Esse Quam Videri

No two people are alike. While our basic needs may be similar, each of us carries a unique spark inside that others see from the outside; it’s like looking in to a house through the window. We see some of what exists, but not everything. Some windows are wide open, while others are draped shut with nothing exposed. Despite the beautiful and eclectic diversity that we represent as humans, many remain fearful of sharing with others what exists within; fearful of being judged, of being mis-understood; fearful of being excluded because of perceived differences instead of embracing individuality.

Society and culture put pressure on the masses to be ‘normal’ yet normal is subjective to each individual; it is a made up construct that insecurity clings to as a guideline for living. But who makes up the guideline, and who clings to it? In my experience we all have different versions of what ‘normal’ means, and rather than exploring the extraordinary differences and spectrums of colour that exist, most seem all too consumed with living within the ‘normal’ paradigm of a given social circle.

Finding one’s authentic voice is an important aspect of being an empowered, responsible human being, yet many of us are too shy or insecure to share it. It is sometimes easier to cling to another person whom we envy or admire than to put our best for forward and share what exists within. This is especially the case when we don’t like what we see, or it is not what society dictates as ‘appropriate.’

Someone I knew passed away recently, not from an accident or physical condition, but rather, a different type of suffering; she took her own life. Why did this happen? How could it happen, with so many people just struggling to get enough clean water and food to stay alive? From the outside, she appeared a bright, young, fit woman, a woman many people would have gladly traded places with. Yet she suffered greatly, perhaps in a deeper way than someone with an obvious problem that ‘normal’ people could sympathise with.

We rarely know what exists beneath the surface, beneath the semantics of words and expressions of the face and spirit. Many of us operate in a bubble. We approach the world from our self, and the ‘self’ dictates how we perceive those around us and the world at large. We are shaping things and at the same time being shaped by others. Sometimes, others shape us more than we’d care to imagine, and more than they comprehend. At the end of the day, who knows why any of us respond to things as we do. We all have different histories, different triggers of emotions and behavior. For a yogi, one of the most important practices is ahimsa; kindness to others. But as a yogi, the aim is to see ourselves in all beings. So who are the ‘others’, and what is ‘kindness’? Should we walk around lying to each other to appear kind, even if there is something important to say in the form of a critique that may end up helping the other person in the long run? And what do we do when being kind to another being impedes on our own well being? Eating meat, for example, is not being kind to the animal whom is being eaten; one way or another they had to die. But what if you have to eat animal protein for some reason to survive? Does that make you evil?

It isn’t always easy to put the all-knowing ego aside to withhold judgment of each other and offer compassion, and at the end of the day, all any of us can do is the best we can. Perhaps when we wake up to the truth that we are interconnected; beyond the insecurity and fear, beyond the makings of the ego, we are all the same. We all have the same inner light, the same perfect beauty; the great Divine within.

Our outside layers of thought, emotion and physicality make us ‘other’, and what we think, say and do in our ‘individual’ human form impacts all the others. The more we understand this, the more we can easily embrace our individuality and use it to benefit others rather than being embarrassed by it. My secondary school had the motto: esse quam videri- to be and not to seem. If each of us took a moment each day to reset our intention and live it, we could all walk with compassion and confidence knowing we are doing the best we can. What would the world be like if we were all happier, more loved and more loving creatures? It wouldn’t harm any of us to find out.

Love Invincible

PYS III.24 Maitri Adishu Balani
Through friendliness, kindness and compassion, strength and success will come.

heart-meditationWhen we let go completely of the ego, our insecurities, our need to please others and ‘act’ according to societal norms, then we can live through the heart. When we live through the heart with nothing to lose and nothing to prove, compassion and kindness shine through as our true nature, and we become more capable of saying what we mean, and meaning what we say. This leads to great strength, for we are free of the fear of our potential to be greater and more powerful than we ever thought possible.

Since I’ve been in the hospital recovering from a liver transplant, my relationships have undergone a transformation along with my mind and body. So many Beautiful Beings have offered up all of themselves with tremendous power of intention to my health and healing, and this has manifested in a number of different ways. In general, I value my friends more than I thought possible – I love them like family; they are a part of me. I sometimes have difficulty compartmentalizing the animate world as everything and all of us are so interconnected; and therefore the word acquaintance doesn’t register with me; rather, colleagues, nurses, doctors, yoga ‘students’, ‘teachers’ and strangers alike all fit nicely under the friendship umbrella.

Those beings who have helped me through managing my transforming body have gotten to know me in different forms: Lizzie with more and less body; Lizzie with more and less mental capacity; Lizzie in Love with life; Lizzie in great pain. Throughout this five week process I have been 25 kilos heavier than I am now with water weight, my face and body inflated nearly twice my current size; in fact, I was so over inflated with water that it was literally leaking out from my pores. I have had friends bathing me, changing my oozing wound, helping me to the toilet, washing my hair. These friends have surrendered themselves for my well being, and I believe that I can fairly say we’ve both benefited and grown stronger from this process. We’ve become One pillar of strength and love. I am wholly devoted to this growing circle of friends, and feel truly that there is no separation of heart or spirit. The Love is a result of surrender, of devotion, of offering everything up to the supreme source, that is You, me, all of us. Together, the power of Love is invincible.

Despite the Love, despite the deep connection with so very many, I am an introvert by nature. When in the hospital, my innate tendency is not to engage with patients, keeping my curtains drawn and earphones on. While I’m able to speak casually with the doctors, nurses and support staff, I observe myself doing all I can to not get caught up in other patients’ dramas. I used to feel awkward, even guilty about this, but have since come to terms with my method of coping, which I have rationalized as related to saving energy and keeping myself as calm as possible while not yet in a stable physical condition. Perhaps this is selfish, when I could be doing so much more to help those around me in their beds. I honestly feel I do the best I can, but it can become overwhelming, especially when the three others in my bay suffer from a confused mind and are continually doing strange things that I can’t help them to avoid. Example from this morning: pouring coffee into a jug of ice and letting it overflow all over their bedstand. This is par for the course of day to day in the room I’m in, times three.

There has been one exception to my generally introverted self since I’ve been here. After being on 10N for a week in a very loud room, one of the patients was sent home, thus there was a bed free. At about 9pm on a Friday, a new patient was wheeled in as if she’d just landed in a helicopter with an entourage of very happy, excited Spanish nurses and family. A bright energetic aura blew into the room with her, and over the next days I came to know this spark of energy as Eva, from Spain, who had just had a double kidney and liver transplant.

Eva and I commiserated about many things, we shared information about our lives, and quickly we got into deeper subject matter, like how to quiet the mind and learn to let go; even discussing our experiences regarding the space between life and death. Eva’s daughter and my mother came in every day, and within a few hours, the four of us were like life long friends. Every morning we got up and ate breakfast and talked a little more. Then, two weeks ago Thursday, we were both given the green light to have a trial weekend at home. Thursday turned into Friday, but over the course of the night we both took a turn for the worse. I woke up being taken for a liver biopsy; Eva was gone.

It turns out that Eva was taken back to the ICU for two immediate surgeries to try to stop an internal bleed that was accompanied by a large blood clot. She has remained in the ICU for the past weeks in unstable condition. Then, two days ago, her new liver died as a result of the blood clot. She was put on the urgent transplant list, which meant she had 72 hours to find a new liver for her to live. Today I’m unsure of what has happened. Her daughter must be exhausted and dependent on how the call out for a donor has gone, she may even be in surgery as I type. I have been praying blindfolded.

Every moment since receiving the call on the evening of September 25th I have been basking in the glow of gratitude and compassion. I have felt compassion for my donor, for all the very ill, blessed beings I have encountered in the hospital, my incredible circle of friends, and those incredible beings of light energy, like Eva, that contribute so much to the life force. In or out of the body, I’m continually reminded of the tremendous power of compassion, friendship and the sending out of positive thoughts, words and actions into the universe. Eva is one of the strongest people I’ve ever met, and that strength comes through the kindness in her eyes. I surrender all up to the great Lord knowing she is filled with God’s Grace.

When we’re down, we need a helping hand.
And when we lose our heads, it’s cause they’re always buried in the sand.
But when we get stuck on our selves, feelin’ sorry for our selves.
Will you help us grab a hold and please don’t patrionize our souls.
When we start to lose control, when we get irrational, when we start to get too high,
You see us come floating by, I say,

Touch us with the morning sun, when we feel impossible.
Touch us with the morning sun, show us what is possible.
Touch us in the morning sun when we feel impossible, show us what is possible.
Teach us love invincible.
~Michael Franti

Jivamukti Focus of the Month: The Sheltering Roof

There was a time in the not so distant past when during the winter months the old growth forests with trees, some of whom might be a thousand years old, would form a canopy with their upper branches and greenery, protecting the forest floor from snow fall. Of course when the sun shone in the morning and definitely in the spring time the snow that had been caught by the upper boughs of the trees would melt and the forest floor would receive this moisture in a gentle way.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for the animals then, who knew the forest as their home? For one thing, they were kept much more dry than they are today. The small animals, who do not hibernate during the winter, like bunnies, mice and squirrels, would find it not that difficult to wake in the morning and go forage for food for themselves and their families. Nowadays with deep snow it can be difficult to find enough food. More than 97% of the old growth forest in the United States has been cut down. Still more is being cut each day. Perhaps in a few years this country, once so abundant with ancient forests will have none left. Even in the tropical rainforest of Brazil with all the clear cutting and damage that is going on, the Amazon still retains 75% of its old growth forest; it is called jungle there. The United States has barely 3% left.

When we look out of our windows here in Woodstock, NY, we can see mountains. These Catskill mountains have no old tress left having lost them to tanners, loggers and farmers fifty to a hundred years ago or more. The mountainsides during winter look like a man who hasn’t shaved in a couple of days, fine hairs. It is so stark that you can see the floor of the forest,  because the trees are so thin and thinned that they can’t hide much. Even so, I am grateful for those trees that are there, hemlocks, pine and oaks. It is wondrous to walk through the forest of these trees. But they are all very young trees and so when it snows or rains the forest floor gets covered, and when the winds are strong it lashes right through the corridors between trees and sometimes takes some trees with it. If the trees grew more densely they would be safer from the winds.

Having moved here from NYC several years ago I would see horses standing out in the cold, rain, wind and snow, with no barn or tree to stand under. I would wonder about that and feel bad for them. Local people would tell me, “they’re animals, and they’re used to it, look at the deer.” I would see the wild deer and know that they at least could go into the forest to get some shelter from the elements, but now I realize the forest isn’t what it used to be and doesn’t provide animals with the type of shelter it once did. It is likely that the deer suffer hardships in the winter and greatly appreciate charitable donations from human beings. It seems to me that we owe something to these indigenous people. We keep encroaching upon their homes more and more each year.

We built a house for the few deer who walk through our yard, made from fallen tree branches. It looks kind of like a gazebo with a thatched roof. They appear to like it in winter and in summer. We can see them outside our window sleeping in it. During the spring and summer some of the does feel safe enough to give birth to their babies under that roof, made by humans.

Of course deer are still not safe from hunters. The trees are so thinly spaced that it is easy for hunters to spot deer in these forests of the Catskills, I don’t think it was always so. We humans have taken the once lush forest homes from so many animals and forced them to survive as best they can. Some haven’t been able to make it. In the Pacific Northwest the spotted owl and the salmon are just about extinct. They needed those dense ancient forests to live in; they can’t survive in a young forest.

I realize that for many people who haven’t spent that much time in the country it looks like we have a lot of trees here, but compared to what it could have been like if the trees that were here, or at least some of them, were still here. I am told I live in the country, but knowing what it could have been like when I look out my window and see the Catskill forests, it looks almost suburban.

Most human beings live in cities. Many wild animals, like squirrels, foxes, pigeons and other birds, as well as feral cats, live in cities now also and struggle to find shelter and food in the midst of busy human beings. It is easy for us to ignore them and to assume that they are wild animals and know how to survive. But especially in the cold of the winter months those fellow beings do find it very difficult to survive and would greatly appreciate some charitable donations from us. There are many simple, easy ways to help. For instance: always leaving your apartment or house with some seeds and nuts in your pocket for the birds and squirrels you may meet on your way to work. Or taking care of a feral community of cats by trapping the cats and taking them to a vet for medical care and/or to be spayed or neutered and then returning them to their feral communities; then maintaining those communities by providing nourishing food as well as shelter, in the form of boxes insulated with straw. When we can extend our kindness to include the needs of others, including other animals, we insure our own prosperity, as our actions will eventually but inevitably come back to us.
-Sharon Gannon

Providing for others: Integrating the Practice into Life off the Mat
The Sheltering Roof (February, 2011)

The most in need homeless people that you will most likely encounter will be the animals who have migrated into cities from the country because of human encroachment and animals who are trying their best to live in a rural situation which is rapidly being paved over for roads, shopping malls and or housing developments.

By feeding others and providing shelter, you assure that in your own future, you will never be hungry or homeless– karma works that way. It is important that you do your best to treat others as you would like to be treated, but also paying attention to the needs of the particular species you are trying to help. For instance don’t try forcing feral cats to eat bird seed (they most likely would rather eat a bird).

How this might play out is that you make a concerted effort to provide the best, most nourishing food possible for the animals that you are going to feed.

It is a sad thing for us to feed junk food to wild creatures who are hungry. We should instead feed them the best quality organic food.

Often people will take their kids to the park with a bag of white Wonder bread and watch the poor hungry birds enthusiastically eating. What are they thinking? Probably they are thinking that those animals really don’t matter–they’re just animals. If they didn’t give them something they wouldn’t have anything anyway–so the birds should be glad that they are receiving this charity–not feeling obliged or responsible to give them anything.

So here are some tips: Organic raw seeds and nuts are best for birds and squirrels Peanuts are not the best option for squirrels as they are usually loaded with toxins, because often industrial farms plant peanuts as a crops to clean the soil–so the peanuts themselves can contain high levels of toxic herbicides and pesticides.  Raw walnuts and hazelnuts are good, as are sunflower seeds–in the shells are best, as then the squirrels can choose to bury the nuts for eating at another time.

For birds: you can buy bags of “wild bird seed mix” just make sure that if those  mixes contain corn that the corn is non-GMO corn; when in doubt buy the bag that doesn?t contain corn. Often times I run out of Bird Seed Mix and instead, I just pour some uncooked grains (millet, rice, oats, etc.) from my kitchen cabinet into a bag to take with me as I leave my apartment in the morning. Oatmeal is an excellent food for pigeons and other birds. Of course if you have left over bread or other food in the fridge it might also be good for birds; rather than throwing it into the garbage, you could put it on a window-sill.

If you live in a rural setting, you may want to set up a feeding station in your yard and keep a store of sunflower seeds, cracked corn, steel cut oats, and other varieties of seeds and nuts on hand and regularly provide meals for the wild vegetarian animals.

As for feeding feral cats, I would suggest stocking up on organic canned cat-food, as it is easier to distribute.

Many Animal Rights organizations have programs for helping animals in need. You may want to check out for some ideas and ways you can help. I know that PETA has developed a very successful program of going around to places (especially in the cold winter months) to look for dogs who may be chained up in a yard somewhere with no shelter. They provide dog-houses and straw to keep warm as well as food for those dogs. You may want to send a monetary contribute to help support their efforts.

You can do something. It is the simple, thoughtful acts of kindness that will be so much appreciated. You don’t have to get all complicated and start building dog- houses and trapping stray cats and creating clinics to care for them etc. Start with simple doable things that you can do now: like carrying a few seeds in your pocket and sharing them with a bird you might meet on the street.

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