Do You Love Me?

Like an overfull reservoir, love flows outwardIt’s that time of year again. You know, the “love day” in honor of a martyred saint and popularized by a greeting card company.. It’s the day to give and receive gifts, tokens and declarations that promise to answer the age-old question: “Do you love me?”

Human life can be defined in infinite ways. Innovative, creative, loving, hateful, greedy, generous – the list that defines us as a race is endless! While we share these traits to greater or lesser extents, the one trait that binds us in its universal power is the need for love. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we seek it in one way or another.

Every culture is replete with stories, legends and myths of the power of love. Despite its omniscience however, love is often confused with need and longing that arise from our deep sense of lack, which is inherent in suffering. From the standpoint of awakening to Radical Beauty, it has to do with who we think we are.

Our sense of self rests on a mish-mash of what we were taught by our caregivers, teachers and peers, our roles in society, how we perceive ourselves and how we would like to be perceived by others. Fed by these concepts, we form an image of ourselves that has a specific nationality and race, performs certain roles (child, partner, parent, doctor, musician, plumber, priest and so on) and has unique personality characteristics (shy, smart, talented, dull, angry and so on). We then breathe life into this image by assigning abilities and properties to it. The image is reinforced by the constant commentary of the mind. We like and prefer things that validate the image and dislike and shun things that don’t. The image needs to be fed constantly to be sustained. And its food is validation. Without validation, the image would crumble, causing fear and pain for what would we be without the image? Where would our sense of self lie without it? Thus we constantly seek image validation, which makes us ask, “Do you love me?”

Seeking validation from others is a great recipe for suffering. We become slaves to the mercy of others’ approval and affection. When we get it, the image is validated and we feel good. When it is withdrawn, the image is threatened and we feel bad. Between good and bad, our lives are marred by a deep sense of unrest and lack.

When the image is validated by others’ affection, deep down we fear losing it. Fear of loss is a powerful motivator for rearranging our self-image. Women in particular can be willing to rearrange roles, beliefs, opinions and personalities to please others and gain approval. Our self-worth can be so dependent on approval that we can be prepared to overlook or tolerate abuse and exploitation. Again and again, we ask if we are loved, wanted and needed. Again and again, we look for someone or something else to “complete” us.

The remedy for the sense of lack is to discover the fullness that is the essence of who we are. In Sanskrit, this fullness is called Purnam. Simply allowing this word to arise in meditative stillness can result in a powerful shift. In the spacious energy the word evokes, we can examine the difference between the perpetual sense of lack that is that “hallmark” of self-image (pun intended!) and the knowledge that nothing is ever needed to complete us. Let’s try it.

Radical Beauty Ritual

  • Find a period of time where you will not be disturbed for 20-30 minutes, preferably when you don’t have pressing engagements immediately after.
  • Sit in a comfortable posture on the floor or on a chair. Close your eyes gently.
  • Take two slow, deep breaths. With each exhale, relax any tension in your body. Sigh deeply, releasing on to the ground or the chair.
  • Let go of any control over the breath. Notice how the chest and belly move, how the air feels during the in-breath and out-breath as it passes through the nose, the back of the throat and the windpipe. If thoughts come up, gently bring your attention back to the breath.
  • Notice the vast space within where the breath arises and subsides. Are there boundaries to this space?
  • Silently say the word Purnam (poor-num). Allow it to fill the inner space and subside. Notice the inner silence as the last vibrations of the word come to rest.
  • Think of how you define yourself. What comes up? Try to allow the sense to arise fully. Don’t rush through it. It can present itself as a visual image, a stream of thoughts or in some other way.
  • Allow the image or thought to subside and return your attention to the breath for several minutes.
  • Return to noticing the breath and space it arises in. Repeat Purnam again, allowing it to fill the space and come to rest naturally. How does the feeling of space compare to the feeling the image evokes? Does it feel constricting or freeing?
  • Bring back the image of yourself. How does it compare to the feeling of vastness? Does it feel constricting or freeing?
  • Go back and forth between the image and the space, focusing on the feeling each evokes. Notice the sense of contraction the image brings up and the expansiveness that is the sense of space.
  • Repeat Purnam again and rest in the spaciousness. Notice now if there is any need or longing here. Notice that the image comes and goes, but the space within which the image arises always remains. You are not the image that comes and goes. Who are you then? Don’t try to answer the question. Allow the silent fullness of being to show you.

Love is the magical force that holds the universe together. Its expression is one of overflow of Purnam, the fullness of being. It indiscriminately touches everything and everyone we come in contact with. Like a brimming reservoir, love flows outward from our own fullness.

This beautiful and profound verse from the Isha Upanishad sums it up:

Purnam adah purnam idam                                                                                             Purnat purnam udachyate                                                                                               Purnasya purnam adaya                                                                                                         Purnam eva Vashishyate                                                                                                              Om Shanti, Shanti, Shantih

That is full, this is full                                                                                        This fullness arises from that fullness                                                        When this fullness becomes one with that fullness                                         All that remains is fullness                                                                              Om Peace, Peace, Peace

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The routine that creates time, health and Radical Beauty

Wake up early to create a routine of health and beautyOne question I get asked quite often is, “How do you do it all?” Presumably the “all” is what many of us (especially women) do.  We juggle demanding careers, a busy family with partners and children, cook, clean and maintain homes, coordinate work, school and social calendars, and pursue soul-nourishing activities outside of work. While passion and curiosity are key ingredients for “doing it all,” the single most effective habit worth cultivating is to wake up early. This habit sets the tone for a routine that facilitates Radical Beauty.

Waking up early is one of life’s “hidden-in-plain-view” delights. There is something mystical and magical about the quiet of dawn. It is saturated with sacred energy. In Sanskrit, this time of the day is called Brahma-muhurta, the pre-dawn hours that lead to the ambrosia of immortality. The mind is particularly receptive to meditative practices at this time of day named after Brahma, the lord of creation. During this period, our potential to be born anew is at its greatest.

On a practical note, it is the only time I tend to have to myself. Here’s what my morning routine typically looks like:

  • Wake up between 4 and 5 AM.
  • Drink water.
  • Get breakfast going (typically, oatmeal or other hot cereal) in the cooker.
  • Meditate for 30-60 minutes (depending on how much time I have. In times of stress or pressing deadlines, I meditate for longer).
  • Make coffee.
  • Read or write for 20 minutes.
  • Pack lunches and put finishing touches on breakfast.
  • Wake up the kids with cuddling and cajoling (one of my favorite things to do every day).
  • Sit quietly with them as they meditate.
  • Exercise (typically yoga for 30-45 minutes or longer, depending on how much time I have).
  • Get ready for work.

The earlier I wake up, the more time there is to do all the things that nourish me deeply and set the tone for the day. Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate solitude so much that I’ve rearranged my life to accommodate this routine:

  • Waking up early necessitates retiring early. My bedtime is 10 PM.
  • I put the kids to bed at 9 PM and meditate in their room as they fall asleep.
  • In order to meditate at this time, I eat early (and light) to allow for a relatively empty stomach.
  • This in turn dictates that lunch must be the heaviest meal of the day.
  • Since lunch occurs in the middle of a busy day, it needs to be simple, light and healthy without causing lethargy.
  • To avoid busy work like cleaning the kitchen late at night, I’ve learned to become single-pointed and efficient while cooking and serving meals.
  • My children are expected to help with clean-up immediately after meals.
  • After dinner, the kitchen is used for beverages and fruit only.
  • Tying up loose ends at work ensures that I’m not doing busy work late at night (except during grant and manuscript deadlines). Thus, this requires me to be efficient and single-pointed at work as well.

Such a routine is facilitated by reorganizing our lives and routines with a conscious focus on peace. With every task, we are given the choice: peace or chaos? Chaos occurs with constant rushing around from the moment we wake up with no time for reflection, silence or solitude. It spills over to our partners, children and coworkers. It takes over our minds and fills us with aggression, anxiety or inertia. We resort to excessive talking and other influences that create noise, worry and further chaos.

When we consistently choose peace, we begin to see how every aspect of our lives is connected to every other aspect. If I want solitude in the midst of a busy life, I have to create it. A life centered around the ecstatic bliss of Radical Beauty calls for several adjustments. My diet has to be light, nutritious and conducive to peace and joy. My activities have to be in line with the lifestyle. Late-night parties, television or gatherings are rare occurrences. I prefer to keep my mind uncluttered, and so avoid excessive talking, TV or internet browsing. As much as possible, I try not to put off things because that clutters my mind and disrupts my peace-centered lifestyle.

Paradoxically, slowing down is the secret to getting more done. From the way we view ourselves and the world, work, interact with others, keep house, raise children and contribute to society, how we do everything is a reflection of our state of mind. Chaos begets chaos. Peace begets peace. It always starts here.

Radical Beauty Ritual:

  • If you’re not an early riser, start now.
  • Do it gradually.
  • Go to bed an hour earlier than usual, no later than 10:30 PM.
  • Set the alarm for 20 minutes earlier than your current wake-up time. Put the alarm on the other side of the room.
  • Reflect on your desire for peace before bed. Look forward to doing one task you have been wanting to do for your own joy (like art, music, writing and so on).
  • When the alarm goes off, scramble out of bed, turn off the alarm and walk out of the bedroom.
  • Wash your mouth and drink water.
  • Meditate for a few minutes.
  • Do the thing you’ve been looking forward to. Paint, write, play music or just enjoy a cup of coffee in the quiet of dawn. Soak in Brahma’s magical presence!

*Many people I meet classify themselves as “night owls.” When I recommend a routine change, some that try it stick to it and find that they sleep better, feel better and have more time to do the things that they have been meaning to (like meditate and exercise).

Why limit your possibilities by boxing yourself into a “day” or “night” person? You might be surprised to see that your body and mind actually respond better to having no limiting labels. Give it a fair try (a fair try for anything is 3-6 weeks).

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