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Jesica Hanley Vega

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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.

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

Have You Aligned With Your Inspirations?

Spiritual Alignment provides balance and strengthAs any driver knows, over time, a poorly aligned vehicle will increasingly wobble and feel less solid on the ground. The steering will pull and the ride will be neither as smooth nor precise as you’d like. The car will follow your motions as you steer, but at certain angles you’ll feel it resisting your desired direction. As the misalignment persists, you may experience fatigue and irritability while driving, and your tires will require more frequent replacement as they age prematurely.

Such a car might be fine for driving short distances day-to-day, but plan a long trip and you’re going to want to take it to the shop. A mechanical alignment will not only bring peace of mind, but assure that your car drives comfortably and safely for many miles to come.

A similar principle applies to human beings. Unfortunately, however, in the competitive race that is our daily life, we pay much less attention to this kind of alignment than to the automotive type. Fatigue, irritability and being worn down are, in fact, something of a norm: as is the sensation of being pulled in conflicting directions.

Nevertheless, when a person is aligned, you can feel it. Unlike their poorly aligned peers, they give the impression that life makes sense, as if they’ve figured some things out, made peace with who they are, and are not distracted by things that don’t matter. They seem to have their priorities straight and they seem to radiate that elusive quality called soul.

On the rare instances when we encounter someone with an aura of soulful well-being, we may think: I want that. But what is it, really? And how do we get it? How do we attain a state of harmonious peace, non-attachment and focus? And if what we align on a car is the tires, what is it that we must align within ourselves so that we experience ourselves not as many moving parts, but as one whole being?

As simple as it is to drop a car off at the mechanic and have it solidly back on the road in a few hours, aligning one’s life requires more than a quick fix. Rather than being a matter of mechanical calibrations, aligning one’s life is an ongoing process, It is, in fact, a way of life that brings your external, physical existence – reflected by your choices, behaviors and habits – into alignment with your internal, divine or true selfreflected by your deepest passions, curiosities and concerns.

On October 3, my partners and I at Retreats With Heart will lead a one-day workshop called Aligning With Your Inspiration, in which we will not only unearth those passions, curiosities and concerns buried deep within, but will also explore how to integrate them into our daily routine.

If the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, so does the journey to alignment, fulfillment and ease. If you feel called to walk with a more steady gait, and stand with your feet more firmly on the ground, consider joining us on Saturday and commit to your first step in aligning with your inspiration.

What’s In Your Closet?

Even the smallest things can leave me in awe.
Even the smallest things can leave me in awe.

My first-ever Mastermind Call has been going for almost two months and, despite a few anxiety attacks along the way, I’m thrilled with it.

Before each weekly call, I do a reading to get a sense of where everyone is at and where we need to focus our conversation. This week the theme was honesty, so I posed the questions: What are you hiding from yourself or others? and What would be possible if you came clean?

What I heard inspired me; I am regularly in awe of the courage and depth demonstrated by our little tribe and today was no different.

But then it was my turn. What had I been hiding  – and would I be willing to share it with people who look to me for leadership and wisdom? I wanted to share, but I hesitated: Would it make me look bad to admit I’m as susceptible to concealment and fear as they are? Would it diminish my role as facilitator and guide?

Brene Brown writes that vulnerability is the soul of leadership, so I stepped into the arena.

I am in love with God, I said, and I want God’s light to shine so brightly through me that other people fall in love with God as well.

Not the “God” that’s “out there,” mind you.  Not the  Human-Like God of punitive laws, damning judgments and religious wars. But the energy and light inside each one of us, that some don’t even call “God” but which they may call Source, Spirit, Purpose, Creativity, Unity, Unconditional Love  or, as Yoda put it, the The Force.

I love this —- that I call “God” and I have created a life around my devotion to it. But I hesitate to call myself – or my work – “spiritual.” Where there are words, there are prior associations, and nothing “God” has ever touched on earth has gone untainted by humanity’s tragic limitations on understanding and imagination. I haven’t wanted to be misunderstood, criticized or invalidated so I have kept my experiences to myself and remained in the closet.

But whether I call it something as lofty as God-the-Beloved or as secular and humanist as awe, I see and feel it everywhere and speak about it almost nowhere.

A friend reading a recent post asked me to describe a dimension of my sensitivity that I have re-framed from weakness into strength. This would be it.

Falling into trance-like states of awe doesn’t work in the dog-eat-dog world of busyness, competition and deadlines. And no matter how I tried, in my previous career I could never stop myself from becoming transfixed by a blade of grass, the nap on a shag carpet or the soul of another human being. I even cursed my “distractability” and untameable adoration of creation as the “thing” that stopped me from succeeding in life.

But now I celebrate it as one of my greatest gifts.

And, through my work as a guide and teacher, I seek to foster environments in which others have access and permission to experience such wonder in their own lives as well. By coming clean, risking being misunderstood and stepping into the arena with courage and depth, perhaps something entirely new is now possible for me and my world.  I can’t say, but it sure beats hiding my light.

What are you hiding?

And what would happen if you let the cat out of the bag?

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