I meditate to avoid being an asshole ~ by Vicky Cook

I introduced you to Vicky last year when I wrote about the reiki treatment she gave me.  I really dig this woman and love what she has to offer.  She has a committed meditation practice and has taught meditation series’ for a while now.  Meditation is gaining recognition in mainstream society.  It’s necessary.  We’re barreling forward, like a fast-moving train, toward a life of complete connection to machines and devices and technology.  To a lifestyle where, each moment between awake and asleep is filled with projects and tasks or pressure, stress and trying to achieve better and more of whatever it is we think we need, and want.  The problem then, is that we are not spending enough time doing nothing. 

Meditation then serves as a practice, not of checking out, but of checking in to ensure that all the ‘more of’ that you’re doing, is actually serving you.  Meditation helps create the life you want, not check out of the life you have.  Here, Vicky tells us her journey through meditation, gives us some tips and resources and takes the mystery out of the practice.

When Lyn asked me to write a piece on Mediation I was surprised, I practice meditation, I’ve taught meditation but I never really considered myself an expert on meditation.  I sat down to write this and many thoughts flooded my mind (this happens when I sit down to meditate too…)  and I wanted to write a prolific piece on the many benefits of meditation, the beauty and peace of the practice, but a voice kept coming to me WHY do you meditate, why?

So, time to get honest. I meditate mostly to avoid being an asshole.  When I don’t meditate I find I am often annoyed, slightly irritated by local traffic, I am impatient with my son and can be quite a smarmy bitch to my husband.  This isn’t my regular behavior by nature, I believe I am a kind-hearted and compassionate person. I’ve created or learned some pretty gnarly coping mechanisms early on in my life to deal with deep insecurities and retraining myself not to react but to act has been a lifelong process.

Simply put meditation is a necessity for me, it is not by some virtue that I found the practice; it was out of desperation and desire that I found it.  There is a saying I heard early on in my journey “religion is for people who don’t want to go to hell, spirituality is for people who have been there”.  I had been there and meditation is a way out.  

I picked up my first book on meditation almost 20 years ago, its concepts and ideas were leap years beyond anything my mind could comprehend and I clearly was not ready, but the seed was planted.  I have found myself, over the years, drawn to meditation in strange ways but they always seemed to be attached to a deeper commitment than I was ready to make.  About 15 years ago I was introduced to Raj Yoga and attended weekly meditation for a brief time, but they were recruiting for their center in NY and the rebel in me still wouldn’t let me join anything. I did find I liked the way I felt after our weekly meetings and desired that feeling for many years to come.

I found Reiki & Yoga about 10 years ago and that began my real practice of a consistent meditation.  Coming to a regular practice is hard; I have had some resistance towards it for most of these years.  My spiritual experiences have always come as more of the educational variety anyway, and so has it been with meditation.  This has been a benefit because it has allowed me to slowly evolve and steep myself more into an authenticity I never knew existed.  It has allowed a process of becoming rather than just changing.  I am who I am meant to be at this exact moment and I even believe that some of the time!

How do you do it, you ask?  I’ve learned all you have to do is just sit and be quiet and you can do this anywhere.  But… when you are beginning you should create a ritual (a set time, so you have something to commit to) create a space, I have an altar, but this can be a chair in your favorite room, you can have candles, a deity or any other object that softens your heart  Right now I mediate on my beautiful porch overlooking an English garden.  I found it easier to start in a quiet space with very little distraction.  Now, on my porch I hear cars go by, birds chirping and general neighborhood noise which I embrace, it teaches me I can find stillness anywhere. Next, set a timer, as little as 5 minutes a day can make a difference. I’ve found that rarely is my mind ever void of thought, so don’t get discouraged when you start creating lists or when random thoughts invade your space.    The practice of meditation isn’t to become void, but to become as “full”y present as you can be in each moment.  It teaches you to act rather than react, to begin to know yourself, without judgment, but with clears eyes and an open heart.

Some techniques that helped me out early on were to simply count my breath, it was the first real deliberate meditation practice I was consistent with. It gave me something to do while I was trying to be (you can’t go from “doer” to “be-er” overnight).  I tried a Zen meditation where you count to ten and then begin again, this never worked for me as I would always go past ten then berate myself for not doing it right. Counting my breaths 108 times (a single breath being a complete cycle of inhale and exhale) was a regular practice at the beginning.  I’ve used mantra which is also very powerful.  This can be a Sanskrit mantra or just a positive statement such as I am peaceful, I am happy, I am loved, I am abundant or I am here.  Just the repetition of a beautiful phrase in and of itself is healing, but repetition is where the true practice of meditation begins.

Many people close their eyes during meditation, which was very helpful for me early on.  I now practice with a steady downward gaze my eyes looking over the bridge of my nose a foot or two in front of me.  This is a common practice for meditation in Reiki which is my regular practice. There are other meditation techniques in Reiki I use and they can be found in the Japanese Art of Reiki http://us.ihreiki.com/shop/product/the_japanese_art_of_reiki. My Reiki teacher has a new meditation CD out with guided meditations and is very helpful when you are first beginning (or something fresh for the seasoned practitioner), it takes all the guessing out of it http://www.thereikijourney.com/The_Reiki_Journey/Welcome.html. If you prefer print, I am currently reading Be the Change by Deb and Ed Shapiro which shares personal experiences from many modern-day practitioners http://www.amazon.com/Be-Change-Meditation-Transform-World/dp/1402760019.  There are many great resources and ways to meditate, but the only way to begin is to begin. Ask people around you, read excerpts on Amazon, find guided meditations, anything you desire, there are many resources, just look.

I’ve found meditation is strong and grounding, which surprised me when I started. It should help immerse you into the world, or perhaps it will be a bridge to find your place with in it.  Either way the practice of meditation is never about moving away from the world, but finding your true “seat” within it.  Don’t expect anything, don’t expect a quiet mind or a more peaceful life, don’t ask it for anything.  Meditation will give you more than you ever knew existed, I promise.

**If you enjoyed this post, I think you’ll like this one too: “What is all this savasana & meditation stuff anyway?”

Super Moon? Super You!

Today, May 5th, is a full moon.  I know, I know, I’m such a cliché being a yoga teacher and writing about the moon!  Believe me.  I am well aware of that.  But, bear with me, it’s not just any full moon – it’s the granddaddy of moons for the year.  The big kahuna!  The biggest one we will see.  Apparently it’s going to be 14% closer to the earth than any other moon.  A fact that means absolutely nothing to me.  I honestly have no idea how that translates into size difference when it comes to an object that lies 384, 403 miles (238, 857 kilometers) away, but, maybe you will.

Wanna talk cliché’s?  The yogi’s are going banana’s over it about now!  Once a month, without fail, women in Lululemon pants are throwing down in down dog waxing lyrical about how connected to the moon they are, how strongly they feel the energy and teachers will, no doubt, feel the need to include half-moon pose in their sequence and use it as a ‘shout-out to the moon’.  WITH OUT FAIL.

I know – I’m one of them.  Well, sort of.  For years, after I would hear such exalted declarations of moon connections and convictions that their connection was the strongest (yes, ego and competition does exist in the yoga world..gasp!), I would honestly feel failed, because, while I have always been struck by the beauty of a full moon I didn’t every really feel any different ‘inside’ – I didn’t shift.  I would worry, did I then not have a connection with the moon?  I would sit and ponder with eyes squinted closed, breathing deeply just hoping to squeeze out a little connection with the moon (hoping to not squeeze anything else out), not really sure what it was all supposed to feel like.  I was waiting for messages to arrive, or a booming voice from the Lunar God about my next move.  I waited for special phone calls, chance meetings, signs or signals to indicate that this was a ‘different’ day.  Something to indeed confirm that this full moon had power to shift and change and this day was special.  I usually got nothing.

All I really felt was immense awe for the beauty of a full moon in that moment your eye catches it and renders you breathless.

And then it hit me.  My connection!  Gratitude  for its beauty.

One of my wise students is an outdoors guy, he tends to gardens and he is very learned in the school of environment and nature.  Naturally he has his eye on the big ball!  We talked about that moment when you catch a glimpse at the moon, particularly a full moon, and it always catches you by surprise.  He said, for years he has followed the moon’s cycle and knows what times it rises and when it will be most prominent in the sky, organizing his evening to catch a glimpse of it.  However, without fail, whenever he does see the moon it was never the moment he planned to and he always stopped by it, almost surprised by it even.

The moon will always be your best surprise.  Like all the best things in your life, if you tap in, you know they’re going to show up you’re just not always privy to when.

Do I still sit and wait for messages?  Yes.  But, I don’t seek them out from the moon anymore.  I get them from inside, I mine from that pool of knowing that sits within me, which I get to tap into while in silence.  Do I now believe I have a connection to the moon?  Yes, but no more than anyone else who appreciates its beauty and no more than I am connected to a beautiful sunset, or sunrise or just the general give of nature’s expression.

If you do want to find significance in this full moon here is a good article about how it relates in Vedic Astrology.  This is the first full moon of the Vedic calendar year and is the moon that will shift unwanted Karma.  It is a moon of abundance READ:  An opportunity to clean yo shit up!  And then hand in your ‘Santa/Karma God’ list of gifts for the year which they’d be happy to adorn you with – if you’ve done the work.

Stories and myths perhaps, but it feeds imagination and your imagination shapes your life. Considering this is also the year of the Dragon, a year for dream making – it’s no coincidence that this moon is related to clearing space for those dreams to show up.

I do think it is significant to spend a day a month, in the light of a wild full moon, contemplating your life.  It keeps you on your toes, and that renders the best view!

Here are 10 tips that might help feed your dreams:

1/. Spend an hour today writing out how you would like the rest of your year to look and feel like.

2/. Take a walk with a good friend in the translucent part of the day when the sun is setting and the moon is rising

3/. Focus on only the things you love in your life, and be grateful for them.

4/. Be with your lover, or your children (preferably both).  Really be with them.

5/. Clear your day of tasks and just do only the things you love to do.

6/. Apologize for that thing that keeps popping up in your thoughts late at night

7/. Recognize someone for something they don’t think you see.

8/. Find yourself responsible for everything in your life.  Not guilty!

9/. Be kind to someone that frustrates you the most.

10/. Do one thing today that will make you feel the most achieved (usually the thing you’ve been putting off; a class you keep meaning to sign up to, a letter you really wanted to write, that business plan you know you would feel good about finishing).  It may be the game changer.

p.s. I have consciously NOT included a youtube video of When the Moon hits your eye by Dean Martin!  I am trying to rid myself of cliché karma.  

p.p.s If you liked this post, you might like these:




14 Days of Love: Day 14 ~ Return to Love.

There is a moment in the film ‘Love Actually’ where the little boy, Sam, is not communicating with his step-father (Liam Neeson).  He retreats, he is forlorn, he doesn’t eat and he has a general malaise for life.  Finally, his step-father confronts him and asks what’s up.  With a little hesitation he looks at his father and says “I’m in Love”.  His step-father, a little taken aback, almost with a laugh, responds “I thought it would be something worse” to which Sam responds “Worse than the total agony of being in Love?”

“Oh, you’re right” his father replies.

For the last 14 days all I have been focused on is the topic of love.  I have watched hundreds of videos, read countless stories, listened to music that inspires and uplifts, waded through hundreds of images of people embracing and smiling and bursting at their seams with love.  I’ve seen tears from loss of loved ones and I am now convinced that that kind of deep mourning is love at it’s most powerful.  It’s Love when it’s standing on the edge, shouting.

I have laughed hysterically and cried with compassion and heartbreak and felt an array of experiences through stories and images and reflection and yes the ride has been, on occasion, agonizing.

My life coach, quoting Dr. John DeMartini, always reminds me that ‘that which we focus on, expands.’  So let’s say you’re in debt and all you focus on is your debt rather than abundance, then the feeling of lack expands.  Equally, if you’re trying to lose weight and all you focus on is how fat you are then….you guessed it….you’ll probably get fatter.  That’s the theory anyway.

Each day I scoured the internet, scrolled through my itunes collection, talked to my friends, emailed my friends and read countless stories around the subject of love.  As each day went on and I immersed myself in good relationships and good people and kind gestures, I found myself getting happier.  Yet nothing, physically, in my life has changed.  I haven’t acquired any ‘stuff’, I haven’t added more people to my life, I haven’t gotten a new job or a new house or a new car.  I didn’t go to an exotic place or take a new course.  In fact, I’ve felt more in love over these last 14 days than I have in a long time.  It’s almost the same kind of love you feel in a new relationship but I’ve spent a lot of time on my own.

Needless to say, I’m feeling it.  Alive, I mean.

Most impacting however, has been the reflection of love in my own life.  Taking the time to sit and look at the many ways love has showed up, both past and present, in my life has gifted me this feeling that I have a secret door to a portal into a dimension of life that no one else is privy too.  Yet, everyone has access too.  It feels as if I have a secret and I want to pull everyone aside and whisper zealously “sshhhh, listen, I know it sounds crazy but, Love is everywhere”.  But then again, maybe people have been trying to pull me aside to tell me the same thing, all along.

I didn’t know what this 14 day thing was going to be all about.  Little did I know the time and commitment it was going to take, but that’s what’s been the most rewarding actually.  The time and commitment to show up and follow through and chose, every day, to do this meant that I had to show up for myself everyday.  I wasn’t asked to do this and I wasn’t accountable to anyone for this and this is where is gets juicy.

As the days went on and each post was out there friends came forward and thanked me.  People I didn’t know were reading it approached me to compliment the project and were grateful for the content; ‘I hadn’t heard that song before’ or ‘That poem was so touching’ or ‘That interview with Steve and Sal was just what I needed to hear, it was perfectly timed’.  Even though it was I whom I made the commitment to, and it was myself I was holding to account it became very clear that in doing so, because I was sharing something, it touched others.

This theme, showing up for ourselves, and the idea of returning ~ returning to what you love, returning to what is good, returning to the people you love, returning to the reasons why you love those people and ultimately re-turning again and again back to yourself became glaringly obvious that this is where true love is held.

Every couple in a strong relationship I spoke to all had this theme of ‘being themselves’ in the relationship.  Of providing a space to let their partners shine and grow and that their individual role was to hold their partner up, and to hold them close but not hold on.  What was also clear was that these couples saw their relationship as something living, something growing and they didn’t take their eye off it.  But, ultimately, it was the development of their personal relationships with themselves that fed the relationship, not the other way around.

I can’t honestly say what Love is, because it is many things.  Perhaps Love is simply the vehicle and what makes the vehicle move is all the many variables inside.  However, when it’s moving, when it’s running there is an unwavering feeling of being alive.  I do know that Love is complete, we feel alive because there is no sense of lack.

I wonder if we tend to go wrong when we think Love always has to feel good.  It seems to me, after reading so many stories, that you can have your whole life in shambles but if you are in a state of love, you don’t fall to shambles.  I think we go wrong when we think Love is placed in the ‘other’.  When someone, or something comes into our life that triggers a feeling of rush and excitement, we think that feeling is because of them and it’s agonizing to think we might lose it.    But really, that feeling is because we find some sense of recognition of ourselves, in that person.  When a lover leaves, or you leave a lover, or someone you love passes away – there is nothing good about that feeling – but we have to return to why we fell in love in the first place.  Because they showed us something great about ourselves.

I think the real work in  love is remembering that it is always there.

Nurture and treasure the love you have in your life and keep returning to remember.  Feed the love in your life with gestures, with wild exclamations and unexpected offerings.  Be bold with the people  you love and, like my yoga teacher Mitchel says, return always, to what you love about them – even when they piss you off.  Be courageous with yourself and look forward, everyday, at your reflection and find something to love.

Living this way can be agonizing because it means you have to show up day after day and re-commit.  Re-commit to your dream, to your health, to feeling good, to doing good, to admitting being wrong rather than fighting so hard to be right.  You have to show up and take the agonizing path of forgiving.  Forgiving the person who left you, forgive the driver for cutting you off, forgive the person who didn’t love themselves enough and made choices that affected you.  Then, stand in the mirror and forgive yourself.  Forgive yourself for eating that cookie, or spending your savings on something meaningless, for divorce or break-ups, for not being where you wanted to be right now, or for not loving yourself enough to make right choices regarding someone else.   Then, go and do the right thing.

At the end of the movie, Love Actually, Sam’s father encourages him to seek his dream girl out and tell her how he feels.  After a moment Sam looks at his father and says “ok dad, let’s do it.  Let’s go get the shit kicked out of us by love.”

After 14 days of it I feel a little exhausted.  Love kinda kicked the shit of me these past 2 weeks….but mostly, it kicked a lot of shit out in general.  There were times I wanted to say “F@*k Love” but really I want to say “F*@k Valentines Day” and all the stupidity it places on loving someone else with a cheesy Hallmark card.  As Bill Maher says “Let’s just call Valentines Day what it is.  A flowers for blowjobs exchange program.”

Love doesn’t hold its meaning in someone else, that’s just the reward.  The key to it all, all along is to Love Yourself.  Naturally!

**Added Footage.  A Video Interview with Tracy & Mitchel Bleier about Love, romance, marriage and Luck – over at my other blog http://iinterviewyou.wordpress.com/2012/02/16/tracy-mitchel-bleier-on-love-marriage-and-luck/

Tedeschi Trucks Band: Revealed.

It was a sunny, slightly crisp, brightly polished early October morning in Long Island, NY and Susan Tedeschi was sitting in the passenger seat of my Subaru.  We were driving to get coffee.  It wasn’t planned out that way it simply happened after an impromptu run in only moments before, at the hotel elevator.  Prior to our run in I had rolled out of bed, groaned at the slight hangover that seemed to high-five my waking moment, threw on some street clothes and slept-walked out of my dark hotel room toward the elevator, down the hall.  I didn’t even take a side-glance in a mirror.  I knew what I looked like, and I needed coffee.

Praying I wouldn’t run into anyone as I turned the corner to the elevators, the first blinding ray of sunlight to befall me fell simultaneously with my run in with Susan.  A meeting with someone who wasn’t serving me coffee, let alone Susan Tedeschi, was not what I was prepared for.  Still, it felt very fitting that it happened this way because Susan is just like sunshine, and not for obvious hair color reasons.  She is light, and happy and a genuinely warm person without a hint of pretense.  The sun also happens to be the icon used for the band she and husband Derek Trucks have formed, the Grammy nominated Tedeschi Trucks band, an 11-piece ensemble bursting at the seams with talent.  Symbolism abound.

Regardless, I wasn’t thinking romantic metaphors while we rode the elevator together.  I was simply praying for life to slap itself into me while Susan chatted away like it was just another catch up, as if we do this every day.  She was escaping her hotel room, while Derek was on an early morning telephone interview, and had nowhere to go but the downstairs lobby.  With nothing else to do and in a seamless, very natural transition, she was in my passenger seat riding with me to get coffee.  When she casually mentioned she was grateful for the female company, I responded that it must be difficult being amongst so much testosterone.  Without hesitating she replied “No, not really” and then continued “I work with an incredible group of guys.  They are so talented and funny and intelligent.  It’s just an amazing group of people to be a part of, I have so much fun.”

She then leaned over, in another flawless transition of conversation, and shared the recent video of her son pitching in his baseball game, sent to her that morning.  He doesn’t usually pitch and she was extremely proud and I was extremely touched that she openly shared this with me.

I mention this encounter because it’s very telling of who Susan and the people she and Derek chose to surround themselves with are; friendly, real and embracing.  If you’ve ever watched, or read any interviews with Susan and Derek, or the band, they talk a lot about the family dynamic that exists amongst them.  Achieving this dynamic, however, takes the right kind of people not simply universal luck.  Truth is, I could have had my best friend next to me in the car that morning and the only difference would have been that my best friend has seen me in this state more times than I like to confess.   Susan embraces you and she doesn’t care if you’re hung-over or not, she just cares that you’re being you.

Considering I was sharing an intimate space with Susan and the band for a week, this was a relief.

This was the first day of my week traveling with the Tedeschi Trucks band.  I had met the band months prior through a work engagement and we had stayed in touch ever since.  Last fall, an opportunity presented itself to travel with them during the tour while they were recording their shows for the upcoming live version of their album, Revelator.  I’d be lying if I wasn’t slightly apprehensive about the week of travel, and the intimate space I would share with such a tight knit group of people.  Additionally, what was this rock and roll lifestyle all about anyway?  Could I really handle the sex, drugs and debauchery that all my Rolling Stone articles lead me to believe I’d be engaging in while on tour with a band? (I am feigning innocence here – of course I could!)

The tour started in Long Island where their home for the few days before the Tilles Center show was at the Crowne Plaza located somewhere on Stripmallville Street, Greenvale.   A vast, vapid stretch of concrete lined with a paint by numbers scene; chain retail stores, discount liquors, Starbucks (of course) and a general feeling of homogeny, cultural inertia and ‘this could be anywhere USA’ un-originality.  I would come to find out that this is the common terrain of life on the road for these folks.  No one complained of course, they’re used to this.

After the show in Long Island we traveled up to Lynn, MA then to Buffalo, NY, over to Burlington, VT, Albany, NY and then Newark, NJ all in 7 days (I left them in Jersey and from here they had another 10 days to go.)  The days were short and the nights were long.   Each morning, having driven through the night after the show to the next destination, we woke on the bus, parked on the side of the road, proceeded to take our stuff off the bus and wait for a hotel room.  Hopefully managed to get time for a shower and find some good food, before we were back on another bus and off to the venue.  Back inside, sunlight gone.

The bands “8” hours of work usually begins at 3pm (travel to sound check) and finish at 11pm (end of show) and then, as is the same for most of us – the post work day wind down.  However, before these folks get to actually relax there is the flurry of post-show activity which usually involves time with some fans who have found their way to the back of the venue, the crew have to load in the equipment, a late night dinner of pizza or Chinese take-out (depending on the town and availability of food) and a lot of waiting.  Then, it’s off to the next venue between 1 and 2am.  Then, wake up on the bus, parked on the side of the road and…..it is Ground-Hog’s Day for these folks, just as it is for those of us who engage in a work-day during the daylight hours.

The bus is quite the nerve center, carrying the band from gig to gig.  A warmly lit space, it is their sleeping quarters, their living room, their respite from a stark backstage auditorium or, depending on the city they’re in, their entertainment area.  Navigating around close quarters filled with broad shouldered men mostly involves a lot of “side-walking” to get from the front to the back of the bus.  Since the lay out is of a long corridor lined with (in respective order from front to back) sofa’s (banquet style), the kitchen, a small bathroom and then bunks, you can really only go in a linear direction.

The message magnets on the bus fridge!

Once on the road, some members slip into their bunk very shortly after the journey begins and others, unable to shake the natural momentum stay up chatting and listening to music.  Stories are carved out over drinks around the small, card sized table that can squeeze in (maybe) four people, music is being shared, laughter is abundant and the spirit is a collective effort. And then slowly, one by one, each member takes to their bunk eventually.

The Tedeschi Trucks band is like a complete puzzle in that like a puzzle, every single person in this traveling ensemble holds a vital piece and is considered such.  The bus driver, the lighting technician, the sound guy, the instrument tech, the manager and assistant manager, and Derek’s dad – they’re the Tedeschi Trucks band too; they are also the music makers.  Truly, while all personalities are shaped completely different, together they work.  It’s a big enough group where at any time one can be entertained by a different personality and with that there is also the risk of being lost but in this band, in this family, no one will lose you.

The very entertaining, ever reliable bus driver

A friend once heard an interview with Derek where he said “it’s not a conversation unless something is revealed.”  That quote stayed with me as I watched, night after night, each member of the band engage in a musical conversation on stage and reveal themselves in their most authentic way.  They don’t have a ‘stage’ personality, they are really being themselves.

Susan Tedeschi sings from her heart, anyone who has seen her perform knows that, but she lives from there too.  An eminent figure in the world of blues and soul, she can belt out a song with an intensity that takes your breath away and then step off the stage and beam a smile your way, embrace you with a  hug and the sweetest sounding “Heeyyyy!!” as if she were just waiting for you to arrive.  There is a natural giddiness to Susan that is infectious, and she has a sense of humor that can match any guy on that bus.  She is also very caring and considerate and remembers little details from casual conversations.

Derek Trucks is also funny, but more in his observations of the world around him.  He tells a great story in person, as he does with his guitar.  He is intelligent and thoughtful and witty and he seems to embrace things at a casual pace; just like you see him do on stage.  He never appeared to stray too far from that temperament, which is comforting.  I was often struck by his intense focus for the project that they are all creating as he sat listening to the fresh recording of each night’s show, as soon as it was available, taking notes and hearing nuances that weren’t so obvious on stage.  The entire band would eventually migrate to listening to the recordings and share their own observations.

Both Derek and Susan and all the members of the Tedeschi Trucks Band carry with them a great sense of humility about their talents and the world that they are immersed in.  What struck me was how they told stories of the world that they are in, the world of ‘celebrity’, as if they were mere observers, as if they weren’t celebrities themselves (which they genuinely don’t consider themselves to be – thank goodness!).  When a few of us decided to head into NYC from New Jersey on a day off it wasn’t a private car or a taxi we took.  It was the bus…NJ transit no less!  Standing on the side of a busy road having missed the first bus, there was Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks (just voted by Rolling Stone magazine as the 16th best guitarist in the world!), world renowned, Grammy award winning musicians on a windy late afternoon in the cold waiting patiently for the next bus to arrive.  Wait, where was that debauchery and reckless disregard for social norms I was expecting (did I also mention the stretch hummers and Cristal)?  Guess I had been reading about P. Diddy!

Susan & Derek waiting for the NJ Bus to NYC

Turns out the Tedeschi Trucks band don’t always have time for a lot of debauchery and, reckless disregard for social norms isn’t this group’s personality (neither are showy displays of excess).  They have their own fun, for sure, but not at the expense of those around them (unless you hand them your CD of really bad music, then you’re just asking to be mocked.  JJ Johnson and Tyler Greenwell it seems will play that CD over and over again, learn the words verbatim to reference at opportune moments and add dance routines to boot!).

Actually, one of the first conversations I had with Oteil Burbridge was about the Bhagavad Gita, (the sacred yogic text) which he had read years prior, and yoga (since he has a regular yoga practice).  He is deeply passionate about social causes and the goodness of life.  Not so different to whom you see on stage, smiling and basking in the goodness of music on his bass guitar and the good company he shares on stage.

His brother Kofi, who is a perfect juxtaposition to Oteil, has that talent of being understated in his efforts but lands precisely on what he wants to know, or share.  He is fluid in conversation, just as he is on the keys and the flute.  The two brothers were often spending time together, in laughter or conversation but always managed to stay part of the group.  It’s the same way they interact on stage, next to each other, almost in a private conversation as they gesture to one another, but still part of the larger collective.

Maurice Brown loves to perform and it’s obvious as he moves on stage from beginning to end of each show with an effervescence that might be reserved for an excited child.  He is generally pretty excited about music.  Off stage, if he wasn’t with headphones on or behind his laptop mixing music he was enthusiastically sharing the music he was creating and producing, with others.  Kebbi Williams, on the other hand, glides.  On and off the stage, in and out of conversations, Kebbi observes and participates with ease and exudes a quiet but self-confident disposition whether he is on the saxophone or behind the drums on the cowbell.  Off stage, he was often doing his own thing before or after a show, but always managed to appear when needed without fanfare or a big announcement.

Saunders Sermon, the dapper and well-dressed trombone player who is just as cool and collected off stage as he is on, exudes charm and charisma but is spontaneous too.  On a few occasions I saw him casually walk off stage during a set and, once behind the curtain, break out into dance.  He has a sultry, seductive singing voice that had not been heard in many of the other shows until Derek, one night, gestured to Saunders that his ‘solo’ was up.  Saunders, without missing a beat, stepped right into it and caressed the audience.

Mike Mattison played two shows each night, first as the front man for the supporting act, Scrapomatic and then as back-up singer for the Tedeschi Trucks Band.  He does both without ever seeming tired (Tyler Greenwell, did the same on drums).  In fact his manner and disposition on stage, like you’d imagine him happily hanging out in his living room, translates directly to how he is off stage.  He is also a little unpredictable and really funny.  Once, in the middle of a conversation he and I were having about punk rock music he politely excused himself, proceeded to direct a barrage of abusive (but affectionate) banter at one of his Scrapomatic band mates and then gracefully returned to our conversation.  Shortly after that he shared a photo of his adorable little daughter.

Mark Rivers, the reverent gentleman, never failed to greet with a ‘thousand watt’ smile and, whether it was a ‘good morning’ or a ‘good day’, he always ended with Ma’am, or Miss.  He was consistently polite and generous with his good energy on, and off, the stage.  Both Mike and Mark are prolific and accomplished singers in their own right yet choose to share the attention, a testament to their personalities and what this band is about; sharing good music.

Sometimes lineage extends beyond blood-lines; it pushes boundaries of DNA and simply exists in a shared space of energy and compatibility.  Such is the relationship of the two drummers, JJ Johnson and Tyler Greenwell.  The kinship between these two men is more than evident, rather, it is palpable.  It’s the kind of relationship where humor doesn’t always need words and timing between the two both personally and professionally is impeccable.  This is true even when they’re not behind a drum kit.  When I first met Tyler he embraced me with a big old ‘come here’ uncle hug.  He is that type of kind; generous and approachable.  He’s also funny in that way that people who tell stories with an effortless nonchalance to their voice but their timing is so right that even his telling of a ridiculous dream had us laughing.

JJ Johnson has a slightly more reserved approach when meeting people, preferring a handshake and a genuine smile.  He is polite and friendly on first introductions, with preciseness to his thoughts that slowly reveal his sharp humor and intelligence.  He is seemed very generous and thoughtful with his time.  At the Tilles Center show, as I was leaving the venue, I witnessed two fans approach JJ with a sort of assumed recognition.  “Remember me?” said the younger, bespectacled one.  He clearly didn’t but he was trying his hardest, either to remember or to remain polite and not offend.  Turns out they were fans of John Mayer’s and had acquired mutual friends from the days of following him around.  They lived in the area so they wanted to support JJ in his new band.  They were gluttonous for his time, which he generously gave, taking photos and offering small talk.  It was cold out there.  I don’t know that I’d have that patience.  Much like he is on stage, JJ stays intuitive and thoughtful in conversation, while remaining aware to support what’s happening around him.  On the bus, his iTunes collection was often the soundtrack for most nights ranging from classical, to jazz to Pantera!

It’s clear that the Tedeschi Trucks band is the brain-child of Susan and Derek, this is their dream for sure, but in bringing together these talented musicians and great personalities, they are making dreams happen for so many.  It is natural to think that Derek and Susan ‘lead’ the band but what they really do is evoke the greatness in their friends and each other, as they all seamlessly transition into their solo’s, their voice in the conversation, and the rest of the family stand right behind in support.  And what’s revealed from there can’t be measured, and it can’t be quantified but is the result of all the many years of sweat and practice and risk and poverty and bad gigs and good gigs and misfortune and chance meetings and hard work and simple, authentic talent.

I love travel, I always have.  Road trips, train rides, bus rides, planes; the general feeling of momentum and forward motion appeals to my temperament.  I have always nestled into life in motion, with or without a certain level of comfort.  However, never have I enjoyed such a journey where the definition of luxury wasn’t placed in the obvious, it simply turned out to be the company of intelligent, thoughtful, witty and wickedly talented people.

And  yes Susan, you really do work with a great group of people and clearly have a lot of fun.

Catch the Tedeschi Trucks Band in your town.  You won’t be sorry, their show is incredible.

Susan and I in NYC

I am available to tour with your band as your writer, yoga teacher and body therapist! You can contact me at lyn.girdler@gmail.com

Blessings for breakfast. Or (10 practices to build happiness!)

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort.  You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and even travel for it.  You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessing” – Elizabeth Gilbert.

Boo Yah!  Take that self-doubt and circumstance.

I read this quote a few days ago and it stopped me in my tracks, so much so that I have made it my daily affirmation (I replace ‘you’ for ‘I’ and I add a big ‘MY’ before happiness).  Not because it was profound, or anything different than what I have read a hundred times before but because of its firmness.  I felt like it slam dunked the responsibility of my life’s achievements (and non-achievements) right in my lap and it has incited a fierceness in my spirit to continue the work I do to create my life; exactly-the-way-I-want- it!

I think it’s the ‘participate relentlessly’ that has got me all excited.  The word relentless always stirs something in me.  It makes me think of the honey badger (which Bernadette Birney wrote a fantastically funny post about) who is tenacious about his pursuit and relentless about his blessings.  This guy gives a shit about his happiness….and you should too.

“Participate relentlessly?  Live free of relenting.  Don’t give up.  Become relentless about your happiness – it’s that important.  You participate in your life without giving up.  Participate.  Play, act, engage – be part of the results.  Life doesn’t just happen to me – I make it happen.”  This has been the conversation, the constant loop, in my head of late.

Until I hit about 28, I felt like I just manifested the shit out of my life, so much so, I was eating blessings for breakfast every morning!!  I grew up with such an irrefutable knowing that I would always achieve what I wanted and that anything and everything amazing would happen to me – and it usually did, at least in my view.  Things always worked out for me, despite never taking the popular, conventional route to get anywhere.

Until I decided to take the conventional route.  Living without a plan and with a ‘follow my whim’ kind of uncertainty got to be exhausting, so I did what every tired dreamer does; I followed the lights and took the path of ‘follow the crowd’ kind of uncertainty.  I just decided to stay put and let the ‘conventional system’ do the work for me.  I stayed in one town, I stayed in one job – I even stayed with one boyfriend.  It was good; safe and conventional.  However, I think this is where it all slowed down for me.  It wasn’t that amazing things stopped happening for me, I just stopped being relentless in the manifesting of them.

It took a few heartbreaks, bottles of wine, a therapist, a few life changing courses and most significantly; a yoga practice and a life coach, to shake (and wake up)what my mama (and my grandmother )gave me; a sense of wanderlust, enthusiasm and excitement to follow my dreams.

Truth be told, I was dreaming but I wasn’t clear on what dream I wanted to really follow, for a while – I forgot what my dream was.  My wants, and needs, changed every day and they created a smoke screen for my true desires.  I really just couldn’t identify what my dream was – that’s where my coach came in.

So, how does one participate in life, outside of the usual mundane acts of necessity i.e. work, errands, tasks, to-do lists, exercise etc. to produce results or, blessings ?  Because, true happiness – I believe – doesn’t stem from those acts alone, they just create space and make it easier for it to exist.

I put this question out to my Facebook crew and here are some of the responses……………

“Simple. By doing exactly what I want to do all the time with the people who inspire me the most.” Says Aubrey

Elisa says “Constantly picturing myself exactly as I want and where I want to be… And being willing to create that vision on 3 levels 1. Thinking about it 2. Talking about it to anyone and everyone that will listen and 3. Acting only in ways which support its manifestation. Xoxo”

“By accepting where I am meant to be…” Corti

George says “sum it up in one word: Integrity”

My very silly friend Zamdar yells at “bananas and little flying bugs” because they are the only thing stopping him in his life – I might suffice to say he uses humor (might I add ALL. THE. TIME!)

I took a look at some of my own practices, and attitudes, because I wanted to know how I was keeping my own happiness afloat, and cultivating a lot of the blessings that are happening in my life, and they aren’t at all far off from what my friends mentioned.

So, I thought I’d put together, and share, a list of 10 essential practices that, based on conversations with others and my own experiences, seem to always land me face to face with my blessings.

1/ Perspective – I question it from time to time, because it might not actually be making me happy at all.  Does it tend to be cynical or judgmental or make me worry?  Does it have a lot of blame and guilt?  If I can only see a situation or person in a negative way, I find someone to help me actively see a positive side.  Besides my friends, my life coach has made a significant difference in the way that I view myself, my opinions and the actions I take.  Changing my perspective always yields different results – and feelings.

2/. Words – what am I saying in the world?  Even when it’s sarcastic or meant for entertainment, if we’re not being truthful then what are we actually telling people?   I work to be careful with words, to be kind in them.  I strive to always say what I mean, and mean what I say, and stand behind it all with action (unless I am giving you a time I am going to show up at your party – I’ll likely have no integrity around that ask Aubrey).  Like my friend George said “integrity” – it goes a long way (thanks George, see previous sentence).  This is always a work in progress for me but I am clear that the results in my life, and how people treat me, is directly related to what I say.

3/. Internal dialogue – I practice really listening to what I am telling myself.  I listen to the excuses I have for why I can’t do something, or don’t have something, or didn’t achieve or why I lost.  Or the justifications for why I did something that didn’t feel great.  And then I question whether it’s true.   I write morning pages on a regular basis and until then, I was unaware of how negative I was speaking to myself and how often.  I have changed that around to be much kinder – and create possibility.  My coach often reminds me of this in regards to the questions that I ask myself.  She says “The quality of your life depends on the quality of questions you ask yourself”.  So a question that might have been stated as “Why can’t I do that?” is now replaced with “How CAN I do that?” in a quality of tone that sets me up to answer in only productive ways.  Affirmations WORK, by the way.

4/. Gratitude.  We’re such a damn spoilt society that we seem only grateful for the bigger things in life, and material or occasional gifts.  I try to pay attention to someone who smiles at me.  I practice being thankful for the everyday things like having a car to drive, and a bed to sleep in, a shirt on my back, I even try to be grateful for the slow driver in front of me – perhaps he is saving me from an accident ahead!  I practice being grateful every day, not just for the obvious things like my friends, but for the everyday moments that are woven into my life unconsciously (I’ve even been grateful for the parking lot across the street that has a parking space for me – I was reaching)
Sandra says “By being grateful every day for everything, for my breath, my kids, my family, my friends, my pets, even for the cloudy days or for the jerky driver somewhere on the roads. It is the most powerful attitude. I use gratitude as if it was a muscle the more that I use it the stronger it gets.”  I started a daily ritual where I am grateful for the small things and I know it has made a huge difference in my life.  Not only do opportunities just show up for me, I am generally just happier and I truly think it is because of this act alone.  Who doesn’t want to give things to people who are grateful for them?

5/. People – I ask myself “who are the people in your life and what are they supporting in you?  What are they not supporting in you?  How are they reflecting back to you who you are?  Do they inspire you, and challenge you and make you feel important all at the same time?  Are they doing inspiring things?”  I have different people in my life, for different reasons but, as my teacher always says “You are the company you keep, so keep good company”.  I am reminded time and time again when I am frustrated or hurt or angry or disappointed by someone in my life, that I am doing – or have done – the same thing to someone else somewhere in my life.  But, going back to Aubrey’s comment; doing things with people who inspire her – it means there is always a place to go, not someone to compete with – but a place of possibility.

6/. Dream – Every day, am I dreaming?  Am I creating big ones, ones that I can see and feel?  I write them down and give them so much detail that I have a fire in my belly.  I now create little plans to live my dreams, and I revise those dreams when I need new ones. My cousin Rachel reminded me of our grandmother who always said “Darling, your dreams are free”  and she added “therefore, dream BIG, Dream every day! AND always follow your Dreams…cause they’re free, they don’t cost anything!!! Hasn’t done me too badly” and how very right she is.  She is one of the most successful dream catchers I know.

7/. Connecting – I want to always connect with people, connect with nature, connect with my achievements and the journey that I am on.  I have to remind myself to really share with people.  I don’t just mean sharing my words (or my libido), or my opinions,  but am I listening too?  I ask myself all the time “Are you giving people space to open up and be honest?  Are you being honest?”  Please, don’t think this is so easy for me – I have often been quoted as saying “I am a slut for my own company” – as I have gotten older, it’s easier and easier for me to just do my own thing and not reach out but I know that when I do I feel a part of something bigger than myself.  Like Christopher McCandless realized “Happiness only real when shared.”

8/. Compassion – things are never as they seem, not everyone sees the world like you.  I am very clear that I never really know what’s going on with someone, even when I know them so well and particularly when they are seemingly ‘offending’ me by their behavior.  Wayne Dyer often says that ‘everywhere he goes he meets people who are looking to be offended by others.’  As quick as possible, I work to give up the drama and shut-up sometimes.  I find a way to be compassionate to the person who is bothering me the most – I know if I can do that over and over again, I can do anything.

9/. Be active – in my learning, in my body, with my talents, in my healing and health, in my spirituality.  Whenever I hold back, whenever I stop writing or practicing yoga or cooking for myself or reading and consuming new information, I always feel like I lose momentum in my life. I feel stagnant.  For me, staying active with my body and my mind keeps me actively rolling toward my blessings.  I do the work, the emotional and psychological work to keep the quality of my life high – so that I always wake up excited and enthusiastic.  Some of us need more guidance than others but, in my experience, the people who I consider the most ‘together’ and happy and achieved are the ones being active in their life – they are doing the work.

10/. Yoga – it has pulled it all together for me.  It has taught me about my breath, and the power of transformation through it.  It has taught me about the myriad of ways my body can move and strengthen.  It has taught me about the power of surrender and of connection.  It has taught me the power of meditation and most importantly, I found a sense of self and a community through my yoga practice.  Sometimes too it just provides me a good old sweat and a nap at the end – and that’s cool too.  It definitely took me a little while to find the practice that met me, but once I did I knew it was for life.

I am happy to report that I am back now in a conventionally unstable part of my life, relentlessly pursuing my dreams and participating in manifesting, once again – the shit out of my life.

I would love to hear how you participate.