Compassion, Mercy, Power & A Solo Adventure

This past weekend I took a solo adventure up the coast to Spirit Rock Meditation Center.

Now that I'm comfortable driving I feel limitless in the adventures I can take.

I have been sifting through many emotions this new year, as have my friends and clients, and when I saw a daylong workshop for women on Compassion, Mercy and Power, I jumped at the opportunity.

I wanted to give myself permission to sit alone, preferably in nature, with all of emotions after the course, and when I found this little teardrop trailer on Airbnb in felt like destiny.

Saturday morning I woke up around 4 am, layered on some cozy clothes and hit the road, music blasting, a mug of hot matcha tea to keep me warm. 

I made it to Fairfax just in time for a yoga class. It was slow and sweet, in a large room filled with old friends, mostly older, greeting each other and laughing as they untangled on their mats.

Feeling limber and grateful, I made my way to Good Earth Natural Foods to stock up on provisions for the day: water, tea, almond milk, a protein bar, nuts, dried fruit; green juice. I wanted to be fueled and light so I could focus on the meditations.

A long winding country road took me to Spirit Rock, serene and calm, surrounded by rolling green hills. I was guided to take my shoes off in the front hall and join the large room at the end lined with chairs, the teacher seated on a stage with a mat and candles. Some women sprawled out on mats beside the lines of chairs, and I grabbed a seat alone in a corner (introvert's choice.)

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The day was broken into three parts: Mercy, Compassion, and Power, with readings, guided meditations, music, walking meditations and group discussions. I'll share some of my favorite notes below:

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MERCY

You have to show mercy before you show compassion to yourself or to another. Mercy is to not cause harm - to show restraint, to choose to let go of suffering. 

The truth is, shit happens, and we make it worse. We don't have to. We need to let go of expectations for ourselves and others. To ask ourselves if we need to feel these things or if we can let them go. Often, the problem itself is enough without us adding to it.

Mercy is to unfold. We are often folded up in ideals and what we've been told. It is a radical act of kindness, not necessarily deserved, forgiving the great big human mess of ourselves or others. It's never where we first look. We need to start with the intention, and learn to embrace our humanness and brokenness rather than deny our own humanity. 

Life is a cycle of good and bad we need to accept - even to learn to love the dark days for what they teach us, how they soften and tender our heart and shift us into compassion.

Sometimes heaven is a new pair of glasses (change your perspective, change everything.)

COMPASSION

Compassion practice is daring. When we Harden our hearts towards anyone we hurt ourselves. 

We need to own our own darkness to understand that which is in others. We need to wish well to those who are suffering (the quivering of the heart.)

We need to be kind to ourselves, to recognize our own pain, to put our hand on our heart or our belly and say "Sweetie, this is so hard."

It can be helpful to realize that our suffering is not unique. It is the experience of being human. That someone right next to you knows the same suffering, even if the story is different.

To be free, we must wish for everyone to be free of suffering in their hearts. 

Perhaps, everything that frights us is something that is helpless and wants our love.

In compassion we also dived into a very important topic:

FORGIVENESS

Forgiveness is so much about ourselves. We need to give up any hope we have of a different past. We can't hold on to harms done if we want to move forward with a liberated heart, it is too great a burden to cary. 

Bad feelings towards others, or yourself, destroys your peace of mind. It is of no use. Revenge is violence and leads to counter violence. Anger is uncomfortable feelings for yourself. 

Ask yourself what are you nurturing?

Forgiveness is not a one time thing. It is a constant practice we need to work on and return to constantly. It is a momentary relief. We need to accept that relationships change so much and we cannot always reclaim what once was.

Outshine the resentment. 

Ask for forgiveness, and know that it has nothing to do with the answer on the other side. 

Freedom isn't a place, it's a mindset.

SELF-FORGIVENESS

We are so much more than the sum of our actions. We need to feel and own what we did, to come face to face with our own humanity.

When you forgive yourself, something or someone, it no longer defines you.

We cannot will it, it comes with practice. Ask for it. Take care of yourself. 

POWER

We are powerful when we own what makes us different. Broken or not, we are who we are. Be the strength to allow the light to come in. Grow from what could break you.

OWN YOURSELF FEARLESSLY.

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I cried through some of the meditations and found great comfort in connecting with the women in my group. All different walks of life, stories and journeys, but shared vulnerability and the desire to feel peace for themselves and others. At one point a woman said to our group "Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone thought this way?" It was beautiful to imagine. 

At the end of the day the room emptied, and I drove to pick up some food, then to my little campground where I had the trailer dropped off.

I expected to shed more tears through the night, but found myself at peace from the day. I read some books, including a new book on Karma I picked up at the bookshop and fell asleep early.

I woke up in the dark early hours of the morning, made some hot cocoa and green tea on the little propane stove, then packed up and headed to a Yin yoga class in Point Reyes.

Again I found myself in a sweet little community of old friends, while I stretched and sighed in the clothes I had slept in, a little kitty passing by my feet as I melted into pigeon pose.

I ended my adventures with a little visit to Oakland to my favorite magic store, a spice shop, and treated myself to a manicure before heading to San Jose to see my beau.

Looking forward to more adventures with him this year, as well as more solo ones.

There is so much beauty in traveling alone, crawling into solitude, talking to strangers, moving at your own pace. 

Until next time friends.

x

G

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Gillian YoungComment
The Yoga of Eating: Part 2

I finished The Yoga of Eating and have to share my final notes with you. This book has changed my life.

After spending the past couple of years immersed in the world of bodybuilding and macro counting, I lost something in myself. The ability to tune in to my body. My creativity in the kitchen. The power to heal naturally. My trust in my body's inner wisdom. The more I dive into this practice of trusting myself, the more I feel like me. As a bonus, I have been able to successfully hold onto muscle and remain lean without any formal structure. 

Here are my final notes and favorite sentiments expressed in the book.

You can find a copy here, and if you missed Part 1, find it here.

MAKING IT PRACTICAL

In this chapter Eisenstein breaks down how to apply this practice and make it practical. While I still have a ways to go on this, he says: 'Only with full attention can your body sense and assimilate the subtle nutritive energies of food.'

His tips for applying this concept:

  • Slow down your eating
  • Before all meals, observe a moment of silence or say a prayer of grace
  • Every day take one meal, perhaps breakfast, in silence
  • At every meal, let the first bite you take from every dish be with perfect attentiveness
  • During the lulls in conversation experience each mouthful 

Eisenstein respects that paying full attention to your food is not always realistic when sharing a meal with family or others, and shouldn't be. While the pleasure of eating is a great gift, it is not the ultimate joy! 

DISCOVERING THE RIGHT DIET

I loved this Chapter. I often struggle with the concept that we need to have one diet, one label. Eisenstein says not to be dogmatic. When you listen to your body, it will drive you to the diet that is right for you. Sensitivity and trust must be built patiently. Do not set rules in stone as needs and tastes change over time.

DISTINGUISHING APPETITES FROM CRAVINGS

Food can be used as a substitute for other kinds of nourishment and pleasure that are lacking in our lives. Some of those who suffer from depression are constantly eating to stave off the feeling. Eating is a primeval form of solace and comfort, but we need to remember that no matter how much we eat it won't bring more love, nurturance or acceptance into our lives.  The real hunger is for unconditional acceptance, a hunger that food cannot ever meet.

‘How can we trust our bodies to guide us in the area of diet, when so often the body seems to betray us with cravings for foods that make us uncomfortable or ill? This happens because we use food for other purposes besides gustatory pleasure and bodily nourishment.’

LOVING THE BODY, LOVING THYSELF

While it is often said that we love our bodies too much, the opposite is true - we do not love them nearly enough. We demand or wish them to be a certain way and force them into an image and ignore their true needs. Health worshipping isn't a sincere love of the body either - the body is a vehicle for living and acting in the world; it is meant to be used. We push our bodies until they are overwhelmed and they degenerate.

The realm of food is a way to practice being good to yourself. Let your body tell you what it wants, listen, and be kind to yourself.

FASTING

Sometimes when you listen closely to your body, the message is for fasting, not food. Fasting gives cells a chance to expel the built-up waste products of metabolism, cleanses the liver, kidneys, and colon, and restores the body to balance. BUT - while it works well for most, it doesn't work for everyone. It is also not a shortcut to health or a magic formula.

DIETING AND SELF-ACCEPTANCE

This is not meant to be seen as a diet book. Eisenstein says that if we force the body to lose fat without regard for the conditions underlying it, we are essentially demanding that the body be other than it is. It is true however, that this practice and tuning into your body will generally make you satisfied with smaller quantities of food since it is being fully experienced, but shouldn't be turned into a technique for reducing caloric intake. Soon it will be a chore and you'll be fighting your instincts, not trusting them. If you are overweight, your shape is a response to how you live and who you are now, which can be based on deeply buried circumstances. The first step is accepting yourself as you are. When the situations to which obesity is a response are removed, the weight melts away like magic.

Eisenstein suggests you drop any wish or expectation to lose weight with this program, to own and love your body as it is, to read and follow the chapters, and to find exercise that gives true pleasure. Most importantly: trust your body.

FAT AND THE GOOD

Fat is not bad. The need for fat varies considerably from individual to individual, so listen carefully to your own body's messages, and trust those messages as much as you dare.

MEAT AND THE LIFE OF FLESH

To eat meat is to enact a profound transfer of energy and information, in which an animal loses its life to sustain the life of another. The meat industry today is not good, but this doesn't go for all farmers or meat company executives. But it is full of suffering that is very distant from our every day lives and easy to ignore. There are better alternatives when it comes to eating meat - killing your own, eating farm animals raised compassionately as a part of an organic farm; knowing the hunter who killed your meat. Eisenstein suggests that to sustain a state of being that is energetically involved with the world that is hale, hearty and humorous, meat is necessary for most people, although some may thrive on a vegan diet. 

SUGAR'S SWEETNESS

Sugar offers a hollow sweetness that one can easily detect through careful, attentive eating. Why is our craving for something so unhealthy so compelling? Eisenstein says:

Closed off from the experience of sweetness in life, yet hungering for it to the depths of our souls, we turn to the imitation of this sweetness in sugary foods.

He suggests the spiritual counterpart of sweetness is intimacy, which comes from openness and long association, and these days we lack this. Willpower over sugar won't prevail unless you rediscover sweetness in your life.

PROCESSING

While some food processing is necessary, the world of mass processing we live in our bodies learn to distrust food flavors and the ability to distinguish healthful foods by taste and smell. Eisenstein suggests that if we don't want our goals, dreams, relationships and lives to be highly processed, we should consider a shift in diet away from industrial mass-processing and toward home-processing. When possible cook at home and grow food processed by yourself, your family, friends or people in your community. Once you step away from a processed life, convenience foods won't taste as good anymore. You'll also spend more time cooking at home, you will need to become less busy and exert your autonomy to reclaim genuine choices in your life.

THE YOGA OF COOKING

To put it simply: food takes on the vibrations of who makes it, and 'Food prepared by loved ones therefore harmonizes better with one's own vibrations then food prepared by strangers. The soul needs the nourishment of the loving vibrations generated by home cooking.

FOOD IS ONLY FOOD

This book is not meant to place food as the primary importance of life, it's just one of the ways we nourish ourselves, define ourselves and interact with the world. It shouldn't become an obsession that takes away from the sacredness of other aspects of life. Changing your diet often coincides with big life changes (no need to snack or overeat when the soul is satisfied), but our lives can't be changed by changing our diets.

RELAXING INTO CHANGE

Change should not be imposed, it must be surrendered to with acceptance, trust, and courage. It is a step into the unknown, a trusting of something beyond ourselves. There is no guarantee.

Not just the body but all natural things, when left undisturbed, move naturally toward beauty and wholeness.

Eisenstein says to stop paving over ourselves with artificial ways of being to move towards our natural state of health and beauty. To do this we need to stop imposing and disturbing the body, contriving ourselves into who we feel we should be, and imposing attitudes and belief systems that corral our thoughts into the same old ruts and cripple our ability to learn. We need to let go of habitual thought patterns, anxieties and systems of belief and open our minds to new thoughts and ideas.

'The Yoga of Eating is itself a kind of relaxation encompassing physical and mental elements. Not manipulating, controlling, imposing upon, or dismissing the body's messages, it trusts the body to move towards its natural rest state: beauty and wholeness.'

THE ILLNESS SEEKS THE MEDICINE

Most of us tend to seek behaviors that contribute to our own destruction. Eisenstein says we can't judge other peoples addictions because in this moment, it is their medicine. Wether it's sugar, alcohol, drugs... How many extraordinary people struggle with this, an dhow can we blame them for 'seeking to deaden their sensitivity to a very painful world?' He doesn't advocate drug use as they only address the symptom, just like most pharmaceutical medicine, they make the condition more bearable for a time. Instead of removing the medicine, Eisenstein says we need to remove the conditions that make the medicine necessary. We seek medicine in all its forms for a reason, and eventually it stops working and we have to bear the pain, and remember it's okay to hurt. Suffering is the true medicine that will ultimately help us heal.

THE ETHICS OF EATING MEAT: A RADICAL VIEW

Eisenstein doesn't condone eating meat, but suggests the meat industry is the bigger problem. With proper farming it's an ecology and livestock has a vital role to play. He also describes cultures that are less afraid of death and more afraid of a life wrongly lived, that 'To live rightly in the time allotted is then a matter of paramount importance, and life a sacred journey. In an animistic and holistic world view, the moral question to ask about food is not "Was there killing?" but "Is this food taken in rightness and harmony?" 

He ends the book with this beautiful quote:

When we live rightly, decision by decision, the heart sings even when the rational mind disagrees and the ego protests. Besides, human wisdom is limited. Despite our machinations, we are ultimately unsuccessful at avoiding pain, loss and death. For animals, plants, and humans alike, there is more to life than not dying.
Gillian YoungComment
The Yoga of Eating: Part 1

A dear friend recently told me to read The Yoga of Eating by Charles Eisenstein.

From the title alone, I knew I had to read this book. 

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For the past three years I have been studying the science of nutrition and building muscle. But long before interest in bodybuilding and fitness, I was deeply intwined in holistic nutrition, intuitive eating and yoga. In my twenties I read every natural nutrition book I could find (I have books upon books in France, Vancouver and California), took workshops, visited various holistic nutritionists, experimented with all kinds of natural herbs and supplements, and even applied for a loan to go to a holistic nutrition school in Vancouver but my credit wouldn't allow it. 

Recently something has been calling me back to my roots. I find myself more interested in what my body has to say than in following a prescribed set of numbers. 

This book could not come at a better time.

I am enjoying it so much that I want to share excerpts and my interpretations as I read it. I will start with notes from my favorite sections within the first seven chapters of the book:

THE FALLACY OF WILLPOWER

Eisenstein suggests that reliance on willpower reveals a 'profound distrust of one's self.' And that maybe without willpower we would be more creative, abundant, productive and dynamic than in a world of should and shouldn'ts. He explains that in eating, discipline comes naturally when we fully experience food, and that true discipline is just self-remembering, not something that involves forcing or fighting against oneself. To shut out our inner voice is unfortunate. What if our bodies and minds are sending us important messages (maybe we are hungry, tired, not living our purpose) and we are ignoring this. How much happier and freer would be if we stopped working against our natural gifts and inclinations? He further explains that relying on willpower makes us destined to fail because we are working against ourselves and eventually our true desires will express themselves as actions. I love how this applies to food and appetite: 'Healthy eating is not a matter of clamping down on unruly appetites. It is not a matter of the rational mind using its sophisticated nutritional knowledge to overrule a stupid body which craves foods that are bad for it. Second-guessing and ignoring the body is what has gotten us into this mess in the first place, and we will not get out of it by imposing on the body yet another set of dietary principles, no matter how new-and-improved they may be.' The Yoga of Eating asks the reader to abandon the habits of distrust, restriction and denial and to see the body as a friend.

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FOOD AND PERSONALITY

Back in the day I experimented with every kind of diet (actually, I still like to do that.) I remember searching for some kind of purity within food. While living in Paris one winter my diet consisted mostly of nuts, dried fruit, and vegetables. I was in a deeply focused state of writing my guide book and being alone with myself, and it was all I wanted. But it also did not suit my life. It was a cold winter and I needed more nourishment. When I started working late hours at a bar I found myself frequently getting sick at work. Eisenstein suggests that our diets must come naturally to us based on our current place in the world. That while a vegetarian diet makes a lot of sense at a retreat, in a place of calm, it might not make sense for someone living in the fleshy world, and if our diet is not in line with our world it will manifest itself in the form of intense cravings, aversions, and eventually physical illness.

THE KARMA OF FOOD

In this Chapter Eisenstein says that every time we eat something, we affirm a certain version of the world. That the food choices we make say yes to something within our modern food system. An when 'our food production system throws nature out of balance, is it any wonder our lives too spiral out of balance?' He doesn't say explicitly that one way or another of eating is right or wrong, but that our choices should resonate with who we are now and who we would like to be. That we should be nourished and happy with the reality we are saying yes to. 

THE CENTRAL PRACTICE

I love this chapter. And it's something I personally really need to work on: 'The central practice of the Yoga of Eating could not be simpler: to fully experience and enjoy each bite of food. From this practice, all the other subsidiary practices of mindful eating are born.' It sounds easy right? But myself, and many others, often eat without fully enjoying the sensations of food. We are thinking about the next bite before we enjoy the present one. We are eating while talking, worrying, watching TV, and are therefore consuming those things more than the actual food itself. No wonder we are still starving. No wonder we overeat! Eisenstein says that when we eat inattentively, we are aesthetically malnourished, left craving more flavors and more food. 

We overeat not because we enjoy food too much, but because we do not enjoy it enough!

 

I'll leave you with that food for thought. I feel very much in transition right now and this book is helping me think about my decisions, my behaviors and my place in the world. As always, I love keeping an open mind when it comes to health and life.

See you next time.

x

G

Gillian YoungComment