April 2008

OK, just one more post on dharma after a friend emailed me with some points that should be clarified.  And then I promise we’re done on this topic. 

The dharma list you wrote up is not a to-do list although to-do’s can come out of it.  I think of it more as an “I Am” list.  It’s about the personal gifts that are inherent to who you are.  The things that make you tick.  Now it could include “I Am Becoming” items because maybe you know what totally grooves you but you haven’t taken the time or had the opportunity to become proficient in it.  That’s where your to-do list comes in.

But I think there’s something here about purpose too.  Some of the things on my list I looked at and thought, that’s such a dumb minor thing, who cares?  But I think this exercise has more value if you throw your net wide.  Don’t bother judging what’s there. Your gifts, regardless of how “small” they seem can be helpful to some larger end. 

Like the travel example for me.  It totally grooves me but I’m not sure it’s a personal gift, even if I am gifted at missing connecting flights.  But who knows, maybe down the road my travelling will find a greater purpose. 

Here’s another example from my list.  I wrote down music – I love to listen to it, sing along to it and play it except that I haven’t done much of the latter for a lot of years.  I bought two flutes a while back and quickly realized that ‘just figuring it out on my own’ was not going to get me very far. 

So “music enthusiast” is on the list as relating to who I am, but “flute player” is something I’m still becoming.  Seeing “music” on my list reminded me that I’ve got to call the concert pianist who lives nearby and see if show knows any teachers.  Finding a flute teacher has been a to-do of mine for a long time.

But then the question comes up – who cares?  What’s the purpose in this?  I’m not going to become a concert flautist and tour about filling audiences’ lives with joy, that’s just not gonna happen.  But I have thought that if I was able to string a few notes and interesting intervals together I might play something during Savasana for folks in my yoga classes. 

If it would help them relax, then that’s enough purpose for me.  I don’t expect that I can see very far down the road, there may be purpose to the items on my list that I haven’t conceived of.  But I know it’s my responsiblity as “Corilee” to identify, learn, explore and exercise all the things that make me “Corilee”.

Martha Graham says it well:

There is a vitality, a life force that is translated through you into action.  And because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique, and if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.

People can play a huge role in supporting you in your dharma pursuits.  People who do the job of ‘alter ego’ are role models for you.  You also may find teachers who can push you and challenge you to accomplish the things you’re passionate about. Here are a couple more important ones:

Mirroring – sometimes it’s tough to see ourselves in any kind of objective clear way.  Stephen Cope’s example was that you’ll never see your back with your own eyes, you’ll always need a tool like a mirror.  Likewise other people can mirror your personal gifts to you, things that may be so familiar you don’t even see them.  And when people mirror, they will actually help bring out those gifts even more.  Here’s an example.  My Mom is taking her role as wise elder seriously and she’s great at mirroring. 

One day when we were hanging out she told me I was a good listener.  Now I take everything with a grain of salt, even when I should be listening to my mother but I figured that maybe she’d caught me on a good day, so maybe it’s true. 

But even though I wasn’t 100% sold, it’s made me a better listener.  I’m more conscious of it when I’m talking to someone.  She’s encouraged that skill in me just by pointing it out.  Mirroring is a powerful gift.

Projective Identification – you can identify things that should be on your dharma list by looking at your reaction when you see things in others.  This is projective identification.  And it’s not about ego or material things, like gee I wish I had a hot car like that.  This is the strong visceral gut reaction you get when you see someone pursuing something that speaks to you too.  Here’s an example. 

A friend friended me on Facebook a few months back. And I went to his page and he had that “Cities I’ve Visited” travel application and the guy’s been to lots of places, like over 150 cities.  And I had that gut reaction.  It’s so primal, it’s like “Me Want That!”.  Travelling is definitely on my dharma list.

So I was mousing around his map and he’s been to off-the-beaten track countries in Eastern Europe.  And I messaged him and said, “wow you’ve been to Estonia, I’ve always wanted to do my own personal “Everything is Illluminated” tour and find the town in Slovakia where my Great Grandfather hailed from”.  I had googled the town once and found hardly any listings.  It would probably be a journey just to find the place.

(Aside – “Everything is Illuminated” is a book and a movie.  In the movie the main character, Jonathan, is played by Elijah Wood. He’s a New Yorker who goes to the Ukraine to track down where his grandfather is from.  It’s great – he finds a “tour company” to take him there which is made up of the “blind” grandfather who drives the car, his grandson who “translates” and Jonathan who’s afraid of dogs rides in the backseat with an angry mutt.)

Anyhoo, I was sort of joking about the Everything is Illuminated tour.  Not that I wasn’t serious but I thought of it in a “yeah that’d be nice some day” way.  And when I was thinking about this at Kripalu, thanks to the head space I was in (see: the Kripalu folks are a tricky bunch here) I thought, well what am I waiting for?

Because the obvious thing would be to invite my folks since they’re the freakin’ travelling wilburies now that they’re retired.  My Dad might want to see where is grandfather is from.  But the dude is 70 – how long is he going to be interested in schlepping around looking for towns that hardly show up in Google?

So I gotta get on that.  I want to stand in his home town and imagine what it took my Great Grandfather, before the turn of the century before last, to get his butt to the coast, find the money to get on a ship, sail across the pond to where – Pier 21 in Halifax?  Ellis Island in New York?  And take the train to Saskatchewan to start up as a farmer, marry and father a million kids including my Grandma. 

When I remember visiting him, he was in his 90’s and lived in a little house in Oliver BC.  He had a few grapevines out back that he used to make his own wine.  He played with my little brother’s toy car, making us laugh while he drove it up Roland’s arm, over his head and down the other arm. 

If I haven’t fished Great Grandpa’s strength, tenacity, longevity and sense of humour out of the gene pool,  I want to stand in his home town and breath in that mojo like oxygen.


So now that you have your dharma list written, let’s look at some of the challenges. The biggest dharma killer is doubt.  Doubt can kill your urge to take action in life.  Doubt sucks the enthusiasm out of you and makes it tough to get off the couch.  Doubt makes you feel ambivalent, or at worst, paralyzed.  But the truth is that you’ll never have full certainty when you’re making a decision.  And you owe it to yourself to figure out how to get going with the things on your dharma list.  Heck, you might as well do something you’re passionate about while you wander around this earth, right?

So strategies for dealing with doubt:

1. Name it.  As with any emotion the key in dealing with it is to put a label on it.  It’s the best first step you can take when you’re tired of wallowing and want to move on to something more productive.  As Stephen Cope said, it’s the first step in disidentification, or getting some distance.

2. Investigate it.  Move into it. What’s it about?  If you’re deciding between A and B, what’s on either side?  What is a possible third or fourth option? Be brave, jump in.

3. Find your sources of faith.  People?  Institutions?  What gives you faith?  And if faith is too big a word, what about finding the touchstones in your life.  The person you trust who can say – “yeah that sounds like you”, or “I can see you doing that”. 

Decisions *can* cut off options and that’s why they’re scary.  But remember that it’s not necessarily a black and white choice.  It’s not about abandoning your house and family and moving to Paris to be a painter.  There are plenty of ways to exercise your dharma and play out your passions.  And when you’re ready to do it full out, then it’s time to commit.  As the AA folks say “Half measures avail us nothing”.

A doubt example for me would be teaching yoga.  It showed up on my dharma list, I love helping people experience the benefits of yoga but that doesn’t mean I don’t have doubts for all kinds of reasons. 

I generally have a freak-out that no one will register for my next session.  And that my marketing skills suck even though that’s what pays my mortgage and I should have special skills in that area. 

Sometimes in a class I’m convinced it’s not going well and people will start to slip out, which is ok, but it would clearly confirm for me that I should find something else to do with my evenings. 

And in the summer when my break is coming to an end I generally have a period of “why on earth do I think I can teach yoga anyways?”, you know, because I haven’t proven to myself I can do so in the last week or so. 

But I have gotten good at naming it (I’m just being a dork, or on a good day my response might be more compassionate).  And I can dig into it (just because I experience something other than absolute joy or bliss doesn’t mean I can’t or shouldn’t do it.  Teaching can be hard, so suck it up princess).  And best yet, I will check in with my sources of faith, the folks who take my classes.  I especially like to check in with my BFF whose addicted to my Power Yoga class and will roll her eyes when I tell her about my doubts.  And then she yawns and tells me to shut up and changes the subject.  She rocks.

So if you took on the mission from last post and did your dharma list, go through it and see where the doubts come in.  Are there any areas you can dig into to get to the truth of your ambivalence?  Are there people in your life who can support you and give you the faith to soldier ahead?  Or tell you to shut up and get on with it?  My BFF *is* available for hire, a decent bottle of wine is all the payment she needs.

So here’s the first post in “Fun things I learned at Kripalu”.  My session was all about dharma, which as I mentioned, wasn’t a familiar term to me.  I think it scared me off because it is a pretty complicated term.  There are two aspects to it in the Bhagavad Gita – there’s a piece about duty and your role in society.  There was some justification of the caste system in India going on there, but that’s an old school view that we’re not looking at here.  

The more interesting aspect of dharma is your personal dharma.  It’s the stuff that’s related to your own being, to who you really are.  It’s like the calling of your deepest self, your guts, your soul.  It’s the personal gifts that you bring to the table. The kind of thing that if you weren’t able to do it, you might shrivel up. You might call it your sacred purpose. 

Our teacher, Stephen Cope had lots of great examples of this and we watched the movie Billy Elliott because it highlights it well.  

One of the stories I loved was about Dr. Jane Goodall.  When she was six she went missing one day.  Her family searched all over for her and finally found her in the chicken coop.  She’d been sitting for hours watching a hen sit on and hatch an egg.  Jane was completely fascinated by it.  She hadn’t moved for hours. Of course her family thought she was nuts.  But it was the early demonstration of the kind of skills and interest that would make her become a world-renowed scientist. 

But dharma isn’t necessarily something you come across when you’re a kid, it can wack you across the head anytime in your life. 

Cope said that the cool thing about dharma is that it’s not about selling your house and moving to Paris to be a painter.  He said usually your dharma is a lot closer than you think.  And we found that in our session.  I won’t relate people’s personal stories here but suffice to say that a number of people were having a really tough time with their jobs.  They were burned out and frustrated and thinking they needed to quit and go pick apples or something less stressful. 

But over the course of the session they went from seeing it as a black and white situation, that is “I need to do this job that’s killing me or I need to quit” to seeing that there might be a 3rd way.  They began to see that they could explore the various shades of grey in between to find the perfect fit for themselves.  As Cope said, it’s all about aim and discernment.

So back to the Gita, Krishna provides the 4 point plan for taking action:

1. Figure out your dharma.  It’s that seed inside you that’s itching to grow.

2. Do it full out.  All the cards on the table.  Pedal to the metal. Total unity in action.

3. Relinquish the fruits.  Do the labour, let go of the fruits of your labour.  Do the work, let the outcomes take care of themselves.

4. Surrender.  Maybe it’s to God or a higher power if that works for you, but regardless there will be sacrifice and if you can do it out of love it’ll make it all the more meaningful.

So your mission if you choose to accept it is to list the things in *your* life that you totally groove with.  The things that light you up.  Your unique set of personal gifts and skills. The things that just feel *right* when you do them.  Don’t bother judging whether they’re too small to bother with, put ‘em down.

And you’re not done yet, here’s the second part.  Go through your list and mark which of the activities that when you do them put you into a flow state.  That’s the state where you’re completely absorbed in the task, time slows down, you forget to eat and everything else fades into the background.  That’s a great sign you’re practicing your dharma. 


I just got back from my 4 day stint at Kripalu.  It. Was. Awesome.  I would highly recommend it.  Even a 14 hour trip home with missed flights and a 4 hour sleep wasn’t enough to knock me out of the Zone.  I can’t see straight today but I’m totally accepting baby. 

My Kripalu teacher training was held at the Motherhouse, an old building that housed the ageing Sisters of Charity nuns at Mount St. Vincent University here in Halifax.  It’s a huge, rambling, quasi-institutional building built on a hill overlooking the water. 

It turns out that the Kripalu Center was originally a Jesuit monestary and someone told me it was built by the same architect as the Motherhouse.  It was an odd feeling finding myself in the exact same kind of huge, rambling, quasi-institutional building on a hill overlooking a lake in the Berkshires.  Talk about feeling like I had come home.  It was like, yup, I guess I’m in the right place for more yoga learning. 

So I’m onto the Kripalu folks – they’re a tricky bunch.  They invite you to this gorgeous comfortable setting.  You’re away from your routine, the daily craziness and mound of responsibilities. They feed you yummy healthy food.  They offer 3 levels of yoga classes three times a day.  And it’s Kripalu yoga.  Funnily enough, most of the people I met don’t do that style of yoga at home, including myself.  And it’s a different style, I had forgotten.  The styles most of us do are pose and pose and talk about the technical details of a pose and then do another pose.  Kripalu isn’t like that. 

At one point in my first class I was feeling some resistance like, “for god’s sake, can we just do a Warrior 1 pose and get one with it!?”  I was in one class where we didn’t even get to a standing pose until an hour into the class.  But I let go during that first one and got into it. 

It’s much more focused on the mindfulness aspect.  They take “meditation in motion” seriously.  So the simplest pose, like Sun Arms – inhaling your arms up with Ujjayi and exhaling them back down – is fully mined.  You repeat the movement wringing every last possible detail out of it until you’ve refined your awareness to a laser beam.  The yoga forces you to get focused.  While normally our minds are going 120 mph all over the map, Kripalu *trains* you to pay attention.  Not to the big picture out there but to the tiniest details of sensation that accompanies the movement and breath inside.

And then if you’re in a program (because you can just go and lounge), that focus helps you get under your monkey mind.  And when you’re under the radar you can get to the rooty juicy place where you can see things as they are.  And of course the more yoga you do, the more open your body and mind gets, until by the last day you feel like you’ve sloughed off a few layers of garbage.  Then, who you really are can shine through. 

See how tricky those Kripalu folks are?

The place feels safe.  When I arrived I could feel myself going into high school mode – like what should I do, where should I go, who should I talk to.  And I caught myself.  Nope, I talk to people *all* day at home, I’m taking some space for myself.  And the place is totally set up for that.  You can walk in the woods, walk the labyrinth, sit and stare out the window with a cup of tea, or be as social as you want.  You can go to bed early or dance your socks off at an evening concert.  It’s all good, it’s all OK.

So about my program.  I had read Stephen Cope’s first book and really grooved on his perspective.  He was doing a program on the Bhagavad Gita, and although I hadn’t had an urge to study that one I figured if he’s teaching it it’ll be good so I took a flier.

It was perfect.  It was exactly what I needed.  Cope is a warm, funny, incredibly knowledgeable teacher who pulls the knowledge down to earth and makes it real and useful.  And he knows how to work the group dynamic so that everyone feels comfortable enough to take some risks and really look at stuff for themselves. 

He pulled a thread from the Gita that was all about dharma. Now that’s not a word I’d been comfortable with before, I didn’t get it.  I had probably never even used it in a sentence, beyond, “yeah I don’t really watch Dharma and Greg much.”  But it turned out to be about your purpose and what holds you up and what can fuel you forward and it was bang-on.  Not just for me, but for all the 43 people in my program. 

I think I’ll blog about some stuff I got out of it in case it’s helpful for someone else.  Just as soon as I can string together more than 4 hours sleep in a row and put my thoughts together.  Until then, I’ll be doing Sun Arms and holding onto the Zone.

I wanted to add one more thing to the “Weaknesses” posts 1 and 2 on emotions. The Kripalu tradition teaches a useful centering process that can be used anytime you feel off-kilter.  

Stephen Cope talks about it in Yoga and the Quest for the True Self and how he used it when a close friend of his died. That was the first time I really got it.  But the key is to practice with baby emotions or try it out on the mat with yoga poses that you find challenging. 

It’s useful to get familiar with it before a tsunami of emotion hits so you know where your gotchas are.  Even if you’re not a “5 step program” kind of person, read through the list to see where you usually get stuck so you can remind yourself to focus on it next time you need it.

It goes like this:

1. Breath. As we know from any period of stress, when emotions run high we stop breathing, or take quick short breaths high in the chest. The first thing to do is get your breath deep into your belly, breath deep and short circuit the stress response. This helps you feel more grounded and centered.  And you can handle anything if you feel like your feet are firmly planted in the earth.

2. Relax. Physically relaxing is key.  Resisting brings stress into our bodies.  Stress makes us feel freaked out.  But remember they’re just emotions.  They can’t hurt you.  Repeat after me – this too shall pass.

3. Feel.  Once you’ve set the stage in 1 & 2, then actively feel the emotion.  Give it its time on stage.  Name it.  Notice where it’s located in your body.  Name how it feels.  Take in all the sensations, the taste and the texture of it.  Keep breathing and keep relaxing.

4. Watch. This is where your “Witness” or “Observer” self comes in.  You’re not choosing for or against anything.  You’re not trying to change anything. Just experience what is. Simply observe.

5. Allow. Let it be, whatever it is.  Know that life doesn’t send you anything you can’t handle.  You don’t need to be able to understand it, justify it or explain it.  Just let it be. Let it happen and let it run it’s course.

The key to all this is that the uncomfortable parts, the uncharted territory is where the juice is in our lives.  That’s where we uncover the good stuff that we can learn from.  That’s how we short-curcuit our useless patterns, the unconscious bits that don’t serve us in our lives and relationships. And it takes a lot of trust.  But you can trust that it’ll change you. 

My detox is almost finished and I’ve only posted one recipe so far!  I’m posting this one for yoga-buddy Joanne whose getting her head around starting her detox – you’ll love these babies! 

I saw this recipe in a Nigel Slater cookbook a couple weeks ago while I was planning this detox and thought – by god this is almost detox-friendly!  If I’d been more organized I would have made them up and thrown them in the freezer pre-detox so I had more ready-made food.  I’ll do that next time.

Thai Meatballs

1 pound of ground pork

2 green onions chopped

a small bunch of cilantro chopped

1 or 2 small hot peppers seeded and chopped

2 cloves of garlic squished

1 slice of fresh ginger squished

1 or 2 stalks of lemongrass, peel off the tough outer leaves and dice up the inside bit (lemongrass is not exactly on the detox list but they must be a herb or veggie right?  If you’re hardcore skip it :-) they’ll still be awesome)

It’s best to throw all this in a food processor so you can do less chopping, but mix it up with whatever tools you have on hand.  Dump some oil in a frying pan and while it’s heating make up balls, walnut-sized and then squish them a little so they have an easier time getting cooked through.  I kept the pan pretty high, toasted them good on each side and then turned the heat down to let them cook all the way through. 

2 Suggestions for Eating:

1. While they’re frying put a cup per serving of chicken stock in a pan and add veggies, the slowest cooking ones first.  Some suggestions – sliced carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, chopped spinach.  Add a fresh herb like mint, basil or cilantro for extra flavour.  Once the veggies are cooked enough, throw it all in a big bowl, toss a few meatballs on top and grab your chopsticks to chow down.

2. Throw some meatballs on top of cooked brown rice and veggies and sprinkle all with Braggs soy sauce.  That’s the unfermented stuff that’s ok to eat while detoxing.

So to follow-on from the quote I posted last, I did Myers-Brigg personality testing recently.  One of the areas they test is whether you’re more Feeling or Thinking.  Feeling means that you make your decisions based on subjective stuff and the people involved. 

Thinking people make decisions based on what goes on in the space between their ears.  They’re more logical, looking for reasons and the best reasoning.  In my testing I found that I’m pretty darn “thinky”.  And it’s true. If something looks logical and rational then that’s it, what else is there to look at?  And yes, that’s put me at odds with Feeling people who think other things should be considered, like their feelings for example.

So I’m pretty comfortable and secure with thinking my way through stuff.  And that means I’m hard-wired to look at other more subjective ways of orienting myself suspiciously.  Like let’s say, emotions.

And this, getting back to the quote, is where I’m weak.  Actually that sounds negative, let’s say, it’s my “uncharted territory”.  I used to numb-out with my emotions, and boy that’s sure a lousy way of dealing with them.  Or not dealing with them.

And then I progressed to the point of feeling them but mostly in a resisting, isn’t this over yet? Please?? Somebody??? kind of way.  But what I’ve discovered is that feelings need their time in the spotlight or else they just hang out in the wings doing their own Harold Pinter play while you’re trying to get a slapstick comedy going.  Once you give them their moment, let them say their lines, then they’re fine to do their dramatic death scene and get carried off stage. And you can get on with your life. Pretty logical right?

So I’ve been working hard to bring the “Witness self” that I use in my yoga practice to my emotions.  If I notice an emotion I try to name it, feel where it hangs out in my body and let it *be*.  No judgement, no resistance, no grand pronouncements or conclusions.  I try my best not to do anything or say anything I’ll regret.  Just let it hang out until it’s ready to morph into something else, or mosey on its way.  I’m no pro yet, but man, just making the attempt makes emotions much less wacky and scary.  I’m convinced that “this too shall pass” happens a lot sooner with this approach.  But maybe it just seems that way because I’m not freaking about it.

When it comes down to it, emotions are really just information and signposts.  They let you know you’re alive for starters and maybe some other useful information too.  And being the Witness or Observer with emotions helps you tune into other non-logical ways of knowing too.  Like your gut, or your intuition. 

So this has all fed back into my yoga practice.  I’ve been trying to think less in yoga.  I’ve been trying to give more space to my subjective experience and my emotions. I want to feel it.  Because that’s not generally how I roll. 

I went to a class last week and managed to turn off my brain (or at least shift it into low gear) and just do the poses and the breathing.  When we got into Savasana I felt this rush of emotion in my chest and I teared up.  And I let it be.  And it felt great.  Better out than in, right?  I felt so peaceful afterwards. It’s new terrritory.

Often from our seeming weaknesses we can learn a new way.  The things we do well, where we have developed our greatest self-confidence, can become habitual, bringing a sense of false security.  They are not where our spiritual life will best open.  If it is our strength to think through things carefully, then thoughts wil not be our best spiritual teacher.  If it is already our way to follow our strong feelings, then feelings are not where we will learn best. 

The place where we can most directly open to the mystery of life is in what we don’t do well, in the places of our struggles and vulnerability.  These places always require surrender and letting go: When we let ourselves become vulnerable, new things can be born in us.  In risking the unknown we gain a sense of life itself.  And most remarkably, that which we have sought is often just here, buried under the problem and the weakness itself.

Jack Kornfield, A Path With Heart

Indian-Style Lentils

Heat a T of oil in a saucepan.  Add a chopped onion and cook until it begins to soften.  Sprinkle with 1 tsp of curry, cumin and coriander, a 1/2 tsp of salt and a sprinkle of pepper. Add a couple nickel-size slices of fresh ginger and squish in 2 cloves of garlic. Add 1 1/2 cups of lentils, 2 c of chicken stock and 2 c water

Bring to a boil while you scrub up a couple carrots (if organic, or peel if not organic).  Slice them in.  Let everything simmer with the lid off-center for 30-40 minutes until the lentils are soft.  Feel free to add any other veggies you like.  I added a handful of chopped up cilantro at the end.  Let it cool a bit and it’ll thicken.  Serve over brown rice.  Makes 4-6 servings. 

I’m not one of those folks who can eat the same thing for multiple meals, especially when I’m detoxing, it just depresses me.  So I enjoyed the lentils a couple of times and threw the rest in the freezer for later in the detox.  Another thing I want to try is to water the lentils down some, throw half in the blender and mix it back together for lentil soup.