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Jesica Hanley Vega

Sing Your Song

Month

November 2015

My First Talk And My First Podcast

IMG_9667Last week, I gave my very first talk at Tacoma’s Northwest Float Center and it was a wonderful, if nerve-wracking, experience. As much as I’ve always loved speaking in front of groups, it was my first time speaking uninterrupted for 25 minutes; but I had a beautiful, receptive audience and the setting was perfect.

For a few months, I’d been looking for the a location to launch this new aspect of my work. As soon as I walked into Northwest Float, I knew it was the place. Not only is it a quiet, naturally contemplative space, it is free of the spiritual and religious iconography associated with churches, yoga studios and meditation centers.  While my own home has its share of Native American figurines, Buddhas, Hindu gods and Christian mystics, my work explicitly advocates what is possible apart from preexisting belief systems and spiritual traditions.  As I state in my talk, because we can bring contemplation to almost anything we do, it is as much about being human as it is about being spiritual. In fact, it is a wonderful practice for both accepting our humanity with all its “flaws” and “imperfections” as well as nurturing a sense of spiritual awe and unity.

To hear the complete talk, click on the following link and, please, let me know what you think: Download this episode (right click and save)

Ending War With (Inner) Peace

IMG_2272In the midst of an already overwhelming humanitarian nightmare,  the world recently witnessed a siege of extreme violence committed against innocent people: a siege born of great rage, hatred and despair. And in bearing witness to this tragedy, the world immediately reacted with an overwhelming jumble of grief, sympathy, anger and fear.

But bearing witness to terror can be more than a shared social trauma, more than an excuse to point fingers and more than a reason to circle the wagons. Bearing witness can also be a source of spiritual awakening: an opportunity to see, feel and express things that transcend the ordinary.

As painful and confusing as it may be, let us be awakened by the violence and tragedy around us, not only today but everyday. Let us be changed instead of stuck, inspired to grow instead of mired in old limitations.

It was Gandhi who said “Be the change you wish to see” and yet this statement is often dismissed as merely hopeful thinking or naive optimism. But Gandhi was more than hopeful, and he was definitely not naive. He was a man whose conviction and inner strength initiated a previously unthinkable revolution. He was a man who knew the power of demonstrating what one wishes to see: as an example to others, but also as a challenge.

In my lifetime I wish to see peace. And I believe the path to that begins with standing for peace every day, and holding my self to a standard of non-violence and compassion.

While even I am occasionally tempted to dismiss the pursuits of self-realization, personal development and spiritual growth as self-absorbed and pointless, in the end, if we can’t be kinder to each other in the midst of daily stresses, what hope is there for us to end war?

And how else can we learn the skills of compassion and kindness – which transcend reactions of fear and anger – without taking on contemplative practices designed to teach us those very things?

I believe in peace, because I have achieved it in my own life. Not every day and not every minute. But I have witnessed my self NOT lash out in anger at a defiant child, NOT shrink away from a daunting conversation, NOT hold on to resentments which would poison my relationships and my future. And I firmly believe that when each person has attained their own experience of inner peace at the critical moment when before they would have only felt inner war – each person will also know that the end of war is possible.

2 Paths For Finding Stillness Through Movement, Part 2 of 2

spiritual guide and surfer, Jesica Davis
Wiping out is an underappreciated skill – Laird Hamilton, surfer

Last week I wrote about the many possibilities for cultivating stillness, even for those averse to traditional sitting practices. So, if you’re one of those people who’d love to meditate but just can’t, this is a reminder that there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and more than one road to Rome.

In my experience, contemplative movement practices fall into two distinct categories: the disciplined and the ecstatic.

As a practitioner of yoga and a former ballet student, disciplined movement has long been one of my favorite ways to calm the mind. Practices such as these and martial arts, turn attention inward and reveal aspects of physical experience that otherwise go ignored. These are skills which build on themselves and deliver timeless teachings about balance, poise and persistence to those who study them. And while they present the risk of getting caught in the same traps of comparison, goal-setting and perfectionism that plague ordinary life, they can also be enormously transformative by training the mind to focus on processes other than thought.

On the other end of the continuum lie practices such as cycling, surfing and ecstatic dance. Though these activities certainly require a degree of discipline, they also offer experiences of risk, ecstasy and surrender that transcend what’s possible at home or in a studio. As much as I love my (almost) daily yoga practice, there are many times when nothing will free my mind except speeding down a curvy road. It’s only when the stakes are so high – and so real – that I can completely lose myself: surrendering to forces beyond my control and putting my faith in an outcome which is not guaranteed. As any surfer can tell you, the ocean provides a similar experience, as does the music in a masterfully deejayed ecstatic dance jam.

Whether you’re inclined to reckless abandon, thoughtful discipline or, like me, desire a combination of both, you can embrace movement as your vehicle for transcendence. Awakening is possible through almost any physical practice when executed with the appropriate intention. In fact, there’s an entire genre of literature dedicated to exploring the spiritual potential of almost any physical activity you can think of. Aside from the previously mentioned activities, some others you might want to explore are: mindful walking, aimless wandering, labyrinth walking, jogging, and tai chi. And for a wider view of the topic, you can check out Thinking Body, Dancing Mind  a classic book dedicated to the potential of using your body to unleash your spirit.

Finding Stillness Through Movement, Part 1 of 2

IMG_8027
Kayaking as spiritual practice? Sure, why not.

Last week I wrote about simple stillness practices that enhance your experience of connection, communion and awe in everyday life.

This week, I’ll explore the tremendous power of movement practices to do the same. Just because you’d rather do anything than sit cross-legged and watch your breath, doesn’t mean the healing power and grace of contemplation must be lost to you. After all, whether you dance, walk or kayak, movement itself – when done with intention and focus – can be just as powerful a vehicle for fulfillment and awakening.

Through dance, as well as a variety of other physical disciplines, movement has always been a way of affirming Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s famous statement: We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. After all, is there anything more human than using our bodies?

And yet, despite longstanding traditions of celebrating the physical, humanity has also suffered from equally tenacious beliefs separating body, mind and soul. This system of beliefs regards the body as an impediment to spiritual fulfillment at best, and a sinful temptation at worst. Unfortunately, when the body is regarded as something to be disciplined, overcome or ignored, its potential as a vehicle for spiritual fulfillment can be lost. This attitude can lead to shameful feelings about sex, an over-emphasis on appearance, eating disorders, obesity and even overwork.

But being trapped in a belief system doesn’t mean you can’t be free. It simply means that you must become conscious of your relationship with your body and make active choices about what to do with it. Getting present to our physical selves and feeling at home in our bodies, without judgment or disapproval, is the focus of contemplative movement practices. For when we come home to our bodies, we feel more at home in our hearts and our minds as well.

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