My Dying Grandmother

By Dark Grey

In Tagalog—one of three native Filipino languages—the word for grandmother is Lola. It is pronounced quickly, with a gentle flip of the tongue. The sound rolls of out of the mouth and is delicate to the ears. It is a beautiful word that conveys love and kinship.

As a child learning to speak, this word was difficult for me to pronounce. I couldn’t curve my tongue enough to pronounce the first “L”. My “Lola” was in fact an “Ola”. And since I was the first of nine grandchildren, Ola was her anointed title. It was incorrect, bad Tagalog and lovingly adorned. She took the name that was given and made it her own. She loved it in all its imperfection. She loved it in its complete perfection.

24 years later with death stalking from around the corner, my lola is still as positive as ever, finding ways of turning life’s mistakes into her cherished answers.

A few weeks ago, it was brought to my attention that my lola’s health had taken a turn for the worse. She had left the doctor’s with an expiration; an estimated date to see her through. It had been nearly two years since my last visit and with this news I came to see her.

The day after I arrived, I sat with her over breakfast. She was vibrant, quick and alive. Although her body had slowed down, her mind was racing. She answered questions, spoke philosophically, and laughed wholeheartedly.  Her smile was that same beaming grin I grew accustomed to as a baby. Her soul was as present as it had ever been. Her mental strength left me pondering if there was indeed anything wrong. Had this been an incredibly tasteless joke?

That evening, my questions were answered.

Between bouts of excruciating pain and a state of near comatose, it was clear that my lola was approaching the end of her life. She spent most of her time sleeping or fending off discomfort. She could barely stand, let alone walk, and she had a slew of medications that took up sizable counter space. Her life was certainly not what it was two years ago.

It was a disconcerting experience watching her body decline, yet my sadness and fear never had the chance to take over. I was too busy feeling inspired.

Despite her physical malady and inevitable future, her spirits were valiantly high. She used each moment to connect with those who to listened. She breathed each breath to invoke a sense of calm and compassion for those around her.  And when she was too exhausted to speak, her eyes told her fearless story. More than anyone, she knows what is happening to her, yet she persists to enjoy the moments she has left.

The idiom that comes to mind is taking lemons and making lemonade. In her case, she was using the last moments of her life to enrich the few she had left. She received what she was given and made the best of it. This lesson has been preached by so many great minds in so many different ways, each one translating a timeless message: happiness comes from within.

Don’t miss the forest for the trees.

My lola may be dying, she may be surrounded by an emotionally distressed family, she may even be scared, but the one thing that she isn’t is looking for more. She is content with her situation simply because it is hers. And because it is hers, she chooses to love it. Just as she loved her name.

Seeing my grandmother embody such grace and commitment to look beyond the surface, has invoked a loss of judgment in my life. Who are we to think we know how life works? We experience just a fragment of reality and impose our opinions. I see now that it is better to enjoy what is, rather than fight for what isn’t.

Her ability to see beyond the imperfections, to accept what is as the divine and to make the best with what’s given is a gift I will always carry with me.

I will remember her for this. She’s my Ola with one L.

“Love isn’t a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun, like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.” ~ Mister Rogers

Summer, I love you.

A season is by no means a significant amount of time. Three months, four if you’re lucky (and it’s summer). Give or take a hundred days, not even a third of a year. And at this point in my life, years are beginning to lose their luster for grandiose blocks of time, as they fly off the calendar as fast as months did in middle school. Yet, a season was plenty of time to change my entire life.

This summer was one for the books—and by this I mean quite literally one full of books. It was also a summer of airports, as I flew across country, across countries and into interstellar dimensions. This summer was also one for community, where I was welcomed into the arms of different tribes across the world. This summer was about leaving improvement behind and accepting perfection as it is. This summer was the beginning of my life.

And so was yesterday. And this morning. And probably tomorrow.

If the summer was one thing, it was a realization of lightness. This lightness was not something I carried pre-May.

Before heading into summer my life was one dictated by restriction, practice, guilt and imperfection. Routine and rhythm were things that held me together. I was bound to my practice as much as I was to the surface of the Earth.  I withheld pleasure for piety, in hopes of one day reaching an ultimate goal. I even caught myself feeling guilty shades of superiority over others adopting less “conscious” lives. The one measure of the perceived success of my pre-2012-summer lifestyle was that I felt like I was in control.

Boy was I wrong. This summer started out like the twisted ending of one of those psychological horror movies that somehow convince you (the viewer) that you’re the one killing all the people in the film. Everything I thought I had under control was flipped upside-down. It was shocking at first, but much less difficult than it had been in its previous incarnations (for these realizations have occurred before in lesser degrees of intensity). The main objective was to reset my spiritual ego.

What is a spiritual ego? Well if I had ended my blog post with “This summer was the beginning of my life,” you would have got an extreme does of Yogi Ego. Basically, for me, my egoistic self is searching for one thing: control. It wants to be in charge. Whenever I think I have figured out life, that is when I’ve let my ego take control. This summer was a gentle slap in the face that told me life was much less than I was making it out to be—this being an extremely positive, relieving, and loving thing.

Life is for experience! This summer’s oeuvre was a reassuring mantra that everything is equally as important as everything else. This means that I am exactly where I need to be, doing exactly what I need to be doing and so is everybody else. This liberating realization was the posture that broke this yogi’s head open. And I surrendered my thoughts, preoccupations and fears to the universe willingly.

We spend so much time trying to be something else that we forget to honor who it is we are. In the complicated maze of desire, we lose sight of achievement. We focus on a future that never comes, preparing, practicing and pondering what might be. We never get there because it is an illusion. There is no where to go.

And for some the illusion is perfect. This article is not to say that one way of life is any better than the other. It is only the recount my own realization. At this point in time my current state of consciousness is perfect as was my state in May, last October and when I was five. All stages, outlooks and understandings are perfect. It is not the shape, context, or content of the state that matters, but the progression through them. Change exacts experience, which adds to the richness of life.

As I find time in between my coursework, I will gladly share with you the specifics of my summer. But until then revel in the awesomely emancipating idea that you are already there. In fact, there is no where else you could possibly be.

Much love.

The Art of Giving

Originally posted at theamorist.com

“You have not lived today until you have done something for someone who can never repay you” ~ John Bunyan

Whether it is a handful of change or a lifetime of devotion, the act of selfless giving is the most important action one can take. At its core, giving is the ultimate form of spiritual practice.

For ages, religions and spiritual groups have honored the art of giving. In India, the word seva, or selfless service, is expanded by the phrase, “Manav seva Prabhu seva,” meaning service to mankind is service to God. By carrying out seva, one is giving his or herself to the universe by offering time, money or prayer. In Christianity and Judaism, the concept of tithing, or an offering of 10 percent of one’s time or money represents spiritual giving. And in non-spiritual circles the common concept of donation represents the art of giving. In each case, the idea behind selfless service is that one will be covered (be it spiritually, financially, or consciously) by giving up something important.

Giving doesn’t have to look like this.

It is sometimes difficult to see that true wealth and prosperity—be it fiscal or spiritual—begins with the relinquishment of such objects. The other day I was speaking to a friend about his financial problems and I suggested he donate some of his money to a cause he felt strongly about. He retorted, “How can I become rich if I give all of my money away?”

This question is the boundary that separates those who are prosperous from those who are not.

First, a prosperous person is not determined by how much money he or she has, but rather their state of mind. In the case of my friend, he believed he was too poor to give. His financial insecurity stopped him from creating a prosperous mindset. People who attune themselves with the vibration of prosperity receive money and success after they have aligned themselves with that specific frequency. Only for a select few does it work the other way.

Second, giving is ultimately a question of faith, for there is no tangible promise or guaranteed return from giving a gift. There is no proof of gain other than the conviction that you are doing the right thing. This challenge is often daunting to those with empty pockets. Yet the saying holds true: “You only get what you give”.

It can look like this.

Of course, there are some clauses. Obviously, selfless giving is an act that requires no desire for reciprocity. To truly give is to surrender to the relationship of commerce and instead initiate one of complete compassion. Intention plays an important role in this process, as one who gives just to receive is not truly giving. It is only through selflessness that the act of giving will create true prosperity.

On Saturdays I teach a donation-based yoga class. In this class I begin with a story about why we offer these classes. I end the story with, “I ask that you donate what you can, but I recognize that the greatest donation you can make is simply being here.” Most students find this welcoming, but I see it as the true donation.

Each individual has given and hour and a half of their (prime Saturday afternoon) time to spend working on themselves, elevating their consciousness. As they leave the class calmer, happier, and relaxed, they raise the consciousness of all they come into contact with. By coming to class, they have donated themselves to selfless service. In that action, they uplift their own consciousness.

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle” ~ James Heller

We often think of donation and giving as something that has to be measured by numbers and fiscal value. Many times the most important gifts are not those carrying a hefty price tag, but rather the ones that come from within: the homemade meal, a hand-sketched picture, a daily spiritual practice or a few kind words. The opportunity to give is never dependent on income.

We all have something to worth giving.

Just Decide Already

It all leads to the same place.

If you never had to make a tough decision again, would it lessen the quality of your life? If you could turn back the hands of time and re-choose your choices, would it serve you in the long run? Does the famed and extremely comforting idea of “keeping our options open” actually provide us with any solace?

The ideas behind these questions were spurred from an article a friend shared on Facebook.  It focuses on the idea that reversible decisions are less conducive to happiness than decisions we stand behind. The article touches on psychosomatic concepts describing how the mind can adapt to any given situation, making the present situation the best possible outcome. On the other hand, keeping your options open creates an endless query of uncertainty. This unknowable outcome produces stress, distraction, and ultimately unhappiness.

Deciding to not to decide is one of the worst decisions to make. I know this from experience.

My life circa summer 2009.

The mother lode of life-altering choices came to me just after graduating college in Southern California. I had been in a ridiculously long-distance relationship with a woman from halfway across the world. For most of my entire senior year, I was hell bent on leaving everything I ever knew behind and transforming myself into an Argentine. As the months drew closer and summer approached, I crossed paths with an old fling that never really took off. Well, needless to say, it began to take off.

I was stuck in the middle of two roads and time was running out. On top of this, I felt horrible. I tried to deny the problem and enjoy the moment, but behind every action, was a thousand pounds of guilt. I will never understand how men can be proud of cheating. Anyways that is another story.

I had a decision to make. I could clearly see down each path and they were as opposite as day and night. To make matters worse, I decided to keep both doors open as long as I could. I would have been better off trying to eat soup with a fork. Not only was I unsuccessful, but I had changed my mind about 100 times a day. The stress was building and I could no longer decipher what I actually wanted. I felt responsible for the lives of three people, and I was blowing it on every account.

Not exactly effective.

It finally began to be too much, to the point of breaking down. I didn’t remember who I was. I felt like I had a growing lump of coal burning a whole through my stomach. I knew I was afraid to leave my family and the life I had known for years, so I decided to stay in California.

As soon as I made this decision, the weight lifted. I became a new born soul, ready to live up to my choice. I had not an ounce of proof that the choice I made was correct, but I had all the time in the world to prove it. Within the first two weeks, I had already chosen to see how beautiful my life was going to be and how unfitting it would have been had I chosen the other direction. My mind was adapting to my new reality.

The choices in life do not matter as much as we lead our selves to believe. Surely, there are some decisions where a definite yes or no is understood, but in the more ambiguous choices, the most important factor is commitment. Once committed, we can begin to fulfill our decisions.

The part that we most often do not understand is that the illusion of choice—the idea that one path will lead us to something different than the other—holds us back from moving forward. In any given decision, the outcome will equate to the same result. This may be difficult to understand, especially in the example I have given between Argentina and California, but when you decide to change the focus from the decision at hand to the person deciding, a different story unfolds.

Oh the choices!

Although the choices may look different, the one deciding them is the same. Any decision made will reflect the state of the person deciding. So whether I choose to move to Argentina or stay in California, I will attract exactly what I am already attracting. This is not to say that once I have lived in either place I will not have different experiences, but in the moment of choice, either decision will bring forth the same exact result. The choice at hand is a product of who I was in the past. In this light, the decision has already been made.

It is not choosing the correct path that is required, but choosing a path. All paths are correct. This is the same concept behind spirituality. Every spiritual practice is valid. There are infinite ways to reach Enlightenment/God/Satori/etc. It is not the path you choose, but the fervor for which you traverse it.

So choose. And stay committed. Don’t look back and steady on. The path you are on is correct because you are on it. There is no judgement, only progression or stagnation. Move forward and you will reach your goal.

The key to happiness is commitment.

Unlock the door.