Slow down enough . . .

to follow the clouds

drifting by, caressing the

floor of the sky,

 

to hear the gentle

whistle of the breeze

as it reminds to listen,

 

to notice the tide

recede into the womb

of the ocean .

 

Slow down enough

to watch the moving

branches of a tree,

like batons conducting

the symphony of the birds,

 

to contemplate the changing

shadows of the light

imprinting filigree

on the ground,

 

enough to perceive the

different shades of green

that adorn the landscape.

 

Slow down enough

to discover ladybugs

winding playfully

down grass blades,

 

to observe the crow

bravely challenge the hawk

in an open meadow

high above the

reach of the trees,

 

to catch the bugambilia

flowers flutter like butterflies

when they are nudged

by the wind.

 

Slow down enough to track

the snail’s path

as it trails the

sun’s shadow,

 

to distinguish the endless

trills of the Mockingbird

and the warbling

chirp of the Finch.

 

Slow down enough

to feel alive!

 

Why Would Anyone Do Yoga?

Transformative lessons I have experienced through my Yoga practice

Release so you can deepen the pose.  When I force my body, I create resistance.  In the same way when we don’t listen to our hearts and intuition, we create energetic resistance to whatever it is we are engaged in.  Releasing means letting go of what does not serve us, and allowing space to welcome what we deserve.  You release, in order to deepen the experiences you have in life, whether it’s presencing the blooming of a rose, recognizing the miracle of every sunrise, or recognizing the soul of every person you come in contact with.

Releasing negative emotions and thoughts is also about letting go of what no longer serves us.  The law of attraction states that whatever it is that we think about and focus on is what we attract. Our thoughts are like signals we send to the universe, and in turn the universe receives these signals as messages of what we would like to experience more of.  So if we are constantly drowning ourselves in negative thoughts, we are only going to continue to attract negative circumstances.  When I release, I can accept the beauty and joy of life.

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Let the breath guide you.  You wake up in the morning, dart from your bed to the shower, pour coffee in your to-go mug, all while simultaneously running through the perennial to-do list.  You take a look at your watch and you have to leave in 5 minutes, so you quickly grab something you can eat in your car, remembering to also grab your phone, house keys, purse, oh yes and your coffee mug.  Breathing is an automatic function, so you probably don’t even recognize that you are breathing, let alone that your breath is shallow.

My yoga teacher always tells us to not compromise our breath for the pose.  How I breathe says a lot about how I experience a posture, and life. The fluid flow of breath is what teaches me to also go with the gentle flow of life.  When you have awareness of your breathing, you also have awareness of your life, your thoughts, and your emotions.  When I breathe deeply, I bring consciousness to my being and ensure that every part of my body is getting the oxygen it needs, including my cells. With ever breath, I feel energized, present, and alive.     Breath is the essence of life.  In yoga breath is linked to Prana – the life force that flows through all living creatures; it is the force that connects us to our source of being and to every other being in the universe.  Breath anchors me in truth, allowing me to become more conscious of my actions  and slowing me down enough to recognize the beauty in life.  And when I sit still, I can feel God in the brief pauses that occur between inhale and exhale.

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Lead with your heart.  What if they say no?  What if I mess up?  What if I don’t remember what to say?  I hope I can do the presentation?  This is way beyond what I can do.  They are so much better at this than me.  What if they don’t like me?  What if they don’t agree with my ideas? I wish I was as pretty as . . .   I wish I was as smart as . . .  I’m not qualified for this.  I don’t have what it takes.  This is all the madness of the MIND when it is left unchecked by the HEART.  In the mind lives the EGO, the part of us that is constantly in fear of not “being good enough.”  The dictionary defines ego as self-esteem, self-worth, self-respect, and self-confidence.  Unfortunately the ego bases its worth on accomplishments, status, and accumulation of wealth, so when we don’t have these things, the ego tells us we aren’t worthy.  It creates unsubstantiated fear to protect itself from feeling worthless and undeserving.  Our minds are in a constant state of worry, anxiety, fear, and depression – in a constant state of suffering.

Our Heart is where it’s at!  In yoga, when I am doing a seated forward bend, my natural instinct is to lead with my head, creating a curved back.  The goal is to keep a flat-back, and in order to do that, I must use my heart to guide me forward.  The society we live in has put so much emphasis on the development of our minds, we have forgotten the voice of our hearts. Our hearts know that we are worthy simply because we are a manifestation of the beauty of life.  Just like a flower does not have to prove its beauty or its place in this world, neither do we.  Our hearts teach us to love ourselves, to have compassion for ourselves, and most of all to be gentle and kind with ourselves.  It is forgiving and all accepting.  It is all that the ego isn’t.

The times in my life when I have faced difficult decisions, my mind has usually been able to rationalize and find logic in every decision I was potentially faced with.  So, I learned to trust my heart to guide me.  Sometimes the answers that my heart gives me seem illogical or irrational, to the ego that is, but I know that while my mind holds the content of my life, my heart is the essence of who I am.  It’s taken time to trust the heart; at first it feel like a war with the ego, a very painful war.  But as I have embraced my heart, I have also come to embrace peace, joy, creativity, inspiration, courage, vulnerability, and all the things that make life such an incredible journey.  I have also learned that the mind is a beautiful and brilliant part of me, but only when it is guided by my heart.

Let go of your dependence on the eyes… Trust the vision of the heart, where the spirit dwells… Dreams are told in the language of the soul…  – Frank De Jesus Acosta.

Modify.  My teacher always tells me that in order to get the full benefits a pose has to offer, I have to modify it if the posture is not aligning with my body’s abilities.  If something does not feel right, change it.  There is nothing that says things must be done a specific way.  If it doesn’t work for you, modify it or release it!  The point of life is to enjoy it and bask in all the beauty it has to offer.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I decided we no longer wanted to be home-owners.  At first it was quite scary because it went against our belief system of what it meant to be successful, to have security, and to be a family provider.  Our home had become a house from which many of our financial and emotional problems stemmed.  We had become trapped by our own belief system.  When we modified our belief system, we understood that renting would bring us the peace and harmony we were looking for in a home.

Modifications are just a way to adapt and transform experiences that enhance our lives and create harmony in our interactions with all that exists around us.  My compass has always been to let go of that which makes me feel trapped, and welcome that which brings me an extraordinary sense of liberation and lightness. I remind myself, often, that I always have a choice, even in the most disparaging circumstances.

Release (or modify) every circumstance, every condition, and every situation that no longer serves a divine purpose in your life.  -Iyanla Vanzant

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Accept where you are.  Believe it or not you are where you are suppose to be.  All the experiences I have lived have brought me to this moment in time.  In every relationship I’ve had, in every circumstance I have been in, in every condition I have created in my life, there has been a lesson I’ve needed to learn.

This is not fair.  This should not have happened to me.  I don’t deserve this.  Why me?  Why is life so cruel? Acceptance is what’s created when we stop resisting, and surrender to life.  I used to confuse acceptance and surrender with giving up.  But that’s not what that means at all.  Acceptance means we stop fighting our reality and we start working with it.  We have a tendency to resist whatever is causes suffering in our lives – we don’t want to have it, so we fight against it.  The more we fight, the more the problem, circumstance, condition, or situation that is causing the suffering magnifies, therefore intensifying the suffering; very similar to when a muscle tenses up before a vaccination.  No one deserves the awful experiences that occur in our lives.  And of course we are human, and when something traumatic and painful does happen our natural tendency is to resist it.

Observe and be aware of your state.  Whatever you are feeling is connected to a more profound aspect of your transformation and growth.  When I accept the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual place I’m in, I am better able to move through the process, because I can start from an authentic place of knowing.  Then instead of focusing on the suffering, I focus on how I can best approach the situation, opening space for more light and peace in my life. And usually when my heart is open, I am able to find solutions or perceive experiences in ways I did not think were possible. When I accept, I can release what no longer serves me.

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Soften so you can be more comfortable in the pose.  This is what my yoga teacher always says.  A few days ago, I got excited because I was doing a forward bend and I could almost touch my head to my legs.  Of course my ego got in the way, and I pushed harder than I should have, creating tension and resistance in my hamstring.  Needless to say, I hurt myself and now I am walking around sore and unable to engage my hamstrings for a few days because I have blocked energy in that area.  In Yoga, the discipline is to soften the muscle, so it doesn’t create resistance, allowing the body to naturally melt into a deeper extension of the pose.

I once heard a friend describe her heart as being surrounded by a concrete shield, created to protect it (her) from all the pain and trauma she had endured.  This is a natural reaction, to protect ourselves, to become hard and resist.  Like my hamstring, the heart is a muscle that needs to be softened in order for us to melt into more profound extensions of ourselves.  It doesn’t mean I am not going to experience the pain; what it does mean is that rather than living in a place of suffering because I am resisting the pain, I am able to move through and past the pain.  There is an analogy that so beautifully describes this process – “The Tiny seed knew that in order to grow, it needed to be dropped in dirt, covered in darkness, and struggle to reach light.”

Vulnerability is not easy, and so often we confuse it with weakness. However, vulnerability is much the opposite of weakness – it is the strength and courage to face the pain, and grow from it.  When I create shields, resistance, to the pain, I actually end up wallowing in it.  I can’t move beyond the pain without going through the pain.  A concrete shield would wilt a rose.  It is only when the softness of the rose is touched by light that it unfolds into the beautiful being it is meant to become.

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It’s a process. There is no end, because we are constantly transforming and changing into a higher version of ourselves.  When I focus on the end, I tend to rush through things and miss the lessons I am supposed to learn along the way.  Every experience leads us to discover something new about ourselves.  The process of self-discovery is never-ending because we are always evolving and always transforming, like the trees,the mountains, the flowers, the animals, and the soul of the universe.

For as long as I’ve been doing Yoga, there is always a new pose, or a deeper extension of a pose, but Yoga isn’t just about how flexible I am or how long I can hold a pose; it is about all the lessons and discoveries I’ve made about myself.  It is about transforming physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  Being present in the process of life means embracing both the pain and the happiness.  It means being alive and embracing every emotion, thought, and experience that makes us human.

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Don’t let a day pass you by, without feeling your aliveness!

In Stillness, I Am

 
 

Laying on fields of silence

breathing sun wedges

sweet pea warmth on cheeks

 
 

Moons and stars meditating on

Lakes of glass

wrapped in velvet purple

Internet photograph

 

Crystal droplets of lavender rain

gently cradled

in emerald petals of tarty soil

 

Indigo mountains framing the skies

robust muscular limbs

divinely guarding the earth

Spirit of Oak

Extending arms of compassion

in the knowing

of its oneness

 

Inward quiet

consenting to

heart echoes of conscious

wisdom and spiritual presence

Stillness

to recognize

God

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Photographs taken at Mt. Madonna Center by Maria Cristina Malo

i have arrived

Each step I take is my destination.  I AM here now – not in my past, not in my future, only now.  Whatever my journey is, I believe I am where I am supposed to be.  Everything I have lived has led me to this moment and in accepting this moment, I am whole. This certainly does not mean I will not continue to change and evolve – it just means I love myself for who I am now, not on the condition of who I will become.

Walking meditation teaches me to feel the firmness of the earth. It is the foundation to the strength that is within.  In order to make space for peace in my heart and invite peace into my life, I have to make time for peace – make time for stillness so that I may listen to the whispers of the universe.

My freedom comes from my Being.  I must allow myself to be without judgement or restriction.  In being, I am doing what I was always meant to do.

The less burden I carry, the more I surrender to the wind as it carries me gently with compassion.

Like a tree, I am  rooted to the ground, so that I never forget to come home.  As a bird flies to experience the gift of its freedom, so does it come back to shelter and nurture amongst the trees.

My breath is my anchor for the storm within.  When I observe my breath, everything settles into an ocean of peace and the space for love surrenders to love. My breath takes me within – it brings me home.

My breath cultivates the blooming of my heart.  Our hearts are like a garden that must be tended to daily.  Underneath are seeds we cannot see.  Some seeds sprout into weeds and some bloom into beautiful flowers.  We must ensure we are pulling the weeds and nurturing the soil.  And the blooms will come unexpectedly, like the gift they are.  The work must be done daily or the heart will be entangled with weeds. The night before these flowers bloomed, a Monk had walked by the bare stems.  The next morning his eyes received the gift of these beautiful flowers.

I can choose to see myself as water in a cup separate from the ocean.  Or I can see myself as part of the vast ocean of life.   When I make opportunities to enter into realms of peace, I am creating and widening the space for peace in my heart.   And when I see myself as part of the ocean of peace, I begin to understand the purpose in my being.  My being propels me to a clear vision of what I am suppose to do with my life.

Look around –  this is what life has to offer in its utmost beauty.  It gives its all without asking for anything in return.  Yet we continue to hope that it will get better.  It can’t get better because it’s already perfect.  What we think will make our lives better, really won’t. In this moment exists the greatest capacity for love, for happiness, and for peace.  In this moment exists the greatest opportunity to rejoice.

The universe gives us the sun to warm our fears, the moon to  cool our anxieties, flowers to calm our breath, sky to give us a vision, trees to see the wind, rivers to hear the rocks, and smiles to feel our hearts.  And when we smile, the universe receives our love.

I spent a great portion of my life improving what I do and what I have.  I’ve worked hard to obtain a college degree and fulfilling jobs, improved my skills and talents, purchased things that made my life more comfortable and effective, traveled in the hopes of learning more about the world and myself, and accomplished many goals that would deem my life successful.  Somewhere along the way, however, I realized that I needed to get in touch with a deeper part of myself. I decided to improve who I was (am) rather than what I did or what I had by being more compassionate, caring, loving, and peaceful.  So I began to spend more time Being rather than doing.

 Be still.  Listen.  Listen for the instructions and you will be propelled forward.  When I am still, my vision becomes clear, my courage unwavering, and my determination relentless.  In stillness I no longer have fear of what is to come because I trust that my spirit will guide me to where I need to be.  I am learning to surrender to the silence instead of being in control of the noise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographs taken by my daughter Carmen and I at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California.

The Mirror Doesn’t Lie to You

Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror, stared into your eyes, told yourself you were absolutely perfect and beautiful?  And believed it?

The mirror doesn’t lie to you.  So a few years ago, I stood in front of the mirror, the truth laid bare, looked into my eyes, and I declared, “You are beautiful.”  The mirror didn’t lie; in my eyes I could see that I didn’t believe it.

My mind was my worst enemy.  It was the only entity in my life that was constantly attacking me.  You are worthless.  You are not good enough.  You are not smart enough.  You will never make it. You aren’t deserving.  Who do you think you are?  What if you fail?  What if they don’t like you?

I’d look in the mirror and notice how one side of my nose was slightly higher than the other; the enlarged pores on my face; the softness around my belly that pressed against the bathroom sink; the cellulite like dints to an already injured self-esteem; the stretch marks like overweight scars and wounded perfection; and my untamed hair like wiry knotted up black thread.  I would look in the mirror to attack myself.  It’s just Fucking crazy how harsh and poisonous we are to ourselves.

Where were these self-destructive thoughts coming from?

Maybe some of it came from commercials like Revlon that promised foam foundation for a poreless finish; shampoos and hair straightners that promised smooth silky hair; flawless women on TV and magazines concocted by weird science notions of perfection; and cultural and social norms that weighed in heavily on choice of hair color, skin care, nail care, clothing, etc.  During my visit to Philippines this past summer, I observed most skin care products were advertised as having skin whitening agents, and I wondered what kind of self-destructive thoughts this created in a society where so many were already struggling to maintain their dignity among so much poverty and injustice.

Maybe some of the self-destructive thoughts came from the degree of rejection I had experienced in my life.   To understand how an experience in my life affects me profoundly, I must dig beneath the pain of the experience.  At the root of each experience is a message of worthiness or worthlessness; of belonging or exclusion; of acceptance or indifference. My father’s criticism and absence served to remind me that I wasn’t good enough.  The poverty we lived in showed me that I wasn’t deserving.  The anger and violence that surrounded me screamed that I wasn’t special enough.  The uneventful birthdays silently seeped in as worthlessness.  My poisonous mind never let me forget.  It continued to attack me.  Some of it, I didn’t even know was happening inside of me – I wasn’t aware because I wasn’t connected to my spirit.  The two aspects in my childhood that kept me from complete self-destruction were the love that my grandmother poured into me, and the constant encouragement I had from the man I would come to know as my father.

Maybe it came from not being able to forgive myself, because without knowing it, I was my worst judge.  I needed to learn to forgive myself for the time I punched my mother with fists of anger and resentment as we tussled on the ground like enemies.  I needed to learn to forgive myself for the times I treated my grandmother with less than veneration; for using her vulnerability as a punching bag.  I needed to forgive myself for robbing Carmen of a father for the first ten years of her life.  I needed to forgive myself for not being there when my brother Alex most needed me.  I needed to forgive myself for the few moments of insanity when I unleashed my anger against Carmen.  I needed to forgive myself for the abuse I had inflicted on David.  I needed to forgive myself for the abuse I had inflicted on myself.

Maybe some of it came from a male dominated world that shaped me to not trust my feminine spirit, and to trust this insane mind that was my poison.

I came to understand that it was all of it.  The truth was I needed to learn how to love and accept myself before I could believe that I was beautiful.  I needed to quiet the noise that distracted me from my spirit and kept me from discovering the love that existed within me, so I began doing things in silence.  I wasn’t use to the silence, so it was uncomfortable at first.   But something in me began to yearn for more of the silence.  There was a calm solitude that accompanied the quiet.  I could hear things that had often been drowned by the noise of the business in my life – the whisper of the wind, the rustling of the leaves, the singing of the birds, the quivering of the grass, the silence of the mountains, the vastness of the sky, the journey of the water.

The silence allowed me to notice the surrounding beauty, and I started to feel the beauty inside of me.  I welcomed stillness into my life, and absorbed more of the beauty.   If you take a bowl of muddy water and allow it to be in stillness, the mud will settle at the bottom and the light will sparkle through its transparency.  After a while, I started closing my eyes and listening to the whisper of my breath, the singing of my heart, the silence of my soul, and the vastness of my spirit.  I was filled with beauty.

My hair dresser once told me, “There aren’t ugly women, there are only women who have neglected themselves.”  No hay mujer fea, solo mujer descuidada.  One of the most powerful messages I learned from my Tita, was the message of dignity, to have self-worth.  She struggled with her sense of identity and self-worth for a greater part of her life, but in her latter years she came to understand that the love she poured into others, she needed to pour into herself.  Loving herself meant she made time to get health appraisals and follow up with her doctors; instead of always lending money to family members, she began using it to travel and discover new adventures; and she never stopped feeling pretty.  She never got too old to dye her hair red, wax her eyebrows, get fuchsia pedicures and manicures, wear  jewelery that shimmered like flowers in spring, or dress fashionably; not even too old to wear a cute bathing suit.  The love she had for life and for herself was manifested in her colorful and bold appearance, her robust yet dainty walk, and her sense of adventure.  She was beautiful outside because she was beautiful inside.

We all have to find our own beauty.  About a year ago I decide to allow my greys to bloom again.  I love them!  Does this mean that because my grandmother dyed her hair she didn’t really love herself or embrace her natural beauty – absolutely not.  It is up to me to understand whether I am whole or not.  I know that if I am not whole, dying my hair will only give me a false sense of  beauty, but the real work will still remain at a spiritual level.  Attempts at a concocted beauty rather than the beauty that naturally grows from within will only get me temporary beauty.  I want to be my grandmother who despite  her wrinkles from working under the harsh sunrays, her arthritic hands, and slight limp due to four hip surgeries, still felt worthy and beautiful enough to make herself over.  She wasn’t vein, nor was she trying to hold on to some false sense of depleting beauty – she just wanted to look the way she felt inside.

I’m discovering my beauty on my own terms, through the love I am learning to draw from within.  As I discover the beauty within, I learn to be more comfortable and accepting of my exterior appearance, without needing to fulfill societal expectations of what beauty should look like.  Do I love myself enough that I could go bald and still think I was beautiful – I’m not sure.  The point isn’t to go bald simply to go against social norms; the point is that if being bald is something I yearn for, then I must love myself enough to be who I yearn to be and find it beautiful.  It’s a continued part of my journey that I am all too humble and excited to continue.   The measure of my beauty will always be whether I can stand in front of the mirror, look into my eyes and declare, “You are beautiful,” and  believe it regardless of my outward appearance.This April 22nd I will have lived 38 years.  And I feel more beautiful than I’ve ever felt in my life!