Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Discipline and Commitment

I began working full-time last November and since that time the struggle has been to have the time to continue homeschooling my children, teaching yoga and practicing yoga. Needless to say, I needed to cultivate more discipline and commitment into my life in general and my practice in particular.

The culmination of this greater discipline and commitment has actually created more space in my life because I'm using every ounce of time intentionally rather than haphazardly.

During the week, I'm out of bed not later than 5:00 AM for my yoga and meditation, on the weekends, no later than 7:00 AM. This time has become imperative and sacred to me--the genesis of any good day.

Getting up that early means an early bedtime--usually 9:30 or 10:00, at the latest, to allow for a bit of personal reading, which winds me down for sleep. For the last several months, this personal reading has been my spiritual study time--not because I feel like I must but because I'm drawn to exploring my spiritual dimension and enjoy how it seeps into my daily life.

This 'bedtime' means that I must make the most of my waking time, especially when it comes to being there for my family. I involve the kids more in the preparation of dinner and we arrange for meaningful family time, whether we walk the dog together, play a game or watch a movie, we find someway of enjoying each other's company. We always have story time--usually a chapter book that we are reading together that can become an extension of our study as homeschoolers.

So now the truth?

This didn't just happen for me, nor was it easy.

Uh-uh, not even close.

Since I started working full-time I have struggled to have this time before work to practice, to have time to read to myself before bed and to have that time for family and homeschooling in between.  I know what's important to me and those elements shape the foundation of a happy Tina--they are the 'core'.

There were a lot of days where I didn't practice because I was too tired to get out of bed...but I'd feel it by day's end, which encouraged me to assure that 'those' days were fewer and fewer.

There were many days where the kids had little direction from me for their lessons and our studies were sporadic and fragmented. This created a real come-to-Jesus moment for me, where I had to ask myself what's really important here?

I knew the answer--I was passionate about continuing to homeschool the kids, therefore, something had to give or I would let them down on a monumental level.

These insights and my personal rehabilitation following surgery resulted in shuffles and re-shuffles until I settled into a schedule that mirrored what I held dear to me. A schedule with time for the most important elements of what I considered to be a 'good' day.

But most importantly...hell, paramount to all of this is the compassion I show myself when the pieces don't fall into their neat little cubbies because sometimes they don't and if I come unglued, I defeat everything that I work so hard to cultivate.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Paul Hawken's Inspiring Commencement Address

Below is Paul Hawken's commencement address to the University of Portland's Class of 2009.

Commencement Address to the Class of 2009

University of Portland, May 3rd, 2009

by Paul Hawken

When I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was “direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful.” Boy, no pressure there.

But let’s begin with the startling part. Hey, Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation – but not one peer-reviewed
paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement.

Basically, the earth needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

This planet came with a set of operating instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don’t poison the water, soil, or air, and don’t let the earth get overcrowded, and don’t touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food – but all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn’t bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: YOU ARE BRILLIANT, AND THE EARTH IS HIRING. The earth couldn’t afford to send any recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here’s the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don’t be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Adrienne Rich wrote, "So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world." There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.

You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen.

Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way.

There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity’s willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider. "One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice," is Mary Oliver’s description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the living world.

Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots. Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown – Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood – and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the abolitionist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit. And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, and non-governmental organizations, of companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled inhistory.

The living world is not "out there" somewhere, but in your heart.

What do we know about life?

n the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. Think about this: we are the only species on this planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time than to renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can’t print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for the future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering.

Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.

The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe – exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a "little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven."

So I have two questions for you all:

First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body.

One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end.

Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would become religious overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead the stars come out every night, and we watch television.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, challenging, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn’t stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fact that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn’t ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hopefulness only makes sense when it doesn’t make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.

Gayatri Mantra

Upon collecting music for my yoga classes, I came across Gayatri Mantra sung by Tina Malia and Shimshai.

The more I listened to the musical variation, the more I was pulled toward the greater meaning, as I often am with mantra. I think that's the magic of Sanskrit--your soul knows the deeper meaning before the mind and because it resonates deep within, you are pulled toward a literal translation.

(Gayatri, the goddess)

The Gayatri Mantra is as follows:

Aum Bhur Bhuva Svah

Tat Savitur Varenyam

Bhargo Devasya Dhimahi

Dhiyo Yo Naha Prachodayat

Based on my preliminary study of the mantra, what I understand so far is that the Gayatri Mantra is also a prayer, one that petitions for guidance of the mind. A prayer for release from the trappings of ego--from cravings, desire, pride and attachment. A prayer to guide the seeker closer to enlightenment--closer to pure form and love.

When my greatest challenge is one of releasing attachment and the intoxication of my overwhelming sensory feed, this mantra/prayer found its way into my life, my frame of reference, at precisely the right moment.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

My face...

I notice, especially lately, that I carry stress or tension in my face.  I clench my jaw, maybe a crease in my forehead--an overall tightening.

My meditation today has been to soften my face when I notice.

I have had the blissful opportunity to spend the day alone.  Answering only to myself, coffee for one, meals for one, tea for one, movie of my choosing and reading at my leisure.  It has been why the scowl?

I noticed it this morning as I was reading my book and realized that, beneath the surface, I was stressed to 'fit it all in' before my alone time was over.

This raised my awareness to the happening and created a vow in me to release whenever I noticed it creeping up.  From here, I was drawn to the mat for yoga and meditation--I needed to unwind and let go of my expectations for the day and open to the possibilities of this sacred time with myself.

As usual, this practice created space...and time as I wasn't hurrying through my day feeling strained and depleted.  I mozied and it was so, so good.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I may or may not have mentioned here my reading of "Life is a Verb"--it's more than just a book. For me, it has become a manual for living, a suggestion for how to savor life, sipping it like a fine red wine after it has been carefully swirled in the glass, where every taste bud experiences the infusion of it's entrance and every cell captures the warmth.

Wow. That makes me want a glass of red wine. I'm not fancy. My favorite red is a table wine from a winery in St. Augustine.

I digress.

The chapter that I'm currently reading explores and encourages generosity and from this, I have garnered a new understanding and appreciation of generosity as a way of being in the world, not a way of giving to the world, at least not in a material way.

Generosity--hands unclenched, heart spacious, mind open and spirit free to take in, to receive, to experience, all while giving space to others for their own experience of life, their own unfolding.

The author, Patti Digh, writes: [Generosity] It has little to do with giving gifts, and everything to do with giving space to others to be who they are.

That's important. No. More than important, paramount.

Giving space to others to be who they are. Space to have their experience. Space to unfold.

This morning, following my asana practice and just before my meditation, my bhakti or act of devotion, where I dedicate my self, my practice, to something/s or someone/s more than me, beyond me, I prayed for such awareness, that in every part of my day, every moment, I would give this sort of space to others. I prayed for a generous spirit; a mindfulness to practice generosity throughout my day.

This self-work is important and necessary and comes about through discipline. I wish I could say that I naturally emanate an altruistic light...but I don't. But I want to. Thus the work, the devotion and commitment as necessary components of my practice.

The framing of all of this spiritual work as practice is so wonderful--you're off the hook for failure and positioned for a path.

Later into the chapter on Generosity, the author mentions the observer effect in Quantum Physics--how the act of observing affects what is observed and then she raises the question, "How are we changing the people around us by how we respond to them...or don't?"

Let that sink in a moment. How are we changing the people around us by how we respond to them or don't respond to them?

When you pretend not to see someone because you don't want to muster conversation. When we refuse to allow a merge on the interstate or follow too closely when it's forced. Conversely, when we kneel to a child's level and look them in their eyes as they share something important and wonderful--how are we changing them and thus, creating an 'experience'? We become creators of reality.

I especially like how Digh went on to phrase the question for readers:

How do we hold presence for others?

Wow--what a sacred responsibility, to hold presence. To, in that space of holding presence, create space for the person or persons you are sharing it with. To ask nothing of them but only offer to them, your self, your time, your attention--to commit to the moment or period you are sharing.

How do we do this? Easy, man...easy. Look people in the eyes and see them. Listen to their words and hear them, even what they don't say. Touch when invited or welcomed. Practice, there's that word again, practice compassion and get better at it every time. Through discipline and commitment, cultivate an altruistic way of living and serving.

True compassion is not just an emotional response, but a firm commitment founded on reason. Therefore, a truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change, even if they behave negatively. Through universal altruism, you develop a feeling of responsibility for others: the wish to help them actively overcome their problems--Dalai Lama