I often hear people speaking of their desire for a "spiritual experience." I get it. It's pretty intriguing and can step into something blissful, magical, profound, or completely wild. Something that defies the logic mind, with the notion that there is more to our existence than what we see or know in 3D. Nowadays, it's quite accessible to explore such experiences in the form of energy work, Ayahuasca, breathwork journeys, or meditation. Oftentimes, it induces physical, mental, emotional, and/or an energetic release that can be mild or intense. In fact, you can book this kind of experience as an all-inclusive holiday package or just a weeknight event at Chiang Mai Holistic for 90 baht! But what happens when these spiritual "occasions" arrive in the middle of the night when you'd rather be sleeping? Or on a busy morning when you have deadlines to complete? I definitely have said, "I really don't have time for this right now," or "Oh please, not before my morning coffee."
That's the funny-but-not-funny thing about stepping into spirituality, which is basically (a seemingly endless) healing journey. We don't get to choose or have control over the experiences that best suits us or our schedule. Part of the spiritual path is coming across the vulnerable aspects of ourselves... completely off-guard! I guess it's like anything that we are committed to— our passion, purpose, relationships with people that we care about, and even concepts (ie. trust, honesty, etc). It's about being there for it all despite wanting to run away (flight), suppress it (freeze), pretend it's not happening (dissociation), or pushing it away (fight). We are meant to face the discomfort; choose a way to break the old pattern; and create change within ourselves.
What am I learning from my own experience? Mostly I try to observe my reactions, triggers, and pain as just a moment. Sometimes that moment is an hour, a day, or a week. It can be excruciating at times, and sometimes I am not showing the best version of myself (gasp!). But I am committed to my purpose— to lift myself up and out of negative cycles instead of being pulled back into them by default. The lower and heavy vibrations (ie. fear, anger, guilt, shame) tend to grab our attention more easily due to our past hurt and conditioning.
And even when I ABSOLUTELY do not want to. When I REALLY, TRULY don't feel like it. When the circumstances seem IMPOSSIBLE, I take a pause and try to let love in. Tapping into this heart space isn't necessarily about what good I hope for immediately afterwards, but sometimes it's about preventing harm from happening. That unkind word to myself or another, or an action that I'll regret— that will only reinforce the suffering I'm stuck in. Instead, I am trying to choose unconditional love. Even if it's just a drop in the vastness of my being, it's towards the change that I want.
These words below were originally written through a spurt of automatic writing that came through during an incredible 3 day TRE® workshop that I attended with facilitators Fiona Leibowitz and Jeremy de Tolly (and assisted by Dave Millang and Katherine at The Sanctuary Thailand).
How to Love the Heart
Say, "I'm sorry"
For the past few weeks, Ganesha has appeared every day in my morning meditation, my TRE® practice, or simply when I close my eyes. This Hindu deity, worshipped throughout India, represents the remover of obstacles, in particular to new endeavors. Ganesha is also the deva of intellect and wisdom.
I'm not quite sure if Ganesha is removing one big obstacle on my path, or hundreds; whether he's about to remove obstacles, or currently chipping away at an obstacle. What comes up for me is anticipation, confusion, gratitude, and anxiety. I'm reminded of the saying, "Truth unfolds like a flower." I can't force or hurry up these messages from the universe just because I want things to happen on my schedule. The ripeness of the moment decides, with other unseen elements coming into place.
It's also the same with another recurring image that has shown up when I drop into a meditative space. My hands move to type out a message, read a message, or give a message. Sometimes it's on a sheet of paper, other times on a scroll or book. My eyes scan for meaning, but the page is blank. There's only a hint that there is a message waiting to be revealed. Afterwards, I'm confused by it all— Why all the messages that I'm about to receive a message? It's like online notifications constantly alerting me and over-reminding me—an overzealous tracking service that updates you until delivery has been made.
This, along with my other enigmatic experiences helps me understand that there is a lot happening on the subconscious level and the energy that we connect to within us, around us, and with others. The logic mind loves to analyze, control, and sometimes resist these messages and experiences. However, it's trust and gentle curiosity that guides the process.
When I started Hanuman Yoga Retreat seven years ago, I was as fearless as I was naive. I had no business model or marketing plan; had been teaching for less than a year; didn't work at a yoga studio. A friend unkindly remarked that I needed to build my client base over several years before offering retreats. A few others told me that no one is going to book a retreat with a teacher they don’t know.
I started having a lot of self-doubt. I’m doing it wrong. I need to stick to the rules. I won’t meet people’s expectations. I don’t know what exactly kept me going. Perhaps I didn’t think of it as a big deal. That it was an exciting adventure, much like traveling was for me.
I still remember the day I got my first-ever booking. It was for a Bali retreat that I had organized. My reaction went from excitement to surprise, to throwing up and crying in panic. “What have I done?!” I asked myself. Then the “What If’s” started lunging at me. I was in completely uncharted waters.
Somehow, I managed to stay focused and stepped into this new space. My 14 years of being a classroom teacher embraced the role of retreat facilitator and organizer with joy. Over the next seven years of my business, I failed hard, succeeded sometimes, and learned a lot. I trialed and erred, consulted oracle cards and pendulums, and Googled thousands of questions. I let go of control, battled with my ego, and placed boundaries. I started practicing a middle path approach-- balancing logic and intuition, self-warmth and self-care, receiving and giving.
During the recent New Year's retreat in Mexico, our group also delved into new territory, individually and as a collective, sometimes going deep within the inner self to the outer. The strong container and trust that we built naturally allowed us to be more: more open, brave, playful, heart-centered, and insightful. We were wrapped in such a beautiful connection that we rode the wave of whatever presented itself-- the power outage, a rainstorm, a visiting spirit, and intense spiritual awakenings. I was unprepared in facing my own unresolved trauma that came up, yet it arose because of and within a space of safety, trust, and unconditional support. I made it through and already feel significant shifts.
For 2020, I invite you to let go of fear and doubt. Find your ground and take a step. Whatever you may be moving towards-- freedom, forgiveness, your dream, or perhaps loving yourself-- let it in. And then keep letting it in
Happy New Year. May it bless you with more than you ever imagined.
This question was asked by a curious student at the weekly meditation group that I attend in Chiang Mai. Phra Le, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who leads these sessions with lightness and humor, replied, "Because we have nothing to do."
After a rupture of laughter from our group, Phra Le added, "It's true." He then went on to explain that in society, people have quite busy lives, busy minds, and are conditioned to doing, achieving, and constantly be in action. On the other hand, meditation is the practice of not doing.
When I first started meditating many years ago, I did not understand how to 'not do'. I remember trying to "do" not-doing! With the mind so used to thinking-- whether it's about the past, planning into the future, creating ideas, seeking stimulation or numbing out on our devices, it makes us move further away from what's happening in the present moment. We become disconnected and disembodied to our own felt sensations that yearn to be seen and heard. After all, that's the key aspect of meditation. By allowing ourselves to slow down, we expand our awareness beyond a single perspective.
What is it like to be with ourselves when we are not distracted? With practice, we can observe our sensations moment to moment with gentle curiosity. Perhaps it's the rise of suppressed emotions; other times it's a physical release of tension. Frequently, random images pop up for me, and more recently, it's been an enjoyment of being in self-warmth. At times, I bring in external elements to the experience- the sound of the birds outside, the smell of a flower, the feel of a breeze. These tend to counterbalance any discomfort, enhance a peaceful moment, or connect back to the present.
If you are looking for suggestions on meditation, let me know! I'd be happy to help. Wishing you a mindful start to the holiday season!
Hanuman Yoga Retreat
I've been hearing many references to Kintsugi lately. It's the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by sealing the fractured parts with lacquer dusted (or mixed) with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Thus, the finished work transforms into something even more beautiful than before. I love this analogy when we relate it to ourselves and our life journey. We have parts of us that may be "broken", yet we can choose to heal, rise above, and blossom into a greater version of ourselves. Beauty which is characterized by its asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, and humbleness— and not despite it— is called "wabi sabi." By embracing beauty in this way, we accept what is present without staying stuck in the past.
Perhaps it has been my ancestors whispering this and other ancient zen wisdom to me as a way to gently guide me back to my Japanese roots. In fact, I have decided to relocate to Kyoto in July 2020! Yes, Hanuman Yoga Retreat will soon be based in Japan. I, myself am still a bit shocked by my own news, as I did not have any intention of leaving Chiang Mai, my home for the past three years. However, the idea to move to Kyoto came to me naturally, crystal clear, and without any doubt in my mind. How grateful I am to the universe for showing me the way (because, honestly, it doesn't happen that often!). I look forward to offering my classes, workshops, and retreats in the growing international community of Kyoto. The yoga and wellness scene is steadily increasing there, making it an exciting time to be part of it!
In the meantime, my 2019 and 2020 retreat schedule stands as is.
Dec. 27, 2019~Jan. 2, 2020 in Sayulita, Mexico
New Year's Yoga, Meditation & Wellness Retreat at Anjali Casa Divina Villa
Set the tone for 2020 with self-care, clarity, and inspiration.
Jan. 15~18, 2020 in Chiang Mai, Thailand
"Breathe in the Moment" Retreat at Om Waters
Experience a floating retreat center on a lake!
April 18~25, 2020 in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
"Yoga, Wellness & Beyond" Retreat
Adventure, gourmet meals, and connection..
Hope to see you soon!
What was meant to be a low key month of July ended in burnout. It took a shoulder injury for me to listen to my body, even though all the signs were there leading up to that point. I ignored my own self-care and self-warmth with my pattern of “doing” and more doing.
Ah, it sure was sneaky this time! I mean, how could I possibly pass up a 5 week online Family Constellations course led by the amazing Leslie Nipps? How exciting would it be to lead my first-ever Full Moon Women’s Circle? Who else would be able to coordinate, organize, and promote two fundraisers for a local orphanage to repair 12 bicycles for the kids? What will be the developmental impact of the babies at another orphanage if I don’t visit them every week to hold and play with them? Why would I pay for an overpriced taxi when I can walk to my destination in 30 minutes with a carry-on bag?
I felt the mental exhaustion hit about the same time as my weary body took a toll. My right shoulder gave out (AC joint), causing pain and very little range of motion. With my dominant hand effected, I am quite sure that the universe put me on mandatory rest-lockdown!
It was interesting to observe my first reactions and thoughts. Disappointment that I didn't listen to my body or intuition. Shame that as a person who promotes self-care, I was not able to follow through on my own words. Anxiety over how I'd manage to brush my teeth or change my clothes with only my non-dominant hand. Guilt that I had to cancel my yoga classes and plans. Worry that I will need to postpone things on my 'to do' list.
As I sat with these feelings, I realized that everyone in my family is a do-er. I especially take after my mom, someone who was constantly involved in projects and taking care of others, but putting her own needs last. Could I be carrying this pattern out of unconscious loyalty and belonging to my mom and ancestors? There was only one way to find out! I set-up a constellation for myself, and sure enough this was what was revealed. Once this unconscious "contract" was released, I felt relief, calmness, and self-warmth. I no longer need to keep "doing."
You can now look for constellation work being added to my retreats. These will be short, simple exercises to gain insight, clarity and healing for ourselves. It will complement the other modalities that are offered at my retreats: yoga, TRE, innerdance energy work, meditation, and QiGong.
Hope to see you in Thailand or Mexico!
Hanuman Yoga Retreat
I'm often reminded that the world is a lot bigger than my day-to-day life. That's not to say that my own wants and needs don't matter. In fact, it took a long time for me to practice self-care and boundaries, especially knowing when it was beneficial to give.
However, we can also stay a bit stuck in the 'self' zone (and selfie zone, for that matter!). We've all been there (maybe). Can we be aware of moments to step out of our inner-outer-sideways journey, need for control, and simply connect beyond our own self-world?
Of course we can! I'm a big fan of volunteering and/or being part of a charitable organization. You'll likely meet amazing people, learn a lot, and feel a sense of belonging. For the past three years, I have been volunteering at a Thai orphanage, and it's brought even greater joy and meaning to my life here.
Karma yoga is another wonderful way to contribute to your community. Starting this Tuesday, I'm offering free weekly meditation at the park in Chiang Mai. When I am in San Francisco visiting my family, I attend meditation groups at a Buddhist temple and church. Their groups are 100% free (and they have snacks!!), and this is my way to pay it forward (but without the snacks, ahem).
And last, daily random acts of kindness is always a crowd (or one person) pleaser. Bonus points if it's for someone you don't know, as well as for nature. :)
Who's ready for a 30 Day Challenge filled with random acts of kindness, volunteering and paying it forward? Life-changing results guaranteed! Feel free to share your experiences with me by email!
Hanuman Yoga Retreat
When I first started doing yoga, I really hated the experience but felt great afterwards. I "made" myself go to a yoga class, much like people begrudgingly drag themselves to the gym. I struggled and pushed through poses, and couldn't wait until it was time for savasana. It was the same when I first started meditation. I was restless, bored, anxious and could not wait until the 20 minutes (or sometimes 10 minutes) was over. A few years later, there came a turning point when I stopped thinking of self-care as "punishment" or saying that I didn't have time. Now, I looked forward to spending time with myself in a nourishing way.
Can you "do" self-care while "being" in self-warmth? Is your yoga and meditation practice rigid, goal-oriented, and frustrating? Or can you simply enjoy being in your body, allowing spaciousness in your experience, and staying curious? In self-warmth, there is a sense of joy and delight in your being without an inner critic telling you to "do"-- do it right, better, or more. This happens when we feel safe to be as we are-- which takes practice! Family Constellation facilitator Sarah Peyton's refers to this as shifting from the left hemisphere of the brain (logical, getting things done) to the right hemisphere (relational).
And of course, how we relate to ourselves may be the same in how we relate to others. When you are caring for others, can you be more in your warmth rather than just doing? It's not easy, and the key is practice.
Wishing you lots of self-warmth in May!
Season 3 of Chiang Mai wrapped up like a box full of treasures. How wonderful to have so much enthusiasm at our events, classes, retreats, and at Jai Thep Festival! I am truly honored to be part of this inspiring community. I also said a heartfelt goodbye and thanks to Yoga Kuukan, the studio I taught at for 2.5 years. They will now move to Japan! And speaking of which, I am on my way to the Kansai region for a week. In addition to visiting my grandparents' gravesite and reconnecting with my aunt and uncle (after +15 years!) I'll be researching retreat venues in Kyoto. If all goes well, I'm hoping to offer a retreat in the spring or fall 2020.
For now, it's time for some spring cleaning and springing forward! For someone who isn't *ahem* always tidy, I do enjoy my closing ritual as I prepare to leave Chiang Mai for two months. Going through my closet, cupboards, documents and purging what I don't need. I also wipe, scrub, and vacuum as many surfaces as possible. I had no idea how many dust bunnies were living in my A/C filter! And not even paying rent!
Such a sense of satisfaction to clear, cleanse, and honor my space as a transition and opening into the next cycle. It's a bit like what self-care tools do for our mind and body. GETS RID OF THE INTERNAL CLUTTER— all that is old, rigid, and stuck. This then helps us re-set, re-pattern and let go of our stress, conditioning, and old stories.
How are you giving yourself some spring cleaning?
Hanuman Yoga Retreat
I’m listening to Scott Orr’s song, “Slow Down”— a wonderful complement to the Tao oracle card I chose for 2019: RECEPTIVE. It’s a message to allow the “yin” in moments of uncertainty— to just breathe, give some space, and realize that there are (unseen) things still happening in response to the next moment. In times when I am exceptionally busy, it’s a reminder to give myself self-care, set boundaries, and be at ease in the flow. It’s easy to default to the patterns of my ego— wanting control, certainty, for everything to work out perfectly, for things to happen efficiently. I mean, come on universe; I don’t have all day!! :) This not only neglects the inquiry, learning and growth in my experiences, but also ignores other parts that are involved in my journey— intuition, timing, the universal and systemic elements that exist but are unknown to me.
I recently spoke to someone who arrived to Chiang Mai three weeks ago. His was a familiar story of quitting his job, selling everything he owned, and starting his journey. He was excited, overwhelmed, and ... impatient. I could certainly relate to this when I first moved here! It’s like a combination of being retired and being a freelancer. All the possibilities are in front of you to the point that it’s overwhelming. Searching for something but not clear on what that is. When I heard him share his frustrations, I smiled. There was nothing to do, change or fix. He was exactly where he is meant to be. Some days, weeks, or months simply need time for yin. And from that, there might be a somewhat nagging feeling of deeper inquiry. In that intuitive space, we are able to feel more into the next step and observe what is guiding our choices or resistance.
Of course, when there is too much idleness or feeling stuck, movement can be a catalyst. A great amount of yin energy might not work well in a job, an unsatisfying relationship, or self-discipline towards a goal. At a weeklong meditation retreat, my teacher said: "If you're one of those people who is in the habit of 'doing', maybe skip a session or two. If you're one of those people who is kind of a slacker, try to show up for all the classes." This is a great example of balancing the yin and yang.
Whether it's your body, mind, emotions, behavior, relationships, work, or lifestyle, where can you allow more yin or yang?
Tammy is a location independent yogi.