reality we can be free.
Every day, Buddhists around the world meditate on the fact that the next breath could be their last. This isn’t morbid, this helps you feel alive and to see the preciousness of each moment. They start their day with gratitude for the opportunity to be alive and to practice and to be with those they love. This remembrance of reality keeps them from over investing their time in worldly concerns that can only bring temporary happiness and instead live 24/7 in limitless peace, ease, joy, compassion and equanimity.
Perhaps every time we get one of these scary emails about the virus shutting down yet another event or the big news that we should wash our hands and not cough on each other, it could be a reminder to appreciate every moment we have with our friends and family. Most importantly it could be a push to let go of our confusion and delusion about this external world being able to provide stability so we can look inside and more deeply tune into the reality of limitless peace.
We all want to look and feel our best. Even when you have a great diet and exercise program, there are still times when life leaves us feeling tired, stressed, and overworked. To truly feel your best, regular self-care is just as important as everything else you do to stay healthy. Self-caredoesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming. It’s as simple as making sure your basic needs are met and doing simple things daily to reduce stress and care for your mental health.
The Physical/Mental Health Connection
Actions we take every day impact how we feel both mentally and physically. Start by making a practice of giving yourself a quick self-care evaluation. Do you feel sluggish? Do you get headaches? How about tummy trouble? Sometimes, we’re too busy with the chaos of life to stop and really get to the cause of these issues.
When you have physical and emotional symptoms, there may be some underlying imbalance going on. For example, many people don’t realize that gut healthis related to all kinds of health issues. One of the best things you can do to feel your best is care for the healthy bacteria in your gutand consider whether supplements or changes to your diet could make a difference, like adding in more prebiotic- and probiotic-rich foods.
Another overlooked necessity that many of us are lacking is sleep. Despite being a natural self-care practice, it’s truly a common struggle. If you’re stressed out, you may even have physical symptomsthat keep you up at night, like tense muscles or a racing heart. Whatever the reason, make it a priority to address sleep issues.
Self-Care to Reduce Stress
Stress isn’t always at the root of our problems, but it often plays a dominant role in our lives. Along with making sure your basic needs are met, try some of these simple tips that can help put a stop to stress.
Exercise does more than just help you get in shape. Physical activity is a great stress buster too. If you’re new to exercise, joining a formal fitness program or gym with group classes may be a good way to get on track, and your membership may be covered by your insurance. Certain Medicare Advantage plans like Humana’s offer senior citizens free membership to SilverSneakers, which gives enrollees access to fitness centersand programs all over the country, while insurance companies like Kaiser Permanenteoffer discounts on gym memberships to their clients. In addition to your regular workouts, mix up your routine so you won’t get bored with it. Put on your favorite music and dancefor a jolt of joy, or do a quick yoga session for relaxation.
Keep yourself motivated and accountable by working out with a friend. Another way to stay motivated is to set goals. Many people are now choosing to use a smartwatch or fitness tracker to help them measure their progress (and to see if they’re reaching goals). Many of the latest fitness-monitoring devices can count steps, measure calories burned, and track your heart rate. For instance, Apple recently unveiledthe Apple Watch Series 5 which features fall detection, a built-in compass, and always-on retina display. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly alternative, the Fitbit Charge 3 offers seven-day battery life, water resistance, and sleep tracking.
Try creative expression
Art therapistswill tell you that using some form of creative self-expression helps you slow down, focus inward, and leave stress behind. If you don’t already have a creative hobby, try journaling. These promptsfrom the blog Aim Happy will help you get your creative juices flowing.
Just say no
One of the main reasons stress has become such a regular part of everyday life is that we are constantly busy. Forbes recommends being completely clear (and honest with yourself) about your priorities, and be willing to say no to spending time on things that don’t align with your priorities.
Sure, you breathe all the time without even thinking about it, but did you know that spending just a few minutes on mindful breathing can make dramatic changes in your emotional state? Breathing techniquescan make you feel more energized and alert or more relaxed, depending on which one you use.
Self-care truly is about taking a step back and making your needs a priority, even when it seems easier to neglect them. Start devoting part of your day to feeling better and discovering the best version of you.
Photo credit: Pexels
By Erik Vienneau
Have you ever had the experience of fear trying to stop you right when you were ready to allign with your deepest vision and succeed? That's exactly what happened to me recently - which I gratefully overcame - and I want to share how to overcome this common challenge with YOU.
I LOVE offering AWAKE meditation retreats! It's part of my passion in life to be of service. It aligns with my life's vision to reduce confusion and uncover our shared birth-right of Loving Kindness, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity (aka the Four Immeasurables). In every day terms - this passion revs me up and makes me feel alive!
But then the fear hit. My belly and chest got tight. My breathing quickened. My thoughts took a turn to negative town. I was hooked by fear - the great destroyer of dreams! The feelings of fear felt so bad that they made me want to hit the brakes and cancel an upcoming retreat just because we don't have many folks signed up yet (which makes sense as we haven't gotten the word out much yet!). What if no one comes? That would affirm my fear and prove to my lower vibrating mind that the ego was right. The deeply entrenched thought - that many of us share - "I'm not worthy of living the life of my dreams" - took over.
Thank God for the three jewels (Buddha and all the sages!), Dharma (the teachings) and Sangha (friends on the path) for getting me back on track to my highest potential. I quickly applied some regulating techniques that I'm learning about at the Neurosculpting institute to get out of fight/flight mode and back to center. I breathed deep into my belly, did a mindful body scan and started to calm down. I said to myself gently, "thinking, thinking" and let the self-limiting thoughts go on their way. After a talk with Derik Easilus, who co-leads our next day-long mindfulness retreat on Sunday Oct 13 at Newport Street Retreat about how JOY trumps FEAR every time I was back on track!
After the fear was gone and the JOY flooded back into my system I remembered to follow my bliss and am now proud to report our next retreat is up and ready for registration here. We even have chef Heidi Dietz on board to provide a super-clean veg lunch for you! Watch the latest installment of AWAKE5 video on our YouTube channel (quick powerful videos with amazing folks to help you live the mindful life) to see just how inspiring Derik can be! Hope to SEE YOU on retreat!
Did you know from an Ayurvedic perspective that in the winter you should be eating warm foods made from root vegetables? Check out this AWAKE5 (helpful wellness tips in around 5 minutes!) video and Asiana Harper's recipe for her tasty and healthy Carrot Ginger Soup below!
Carrot Ginger Soup
2 pinch black pepper
2 whole carrots
2 tblsp celery stalk
1/4 inch ginger
2 tblsp olive oil
1/4 tsp salt
Put carrots, ginger, celery into a blender. Fill to the height of the vegetables with water. Purée. Pour into pot and boil with other ingredients, Cook 10 to 15 minutes = YUM!
Vata pacifying nourishing and warming
- Fleeting Stillness -
Do Words Matter?
Our Feelings Strong
These Marks Fleeting
Blown From Fire
So Much Light – Most Unseen
To Die With Our Song Unsung?
Our Fire Bright
Perfect Expression Fleeting
Blurred By Confusion of Self
Trying in Place of Being
In One Way Nothing Matters
In Another Everything Does
Talking Instead of Listening
Moving In Place of Stillness
Ego Expression Pointless
Exhausted from the Chase
Into a Cave an Escape
To Not Express - a Life Unlived?
Not Able to Hear God
Although She Always Speaks
Busyness Silencing Her Voice
Ego Confused With Her Expression
Stop And Listen
Can You Hear?
Beyond Ego She Speaks
Can You Feel Her Beauty?
Can We Be a Vessel?
Can we Calm the Noise?
Roiling in our Head
Violently Crushing Her Voice
Oh, This Ego!
Won’t You Die?
Longing for Freedom From Your Cries
Praying to Hear and Express Her
In That Fleeting Stillness
All Answers Found
Why So Lost in the Noise?
God Reveal Yourself to Me
And In that Sweet Moment
In Between the Thoughts
In the Silence of Her
We Are Found
by Erik Vienneau
More than ever our world needs beings who have awakened. The Seven Factors of Awakening - an important Buddhist teaching - is one of the main keys to this awakening to our fullest potential.
In the West, many think you don’t need a guide book to realize your true nature. Some believe if you sit there in meditation long enough you will simply “wake up.” Perhaps for a lucky few this is true! For the rest of us the Buddha left a clear, scientific path to realization. He did the hard work, realized his perfect nature (which is the same for all of us!) and figured he’d leave a map behind for the rest of us. Thanks Buddha! The best part is, is that every person who has handed down the teachings to us had to realize (experience first-hand) their meaning. So, the path - when handed down with integrity (ideally you can find a realized teacher to receive the teachings from) - is just as effective now as it was when the Buddha himself was doling out the wisdom himself 2,600-plus years ago.
Before we dive into this comprehensive guide to realization – the Seven Factors of Awakening - we should discuss what “realization” is.
A simple way to talk about realization is that one “realizes” no-self along with impermanence. The reason why one may want to realize no-self is that once no-self is seen there is no one left to suffer! This is good news. After all, when you say, “I have anxiety,” or “I’m sad,” there has to be an “I” that suffers. Lose the “I” – lose the “experiencer” of suffering. If there’s no one home to experience the i.e. anxiety or sadness the suffering becomes less relevant. One may then ask about the anxiety or sadness itself. That’s where the realization of impermanence comes in – those emotions are just made of moving parts with no solidity – when seen directly they will simply disperse (or you could say return to the same formless place they came from).
Hopefully this basic explanation of realization shows how the experience can end suffering. The cool thing about the Buddhist teachings are that it’s really not about religion. You don’t need to be a mala-carrying “Buddhist” to use the Buddha’s not-so-secret path to freedom.
To understand the teachings it may help to see the Buddha as a doctor. Before we cover the Seven Factors it's helpful to understand his most foundational - yet deep - teaching, the Four Noble (or realized) Truths.
Four Noble (Realized) truths…
Like any good doctor, he first diagnosed the sickness – the truth of suffering (1). “Suffering” in English doesn’t quite explain what he meant as well as the terms Dukkha and Samsara. Dukkha is that most basic human feeling that "something just ain't quite right" (A.k.a. is sense of dis-ease). It's the feeling that if one could just tweak this or that in their life, then…then they’d finally be lastingly happy.
The deeper sickness he diagnosed is called samsara. The essence of this term is that we are chasing our own tail. We chase (attachment) external people, places and things to get the happiness we seek. We avoid (aversion) people, places and things that we don’t like. All this misdirected effort aims to avoid suffering - but we never find the peace we seek. We just spin around and around experiencing only temporary happiness or short-term relief from pain never arriving at our goal of peace.
The Buddha kindly went on to let us know that there is an origination (cause) of suffering (2). Put bluntly, the cause of suffering (aka Dukkha/Samsara) is ignorance. We wake up each morning wanting to be happy and to avoid suffering but at the end of day we have not figured it out and are often exhausted from the chase. We don’t know how to obtain the lasting peace we seek. Knowing there is a cause of suffering is good news. Once we know there is a cause we can take heed knowing a cure is just around the corner.
The third noble truth is that there is a cessation of suffering (3). That solution is the Eight-Fold path. These are the medicine you take to “wake up” or said another way to “realize” no-self and impermanence.
To wake up you are going to need to cultivate equanimity which is the fruition of the Seven Factors of Awakening. Where this teaching comes in handy is when you are ready to deepen your meditation practice into something that not only relieves stress and creates some peace in your life (these are just side-effects of meditation) to a practice that ends your suffering completely. This is the point of authentic practice – to end the confusion and wake you up to your perfect, peaceful, limitless nature. Don’t settle for less!
If you really want to wake up you’ll eventually want to put the Seven Factors into practice in a deep retreat. The goal here is to simply plant a seed and layout the framework to experience some equanimity. One could describe Equanimity as the ability to let thoughts, feelings and mental formations come and go with out attachment - like clouds in a clear blue sky. Resting in this space of peaceful non-attachment is an important jumping off place for realization.
The Seven Factors start with mindfulness (present moment awareness) and end with Equanimity (non-attachment). The goal here – equanimity - is so basic that it could escape you. Equanimity is simply being OK with whatever arises. Spoiler alert… You may have thought that equanimity and your eventual awakening was going to be a big ol’ bliss fest (and you will certainly experience these pleasant side effects along the way) but at the end of the day equanimity/realization just may be as simple as getting to know your basic goodness. Said more simply you will stop riding the roller coaster of life and will be like John Lennon, “just sitting there (completely OK and at peace) watching the wheels go ‘round and ‘round.” Finally, the chase for pleasures and the avoidance of pain will be over. After all, if you know you are truly OK why chase and avoid? The big pie in the sky “realization” might not be all unicorns and rainbows but instead may be simply and finally being completely and utterly OK as-is.
Here in the blog we can only give you a quick overview of the Seven Factors. Join us for a retreat to take a deeper dive and put them into practice. The best way to explain the factors is via a guided meditation. First take a comfortable upright posture. Do some 4-3-5 breathing to settle in. Do a little loving kindness (metta) practice. Then settle into mindfulness of breath. Next step (2) is to investigate the breath. Look for texture, depth and temperature. Make these qualities of the breath the most important thing in your world – get curious about the breath.
Next increase the energy (3). Many think meditation is zoning out. The right way to meditate is “like your hair is on fire.” Increase that effort/energy! Next find some Joy (4), you can start simply with any sense of “Ok’ness” you can find anywhere in your body or mind. It doesn’t have to be big mind-blowing bliss – just a simple sense of something that is at ease. Then expand it throughout every cell of your body until it expands into rapture. This experience can be very exciting and a bit shaky. Therefore, you’ll want to calm things down and ease into tranquility (5) which is much calmer then the Joy/rapture. Let a sense of ease permeate your mind and body. Now you’ve set yourself up to concentrate (6). From here you’ll want a qualified meditation guide to help guide you, but mainly you’ll be doing a Shamatha practice as this point focusing attention on one point. From here you can rest in a non-dualistic state (equanimity). When you get pulled out you’ll simply start at the beginning again. Experience the Seven Factors of Awakening at an upcoming AWAKE Mindful Living retreat.
The Seven Factors of Awakening…
1.Mindfulness (sati) i.e. to recognize the dharmas (phenomena or reality, two ways one can translate "dharma").
2.Investigation (dharma vicaya) of dharmas.
3.Energy (viriya) also determination
4.Joy or rapture (pīti)
5.Relaxation or tranquility (passaddhi) of both body and mind
6.Concentration, clear awareness (samādhi) a calm, one-pointed state of concentration of mind, or clear awareness
7.Equanimity (upekkha), to be fully aware of all phenomena without being lustful or averse towards them.
The yoga scene in America is shifting. Everyday Yogis are looking for a lot more than tight abs and nice bottom from the practice. Yogis are looking for more peace and ease in their lives and they are turning to meditation - many to mindfulness meditation - to unearth the peaceful treasures within. But if you've tried to cultivate a daily practice you are seeing just how difficult getting to the cushion each day can be. After all, if you are like me, the arisings of the mind and body ain't always pretty.
Believe me, I know it's difficult to meditate every day. I've been at this for 15+ years and been in countless long-term meditation retreats, attended thousands of teachings and have done the hard work on the cushion. I know that life can be very full and that you have many responsibilities. I have compassion for the pressures you probably put on yourself to show up for your families/friends and yourselves. I have empathy for your anxiety, depression, shame/guilt and anger. I know how it feels to be too busy to slow down. I know how it feels to get hooked by the appearances of this life. And, I bet you ask yourself, even after your have worked so hard to achieve a good life, 'Am I being a good mom/dad/husband/wife/worker/friend?' 'Am I good enough?' 'Maybe if I work/push/try just a little harder I'll finally feel good about where I'm at in life'…
See, we all have the appearances showing up in our lives. Work, school, relationship, parenting… the list of roles and responsibilities goes on and on. We may not have much control over what happens in life today… the car breaks down, the dog gets sick, your child gets upset… But, what you DO have control over is how you relate to the arisings in your life. You actually have a choice on how to respond to your life. Actually, without a mindfulness practice you probably don't have much of a choice. You'll find yourself reacting habitually, emotionally and most of the time unskillfully to the arisings in your life. This unmindful life to put it bluntly, stinks. But, great news here yogis, you don't need to react unmindfully any longer. This is what your mindfulness meditation practice for. Your practice gives you some space to slow down and gives you the CHOICE to respond mindfully, calmly and peacefully to your life.
Someone asked me recently if meditation gets easier over the years. I wish I could say it does. For me at least it's as difficult today to let a thought, emotion, physical sensation go as it was when I first sat on the cushion 15 years ago. But what does get easier is your relationship to your life. You don't need to get pushed and pulled by the arisings in your life when you have a practice. With a practice you are able to have a thought, emotion or physical sensation arise and fall without getting wrapped up in it. You see that you have a choice whether you want to suffer or not and with mindfulness you can choose to let it go and NOT suffer.
The answer to all life's problems with a daily mindfulness practice are now the same… The car breaks down? BREATHE. LET IT GO. RESPOND vs REACT. Kids grades are down? BREATHE. LET IT GO. RESPOND vs REACT.Fight with your spouse? BREATHE. LET IT GO. RESPOND vs REACT. You breathe (and know you are breathing) and then you let the thought, emotion or physical sensation go back to where it came from (we're not saying the situation doesn't exist or should necessarily not be dealt with). You then, from your new found calm, ease and clarity respond vs. react. You choose ease in relationship to the arising vs. letting them take you on yet another roller coaster ride… And, aren't you tired of that ride by now?
Before you reacted. Now you let the thought, physical sensation, emotion do what it does naturally… arise and fall. You no longer get hooked. You no longer get taken for a ride. You are the calm in the center of the storm… and what you'll find, thanks to a daily consistent practice, is that the storm calms down all on its own.
So, after all these years of meditating I wouldn't say it's gotten easier to practice every day but that my RELATIONSHIP to life has gotten easier. And once that relationship is easier than you see that already is simple, beautiful and easy all on its own.
So, don't let meditation become another thing you need to fit into your schedule. Don't let it become another thing to be hard on yourself about not doing. Instead see it as your medicine. See it like brushing your teeth. It's not optional. If you want to be happy and not to suffer (and you want to bring Joy vs. suffering to others lives) then your daily meditation practice is just SOMETHING THAT YOU DO, no matter what.
Join us at an AWAKE Mindful Living Retreat to get the support you need to stabilize a daily practice.
May these words, which are only possible due to the kindness of my teachers be of assistance to beings and may all beings be happy, peaceful and at ease!
By Erik Vienneau
Can we be OK as things in our life fall apart? On the other side of 40 I’ve been forced to feel into this question more often lately and I’m sure you have as well. Whether you are younger or older we all need to deal with external people, places and things falling apart. The question is can we see this as part of our spiritual practice or will we fall apart internally when the inevitable changes in life happen on their own?
Lately things have been intentionally and unintentionally falling apart in my external life. I've parted ways with my Guru of 20+ years, left my successful yoga business, my other income-producing business is slowing down and multiple people that I’m close to have died or moved on.
What external people, places and things in your life do you depend on to maintain a strong sense of self (note the small “s” in self a.k.a. “ego”)? Perhaps it’s your job, a certain level of income, the size of your home, the quality of your car, your partner, your parents, your friends, or your identity as a spiritual person/yogi/mom or dad. The more life experience you have you will see that eventually every one of these things will change or fall apart completely.
"What is your ego identity? If it was threatened tomorrow could you be OK?"
This falling apart has shaken me to my core and I am sure you have felt the same way when big changes happen externally in your life. This phenomenon forces us to see how much we depend on external people, places and things for our sense of self/wholeness. My identity, Buddhist student who provides well for his family and is central to the yoga community is toast as my Guru left, my income has gotten shaky and I’ve left the comfort of my yoga business. What is your ego identity? If it was threatened tomorrow could you be OK?
It's interesting – albeit it intense and shocking - to have these external things fall apart as it forces a choice on us. Will we fall apart internally as external people, places and things do or can we have faith in our true Self (note the capital “S”), our practice and fall back into the embrace of our eternal, peaceful, always-OK presence?
When things fall apart the self is often scared because it has less to cling to and build an identity out of. Can we use our practice to learn to feel into how OK we are deep inside the part that is watching this whole adventure unfold? If you can be OK with the open space and groundlessness you will find that your True Self – the part of you that seems to be watching this whole show – is where you can find the peace and security you have been searching for “out-there.”
It's amazing to see that mostly, I feel OK and at peace now more than ever as things fall apart thanks to a hard-won, ongoing meditation practice. I hope that these growth challenges we all experience will help us come closer to wholeness - exclusive of external ego inputs.
I know we can all realize our true nature and stabilize this realization of true peace so that we may be present for this beautiful life so that we can then help others transform their minds as we transform our own. May there be peace, ease Joy and happiness for all beings and may we support each other in this awakening to service. After all, peaceful minds = a peaceful planet.