Coming Home to Ourselves

On our way home…
photo by Pascale Parinda

News about two effective Covid 19 vaccines has been a balm to my unsettled nerves, even as the number of cases skyrockets across most of the world. As we approach Thanksgiving, our health experts are urging us to make difficult decisions about how we celebrate, even advising us to just stay home and share a meal with only our immediate family or “friend bubble.” Although my husband and I long to be with my small family in Greensboro, we have decided to remain in Weaverville. The risks are too great. We consider this a short-term sacrifice for long-term health and future gatherings. What’s your plan? How do you feel right now about the upcoming holidays? And where exactly is home? 

I “borrowed” the title of this essay from the title of Chapter 5 in Real Change: Mindfulness to Heal Ourselves and the World, a recent book by author Sharon Salzberg, a central figure in the field of meditation, and a world-renowned teacher. She writes that “deep in our hearts we all long for a feeling of being at home.” How does “home” feel in your body? When I feel at home, my body relaxes. I feel more comfortable in my skin.

I’m also reading The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, published in 2016. The author, Douglas Abrams, interviewed His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. These wise men suggest we find that home place through practices of prayer, meditation, gratitude, and compassion that cultivate joy. They recommend that we think of others, whether we are joyful or not. For example, when we feel lonely we can consider others who feel lonely. Just like us, they know sadness and despair. We are not alone. In those moments, we can send out a prayer or aspiration that all may be lifted up. If we are at the pharmacy (masked up, of course) consider that others there might be scared. Send out feelings of safety through your smiling eyes. I’ve spoken to several friends in the last 24 hours. Each one has mentioned feeling depressed, anxious, unsettled, angry, uncertain, scared, and scattered. These same people have reported feeling contented, settled, grateful, happy, loved and balanced. These same feelings course through my body at different times. I can’t choose only one. 

To everything there is a season…
Photo by Pascale Parinda

We are human. These are natural emotions that run through us. Which ones do you want to cultivate? I find that if I stop long enough to notice the physical sensations without adding a storyline, the energy will pass through me in a short time. Getting on the yoga mat for even a short while allows me to release the tension and reset my nervous system. A short brisk walk outside frees my constricted mind when I consider the expansiveness of the sky. I send this expanded awareness out to the universe. I don’t know if you all feel it but I feel better. What are you reading, listening to, or watching? How do you want to feel? Pay attention. Go to that physical feeling of happiness, compassion, gratitude, or love. How does it physically feel? Could this be home? 

Here’s my loving advice: when you are unhappy, consider that others feel the same way. Send out aspirations for them (and you) to feel uplifted. Feel that upliftedness in your body/mind.

When you are happy, feel that. Send out aspirations for others to feel that way. Some people are sending those aspirations out to you right now. Consider that. 

If nothing else, this pandemic reminds me of our interconnectedness and interdependence. We are living on this round planet together. What helps one helps all. 

I do not know what this holiday will bring. Will I dance on the porch, take a hike, or read a book? Will my husband play golf or tinker on a boat? Will we sit down to a traditional Thanksgiving dinner? I don’t know and I find a certain amount of freedom in that. I know that I will be at home wherever I find myself. 

I suspect that there will be laughter and loneliness as well as compassion and heartbreak. May you ride the waves of emotion with your heart open to include all that life brings you. 

Zoom Yoga Workshop 2020 with Sunrise Yoga

Friday–Sunday, November 6 – 8 

It’s time for Cindy’s annual weekend workshop combining yoga and the Four Foundations of Mindfulness at Sunrise Yoga. This year, the weekend workshop is brought to you on Zoom. Bringing together the four foundations of mindfulness as a means to awaken the body to still the mind, each session will focus on a specific foundation, using yoga asana, pranayama, and meditation as a means to guide the attention to present moment awareness. 

Friday 11/6 @ 6–8 pm = $45 
Mindfulness of the Body: Standing Poses and Inversions 

Saturday, 11/7 @ 9:30 am – 12:30 pm = $65 
Mindfulness of Body Feelings: Chest Openers and Poses for Pranayama 

Saturday, 11/7 @ 2 – 4 pm = $45 
Mindfulness of the Mind: Forward Extensions to Quiet the Mind for Meditation 

Sunday, 11/8 @ 9:30 AM – 12:30 PM = $65 
Mindfulness of Mental Qualities: Twists to Wring it all Together 

Register online, at SunriseYoga.
Register for all days to save! $190 by 10/23; $210 after. 
Cancellation penalty applies. No refunds after 10/30

Standing Strong and Steady

Every single person I’ve talked with this week has been upset, scared, sad, angry, incredulous, unnerved, worried, and/or flat out frightened about the upcoming election and its implications for the future of our country. At the center is the Administration’s mishandling of Covid-19, with its tragic consequences. Divisions and tensions seem to escalate daily as news arrives about families torn apart at the border, women’s rights in danger, the ever-present effects of racial injustice, the rollback of regulations to protect the environment, the potential loss of health insurance for those with pre-existing conditions, unemployment numbers off the chart, thousands of our fellow citizens standing in food lines, many unable to pay their rent.

These times call for Spiritual Warriors. 

Spiritual warriors are people who long to attain complete spiritual realization so they can help others do the same and in so doing bring an end to all their suffering, and indeed, to all the suffering in this world.

Stay with me, please. Let’s move on to how a Spiritual warrior behaves in the world.

Spiritual warriors have courage. They stand strong and steady, feet planted, heart open, and head up. The yoga warrior poses develop these qualities. Along with bravery, they have compassion. The felt-sense quality of compassion—of suffering with—is fearlessness. Fearless doesn’t mean there is no fear. Fearlessness is the ability to stay present to that fear, whether at the bedside of a dying friend or in any place that seems to have no good outcome in sight. Spiritual warriors hold the ability to step into places where they tremble with compassion for others who suffer. 

Spiritual warriors persist in remaining open hearted, even as they step into the hard places where anger arises. They use the energy of anger to work for peace, rather than against others. They take the high road of integrity and refrain from cruel behavior. Get the picture?

The present times demand Spiritual Warriors to come forward all over the world, not only in the U.S. We urgently need warriors who are willing to stand up for their own rights and those of others who are unable to speak (or vote) for themselves. 

I feel like a Spiritual Warrior as I write this. I feel my heart beating. I’m a little scared, a little fearful. Some may say I’m overstepping a boundary by voicing my opinion. To align myself with the practice of non-harming and truthfulness, I must speak up. My opinion is that dishonesty, cruelty, and criminal behavior have no place in any leader at any level. I’m stepping out and standing strong to say that I’m voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and the entire Democratic ticket. I hope you Spiritual Warriors will join me.

Let the record show that I know that everyone has opinions, that opinions are ego-based. I also believe that we can differ in opinions and continue to hold each other in love and light. As the word Namaste reminds us, “The light within me honors the light within you. In that light of awareness and love we are one.”  We are pure love, beyond the gate of thought and desire. 

Dana-based Zoom Class – Thursday, August 13

You can register at no cost for this class, which Cindy is offering through her Southern Dharma “At Home” retreat here. Once registered, you’ll receive instructions for how to join the Zoom class via email on Thursday.

Cindy greatly appreciates any donation you choose to make.

(PayPal is an easy method that does not require you to create an account. Use this link —Sarah Dollar, that’s her!)

At-Home Retreat with Cindy Dollar—August 12-16

Centering Body & Mind—Yoga & the Four Sublime States
(An offering of Southern Dharma Retreat Center)

One of the many lessons of the pandemic is how interconnected and interdependent we are.

Seated Buddha sculpture in landscape.
Photo by Vertalm, own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 (cropped)

The practice of yoga combined with an exploration of the Four Immeasurables can show us how to intentionally connect to ourselves and to others in ways that can reduce suffering and nurture happiness. In this at-home retreat with Cindy, we’ll explore how asana, along with the cultivation of friendliness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity can quiet the mind, decrease discontent, and develop clarity and freedom, the benefits of which we can share with others. 

Each day will include periods of silent and guided meditation, mindfulness exercises, and the practice of Hatha yoga postures and breath awareness. Depending on your situation, you can participate in all the sessions (much as you would at a residential retreat) or you can adjust the schedule to work with your “life” activities and responsibilities. For everyone, the intention we set will be to practice self-awareness during our time together and our time away from the group.

For more information and to register, please visit: https://www.southerndharma.org/retreat-schedule/661/at-home-retreat-centering-body-mind-yoga-the-four-sublime-states/

Living Now

In the United States, we are five months into the Stay Home, Stay Safe aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic. At my house, we call it “The Covid”—as if it has an actual identity as an unwanted guest who won’t leave. We all want to talk about The Covid; about how our daily lives have changed, how difficult travel has become, and how worried we are about our family members and ourselves. We are swimming in anxiety, restlessness, and worry. How exhausting!

What can we practice to transform or at least limit these fraught conversations and heavy feelings? Surely there are more life-affirming alternatives to Netflix and on-going cocktail hours with friends on Zoom. (Is there any activity that doesn’t involve a screen right now?) 

Woman and toddler playing in a swimming pool.
Cindy & Jack in the pool

During these challenging times, I find it especially helpful to focus on the Four Immeasurables, also known as the Four Limitless Qualities or Heavenly Abodes. I’ve mentioned them before because they are always within us, as the blue sky is always with us, although it may be covered up by clouds. As a reminder, these qualities are loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. 

Does focusing on these make the pandemic go away? No. However, when we uncover and cultivate these  qualities, we can experience life as more peaceful and spacious.

Take a moment:

  • How does your body feel when you feel angry? Really, how does it feel? Light and free? Tense and tight?  
  • How does your body feel when you feel loved? Light and free? Tense and tight?
  • How does your body feel when you feel joyful or playful? 
  • How does your body feel when you drop the storyline of who wears a mask and who doesn’t?
  • How do you want to feel at any given moment? 

If you felt more at ease when focusing on the physical sensations of love, joy, and acceptance, perhaps others would, too. The aspiration practice of metta or loving-kindness prompts us to think beyond our personal difficulties and recognize that all of us are in this situation together. If each one of us loosened our grip on what we think is right, and instead wished for all of us to be more at ease, how would that feel? Maybe we would smile under our masks and wish that all beings be safe and happy, mask or not. Maybe we would send off a prayer that all could be healthy and well.

Let’s give it a try.

Let me be clear: I believe in science. Follow all the rules about wearing a mask where it’s expected and mandated. Wash your hands. Oh, and wear a mask. It’s possible to smile with your eyes. 

Start Now

I am stunned, numbed, outraged, and incredibly sad about the murder of George Floyd by members of the Minneapolis police. His death, viewed by millions of people, led to largely peaceful mass protests in 50 cities in the U.S. and in dozens of countries around the world; thousands and thousands of people—black, brown, and white—gathered for nearly two weeks to express their anger and grief at this latest “lynching” of a black man. 

Image from cnn.com

As a privileged white female, the first thing I want to say is “I’m sorry” as meant by the Spanish phrase, “Lo siento.” I feel it. I am filled with sorrow for the pain that my race has inflicted on people of color. When I sit still on the meditation cushion and tune into all the levels of my feelings, sorrow is at the core. I have to acknowledge that first.

As I sit on the cushion, emotions and physical discomfort come and go. Over the years, I’ve sat through sadness, joy, confusion, and anger. At times, I’ve wanted to run screaming from the cushion because of the heart-rending experience of being human. Still I sit. I’ve learned that as those thoughts and feelings subside, clarity arises. From there, should I choose to act, the actions can emerge from clarity and compassion.

How do I take this clarity and compassion into the world when sometimes it feels so fleeting? How can I address what is going on now to help make real progress on racial justice and police reform? What can I do? What can you do to make the world a kinder and more accepting place for all? Each one of us has to decide for ourselves. When I look within, here are some options I’ve found. Perhaps they will resonate with you. 

Notice and stay grounded. With kindness, acknowledge the violence within yourself and toward others. Be honest. Notice how you are in the world. How does racism, in particular, arise in you?

Look deeply at that. Do you live up to your own expectations? If you’ve fallen short, can you accept that and do better next time? Practice kindness and compassion. Start small.

Act in alignment with your highest ideals. Take responsibility. Apologize to yourself and others when you don’t. We are human. Sometimes our old conditioning and beliefs override our kind heart.

Do what you can to work for social justice, civil rights, and equality for all.  Educate yourself about the issues that led to the Black Lives Matter movement and to ideas about changing the role of the police. Be deeply curious about the world of which you’re a part. As a citizen of the world, speak up! If you’re in the company of people who make racist or other prejudiced comments, gently but firmly call them out. Tell them how you feel and why. If you have the means, donate money (small amounts from many of us add up) to support to organizations that work towards a more just society. Join in peaceful protests, if you can do that safely (in a mask, using social distancing). If prayer helps you, go ahead and pray. Exercise your privilege in this democracy by voting. Help others exercise their right to vote. 

This is a time to say what we mean and mean what we say. Start now to find ways to repair the world. 

May we all join together to mend our hearts.


At Home Retreat – Centering Body & Mind: Yoga & the Four Sublime States

I planned to be in residence at Southern Dharma again this year to settle into the meditation hall for yoga and meditation, share silence and delicious, nutritious meals, and enjoy the serene beauty of western North Carolina mountains. I never imagined that a virus would sweep the world, affect so many families and businesses, and require us to creatively alter this plan.

Magnolia by Pascale Parinda

Fortunately, we’re in the world of magic technology that allows us to be together in a different, yet intimate, way. Currently, I teach Zoom yoga classes from my home studio, during which I get to see inside people’s homes, meet their pets and children, and see what kind of practice space they have set up. I’d be honored to be invited into your home, if you choose to participate in this retreat. Likewise, I look forward to welcoming you into my home. There’s a special tenderness of being together in this way at a time when we’re asked to isolate ourselves from others.

The home of the four immeasurables, the limitless ones, is a place of both release and outreach: when we observe ourselves being frightened and reaching for more chocolate, can we notice that behavior with compassion toward ourselves, without judgment? And if we eat the chocolate, well, okay! There’s a pandemic going on…let’s eat chocolate! If we interact with someone who isn’t wearing a mask in the grocery store, can we tap into equanimity for that person who might be afraid in his or her own way?

Let’s be honest. We are uncomfortable with uncertainty. We don’t like not knowing.

Asana practice is a way to release into not knowing. During this time of emotional ups and downs, we have the opportunity to experience yoga as way to support our bodies and minds. We have the opportunity, on-line and at home, to stay embodied, soften our shoulders, and recognize our inter-dependency.

Southern Dharma and I are working together to create this at-home retreat as a way to support and comfort you, as well as to hone your tools of self-awareness.

No matter your personal situation, I’m confident you can find ways to participate in this retreat. It’s an experiment, like life. Just show up and see what happens. There’s no “wrong way” to do this!

Learn more about the retreat HERE. Here’s a detailed schedule.

Clear Seeing

I sit and squint at the blue bird on the budding branch. I can see that the bird is blue. I can’t tell whether it’s an Eastern Bluebird, a Blue Bunting, or a Blue Jay. I realize in that moment that I just can’t see well. Then I remember: months ago I was diagnosed with vitreomacular traction, an eye condition that causes distorted vision.  

The reason I even had a clue that there are different kinds of birds that are blue is that my friend, Jim, surprised me last week with a copy of What It’s Like to Be a Bird, by David Allen Sibley. As soon as I received the book, I delved right in. What else am I to do while Staying Home? How many Zoom classes can one take?

Before the bird flew away, I found binoculars and discovered that he was an Eastern Bluebird. To see more clearly, I needed the right tool—in this case, the proper kind of glasses. 

During this challenging crisis, I find I’m spending more time than usual looking inward. What am I not seeing? What tools can I use to help me see more clearly? Are there aspects of personality that aren’t readily clear? Well, yes. I’ve noticed that I’m greedy. Usually, I stay busy enough not to notice. Busy-ness distracts me. Now, greed arises within me for a sit-down meal at a restaurant, or a leisurely afternoon at Malaprops. I even ache for an unmasked trip to the post office. That’s pitiful. At least I keep my sense of humor.

The pandemic has deprived us of many of the activities of daily life that distract us, as well as those that entertain and enrich us. There’s so much I miss! Hugging my grandnephew is high on the list of things I crave… even more than a sit-down meal at Thai Kitchen. 

However, when I use the “right” tools, I have the opportunity, if I so choose, to direct my focus. Then I experience more stable ground beneath my feet, steadiness to my breathing, a lift of my spirits, and connection to myself and others. My tools include a Koan meditation session, a long walk with Jack, FaceTime with a friend, a Zoom yoga class, and sometimes a prayer. What are the tools available to you to help you see more clearly—to help you find clarity? I recognize that I may not “like” what I see. Today, I noticed the dirty grout in the shower. I recognized the gritty greed in my mind. I scoured the grout. I watched the greed. I suspect both will return. I’ll be watching.

Until the “all clear,” I’m working to accept the fact that the hug I’m sending you is “virtual,” but nonetheless, deeply felt. I’m also sending you the strong suggestion that you find ways to “see” more clearly—whether it’s a bluebird on a branch, or a glimpse of your true, authentic, and loving nature.

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A number of you are already enjoying taking private and semi-private classes with me via Zoom. I will continue to offer this way of practicing through May. If you would like to schedule Zoom time with me, please send an email to cdollar53@gmail.com to set this up.