Reflections on the Present

Yesterday I received a four-page letter from my friend, Adam. He spoke of getting a job in the prison, feeding the crows in the yard, meditating while living in a barracks, and getting up at 5am to find a quiet time for his yoga practice. He recounted in detail his gratitude to be earning money, his excitement of hearing the raucous caw of the crow, the feeble light at 5am, and the expansion of his body on the yoga mat.

Image © Pascale Parinda 2021

I sat down to write back to him and wondered how I could find any events in my life to fill four pages. All I’ve done is teach yoga classes on Zoom, meet with students privately (and masked), walk, meditate, watch my husband cook, eat, and clean up. That doesn’t seem like much. Oh, and I’ve zoomed with friends for happy visits, taken some online philosophy and yoga classes, played and laughed with my grand-nephew. I didn’t even drive very much except for that one two-week motorhome trip to Florida to national parks. That about sums it up. What is there to say about that? Hmmm. Seems like I should have more going on, even during a pandemic.

So I sat and pondered. I took the time to reflect on my life during this past year since March of 2020. What I realized is that although I feel like I haven’t “done” much, I’ve observed quite a bit. Not doing has opened me to sacred idleness, momentary snippets of awareness during the day. How often do I look at the big picture of doing and miss the divine details of being alive? When I stop to pay attention, I see the ladybug on the windowsill. I notice the breeze wafting through the window. I smell the fresh cut grass. I’m present to now rather than getting something done— although the windowsill does get dusted. The ladybug moves along and the breeze lets up.

Image © Pascale Parinda 2021

I suspect that many of us wake up and get on with the day. Perhaps the routine is wake up, eat, work, exercise, tend to the family, make dinner, watch TV, and go to bed. Repeat. The routine might not change, although the details certainly do. What did you eat for your first meal today? Did you taste your food? Was it sweet, sour, salty, bitter, astringent, or pungent? What was the texture of the food?

While writing this essay, I talked with a dear friend of mine who deals with back pain on a daily basis. She spoke of present moment awareness, of living fully regardless of her circumstances. She said that although she often cannot move around because of the pain, she lives her life in “sound bites” of activity when she can. Those sound bites are wonderful, she asserts. She refuses to let the pain rule her emotional wellbeing. She, like Adam, accepts the situation and makes the most of the circumstances. What arises in you when you can’t do what you want to? Can you take a breather and be still long enough to be alive to the world around you? Perhaps this is all you need to do right now.

Suggestion: Take five minutes now to do nothing except sit and notice. Simply observe the world around you, whether inside or outdoors. Become aware of sounds, sights, tactile sensations, tastes, and smells. No judging. Simply notice. No narrative. Feel your body. Use this sound bite of time to reset your clock to now. Then do what needs to be done. You may discover that you’ve already done enough.

May you be fully present to being alive as you go about your day of doing.

Staying Open to Uncertainty

I answered a phone call from my friend, Adam, on Tuesday night. His voice broke as he spoke of leaving the known maximum-security prison for an unknown minimum-security destination. He has been in prison for five years and was being transferred to a new “camp”—as inmates call prison. Would he be bullied? Would he get a job in that camp? As he shared his concerns, he finally said, “I know it is fear of the unknown. I want to stay open.” 

After we hung up, I considered that most of us, if we’re honest, fear the unknown. Although we live with uncertainty every day, this past year has magnified this fear. Will we or a loved one contract Covid? When can those who want the vaccine get it?  As a result of the pandemic, many people are struggling financially, unemployed, or at risk of losing a home. How will they manage? It’s a lot to deal with. The truth is, we don’t know what will happen—now, next week, or a year from now.  Although these fears may be worrisome, worry is not preparation. Anxiety is about the future, not the present. Sometimes, in one moment, we might need to prepare intentionally by planning appropriately for the future. That’s different.

I commend Adam for his willingness to acknowledge his fear and his intention to stay open. He’s not running away from his fear, not checking out. He has used his time in incarceration to read the Bible, meditate, and practice yoga. He quarantined in his room to put his legs up the wall. When the cacophonous voices of other inmates intruded on his solitude, he stopped the narrative by turning his mind to the aspiration of wishing for all beings to be free, in thought, if not in circumstance. He used the tools that he learned, rather than letting them languish in the toolbox. He’s my hero.

Another hero of mine is Betty, an 89-year-old student who recently passed away, a few weeks shy of her 90th birthday. She came to yoga without being able to get up and down off of the floor. She persevered. She used chairs, walls, and the moral support of other students. Betty used the tools that were available. She never said, “I can’t.”  She always, and I mean always, said, “I believe I can.”

You can, too. What tools do you have to help you to stay stable in times of fear and uncertainty? Here are a few reminders and some tools that I rely on:

  • Suspend the fear-based narrative in your head. Track the sensation of anxiety where it lives in your body, and ease it with gentle breaths.
  • Get on the yoga mat, even if all you do is get there. Find a different point of view from there by twisting, getting upside down, or lying down and looking up.
  • Connect with a wise friend by phone or a walk (socially distanced, of course).
  • Read contemplative books for inspiration or a novel for a short escape. 
  • Take an online course of something you’ve been interested in and haven’t yet pursued.
  • Take a walk in nature and listen for birdsong. 
  • Pet your cat. Snuggle with your dog.
Photo by Pascale Parinda

On Sunday I received another call from Adam. He transferred to a facility six hours from where I live, a long way for me to drive to visit him. He lives in a dorm-like situation with 32 other men. He reports that his fears were ungrounded and that the inmates treat each other with kindness and respect. The camp offers courses in diesel mechanics and landscaping, both of which interest him. He remains open to the unknowable future. 

Can we remain steady, kind, respectful, and open to uncertainty?  

I believe we can. 

Season of Light

I write this on December 20th, one day before the winter solstice—the shortest day and longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. I look forward to this time because I know, even if I can’t see it, that the days will become longer and brighter. During these dark days, I appreciate the lights of the season. Candles are lit for eight consecutive nights in the Jewish menorah during Hanukkah. Red, green, and black candles mark Kwanza’s winter celebration. I adore the Moravian star and the bright, multi-colored Christmas lights. Light penetrates the darkness.

Most of us would agree that 2020 has been a dark year. Millions of people around the world have experienced physical, mental, emotional, and financial suffering due to Covid-19. We could (and sometimes do) get overwhelmed with the ongoing death and destitution of hundreds of thousands of our neighbors around the planet.

Yet, the light shines through. A vaccine becomes available. People join their masked neighbors to walk. Friends from opposite sides of the world gather in Zoom happy hours. We are wired for connection. All is not dark. 

However, we will see what we look for, whether light or dark, kind or mean. And, if we honestly look, we will see both. This is a tricky place. How do we recognize the sadness and feel compassion for all who are affected (including ourselves), and simultaneously recognize and feel grateful for the ever-present light of the love of this season? We don’t have to choose between them. Through equanimity we hold space around them both. This on-going practice requires us to expand our awareness so that our mind is not disturbed by the play of opposites. With equanimity, we can be engaged in life and the world without being involved in a storyline about how things should be different. We open our hearts wide enough to include both suffering and joy. 

When I simply observe my thoughts and feelings without believing my judgments and opinions of that experience, my mind becomes less reactive. I see the thoughts wafting through the field of awareness like clouds across the sky. The clear blue sky is always there. The spacious mind is always there. Give this a try. Sit down, focus on your breath, a prayer, or a mantra. Stay steady and see what happens for you. Breath by breath. Don’t believe everything you think, especially if you think you can’t do this. You are training your mind to focus on the light behind the clouds.  

On the yoga mat, we frequently practice the same poses. Each time, we go deeper into understanding their qualities and nuances. And so it is with cultivating the quality of equanimity. With a caring yet non-reactive heart and mind, we all stand a better chance of responding to life’s circumstances in a loving, compassionate, joyful, and equanimous way. The light is within us. We each can choose where we want to focus in any given moment. I’m going to focus on the light because sometimes it’s harder to see. I wish the same for you.

May you be safe.
May you be happy. 
May you be healthy.
May you know ease of wellbeing. 

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. 

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.


Gratitude & Grief

A part of me has been feeling untethered lately. What day is this? What’s on my to-do list? What do I do if I don’t have a to-do list? On some days, I feel joyful and free. On other days, I feel trapped. I’ve observed that frequently the focus of my attention determines my mood and the quality of my life. 

We exist in uncharted territory right now. Nobody knows what will happen in two days or two months. The truth is that we never ever know the future. Never have. Never will. So let’s focus on now since our actions and attitudes today affect the future. 

Did you ever go on a scavenger hunt where you have a list of items to find? Perhaps you wandered into the woods in search of Jack-in-the-pulpit, Solomon’s seal, or wild ginseng. If you looked hard and long enough, you could usually find some of these. However, little hunting was required for dandelions so they were seldom on the list.

Back to the present moment where we’re urged, for the well being of our fellow humans, to stay home and social distance. It’s weird, isn’t it? And, I find, quite challenging to practice. Grief lays heavy on the shoulders. Anxiety appears to be free floating in the atmosphere—kind of like dandelions popping up in the yard. Simultaneously, kindness hovers nearby as neighbors assist each other in obtaining food from the store. Many teachers offer online classes on a “pay if you can” basis. Folks with sewing skills are giving away homemade masks. Goodness abounds in these times. Gratitude flourishes right beside this open-heartedness when we take a breath and recognize the generosity of others. Where is your focus? 

What the World Needs Now…

Yes, there is much uncertainty facing the world right now. Many brilliant minds are looking for short and long-term medical and economic prescriptions to treat and recover from this pandemic. What we can say for certain is that the worldwide spread of the virus shows how interconnected we all are—and that indisputable fact suggests a Rx that is available right now: yes, love, sweet love…and compassion…to others and to ourselves. I believe to my core that how we interact with others and with ourselves during this time is affecting our fellow humans on multiple levels.
For instance, I’ve noticed much kindness and generosity as folks reach out to neighbors to offer to pick up and deliver food. That feels good! A newfound courtesy is springing up in stores as we make room, physically and emotionally, for the presence of others in our shared space. Many people are out walking in parks with kids and dogs and are sending air-hugs through the ethers from the recommended 6 feet of separation. Lovely to witness! 

Others are sequestered in their homes, spending lots of time on FaceTime to visit with family. The use of Zoom is on the rise as many of us improve our Spanish, practice yoga, or learn to make bread with strangers, who may become new friends. We are connected by being alive on this planet we call home and by helping one another through this extremely difficult time.

As a yoga practitioner, I watch the play of the mind and body. In one moment, I feel secure in my good health. Next, I know that I’m not immune. I notice nervous energy. I walk quickly and sit down to meditate. I’m concerned about those who live in health care facilities and the medical teams who tend to them. Simultaneously, I trust that each of us is doing the best we can to care for ourselves and each other. I have no idea of what will happen anywhere or anytime. Ever. All we have is now and now affects the future. Following the best advice for everyone now, I am not offering any group classes March 23 through April 1.

What currently captures my mental attention is the spectrum and fluidity of human desire—for stability, movement, contact, even isolation. What do you desire and what do you do when you don’t have access to your desired routines or daily habits? Do you frequently go to yoga classes or to the movies? Now that those outlets are not available, do you get cranky, whine, and bemoan your fate? Or do you unearth your sewing machine and finally say yes to that dress? Can you observe what’s happening inside of you, and without judgment, notice how those feelings translate into behavior? Can you sit still and let the energies pass through you without doing your habitual behavior? You don’t know until you try.

Around the world, yoga teachers are offering on-line classes. I encourage you to jump in on some of those. I’ll be posting yoga poses and sequences from archived One Center Yoga newsletters until I get to that place of technology know-how. Here’s a Pose of the Month featuring Ustrasana. Supportive chest-opening poses are beneficial to boost the immune system, lift our spirits, and expand our chest cavity to enable easier breathing. 

I miss seeing your smiling faces and uplifted chests. I want to give each one of you a big, tight hug. For now, I’m going to stay present, protected (not fearful), and calm as I wade into the unknown future. Please know that in this very moment, which is the only moment I can be present for, I’m sending a huge air-hug to each of you and to the planet. I trust that all will be well.

If you have a few moments to spare, I urge you to watch this gorgeous YouTube video from 2016 (What the World Needs Now) when the 6-feet of separation rule did not apply. Yes, love, sweet love, is what the world needs now.  

Be Calm… and Wash Your Hands!

I’ve been ping ponging in my head about teaching classes this week or not teaching them. I’m going to err on the side of caution and suspend group classes at my home studio and at Wellspring Wellness for this week, March 16-20I will let you know soon if I will hold classes the week after that.

I will continue to teach private and semi-private lessons. If you’re interested in scheduling one of those, contact me. I hope to make some meditation recordings this week. I’m not going to promise…

As a pharmacist, I recognize the danger of viral and bacterial infections. When epidemiologists, the CDC, and WHO advise people to be cautious, I comply. I suspect you’ve heard the very basic guidelines:

  • Wash hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water. 
  • Maintain social distance of 3 feet from anyone who is coughing or sneezing. 
  • If you’re older than 65, stay home.

The “social distancing” part is the hard one for me; I hug people all the time. I feel like human contact is something we need more of, not less. Still, I’m going to follow the recommended precautions and give hugs with my eyes, my words, my energy, my actions. And I’ve been washing my hands frequently since I was a child. My parents were right about that!

I am concerned that people are experiencing so much panic and anxiety. Please try to stay calm. Panic never helps. Really, never! If you want factual information, visit the CDC website the WHO (World Health Organization).  

So, what to do? Take a breath. Walk outside and look up. Eat well. Reach out to friends. Write a letter. Make phone calls. Practice the Immune Sequence in this PDF (which you can download and print if you like). If you aren’t familiar with the poses, contact an Iyengar teacher. I’m here! Other studios are posting on-line classes.

I will write more in the next few days. I wanted to inform you now of the schedule changes for this week.

Just… being… present!

As vacation time comes to an end, I’ve noticed how I begin to think of the future—as in, “This time next week I’ll be teaching a class.” On the heels of that thought is “How do I want to spend these last few days?” This scenario puts me in the middle of a mental ping-pong match, rather than in a place of openness to feeling the warm, moist breeze, seeing the bright, sunny sky, and hearing the roar of ocean waves landing on shore.

Come practice with me at my home studio in Weaverville or at Wellspring Wellness Center in Asheville! See the new schedule, beginning March 2, on the right -> of this page!

On either end of a trip, I find my mind bouncing between a to-do list to get ready and a list of what to do when I get there. What I’ve learned to practice (sometimes more skillfully than at other times!) is to catch hold of my bouncing mind, recognize what I need to do, and then do it in that moment. Pack my bathing suit. Done! Arrange for transportation. Check! Schedule classes. Got it! To take care of those tangible tasks is to be present. Then I can turn my full attention to being aware and present in the next moment. Thankfully, I continue to learn to stay grounded by focusing on the body on the yoga mat.

Find my feet. Keep my mind on the mat. Bring that wandering mind back to the tangible time on the mat and in life.

Part of what I’ve ping-ponged about while I’ve been in Mexico is how to revamp my teaching schedule now that I’m no longer teaching at Iyengar Yoga Asheville. In addition, you’ll see below that I’ve dropped two of the classes I previously had on the schedule and that I’ll be teaching at Wellspring Wellness Center in East Asheville. I’m thinking about adding some half-day meditation and asana retreats. I’m letting those ideas percolate without making plans. As my friend, Gene, taught me—a plan just gives you something to deviate from. 

As I near the end of my delightful and relaxing vacation, I know I’m happy to return to the home and friends I love in Asheville. I know I will again enjoy teaching all of you, walking with Jack, and eating huge piles of fresh vegetables. In that future moment, I will be practice being present to being home. Now, I’m still here. We’ll see what the future brings. I’m going to let that ping-pong ball bounce off the table and see what happens. 

STARTING MARCH 2: Please note the new class schedule for the Weaverville Studio and the Wellspring Wellness Center on the right!

Grateful for Thanksgiving Day

Jack in the Weaverville Studio

Thank you for being in my life. Really, each of you who reads these words holds an important place in my life. For real real, as we say in my family. For real real

Most recently, I’m thankful for those of you who have come to classes at my new home studio in Weaverville. Thank you for finding the new place. Thank you for showing up for yourself, the practice, and for me. I’m grateful for Iyengar Yoga Asheville, for the other Iyengar teachers, and for those of you who attend classes there. 

I know it can take time to adjust to change; it has taken me a few weeks to get used to teaching in my new yoga studio in Weaverville, and I look forward to sharing it with you. And I know YOU know that we experience such deep benefits when we practice yoga. Your body and mind will thank you for showing up on the mat!  

Overall, I feel like I’m a thankful person. I thank my husband for fixing delicious meals. I thank each kind person who opens a door for me. I thank my friend who comes to the house to tend to our dog, Jack, when I’m unavailable.

I have another friend who gets cranky when someone opens a door for her. She knows that she is strong and capable. She doesn’t need the help. As much as I love this woman, I feel like she’s missing out on the feeling of gratitude. 

Numerous research papers expound on the benefits of feeling grateful. A few of the benefits I found listed in an article online at PositivePsychology.com are more satisfaction with life, less fatigue, greater resiliency, and lower levels of cellular inflammation. I find that I actually feel better when I’m grateful. When I’m stressed, my body and mind feel hard. When I’m grateful I feel lighter. Test this out for yourself if you’re doubtful. 

Gratitude is a practice, like yoga. It’s kind of like a scavenger hunt: when I look for people, places, and things to be grateful for, I find them! I don’t deny that I get cranky sometimes (like when I’m packing and moving). Without dwelling on that, I take a moment to feel that emotion, and then move on, rather than focus on the crankiness and the external events that triggered it.    

With all that being said, I’m thankful to have a national day of thanksgiving here in the US. I know that some people feel left out, lonely, or sad about missing loved ones. I don’t deny that. Can we reach out to each other and hold each other up? Open a door? Smile? For those of you who volunteer at a soup kitchen or a food bank over the holidays, thank you. Of course, every day of the year is an opportunity to be kind and generous. We never know how one kind word to a stranger or friend can lift that person’s spirit—and our own! 

With tremendous gratitude for your place in my life and on the planet, I hold you in my thankful heart.

I wish you a joyous and peaceful Thanksgiving!