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What’s Next? on your journey to truly thriving

by Jill Sockman

A couple of times each year, I offer a three-day intensive called What’s Next? It’s an opportunity to take a look at who you are when you’re truly thriving, what’s holding you back from being that person more of the time, and what’s the next step you need to take to be more in alignment with your passion and purpose in life. As we finish out 2015, when better to pause and consider What’s Next? for 2016?

I love this work, and am due for a refresher, so before the clock strikes midnight on 12/31, I’ll be taking a little extra time to get quiet and reflect on a few questions. Perhaps you’d like to join me:

1) List three times this year when you were thriving. Consider thriving as you at your very best, happiest and most authentic, whether in professional or private life. It might be a moment in time or an event or experience. List what comes to mind first, without editing. Who were you with? What were you doing?

2) What were your three biggest disappointments of 2015? Sitting in the seat of the witness- outside drama and blame and ego as much as possible- What role did YOU play in the turn of events, and what did you or could you learn about yourself from these experiences?

2) What did you accomplish this year that you’re proud of? Again, in any sphere of life, and in terms of what is most important, valuable and meaningful to you personally, rather than what we might consider an accomplishment culturally. How does it make you feel, and again, who were you with and what were you doing?

4) Take a moment to get very still and then ask the question to yourself: “what is missing in my life?” You’ll know you’ve gotten an answer from the most helpful place if it comes quickly and is just a single word or phrase. If it’s an extended dissertation, it’s probably the ramblings of the ego. Try again.

5) Review what you’ve written so far. Based on your thriving moments, what you learned (or could still gleam) from things not going your way, what you have accomplished and what’s missing right now from your life, what is your own answer, in the dimming light of 2015, to the question What’s Next? for you in 2016?  What do you need more of or less of? What must change for you to be more content, fulfilled, and happy? And finally, what distinct, actionable steps can you take in that direction?

So, there’s your road map– or at least a great start. Far as we know, we just get this one chance, so let’s not waste any more time standing still, spinning our wheels, or looking behind us. It is time to turn the page and move forward.

Wishing you peace, prosperity, good health, good company, deep devotion, laughter, joy and countless blessings for the New Year.


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Thanksgiving Continuum Practice

by Jill Sockman

I love Thanksgiving. For me, it’s the season of family, friends and food; decorated with gratitude, relaxation and ease. 

And then there’s December. Which is decidedly NOT Thanksgiving.

For some reason, once we turn the calendar page, there’s an energetic downshift, coupled with jamming the accelerator to the floor.  Why? Why do we do it? Why do we go from all the sweet being, enjoying, relaxing, all under the sunny sky of abundance and gratitude to a month of stormy all-out frenzy? I don’t want it. It’s not helpful. I’m going to try something else this year.

If any of this sounds familiar to you, I invite you to join me in my Thanksgiving Continuum practice. For the next few weeks, consider adding any or all of these ideas to your daily routine.

  • Gratitude journal. This is something I have worked with from time to time over the years. It’s so helpful, and whenever I start it up again, I always wonder why I ever stopped. Whether in your calendar, on your phone, in a special notebook, or in a daily conversation/email/text exchange with a friend, list at least three things for which you are truly thankful.The more we recognize the goodness around us, the more goodness there is to recognize. Every day. That’s the key.
  • Eat. The busier we are, the more we can feel there isn’t time to give ourselves the most basic nourishment of all. Eat three meals a day. Every day. And a bowl of popcorn, cereal, or ice cream is NOT a meal. You know who you are.
  • Stop doing. As in stop everything. At least once per day. Even if you already have a daily yoga practice, commit to an addition five or ten minutes at the midday or middle of the afternoon to sit and breathe, or take a mini-savasana. Don’t check out, tune in. Reconnect to the spaciousness that’s always there. You’ll be amazed at what five minutes of stillness can do for you.
  • Right association. We don’t always have a choice about work, social and family obligations (or do we?). If you truly *must* spend time in places or with people who do not nourish you, support you, inspire you, and generally make you feel like the very best version of yourself, make sure you carve out time to do just that. Link up with your oldest, best friend who you never get to see, plan a hike out in nature, go to church, kirtan, yoga- whatever opens your heart and feeds your soul.  Remember who you are.
  • Self care. This is different for everyone. Some things are on the chart under required daily maintenance, other things we slide to the “luxury” column. If you are giving more of yourself, or suffer from the holiday blues, make sure the daily requirements are being met AND shift some items from the “luxury” column into “necessities.” It’s not anybody’s job but yours to make sure you are getting what you need.

I’m grateful to have work that I find purposeful and fulfilling. I’m grateful for every day I have this sweet and funny hound dog by my side. I’m grateful for my partner, my family, my friends, my community…for the endless ways they support me, teach me, challenge me, and remind me what life and love are all about.

And now? Well now it’s time for breakfast. 🙂


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Practicing Forgiveness

by Jill Sockman

We’ve all been wronged. At one, some, or countless times in this life, you’ll be faced with the disappointment of being let down. People will turn on you, lie to you, talk about you behind your back, leave you, be cruel to you… there are so many ways that we (intentionally or not) hurt one another in this life.

So what do you do when that happens? I imagine there have been studies performed, papers drafted and books written about the steps that we, as humans, go through when we experience the pain of someone else’s flawed humanity. Anger, resentment, disappointment, the desire to lash out or get even… it’s an untidy and unpleasant list, but one perhaps you can relate to.

This week I’ve been preparing for the arrival of one of my many teachers, Warren Grossman, coming to blue this December. I’ve had present  in my mind one of his great teachings– the practice of forgiveness. It’s reminded me of a quote…something like, “holding on to anger is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die” or some such thing. The exact wording might not be there, but you get the point. The only one who is damaged when you choose to hold on to that anger/disappointment/hurt is you. (And yes, it’s a choice.) This holding on not only weighs heavy on the heart, but colors how you see everyone and everything around you.  The way out? Forgiveness. Compassion. Lovingkindness.

I’ve found myself naturally returning to a practice I learned a long, long time ago called Metta. Metta is a Pali word that means non-violence, or loving-kindness, and the practice is simple. I’ve heard it taught different ways before, but this is how it was given to me:

Whether in a meditation practice or in your car, rage bubbling from the *ahem* individual beside you driving *ahem* carelessly… It starts with the self, for as we have all been wronged, we have, each of us, been the one to do the wronging to another. “May I be happy. May I be peaceful. May I be filled with lovingkindness.” Not just running the words through your mind, but filtering those feelings through your heart. From there you move to others, whether those you know and love, or those who are strangers to you, or those who have hurt you the most. “May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be filled with lovingkindness.”

Forgiveness, compassion and loving-kindness don’t excuse bad behavior or undo the evils of this world. However, they can release you from the role of victim, judge and jury in the after school drama special that is Life. They can liberate you from carrying the heavy weight of your experiences and the collateral damage of others’ actions. They can allow you to let go and to move on, whether frozen in a moment of road rage or enslaved for years by a hurt of long ago.

We are imperfect. And most of the time we are doing the very best we can. Sometimes we get it right, and sometimes not so much. As you are moving through your day, notice if you’re carrying around heaviness, anger or resentment from someone else’s words or actions. What if you chose to spill that poison out, smooth on the salve of lovingkindness, and get on with your bad self? Light and free, remembering that all we have is the precious Now.

May you be happy. May you be peaceful. May you be filled with loving-kindness.


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Integrity and a Yamas Refresher

by Jill Sockman

I’ve come to use #specialtimes to describe events of late. By the accounts of many around me, we are in the midst of a time of big transitions, and I don’t just mean the weather. It’s all pushed me to pause to take a look at just what integrity means. So you might want to settle into your seat or scroll down right now, as I have the feeling this is going to take a hot minute.

The word integrity means “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character” and “the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished.” What does that even mean — moral and ethical principles? Is there a commonly accepted code of ethics by which to select right action? Why, yes. Yes, there is. And it happens to be the foundation of the practice, and the first of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga: The Yamas. Perhaps we all could use a refresher…

Ahimsa– literally, non-violence. Thinking, speaking, acting, living in a way that does the least amount of harm. Sounds simple, but is it? Are you practicing ahimsa on your mat? With your loved ones? With yourself? It starts with basic kindness and ultimately comes down to living without fear — no need to diminish, convert or take from anyone else, as there is enough for everyone. How can you avoid spreading or creating more negative energy in this world? By doing the least amount of harm, always.

Satya– Truth. And please note that is with a capital T. It’s good to recognize that while there may be many co-existing, conflicting facts in this world, the Truth is not a grey area. That doesn’t necessarily mean it lives right on the surface. It’s often something we have to dig for, make peace with, and then choose (often with great resistance) to live in alignment with, regardless of the opinions of others. There’s a reason ahimsa comes first. Because you have to live in Truth, in a non-harming way. This isn’t all as easy as it might seem on the surface.

Asteya–  literally, non-stealing. This always sounds like the easy one to yogis– “well of course I don’t steal!” So, let’s take a closer look. Asteya means not taking what doesn’t belong to you. And that’s not just shoplifting; it includes the material world and the physical, mental and emotional realms. Examples might include taking credit for someone else’s ideas, soliciting a co-worker’s client, turning another’s emotional distress into your own, taking advantage of someone’s kindness, interrupting someone in conversation (stealing their time). There are endless ways to consider how we take what isn’t ours. It’s not kind, and it’s not in alignment with Truth.

Brahmacharya– traditionally, twelve years of celibacy. Oh, I’d love to see the look on your face. Here, you have to take into account the original context — and that is a bunch of young men in an ashram setting. If you’re going to really study and learn, you’ve got to work to redirect all of that sexual energy or you’ll never get anywhere. And in some cases that applies today…maybe not the twelve-year part, but still something to think about. In a more general way, brahmacharya is about preserving your vital energy and moving through this world with an awareness about how you expend the energy you have, and being sure it is in alignment with your Truth. Hi, satya, good to see you again.

Aparigraha– non-possessiveness, or non-hoarding. This is a tough one, as we live in what is probably the most material-focused, consumer-driven culture that has ever existed. Aparigraha means to have only what you need, as the more you have, the more time and energy it takes to sustain it…which takes us back to brahmacharya, right? Aparigraha requires us to learn detachment and flow. Nothing really belongs to us, and when we are in the flow of ahimsa, satya, asteya and brahamcharya — doing the least amount of harm in how we live, acting and speaking from a place of real Truth, not taking from others and always putting our energy to the best use — it’s much easier to see that what we need is what we have, and what we have is what we need.

We are all a work in progress, with an emphasis on the word WORK. Are there any places in our shared Code of Ethics that you could use a little self-reflection or work? Perhaps this tome of a message can be a nudge in the right direction. A regular reminder on who we want to be and how we want to live can go a long way in shifting our thoughts and actions to make our lives – and the lives of others – so much better.


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The Kitchari Cleanse

by Jill Sockman

Since my September message in news from the blue, I’ve had a lot of interest in the kitchari cleanse.  You can certainly find much more information online, but in case that’s all too much, or you would like additional details, here is a little more info. I did about 4.5 days and am still hungry for more.

For a while it will be a staple – maybe not every meal – but on the regular. It’s one of the great things about a cleanse – it resets your palate, energy and cravings, among so many other things!IMG_1034

Some notes:

  • strict kitchari cleanse would be kitchari, very mild/bland or very spicy, depending on the source, at every meal and any snacktime. You may eat as much as often as you like as long as you never feel “full.”
  • Absolutes are no dairy, no eggs, no caffeine, no sugar, no meat, no onions or garlic, no nightshades (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, Goji berries and other berries – consult Google-ji for others). Coconut oil or ghee can be used, but no other oils. Often kitchari is a one-pot dish, but I like to make the rice separately, partly for snacks and partly because I make delicious rice. 🙂
  • I did a modified cleanse. For breakfast I make oatmeal (it’s a blend w/ millet): almond or soy milk seasoned with powdered ginger, cardamom (a lot) and cinnamon then brought to the boil three times. Then add the oat blend. Drizzle with about one teaspoon of grade B maple syrup.
  • You can make one big pot of kitchari and eat from it for no more than three days. I like to make a different one each day for the variety.
  • As I need a snack on the regular, I bake sweet potatoes every day. When hungry, heat some ghee or coconut oil in a saucepan, add fragrant rice and some chopped baked sweet potato. Top with sea salt and some shaved coconut (unsweet) that you’ve toasted under the broiler FOR NO MORE THAN 30 SECONDS. Insanely delish and my new favorite snack.

RICE

If making a separate pot:

  • Heat coconut oil
  • Add cardamom pods, a cinnamon stick, fennel and/or cumin seeds to taste and stir them around until fragrant. Then add the well-rinsed rice and cook per directions.
  • Organic white basmati is the classic. I also love Carolina Plantation aromatic rice. Mostly because it is local, and I always think that is good!

KITCHARI

Every day a different combination of:

base

Cumin seeds, brown and/or yellow mustard seeds, ground cumin, ground coriander, ground cardamom, cinnamon, turmeric and fresh ginger (omit if you are pittified).The secret to any good curry, and kitchari is no exception, is the paste. Heat the saucepan and add ghee or coconut oil. Add any seeds first, until they start to sizzle or pop. Then add the rest of the spices and stir constantly until it is super fragrant. Then add the fresh grated ginger. You can also add chili here if you like.

vegetables

Optional. If adding vegetables, add here. Veggies should be diced small to cook very well: carrots, celery, zucchini, sweet potato, kale, chard, spinach. (I don’t like what happens to greens overnight, so I tend to add those toward the end of cook time and eat them all in one sitting, adding more fresh greens and cooking those up when I reheat the dish.

IMG_3850

Enjoy thick, as pictured here, or thin down into a soup.

dahl

Next is the legume.  The traditional is split mung, which at the Whole Foods can be found in the bulk section as “golden lentils.”

DO NOT use whole mung beans; they are too difficult to digest. You can also try sprouted mung dahl (packaged and across from the bulk). It is very easy to digest and a nice alternative. The amount of water you need to add depends on the dahl you use. In India I’ve had kitchari served thick like a curry, but in an ashram setting it is more soupy. So the water amount is also up to you.

toppings

sea salt, cilantro, fresh lime juice, toasted sesame seeds, toasted coconut

As my friends have many times lamented, I don’t use recipes or measure, so measurements for the base are tough. I like more flavor and depth, so I’ll use 2 tsp – 1T each of the spices except cinnamon/cardamom, which would be more like 1 tsp. It’s something you really can’t add at the end in a meaningful way. Write down what you put in so you can adjust the next time — which I never do, and never have, but it sounds like a good thing to say.

If you cleanse, let me know how it goes. Prepare for the usual cleanse effects, even though it seems like you are eating plenty of deliciousness: headache, GI cleanout, foggy brain, irritability. Especially Day 2. You’ll feel light at the end, I promise.

Shopping List 

produce

cilantro
sweet potatoes
carrots
celery
zucchini
greens
ginger
limes
curry leaves

bulk area

cardamom pods, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, cinnamon stick
ground: turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, ginger
sesame seeds
organic basmati or plantation rice
golden lentils or sprouted mung beans (NOT whole mung beans!)

other

ghee or coconut oil
unsweet shaved coconut

Disclaimer: I’m not an ayurvedic specialist, a nutritionist or a professional chef. Do plenty of research, including talking with your healthcare practitioner, to find out if this is the right thing for you. Most of all, listen to your body, and you’ll start to hear the difference between the cravings of the mind and the cravings of the soul!

All love,

Jill


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Fall is Vata Time – return to nourishment of self

by Jill Sockman

I got my first whiff of Fall about two weeks ago. It wasn’t even cool outside, the air didn’t hold the crisp and dry quality that will come in a couple of short months, but it was Change — no doubt about it. It’s an unmistakeable phenomena that happens to me twice per year: both the coming of Fall at the end of a long, hot summer, and the first notion of Spring when we near the end of the dark, cold winter months. This ephemeral, intangible note in the air was the first message the summer is coming to an end, it’s time to get back to work, and most importantly, it’s time to return to deep nourishment of self.

autumn-leaves-blowingIn Ayurveda, the sister science to Yoga, we are taught that each of us is a combination of the elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether. Depending on your parents, time and place of birth, karma, and a myriad of other contributing factors, you arrive on this planet with a particular combination of those elements — your dosha — Kapha, Pitta, Vata, in some combination. It’s called your Ayurvedic constitution, and it can be very informative in terms of your habits, what’s helpful and unhelpful to you, and what food, schedule, and type of exercise is your best medicine for optimal well-being.

Regardless of your dosha, Fall time is Vata Time. Which means it’s the time when Vata is most likely to be out of whack for all of us. And when Vata is out of balance, it can feel like everything is out of balance. Personally, I’m a VK (Vata Kapha), and even though it’s warm and humid outside, there’s a part of me that knows Fall is approaching. And like any good “Vata personality,” I’m gearing up by eating irregularly, sleeping poorly, exercising too much, and generally spinning, spinning, spinning — all the while getting very precious little accomplished. (All falling under the “not helpful” category, in case that all sounds too familiar.)

For once, I’m grabbing the bull by the horns before it’s too late, and I actually become untethered from the planet. Do less. Rest more. And implement some pretty simple Rules of Engagement for the Vata Battle ahead:

  • No blue screens before bed. And I don’t mean five minutes. Ideally two hours.
  • Lights out no later than 10pm and up by 6am
  • Significant reduction in raw foods, increasing warm, cooked, easy to digest nourishing meals, on a regular schedule, every day
  • Returning to daily sesame oil massage
  • Moderation in exercise, and twice-daily meditation with balancing pranayama techniques.

For me, one part of this preparation includes an Ayurvedic cleanse, which calls for three days of eating Kitcheri, a simple Indian meal of yellow dahl and rice. You can eat as much as you want whenever you are hungry (without stuffing yourself) as a means to reset the scales, settle the belly and mind, and nourish and cleanse the whole Self. There are endless ways to make Kitcheri, just consult Google-ji for an easy, wholesome and healthy dinner some night.

I hope you’ve had a playful, restful summer. And I’m looking forward to seeing you soon.

 


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Expectations are premeditated resentments

by Jill Sockman

I’ve written about this before, I know that I have. Probably more than once. Expectations are premeditated resentments. I don’t recall the woman’s name who first shared that with me, but I clearly remember where I was- it was my very first teacher training, in 1999, in California.- and it was one of my most memorable moments from those weeks immersed in yoga for the first time. I can still see her face and feel the strong resonance of those words with the truth in my soul. That was 16 years ago. I’m apparently a slow learner.

What does it mean? Well, let’s break it down. Expectation is a state of anticipation- of an outcome, of an event happening or not happening, of a reaction, whatever. We walk into a situation or conversation with an idea of how it’s going to go, or what the other person is going to do. We are invested (attached?!) to the outcome. Premeditated resentment would be planning in advance to be annoyed, hurt or otherwise bent out of shape. Why would be plan in advance to be angry or disappointed? Sounds crazy, right? But we do it. I do it.

One of the things I’ve found with this is that I don’t always know that I even HAVE expectations. I have worked pretty hard to get clear of them on a conscious level, but there they are, still brewing, churning, bubbling, murmuring under the surface. Then something doesn’t go quite as I apparently thought it should and the bubble rises up to the surface, breaks, and splatters everywhere. Bah. What a mess.

I don’t imagine that these situations are going to go away, so I will continue with my plight to be less attached, to be more willing to go with the flow, and to trust over and over again that whatever is happening in the moment is part of a bigger picture that I can’t always see. And to remember that planning to be pissed off is a bad plan.

In doing so, I shall proceed with my Expectation Containment Program, to limit my premeditated resentments. And I’ll look with as much patience as I can muster on myself and those around me when things just don’t go the way I thought they should. After all, I’d much rather plan to be delighted with whatever outcome is meant to be.


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Your natural state of joy

by Sandy Scherer

When was the last time you reveled in a big belly laugh? When something was tears-running-down-your-face can’t-breathe funny? It always feels so good! And it truly is wonderful medicine.

For some of us, it just doesn’t happen often enough. We live in a culture that values hard work and seriousness, and that’s a familiar place for me. Yes, I’ve reaped many benefits from that place. I also envy people who have what seems to be more balance — you know, the fun people! Maybe they know a secret I’m just now catching onto — The Natural State of a Human Being is Joy!

9697475-largeAnd it’s such a healthy state — physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Kids are great at being in the natural state of joy — because they live in the moment. Somewhere along the way, many of us got caught up in the routine of life and its demands, and we lost sight of the fun. We get good at worrying and can’t see the truly exciting opportunities each and every single moment has to offer.

But it’s possible to get the joy back — to bring more balance into the joy / serious equation. It’s part of my journey and it may ring true for you or someone you know, too.

Start by naming five things you appreciate right now. They don’t have to be profound or grand. It could be your cup of tea or coffee. Are you smiling yet? You can expand this practice into an evening or morning ritual — of appreciating things that make you purely and truly happy. Over time, the heavier thoughts may make more room for lighter, happier ones. And before you know it, your joy shines from your very being — and it’s contagious in the very best of ways.


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Life-affirming Choices

by Jill Sockman

Choices. We are confronted with them constantly, from the minutiae of day-to-day existence to the overwhelming life and death decisions which become pivotal moments in our lives. It’s a privilege to have so much freedom — so many choices. What time to wake up, how to spend the morning hours before work begins, what to eat, how/if to exercise the body, brain, spirit. Pressing choices about health — our own or a loved one, significant professional changes, relationship decisions and everything in between. Who is doing all this deciding?

As adults, the obvious answer is “I am!” But are you, really? How many of your decisions are truly conscious? How often are they based on habit, familiarity or the comfort of your ego? How many decisions are a result of the desires and preferences of those around you or founded on the values of your parents or your environment? How many times do you say no when you really need to say yes or say yes when in your heart, the answer is no? If you’re not already, I urge you to start paying attention. I say this after sitting here writing for about forty minutes without my glasses.  The headache is imminent. Not doing something (laziness) is a choice, too. And each has a consequence.

In class on Sunday I was talking about how every decision we make — from how much water to drink in a day to the company we keep at dinner to the time we carve out for important relationships and spiritual growth — is serving our wellbeing in the moment and happiness in the future, or it isn’t. Simple enough, right? Pay attention. How many times do you put your wellbeing aside for the wishes of another or in service to your ego, or your happiness on hold from an unwillingness to dive a little deeper to cultivate the discipline necessary to change a past pattern? (Yes, I got up and got the glasses. Eventually.)

Our time here is short. Each of us is on a path that holds challenges and opportunities we cannot yet see — or often even imagine. Our ability to face those obstacles or snatch up those opportunities is highly dependent not just on present moment awareness, but how attuned we are to the part of us that knows if what we are about to do is in support of our wellbeing and long term happiness. Or not.

I believe there is no right or wrong — I just think there are choices that are life-affirming and those that aren’t. And the former are sometimes not easy, not popular, not supported, not obvious. Or everyone would make them all the time, and we KNOW that’s not the case. What’s the force behind your action (or lack of action)? Because once you know who is in the driver’s seat,  if it’s not the present moment YOU with your own best interest at heart? Kick ’em to the curb and take hold of the wheel. It’s your life and it’s happening whether you’re paying attention or not.


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Meditate on Loving-Kindness

by Sandy Scherer

Old patterns and habitual ways are not going to go down without a fight. They may no longer serve us or feed us, but man, do they ever feel familiar and easy.

Striking a new path takes intention, determination, work and community. The part of you that creates intention to mettachange is the knowing part of you. The voice that lives within and truly knows what you need. It may often be drowned out by the busyness of your lives, and old, comfortable ways, but when you are quiet and still, you can hear it. And that voice is what truly feels good and feeds the soul.

For many of us, the voice lives in our hearts. To cultivate your intention toward a new direction, begin by nurturing your heart. Start by treating yourself with loving-kindness. Take time to listen in meditation to what the heart has to offer.

To practice loving-kindness meditation, or Metta meditation, sit quietly in a comfortable way and take a few slow, long breaths with complete exhalations. Feel and imagine the breath moving through your heart.

First practice Metta meditation toward yourself, since, as the adage so truly states, we have to love ourselves before we love others. In your quiet stillness, mentally repeat the following or similar phrases:

May I be safe.

May I be happy.

May I live with ease and well-being.

May I be free from suffering.

After directing this loving-kindness toward yourself, think of a friend or loved one to whom you want to extend this feeling, and repeat the phrasing toward that individual:

May you be safe.

May you be happy.

May you live with ease and well-being.

May you be free from suffering.

You may gradually and over time extend this meditation to others in your life, even those who may present you with your greatest challenges, and eventually to all beings everywhere.


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