Posts Tagged ‘This I Believe’

I am your constant companion.
I am your greatest asset or heaviest burden.
I will push you up to success or down to disappointment.
I am at your command.
Half the things you do might just as well be turned over to me,
For I can do them quickly, correctly, and profitably.
I am easily managed, just be firm with me.
Those who are great, I have made great.
Those who are failures, I have made failures.
I am not a machine, though I work with the precision of a
machine and the intelligence of a person.
You can run me for profit, or you can run me for ruin.
Show me how you want it done. Educate me. Train me.
Lead me. Reward me.
And I will then…do it automatically.
I am your servant.
Who am I?
I am a habit.

Author Unknown

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Why is it that we do what we do … or we don’t?

I’ve been thinking a lot about what motivates people to do things, the personal initiative it takes to get things done. I think it’s an interesting question. Let’s face it, many times we simply don’t FEEL like doing the things we should. Whether we’re talking about the foods we consume, our exercise programs, our spiritual practices or budget restraints, whether it’s visiting an elderly aunt, writing ‘thank you’ notes, or helping a neighbor stain his deck ~ sometimes it’s hard to get going.

What is it that we draw on that gets us up and moving? And is there any difference between the motivation for the things we do for the sake of others and those we do for ourselves? I’m not so sure there is, but for today anyway, I’m just looking at that which prompts us to extend ourselves for other people, especially when we just don’t “feel” like it. And hey, I’ve considered everything from self-discipline to guilt.

As parents, my husband & I have used all sorts of techniques and reasoning to teach our boys the importance of extending themselves beyond the norm with varying degrees of success. We’ve employed everything from consequences (“You’re not leaving this house until you finish!) to yes, I confess, even the old mother guilt trip!

A few years ago, I was in a heated … um … ‘discussion’ with one of my boys that centered around, “Why do I have to?” I don’t even remember the specific details but we went back and forth for several minutes. And then, somewhat exhausted from the arguments, my basic belief miraculously gelled, I looked into his eyes and said quietly, “Baby, sometimes you just do things because it’s important to other people.”

And so, it is. You watch your younger brother at his middle school lacrosse game instead of hanging out with your college friends. You eat dinner with your family at the table instead of retreating with your food to another room to watch TV. You sit with your wife through some sappy movie when you’d rather be watching an action flick. You listen patiently to your Grandma tell the same story over again when you’d like to say, “Okay already, you’ve told me that before.” You read Curious George at the Zoo to your 3 year-old for the third time instead of reading your email. You watch coverage of World Cup Soccer with your husband when you’d rather be watching Olympic gymnastics. You do these things, because it’s important to other people.

National Public Radio has a wonderful series, This I Believe. I have written about it before in a post on Why Do We Practice. The series is based on a show from the 1950’s that was hosted by Edward R. Murrow and reprized a few years ago in which, “Americans from all walks of life share the personal philosophies and core values that guide their daily lives.” All of this in 350 – 500 words. The essay writers are then invited to read their philosophies on the air. The 4-5 minute stories never fail to be poignant and inspirational. If you’re in to podcasts, the program is available through iTunes and well worth the (FREE) download.

One piece that I heard last year speaks eloquently to this issue of personal initiate. You can listen to the author, Deirdre Sullivan, read her essay, Always go to the Funeral, on the NPR website which is also printed below.

* * * * *

Always Go to the Funeral

by Deirdre Sullivan

I believe in always going to the funeral. My father taught me that.

The first time he said it directly to me, I was 16 and trying to get out of going to calling hours for Miss Emerson, my old fifth grade math teacher. I did not want to go. My father was unequivocal. “Dee,” he said, “you’re going. Always go to the funeral. Do it for the family.”

So my dad waited outside while I went in. It was worse than I thought it would be: I was the only kid there. When the condolence line deposited me in front of Miss Emerson’s shell-shocked parents, I stammered out, “Sorry about all this,” and stalked away. But, for that deeply weird expression of sympathy delivered 20 years ago, Miss Emerson’s mother still remembers my name and always says hello with tearing eyes.

That was the first time I went un-chaperoned, but my parents had been taking us kids to funerals and calling hours as a matter of course for years. By the time I was 16, I had been to five or six funerals. I remember two things from the funeral circuit: bottomless dishes of free mints and my father saying on the ride home, “You can’t come in without going out, kids. Always go to the funeral.”

Sounds simple — when someone dies, get in your car and go to calling hours or the funeral. That, I can do. But I think a personal philosophy of going to funerals means more than that.

“Always go to the funeral” means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don’t feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don’t really have to and I definitely don’t want to. I’m talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex’s uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn’t been good versus evil. It’s hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.

In going to funerals, I’ve come to believe that while I wait to make a grand heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life’s inevitable, occasional calamity.

On a cold April night three years ago, my father died a quiet death from cancer. His funeral was on a Wednesday, middle of the work week. I had been numb for days when, for some reason, during the funeral, I turned and looked back at the folks in the church. The memory of it still takes my breath away. The most human, powerful and humbling thing I’ve ever seen was a church at 3:00 on a Wednesday full of inconvenienced people who believe in going to the funeral.

* * * * *

And so sometimes we just do it: Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.” Lord, how many of us can say the same?

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One of the required characteristics of an Anusara yoga class is that it be centered around a heart-oriented theme. During our teacher trainings earlier this summer with Christina Sell, we were offered several ways to find and develop this essential component. Until this training, the whole idea seemed kind of random and a bit magical to me, something that required Divine inspiration.

However, Christina systemically broke down the process for us and provided the proverbial ingredients behind the recipe. We examined three approaches that a yoga teacher can base a class around: the use of a personal trial or situation, messages from poems and stories, and an attribute or heart-based word analysis.

Regardless of your starting point, in each approach you must ultimately answer the same three questions. When you can answer them clearly, you will have a solid foundation for your Anusara yoga class: They are:

  1. How does this relate to Anusara Yoga (and Tantric) philosophy?
  2. How does this relate to chit ananda?
  3. How does this tie in to today’s practice/lesson?

Inspired Software

As a technology specialist in the local school district, I have the opportunity to experiment with a variety of software applications. There is a fabulous program which I highly recommend for just about anybody involved in creating presentations, whether they be verbal or written in nature. Though it was initially designed for as a tool for students, I find it helpful for anyone who likes to brainstorm project ideas.

The software, Inspiration, creates an infinite variety of graphic organizers. It is a great tool, especially for anyone, but especially visual learners. You can diagram connections, and then with a click of a button, it turns your diagram into a well-organized text outline where you can add notes and hyperlinks for references as desired.

You can create presentations, class plans, research papers and even plan a vacation with a few simple clicks. All of this and it’s fun too! The program comes with a variety of graphics built in to jazz up your diagrams, and you can add in your own custom images as well with simple drag and drop. (Think: yoga pose images in a sequencing plan!) You can export your outline directly to PowerPoint ~ it automatically creates your slides ~ or you can post your outline and chart directly to a webpage.

The software is relatively simple to use, available for both Mac and PC platforms, and comes with a load of useful templates, particularly if you have a student in your home whether they’re in 4th grade or college. Purchase a single copy for $69. You can also download a free 30 day trial from their website, and here is a quick start tutorial. (Can you tell I like this program?)

Inspiration Software meets Anusara Yoga

During my family road trip last week, I used the travel time to review my class notes from our two teacher trainings. Then, I developed a graphic chart using Inspiration to help me visualize and streamline the process. (Hurray for laptops!) The chart reflects the ideas of Christina Sell and those of John Friend from the Anusara Yoga Teacher Manual. I just organized it into a form that worked for my particular brain processing.

Note: Due to the file conversion necessary to post it, the hyperlinks in the chart do not work, but I have provided working links as text directly below the diagram for your reference.

Anusara Yoga Class Theme Development

Class Theme Development as taught by Christina Sell; (outline by Pamela Walsh)

Hyperlinks to Sources

Though certainly not all encompassing, I think the format is very workable, and would love your ideas, links and suggestions for improving it. If this appeals to you, you can download the chart and links I compiled as a Word document here: Anusara Yoga Class ~ Theme Development Template. To borrow from Christina’s teaching metaphor, it will give you a basic recipe to start cooking.

Just season it with a little Divine inspiration and you can’t lose!

Pamela Walsh ~ Your Yogi Tech Chick

*** Another Theme Approach ~ UPDATE ***

I attended Mandy’s class yesterday where she based her theme on the niyama saucha. She did a beautiful job weaving the idea of orderliness, tidiness, purity, and cleanliness through everything from where we placed our mats and props to the careful placement of our shoulder blades on our backs. She reminded us that we are worthy of taking great care in establishing our foundation.

Mandy demonstrated that the yamas and niyamas are great building blocks for theme development. Working with the chart above, the yama or niyama would be plugged in as the “attribute or heart-quality to cultivate,” and you simply work from there. You could also do the same with any of the six attributes of the Absolute. Perhaps this is obvious to you ~ or as we use to say in Boston, “Dawn over Marblehead!” ~ but I always need a few concrete examples to get me rolling.

*** Theme Resource ~ UPDATE 8/22/08

This morning while I was writing a new post for my blog, I was reminded of an essay I heard on the NPR series, This I Believe. (For those of you who regularly read my blog, that’s where I first heard the Martha Graham piece, “I am an Athlete of God”.) If you don’t know about the series, here’s a brief description:

This I Believe is an international project engaging people in writing, sharing, and discussing the core values that guide their daily lives. These short statements of belief, written by people from all walks of life, are archived here and featured on public radio in the United States and Canada, as well as in regular broadcasts on NPR. The project is based on the popular 1950s radio series of the same name hosted by Edward R. Murrow.”

From their website, you can search a very large database of literally thousands of essays on hundreds of topics. The essays are 350-500 words and include themes of courage, love, determination, strength, and self-knowledge. (Anusara yoga teachers, are you seeing a pattern here?) Under the “Browse Essays” link you can see many of the topic headings. Anyway, I thought that this might be a good resource for AY teachers to look at for theme development ~ perhaps a place to find an opening story or anecdote to build on.

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I am in the midst of my first Level I Anusara Teacher Training with Christina Sell. It is a 30-hour journey spread over 4 days and chalked full of great teaching, great inspiration and great lessons for life. During our discussion yesterday, we talked about the importance of learning people’s names, using their names when you see them, and particularly as this relates to a teacher and his or her students. There was some discussion on mnemonic devices for accomplishing the task, but most of the discussion centered on the importance of simply making the effort to do it.

My name is Pamela Faye McFarland Walsh & This I Believe

Raised by a salesman and now married to one, I have been aware of this fact and have valiantly attempted to practice this skill for most of my life. No doubt, the challenge of the task can be daunting, but definitely worth the effort.

As a married couple, Brian and I have adopted a simple formula for dealing with occasional lapses in memory. When we run into someone who knows one of us but not the other, we are very good about immediately introducing the person. But if, for example, we DON’T introduce them right away, then that’s our married silent cue: “Hey, I forgot this person’s name, so help me out.” The spousal unit then chimes in with a quick, “Hi, I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Pamela’s husband, ‘Brian’ and you are…?” At that point, the individual will hopefully say their name, while I stammer a few seconds behind with something like, “Oh, I’m sorry, Bri, this is my friend Joan from school.” Or something to that effect.

Now I say “hopefully” because we’ve actually experienced situations when the response was an uninformed, “Oh yes, we’ve met before.” And that’s it. No help. No prompt. Literally. Then hope quickly fades to the conversation at hand searching for some clue to our connection, coupled with furtive glances in the direction of a checkbook or credit card looking for a name. (By the way, I am a big fan of those “initial” purses that were popular awhile back!)

Addressing a Problem

I work at the elementary school in the neighborhood where I live, so it is not uncommon that I run across people who may be familiar with me, but to whom I’ve never been introduced. (This usually happens at the corner HEB when people are out of their “usual” context.) So this presents an interesting challenge because I’m never sure when I’m searching for someone’s name if it’s one I should know — that is, we’ve actually been introduced — or someone I’ve never formally met.

“Sean” the Light on Me

There was this wonderful Dad who volunteered regularly in the computer lab at school a few years ago. Sean was a friendly man who was willing to help out wherever he was needed, always taking the time to stop and visit. He was quick with a smile and a friendly “Hey Pamela, what’s up?” each time we met. Sean used my name, and I always made it a point to use his. It was great. Except his name turned out to be “Doug” which he finally broke down and told me, two years into “Sean”. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” I asked in despair. “Well I didn’t want to embarrass you.” Now every time I see him, I bumble through the line-up: “Hi there Shah … Du .. Sh ..Doug … DAMN!”

Another trusty method of the unsure is to revert to the generic use of some kind of pet name or nickname when memory fails; you know, one of those familiar slang or colloquial expressions? This technique is widely accepted in the south where endearments such as “Sweetheart” and “Buddy” pepper daily conversations. My cousin, a middle school principal in Kentucky, employs this approach quite effectively. He told me once: “All the girls are Darlin’ and all the guys are Bud.” Okay, so certainly not as effective as learning everyone’s names but possibly better than the alternative.

Consider my Dad. My parents raised four daughters and, as such, bore witness to a small parade of boyfriends throughout the years. After the dreaded event of once calling my sister’s new boyfriend by the old boyfriend’s name, Dad unapologetically adopted the use of “Slick” for all future boyfriends for all of us, with an occasional “Ace” thrown in for variety. It worked, but I will note that Thanksgiving CAN get a bit confusing. When Daddy says, Slick, four grown men turn their heads.

The Ace in my Life: The man calls ’em “Slick”

* * * * *

“Words have meaning and names have power.” ~ Author Unknown

Whatever your strategy — and please feel free to post your tips — it is worth a concerted effort. As I mulled this topic over, I was reminded of something I’d read a few years back that eloquently speaks to this issue.

During my second year of nursing school our professor gave us a quiz. I breezed through the questions until I read the last one: “What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?” Surely this was a joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our grade. “Absolutely,” the professor said. “In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.” I’ve never forgotten that lesson. I also learned her name was Dorothy. ~ Joann C. Jones

Names ~ personal or pet ~ this form of acknowledgment means something of great value to most people. Take the time to learn the names of the people who cross your path ~ your teaching path, your yogic path, your life path!

And may YOUR name never escape me, Sweetheart!


* * * * *

For a poignant reminder on the importance of acknowledgment, read Howard White’s essay, “The Power of Hello” from the NPR series, This I Believe.

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I taught my first class of the new year today. This is a group of women with whom I work and they were instrumental in throwing me “into the seat of the teacher” long ago whether I was ready or not. Their willingness to be my yoga guinea pigs has touched my heart. Because I work at an elementary school, we have not practiced for the last month. As I told them, reconvening gives me great satisfaction even though we missed the energy and spirit of our fellow yoginis who had other commitments today and could not join us. Which reminds me of something that Noah Maze said at the workshop last month … “Do you know why we practice at yoga? To prepare us for the ADVANCED practice required to live our lives off the mat!” I like that.

The Judith Lasater Relax & Renew workshop was incredibly educational & motivational. For whatever reasons, her words hit me in just the right way and have resonated deeply. One of the biggest themes I took away from the workshop was the importance of LANGUAGING. What we say becomes our thoughts and our thoughts become our beliefs so we should carefully guard our words. Read that again (but slower): What we say … becomes our thoughts … and our thoughts … become our beliefs. So, my friends, we should carefully & diligently choose our words.

Now, consider the words “have to” and “need to.” (Judith reminded us that the only things we HAVE to do is die. Pretty much everything else is a choice.) With that thought, she issued the assignment to practice phrasing our “to do’s” (both verbal and non-verbal) with the words, “I choose to …” So, stop right now and think of something you currently “have to do.” Maybe it’s wash your hair, fix dinner, go on a diet, go for a mammogram, meditate, whatever. Now replace the “have to” with “choose to” and even go a bit further (if it helps) with the “BECAUSE.” Such as:

  • I choose to wash my hair now so that I have more time in the morning
  • I choose to fix dinner so that my family has a healthy meal.
  • I choose to watch what I eat so that I can lose weight that makes me uncomfortable & takes away from my quality of life.
  • I choose to have a mammogram to take care of myself and my health.

Think about how the CHOICE of language influences how you feel about any of those particular tasks.

I told a story today about my husband, Brian. He likes things to be “clutter free.” He’s not that picky about clean, but he doesn’t like to come home to dishes or the kids’ belongings scattered about or my cosmetics on the counter. Now those things don’t really bother me — huge surprise for those of you who know me, I’m sure — but I learned very early in our marriage that he ends up in a much better mood when he walks in the door of a tidy home. This has translated into a 20+ year daily 4:30 dash around the house to “pick up” before he gets home with the phrase pattern in my head: “I HAVE to pick up before he walks in the door,” which isn’t really true. I don’t HAVE to. And think of the RESENTMENT just those TWO words can lead to: “I have to stop what I’M doing (emailing, reading, Oprah 🙂 whatever) to do THIS for him. It’s not Brian imposing that thought-process. It’s me! All me.

So now, take that same scenario and put in the words, “I CHOOSE to stop what I’m doing and tidy up because I want Brian to know that I value him & I want him to feel relaxed when he walks in the door.” Feel the shift? It completely changes it from a place of resentment to a place of love, from a self-imposed demand to a free choice. There is so much power, responsibility and ultimately FREEDOM in that perspective. I have the power to create my own experience, I am responsible for my life (not a victim of someone else’s) and I am FREE to do whatever I want. Really, I am. And so are you.

So, if you choose to accept the mission, become CONSCIOUS of your CHOICES. Work to replace every HAVE TO — both verbal and thought based — with a CHOOSE TO. And PLEASE report back. I’d love to hear your experiences.

I challenge you all to CHOOSE your life. Stay strong in your ADVANCED practice until we meet again on the mat.


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So I’m struggling a bit these days. In the context of a yoga practitioner, I am an infant. I came to yoga just over a year ago. With that first day in Erin’s Hatha Beginners’ Series, a fire ignited that burned bright and large and all consuming. In short order, daily classes led to Teacher Training and to the door — or should I say, heart — of Anusara. Not unlike newcomers to other “athletic” endeavors, my initial gains and improvements on the mat were dramatic and quickly attained as my body and mind became stronger, flexible, more open. The “Aha” moments (as Oprah calls them) were daily occurrences. My practice and classes energized and invigorated me. I couldn’t imagine missing a day.

But lately I’ve experienced a bit of a “training plateau.” (In fact, I think you might even call mine a “training chasm.”) The improvements aren’t coming, the principles I should know seem muddy, and to top it all off, I still can’t get the head of my arm bone BACK in Chaturanga Dandasana. Frankly, I’m not sure I ever will. I have been frustrated and filled with self-doubt. If I can’t do this, how am I ever going to teach it?!

All of this does NOT inspire or motivate me to practice. My mind freely offers excuses that my body is only too willing to buy: “You’re getting old; You should have started yoga when you were younger; You’ve gone as far as you’re going to; You’ll never get it anyway!” After today’s Immersion, those doubts and recriminations nagged at me like tight hamstrings – limiting, painful and unyielding. Where am I going with this? What is the point of my practice? I left the studio, got into my car, and turned on my CD player.

And then … the Universe spoke.

I recently purchased a 5-CD collection of the NPR show show This I Believe. The collection highlights 80 essayists — both famous and every day people — sharing their ideas in response to the prompt: This I Believe. The stories intrigue and inspire me with their authenticity. Listening to these personal, yet universal stories has evolved into a kind of car-time meditation for me: pondering my own beliefs as I consider those of others. As I began my drive home, the CD player clicked to track 13. My speakers and my soul reverberated with the voice of Martha Graham, the iconic choreographer and modern dance pioneer. She spoke the truth I needed to hear, no better than if God Himself was riding shotgun …

An Athlete of God
~ by Martha Graham

I believe that we learn by practice. Whether it means to learn to dance by practicing dancing, or to learn to live by practicing living, the principles are the same. In each, it is the performance of a dedicated, precise set of acts, physical or intellectual, from which come shape of achievement, the sense of one’s being, the satisfaction of spirit. One becomes in some area an athlete of God. Practice means to perform over and over again, in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.

I think the reason dance has held such an ageless magic for the world is that it has been the symbol of the performance of living. Many times, I here the phrase, “the dance of life.” It is close to me for a very simple and understandable reason. The instrument through which the dance speaks is also the instrument through which life is lived: the human body. It is the instrument by which all the primaries of experience are made manifest. It holds in its memory all matters of life and death and love.

Dancing appears glamorous, easy, delightful. But the path to the paradise of that achievement is not easier than any other. There is fatigue so great that the body cries even in its sleep. There are times of complete frustration. There are daily small deaths. Then, I need all the comfort that practice has stored in my memory and the tenacity of faith. But it must be the kind of faith that Abraham had, wherein he “staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief.”

It takes about 10 years to make a mature dancer. The training is twofold. There is the study and practice of the craft in order to strengthen the muscular structure of the body. The body is shaped, disciplined, honored, and in time, trusted. The movement becomes clean, precise, eloquent, truthful. Movement never lies. It is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather to all who can read it. This might be called the law of the dancer’s life, the law which governs its outer aspects.

Then, there is the cultivation of the being. It is through this that the legends of the soul’s journey are retold with all their gaiety and their tragedy and the bitterness and sweetness of living. It is at this point that the sweep of life catches up the mere personality of the performer, and while the individual—the undivided one—becomes greater, the personal becomes less personal. And there is grace. I mean the grace resulting from faith…faith in life, in love, in people, in the act of dancing. All this is necessary to any performance in life which is magnetic, powerful, rich in meaning.

In a dancer there is a reverence for such forgotten things as the miracle of the small beautiful bones and their delicate strength. In a thinker there is a reverence for the beauty of the alert and directed and lucid mind. In all of us who perform, there is an awareness of the smile, which is part of the equipment, or gift, of the acrobat. We have all walked the high wire of circumstance at times. We recognize the gravity of pull of the Earth as he does. The smile is there because he is practicing living at that instant of danger. He does not choose to fall.

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