Meditation Challenge


This month, I’m participating in Sharon Salzberg’s Real Happiness Meditation Challenge with a commitment to sit in meditation every day in February.  Last year over 23,000 joined following the program outlined in Real Happiness.  Each week, different meditation practices will be offered.  The commitment is small.  Each day takes less than ten minutes of time.  The first week will focus on a concentration practice.

I’m looking forward to the next few weeks and sharing my experiences. If you’ll be doing this challenge, let me know!

Registration is still open if you want to join us.  Have you ever done a meditation challenge before? If you have, I’d love to hear about it!  If you join,  I’d love to hear about that too!

Here is the link    Commit to Sit 




Sankalpa, Setting intentions & New Year’s Resolutions



This is a good time of year to reflect on the past while making plans for the future.  Many of us are making our New Year’s resolutions.

I recently read an article in the New York Times describing how Deepak Chopra spends his Sundays.  Doing what Deepak does sounds like the basis of a good resolution for the New Year to me.  What does Deepak do?  “There is yoga, there is walking, there is meditation. There is mindfulness, there is reflection, there is detachment – and there is also coffee, lots of coffee.”

Making a resolution is one thing but how do you keep it?  Is there a way to have a better chance on keeping our resolutions?

 Sankalpa is a Sanskrit word for setting intention or direction.  Sankalpa is informed by both the heart and the mind and to me seems much deeper than our traditional use of the word “resolution”.  Using Sankalpa – putting both our heart and mind into our resolution will give us a better chance of keeping it.

   Making resolutions are all about change – changing things in our lives that no longer serve us.  We sense that there is something needing to be changed, and make a resolution to change it.  It may be to lose weight, to exercise more, do more mediation or yoga – really anything.   Sankalpa is the informed way of choosing what you will do or change in your resolutions by making sure you really are committed to the change.


Sometimes we just know that change is needed in our lives.  We know if we make the change we will live better and be happier.  We know deep down that we must change but never seem to start on that path.  So if you are making your resolutions to change in 2019, intend to keep them.  Use your heart and mind to set your intentions.

Sometimes we really need to change something.  If we do not, someone or something may cause us to take notice – perhaps not the best way to cause change for ourselves.

A little bit of Zen wisdom:

If we need to change and we do not do it in our own, oftentimes the world steps in and does whatever it must to make the change happen. One way invites grace, the other does not.  Choose the way of graceful change.  Do what needs to be done. (Zen Live by Daniel Levin)

On the other hand, you may be having trouble coming up with a resolution or finding your sankalpa.  If you are struggling and want to make a resolution take again this wisdom from Zen:

It sounds so easy, and maybe it is:  Stop doing the things that bring pain.  Start doing the things that bring happiness.  – Good advice from the ages for our time here.  

Wishing you peace and happiness in the New Year.





Pencil Post 2: Sharpening

Sharpening the Pencil

Now and then, we have to stop writing and use a sharpener. Sharpening makes the pencil suffer a little, but afterwards, it’s much sharper and better for writing. 



Over time, tools become dull.   Honing or sharpening is used to restore tools to their proper working condition.   Honing creates a more suitable edge needed for proper use.  Sharpening brings a point to the pencil allowing us to more clearly express our thoughts.


The same goes for our practice.  A little suffering – those little pains or sensations that come from holding a pose perhaps a bit longer than normal and noticing our muscles complaining, helps us become sharper, and refocuses our practice.  A tough yoga practice brings up sensations.  Those sensations help us go past the limits that our mind sets for us.


Honing or sharpening improves the tool making it much easier to work with.  A sharpened pencil enhances the writing experience.  A little challenge in your yoga practice makes you an improved yogi. Use your practice to hone yourself to a sharper version of yourself!


Doing something else. Finding your true goal

el capitan



Our final in our removing obstacles series!


Let’s face it, sometimes obstacles are just not meant to be conquered.  There are many underlying causes, from physical, to mental, or even emotional reasons.  In rock climbing, I may never be able to climb the 3000 feet of granite rock called El Capitan.  It is beyond my climbing abilities, and, I have to admit, probably always will be in this lifetime.  Does this mean I should give up climbing?  Of course not!  I can climb other rocks and boulders more accessible to me.  I can get just as much enjoyment doing something smaller, less challenging and within my physical limits.  This will be much more satisfying than tempting life and limb on doing something that will most likely cause injury or even death.  After all, it really isn’t about getting to the top; it’s the journey along the way.




Deliberately choosing another goal

In our yoga practice, there may be some poses that will always be beyond us.  Some poses may just be out of reach for our physical bodies to perform.  Physical ailments, conditions, accidents, or even our anatomy can limit what is possible to do.   As a simple example, take hip openers.  These are generally easier for women to do than for men to.  Why? The bone structure in the hips in women allows for a deeper expression and opening.  This is biological.  If you are a man, there are no mental preparations or stretches that will change the fundamental structure of your bones.  There is simply nothing you can do about it.  Does this mean that men cannot do hip openers?  Of course not!  We may however choose to concentrate on different poses – taking a different path in our yoga and expressing  hip openers a little bit differently.


There are also different types of yoga that attract different people in different stages of their lives.  Ashtanga yoga, or hot yoga, is great for some people.  Yin is better for others.  Chair yoga is accessible to yet other folks.  Choosing a different type of yoga practice can make all the difference.  Similarly, going on a month long meditation retreat is good for some, but others can get a great benefit by just doing meditation for a short period of time at home.  There is an immense field of yoga and meditation knowledge and practices out there – well more than any one person can discover and explore in a lifetime.  The secret is finding for yourself the one that works best for you.


Overcoming obstacles in your life sometimes means dropping them completely – having the willingness to  take on a different challenge.  Do not be afraid to try something different.  Change if you find the path you are on is not for you. Choose mindfully.  I can assure you there will be challenging obstacles to overcome on whichever path you take.  Overcoming these new found obstacles on your new journey will yield just as much satisfaction and, looking back, bring you feelings of fulfillment and contentment.


So in this series we looked at different ways of overcoming obstacles —from using our Ganesh-like qualities and pushing on through, to using patience, to finding another way, and in this blog, choosing another direction entirely  and avoiding the obstacle completely.


Are there other  ways?  I’m sure there are.   Let me know.  Send in your comments, and we all will learn together.


Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha

Perceptions: Looking for another way

speak friend


Sometimes, the answer is staring right at us but we just don’t see it. In the Lord of the Rings, Gandalf the wizard is trying to open a gate where the words “Speak, Friend, and Enter” are inscribed above.   He tries many incantations but for all his wizardry powers he just cannot open the gate.   One of his company asks him to explain what the inscription means.  He starts to, and while explaining, he comes across the answer to the puzzle.  It was there in the inscription all along.  The password to opening the gate was the word “friend”.  All he had to do was speak the word “friend” to open the gate.




In my continuing rock climbing example, there also may be another path to reach the top besides just trying to climb straight up.  Perhaps going a little bit to the left or right will help me make progress towards the top.  Perhaps by taking a different tact I can, in time, eventually reach my goal.  Then, being flexible, and going right or left, again and again, I continue to make progress overcoming any obstacles before me.


In your yoga class, try building up from the foundations of the pose, taking in the directions a little at a time, and allowing your body to take the shape of the pose gently. Remember, you don’t have to have perfect form. You may just find you are more fully expressing the pose if you are willing to let your body open in it’s own time.  For example, in forward folding, don’t push your body by forcing your knees straight and fighting to get your hands to the ground.  Try keeping your knees bent a little, perhaps using blocks under your hands, and letting the rest of your body relax into the pose.  Approach your pose a little at a time, allowing the body to adjust and grow into your own expression.

For building your mediation practice, try a little bit of meditation at a time.  Don’t attach to a long sitting practice or start thinking that there is only one way to meditate and you have to break on through or else.  By trying to approach your goals a little at a time, allowing for detours along the way, and slowly building up to your final goal, you can work wonders, and, over time, reach your desires.





Overcoming Obstacles Patience and Waiting

As we discussed last time, walking Ganesh like to cross a street may not be your best option.  Waiting for the walk light allows you to effortlessly cross the street.  Developing a meditation practice also takes time – you can’t just one day say to yourself “I’m a meditator.   I’m going to sit on the floor, close my eyes and become calm, relaxed, and enlightened and sit for three hours straight!”  Also, being an elephant (or a bull in a china shop) may not always be the best method for removing obstacles.  Is there another way?


When I was a kid, I wanted to climb a large bolder (we sometimes call these glacial erratics in these here parts!)



As a small child, climbing a large boulder was just out of my ability.   I didn’t have the strength or balance to climb very far without falling.   As I got older, I grew bigger and climbing a large boulder was doable.  The obstacle could be conquered.  I was now ready for the task.


Waiting or patience is a great way for conquering obstacles.  Ask yourself, why do I have to overcome this obstacle today?  What happens if I wait?    What can I do to become better prepared?  Patience can help you overcome obstacles in both your yoga and meditation practices.  Keep trying to take on just a little bit at a time.  For example, if you are trying to do a pose that is very difficult for you, say firefly, accept that maybe today that pose is not accessible.  That doesn’t mean you should stop practicing –  there are plenty of other poses for you to try.   Perhaps you can do poses that build up to the pose you want to do.  Keep trying, a little bit after a little bit.  Be prepared to come back to the pose another day. Practice.  Lay the groundwork.  Accept that some things take time to learn and work on doing the preparation needed to open up and prepare your body for the pose. Over time, with patience, you might be able to achieve your goal.


The same thing applies to your meditation practice.  Sitting on the cushion for hours at a time when you are beginning is just too hard – both physically and mentally.  Try a shorter practice.  If today seems like it “just isn’t working”, accept it. Try again tomorrow.   Have the patience to set small goals and, over time, you may reach the larger ones.


lolly paw


Lolly here is practicing patience with the humans she lives with.  When she wants a cookie, she raises her paw.  It may not work right away but she patiently shows the paw knowing that, over time, rewards do come.


lolly reward


But even for Lolly, patience sometimes isn’t enough.  Waiting and time may not be the best path for removing an obstacle or getting your cookie.


If I patiently wait to cross a busy freeway in Los Angeles during rush hour a good time may never come.  Or, if I want to climb Mount Everest next year, becoming an elephant head and trying to push to the summit when not fully prepared also will not work.   Is there another way of overcoming obstacles?  What can I do?  To be continued —




Overcoming obstacles. Ganesh and pushing on through


This is Ganesh or Ganesha, the elephant headed god.  How did he get this head?  One day, he was asked to guard Parvati the goddess of fertility, love, and devotion who coincidentally was also his mother, while she was taking a bath.  His father Shiva, who did not know he had a son, came home and wanted to enter the house.  Ganesh, protecting his mother, refused to let him in.  In a fit of rage, Shiva cut of Ganesh’s head.  His mother, obviously being upset, let Shiva know that this was his son whose head was on the floor.  Ganesh had only been doing the duty he was asked to perform.  Hearing this news, Shiva sent his men out to find the head of the first dead animal they could find.  Finding an elephant, the men returned.   Shiva attached the elephant head to the body of the boy Ganesh and brought him back to life – and you thought you had an interesting childhood!


The Hindu tradition calls Ganesh the Vighneshvara. “Vighneshvara” in Sanskrit language means one who is the lord of obstacles or difficulties. In the Hindu tradition worshiping or by even by asking Ganesha to help, one can remove obstacles and difficulties (Wikipedia).   Ganesh’s most striking feature his large elephant head symbolizing wisdom and knowledge.  As for his ability to remove obstacles, have you ever seen an elephant take a walk?  If an elephant wants to go somewhere he just goes.  If an obstacle is in his path he doesn’t just go around, he just goes through.




elephantpushing tree


Overcoming Obstacles:  Perseverance

So our first method of removing obstacles is perseverance – pushing on through till we reach our goal.  If an obstacle is placed in our path, we think, be like a bull-elephant headed (or an elephant headed god) and just keep on going.   For example, in your yoga practice, your teacher may ask you to hold a pose for what you think is a very long time.  At first the pose seems easy but the longer you hold the pose the harder and harder it seems it become.  You may want to give up, but, be like the elephant.  Keep going.  Try staying with the pose, pushing on through till the holding ends.  (Of course any real pain is a sign to stop doing what you are doing).


Same thing applies to your sitting meditation.  As you sit, endless thoughts, feelings, and even physical discomfort may come up.  It seems like nothing can be done to stop these feelings and discomforts.  Accept these feelings, thoughts, and even the small discomforts.   Just  keep sitting returning to your meditation technique.  Pushing yourself onward can be a good strategy for developing a longer practice.


Of course there are other methods – – – – – –  Have you ever come to a busy road intersection and wanted to cross?  You can try being an elephant head  and continue walking into the traffic but that usually comes with some unwanted side effects like being hit by a car.  Being Ganesh-like has it’s place but it is not the end all of removing obstacles.   After all, Ganesh was just following his instructions perfectly and lost his head over it!  While asking Ganesh to remove obstacles is one way of removing them, there are some others.  We will explore them in upcoming blogs.  To be continued – – – – – – – –