When I first heard about “Forest Bathing,” I had a mental image of a claw-footed tub situated among moss covered stones and babbling brooks. Was it part of some sort of elegant outdoor spa?
Forest bathing, or Shinrin-Yoku, began in Japan in the 1980s when the government chose to acknowledge its population’s stress epidemic. What could be done? How could they provide the entire country with a solution to work-related anxiety?
The Japanese government commissioned its scientists to dig deep (pun intended) into studies relating to the health benefits of spending time in nature. After all, Japan boasts a lot of incredible – and incredibly varied – parks and outdoor spaces.
What scientists discovered, and what is consistently confirmed by subsequent studies, is that time in nature is actually very beneficial to the human physiology, and the human psyche. Inside and out, spending up to 2 hours of uninterrupted time in direct contact with nature can lower blood pressure, calm anxiety, encourage deeper sleep at night, and help balance many of the body’s natural rhythms.
Shinrin-Yoku can be translated “taking in the atmosphere of the forest” or “bathing in the atmosphere of the forest” – hence, the term Forest bathing!
I had the opportunity to participate in a Forest Bathing experience, led by a certified guide, while Sam and I vacationed near Burlington, Vermont, last week (US training for sanctioned Forest Bathing guide certification began in the early 2010’s). The guide, Duncan Murdoch, led us on an incredibly revitalizing session across Shelburne Farms.
Two hours of various exercises (or “invitations”) giving us permission to directly encounter and interact with nature using all of our senses – exploring what we saw, what we heard, even what we could touch! I was much reminded of my own instinctive meditation training.
Everywhere I turned, I felt like I was reconnecting to the wonder and marvel that I experienced as a child playing in my own backyard. One of the culminating moments of the experience found me crawling through the grass on my hands and knees, all the way up a hill where we watched the sun set across Lake Champlain, over the Adirondack Mountains. It was heavenly.
When’s the last time you took time to pause in nature and look around you?
Have you noticed how many different colors you see?
Have you stopped to watch all the movement we often overlook – the busy birds and insects, the wind in each branch or blade of grass?
Have you listened to the sounds of nature, or to your own footsteps outside in the grass or even on the pavement?
When’s the last time you put your ear to a tree and heard the creaking of its upper branches swaying in the wind?
A full two hours of uninterrupted time in nature is said to give you an entire month’s worth of benefits. Try getting outside and finding a “sit spot” (a place to sit and witness nature) the next time you’re able, and just bear witness!
I don’t quite know why, but it’s taken me years to finally write about Fort Tryon.
Every year, when I organize my “Walk the Island” event with friends, walking the length of Manhattan on July 4th, I always think, this would be the perfect time to write about living in NYC.
After all, I love to share the history and geology of the island I’ve grown to call home. I’m always talking up a storm on these walks, and I had a strong desire at one time to be a tour guide, here.
What usually happens, though, is that I get swept up in the event itself, bask in the experience of being in the moment… and then forget completely to sit down and share it with others. And that’s… rather selfish, maybe?
But when people talk about spending the day in a park uptown, they don’t often go all the way to Inwood Hill Park (even though I obviously recommend it every now and then). Usually people are talking about a visit to Fort Tryon Park.
And what’s not to love? Located in Washington Heights, just south of Inwood and Inwood Hill Park, it features fabulous gardens, a giant terrace with a panoramic view of the Hudson, space to sunbathe and picnic, lovely bridges and stunning natural rock structures… and a medieval art museum that looks like a Romanesque monastery!
Before waxing on and on about the 20th century history of the area, it’s important to emphasize that this land originally belongs to the Lenape people. According to the Fort Tryon Trust, the local tribe referred to themselves as the Wiechquaesgeck, and called the area Chquaesgeck, before the Dutch arrived in the 1600s – they finally took control of the land in the 1700s (you can still visit the Dyckman Farmhouse Museum in Inwood as an example of life in that era – it was built in 1785!)
Additionally, Fort Tryon and the area around it played a major role in the American Revolutionary War (more on that, later!)
But did you also know, prior to it being a park, it used to be the site of a giant mansion… and that the driveway to that mansion still exists, if you know where to look for it?
The mansion belonged to one C.K.G. Billings, who was heir to the …, one of the wealthy elite from the Gilded Age. The mansion was built in 1907, though Billings soon tired of it (!!!) and sold the entire proprerty to John D. Rockefeller for $35,000 per acre. Rockefeller wanted to turn the property into a park, but did not want the house – and planned to demolish it! Though public outcry saved the structure, it went the way so many buildings did… and burned to the ground in the mid 1920s.
But Rockefeller then succeeded in his vision of creating a park on the property, hiring the Olmstead Brothers (of Central Park fame) to design it. The cloisters museum was added in the 1930s, housing medieval art donated by the Rockefeller estate. Over the years, throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, more additions and renovations have solidified the park as one of the most beautiful escapes in all of Manhattan.
But what about the Billings driveway?
From the Heather Gardens at the lower end of the park (just inside the Southern entrance, from the 190th street exit on the A train – take the elevator up) if you go due east, toward the Hudson River, and keep going down…
First, you’ll arrive on a small terrace with an absolutely stunning view of the George Washington Bridge. This was part of the driveway itself, as it snaked up toward the top of the hill. You can continue the slope to the right, and follow the curve around and below, or…
There is a staircase to the left, and at the bottom you’ll find yourself in a peculiar spot with an archway underneath the terrace, with places in the ceiling where chandeliers may have once gently swayed, and large stone structures that mark the entrance to what was once the large and elegant driveway to the main house.
Here’s a glance of the house with the driveway intact, for perspective.
The driveway was a very difficult part of the estate to construct, and was actually designed by a Japanese military engineer, General Nogi, and cost $250,000. It’s constructed from the same rock that was blasted out of the hill in which it is constructed!
All in all, Fort Tryon is full of marvel, and even an entire day might not give you enough time to explore every corner (I’ll have to explain a bit more of its American Revolution days in my next post!) If you’re ever in New York City, and fancy a getaway with astounding views of the Hudson, stunning flower gardens, a medieval art museum, and so much more… plan a trip to Fort Tryon Park!
April in New York, magnolias in blossom,Picnics beneath flowering cherry trees,...April in New York, who can I run to?
What have you done to my heart?
When my husband and I moved to New York City back in 2014, it was the middle of November. Looking back, I don’t think I’d ever visited Manhattan during the warm months of the year. I’d never experienced Spring or Summer in the Big Apple.
A good friend of mine who lived here at the time told us, “Just wait. In Spring, you’ll truly fall in love with the city.”
She wasn’t kidding. And she was 100% correct.
I’m sure I’ve pointed out in previous posts just how green the city is. We learned once during a presentation with NYC Cares that the amount of green space throughout the five boroughs was enough to fill the entire area of Manhattan at least twice over! And among all that green space are a lot of flowering plants and trees. And I do mean a lot.
Pictured, from top to bottom, left to right: dogwood, daffodil, weeping cherry (pink), cherry and tulip, weeping cherry (white), forsythia, magnolia, cherry, and a hill of tulips!
We recently passed the year mark for the pandemic (and the “shelter-in-place” mandate of mid-March, 2020) and since that time last year, we’ve been taking a 3-mile walk every morning through at least two of the green spaces near our home, including Morningside Park, where most of the above pictures were taken. So, we’re now seeing our second Spring season on these walks, and every day, getting to see the flowers slowly opening, or fully blossoming, and the leaves following suit, is truly a meditative experience.
In addition to the gorgeous spaces we encounter daily, nearby, there are at least 4 distinct gardens throughout the five boroughs known as “botanical gardens,” (plus a “conservatory garden” in Central Park) that are dedicated to the beauty of nature and plants. And just last weekend, we got to visit the biggest one – the New York Botanical Garden.
And every so often the NYBG brings in an artist whose work is spread out not only inside the conservatories, but outside around the grounds as well, and this year, that artist is Yayoi Kusama.
According to its site, the NYBG is the largest botanical garden in any U.S. city – over 250 acres – and it’s situated in Bronx Park, an idyllic spot chosen in the late 1800s by eminent botanists, Nathaniel Lord & Elizabeth Britton, after visiting the gardens of Kew, London. Now a National Historic Landmark, it boasts over 1 million plants, including an enormous Victorian-style glass conservatory, an award-winning rose garden, over 50 acres of forest, as well as areas dedicated to magnolias, cherry trees, daffodils, maples, conifers, herbs and other edible plants, and so much more. It also has a very robust education side, as well, including adult education classes, workshops for children, an edible academy, and even a professional school of horticulture!
Currently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, you must register tickets in advance, even for grounds-only access. The Kusama exhibits are extremely popular, so you’ll have to plan months in advance if you want to have access to the Conservatory or other indoor exhibits. But there’s plenty on the grounds to enjoy!
Everywhere we turn, it seems, there are flowers, flowering trees, and plants just bursting with beautiful activity. Last weekend and this weekend a hidden garden on West 89th street, the Westside Community Garden, is hosting a Tulip Festival to celebrate its Spring blooms. Two blocks from where we live, on the campus of City College (past a striking magnolia), is a young peach tree that has just exploded with flowers. The 19th century catholic church down the block is flocked by Japanese Flowering Cherries, much like those lining the College Walk on Columbia University’s Morningside campus (see below). Tomorrow we plan to bike to Central Park and walk through the conservatory garden and hope to see the crabapples in bloom.
I hope you have time and the space to take in some of nature’s wonders, this season (and every season). May the blossoming of flowers and the growth of new life parallel the blossoming of new adventures and opportunities for you.
And with that, here are even more pictures from our NYBG excursion. Most of them are from the perennial garden in front of the Conservatory, but you’ll notice the grove of magnolias from an area of the gardens dedicated to them (what you see is only a fraction!) and then another Kusama exhibit in the pond at the center of the Native Plant collection. Incidentally, the main photo of my blog is of the Native Plant collection, in the Fall! The Kusama piece, pictured here, is made up of dozens of free floating mirrored orbs that move with the water, bumping and squeaking against one another. It’s titled “Narcissus Garden,” and was first created and shown in 1966. I took a short video of the movement of the orbs, but unfortunately it didn’t turn out well!
Don’t forget to plan your own NYBG visit, here. And if you don’t live in the city and want to plan a future trip, here, consider visiting during the Spring season. You’ll fall even more in love with the city, if you do. My friend and I are in complete agreement about that.
If you’re from New York City, or have lived here for any amount of time, you might be familiar with that mythical land known as The Hudson Valley.
For those without cars (which was us for the first five and a half years of living here in Manhattan) this magical place was only a short train ride away, watching the Hudson River landscape roll by as the train traveled north and stopped at wonderful places like Tarrytown, Cold Spring, or Beacon. The perfect day trip escapes!
Once in Cold Spring or Beacon, you might discover portions of what is known as the Hudson Highlands – Breakneck Ridge and Mount Beacon, near Beacon, and Mt. Taurus or “Bull Hill” in Cold Spring (and check out all the ruins). Further east, these hills lead into what are known as the Taconic Mountains, stretching into Connecticut and up into the Berkshires.
But across the Hudson, these hills blend into the Catskill Mountains, technically not a series of mountains, but a mature dissected plateau that stretches from the Hudson River west to the Appalachian Mountains, blending into the Poconos Mountains of Pennsylvania and the Shawagunk Ridge, or Gunks, to the Southwest.
Check out our route (we drove up to New Paltz from Manhattan) and this guide to the Northeast Appalachians (source unknown):
A couple weeks ago we decided to take a week off of work to venture north, barely two hours away from our home in the city, to nestle into an AirBnB near the Gunks and the Catskills. Base camp was a few miles west of Stone Ridge, NY – situated comfortably between two of our favorite Hudson Valley stops, Kingston and New Paltz!
(If you’re only interested in the shops and restaurants we visited on our trip… scroll all the way down and skip all the pictures!)
The areas west of the Hudson aren’t accessible by train or public transportation, so a car was essential. Here are some amazing things we learned and experienced!
On our first day of exploring, we decided to walk along the Ashokan Reservoir. This reservoir is the source of water from which we drink every single day, at home! It’s sent down to the city through an underground aqueduct, powered by gravity, and supplies the entire New York City area with water. Signs around the reservoir claim that the water so clean, naturally, that very little filtration and cleaning is needed before it reaches NYC!
And other signs point out that this area is a popular spot for bald eagles to nest. And not much longer after we read this, we actually watched a bald eagle leave a group of trees along the shore and fly out across the reservoir.
Our next adventure included a visit to the vibrant town of Woodstock (incidentally, not the site of the infamous Woodstock Festival of ’69, which happened about 50 miles away, but carrying a spiritual and “hippie” vibe all its own – though definitely related) and a hike up Overlook Mountain.
Overlook Mountain comes complete with an abandoned hotel, the Overlook Mountain House (also, not Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel from The Shining – that honor belongs to the Stanley Hotel in Colorado… but I bet it’s still creepy at night!)
At the summit stands a fairly wobbly fire tower – which we only climbed halfway due to wind and sheer terror – from which we were able to get some incredible views (see if you can spot the abandoned hotel again in that last picture… and check out the frozen lake in the distance!). Amazing to still see so much snow and ice – and even having some trouble on the trails without microspikes or crampons. Meanwhile, the sun was so warm we had no need for our jackets!
One place I can heartily recommend for food if you visit the area is the Phoenicia Diner. I didn’t think to take pictures at the time, because we were so hungry and the food was so exceptional! We actually ate there for two of the three days we were out hiking, because we enjoyed it so much. Incredible food, and on a sunny day their outdoor dining area was the perfect spot to picnic, nestled between among the hills! (See below for full recommendations)
Our last adventure in the Catskills was a failed attempt to climb Slide Mountain – the tallest peak in the Catskills! Our guidebook did warn us about crossing a tributary after a big rainfall to reach the trail… and it had just rained the day before!
Needless to say, it didn’t take long to find another trail to explore. Just down the road was an incredibly popular hike up to a piece of Panther Mountain known as the “Giant Ledge.” While the trail up was mostly an icy stream, the final scrambling climb up steep rocky steps brought us to the a summit with rocky cliffs that granted us more spectacular views… and (oddly) cell service!
Our last evening we decided to dine in Kingston, where we don’t get to spend much evening time, since we’re usually there on a day trip, and have to get back to the dogs. We also gave ourselves time on the way back the next morning to go up and over the Hudson to walk around in Rhinebeck, which is another Hudson Valley town worth visiting (they’ve a wonderful bookstore – see below!)
Here are some of our recommendations from our trip – in a handy list!
West of the Hudson River
Water Street Market – Antique stores, good food, records, and more! LOTS of shops and food in a small space. Everything you need!
How do you celebrate the anniversary of sheltering-in-place?
What moments stand out in your memory when you think back to a year ago, when cities – even whole states – suddenly shut down?
For us, it began the 12th of March. I remember standing in the kitchen, not feeling well, expressing my doubts about whether or not I was feeling up for seeing the show for which we had got discounted tickets that evening. It wasTheInheritance, part 1 (we had tickets to part 2 on Saturday). My husband texted me back – “No theatre tonight.” I replied, well, I wasn’t sure, but I wanted to wait to make a decision in case I started to feel better.
But I had tickets for us to see both parts of The Inheritance, as well as excellent mezzanine tickets to Six, which was to be opening that night (we planned to see it the following Tuesday). And suddenly, those plans were gone.
I had yoga teacher training sessions that weekend, and we all discussed what would happen if the studio had to shut down. “It will only be a few weeks.” “It’s just like the flu – we shouldn’t worry.” What did we know?
It was the last time I’d use public transportation for almost a year. I started working from home the middle of that week – it was a slow period for my job in events for an education non-profit (little did I know just how slow it would be) – but we didn’t expect that we’d be told to continue working from home, or how long it would take.
It would be months before I went back to my office to get anything I left behind.
But, that first week, before the shut-down mandate, two things happened.
Firstly, my husband celebrated his 39th birthday, and our plans to gather with friends were cancelled as we began to grapple with the reality of what might be happening to our city.
This week, both of those things come full circle, and I get to step back and consider where I am – where we are – in this moment in time.
I remember writing “Happy Birthday, Sam!!!” on the blackboard wall we painted in our kitchen. I was so excited for everything we’d planned – for his birthday, then, and for the rest of the year. Travel, celebrations, performances, family.
I left those words on the wall of our kitchen for an entire year. At first, I did it because I was sure the celebration was just on pause, and we’d be gathering with friends and picking up where we left off, soon enough.
But soon, it was clear that we wouldn’t be “in the clear” for months, at least. So I left it as a reminder for us to look forward to coming through to the other side of the pandemic. There would be things to look forward to!
But also, I left it there to remind me of what I had, and what I was lucky and privileged to have. Someone with whom to share this experience.
This is an image I shared soon after the decision to shut down NYC – I saw a lot of panic and frustration and anxiety… and probably felt all of those things, too, myself. I scribbled it quickly on a sheet in my journal and took a picture. And then, on the 20th of March, I put out a guided meditation… a meditation that I would end up sharing now every Friday evening as part of a regular guided meditation session I’ve been leading since this past December. (The Loving-Kindness meditation, which I wrote about here!)
There have been ups and downs, but this Friday I get to lead that same meditation again, and yesterday we celebrated my husband’s 40th birthday – family members calling in on our new Alexa devices – and I gave him a damp rag and let him wipe the blackboard clean.
Time to look forward to what’s next. Spring, and the Equinox, are arriving at such a perfect time.
If someone stopped you on the street and asked you, “How many senses does a human being have?” you might wonder why they stopped you on the street for such a silly question… because of course you’d probably answer with the number most of us grew up learning: “5.”
Thanks to Aristotle, we’ve grasped that there are 5 basic senses: Sight, Smell, Hearing, Taste, and Touch.
But what if I told you the human had 21 senses? And that these included such subtle senses as Pain, Motion, Balance, Temperature, Joint-Awareness, and even Breath (oxygen levels – the sense that we need to breathe), or Hunger (blood sugar levels – the sense that we need food). Check out a chart here with lists of these 21 different senses.
But what if that person asked you a second question… “What’s your favorite sense?” Would that strike you as a bit… odd?
In the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra, an ancient yoga manual for meditating through direct lived experience, the Sanskrit word used for “the senses” is Indriya, which loosely translates as “companions to Indra” (king of the gods), or “companions of the divine.”
The Radiance Sutras is Dr. Lorin Roche’s poetic translation of the Vijanana Bhairava Tantra, and speaks beautifully to the divinity of the senses. Formatted as a conversation between Bhairava, or Shiva, the Supreme Consciousness, and his lover/consort Shakti, the energetic Embodiment of Creation, the text is comprised of several verses, or “sutras,” and each one is a way to dive into meditative awareness; and, as opposed to other meditative philosophies that speak of shutting out or denying the senses, The Radiance Sutras is all about the senses.
Consider the opening lines to sutra 9:
The senses declare an outrageous world – Sounds and scents, ravishing colors and shapes, Ever-changing skies, iridescent reflections – All these beautiful surfaces Decorating vibrant emptiness. The god of love is courting you, Light as a feather.
The Radiance Sutras (2014), Sutra 9
By allowing ourselves to encounter the world through the senses, and to enjoy what we encounter, we’re able to mindfully connect more with ourselves and with the world around us. For those who are more spiritually minded, this is a connection to the divine within!
But just listening that opening line, about the “outrageous world,” brings to mind all the taboos against sensuality. What are we allowed to “enjoy”? What are we not allowing ourselves? What if something feels too “worldly”? Too “sexual”? Too “sinful”? Think of all the messages we tell ourselves about the senses. “Guilty pleasures,” we sometimes call them. What message are we sending ourselves when we can’t even enjoy full sensory experience?
One of my favorite people to follow on Instagram right now is Colin Bedell, aka @QueerCosmos, and a good friend of mine highlighted one of his posts to me recently, about desire. Talking about the recent Mars transition into Gemini, he quotes Esther Perel, psychotherapist and best-selling author, who defines desire as the “owning of the wanting.” What “wants” do we have that we’re afraid to “own”? Colin asks, “Are there particular wantings in my life that I need to own with more self-acceptance and authenticity?” Recognizing that we need to make space to acknowledge ways in which policing and surveillance have taught us not to act on certain desires we wish we could express, he takes the astrological opportunity for us to give voice to desires by asking ourselves, “Who do I want to be? To do what I want to do? And to have the results I want to have expressed?”
Colin’s point applies brilliantly to much more than the subtle world of the human sensory experience, but I felt the connection! There is joy and freedom in encountering the world through the senses and allowing ourselves to give in to that “outrageous world” that we might otherwise shy away from, shutting off some of our own potential and growth. How does my experience with and interaction with the world of the senses reflect who I want to be? What I want to do? The results I want to have expressed?
So… What’s your favorite sense? What’s your favorite sensory memory? What senses do you love that others might find “outrageous”? What have you been calling a “guilty pleasure”?
Allow it! Close your eyes and breathe it in. Marinate in it. Find that brief meditative experience through your encounter with “an outrageous world.”
Give yourself permission to luxuriate in all the senses this week!
Ring out, bells of Norwich, and let the winter come and go
All shell be well again, I know.
Love, like the yellow daffodil, is coming through the snow.
Love, like the yellow daffodil, is Lord of all I know.
~ "Julian of Norwich," a song by Sydney Carter (based on the writings of Julian Norwich)
One of the benefits of working from home during the pandemic is that my husband and I now take walks every day, instead of scrambling to get on a crowded subway – and we get to engage with the natural world much more intimately. I’m grateful to have been able now to have witnessed all four seasons, up close.
And as we walked through Morningside Park earlier this week, my husband pointed out the green tips of the park’s army of daffodils starting to push through the surface of the earth – a signal that the world is waking up from its cold slumber.
And then, just as we left the park, I happened to glance through the iron fence, and saw this marvel:
“It’s confused,” my husband said. We laughed, but still we were still in awe. After all, this was the very first Spring flower we had seen, appearing naturally in the cold earth. I’m sure its blossoms didn’t survive the winter mix we had the very next day, or would survive the snow we’re supposed to get later this weekend. But still… it was a sign!
If you’re not familiar with the pagan/Celtic calendar, next Monday, the 1st of February, is celebrated as Imbolc, one of the cross-quarter days that exist between the solstices and equinoxes (it’s also celebrated as Brigid’s Day, St. Brigit’s Day, and Candelmas).
Imbolc lies halfway between the Winter Solstice behind us and the Spring Equinox before us. Imbolc, from a word which could mean anything from “ewe’s milk,” to “in the belly” (referencing pregnancy in animals) to “ritual cleansing,” is when we celebrate our seeing the natural signs of Spring approaching. Ewes start to give milk, reassuring farmers with another supply of food after a long winter, and signaling the start of the reproductive cycle of nature. It’s the perfect time to get a jump on Spring Cleaning!
And, what else happens around this time? The very first Spring Flowers begin to appear.
This little daffodil, this brave, mighty symbol of the slow approach of warmer weather, reminded me of the sacred connection many have with another beautiful flower that blooms in what we’d argue are less-than-ideal circumstances.
For anyone who may frequent, or even occasionally visit, yoga studios, you might be familiar with the story of the lotus flower. Lotuses are everywhere in Yoga and Buddhist imagery, and feature in lots of meditations, mudras, and even chakra imagery.
What’s so special about the lotus? Check out this Zen proverb:
“May we exist like the lotus, At home in muddy water. Thus, we bow to life as it is.”
Zen Proverb – Source Unknown
You see, the lotus seed roots itself in the mud and scum of the river bottom, or the bottoms of ponds or flood-plains, rising up through the murky water to blossom above the water, in the open air. These beautiful, full, multi-petaled flowers are in contrast to the dark and unpleasant conditions that might exist beneath the surface. Thus, to be “like the lotus” is to allow ourselves to grow through the murkiness of our own lives and blossom in spite of the mud, in spite of the supposed darkness.
How is the daffodil like the lotus?
Like the lotus, the daffodil is struggling up through ground that symbolically appears almost inhospitable – the dark, murkiness of the pond, and the cold, hard Winter ground.
Like the lotus, the daffodil symbolizes the ongoing cycle of nature, regardless of the circumstances. Both the lotus and the daffodil “bow to life as it is,” and blossom, anyway. Even, like the daffodil, when there is the threat of weather that might destroy that blossom.
Like the lotus, the daffodil shows us what is to come. We don’t see the lotus growing in the muck until we see the flower appear above the water. We don’t see the work of the daffodil growing in the Winter ground until it starts to grow and bloom above the surface.
So, going into the next few weeks of winter, keep your eye out for those first flowers of Spring as they appear in the ground. I encourage you to take walks and keep looking for them, and celebrate when you find them. In the spirit of Imbolc, instead of seeing only the mud, the “final weeks of Winter,” know that the flowers are doing the work, and it’s only a matter of weeks before we see the hard work turn into the cornucopia of Spring!
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Not to disappoint, I ended the year with a round of coronavirus. I started feeling ill and had a low fever on the 29th of December, accompanied by aches and waves of fatigue. The fever went away, and I wasn’t sure even that it was COVID, until everything came back with a vengeance the following Sunday, just after the start of the New Year, and I went to get tested. The test came back positive.
I’m one of the lucky ones, to be sure. I only had a mild case, with nothing affecting my lungs. Still, the fatigue, and the unrelenting achiness, and the massive headache – even a mild case is something I would not wish on anyone. Sadly, I have lost friends to much more severe cases, and many others who have family that have succumbed, as well. To those who lost family or friends to this virus, my hearts are with you. Let’s all continue to be safe! The end is in sight!
But I’d had a whole “Yule + New Year” themed post planned for that week, with musings on the transition brought on by the Solstice and how the newly extending light of the Sun impacts (for me) the intentions I like to set for the New Year…
But, here we are!
And, the importance of shifts, of changes, of growth… it’s all still happening!!
Tonight is the first new moon of the New Year, and it’s a New Moon in Capricorn! If you don’t know what that means, this is the PERFECT time to take stock of our intentions for the new year. New Moons are all about rebirth, and Capricorn is a practical sign, a determined sign, so now is the best time to approach our to-do lists [and our hopes & dreams for 2021] in a rational, responsible way!
Take a thought to how things may be changing or shifting around you. What do you want to get done this week? Maybe it’s something you’ve been putting off, or a project you can’t wait to start. Maybe there have been internal shifts, meaning you need to pause and sit with yourself, and see where you’re growing, and where you may need to do some weeding!
I invite you to take the time you need to show yourself some loving-kindness and compassion (not that you need anyone’s permission but your own). Listen to what is changing or shifting, and let go of what is no longer serving you. We got this! … or, we will!
I’m starting back into my guided meditations this week – just dipping my toe back in – and welcome you to join me!
And thank you to all who joined me on this journey and donated to my cause – we raised $150 for the American Nurses Foundation’s Coronavirus Response Fund for Nurses, and motivated others to donate to other charities of their choice, or reach out to those they knew who were struggling. However we could pay it forward, we ended the year doing a lot of good!
I want to invite you all to a special meditation tomorrow evening (Friday, December 18), in collaboration with Reiki master Autumn Mirassou, of Autumn Reiki.
I’ll be leading the “loving-kindness” (or “metta”) meditation tomorrow at 5:30 PM (EST), and Autumn will be directing Reiki energy to all of us on the call. (Questions about Reiki? See below or leave me a comment and I can connect you with Autumn!)
Many refer to Reiki energy as Universal Life Force Energy, and the practice of Reiki healing is Japanese in origin, first brought to our awareness by Mikao Usui in the 1920s. Healers transmit this life force energy into their clients, most often through the hands – but Reiki operates outside the confines of time and space. In fact, I received Reiki from Autumn virtually during the pandemic, and it was just as thrilling an experience as meeting her in person!
You’ll actually find Reiki healers at many hospitals employed to help induce relaxation and reduce stress, with an end goal of helping to heal the body, mind, or spirit. Studies are continually providing evidence of Reiki’s effects on the human body and psyche.
I hope you’ll consider joining us on this journey, and perhaps joining me for future meditations. I’ll start providing a schedule of them, here!
It began after a weekend meditation module of my 300 hour yoga teacher training recently, at Sonic Yoga, when I was offered the opportunity to lead the class in meditation. I chose one of my favorites, a variation of the Buddhist “Metta” or “Loving-Kindness” meditation, as it had been taught to me by Lauren Hanna.
My teacher, Sarah Ireland, encouraged me to continue this practice, and share this with more people. We agreed it was so important right now.
With people going back to periods of isolation, a time of shutting down and shutting in during a time when most families want to be together – a time when, statistically, people already struggle emotionally – a meditation of compassion would be so important. And I’d shared it before, during a similar time.
When NYC first announced that it would be shutting everything down, back in March… back when people were beginning to be sent home to work remotely, businesses, gyms, restaurants, all were closing, I shared this exact message in a video I sent to YouTube.
The variation I learned starts out like this:
May I be filled with Loving-Kindness.
May I be Well.
May I be Peaceful, and at Ease.
May I be Happy.
"May I enjoy happiness and the root of all happiness."
Repeating this phrase, or these phrases, over and over, you bring that feeling of comfort into your self, showing yourself compassion, wishing yourself well. It’s often a very difficult practice on its own, but it doesn’t stop there.
Once you feel saturated with loving-kindness, it’s time to turn that feeling outward. This outward focus is exactly why I felt the meditation was so useful for these uncertain times. The mantra (as it was taught me) then becomes as follows:
May you be filled with loving-kindness.
May you be well.
May you be peaceful and at ease.
May you be happy.
Pema Chödrön similarly replaces the “I” of the phrase with “you,” or with the name of a specific person… because there’s a process!!
Direct the meditation toward yourself
Direct the meditation toward a loved one
Direct the meditation toward friends and/or acquaintances
Direct the meditation toward strangers, or people to whom you feel indifferent
Direct the meditation toward someone with whom you are in conflict
Direct the meditation to all of the above
Direct the meditation out to “All Beings”
It sounds like a long process, and it can be, especially when often you feel you can’t get past #1. And that’s 100% okay. There is no rule that says you need to feel so full of loving-kindness all the time that you can always send it out to other people. We must take care of ourselves, first and foremost.
Which brings me back to why I feel it is so important for this time.
We need to show this loving-kindness to our Self. I capitalize Self because I equate it with the Soul – the spark of the divine in each of us (spoiler: it’s the same spark… but that’s for another post). We need to be able to show love and comfort to our Self, and allow our Self to be happy.
And then we need to share that message – to practice empathy. To understand how we’re all connected.