Friday, July 11, 2008

Meditation and Massage

I recently started doing massage at a place. I wouldn't call it a spa, it's someone else's business, they schedule the clients, and I show up to do the massages.

For many therapists, this is not the ideal situation - working when someone else wants you to, often with little to no breaks between clients, and not getting paid as much as you would if you were working for yourself. But I like not having to put any time into it when I'm not there, and so far it's working well.

Except for being exhausted.

It's taking a lot for my body to get used to doing this kind of work to this extent. What does this have to do with spirituality? A discovery I made.

Ascension is designed in such a way that you can use the techniques with your eyes open, or while you're doing activity. So I started using the Ascension techniques while doing massage. The techniques themselves are, in part, meant to bring us into a state of greater awareness. When you're doing basically the same massage routine for several people in a row, several days a week, it's easy to let your thoughts drift. But the techniques help me keep my thoughts from wandering too far off.

I often close my eyes while giving massage for similar reasons - it helps me focus on my sense of touch, so that I'm really feeling the muscles and the tissues beneath my fingertips. When I combine this with the Ascension techniques, I've found myself really sensing my clients' bodies' rhythms. It's almost as if the tissues themselves are telling me how fast (or slow) they want me to move and what would be most helpful to them.

As I do this, I tend to also get more in touch with my own body and how it wants to move to respond to the client's requests. I find I often move more like a Tai Chi practitioner, keeping my arms in closer to my body (so as not to stress joints by over-reaching) which also provides more stability in the massage techniques I'm using. I don't push my own body too hard when I am aware this way, so I find myself less exhausted and less sore after doing massages while using my meditation techniques.

Moving meditations often talk about moving with awareness and the value of really being grounded in our bodies. It amazes me how much of a difference it can make for my experience of giving a massage - I'm still using the same techniques and making basically the same movements - but the potential damage to my body and energy used is vastly different.

It's another one of those things that makes me really consider just how much our mental state, consciousness, and awareness can effect our health and experience of the world.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Why meditation is good for we twentysomethings

A little while back my friend Ryan showed me a blog by a guy named Ronnie Nurss, entitled "Why Gen-Y Should Practice Mediation."

Ronnie has some good points. It helps you focus, control your thoughts, etc. And, of course, all of the good things I listed in my last post.

But aside from the obvious, all the usual benefits and reasons why everyone should meditate, there are some good reasons why our generation specifically should consider meditation:

Generations X and Y (I'm never sure which one I really identify with more) have been raised in an incredibly technological, fast-paced era. We're used to watching TV while texting our friends and surfing the internet. We're great multitaskers, and can be incredibly efficient when we want to be. But it also means a lot of us have trouble slowing down. With all of the thoughts whirring through our heads, we lie awake at night because we can't stop thinking. Meditation helps us to slow that down (when we want to) and have more control over what we think about, when, and how much.

For example, consider a time in your life when something happened and stuck with you all day - someone was rude at the grocery store, a friend got mad at you over a misunderstanding, etc. -  and it's all you were able to think about all day. You ruminate over it. Whatever the emotion tied to that interaction was, such as anger, sadness, or anxiety, it stays with you all day. Maybe it ruined a night out because you were thinking about it. Maybe you jumped on someone else because you were still angry about it. It's not a very easy way to go through life. 

When we meditate, we learn to control our thoughts so that we can leave those things behind and not be affected by them (at least, not as much) as we go through our day. So meditating can actually make you more efficient and increase your ability to deal with stress and other sorts of emotionally charged situations. 

Another defining feature of our generation(s) is that we are stuff-oriented. We get a lot of joy out of having things. We all know that wanting things requires money, and a lot of stress gets created around earning the money to get the thing, or about getting the thing if it's in high demand. Not to mention all of the usual angst of being a young adult - feeling like we're not good enough, agonizing over relationships, not being sure of ourselves... Meditation helps us learn that fulfillment comes from within. It can help us achieve that fulfillment and recognition within ourselves. It helps us to become more balanced, even-keel people.

A lot of people our age don't sleep well. I don't have any facts to back that statement up, but anecdotal evidence from my peers supports it. I think it's because of the ruminating, the over-stimulation, and the fact that we have all the tech stuff to stay up and play with (think of the nights you've stayed up a little later than you should've chatting with a friend online, playing a game, or even just surfing facebook) that we don't sleep. Meditation helps with that, too - it slows the thoughts, helps calm us down and relax, and can easily guide us into a deep state of rest. 

Meditation brings us into better alignment with our inner knowledge - our deepest self, intuition, and spirit. Many people in their twenties go through the "quarter life crisis" of not knowing what to do, where to live, or what will bring them joy. When we get quiet through meditation, we are more able to get in touch with the deepest part of ourselves that knows what will bring us the greatest fulfillment. Once we are able to connect with that inner knowingness, it becomes much easier to make decisions about our lives - to know what it is that we want to do, what kind of people we want to be with, and what will bring us the greatest joy. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Let me try to explain

...if I can. I often find myself trying to explain Ascension to my friends. I really find my practice useful, and I want to encourage people to learn about it, because I think it could help them. It helped me to stop being an insomniac and get off anxiety pills. So when I hear people talking about problems they're having, I want to tell them about it.

But describing the practice is difficult. I think Lyrea explained it best to me when she said we use techniques to get ourselves into a meditative state. So that's the basic part. But there's more to it than that. I just don't begin to know how to talk about it without it sounding New-Agey or esoteric.

So instead of describing it, here's a list of the things I like about it:

- it's easy
- it can be done anywhere, any time, sitting with eyes closed or with them open while you're having a conversation with someone or while you're running or whenever.
- You don't have to sit any particular way; you can lie down if that's easier.
- If you sometimes fall asleep doing it, that's totally allowed. In fact, that's how I get to sleep so quickly at night.
- It helps the body to heal physical issues as well as emotional or psychological ones.
- It greatly reduces stress.
- It's gentle, unlike some kinds of energetic/psychological healing.
- Everyone goes at their own speed, and goes through the whole process in their own way.

Yeah. I encourage people to read Lyrea's description of it. If you're interested in learning more, going to an introductory session is a great way to do that. She talks and answers questions. I'm hosting one on Sunday evening for friends; I'm sure I'll have some things to post about after that. (and probably before. :))

Monday, May 12, 2008

sitting time

I'm feeling more "back to normal" this week than I did last week. I miss the blissful slow-motion I felt like I was going through last week, but at the same time it's a little easier to function with other people when I'm moving more at their pace. Funny thing is, I'm sure I'm still slower (in a very good way) than I was during my hyper-caffeinated, over-committed, and under-thought college years.

Now I have to figure out where to fit sitting time into my schedule again. I'm applying for jobs right now, so I know my whole schedule will change again soon. It seems that finding good times to sit is always a challenge.

I love the idea of getting up early and sitting to start my day, but there is no motivation for that when my bed is warm and the air is cold. Or when my boyfriend is over. Or when it means getting up before 7 because I have other things I have to do that morning. And that covers most mornings.

I had managed to get used to sitting right when I got home from work (and would be wanting a nap anyway) but now that I'm not working it's easy to let the whole day slide by thinking "I'll find time later." Of course, then there are other days when I just crave a good sit and will plop down for an hour or more two or three times.

I guess it's all a balancing act.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Re-entry can be tough

I just got back from a 5-day meditation retreat. It was a wonderful weekend, but it's always a little tricky to come back to "normal" life after spending five days sitting quietly, often blissfully out in nature. 

The first night back, my dad asked how the weekend had been. I described this phenomenon to him, and he replied that "you gotta come back to reality sometime." Immediately it hit me that this - drinking beer in front of the tv - seemed less like reality to me than communing with nature and divine wisdom does. I simply responded that I felt the weekend wasn't in any way an escape from reality, but just a different experience of it. 

Because really, this is his reality. Everyone has their own reality - whatever you are experiencing in any given moment is your reality in that moment. It's just that reality changes depending on your state or your beliefs. 

That brief interaction did give me pause, though. Before people created our current, generally accepted "reality" - before they invented governments and democracies and commerce and religion and all of those self-imposed structures that define life for most of us - there were people, and there was nature, and there was Spirit. I'm not going to judge what is more or less "real," "better," or "natural," I'm just going to reiterate my statement to my dad that to me, the meditation isn't an escape or a fake reality, it's simply a different expression and experience of it. 

Thursday, March 20, 2008

On my use of the term "God"

This is described a little at the bottom of some posts in which I reference God. I want to clarify a bit my use of the term, as it is a loaded one. People will make assumptions about what I mean, and will put their own definitions into it. (I suppose that's true of everything anyone ever reads or writes, but this is a particularly volatile subject.)

I do not define God in the way of any particular religion; I have no specific deity in mind. I will use the terms "God," "Spirit," "all that is," and probably several others interchangeably. When I do, I am referring to the benevolent force that I do believe exists that unites all life.

I am not referring to any kind of "destiny," "creator," "judge," etc. It's simply the binding force of the universe, which I do believe is the spark of life, consciousness, love, and I do believe is benevolent in that I believe all beings are basically good. As my mother used to say, "if we weren't all basically good to begin with, we'd have blown ourselves up a long time ago." (Some may argue that we're getting damn close, but that is to be left for a more political discussion.)

I am not using the term to comment on anyone else's beliefs or use of the term. And this definition may evolve over time. But for now, this is where I'm coming from, and I certainly welcome questions if there is something upsetting or concerning in my use of the word. I do, however, reserve the right to respectfully disagree with people if I so choose.

Everything happens in perfect time

There's a lot of trust required in going through the growth process. (Speaking of which, I need a better word. Enlightenment seems too strong, but I need a word for what this process is all about. And "growth process" just makes it sound like I'm getting taller.)

I find trust difficult at times, and completely natural at others. The trust that I'm talking about is what some might call "faith," though I shy away from such a loaded word. It's that trusting, or having faith in, the idea that everything will work out for the best.

One element of this is what many of my peers and teachers have referred to as "Divine Timing." This is the idea that everything is always happening in the time it was meant to.

People speak esoterically about such things all the time. When a relationship doesn't work out, they might attribute it to "bad timing" or they'll speak of things being "meant to be." It comes up for me a lot because there are things I have been wanting to do in my life for years, and they just keep not working out. So I get frustrated, thinking it's my fault - that I should be trying harder or doing something differently to MAKE it happen.

And then one of my friends said "well, maybe it's just not the right time."

"But how can it not be the right time? I've been talking about this for years! It should've been the right time a long time ago!"

There I go, playing God* again. (Gee, Ego loves to do that. Ego apparently missed the part where God is all-loving and doesn't pass judgment.) Who am I to decide when is or isn't or should or shouldn't be the the right time for things? Not to mention, I am not being compassionate with myself. Rather than saying "it's part of the process. It's not your fault that this hasn't worked out yet. It's just not time," I'm getting all upset over nothing.

Everything will happen in its own time. Everything happens in the time it is meant to. We don't need to judge it, or try to control it. Placing judgment or trying to push against the current of the flow of time will only create stress, and draws us out of alignment. It's much easier to "go with the flow;" I just have to learn not to get mad at the river for not flowing faster.

*on my use of the term "God:" I have no specific deity in mind. I do not define God in the way of any particular religion. I will use the terms "God," "Spirit," "all that is," and probably several others interchangeably. When I do, I am referring to the benevolent force that I do believe exists that unites all life. I am not referring to any kind of "destiny," "creator," "judge," etc. It's simply the binding force of the universe, which I do believe is the spark of life, consciousness, love, and I do believe is benevolent in that I believe all beings are basically good. As my mother used to say, "if we weren't all basically good to begin with, we'd have blown ourselves up a long time ago." (Some may argue that we're getting damn close, but that is to be left for a more political discussion.)

You can't beat yourself up about it

I got mad at myself for not maintaining my meditation practice regularly enough.

Think about that for a minute.

I created more stress, I criticized myself ("geez, Nicole. You can't even manage to sit quietly with your eyes closed for 20 minutes a day. 20 minutes a day! That's nothing! Really you should be doing it for hours. Way to go.") and basically defeated the purpose of my practice.

Being compassionate with ourselves means loving and forgiving ourselves, as I mentioned in my prior post. But being compassionate isn't just about saying "I'll love myself even though I weigh more than I want to," or "I forgive myself for being mean to that boy in high school." It's an active, ongoing thing. It means that even as we go through our growth and healing processes, we have to forgive ourselves.

Choosing the path of growth means that we have to recognize that it is a process. Sometimes we will run up hills and other times we will stumble or even just sit down and (temporarily) give up while walking on a flat, straight road. Being compassionate with myself means forgiving myself for "messing up." Even more than that, it means not placing judgment on how things are or where they are going. Rather than thinking of it as "messing up" just thinking of it as part of the process.

And now I think it's time to start a new post, on Divine Timing.

I love myself?

Being compassionate with ourselves is absolutely necessary for growth. It means we need to be patient with the time our processes take. It means we have to forgive ourselves for any wrongdoings or mistakes. It means we need to love ourselves unconditionally.

And that's really, really hard.

We've all had people tell us that we need to love ourselves before we can expect others to love us. My teacher talks about how so many of us are walking around with a "half-full heart," looking for someone else to fill in the missing half. But then the problem is you have two people walking around with one heart.

So consider, if you could do the inner work to fill your own heart with love and compassion for yourself, and then meet someone else who has done the same. And then you increase your love because not only are you loved fully by yourself, but by another. And then it multiplies as you share your love for the other. Instead of two people sharing just one full heart (and being completely co-dependent in order to maintain that fullness) you have two people exponentially increasing an infinite amount of love.

Sounds pretty darn good to me.

And so, I continue to try to fill my own heart.

But like I said, it's really, really hard.

I feel like I do pretty well with it sometimes. Other times I think that I don't even like myself much, so you can forget about loving myself. And that's where the compassion comes in.

Ever since I was young I have been a driven perfectionist. Unfortunately, I'm a driven perfectionist with the attention span of a 3-year old with ADD. Being able to focus on a given task for no more than 3 minutes makes it very difficult to complete without error. Though the pendulum swings both ways - when I get into a task that I want to do "perfectly" I will focus on it without interruption for hours. Which makes things equally difficult - rarely can I dedicate such time to a project. When I do get interrupted I lose either my place, focus, or motivation, and I end up with something half-perfect, half-thrown together. (I'm sure my friends and family look at that description and think, "yep. That's Nicole alright.")

That perfectionism, of course, is very much a part of how I perceive myself. Think about how many times you have thought "I will love myself when..." I will love myself when I can get my acne to go away. And when I lose 15 pounds. And when I am on time and completely prepared for everything, all of the time. And when I have apologized to every single person I have ever hurt. I will love myself when I am actually perfect, and not before... and suddenly, I'm awfully far from ever being able to love myself completely.

Compassion says "I will love myself now. Completely. Without judgment or limitation." Yeah, still working on that one.

Compassion also relates to the topics of Divine Timing (everything always happens in its perfect timing) and Judgment, for which there will soon be posts.

Friday, February 8, 2008

In the beginning...

I feel like this blog should have a profound beginning. It is meant to be spiritual in nature, after all, and it seems so many spiritual movements begin with something profound.

But the purpose of this blog is to record and explore my own spiritual experiences (and, hopefully, growth) and to share those things with others. If what I'm seeking is something profound (enlightenment? I don't know.) then it seems rather silly to expect to begin from someplace profound.

So I guess I'll just lay it out, so that people can decide if they want to keep reading or not.

Who am I?
Good question. It's one that the whole blog is going to try to answer. But to sum it up for the time being, I'm a twentysomething living in middle-class, quarter-life-crisis, midwest America. (wow, I don't think I've ever made myself sound so average :)) And I'm on a spiritual journey. Of sorts. I think. Rather, I've decided that I want to further and embrace my spiritual life, and make some deliberate effort in that area. And there are lots of other things I can tell you about who I am, but that's all that is important for now.

What am I doing?
Pursuing a spiritual journey. Now when I say spiritual, I don't mean religious. To me spiritual life and health are very intertwined, so when it comes down to it, what I'm actually doing is trying to get healthier. More in balance, in alignment. I want every day to be living in the best way I can, most fully experiencing life and helping others to do the same.

Why am I writing about it?
Because I'm a writer. I process things by thinking this way. And I'm hoping that maybe by sharing insights and knowledge that I discover in this process, I can help others to decide to pursue their own paths, or we can help one another through rough spots.

And the remaining narcissistic parts of my ego kind of like talking about themselves.

But really, it's because this is a nonlinear path. It's a process that moves forward and backward and goes around in circles. Sometimes it's really hard to see the progress you've made without looking back at where you used to be. In a way, writing is like leaving a trail of breadcrumbs.

My Toolbox (Where I'm coming from)
I can't say that this is where the journey starts. Indeed, most of us have little epiphanies and spiritual awakenings throughout life. We just have them a lot more often when we ask for them.

About three years ago (already!) I had graduated from college, moved home with my parents, and had NO IDEA what I was doing. I'd never pursued much of a spiritual life, and thought the meditation and various other "new-agey" things my mother had taken up in order to cope with my brother and I both going away to college were silly, at best. But then I saw the changes that some of those things began to make in her life, and I realized maybe there was something to it. For the first time in my life, I was watching my mother grow, rather than the other way around.

She was happier. Healthier. More aware. Less emotional. More fun.

So I went with her to learn about the Ishayas' Ascension, the meditative technique she practices. It is from Ascension that I get the title of this blog; the techniques focus on praise, gratitude, and love.

Around the same time (actually I'm pretty sure it was the same week) I decided to go to massage school, on a whim. I knew I wasn't ready for grad school, but also that I wasn't ready to stop learning. The meditation teacher, Lyrea (you'll hear more about her, too) was also a faculty member at the massage school. I went to their open house, won a partial scholarship as a door prize, and went for it. The school was rather Eastern leaning in its teachings, so rather than just learning sports massage, we learned about Reiki (a Japanese energy healing) Thai Massage, Traditional Chinese Medicine, Qi Gong, guided meditation, and lots of other things. It was an interesting year, combining all of this with Ascension.

My mother has continued to influence me. A life coach and certified Myers-Briggs Type Indicator um, person, (mom what is your title, exactly?) she has provided me with endless books and exercises to pursue. I've found the MBTI helpful for figuring out some of the "why am I like this?" questions, and deciding what's worth trying to change, and what to just accept as part of my character.

Most recently, she provided me with a book titled Love is Letting go of Fear. I've been working with it for just a few days, but am already finding it helpful.

So, what's this blog going to be about?
Wow, I can't believe you're still reading. My plan is to post here things that come up along the way. To share tools and texts and resources I find helpful. To allow myself to think "outloud" (feel free to give feedback or ask questions!) and to have a place to just "download" everything swirling about in my head. TO try to make sense of it all. To make a map of one twenty-something's spiritual journey.

It's a path not a lot of people my age choose. I'd like to make a sort of meeting place where we can get together and share, and laugh, and help one another along the way.

I encourage others to share their experiences. I want to know what you're going through too.

But mostly, it's about sharing the joy that is pursuing a fulfilled life. :)