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11 Jun

What’s Your Purpose? Much More Than Your Job

The Mayan Calendar comes to a close, and many predict the end of times. But I see that 2012 is a year that promises change, new beginnings, a shift in thinking. We are moving away from the information age, and moving towards an inspiration age. And as we are transitioning our behaviors from those of consumers to those of citizens, we are looking at what is really important in our lives and asking ourselves big questions — such as: What is my purpose in life?

“Dharma” is a Sanskrit word meaning “purpose.” Dharma actually has 16 different translations, one of which means teachings, or lessons. This seems appropriate because in many ways, our life’s purpose is our lesson, and vice-versa. We each come to feel at some point in our lives that there is something important for us to do, or learn, or experience. We understand that there has to be something more than just living day to day. Another meaning of dharma is truth. As we grow in awareness, we seek to know truth, that deeper meaning to life, and what it is all about. We seek our dharma, to fulfill our purpose, to somehow have our lives make sense in the context of everything that is going on in the world.

When we talk about “purpose” it is clear that we each have our individual purpose — a reason why we’re here on this planet in this specific place and time — and that’s up to each of us to figure out for ourselves. Our purpose is more than our vocation. We can experience our purpose in everything we do, and everywhere we go.

In the west, we think of yoga primarily as a form of exercise. Although physical postures make up one branch of this philosophy, yoga in general is so much more. The Sanskrit word “yoga” means to yoke, or to unite. The purpose of yoga is to experience the connection we have with the divine. In Vedanta there are four different yogas, or spiritual practices, to help us to accomplish this feeling of connection. The yogas can be practiced individually or in combination, as each one balances and strengthens the others. Each one is a kind of path to discovering our divinity. We can map out our own course using our particular interests and strengths, based on the direction that Vedanta provides us.

The four yoga paths could be thought of as bridges, bringing us from a limited understanding of who we think we are, to the greater understanding of who we really are. These paths help us to be aware of and express our purpose, our dharma, through love, work, knowledge and meditation. Yes, we can, and do, learn through each of these paths. However our personalities will guide us more toward one path or another, so that we can focus our attention and use the strengths we have to understand these spiritual concepts in a way that makes sense to us.

Bhakti Yoga is the path of love and devotion. Bhakti is the love of all creation. It is about loving what is, without expectation. Through our relationships with people we can experience a greater awareness. There is a power, a positive energy that comes with love, that we can utilize for our spiritual growth. Vedanta explains that our love for others is unselfish and without motive when we can see the spirit within them. It is this spirit whom we truly love. So we can learn to look beyond the limiting qualities of the human to the transcendent qualities of the divine, and fully experience love heart to heart. Love is available to all of us, and it is an irresistible force! We spend our time, and emotions, developing a kind of bond with a person. Our energy goes into these connections, along with our emotions, our hopes and our human vulnerabilities. With Bhakti Yoga, we learn through our relationships, and through our primary relationship, which is with ourselves.

Karma Yoga is the path of work, or the path of service. This is work without attachment to the end result. Rather than working for a paycheck, it is performing the work we do as a spiritual offering. Karma Yoga teaches us that working merely for money, or promotions, or praise, leads us to disappointment, because we can never meet all of our expectations; it is never “enough.” However, working as a service to ourselves and to others allows us to experience spirit in everything we do. We are connected to our work, and the actions become effortless. We feel that God is working through us, and this gives us both energy and peace of mind. We learn to love what we do.

Jnana Yoga is the path of knowledge. This is knowledge in the higher sense, knowing who we are, and being aware of our relationship, our connection, with God. Knowing is different than believing, it uses reasoning to help us shed the veil of illusion. Vedanta gives us tools to achieve this through affirmations that help to remind us of what is real, and to see the truth. Jnana Yoga teaches to become more discerning, recognizing the difference between what is temporary and what is eternal, so that we understand that we are pure, perfect and free.

We are all students, and we are all teachers. Our learning never ends. It is through this process of learning that we grow both intellectually and spiritually. We come to understand that the only thing we really take with us from this life experience is the wisdom that we garner. We learn to love what we learn and also the process of learning itself.

Raja Yoga is the path of meditation. By stilling the mind through meditation, we can experience more of our true selves. Raja Yoga explains that we need to settle down the mind, which is constantly stirred up with thoughts just as a lake is muddied through activity. When the lake settles down, the water becomes crystal clear, and so it is with our mind. This tranquil state of mind lets us think more clearly, and to see what is important in life. Through meditation we have direct experience of our connection with God. And Vedanta teaches us that we can integrate this experience into all aspects of our life. We don’t have to live in an ashram or renounce our worldly belongings. Our spiritual self is our true self and we can operate in society more effectively and efficiently when we understand this. We learn to love who we are.

There is wisdom to be gained from each of these paths. They all end up taking us to the same place, to the recognition of our union with the divine, to the discovery of our dharma, our purpose. The paths work in harmony with one another. We find that there are aspects of each path that we relate to. Yet quite often one of these paths will resonate with particular individuals more than the others. One will seem to offer a more clear direction, a more personal journey. All paths lead to the same destination. In Vedanta that destination is said to be an awareness of our union with the divine. We can see this as a deeper understanding of ourselves, and a greater wisdom that comes from experiencing our purpose. We learn to enjoy our lives, and embrace our dharma.

Take the quiz to determine your dharma, or purpose in life: What’s Your Dharma?

For more by Lissa Coffey, click here.

For more on yoga, click here.

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04 Jun

Bliss Is the New Black

If there’s anything that this downturn in the economy has taught us, it’s that our happiness does not depend on the money we make. We have learned to be creative, to downsize, to “make do” and to accomplish more with fewer resources. Like it or not, we have learned lessons from these experiences, and I venture to say that we are the better for it.

It’s even become trendy to shop in thrift stores, to re-purpose items we already have, and do partake in extreme couponing. It started out as a challenge, and it has developed into an art form. We blog about it, make TV shows about it, and have even begun to enjoy it! We have found a way to happiness through our creativity, resourcefulness, and ingenuity, and we are reaping the rewards of our efforts. We realize that there is an element of style in being frugal, a simplicity that makes us feel good. Bliss is the new black!

Abraham Lincoln, now experiencing a resurgence of popularity thanks to a new movie portraying him as a vampire hunter, said: “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” This is as true today as it ever was. Tom Shadyac, the successful Hollywood director famous for blockbuster hits Ace Ventura, Bruce Almighty, and others, had a personal experience that caused him to question what is wrong with this world, and to turn this quest for answers into a documentary entitled I Am. The big eye-opener in the film is that at a certain point our society veered off from being one of cooperation to one of competition. People started feeling the need to accumulate, to hoard, to get more and do better. Instead of acting as a community out for the good of the whole, we isolated ourselves into looking out for the good of the individual, often at the expense of the whole.

And yet, this did not make us any happier. Through much research Shadyac discovers that at a certain point, we really are about as happy as we make up our minds to be. A bigger house, more cars, more conveniences, all of the peripheral “stuff” that signals our success to the outside world, does not do anything to change our base level of happiness. In fact isolating ourselves, separating ourselves from the community, can even have the opposite effect, causing us to feel lonely and out of touch. As humans, we crave connection. The law of relationship says we are here to help each other learn and grow. We need relationships, we need people, to allow us to do that. In his film, Shadyac explains that the Aboriginals believe that to accumulate and strive for anything more than what you need to live on is mental illness. We need to look out for each other, not just for ourselves.

In the mid-1980s Joseph Campbell, mythologist, author and speaker, explained what it takes to be happy, and his philosophy can be summed up with the phrase: “Follow your bliss.” He derived this idea from the Hindu Upanishads. He said:

Now, I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence. Sat-Chit-Ananda. The word “sat” means being. “Chit” means consciousness. “Ananda” means bliss or rapture. I thought, “I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.” I think it worked.

And yet, also during the 1980s, we became familiar with the mantra uttered by the character Gordon Gecko in Wall Street: “Greed is good.” Reportedly, when some of Campbell’s students took Campbell’s bliss statement to be encouraging hedonism, Campbell came back at them with: “I should have said, ‘Follow your blisters.’”

We face the same sort of disparity in messaging today. If bliss is the new black, and our values are less on the material and more on the spiritual, than why are the Kardashians so popular? Their reality TV show flaunts an uber-luxurious lifestyle, complete with private jets and international family vacations. A 16-year-old doesn’t just get a Sweet 16 party for her birthday, she gets a blow-out catered bash at a chic hotel, her own brand-new Range Rover, and the whole experience gets made into an E! network special. All of the opulence comes at a price. The mother is a workaholic who explains her lack of presence by saying on camera “I’m working to keep us afloat.” The father figure disappears for three days to make a point that he has been largely ignored and no one notices. Family members show their love by calling each other names that I can’t repeat in a G-rated publication, and adults drink to excess and often act like children wrestling each other to the floor. And then there’s that million-dollar wedding that resulted in a 72-day marriage. The priorities seem to be, at least to the viewers, quite skewed.

According to Vedanta, life is the co-existence of opposites. We can’t have one without the other. It’s a matter of balance. We need to keep all of this in perspective and know that the choices we make, with our purchases, and with our TV viewing habits, make a difference. Maybe that’s why it is so disturbing to us when Oprah, the queen of quality TV and the arbiter of taste at her very own television network, chooses to have the Kardashians on her TV show. And as a part of the deal, supposedly, Oprah has agreed to appear on their show as well. In the interview with Oprah, the siblings say that they are indeed very spiritual, but that this part of their life isn’t shown on camera. Maybe this is what Oprah wanted us to see, that even with what seems to be the most decadent lifestyle, there is a flip side. I respect Oprah, so I have to trust her judgment. Maybe it was a savvy move. If it gets some Kardashian fans over to OWN, then good for her!

How refreshing it would be to have the option to watch a reality show about real people doing real good in the world. It’s not about what happens with pampered housewives in gated communities, or the black tie fundraisers. There are so many rich stories about what really takes place right in our own neighborhoods. There are heroes in our midst, with heartwarming, life-affirming examples of how to follow our bliss by helping others. If bliss is the new black, don’t show us the closets crammed with designer shoes; show us the moments of human connection, the relationships, the growth that takes place. That’s the real character arc. That’s what sustains us. That is what is real. Everything else is just an illusion, a version of reality edited for the sake of ratings. When presented with options over time, people will eat a balanced meal — we are compelled to nourish ourselves. It works the same way with the television, too. The media can be a real instrument for change. Then maybe we’ll see that bliss, like black, is a classic that never goes out of style.

For more by Lissa Coffey, click here.

For more on the spirit, click here.

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28 May

Prescription: Media Fast — Stat !

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As someone who has been called a “media maven,” and who participates in and contributes to practically every form of print and broadcast media out there, this is probably the last thing you expect to hear from me: Turn it all off. Unplug. Seriously. We — and yes, I am speaking for just about anyone who is plugged in at the moment — are desperately in big-time need of a media fast. I wouldn’t say this if I were not experiencing it myself.

How many times do we need to come across the photo of a celebrity’s mugshot? Are we really sitting on the edge of our seats waiting to learn the most popular baby names of 2012? Do we really care that a 40-something newscaster covets a 20-something model’s dyed blonde hair? How many times do we need to hear about getting in shape for swimsuit season? And yet, these are the kinds of topics that permeate the airwaves on any given media outlet, at any given time.

Social media serves an important purpose in highlighting and encouraging the connection between us all. And yet, it is also a place for idleness, a distraction, where the trivial meets the banal. Then, when our social media “friends” post their political viewpoints, respect and courtesy often fly out the window. This forum creates as much tension and controversy as any other.

There are literally hundreds of television networks. And there are thousands of radio stations to choose from, probably even more if we count all the new online stations. There are millions of websites to peruse. We hear the same thing over and over again — in different ways at different times, through different mouths. Tweets are pre-programmed, pitches are automated, and shows are rerun ad infinitum. There is never a moment when we aren’t presented with some sort of tap dance from some form of media. Even as I’m writing this I’m feeling overwhelmed, knowing that I’m just adding more to the mix. We are on information overload! It’s time for a reboot.

Silence. Do you remember what that sounds like? Silence is the antidote to all the noise we are bombarded with every minute of every day. We’ve gotten so used to the cacophony that we don’t even hear it anymore. I know many people can’t even get to sleep without the TV or radio on. When was the last time you drove in a car without the stereo blaring? We need to detox the brain, to get some space in between the billboards so that we can think clearly, and remember what is really important in life.

Imagine what it would be like if we had to read sentences with no spaces between words. Wewoulddefinitelystruggletomakesenseofthings! There are so many media outlets literally fighting for our attention that we don’t know where to look or listen first. No wonder we’re so stressed out.

Instead, let’s start with silence. Let’s end the day with silence. Let’s spend some time in nature listening to the birds, the rain, and the wind as it moves through the trees. This is where all the wisdom of the world lives. Tap into that. When we sit quietly, check in with ourselves, we regain that sense of calm and balance that gets out of what when our attention is placed outside of ourselves for so long.

This is why traveling is so healthy and restorative. When we travel, especially if we travel to a foreign county, we’re away from media. We don’t watch TV or read the paper because it’s in another language. We give ourselves that luxury of time to rest, and to just be. There’s no reason why we can’t have that same experience wherever we are, at any time. It just takes the commitment to a regular practice. We can’t let ourselves get into bad habits.

It would be totally amazing if we could go cold turkey and just have a media-free day once a week. And for those who can do that — go for it! For others, we might want to work in a media-free hour once a day. Set aside some time when you might normally be surfing the net or watching a TV show, or, as is probably most likely, when you would be multitasking with multimedia. Media-free means no media: no books, computers, phones, games, movies, television — none of that! No going to the mall, either. This is time to reflect, to be still, to gain insight, to be calm. Sit outside, take a bath, or go for a hike. There are lots of options. Don’t try to distract yourself, just be with yourself. Novel concept, I know — but I think you’ll find that you are very good company.

The idea behind a media fast is to regain balance. We’ve been so inundated with media for so long that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to just be quiet. We need that reminder that our inner world is alive and well and ready to serve us. Everything we could possibly need or want resides within each one of us. When there’s a power outage, we’re kind of forced to take a media break — unless of course you’ve got backup systems and generators. But a media fast is proactive. It’s purposeful, and meant to help us set our priorities straight.

Shall we start right now? Who’s in?

For more by Lissa Coffey, click here.

For more on unplugging and recharging, click here.

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07 May

Living a Balanced, Beautiful Life With Ayurveda

Imagine you’re outside by a beautiful lake, enjoying the perfection of your surroundings. You feel comfortable, relaxed, as if you are an important part of it all. You are so in tune that it is as if you can hear nature speaking to you.

You see a swan glide past, and the swan is thinking to itself, “How wonderful it is to be a swan. I can take my time. Life is serene. I am graceful and lovely. All is right with the world.”

And then you notice an eagle flying high overhead, and the eagle is thinking, “Ah, what a joy it is to be an eagle. I am strong and free. This is the life!”

A hummingbird flits past, and you can hear the hummingbird is thinking, “I’m having so much fun on this glorious day. There’s so much to see and do. I’m so glad I’m a hummingbird and can move easily to all the things I love.”

Everything in nature has a purpose. We’re all connected. Sitting amongst the trees and looking at the clear blue sky you know that you are an important part of this connection. You breathe deeply and feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude and peace.

Now, imagine you’re in that same place, same time. When you hear nature speaking to you, things are a bit different.

You see a swan glide past, and the swan thinks to itself, “Oh, my. Why am I stuck being a swan? I would so much rather be like that little hummingbird. I want to flit around like that! I feel so dumpy just floating here on this silly lake.”

Then the eagle flies overhead, and you read its thoughts, “Wow. Look at that swan down there. He’s got the good life. Why can’t I just hang out on the lake? Instead I’m up here working so hard. This isn’t fair. I’d rather be a swan.”

Then the hummingbird flits by and thinks, “Really? That eagle is so lucky. She’s way up there with a great vantage point. She can go so far without even flapping her wings. I’m down here pumping away a million beats a minute! Man, I want to be an eagle.”

Somehow, this second scenario just doesn’t make sense, does it? Because this is not how nature operates! And yet, this is exactly what we do as human beings all the time. We fight our own nature. We compare ourselves to one another. We think we need to always be thinner, more beautiful, more successful, more something, anything! When the truth is that we are inherently perfect. If we are carrying around excess weight or stress or feeling bad about ourselves, it is because we are out of balance, our lives are out of balance in one way or another. We can find that perfect state of balance and regain our strength and confidence and energy to be the best that we can be.

The most important thing we can do for ourselves, to be our healthiest and happiest body, mind and spirit, is to know who we are. Some of us are swans, some of us are eagles and some of us are hummingbirds. Each being is valid, each being has value and each being brings his or her unique gifts to the world. When we know ourselves, and our own nature, we allow the best of ourselves to shine through. Nature operates through us. So why are we fighting it?

Ayurveda is the 5,000 year old “science of life” from India. It explains the nature of everything in the universe. It teaches us how to live in harmony with nature, knowing the connections that we share. Ayurveda is all about balance, and this is something we are in dire need of today.

There are a lot of things that take us away from our state of balance. We are overstressed and overworked. We overeat and are overweight. We overexert ourselves and overspend so that we end up tired, hungry, in debt and living in a mess. Look at all the extra “stuff” we carry around with us. We need to lighten up! We need to shed the stress, the pounds, the debt and the distractions and focus on what is good for us, what serves us. Food is a huge part of all this. We use food to soothe our emotions and to fill up our tummies when we feel a lack in some part of our lives. We fall into habits, with food and otherwise, that we think are easy, and they become mindless and robotic so that we don’t see any other possibilities or potential for ourselves.

It’s time to get back to nature, to get back to basics, to get back into balance. And what better way than by turning to a practice that has been tried and true for all these centuries? Ayurveda is a “sister science” with yoga and meditation. As we experience the benefits of these practices in our lives we naturally want to learn more — and that’s where Ayurveda is positioned right now.

Twenty years ago or so here in the West, feng shui was a somewhat foreign concept — but now it’s a part of our everyday vernacular. If you haven’t heard of Ayurveda yet — now you have! And if you haven’t lived the Ayurveda lifestyle yet, I encourage you to try it now.

Lots more info in my new book: “The Perfect Balance Diet: 4 Weeks to a Lighter Body, Mind, Spirit & Space” and on my new website: perfectbalancediet.com

For more by Lissa Coffey, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.

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30 Apr

Ancient Anti-Aging Secret Revealed: Stop the Clock

No, this isn’t some spam ad for a crazy new facial serum or expensive injectable. I think we’ve learned by now that nothing you put on your face or in your face is going to make you stop aging. And really, some of what we’ve seen on the faces of certain celebrities make us want to run from these “miracle” treatments as they only make us look distorted and fake.

People age. That’s just the truth of the matter. Everything ages, really — it just takes a different amount of time depending on what it is. That cheese in the fridge gets a bit funky after a few weeks. But Mount Rushmore is still looking pretty good after all this time. Even rocks don’t last forever, they just seem like they do because they’re around so much longer than we are.

Time goes on. Hours turn into days and days turn into weeks and weeks turn into years. We can’t stop the calendar, and we can’t stop the clock. Or can we?

Remember when we were younger and everything seemed to take so looooong? Well, not everything. Maybe the school day lasted forever, but after school time with our friends went by super fast. We looked forward to birthdays and counted the days until we finally got to celebrate being another year older. And now, even though we see some friends rarely, when we do get together it’s like no time has passed at all, we pick up right where we left off.

Time is relative. It’s a man-made concept measured by the sun. We can’t stop the calendar, and we can’t stop the clock. Or can we? As we’ve learned, although the measurement of time is consistent for everyone, the experience of time is completely unique to each person, in each circumstance.

Every once in a while we have these amazing experiences where time stands still. It might be a beautiful sunset that takes our breath away. It might be watching a baby sleep, and storing that precious moment away as a memory. It might be getting lost in doing some work you enjoy — so much so that hours go by and it feels like mere minutes. And it might be lying in the arms of your beloved, matching your breaths, treasuring the feelings of comfort and connection.

When time stands still for us we are at peace. All is right with the world. We are engaged, relaxed and happy. All of our cells and hormones are functioning and taking care of us without any effort on our part. We are unaware of the passage of time, totally living in the moment of “now.”

By now we are well aware of the mind-body connection. So, it stands to reason that when we mentally stop the clock through these glimpses of timelessness, that our body “clock” stops as well. This may be an unscientific concept, but I think that it’s true. And understanding this, we could consciously seek out these experiences of timeless awareness to keep ourselves looking and feeling young — to turn back the clock, so to speak. We can’t always predict when or how we are going to fall into these moments — but we can plan out our day so that have them on a regular basis. How? With meditation.

By setting aside just 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening to sit in silence you can take years off of the way you look and feel. In meditation, we let go of burdens and responsibilities and just sit. We allow thoughts to drift by and peace to take over. When practiced on a regular basis, meditation can help us to feel more centered, calm, healthy and young. And when we feel that way, how can we not help but look that way as well?

Meditation can be built into our days in other ways as well. When taking a walk, pay attention to your footsteps. Imagine the earth rising towards your foot, loving every step you take. Feel the energy of the earth warming your body, filtering itself through the soles of your feet. As you breathe in the fresh air, picture this life-giving force distributing itself to every organ in your body, allowing it to renew and refresh your being.

When cooking a meal, pay attention to the colors and the textures of the vegetables. Breathe in the fragrances of the oils and spices. Listen closely to the sizzles that the food makes when it hits the pan. Imagine the service that went into the harvesting of the grains that now go to nourish your body. Focus on adding love into the dish with every stir of the spoon. And when eating, savor every bite, knowing that every morsel is serving you, benefiting you, feeding you body, mind and spirit.

Artists know what this feels like, to lose themselves in their work. If you knit, or have a pet to play with, you know the feeling as well. Engaging the senses, feeling the connection all that is, and being present as activity occurs and you observe it as much as participate in it.
Meditation can lift you up if you let it. It lightens your burdens, and in a way it gives you a facelift, too! You’ll be smiling more, stressing less and walking with a little more pep in your step. You feel better, and because of this, you look better, too. The peace of mind literally shows on your face.

You could pay hundreds of dollars for the latest and greatest face creams. You could pay thousands of dollars for fillers or surgery. You could even pay to have your pictures photo-shopped every time you post to Facebook! Or you could try the no-cost way to look and feel younger. Meditation is an ancient secret that is a secret no more. It’s available to all of us, for free, as it has been forever. Partake of the nectar, and let your inner beauty, the eternal youth of your soul, shine through.

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16 Apr

Life Lessons Learned From Salsa

Summer 2014 will go down in my personal history as the “Summer of Salsa!” I’ve spent the past seven weeks going from 0 to 60 in learning this particular style of Latin dance, and I’ve loved every minute of it!

This all came about because of the Oxnard Salsa Festival, held every year near my hometown. As a part of the festivities, they hold a “Dancing With the Community Stars” Salsa competition. Community “stars” are matched up with seasoned professional dancers and then the pair comes up with a dance routine to perform at the Festival. All of this helps local charities raise money as the charities campaign for their stars through the various events. Of course, when I found out about this, I loved the idea, and was thrilled to take up the challenge! So I’m dancing for my favorite nonprofit organization, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ventura County.

My partner, Lovie Hernandez, has years of experience and his own studio in Santa Paula. Before meeting him I had never danced a step of Salsa in my life — wouldn’t even know where to start. The two of us hit it off quickly as we were faced with the same goal: get this girl dancing and win the contest!

With Lovie’s background and teaching experience, I knew that, despite my awkwardness, that somehow he’d get me to looking at least a little bit like a Salsa dancer. But what I didn’t know is that Lovie would become my own personal Yoda, sharing with me the wisdom of the Salsa philosophy. While I learned to dance, what surprised me is how much I learned about life through this whole experience. Over the course of our time together I got some great takeaways and I want to share them with you.

— Mix it up. Salsa dancing is actually a mix of different styles from different countries. That’s how it got its name, after the famous spicy salsa dip that’s made out of a mix of different ingredients. Mixing things up to create something new is a good thing! The combination as a whole can be absolutely amazing. Life is like that. We don’t always have to stick to a formula, we can try things out to see what we like, what works. Whether it’s adding new elements to a recipe or a dance or anything, we can always be unique in our self-expression.

— Dancing is communication without words. Lovie says this over and over again. And it’s absolutely true! The body is an instrument, and partners can tell when either one is nervous, unsure, tired, or distracted. You don’t have to say a word, it comes through in the way you move. Relationships are like that, too. We learn to read our partners such that a sigh or the twitch of an eyebrow speaks volumes. We go through a dance with everyone we meet, but those who really know us can sense when something is amiss. The body just doesn’t lie.

— Take your time. Every one of us is going to have our own pace. We can’t compare ourselves to other dancers, or other people. We need to be patient, and gentle with ourselves. Just do your best and trust in the process. When we keep going, we eventually get there. There are many paths to any destination. Once I took Lovie’s advice and was easier on myself, I could enjoy the dance so much more.

— Be in the moment. Choreography is like following a map. You know where you’re going, but you can’t focus on that end goal, you have to be present for every step along the way. If you race ahead, or have your head in the next move rather than the current move, the whole thing is going to fall apart. Not that you can’t recover! A good partner, like Lovie, can help you get back on track. We don’t even realize how much we’re missing out on in life when we’re not paying attention. Be mindful, pay attention, and you’ll be surprised at what you can do.

— Trust your partner. I knew I could trust Lovie from the first moment I met him. We were posing for a photo, and he asked me if we should do a dip. I gave an enthusiastic “yes!” and he proceeded to turn me heels over head. Literally. What fun! I knew that Lovie was strong, and would not let me fall no matter what. When Lovie says “look at me” during our dance, it’s a reminder to me to “spot” so that I don’t get dizzy. At the same time, it’s a reminder to me that we’re a team in this thing, and he’s got my back.

— Keep your eye on the prize. From the very beginning, our motto has been that we are “in it to win it!” And it’s definitely been our goal to win this competition and make as big a splash as possible for Big Brothers Big Sisters. I hope we do win, but I know that all of the other dancers have also put in their work and want to win as well! Now that I’ve been through all this training, spent so much time, sweat, and energy working on this dance, I realize that I already have gained much more than any win. The real prize is the new-found knowledge and skills that I now have. The real prize is all the wonderful people I’ve met who have share my enthusiasm. The real prize is my terrific new friend, a dancer and philosopher who has taught me so much.

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08 Apr

How We Can Help the Homeless

Getty Images/Flickr RF

Sometimes a day starts out like any other — and then something happens that stops you in your tracks. I had one of those days last week. Totally unexpected, and it left me changed. Here’s what happened:

After some meetings, I stopped by my local grocery store to pick up some food for dinner. This is something I’ve done hundreds of times. I’m so familiar with the layout, the people, I can buzz through and get what I need almost without thinking about it. I entered, turned the corner towards the produce department and came face to face with a woman. This woman was clearly out of place in this upscale market — on a hot summer day she was wearing a sweater and a coat, a knit hat, and sandals. Her clothes were dirty, and she was carrying several plastic bags. Our eyes met and I gave her a big smile. She smiled back, and to my surprise she said: “Lissa!” I turned back and she took a step towards me. “You’re Lissa, right?”

I did not recognize her at all. I asked her we knew each other and I never got a clear answer. She talked and talked, about various things, but nothing that helped me to figure out who she was. Although she didn’t say so, I could tell she was homeless. She hadn’t had a shower in a long time, and she acted a bit confused and scattered. It seemed that she needed a friend, and my heart went out to her. I tried to give her some money, but she refused — and after some time I told her I needed to go, but that I would feel better knowing she had some money. I tucked a twenty-dollar bill in her hand and she didn’t seem to notice. After following me through the store for a bit, she was gone.

On the drive home I kept going over the conversation in my head, trying to figure out if I knew this woman. She was about my age, and she could have been a mom at my kids’ school when they were little. She could have gone to my church. She could have been a neighbor at one time — after all, she was in my neighborhood. Although I showed her kindness and respect, I questioned what I could have done differently, how I might have been able to help her.

At my next stop I called Social Services to get some advice, and see if there was anything that they could do to help her. They basically told me that if this woman wanted their help that she would need to call, that there was nothing that they could do unless she reached out to them herself.

So I went home. And sent up a prayer of thanks that I had a home to go to. Whenever I count my blessings, or write down gratitudes, I include my home among the top of my list. Now I felt a new sense of deep compassion for those without a home. I wanted to help but didn’t know how. But I knew that somehow the answer would come. And it did.

The next morning as I was going through my email I followed a link that led me to a video someone posted explaining how he found a way to help the homeless by distributing backpacks. This guy and his friend filled backpacks with basic necessities: toothpaste, shampoo, a towel, socks, some food, and gave them to homeless people in their community. The video showed how much these backpacks were appreciated, and the recipients expressed how much this kindness meant to them.

I did a bit of research online and found that several others have done this same thing. They shared their stories, and ideas of what to put in the backpacks. Now I had my answer – now I had something tangible to do to help this woman, who saw herself as my friend, and for whom I had so much compassion.

I assembled my own list of items and headed out to the Goodwill store. One of the articles I read said that people who are homeless prefer backpacks that are a bit worn over brand new ones because new ones tend to get stolen. I bought several gently used backpacks and loaded up on scarves, hats and hoodies. Nothing that I bought was more than $5. Most items were around $2.

Then I went to the 99 Cent Store. My goal was to get 10 of each item on the list to fill 10 backpacks. This is what I ended up packing in each backpack:

BACKPACK BASICS

• A bar of soap
• Shampoo
• Comb/hairbrush
• Toothbrush and toothpaste
• Body/hand lotion
• Flashlight with batteries
• Socks
• Medium sized terrycloth towel
• Protein bar
• Box of raisins
• Jar of peanut butter and plastic spoon
• Bottle of water
• Toilet paper
• Notebook and pen

At the 99 Cent Store I was able to get everything really cheap — and these are full-sized bottles of shampoo and lotion! Then in each backpack I put a warm scarf, hat, hoodie or blanket that I got at the Goodwill. All in all it cost less than $16 per backpack. I put some of the smaller items in a zippered plastic bag. Other items that I would like to put in the backpacks as I find them or get them donated include: a manicure set, gift cards to grocery stores or restaurants like Subway, and bus tokens. These are small and could definitely fit in with everything else.

Basically I sorted everything out and went down an assembly line to fill up the backpacks. From beginning to end the whole process took less than half a day, including the shopping, and I ended up with 10 filled backpacks.

My plan is to keep some backpacks in my car, so that when I see someone who is homeless I can offer them one. I also went online to find out what resources are available to people who are homeless in our area and found a great place that both helps to prevent homelessness, and helps people who are homeless to get back on their feet with jobs and housing. I will be working with them to help distribute the backpacks to those most in need, and to help them in their efforts to keep their pantries stocked.

I have learned a lot from this experience and would like to share this information with you. Rather than giving money to panhandlers, support solutions by giving to organizations that are working to help the homeless on a daily basis. For every person that is visibly homeless, there are many more that are at risk of becoming homeless, or have been homeless at some point throughout the year. Preventing homelessness is cost-effective as well as morally compelling. It costs far less to prevent homelessness than to help a family that has already become homeless. Here are some additional ways we can all help:

• Find a local non-profit organization that serves the homeless and make a donation of money or items such non-perishable foods and hygiene products, or blankets, hats and socks. Bus passes are also appreciated so that people can get to job interviews, healthcare appointments and dinner sites.
• Share your strengths. You can give of your time and talents – organizations can help match your strengths with the needs in your community. There are many places that will welcome you as a volunteer.
• Conduct food drives for local food banks.
• Spread the word. Provide learning opportunities at your workplace or club to help others understand the most effective ways to assist the homeless and those at risk of homelessness, and to dispel misconceptions about homelessness.

We all share a home on this planet. We are all connected, and we’re here to help each other learn and grow. When one of us suffers, it affects each and every one of us in some way. I encourage you to do what you can to help those who are struggling with homelessness in your own area.

Making backpacks is one actionable step we can take. Reaching out to an organization that is already helping the homeless is another. You don’t have to do much. But I think we each have to do something if we really want things to change for the better for all of us.

I made a video that explains more about how to make the backpacks and distribute them, and to find resources in your area. You can see it here:
http://youtu.be/W5VPF-XTQ6Q

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02 Apr

The Ayurveda Experience in India

I’m a California girl, born and raised. I never travelled much when I was young, I really couldn’t afford to. Other than a spring break in Mexico I hadn’t even left the country much. But then, in 2000, Deepak Chopra organized a group to go to India, and I felt compelled to go. I had to go, I just somehow felt the trip was a must for me.

And so I went.

What an adventure! I had been studying Ayurveda and Vedic philosophy for many years, but being in the country where it all began was magical and exciting. I loved every single moment I spent there. And I learned so much, not only about the culture and the history of this beautiful place, but about myself. India opened up a whole new world to me, and my life was forever changed after that trip.

Significantly, I took my son along with me to experience India. In India, age 14 is still pretty much considered the time of becoming an adult. In the past, when boys would reach age 14 they’d go off with their teachers and start preparing for life as a man. My son had his 14th birthday at the Taj Mahal, and I felt so fortunate that he had the opportunity to see this magnificent wonder with me. What a gift!

Fast forward to 14 years later. I’ve written several books, taught classes and immersed myself in the Ayurvedic lifestyle. And once again, I had the opportunity to visit Mother India. Fourteen years later! How relevant, how amazing… how perfect.

This trip was very different from the first. I felt calm, relaxed, and at home from the very start. I spent time with friends who live and work in India, so rather than feeling like a tourist, I had the chance to see what it’s like to be a resident there. I went to the grocery store, and to the mall. Life in India is not unlike life here, there’s just a lot more of it! More people, more cars, more commotion.

There are some ways in which India has become more “western” in its culture over the years. Technology, certainly, with just about everyone having smart phones, like we do here. But there are other ways that India is so much more thoughtful, and complex in their thinking than we are, and we could learn from this. Where the U.S. seems to have a Starbucks on every corner, India has a temple pretty much walking distance from wherever you are. There is still a strong tie to spirituality, and all the morals and ethics that go with it. These values are passed down from generation to generation right in the home, as grandparents live right down the hall from their grandchildren. Family watches out for each other still. Multi-generational homes are the norm in India.

Spirituality is where people put their priority. Here in the U.S., we have Disney World, a tribute to corporate culture, and Las Vegas, otherwise known as “Sin City.” One of the largest and most popular attractions in India is Akshardham. Akshardham is a temple complex in Delhi that celebrates traditional Indian culture, spirituality, and architecture. It’s free to get in, and the place is always crowded. Like Disney World there are rides with robotics, but these rides tell of the history of India, and encourage visitors to honor one another, and all of life. There’s a display with all of the important reasons to “go veg” or “vegetarian” as most of the country does. Like Vegas, there is an amazing display of dancing fountains, and a show the lights and special effects. But this show talks about how we are all connected, and how we need to take care of nature and appreciate its gifts to us.

Most of the people I met in India spoke perfect English as well as their native language. There are several different languages spoken in India, depending on the region, and most people can communicate in a few of these languages also. I took a bit of German and Spanish in high school, but I’m by no means fluent in any other language. I deeply respect those who can converse in other languages. It certainly made it easy for me! I intend to go back to India, and I want to study Hindi before I go — I think it’s only fair if I at least try while I’m a guest there!

I feel very blessed to have found a group of people who share my passion for Ayurveda and in bringing it to a larger audience in the west. These friends took good care of me while we worked long hours creating a comprehensive e-course called “The Ayurveda Experience.” It’s filmed in India, with a Bollywood director. And it is absolutely amazing! The crew was so hardworking and kind. Everyone was genuinely happy to be a part of the team. My favorite part of the day was before we got started, we would all gather and do a “puja” or a prayer ritual with a chant and incense. The puja honored Ganesh, the Hindu god who brings good fortune to new endeavors, and it was Ganesh’s picture that was the first image shot on film each day.

I think we’re coming around a bit here in the west. Now alongside the Starbucks on the corner, we’ve also got a yoga studio. The more people see the benefits that a yoga practice brings, the more they will want to explore other gifts that India has brought to us — like Ayurveda. Ayurveda is a sister science with Yoga, and in India, the two are practiced together. It would be unthinkable, silly really, to think of one without the other! And yet, here we are, many thinking of Yoga as merely a form of “exercise.” We have a lot to learn. And hopefully we will catch on. Ayurveda is a good next step to do so. With an ayurvedic lifestyle we can be healthy and happy, in every aspect of our lives. I thank India every day for bringing this beautiful “science of life” to us!

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26 Mar

Lessons Learned From Loreto

The soul is stirred by travel. I have found this to be true with every trip I take. There’s always some purpose that I find, some lessons that I take with me, and carry with me long after I have departed a place. So much so that I am following the Dalai Lama’s advice when he said: “Once a year go someplace you’ve never been before.”

Oftentimes we take a vacation to relax, to unwind, or to disconnect from the real world. But what we find is that after we’ve gone through this process, we wake up, we reconnect with our true self, and with everything that is indeed “Real.” This is how I feel after my trip to Loreto, Mexico. What started out as a getaway to a luxury resort ended up as an enriching spiritual experience, one that I will remember always. Here are some of the lessons I learned from Loreto:

1. Honor Where You Are. Loreto is one of those “middle of nowhere” places. When most people think of Baja, California, they think of Cabo San Lucas – a popular tourist destination. But Loreto is a jewel that is often overlooked. Situated on the east coast of Baja, and set on the pristine Sea of Cortez, Loreto offers the beauty of nature and an authentic experience of Mexican culture and cuisine.

Eight-hundred square miles of Loreto is a National Marine Park that includes its five islands. Jacques Cousteau was a frequent visitor. As a National Park, the animals, including whale, dolphin and a wide variety of birds, including the blue-footed booby, are protected in the marine sanctuary. We ventured out to see the islands and enjoyed lunch at Honeymoon Beach where a seagull stole an unattended sandwich! It’s his home; we were just visiting, so I didn’t mind sharing.

The Pitaya cactus plants found throughout Loreto are tall and proud, some more than 200 years old. These are also protected in Mexico, both revered and appreciated by the locals.

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Because Loreto is so far from large cities local chefs emphasize foods that can be grown in their own gardens. Chef Alfonso Pelegrina grows many herbs and vegetables right on the property of the Villa del Palmar at Loreto and uses them in the recipes he makes for his three restaurants. Super fresh, organic, local, cared for with love — what could be better? This! Whether you are gluten-free, vegan, kosher — whatever your particular dietary needs are — the Chef is happy to accommodate and create something special just for you.

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“Honor Where You Are” also can be taken in a spiritual sense. How are you feeling? What does your body need right now? It’s being in tune with your senses, and giving yourself that gift of care. During morning yoga on the beach I felt refreshed by the salt air. I adjusted each pose gently, honoring my body’s need to stretch without overdoing it. Yoga isn’t a competition; it’s a personal practice. Yoga on the sand is an extra challenge, but a delightful one.

2. Practica Sus Sonrisas. This translates to “Practice Your Smiles!” In a small town like Loreto, with a population of 15,000, it’s easy to see how we are all connected. The Law of Relationship says that we are here to help each other learn and grow, and that’s even more true in the “middle of nowhere.” We rely on each other. Everyone becomes your friend. The people in Loreto are so warm and welcoming and happy and helpful. I was greeted with smiles everywhere I went.

Loreto was established in 1697. Now those were difficult times! To set up a city in the desert was tough. No water, no electricity. There were many obstacles to overcome, and it took several decades. You can see process of building the Nuestra Senora de Loreto Mission by looking at the styles and ages of the brick walls. Somehow they hung in there and got it done. At one point, explorers thought that California, and Baja California, was one big island. The Museum in Loreto has old maps that illustrate this. As a California native I especially appreciate the glimpse into history.

In town I bought a beautiful, handmade sterling silver ring to keep as a souvenir. I also indulged in a homemade frozen guava treat — vegan, of course! I’m sure the ice cream store’s owner, who served me personally, grew the guavas himself, too. It was so yummy on a hot day as I strolled through the arched trees marking the start of the original El Camino Real, a California landmark. How could I not have a smile on my face?

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3. Explore Your Potential. Loreto is a small town, but it was a much smaller town back in the 1700’s. It’s come a long way. And right now it is growing. There’s an airport, with direct flights from Los Angeles, Calgary, and some cities in Mexico. The Villa del Palmar at Loreto is a luxury resort on 137,000 acres, with gourmet restaurants, three pools, a spa, and soon they’ll have a golf course as well. The hotel is self-sustaining. They have a desalination plant on site, so you can drink the water. Plus, it’s super eco-friendly as they are powered mostly by solar energy. Employees are encouraged to further their education and supported with classes right on the property.

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We can surprise ourselves by all that we can accomplish when we set our minds to it. There are no limits — even if we think there are. It’s just pure potential. We have the capacity to do whatever it is that we want to do. We have the desires that we have for a reason, because it is possible for us to achieve them, to make them a reality in our own lives. There are examples all around us.

4. Leave Some Time to Just Hang Out. Life keeps us busy, that’s for sure. We’re constantly jumping from one thing to the next, with hardly a pause in between. We’re so in the habit of this that we continue the pace even when we’re on vacation. I can think of many places I’ve visited where our scheduled were jam-packed with activity, and the only rest I got was in the car on the way.

But Loreto is different. Instead of an ocean that is in constant motion, the Sea of Cortez is calm, almost still. It’s gentle quiet sets the pace. Rather than going surfing, people go paddle boarding, and snorkeling. The water is like glistening gems – aquamarine, emerald, and sapphire in color – clear, clean and beautiful. You can hike along the surrounding ridges and see the islands from a higher vantage point, nestled in the sea like they were placed there artistically and with precision. You can’t help but stop and take in the glory of nature that is everywhere you look. There’s no rush. There’s room to breathe, and time to enjoy.

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I came home from Loreto refreshed, renewed, and inspired. A little sun, a little spa, and some good food does wonders for the soul. I enjoyed both the adventure of exploring a new place, and the relaxation of feeling completely comfortable. Loreto is a place I will return to, as there are many more lessons to be learned.

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19 Mar

‘Busy’ Is a Four-Letter Word

I’m not sure if this is a recent trend, but it certainly seems to be a growing one. Lately whenever I ask someone: “How are you?” the answer is a resounding, exasperated: “Busy!”

There is a glorification in the word busy – as if it is a badge of honor, something to be proud of. Does being busy mean that we’re important? Does it mean that we are in-demand? On the contrary, it usually means that we are overwhelmed, stressed out, and agitated.

Thomas Edison said: “Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”

Busy connotes that we have not just a lot to do, but too much to do. While “busy bees” are focused on one task, making honey, busy humans are generally more scattered, trying to keep up while typically falling behind. When we’re busy we tend to have our attention divided in an effort to multitask and get things done.

For a moment, let’s put all that “busy” aside and consider how being busy affects our relationships. Since our first relationship is with ourselves, how does this “busy” label feel? Anything that follows the words “I am” defines us. Do you think a busy person is more valued or valuable? Is a busy person more worthwhile or worthy? Why do you choose to define yourself as busy? We need to deeply understand that we are not what we do. Being busy doesn’t justify your existence on this earth. Being busy is really a distraction that takes us away from understanding who we are. When we know who we are, so we don’t have to be busy, we can be fully present. We don’t feel busy, and we don’t feel stressed. Instead we feel present, calm, and self-controlled rather than externally controlled by the many tasks and activities we have taken on.

Being busy affects our relationship with those around us. When we say: “I’m busy” the person we are talking with most likely will take this as: “I’m too busy for you. I have no time for you. My thoughts are elsewhere.” With that response, it’s easy to see how anyone would feel that the “to do” list has been given priority over the relationship. Those two words come off as dismissive – and even rude. “Busy” is a 4-letter word in more ways than one.

The truth is, we all have lots to do. Saying you’re busy doesn’t make you special. But being busy is really a state of mind. We don’t need to let all the stuff we have to do define us. We have a choice where we put our attention. We have a choice in how we prioritize things. We have a choice in how we spend our time and how much effort we put into anything we do.

So before we get into “busy mode” let’s consider where we are putting our attention. Are we too busy for our family and friends? I don’t think so. It’s not too difficult to take a pause for something, or someone, that is important to us. When we are asked how we are, that’s a cue to focus on what is right in front of us — that person, that relationship, that moment. Instead of saying “I’m busy” — replace that thought with “I’m present.”

When we say “I’m present” it sounds more like: “I’m here for you, you are important to me, and you have my undivided attention.” Now isn’t that better? When it comes down to it, we don’t remember all the things that occupied our time and seemed to be so pressing. But we do remember the people we love, and the moments we spent being fully present with them. And they remember that about us, too. That’s special, that’s what life is really about.

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