Connecting To Our Light

People often talk about how writing can help us make sense of darkness. But it’s also important that we connect to our own and to the world’s light. Writing can help lead us to light, but for me the path to light was not primarily through the mind, but through the body.

I had been writing for many years, struggling to understand my own suffering, and I felt I was making some progress. It was when I started to practice kundalini yoga, however, that something in me began to shift.

I could go into yoga class feeling really dark, despondent even. And after even just a few minutes of breathwork and movement, I felt a connection to something greater. It was as if a window had suddenly been opened on a hot day to a cool spring breeze. There were other ways of being, other perspectives — another story that I hadn’t even been aware of.

Marianne Williamson famously said that it is not our fear of darkness that keeps us back, but rather our fear of our own light:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.” 

In those yoga classes, in opening up my own breath and body through pranayama and spinal flexes, through testing my core strength and my will, sometimes holding out my arms for eleven minutes at a time, something in me shifted. 

Did I think that I was depressed because something had gone wrong in my life? I now wondered if that idea was too small. Perhaps what had been so hard was that I had simply not known how to harness my own power.

To be honest, even in yoga classes, these moments of insight were brief: star-like punctures of light coming through the dark chatter of my brain. But the insights kept me going. And gradually over time, those pinpricks of light became more a part of my every day fabric. There was more openness, more space, more light, more understanding of how powerful we all really are. 

I could access that not from the mind, but from the connection of mind and body. And from that connection my writing also changed, became more open.

By joining yoga and writing and meditation, we can consciously redirect our attention, harness our own power, take our fears and turn them on their heads. We can re-unite mind and body, which perhaps became fragmented because we were overwhelmed by our own potential.

What if we gave ourselves the time and space and permission to trust our own light?

NcolburnNadia Colburn brings together mind, body, and spirit through online and in-person classes, and through meditation, yoga and writing retreats. She is a published writer with a Ph.D. in English from Columbia and B.A. in from Harvard. Nadia will be offering the weekend retreat, Living From Your Center: Integrating Mind, Body and Spirit, at Copper Beech Istitute August 18–20, 2017. You can learn more about Nadia at www.nadiacolburn.com

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Waking Up to Life

by Cory Muscara

“I wish I learned about this when I was younger,” a school counselor in her fifties said with a sigh. I was teaching mindfulness to a group of school leaders at Columbia’s Teachers College, and the whole class chuckled in agreement with the counselor’s sentiment. Buried in her whisper may have been deep pain, but what I saw was her soft, grateful smile.

I did learn mindfulness young and I know it was an unusual privilege. In the chaos of college, somehow this practice found me. My first mindfulness experience was lying on my dorm-room bed, inspired by the 10-minute meditation described in Jon Kabat Zinn’s “Full Catastrophe Living.” That practice was a pivot point in my personal and professional life, taking me into mindfulness trainings, a six-month silent meditation retreat in Burma and the year-long certification program with Mindful Schools.

I work as an outside provider in schools, and as a result, I wish I had more dedicated time with my students. They benefit far more when mindfulness is integrated throughout their school culture. So when I received a call from Columbia Teachers College to create and teach a curriculum on mindfulness for over one hundred school leaders and principals, I nearly lost my breath: “Mindfulness for school leaders? I get a full hour each day with them? Five days a week? For SIX WEEKS?“ Wow, I thought.  If I can get principals on board, imagine the trickle-down effect.

Mindfulness was the first class of the participants’ nine-hour day, beginning every morning at 8 a.m. Some came in energized. Others were half-asleep. We stuck to the plan: a half hour practice, then a new topic related to mindfulness with time for discussion. I wanted them to taste the practice in many forms: sitting meditation, mindful movement, body scans.

Perhaps the most impactful practice we did was a walking meditation on the streets of Manhattan. My instructions were simple. Walk around as you normally would, but see if you can notice something new. They came back a half hour later, as excited as children. “New York City is amazing! I never knew I could be so peaceful walking in Manhattan! I can’t believe how mindless I usually am!”

There is nothing more rewarding than watching people wake up to their lives.

The group was never instructed to bring mindfulness back into their schools; the practice was always discussed in the context of leadership. However, once they tasted a daily practice for themselves, they found ways to bring it to their students.

On the last day, I heard the most rewarding comment of all: “So much of my life was spent on automatic pilot,” the participant said. “I didn’t even know who I was. And now, for the first time, I feel like I’m actually living my life. All I want to do now is bring this back to my school, so the kids don’t have to say: ‘I wish I learned about this when I was younger.’”

Cory Muscara is the founder of the Long Island Center for Mindfulness where he offers workshops, retreats, and mindfulness consulting to the Long Island and New York communities, specifically in schools. Cory will be leading the weekend retreat, Mindfulness for Educators, at Copper Beech Institute June 30 – July 2, 2017. 

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Connecting From the Insight Out

Interrelationship

You are me, and I am you.
Isn’t it obvious that we “inter-are”?
You cultivate the flower in yourself,
so that I will be beautiful.
I transform the garbage in myself,
so that you will not have to suffer.

I support you;
you support me.
I am in this world to offer you peace;
you are in this world to bring me joy.

– Thich Nhat Hanh

Connection is an important part of who we are. As the great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh writes in his poem “Interrelationship,” we “inter-are” — and our connections begin with the primary relationship in our lives: the relationship we have with ourselves.

There is a whole body of scientific research in the area of connection, including the intersection of presence, deep listening, and how meaningful relationships shape how we feel and how we are. Indeed, connecting with ourselves daily, and with community, is paramount for health and well-being.

One of my greatest pathways to feeling well and reconnecting to myself is through being immersed in a natural setting. Nature is medicine for my nervous system, and it also provides a sort of mental reset. Removed from the illuminated screens of electronic devices, temporarily absent from the “culture of busy,” and outside of the feeling that I need to propel forward in life at every moment, I begin to meet myself anew in nature. I stop looking for ways to be doing and begin to more fully turn to the present moment. From this place, I can check in with myself and notice what comes up in my thoughts and feelings, and in my body, too. The inspiration of nature makes room for me to reconnect with myself, and allows me to come back into relationship with others with greater ease.

One of the immediate gifts I notice when walking in the forest, on a country road, or beside a lake is that I naturally slow down. The pace of my walking becomes connected to sensing the ground beneath my feet. My sight sharpens as I notice the light filtering through the leaves on the tree branches. I begin to tune into bird songs, and hear the wind patterns more clearly. And, most interestingly, the longer I bathe in this present-moment experience of nature, the more my sense of inward connection and well-being naturally spring forth. When I meditate with this feeling, I can sense the greater connection of my life to the lives of all living beings, and this happens effortlessly.

Re-emerging from time in nature, I can feel the shift — and more space and capacity to connect with other people. I am more open and less reactive in my thought patterns. I also notice greater positivity in my feelings and thoughts.

We know that being in nature can boost the immune system, assist in stress relief, and bring more beauty into our lives. I also believe from personal experience, that it helps us build greater connectivity from the inside out.

Sandrine Harris is the founder of an experiential approach, Kinesoma, and is certified in diverse modalities including the Feldenkrais Method®, mindfulness in education, health counseling, and several forms of movement and meditative practice. She will be offering an experience of mind-body practices outdoors in her workshop, “Connecting from the Inside Out” at Copper Beech Institute on July 9, 2017 from 1–4 p.m.

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