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What can you claim today?

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At some point(s) in my life I was or had been accused of being A Bossy Know-It-All.
Shudder.
And we all know that no one likes a Bossy Know-It-All.
As I write that, I feel a wave of anger at the social constructs that contribute to a woman’s cutting off of her own voice, inner knowing, and power. (And yes, I know that there are social constructs that cut men off from the fullness of their power as well, in different ways.)
No one in my life would call me a shrinking violet, that’s for sure. And yet there is still some measure of holding back, or of sharing things “just so” and expending a lot of energy managing my expression so no one can accuse me of being a bossy know it all.
So here I am now, claiming my bossy know it all. By claiming her, I absorb her qualities back into my essence, rather than limiting them or making myself wrong for having certain characteristics.
Her power comes from full, frank, direct communication sourced in knowledge that has been distilled into wisdom.
She is not ruled by a need to be liked and accepted. Her measuring stick is whether what she expresses is of service to the highest good for all involved while honoring the ancient teachings.
There is strength in gentleness. And she can also kick some ass when she needs to, as fire can nurture, like a hearth, or burn down whatever no longer serves.
To what false idols/beliefs/social and familial constructs have you given some measure of your power?
What is in you that you’ve given away that you can choose to claim today?

PS. Today I’m appreciating my friend Danielle, who asked me to take a look at her new website. It had the word “claim” in the title, and when I woke up this morning it appeared I had claimed a formerly disinherited aspect of myself in my sleep!

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Last night I cooked a gourmet meal.
Huh?
If you know me I am usually not one for cooking. I have done it out of necessity but it has never been fun for me. And with a mind full of self judgement and criticism about my abilities in the kitchen, it makes sense that it would be the last place I want to be.
Writing that just now, I felt a wave of compassion for myself. Between constantly evaluating myself and looking to see if others are judging my cooking or don’t like it, of course it has felt like a landmine.
This year I decided to rewrite that story. The reasons were many. It’s hard to eat in a way that feels healthy and enlivening when I eat out a lot. Feeding yourself is nourishing, it’s a form of self love, and outsourcing that to any number of amazing restaurants, while fun, is skipping over an opportunity for nurturing–for me, in this stage of my life. (No judgement if you never step foot in your kitchen. This is just my journey.)
Most importantly, it felt like an area of my life where I wasn’t choosing. It was an area where avoidance of past pain or failure was the reason for not going there. And I am on a mission to turn toward those areas of avoidance when I see them, to love the part of me that’s avoiding pain, and to choose differently, marking the shift with a new behavior or action that sets me out into the new direction.
Part of how I justified not cooking was that I’m quite a foodie and the things I can make are simple but leave my inner gourmand totally unsatisfied. I’d see recipes that sounded good, but I’d tell myself I wasn’t equipped to make that.
Enter Blue Apron. On social media, I started seeing friends post photos of restaurant quality meals and saying they were from their Blue Apron box. Hmmmm.
Once I stopped procrastinating, I signed up for it. The photo above was my second attempt. It was time to release that old story and write a new one.
What I realized about rewriting a story is, you get to make every aspect of it your own. You can choose to do it the way you want to rather than how you were taught or what you’ve done in the past. I asked myself, how could cooking be different this time?
When the box of food was delivered, I chanted Annapurna Sukta over it. This Vedic chant is to the Divine Mother in the form of food. I have never chanted it without some tears forming in my eyes because the energy of the mantra is so sweet and loving. I love waking up to the sacred in all of life, so chanting over the food was one way of making it my own.
I put some jazz on while I started preparing the meal. And while I thought Trane could be my cooking co-pilot, I realized the only way this was going to be fun was if I added some movement. Hello Sia! I highly recommend hip shaking while chopping vegetables.
Permission is important too. Each time my perfectionist came up, I took a deep breath and remembered my vow to stay by my own side no matter what, and I gave myself permission to be whatever I was rather than some idea of what a good cook looks like. Just that breath and awareness helped me to soften.
Yes I was still nervous, and wanting it to be good, and noticing moments of self judgment or times when I wasn’t breathing. But I was also shaking my ass and having fun touching my inner Julia Child.
The last part was the sharing of the food. I was cooking delicious food for my delicious man and to receive such appreciation was the cherry on top of the experience.
My experience of dinner was that I could taste the love and mantras and giggles that I put into it.
By now I’m sure you get that this has nothing to do with food. It’s about finding those places where you withhold love from yourself, and going there. Where are the life areas where you find it hard to treat yourself with kindness? Bring those places to the light. It is a process. I have tried to kick this cooking demon before, but the difference this time for me was that the sankalpa, or vow, that I took at the beginning of the year was to stay by my own side no matter what.
If the dinner had been horrible, I still, in my heart of hearts, would’ve been standing there holding my own hand. Each day brings more proof that when I stay with me, I can get through anything.
Cooking may not be your big avoidance. We all have those places where we check out on ourselves. How can you bring love and internal support there? What living ways can you occupy your life more fully? And are you willing to have fun while you’re at it?

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Join me in the Pyrenees region in the South of France, June 6-14, 2015, for a mystical experience of beauty and ease.

According to yogic wisdom, cultivation of the vital essences is an integral part of creating a vibrant, fulfilled life. These essences are ojas–our deep vigor, prana–our primal life force, and tejas–our illuminative radiance. Join Meg Townsend and Nicole Taylor, both 500-hour trained yoga teachers and Ayurvedic Yoga Specialists, on an empowering retreat designed to help you source your inner wisdom.
Meg and Nicole will lead you through daily yoga and guided meditation practices designed to help you achieve your brightest shining. After experiencing the gifts of the inner journey, afternoons explore the outer journey, as we visit the magical landscapes of the mystical Cathar region. You’ll drink in the beauty of South of France, from the Natural Green Labyrinth and the peaks of the Pyrenees, to rejuvenating natural springs and a mystic grotto in the Galamus Gorges. You’ll be nourished by vegetarian home cooking, and enjoy a few meals at local restaurants to sample authentic French fare. Dormitory style rooms allow for a mixture of community and the sprawling outdoors and mini-trails foster space for individual contemplation. Experience your innate wholeness. Be nourished by your practice and the healing force of nature. Find joy in the journey home to yourself. Join us!

Your Trip Includes:
*7 nights at Santosha Retreat House, spacious community-style rooms
*Daily breakfast, most lunches/dinners (vegetarian)
*Sunset picnic dinner with 360 view of the breathtaking Pyrenees
*Daily yoga classes and Vitality workshops
*Transportation to Adventures: Pyrenees Hiking, Castles, Esperanza Market, & more!
Not Included:
*Airfare to/from Toulouse, France **night flight leaving Friday, June 5th and arriving Saturday, June 6th….we depart Toulouse on Sunday, June 14th and arrive home later that evening**
*Train transport to/from Santosha Retreat House (approx $64 r/t)
*Hotel & Dinner in Toulouse, France
*One dinner out
*Three lunches out
Upon registration, you will receive detailed information about where/when/how to meet us in Limoux for transport to Santosha!
Total Cost: $1295
$395 non-refundable deposit to hold your space! Balance of $900 due by May 1st
Only 10 spaces are available on this journey!

Register here: http://www.reallivingyoga.com/cultivate-your-vital-essence-in-the-south-of-france.html

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Yesterday I celebrated MLK day by doing exactly what I wanted and being keenly aware that the freedom to do exactly what I want, how I want, when I want is in large part because of the man whose day it was.
I woke up, turned on my phone, and did Yoga Nidra for 30 minutes from a recording by my spiritual teacher Rod Stryker. Afterward, feeling energized and happy, I marveled at the fact that I have been able to fly all over the country to study with Yogarupa, that I have the luxury of a life comfortable enough, with my needs met so completely, that I can spend my free time studying Tantra yoga and pondering the deeper questions of life.
I played “Remember this song?” with the man I’m dating and while we were cracking up and reminiscing, there was a moment when he mentioned Living Colour and what it felt like to rock out so hard to these guys and the how great it felt to hear them and think, yeah, we make this kind of music too. I remembered that feeling also, the feeling of pride that came from there being someone who looked like me in the genre of music that I liked the most. Inside I appreciated their trailblazing spirits, and also how, if not for Dr. King, who knows if they would’ve had that opportunity.
We went to breakfast, and it was perfect and delicious and the restaurant was full of people from every race and ethnicity, and there were tables with, same sex couples, and tables where people were the same race, and tables where four different ethnicities were represented. I took a moment to feel gratitude that this was possible, as it would’ve been an entirely different scene if it had been 1955 instead of 2015.
Next up was the Philadelphia orchestra’s annual MLK concert. It was held at Girard College’s breathtakingly beautiful chapel. I saw an older black man with an MLK day of service TShirt on. He had an energy that made me notice him, and I smiled when he saw his friends and hugged them all and did a little dance of joy. He seemed completely unselfconscious and happy, in a way that most people aren’t, like he had given himself the freedom to be who he was under any and all circumstances. Everyone else had their orchestra face on, sitting still and speaking quietly, and here was this dude dancing in the aisles. Love it! I took a moment to appreciate inner freedom, the choices we make moment by moment to be who we are or who we think we are supposed to be. It made me feel even more grateful for those who paved the way for external freedom.
It was a beautiful, unforgettable moment when the orchestra’s conductor, Yannick, invited the composer of the next piece up to the stage, and that same energetic, joyful man I’d noticed earlier popped up out of his seat and ran up to the stage. Boom! Live your purpose and the resulting joy is evident!
His name was Hannibal and he said he’d gone to forest to write the piece and asked the ancestors to give him the music the people needed to hear. He said they told him to remind people of their inner divinity and to create something that would be a balm for their soul.
My eyes welled up with tears at the beauty of the intent behind his offering, the humble way that he spoke, and the recognition of a kindred spirit, with whom I shared the same mission in life, just expressed differently.
We were lucky because this was the premier of “Veil One: One Land,” which was part of a larger piece called “One Land, One River, One People.”
There was a violinist who made her instrument sing in a way that I have never heard before and likely won’t again. She inspired awe in all of us, and received a standing ovation in the middle of the piece. There was a soprano and a tenor that sang from a place so deep within that it shattered any last remnants of armor between my heart and the music, so that each note felt like it blasted through my entire being. My experience of the music was that it gave voice to the totality of human experience, and fully captured the ecstasy of living.
Wow. A balm for the soul indeed, to be reminded of that ecstasy that resides at the core of our existence.
I ended the day teaching yoga and pranayama to some amazing souls, with the theme of freedom, and spoke of how the path of yoga helps us to disidentify with the changeable and experience and rest in the part of us that is changeless.
It was a beautiful day and a reminder that we all stand on the shoulders of giants. Nothing that we do today would be possible if not for those who came before us, and the blood, sweat and tears they shed to create the conditions that gave rise to the world we live in now. Whether it’s Dr. King, or your trailblazing ancestors, or the sages of your spiritual lineage, or your most transformative teachers, or the loved one right next to you, or the divine Herself, somebody somewhere has supported you in being where you are today.
Acknowledging that, feeling gratitude, and finding ways to pay it forward is part of our birthright as humans.
You are in this body with a unique set of skills that all of the obstacles and joys of your life have prepared you to live into. Find out what that is, and do it, do the hell out of it, do it as boldly and brightly and deeply as you can because it is your shoulders that the next generation stands on. It is your strength that the person near you draws on, and it’s your acceptance of yourself even when you feel weak that teaches those who are watching that they can love all of their aspects too. Your deep, full out living of your best life is of service to you and everyone around you.

That human

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The other day I was with a friend and we saw her ex-husband. No one but the two people involved ever knows what truly happens in a marriage, but just by facts alone suffice to it say that some of his actions were quite horrible.
As soon as I saw him I felt the dense cloud of judgement forming around me, pulling my face into a mask of distaste, my body recoiling from his very presence.
And then she got his attention and they spoke cordially; he acknowledged me, and I coldly responded and then blessedly it was over.
My friend and I went back to our conversation, but the wave that was both of our feelings about seeing him continued to ripple under the surface. I noticed she seemed to be more at peace about what had occurred than I was so I tried to make myself snap out of it. Why would I keep holding on to disgust if the person actually involved had moved past it? Who was that helping?
The next morning I woke up and had a hangover of ick. Would’ve been easier if the hangover had been from wine, ’cause there are plenty tangible things one can do to help that pass.
What does one do for a hangover of ick?
I drank some lime water with honey. Wasted time on social media. Drank coffee. I read my morning spiritual texts, but with the reminder of how much I’d judged that dude, I immediately felt like an asshole. I drank some tea. Thought about writing. Sighed.
Turned toward the ick.
It was dense. Foggy. Gross. Heavy. What was it?
It was the residue of not seeing another human as human.
It was the darkness left behind by choosing to see only darkness in another.
It was the sludge of seeing him only as his actions rather than as a human being who had made some choices that, by the look of him, he didn’t feel great about.
It was the pain that comes from seeing someone as other, because as soon as you set them apart, on some level you set yourself apart too.
I remembered a passage from one of my recent studies….it was talking about how we are all reflections of the divine. Some of us may reflect that light as vastly as all the oceans, and some of us might reflect that light as much as a pinprick. But how much or little we reflect it doesn’t change what and who we are by virtue of being human, which is a reflection of that light.
There is pain that comes from forgetting that. In the instance with my friend’s ex, I felt that pain deeply, and when I forgave him and forgave myself for judging him and for whatever hidden darkness in me I was rejecting by rejecting him, the ick passed through.
Relief.
There is a lot of ick lately…reading the news is basically a game of who is the bad guy…this religious group or that group of extremists or these cops or that race of people…the list goes on.
When does it stop?
How do we stop it?
Does it start with each person taking responsibility for how they see the people and the world around them?
What happens when each of us faces and accepts the ways we dehumanize other people, no matter how justified it feels? Can we use that energy to then choose differently? Can the actions based in choosing to see everyone as whole and human help this current wave of anger, fear, and disgust (aka ick) to move through?
I don’t know. But I do know that reading and meditating and going to rallies and all the blah blah blah in the world means nothing if I let myself view or treat someone right in front of me as anything less than human.

Paint it your way

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Last night I painted with acrylics for the first time. As with any unchartered territory, I felt the full range of emotions. It began with anxiety about whether not it would be any good, which gave way to excitement about trying something new, which led to a sense of curiosity about how I wanted to use the brushes to create shapes, which led to the exhilaration of seeing the painting come into form on the canvas, which led to some self criticism and anxiety about whether it was any good, which led to some sweet suggestions from the teacher, which brought on an attempt to “fix” something I thought I’d done wrong, which led to a realization that I wanted to do it differently than the model I was being given, which led to touching that wild woman in me and asking how she wanted to be expressed, which culminated in the expansive joy that comes with expressing myself full out, which led to a sense of peace and accomplishment and the painting above.
Deep exhale.
This occurred while I was sitting next to an amazing man and appreciating his presence and artistry in this medium, while getting in touch with my own.
Whew!
My favorite moment was when I was drawing the leaves, and I was trying to be neat. I wanted it to look like what the teacher had drawn. And it wasn’t looking like that at all. I thought, ugh, I should have a lighter hand, these should be more delicate. And I felt this kind of roar inside, and that roar was like, eff that, let’s paint our wildness. So I went off the map, so to speak, and just let that inner roar paint the leaves. The result wasn’t neat, wasn’t controlled, wasn’t perfect. To me it looked like a big gust of wind was blowing through and the leaves were responding. There was an abundance of leaves, dancing in the wind, exercising a type of controlled chaos.
What joy, to have let my full expression come through, and to bear witness to the expression of others. How beautiful to look around the room and to see all the different expressions of one image! We were all working from the same template, but we made different choices and let our unique ray of light shine through the canvas.
What is your ray? Have you created space in your life, in your heart, to hear that roar of your individual expression?
Tomorrow, 2015 begins.
How will you paint it your way?

Saying yes

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As the year winds down, I notice I’m thinking of intentions differently. Usually I have a sense of what I’d like to accomplish in the coming year, but this winter I’m more curious about what energies I’d like to cultivate to seed the ground for more joy–objectless joy, that natural state of joy that isn’t attached to having anything or achieving anything. This is the joy that comes from presence. From pure being. From the ecstasy of letting life flow through you rather than trying to control it.
I keep picturing a moment last month in Ojai, dancing around with my friend Carey, chanting yes over and over, laughing and yes-ing, and feeling expanded and filled with joy. That experience was so liberating, so freeing, and I felt open to making that energy more manifest in my life.
A wholehearted, full out yes to what arises can be a delicious experience. For me, 2014 was a series of very necessary nos, goodbyes, and endings. And while I’ve grown wary of putting too fine a point on things, I do feel curious about the experiences or energies to which I’d like to voice a resounding “yes!”
This morning I was drawn to one of my Ayurvedic textbooks, and I found that Dr. Vasant Lad expressed the power of yes in a way that really resonated with me.
“To say “yes” means to allow a thought or circumstance to flower, to let go and expand….there is a “yes” beyond “yes” and that “yes” is existence. The trees say “yes” to every season. When spring comes they say “yes” and they flower. When summer comes they say “yes” and become dry and thirsty. When fall comes they say “yes” and and change color and are ready to drop their leaves. To say “yes” means to surrender–to every thought, feeling, and emotion. It means letting go, and letting go is a journey toward the heart…to say “yes” to pain means to be with it and to be with something is to love it. To love some person means to be with that person. So to say “yes” means to be with it.”
Ahhh, yes!
What are you saying yes to right now?

Multitudes

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This morning near the end of meditation a thought crossed my mind…I am not perfect.
I had awoken with a tight belly, feeling queasy, and as I let go of my mantra and let myself focus on that thought, I felt my belly unclench.
I am not perfect.
This year I have been fat and thin.
I have been focused and lazy.
Loving and hateful.
Helpful and greedy.
Drunk on spirit and drunk on all the champagne.
A good listener and totally checked out.
Spirit filled and lust overwhelmed.
Healthy and gluttonous.
Selfless and selfish.
Genuinely interested and only pretending to be.
Wanting closeness and dying for space.
Caring and filled with contempt.
Joyful and rageful.
Driven and unbelievably lazy.
Authentic and totally fake.
So into you and then just waiting for the next more interesting person to come along.
Present and scattered.
Judgmental and forgiving.
Abundant and scarce.
Receiving and refusing.
Filled with light and immersed in my shadow.
Neat and clean and also messy and dirty.
Safe and reckless.
Inclusive and racist.
Tolerant and intolerant.
Available and avoidant.
Conscious and on automatic.
All of these swirl around in me, and sometimes I feel the harmony in these opposites and sometimes the great judge within has a field day making a score card that looks quite damning.
The aha of not perfect morphs into the aha of and no one can punish me for that (except me) which becomes a relaxing into the multitudes in me, which morphs into a deep spaciousness that holds all of these qualities.
I notice at the end of the year I crawl into a hole in an attempt to hide from myself, which is impossible. Something to do with that aforementioned scorecard.
What freedom, to survey and surface all of those ways I showed up this year, and then to add love. I was all of it and I was none of it. I was whole. I was human.
Happy end of 2014.
May whatever your personal version is of completing with this year leave you breathing deeply and feeling spacious and whole.

Raised in happiness

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Today I went on a lovely hike in Fairmount Park. Our guide, Bob, was chock full of information about the trails near Belmont Plateau. At times his eyes looked teary and I couldn’t tell if it was from the cold, or from the fountain of love he had for the park.
When he pointed out the nursery where the young trees live until they are ready to be planted, he said “Here, the trees are raised in happiness.”
I was so struck by that. For the remainder of the hike, the phrase “raised in happiness” reverberated through my mind.
I wondered, am I raising myself in happiness?
Last weekend I went to a sweatlodge, and through the sweat and the darkness and the prayers and the tears, emerging felt like being reborn. I found a patch of dirt that the full moon was shining on and I sprawled out, soaking up the moonlight and being supported by the earth.
All week I’ve felt different, childlike, raw.
When Bob spoke of the trees it gave me pause. I can choose to raise this fledgling iteration of me in happiness.
We all can. I think each time we have a milestone or a transformative experience there’s a choice point. Each time we wake up we have that choice. How best can I care for myself? What can I connect to in me that creates deeper connections with others? In what ways can I cultivate peace?
Am I raising myself in happiness? Or is there an old habit of pickling myself in a state of mind that is much less enjoyable?
Bob was full of gems. Later he spoke of designing trails, and how there were a number of questions you ask yourself, like is it safe, but the one that stuck out for me was, is it delightful?
Wowsa.
I felt like Bob was transmitting the recipe for joyful living: Raising yourself in happiness, and as you create your life, checking in to see if it’s delightful.
Presence is the pathway. When you are present with the fullness of your experience, you start to notice the body sensations of delight. Notice what you’re doing when you feel that way.
Then put more of that in your life.

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Last year I made a list of all the things I like to do that I stop doing when I get into a relationship. I think I ripped a line from an episode of Sex and the City (I know, shut up), and called the list My Secret Single Behavior.
Actually, it has nothing to do with being single or married or dating or a hermit. It has to do with whatever the thing is that has a large enough gravitational pull that we forget to tend to oursleves. It could be work or even an addiction to busyness.
I have a decidedly black thumb instead of a green one, but even I can grasp the need to water plants (although they still don’t last long on my watch).
Have you watered yourself lately? Turned that laser of attention that flows so easily outward back in, to see what you need to *feel* your fullness?
Last night I went to a show with a friend and was reminded of how much I love live music. For me there comes a point in a show where I marvel at the artist’s ability to get past the fear and obstacles and really live her purpose so fully that she has brought joy to thousands and thousands of people. Concerts remind me of dharma, and being inspired to live your dharma is definitely food for the soul.
How do you water yourself in ways that are fun and enlivening?
I ran across my list in my office yesterday. I thought, hot damn, so many of these things take a short period of time but they have huge ripple effects.
Here were a few:
Hiking in silence
Living room dance party
Painting after meditation
Live music
Aimless walking around the city with earbuds
Park blanket hangout with a book
Taking photos

I invite you to make your own list. Call it Cup Runneth Over, Shit I Like to Do, Deposits in the Bank of Me, whatever. Just write them down and do eeeeeet! Make sure there are a few things on there that cost no money and don’t require a huge chunk of your time. When I’m working with coaching clients who want to feel more aliveness, the first thing I see is that they set themselves up so they don’t have time to do what they love. Yes, in a perfect world you could play your violin for an hour. Let’s start with one song. Feel that soaring of your heart for three minutes and that three minutes will be the beacon that brings you back to your instrument time and time again. Make a list. Do those some of things every week. Observe the results.

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