Rest, Reconnect, Restore, and Repair

With all the celebration and possibility of the holiday season sometimes comes the feelings of being overwhelmed, disappointment, or stress. It may feel like “too much” of everything this season.

If the holidays have been stressful, first I send you so much care and love.

And I invite you to take a moment to rest, reconnect, restore, and repair. As you know, the first step to lower stress is to pause. To offer a moment of care to yourself and the people around you. To take a moment to just be… a human Being instead of a human Doing.

At the end of the year we find ourselves in a reflective mood. To aid that reflection, I have written questions below that may inspire you to think about how to care for yourself, mindfully.

Please take a minute to pause and breathe.

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Let these questions and perhaps the answers also be gifts of care to yourself. Allow striving, judgement, guilt or blame to rest. Let these questions connect with your heart – the only place to start healing from. If you want to write the answers down, wonderful. And if you want to reply to me with your responses, I’d love to hear from you. Either way, please give yourself this gift.

What would feel like a rest to you?
A nap? A long weekend? Sleeping in? A stroll with friends with no agenda? Going out to dinner instead of cooking? Being with your loved ones with no plans? There are no “right answers” – just breathe and acknowledge what offers you rest.

How can you get a bit of your rest in the next few days?
Who can help you get this rest? Do you need to schedule it? Can you access it daily? More than once a day? What’s possible for your rest?

Who around you needs a bit of reconnection?
Often, during moments of stress or activity, our most beloved relationships get put in the backseat. Who could use a little loving attention in your life?

How can you give them some of yourself?
What ways can you reach out to them in love and kindness, to offer a bit of reconnection?

What routines do you want to restore now that the holidays are almost done?
A morning walk? Time to meditate? Time to read? What routines can you restore to daily life that may have been lost in the shuffle?

If you felt sadness, grief, or pain this holiday season, how can you begin to repair?
First, with kindness and compassion for yourself and your experience. What words of reassurance, empathy, and love can you express towards yourself as you move through the emotions?
“I am enough.” “I am safe.” “I am loved.”

Again, let these questions and perhaps the answers also be gifts of care to yourself. I look forward to reading your thoughts, and send you so much love for a mindful New Years celebration.

Many thanks,
Geeta

 

Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.

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Happy Halloween! 


Halloween is an occasion that has taken some time for me to get used to, since I did not grow up in the United States.

Wikipedia mentions that this is the “time in the year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints, martyrs, and faithful departed believers.”  It is also a time for guising (dressing up in costumes and “disguising”), parties and “visiting haunted attractions, telling scary stories and watching horror films.”

This festival and its modern day incarnations intrigue me.  It has its roots, of course, in harvest festivals.  It reminds me to pay attention to celebrate the harvest but also a time to thank the earth and let her rest for the winter.  It is a time to let things pass.   As the winter nights lengthen, it is a time to remember the grace and gifts of people and things that have passed as well.

photo-1415979733006-ec911cf8e6dfAnd in its modern incarnation, it also feels like an invitation to become intimate with things that scare us.  We can use this occasion to make light of things that scare us, but for me it is also a reminder to befriend the dark and the “ugly” and invite a dance with the discomfort.   I have learned to not turn away from the skeleton decorations hanging in my neighbors yard…  If I look at them enough, I can begin to appreciate that this is simply showing me one of the truths of my life – that bones are simply the framework on which I hang my outer self.  Not something to turn away from too quickly.  This celebration of death is as natural as celebrating life… both seem to be the nature of things.

One of the most beautiful evenings I remember is being in India and lighting some candles on a lovely breezy evening at my father-in-law’s grave on All Souls Day.  Other graves were also lit up with love and the care of loved ones.  The sky was filled with incredible colors and there was a softness and tenderness to the moments I spent in silent remembrance.  I learned that day that there is a way to be with passing that can be graceful and beautiful.

So on this Halloween, the invitation is to pause for a moment.  And allow an acknowledgement for being with the passing of seasons, the passing of souls and the passing on another year in our life.  And feeling into the gifts and the preciousness of that which has passed.

Happy and safe Halloween!

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The Gift of Silence

Another extraordinary experience this summer was the gift of silence.

I went for a nine-day silent retreat (which I have done every year for the last several years). There was no cell phone, email or any other contact with the outer world and minimal eye contact with others on the retreat.  It was a rigorous schedule – we woke up at 4:45 am and practiced sitting and walking meditation schedule until 10 pm with breaks for meals.  The dormitory style room that I shared with another person was sparse and simple.

At the retreat, I found myself both entertained and exasperated by the workings of the inner world – watching the whole circus of the mind at work with the inevitable cascade of emotions that would follow.  Sometimes the thoughts and emotions were like little soft clouds on a warm sunny day and other times they felt like overwhelming storms.  I was able to see the weather systems rise and pass, leaving in their wake the gifts of wisdom and insight.  I saw that when I held what arose with a tender heart, it was much easier to let things go than if I stayed with something with judgment and resistance.

It takes patience, kindness, curiosity and practice to train the heart-mind to meet the present moment.  Over and over, the mind and heart wandered, and over and over and over, I remembered to anchor back to the present moment.  Just to know the simple present moment – the breath, the feel of the breeze on my skin, the warmth of the sun on my back, the humming bird in the bush, the lizard on the rock and the prayers of the golden grasses as they bowed in the wind.

T. S Eliot once wrote about “a condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything.” I caught a glimpse of what that meant on the retreat.

As I have returned to my daily life, I notice that I am kinder to the people around me and also to myself.  And I am feeling more energetic and making healthier choices and healing.  While none of the stressors in my life have changed, I am more resilient to stress and am making wiser choices in how and when to respond.

And I remain so grateful for the gifts of Silence.

Perhaps you too, my dear friend and reader, will consider gifting yourself a little time to be quiet and kind.

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Cultivating wisdom and insight and a tender heart

Mummy & Me

Mummy & Me

I gifted myself some time off from teaching mindfulness this summer.  It was a summer to learn, grow and smile.

I spent a few weeks with my parents in India. Perhaps you know that my mother lives with advanced Alzheimer’s at home, with my father as her primary caregiver.  I try to go and spend 3-4 weeks with them, two to three times a year.  While it is always a touching and heartbreaking time, it also is a time for much growth and healing for all of us.

While I was there, I saw both my parents improve dramatically in physical and emotional health.  I could see the power of mindfulness and compassion first hand as the transformation touched us all.

It is hard to believe that simply offering undivided kind attention and softening the heart can allow for a such a deep connection. These practices offered physical and emotional healing, an opening to joy even in the midst of challenge and loss, and so much stress resilience.

My mother was able to start walking again with assistance after being in a wheelchair for months.  She was able to come out of her glazed foggy look to connect with me, remember me and offer kindness and care back.  It was touching to see her eyes light up and her hand hold mine with softness and her heart remembering and recognizing what her mind had forgotten.  It was nothing short of a miracle!

And I could be present for the range of emotions without drowning in sorrow, grief, anger and pity as I have in past years.  I could hold all of it with balance and care.

My father also felt the support and care and started to engage with life and those around him with renewed energy and joy.  There was so much wisdom, compassion and insight I gleaned from this time with my parents.

I am feeling the perfectness of life, and I also see how much room there is for improvement, growth and care.  And so I continue to sit with kind, curious attention to see what will unfold next in this adventure of our lives.

I hope you too, my dear friend, will be able to gift yourself a few moments of quiet – a few minutes, and perhaps even a half day or a full day of being unplugged from daily life.  You may be surprised at how rich the experience of “doing nothing” can be!

May you continue to incline towards greater wisdom and care in your life.  

Geeta

 

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Parenting & Mindfulness

I hope you are doing well on this brand new day. And I have a little gift for you.

As you may know, I used to work at the University of Texas at Austin. During that time, I met incredible people from across the campus who were dedicated to making the world a more equal, loving, and respectful place. One of the most dynamic professionals I worked with was the Dean of Students (at the time), Teresa Graham Brett.

Since our days at UT, we have both started our own ventures. My work with Joyful Living, and her work is called Parenting for Social Change.

Teresa is also a huge advocate and practitioner of mindfulness.

For Teresa, she uses it in daily life as a mom of two boys, and in her professional work with families who are wanting to parent from a new paradigm of equality and respect. I’ve worked with parents, too, and see the impact of mindfulness in their families.

Anyway, Teresa and I ended up connecting and talking and loving what the other was doing – so we experimented with filming two of these conversations. I’m so honored to share our discussion with you.

If you ever feel like you could use a bit more mindfulness in your relationships, with your children or in your life, enjoy this interview.

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(There’s also an audio file you can download if that works better for you!)

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Want to take it a step further? Bring more mindfulness to your relationships with this
free workbook and foster connection and awareness in yourself and your relationships.



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A Look into Loving Kindness

IMG_6714When I began meditating in 2004, it was a refuge for me as I navigated the stressors of life. It wasn’t always an easy journey, but I could see the positive change in my life as I practiced. Mindfulness took meditation a step further because it brought in the heart component.

Before I taught mindfulness, I always worked from a heart-centered approach. I knew this, owned it, and treasured it. So when I learned that mindfulness combined being present in each moment with kind attention, it transformed my life.

In the days of the Buddha, as he shared the importance of meditation he also talked about practicing loving-kindness. In traditional or ancient texts in Sanskrit literature this was called maitri, and was spoken about in depth.

As I teach mindfulness, I am intentional to bring in the heart piece – the loving kindness – and what I’ve recently been referring to as, befriending.

Befriending.

When we befriend ourselves, when we befriend our desires, our pains, our failures, our struggles, our journey… we practice loving-kindness.

To some people, loving-kindness does not resonate. They find it too light, or too soft, and the words lose their power.

So I’ve been experimenting with the concept of befriending. Because friendship is a visceral, often impactful, experience.

How does this sound to you? I’d love to know which connects with you and how.

And if you’re inspired to learn more, I recommend this Meditation on Loving Kindness.

Wishing you well,
Geeta

P.S. If you’re looking to cultivate more loving kindness towards yourself, I invite you to join me at my free Introduction to Mindfulness classes this Fall. Learn how they may serve you here.

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What do you want to let go of?

Hello dear friend,

Last week I wrote about Spring and encouraged you to observe what is awakening in you.

Today, I want to ask another important question,
“What do you want to let go of?” 

As Winter has passed, many things are changing. Last week I took my camera along for an afternoon of exploring this one question with kindness and curiosity. To learn about change and letting go I turned to the two best teachers I know – nature in its exquisite beauty and my heart which resonates to it.

NarrowsButterflies-02With the stillness of heart and mind, and the feel of the gentle breeze in the meadow of flowers I began to really understand what letting go means.

I took the attached photo just as I came to realize these simple and profound truths about letting go:

The seed had to let go the safety of the shell and open to the nurturing of the warmth of the sun, the dark of the night. It had to let go of being a seed and trust that it can be so much more even as it squeezed its fragile little green body out of the hard shell. It had to allow the rains to soak into its soul and let go of its fear of the future to grow into a lovely green plant that could learn to dance in the wind.

The little green bud you see in the photo has to trust to give in with grace to the transformation to its greatest potential – unafraid to allow nature’s paintbrush to create its colorful magic.

And then, at just the right time, with all her wisdom, nature arranges for a love affair between two fearless beings who have let go. The butterfly who had the courage to allow itself to be so much more beautiful than the chrysalis or the caterpillar it used to be. And the flower which used to be a seed and will again become a seed.

It is only this letting go that opens us up to the potential for so much beauty, grace and growth.

So with all the delicate care this moment invites, I ask myself again, what am I invited to let go of? I consider thoughts, behaviors, or beliefs that no longer serve me. For me, these thoughts are usually around moments when I get caught in frustration, anger, expectations, feelings of guilt or inadequacy, or worrisome beliefs that ultimately cause disconnection and distrust within myself. These moments when I feel so much smaller than what my potential is.

In mindfulness, in the stillness, I can turn towards those uncomfortable thoughts. When I shine loving attention on them, I can more easily let them go – they are no longer part of this season in my life. In fact I welcome the letting go as an invitation change into a wiser and more fully alive heart, mind and body.

Again, I invite you to gently take a few breaths, and open up to these questions:

What has passed?
What thoughts or beliefs no longer serve me?
What can I let go of?
What can I open to as I let go?

This opening may bring up a range of emotions or reactions. Practice allowing it all, with love and compassion for yourself.

As always, I’m sending heartfelt wishes for ease and well being for you and your loved ones.

In gratitude,
Geeta

 

 

 

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What is stirring in you?

Joyful LivingAs I stop to look around me, I become aware of the incredible signs of Spring. Flowers are blooming, the air is becoming more humid and heavy, the wind blows branches and leaves, and the sun seems more crisp and bright.

I also notice stirrings in my own life. Areas are beginning to bloom, brighten, and grow. And this stirring invites me to gently turn towards those new thoughts or feelings, and observe them with such delicate kindness. Always attempting to practice this noticing without judgment – leaving behind the impulse to fix anything – cultivating awareness and tending.

So now I offer three questions to serve your own mindfulness journey and exploration:
What is stirring in you?
How are you tending to it? 

What is your personal Spring showing you?

This is an opportunity to take a few moments, right now, and turn towards yourself with compassion and curiosity, and just notice what arises.

If you can, take a long inhale, and a long exhale. Read the questions, continue to breathe slowly, and begin to gently turn towards your heart.

As always, I’m sending heartfelt wishes for ease and well being for you and your loved ones.

In gratitude,
Geeta

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Rainy Day Mindfulness

 

It’s a coldSunset in the Berkshires in Northwestern Massachusetts, February 2010 rainy day in Austin, Texas – with “not a sky in the clouds” as my friend likes to say.  I know there are parts of the country that are much colder as we welcome February into 2015.

I am sitting by the window, listening to the rain and sipping a hot cup of tea. And as I sit,  turning fully toward the moment, I realize that while rainy and cold days can get me down, they can also be an invitation to just a little more care, kindness and warmth towards oneself.

Here are a few things to practice on a cold rainy day – spending a few moments to gift yourself a little extra warmth, kindness and care.

  • Take a few deep breaths (feeling your belly rise as you inhale and your shoulders soften as you exhale). And as you breath in and out, invite a gentle attention to your heart center and feel your warm heart beating in your body.
  • Perhaps bring yourself a warm drink and spend a few mindful moments with yourself and the drink – just feeling the warmth of the cup in your hands. As you raise the cup to your lips, feeling the steam and aromas rise to meet you. Fully tasting the sips of the drink and feeling the warmth of that drink nourish your body and spirit.
  • Invite yourself to offer the same care and attention to a hot nourishing meal in the evening if you are moved to do so.
  • Wrap yourself in some warmth – offer a little comfort for your body – a favorite sweater, a soft sweatshirt, a cozy blanket or a pair of warm soft socks. Offering these little gifts of kindness and noticing exactly how it makes you feel when you really pay kind attention.
  • And while you are at it, how about sharing a heartfelt warm smile or hug with someone around you? You may be surprised at how simple and heartwarming it is when you give it your whole hearted attention even for just a second.

IMG_6974Take a tiny moment to offer yourself some gratitude for these little gifts of warmth today, dear friend.

Just a few precious moments of mindfulness and kindness can make all the difference. Thank you for your practice of kindness and care.

 

 

 

 

 

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The gift of dogs…and poetry!

Geeta CowlagiA few weeks ago, I concluded leading my second 8-week course on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction. It was an amazing time, and I was honored to spend 8 Tuesday nights with this incredible group of doctors, therapists, mothers, fathers, educators, and more. I was breath taken at moments by the levels of discovery and vulnerability they were willing to dive into.

Also in the planning of this course, I intentionally tried to create and craft a safe place – a peaceful place – a place where people could meditate, reflect, and support themselves and each others. I imagined a beautiful setting of silence, ease, and spaciousness.

Then came the dogs.

One of the major components of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course is a day long SILENT retreat. I’ve been a participant at numerous silent retreats, so I was eager to host my own. I had it all planned out, the space was wonderful, lunch was going to be nourishing and easily provided. Everyone gathered, and the day began.

And then…the dogs.

As it turns out, the facility we were using also hosted dog training classes on this particular Saturday. So, while I was trying to guide the students through meditation, and inviting them to take meditative walks, there was a constant background of dogs, and trainers.

My brain went crazy! (How interesting, right?) How dare they not tell me this was planned? Why are the trainers so loud? These dogs are barking constantly! Oh no…now all of my class is going to get NOTHING from this. This is ruining MY silent retreat!

I checked in with myself, and in one of the most challenging of situations – began to employ the methods of mindfulness that I teach. I took breaths, was compassionate with myself, and then in turn was compassionate with others. It wasn’t easy, but by the end of the day I could look back and be entertained by the situation as opposed to so deeply triggered.

And what’s even more valuable, is that the students talked about how the day was truly transformative. Some students could completely turn the dogs off, while others invited the dogs into their consciousness. Despite the external situation, each of the students got massive growth and learning out of the silent retreat. That is massively mindful.

I am already anticipating planning the next silent retreat for my Spring class, and am considering bringing those dogs back. 😉

Below I am offering a poem that I recently shared with my Fall class. I hope it serves you.

In gratitude,
Geeta

 

Little Gidding V
By: T.S. Eliot

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half heard, in the stillness
Between the two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always–
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of things shall be well

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