14 October 2010

Loving the Unknown...

Graffiti along 14th Street, DC
A single event can awaken within us a stranger totally unknown to us. 
To live is to be slowly born.” - Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Lately, I have been inspired by the unknown.  Making best friends with the unknown has been a wonderful blessing in my life since moving to DC last year.  There are many days when I’m unsure of where my next job assignment will be, how long it will last, whether it will have a stable salary, or if there will even be another assignment.  My wonderful meditation teacher, who survives off donation-based classes and workshops, calls this living by the “wisdom of uncertainty.” I think in the beginning of being confronted by Mr. Unknown there was less wisdom and more, um…freaking out, but over the last 6 months a welcoming shift of acceptance and peace has occurred and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Using the power of insight and discernment to stay fully present is exactly what meditation and yoga practice reveals. Its very simple: we have no idea what the future will bring. There is nothing more compelling and authoritative than the phenomena of the unknown to surrender to our present experience. Buddhist monk and renowned author, Bikkhu Bodhi said that the most present we can ever become is through awareness of breath, because “when we become aware of breathing, really aware of it, we can be aware of it only in the present, never in the past or future.” The most beautiful thing about yoga is that we use our breath to free us from external happenings and fall deeper into the grace of the moment, which is infinite and boundless.  When we let go of what we don’t know we find that the nature of our present bounty is so immense that we couldn’t possibly need anything more. We have the gift of our hearts, which beat collectively as one, the fall season breeze flowing through each of us, and the strength of our community to lend us a helping hand. By simply embracing the unknown and renouncing the false illusion that we can somehow control it, we reside in the true refuge of our inner spirit and feel an incredible sense of liberation. 

There may be many things I don’t know, but what I do know is that genuine fulfillment is right here, right now, living inside each of us. 

03 September 2010

The Yoga of Friendship

My DC deity garden
“Let us be grateful to people who make us happy, they are the charming
gardeners who make our souls blossom.” - Marcel Proust

In addition to nurturing me with deep spiritual awakening, my journey on the path of yoga has blessed me with an overflowing wealth of friendships that I am immensely grateful for. It was through the study and practice of yoga that I came to create a space within myself for more meaningful and supportive friendships. When I left Florida for DC I was leaving behind a community of friends that I had become extremely close with over a period of 3 years and it was difficult no longer having the warmth of regular, face-to-face connection and interaction that defined our bonds. On arriving to DC, I had no expectations about what my “circle” of friends would look like or if there would even be a circle. Naturally, I knew I would make new friends but certainly didn’t anticipate what I had in store. I received the gift of a roommate and comrade who welcomed me in my new beginning with wide open arms, a contagious laughter and who I am now convinced was my sister in a past life. Then there’s the best friend from high school who I hadn’t seen in over 7 years who allowed me to appreciate the present growth within myself and the past greatness of my tortured 16 year-old-self. And then there was the college friend who I had traveled abroad with in the south of Mexico over 10 years ago who reminded me that the past sometimes comes back in the form of a big smile with bright red lipstick. Not to mention the regulars who have graciously made the road trips and airplane rides to shamelessly stand by me and affirm my strong belief in not taking life so seriously all the time and having some fun.

Whether we are cultivating divine connections, nourishing old ones or rebuilding those that have been broken we are participating in a pure form of bhakti practice. This means loving your friends as they are in the present moment, everyday and forever regardless of changed circumstances or unexpected events. It means devotion to the spiritual significance of human relationships and recognizing the inherent light within each person in our lives. When I look back and think about the exact moments that gave birth to the strong and meaningful friendships in my life I can remember it was exactly that - a light, an illuminating energy they reflected which drew me to them. There is so much comfort in knowing that when these connections are created and watered with a deep-rooted dedication to their sustenance there is nothing in the world that can destroy them. There is no dispute, distance or length of time that can break the bonds of true friendship. When we see and acknowledge the goodness and beauty in our friends we are performing the genuine action of metta (loving-kindness). Each of our friends is us and we are them. We take collective breaths. We must place an unconditional faith in their process by witnessing them collapse, make mistakes, evolve, experience fear and joy and perhaps even say goodbye to them in order to fully rest in the divinity of the union that created the friendship. Anything that obscures this basic premise such as a struggle or a fight is ego-based and not a part of our spirit nature.

It is through friendship and recognizing the guru in each of my friends that I have learned some of life’s most valuable lessons. For example, without my friend Cine I wouldn’t know how to give a proper toast or realize that it’s perfectly acceptable to celebrate birthdays year round. Without my friend Rachel, I would have gone through law school without knowing what its like to make cupcakes with a 4 year old in spider-man pajamas telling me there is no such thing as too much sprinkles and icing. And it was my buddies Javi and Yvee who taught me that there is never a bad time to bust out in dirty south hip-hop song and dance. There are many more I wish I could mention but I will say that I cherish all of my gurus out there in the world and the beauty they’ve shared with me.

15 August 2010

Flow of Gratitude...

Buckingham, VA
July 2010

Lately my meditation practice has been highly focused on gratitude. When I arrive at the cushion I instantly feel an overwhelming sense of appreciation for the world around me. It’s amazingly refreshing to reach that precious and rare place so quickly especially since the first ten minutes of my practice are usually spent processing the meaningless remnants of the past 8 hours of that day, knowing fully well there is no place for the past in meditation. My teacher in DC had us practice this exercise of mentally noting the things we were grateful for by allowing their images to pass through our minds as we witnessed our reactions to them. Below are the results of that task...virtually unmodified and listed in order as they appeared in my head.

I'm grateful for….

My mother and father
Endless and endless work
The light of my spiritual practice
Teachers of yoga and dharma

The warmth of a bed and fuzzy socks
The ability to walk, touch and feel
The beauty and pain of love
The peace and emptiness of solitude

Paths to healing and helping others
Compassionate friends and lasting friendships
Honesty, truth and courage
Nourishing food and community

Forgiveness, acceptance and grace
Grounding of breath
Bhakti, shakti and liberation
Reclamation and survival

Mindfulness and patience
The wisdom of knowing better
Peace, harmony and equality
Activists and peacemakers

Laughter, laughter, laughter
Happy, wise wrinkles
Listening to the music play
Right now, this moment

Colors, aromas and texture
Lessons and unwelcome change
Rebirth and victory
Purusha and prakriti

This life
The spirit within me
My exciting journey
All of us in it together

…and Ani Difranco….

(that one just kinda snuck in the end)

19 June 2010

Relentless Love...

The New York Avenue Sculpture Project - National Museum of Women in the Arts
Washington, DC

I’ve been a very bad blogger. My long absence from Yogically Speaking is inexcusable. After having my mother kindly remind me a few weeks ago that I’ve slacked in updating my blog, I decided I better listen and not waste any more time being an inactive writer (at this time I’d like to give a shout out to Mom for being a devoted reader of her only child’s blog).

The real story behind my hiatus is…simply that I’ve been having an AWESOME time. So awesome that I can’t find the time to keep up with my blog. The month of May was a whirlwind of traveling, entertaining guests, and meeting some amazing people (see yours truly with Mr. No Reservations bottom center). We are halfway into 2010 and I’m not trying to brag, but I’m having a hell of a great journey. So far, I’ve met two of my favorite writers, attended a handful of amazing on-stage performances, came face-to-face with my TV hero, and was in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in New York City. Once again, I find myself in the same predicament I was in during my previous blog posting: too much inspiration…leaving me confused and over-stimulated about what to write about. I wish I could say my regular meditation and yoga practice provides me with some kind of focus or organization for writing material but I’m at a loss…All of my experiences have been equally incredible and noteworthy. There is so much to take away that my breakdown process is still in overdrive mode…slowly digesting the massive amounts of social and spiritual intake I’ve consumed. 

There is one thing I haven’t been able to stop thinking about for the past month that would be appropriate for discussion here. It was a statement made by Anthony Bourdain during his talk at the Warner Theater in DC. In fact, it was so profound that I remember exactly how he looked when he said it…with his elbows rested on his knees, wearing a crisp black blazer, torn jeans and cowboy boots…looking like the foodie rockstar that he is. An audience member asked Bourdain for any advice he could give on opening a new restaurant. Bourdain’s response (and I paraphrase) was something to the effect that he couldn’t give specific advice on what to do or not to do in opening a restaurant, rather one should aim to “find what they love, do it well, and do it relentlessly”.

Everyday since hearing this little gem of wisdom, I’ve asked myself…what is it that I love? Specifically, what is that I love to do…so much to the point that I can do it relentlessly? I certainly have an endless list of things I love: my family, friends, chocolate, music, animals, yoga, etc... But naturally, there is a difference between loving the existence of certain things versus loving the performance of a certain skill. Chefs love to cook and bring the gift of good food to others. The Dalai Lama loves to bring the message of peace to the world. Singers love to sing. Teachers love to teach. Laura loves to _________. I guess I’m still on the quest to fill in the blank. I suppose I have an aversion to the limitation of having only one thing to love and do relentlessly. I love to advocate for many people, and many causes. Some days I feel an overwhelming, deep sense of love for everything around me, that I’m not quite sure how to channel it. My spiritual practice gives me many options such as meditation, chanting, asana and kirtan as the means to express such love, but I can’t exactly bust out in lotus pose and start chanting “Hare Krishna” on the metro. Those moments are few and far between, but they come. I love the tree that I often sit under in Emancipation Park. I love the people who sing on my morning bus ride. Most recently, I’ve even come to love the little scorpion looking bugs that crawl on my ceiling on hot nights. For now, I love the pleasure of the moment and accept that the greatest gift I can give the universe and those around me is the joy of being fully present. 

Until next time…hopefully more regularly…nothing but love and peace to all. 

 With my TV Hero, Mr. No Reservations, a.k.a Anthony Bourdain

23 March 2010

As the World Blooms...

Pretty in Pink
Le Droit Park - Florida Avenue, Washington, DC
March 2010
"If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant; if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome." ~Anne Bradstreet

The last time I caught up with yogicallyspeaking I was reeling from my night with Eve Ensler at Busboys and Poets, and since then I’ve been inspired by many more individuals and movements that have conveniently manifested around me. Poets, authors, teachers, musicians, friends, earth, wind…just to name a few. The wave of positive influence has left me feeling so ecstatically overwhelmed I’m not quite sure where to begin here. I figure instead of succumbing to the pressure of choosing one particular inspiring experience to write about, I would focus on the significance of the whole and how it has contributed profound meaning and coherency to the present.

The flood of spiritual stimuli couldn’t have arrived at a better time because DC is beginning to bloom beautifully. After a fierce and wrathful winter, Mother Nature has decided to give Washingtonians a break and we are humbly grateful. As my roommates and I walked home in the wee hours after a recent night of food, drink and dance, we came to a standstill in our path when we saw our first cherry blossoms of the season radiating a bright pink glow on our street. Spring smacked us right in the face and we welcomed its unexpected and invigorating presence. We celebrated by wearing sleeveless tops and flats without socks. It was very exciting.

As the climate became kinder, the shift in the city was so palpable, I could almost reach out and touch it. Where I once saw an ocean of dark layers and bundles of wool and scarves, I now see faces, smiles and color. The moods of the locals are happier and I can easily perceive the light in the people around me. It was as if they resurrected from the darkness of winter and came alive right before my eyes. Never before had I witnessed anything like it having lived the majority of my life in the heat of the South.

This projection of fresh energy has had a drastic effect on me as my identity here is in a continuous state of absorption, evolution and exploration. Naturally, all I can do is superimpose my own gleaming vigor and stamina onto those of my environment. Not only could I feel my own heart opening, but I sensed the collective heart of the universe begin to bloom. As the spring breeze passed through my body on the commute to work one morning, I felt the breath of the universe exhale simultaneously with mine. When the sun hit my face at the bus stop I saw a globe of light that was not separate from me in form or substance. During each of these occurrences I tried to hang on to the bliss and beauty of the moment but my lack of enlightenment made them drift away in nanoseconds.

What I know for sure is that the period of hibernation is over. Dead skin has been shed. New life is blossoming all around me. Mindful intentions are being created. The opportunities are endless. There is only room for growth and progress from this point forward…let it bloom baby!

Peace, light and love to all.

26 February 2010

Witnessing a Revolutionary Powerhouse: My Night with Eve Ensler

 With Eve Ensler at Busboys & Poets (14th & V) 02.24.10 - Photo taken by Jasmine Utsey
Last night I had the wonderful pleasure and utmost privilege to hear the words of Vagina Monologues and V-Day Movement Creator Extraordinaire, Eve Ensler. She was doing a reading, lecture and signing of her latest book, I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls around the World at Busboys & Poets in DC.  
I have followed Eve Ensler since first watching the televised performance of the Vagina Monologues on HBO in 2002. I was so inspired by her wonderful madness and proud womanhood that I simply had to get to New York City to see the monologues for myself, in the flesh and on the stage. I became officially baptized as a vagina warrior in 2004 after witnessing the mind-blowing performance of three very brave, talented, and hilarious women on one very memorable night in Manhattan. After that night, you couldn’t get me to shut-up about the monologues. I told all my loved ones that they would forever be losers in my book if they didn’t go see the show (still…seriously, if you’re reading this and don’t know anything about the Vagina Monologues, its not too late for you…go see them, download them, buy the book, just do it!)
When the opportunity arose in 2008 during law school to perform one of the monologues as part of a V-Day fundraiser, I immediately signed up. This was my chance to become involved and bear my soul for the V-Day cause. The experience was so moving and wonderful that I did the same monologue 2 years in a row. I truly felt like I was participating in something monumental by educating and bringing awareness to my community.
Perhaps after following her work and hearing the atrocities Ensler has witnessed throughout the world, I expected an intense, angry, and intimidating feminist however the woman I met emanated nothing but light, love, kindness, and warmth. She gave me a fun high-five after telling her I performed “The Flood” in my alma matter’s VM production. Her beautiful bright red smile overpowers her face and immediately puts you at ease. In her lecture at B&P, Ensler spoke of the current situation in the Congo where the rape and torture of thousands of women and children take place on a daily basis. She spoke of sex slavery, sexual assault, political corruption, big government spending and asked why we all weren’t pissed off with the state of things. She urged grass-roots activism and conceptual change, essentially a revolution where all people can reach a place of tolerance, acceptance, and peace.
She gave me "vagina blessings" and christened me as an "emotional creature"...which I proudly accept!

15 February 2010

Happy Losar...

14 February 2010
Tibetan New Year
Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso Rinpoche preparing to give Long Life Empowerment  

Stay Tuned :-)

08 February 2010

Oh Blizzard, how I love thee...

Light in the Snow
6 February 2010

Since moving to DC the snow has been especially healing for me. As a Texas girl, then a limited-edition Floridian, I never truly experienced snow. I had no idea what a real winter looked like and I yearned for my own little winter wonderland one day. After a few months in DC I have been blessed with not just a kind, delicate snowfall but a whopping super-sized blizzard. My first snow-related injury occurred recently while I rushed to cross the street and did a number on my ankle in a pig puddle of slushy ice. I've learned to plow through heaps of snow during my morning commute. I laugh at the female tourists who miserably strut around with wet feet after attempting to look fashionable in winter flats and heels. I have a newfound respect for snow shovelers after being forced to shovel an entire sidewalk full of mounds and mounds of snow (they didn't teach me this back in Texas)...and let me tell you...there is no other way to buff up those biceps than to engage in a 15 minute snow shoveling session...while I can barely move my arms and shoulders at the moment, I learned the true toil of inner-city winter labor.  Snow boots are a new addition to my wardrobe and I have to convince myself every morning that I don't look so bad in a puffy snow jacket.

I had no idea what I was in for. What visited our nation’s capital this weekend will be forever known as the snowpocalypse, snowmageddon, snoverload, snoverkill, snowmare, snowzilla...take your pick. I lived knee deep in snow. Six wonderful snowdays.  No work.  No government to run us. There is nothing to do but play…play and frolic in the pretty fluffy white stuff. Run through mountains of snow, feel the flurries on your face, make snow angels, go icicle watching, and stare at its glittery reflection at night…all of it just absolutely friggin’ awesome.

Snow days force you to find inner warmth, expose your thick-skin, snuggle close with your surrounding community, and connect with the core fire of your spirit. They stimulate you to contemplate, rest, nourish and be still. After my first mini-snow spa break, I am prepared to take on the long winter ahead and accept that Spring will come when its good and ready.

Peace, love and snow days to all.

24 January 2010

A Night of Thievery Corporation...

Thievery Corporation in action
9:30 Club, Washington, DC
23 January 2010

On Saturday night I had a last minute opportunity to see one of DC’s finest talents, Thievery Corporation. They were playing a mere three blocks from my house at the 9:30 Club, another great DC institution. There are really no words to describe the show…you have to see it for yourself in order to grasp the experience. The performance is a ride…a journey of lights, colors, stories, yoga, Buddhism, politics, prayer, and just a helluva good time. There were many moments throughout the show where I longed for my yoga mat because I had the urge to bust into asana flow. During the concert there was an artist painting Ganeshas on a large canvas above the stage. I fell in love with the entire experience. Thievery Corporation…don’t miss them if they are near you! I’ve shared a few photos from the night below.


18 January 2010

Onward Brave Soul...

 Strawberry Fields - December 2009
Photo taken by Cynthia Evangelista
"My role in society, or any artist's or poet's role, is to try and express what we all feel.
Not to tell people how to feel. Not as a preacher, not as a leader, but a reflection of us all." - John Lennon
Bravery” is a word that has been extended to me numerous times since I’ve moved to DC. As I meet new people here, either in social settings or random conversation, and the customary first impression questions are exchanged between me and my new acquaintances, I’ve grown accustomed to explaining how and why I ended up in DC. “Where are your from?”, “What do you do?”, “Why did you move to DC?”…and in one big exhale I respond, “well, I had a job and a rent-free home in Florida but I needed to start a new beginning for myself, so I left my job and my rent-free home with 2 suitcases and bought a one-way ticket to DC and here I am.” The majority of the reactions I receive are something like this: “Wow, you’re very brave”, “That’s so brave of you”, “I don’t think I could ever do anything that brave” or conversely, it’s “what the hell are you thinking, you left Floooorida to come to Deeee Ceeee in the Winter?!”
Hearing this so many times, I began to ask myself, am I really brave? Because, in between the large gaps of time this “bravery” nonsense kept manifesting itself into my life, I really just thought I was…well, a little crazy. I left the Sunshine state, where I had a wonderful community, a supportive network and promising opportunities to a city where I knew some people, but not  many, had no employment lined up and would be sleeping in a room that was about the size of my Floridian walk-in closet. There was nothing majorly wrong with my life in Florida. I had it nice and easy. It was so easy that I could actually predict exactly what my future would look like 10 years from now…and that was the bottom line. I was at a place in my life where I didn’t have to settle. I could be mobile, fluid, travel and continue to experience change. The opportunity was there and I wasn’t about to let it pass me up.
While I had the support and encouragement of family and friends in my DC move, which made it a lot easier to make the transition, I wasn’t sure I had the support or encouragement from myself. I didn’t have my own back. In my first weeks in DC I experienced many instances of weakness, self-doubt, fear and insecurity (and I still have them, just less frequently). I’ve called our nation’s capital home for almost 3 months now and there are still many things I am unsure about, many questions I have no answers to and endeavors that remain to be seen.
What has given me immense comfort and eased me through my transition is the refuge of my all-encompassing spiritual network. It holds what is so sacred and divine about this life: sporadic glimpses of god in the continuously flowing nurturing words and deeds of my parents, the kind wishes transmitted from friends both near and far, the invaluable guidance of my roommates (luckily, both DC veterans), the lessons of teachers past and present, and the expansive outlets of healing resources that exist all around me. The most notable being a wonderful Buddhist meditation teacher who I’ve been introduced to through my new yoga shala. Only through meditation am I able to become aware of my thoughts allowing me to tame the flickers of anxiety from become huge flames and emerge from my fearful thoughts unscathed. Once I affirmed the value of a deeper self-worth could I start becoming my own cheerleader…then, ya I did feel kinda brave.

07 January 2010

An Evening With Elizabeth Gilbert...

7 January 2010

 Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love stops in DC at the Historic Synagogue to promote
her latest book, Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage.

I can only begin by expressing how friggin’ excited I was to see Liz.  My yoga buds and I shared the experience of reading Eat, Pray, Love together in our first book club and I will never forget the wonderful memories which took place in my living room, drinking wine, eating cheese and discussing the book with some of my favorite gals.

I  sat in a packed house of 400 people, mostly women, of all ages waiting to hear what the best-selling, rockin’ female author had to say (I had a killer seat in the 3rd row). I learned that Gilbert is an advocate of gay rights, not a fan of the concept of soul mates, and hates giving people relationship advice. After a brief reading and question and answer session, Gilbert autographed books and graciously took photos with the few of us fans left over. She was so humble with the audience, thanking each supporter for their time, attendance, and patience. When it was my turn for a snapshot with Liz I asked her if she still did yoga. She turned to me, threw her head back, and in a sweet and perky voice replied, “Well yes I do my dear!” I told her I practiced yoga as well and just as she was about to say something to me, the photographers interrupted and prompted us to look at the camera. She once again thanked me for coming and I thanked her for her insight.

I’m only in the second chapter of Committed and have laughed, gasped, cried, and struggled to close its pages and patiently wait until I can open it again.

04 January 2010

A Toast to New Beginnings...

Votive prayer candles at The Shrine of the Immaculate Conception - DC

Today I had the opportunity to meditate at the US Botanical Gardens with the Kagyu DC Buddhist group (I’ve shared some pictures below). It was a new experience, meditating in a living plant museum in the middle of the nation’s capital. I welcomed the Amazonian climate after walking several blocks in a wind storm and 18 degree weather. As we sat and meditated tourists would pass us by, children would run around us and stare oddly at the Buddha statue we had placed in front of our bench. The sounds of laughter, conversation, and mist were an interesting presence in my meditation. I used the leaf of a Bleeding Heart flower located directly in front of me as my meditative focal point. I felt more awakened from removing my ego from the comfort of sitting in a quiet space on a fluffy cushion, surrounded by altars, candles, and incense.

As I welcome a new year, getting out of my element has been a personal predominant mantra. I moved to a new city, started a new job, and lived with new people. It hasn’t been easy but I also haven’t had a single boring day. Looking back on the last 10 years of my life they were filled with cycles of beginnings. Entering college, beginning my career in legal services, getting a masters, commencing law school and taking on a yoga teacher training program at the same time. I was always prepared to start something new and it felt wonderful being able to succeed at the challenges I took on. I never gave up, no matter how many times I wanted to. Naturally, there were moments of failure but never without learning valuable lessons. At the start of a new era in my life, I accept that I will never stop wanting to conquer or quit…eternally evolving, growing, and making the most out of this life. This year holds many exciting adventures…I get to continue to explore this new city filled with energy and passion, meet new people, read new books, travel, develop a new career, and see Ani DiFranco in March (Yay! It feels so awesome to say she is playing down the street from me! I can’t wait!). 2010 will rock.

On New Years Day my parents gave me a scroll with the following message from the Dalai Lama. The text of it framed my resolutions for the new decade…and perhaps the rest of my life.

No matter what is going on
Never give up
Develop the heart
Too much energy in your country
Is spent developing the mind
Instead of the heart
Be compassionate
Not just to your friends
But to everyone
Be compassionate
Work for peace
In your heart and in the world
Work for peace
And I say again
Never give up
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up

~ H.H. The XIV Dalai Lama