Embracing Vata

You may be hearing more about “vata” this time of year. The Ayurvedic vata season — when the predominance of the elements air and ether fill our environment — began with the onset of fall, although it started to accumulate in late summer. You can feel vata as it moves in: the days become cooler, the wind starts to pick up and the skin begins to dry out.

Much like the shifting temperatures and winds outside, vata also lives within us and is responsible for the fluctuations of our internal compass. You may feel restless, have more concerns or notice changes in your appetite and trouble digesting food. Maybe you notice more general inconsistency, less certainty or have trouble sleeping. The mind will often dash in many directions at the same time.

Unfortunately, vata tends to get a bad rap. Of all the Ayurvedic doshas — consisting of some combination of air and ether (vata), fire and water (pitta), and earth and water (kapha) — vata is the one we tend to demonize the most. Because of its mobile and volatile nature, vata is responsible for a majority of all imbalances and diseases in the body. That is just a reality. But it does not have to be our truth. 

We can choose to focus instead on the beauty of vata — the lightness, airiness and openness of this dosha — which inherently helps to manage its challenges. 

Vata, in its splendor, is creative, excited and open to possibilities. Those who have a predominance of vata in their constitution are your biggest fan, cheering you on as you go and staying lighthearted even in the most difficult moments. They may whisk in and out of your life, run late to parties or forget to call but when they show up, they remind you of your own vivacious nature. They light up every room. They wake up everyday with hunger for something new and unknown. They gift their own sense of adventure to everyone they meet. They remind you to love everyone for who they are. 

When things become stagnant, dark or murky, vata reminds us to let go of what is weighing us down; to free the mind and stop resisting what is holding us back; to open up to the possibility of something different, something new, something exuberant. Vata allows us to shake things up; to uncover our own internal curiosity; to simply be present, open, and aware of whatever may travel down our path of inquietude, resistance, and complexity. 

Vata delivers Prana - our internal life force. Without vata, we would not be able to breathe or to circulate oxygen throughout our body. Without vata, we would fail to connect to something bigger than ourselves - something greater than our anxieties, more powerful than our fears and stronger than our emotions. Without vata, we would not be here. 

This Thanksgiving, open your heart, open your mind and find gratitude for your vata. 

Om Namah Shivaya 

Running Mountains

It feels like the middle of nowhere. The temperature is about 31 degrees. Roads wind through the fjords, into tunnels, across valleys, and past frozen lakes. There is the slightest bit of snow falling and the wind lifts just enough that you feel the sharpness of the cold when it hits your face. The conditions are harsh by the standards of anybody who might prefer a sunny beach. We are nearing one of the more than 900 tunnels carved through the mountainous fjords of Norway. As we get closer, we see something. A small figure with hints of red and white. A hitchhiker? A road worker?  Someone lost?

We focus our eyes and tune into the figure: a runner, emerging from the tunnel.  Nothing but cliffs below and hills above, air as crisp as the clear blue water, and isolation except for a small town a few miles back.  Maybe that is her home.  Maybe she ran from farther.  Maybe she came here just to run, in complete solace.  Decked out in her winter running gear, with stand-out colors that happen to match those of the Norwegian flag, she makes her way to the side of the narrow road and charges forward as we drive past. She is safe, she is fluid, and she is bold.

I am so proud of her and she is only a mere stranger, someone on the side of the road, someone who enjoys the loneliness of a cold fjord run.  The beauty and challenge merge into a moment of lightness.  I imagine myself in her shoes, trekking down a two-lane highway, the resistance of the wind lightly pushing me back as I lean into my run. My cheeks freeze and burn at the same time, my hips tighten and release with every step.  The descent into the snowy valley ahead offers surrender from a welcome struggle. 

I adopted early morning runs about 15 years ago. 5am in D.C. is nothing like 5pm. In summer, the sun is barely peeking over the horizon. In winter, it is still warming Western Europe. Traffic is limited mostly to the occasional taxi and a few Capitol Police. Runners own the city as we trek down a double yellow line, ignore a red light, zig-zag the bike lanes. It is no Norwegian fjord, but it is our version of mountainous solace.

I used to count the divide between female and male runners early in the morning. I even kept a tally for a while. I have since erased it from the kitchen blackboard - so I no longer have stats - but I can say with confidence that women dominated. We owned the city at 5am. Some of us felt safe enough to run alone, some in groups. Either way, we had that yearning, that urge...safe, fluid, bold...to get up and take the reins, not just of the city but of our lives. Even in “the swamp”, we run mountains.

We all find ways to run through the harshness of our respective climates and to shape the space around us. Cold or early morning runs show up in all shapes and forms, all day long. There are no signs telling us to be safe, fluid, or bold. We just go. We just do.

Everyday, we run mountains. Somedays, the run is amazing. Somedays, we are on point. Somedays, we align. And, somedays, we fail. Somedays, we find no solace. Somedays, we forget. Somedays, we suffer. Somedays, we deliver suffering. Somedays we lose sight of our purpose. And somedays, its just too cold to go out there...but we charge forward anyway.

Everyday, we run mountains. Together we navigate safe, fluid, and bold. Even when we grow insecure, stagnant, or weak, we still run right back up the mountain.

Happy Mother’s Day. Keep running your mountains!

Why Meditate?

My blog postings are usually inspired by something that has happened recently: world events, news stories, conversations with friends, students, or colleagues; or a personal contemplation.

This posting has been inspired by all of them. Why meditate?  What do you have to lose if you close your eyes for five minutes just to see what happens?  Well, you might say, I could have sent two or three emails, read a couple of pages of a spreadsheet or proposal, updated myself on Facebook, texted most of my friends, called my mom, eaten lunch, run a quick errand, gone to the bathroom, walked the dog (assuming yours "goes" fast)...in fact, it's quite amazing what you can get done in five minutes!  

So, why in the world would anybody want to spend five minutes with their eyes closed contemplating thought?  We can be so much more efficient if we just squeeze into the margins a productive activity. This is what our country has been built on. This is why we are among the world's leading economies. This is why our colleges are competitive and world-renowned. Many of us learn these behaviors at university or when we join the workforce. Younger generations are learning to do this in high school, packing their days with classes, studying, extracurricular activities, time with friends, checking off their lists, and at all costs overachieving.  

Filling spaces is ingrained in our culture. I often find myself doing it at stop lights, checking my cell phone for new emails or text messages until the light turns. So productive!  So efficient!  And so incredibly not present - until the person behind me blares their horn to wake me up to the reality of a green light. 

Since the 1960s, psychology and neuroscience have been digging deep on this thing called meditation and other mindfulness practices. Hundreds of scientific studies and five decades later, scientists have found that not only does meditation enhance focus and concentration - and actually make you more productive - but it can also make you a better person. 

My contemplation, in fact, is not about productivity at all. You will become more productive if you choose mediate. Your emotional brain will slow and your rational, logical brain will grow. You will become more focused in your everyday tasks and you will become more efficient and effective. But I believe there is a more important reason to do it. 

Why meditate? Because you, my friend, sometimes are not a nice person. Me too. We all have those moments when we are not our best selves, when we direct our anger at someone else - oftentimes a loved one and, in the saddest and most shameful of moments, at a total and complete stranger (a store clerk, a waiter, a woman on the street) whom we choose to deplore for our own emotional gain and who has nothing to do with the root of our anger. In these moment, our anger is us and we are the only source of our anger. We embody all the aspects of the anger we feel inside and we rear our ugly, fire-breathing dragon for the whole world to see. We feel self-justified, complete, and righteous. And we leave the ashes of those scorn in our path. 

And we do it because we DO NOT meditate. Because we do not have a mindfulness practice that allows us to see ourselves in these moments - to be mindful of our actions before they happen. To judge everyone around us simply for "being in our way", rather than stopping before we denigrate ourselves and others. We insist on filling every little space in our day with something productive, something "more important", something externally stimulating, something, something, something, something, something, something, something...

Why meditate? Because the world is so much bigger than us. Because we need to get over ourselves. Because when we do not meditate we lose consciousness of who we truly are - we are, in fact, not our anger - but if you asked someone else to describe us, they might say, "that person is angry." Because we have completely forgotten that the people around us - loved ones, store clerks, waiters, and people on the street - are just like us. There is no "us vs. them", "me vs. she", "ours vs. theirs". Collectively, we are trying to keep this planet running together and yet we cannot even recognize our own humanity. Why? Because we are too busy, too productive to meditate. 

So stop. Just stop. And take five minutes, to meditate. The world will thank you for it.

On Suffering...

The recent sexual harassment revelations in our society have left so many contemplating "how is it possible?", especially when it comes to iconic figures who preached truth to power and moral and ethical righteousness above all else. Our hearts are broken, our systems are shocked, and our minds are reeling. More and more victims are coming forward and it seems there is no end in sight.

Just before the 2016 election, I remember sitting down with one of my regular yoga classes following a Presidential debate during which I, like many others, felt sadness and anger at the tone and commentary offered in the debate, especially as it related to women. I offered a meditation around awareness and enlightenment: when the negatives arise, what can we learn from them and how can we see the light at the end of the tunnel? For me, in this case, the Presidential election had given new rise to the public debate on women's rights. We were gaining new awareness, we were becoming more enlightened. 

A couple of months later,  millions joined hands during the historic Women's Marches in D.C. and around the world.  And now, more than a year later, we are experiencing unprecedented revelations about sexual harassment in corporate America, national news media outlets, the Congress, even Lake Wobegone. I cannot say if the victims would have had the courage to come forward under other circumstances. It already has taken decades for some of them to feel safe enough to speak out.

I do believe that everything happens for a reason. Not necessarily because there is some magical energy pulling the puppet strings of the Earth (or maybe there is...), but because all circumstances in life offer us an opportunity for reflection, which can give us new awareness -  new "reason."

These past few weeks my mind has wandered around universal human suffering. We all suffer in one way or another - some of us from disease, some of us from our environment, some of us from other people, some of us from ourselves. I have thought a lot about how our own unique ways of suffering might lead us to do things we would otherwise regret. We often think that those who suffer show up as sad, ill, weak, or distraught. In fact, suffering exposes itself in many ways, all the time.

We show our suffering when we lose compassion - for ourselves and for each other. When we curse at someone for cutting us off on the road, when we snap at our partner for not hearing us the way we wanted them to, when we lose confidence in ourselves to speak up about something important to us, when we choose to subject another human being to our will, when we lose our sense of responsibility and respect for other people, and when we assume grandeur and impermeability to consequences. These are all manifestations of human suffering.  We suffer because we all lack - in different ways and measures - the most important ingredient to end universal suffering: loving-kindness.

The actions of perpetrators of sexual harassment - or other injustices toward another human being or society - are inexcusable. Their suffering and lack of loving-kindness for themselves and for others has only created more suffering. This spiral of suffering is painful and it is showing us how we must change as a society.

But we are on the path. The path toward new awareness, new enlightenment, new reason to unite together under the universality of loving-kindness. Universal suffering will not end, but universal loving-kindness is also omnipresent and we can each choose to shift the balance away from suffering by creating more loving-kindness in every action, every deed, every word, and every moment.

 

The Sunshine Behind The Clouds

...We are more than our anger, we are more than our suffering. We must recognize that we do have within us the capacity to love, to understand, to be compassionate. If you know this, then when it rains you won’t be desperate. You know that the rain is there, but the sunshine is still there somewhere. Soon the rain will stop, and the sun will shine again....”

                                                                                                    Excerpt from “Anger” by Thich Nhat Hahn

Beauty Amid Chaos

Chaos. It defines our modern world.  There is no avoiding the hurdles of everyday life. Even in the most serene surrounds, chaos can find its way into our lives.  When chaos enters everything else seems to vanish and we miss out on the beauty that lies before us.

On a recent hike into the Waipio Valley - a deeply remote and extremely gorgeous area of the northern coast of Hawaii (the “Big Island”) - I encountered modest dwellings along a riverbank established by mainland pilgrims who were looking to get “away from it all” after Vietnam. No cell towers, no electricity lines, no services. I can only imagine they enjoyed their solitude at some point. Now, tourists follow them into the valley with four-wheel-drive trucks and buses to access the remote black sand beaches along the valley shores. These pilgrims found their beauty and now they fight the chaos. I had to wonder if they could still see past it all to enjoy their solace. Unwelcoming glances and “Keep Out” signs suggested it may be a struggle.

India. I am well traveled and I am not sure I have visited a country that better represents chaos than India. I am also not sure I have seen so much beauty amid such disarray.  Temples, palaces, textiles, artwork, spices, color, smiles, laughter, love.  All staring you in the face no matter where you go. The beauty that stands before you is immense. It is all-encompassing and it is powerful.  But for many, it is not powerful enough to block the chaos. Solace - if it exists - feels scarce.

Arriving in India, the senses ignite. First, the stench.  Pollution, dust, and god-knows-what. Then, the people - all the people! - and the cars, rickshaws, trucks, and their horns - so many horns. And the cows, pigs, dogs, monkeys, camels, goats…trash, dirt, shit, mosquito-laden puddles, and more shit.  Finally, the despair, the poverty, and the disdain. In the blink of an eye, India becomes one enormous disparity. A disappointment.

For a Westerner in particular this can be painful. Suddenly, all we see is suffering and we experience it ourselves through the smog, fight for space, and sorrow for our surroundings. We ask ourselves “how do they live like this?” and we start down the path. The path of judgment. The path of “not like me” or “how could they?”. The path of righteousness.

We miss the beauty. We miss the smile of a little girl at her first sight of a “funny-looking Westerner”, we miss the intricate details on the temple wall - depictions of deities long-storied and worshiped in this land and beyond; we miss the energy, the love, the sacred space where warriors, brahmans, and unconventional commoners changed history as we know it. We miss the air as it passes over our skin, the light behind our eyelids, the faint smell of sweetness beyond the smog, the richness of the spices, and the love in our hearts for our fellow human.

The journey is not to look past or to ignore but to be with. To experience. To see beyond the haze to the beauty within. If we can appreciate the beauty we can give love. If we can give love we can release suffering in the universe.

The practice of a loving-kindness meditation cannot only exist in quiet spaces. The most profound inner journey happens in extreme chaos. When you can find peace, solace, and beauty in a noisy bazaar, crowded street, or difficult situation judgment fades and our inner wisdom ignites. We can extend compassion instead of pity, love instead of shame.

“From the yoga perspective there are three special love partners to be favored: chaos, fear, and space. The first two will perhaps leave us one day. The third is absolutely loyal.”*

Spandakarika - Tantric Song of the Sacred Tremor 

Stanza 10

Then the heart realizes that

the true innate nature is both

the universal agent and

the subjectivity that perceives the

world. This immersed in

understanding it knows and

acts according to its desire.

  

*Odier, D., Yoga Spandakarika, Inner Traditions, Rochester, VT.

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Mirabal Temple

Amer, Rajasthan

India

 

 

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Waipio Valley

Big Island

Hawaii

Root and Evolution

A recent article in the Washington Post on mindfulness turned up the flames of an ongoing debate in my mind about the "root" of mindful practices (Buddhism and the Vedic traditions) and modern mindful offerings. I will not debate the merits of the article in no small part because the author is entitled to his opinion on the evolution of mindfulness. As with almost anything I write about, I find my own feelings around the mindfulness debate to be worthy of exploration. What can I learn about my own judgments and biases in this space? (A question worthy of contemplation no matter the context.) 

I often have my own internal struggle around what I view as "watered-down" Buddhism or spirituality in organizational environments. Part of this internal struggle arises from the fact that I am one of the people who teaches or imparts these "diluted" practices of mindfulness to organizations that under other circumstances would be reticent to explore mindfulness in its "root" form. To even say the word "Buddhism" in some venues creates such discomfort or disregard for the practice that it is best to avoid it altogether. Instead, we woo the audience with statistics and studies about increased effectiveness of even small (ten breaths, ten minutes) regular mindfulness practices. We hook them with facts, data, and analysis. We speak their language with "strategic" big pictures and paths to "success," even if that path really means more money, power, or influence - in many ways, the antithesis of the "root" practice. 

Some days, I am energized by the impact mindfulness can have on a person, an audience, an entire society. Someone has an "a-ha" moment that changes that their life forever; entire groups of people are illuminated by empathy, compassion, and kindness for each other; whole communities or societies mindfully reach out to others in a time of need. On those days, I feel I have served my purpose and I know why I do what I do. I rejoice not only in the intention, but in the impact. 

Other days, I'm disgusted...by myself, by the "industry," by the entire bastardization of the practice. I feel as if I have taken an ancient practice and given the self-absorbed even more selfishness and aggrandizement (money, power, influence). I have given them a "tool" to help them get through the tough times and then to discard as they see fit. I feel as if I have sold out my own spirituality in a quest to spread a message that will never be interpreted the right way. My intention may have been right but I feel the impact is so...wrong.

Therein lies my problem.  What "right way"?  Who am I to decide what is right and what is wrong? By assigning a righteous value to any given situation, idea, theory, person, statement, thought, passion, organization, society...am I not judging them for my own sake? Am I not straying from the "root" of my own practice by creating prejudice, fear, anger, and disgust around a reality that is exactly that - reality. 

Over the course of my yogic studies, I have adopted many Buddhist practices but my spiritual beliefs have grown quite complex. Non-Dual Saiva Tantra speaks of Shiva, the unchanging, untouched supreme space-consciousness; and Shakti, the changing, immanently accessible supreme radiance activity.*  Root and evolution - our creation energy.  Shiva holds the space while Shakti explores and expands it.  Shiva manifests as the root of mindfulness and Shakti as the modern mindfulness practice. Shiva could not exist without Shakti and vice versa. Not one or the other, not right or wrong, not good or bad. Both at the same time - "yoked" - in space. There is no dualism, there just is. 

It's up to each of us to decide how we want to explore mindfulness and for what purpose. Our own awareness and consciousness around any perceived darkness is in itself the light we seek. 

We must fail to succeed, we must fear and face the unknown before we can learn and grow, and we must accept and extend loving kindness to those on a path distinct from ours. We are all in this together. We are all exactly where we were meant to be.  

 


*Reference:  Tantra Illuminated, Christopher Wallis

Being Tested

Everyday, we are tested. Tested to release judgment, to extend kindness and compassion, and to accept the present moment for exactly what it is.

I’ve spent the past two weeks in a lovely city in southern Spain taking in the delights of not just Spanish culture but that of the Mediterranean and all of Europe. Many Europeans love to visit the "Costa del Sol" in summer, to relax on its beaches and enjoy its delicious delicacies.

This isn't my first time in Spain. I backpacked here as a college student in the late 90s and I returned a few years ago for business in Madrid. I remember during those times observing and judging certain part of Spanish culture that didn't feel natural or normal to me. I'd be lying if I said the same wasn't happening again: the arrogant waiter when I sat down to my first meal, the loud Castilian voices streaming across the street, and the lack of a personal space “bubble” (must you stand so close???). 

Traveling abroad is a rich opportunity to notice how one’s loving-kindness is being tested. We are very quick to judge other cultures for not being like our own - other people for not being like us. We size up the shape, attitude, and style of other people and nit-pick the intricacies of a societies’ “way of being”. We so quickly forget that our way of being may in fact be what’s strange and that they are the ones who are “normal".

I could spend two weeks criticizing Spanish society for not being like my own, judging the French and Italian tourists for the length of their shorts (you do know your butts are hanging out, right?), and admiring the Scandinavians and Germans for their courage to endure this society along with me. Or, I could stop, notice, reflect, breathe, and love everyone around me for being exactly who they are, much like I want them to love me for all my own American deficiencies and intricacies (and I…we…have a lot!).

That's non-judgment. That's mindfulness. That's liberation.

Releasing Judgment

We find ourselves in different states of judgment everyday. Sometimes, we choose to look at judgment as a critical way to live life. So long as we have good judgment we will make better decisions and fewer mistakes, guard ourselves from pain and suffering, and protect who we are and what we know.

We often believe that so long as we have good judgment we are safe.

What about judgment as prejudice? From the Latin praejudicium, or "judgment in advance", by simply occurring before judgment is made, prejudice prevents the formulation of objective opinion. But are opinions ever truly objective? Do we ever have sufficient knowledge about a person, group of people, or situation to formulate judgment without the weight of prejudice?

We carry our judgments with us throughout our day, sizing up our family, friends, colleagues, enemies, and passersby. We do it all day long, in every instance - without even realizing it. That's why it's called an unconscious bias. It's human behavior - our fight or flight - our amygdala hijack (overactivity of the survival instinct in the brain) that we can't control unless we choose to recognize it, accept it, and release it. Even then, letting go of subjectivity is impossible.

Over a year ago, as part of my sadhana (daily personal spiritual practice), I committed to a practice of releasing judgment - judgment of myself, judgment of other people, judgment of that which I do not understand. What a task!  As soon as you start to notice how often and how deeply you judge yourself and others, it becomes unsettling how deeply ingrained our unconscious biases, or prejudices, have become.

During this time, I also attended a trauma sensitive yoga teacher training. Hearing the stories of those who suffered complex trauma in their lives made me realize how little we know about each other. These beautiful, essential beings were in fact suffering. If I met one of them on the street, in the yoga studio, or in an office, I never would have known the complex past that brought them to the moment of our meeting. I would have made judgments about who they are, what they believe, and how they show up. I never would have thought for a moment about the experiences that shaped these people standing in front of me.

I realized then that one of the keys to releasing judgment is admitting that I do it: I am biased, you are biased, we are all biased. When these biases show up as prejudices, we need to recognize them, admit to them, then release them.

There is a Buddhist meditation around releasing judgment. As part of my sadhana, I committed to a 30-day daily meditation, during which time I practiced this mantra:

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu (low-KAH sah-mah-STAH sook-eye-NOO bah-van-TOO)

May all beings in the universe be free from suffering.

When you can wish freedom from suffering for all beings, regardless of your relationship with them, you can help yourself to release judgment. Releasing judgment also becomes a release from suffering, for you, your loved ones, your enemies, those you don't know, and the entire universe.

Activist, Passivist, Pacifist

The recent political climate in our country has me thinking about the intersection between activism, passivism, and pacifism.  To be an activist, in the simplest of terms, means to speak up and out; to take action. When faced with a threat of any sort - against our morals, values, or character - an activist makes her voice known and heard. Activists help to raise awareness, start important conversations, and bring about needed change. 

To be a passivist suggests one has a yielding or non-dominant attitude, behavior, or way of life.  Passivist are often seen as submissive, disinterested, or withdrawn. Passivism carries a negative connotation in our culture because we are constantly expected to be in motion, in action, surviving. Passivists, however, have quiet power, one that allows them to receive, endure, and remit new energy. Passivists can draw on their endurance in difficult situations to process, think clearly, and emote in a uncharged way. Passivists excel at moments of quiet observation. 

To be a pacifist is to be actively or strongly opposed to conflict or war (much like an activist). Pacifism is also an attitude or policy of nonresistance (much like passivism). Pacifists live at the intersection between activism and passivism. While a pacifist may actively oppose conflict, they often do so in a non-harming way.  Ahimsa - the act of non-harming, from Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga/The Yamas or our ethical standards and how we conduct ourselves in life - teaches us to eliminate any sense of harm or violence from our mind, body, and spirit. This means that not only our actions, but our thoughts, feelings, and purpose in life become absent of ill will. 

Activists can learn from passivists' ability to endure, reflect, then emit; and passivists can learn from activists ability to project and be heard. Oftentimes, we speak out in retaliation or to defend our territory, but as soon as we emulate those we criticize, we have already lost our battle - with ourselves and with everyone around us. When speaking up and out about a cause, pacifists do so without harming those involved. Pacifists avoid seeking an "us against them" or "those people" mindset. In essence, pacifists practice non-judgment.

The next time you hear about a policy or idea that makes you uncomfortable, spend time in quiet observation of the facts - what, who, why, how.  Notice what, specifically, runs counter to your own values or worldview, try to understand who the people are and why they are saying what they're saying (put yourself in their shoes). Finally, ask how the idea or policy effects you. Sometimes, we speak up simply to do so and fail to notice if the cause is worthy of our energy. Once we can understand and observe these aspects from our own and others' perspectives, we can more easily and effectively speak up without harm. 

Sensory Overload

We use our five senses - hearing, feeling, sight, smell, taste - to navigate our way through life.  When the world around us seems overwhelming - we know that a lot is going on but we do not know why or how it is affecting us - we may, in fact, be in sensory overload.

Taking a moment to stop and observe the senses - each in turn and with quiet consideration for how each one feels - can help reduce sensory overload, in spite of what is happening around us.

Take a moment to find a comfortable seat. 

Hearing. Notice the noise around you - a passing car or bus, sounds of voices, birds signing, refrigerator running.  Attune to the noise, noticing its presence in the moment with you.

Feeling. After a few deep breaths, begin to notice the feeling of the weight of your legs on the surface below, the brush of your pants or skirt on the skin beneath, and the contact between your hands and your lap. 

Sight. If the eyes are closed, begin to notice the shapes and colors creating at the back of the eyelids - squiggly lines, formation of the third eye, figures and lights. Watch the figures dance by for a few breaths - it's just you and them.

Smell. Begin to notice the smells around you - candle aroma in the air, perfume or lotion on your skin, dinner cooking in the kitchen.

Taste.  Notice the taste on your tongue - acidic, sweet, sour, neutral.  Prefer not to evaluate the sustenance from which it came. Just notice.

Spending a moment in quiet observation of the senses welcomes us to the here and now. To notice if any of the senses are in overdrive during this exercise helps us to find balance and remember our most basic nature as living, breathing organisms. When we practice in unity, we realize that we are all, in fact, the same: living and breathing in the universe, smelling and tasting our food, hearing the sounds of the wind and feeling the breeze on our skin, opening our eyes to the world that surrounds us, and taking in the same sun and moon that our ancestors enjoyed.