Here’s a simple little bit about love.

Every morning, I say thank you. First thing. It’s a practice.

When I put my feet on the ground to get out of bed, I take quick account of my many gifts. Legs work. Cognition: check. Hands open and close. Eyes see. I’m fortunate. I love my life. Thank you.

And then the day starts.

I share this because I’ve come to realize a few things in the last year of living alone. Whether you’re fortunate enough to have a love share your bed or if you’re simply growing love in your heart, it’s the love that counts. Not the partner. Not the bed. Not even the legs or hands or eyes that function. It’s the love YOU have. It’s your love.

We may initiate other practices to help us stabilize the love inside us. Some people choose to scrapbook memories; some people bake cookies for their friends. Other people surf, go to church or volunteer somewhere. We might cook or clean or teach or draw horoscopes for people or make necklaces to give away to those who need them. Our practices are usually about being of service, whether to ourselves or others. About taking ourselves out of our routines and offering ourselves to another moment. And in that other moment, we rediscover our connections. To ourselves first. And then with others. And the world around us.

And when we find those connections in whatever idiosyncratic practice we keep, and when we let ourselves experience a sense of gratitude for the connections and the practice itself, we discover a totally cool feeling. The connection we’re feeling is just a longer word for love.

Check it out for yourself. I’m pretty sure I’m not wrong. We all love love. We all have our little ways of cultivating it. I, for one, practice yoga— did you know it means union? Another word for connection.

But my practice doesn’t mean I buy $100 mats or sticky-soled socks. It just means that I do my best to remember—no matter what I’m doing—that I conduct my life honestly, kindly, moderately and with devotion. I take care of my body and my mind. I study myself. I express gratitude. I do my best to be compassionate. I remind myself to see the light inside myself and inside others.

But all this, with all due respect to yoga, is somewhat of an abstraction. A necessary one because it helps to have a practice that guides me. But an abstraction nonetheless. The practice simply helps me remember a very simple thing.

Which leads me to my point. The simple bit. What if you remembered on a daily basis that your entire purpose on this fine earth is the act of making connections? Of creating love? That your highest and best use is to be of service to love. Whether you share love with another, teach others about love, receive love without condition, inspire others to love or help love to grow where it hasn’t yet rooted.

The only important consideration for you and me and everyone else is connection.

Love.

It’s the whole point. And it makes the whole point much, much clearer when you just surrender and accept it.

I love you!

Tell your mind: Just hush.

At certain points in your life, surely you’ve heard an inner voice talking to you. Who am I kidding? That voice is talking to you all the time. Am I right? It’s talking to you right now. It’s saying something like, ‘why are you wasting your time with this. You have so many other things to do. Like… oh, when can I get some fro-yo?’

And you may have noticed that the voice isn’t always kind.

It might have said things like, ‘I can’t believe they asked you to dinner,’ or ‘you’re going to wear THAT?’ or ‘well, they’re just being charitable so bow out and eat that pizza from the freezer instead.’

Maybe your voice gets straight to the point: ‘You don’t even deserve their dinner or their charity. Look at you.’

Or maybe it’s more socratic and it does that open-ended thing like your dad used to do that shuts you down immediately. ‘What are you thinking?’ Ugh.

(How’s that for a funny, almost paradoxical question? I mean, THAT is precisely what you’re thinking. Come on, mind! And also, lighten up! I’d be thinking something so much better if you didn’t ask everything with that horrible tone.)

Oh, that voice. Imagine that voice in a body. Sharing your living space. Telling you how little you’ve made of your life. You’d be looking for a new housemate. If it took you to the beach for a fun day out, then told you how crappy you look in your bathing suit the whole time? Please say you’d ditch it. Go for a nice swim. Enjoy your time alone.

Right?

But this voice, we can’t really escape it. It keeps talking. Just today, I laughed when I heard that voice suggest that the meditation I was starting wasn’t going to serve me at all. Wouldn’t it be better, it advised, if you just had a cup of coffee? ‘Oh voice,’ I had to say, ‘just hush.’

Which isn’t to say that it should always be quiet. Sometimes it has really interesting information for us. Like, turn left, avoid that pothole, pick up the wedding present and call your clients.

But sometimes, for a little bit, it would be awesome to get a little silence. So we can listen into our deeper wisdom. Which may sound bonkers to you. Or not. But here’s the deal. That voice you hear endlessly yammering is the voice of your mind. For a lot of us, it get so consistently loud that we lose track of the messages that our intuition has for us. We can’t access that deeper intelligence and power through all that ruckus. For even more of us, we’ve completely forgotten that we have a source of wisdom deeper than the mind. We just… forgot.

And that’s because the voice of the mind tends to go on and on and on. Ceaselessly. Amidst all that flibber flabber blah blah, we forget that we have any control whatsoever over its agitation. All the negativity—the fear, doubt, grief, shame, guilt—that it broadcasts can actually be turned down. We can even work to prioritize a practice that will minimize these emotions. And when we do, we can start to seek peace in our wisdom with a peaceful mind. How can we possibly expect to find calm with the help of a distracted, confused and agitated mind? We’re lost from the first step.

But we have the means and ability to quiet that voice. We can say, ‘just hush, my dear dynamic mind.’ We can ask it to settle for a bit while we explore the reservoirs of joy, intelligence and knowing that come stock in all of us.

How so? Deepening your yoga sadhana to include breathing techniques that will help you understand and shift your energy, meditation practices that will help you identify your mind’s processing patterns, mantra practice that will guide you toward focused attention, and prayer to build your trust in all that surrounds you. These are just a few elements of an integrated yoga practice. This is how yoga brings you to a place of balance. This is what it means to be in union: to master the ceaseless fluctuations of your rambling mind.

Send me a note if you’d like to chat a bit more about this. I’d love to hear from you.

Finding happiness…

Well. Here’s a great big topic. Finding happiness.

I can hear the snorts. See the eye rolls. Because a whole lot of folks think happiness is something that rumbles into them. A storm that dumps rainbows and unicorn tears on the heads of those born under perfect stars. Or worse: a consequence of status. As if financial security brought happiness. Sheesh. If this was the case, I think all the billionaires in the world would be way friendlier. And not trying to take more and more from those with less and less.

But I digress.

Happiness. Consider for yourself how you feel it. Is it the consequence of situations outside of your control? Or is it some kind of magic that arises when the state of your mind allows it? And if your happiness was the result of external circumstances, how long did it last? Was it fleeting? Maybe just a moment of pleasure that you confused for happiness? (Which is not to say that pleasure can’t complement happiness… it can!) And if it came from within, can you access that feeling again? Like, right now?

Ready, go.

This is sort of how you cultivate happiness. (Though there are a lot of things you can do to help you do this. Like yoga! Call me!) No matter what, however, it must be cultivated. It doesn’t just find you. You may have friends who seem unrealistically lucky; you may know people who don’t seem to suffer quite as much as you. But look carefully before you make your assessment. Are you friends actually so lucky, or do they do something to create their good fortune? Do you truly believe they’ve failed to suffer in their lives?

We have the seeds of happiness within. And all the factors to allow them to grow. But we have to do a little work to get the sprouts sprouting. It’s sort of like seeing a beautiful plot of land alongside a river in a valley of sunshine and realizing no one’s planted a veggie garden. It’s just going to take the decision to become a gardener.

Take a moment. Look inside. And source that deep love and gratitude that occasionally overwhelms you. That’s where your seeds hunker down, waiting.

In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali writes about the arising of negative emotions. ‘When harassed by negative thoughts, one should cultivate their opposite.’ You can find this at chapter 2, sutra 33. And this, in a nutshell, is how happiness is created. When we indulge again and again in negative emotions as they arise, we cast a spell over ourselves. We come to believe that we have no control over them. We victimize ourselves with them. We say things like, ‘there’s nothing I can do.’

This kind of magic isn’t the kind that serves our best selves. So why do we bother with it? Because, somehow, we’ve been convinced that we can’t do anything to change. Despite the fact that change is always happening. Every moment.

Happiness attends the liberating realization that you can shape the change happening in you. This is also an important teaching of yoga. With the wise decisions that come from careful self-study—svadhyaya—we can influence the direction of change in our life. We can never stop change; we can shape the course it takes.

Consider the amount of time we spend cultivating things—relationships, careers, homes, gardens. This is a way that we shape the course of our lives. We don’t expect these things to manifest for us without a degree of effort. Positive emotions and the happiness that blossoms as a result of our practice with them requires the same effort.

The next time you find yourself stewing in a sludge of yucky blahs, take control of your mind. Remind it that you’ve got seeds somewhere in there and you’d like to water them a bit. Then shine some light on them. Think a happy thought. Turn your frown upside down. And keep doing that. Again and again. Forever.

Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tanninirodhah. With practice and detachment, your mind will calm. It may take a while. But so did saving for your home, your graduate degree and all those other things you hoped would make you happy. And didn’t quite hit the mark.

The pleasure of pleasure. And yoga.

I totally get it. You have this idea that fun should be limited. That you should work yourself hard to prove your worth. You should be hard, a toughie, a person who can handle it all. An authoritative voice in your head demands that you be someone who can surmount, endure, conquer: a rock. The worst part? You totally don’t enjoy being a rock.

I call that voice Mr. Miller. He was the retired cop who lived across the street when I was a kid. He did things like sweep the street and yell at us for dropping our popsicles. In other words, he was a dick.

So okay. He kept the street tidy. But at the cost of a friendship with every kid on the block. We all feared and despised him. We waited like statues until he stopped hollering at whomever let snot run down his chin. And when he was gone, we resumed with whatever chaos released the joy kracken.

Because we were kids.

Kids know without knowing that happiness is a priority. To us, it was the number one reason to get outside as quickly as possible after school. Sure, our actions were skewed in other ways. We probably smelled. Our nails were caked with black mold, listeria and fecal matter. We definitely didn’t concern ourselves with laundry. And chances are we had no idea whether the rent was paid. But still. Happiness. We yearned for it and we instinctively knew how to find it.

And then the world shifted. We all started to heed Mr. Miller. We blew our noses discretely. We even mistook his voice as our own. We started saying things like, ‘I just don’t have time for fun anymore.’

What a bunch of fuckwits we are. No time for fun?

It’s an absurdity. Fun isn’t something you’re supposed to schedule. It’s something that accompanies the stuff you do, like a hot flight attendant in a cool hat. Fun is sort of a diminished, white label, less esoteric brand of joy. We can say we don’t have time for fun because it’s already devalued as diversion. But would you say you have no time for joy? If you did, you’d sound pretty damn rigid. (And women named Joy would think you suck.) You’d seem like a sad renunciate. No one would want to follow your path.

Which is where yoga comes in. However you pursue your yoga—whether you’re bending into knots, gardening okra or developing better paper airplanes—you’ve surely experienced that burble and pop of deeply buried joy rising. Or you felt it as a geyser. Maybe it didn’t last, but you caught a glimpse. And in that messy moment, you may have acknowledged that this was an old friend, indeed. Someone you hadn’t seen but definitely missed. And, also, you were having fun.

So how about you allow for that? How about you even give a little thought to the fact that these things you do—your yoga—that bring you happiness are the things that make you alive? And even closer to the fullness of life that demonstrates to you your higher purpose. It may not be that your higher purpose is to build the best paper airplane. It may actually be that your higher purpose is to feel the joy that the process brings you.

That’s what yoga does. Yoga is whatever process helps you stop the fluctuations of your mind so you can find clarity. And the joy that clarity brings.

Which is sort of funny, right? Because in my town, there’s a yoga studio on every block and most of them have a bunch of classes that make no mention of anything other than ‘go ahead and melt from the heart’ and ‘let yourself spill from your hamstrings while you feel your roots in the ground.’ Which are weird metaphors that do little to guide you toward understanding just what the heck is the purpose of whatever funky pose you’re doing.

You want to know the purpose of the pose? It might engage your muscles, focus your attention on the breath, and maybe let you glimpse your ego at work. Ta-da. More importantly, it should prepare you for real yoga. That’s right. Real yoga. Raja yoga. The yoga that houses your favorite yoga poses with lots of extra space for other fine furnishings. And not just poses but the whole kit-n-kaboodle of living well among others and with yourself with the aim of finding freedom. Freedom to feel happy without hearing Mr. Miller’s voice. Freedom to find joy as the very essence of your being.

Now. Go out and do some yoga. Wherever it takes you, listen in, sense that space that comes up between your thoughts when you experience a moment of fun and allow yourself the pleasure of your own happiness.

Step two: see if you can surrender it. Wait, what?? More on that in the next post!

The first step to happy is also the whole journey.

Earlier this week, I attended a lecture with the spiritual leader of the Himalayan Institute, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait. He joined us in the studio at PB Yoga and Healing Arts to share the insight he’s recently compiled into a new book: The Secret of the Yoga Sutra. I had the good fortune to meet Pandit Rajmani prior to the event. (I also had the silly impertinence to say, ‘Wow, it’s so cool to meet you!’ instead of using a few honorifics and head bows when I shook his hand. Whoops. May I be forgiven.)

Anyhoo.

In a room scattered with enough blankets to worry international rescue efforts, about 30 people gathered—some comfortably shoeless and bent in comfortable, if not a little smug, sukhasanas; others opting for chairs and socks. Someone had placed long-stemmed flowers in a short vase. I obsessed for a while over the possibility of their imbalance. One did fall; fortunately, the stability of the others calmed me. That’s when I started paying attention.

With the humility of a good man meeting in-laws, Pandit Rajmani took his chair. He smiled, shared his gratitude and popped back up. Without preface, he said, ‘when the mind is in chaos, it is not free.’ He paused, and elaborated: ‘the confused mind is not free to follow any path.’

I immediately imagined wandering with a map that lost its lines. I felt the heft of the obscurity. Also the frustration of disorientation. We have all traveled in circles on occasion; we’ve all felt the mild or severe nausea that it provokes, to see again and again the fact of our persistent mistakes.

And in case you’re thinking: not a problem for me, Missy, I’m putting my energy into daily yoga classes so me and my yoga butt are number one, self-realized, and defined! I’m a well-oiled machine with joints that defy engineering principles. I wake up in peacock every morning.

Well.

Pandit Rajmani says, with a hint of smile, ‘all this energy can be used to create chaos or joy. But a confused mind will always channel intelligence into chaos.’

And here we’ve arrived at a foundational principle of yoga that is often completely ignored.

To understand just what it is we’re doing with our lives—our yoga, our quests, our ambitions— we need a clear, calm, transparent mind. And don’t forget the power of discernment. This type of mind—free of chaos, able to choose wisely among options, transparent to itself—invests energy gathered from asana, meditation, and introspection into strengthening its true nature.

What, exactly, is that true nature? Pandit Rajmani says it’s our ‘inner luminosity.’ Our intrinsic joy, he suggests, is established in our true nature. Our access to happiness, to freedom, is just behind that curtain we keep pulled to hide our clutter.

So how do we pull the curtain? And what to do about the mess behind it?

At the discussion, a man in the back had no qualms about raising his hand high to ask this question repeatedly. ‘What can I do?’ he said. ‘Specifically. Like, what, exactly, will get me this clear mind? Do I need to chant or meditate or what?’

And with great patience and consistency, Pandit Rajmani described the process. To the tempered consternation of the hand-raising man (and my super delight), he pointed to one of my favorite of Patanjali’s sutra. If I was that type to tattoo sanskrit on me, this would be the one I’d choose. Blessings to those who like sanskrit ink.

It is an exercise in deliberate kindness. It is tolerance and compassion and forgiveness. All the other activity we humans like to pursue to showboat our enlightenment—the daily stretching, the mantra-chanting, the early morning breathing—is merely a bit of warm-up for the big event: becoming friendly.

There you have it.

Pandit Rajmani read the great Yoga Sutra I.33, translated in his book as:

Transparency of  mind comes by embracing an attitude of friendliness, compassion, happiness, and non-judgment toward those who are happy, miserable, virtuous, and non-virtuous.

Simple enough. Be happy for those who triumph and compassionate toward the weary; find pleasure in the goodness of strangers and ambivalence toward a stranger’s flaws; forgive those who hurt you.

From this attitude, we regain our sense of self as a luminous being. We glimpse our true nature. We see that it waits patiently for us to approach. Like Grandpa at the train station, it won’t run to us. But it will hold our gaze and embrace us for dear life when we get close enough.

From this attitude, also, we can cultivate the other practices enumerated in the Sutra. We can meditate on the breath, or on sensory perception. We can renounce desire. But just as other commentators point out, the promise to extend kindness in all instances is prerequisite to all endeavors. It is the link between our inherent joy and the world beyond us. If we must exert ourselves every day, let’s exert ourselves with an intention toward benevolence.

And let’s see whether our energies channel toward intelligent decisions, toward fulfillment of our ambitions, toward our true nature. Toward light. Not chaos. Let’s see if we becomehappy. Again and again. Day after day.

If you want to put these ideas into action, give this a try: the next time someone near you finds success, challenge yourself to be more than pleased. Be hopeful that the success endures. Wish the person even greater prosperity. Then ask yourself: can I be both envious and pleased simultaneously?

I’m pretty sure the answer is no.

Just as you can’t extend compassion for someone who is having a crap day and make her day worse. Nor can you cultivate acceptance of things you dislike and continue to feel an extreme intolerance for them. Those things, you’ll find, will become less abhorrent and, finally, free from your judgment. (Real world example: the majority of Americans have discovered this over the last decade with all things LGBTQ. And, maybe, yoga and meditation.)

With these little exercises, see if you don’t become a little more composed, a little more calm, a little more free to see the path of your happiness. See if you haven’t discovered for yourself a little antidote to your confusion.

Let me know how it goes.

Huzzah for happiness.