I have been a grateful sojourner on the winding spiritual path for as long I can remember.
After rejecting the Catholic Church around age 10, I stumbled upon the love of my life—yoga-—at the critical age of 12-going-on-13.
I started reading New Age self-help books in college and met the Buddha in the San Francisco Bay area at 23.
Each stage along the way has been illuminating and necessary to move to a higher level of consciousness. I am thrilled to continue learning and practicing throughout this lifetime, at least.
At certain points in the past, I have wished for epiphanies, signals and sudden enlightenment. Of course, life doesn’t work that way. What we seek eludes us. Letting go allows newness to enter.
So, although I would like to gift you with these 18 teachings that have altered my mind and improved my life, they may not resonate with you. The most important teaching of all is that we are each where we need to be when we need to be there, learning the lessons that we need to learn.
1. Everything I need is already within me.
Authentic power comes from finding balance within; it is not imposed from external authorities.
2. I can (and do) create my life through creative visualization (to a certain extent).
Using the common sense techniques Shakti Gawain outlines in her books, I was able to realize my dream of living in California and becoming a full-time yoga instructor 11 years ago. I do not, however, subscribe to the “Secret.” Reality is reality, and people and objects are not mere pawns in our manifestations.
3. All things must pass.
My first bout of depression in my early 20s was the worst, because I seriously believed it would never end. I thought, Okay, this terrible, listless, sad, anxious state is adulthood. This is what it means to grow up. Of course, I turned out to be wrong. The depression lifted (and came back and lifted again, over and over).
My dear friend Liz has a tattoo that reminds her, “This too shall pass.” Depression will pass, but so will joyous times. Our beloved pets and friends and family will pass, and so will we. Rather than hiding from this morbid truth, I now embrace it and live my life more fully because of it.
4. Beliefs separate.
Since absorbing this fundamental teaching via J. Krishnamurti, I have strived to let go of beliefs and labels. I am not a Catholic Buddhist liberal American yogini. I am a human. You are a human. Now we can relate.
5. Faith is letting go.
Faith is not holding on to a dogma, a promise, a future in heaven. Faith is letting go and letting in the ever-unfolding experience of life as it flows presently.
6. All meditation is good meditation.
And another thing: it is perfectly fine to meditate for 30 seconds. If I meditate for half a minute, then take a little break (because, damn, that was tough!), then start again—that is A-OK. Some days it may be 30 minutes, others 30 seconds. The key, I’ve found, is to pause regularly throughout the day. In this way, I integrate meditation into my life and not just as a part of my formal practice on the cushion.
Learning the metta meditation technique at a spiritual conference in Palo Alto in 2004 was transformative. Metta is loving kindness. The basic technique is to send good wishes to ourselves, our loved ones, strangers, enemies and ultimately every sentient being without exception. I have introduced it to countless yoga students over the years. Metta is powerful and can be used in formal meditation as well as on-the-spot.
8. Each morning, I am born again. What I do today is what matters most.
The past brought me here, but it is over. The future is totally uncertain. I aspire to concentrate as much of my attention and effort on the present moment, the current situation and the living relationships I cultivate with myself and others.
Shout out, also, to Eckhart Tolle and The Flaming Lips. Living in the moment, cliché as it has become to say, is truly liberating. The more I practice, the better I get.
Attending two 10-day silent Vipassana retreats two summers in a row effectively branded the concept of equanimity in my mind. Balance of mind. Not allowing it to be swayed by every little (or big) feeling of pleasure and pain. Like all these lessons, it is a process that continues to unfold.
10. No self.
The separate “I” that I seem to be is merely an illusion, a fiction, a well-told story. Letting it go is a moment-to-moment practice, an utterly liberating one.
11. Suffering is the result of clinging.
Yesterday, we took a bus to Cali, Colombia. We were told it would take five hours. After eight hours had passed, I was hungry, tired, annoyed with the horrendous movies being shown in rapid succession on the bus and tearfully frustrated. I was clinging to my expectation that the trip would be five hours long. My young daughter, on the other hand, was just fine. She had no expectations. Whenever I cling, I suffer. So I strive not to cling.
12. Worry is useless.
I used to be a worry wart—even as a kid. At some point, I read that worrying is planning for a negative future. That blew my mind open in the best of ways. So I stopped.
13. Friendship is the highest form of love.
This teaching came from Osho. When I read that sentence, it stopped me in my tracks. It rang so true. Though at the time I struggled with romantic love, I have typically flourished in friendships. True friendship is founded on trust and respect. The best marriages are founded on genuine friendship.
14. Difficult people are the best teachers.
(Much gratitude to Pema for this one!)
15. Therefore, be grateful to everyone and everything.
Gratitude can be cultivated through appreciation of the lovely people—as well as the pain-in-the-ass people—and the unique details of our daily lives.
16. Don’t get on the train.
There are 1,001 great metaphors for meditation. One that really resonated with me came from Matthieu Ricard. I imagine sitting at a train station, watching the trains arrive and depart. My pure awareness is the station and my thoughts, feelings, sensations, etc. are the trains. If I am not mindful, I will hop on a train and take it to who knows where. But the moment I realize I am on the train, I am magically off of it, back at the station, just watching without judgment, with compassion.
17. Breath is life.
As Buddhist teacher Gil Fronsdal says, if you’re aware of the breath, you’re aware of the present moment. Our breath is with us from the moment of birth until the moment of death. It is the one bodily function that we can consciously control. Deep breathing is calming. Awareness of breath is the most fundamental meditation technique—and one that I always return to no matter what.
18. Make your mind as vast as the sky.
When I read this line, also from Matthieu Ricard, my mind actually did feel like it blew wide open, in the best possible way. It felt spacious and vast and calm and just there. Now, when I am feeling small-minded and constricted in my thinking, I often remind myself to make my mind as vast as the sky and it inevitably helps.
May these teachings be of benefit!
Reggie Ray explains that meditation is the most important thing he’s done with his life:
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