A Modern Mystic

Musings on life, work and contemporary spirituality


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Zumba Dharma

11330015_10152922117146616_507874434507975438_nThere’s a new Zumba instructor on Thursdays and I’ve been noticing a pattern of arriving late to her class. She has brought new music, different choreography, and a whole new culture, including new folks I’ve never seen at the community center before.

As I sneaked into her first class of the new year this week, there were already 35 women grinding their hips to the beat and I had to find a spot away from my usual place near the door.

On the other side of the room I suddenly became aware of a new perspective. Beginner’s mind kicked-in and I could see my own resistance to this new situation. I decided to look at my own fear in that moment with a new-found curiosity. I found myself asking, “What would Kimo do?”

Kimo is the instructor I see the other five days of the week. She is a gifted teacher and choreographer: joyful, funny, real, demanding in a good way, and so good at dancing. Always able to go with the flow, I have seem her tie her shoes in the middle of a number without missing the beat; deftly step around a puddle from a leaky roof; overcome technology glitches with the stereo system, speakers, iPod, and microphone. She even taught in bare feet one day when, for the only time in her long career, she forgot her workout shoes. The show must go on and Kimo does, day-in, day-out with grace, humor and aplomb. (There are links at the bottom of the page to view Kimo’s dance artistry.)

But my favorite thing about Kimo is her way of “telling it like it is” in charmingly Japanese-accented English. I find myself using Kimo’s wisdom, not only to get me through the challenge of Zumba, but the challenges of being a human being.

Here’s a little of Kimo’s dharma applied to Zumba and life in general:

Show up and do your best

This is my first chance to focus on the positive. I’m in the room and that’s half the battle. It is far better than procrastinating, sitting at my desk wasting time,  or worse, not going and then complaining that I don’t like the new teacher. I owe it to myself to acknowledge the fact that I am here and to do the best I can.

Look at the instructor’s reflection in the mirror

Rather than being pulled off by those around me (distraction) or watching the instructor’s feet (tunnel-vision), if I concentrate on the teacher in the mirror, I see the whole picture. Everything I experience is a reflection of my mind. Watching Kimo or Kristine in the mirror, I can much better understand my own movement. This is instantly relaxing and centering, even though I must keep reminding myself to do it. Seeing the instructor smiling, I realize that I have the karma to experience such a beautiful sight, such grace, power and coordination. I smile back at the reflection.

Keep marching when you don’t know the steps

It’s not about being perfect, but moving to the music. The more I march in place, the easier it is to find my rhythm and step in time with the others. Again, a wave of relaxation comes over me as I stop trying to do anything other than feel the music and keep marching. Soon I am effortlessly catching onto the complex choreography and laughing to myself with every “misstep.” How often in life do we psyche ourselves out when, if we just keep going, our problems will naturally work themselves out?

“I have faith in your booty!”

Kimo actually said this one day and instantly had everyone laughing. She encourages us to play, have fun, laugh and not take ourselves so seriously, and yes, shake our booties! Having faith in my booty means to stay grounded in knowing that I don’t have to be perfect, but just move and allow my body to lead the way. A baby doesn’t worry how she looks during those wobbly first steps. She just wants to get from point A to point B. And for those of us who think it is silly to shake our booties in middle age and beyond, Kimo puts us in our place. As long as we are able, we should shake it, and have fun doing it!

Don’t forget to check yourself.

If you want to really learn the dance, watch yourself in the mirror to check if your moves match the choreography. Once you can do it while looking in the mirror, you will develop the muscle memory that allows you to dance rapturously oblivious to outside cues, just feeling the music and letting your body lead the way. Similarly, we can’t expect to learn how to live a virtuous and happy life unless we observe our own thinking and conduct, looking at ourselves first when there is a problem. Self-reflection and self-correction help us to develop the habits that produce a meaningful and happy life.

Keep coming back!

The last and most important of Kimo’s instructions: “Keep coming back!”  No repeat, no result. Progress, not perfection. There are many ways to say it, but the bottom line is that unless we do a little every moment, every hour, every day, week in, week out, we can’t get to the bigger goals. So just remember not to bully the small efforts you make every day. Congratulate yourself often for showing up, again and again. Your attitude will improve and you will develop a strong and positive new habit where there was once complaining and procrastination.

After reminding myself to act like a brand-new beginner and to heed Kimo’s masterful words, I know that I will now look forward to classes once again. I have broken through my negative attitude about the new Zumba instructor and I look forward to this coming Thursday – a new day, a new dance and a new dharma.

Kimo’s Facebook Page

Kimo’s Choreo YouTube Channel

Kimo’s Zumba Website

 

 

 

 

 


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Decluttering as Spiritual Practice

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“People cannot change their habits without first changing their way of thinking.”

I have been posting on Facebook about the work of Japanese “tidying guru” Marie Kondo, author of the bestseller The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: the Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. I’m smitten with her practical and confident assurance that by decisively and swiftly removing everything in our environment that does not “spark joy,” we can initiate a spiritual awakening and break through years – even life-times – of depression, procrastination and ennui. Kondo’s main thesis jives perfectly with my Buddhist practice and the view that to transform we must change our thinking.

I have largely managed “KonMari” principles in my home, where we live a minimalist, serene and tidy lifestyle, which includes color-coordinated clothes closets, nice clean counter surfaces in bathrooms and kitchen, and a walk-in pantry that stores all our food, appliances, tools and household goods. There is enough room in our entry to store our shoes in a compact and stylish shoe bin and to hang my husband’s prized vintage Davidson bicycle on a neat hook. Our living room, with its one smartly-framed family photo, few carefully displayed candles and objects-d’arts, perfect turquoise accent wall, exquisite art and view out over a balcony festooned with bright flower boxes, never fails to elicit gasps of pleasure and envy from our guests.

My home has gotten clearer and clearer in the seven years since I began down-sizing and simplifying. In the last year, however, my office and desk have begun to resemble the habitat of my evil hoarder twin. There are piles of papers stacked everywhere; rainbow-colored runs of books are packed into bookcases that line every available wall space, completely fill the corner cupboard and desk and overflow onto the floor. The most recent addition to the small room is several cartons of photos, mementos and files completely taking up the floor space around my desk. Add to that countless cards, photos, receipts, works of art, and knickknacks, it’s no wonder I am stuck and unproductive in my work!

After devouring Kondo’s book in just a few hours, I awoke today determined to put her magical program into action in my office. As I have joyfully gone through boxes this morning, sending most everything into the recycling bin, I have thanked every item I release for supporting me in the past.

“Letting go is even more important than adding.”

I am struck by the way those words have come alive for me. Lately I find myself unable to add clients, add hours to my part time job, add income to my bank account, because I have not effectively let go of the past. While I have done well at steadily clearing and beautifying my environment, I have believed that the act of letting go of accumulated possessions is a brutal, gut-wrenching, grit-my-teeth act. Strong-arming myself has worked well enough for the stuff in my home that is outdated, duplicated, unnecessary, broken or ugly. But all these years later I face the biggest challenge, and it’s time for a change in tactics.

Clothing, replaceable household goods and even expensive items like furniture are one thing. What I really value, however, are the ideas on a page. The possessions that speak to my heart as a creator, writer, Buddhist practitioner and teacher are my books and files, the records of every class, seminar or workshop I’ve ever taken, the photos and images I cherish, and the wisdom, born of hard-won contemplative triumphs, that I’ve scrawled onto index cards, collages, journals, post-it notes and datebooks. These are the last things left to purge and they all sit neatly filed-away in boxes, binders and cabinets, and stuffed onto the bulging hard-drive of my computer.

Marie Kondo’s innovation is to give us permission to let go in joy rather than in grief. She encourages us to respect and thank our accumulated physical objects precisely because they represent outmoded ideas, forgotten dreams and changed plans that once supported our passion and happiness. Once we have acknowledged them with gratitude, it is much easier to release them and move on. As I transition to the next phase in my career, I understand that I will need to reverently and gladly throw out the old ideas with the yellowed files and dog-eared books if I am to create the present joy and spaciousness for which I yearn.

So now, at the end of my seven-year long decluttering marathon, accidental spiritual guide Marie Kondo will be the one to take me over the finish line.


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The Power of Confession

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I recently attended a webinar by well-known author and teacher, Caroline Myss, who happens to come from the Catholic tradition. During the Q&A the question of confession came up. The questioner expressed the need to confess but lacking a spiritual community did not know how to find someone to whom they could offer their confession. Many of us have felt the pain of guilt and, like the webinar attendee, have also felt the need to confess with nowhere to turn for relief. I was moved to share this because I believe guilt to be one of the most unnecessary and destructive emotions we can harbor.

I too was raised Catholic and grew up practicing confession. In the Church, confession is a sacrament that takes place between the practitioner and her priest. I am now a practicing Buddhist, and for the past eleven years, I have come to understand and employ a form of confession that is different from what I learned as young Catholic. Buddhist confession does not require the presence of another person, yet it can be just as powerful. I have come to enjoy this aspect of my practice and the relief this daily act of confession provides.

Clear Purification

All Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, please heed me!

Please purify all my negative karma and emotions.

In front of all Buddhas, I honestly confess all my mistakes.

I sincerely regret all my harmful intentions and actions.

I completely eliminate all my negative thinking and emotions.

I completely eliminate all my afflictions and negative karma.

All my negative thinking, let go. Let go!

All my negative emotions, let go. Let go!

All my unhappy feelings, let go. Let go!

All my trauma, let go. Let go!

All my regret, let go. Let go!

All my guilt, let go. Let go!

Let go! Let go! Let go!

~ from The Buddha Path written by H.E. Dzogchen Khenpo Choga Rinpoche

This prayer exemplifies the Nine Powers of Purification. When all steps are included, the practitioner engages a profound cleansing purification. When repeated daily or whenever necessary, much negative karma can be cleaned, leaving the practitioner feeling a sense of lightness and peace.

The Nine Powers of Purification

  1. The Power of Visualization  Clearly visualize the object of your prayer, in this case we might visualize Buddha Shakyamuni as our guide.
  2. The Power of Supplication Here we really want to feel as though we are making a sincere plea. The more emotion, the stronger the healing effect.
  3. The Power of Confession   Admitting our mistake, saying our mistake out loud, naming our mistake is a necessary first step.
  4. The Power of Regret    We spend some time in regret, remembering our mistake, but remember that regret is like soap. It must be washed off to work.
  5. The Power of Decision  Only we can decide to let go of our mistakes. The power of decision is a necessary step toward the purification we seek.
  6. The Power of Antidote  The antidote is the healing. The healing is in the act of letting go. For that reason we use a physical mudra,  a clutching or grasping our hands into a fist, then thrusting our open hands outward in a releasing gesture. This feels wonderful and engages body, speech and mind for a thorough cleansing effect.
  7. The Power of Commitment   Of course we are human and we will make more mistakes. But by making a positive commitment we increase our own power to make and keep positive aspirations. That is why we call it “practice.”
  8. The Power of Healing Mantra Repeating mantra is the swiftest way to restore positive thinking. In our practice we use, Om Badzra Sattwa Hung. An alternative might be, “I love you, I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you.”
  9. The Power of Certainty  We reserve our doubting for contemplation. We do not hold doubt during our meditation. The more strongly we can hold and feel certain, the more healing the meditation. The more we repeat what we know, with certainty and feeling, the more strongly our meditation heals us.

Confession works. Confessing in front of others is powerful. But it’s not the only way. By remembering that our thinking is powerful, a daily repetition of this Clear Purification Practice can be a profound healing exercise.


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What’s Death Got to Do with Love?

DSC00094What’s death got to do with love? Everything.

Before you accuse me of being morbid, stop and think about the symbolism here: we’ve just ended one year and jump-started a new one. This bardo between one year and another is the perfect time to contemplate which endings will spring forth with new life.

In contemplating my own year, with its various endings, I can’t help but think how they pale in comparison to those of my sister, who lost her only son last February. Despite her enormous grief, she says in one of her last Facebook posts of 2014:

“Goodbye 2014. It’s been the hardest year of my life but I’m still happy! I have so much to be thankful for this year and that’s what is most important! I have some amazing friends and family that I love with all my heart and can honestly say that without them I would have not survived! I’m learning new things and learning how to create a different way to live in a life that is different but great also! Happy new year to all and I love everyone that is part of my world!!!!”

Wise words from a woman who has learned firsthand that death is part of love.

Not every death is so literal. In Chapter Five of the classic volume about the deep feminine, Women Who Run with the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés writes:

“A part of every woman and every man resists knowing that in all love relationships Death must have her share. We pretend we can love without our illusions about love dying, pretend we can go on without our superficial expectations dying, pretend we can progress and that our favorite flushes and rushes will never die. But in love, psychically, everything becomes picked apart, everything. The ego does not want it to be so. Yet it is how it is meant to be, and the person of a deep and wildish nature is undeniably drawn to the task.”

The best film I’ve seen on this subject matter is Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless,” released in 1961.  My husband and I watched the film for the first time a few nights ago and Pinkola Estés might have been summarizing the plot in the paragraph above. I was stunned by the similarities in theme. Breathless is as fresh and alive as the day it was released. I prefer the French title, “A Bout de Souffle,” which literally means “the end of breath.” The black and white movie explores the themes of letting go of our illusions of love and romance and does it in alternating thrilling, poignant and funny moments.

It doesn’t take much deep thinking to see that our culture has an unnatural insistence on permanence. Whether we are fixated on maintaining unwrinkled faces and tight buns well beyond middle age or we have an unrealistic expectation that the Dow will rise indefinitely, these will never be the natural state of affairs.

In all things, even in love, impermanence rules. Knowing this is the key to being present, again and again, to our lives and to our relationships.

What are you willing to let die so that love may flourish?


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If the Gown Fits, Wear it!

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 12.24.22 PMI’m re-reading Clarissa Pinkola Estés’ book Women Who Run with the Wolves. It’s a classic tome about initiating and recovering one’s feminine power and intuition, and it’s richly woven with fairy tale and archetypes. At the same time, and not coincidentally, I’ve embarked on two processes that promise to illustrate Estés’ thesis right here in my own life.

Project Number One: De-cluttering Home and Office

“In Eastern European fairy tales, brooms are often made of sticks from trees and bushes and sometimes the roots of wiry plants. Vasalisa’s work is to sweep this object made of plant matter over the floors and the yard to keep the place clear of debris. A wise woman keeps her psychic environ uncluttered. She accomplishes such by keeping a clear head, keeping a clear place for her work, working at completing her ideas and projects.”

As I come inside for the winter, my body and mind crave the warmth and coziness of home. Every year at this time I naturally gravitate to projects that beautify, organize and simplify my home. For a second year in a row I have joined a Facebook group devoted to spending December and January clearing cluttering. Already I have painted my living room a yummy Mid Century Modern turquoise and I’ve picked out a scrumptious orange to splash on an entry wall. I’m finishing an aspiration set last year for a “paperless” office by going through old receipts, files and books and removing everything that I can do without. I’m clearing out computer files, downloading and disposing of CDs and beginning the enormous task of digitally archiving a lifetime of photos. It’s a lot to consider doing but I allow myself to go one step at a time. And the rewards are substantial. I can feel my creative power surging when I care for my home and office, both extensions of my own body and self.

Project Number Two: Accepting Mentoring

“I like very much this initiatory task which requires a woman to cleanse the personae, the clothing of authority of the great Yaga of the forest. By washing the Yaga’s clothes, the initiate herself will see how the seams of persona are sewn, what patterns the gowns take. Soon she herself will have some measure of these personae to place in her closet amidst others she has fashioned throughout her life.”

I have had many mentors in my life, some teachers or family members, others bosses. All have profoundly affected my capacity to step into greater and greater levels of awareness. Likewise, I  have mentored others, countless people throughout several careers. I’d like to think I made a difference with guidance, advice, permission, or just plain ol’ reassurance. So when I recently needed to cut back on volunteer obligations to focus on growing my business, I felt the need to ask for and accept what I give naturally. Instantly, a woman I very much look up to for her grace, wisdom and business smarts accepted me under her nurturing wing. For this recovering do-it-all-myselfer, it felt good to set the aspiration, to summon the courage to make the request, and to receive a heartfelt acceptance.

In our very first conversation I described to my mentor the age-old dilemma of knowing what to charge for the work I do. Without missing a beat she wrapped me in the most loving and empowering feminine metaphor, as cozy as my grandmother’s afghan. She said that determining the worth of my work is like designing and donning my very own custom-made gown. It is a personal process and I alone get to decide. Such wise words spoken in a way I could hear them! I was not surprised when just days later they were reinforced in my discovery of the Estés quote above.

Feminine inner work is rife with, well, feminine archetypes, images and metaphors. Here I’ve shared Estés’ womanly images of cleaning the home and wearing beautiful clothes. What images are haunting your dreams and musings, urging you to follow your intuitions and reclaim your power?


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Inner Yoga

Screen Shot 2014-10-24 at 12.27.32 PMIt’s raining and though that’s not unusual in Portland, this storm triggers an urge to turn inward.

Traditionally we human beings have celebrated not only the coming of the longer days of spring, but also the beginning of the darkness in fall. As the leaves display their gorgeous colors, I see observant Jews in my neighborhood sheltering in their sukkot; I hear of Christians walking the labyrinths in their cathedrals. In Portland and around the world, Waldorf School children solemnly carry apple candle holders in ceremonial evergreen bough spiral walks. They take handmade paper lanterns into the darkness of the forest. Coast to coast, we Americans, regardless of our spiritual beliefs, observe the time-honored ritual of turning the clocks back as we cozy up to longer nights in front of the fireplace.

Born exactly on the Autumn Equinox, I consider this time of the year as the harbinger of new beginnings. I relish the chance to turn inward after the extroversion of summer. I find myself sleeping more soundly and remembering my dreams more vividly. I more naturally turn to my meditation practice and a desire to contemplate deeply, to turn my awareness not outward – to family, Sangha, and community – but inward toward my own thoughts, feelings and beliefs.

Autumn is the perfect time to begin or renew a meditation practice. Won’t you join me – actually or virtually – starting in November as I begin a new cycle of meditation gatherings? Modeled after the idea of satsang, we will meet weekly to sit quietly and receive guided instruction on posture, mudra, breath, and other practical aspects of starting and maintaining a meditation practice. I will also offer weekly prompts for contemplation. Hope to see you there! And don’t forget to let me know how your practice is progressing if you are following online.

<3 Carrie

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Desire for Perfection

IMG_9852I had the opportunity last week to participate in an enlivened discussion at the first-ever video-taping session for Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map Book Clubs. It was an intimate meeting of women who have completed the Desire Map process and are helping others to discover the wonders of tuning-in to their own “core desired feelings.” You could feel the transformational energy alive in the room even before the cameras started rolling!

What did it take to get seven Portland-based women to spill our guts on camera to Ms. LaPorte’s worldwide audience? It took facing and overcoming the fear of not looking, sounding, acting and being PERFECT.

I can’t stop thinking about perfectionism. It’s a shadow that many of us live under, and yet it can be so hard to relax our standards, even when our health or relationships are at stake.

The slogan that keeps running through my mind is “Progress, not perfection.”

While contemplating that in the shower this morning I realized that my core desired feeling, Enlightenment, is indeed the “perfection” of my positive thinking.

Perfect. (Pun intended.)

I like this because each positive thought really is one step toward enlightenment. We don’t just wake up enlightened one morning. It’s a steady walk on the path, one foot in front of the other.

It’s progress toward perfection!

There is nothing wrong with reaching toward perfection. How else do we make art, excel at our worldly endeavors or maintain a spiritual practice? But can I practice toward perfection while being gentle with myself, laughing rather than getting down on myself when I make a mistake, and allowing others to do the same?

What is your relationship with perfection?

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