“Don’t let nobody ever tell you that it couldn’t be done / Don’t let nobody ever tell you that we couldn’t be one.” – “Hey Hey Hey” by Michael Franti & Spearhead
This past week, I spent a day with my good friend at a local ashram in the Rocky Mountains. It felt more like camp as we hiked among yellowing aspens and ate platefuls of fresh vegetarian food made with ingredients from the garden.
Several of Shoshoni’s year-round residents have been there a half decade or more. One girl described it as “paradise.”
Sure, the setting is beautiful, the food is abundant and delicious, and the daily schedule involves meditation, pranayama, yoga and more meditation. But that’s not what makes the ashram paradise.
This is: The community is unplugged from the typical hectic Western life and lives a simple reality of one responsibility — to continually seek and surrender to the spiritual path.
Paradise is the state of mind you achieve during surrender.
Coming home to paradise
Here’s the good news for those of us who don’t want to leave our lives behind to live 24/7 in an ashram: It doesn’t take long to reclaim happiness and you don’t even need to go on a mini-vacation to find it. It’s like Goldilocks in “The Story of the Three Bears:” You can find peace between two extremes.
To get back to bliss, choose a dedicated yoga practice full of intention.
Intention for what? Well, it depends.
- If you believe yourself unworthy of feeling good all the time, intend to be worthy.
- If you feel like a victim of your circumstances, intend to take responsibility.
- If you doubt that you can move beyond your thoughts, intend to listen deeper.
Our intentions can take many different forms. They can be for ourselves, for others and even global. I find it’s best to ask myself, What is here today? before I begin my yoga practice, and then set my intention for the first thing that comes to mind. There’s a reason that thought surfaced so easily, even if it’s not obvious at the time.
So, Shoshoni. When I arrived at the retreat center at 3 p.m. on Friday, I wasn’t certain that I could drop into my inner calm in just 22 hours until Saturday’s checkout. But I intended for it, anyway, during our evening restorative yoga class.
And then something magical happened.
It’s in you all along
We stepped out into the chilly evening to an illuminated universe. The Big Dipper loomed large and obvious and the Milky Way spread long its band of unseeable stars. “Wow, oh wow, oh wow,” my friend and I arched our necks back in the pitch dark and stared.
And then it hit me: This sky always exists even when we cannot see it. This view is always ours for the taking, except for the city lights and pollution (even space junk!) that obscure it.
But every time we do get a glimpse of our uninhibited cosmos, it takes our breath away.
I can’t think of a more perfect metaphor for our inner selves.
We pile on all this stuff — belongings, emotional reactions, judgments, labels — and it’s like pollution for our peace. The way inside becomes hazy, like too many earthly lights outshining the stars.
But when we sift and sort through the junk via our yoga practice it’s like getting a glimpse of a mountaintop night sky. It’s incredibly difficult to not feel small yet worthy and grateful in its presence.
So, too, when we come back to our bliss.
Your choice awaits
When I returned home, I began writing this and clicked Pandora to one of my favorite nighttime stations: Relaxation.
The first song that played was David Lanz’ “Courage of the Wind” (click to listen on YouTube). I haven’t heard his music in quite awhile, but the New Age composer played a special role in my teenage life. I grew up playing his songs on the piano, especially this one.
As I listened, I could still remember the chords that tripped me up, the phrases that gave me pause and the emotion I pounded into the keys no matter what happened.
I found myself back up on the craggy, windy mountaintop at the ashram, sitting cross-legged and watching my restless mind. The girl who played piano could never have dreamed that she would one day be free of her depression. How did I make it happen? The same way I got better at “Courage of the Wind:” I practiced.
Like the traveling sound of mountain wind before you feel it in your ears, life sweeps in and you have a choice:
- Will I believe that I deserve and can live my life feeling blissful and happy?
- Or, should I resign myself to only a few fleeting, happy moments?
Your answer is obvious.
Reclaim your bliss
Set your intention today for a life full of bliss. There is nothing more important right now than manifesting a new perspective and setting yourself on a clear road to happiness.
Reaffirming your intention is a lifelong practice, and sometimes you have to “fake it before you make it.” When I was depressed, I used to “fake smile” while I was driving around town because I read that the chemical reaction that occurs in your body is identical to a “real smile.”
Try it right now. Smile! Hard to take your difficulties seriously when you’re grinning, huh?
Intentions are like that “fake smile” sometimes. It doesn’t mean that your intention itself is fake. It simply means that you’re not quite sure if it can come true.
But you have to start somewhere, and the more you repeat and work with that intention on your mat, the more “real” it will get until you swear you believed it all along. And guess what? A part of you deep inside already knows it’s the truth.
Spending time at an ashram reminds us to surrender to What Is. The rest of life gives us ample opportunities to practice surrender.
Therein lies bliss.
Ham Sah (sounds like “hahm sah”) is a Sanskrit mantra that we meditated with at Shoshoni. It means “I am that.”
You are that illuminated night sky. You are that deep stillness that tells you everything is going to be okay. You Are.
And that’s all there is to it.
Try this: Twisting Lizard (Uttan Pristhasana) Variation
This pose is courtesy of Gayatri, my yoga teacher at Shoshoni. It’s Lizard pose, with an unexpected twist that deeply opens your hips and cultivates strength in the shoulders. And it’s a perfect place to practice surrendering to What Is.
My body instantly loved this pose, but yours may not. As always, modify and practice carefully, using your steady breath as a guide.
- Come into a low lunge, right left forward.
- Square your hips to the mat and walk both palms on the inside of your right foot. Turn your right foot out about 45 degrees, with your toes facing the corner of the mat.
- Pause and breathe deeply here for six full cycles of breath, keeping your right thigh in to the body and pressing backward with your left heel.
- Keep your left palm planted and bring your right hand to the hip. Carefully swivel both feet onto their pinky-toe side edges and extend your right arm to the ceiling.
- From the core, twist the upper body toward your right thigh, allowing the knee to open away from you.
- Firm up into the left shoulder, pressing the mat away and enjoy three (or more) long breaths before dropping the right hand to the mat. Swivel back into your lizard.
- Step back into downward facing dog. Repeating by lunging with the left leg forward.
Have you manifested happiness through intention? Share your wisdom with others below.