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Jesica Hanley Vega

Sing Your Song

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awakening

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.

Finding Stillness Through Movement, Part 1 of 2

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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.

Have You Been Asking “Is That All There Is?”

IMG_1077Consider how frequently people fulfill their needs and achieve a state of security only to find themselves wondering…

Is that all there is?

Without access to a true self, the surprising discomfort of material and social well-being is often explained away by our well-meaning egos’ mistaken belief that these things must not have been attained at all.

From this mistaken premise, we come to the erroneous conclusion that we do not actually have enough power, money, status or accomplishment to feel secure and fulfilled. Sensing a job to do, our well-meaning egos then drive us on to the next chapter of our unending quest for more, better and bigger… and we go round one more time in pursuit of a deeper fulfillment that never comes.

What do I mean when I say well-meaning egos? I mean those parts of ourselves that are constantly on the lookout for something wrong, so that they can be useful and protect us from harm. Despite the well-publicized dangers of our time, we live in an era of unprecedented well-being and security, but these survival obsessed aspects of ourselves are not equipped to deal with that.

To make matters worse, this human vulnerability is exploited by the conversations that surround us. By designing messages to convince us that something actually is wrong, politicians, advertisers and the media compel our well-meaning egos to “do” something (usually involving money or votes) and experience the primal satisfaction that comes when we protect ourselves from misfortune.

But after a while, if we are lucky, the true self tires of this repetitive game and awakens. By awakening, it begins to perceive that acquisitions and accomplishments which once seemed urgent were just excuses for staying busy. In other words, the well-meaning ego can satisfy basic needs and assure basic safety, but once it’s done that, it can’t fulfill our deepest desires. 

This moment of awakening to one’s true self and the emptiness of ego-driven pursuits is different for all people. For some, it is addiction’s rock bottom, severe illness or proximity to death. For others, a confrontation with injustice highlights the selfishness of personal goals. Still others awaken for no discernible reason at all. But regardless of the particulars, such life passages trigger the realization that our one life is too precious to waste pursuing goals that are ultimately unfulfilling and hollow.

Where are you on your journey of awakening? Are you sensing that your ego’s got you on a hamster wheel? Are you aware of your ego and hating it? Have you awakened to a higher purpose but have no idea how to execute it without falling pray to the same old fears and habits?

Questions such as these are the foundation of my work. By addressing them and working to put your well-meaning ego in its proper place, you can awaken further to a life driven not by survival but by the impulse to create something new and valuable. Something inspired by your true self and executed with joy, rather than fear.

As Howard Thurman once said: Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

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