Counting My Blessings Penny After Penny ~The Six Stages of Gratitude

When I was a little girl, my brother received a plastic toy as a gift, while I received a penny.

I felt hurt and disappointed, and then guilty for feeling this way. My favorite babysitter took me aside and shared a life lesson that is still with me today.

She first tried to convince me that my penny wasn’t just any old penny, but a new shiny one. I looked down at the palm of my hand, but all I could see was a penny.

She asked me to close my eyes as she took my tiny six-year-old hand, penny and all, and placed it over my heart. The warmth of her palm completely covered my hand, and she reminded me of the love and fondness that we mutually shared. Through the wall of my hurt, of not feeling special enough, not loved enough, tears formed and my heart softened just enough to let her in—to receive her gift.

She gently whispered that the true worth of any gift is always in the eye of the beholder. Nothing has more value than we choose to give it.

A penny could be worth a million dollars, and a million-dollar toy worth no more than a penny. It all depends on how we choose to perceive it. The intention behind every gift we receive is worth gold and the gold in our intention is behind every gift we offer. Read more

The Unescapable Truth death, suffering and the gift of life

LIFESTYLETRAVELWELLNESSYOGA

Photo of the Mekong River by Jessica
Photo of the Mekong River by Jessica

 

February 16, 2014

Jessica Magnin, founder and co-director of O2yoga, is one of GatherYoga’s newest emissaries, and today she shares her thoughts about death, suffering, and the gift of life.

It was past midnight when my father came into my room to announce the tragic news. He had just lost one of his closest friends. I was just barely twelve. It was the first time I had ever seen him really cry, and the first time I had experienced the pain of witnessing the grief of someone I loved dearly. I desperately wanted to relieve his pain, because it was his pain that caused me more suffering than the actual loss of his friend.

Death was rarely ever spoken about in my family, and we were lucky: I had only witnessed first-hand the loss of a goldfish, a few gerbils, and a fern. The unspoken truth didn’t prevent visits of endless questions about life and death in moments of silent play. Those secret thoughts were kept under my pillow for monologues as I lay myself down to sleep.

My family’s closest friend, a devout Catholic, whispered in my ear during one sleepover that my family would burn in hell because Christ was not our saviour. I never shared this with my parents in fear that this “truth” would cause them to worry and therefore suffer. I would often hold my breath in fear of facing the suffering of the ones I cared about, and even the suffering of those I had never met beyond the movie screen. My heightened sense of helplessness was so overwhelming that at times I would play the game of Maya, not fully choosing to understand the true temporal nature of life, but covering my eyes to the world, convinced that it could not see me. This was my way of dealing with that monstrous pain that I felt in my heart when I witnessed the suffering of others.

******

Some decades later, crouched with my knees pressed against my chest, I held on for dear life to the flimsy sides of the wooden speedboat. My nails had gone white and cramps formed in my fingers. I clenched my jaw as the driver picked up speed, navigating “blindly” through the treacherous labyrinth of hidden rocks under the current of the Mekong River. My heart skipped 100 beats as the boat skipped a wave or two. I secured my helmet for the tenth time as I saw visions of us crashing into the rock formations, the wooden boat shattering into a million pieces, and me being thrown into the air, still clutching for dear life. I glanced over at my Lao companions, some nodding off, others enjoying the buzz of adrenalin. Their serenity only amplified my exaggerated fear and my inability just to enjoy the ride. It suddenly seemed ridiculous, I seemed ridiculous! I burst into laughter. I knew that all this excessive control on my part was my only way of offering myself some solid ground of security. No matter how hard I clenched my jaw and dug my nails into the sides of the boat, there would be no guarantee. With a deep breath, I threw my arms into the air and screamed at the top of my lungs! If these were to be my last moments here on earth, then ”let go and enjoy” would be my mantra.

Somewhere on the Lao peninsula of Luang Prabang, a ceremonial celebration of endless eating, drinking, and chanting carried on day in and day out for a succession of four nights and five days. There were three spirit houses ornately decorated with flowers, a black and white photo of the deceased, rice, kip, and other symbolic offerings. Candles burned well into the night and throughout the day. There was a continuous flow of lay-people and monks passing by. As night fell, many would camp out on the cold tiled floor searching for warmth against the unusual winter chill. The music continued. Food was served. People laughed. Some played cards and many drank. The sangha, the local Buddhist community, bonded once more.

This is the Buddhist tradition. Death, as well as life, are prevalent, and all sentient beings, without any exception, will inevitably experience suffering, loss, and yes, death. Abinivesha, the root of all of our fears, causes us to desperately cling to life and deny the existential truth of our brief, transient presence here on earth. Micromanaging our illusory permanent existence and our fear of suffering just causes more internal suffering. Surrendering to Buddha’s truth, that suffering exists,does not mean that we no longer care about life or about others. Instead, suffering could become a homeopathic remedy for feeling the preciousness of life, including its joys as well as its sadnesses, and the inescapable end. We can take this ancient wisdom to heart, letting it split our hearts wide open, feeling the inner connectedness with others and life’s fragility.

Death is always lingering. In fact, we are all moving one step closer with each breath, with each passing moment. As scary as it might seem, there is no escaping. Through total acceptance, we crack open the illusory door of permanence to wide open freedom, experiencing the gift of life not in fear but in celebration! Maybe, this is the practice.

—Jessica

RULES of CONDUCT

IMG_8691RULES OF CONDUCT

Jessica Magnin

“It is only when the mind is free from the old that it meets everything anew, and in that there is joy.” Krishnamurti

Everything has its place in time and in space and rules are no exception. Rules and codes of conduct keep us from falling into a state of anarchy, of total chaos. But then again, aren’t rules fabricated from the mind and perhaps rooted in fear? As much as we need rules and guidelines to live an orderly life, we might question, within reason, their potential of limiting our connection and heartfelt experience with others.

Here, in sleepy Luang Prabang a list of rules is publically displayed and posted around town. These rules are meant to be taken seriously and by all means, respected. With over 350 novices and monks living between the confines of the old town, one naturally abides by these guidelines but then, I suppose that depends upon the interpreter.

The second gong rings at 5h30 signalling the commencement of saibat, the giving of alms. In the faint darkness of the early morning, a thread of burnt orange robed novices, monks and abbots form what appears to be an endless stream of barefooted bodies with metal urns dangling from a woven strap resting on their bare shoulder.

I arrive at my habitual place, bow before my two elder Lao friends, take seat on a bamboo woven stool no more than 20 centimetres from the earth, place my flip flops neatly behind me, and tuck my sin, traditional Lao skirt, under my knees assuring that my legs are fully covered. A white “pha bien,’’or scarf, drapes over my left shoulder as I secure my hair neatly into a bun.

Behind me, the thick wall of Wat Sene separates me from 20 or so novices and monks making their final adjustments to their robes before stepping outside the confines of their monastery.  A wicker basket of freshly steamed “khao niow”, sticky rice, sits on my lap and I raise it to my forehead, bow in silence and bless these offerings with goodness and love. My dear Lao friends sit next to me. We exchange only a knowing smile of the eyes, nothing more. We allow the stillness of the early morning to bathe the present moment with sacredness.

The procession begins with a monastery’s dog or two guiding the way. Bare feet and bare heads gracefully pass at just arms reach, briefly pausing before me as I place a blessed clump of sticky rice into their urn careful not to make any physical contact, not even with their urn. One’s gaze should be soft, turned downward in humbleness and respect. These are the unspoken rules of conduct while offering.

Day after day, 94 in total, trip after trip, totally 6, rainy season or not, 3 to be exact, I am here with the same presence, the same intention and the same ritual of respect. But over time, things do shift and this is what is promised even by the teachings of Buddha himself. With habit and the passing of days, things do change, even the borders of set guidelines and rules.

The change began with the reception of an occasional yet discrete meet of the eyes, a faint humble smile, a whispered ‘’sabaidee’’ or “hello’’, a ‘’kop jai lai2”, a wrapped cookie, and even a brim-to-brim smile. Here, at this precise moment, beyond the rules of conduct, beyond what we call jit, or the mind, jai, the heart meets that of another and all differences, prejudices, conflicts, insecurities, superiority and even imposed rules drop, exposing one single thing, the art of being human and limitless potential of the heart.

“To be free of all authority, of your own and that of another, is to die to everything of yesterday, so that your mind is always fresh, always young, innocent, full of vigour and passion. It is only in that state that one learns and observes. And for this, a great deal of awareness is required, actual awareness of what is going on inside yourself, without correcting it or telling it what it should or should not be, because the moment you correct it you have established another authority, a censor.” Krishnamurti

Rules are necessary but they can harden us. We know this yet their implementation keeps us in tact. The mind is full of ideas about right and wrong, good and bad and packaged solutions to keep things from oscillating too far. Because the mind gravitates toward set boundaries, we create more. It is our mind’s way of making sense of the unpredictability of life and keeping chaos and fear at bay. Yet, our hearts yearn for more sacred moments of expression and connection and the humbleness of being human. Incapable of truly experiencing this humanness, the mind, limited in its limitlessness can only just begin to conceptualise what this softness might look like, feel like and be like. So within the confinements of suggested guidelines and rules of conduct, remember your heart. It is within the walls of the heart that love can be felt and expressed beyond measure.

L’amour désintéressé de l’Amour de Soi

L’amour désintéressé de l’Amour de Soi

Jessica Magnin

Si tu veux éveiller toute l’humanité, commence par t’éveiller toi-même. Si tu veux éliminer la souffrance du monde, commence par éliminer tout ce qui est sombre et négatif en toi. En réalité, le plus grand don que tu dois faire est celui de ta propre transformation. Lao Tzu

 

Depuis mille et une nuits, le mystère de la vie et la quête de soi-même  ont préoccupé l’esprit de l’homme. De nos jours, cette préoccupation est encore une actualité et est probablement plus pertinente et plus urgente que jamais vu le mal-être général de l’humanité.

En dépit de nos découvertes dans les technologies avancées, malheureusement il reste peu de place pour l’évolution de Soi. L’estime de soi, l’amour de soi et tout ce qui tourne autour de Soi sont associés avec l’arrogance, la vanité et le narcissisme. Cela montre que notre société ne comprend pas la réelle valeur de ce pilier fondamental de qui nous sommes.

Au départ, nous sommes éduqués, entraînés et conditionnés pour chercher notre épicentre en-dehors de nous-mêmes. Nous dévorons des piles de livres, consultons des boules de cristal et nous accrochons aux paroles de ceux « qui ont vécu et savent ce que nous vivons. » De ce fait, nos amis, notre jardinier, notre professeur de yoga, voir même notre coiffeur deviennent nos gourous ! C’est comme s’ils détenaient le sésame qui allait nous révéler qui nous devrions être et ce que nous devrions faire. Aveuglés, nous leur permettons de prendre des décisions importantes à notre place, croyant naïvement qu’ils nous connaissent mieux que nous-mêmes. Ce faisant, nous leur donnons tout pouvoir et en retour nous nous privons de notre propre autonomie. Nous perdons alors confiance en notre propre capacité de discernement et l’habitude d’écouter notre voix intérieure. En fin de compte, nous prenons des décisions qui sont fondées sur l’expérience et les projections de quelqu’un d’autre et, bien trop souvent, nous dévions de notre propre chemin.

Plus ceci devient notre vasana ou habitude, plus nous enracinons cette habitude dans notre être « périphérique ». Entraînés dans une spirale descendante, le manque d’estime de soi durable qui en résulte nous rend fragiles, instables et, au final, malheureux.

Face au changement des demandes d’aujourd’hui, nous n’avons pas d’autre choix que de chercher ailleurs. Par l’éclaircissement de notre propre lucidité, nous témoignons que des années de dysfonctionnement comportemental ne sont que ceci, des dysfonctionnements.  J’ai lu une fois que «en réalité, nous ne sommes pas des êtres humains à la recherche d’expériences spirituelles mais des êtres spirituels à la recherche d’expériences humaines ».  Lorsque les expériences de la vie sont abordées avec un esprit humble mais néanmoins curieux et dénué de jugements, nous commençons à semer la graine de l’acceptation de Soi et de l’Amour de Soi.

Quand bien même l’amour universel est à l’origine de nos racines et ce dont cette planète a désespérément besoin afin de panser ses plaies, l’Amour de Soi est le point de départ de ce processus. Des moments sacrés et enveloppés de reconnaissance peuvent nous rapprocher de notre origine universelle et nous aider à nous connecter les uns avec les autres mais ceci ne suffit pas. L’Amour de Soi est la seule vérité que notre humanité doit réellement adopter Ne nous détrompons pas, il n’y a ni raccourci ni personne qui peut faire le travail pour nous.

Se diriger vers l’amour universel sans se préoccuper de l’Amour de Soi, c’est brûler les étapes, ou comme on le dit de manière très explicite en anglais c’est « comme avoir des relations sexuelles sans avoir jamais goûté à la tendresse du premier baiser ».  Dans ce cas, l’amour universel devient un prétexte pour tout remettre au lendemain et éviter d’avoir à faire l’indispensable travail sur Soi afin de cultiver un amour propre de soi.

Dans l’Anusara Yoga, l’Acro Yoga, le kirtan et d’autres disciplines visant à développer l’amour universel et qui nous laissent flotter temporairement dans un état de grâce et de béatitude, le paradoxe est que nous sommes livrés à nous-mêmes quand l’euphorie s’éteint. Si souvent, la seule chose qui reste est un sentiment de vide qui ronge les profondeurs de soi. Est-ce que ce vide serait cet appel de notre âme qui devrait être entendu, chéri et aimé ?

En puisant dans la philosophie yogique, on peut se demander si l’étude de soi, intitulé Svadyaya, le 4e Niyama du Yoga Ashtanga de Pantajali, est l’intention fondamentale de notre sadhana, notre pratique. En général, une pratique régulière améliore notre relation avec le monde extérieur mais peu de pratiques traitent sérieusement la notion d’étude de soi et donc l’importance de l’Amour de Soi.

C’est une chose d’étendre l’amour envers un voisin difficile mais c’en est une autre de l’étendre à nous-mêmes de façon inconditionnelle : en sommes-nous capables ? Sommes-nous prêts à écouter notre voix intérieure et à la rendre plus forte que celles de ceux qui préféreraient que nous vivions en suivant leurs conseils ?

Ces questions et leur étude qui suit sont la pierre angulaire du bonheur intrinsèque et de l’amour de Soi. Le gourou externe est remplacé par le gourou interne, votre guide fidèle et loyal qui a toujours attendu d’être entendu.

Self-LoveEt si les 7.091.666.596 habitants de cette planète pouvaient entendre leur voix intérieure et connaître la joie illimitée de l’Amour de Soi ?


 

Synchronicity Somewhere between Heaven and Earth and O2yoga

My next-door neighbor, a sandy haired girl, a few years older than myself, taught me about being in the right place at the right time. I grew up in the corner house of cul-de-sac in a residential area. Nine homes created a horseshoe shape and were backed by a thin alley lined with over-stuffed trash barrels. My parents had banned this area as off limits for any adventure, discovery, or even peeking as it was considered to be dangerous. My neighbor believed differently and promised me that at certain opportune moments during random days, hidden treasures could be found right in the middle of our neighbor’s trash! She explained that in order to uncover these hidden treasures I had to be acutely attentive with the full palate of my senses.

On hot summer days we would slip through the back wooden fence and enter the kingdom of possibilities. Moments of anticipation and excitement overflowed into fantastic findings from tiger eyed marbles, to plastic jeweled rings and even shiny coins. The possibilities were endless! At 7 year of age, I had never heard of the word serendipity and probably couldn’t have pronounced or spelled it correctly even if I had. Serendipity is defined as having the knack or a natural talent for finding the unexpected or finding something by accident. Were these findings accidental, strategically planted or part of life’s greater plan? At that age, I was mystified by the magic of life and never thought of tainting the excitement by the logical mind.

Even though this game of treasure hunting in the back alley of my home came to an end by the age of 12, my capacity for being attentive never ceased, and actually continued to grow. My neighbor, without knowing it, had taught me the art of watching for signs that lead to hidden treasures. The more I was aware, the more I noticed how encounters and experiences began to reveal themselves as stepping stones leading me exactly where I needed to be at each moment of my life. At fifteen, I came to the conclusion that nothing was accidental in my life and the word serendipity could no longer describe the perfect coincidence of events that streamed together like a golden thread.

Thirty-four years later, just weeks after Entre Ciel & Terre’s move was finalized, I found myself walking in the midst of a bustling crowd in Bordeaux’s train station. My mind was occupied, processing the ‘’letting go’’ of the new name for our new center that had manifested after numerous early morning meditation sessions. For weeks we had been toying with the idea of a total change, not just a move. Mutual synergy was important for us and for the energy of the center and therefore we needed to agree wholeheartedly on the new name. It was obvious that the name that had surfaced in my mind was not the right one for both of us and I trusted that something else would appear at the right time, in the right place.

Back to the over-crowed train station in Bordeaux, lost in the thought while still processing the ‘letting go’ of the name, my phone rang. Startled, I dug down into the pocket of my rain jacket. Alex, the host of the retreat center where I would be leading 12 students through a transformative 7 days of seeing the truth, called for our whereabouts. I stopped in my tracks in hopes of finding a marker or a sign that would allow him to easily locate us. A sign, larger than I could have ever imagined was there, right before my eyes. A flash of synchronicity, the art of being in the right place at the right time communicated louder than any doubt. In bold emerald green letters was the name O2 café. I had never seen O2 associated with anything but oxygen from my freshman year of chemistry. Ironically, O2 was the same name that continuously kept popping up in my mind like a broken record again and again and the same name that I had just minutes before ‘’let go.’’ My heart skipped a beat but my breath was steady and a moment of deep knowing, called pragnya revealed itself. It would have to be O2 and no other. This was who we had become and would carry our students and us on our continued journey of uncovering the Self, the spark of life.

So, why O2 yoga? They say that it’s all in the name. O2 guides and animates you 24/7 and is the quintessence of your being. It is what we constantly nag (inhale, exhale) you to do in each class, with each asana, between each thought, on and off your mat. Whether you can do the splits or handstand in the middle of the room has little importance to us but your breath does because it is the spark of your life, your spirit. The ancient yogic texts called the Upanishads, state, ‘’Breath is life and life is breath.’’

Breathing in draws life deeply into your heart and your soul and within each breath there is a galaxy of inner wisdom, of infinite love, compassion and stillness. Your next inhale sparks your inner fire, the unique light of YOU so join us in breathing life at O2 yoga.

 

Dare to fix what isn’t broken

There is a common saying, ‘’don’t fix what isn’t broken.’’ This can literally be translated into, when something is working smoothly, leave it alone! But there is another quite provocative saying that goes something like this, ‘’the difference between a rut and a grave is only their size.’’

Entre Ciel & Terre had been running smoothly for close to 9 years to date. Peeking occasionally into the near future, we still envisioned Entre Ciel & Terre as we had always known it. The collectively cultivated energy through ongoing dedicated practices had provided a sacred space that had been the grounding force of transformation for many if not most of our students. We had all grown, including ourselves, after many years, very, very comfortable.

So why trade comfort for change and the unknown? Today, more than ever before the now must be marked with the imprint of change. Change is all around us and has always been yet now there is a certain gnawing feeling of acceleration. We no longer have idyll time to sink into deep comfort while wishing for things to be different. Those that have the courage to move toward the truth know all too well that their greatest obstacle is themselves and the choices that they make. Both contribute to a starving quota of transformation and in turn true happiness. As all sentiment beings evolve, we are no exception.

When the owner of our building announced that a potential move was in the very foreseeable future (less than 2 months away), we fearfully clung for comfort to what we already knew, Entre Ciel & Terre. This is the natural reaction in the face of change but it is also, as Pema Chödrön states, a true sign of moving closer to the truth.

Within less than 6 weeks, Entre Ciel & Terre as we knew it no longer existed. Day after day a door or a fixture would be missing, the lounge and its herbal tea disappeared until finally the electricity was cut off. We made the big move on July 10th, a paradox in itself, because we are literally just a handful of meters away.

Much soul searching had to be done before the painting and name change. We asked ourselves how we individually and collectively had evolved and where we desired to go? Had our teaching matured and where did we see it going? What would be the needs of our students in the world of now and how could we offer a space to foster those needs?

The answers revealed themselves effortlessly yet coupled with an incontestable message, ‘return to the essence of what is, life.’ This means letting go of what no longer serves- clutter, drama, procrastination, excuses, anything and everything that keeps us form moving into the fullness of our true identity.

Entre Ciel & Terre became O2 Yoga. The breath is the gift of life, In fact, without it life could no longer exist. With an average of 600 million breaths in a lifetime, we have become so busy that we cease to remember that one single breath contains the spark of life, the spark of spirit. Therefore, one might say that we have 600 million opportunities in a lifetime to remember with grace and infinite gratitude our essence, life. Barely breathing is synonymous with barely being, being alive. The breath mysteriously contains a well of wisdom; your unique blue print to live life to it’s fullest potential. You have the choice. You can choose between barely alive and miss out on life’s wonders or you can choose to breathe deeply into the cells of your being and inhale the sacredness of being fully Alive!

Join us at O2 yoga. Breathe life. Breathe love. Breathe peace. Breathe wisdom, Breathe gratitude. Breathe light. Breathe happiness. Breathe stillness. Breathe compassion. Breathe yoga. Breathe now. Breathe awareness, Breathe sacredness. Breathe.