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13 Aug

Eat, Pray, Blog: Getting There Without Going Anywhere

“Eat, Pray, Love” has spiritual seekers everywhere following in Elizabeth Gilbert’s footsteps — literally — traveling to Italy, India and Bali on an adventure of a lifetime. And now that Julia Roberts has followed suit on the big screen, it is likely that many more will make the sojourn to these exotic locations in pursuit of something to “marvel” at. There is much to marvel at anytime you travel. Everything is new, and different. It opens your eyes, engages the senses. Travel is an amazing opportunity to learn and grow through new experiences.

And yet, as Confucius stated so plainly: “No matter where you go, there you are.” The spiritual journey is a journey within. We don’t need to climb a mountain in Tibet to achieve the kind of inner peace we so desperately crave. We don’t need to go anywhere, we don’t even need to do anything, to find ourselves in a place of balance and bliss.

So, given that we can’t all jet off to foreign countries on a whim, let’s go on our own spiritual quest, right where we are, starting with “eat.”

Tantra teaches us that we experience the world through our five senses. Taste is definitely one of those senses where we can experience much pleasure — and given the cuisine, one might even say nirvana. When eating, the sense of smell also comes into play; the aroma heightens the anticipation, and enhances the flavors. Sight is involved with food. We’ve learned from the many Food Network shows how important presentation is in a meal. When food looks good, we’re more likely to perceive it as tasting good. Touch is in the texture of the food. How does it feel in your mouth? And even sound is in food — from the sizzle on the grill to the crunch of that perfect bite, to the oohs and aahs that emerge from satisfied diners.

Great pasta dinners aren’t only in Italy. We can cook, and have fun in our very own kitchen creating and experimenting with sauces and seasonings. Or we can find a lovely little neighborhood restaurant, and allow ourselves to be served with careful attention. Eating gives us a chance to indulge all of our five senses, to be present in the moment, to savor the experience and to be aware of the feelings that it evokes from deep within. When we are in present moment awareness there is no regret, fear or guilt. There is only gratitude. And that is a beautiful place to be.

“Pray” takes us into silence, into the stillness where all the wisdom of the universe can be found. Our busy world is filled with commotion. We are inundated with errands and emails and obligations. Our lives are slaves to the clock and the calendar, scheduled out farther that we even care to plan. But when we meditate, there is no time and space. The world seems to stop; our mind begins to quiet. Gone are the commercials and the traffic and the to-do lists. Suddenly we become aware of our breath, which brings us back to ourselves. We listen, and answers come, truth reveals itself, calmness settles in.

We could be in a temple, some historically preserved monument. Or we could be right where we are, perhaps smack dab in the middle of the couch. It doesn’t matter, because it’s all the same, it’s all connected. When we get together and meditate in groups, the experience is amplified. Energy rises, and circulates, and infuses each participant. Take that time away from the busyness, shut off the phone, unplug from technology — get back to nature, get back to yourself and you’ll remember who you are.

“Love” is all about relationships. And life is all about love. Who we love, and what we love. When we are doing what we love and also helping people, then we have found our “dharma” or purpose in life. There is nothing more fulfilling. If there is anything this world needs more of, it is love. We can never get too much of it! Extend yourself beyond your comfort zone, beyond the parameters that have been self-imposed, and reach out to someone with love. It’s easy to love a baby, or a kitten. So innocent and sweet, so receptive and accepting. The challenge is for us to love something or someone that might appear to us to be unlovable. The rejected, the downtrodden, the messy, the annoying. Yet when we do open our hearts, and we allow that love to pour forth, we feel an influx of love coming right back to us.

Love the moment, every moment. Love where you are, wherever that is. Marvel at your surroundings, the miracles that extend in and around the immediate environment. Everything that is here is here for you. The ground yearns for your footsteps. You love, and you are loved completely.

When you implement these simple techniques, what starts as a holiday becomes a habit. That habit then becomes a lifestyle. It’s a matter of mindfulness. We have the opportunity to practice every day, every moment, anywhere we are.

My new e-course with Daily Om is 9 Weeks to Joyful Living. You pick the price! Do the exercises and you’ll find you are living a life filled with elegance, joy, and simplicity. Once you do that, you can’t go back.

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06 Aug

Zen and the Art of Grocery Shopping

It happens at least once a week, the ritual trek to the local grocery store. We need food, we need supplies, we are creatures whose needs must be met and this is how we do it. It’s more convenient than growing our own vegetables, or baking our own bread. And although we may not get the same satisfaction that our ancestors did by working the land, we are in a sense doing our own harvesting by what we choose, and how we shop at the supermarket.

Here are some ways that we can get the most out of the experience, and turn what could possibly be mundane into something rather special and spiritual. This is how we can “bloom where we are planted” even if that happens to be in the middle of suburbia.

Bring your own bags. This seems like such a simple thing to do, and yet when you look around at the other shoppers, how many people actually do it? In Europe there is not the option of paper or plastic. You bring your own bag or you carry your purchases out in your arms. We did an informal survey recently in front of our neighborhood market and found that although most people thought this was a good idea, they hadn’t gotten themselves in the habit. (You can see the video we made up on CoffeyTalk.tv.) Make this conscious choice. Carry your bags in your car so they are there for you when you need them. It’s one little contribution towards making the world a better place.

After you park, if you see a stray cart in the lot, take it with you into the store. Many carts are left loose in the parking lot only to bump into cars, or block the way as someone is trying to open their car door. Returning a cart is being a good citizen, and also setting a good example.

Many stores have now been kind enough to provide anti-bacterial wipes at their entries so that we can wipe down the handle of the cart. Use them to protect yourself and others from germs that are easily passed around in public places. And when you’re done with the wipe, dispose of it carefully in the container provided.

When shopping for produce, choose fruits and vegetables that are locally grown. Shipping from far away places puts a burden on the planet by requiring extra fuel to get items where they need to be. Also, be aware of packaging. Again, reuse bags from home, or don’t bother to use bags at all when selecting your produce. Select one thing that you might not have tried before — open yourself up to new culinary possibilities!

Consider your time in the market as an opportunity to practice present-moment awareness. Be fully present when choosing your items. Smile at the people sharing this experience with you. This is a community, and you are an important part of it. Be grateful for the store employees who work so hard to keep the place neat and orderly so that you can find what you are looking for. Marvel at the abundance of choices that we have before us.

Think about the many ways that you can be a conscientious consumer. Rather than buying paper napkins, use cloth napkins at the table for dinner. Rather than using paper towels to clean, use dishcloths and rags. Rather than using cleaning products with chemicals, investigate the many natural alternatives, such as vinegar, that can be used just as efficiently with less impact on the planet. Take lunch boxes or cloth lunch bags to work or school instead of using paper lunch bags. These are all the little things that end up making a big difference. Consciously participate in green living.

Read labels to know what you are putting into your body. There are so many options now, so check the shelves for products that are lower in sugar, sodium and fat. Opt for healthier alternatives, like whole grains and higher fiber cereals.

More and more people are deciding on a vegetarian or even vegan lifestyle. Even if you don’t want to commit all the way, try going meat-free at least one day a week.

If you have a full cart of groceries and someone behind you in line has just one or two items, practice kindness by offering to let them go ahead of you. If someone ahead of you is having trouble getting credit approval, or is taking a long time to write out a check, this is an opportunity to practice patience and compassion.

When checking out, have your discount cards or coupons ready so as not to keep the people behind you in line waiting longer than necessary. Make sure to present your bags to the bag-person before he or she starts to pack. If there is no one helping the cashier to bag the groceries, pitch in and help yourself. Always show gratitude for the help you were given by expressing thanks.

Everything in life, every moment we live, can be a meditation, a learning experience. With this state of mind, we can turn something like grocery shopping, which we might have thought of as a chore, into an adventure.

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30 Jul

The Cost of Kindness

The world is in pain. We are feeling the effects of crisis on every level; we are suffering. In this condition, when we feel weak, it’s almost a knee-jerk reaction to fight, to lash out, to argue, accuse, bully, complain, and blame. But that only creates more suffering. And so it goes, and has been going, over centuries. But this doesn’t have to be the human condition. We have choices. And by now we really do need to know better, and choose differently.

 

Sometime around 30 BC Hillel said “If not now, when?” Now is the time that we need to dig deep within us, to find the courage and make the changes we need to make in order to survive. Indeed, our very survival is at stake. Our brothers and sisters are giving years of their lives, if not their very lives, in wars. Our children are killing themselves to escape being tormented by their peers for what are perceived to be their differences. The cost of war, economically and personally is horrendous. The cost of hate, violence, and intolerance is just as bad. We have to stop the bleeding, and we have to heal.

 

It doesn’t have to take an act of Congress to make a change. It only takes an act of kindness, or many little acts of kindness that all add up to getting our priorities straight. We need to shift from focusing on the material, on the “stuff” in life, and instead focus on people and relationships. We need to pay attention, to be receptive, to be honest and to show that we care. Kindness is a virtue that we need to cultivate and value. It is the salve for our wounds. It is the medicine for our dis-ease. We need to invest our time and energy into programs that promote kindness. This will pay off for us in the long run.

There are many organizations making a conscious effort to practice and promote kindness in our communities. One group is Big Brothers Big Sisters. Youth who are identified as “at-risk” are brought into the program and matched with a mentor. A Public/Private Ventures study shows that children matched with a Big Brother or Big Sister, as compared to their peers, are 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 52% less likely to skip school, and one-third less likely to hit someone. The financial cost to support a match is just $1m200 per year. Contrast that with the cost to incarcerate a youth in Juvenile Hall at $125,000 per year. Mentors in this program are volunteers, and most will tell you that as much as they see that the youth are getting out of the program, they feel that the benefits are mutual.

 

“Karuna” is a Sanskrit word that means “compassionate action.” It refers to any action that is taken to diminish the suffering of another. As we help others, as we extend kindness, we all benefit. By serving each other we are serving ourselves. “Metta” is a Pali word that means loving-kindness, benevolence, fellowship, goodwill, and friendliness. Metta is the strong wish for the welfare and happiness of others. It is an attitude of altruism.

 

There is no cost to kindness. A smile, a word of thanks, a good deed, a friendly gesture — there is no cost to these things, and yet the benefits are priceless.

 

Ellen DeGeneres is now signing off her show with the statement: “Be kind to one another.” I heard that and was inspired. We all have to do our part. We need to be ever mindful that kindness must be practiced and demonstrated. To help with this I created “The Kindness Movement.” It’s a simple commitment of seven days of putting kindness into action. It costs nothing to join The Kindness Movement. And it is very likely that as the movement spreads the benefits will be far-reaching. The Internet holds that power, as it is an illustration of our interconnection.

We are all in this together. The time to recognize our connection to each other, and to be kind to one another, is at hand. It all starts right here, right now. Please join us in The Kindness Movement. Thank you for your kindness.

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23 Jul

New Day, New Decade: Setting Goals Around Desires

The year 2011 is now well under way. Not only is this a new year; it’s a new decade! We had our grand finale, wrapping up 2010 with the solstice and coinciding full moon and lunar eclipse, bringing change and a shift in energy. Then Jan. 4 welcomed a new moon, signaling new beginnings.

Many of us choose to set new year’s resolutions, goals that we work towards to better ourselves in one way or another. This is a good exercise, as it helps us to consider what we want for ourselves, and how we can take action to make things happen.

Of course, we can set goals at any time. Many people choose their birthdays to do this because it’s a time of reflection. You might also choose any new moon, or the beginning of any season. These are all natural times to invoke change.

We know the importance of setting goals, and we know how good it feels when we reach those goals. But at the same time, we need to remember that each step is an important part of the process. We need to recognize this and understand that we are moving forward. This will keep us invested in the long run. Breaking down “big” goals into more easily achievable steps is a good way to mark our progress. We are learning and growing every day.

We can learn a lot about ourselves by looking at our goals and our desires. There’s a reason why we want what we want. And we wouldn’t want it if it weren’t attainable. We learn and grow on the way to our goals.

Desire is our greatest motivator because it spurs us into action! Through action comes experience, achievement, accomplishment and many great things. We are busy fulfilling our desires everyday, and sometimes so easily that we aren’t even aware of what we are doing. So when setting your resolution or goal, look at your desires first. These are the steps you can take to get things going:

  1. Recognize that you have this desire. Label it. Define it. Know it.
  2. Evaluate the desire — do you really want it? What is it exactly that you really want? Explain it to yourself. Make sure that it makes sense to you and that you understand why you want this, and what it means to you to achieve this goal.
  3. Create an intention to fulfill the desire, to reach your goal. Make that commitment. Set this as a priority in your life.
  4. Release the desire to the universe — state your intention clearly. It’s a good idea to write it down and then burn the piece of paper, or file it away somewhere with the date on it.
  5. Give up any attachment to what happens. Just let it go, knowing anything can happen; the outcome is usually better than we ever could have anticipated. In spirit, there is no time or space. Be flexible, be open, and observe how things unfold.
  6. Let the universe handle the details — don’t try to control or manipulate how things occur. Rather than making demands, leave room to allow nature to take its course in whatever way, shape or form that might be. There’s always some reason behind everything that happens, so have a little faith that work is being done, even if you don’t see it. Know that creation and growth takes place every moment.
  7. Feel grateful, and express gratitude! Your emotions electrify the process.
  8. Be aware of things that happen that may help you to achieve your goal. There are no accidents, and no coincidences in life. When opportunities arise, be ready to embrace them.
  9. Celebrate every success and let it build your confidence and warm your heart. Continue to express gratitude all along the way.

Happy new day, happy new year, happy new decade!

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16 Jul

Parenting the Vedic Way

Ayurveda is India’s 5,000 year old “Science of Life,” and it is the art of living in harmony with nature. Ayurveda gives us tools for living that we can apply to every aspect of our lives, especially parenting. Your dosha is your Ayurveda mind and body type. There are three doshas in Ayurveda: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. We each have all three of the doshas in our physiology, just in different proportions, so your dosha is unique and personal; it is like your fingerprint. To determine your dosha, or ayurveda mind and body type, start by taking the dosha quiz. This will tell you which dosha is dominant for you. What’s your dosha, baby? Take the dosha quiz and find out!

Parenting is an application of love in our daily lives. Our children give us the opportunity to experience and express love, every day. As parents, we have a very unique relationship with each of our children. We interact with them on so many different levels at the same time. We can be a parent, teacher, friend, chauffeur, psychologist, advisor, disciplinarian, coach, referee, or whatever!

Mind-body type does have genetic components, but a family doesn’t necessarily have to be dominant in one dosha or another. A Kapha mother and father very well could have a Pitta child, for example. You need to look on both sides of the family to see where a dosha may be inherited. For example, a Pitta child could get her blue eyes from her Pitta grandmother, or her athletic ability from her Pitta uncle.

It is interesting to look back at your own childhood and discover the doshas of each of your brothers and sisters. Look at how you interacted with your siblings. What were these relationships like? Remember that your kids look to you for skills to handle each other, too. They learn from your example.

When you know your child’s dominant dosha, you are better able to handle the myriad of things that come up at any given moment. You are better able to parent from a place of love rather than expectation. You know, for example, that your Vata child may have some anxiety about a friend’s sleepover, or that our Kapha child may need two different alarm clocks to get up in the morning.

Kapha Kids

Kapha kids tend to be more solidly built. They’re stockier and more resistant to illness. They love to eat and have a sweet tooth. You need to watch their diets so that they don’t overeat. Kapha children are very caring. They’ll be the first ones to give you a hug. They may be a little shy at first, but once they warm up, they’re all smiles.

Kapha kids like to lounge around, so make sure there are plenty of activities for them to participate in so that they don’t turn into couch potatoes. If given a choice, the Kapha child would choose playing video games over a trampoline, but the trampoline would do so much more to keep him in balance. To get Kapha kids outdoors, have them help in the garden — they love tending to flowers and gardening.

Kaphas tend to have beautiful singing voices, so it’s a good idea to nurture that at a young age. Have your kids join the church choir, or take singing lessons.

In school, it seems like Kapha kids take longer to learn things, but the upside to this is that once they learn something, they don’t forget it. Kaphas learn best by association, so it’s a good idea to tell stories and give them experiences that help make the subject matter relevant to them. Be patient with them, work at their speed and don’t give up.

Kapha kids tend to be very loyal and loving toward their friends, but they are also sensitive, and their feelings are easily hurt.

Pitta Kids

Pitta kids are the ones who play baseball, basketball, soccer and hockey. They go from one sport to the next, and like whichever one they’re doing at the time the best! They want to be the best one on the team, and they want to bring home the trophy to prove it.

Sometimes, if you’re lucky, the Pitta competitive spirit will spill over into the classroom. The Pitta child will be motivated to work hard and get good grades. They’ll be keenly aware of their grade point average and do extra credit work if necessary to make honor roll. Pitta kids are great at memorizing and do well with flash cards, which is a visual tool for learning. They love to read.

Pittas can be show-offs, and they like to be in charge. As parents, you can teach them social skills to help them control their anger and get along with everyone.

Vata Kids

The day-dreamy child drawing rainbows on a pad in the back of the room is the Vata child. These kids have great imaginations, and they’re gifted at making up stories. If you ask them a question, they’ll talk up a storm. They’re often perceived as “spacey” or “weird.”

Physically, Vata is slight. Whether tall or short, these kids look skinny; they have narrow hips and shoulders. Their appetite varies, but no matter how much they eat, they don’t seem to put on weight.

Vata kids learn things quickly, but then they forget them almost as quickly. You might think they’ve got their times tables down cold, only to have them fail a test the next day. Very often, kids with ADHD are Vata dominant. They are auditory learners, so sometimes it’s easier for them to listen to a book on tape rather than try to sit still and read for long periods of time. A multi-modal approach to learning in general is best for Vata kids — they like to hear it, see it, touch it and experience it. They’re great at all things creative, and likely will be in the school plays, draw cartoons for the school paper or be nominated for class clown.

Lots of hugs and a warm environment help keep Vata kids from getting out of balance and feeling nervous.

Growing and Glowing

It doesn’t matter how many children you have. As a parent, you soon learn that you can’t parent any two kids the same way. When we look at all the factors involved in a child’s individuality and the different ages and stages they all go through, there is no question that parenting is the most difficult job there is! Ayurveda gives us tools to help us relate to our children, and to help our children relate to each other.

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02 Jul

Royal Marriage Manners

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have just visited Southern California and of course the media covered every moment. Upon their arrival in Los Angeles from Canada, I noticed something that I don’t think everyone did, but that could be very telling of the royal relationship.

After William and Kate disembarked the plane, they went through a receiving line to be welcomed by Governor Jerry Brown and his wife, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other dignitaries. Will went through the line first, followed by his bride. They were greeted, curtseyed to and shook hands with each person graciously. When Will was finished, he made a bee-line for the Range Rover and got in the back seat without a glance back. Kate completed her duties a minute or so later and went to the back seat on the other side of the car.

What is unusual about this? Since the British are such sticklers for etiquette, they should be practicing it in their marriages as well as amongst commoners. The gentlemanly thing for William to do would have been to wait for his wife to shake the last hand and then walk over to the car with her. Ideally, he would walk her to her side of the car and help her in before entering the car himself.

This may be a small thing, but it shows respect and consideration. I get that they’re both on a schedule and being shepherded around by security. But in a marriage, there is a kind of radar that keeps you aware of where that other person is at all times. I get that William is the prince and probable heir to the throne. But whatever happened to common courtesy and “ladies first?” If I were in Kate’s position I’d be saying to my hubby: “Hello? Wait for me!” Of course it’s not good form for couples and especially royals, to correct each other in public.

While I’m on the subject, yes, it was a lovely gesture that William gave Kate his mother’s ring. However, I do believe that Kate deserves her own ring as well. Why have Diana’s ring be her engagement ring? After all, even though Diana’s ring is beautiful and historic, it did originate from a marriage that is widely known as unhappy and that ended in divorce. That’s a lot of baggage to be carrying around on your finger. Already Kate is being compared to Diana and this will inevitably follow her throughout her lifetime. Kate is her own person and this is a new relationship, so I say give her a new ring.

Kate has a lot to put up with. Every bride has to deal with in-laws, but Kate has to do it under the scrutiny of the world. She had her wedding in the same church where her husband’s mother had her funeral. She’s a good sport to go along with her new family in all these decisions and I know this will go far in keeping Will and Kate together.

The royal couple is sure to get lots of attention wherever they go and whatever they do. But they need to remember that it is the attention that they give to one another that will be what makes this marriage succeed. It is both the attention that they give to each other in private, at home, when it is just the two of them. And it is also the attention that they give to each other in public. I remember hearing from body language experts about the sweet glances they gave each other during the wedding ceremony and how that was a good sign of a true loving relationship. The world is watching! The pressures of the position will be there and there will be obligations and schedules and demands. But the smallest reassuring glance, the hand on the back as a guide and the simple act of waiting for the other person to finish before going ahead with the next task, that will make all the difference.

This royal marriage is only a few months in and as time goes on, these simple courtesies will mean more and more. I would advise William to get in the habit of being a gentlemanly husband now. A husband with good manners is a true Prince.

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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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