How To Establish a Meditation Space

My Meditation Room
Sawyer- Resting in Stillness

I live way out in the country in western, northern Virginia on 6 acres where it’s so quiet and still. On the one hand, I love it for myself. But since my children have arrived, I would like closer neighbors so they can run out and hang out easily. Still, during this lockdown I feel so grateful for all our space for them to run around in the sun.

I’ve been sure to keep my meditation practice consistent, despite the rare times when I don’t feel like it. I’m currently on a 70+ day consecutive meditation stretch. It’s a priority right now, to help me center myself and reconnect with Divine everyday. I get grounded and I’m a better human, partner, parent, and mentor to my clients.

Some days when my kids wake up extra early, they find me at the tail end of my mediation session. My son has lately taken to lying down with me in my lap (they’re 5 years old) and it’s clear he enjoys the stillness and the quiet time too.

Today, while I writing this, long after my morning meditation time, he asked to come in and rest on my meditation mat. I lit the candles for him to enjoy but he’s 5 and he blew them out after playing with his breath on them after a bit. But then he laid down and snuggled in and just rested in the silence. I love seeing him recharge in the quiet, just being still. Makes this mama’s heart explode with joy that he’s taking the time to be.

So I wanted to share with you my thoughts on creating a meditation space and some lessons learned.

My Experience

First is that we have a large house and I actually created what I call my zen room. It’s my space and no one gets to hang out in here except with my permission. I love to have that space.

I know that’s not practical for many people so I recommend trying to find even a corner of a room that you can set up with some sort of altar and candles and other artifacts that bring you joy. For me, in addition to my Buddha and candles on my altar, all of my favorite pieces from my travels are here.

My meditation room – with cushion and altar

It brings me such joy to see them and I love them after all these years. Near my altar, I have my green and yellow batik from Zimbabwe, my apsara from Cambodia, a framed picture from my walking trip to Ireland, a replica of a window from one of my trips to Nepal, and two antelope statues, chiwaras, from a trip to Mali.

What I’ve put behind me on the opposite wall also supports my joy. I have a framed picture from Haiti, a peacock from India, some pieces like carved tusks of twins from my time as a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, some pieces of blanket from Niger, a martini pitcher from my maternal grandparents that was passed to me upon my Mom’s death, a canister from another trip to Nepal, and another bust of the Buddha- again from my trip to Cambodia.

Some of my cherished pieces
My meditation room – the wall behind me

I also have a desk and a computer in here. I do use the desk for journaling and working on this business. Originally when we moved here, I used to work in this room (back when I was still at a J O B) but I found the more job work I did here, the less sacred this room became. I found other places in the house to work and that really boosted my sense of the sacred every time I enter this room.

In fact, I no longer wear any shoes in this room because it just feels wrong. And I ask everyone to take their shoes off before entering as well. It just feels too special for me to have anyone, including me, to treat it as anything else.

My How-To Ideas on Setting up a Meditation Space

Choose the Space

Set up a space that is solely devoted to your meditation, journaling and other activities that are devoted to establishing and maintaining your connection with the Divine, to centering, and to grounding you.

If you have young children like I do, you’ll have to enforce the notion that this space is just for you hundreds of time. But soon enough, with you setting consistent boundaries, they will be respected.

Set up the Altar and Choose Items that Help You Connect

I ordered a two-tiered altar on Etsy. On the top tier, I have a small statue of the Buddha, that I also got on Etsy. I have two candles with beautiful candles holder plates. On the bottom tier, I have an incense box that I used to light incense in during my meditation sessions. Since returning from Bali a few months ago, I can’t burn the incense because it bothers my lungs. I also have a prayer wheel from a trip to Nepal and looking at it gives me a zing of a connection to the Divine.

I likely will be getting a devotional candle of some sort of Christian theme soon because my issues with the Church seem to have resolved and I’m getting back to a deep love and devotion to the Christ.

You can also put items from your vision board or other inspirational items, like a picture of a child if you’re trying to get pregnant or something that represents abundance to you, like money, pictures of money, a waterfall or anything that really speaks to you. Other ideas include pictures to help you be peaceful, such as the ocean, open vistas, or whatever speaks to you.

Keep the Room In Use for Just Your Meditation and other Soulful Activities

As I mentioned, in using this room for work for a short time, the energy of the room shifted and it no longer felt inviting or sacred. Once I noticed the feeling and correctly diagnosed the issue, I keep the room solely for my soul work. (see what I did there?)

Use it!

Of course, you should use it and keep coming back to your meditation practice no matter the stories your mind is telling you about whether or not you “feel” like it or that it’s not fun or maybe that meditation isn’t working for you. It is. Trust the process and get still and silent and allow whatever is arise and fall away and arise and fall away. I like the app Insight Timer to track my meditation sessions both in terms of being a timer as well as number of sessions and other stats. But there are many out there so you may find something else works for you.

What does your meditation room look like? What’s on your altar? I’d love to see pictures for inspiration!

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Don’t forget the environment- even in a pandemic (hand sanitizer and soap bottles)

https://www.flickr.com/photos/alvarolopez/6269115281
Bar Soap. Photo by Álvaro

The moment I saw all of the posts about how the entire liquid soap and hand sanitizer section were empty in all the stores, I immediately thought of where those bottles will end up. Here in the US, they will likely go into a recycle bin and then possibly recycled.

But in developing countries, they will likely end up in a trash pile and then through whatever mechanism, it’ll send up in the sea. Floating forever (or the next 500 years), polluting our oceans, sickening sea life, and humans. Some will wash up on shores.

The Western world has been transporting our trash for years and now they are returning the trash to us, because we can’t even recycle well. Malaysia, China, and more countries are finally forcing us to reckon with our trash.

Beach at Nusa Dua in Bali

I spent 9 months last year in Bali and every time I went to any beach, so much trash. It caused me to feel such rage and sorrow at the same time. I felt so angry at people for throwing their trash out to only up in the sea. And it was then that I realized we need to permanently reduce our consumption of plastic.

I’ve since stopped buying bottles of shampoo, hair conditioner, or lotion. I’m trying out different brands of shampoo and the like. It’s not the same but I’m determined to never buy another plastic bottle filled with anything when there are alternatives.

Here is my post about some alternatives to consider.

Remember soap works better than hand sanitizers. And bar soap works as well as liquid soap. And bar soaps come in boxes.

We still have to live on this planet when this is all over. Let’s try to make it a better place once we emerge from our social isolation.

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4 Ways To Reduce Your Plastic Usage

After spending 9 months in Bali, my outrage at the mess we’re making of our planet appears to be limitless. However, outrage without action is of no help at all to anyone. I’ve been thinking on this issue a great deal since then, trying to think how I can help and what could be a global solution for our excessive plastic usage and the mess we’ve made of the ocean.

First, I want to utterly reduce my personal/household usage of anything plastic. I think we should outright ban all styrofoam and plastic production and usage. Realistically, I’m aware that state of reality is far off. So what can I do now?

#1- Stop using reusable bags for all of your shopping and never ever take a plastic bag from the grocery story again.

Even for your meat. Even for your potentially leaking whatever. Stop using all plastic bags. Put your meat in a washable, reusable bag and clean the bag once you’re home. Easy peasy.

This means too you have to tell the cashier that you don’t want any plastic bags right up front or they will just use plastic bags as they are trained to do, for certain items- like raw meat and precooked items.

#2- Stop buying liquid soap, shampoo, and conditioner. Of any kind. This is a biggie. I know.

First, use up all of the liquid soaps and shampoo and conditioner that you have. Not using them means wasting what you already purchased and unnecessarily adds to the plastic bottle trash. Then, save the bottles and rinse them out. You never know what you may need them for in the future and you don’t want to BUY more bottles. So keeps those stored in the back of the closet or somewhere so it’s not cluttering your space.

Move to bar soap, bar shampoo, bar conditioner, and bar lotion. You may be wondering what this is. There are several companies who have seen the light and understand there is a burgeoning need for plastic free everything. Specifically:

As you know, bar soap can be found anywhere. Just be sure to buy soap that isn’t in a plastic wrapper. Obvs.

But what are bar shampoos, conditioners, and lotion you may ask. Right now, I’m using the Ethique brand for all of this. I think it works as well as liquid conditioner.

I also have a few brands from France that I picked up while traveling so I’ll let you know how those fare when I’ve used them.

I actually haven’t used the bar lotion yet because I’m using up every drop of my previous lotion purchases from before leaving for Bali. I have several partially used bottles so using those is my first priority. However, I have ordered this bar lotion from Amazon and I have some tea tree oil so I’m going to whip it up and see how it is. I’m excited at all the applications for shea butter oil blocks.

#3: Stop using dishwasher tablets.

The dishwasher tablets are either wrapped in individual plastic wrapper or in a dissolvable polyvinyl alcohol. And they come in a large plastic container to keep moisture out.

Therefore you’re buying large plastic containers and throwing out the little individual plastic wrapper or adding to the the polyvinyl alcohol to the water supply. Go back to using the detergent crystals which come in a cardboard box. It’s an extra 30 seconds to pour in the crystals into the detergent container. But you’re not touching the detergent pods and you’re not adding to the millions of plastic bottles in either landfills or recycling programs which may or may not actually recycle the bottle.

#4 Change how you consume liquid laundry detergent and fabric softener.

Fabric softener has been shown to have all sorts of harmful effects to you, your kids and the environment. Try a more natural solution the fabric softeners. This reduces the consumption of the plastic bottles for liquid fabric softener as well as helps the environment due to its ingredients. Two wins for one change!

There are several plastic-free options, like Cleancult, my Greenfills, and others. Their fabric softeners take a different approach altogether.

As for liquid laundry detergent, apparently the detergent crystals can cause additional friction on clothes which release more microplastic fibers from the clothes than does liquid laundry detergent. So instead of the crystals, either make your own powder or you use environment friendly brands like Cleancut or my Greenfills.

I think these changes are extremely easy to implement and cost very little extra money. Remember your plastic bottle has a 500 year lift span. It will be around forever. And it’s estimated that only 30 to 50% of recycled products are actually recycled so the chances are that every plastic bottle you use will end up on a landfill.

Together we can change the course of environmental catastrophe.

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Cocreating with the Universe – a Better Way to Manifest Your Dream Life- Part 2

This is the 2nd of two posts on how to Manifest your Dream Life. Here is Part 1.

My amazing daily walk to yoga in Penestanan. Walking along the subak system.
Walking to Yoga in Bali

In my previous post, I wrote about how to better manifest your dream life by adding on the following caveat- I intend ________ or something like it, for my highest good and the highest good of all.

I continue with examples of how I able to manifest specific circumstances in my life- and those that I intend with the caveat “or something like it, for my highest good and the highest good of all” land much better in my life, more aligned with my deepest intention and path.

Example #4: Twenty + years ago, I was working for a firm that did international development in developing countries for the US government. I was keen to keep following up on my passion for traveling, after having spent a year of undergrad in Paris and a 2.5 years in Benin in West Africa with the Peace Corps. And I got what I intended through this job and I started traveling extensively for my job on trips ranging from a few weeks to several months, mostly in West and Southern Africa- like Mali, Botswana, Lesotho, and Zimbabwe, and in Haiti and also -oddly- in Nepal. Plus many others trips and multiple trips back to these countries.

I then started to notice a pattern. Whenever I made plans for a vacation, mainly to visit my brother in Indiana or my parents in California, or to run a marathon or a long bike ride for which I trained, I all of a sudden had an urgent business trip and I couldn’t run the marathon or go on vacation.

I then decided to test my hypothesis. When I needed some additional money to buy something, I decided to try to “get” additional money through traveling for work and saving my per diem. Lodging was spend to get (you only get what the cost of the hotel was) but you get a set amount per day and most places I was traveling, I also got a post diff/hazard pay type lift in per diem because living conditions were considered so difficult/hazardous. But as a recently returned Peace Corps volunteer, living in a hotel anywhere in the world was not a hardship for me.

In testing this hypothesis, I wrote or called my parents or brother and made plans to visit, like researching flights and prices. I truly intended to take the trip. I told no one and I didn’t ask for the time off. And within a few days, I’d get the call from work that some trip was in the offing for the exact dates of my proposed vacation. So I traveled, saved my per diem to the extent possible, and paid off my credit card or bought the whatever. I did this many many times and it literally never failed. I truly had to intend the vacation or the effort , like the Marine Corps Marathon or a long century bike ride, and boom, another trip was in the offing and the vacation or the effort had to be cancelled.

I don’t actually know why this happened. I wonder now if it was to create some space in my life from the attachments here in the US or if it was simply to awaken me to the Mystery. I don’t have to know why. I just love that it happens this way.

This experience of calling in the Mystery helped cement my understanding that there was more in play in the world than science and the logical mind could explain. And I loved it.

Example #5- For a few years, I had it as one of my intention to live by the beach in a foreign country. Each year for several months, I would visualize living on the beach in a foreign country, living my best life. I would see myself walking along the beach, enjoying the sunshine and feeling content and grateful. And then I would release into back into the Unmanifest and go about my life. I intended it but I had no idea how to swing such a big change for my family. I just affirmed my intention each year. And in 2018, our child care, while awesome, was part time and my partner traveled for work often and I had several nights a week by myself, trying to put the twins down. I started to feel overwhelmed, overworked, and sad.

I thought that may an au pair could be the answer- full time and live in so I’d get a lot of help. But then I found out that we’d have to buy a car for her use, which made hiring an au pair expensive and not feasible. I was getting cranky and sad about how isolating my stay at home mom of twins life was becoming. The twins didn’t want any friends and they didn’t want me to chat with other Moms at the playground. I was starting to despair a bit.

My partner asked me why we didn’t just head to Bali and see if we could make a go of it there, using all the money we were spending on our part-time nanny on a new life there. I brought up the details and the cost of an au pair and gave him several ideas of how we could swing the au pair and he’d respond to my strategies, always ending the conversation with “I still think we should go to Bali”. We kept up this dialogue for several weeks but it seemed crazy and I kept trying to go the safe and normal route. And then a light bulb came on. What was the problem with trying it? Why was I resisting this? It’s everything I wanted! In short order, we bought one way tickets for our family and rented houses via Airbnb for two months and headed out in January of the following year. We ended up staying in Bali for 9 months and then headed to France for over 2 months. We were gone from the US for just shy of a year. It was everything I had hoped for and it taught me a lot about how to best travel with my kids, how strong and capable I really am, and what I didn’t want, like how much we moved from place to place. What a magical year. Again, what a gift!

Manifesting is actually pretty easy. Intend it to happen. Write it out to help you shape what you really intend. Visualize it with 3-D clarity and feelings. Feel the feeling of having it or embodying the intention (it’s a subtle hit of emotion that you’re really intending it- kinda a like chills on your scalp or a frisson of tension in your belly) Then release it back to the Universe to allow the Divine to move it from the Unmanifested to the Manifested. And remember to intend with ease and that your intention is brought to you for your highest good and the highest good of all.

What is your experience with Manifestation? I’d love to hear all the amazing, jaw dropping examples of the Mystery moving through your lives.

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Yoga in Bali and the Joy of Sticking with Something

Ganesha in the garden with koi pond

2nd class at the Yoga Barn, with Malika

I arrived in Ubud, Bali on Jan 14, 2019. I don’t know exactly when but it was just a few days later that I started practicing at the Yoga Barn

Yoga Barn class upstairs with Ganesha

My first class at the Yoga Barn with Chris Fox

. The Yoga Barn is one of the most popular yoga studios in Bali, if not THE most popular. The morning classes are normally completely packed with up to 65 students in a class. The check in process can be quite impersonal but I kept coming day after day, 6 days a week most weeks. The staff became more friendly and I got to know the teachers. Some I immediately clicked with and some were quite off putting for me but there are so many classes that it’s easy to keep trying new teachers or stick with your faves. Lots of other students became familiar too and it started to feel like an easy to support routine.

Yoga studio beautifully set up

Yoga during my 2nd trip to Nusa Lembongan

I was so amazed and thrilled those first several weeks at the global reach of all of the teachers; Swedish/American, Jamaican, Spanish, German, Venezuelan, Japanese, Balinese, Canadian, and American. I worked hard to understand their accents and learned to love their varying emphases about breath, movement, rigorous adherence to yoga dogma or listening to your own body.

At first, I was terribly out of shape.  I was tight with weak muscles and hadn’t been serous about my yoga in months. I have a pelvic injury from carrying the twins (called Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction) that I was ignoring for the past 4+ years. It caused me so much pain but it’s hard to not walk a lot with twin toddlers. So I ignored the pain and as a result, my hip and abs got incredibly weak but I was able to manage most days.  But yoga helps with the pain and tightness so I knew the yoga would help me strengthen and heal my hips, pelvis, and abs.. The first few moths of yoga were so hard. I was 50 years old and I was trying to get my body back in shape. It was so hard. Did I mention it was so hard? Sometimes, I thought I would pass out from trying to keep up with flipping my dog and transitioning to plan and doing my umpteenth chaturanga.

Mt. Agung

Mt. Agung on the way to yoga from Nusa Lembongan

Sometimes all I focused on was how much less flexible and strong I was compared to where I had been years before. And I sometimes I focused on my progress. I pushed myself so hard when I focused on the gap between where I had been and where I was. But that wasn’t healing my hips. Instead I realized I needed to just accept that I have an actual injury. My pelvis is hurt. I have tight and weak muscles as a result. And when I accepted what is, I stopped pushing past the pain and have started to strengthen the muscles. I’ve seen tremendous progress since I slowed down to speed up.

What I see now, 6 months into a consistent and rigorous yoga practice is how casual I have been about my practice in the past. I would reach a certain level and then allow a trip or something else pull me away from my practice. My practice was not a priority for me and my progress was slow, as a result. I see now that it takes time and consistency to become a better yogini.  And by time, that means it might take years to get to where I want to be.  I still can’t do a bind. I can’t jump back into plank or forward into a standing forward fold.  I can’t do any inversion except shoulder stand. But how you do anything is how you do everything. I’d get to a certain level of mastery and back off.

Now, I’m so close to my first bind. So close. At first I wasn’t trying to do a bind. I just kept doing the full expression of the pose at a more basic level and then one day I tried to do a bind and I could feel how close my hands were. It inspired me. Now I try to bind whenever I’m in certain poses, like in Parsvakonasana.

I’m also practicing jumping through and jumping back. It’s fun to try it. I also decided to practice headstands by doing figure Ls on the wall to work up to a handstand. I was pleasantly surprised to find it was so much easier than it had been months ago. I’m practicing with dolphin pose to work up to Pincha Mayurasana.  It’s exciting to do something so new.  And to see

Yoga studio beautifully set up

Yoga during my 2nd trip to Nusa Lembongan

progress. It might take me a year or 5. But I’m willing to give the time. What a sense of accomplishment to finally experience a different level in my yoga poses. I can feel my psoas and QL muscles tighten and give and maybe one day they won’t be so tight.

And something has clicked in me about yoking breath to movement. One breath, one movement. It just wasn’t important to me in my practice in the US.  Another serious work in progress is staying present while on the mat. Now I also dedicate my practice to staying present so I can practice and stay present on my own mat without worrying how well (or worse) others are doing theirs.

Ganesha outside the yoga shala from my second trip to Nusa Lembongan

Ganesha at the yoga shala

And again really, that old adage is so spot on, so beautifully accurate: how you do anything is how you everything. And at the start of my 2019 renewed yoga practice, I was rushing through my poses, breathing hard, totally trying to keep up with my teachers and fellow yogis rather than feeling my way through my own routine.

Now that I’ve stuck with a very regular and committed yoga practice, yes, I’m stronger, more flexible, and able to remember the yoga routines without as many cues from the teacher.

More importantly, now I see that my breathwork is so critical to a focused and loving yoga practice, that my transitions are as important as my poses,

Yoga on Nusa Lembongan

Yoga wherever I go

and keeping my focus on what’s happening on my own mat is far more helpful in becoming a “better” yogini, and a better person.

Recently, as I was noticing that my transitions are so much flowing and I’m almost- so close- to achieving a bind -MY FIRST- and my focus was on my breath. No matter where my family travels, where I can practice my yoga is an important part of the planning process. Yoga is incredibly important to me now and by making it a priority, others see how important it is to me and expect me to take the time to practice my yoga. It’s no longer a negotiation.

I’m so grateful. It feels so much more loving to practice this way. And I’m such a better yogini!

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