Mindfully Celebrating the Mundane and the Magnificent

Lying in the tent, loud thunderclaps overhead and heavy rain pounding the canvas,
one wonders what else there is to think about?

For the rain is relentless and intense and really the only thought is whether we will stay dry or not. The rhythmic loud sound is like a mantra and keeps one fully present in the moment. Camping in Zion National Park in southern Utah is a blessing. Stunning golden and salmon coloured cliffs and bare rock with distinctive ponderosa pines ring the canyon within which we remain. We spend our days hiking, creating with our cameras and relaxing with one another. Yesterday after our hike, I sprawled in the lazy river and felt the coolness of the calm green water as it gently glided over me. Yet today, the incredibly fast flowing river brings dangerous and deadly flash floods and the muddy brown water declares its unsurmountable power. Every moment in nature is an opportunity to observe constancy and change, to cherish wide open expanses, and to internalize the richness of this deeper reality. To be fully present, to go within, and experience something much greater than my self – this is in part what yoga means to me.


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We become so bogged down with the incessant details of daily living – the myriad of responsibilities, distractions and stressors to be managed. These are of course a natural part of life but the tendency to equate this busyness with meaning is a falsehood. When we are distracted by the fast pace, the to do’s, the external trappings, and the ever present information, entertainment and stimulation that technology brings us, we may lose sight of what is truly valuable, including the joy and pleasure of the simple things. If we stay stuck in the web of busyness and distraction, we may potentially squander the opportunity to celebrate our lives. The celebration includes the spectacular grandeur of our daily blessings, both large and small. We must not forget to celebrate the truly important gifts that we have been given – the gift of life, our breath, our health and our loved ones.

Yesterday, seated cross-legged among the trees in shade high up in the mountains, I watched the clouds as they continually moved across the sky, dancing their own private dance with the mountain peaks. This moving palette certainly makes for a far better viewing than the massive TV screens that are a constant wallpaper in our homes, doctor’s offices, restaurants and even elevators. I meditated on the changing light and landscape, and listened carefully to the gentle breeze, the rustle of the leaves, and the song of the bird nearby. I noticed the textures and shadings of the rocks and the mountains, and I appreciated the canvas of red rock, blue sky, and green trees. My husband was nearby with his camera, slowed down by his art. Refusing to give up film, and steadied by the tripod and his mind, he was an art form in this fascinating landscape to observe and appreciate as well. Celebrating a milestone anniversary together with the start of the Jewish New Year in such a magnificent magical place as Zion, feelings of immense gratitude, contentment and love flowed through me as the Virgin River flows through this sanctuary.

Yet the challenge when I am back in my normal environment is to remember to remain cognizant of what is really important and meaningful in small glimpses and moments of time: to breathe slowly and deeply with awareness, appreciating that each cycle of breath is a gift of the Divine, indeed of life; to focus with fresh eyes on our loved ones, to truly see them and listen to them with tenderness, respect and receptivity, appreciating their uniqueness; and to be present, moment-to-moment, breath by breath, celebrating the joy and beauty of each day.

As a yogi practising my yoga in both enclosed and wide open expanses, I recognize the sacred trinity – a finely woven thread as silken and delicate as a golden one – that runs between my mind, body and spirit. This thread is my sharpened focus that enables me to set my intention to remain awakened, and to celebrate daily both the mundane and the magnificent. Of course, the challenge is more easily met when settled in such natural and exquisite surroundings. So I will try to sustain these sentiments and my commitment to remaining mindful of that which has true meaning. In doing so, I hope to remain connected to all that is important and to celebrate the many blessings that comprise my life.

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Riding on the waves

Occasionally, my husband of almost twenty-five years will tease me by declaring that I am never in the moment. I think to myself, “And who is the yogi here? And who is the yoga teacher?” But when I separate his words from my ego, I get their meaning and I have to admit, if only to myself, that at times my husband is right in some of those moments in time! I am always appreciative of him and especially for his nudges and encouragement to me to keep evolving. Practising being fully present requires diligence and commitment as does remaining consistent in one’s yoga practice. When life gets in the way it is all too easy to slip from these practices but as greater symmetry is developed between life both on and off the mat, mindfulness envelops us in most of what we do. And herein lies the inspiration to keep plodding along.

For weeks, I have been struggling to figure out what feels right to write for my blog. I have missed my connection with my students through my written words, and even with myself through the creative process of writing. For during this past year various demanding situations claimed my attention and absorbed my motivation for writing, even at times influencing my yoga practice. Each challenge seemed to touch my body mind and spirit and brought me head on into the present moment. It dawned on me that writing about what has challenged me, what has sustained me, and where I am right now would make the most sense as I would then be sharing from a place of truth and honest intentions.

After returning home from travelling to India with my daughter last summer, I discovered that I had become afflicted with various intestinal issues and parasites. It took several months and various courses of antibiotics before I regained my health. My yoga practice was compromised because my body simply knew that it wasn’t interested in nor capable of moving in intricate ways. Recognizing that to everything there is a season, patience and acceptance guided me during this time of modified practise. In addition to these physical challenges, my family of origin became immersed in a very emotional business transaction. This stressful situation took an incredible amount of energy and time while I was concurrently preparing over several months for my role as a chaperone on a Holocaust educational trip. This journey was very impactful and truly dominated heart and spirit. While in Poland and Israel this spring with 300 sixteen and seventeen year old teens and eleven Holocaust survivors, we visited cemeteries, ghettos, death camps and death facilities, memorials and mass graves in forests. This was a deeply disturbing and powerful experience. As a chaperone on the March of the Living, I was responsible for the participants while simultaneously living history and experiencing these horrors through my own eyes.

On my personal march through these various transformational experiences something was required in order to manage it all. That something was my yoga. Thirty-two years of devotion to yoga practice has formed a foundation for my life and supports me with what I need in order to feel a sense of well being, wholeness and joy even while coming up against a challenge. Many of the lessons learned and the skills honed over the years from yoga practice enabled me to successfully navigate through the turbulent waters I faced during the past year. For yoga has taught me how to remain present and centered for the ride and I am able to do this because my life and my yoga merge into a single path. When I am riding on the waves I move completely into the present moment. It is my belief that in ways well beyond my comprehension, I was also being asked during the past year to simply trust in the universe and to trust in the Truth.

Processing these recent impactful situations will take a long time. However, finding my passage onto the yoga mat and back to the keyboard feeling inspired and excited, it seems that my creativity is again being sparked. This makes me very happy for I have longed for stillness and solitude and presence in moments that are unbridled with external stressors. By tapping into an authentic and honest place, I can remain true to myself, listen and nurture my spirit and sit still for my creativity to surface. Thus, yoga, mindfulness and creativity are all practices that are inextricably bound to every aspect of my life and for this I am most grateful.

Remember, the door to the sanctuary is inside of you.”

– Rumi

The Joys and Rewards of Living Life through Yoga

Yoga has provided a baseline and a framework for my life. For the past 30 years, I have never missed a day of yoga practice. I view my world from the yoga ‘lens.’ Yoga is so much more than just the physical process. It has enabled me to integrate all aspects of myself and to strive to live an authentic life in which work, family and personal needs merge and balance.

The yoga philosophies, both ethical and moral constraints, the lifestyle of moderation in diet and all endeavors, walking the middle path, interacting without judgment and with compassion, and understanding the interconnections among all living things are just some of the ways in which yoga permeates and guides my actions and thoughts.

Through my yoga practice, I have been able to create time for myself. While savoring the solitude, the practice provides me with a balance against the myriad of responsibilities I face, as well as the hectic pace of life.

During my practice, I draw inward and access the ‘Divine’ within. I experience my creative spirit, and my intuition. It is from my inner core that I am able to experience my authenticity, my strength, and my stability. When practicing pranayama, or breath control, I connect with my breath, and with my inner organic body. From this point of stillness and integration I feel energized and calmed, and am thus able to interact with others with clarity, patience and compassion.

Yoga has been a gift of health to me in my life, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. It has helped me to maintain my physical strength and flexibility, to increase balance, coordination and grace. It has enabled me to move through three pregnancies with joy, awe and appreciation and has further assisted me in my acceptance of life stage changes and my transitions through them.

I am honoured to be a conduit to pass on the blessings of yoga to my mother, my three young children, and husband, and to my students.

Meaningful Moments in Muskoka

In their late eighties, my parents have also continually reinforced for me the understanding that yoga truly exists off the mat as much as on it, for countless actions of compassion and kindness are frequently executed by both of my parents. Many deeds of pure generosity illuminate the essence of my father’s spirit: his innate goodness. My mother’s devotion to him and to her family, combined with the ease of acceptance of health issues, reflects an individual who is accepting and patient, flowing with grace, and at peace within herself and her life. Unbeknownst to them, they are constantly practising Karma Yoga.

At the start of my vacation at our cottage, my son went to rest, and my father suggested a ride on the pontoon boat. Going along with my parents on this hot July day, we travelled very slowly along the water’s edge through three adjoining lakes. Cherishing the beauty of the moment – both the exquisite natural world surrounding us and the time spent together that late afternoon – I felt blessed. The lake was very quiet and calm, and we were too. Three hours later, we returned home. I was filled up with the sacred.

A few weeks ago my brother downloaded a Solitaire App on my iPad for my mother and it quickly became an ongoing source of pleasure for her. We have enjoyed watching her embrace today’s most current popular technology. Teasing her about her new addiction, or sipping our glasses of Amaretto, or spending a few silent moments sitting with my father as he pensively gazes at the lake, I am given invaluable opportunities to practise remaining present which arises authentically from my deepest essence. In so doing, I feel my vibrant connection to my parents. To sit comfortably in silence, to listen with an open heart, to hear their stories and share their memories, and even their dreams — these are golden times.

Yesterday morning my father shared with my mother, my husband and myself the dream that he recalled upon awakening. He spoke of his deceased sister, and the address “1188 Bloor Street” where she had run her poultry store with her husband. He stressed the address and was curious about the strong impression it had made on him. Intuiting it’s possible meaning I suggested, “1188: you were eleven when you moved to Royce (and Dupont), and you are eighty-eight as you move your office out from there.” His roots of seventy-seven years are currently being transplanted for the move that began a few weeks ago and is still underway. Possibly feeling uprooted, the address in his dream may have symbolized for him the importance of home, family, and neighborhood and of the significance of roots during the passage of a man’s life.

A mysterious and exquisite experience occurred during a recent Scrabble game with my mother. On my second turn, I discovered a six-letter word hidden in the tiles that was so personal and meaningful to my mother at this time. “I have a word,” I stated sheepishly and placed the tiles down. She then built on the word. We looked at each other and shook our heads in amazement. Perhaps the letters that I picked simply illuminated the closeness and connection that my mother and I share. Reminded again that all things are interrelated in beautiful ways, it is during these moments of compassion that I feel most seamlessly connected to the infinite energy of the universe.

And when this beautiful summer of 2011 stirs in my consciousness in years to come, my recollections will include remaining balanced while perched on the centre of the plateau watching my teenagers emerge into adulthood as my parents move through their senior years. Standing in Tadasana at fifty, I align myself and stand rooted in the unshakeable steadiness, grandeur, and peace of the mountain. I try to remember to breathe slowly, to love fully, and to remain receptive to the radiance of each moment. With this intention, I embrace yoga’s tenets and experience the contentment and steadiness that it teaches me. As I unfold my yoga mat to practise in the same spot at the edge of the dock that I have practised in for three decades, I embody the light, and the learning continues.

“Yoga is a light which, once lit, will never dim. The better your practise, the brighter the flame is.”

– BKS Iyengar

Embracing the two pillars: Silence and Stillness

Driving home from the hospital one evening in April, my cousin asked me in a mildly suggestive tone if I would be taking the summer off. My father had just survived his third heart attack in nine months. My answer was very quick and the decision was made without any conscious thought. Lacking any censorship, I spontaneously replied, “I guess so. Yes. I will take the time off.” My cousin wisely intuited – before I did – that I would soon need to seek the balance that I value so much in my life.

Chitta vritti nirodha
“Stilling the fluctuations of consciousness”
Yoga Sutra I.2

If I am to teach yoga with integrity, I have to implement the teachings in my life. Yogis are committed to consciously and regularly harmonizing their nervous systems. So I packed up, and headed north, longing for moments of silence and stillness. Arriving at the lake, I was as excited as a child opening up birthday presents. Home again, in the family cottage of my childhood. Here, the prana, or life force from the lake and the sky is intense. The changing light, the fresh air, the beavers and Canadian geese… this is truly abundance. Having chosen to disconnect from the usual bombardment of technology in order to reconnect, music plays occasionally but the television and computer remain off almost all of the time. The rhythm of the days is slow. Most importantly, in those special moments of silence and stillness, I feel peace, contentment and joy.

Each day as I kayak, and practise my yoga, I surrender to stillness. The many lessons of almost three decades of yoga studies arise in my awareness. In those perfect moments of unity between my body, mind and emotions, I feel my connection to the Divine spirit, and gratitude for the understanding that all that is really needed is found within. Objects may be beautiful and we do derive pleasure from them but to seek anything more from those sources is to miss the truth. For example, an old dining room table has recently been passed on to us. It has been interesting to observe others feedback (and even judgment) over our decision to leave the table uncovered in order to enjoy the luster of the wood and to appreciate the inlaid handwork. For some, the desire to protect the table for the future takes precedence over appreciating it in the present moment. Experiencing an open heart, appreciating beauty and creativity, living simply, and accessing and sharing all the love that is within, is what creates lasting fulfillment.

Absorbing the silence of the lake, the stilling of the fluctuations of my mind begins to unfold and to reign over the usual distractions. I begin to achieve inner stillness. I feel calm. These changes occur whether I am kayaking, meditating, or practicing yoga. Yesterday, I observed the same gradual relaxation in my son as I guided him through a yoga practise. The sun was soon to set, and the lake was quiet. We were on the deck. His first pose was a relaxation one, and as soon as he lay down on the mat and saw where he was, he liked it. In one of the final poses, he was lying perpendicular to the stairs, and right at the edge of them. He had a blanket roller under his neck and his head dangled freely, resting very lightly on a step. His view was inverted, his perspective changed, and he spoke of his pleasure. The time spent together was really lovely. He said “thank you” at the end of the practise; yet the gratitude was mine, and I felt incredibly blessed.

Silence. Stillness. These are magic words and they are my path to tranquility, harmony and balance. At most times they are a challenge to find for they are elusive. When found, they can be difficult to stay with or to experience. When I recognize that I need to step back, to honour the gift of life that I have been given, and to reconnect with all that is important, I pursue experiences that can provide me with both silence and stillness. In my pursuit of balance and well-being, silence and stillness are the two pillars.

Temmi Ungerman Sears

Learn to be silent. Let your quiet mind listen, and absorb.” – Pythagorus

Lessons of Truthfulness and Integrity (Satya)

Lately, I have experienced different situations in which dishonesty has upset the equilibrium of a normally balanced existence. Individuals can be robbed of their sense of trust – in the short-term, by means of words and manipulations, or in the long-term, by actions. Most recently, I had experienced verbal onslaughts and distortions of reality by someone who intended to be hurtful during a time of family crisis. Then, my Ipod was stolen from my beach bag in an area that had long been considered safe. This brazen action occurred right next to my husband and daughter who were both napping at the time.

Another incident that affected me in the past month occurred over a decorative bench. In my efforts to source one for our bedroom, I found a bench in an antique store and bought it with the understanding that I could return it for a full refund if not suitable. The owners also told me that the bench was from the Victorian era. When the upholsterer came out to provide an estimate for recovering it, a story of deceit began to unfold. He said that the bench was a replica from China, and that he could not recover it. When I contacted one of the owners of the store to inform her that I would be returning the bench as previously agreed upon, she now stated that her policy was “store credit only.” The money itself didn’t matter to me at all; the feeling that I had been intentionally misled prevailed and disturbed me. It was the blatant lack of integrity and truthfulness that I found extremely upsetting in these different situations.

Satya, meaning truthfulness, and honesty, is the second of the five Yamas, which are considered codes of restraint and self-regulations, and involve our relationship with other people and the external world. Sutra II, 36, of the second pada, or chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras states, “Dedicated to truth and integrity (Satya), our thoughts words, and actions gain the power to manifest.” Thus, for one who increasingly practices honesty or truthfulness in actions, speech, and thoughts, his or her will is naturally fulfilled. We are encouraged to practice exercising care in speaking truth, and that truth is concurrence between thought, word and deed. We are encouraged to be always mindful of the most important practice, which is to cause no harm. The same principal applies to practicing the other four Yamas.

These experiences, though very disheartening, remind me of what is really important, and how being ethical, kind, and honest is of utmost importance. My father has always said that a man’s word is his bond, and that there is nothing more important than that. As we learn to live in Satya, we become familiar with where truth and integrity lie. When someone chooses to take advantage of another, and manipulate circumstance in their favour without regard for anyone else, it is extremely disturbing.

As these simple lessons guide me to remain focused on what is meaningful and what is right, the bench has become a symbol of what platform I wish to stand on and speak from. The Buddha taught us about the Right Path, and Patanjali provided us with the Yoga Sutras. Though misled, set-up, and stolen from, these incidents were opportunities to view my path with greater clarity and purpose. In so doing, I renew my commitment to practise mindfulness and Satya every step of the way.

“Most people will not remember what you said or what you did. But they will remember how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou