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Jesica Hanley Vega

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contemplation

5 Life Lessons from 2015

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Handmade ornaments celebrating peace from our most recent workshop at Retreats With Heart.

Feeling good feels good. I experimented a lot this year with simply feeling good. Regardless of circumstance, I made an effort to find a good feeling whenever I could (or as Abraham Hicks calls it “a better feeling thought”).

The biggest surprise was learning how much better it felt to admit I felt crappy. In the past, I’d tried to force myself to feel better in challenging moments, but this year I discovered the grace in simply saying “I feel like crap.”

And very often, when I felt that way, I would sit down on my sofa and not get up until I felt better. Just sit. Not meditate. Not read. Not check my phone. Just sit. And it felt really good. And I was a much nicer person to my kids and my husband too.

Doing what frightens me makes me feel alive. This year was full of things that frightened me; I led my first workshops, did my first public speaking, crowd-funded and attended The Hive Global Leaders Program , admitted I wanted a divorce in couples’ counseling (we later reconciled) and quit consuming espresso, pasta, bread and sugar (mostly). Each one of these forced me to transcend the “me” I knew and become someone new. While it was terrifying to step into the unknown – socially, personally, and dietarily – each leap released an energy, a wildness and a wisdom that I couldn’t have acquired any other way. I got to know myself on a deeper level and it was exhilarating.

Life is much easier when I don’t take things personally. That guy who wanted his money back when he didn’t like my talk? The friend who decided she no longer wanted me in her life? The family member with negative opinions about how I’ve lived my life? In the past, I spent a lot of time and energy trying to prove myself to dissenters and win back those I’d offended. But this year I finally accepted that people are going to do what they’re going to do and think what they’re going to think – because they have their own lives to lead, and their own stories to tell.

Relationships will end and endeavors will fail, and to take it all personally is to try way too hard to be the center of a universe in which I am only one part. Ultimately, it’s a relief knowing I can’t control it all and it’s made me even more grateful for what I have.

Life is even easier when I stop trying to improve, help, heal and otherwise make a difference in people’s lives. Co-dependent much? Maybe just a little. As a sensitive, caring person, it’s easy to feel responsible for others’ problems. Whether I’ve felt like I caused them, or just had the solutions that would ease them, I expended a lot of energy thinking, talking and strategizing about other people’s lives. But once I stopped, wow, it was like being relieved of a fifty pound weight. It’s still tempting, when someone is struggling or feels hurt, to turn myself inside out, beat myself up and do whatever it takes to make it right. But I’ve learned the best path is to take what responsibility is mine and give others the gift of their own.

I’m human. Of course, of course, of course, we’re all human. But there’s nothing like getting knocked down a few notches to remind me (see numbers 2 and 3) how human I am. Whether my ego is dominating me with an inflated sense of my own worth, or berating me for not being good enough, my ego has a hard time accepting who I truly am.

I am gifted in some ways, flawed in others; I can be wonderful and I can be insensitive. Just like all human beings, I am not only one thing.

A large part of becoming a loving, compassionate human being is accepting my shadow without believing it dims my light, because only then can I  accept the humanity of others. And I’ve come a long way in accepting others humanity this year as well: my kids’, my family’s, my friends and most of all, my dear and very human husband.

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.

10 Simple Ways For Slowing Down A Life That Moves Way Too Fast, Part 2 of 2

IMG_2470Last week, I wrote about the lack of stillness so many of us experience in our busy modern lives. This week, I’ll offer 10 simple practices for cultivating stillness that can be achieved at any time.

Before that, however, I want you to consider how much you probably HATE being still. Sure, you may complain about being “busy and stressed,” but often the real suffering doesn’t start until you stop moving. After all, you don’t do anything unless you get something out of it and, more often than not, what you get from being busy is an escape from how you feel.

We don’t only live in a high speed world, we also live in a world in which it’s often not okay to feel strung out, sad, disappointed or bored. It’s not okay and, even worse, we may not know how to handle those feelings in a healthy way. Frequently, the first thing we feel when we slow down is antsy impatience. And if we sit with that long enough, we may feel hopeless, sad or in pain. It’s enough to make a person check their phone.

So, it takes something to cultivate stillness. Yes it requires discipline, but it also demands courage: the courage to face yourself head on, be who you really are, and feel how you really feel. Right now.

That said, here are 10 suggestions for chilling out and taking a breather. But first, turn off your phone.

  1. Take a bath and, if you like, add epsom salts, essential oil or bubbles.
  2. Enter a sacred space or chapel and just sit.
  3. Sit on a park bench.
  4. Sit on your sofa.
  5. Eat lunch alone with no media on.
  6. Sit by a fountain or body of water.
  7. Take in a view.
  8. If there’s a float center nearby, discover the wonders of floating.
  9. Turn off the car radio while driving.
  10. Look at the stars. Or close your eyes and just imagine them.*

*Thanks to Asya Tabdili-Azar at Hive.org for #10

Finding The Soul Behind Your Walls

IMG_9700In the space between sleep and wake this morning, I was inspired by some thoughts about contemplation, subjectivity and the human necessity for physical and symbolic structures to represent the ineffable. Because that’s what I like to think about when I’m waking up.

It got me writing as soon as I got up, and then browsing through the internets, where I found this wonderful review of Parker J. Palmer’s book “A Hidden Wholeness” on Brainpickings.org.

Wikipedia lists Parker J. Palmer as an author, educator and activist. He’s also a Quaker and a wise voice to which I return again and again.

The physical structure which he uses to describe what keeps us from our true selves is the wall. And this is what he has to say about it: Here is the ultimate irony of the divided life: live behind a wall long enough, and the true self you tried to hide from the world disappears from your own view. The wall itself and the wall outside it become all that you know. Eventually, you even forget that the wall is there. And that hidden behind it is someone called “you.”

When we talk about things which are subjective – how we feel, what we sense – language immediately becomes a challenge. That is why these things are the domain of art and poetry: how else can we capture such elusive sensations than through symbol and suggestion?

In our rational world, what is subjective is assumed to be the unreliable inferior to its more scientific counterpart, the objective. And yet, as Parker makes clear, when we address our subjective selves, we can find who we really are.

The next questions become: how important is it to discover who we really are and are we willing to give up objectivity to find out?

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