Monday, July 3, 2017

Finding the Light in the Darkest Places



The biggest rocking chair. Casey, Illinois.
My husband and I have been on a quest this summer to have fun and visit places that we have never seen, even if they seem touristy or trivial. If we are in an area that might have a fun or funky attraction, we are stopping! And we are having a blast doing it. When our children were younger we were often too practical and less spontaneous. Now that we are older and hopefully a little wiser we see that there is value in spontaneity and a lighthearted approach to life. 

Life is serious enough so why NOT visit the biggest rocking chair or wind chime as you travel through Casey, Illinois. As the Archangel Michael (played by John Travolta) said to his fellow travelers in the film Michael, 

"You gotta learn to laugh, it's the way to true love. "

Balancing the seriousness with some silliness has gotten me through some tough times. Some of my most joyful memories have happened in the midst of the greatest turmoil. I often think how funny it is that this can be. Remember that iconic scene in The Mary Tyler Moore Show during the funeral for Chuckles the Clown? Hilarious! There is a fine fine line between our human emotions and sometimes we just have to let ourselves cross it. 

In Nothing to Do, a film I recently had the privilege of working on with some very talented folks, I played a woman who was dealing with the slow demise of her father. She (my character) was taking it upon herself to try to control the situation and things got very serious. Thankfully the brilliant screenwriter and director Mike Kravinsky (Nextnik, Geographically Desirable) came up with a scene that brought some comic relief to an otherwise stressful situation. I cannot wait to see it in the Fall when the film is released. Not only was it a good complement to the seriousness of the subject matter of the film, it was also a joy to play. And we did play, and play and play…I laugh just thinking about it. (Thanks Mike!)
The formations can take hundreds of years to grow just an inch!



On our most recent adventure my husband and I went to see Luray Caverns in Luray, Virginia after attending a wedding close by to there. Neither of us had seen the caverns although we had known about them for many years. The caverns were discovered in the late 1800’s when a prospector felt a rush of wind coming from a small opening and his candle flame was extinguished. When he investigated the source of the wind he found an opening to amazingly beautiful and mysterious underground caves. He kept the discovery a secret for a while and then eventually the caves were revealed and opened to the public. The Dept. of Natural Resources has checked out the caverns and authenticated that some of the formations are seven million or more years old! Some of the stalactites and stalagmites are still growing. It’s a natural wonder that one would think would be government owned and operated. Nope, those gorgeous wondrous caverns are privately owned by a family; a family that doesn’t get along.

It’s ironic to go into those caves and experience the awesome stillness and otherworldly beauty there right below the surface of a pristine freshly mowed grassy field. It's hard to believe that there is stress, chaos and struggle amongst the folks that have operated this gorgeous place for decades.  

Humans are funny. We like to have things looking all perfect on the surface but things seldom are. When we take time to really listen and get to know one another, we find that our lives up here are seldom tranquil and are far from perfect. We are just really good at wearing the mask. Eventually though the mask will crack. It has to for us to grow. 

Which brings me to yoga and meditation. C'mon you knew it would happen! We have, right below the surface, a beautiful place to retreat that, like the caverns, is cool and still and silent. It is where our true self resides and it's just a matter of closing the eyes, stilling the thoughts and getting beneath all of the stuff on the surface that can be so distressing to our bodies and psyches. Visiting the caverns reminded me that I have just to visit my interior cave a little more often to rebalance from the demands of the life up here on the surface. 

The stalactite organ in the room they call the Cathedral


According to yoga sutra 1:12 (“Abhyasa vairagya bhyam tan nirodha”), the ability to calm the vrittis comes through detachment and practice. Vrittis, or agitations, are caused by our ego reactions to situations that we perceive as threatening. When we pause and go “beneath the surface” of all of this we see things for what they truly are and, eventually with patience and practice, our true self can emerge. And that is key to growth, lasting happiness and peace.


But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  ~~Jesus


On the surface we humans quarrel, we fret, we stress over trivial matters. Beneath the surface there is peace, stillness and beauty. When we go there we can practice detachment from our fluctuating thoughts and feelings and reclaim our true nature. Our true nature knows intuitively that all is well and that God or the great mystery that forms things like planetary systems and vast oceans and majestic caverns has got our backs. 


Our guide at the caverns told us that it can take as long as three hundred years for one of the formations to grow just a half an inch. The caverns are still growing. We are all still growing too, hopefully into our loving, mindful true selves. We just need to be patient with ourselves and each other.

Prayer: May you find joy and lightheartedness in your everyday adventures and may you find the courage to explore what is beneath the surface.

Affirmation: I am meeting life with joy and spontaneity. I welcome the peace and stillness that rests beneath the surface of everyday awareness.



Connie Bowman is an actress and yogi and author of Back to Happy a Journey of Hope, Healing and Waking Up. 

For more about Connie including her yoga classes and workshops, visit her website at www.conniebowman.com.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Happy Healthy Knees for Life

How often do you think about your knees? If they are painful, probably more often than not. We humans tend to take for granted those body parts that just work well. How often have you looked down at those beautiful bony hinges and just said “Thank you knees. You da’ bomb”?

The knees are important joints to consider. Hanging out right there in the middle of the feet and the hips, the knees provide our means of moving forward in life, of taking the next step. When they are good they are very, very good, but when they are bad they are, well, horrid.

Knee replacements are commonplace nowadays. With a large, increasingly healthy aging population, this will no doubt only increase. But wouldn't it be better to avoid replacement all together in favor of keeping the knees safe and stable and strong and happy and healthy? I think so.

My Dad recently had a knee replacement. The recovery has been difficult. At 80, he was not prepared for the toll it would take on his body, soul and psyche. The family often would remind him, “You know Dad this was an elective surgery.” It did little to console him however. He is still rehabbing that knee three months later and will be doing so for a while. 

My Dad was a jock in his youth (that is up until about age 75). He worked out, skied, waterskied, swam and enjoyed a healthy life. He worked hard and he played hard. But this took a toll on his knees. Now, I would venture to guess that he wouldn't have had it any other way, but the transition from being an active, vital participant in life to one who is much more sedentary and restricted has been hard on him. He is now having to take a serious look at how he wants to live his remaining years and where adjustments can be made. This inquiry requires both strength and flexibility. Strength to accept that things are just not the same and flexibility to try some new ways of living that will work with the limitations of the body. I imagine it is very humbling.

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali refers to the qualities of sthira and sukha.
Sthira means stability and strength. Sukha refers to comfort, ease and openness/ flexibility even joy. Both are helpful in our yoga practice and in life. Whether you're out to guard against injury and disease or regain strength and flexibility after an injury, yoga can be a superb antidote to knee trouble. An article in Yoga Journal gives us some good tips for staying safe while we practice:

7 Ways to Protect Your Knees in Yoga

1. Avoid Hyperextending: When joints are overly mobile and flex too far back, they're hyperextended. In the knees, hyperextension often occurs in poses in which the legs are straightened, such as Trikonasana (Triangle Pose) and Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend), putting an unhealthy tension on the ligaments. If you're prone to hyperextension, keep a slight bend in the knees during standing poses and keep your weight evenly distributed among the four corners of your feet. In seated forward bends, place a rolled-up sticky mat or towel under the knee of the extended leg or legs.

2. Start With Your Feet: Proper alignment through the feet is the key to building strength evenly in the ligaments on both sides of the knee; when all the ligaments are equally strong, the kneecap glides effortlessly up and down and the cartilage doesn't get worn down. Separate your toes and press actively through the four corners of your feet in every pose, even inversions. If your feet are out of alignment, your knees are going to suffer.

3. Keep Your Knees in Line: When moving into deep knee bends, such as Virabhadrasana II (Warrior Pose II) and Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose), first align your bent knee over your ankle, then draw your kneecap in line with your second toe. Maintain awareness in your back foot, pressing down evenly, while lifting up from the arch of your front foot. "If you let the arch drop, the knee falls inside the big toe, and you're set up to suffer a number of different kinds of overuse and acute knee injuries," says Angela Smith, a professor of orthopedic surgery.

4. Tune in to Subtle Signals: "Oftentimes, the knees don't give immediate feedback," explains Iyengar teacher Joni Yecalsik. "Only later do you realize you've gone too far. When it comes to the knees, the sensation that would normally proceed the red flag is the red flag." If you feel achiness when you come out of a bent-knee pose, you may have worked too hard.

5. Build Strength by Balancing: Balancing poses, especially those that require moving through a bent standing leg, such as Garudasana (Eagle Pose), are especially beneficial. "Very dynamic balancing protects the knee against future injury by training the functional alignment, not just working the muscle," Smith says.

6. Be Prop-Friendly: When it comes to seated asanas, nothing makes a tight knee happier than a bounty of props. In Virasana (Hero Pose), try raising your seat with blankets or a block. Anytime the knees are deeply bent, such as in Balasana (Child's Pose) or Marichyasana III (Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi III), pressure can be relieved by placing a rolled-up washcloth as far into the knee pit as possible before bending the joint.

7. Warm Up With Hip Openers: "If your big joints aren't open, your small joints will always take the stress," yoga instructor Sandy Blaine says. "Many people hurt their knees doing Lotus when their hips aren't ready." She recommends warming up with hip stretches like Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) and Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose).

"Life is a balance of holding on and letting go" - Rumi


Yes, our healthy knees keep us moving forward in the world. When there is injury to the knee joint we might ask ourselves “What is it I am not wanting to move into?” Perhaps a reflection on this question would be helpful. We can strengthen our knees with exercise and/or regular yoga practice but we can also go within to look more honestly at what is keeping us from moving fluidly and easily forward in this life. Paying attention to the subtle clues that show up will point us in the direction of healing and further growth. Oftentimes what is keeping us stuck is simply our dear old friends Ego and Pride. The knees also represent humility - think kneeling in prayer or kneeling during a knighting ceremony. Being able to crawl is a natural stage that comes before walking (aka moving forward). It is interesting that many ancient Buddhist temples were built high on a mountain. The image of crawling up the mountain to one’s healing or enlightenment is evoked. Jesus (who knelt before John the Baptist at his own baptism) said, ‘He who humbles himself shall be exalted while he who exalts himself shall be humbled’. To crawl, to kneel, even to get “weak in the knees” from time to time points to living a full human experience. To remain strong but flexible in this complicated but miraculous joint, as in our lives, is a reminder that we are humbled by creation itself which loves us and is there to serve our highest good always. 

To keep knees happy and healthy in general, here are a few pointers: 

1. Lose weight if you are overweight. Excess pounds raise your risk of knee arthritis.

2. Play it safe. A knee injury will triple your risk of knee osteoarthritis. When you exercise, take proper precautions to avoid getting hurt.

3. Strengthen your quads. Weak quadriceps muscles are associated with knee arthritis, so work them out regularly, along with your hamstrings and all of your other leg muscles.

Prayer: May you come to an appreciation of this jazzy joint that we call the knee and may you move forward in your life with sthira and sukha, strength, stability, ease, oh and also flexibility. Here’s to our knees. We love you. We are grateful for you. You da’ bomb!

Affirmation: I am flexible and flowing. I forgive, let go, understand and look to the future with eager anticipation. I bend and flow with ease, and all is well.

Connie Bowman is an actress and yogi and author of Back to Happy a Journey of Hope, Healing and Waking Up. 
For more about Connie including her yoga classes and workshops, visit her website at www.conniebowman.com.



Thursday, May 11, 2017

Seven Tips for Stressful Times




We’ve all been there. There can be days and weeks when the stress of life bears down on us for whatever reason. We lose our healthy routines at these times out of choice and sometimes necessity.  Even taking a vacation and other happy occasions like weddings can knock us temporarily out of balance. It’s life my friends and it can be difficult. But with a little planning and awareness - nothing crazy, we can learn to surf the waves of life with grace and ease.

Recently I very suddenly became caregiver to a family member after a surgery. I needed to be there round the clock to administer medications, prepare food, even help with dressing and bathing. I cleared my schedule and mentally prepared for the task. I confess though that I was surprised to find that at the end of the two weeks I was exhausted, hadn't eaten a decent meal in days and really needed a run! I didn't have the luxury of time to plan for my own self care. During this short period when I was caring for my loved one there was little time for me. It was reminiscent of having a newborn. I got little sleep, had to plan to get a shower, and my eating and exercise routines went by the wayside. This was my choice to take on this task, and it was a joy, but still it was a stressful time.

A few months back I worked on a film for a few weeks. If you have ever worked on a film set you know that days start early and there can be a lot of tension. There is an effort to get things done well and in short time and there are a lot of strong personalities on the scene with different jobs to do. Everyone wants to do their job well and sometimes tempers can be short. Here again, I needed to adjust my regular daily healthy routines to make space for this creative and challenging opportunity. 

These are just two examples of situations where self care became important to me so that I could maintain my energy and focus during challenging situations. I realize that there are more dramatic and serious things. We are deployed, face life threatening illness, loss…But what I am suggesting here is a plan for the more common events that come up during a full life that require us to step it up for a time.

How do we stay in balance when under short term pressure and stress? It takes a little awareness and planning but we can do it. Here’s my recipe for thriving during challenging times:

1. Sleep when you can. Sleep allows the body and mind to come back to it’s factory settings. Get it while you can. Conversely, don’t stress over losing a few hours. It happens.

2. Keep your meals simple but healthy. This is no time to let go of your healthy eating plan that includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. (Nor is it a time to start that new diet!) Try to eat at regular intervals to keep your blood sugar levels consistent and your mind sharp.

3. Drink plenty of water. It might seem like a no-brainer, but sometimes we forget about water. Hydration keeps the body and the brain functioning at optimum levels.


4. Move the body at every opportunity, especially if you are temporarily sedentary. Even seated,  you can flex and point the toes, lift the arms and stretch to the side, fold over your legs and find an inversion, twist from side to side. Get up and walk around, out-of-doors if possible. If available, find a yoga video like this one and practice.

5. Find moments to just be. Close the eyes and notice the sounds and smells around you. Feel the body you inhabit. Notice the temperature of the air, the sensation of the fabric of the clothes on your skin. Bring your focus to the breath and slow it down. Try to make your inhales and exhales about the same length. Feel the breath fill up every nook and cranny of the body, replenishing and rejuvenating the cells of the organs, muscles, blood and brain.  For a sweet eight minute centering practice, click here.

6. Take a moment to cultivate gratitude. Pray a prayer of gratitude. Journal about everything you can possibly be grateful for, even if it is just the opportunity to take a deep cleansing breath. 

7. Ask for help. Lest you think otherwise, asking for help is a sign of strength and wisdom. Do it!

This is a simple list that is easily attainable for all of us during temporarily challenging situations. I’d love to hear your suggestions.

Namaste!
Connie

For more about Connie visit her website at www.conniebowman.com. Read her book, Back to Happy about her journey through grief after the loss of her daughter here: www.backtohappybook.com or on Amazon. Listen to the Happy Healthy You! podcast here: http://conniebowman.com/happyhealthyyou/

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Grief and Spring

Grief cycles through our lives over and over. Or it should. We are asked to process all manner of grief during the course of a lifetime. There are deaths, divorces, job losses… What is the timetable for grief? How long should it take for it to run it’s course?

Every Spring, around this time, I am reminded of my daughter Meghan. In truth I am reminded of her daily, but especially this time of year as this was the time she went into the hospital and eventually died as a result of a routine procedure to evaluate her congenital heart disease. The familiar sadness overtakes me on these beautiful Spring days when the azaleas start to bloom. We had white ones by our front door and their fragrance comes back to me as I reflect on that day.  I remember that she ate frosted flakes very early that morning before we left. I recall putting a white flower in her hair that morning before we drove to the hospital. I remember that I took the wrong exit on my way to her appointment. So many memories seem frozen in time. Especially the last goodbye. 

While all of this is probably going to be with me for the remainder of my life, I am also aware that joy is present as well. Now, after so many years, I can remember the happiness that we felt on that drive together, singing and talking and laughing about wrong turns. I come across photos and kindergarten artwork and I can smile. The grief has processed but still there is a sad remembrance that visits me during this season of rebirth and renewal.

It’s kind of not fair, I think. Just as the weather is turning beautiful, here is this rising up of grief again. 

And yet, there is joy. There really is; as we plan a wedding and rejoice over new babies being born, as we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and graduations and sobriety and small seemingly unimportant everyday miracles. 

The coexistence of joy and sorrow is life. 

We come closer to our true nature when we accept this truth. Our true nature is that silent witness that observes the cycles of grief and joy. Our true nature knows what we need to gracefully flow through each passage of life.  Our true nature IS joy.

Christian mystic Thomas Merton writes:

 “At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us… It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely…I have no program for this seeing.  It is only given.  But the gate of heaven is everywhere.”

This makes it sound so glorious, no? In the throes of grief, I have longed for this precious awareness.

And yet it is right here in the heart of each of us. We need just to be still enough to notice.

In grieving my daughter I have come across many profound teachings. Many stand out, but one, in particular, author Caroline Myss on “woundology” and how we can get stuck in our grief and our wounds in almost an addictive way. She writes:

“We are not meant to stay wounded. We are supposed to move through our tragedies and challenges and to help each other move through the many painful episodes of our lives. By remaining stuck in the power of our wounds, we block our own transformation. We overlook the greater gifts inherent in our wounds--the strength to overcome them and the lessons that we are meant to receive through them. Wounds are the means through which we enter the hearts of other people. They are meant to teach us to become compassionate and wise.”

Compassionate and wise sounds good. But how do we mine for those gifts when we are so broken, so terribly sad?

From the yoga sutras of Patanjali we learn that yoga is the removing of the fluctuations of the mind. (Yogas chitta vritti nirodha). Yoga is the stilling of the mind until it rests in a state of total and utter tranquility – so that one experiences life as it is – as reality. We experience life through the clearest of lenses – lenses not colored by thoughts of good or bad, or mine or yours or even joy or suffering. When the fluctuations of the mind are totally removed, we are at one with everything. We have no separation from our inner divinity or the divine.

This is all good but we are human and we love, and so we grieve.
But to heal we must look to our true nature, our divinity, our source of that love, both human AND divine.

We can get still, we can move the best we can through cycles of grief as nature shows us ever changing seasons. And we can study and have compassion for ourselves and others. But most of all we can do our best to allow both sorrow and joy to remind us of our true divine nature until it blossoms forth, it’s fragrance wafting out from us to other grieving souls.

Namaste


For more about my grief journey: www.backtohappybook.com



Sunday, April 2, 2017

Rest and Relaxation and Transitions

I slept until 11:30 this morning. (Please don’t judge me!) I cannot remember the last time I slept so late. I am used to my kids staying in bed longer than I thought was necessary, but not me.  I am usually bright eyed and bushy-tailed, arising with or before the sun. When I sat up in bed and looked at the clock I was shocked. My husband was long gone. All of my plans for the morning were shot. I thought, how in the world did that happen? But then I thought damn, I feel really well rested!

My body must have needed the extra rest. How often do we chastise ourselves for staying in bed a little longer or turning out the lights a little earlier than usual? Probably more often than not. Maybe our teens have the right idea after all.

When I looked back on my week I realized a lot had been crammed into a short amount of time. I had been on a week-long, fun-filled, action packed vacation to Arizona where I mountain biked, hiked and adjusted to a three hour time difference. Then I traveled home from the West Coast on Wednesday and jumped right back into my regular schedule starting Wednesday evening. Thursday I had a class to teach, Friday a lunch meeting and another two classes all on top of catching up with mail, bill paying, watering neglected house plants, etc. You get the idea. You know how it goes. 

Expanding out from there, I had just finished a major project; a film that was an amazing experience but required me to be up and out at dawn many days, prepared to perform a role that was demanding and at times difficult and very emotional. Looking at the bigger picture, we had just entered Spring, coming off a mostly mild Winter on the East Coast. Mild maybe, but still, changes of seasons are rites to be respected.

In a sense all changes are meant to be respected. But how often do we honor the many changes that happen in our lives? We blow through moves and divorces and job losses like they’re nothing, keeping up the frantic pace we’re used to, only to crash weeks later and wonder why.

I can’t help but feel that nature doesn't much like abrupt change. Think about the late snowfall we had on the East Coast which followed an unnaturally warm spell, causing trees and flowers to start blooming early, only to be shocked back into the cold the following week. In D.C. we worried about the Cherry Blossoms and whether their peak bloom date would be affected by the strange weather. But they did bloom and they are magnificent, despite everything they have been through.

I am just going to cut myself some slack for this morning’s indulgence. I hope you will do the same as we transition into this 2017 Spring. We’ve been through a lot these last several months. We all need to be kinder to ourselves during these times of change, whatever they may be. We will practice this ease of transition in yoga this week. 

Please join me for a yoga/meditation class when you can. We start tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM with Mindful Mondays at the North Laurel 50 Plus Center. It’s a sweet 45 minute meditation and yoga practice that will start your week with a gentle nudge and a sweet dose of mindfulness. Tuesdays we have Nightcap Yoga at Maple Lawn at 7:15 PM in the yoga room. Thursday I teach Yoga for Parkinson’s at 6:30 PM at the Florence Bain Center in Columbia. This is a donation based class and everyone is welcome. We have a sweet group of people who would love for you to join them whether you have Parkinson’s or are a caregiver. Friday evening I teach at 6:15 PM at St Matthews Orthodox Methodist Church in Columbia. We start with boot camp for 30 minutes and then go right into yoga for 45 minutes. It’s a fun combination and a great group of people. For more information and directions, see my website.

Happy Spring! and Namaste,



Connie







Monday, February 27, 2017

Cycles

Practice may not make us perfect but it sure helps to keep us in the game.
~~Me

One of the reasons I love yoga so much is  that it gives us (aka me) the opportunity to practice navigating the cycles that life finds us (me) in. We can cultivate grace and ease by moving our bodies to become more fluid and flexible. We can find an appreciation for the great teachers that our bodies really are by simply becoming aware of the breath, each round a cycle in itself. We notice when we try to hold onto the breath at the top of an inhale, there is only so long that we can do it before we must surrender and release. At the bottom of the exhale we can also pause to reflect on the quality of the last cycle before we prepare for the next inhale. And on it goes. 

Through the asanas (the poses) we can practice the larger cycles of life; birth, life, death and rebirth. From happy baby pose to Savasana in corpse pose, we rehearse so that when we move through the natural cycles and fluctuations of life we are prepared to sail smoothly from one to the other with a smile, knowing that each one will eventually end and transition into another.

“To focus solely on endings is to trade conclusions for the very beginnings that created them. And if this cycle should persist, we will likewise miss the beginning that will follow this ending.

It can be a great comfort in an uncertain world to know that these cycles repeat and continue, that all is really impermanent, as the buddha suggests - in the physical anyway. But why do we humans find the endings so hard to move through? 

Death being the biggie, when will we learn to gracefully navigate this one? In the middle ages with plagues and wars and mortality much more prevalent on the minds of the people, death was a regular topic of conversation. 
According to Christian tradition, the very purpose of life was to prepare for the afterlife by avoiding sin, performing good works, taking part in the sacraments, and keeping to the teachings of the church. Time was measured out in saint's days, which commemorated the days on which the holiest men and women had died. Easter, the holiest feast day in the Christian calendar, celebrated the resurrection of Christ from the dead. The landscape was dominated by parish churches - the centre of the medieval community - and the churchyard was the principal burial site. 
Even as recently as the late 19th century, the standard of life being much lower, people died at earlier ages. Our time on the planet was limited. Average life expectancy was just 48. During that era people talked much more openly about death. Queen Victoria influenced many with her obsessive grief over the loss of her husband Albert. 

Nowadays people can expect to live into their nineties and higher. Contemporary culture is not so apt to be sitting around a table talking about their mortality. But why not if it’s such a big part of this great life cycle we are all experiencing?

Think about the last time you had a conversation about death. I know, me neither.

In my Happy Healthy You! podcast with Marilyn Schlitz about her documentary Death Makes Life Possible with Deepak Chopra she posits that life is greatly enhanced by embracing the idea of our eventual demise. She studies different cultures where death is not such a taboo subject and each portion of the cycle is embraced with equal reverence. This mindset requires a certain spiritual appreciation of the mystery of the cycle itself, she suggests. 

We do not know where death awaits us, so let us wait for it everywhere. To practice death is to practice freedom. A man who has learned how to die has unlearned how to be a slave.
                    ~~Montaigne                                                 

Practice death you say? I know this sounds ridiculous, but stay with me here. If we are to live life to the fullest it is important to embrace every part of this great cycle that we are all in together. Here’s one idea. Take, for example, the past several days of beautiful weather we have been experiencing. How many of you wished for those 75 degree days to never end? 
I know, me too.

They were hard to let go of. I found myself outside most of the day last Friday. I became aware that I was practicing just what I am talking about. I knew this cycle would eventually come to an end so I was determined to be in every sweet, sunshiny, gorgeous blue sky, slightly breezy moment. My face got a little burnt that day but I did appreciate it right up until that sun tucked back in for the night. It was glorious and beautiful and spiritual. It was a practice of being in the moment and of letting go with grace and ease when it was over. Now, I am not saying I did that part perfectly. I did a little metaphorical kicking and screaming. But that’s why I practice.

Practice, whether yoga or meditation or mindfully appreciating a random gorgeous day, keeps us living full lives and reminds us to let go when it’s time, trusting that what’s coming next (and it’s a great mystery) is a part of a larger cycle that is bigger than we can conceptualize or ever attempt to control.

So take a deep inhale now and try to hold on for as long as you can. When it’s time,  gently release the breath. Pause here to reflect. Allowing the wisdom of the cycle to inform you, decide when it’s the right time to inhale again. Do it slowly and mindfully, with gratitude and awe and love.

Join me for a yoga practice this week. Here's where: http://conniebowman.com/yoga.php
Find my book Back to Happy here.
Look for the upcoming film Nothing to Do about making peace with death later this year. (I am in it!) Like it on Facebook here.

XO,
Connie

Monday, January 2, 2017

If I Had Waited for the Tide to Rise


   "Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it.

   Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!           
         ~~Goethe

If I had waited for the tide to rise I would not have had to trudge through mud with my kayak in tow, fearing I would disappear deep into the cold mushy blackness beneath.

I admit there was a sinking suspicion.

Had I waited things might have been different. 

My feet would have stayed clean, dry and warm. 

The kayak would have glided smoothly across the water rather than getting stuck several times, forcing me to drag it through the mud to deeper depths.

Kayaks do not require deep water to float but any less than six or so inches is too shallow a depth. Boats gets stuck when water is too shallow.

It would have been easy to wait. The tide would come in as expected and deeper waters would have allowed me to easily launch.

But I have always been impatient. I wanted to be out on the water on this January 1 morning that was sunny and uncommonly warm. I wanted it - come heaven or low water. 

Sometimes we are forced to wait. 
We wait long months for babies to come into the world. We await the return of lovers from afar. We watch and wait as loved ones prepare to breathe their last breaths. We wait to receive news we would rather pretend we never heard. 

Had I waited things might have been easier, smoother, possibly perfect even.

Yet had I waited that January morning for the tide to rise I might have missed the chance to visit a distant shore to explore mysterious shiny objects washed up with the tide. 

I would have missed some precious and sacred moments.
The fallen pine that, having long ago lost its needles, has become an oyster tree. 

The pine cone, half its cones missing, yet somehow beautiful in its petrified blackness after resting for God knows how long under the water.

Silver and gold colored oyster like shells resembling angel wings.

The sparkling sunlight dancing on the surface of our beloved bay.

The placid splendor of the quiet morning mirrored in the stillness of the water.

For a brief moment I wondered what would happen if the tide did rise and swept away my boat and I was stranded on that island all alone. What then?
Yes, I could have waited. I could have waited and things could have been very different, perhaps even easier.

But that's not my way. I can be stubborn like that. I might get that from my Dad who almost singlehandedly rebuilt our burned down house in record time because he believed it could be done. 

He could have taken an easier way but he had a mission and he knew it was possible.
He had an unshakable faith that both worried and astounded family and close friends.

Sometimes life calls for wading through a little mud when we know deeply in our hearts we are called to something great.

A little mud can be a small price to pay for glorious moments.

Years ago when my husband and I made the decision to start a business, leaving behind the comfort of steady salaries, several people made sure we knew there was serious risk involved. "You know most businesses fail in the first year," one well meaning friend generously shared. That first year was lean and challenging but we did not fail and we wouldn't trade the lessons learned working side by side. 

I can remember complaining a bit to my Dad during this time and his advice was "If you're going to do this then you need to wear it on your underwear." I never forgot his advice. And my underwear has never been the same.

Perhaps the mud's no less important than the smooth sailing. A full meaningful life will include some of each.

I am grateful for both.

I want to feel the mud between my toes and the fear of being engulfed and even the threat of being alone on that island. I want to explore new shorelines, witness luminous mornings and sunshine dancing on the water and old fallen trees finding new purpose. For me this is heaven. Shallow water will not stop me.

Sometimes action is called for or shorelines are covered over, the light less brilliant. We must work some to find more depth.

I can be stubborn like this. I sometimes go against the flow and it can be challenging. But mostly it has been worth it, cold muddy feet and all.
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Happy Healthy New Year Friends!
Namaste,
Connie