Lessons from Shrek

“Inside each of us is a core of essential goodness and purity.  Wrapped around this core–this Buddha within–are layers of conditioned responses, attitudes, patterns, habits, and obscuring behaviors.  Some of these layers reflect the goodness of our basic Buddha-nature; others do not.  To fully awaken and reveal the Buddha within, we have to honestly recognize, acknowledge, and deal with the ingrained problematic conditioning that we all have.  We must have the inner strength and fortitude to honestly face these parts of ourselves.” Awakening the Buddhist Heart~ Lama Surya Das

Just like Shrek, everyone is made up of layers.  Deep within us lies our true nature, our Buddha heart.  Surrounding this core areSamskaras, a Sanskrit word which literally means tendencies or inclinations.  It can also mean impulses or the choices you make due to karma imprinting.  These samskaras are the layers that make up our being.  How we react to things (likes and dislikes) and more importantly, why.  You can think of them as the proverbial buttons everyone knows how to push.

The Tibetans put the samskaras into eight categories they call either the Eight Worldly Winds or the Eight Traps.

  • Pleasure and Pain
  • Loss and Gain
  • Praise and Blame
  • Fame and Shame

Every person has these eight buttons and when one is pushed we respond based upon our conditioned responses.  When you allow these responses to rule your life, we fail to find the “joyous freedom” and “spontaneous expression in the present moment.” You are slave to your responses.

By examining why you react in such a way, you are released from the conditioning and you are able to have peace.  For example, my biggest problem is how I deal with situations at work.   When a co-worker is demanding or demeaning, I immediately tense up and become defensive.  But when I stop and think about my reaction, I’m able to change my thoughts and response, giving me freedom.  Only when I become aware of my response and make a conscious effort to change it do I feel better, leading to  a (bit) less stressful existence.  Unfortunately, a lot of the times I react first, stop second.  By then it’s too late.  My blood pressure is sky high, I’ve spouted off in anger and I’m left frustrated and angry.  It takes a constant vigilance and awareness to stop letting the little things turn into big issues.  When I am fully present and paying attention to my reactions I am able to make the response that comes closer to my Buddha core.  I am able to strip away those layers of conditioned response and be the person I truly wish to be.  It takes practice. It takes patience but most of all, it takes awareness.

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” ~ George Eliot

If you live in the present and are aware of your responses to each button when it’s pushed, you are given the ability to just be. You, and only you, have the ability to control your reaction to certain situations. Strip away (become aware) why you are upset, angry, fearful, ashamed, etc. and give yourself the freedom to respond differently.  As you peal away the “layers” of conditioned response, you get closer to your Buddha core and are able to live a more spontaneous, blissful life.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

~–Reinhold Niebuhr



Hey! It’s you again!

It could be a meeting on the street, or at a party or a lecture, or just a simple, banal introduction, then suddenly there is  the flash of recognition and the embers of kinship glow.  There is an awakening between you, a sense of ancient knowing.  Love opens the door of ancient recognition.  You enter.  You come home to each other at last. As Euripides said, “Two friends, one soul.”   ~ John O’Donohue, “Anam Cara”

I’ve  believed in reincarnation since I was a small girl and am always drawn to karma and the concept of deja vu.  Father John O’Donohue’s book, Anam Cara has long been a favorite of mine.  Father O’Donohue explains Anam Cara, or soul friends, and how we are meant to meet certain souls in our lives.  He practices Celtic Christianity, a rich blend of Celtic traditions and early, pure Christianity untouched by Rome. While he considers Anam Cara pieces of the same primal clay, I prefer the Tibetan Buddhist belief that we meet the same people over and over each lifetime.  No matter their origin,  Anam Cara help you grow along your path in life, offering just what you need.  Acceptance. Love. Humor. Challenge. They can be a role model, a confidant, a teacher, a friend.  Each person/soul brings you something special to complete your journey through this lifetime.

ONE person (your soul mate) is not enough to make you whole. Not in the true sense of the word.  As you find each special person  you are pieced together like a puzzle.  You know it when you meet them:  the one you instantly click with, the one  you never forgot, the one you can’t imagine your life without, the one that comes in and out of your life  yet you can pick up right where you left off, finishing each other’s sentences or thoughts.  Despite the passing years, despite the growth you’ve both experienced, your relationship is natural, not forced or fake.   These people are real and so are the connections.

I’ve often consider myself a loner and wondered if I’d be friendless and alone someday.  But I’m not a loner.   I’m blessed with such great friendships, true, deep friendships that are so rich!  I’m very happy having lunch or dinner with one of the few, true friends I cherish. Much like a good piece of chocolate,  it’s all about quality over quantity and I’d much rather have a handful of amazing people in my life than a room full of acquaintances.  The people in my life are true friends; people I feel comfortable with, feel at peace with.  We can actually  spend time NOT talking.  We can sip a glass of wine (or beer, or tea) and just enjoy the silence and the beauty of life.  There is something to be said for what’s never said.

Think about the people in your life and those friends you keep close.  What does each one bring to your life or, more importantly, what do you bring to theirs?  Remember, you are in their life for a reason too!

Ahimsa (अहिंसा): non-harming

I am more than a number on the scale.

I am strong.

I climb mountains.

I hike for hours and see places others only imagine.

I kayak along rivers and around lakes, seeing mink and beaver at play and sunsets that take your breath away.

I am strong.

I am more than a number on the scale.

I wish these were the affirmations I say on a daily basis, but lately they are far from my mind. Instead, I have been beating myself up, berating myself for not being able to lose “those last ten pounds”. I have analyzed every morsel of food that enters my body for its fat, sodium and calorie content. I skip hiking because the elliptical is a “better burn”. And I love hiking…

This time of year we are bombarded with weight loss schemes. You can’t pick up a magazine that doesn’t tell you how to lose “8, 10, even 15 pounds!” By just walking. Perhaps I’m noticing it more right now because a girlfriend dropped off a bag of magazines. Fitness, Self, Prevention, Whole Living. I’ve been spending my evenings going through each one, gleaning information of all kinds. The theme of them all (except Whole Living which I truly enjoy) is weight loss: every magazine, website, television commercial emphasizes the importance of being thin and more importantly, how to get there. This exercise routine, this “super food”, this trick of the trade…all focusing on the importance being your ideal “weight”. There is infomercial after infomercial on how you can do this plan and see visible results in 90 days or “your money back!” You can be buff. You can be thin. You can be happy! Somewhere along the way we’ve grouped thin in with happy. You can’t be happy if you aren’t thin. People will like you more. You will wear all the latest fashions (skinny jeans? Please! I gave those up in 1985.) And it’s not just thin, you have to be the ideal weight. Drop pounds…lose weight… there is little on being strong (unless it’s a gym workout being sold) and healthy. Usually I only read “Yoga Journal” and now I remember why!

As I look back over the past year, I have to remember that I’ve lost 14 pounds, 10+ inches, and have climbed my first 4000 footer (4832 to be exact). I can do a side plank and the plow (in yoga) and am working hard on the shoulder stand. I am flexible. I am off all medications and I have cut my migraines in half. I am more calm, centered, and less stressed. That’s damn good for 11 months!

I want to judge my life on the mountains I climb, the happiness of my family, the people I call friends, and the good I do for the planet (and the people who inhabit it). I find it hard to believe that anyone will look back and think, “gee, if she’d only lost those last 10 pounds she would have been a better person.”

So this morning when I got ready for work I dressed in my favorite Levis jeans (they aren’t the smallest pair in my drawer, but they are the most comfortable!), one of my favorite hiking tops, and laced up my hiking boots. They are reminders that I am strong! I climb mountains! I am more than a number on the scale.


In my monthly “Yoga 101” class this past Sunday we were discussing yamas, or the ethical rules of living for Raja Yoga. I’ve been thinking about them ever since. It’s impossible to truly discover the meaning of each yama without studying, searching, questioning and discovering what they mean within your own life, but here’s a start.

I truly believe everyone needs something to hold to. Dogma of their choice. I’ve never found one I can relate to, one I can believe in. The yama, much like the 10 Commandments, are guidelines to keep you on the true path. I don’t claim to know anything about them [yet] but they have piqued my interest.

Five yamas of Patañjali

In the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, the yamas are the first limb of the eight limbs of Raja Yoga.

1. Ahimsa (अहिंसा): non-harming

2. Satya (सत्य): absence of falsehood

3. Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing

4. Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): appropriate use of vital essence

5. Aparigraha (अपरिग्रह): absence of avarice

As I consider them in regards to my life, I know I have a lot of work to do.

1. Ahimsa: While I’m not a violent person and you may even say a pacifist, there are other ways to be harming. Physical pain is not the only meaning. I know I need to stop being critical of others, jumping to judgment, and even worse…gossip J Growing up in a household that yelled, called names and said painful things, I know better than some the pain words can cause. Consider this anonymous story that is posted everywhere from Christian sites to parenting sites. It floats around everywhere as it should. It’s a good lesson!

Hole in the Fence

There once was a little girl who had a bad temper. Her mother gave her a bag of nails and told her that every time she lost her temper, she must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.

The first day the girl had driven 37 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as she learned to control her anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. She discovered it was easier to hold her temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the girl didn’t lose her temper at all. She told her mother about it and the mother suggested that the girl now pull out one nail for each day that she was able to hold her temper. The day passed and the young girl was finally able to tell her mother that all the nails were gone. The mother took her daughter by the hand and led her to the fence.

She said, “You have done well, my daughter, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one.” You can put a knife in a person and draw it out. It won’ t matter how many times you say I’m sorry, the wound is still there. A verbal wound is as bad as a physical one.

Friends are very rare jewels, indeed. They make you smile and encourage you to succeed. They lend an ear, they share words of praise and they always want to open their hearts to us.

2. Satya: Who hasn’t told a lie here and there? We discussed white lies to make life easier (specifically with children) or to perpetuate a myth (Santa for one). It makes you think about honesty in general. It means so much more than to tell a lie. Are you honest with yourself about your dreams, desires and hopes? Are you honest with friends when they ask you to do something you really don’t feel like doing (oh, sorry, don’t have a sitter!)? I will say, I’m a bit too honest at times. If I don’t want to do something I’m more apt to just say no than to subject myself to doing it. I don’t make excuses for things anymore. I’m a loner. I like hiking by myself but sure, some group trips are great…no worries, I’ll let you know if I want to be alone. But it’s not all about not doing something. Being honest makes me also ask myself WHY I don’t want to do something. Why do I prefer to be alone when hiking? Some reasons are good, some are just because it’s easier than dealing with the consequences. It’s easier to be a loner than to spend the energy on a friendship only to have the rug pulled out from beneath you. So honestly, I’m a bit nervous about having real friendships. Perhaps this comes from years of moving and having to make new friends over and over. But I’m getting too deep for this post J

3. Asteya: Ah, the non-stealing one. This is the one I’ve been thinking about more than the others. There are truly so many areas in everyone’s life where this fits. Stealing…taking something that isn’t yours to take. The straight forward stealing of possessions or of time are probably the first thing people think of, but what about the more minute areas? Stealing from your boss when you’re surfing the net; stealing resources when you don’t recycle; stealing food from those who truly need it when you are gluttonous or wasteful, stealing from your family budget when you buy things you know you can’t afford; adultery—stealing someone else’s love way…there are so many aspects of stealing that go far deeper than just the surface.

4. Brahmacharya: I admit, this one is going to really take a bit more delving. I’m not quite sure what it means and it even confused the yogi. But it has to do with taking all that “essence” and putting it where it belongs. I saw somewhere that it means (basically): celibate when single, faithful when married. Nothing is ever that clean cut. That essence is far deeper than physical energy. Does this means you shouldn’t covet your neighbor’s wife? Don’t think about others? Is this really all about sexual energy? Hmmm. More research necessary.

5. Aparigraha: Ah, if I could manage this one life would be good. Less is more. Minimalistic lifestyle having only what you need, not what you WANT. I’m working on it. It’s tough J Again, gluttony seems to make its mark here. We scaled down our television channels (wish we could just get rid of them but…) and we’ve been watching more of the Travel Channel and Food Channels. WOW. Talk about wasteful gluttony! Man vs. Food…does any one person need to attempt to eat a 15 pound hamburger just because it would be free? How many people that would feed, people who haven’t seen that much food in months, if not longer. And here we are, sitting down to devour it just for fun. That is gluttony. That is wasteful. It’s maddening as hell. [Where’s my hammer and nail? I’m heading to the fence.]

As yama means “death” I can’t help but aquaint these with the seven deadly sins:

1. Pride

2. Envy

3. Gluttony

4. Lust

5. Anger

6. Greed

7. Sloth

And then there are those 10 Commandments:

1. Have no other gods before me

2. Don’t worship icons

3. Don’t take his name in vain

4. Keep the Sabbath day holy

5. Honor your father and your mother

6. You shall not murder

7. You shall not commit adultery

8. You shall not steal

9. You shall not bear false witness (lie)

10. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, wife…or anything of your neighbors.

The last 5 of the Commandments look identical to the yamas. They truly are universal. No matter your dogma, the general consensus is really the same. Live a true, peaceful and blessed life (no matter your religion) and you will be a true, peaceful and blessed person.


Journaling: Being Present

I’ve been thinking about journaling a lot these past few days. I’ve always been a big promoter of journaling as a means to healing. To understanding your inner needs and fears.

In preparation for teaching a journaling workshop, I started thinking about the actuality of being present when journaling; especially when you are writing about what happened to you yesterday, last year or even in your childhood. Being present when you are writing about your dreams, your goals, your long term desires. The more I contemplated it, the more I realized that you are present because you are stopping to see how all of those thoughts, dreams and memories are relating to you NOW.

The past is a foreign land and the future is yet to be. What we think we remember of our past is nothing compared to how we relate to it at this moment in time. There have been many times in my life where I’ve thought of my childhood. It’s been good, it’s been horrid, it’s been good again. It depends on if I’m being whiny, if I’m being contemplative, if I’m happy, sad, reflective, lonely…there are so many filters that warp our memories that it’s hard to tell what is real and what is not. But that really isn’t important. What is important is how we see it in the present moment. Journaling, even about your previous experiences, keeps you present by making you reflect with your current mindset.

As I mentioned, I’m a big fan of journaling. I wish I did more of it but I, too, let life carry me away. One thing I always do is keep my food and exercise journal every day. It makes me aware of everything I’m putting into my body and how I’m treating it. It gives me control. It’s the first thing the dietician will have you do; it’s the secret to the success of Weight Watchers and numerous other diet plans. It’s simple really. If you have to write it down or keep track of it, you will think twice about putting it in your mouth. Accountability, even if it’s only to yourself, is a powerful motivator.

While you may not be conscious of it, journaling is all about the present moment. It’s all about this moment right now. This moment: Write Now!