Magical Moments of Gratitude and Abundance

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Yoga is the flow of energy – within our selves and everywhere. For we are comprised of prana, the life force, and as yoga connects us to our selves we connect to prana. We are made up of our parents’ genes, our unique talents, skills and personalities, to the elements, to one another, and to so much more. With continuous yoga practice, one begins to experience the flow as it is as well as where it may be stuck in our bodies or minds.

Each morning during vacation I practice for several hours with the ocean as the backdrop. The sound of the tide connects me to the rhythm of my own breath and to my movements. For all yoga is attention training. As we focus on the ever changing flow of energy – of our respiration, in and out, of the elements of the pose and all of our subtle adjustments – we then stop, remain still, and experience the essence of the pose and the fullness of the moment. All dualities slip away and we are here. And here in the moment, I experience a deep sense of connection to everything. I feel such gratitude and abundance, and contentment flows, like my energy or prana.

My discovery of yoga in my early twenties was simply a surprise and a blessing. I have never wavered in my practice or studies since my first class 36 years ago. My awareness of consciousness and my appreciation of the vastness and beauty of the minutiae of the present moment continues to deepen as does the connection that I feel to the breath, the pause, the flow. One late afternoon I watched a lone swimmer quite far out in the ocean until my eye could no longer see him. As he vigorously swam for miles I knew that I was witnessing a most incredible expression of the mind-body-breath connection. As I watched his prowess, fluidity, rhythm, speed, and focus, I was amazed. I felt immense gratitude to observe such a incredibly beautiful moving meditation, and another example of the flow of energy.

Recently, I had a very meaningful dream. A white baby goat was the dream symbol that spoke to me as clearly as a bell ringing across a meadow. In my dream, I am sleeping and the goat is curled against my side next to Sarah, my black cat. As I am leaving my dream state and gradually awakening, I am confused and upset for I realize that it is only Sarah who remains next to me, in real time. In despair and still half asleep, I ask out loud, “but where is the goat?” All day the imagery of the goat stayed in my consciousness. I was struck by the contrast between the white and black and thought it suggested dualities. My husband suggested that I research its meaning. As I read I was excited to learn that dreaming of a white goat is a symbol for good luck and happiness and that it further symbolizes balance, respect and grace. But what I found really interesting is that the most common meaning is that of abundance and mirth.

Receiving my morsels along the path of yoga are like the crumbs discovered by Hansel and Gretel guiding them on their journey home. As I meander down my long and winding path tasting the rewards of yoga, I recognize that yoga has taught me devotion and has granted me many gifts: serenity, health, balance and joy. It has also provided me with a space to be – to find stillness and softness, strength and balance. From adolescence to middle age, from being single to married and through three pregnancies and deliveries, with the pillars of love and loss, wherever I am at in any given moment in time, yoga has been my Light and has ignited my own inner Light. I have learned to be present, to find space around my heart, and to connect with others, heart-to-heart. Daily I sit in gratitude and abundance. Perhaps my goat will come again soon to visit.

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Walk the Path, Live the Practice

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Keeping my yoga and mindfulness practice fresh and inspiring has been very important while sustaining my practice for almost thirty-five years. People often remark about my apparent “discipline” but I don’t see myself as disciplined. Rather, yoga is simply a practice that I consistently return to with awe and devotion. It is a practice in consciousness fostering a deeper connection with our selves while promoting a sense of grounded calm over reactive chaos. Through persisting with yoga practice, self-awareness is increased and is expressed through our actions and behaviors.

During the past sixteen months I have managed many personal challenges and losses including supporting a very dear friend with a rare and terminal cancer. Witnessing the drastic and turbulent changes that are occurring in the U.S. and around the world at this time is anxiety provoking. Recently, I even had a very disturbing encounter with someone at Cosco and his actions included keying my car door. Thankfully, my yoga and mindfulness practice helps me to pacify the inner turmoil and to manage many strong, unsettled and unfamiliar states of being including feelings of anger, sadness and angst. Through my own process of trying to make peace with myself through the practice, I try to inspire others to do the same.

I feel very fortunate to be able to guide others and help them with their various issues and conditions in both my group classes and private yoga therapy sessions. The Eight Limbs of Yoga propose a gentler code for living soulfully. The yamas and niyamas remind us to connect with our true human nature, to try to live in peace, health, and loving harmony with everyone and everything. In actuality, the real benefits of the practice occur when we are off the mat when we can employ the tools that yoga teaches us. Today, as I observe the plethora of ailments that people of all ages suffer from, especially increased anxiety, stress and depression, I truly believe that the yoga and mindfulness path holds the key to so much.

Grateful to have received what I believe to be the highest quality instruction from many wonderful teachers with whom I have studied since 1982, including studying for a month at a time in India over a twenty-year time span, it is a privilege to carry on the legacy and the teachings. Studying at the source with the Iyengar family including the late B.K.S Iyengar, was incredible. I cherish the adjustments, instructions and feedback that Mr. Iyengar gave me when he chose to demonstrate on me or meet with me privately. In turn, I strive to provide my students with excellence in teaching, authentic connection, encouragement and safety.

The 13th –century Persian poet Rumi said, “When you start walking the way, the way appears.” I discovered meditation at age fourteen and taught myself how to meditate from a book while seated in a winged back chair in the family rec room. Drawn to yoga at age twenty-one, I experienced my first pose on an exercise pad at university long before yoga mats were available on the market. During four decades of study and teaching, my practice has accompanied and supported me through: adolescence, adulthood and middle age; three pregnancies and childbirth; raising my children while founding children’s yoga in Canada; and establishing YogaBuds, my yoga studio.

As we navigate the life cycle with a consistent yoga and mindfulness practice we are provided with so many tools to examine, surrender, accept and overcome our struggles and the unavoidable stressors that arise. Though we travel forward on this path, yoga simultaneously freezes time when going inward to tune in and experience a range of emotions and feel wholeness, clarity, self-acceptance, empathy and loving kindness. Similarly, saying Kaddish early each morning last year helped me to find acceptance and peace within as I grieved and missed my father. Approaching my daily yoga and mindfulness practice with an open mind and heart, I begin with the intention to joyfully greet the day with a recognition and sense of full abundance in my life. I also acknowledge and pacify whatever inner angst there is, feeling gratitude and contentment and becoming more wholehearted. To me, this is what it means to walk the path.

To stand steady and comfortable and face the horizon while feeling grounded whether in tadasana (mountain pose), or in sirsasana (headstand) or in a myriad of other asanas (or poses); to listen to, watch, feel and control my breath; to raise my arms as high as they can go…To bend and extend my body forward or backward; to turn and twist it, to lower my brain below my heart and feel humbled… To experience an incredible sense of inner spaciousness, internal peace and oneness with all things, nature, God and people…To practice awareness and mindfulness; to live guided by an inner moral compass; to feel gratitude, compassion and contentment, and to let go and find acceptance…To me, this is what it means to live the practice.

“Life means to be living. Problems will always be there. When they arise navigate through them with yoga – don’t take a break.” – BKS Iyengar

 

The Magic of the Yoga Mat

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Recently, several friends and students have shared with me their impressions, excitement and passionate praise about a book that has sold over 4 million copies worldwide. It is called “The life-changing magic of tidying up.” It offers practical advice for cleaning out your home and delivers a philosophy of owning things. I have pondered about its relevance today and have questioned why so many people seek inspiration and direction from a book to help de-clutter, discard and simplify. Always open to learning new things, I bought the book and though I read many interesting points, I found myself resistant to some of the ideas presented.

I believe that in the pursuit for minimalism, the value of the book is in learning about how to let go of your things which in turn is supposed to result in being happier. The concept is great but in my skepticism I couldn’t help but link the writer’s premises and techniques to the many values and lessons gleaned from yoga. For yoga practice enlightens us to many of the same teachings that the book advocates: letting go, detachment, gratitude, a sense of spaciousness and ultimately how to experience greater contentment and joy. In fact, the primary technique provided in the book for letting go is ask yourself if the object in hand truly sparks joy for you.

Both the tidying up process and yoga practice have the potential to be dramatically life-changing and transformative. The writer suggests that people should focus only on the present if they are unable to separate from their possessions. She further implies that the inability to let go of possessions is because one suffers from attachment to the past or has anxiety about the future. In fact, this is one of the main causes of stress. Yoga brings us smack dab in the middle of the moment in the present time and teaches us how to practice mindfulness of the moment and remain in it and also how to manage stress. The cleansing process (of our closet or outer world) is also like the inner cleansing of one’s mind and body arrived at through yoga, and each create an attitude shift and provide peace of mind. Both processes provide a path to a more serene home (the tangible one we live in and our own physical bodymind) and both result in a potentially calmer inner experience. So whether it is a clutter detox or a body cleanse of toxins, the tidying up process and the yoga practice can lead us to experience a greater sense of contentment and well-being.

Undoubtedly, the techniques provided in the book can assist someone in their pursuit for organization and happiness and help them to successfully reach their objectives; therein lies its value and the likely reason for the popularity of the book. Although it is interesting to observe the parallels between the tidying up and yoga processes, I can’t help but continually question why so many individuals feel such a strong desire and even a pressing need to create complete perfect order and orderliness in their environments? And why is it that for some individuals, feelings of calm and contentment are so dependent on one’s outer world?

 Of course, there is truth in the idea that material goods alone won’t bring us happiness. In actuality, the value is in learning how to let go of things which will result in being happier. And letting go is something that we can also learn through the practice of yoga whether it is through a physical release of tension or detaching from a sticky emotional issue or a mental construct. Santosha is the experience of unconditional happiness, a state that allows us to find contentment in any situation. We don’t have to search outside of ourselves for happiness or contentment is independent from external conditions. And yoga teaches us how to practice contentment and access the joy from within, not from something outside of ourselves such as from extreme organization or a totally de-cluttered room. For yoga ultimately guides us inward towards our own inner locus of control. Through remaining on the yoga path and staying present and committed to our practice, over time we learn to connect with our center, and experience clarity and calmness, quietude and true happiness and contentment. And to be really honest, I would much rather direct my focus on my yoga and spend my time with my yoga mat than on de-cluttering, discarding and tidying up!

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“From contentment and benevolence of consciousness comes supreme happiness.” – Yoga Sutra of Patanjali II.42

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.

“Are you happy in your heart?” Cultivating Samtosha or Contentment through Yoga

Recently, during a practise on the dock comprised of some simple asanas or postures, the late day sun sparkled on the quiet lake. And suddenly, a sensation of immense gratitude flowed forth. These feelings were for the universe for having provided me with all that it had over the past few months, and in particular to B.K.S. Iyengar. Just prior to embarking on my yoga studies in Pune, India this past June, I had experienced a very disturbing process with some members of the Iyengar Yoga Association of Canada and left feeling unsettled. It wasn’t the yoga process or the Iyengar methodology that was unsettling but rather the lack of yogic behaviors that was experienced first-hand and what I perceived as an apparent disconnection to the legacy that B.K.S. Iyengar was creating for his practitioners and teachers. My decision to try to share some of this with him during my time in India was made although I wasn’t sure how he would respond. Thankfully, he answered with kindness, compassion, support and guidance, and was my teacher in every sense of the word.

It was several weeks before I began to absorb the meaning of my interactions with B.K.S. Iyengar and to really appreciate the gift bestowed upon me by him. In these late day moments during my practise on the dock, when these strong feelings of gratitude spontaneously arose from my unconscious, I was touched deeply by the experience because the feelings that surfaced were honest, raw, uncensored, and welcomed. As I sat in gratitude, tears flowed for the understanding that Grace had placed me at the Ramamami Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute at this time. The understanding had evolved that B.K.S. Iyengar, or “Guruji as he is affectionately called by his students, was now truly my Guruji, providing me with exactly what was needed – guidance and hope.

Samtosha or contentment is one of the five niyamas or personal practices that we are encouraged to use. The niyamas are one of the eight limbs of yoga. Ultimately, contentment is one’s responsibility and part of this task is to maintain a focus on the gifts that life brings us. Patanjalli’s yoga sutra “Samtosad anuttanamah sukhalabhah” tells us to cultivate contentment by bringing satisfaction to whatever unfolds and by accepting that there truly is a Divine flow of life even if it doesn’t always go according to our plans. This sutra (chapter II, verse 41) states that from the continued practise of contentment and benevolence of consciousness comes supreme happiness. This verse guides us and gives hope and joy and suggests that through following the path of contentment, happiness is indeed attainable. My experience with Guruji and my recent spontaneous response illuminates and reflects for me this sutra, and my interactions with him seem to have been connected to other things in a unified and profound manner.

During the day at different times I attempt to focus on my blessings even amidst the not so positive moments, and then to touch down and sit with gratitude even when I am not sitting down. Through our immersion in yoga studies, we learn how to remain present moment-to-moment, and to accept that which is unfolding, breath-by-breath. When we inhale, we receive the breath with an acceptance for this Divine gift of life and for what each moment offers. With each exhalation, we surrender and there is also an acceptance for whatever is occurring, including embracing equally both imperfections and perfections. When we remain cognizant of practicing samtosha or contentment, we develop the ability to remain present – and happy – with the circumstances of this moment. We become more willing to live in this present moment with acceptance of whatever it brings and to more easily let go of the desire or need to change anything or anyone or the wish for it to be different than what it is. Then we are able to focus on gratitude.

One of the outcomes of practicing samtosha or contentment is that the moments during which feelings of longing for something other than what is or those moments when coveting for one’s self what others seem to have occur less frequently. Naturally, from time to time such feelings do arise but through my ongoing practise of svadyaya or self-study (another niyama or personal practise), I am generally more able to identify when I am experiencing jealousy, greed or dissatisfaction or when I have succumbed to the temptation to look outside of my self or the moment in order to feel content or happy. With this self-awareness and understanding comes the opportunity to consciously choose how I will respond. I return to Patanjali’s sutras, and this one in particular, and recall his suggestion to simply be content with the “whatever”, thus living in joy regardless of what will next occur.

Yoga’s recent surge in popularity during the past decade is well timed for more and more people report feeling disillusioned, disconnected and discontented while also searching for balance and satisfaction in their lives. Although the more common physical benefits of yoga are experienced almost immediately, over time there are other subtle or not so subtle positive changes that occur. For example, in addition to observing when the previously mentioned base emotions of jealousy, greed and dissatisfaction arise, the tendency to react with greater acceptance for the way things are has developed. This change has been fueled by the belief that we are provided with exactly what we are meant to receive at any given moment and by maintaining a simple trust in the universe. These changes are also because of my committed practise of samtosha or contentment.

I believe that one of the most beneficial outcomes of sustaining a long-term yoga practise is the natural evolution of this practise of contentment, and the concurrent feelings of happiness and gratitude that are experienced. Simple phrases such as: “whatever”; “it is what it is”, and “it’s all good” have become more common in the popular lexicon and are spoken more frequently albeit at times in a seemingly flippant manner. But with the continual and ever evolving practise of cultivating samtosha or contentment, I have observed that these phrases have definitely become more entrenched in my speech and are spoken in a truly heartfelt manner. More importantly, through the practise of this niyama and the guidance of this sutra, I regularly experience samtosha and gratitude, and thankfully, happiness resides in my heart.


 “Samtosad anuttanamah sukhalabhah” (chapter II, verse 41)

“From contentment unsurpassed happiness is obtained.”


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

Awakening to the Divine Light – Thanksgiving weekend, October 2009

Some of my best yoga moments are not when I am on the mat.  Years of devotion to yoga have helped me to learn how to see that which is worth seeing and how to recognize value in what is really important. I am thankful to have learned how to be fully present in the moment and how to capture the experience with awareness, awe, and appreciation. The colours of the fall palette right now are at their warmest. They are stunningly rich and deep, and I simply love them. The crimsons and reds, ochre and mustard, rust, cornelian, apple greens, lime and dark greens – these colours are at once calming and inviting, and I am intrigued and excited as I stare unabashedly. Contentment and gratitude are my companions. Yesterday, amidst a sky of thick clouds, there was a fleeting moment during which the clouds separated and a small ray of light permeated through. The sun’s late day light cast it’s reflection on the water as it danced and shimmered across the lake’s surface. And today, when the sun emerged in the late afternoon, the light was again spectacular. As my kayak slowly skimmed the edge of the bay, I was enthralled by visions of the trees around the bay’s edge. In one section at the front of the forest three exquisite birch trees created balance and contrast. The environment beckoned me as I took in the glistening drops on the leaves from an earlier freak snowfall; the sun setting across the lake; the vivid torquoise sky; and the blending of a multitude of colours amongst the trees. Grateful to have the opportunity to be here as I brace myself against the bitter wind, I am a solitary figure on the water.  I steer the kayak around the lake on this cold Thanksgiving weekend, and it is breathtaking. The cold wind and fresh air are invigorating. The intimacy that I experience with nature and with God uplifts and inspires me. In viewing this masterpiece that is God’s creation, I understand what is meant by “the oneness of all things.”  The words of the yoga philosophies speak clearly to me. During my participation in a very challenging yoga Intensive this summer in France, many questions about yoga arose for me. Some of the clarity that I have been seeking as I explore what yoga means to me, and what I want from my yoga practise, came to me during my kayak rides this weekend. Some of the insights pertain to my asana practise and what it should be comprised of.  For many years, I have believed and have stated repeatedly, that what yoga truly means is living it each and every day both on – and off – the yoga mat.  This understanding continually deepens for me. Today I did my asana practise before my foray into the cold air.  My yoga practise, no longer about performing the asanas, later continued on the lake without any separation or break having occurred. Among the lessons learned from studying yoga are the understanding that what is really important is to open the heart to each moment; to share the fullness of that moment with those you love; and to be an honest, kind and good person. It is recognizing and appreciating the divine light in all. And, it is being fully awake for the ride. 2009