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Posts Tagged ‘Transition’

Tomorrow is New Year’s Day, and I plan to Retreat.

I come from a long line of Retreaters, so a few excellent strategies were passed down in my genes. I’ve picked up a few more along the way. I tend to Retreat on a regular basis, whenever I have a sense that my life is running away without me or I need to re-charge my batteries.

To me, Retreating is about creating the right environment for deep nurturance, reflection, and vision. It is a liminal space set apart from the daily-ness of life in which to step back and get a different perspective on life. It’s not a coincidence that the word “Retreat” is used – it usually involves stepping BACK from something, from the “to do” list, from your family members, from your usual routine.

I find it particularly useful to Retreat at times of transition: a birthday, the dawn of the school year, after completing a big work project  – or indeed, at the New Year. It doesn’t have to be on New Year’s Day, it can be just as fulfilling two days later, or the following weekend, or whenever you may have time. It doesn’t require a great deal of time either, but it does take some– and the more time you can wrangle, the juicier.

If you would like to join me tomorrow or in the days ahead, here are some jumping off points:

1) Decide on your chunk of time and set it aside – an hour, the afternoon, a whole weekend, even thirty minutes can do in a pinch. The key is that you set it ASIDE and get support from any necessary folks in the vicinity so you don’t get interrupted. “No interruptions” is absolutely vital. Turn off the cell phone.

2) Prepare your Retreat nest. Decide on your location and clear the clutter – you don’t have to clean out the closet, but do remove the piles on the surface. An empty and peaceful visual field invites in clarity and new thoughts.

3) Gather your Retreat equipment. Here are my requirements:

  • A canvas of some kind – a journal, a sketchbook, collage materials, something to capture thoughts and allow creative musings to flow. Find some colored pencils, finger paints, a favorite pen.
  • Soothing sustenance – warm chai, rich hot chocolate, herbal tea… or my choice for tomorrow: tulsi tea, a remarkable tonic herb known to support the body during cold and flu season (Organic India makes a fabulous selection often found at grocery stores or natural markets).
  • A cocoon – a cuddly blanket, warm slippers, the perfect sunny spot by the window (our dog always knows the best spots in the house).
  • A piece of nature – either to walk in, or in colder climes at least a vista to gaze at. Nature is the best source of restoration, a powerful reminder of our natural rhythms and the most efficient, effective guide to find balance if it’s been misplaced.

These are my bare minimum needs to Retreat, but feel free to add your own. I prefer silence for contemplation but maybe you need some music. Get creative in building your walls to hold the distractions out and the sweet stuff in.

4) Decide what to do. For me, the three critical components of Retreating are nurturance, reflection, and vision. The most compelling ideas for creating those components will come from within you. What seems absolutely nourishing and indulgent, but also special, a step away from “normal” life? What do you want to focus on? Is there something specific you are aiming for? Here’s my plan for tomorrow:

– Review the past year. How have I changed? What can I celebrate from this past year? What did I learn? What am I giving up going forward?

– Choose a one-word theme for the coming year. I’ve always loved the soul-searching and optimistic sense of frontier I find in developing New Year’s resolutions (although my resolutions have changed form over the years). Early on, I tended to fall into the trap of listing ways to “improve” myself, missing the truth that we are always exactly where we are supposed to be in our evolution. This year, I’ve decided to focus my vision by choosing one word that calls forward my fullest self, a word rich enough to be provocative for a full year. If that sounds intriguing, here are some ideas to get you going: Serenity, Power, Integrity, Clarity, Confidence, Celebration, Depth, Truth, Non-violence, Contentment, Discipline…. My process for choosing one word will lie in writing and seeing what rises to the top. As in all travels, the journey is as important as finding the destination.

– Take a walk in nature. Let the mind wander as the feet do. Inevitably, the pace of my steps slows as my thoughts do. I am reminded that I’m home already.

The Art of Being
By Ann Coray

The fern in the rain breathes the silver message.
Stay, lie low. Play your dark reeds
and relearn the beauty of absorption.
There is nothing beyond the rotten log
covered with leaves and needles.
Forget the light emerging with its golden wick.
Raise your face to the water-laden frond.
A thousand blossoms will fall into your arms.

Happy New Year to you, my friend. May it be full of joy, love, compassion, vibrant health, unshakable trust – and whatever vision you call into being.

~ivy

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It has been quite the season of transition.

I am getting my feet nestled in the earth here in Austin, lining up my most important sources of nourishment for the winter ahead. It has been unsettling –  to be expected while establishing a new home base. Add in a few unexpected curve balls life has thrown my way, and suffice it to say, it’s been a wind-tossed Autumn.

The best advice I’ve gotten from one of my teachers about weathering this transition is, “Stabilize. Stabilize everything you can stabilize.” So I am working on fixing my routines and my practices. The irony I am finding is that, at this time when my life is unfettered by many of the external commitments that have in the past limited my ability to create a healthy routine, my current flexibility does not lend itself easily to internally-enforced structure. Again, not surprising, as any self-employed person can attest. It’s part of the life-long effort to pacify vata dosha amidst the turmoil of our information age. It requires tapas, the internal fire of self-discipline, to establish and stick to the routines I know serve my own sanity and joy. This trial by fire is working – it burns away illusions and makes me appreciate even more deeply the tools I have been taught.

My new (physical, literal) home continues its evolution alongside my own. With beautiful cedar siding now in place, it’s beginning to look a lot more like home. I shall not tempt fate by estimating a move-in date, but it is definitely moving closer.

A few weeks ago, the monarch butterflies were migrating through Texas on their 2,500 mile journey. I looked out my window one morning and saw a colorful scattering of them passing by. Their improbable, tenacious journey south on such papery wings gave me encouragement.

On this Veterans Day, as so many of our country’s soldiers, present and past, struggle with their own journey home, I hope for the day when we adequately honor their sacrifices by not creating more opportunities for more sacrifice. May there be peace in our time.

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It seems everywhere I turned this week, someone was announcing the arrival of Transition. On Friday we passed the autumnal Equinox when the sun appears to cross the equator from north to south heralding the first day of fall. Even in Texas, recent days have brought a palpable change in the temperature and the quality of light. At these times of seasonal transition, the buzz is that we are experiencing a moment of shift, a time-sensitive opportunity to let go and to prepare for the next season of our life – out with the old and in with the new.

I’m the Transition poster child, here in my new hometown with my new nephew, building a new house and a new private practice – I’m even physically in transit as I type this, writing from 30,000 feet in the air. And in truth, it seems everyone I know is in the midst of some fairly large transitional turbulence – a new marriage, a new job, a major remodel, a father’s death, an imminent relocation. Either I’m hanging out with a self-selecting crowd of transitioners, or there is a larger trend at work here. Being in transition seems to be the new black.

The implication of all this transition talk is that it’s somehow contained: we’re passing through a discreet blip on the calendar, an unsettled moment sandwiched between some larger, more serene moments. Pretty soon, we’ll get through it and be on the other side. We’ll be in the MIDDLE of autumn, in the full swing of the school year, firmly established in the second year of home-ownership. Things are gonna settle down. Any minute now.

What struck me today is that this sense of turbulence isn’t remotely unique to this spot on the calendar. The transitions just keep coming. There isn’t a period up ahead when life promises to stop delivering tectonic shifts. While I have caught myself blaming this condition on our modern lifestyle (“…we’re so addicted to speed and excess information and multitasking and hasty decisions prompted by marketing campaigns, no one makes time for stillness any more…”), in reality, it’s a fact of the human experience, just part of the package. The ancient Buddhist teachings on impermanence underline the ever-present nature of change. The only constant really IS change, and that was true even back when Heraclitus first said it in the 5th century B.C.

As common as it is, that doesn’t diminish how uncomfortable it feels (to most of us) to be in transition for long. According to Ayurveda, as I wrote in my last post, transitions (even “good” ones) aggravate vata dosha, which can lead to a variety of discomforts like stress headaches, constipation, joint pain, indigestion, feeling off-center, ungrounded or outright panic-stricken. Teaching us how to pacify vata is one of the great gifts of Ayurveda as a health system, helping us to tolerate the turbulence of life’s passage with greater ease.

As I prepared to get on this plane (one of the most vata aggravating activities out there), I reminded myself what would help me feel grounded and comfy in my skin in the days ahead:

  • Stick to my routines – to the extent possible, get up at the same time, eat at the same time, do my morning routine as usual.
  • Eat vata-pacifying foods – warm, moist, soft comfort food. (Soup and oatmeal are good bets to seek out in the slim pickings of an airport.)
  • Ask myself regularly, “Am I thirsty?” and then drink something, preferably something warm. At the very least, avoid ice.
  • Stay warm. Keep a scarf in the car. Cover my head, and ears in particular, when it’s windy out.
  • For God’s sake, don’t stop abhyanga (applying oil to the skin before showering) – this is an easy one to let drop by the wayside while traveling or feeling time-deprived, and all the more potent at those times.
  • Create some mental stillness. People-watch instead of trying to accomplish something during my connection. Close my eyes and breathe. Look out the window and daydream.
  • Think of something I’m grateful for, and then tell the responsible people. Dwelling in gratitude is the best anti-anxiety medicine there is.

So, welcome to autumn, my friends. Welcome to this time of transition – and to the one that’s coming right after it. Plato’s surprisingly timely words of advice remind us that humanity has been engaged in this turbulence all along:

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

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