Hammocks, Enneagrams and A Contemplative Practice: Lessons From Big Sur

IMG_7080

Another year, another journey to Esalen in Big Sur. If you know me well, then you’ve probably heard me wax poetic about the power of this place. If you’re looking for something, you will likely find it here.

Many people raise an eyebrow or question my need to take this annual solo trip. But it’s just that: a need. Maybe it’s the introvert in me but mostly, it’s the only way that I know how to reconnect with myself. For a few days out of the year, I embark on a solo journey. And for those few days, I take a step outside of my titles (mom, wife, employee, daughter, friend etc) and spend some time getting to know myself. I am not saying that these roles are burdens, they’re quite the opposite and provide me with great love and joy. But in order to be all of these things, I need time to slow down, connect with my purpose and go deeper. My experience has led me to find that solo travel spits me out on the other end with a greater sense of clarity, strength and gratitude.

The trip this year was particularly profound. As usual, I never really know what I’m getting myself into. I think I have intentions set for the journey, and, in usual form, I’m always amazed at the real lessons learned. I signed up for a weeklong workshop titled “The Inner Spiritual Dimensions of Ayurvedic, Tibetan and Chinese Medicine” taught by David Crow. What does that mean? Good question. Most of us weren’t quite sure but embarked on the journey anyway. Through the basics of Eastern Medicine, we explored the underlying spiritual foundations that not only teach us how to cultivate a holistic mind-body relationship but also a purposeful relationship with our environment. Each lecture was fully explored through a contemplative, mindfulness meditation practice to truly connect the lesson to the inner experience. Mostly, the workshop was an incredible compliment to what Esalen provides, and that’s a beautiful, welcoming space to learn, grow and connect. I took just as much away from the workshop as I did from the people I met, the conversations I got wrapped up in and the awe-inspiring connection to nature. Now that I’m back in Los Angeles, I’m reflecting on what I took away from the experience and the lessons learned:

  1. Disconnect and Go Outside

Look up from your phone, forget the menial psychodramas of the day and go play outside. Nature is our greatest intuitive teacher. The easiest way to connect to a sense of prana (life force) is to simply experience the awe-inspiring beauty of nature. Here, it’s easy to feel the interconnectedness of everything and our relationship to the 5 elements.

  1. Be Open To People

You never now who might have an affect on your life. There are influential lessons to be learned from other’s experiences and stories. Real conversation and deep connections help us feel a greater sense of love, empathy and compassion. This is important to cultivate to feel a greater sense of inner belonging but also a better sense of community. Every person is equal.

IMG_7053

  1. Spend Time In A Garden

Our food systems are struggling. Yes, there’s the evil that is Monsanto, but there’s also global warming which is having an apocalyptic affect on our environment and agriculture. Gardens remind us of the life giving energy of food and the gaseous exchange that we share with plants. We feed the plants and they feed us. Grow your food and then eat that delicious organic food and you’ll see how much better you feel.

  1. Laying In Hammocks, Napping Outside and Soaking In Hot Springs are God-Giving Experiences

Can you think of a better way to recharge? I can’t.

  1. A Contemplative Mindfulness Meditation Practice Can and Will Change Your Life

Exploring your inner experience through a meditation practice increases memory, sense of self, empathy, decreases stress and changes the brain chemically. A contemplative practice also increases the mind-body connection. Most people are disembodied. This is not just about being active and working out. It’s about developing an awareness of what your body and mind truly need to operative effectively through diet, physical activity and sleep to function in peak performance.

IMG_7083

  1. Read Books, Keep Learning and Stop Consuming Crap Media

It’s not too late to make changes. I was deep in conversation about our education system and how insane it is to think that a decision I made when I was 18 should determine the rest of my life. I’m referring to my college major. Now that I’m 32, I struggle with feelings of greater purpose vs. responsibility. I dove in a bit to what I’d like to do and was met with a very simple answer: “Well then, you should do that”. Of course, I rolled my eyes, pushed back and said how it’s not that easy. Now looking back, I can see it’s all my own internal resistance. There are many ways to learn and to indulge interests. Always think about what you feed your mind, who you engage with and how distracting most media can be. Focus, learn and changes are possible.

  1. The Wisdom of The Enneagram

This is a personality test (and quick too). Take it. Learn something about yourself and the people in your life.

  1. Gratitude

I came home to a family that I love with a greater sense of connection and purpose. A full heart, a feeling of wonder and a smirk of possibility….this is what it’s all about.

Now the big question remains: How to integrate these lessons back into  daily life? Through dedicated practice, commitment and actually listening to my intuition. Another question also popped up: How do we teach our children to find purpose at a young age so they grow up connected to their sense of self and committed to a life of meaning? This is something I plan to explore much further. It’s my greatest wish that my son grows up with a healthy sense of compassion, connection to the environment and wants to live a life of social purpose. No one at the end of their life ever regrets not having made more money or acquiring more things. The quality of your relationships, your experience, traveling, connecting to nature, compassion, these are what’s important.

xo, Sam

IMG_7075

A New Year, A Meditation Challenge and The Grad Studies

IMG_0508

I love December. Work typically slows down, festivities abound and it’s a time filled with lots of food, warmth and loved ones. I also love December because it’s a time to reflect on the year and look forward to a new start. Cliché, I know, but there is something to be said for taking a deeper look at yourself and making improvements.

Every arrival implies a journey; and, with the close of the year, it’s the perfect time to look at where you’re at and the path to take moving forward.

One resolution of mine is to integrate a solid meditation practice into my daily routine. As a working mom, I’m essentially a professional multi-tasker. I’m constantly tapped in, spinning 12 plates at once. My thoughts are scattered and cluttered and I have a tendency to get too deep into my own mental chatter further blurring the lines between my own self delusion and reality.

I’m not sharing new information here and it’s widely known that meditation leads to a reduction in heart beats, breath rate and blood pressure which results in stress relief, mental clarity and a general sense of well-being. Meditation is also a form of prayer that provides the ability to merge with something greater. But a daily practice can be a hard commitment and I have a tendency to get sidetracked. Starting January 1st, I raised my hand to join the 40 Day Benshen Meditation Challenge led by the beautiful, Desirée Pais. I’ve been a follower of her blog; and, as a fellow natural skincare crafter, I have a respect for her offering and work.

Desirée practices Kundalini yoga. While, I’ve dabbled in Kundalini, I’d say that dance has been my moving meditation. The challenge seems quite simple: 3 minutes of “Ego Eradicator” meditation practice a day. For me, this entails waking up 30 minutes earlier than my family to practice. I’ve also integrated a 5 minute meditation to settle in and 5 minutes of loving prayer meditation to close.

Within a 48-hour period and a fresh start to the year, I’ve had quite an interesting experience with choice information coming to light. This information has led to a deep reassurance and knowing that it’s essential to take responsibility for our mental states, projections, intentions and emotions….this is the essence of our magic. To harness this energy, is to live beautifully.

So what happened on January 1st?

I spend a good amount of my personal time reading about the human experience, esoteric studies, love and the extraordinary. Last night, while charging my Kindle, I picked up a book that was given to me by my Aunt months ago. I hadn’t given much time to the book but I figured I’d dive in. While reading a few passages, I stumbled upon the research work of Bernard Grad from Montreal’s McGill University. A biologist, Grad’s initial work was fairly conventional and involved research related to cancer, aging and the endocrine system. Grad’s work shifted after studying with Wilhelm Reich and his controversial work related to the concept of life energy and body armoring. (Side note – I studied the work of Reich in a weeklong intensive workshop at Esalen at the age of 24 and it profoundly shifted my perspective on emotional energy having an effect on our physical bodies).

IMG_0505

Grad’s research and laboratory studies related to nonlocal healing intention have been recognized and honored by Harvard University. His work was able to show in a laboratory setting that our thoughts, emotional states and intentions are powerful enough to influence other living things while explaining away the placebo effect.

To start, Grad tested whether or not our moods can have an effect on others who are near to us. He tested his theory using water. In a controlled experiment, Grad took three subjects: two were clinically depressed and one had an upbeat, positive personality. Each person held a sealed bottle of water for a half hour and then watered barley seeds. The depressed female happened to be in a positive mood that day and actually held the bottle as if she was cradling a child. Consequently, her seeds grew quickly. Otherwise, you can probably guess the rest of the results. The seeds watered by the upbeat man grew the fastest and the seeds watered by the depressed man grew the slowest. The findings suggest that our emotions do have both a negative and positive influence and objects we hold can pick up this energy.

Grad also studied nonlocal healing intention and the ability to physically heal trauma. He conducted experiments in which mice had a small piece of skin removed. The mice were then divided into three groups. In one of the three groups a healer (using his/her mental ability and intentions) would hold the cage of the wounded mice for fifteen minutes twice a day for two weeks. The second group of mice were placed in a heated cage. The third group received neither heat nor healing intentions. The results showed that the mice who received the loving care from the healer actually healed significantly faster than the other two groups.

What Grad’s work has shown is something we all intuitively understand. The sentiment stretches beyond just moods. Think about the healing power of homemade chicken soup. Or the warmth from a blanket that was knitted by a relative. Or simply the unexplainable power of loving touch.

After swimming in excitement for what I had just read, I ended my evening with a meditation on my Grandparents. It had been a long time since I really took the time to remember them and I was missing that connection. I sat and visualized their memory, their walk, how it felt to hug them and the sound of their voices. It was a lovely meditation and my memories were so vivid that it didn’t seem like it had been over 11 years since they passed. To my wonder, I woke in the morning to a 6am text message from my Aunt who simply sent an undiscovered photo of my Nanny with our female lineage (pictured below). I hadn’t spoken to my Aunt in about a month and she had no idea I started to read the book she gave me, or the fact that I had intentionally been thinking about my Grandparents the evening before. My Aunt and I have always functioned on a similar wavelength intuitively, so I took this as a loving sign from beyond.

IMG_5457

In summary, the work of Grad echoes the sentiment of quantum physicist, Albert Einstein that all life is connected and therefore we need to be mindful and compassionate towards all living beings. And on that note, I look forward to the mental and energetic shift that results from this 40-day meditation challenge.

Thank you Benshen

xx
Sam

IMG_5437

Before and After: A Visual Exploration Of The Physiological Qualities Of Meditation Practice

Need tangible proof that a meditation practice can make a visible difference in both your life and physical appearance? Then check out this series of portraits shot by Peter Seidler.

The series is called “Before and After” and Seidler tells Shambala Sun about the project:

This series of photos, titled “Before and After,” comes from a larger project called “Contemplatives,” a visual exploration of the physiological qualities of meditation practice. I set up the “Before and After” project to explore the observable effects on practitioners after long periods of intense meditation practice. The question is: what are the observable changes after a period of intense practice?

Each participant in the project was asked to simply sit for a portrait on first day of a dathun, a month-long meditation retreat. I photographed them against a consistent background. Prior to the photograph, I asked each person to consider what they were looking for in the practice period ahead. This was on day number one. Then, at the end of the program, after approximately thirty days of retreat, I asked each participant in the project to sit in front of the same background and asked each to consider what the experience of mediation retreat had been for them. The result is the series of photos. It’s clear from results that the person in every one of the portraits has undergone an important transformative experience. I leave it to the viewer to draw their own conclusion.

1

2
3
4