Archive for May, 2015

Stillness In Action: Detroit2Nepal Foundation (D2N)

Written by Matt Bartlett on . Posted in Charity of the Month, Stillness In Action

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For this month’s Stillness in Action donation, we are contributing to the Detroit2Nepal Foundation (D2N). If you would like to support D2N along with us—particularly in light of the recent devastation in Nepal—you may do so via paypal by clicking this link. D2N is a registered 501(c)(3)non-profit organization dedicated to improving public health, health care and educational opportunities for children in the remote Himalayan District of Khotang, one of the poorest areas in Nepal.

D2N was founded by Dr. Richard Keidan, who has traveled extensively throughout Nepal. Although he initially traveled to the Himalayas for adventure, he soon fell in love with the people populating the villages scattered throughout the mountains. The nature of his trips changed in 2009 when he met Namgyal Sherpa, his sirdar (lead guide) on an exploratory trek in the Kanchenjunga Region of Eastern Nepal. Namgyal asked Richard to come back to his home district of Khotang to provide some medical relief work. What Richard learned was that Khotang was one of the poorest areas in Nepal.  The district was cut off from roads and communication, without power, without waste management (toilets), without clean drinking water and with very limited access to health care and educational opportunities. After seeing the significant needs in this region and the amazing determination of the people, Detroit2Nepal was founded.

Currently, D2N is working in three villages in this rural mountainous area- Dipsung, Rakha, and Sungdel. These villages account for approximately 10,000 people. As opposed to dictating what will be done, all projects are initiated by the Nepalese. This approach creates jobs for community members and also allows them to learn how to manage these projects. Examples of projects sponsored by D2N include rural medical clinics, student scholarships, school libraries, hydroelectric power facilities, a birthing center and various waste management projects.

Recognizing the needs in Richard’s immediate area of Detroit, D2N created the local Detroit arm of the foundation, the Miracle Fund at Beaumont Children’s Hospital. Partnering with Beaumont Health Systems, money has been raised money for two children’s funds at the hospital. D2N assists in building customized adaptive bikes for children with significant disabilities so that they may safely enjoy one of the wonderful things about being a kid- riding a bike! This “Bike Day” program is run through the Beaumont Pediatric Rehabilitation Department. The Foundation also provides financial resources for the Beaumont Pediatric Oncology Long Term Follow-Up Clinic, providing medical care for survivors suffering from health problems related to their prior life-saving treatments.

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Heal Your Heart May 2015 Retreat – Reviews

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Practices

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I feel very fortunate for being having attended the annual Heal Your Heart retreat at the Colombiere Retreat Center in Clarkston, MI.

Matt and Kavitha are extremely gifted beings. The idea of “divine love” and “stillness in action” were once theoretical to me…Divinity flowing through people? Is that possible, and why don’t I perceive it? I can now confidently say that it is humanly possible. Kavitha and Matt exemplify these expressions their presence and service. The stillness/love/acceptance that one feels in being with this dynamic unified duo is indescribable. I hope that everyone who is inclined to attend a retreat with Matt and Kavitha have the opportunity. “The proof is in the pudding,” as they say.

An aspect of their approach I appreciate very much is that is focused on effective and non-sectarian methods that anyone can use to accomplish anything and everything that we aspire to. While the form of our individual aspirations may be different, the practices offered are universal in practice and effective in revealing the greatness in everyone.

I’m in such awe and gratitude for Matt and Kavitha. Their willingness to share these powerful practices is inspiring. I see Matt and Kavitha as vehicles for divinity and its magnificent expressions of peace, love, harmony, well-being, and revelation.

Matt served as a continuous reminder of the light-hearted nature of living, while liberated and infused with joy, which appears to fill him to so much that it overflows and runs into me. Of course his sharp wit and hilarious persuasion are incredible attributes which enhance this effect to magnificent proportions. I was laughing from the depths of my soul during a good portion of the retreat, thanks to Matt. Although he is a very funny fellow, it is apparent that he is also infused with timeless wisdom. To witness the two joined in this one is uniquely awesome.

Kavitha’s influence on me is impossible to put into words, but a man can try. She overwhelms me as a fountain of intelligence. Not only is she well educated, she shares practical wisdom which is clearly based on authentic, integrated experience. Her approach includes all aspects of yoga, and she is incredibly gifted in her ability to communicate insight in a very simple and straightforward way.

Personally,  I feel that there is nothing that can be hidden from Kavitha’s razor sharp intellect. Not that I would wish to hide anything from her, but if she were to use her abilities of inquiry in a non-dual way and see the contents of my mind, I could see myself blushing. She has seen that a few times and she seems to enjoy it immensely. Her piercing eyes often appeared to be looking through me, as if I were a transparent apparition dancing in her unbounded awareness. Innate to this experience is not only a palpable absence of judgement, but an all-pervading sense of acceptance and love.

The Heal Your Heart retreat was such a beautiful experience. Everyone who attended was so kind and open to me. Thank you all from the bottom of my heart.

– Chas

 

 

First and foremost, Matt and Kavitha really run a great show. Together, they make a terrific team. Matt’s humor keeps things light, and Kavitha’s inquiry keeps things deep. The best of both worlds. After 3 years of seeing them in action, I am more than satisfied and will be coming back for more.

Even though I missed the practice sessions on Friday, I got a good night’s sleep and rolled smoothly into Saturday morning. The sessions on Saturday were full of bliss and purification, and the Q&A opened up the floor for fertile discussion. One interesting addition was the self-inquiry body scan, in which we were guided through a spacious exploration of our awareness, and how it expands far beyond our local body.

In the middle of the day, we applied Byron Katie’s formula of self-inquiry to situations in our life that were vexing us. I used her method to deconstruct my dissatisfaction with certain neo-Advaita teachers. The results were clarifying. I realized I need to worry less about them and focus more on my own practice and teaching platform. Alas, the greatest enemy is within.

Saturday night we had a bonfire, and thanks to Kathy (co-retreatant), I was able to play her guitar and do some sing-alongs with the group. We also told stories and made a bunch of jokes at each other’s expense. True humility, gut-busting laughter, and authentic cheer.

On Sunday, after the final practice round, my perception had further refined into pristine, holographic mode…seeing everyone and everything as a reflection of myself, and seeing the perfection of our innocence, our efforts, and our evolving character. (Actually, I remember contending recently with another practitioner that the world is not perfect, but now I see his view as equally valid: the world is perfect…precisely because we are abiding by cause and effect across a boundless field of stillness).

Anyway, there is much gratitude and inspiration to pay it forward by doing a retreat in Florida.

Thank you to all who attended, and once again, to Kavitha and Matt for putting on a top-notch performance.

– Cody

 

 

I shed tears of gratitude for the most profound weekend. My most humble and heartfelt thanks to Kavitha, Matt, and, of course, Ann for making the retreat happen. I met the most gentle, courageous group of friends who leave me in awe.

– Christine

 

 

Thank you Kavitha and Matt for a weekend of profound learning. I have been using the meditation and healing techniques since I returned and am seeing great results. I can’t thank you enough for your help in my journey towards discovering myself. I thank everyone who was there at the retreat. Your presence was priceless.

– Sailaja

Lifestyle, Mind and Disease

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Heart Health

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Recently, I met a beautiful woman who presented as a new patient. She was fit, curious and intelligent. As I read through her chart, I made note of her history – cancer treated with conventional therapy a few years ago, now in remission. She also had a few risk factors for heart disease, for which she was referred to me. As we talked about her history and her life, she stated that she had chronic insomnia from worrying about her health. What follows is a snippet of this conversation.

Question (me): So, tell me about your lifestyle.

Response (her): You know what? I have always been very conscious about my lifestyle. I eat healthy, I exercise avidly, I have never smoked, I don’t drink alcohol..

Q: That is wonderful!

R: Yes, but look at the irony of it. Compared to all my friends and family, I live a very healthy life. And yet, I am the one that got the cancer.

Q: Hmmm.. So, you think you should not have gotten cancer..

R: Exactly. Cancer runs in my family. My siblings are obese, they smoke, they never took care of themselves and yet I am the one that got it.

Q: So, in your opinion, if anyone should be getting cancer, it should be one of them. Not you. Is that how you feel?

R: Yes (sheepishly). Although I know that sounds terrible and I should not think that.

Q: Well, it is irrelevant what you “should” think. You are thinking it anyway, isn’t it (smile)? So, essentially you are saying that all those people that don’t take care of themselves “should” get the disease, and those that do “should not”. Is that right?

R: Yes.. This makes me so angry. I should be the last person to get cancer.

Q: Because..?

R: Because I am conscious about my lifestyle.

Q: And yet, you got the cancer.. Even when you think you “should not” have. Clearly, life is not listening to you. Tell me something. Have you always felt like you were in control of life?

R: Oh yes! I am a Type A personality.

Q: So was I (smile). Until life showed me who’s boss. Is it the loss of control over life, and things not going your way that is keeping you up at night?

R: Absolutely. I worry about my health. What more can I do? I am already doing everything!

Q: Are you? What do you think a “healthy lifestyle” entails? How about this seething inside you are experiencing? Are anger and resentment a part of healthy lifestyle choices?

R: No.. I have been angry for a long time about how hard I have to work to keep healthy and after I got the cancer, I became more angry and resentful.

Q: Do cancer or heart disease care about how hard you have worked? Have you tried to reason with the cancer about this?

R (Laughing): No. Of course they don’t care. Still..

Q: Still.. Hmm.. So, the cancer won’t listen to you and will do what it wants. Sounds to me like your trying to convince it otherwise is the problem. Would you agree?

R (after several moments): Yes. I can see that.

Q: Would you say that the main problem in your lifestyle is your worrying about something that cannot and will not change? It is like banging your head against a brick wall. What gets hurt – the wall or your head?

R: My head.

Q: Exactly! You can wage a war with what is really happening by thinking it should not have happened. In this case, you got cancer. What you think about it makes no difference to what has transpired. The cancer happened – yes, despite your lifestyle choices. Is there anything else happening right at this moment, without reference to memory, should or should not have, who should get it or not get it, and what might happen in the future? What is reality at this moment? There are two women talking in a room. Words are spoken and heard. Even as the words are spoken, they are already in the past – nonexistent. Can you find the memory of cancer hidden away some “place”?

R: No.

Q: Can you find anything else at this moment?

R: My heart is beating. I can feel it.

Q (smile): Even as you say “heartbeat” referencing one particular heart beat, it is history. Is anything going on at this moment that isn’t already the past?

R (thinking several minutes): No. Wow! I had never looked at it this way.

Q: I’d say the most important “lifestyle change” is to question the contents of your mind – your assumptions, judgments, comparisons, the incessant commentary about everything. Perhaps the cancer was a wake-up call for you to do just that. Perhaps it was the cancer’s way of telling you that despite your “healthy” living, you are caught in a whirlpool of toxins – the toxins of your thinking, of you trying to dictate what must happen to not just you, but to the whole world. When life doesn’t listen, you go to war with it. And you find yourself losing this war. This is not a war that can be won. The only way out is to wave the white flag in surrender. Tell me, how do you feel about your siblings and friends who don’t live a “healthy lifestyle” and have no disease?

R: I resent them.

Q: I love your honesty! Yes, that is exactly it. You resent these people that you love because they don’t have the disease you have! Look at the insanity of our minds!

R (shaking head): I had never thought of it this way.

Q: Lets see if we can make this most important lifestyle change now. Would you be willing to try something?

R: Anything!

Q: Great. I’ll teach you a simple mindfulness meditation technique to practice twice a day. Don’t expect changes overnight! This is a gradual undoing process of years of toxic thinking (smile).

R: Ok. I’ll do it.

And so this is the pattern I see so very often. Lifestyle changes are great, as long as there is no “tightness” around them. “Tightness” is the fixed expectation of the outcome that an action must bring. When the outcome differs, there is great suffering. The problem then is not around the lifestyle choice, but around the expectation. Why? There are infinite possibilities in every given moment on how the next moment will turn out. When we perform an action, the only thing we have control over is that specific action (and even this is an illusion, actually). We have absolutely no control over the outcome. Sure, we seem to know this intellectually quite well. However, how we take an unexpected outcome is the sure test of how well we really know this!

There is no dispute that most chronic illnesses are related to lifestyle choices. However, it is not as simple as saying that everyone that does “a” will develop “b” or that everyone that does not do “c” will not develop “d”. Even within these lifestyle choices, there are infinite possibilities – the environment, our individual constitutions, genetic predispositions and very importantly, the role of the mind. If fear of disease is the driving force for a particular lifestyle change, that disease is foremost on our minds. This fear “eats away” the sophisticated apparatus that connects the mind and body even as we make those lifestyle changes. Fitness of the body does not guarantee a balanced mind and outlook.

On the other hand, if the relationship with the lifestyle choice is one of wisdom and acceptance (and not of war), we can make the appropriate choices but not be too hung up on the outcome. Perhaps disease is the outcome – perhaps now we can be led to that place within that is already (and always) free of suffering. From this vantage point, there is no dis-ease. There is only wholeness.

Image Source: Cancer cell, Wikipedia Commons.

Teaching Children the Art of Giving

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Yoga of Parenting

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Question: My five-year-old gets very upset when she gives gifts to her friends and they do not reciprocate in the same way. Any thoughts how to handle this?

Response: To
begin with, I am neither a parenting expert nor a child psychologist. I can give you my thoughts based on how my child’s behavior opens the door for deeper exploration of my own motives and actions.

It does not seem
wise to reason with a 5-year old who is crying or throwing a tantrum! It might be best to distract her with a favorite toy or activity. Avoid the temptation to buy her something, since the longer-term goal is to teach her how to give without expecting something in return.

Incidents like
these are beautiful pointers to our own minds and actions. Our children are much more likely to do what we do, rather than we say. Thus, if my child has the concept that giving a gift must result in a similar gesture from her friends, I need to look at how this I might be contributing to this behavior modeling. It is true that children are like sponges, soaking our ways of thinking and acting even when we think that they are not watching! It is in the tone of our voices, our criticism of others (or ourselves), our behavior with people in front of and behind their backs, our response to the world’s (and our own) shortcomings, what we really value and so on. It is also in the countless non-verbal ways we employ to express our approval and distaste of the world around us – the smiles and the smirks, the gestures of love and contempt, the laughter and the jaw tightening and the myriad reflections in the eyes. They mirror our behaviors perfectly.

Thus, in a situation where my child has the mindset that giving is an activity that results in a similar gain, I might be prompted to inquire deeply into my own patterns of giving – do I give with reservations and expectations, or do I give freely as an expression of joy and love? Giving does not refer to giving of gifts alone, but the giving of myself on a daily basis.

For example, do I really give unreservedly to my spouse? If my concept of a strong intimate relationship is one of “give and take”, I can never teach my children to give. Give and take implies a barter more than an intensely intimate connection with my partner. Yet, this is the current popular psychology regarding marriage and partnerships. Magazine and newspaper columns pour out advice on “how to make your man do XYZ for you”, or “how to make the girl fall for you”. Notice how these strategies are more about taking than giving. Even when we do not overtly agree with such advice, the subtle undercurrent in intimate relationships can be one of expectation of the other or meeting the other’s expectation to keep the peace.  Often, we manipulate each other in subtle ways to get things our way. Giving in this context is always with the intent to bring about the desired outcome (which is sometimes innocently thought to be the “better” outcome for all concerned). This way of manipulating in the act of giving is picked up by our children even at subtle levels.

This behavior does not end at home, of course. It permeates all our interactions. At work and in the community, we give only when there is “something in it” for us. If there is no promise of a personal gain with our efforts, we are less likely to be interested in giving our time or resources. And this behavior is not only acceptable but expected in modern living! We are molded from an early age to focus on our own gains, albeit in civilized ways. Even service-oriented activities are performed to collect credit, earn praise or as material for college applications.

Question: Very true. So how can I teach my child to give?

Response: By learning how to give yourself. You cannot teach her this if it is not your way of being. Your child will smell you out if this is contrived, trust me!

Question: How do I learn to give?

Response: By digging into the cause of the behavior of “giving with wanting”. This behavior arises from a deep sense of insecurity and incompleteness, needing constant validation in exchange for every act of giving. Insecurity and incompleteness are the hallmarks of the ego (false identification of the “I” to be the body-mind). The ego is fragile by nature and employs every tactic in the book to feel more secure and complete. For the ego, giving is a disaster because it feels threatened by someone else having more. The natural reaction then is to expect something back in order to feel complete or good. But since this security is temporary and can never satisfy the ego’s desires, the feeling of having gained something feeds into the loop of fear of loss or craving for more. Fear and craving lead to further grasping and neediness. There is absolutely no way for the ego to curb its own desires, for craving is its very nature. The only way “out” is to step out of the false identification with it, and to discover who or what the “I” is. In reality, our true nature is of eternal-consciousness-contentment (sat-chit-ananda). When we discover this absolute completeness, expectations fall away and giving becomes an outpouring of this contentment.

Question: How can I learn to not expect?

Response: By minding your own business. In the context of giving, this means that your only job is to give as fully as possible. The moment your mind begins to expect something in return, ask yourself if you are still in your own business. When we begin to think, “he or she should reciprocate in some way”, we are in their business over which we have no control. Our thinking that someone should or should not do something has no bearing on what they will or will not do. It is not their action but our thinking that their action should be different that causes us suffering. Suffering is the result of war with what is.* The only business we need to be concerned about is ours. As the wise old saying goes, “do good and throw it in the river”. When lived this way, giving becomes an extension of overflowing completeness.

As our children begin to see this new paradigm of living and giving, they can be confused for a while and wonder how they must model themselves. However, as our own authenticity pours through, they can relax that this way of being is non-threatening to their developing sense of self. Through our own example of giving, they might glean the truth of St. Francis’ words, “It is in giving that we receive”.

*This type of inquiry is called “The Work” by Byron Katie. A powerful method of questioning our thoughts, “The Work” is beautiful in its simplicity and its ability to transform one’s life.

Image Source: Wikipedia Commons

Pushing Our Children to Succeed

Written by Heal Your Heart on . Posted in Yoga of Parenting

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There is no question that we live in a competitive world. It does seem like this competitiveness begins much earlier and is much fiercer with every generation. As a parent, I have often found myself in the place of too much or too little in terms of “pushing” my children to “succeed”. In my experience, inquiry into pushing my children to succeed is rich grist for the parenting mill.

I have always been an over-achiever. Competitiveness was the hallmark of my childhood. Only in retrospect and in the context of stillness was I able to see what that was all about. It was really an effort to “make up” for what I felt I lacked inherently. That sense of lack could never be filled, no matter how much I achieved. Achieving one thing drove me to the next thing in an endless loop. Without any overt pressing issues, my life came to a grinding crisis when I realized one morning a decade ago that nothing I could possibly achieve would fill this gaping hole. My whole life until then had been characterized by searching for the next thing that held the promise of respite from the inner critic that needed constant proof of my ability to succeed. Every “success” brought the much-sought respite, but it was always temporary. I thought there was some magical achievement that would provide permanent rest and silence the inner critic forever. That morning however, I realized that what I was seeking was the end of seeking. 

My children have been an integral part of the journey of discovering the end of seeking. By their very presence, they demand that I clearly examine my intentions as a parent. This is because the intentions behind my “encouragement” of my children were not always crystal clear. Of course, I had grown up with the concept that parents are supposed to know what is best for their children. Like every other concept, this too came crumbling down. Do I really know what is best for them? From a practical standpoint, yes, I know it is in their best interest to not play with fire or jump off a two story building. Beyond that, can I really know what the future might hold for them and whether their “successes” in grade school will ensure their happiness later on? How can I be so presumptuous when I don’t really even know what this evening will bring? More importantly, what is the true intention behind pushing them to succeed according to my definitions? 

When my children would display less then stellar self-motivation, I would notice myself lecturing them about my own childhood marked by dogged determination. I would find myself telling them stories about how fortunate they are to have the opportunities they have, compared to what I had while growing up. My children would shrink as they reluctantly listened to these stories that subtly insinuated them of being “not as good” as their mother.

Added to this predicament is the culture of expectations, be it at school or in extra-curricular activities. Competition can be very useful to bring out the best in our children. However, it is also one of those things that can become the bane of one’s existence. To succeed with a cut-throat attitude requires pushing down others in overt and vicious ways (albeit hidden under masks of politeness). It causes us to “help” our children in underhanded ways, such as concealing opportunities from other parents and their children, teaching our children to keep secrets about their activities to give them an “advantage” and so on. Strategies like these are considered fair and acceptable in the modern world, but are enormous blocks to inner growth and freedom from suffering. When we tell our children things like, “There is room for only one at the top”, we transmit our viciousness and pain of separation to them. They will grow up with this great burden and discover that they can never keep pace with expectations (theirs and ours).

We might justify our need for our children to be at the top and find nothing wrong with this approach. For two good reasons, such an approach falls short of wholesomeness. Firstly, life teaches us again and again that what goes up will come down. In the “real world”, nobody can be at the top all the time. Moreover, the top is a lonely place that needs to be claimed again and again with no respite. This was my predicament, where I longed for rest from the rat race. Secondly, the underlying issue with this approach is the distorted perception of “my” children versus “not my” children, which is an extension of “me” versus “not me”. The “me” is by nature fragile and insecure because it is an illusion. It does not have inherent existence and must continually resurrect itself in the form of pushing and pulling. Conflict is the result of this continual rebirth. Unknowingly, our children become pawns for the “me” to resurrect itself in new and conniving ways. The “me” shamelessly uses our children to feel good about itself.

The yoga of parenting leads us to question our motives for pushing our children to succeed. From my own experience and eyes wide-open approach, I find that it is my insecurity that drives me to push my children. When my children succeed, I feel good and validated for having done “my job so well”. When they do not, I feel like a failure and it hurts. I  transfer my pleasure and pain to my children, and they have to carry the unthinkable burden of “looking good for Mommy”. Throughout this mess, I fool myself into thinking that this is for their best interests and for their future. Mostly, I fool myself into believing that this is for their happiness, as if happiness can ever be equated to success! There is no question that I love my children, but when my self-interest becomes mixed up in it, I am treading in the muddy waters of self-deception. Ultimately, they might need an existential crisis to discover that none of this matters, and what they are seeking is also the end of seeking.

When we want our children to earn praise for being talented, smart, capable, strong and so on, it behooves us to question our motives. When we encourage lack of transparency in order to come out on top, we are placing “winning at all costs” higher than integrity. When we push our children to be recognized every single time they venture out, we are instilling insecurity and fear of failure. We can never teach our children graciousness, equanimity and the path to inner freedom if we are caught up in the drama of vicious competitiveness. When I sit with the question, “would I be at peace if my children turned out to be mediocre?”, the answer is a resounding yes. Where my children go to college, what sort of vocation they will end up with, how “on top” they will come out and how “successful” they will become will make no difference to who they really are or to who I really am.

The greatest gift I can give them is to impart the ability to see that who they are is beyond definition, wanting, grasping or needing completion. They are already complete, perfect and full. The highest mountaintop would still be a speck in the magnificence of their fullness. The respite they seek is here, now.

Image Source: Shutterstock