Family Close-ness

Yesterday I learned that we are made of our maternal Grandmothers.  When our mothers are six months gestated in the womb, they receive all the eggs they will ever have.  Our beginning of this physical life takes place there and then.  Perhaps that is why I feel close to my mother’s mother.

This got me thinking about when my daughter, Mila, grew in my womb. She is half-made of her father.  Her father’s essence grew inside of me.  I birthed what became of that essence and care for that being.  It is so intimate.  Maybe this is why it is harder for women to let go when parents separate.

Loving Mila’s father is something innate for me.  When she was in my womb, when she was born and after, loving him and wanting to be close to him is natural.  No matter what my inner and outer world looks like, the love is there.  The love is not made of mind and not even just heart.  He is an extension of her.  Loving him is something innate, physical, biological.

Is this why women often stay in relationships that may not be good for them?  Society thinks it is fear, driven by social and economic pressures.  But, perhaps the driving force is not fear, but, this very raw, physical connection women feel with the men that father their children.

“You grew inside of me,” I told Mila’s father today.  “She is made of you.  Perhaps that is why it is hard to let go.”

An Opportunity for Anger, Judgement and Fear

About ten days ago my landlords told me that they will not renew my lease.  It ends on June 3rd.  As soon as I move out they said they will raise the rent by several hundreds of dollars.  Sensing my shock, they said that I am welcome to reapply to stay in the house.  I reapplied and they chose someone else.

My mind quickly turned to judgement and labels.  They are so greedy.  They know I have a three year old daughter and they are basically kicking us out, etc, etc…Negativity and darkness easily came through my heart and mind.  I started looking for other rentals and quickly realized how hard it is to find a place with such short notice.  Portland is a popular city.  Fear, anxiety, stress paid their visits to me.  Finally, I did what I always do at the toughest times.  I called one of my teachers.

I could barely tell him the story because as soon as I heard his voice, tears came and they would not stop.  Somehow between the sobs, I told him what was happening.  Without a pause, he said, “Reema, your landlords are helping you.  You will find an even better place for you and Mila to live.”

My teachers always amaze me.  Wow, I thought, his mind is so strong.  Negativity doesn’t stand a chance in his being.  This is what I call a strong yogi!

Anger is such a powerful emotion that the antidote for anger in the yoga tradition is the “Unshakeable Wisdom of the Realm of All Things.”  One of the main aspects of this wisdom is a continuous awareness that all beings are angels, helping you, teaching you.  Even if they are being difficult, annoying, harsh, there is a reason and the reason is always the soul’s evolution.

Life can take such challenging turns that our ability to hold this wisdom that all beings, including ourselves, are angels, must be unshakeable to have the power to battle anger.

While on the phone with my teacher, my mind relaxed, my heart softened.  I could breathe again with a little more smoothness and calm.

He continued on the phone, “Instead of placing your energy on your landlords, start to create the vision of your new home.  Write it down.  Exactly what you want.  Get as detailed as possible.  Use your energy to find your new place.”

That night I came home and after Mila slept, I wrote it down.  I drew the home, the neighborhood and surroundings.  I felt so good and free and aligned.

If I let my mind spiral into darkness, the only person I would hurt is myself.  My landlords do not care what I think or say.  Anger only hurts the one who is experiencing it.

I love Yoga because the teachings are not at all about suppressing emotions.  We are meant to experience fully and completely the truth of each moment regardless if the emotion or sensation is pleasant or unpleasant, loving or harsh.  What these teachings do is offer a way out.  For me, it felt good to turn my energy to my new home instead of diving further into negativity.  I did look into the law to understand whether what they were doing is legal or not.  I had spent time talking to other landlords to understand if I was facing injustice.  I came to a place of satisfaction with my research and was ready to move on.

“Every obstacle you face as you find your new home, see it as a purification,” my teacher continued.  “Be receptive to the intuition that comes with each purification.  Furthermore, dedicate all your good actions in the coming days to making the vision of your next home a reality.”

Teachers have a power.  When I spoke to him on the phone – seated 3,000 miles away from him – I was a different person by the end of the conversation.  It was like a miracle. For the first time in days, my body relaxed. I could breathe without feeling heavy rocks in my heart.  I felt hopeful, grateful and radiantly alive.

Teachers have a power when we give them a power.  Our own humility is the base of our teachers power.  I could have hidden in shame the anger I was feeling towards my landlords.  I could have isolated myself in my room letting my mind spiral deeper into dark places.  It was just one moment of humility that saved me and inspired me to make a phone call.

Though I thanked him profusely, I wonder if my teacher realizes how profoundly he helped me.  I wonder if we all realize how profoundly we can help one another.

We are all teachers and healers, if we let ourselves be…




Home practice, Mother’s Day 2015

Feels So Good To Love

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It is what we give that matters.  Not what we get.

Let go of the results of your actions!!!  This is one of the main messages in the yoga scriptures and I am just starting to realize its profundity.

If I feel like I am not going to get love back, I realize I hesitate to give love.  I hold back, get into fear, resentment, anger, jealousy.

But, if I just give love without expecting anything in return and without the fear of how the other will respond, what I am left with is pure good vibes within.

If I hesitate to give and spiral into fear, all I feel is dark, knotted up, sad, confused, frustrated.

I can let the hesitation and fear go, and just open my heart and share my truths; give my love. I feel so good doing this, the response ceases to matter so much.

In the end, it is what we give that matters.  It is what we give that keeps the channels within the body open, clear, flowing, healthy.

It is fear and hesitation that cause knots, imbalance, dis-ease.

So, I feel committed to giving without being concerned about the response or the results. And, this feels so liberating!

Sometimes it takes years for a yoga concept to turn into realization.

Patience and Perseverance.



“The medicine that cures me is the medicine that cures everyone. We are all God.”

Having a baby is like having God arrive in your home.  Except this little God needs you to care for her/him.  And, it is such joy.  This pure, precious spirit in your home, blessing you, brightening you.  We love, we laugh and even in the midst of exhaustion and struggle, we are grateful and honored to have them in our lives.

What happens when we little ones grow into adults?  We forget that we are God.  We forget that each other is God!  We stop treating each other like the miracles that we are.

“The medicine that cures me is the medicine that cures all.  We are all God.” – These are lyrics to a beautiful, indigenous song of South America.  Such lyrics are found in the Yoga traditions of South Asia as well.  When singing mantra in the yoga tradition, it is understood and stated clearly in the scriptures: “We sing to the deity to awaken the deity within.  If you think the deity is one and you another, you do not know.  There is no separation.”

We are all God.  What if we admit this and begin to treat each other with profound respect.  Every being, divine.  Every being, a pure joy to serve rather than a burden.  Every being, a teacher, rather than someone who makes us angry, jealous or prideful.  Every interaction, nothing less than a miracle.

We were not easy as babies.  We gave our parents a tough time and they still loved and took care of us completely.  Well, we are still not easy as adults but can we love each other completely?  Can we still listen to and care for each other like the sensitive and vulnerable beings that we are?

Forgetting that each of us is precious and ceasing to treat each other as God is the beginning of hurt, pain, violence and all of the suffering in the world.

May we remember.



Stretch the Capacity of Your Heart: Rape and Compassion

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 8.11.40 AM  My spiritual practice aims to cultivate a mind and heart that can find compassion for all beings.  After the 2012 rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in India, I was feeling lost and defeated.  I emailed a dear friend, “I can’t find compassion for the men who raped and killed her,” I wrote. “My heart is just not capable of doing that.” My friend, sujatha baliga, is also a teacher to me as well as a lawyer working in restorative justice.

Besides being a graduate from Harvard University, sujatha is a student of the Dalai Lama and has been deep in the study and practice of Buddhism for decades.  Her response radically shifted the state of my heart.  She wrote:

I find it useful to understand where people are coming from when they do the hideous things that they do. What we know is that 53% of children in India are sexually abused, and that over half of those are boys. I have no doubt in my mind that the young men who did this were harmed in some way. People do not act in these ways without trauma of some sort, either physical or psychological or sexual, as the root of their behaviors. Every incarcerated person I have ever met has suffered unthinkable harm in their childhood.

The abuse and harm people suffer in their childhood is never an excuse to go on and do harm. But it is an explanation as to why it happened.  By starting with compassion for what people suffer, and for how it sets them up in part for doing great harm, can be the cause of great compassion from us.  Also, by lovingly bringing people into awareness about the harms that they suffered as children, or in life in general, they are able to start to develop empathy for their victims, and would be victims, and by helping people touch the depths of their own sorrow, they will begin to understand the depths of others sorrow.  And that is how they will begin to stop doing great harm. 

I read her words and cried and cried.  I could feel the knots behind my heart loosen and prana begin to flow.  It was much easier for me to feel compassion for an abused boy than for an adult rapist.  Finally, compassion became a consideration.

sujatha continued,

Many people do things that challenge our capacity to feel compassion. But it is very much our work – even in the wake of the most horrible things done – to be compassionate.

One of the great challenges is mustering up compassion when we feel that the victims of others behaviors are particularly helpless, or when we identify with the victim. In the latter case, where we identify with the victim, the ego is particularly strong in resisting feelings of compassion for those who’ve done great harm.

But this is a particularly wonderful opportunity for stretching the boundaries of our compassion. 

Compassion, however, is not some insipid dictate that has no teeth in the wake of harm. Holding people accountable for the things they have done wrong is, indeed, compassionate. But that doesn’t mean we harm those who have done harm in order to teach them a lesson. Actually, harming those who’ve harmed teaches nothing. Studies show that recidivism does not decrease when we punish harshly.

Nor does harsh punishment deter others from bad behavior. So the execution, or even incarceration for life, of those young men will do nothing to stop them or others from doing harm.

I later spoke to sujatha over the phone.  “We have to understand the needs of our enemies,” she said.

Everything sujatha says is imbued with deep understanding, the stepping stone to compassion.  This is what the Buddha taught; Shanti Paramita; the ability to receive, embrace and transform pain.  The way to do this is to slow down our reactions and make time to look deeply at the root causes for people to hurt others.  From understanding comes forgiveness.  If we go to the other side of anger and hatred, thinking it is better to hurt the other than to understand the other, we continue the cycle of pain.

It is so incredibly difficult.  Pausing, looking deeply, understanding, forgiving are all skills that take time to develop.  Thankfully, through meditation and yoga, we have the tools to develop these qualities and stretch the perceived limits of our hearts.  Thankfully, we have a lineage that is strong and powerful and alive and that guides us step by step.

May we ask for help from our teachers and friends when we need it.  May we empty ourselves of ego and allow another to shower their gifts upon us.  We bow to our teachers in this tradition because our teaches have the ability to transform our hearts and this is priceless.  When we bow, we are never bowing to anything separate from us.  We are bowing to our potential.  May the qualities of awareness, compassion and generosity that I see in sujatha, awaken inside of me.  When I bow, I water the seeds of compassion inside of me and plant the intention for them to grow.



(sujatha baliga prefers her name to not be capitalized) 

Make It Sacred

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 8.13.30 AM“How do you make a moment sacred?” I was asked recently.  I have wondered this many times myself. Do I need to light candles, dress a certain way, decorate my home and yoga spaces with certain touches, etc. The list goes on…how often have I been on the brink of “spiritual materialism;” using material objects to prove one’s spirituality?

A couple of months ago I attended a powerful poetry reading with Coleman Barks and Michael Meade. Meade was reciting some lines of Hafiz, one of which was “Everything is sacred.” I have heard such words many times but for some reason in that moment, the words struck me. I realized the simple, raw truth and a wave of relief swept through me. Yes, everything is sacred already.

The candles, clothing, and decor – can be nice, but they don’t really matter. Everything already is sacred. We are alive. It is a miracle. Every moment, every person – whether the situation is pleasant or unpleasant – is a precious gift.

It is a well-known fact in the spiritual and scientific communities, that the labels in our minds affect the way we experience the world. Quantum physicists say the world is like a cloud of potentiality. Your experience of the world is directly affected by what is in your mind. Tibetan Buddhists echo this with teachings on Shunyata or emptiness. The world is empty of any fixed way of being; people, places, objects are empty of any fixed quality or characteristic. The way we experience every object, place, or person, including ourselves, directly depends on the labels and impressions in our minds. The Indian Yogis have the term “Neti-Neti;” not this-not that. A person or object is not this or that. Your experience is based on your mind.

In the Tibetan Buddhist teachings of Mahamudra, the Buddhists suggest that we label every moment as a gift and every being as an angel. Experience life with that mind! It is a wonderful practice.

The Hindu Tantrikas encourage us to go beyond labels all together.  Let the self be in the void, the emptiness, the cloud of potentiality. Instead of the mind spilling into that space trying to label something “sacred” or “superficial,” just be in the space, the mind empty of labels and let the moment be. Let yourself be. Let the people you are with be. Let universe spill into the void and make the moment beyond you and the other. Create a line of communication between the center of your heart and the universe and let a connection, a dance, a moment simply happen.  As the mind is free of labels, it inevitably becomes free of expectation.

If we are tied to a label or an image of how something needs to look, how can we experience what is actually happening? The miracle and dynamism of every moment can so easily be missed.

Yoga and meditation can help us break free of limiting thoughts that a situation -a job, a relationship, a lifestyle – has to look a particular way. Where do those ideas come from anyway? They are most likely someone else’s.

I find when I allow my mind to be present and open, the moment goes beyond self and other and whatever the magic is that gave us life, that brings us together and that takes us apart, can be included in the moment. The magic is always there, but there is room for my mind to notice, appreciate, and be inspired to stay present.

May we become flexible in our minds as well as our bodies. May we allow ourselves and our children to enjoy a continuous experience of freedom in the mind – free of labels and expectations – allowing each other to experience life with all of its possibilities.

“What your mind dwells on, you become,” says Swami Muktananda. If you are having a tough day, I suggest practicing a meditation where you label yourself as capable, strong, and pure. If you are having a day where you feel steady and strong in yourself, I suggest a meditation practice where you let consciousness rest in the void. Leave the mind out and let universe spill in.