Privacy and Publicity

Ever since my teens, and because I had such a rough and turbulent childhood, I have found great solace in the act of looking inward as both a healing mechanism from early suffering and as opportunity to develop and celebrate a rich inner life, free from baggage and my seriously messed up history.

Fast forward 20 years and I have grown more and more rooted in this sense of the private and interior—meditating and yoga-practicing—me. What I have also experienced recently is how often divergent my private, peaceful, wise, and profoundly accepting self is from the more overwhelmed and erratic, frequently anxious and in a flutter person I tend to be in public. Can anyone else relate?

Fresh off the coattails of a heavenly and seriously illuminating retreat, I have been staring a lot at the incredibly strong divide between my deeply private self and my more overwhelmed public one. And, I have to say: this divide really bothers me!

In a time when social media expectation and cultural trending require more and more disclosure, more and more revealing, I think there’s been major backlash, and not in the form of others having too much information, but rather in that the representations we end up putting out there match less and less with the essential nature of who we are internally.

Now that I am back in the throes of New York City and more hip to how I protect my retreating self from the glare of the public eye, my question to you is this: Where are you happiest? When you are your most private, intimate, and peeled back, OR when you are intentionally not?

Next question: Do you think it possible to live as your deeper private self more of the time, by letting the light of who you are shine through and dropping the armor and disguise? I certainly do.

The best place to start is in getting to know the traits of both your private intimate self, and the buffering traits of your public persona—I’ve even diagrammed my two selves. Once you’ve really studied your inner and outer apparitions, then the practice of the slow integration of the “real” you into all that you do can begin. Make sense?

To me, this merging of private and public is key to soothing our suffering. Similar to “what you see is what you get,” I love “who you see is who I am.” No B.S. No act. No veil. Just the pure beautiful emanations of who we essentially are.

I’m in. Are you?

In sweetness,

Maggie

The Boon of Retreat

Every April, I go on private retreat. It has become something of a ritual and something by which my internal clock is deeply, critically regulated. The feeling that begins to creep up right about now is that I’ve spent the entire year, from one April to the next, intensely committed to navigating and celebrating life on the outside, and am ready, I mean really ready, to blessedly turn up yet again on the other coast, my childhood coast, for 7 blissful days where my job will be to simply turn inwards and in essence return to myself.

I spend most of my time on a meditation cushion, though this is certainly not what everyone else does. I also laugh and share with dear friends, seriously commune with nature, harvest organic vegetables for my delicious meals, get some strong massage, journal, and do loads of restorative yoga. Still, it’s not so much about the activities we do, but about the quality of what happens when we give ourselves over so fully to self-care, which in my case happens to translate as a whole lot of introspection.

Luckily for all, there are myriads of retreats from which to choose, spanning from silent and serious ones, to nature or yoga or cooking or creativity-oriented ones. The main thing about retreat, versus a splashy or culturally steeped vacation, is that the culture being investigated is not some fabulous city or ecosystem, but rather YOU.

The boon of retreat comes from embarking on one that is aligned with what makes you tick and that is equally capable of setting the stage for you to receive what you profoundly need. Sometimes you won’t know if this is the case until you’ve actually come back to the “real” world, and experienced the shifts in you.

Some solid questions to ask yourself after the fact might be:

  1. Do I feel rested, refreshed, and rejuvenated?
  2. Do I have more energy to face and steadily handle whatever life throws my way?
  3. Am I clearer about who I am, what I am doing, and how I might contribute?
  4. Are there changes I now know I need to make in my life?
  5. Am I ready to make those changes?

These are the ones that immediately come to mind, though there are many others that will surely arise for you.

I am of course writing this on the eve of my journey—not yet there, but close—and tune up here I come! Doesn’t it make perfect sense for us all to dive into this kind of regular maintenance? I obviously think so. What about you?

For now, let’s just say, I’m falling off the grid.

Next post coming in May, folks!

In sweetness and peace,

ML

Living and Loving Your Life!

How often do you feel exuberant and intensely loving of your life? Is this way of being the norm or is it a sensation you merely touch upon in particularly happy moments?

I am a huge supporter of, and have in fact devoted my life’s work to inspiring others and myself to love being alive, and to be equally grateful for these specific lives each of us has so graciously been given.

This personally hasn’t come easy, and ironically has arisen from feeling for the bulk of my 36 years decidedly less than in the life-I’ve-been-given department. Yet, quite miraculously, and since a profoundly catalytic spiritual experience at age 33 while on holiday in Cabo San Lucas, I have pledged whole-heartedly to LIVE.

What I mean here is not just to exist by keeping my head above water, but to fully embrace and seriously love all the experiences—up, down, and upside down—of being alive. Or, as Zen great Suzuki Roshi puts it much more succinctly, “The only way is to enjoy your life.”

Believe me, it hasn’t all been a cakewalk. Still, my internal acceptance of and awe at what has and continues to happen as I step authentically along my path has made it pretty wonder-full.

How so? I was urged in my Cabo experience to deepen my understanding of what it means to be alive. Since then, I have prioritized fostering an ever-evolving rich interior life, namely through meditation, affirmation, and visualization practices, and too, very quiet yoga. Secondly, and almost more convincingly, I have worked hard at cultivating a more intuitive, fulfilling connection to the things in the outside world that bring me joy, and too, have changed and sometimes even muted my relationship to the things that create undo stress.

Now I won’t pretend to sit here and know exactly how you should go about seizing the day and loving your sparkling precious life. Only you know what thrills and depresses you, and so much of this comes from tapping the seriously wise voice inside.

I do however hope that my words spark you enough to open up and allow for that spirited inner light to beam and guide you into discovering and manifesting your own unique and celebratory way of being.

Here’s to LIVING and LOVING your life!

In sweetness,

ML

Building Sanctuary

I have a special place in my home, one that is filled with love, safety, and all the makings of the most serene of havens. It is my meditation and yoga space, a small strip of wood for my mat and props, nestled beside an intimate corner of the rug in my bedroom, both of which face onto my altar and beyond that the park outside the windows.

Over the years, this space has grown into the sturdiest, steadiest of harbors where I have opened to incredible joy and also taken refuge in times of intense difficulty, when everything feels like too much.

It is where I am at once most connected to the heavens, and too, most rooted to the earth. In other words, it is my go-to spot.

Where, do tell, is yours?

In the work I do as a holistic lifestyle consultant, I spend a great deal of time supporting my clients in creating their own sacred and deeply personal spaces, as emblems to eventually lead them into the divinity within themselves. This might sound obvious to you. Yet, the slow and deliberate process of building sanctuary, the careful laying down of one’s most precious nest is much like the work of a bird with twigs clenched in its beak, whose efforts are not only single-minded but downright devotional.

The human search begins with finding all the tangible stuff with which to decorate our special harbors—figurines, cushions, messages, photos, flowers, candles, or whatever else is meaningful. In time, after repeatedly dropping anchor in our newly created lairs, the training wheels come off. We come to realize that our swaddling spaces are there to ultimately support us in dropping anchor into our blessed selves.

Though we, like in all love relationships, at times rebel from our sanctuaries—too intense, too exposing—we tend to always circle back to them in the end.

I remember being on bed rest in 2009, in the third trimester of my pregnancy, and not being able to sit in my practice space. I would brush by it on my way to bed, and from there appreciate the truth of what it had to offer. Even when empty, the mere presence of my dependable nest provided me with that sense of original haven, and reminded me that no matter where I was I could always tap the peaceful place of worship inside.

This essentially is the nature of sanctuary, don’t you think? It teaches us that wherever we are, with or without prop, we are all already home.

In sweet sanctuary,

ML

The Cultivation of Deep Love

I take tremendous pride in myself as a parent. Being a mother has indeed been the greatest, most healing gift in my life.  I also take it rather seriously, given I had a really rough start as a child.

Though my parents are still alive, I don’t think of them as parents at all, and learned basically from infancy what not to do. Because of this, I am profoundly committed to giving my kids the safety, stability, and undying love that I never had.

Add to this my early steps onto the paths of Buddhism and yoga, and my life seems more and more spread into a fan of practices, parenting no less spiritual than the other more formal designations.

For now however, let’s stick to the practice of parenting. Let’s really consider it. In my mind, parenting has two legs, one is how we relate to and support our children, and the other oft-neglected leg is how we relate to and support our inner child.

As if the outside parenting leg weren’t exquisitely hard, wow is the self-parenting leg a struggle! This tender, subtle, fragile, and intimate relationship with the child inside—often the piece of us that has been ignored or traumatized—so needs our attention.

Sometimes I see mine, this frightened little girl, nested inside my body, hovering in my left shoulder or down in my abdomen. I visualize bringing her to life in the middle of a garden or wrapping her in my arms, and letting her cry the way my blessed grandmother used to when I would sob into her chest.

How do you relate to your inner kiddo? Or rather, do you relate to yours at all? If nothing else, might I cajole you into looking into this crucial relationship?

And how appropriate that I am sitting here writing on the daybed, where I was in labor for 40 hours in 2009, and where my almost two-year-old Stella just came to me bleary-eyed and rosy-cheeked out of her nap and into my warm arms, needing that love, that solid, steady reminder of deep love. This is exactly what the inner parenting is about too, and come to think of it, what the formal spiritual practices all seem to point to as well: the cultivation of deep love.

Join me if you will in dedicating your parenting and all other practices to this same quality of affection, this outpouring of radiant love. Our hearts certainly have the capacity for it. If only our wild, critical minds would get out of the way! Or rather, if only we got out of theirs…

In sweetness,

ML

Making Room for Spiritual Practice

What is spiritual practice? Furthermore, do you have one?

Simply put, I define spiritual practice as something you do every single day that draws you deeper into who you really are, by connecting you with your divine self.

Please don’t be put off by the word spiritual here! Spiritual doesn’t have to entail–though it often does–meditation cushions, prayer beads, chant books, yoga mats, or any other such paraphernalia. A spiritual practice might be baking, gardening, running, knitting, playing piano, painting, hiking, meditating, golfing, doing yoga, tai chi, or calligraphy. It is not so much about the form but about the profound and connective quality of the time spent within it.

The practice part means just that: you do it daily, over and over, not in a gross way, but rather in a this-is-what-makes-me-who-I-am way. Without the aim of ever stopping with it, you practice as contribution to your ever-unfolding life on this earth. It can feel beautiful and compelling, harrowing and agonizing, annoying, vexing, boring as hell, or as ordinary and routine as brushing your teeth. Above all it is your rock, the ultimate placating pillar, steady and reliable as they come.

There have been times when, driven by such desperation, my yoga, pranayama, meditation, and journaling practices served as literal life preservers, day by grueling day. In these pockets, practice translates directly as necessity. In the coasting phases of our lives however, or during the highly celebratory ones, spiritual practice feels as joyous as the spread of a bright authentic smile, or as easy to fall into as a hammock under the stars, in the perfect climate, and between the two most exquisite trees.

This is all great you say, but how do I actually do it? First you have to admit that practice is essential, and something you must do. Next, you must designate, carve out, and stick to the time for it, often letting go of something else in order to keep it alive. Many people find it easiest to maintain practice first thing in the morning. But what does that mean you give up? Sleep? Or is it the extra hour on the computer before bed the night before so that you don’t lose the time in bed? There are choices here. It is up to you.

In short, and for you to take as inspiration or affirmation, here are my top ten benefits of spiritual practice:

  1. It provides clarity in the midst of our overflowing and demanding days.
  2. It cultivates the attention required to complete our tasks.
  3. It lifts our mood.
  4. It creates a sense of steadiness and grounding in change.
  5. It keeps us afloat and even-keeled in even the most riotous emotional storms.
  6. It helps us see our lives on a macro level.
  7. It helps us understand our lives on a micro level.
  8. It draws us into the simplicity of the moment.
  9. It touches us so deeply that without it we would feel lost or downright not right.
  10. It connects us to and reveals true spirit.

Ultimately, we must summon the courage to make room for spiritual practice, and the experiment that it is, as instigator at any given time of peace, elation, chill out, aha, tears, or evocative reflection. We must be willing to face whatever arises within this uncanny vehicle and to touch the sacred in ourselves every precious day.

How do you feel about that?

In sweet practice,

ML

 

 

Let Nature Be Your Teacher

This past weekend my husband and I went up to the Adirondacks, and wow was it magical. The landscape was powerful, beautiful, and gentle all at once. I spent the days staring out a huge window overlooking snowy fir trees and the lake, still not frozen, undulating rhythmically beyond them. I took long morning walks on trails half covered by snow and branches, smelling the pinecones, appreciating the green, stopping along the water, breathing the crisp air, and looking up into that clear open sky.

To be surrounded by such noble largesse at all times, in yoga, sitting, and writing practices even, was inordinately soothing. Over and over, I was reassured by the voluminous presence of those ancient trees of just how small my hang-ups and me actually are.

An old literature mentor used to advise me that when things got really rough to simply look out the window at the wind rustling through the branches of a tree. She felt that this elemental vision was enough to bring anyone back to their roots, or more succinctly, to the root of all living things, namely movement, energy, and pulse.

That tree, those branches, that wind, those leaves are never in great debate over better or worse, or in anguish over their incessant disruption. No, that tree, those branches, that wind, those leaves, are just that, exactly who and what they are meant to be. They are simply their divine, revelatory, real, and unfussy selves.

Whether you are struck by a lone shoot pushing through the cracks in city pavement, the runt tree on your block, the intermittent flow of sweet rain, the seeming forest of the park, the night or early morning sky, or the fallen leaves, please let nature be your teacher and think deliberately on these things:

  • Let nature be a part of your every day.
  • Let nature fill you with joy and overwhelming peace.
  • Let nature mirror your own elemental and affectionate nature.
  • Let nature remind you to accept your own organic shape.
  • Let nature lead you into an authentic expression of you.
  • Let nature always ground you.

Though my husband and I had to say goodbye to all that rugged upstate beauty, I have a new little pinecone sitting on my altar. It harkens from one of those early mornings hikes, and is here as talisman and anchor, to remind me, and hopefully now you, of all these substantial and essential things.

In natural sweetness,

ML

Flow Downstream

Why are we so afraid of change?

It’s crazy that I’ve always sought self-development and deep change, but at the same time freak out about them regularly. Ever since I got sick in 2006, and healed myself over the ensuing three years, I have devoted my life to supporting others along their transformative journeys. I have at times forgotten just how radically I had to change to arrive at a place where I could even contemplate helping someone else do the same.

Why Buddhism appealed to me so young, and why Zen practice became a haven in my life as early as my teens, was how fully I could relate to the idea that the only real constant is change. Self-destructive and hostile as I was back then, I must have thought: Hey, wow, Buddha, you are the only authority figure who I don’t have a problem with, and how cool that you are speaking all about impermanence, a language I totally get!

Here’s why: I never felt stable or secure in my house growing up. I didn’t know what I would get when I walked in the door—raving lunatic, eccentric nurturer, sad hysterical wreck, or feverish poet. You can imagine, as a child this was terrifying. I wish I could say I was at ease with change as my mercurial mother was all I knew, but precisely because of my experience with no-ground, because of not having had a root, change has instead always made me desperately uncomfortable.

Though Zen has slowly brought me around to the ever-fleeting nature of things, I still often feel like I’m swimming upstream. Right now for instance, I’m back in another wild cycle of change. Over the past two weeks, I’ve found myself wishing pretty vehemently for plateau, if I could only cruise for a spell, while I take others through their stuff.

Ghandi of course was famous for his message on changing self first, and my wise yoga teacher has reminded me of this a great deal recently, when I’ve complained about not getting a break and just wanting to help everyone else. Suddenly I feel like I haven’t gone through a thing, like I am at the beginning of all the changing I have to do, that I haven’t seen anything yet. And you know what? For the first time in ages, I’m pretty calm about it.

SO, if you are either resisting or in a state of rapid change, here are four things that help:

  1. Let go of needing to know how everything will turn out.
  2. Take refuge in routine, do the practices you love daily, and stick with them.
  3. Talk and write about everything you are going through.
  4. Remember that nothing is permanent. This phase too will pass.

Most of all, I love what Norman Fischer says, “Life comes and goes. Life comes and goes very quickly. We don’t need to worry so much.” When in doubt, find your footing in change. Instead of fighting the current, take cue, and for once in your life, flow downstream.

In sweetness and change,

ML

How Do You Relate to Fear?

In a blog I wrote last spring, I described fear as sweet and empty. I still believe that if we look into the face of it, fear has essentially these same qualities, like a wispy, conniving puff. Though it feels hulking when in action, it doesn’t actually maintain the stature of a super tough, body builder type. Instead, fear is more evaporative, disguisable, and smothering, like a crafty magician. Still, fear does one heck of a number on us.

For reasons beyond rationale, I’ve had intense and hefty doses of fear in my life—starting with my terrifying mother, severe teenage acne, unsafe drug experiences, and adult illness followed by post traumatic stress—to the point where I haven’t on multiple occasions wanted to live. When I think back to only a couple of years ago, and my old style of waging mighty wars with fear, just to keep my head above its tormenting waters, it all seems so extreme.

But there really was a time when I virtually couldn’t move, so paralyzed was I with terror. The only way to get through the day was to sit on my meditation cushion, see the body of all my fear, scream and yell at it, quake and sob, sometimes collapse, but sometimes triumph after the fight. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

Today, it’s more like, “Oh hey, I know you. Here you are. You’re back trying to freak me out, make me stop breathing, send me into a loony spin.” Certainly not so gripping, and at least I can say I am learning! I catch myself before I get totally unseated by it. And at the risk of sounding totally boring, meditation, breathing, walking, and yoga practice help an awful lot.

The next time you’re in a scary place, here’s one exercise that helps:

1. Ask, What is making me so afraid right now?

2. Separate out that thing from the feeling of fear. Whatever the thing, put it aside for the moment. It is simply being itself. What’s truly frightening is the fear.

3. Breathe consciously and root into your body. Make room for you to also be separate from the fear. However overwhelming, the fear is not you.

4. Now, look right into the center of the feeling.

5. If you have to yell at it, do. If you can talk to it, do. If you want to write about it, do. Just open up a dialogue and hold your ground. In other words, stay with it.

6. Your bravery actually dissolves the fear. Even if you feel beaten down or shaken up, not shrinking away is really what it takes.

7. Breathe consciously again. Get up, stretch, move. Release whatever dregs are left.

8. Check in with yourself. See how you are feeling. Know that you are OK, and re-enter the world.

Remember, fear is human. It has a place, and will on some level always be a royal drag—or maybe not? Still, just as in any difficult relationship, the more we come to understand its challenges, the less threatening it becomes. Sure fear is superlatively slippery, but it is also flimsy and missing heart, so way less courageous than you. What a relief!

In sweetness,

ML

Slow Down!

We all know how exhausted, burnt out, and depleted we feel when we do too much, too quickly. What would our days look like if were we to slow down, not once in a while, but more consistently and just plain more often?

This doesn’t mean making our lives less exciting. It does however mean that we actually show up for them. It also means we take time to smell the proverbial roses, to taste our food, to listen to our partners and children, and to absorb what is happening when it is happening, and not in the play-by-play later that night or the next morning.

I would of course love us all to take naps, lie over yoga bolsters, and sip nourishing mineral broths every day. But hey, I’m also a realist. It historically has taken me feeling pretty lousy to make this triad mandatory, and your go-to remedies for mellowing out are probably different than mine. Still, dare I say I am improving? I’m catching myself a little quicker within the dizzying spiral of depletion. I also have my arsenal of things to do—see above—plus a few others up my sleeve to put into play right away.

What’s in your toolkit when you are burnt out? What helps you slow down?

We should probably first figure out if you believe in the spirit of slow—not lazy, stupid, or behind like the word has sadly come to imply—but rather deep, present, aware, and sound. It’s not like slow hasn’t already caught on. There are after all slow movements everywhere: Slow food! Slow love!

Still, the heart of living slow for me is most winningly embodied by slow dance. Picture it: You hold your partner close, maybe rest your head on their shoulder, wrap your arms around them or keep your hand on their low back or hip, whisper a little, and act intimate and loving.

Imagine holding your overtaxed body with that same sentiment! Imagine giving yourself that much care! Here’s what I propose: Swap out dance for down, and with the lights dimmed, make a point to weave slow downs into your life, better yet, into your every day.

Not only is slowing down restful, restorative, and recharging. It is VITAL. And, it feels really good to boot. Slow downs also prep you for the high tempo, crazy fast, fluorescent and pumping number that is surely cued up as the very next song in your life.

I can’t help but think of Bob Marley’s “Turn Your Lights Down,” a classic love song but also perfect to sing to ourselves to get us in the slow down mood: ‘Turn your lights down low, and a pull your window curtains.’ He tells us oh so softly, come on, quiet down, get slow. It’s not only super seductive, it is super necessary to our wellbeing.

True, we want our bodies to rock it for us 24-7. But how about we slow down, hold them steady, and let them and our wild minds chill out once in a while? Consider it, would you? I don’t think you’ll be sorry.

In slowness,

ML