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Opening Doors in the New Year

1 Jan

Happy 2018!  Well, time is rolling along and I can hardly recall where 2017 has gone. It’s fun for me to remember that while it’s 2018 for many of us, in Thailand it’s the year 2561 with a calendar based on the Buddha!  That was one thing that traveling always offered me… just when you thought a thing was “so” – it gave you an opportunity or experience to see that it just wasn’t the case.

I am here in Hendersonville somewhat bundled up with the chilly air outside.  It’s been a satisfying and at times quiet holiday season for me. While in some ways I am used to spending the holidays on my own with my years of traveling abroad, I find I tend to approach this season a bit tenuously not always sure what to do with myself  and in some ways just doing my best to “make it through” until it comes around next year. This year it’s been a pretty nice balance of connection and independence and I am grateful for both.

Last week I took just a couple of days to visit the Art of Living Center in Boone, NC to spend some time with the head of the organization, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. I first stumbled upon the Art of Living in post-Katrina New Orleans as they were there offering courses to support the community in the aftermath of the storm. Something about the energy of the organization caught my attention. I attended an information session to learn more and when the wife of a favorite minister joined the session as an experienced participant with the group, I knew I was in the right place.

I took their foundation course called the The Art of Happiness and their practice called the Sudarshan Kriya quickly became part of my morning routine. In the craze and aftermath of life post-Katrina, I took a little refuge in the peaceful feeling of this organization and periodically attended their evening long Kriya’s, gatherings and service opportunities.

That was over ten years ago. Since then I’ve been fortunate to stay connected with the organization and the practice. I’ve connected and practiced with local groups while traveling including Vienna and Kansas City.  To my amazement and delight, I was also able to attend their World Culture Festival in Berlin in 2011 while I was staying in Wettenbostel, Germany.

Sri Sri has brought yoga, meditation and practical wisdom to millions of people in over 150 countries. I was encouraged by a trusted friend to take their second flagship course, Art of Silence, in their European Center in Bad Antogast, Germany in 2014.  This was an opportunity not just to grow further spiritually through the framework of this course, but also to meet and share a little space with Sri Sri who would be at the European Center for a few days of the course.

Since that experience in Germany, I keep in mind that it’s a good idea not to miss an opportunity to be in Sri Sri’s presence and that is why I headed for Boone over the holidays.

Sri Sri was in Boone teaching an advanced course to students who had taken at least eight Art of Silence Courses (I have taken one) and have practiced with him for many years. The evenings were open to the public for chanting and an address from Sri Sri and that is where I fit in.

When I first arrived, making my may up the windy roads to this somewhat secluded mountain escape, who do I see walking solo down the road but a small Indian man.  Is that….?  I thought… and sure enough it was… it was Sri Sri walking down the road apparently taking some respite from the intense teachings of the day. What do I do?  Uncertain… I slowed down, rolled down my window, waved and said “hello!”…

At first, it was a bit of culture shock seeing this tiny spiritual man dressed in robes coming straight from the throws of more regular American life. But it was a good reminder to shift… to turn the dial just a bit and take things in a little differently.

With over 1000 students attending this course, I joined the busy dining hall for a modest meal of Indian fare, rice and dessert.  I sat with a few folks participating in the class who have been long-time students of Sri Sri.  They talked of spending time with him over 25 years ago at the simple Ashram in India and noting the many differences and shifts in their life since then.  I also met a woman who lives in Asheville, also a long-time student of Sri Sri, and a great reminder of some of the benefits of these practices in the long-term including a youthful spirit and demeanor.

Then I headed to the large meditation hall where I joined the 1000 plus participants as well as other guests, friends and family. Sri Sri eventually came and took his place seated on the stage up front. He didn’t speak for long, but his simple and refreshing words were a great reminder to me about this whole thing called life. He started by asking us to imagine all of the conversations we’ve had, thought, participated in, watched on tv… and then to imagine that we were separate from that.  And to consider that all of that, this changing world of conversation, beliefs and opinions, can distract us from experiencing the unfathomable joy and beauty found in our inner depths. He encouraged meditation as an important tool on this journey. All in all, he just reminded me that half the things I was worried about, considering, trying to figure out were in many ways distractions from the very opportunity he was talking about.

I left from my time there reminded of this. Of course I still think too much, still need to make life decisions and don’t always know what to do… but this simple message and his presence reminded me to continue to explore opening a door just beyond on all that… and that journey is always available to me no matter what I may or may not choose to do in this life…

And so, here I am, trying to enter a bit more gently and mindfully into 2018.  Sometimes gracefully, sometimes less so. Trying to not take all the conversations in my head and with others too seriously.  And just taking it from there.

Here’s wishing you a little extra dose of peace, happiness and well-being this New Year!  And may we all find that little door within us, in our own time and own way, that opens us up to greater gifts of joy, wisdom, peace, freedom and happiness!

Giving Up the Fever

20 Jun

givingupthefever2When I do things in life, I tend to do them in a frenzy. At times an urgency overcomes me and I can get lost in it.  The fever.  You know what I’m talking about. That feeling of “got to do it right, got to do it now” that shifts you from a basically happy centered person to something… less than that. Often, it’s not pretty. There is a lot of talk these days about following your passion. But recently I heard some advice that is worth reminding myself of… the importance of being dispassionate.

Shortly before coming to Thailand I headed to the hills of the Black Forest in Germany to attend the Art of Silence Retreat, one of the foundational courses of the Art of Living organization founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.  One of the many gems of the retreat was the presence of Sri Sri for one day at the Ashram.  The evening he was there all of us in the course and others at the Ashram gathered in song and celebration and then afterwards, as it seems is typical in his presence, he gave advice and answered questions.  One golden morsel he offered was “be dispassionate” and don’t be “feverish”.

I can think of things daily that fall into the feverish category for me.  Whether I’m feverishly rushing to prepare the next section of class in the midst of teaching, feverishly heading out the door in the morning, or feverishly writing my latest blog post.  Fever it seems is a regular visitor in my life. I am reminded to revisit my feverish ways and explore instead being dispassionate.

Being dispassionate isn’t about not caring or being lazy.  But it does allow for a certain healthy detachment and relinquishing the urgency and fever around the task or issue at hand.  It also supports giving up self-importance and creating a greater space of peace where “whatever” may be is okay.

Being dispassionate and giving up the fever isn’t like going on a diet or going Christmas shopping. You can’t check it off your “to do” list.  It does require paying more attention and bringing some mindfulness or awareness to our daily lives and beginning to notice when we are caught in the fever’s spell.

For me, bringing mindfulness to the fever looks something like this:  I happen to notice that I am feverishly in the midst of something.  I don’t try to change it or correct it. It is more like I simply observe it, notice it. “Hmmm… fever.  Yep, I’m being feverish.  That’s interesting.”  In my experience, simply bringing mindful attention to something dismantles its lock or hold in the moment.  Through persistent practice this pattern and behavior slowly begins to change its shape, like the earth slowly changing shape with the tide.

I will take this dispassionate crusade into my work this week.  Shine a little mindfulness on the frenzy and fever of the day and make way for some healthy dispassion. Dispassion gives us freedom to simply be with whatever we might encounter in the moment and indeed creates space to act in a more relaxed and conscious way.  Dispassion may even bring a little more fun into the situation (for those of us who tend to take things a little too seriously).

If you like, join me this week for a little dispassion exploration.  When you find yourself in a frenzy, bring some awareness to it and simply notice… “huh, frenzy.  Yes, there I go again” and see if you can laugh and smile at yourself a bit.

I imagine practiced dispassion can make for an easier week.  Simply adding a dash of attention in the spirit of giving up the fever.

Traveling the World with Anxiety

1 Jun

No, Anxiety is not the name of my spouse, best friend or significant other.  This is not the story of how Anxiety and I quit our corporate jobs and headed off happily into the sunset to see the world together.  But, in its own way, Anxiety has been a faithful companion.  When I first shared the idea of traveling the world, Anxiety was… well…hesitant to say the least.  Nevertheless, I put a few belonging in storage, packed up my bags, and Anxiety and I began an adventure together.

“Free spirits” come in all shapes, sizes and colors.  For me, my desire to have adventures and see the world is saddled with my own challenges with anxiety.  At its worst it’s been paralyzing, but in the daily rhythm and play of life it typically ranges from light to moderate.  Frequently present.  Notably there.  Anxiety.

The point is Anxiety (or fill in the blank with your personal flavor of challenge) doesn’t have to be the death sentence or curtain call on a life of travel and adventure.  I am not your typical traveler and I have learned to more peacefully make my way as I weave my life with new experiences, cultures, people, surroundings.  I take things more slowly, I plan things more carefully, and I allow plenty of time to be on my own.  I also make things like spiritual practice and healthy eating a priority no matter where I am in the world.

In truth takings risks and having experiences in new cultures is in itself an antidote for anxiety.  There is something healing about getting out of familiar waters and swimming in a world with a different syncopation from your own.  New and more liberating patterns begin to develop. The more I stretch myself, the more healthy risks I take and new successful experiences I have, the more peaceful this life with Anxiety becomes.

I can still remember my first major breakthrough I had traveling with Anxiety.  I was working and living at a seminar house in Germany.  Every weekend the house was filled with participants attending the workshop of the week.  Being surrounded by so many people on a daily basis sent Anxiety shooting through my spine.  Just the sound of their voices in the morning typically sent my body into intense nervous positioning.  Until one day.  One day I was lying in bed and when I heard the voices of the participants coming down the stairs, rather than be tangled with Anxiety I found I was… excited to hear them.  Glad they were there.  And so began the unfolding of transforming my life traveling with Anxiety.

Still today, four years later, Anxiety and I haven’t yet parted ways.  Anxiety hasn’t willfully gone its own way, packing its bags and going off to India or perhaps returning to the States. It’s still there, sharing my morning cup of tea, questioning my decision-making, planning the events for the week.  Undoubtedly our relationship has softened.  Life with Anxiety is easier, way easier than when we first left the States together four years ago.

There are some things I have learned to count on to soften the daily cry of Anxiety while I am roaming the world.  They are the first things that I pack and have become some of my new companions, ushering in more peace and comfort no matter where I am in the world.

1.  Reiki.  Reiki is one of my daily spiritual practices.  It is something I first discovered over ten years ago on a flier at a yoga studio in New Orleans.  Reiki is a very simple practice of connecting with a healing energy that is deeply relaxing and healing.  I am so grateful that after a nervous or challenging day or moment, I can simply lay my hands on myself and receive Reiki and much of that nervousness is just washed away.  If you’d like to know more about Reiki, you can visit my Reiki page or feel free to contact me.

2.  Art of Living Practices.  Ten years ago in New Orleans I took a class from an organization called the Art of Living founded by Indian Guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.  The organization came to New Orleans to assist the people with getting back to life after the impact of Hurricane Katrina.  I learned their foundational spiritual tool, the Sudarshan Kriya.  This is now a daily practice and how I nearly always start my day.  It melts away pain, discomfort and anxiety and puts me in a softer, better place.  Recently I attended their second course, The Art of Silence.  The course deepened my understanding and appreciation of their practices and also deepened my own spiritual reservoir creating a space for greater inner, unshakable peace.

3.  Healthy Eating.  It is a priority for me to eat healthy and balanced meals no matter where I am in the world.  I have learned that for me life with Anxiety is exponentially better WITHOUT SUGAR AND CAFFEINE.  Additionally, I find I feel better without eating any added preservatives or chemicals.  I also eat Gluten Free.  This is not easy on the international road, but it makes a big difference and truly is part of what makes this international life “doable” for me.  When arriving to a new country, I do my best to get the lowdown on the food contents there, to sniff out a few healthy restaurants and groceries where I can shop, and then begin to build a healthy food base for myself.

4.  Taking time for myself.  There is so much pressure in life to go, go, go.  But the truth is I feel so much better when I have time for myself.  So I do my best to create and allow for generous portions of time on my own without much on the agenda.

5. Yoga.  I first began practicing yoga in New Orleans almost 15 years ago.  It was my first step in using spiritual practices to soften and heal my personal and physical challenges.  It is something I have taken on the road and try to work into my daily life.  Even just ten or 15 minutes on the mat makes a difference.  Whether I am doing yoga in the fields of France, or in my room in Thailand, yoga is a constant companion and a place I can always come home to. Yoga classes have not always been available on my journey, so I have relied on my own personal yoga practice.  I check out local studios when available.  From time to time, I have also done a yoga class on the web from sites like doyogawithme.com.  My friend Miss Amanda at Inner Lift Yoga also has a great online video.

6.  Chanting with SGI Buddhism.  I began chanting with SGI Buddhism about four years ago.  I was invited to a meeting and couldn’t help but notice the powerful current generated from their chanting.  I was encouraged to try chanting for myself and chant for things I wanted in my life.  Surprisingly they easily flowed into being.  I began a regular chanting practice and it’s as if the current of my life is flowing more abundantly and heartily.  My daily chanting practice brings positive attention to those thing that are on my mind or that I am concerned about.  It softens the edges of my fears and anxiety.  And often it connects me with powerful community as SGI Buddhism meets all over the world.  Whether I am living in Vienna, Austria or visiting family in small town Missouri, I have access to the much appreciated community and support of SGI Buddhism.

7.  Supporting Others.  Finally, I have learned that it’s healthy to take time daily to focus my attention on others.  I mostly do this through my spiritual practices including sending Reiki to others needs or chanting for others.  I also enjoy taking action to support friends and acquaintances on their own personal journeys and adventures in ways that work in my life.  Supporting others rounds out the well-being of my life.

Anxiety and I, we’re not perfect.  We still have our challenges and ups and downs.  But I am so grateful that I “took the leap” and was willing to say “yes” to my sense of adventure rather than just “yes” to Anxiety.  With the support of family, friends and mentors, I followed my delight and inspiration.  It’s not always the easy road.  Often the challenging road.  But traveling the world with Anxiety…well… it has made all the difference.

 

 

Highlights

26 Apr

Time is passing quickly in Vienna as we have finally fallen into spring.  I can’t believe it, but my time here is almost up.  In less than a week’s time I will be leaving Vienna and beginning a new adventure.

In the meantime, I have been doing my best to soak up Vienna and take in the sights and sounds I don’t want to miss.  Life has been full with preparation for my impending departure as well as exploring Vienna and beyond. Here are some of the highlights!

 

Donauturm (Danube Tower)DanubeTower

We visited the Donauturm as part of the celebration of the fair Anne Marie’s 7th birthday. In addition to a meal in a slowly rotating tower with panoramic views of the city, we got an unexpected bonus.  It turns out they have bungee jumping from the tower.  No… we didn’t go bungee jumping.  Just watching people lean backwards and fall off the tower was enough excitement for me.  Unbelievable.  If you look closely at the photo on the right you can see a faint black line to the left of the tower.  That is a bungee jumper dangling in mid-air after their descent.  After completing their jump they were slowly lowered down to the ground.

 

Wiener-Symphoniker Konzert

Upon the advice of my hostess, I headed to the Musikverein to see a classical Vienna concert, something not to be missed in Vienna.  As tickets sold out quickly, I was only able to purchase a general admission ticket.  I arrived a bit early to see if I could buy a better ticket informally outside of the concert house.  Lucky for me a kind older man had an extra ticket as his wife couldn’t attend.  He was an Austrian man who was generous with introducing me to the culture and tradition of the Musikverein.  Our seats were quite good even though we were a bit clumsily arranged in a tiny space, shuffling our seats this way and that way to fit comfortably.  My “ticket salesman” and host for the evening said, “Austrians may not be the most organized but we have a lot of heart.”  And indeed they do.  We continued to watch the passionate concert featuring the music of Richard Strauss and Franz Schubert.

musikverein

Wienersymphoniker

 

Art of Silence Course, Bad Antogast, GermanyArtofLivingEU

It was almost ten years ago that I discovered the Art of Living.  An international spiritual and humanitarian organization, they made their way to New Orleans not long after Hurricane Katrina.  Their intent, led by Indian guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, is to teach practical techniques to assist with managing stress and emotion.  Over the years I have found their techniques helpful and the organization and leader filled with nothing but integrity.  I simply couldn’t pass up an opportunity to attend one of their pillar courses, the Art of Silence, held at their European Center in Bad Antogast, Germany.retreattrees

Getting there (and back) was a windy tour through many of Germany’s train stations. The lengthy but leisurely train journey was certainly worth the while.  Nestled in the hills of the Black Forest, the Art of Living Ashram was the perfect location for my 5 day dive into the Art of Silence Retreat which included a 2.5 day period of silence.  With 25 other participants from an international array of countries, it was indeed a juicy journey.  The experience has left me altered in a deep way and connected with something within me that is unexpected and cannot be replaced.  It was one of the most profound, insightful and healing experiences I have ever had.  I have a renewed spirit for my daily spiritual practices and a new set of tools to assist me on this continued journey of being human.

The founder of the Art of Living, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, made a one day appearance at the Ashram during the course.  An internationally respected spiritual leader who attracts audiences of 1000s, it was quite an opportunity to connect in a more private and intimate setting.  Just being in his presence felt like a gift and celebrating in a community with him was nothing less than pure joy.

 

Madame Butterfly, Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State Opera)

Opera1I didn’t want to leave Vienna without going to the Opera.  I have never been before and it was an experience in Vienna I didn’t want to miss.  And now I have seen an Opera… well, mostly seen one.  It was the Friday night performance of Madame Butterfly and all tickets were sold out.  I went to the Opera House on the chance that I could buy a ticket on the street before the performance.  I found an eager if not slightly crafty group of gentlemen selling tickets outside the entrance. I took a leap and bought a ticket from them and found my way in.  I was relieved at least the ticket got me in the door without anyone batting an eye.  I was disappointed in part when I was led to my seat.  The location was great, the second level not far from the stage.  The problem lie in the position of my seat.  I was in one of the small rooms that encircled the opera house.  It was filled with 6 seats, all quiet good except, unfortunately… my seat.  From sitting relaxed in my chair I could only see 3/4 of the stage at best.  How frustrating!  But in truth I took a risk in buying the ticket and the costs was not that expensive.  So, all in all, I was happy to be inside watching instead of not.

Vienna State Opera

Throughout the performance, if I leaned to the left… and on occasion stood up and leaned far to the right I could catch most of what was going on.  Not quite the relaxing trip to the opera I was hoping for.  But still the beauty of the opera, the music and the opera house itself were well worth the visit.  Unforgettable.

 

What’s Next?

And so, for now, I remain in Vienna grateful for a few more days here, but earnestly preparing for my next stop.  And while I am not yet going to share my next destination, it won’t be long before you will be hearing from me from my new location.

Bye for now from the warm spring days in Vienna as I prepare for a new adventure.