Jun 122013

We are biologically predisposed to notice what’s wrong, to look for the negative as a means of preparing for it. It’s an ingrained survival skill which has become overdeveloped. Particularly in the Western culture in which we live. I mean, generally speaking, we’re not being chased by tigers or having to daily defend ourselves from our neighboring tribes. So this overdeveloped skill might help us to prepare for worst case scenarios (which rarely happen), but it also saps our joy and leaves us with an Eeyore kind of disposition.

To soften that overdeveloped skill, the practice is gratitude. We look for what is good even when there is clearly difficulty. This is not to say that we ignore the challenges in life by skirting over them with a fake smile. Faking positivity only makes us feel inauthentic. The job of the person on the spiritual path is to be able to see, experience, and accept all that life has to offer us. Not just the pleasant. But also, not just the unpleasant. So, we practice gratitude to balance out our glass half empty view. When we are in difficult places in our lives, this practice can be particularly challenging.

About 6 years ago I began a series of knee surgeries, six in three years, which eventually culminated in a total knee replacement at 44…an unheard of age for a knee replacement.  During that three-year period I also had an additional surgery on my thumb. Compounding those surgeries was the fact that I am allergic to opiates, so no pain meds for me. This all happened while I was working on my Masters in Dance/Movement Therapy, my best friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer from which she eventually died, and my relationship was heading towards divorce. Part of how I kept a shred of sanity was through gratitude practice. There are two main types of gratitude practices. Positive Gratitude Practice & Negative Gratitude Practice.

In Positive Gratitude Practice we name the good at any given moment such as, “I am grateful I have family who love me. I am grateful I have enough resources for healthy food,” and so on. Negative Gratitude Practices are particularly useful when one is going through a challenging time and is having a hard time finding the positive. So we have gratitude for what is not happening to remind us that there is always a worse story, which keeps our own experience in perspective. While I was going through the knee surgery years one of my negative gratitude phrases was, “I don’t have cancer, I’m not in a wheelchair, and I don’t have a poop bag.”  That put my suffering into perspective. Negative gratitudes can also be used as a source of humor, which lightens up the ‘taking ourselves too seriously’ disposition, and can be fun ways to teach children gratitude. “I’m grateful that I don’t have 15 hairy facial moles. I’m grateful I don’t have a tail.”

Try it for a week. Attach it to a practice you already have like eating, driving, washing dishes, etc. One week, several times a day, and just notice if your sense of joy doesn’t increase.

May you find gratitude for your life. May your joy be full.

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3

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Jun 102013

Often in my work with adults, I help them to reclaim some of the characteristics that were lost from childhood, such as the capacity to play with abandon, to be completely engaged in the present moment, to not care what others think of us, to dance because it feels good being unaware of whether or not it looks good, and to have a temper tantrum when it all gets too much. Now, I know that in reality, we have to learn how to not have temper tantrums in a grocery stores – but why can’t we have one in the privacy of our home? Intentional temper tantrums are a great way to get the excess energy out.

Words are like that too. Children don’t have much of a filter when it comes to speaking. They will tell you “I think you’re pretty” one moment and “I hate you!” the next. In our socialization into adulthood, we necessarily learn how to filter, and to set boundaries on our own behavior. The problem is we learn to contain too much of our natural impulses, so we cage in both the harmful and the helpful – we eek out both the “I hate you” and “I love you.” And in that process we limit our pain but also our joy as well as the pain and joy we might elicit in others.

All of us want more joy and less suffering. If you want more joy and more sweet feeling in your life, one path to that is to soften the restraint of your connective and joyful impulses, which actually may be pushed so far underground that you might not even be aware of them. This is part of the practice of mindfulness and embodiment – to come into contact with our sweet impulses and to develop practices that encourage loving impulse.

Today, I encourage you to notice others while looking for the good. Did your husband do something kind and thoughtful? Tell him how much you appreciate it. Tell your wife she’s beautiful, sexy, smart, etc. And let not your words of grace be reserved for your loved ones. Give them liberally out to strangers. Did your server give you great service? Tell him. Does the clerk have a sweet smile? Tell her. Do you like the way someone’s dressed? Share it. Does the stranger in the elevator smell good? Speak it.  Notice with a kind eye because we are all far too often unseen in the world. So, I dare you to practice this for one day. Give out compliments with abandon. Notice the reactions in the receiver and the gift you give when your words of kindness reach the ears and heart of another human being. Notice, too, how you feel inside after a day of giving others the gift of noticing and complimenting. Kindness breeds kindness and love breeds love. When we let our words speak the language of love, we feel the love within our own hearts. So if you want more love, give more love.

May your day be filled with beautiful connections and words of grace and kindness.

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Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3
Spiritual Counseling ~ Temecula, CA

Jun 092013

The phrase “Don’t Take Life Too Seriously. Nobody Get’s Out Alive Anyway’ is a funny little adage that really speaks to an important practical and spiritual lesson. I think the best Spiritual lessons are also practical, which is part of the reason why I love a lot of the Buddhist practices. Reincarnation – don’t care much about the philosophy. It’s just a belief and unprovable, and you know what they say about beliefs, opinions and other parts of the human anatomy – we’ve all got one. So what. On the other hand, mindfulness practices, tonglen, and maitri are all beautifully helpful Buddhist practices which can actually improve your restfulness and enjoyment of life.

Pema Chodron, an well-known Buddhist teacher, often talks about “not making such a big deal” of this issue or that issue, which is really what the ‘don’t take life too seriously’ quote really is saying. Which seems like a contradiction for those of us who are focused on living a spiritual life, because to be on a spiritual path means that we are in a continual state of self-reflection. And it is through this process of becoming more self-aware that we become intimately familiar with our faults and foibles. And yet, that self-awareness is also a kind of narcissism. So the paradox of spiritual practice is that we become self-aware so that we can eventually arrive at the experience of ‘no-self,’ which for me means, my sense of self expands so greatly that I enter into an awareness of my connection to the all of it and the “me” becomes a grain in the vastness of the desert sand, a drop in the oceans, a little tiny bit of something so vast that it becomes impossible to hold onto the experience that the world revolves around me and my feelings, thoughts, beliefs, angst, etc.

So, ‘don’t take life too seriously’ is the other side of the self-awareness coin. It’s the, ‘lighten up, dude’ that can sound dismissive, but really has a great amount of wisdom in it. I’ve thought before that if there was an alien race watching us, kind of like we watch cheesy reality shows, they must be incredibly entertained at “those silly little humans,” because we’re really kind of nutty creatures. We hold great wisdom and art and beauty, and we also do things that just don’t make any sense at all. So, part of not taking life too seriously, is accepting that we just are the way we are. We make friends with our faults and foibles, we begin to accept others quirks and nuttiness as just part of our collective nuttiness because we’re not really going to change human nature. And holding onto rigidness and being serious 24/7 just isn’t much fun, and there’s no spirituality rulebook that says having depth means you lose your capacity to be lighthearted and playful.

So, if you catch yourself getting all angsty and narcissistic in your own processing, lighten up. Get into the ‘silly little humans’ mindset. Remember, life is incredibly short and your time here will be gone before you know it. Know when to let it all go, forget about it for a second, and go play. Get a hula hoop, go reggae dancing, watch a comedy and surrender to happiness. Enjoy the ride, my friends.

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3

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Jun 082013

Part of the difficulty with humans is that we just don’t know how to be okay with paradox. We have an impulse towards linear, black or white thinking and can’t seem to wrap our heads around  two coexisting and opposite truths. Not sure you believe me? Imagine a kind man who opens doors for others, gives to charity, always remembers the birthdays of everyone at his office and daily inquires about their lives and families, listens intently when his wife talks about her struggles. Now imagine that person is also a pedophile (do remember, though, that not all pedophiles act on their desires). What just happened when you read he was a pedophile? Your mind likely eradicated the kind characteristic traits of the man. When faced with paradox in humans, this is what we typically do in order to make sense of the world we live in – we try to destroy one of the truths that doesn’t fit into our understanding of the world.

Related to that is our incapacity to accept shadow. One of the teachings in Buddhism is that ‘life is suffering.’ The first time I was exposed to this I had such an aversion to it. I remember thinking something along the lines of “wow, that’s depressing. Why on earth would I want to be part of any religion that teaches that?” That was twenty something years ago and I understand the teaching differently now. ‘Life is suffering’ is a truth that we are resistant to believing. Suffering is simply a part of life. Unavoidable. Just as is joy, enigma, tenderness, hatred, goodness, etc.”

Can you be a feminist who likes to be sexually dominated? A meat-eater and animal rights activist? Can you live a life of compassion, and sometimes be a complete bitch? Can I be deeply spiritual, and despise organized religion? Can humans be incredibly tender and sweet, and also intensely cruel and demonic. The world is both mind-blowingly beautiful and disgustingly ugly. A black hole is everything and nothing. We are the universe, and a spec of the universe.

Our inability to rest into paradox is one of the fundamental sources of our own suffering.There is a simple practice I use in order to allow my mind to rest into paradox. I notice my thought or opinion about something or someone (including myself) and then I ask myself “What Is Also True?” Try it on today. You will notice how you unconsciously filter out aspects of the truth that are less comfortable.

Happy paradoxing!

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3

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Jun 072013

When Lao Tsu says “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving,” he is not saying the good traveler has no plans at all. He is not suggesting the spiritual traveler wander around directionless. All animals are guided by the Earth’s magnetic poles; Hooved animals position themselves by them, birds and salmon migrate by them,  and bats get their sense of direction from them. Animals don’t think about their direction; they don’t plan out each step of their journeys. But, they do have an intrinsic, felt-sense of their own internal compass that guides their movements in the world.

We too have an intrinsic magnetic compass – a knowingness of our own spiritual magnetic poles. When we get out of our heads and into our bodies, when we cultivate silence to hear the still small voice, we do not have to be so rigid about the details. We have a general direction and loose plans that we allow to be subject to influence. Being on the spiritual journey, we understand that the juiciest experiences happen on the side roads. It’s not the perfect hotels that give us the memories that will last a lifetime, it is the homestay with the stranger who rescued us when we got caught in the rain. We are not intent on the future moment of arriving, we understand that every moment is a part of the journey. Every mundane action and interaction are all part of the adventure.

May we soften our rigidness and reenter into the compass of our own BodySpirit. May we live into the understanding that there are no mundane moments. May we travel without fixed plans and with the only intent to stay fully present in each moment.

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3

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Jun 062013

There is a universal stream. We know we are  riding the current when things fall into place. We know we are swimming upstream when our effort begins to cost us – when we are tight, rigid, and weary to the bone. When we feel like we’re fighting just to keep our heads above water. This is not to say that if we go with the current, that everything will be easy and effortless. We are still required to use paddle and rudder to avoid bramble and rock. Sometimes the stream is a white water river and keeping in the flow does require effort – but that effort is matched with an excited energy rather than a depleted energy – we’re in the flow, but we’re definitely having the ride of our lives!

Oftentimes, we have belief systems, old ways of being in relationship to others and the world we live in that keep us from relaxing into the current. Our fear and rigidness make us stone-like and hard to keep afloat. Going with the flow requires nothing less than complete surrender. We have a passion, an impulse, but we surrender that to the will of the Something Greater, understanding that we cannot always see the big picture.

I once lived in a house that had a cottonwood tree in the backyard. I would sit on the deck in May when the cottonwood released itself from the tree, barely able to breathe because the air was so thick with its gossamer seeds. I would watch the cotton fluffs ride the air currents, absolutely amazed at the many circular, seemingly erratic currents that existed just above me. Going with the flow doesn’t necessarily mean our current won’t conflict with another person’s current. Like the air currents, there are millions of streams coalescing, colliding, combining in their own larger pattern. All that matters is that we ride our own current, we surrender, we lay down the sword, and pick up the paddle. May you enjoy the ride, friends.

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3

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Jun 052013

We’ve all had people who’ve walked away from us. Sometimes the leaving was painful, sometimes a relief, and sometimes, both. How we digest that Outer World experiences  into our Inner World experience can be the difference between growth and stagnation.

The Greater Something, ultimately, always works towards our greater good. Sometimes, it is only through the fire of our painful experiences that the husks of our lesser selves can be burned away so that the beautiful essence of our Deeper Selves may live more fully. This means that if you have a childhood history of abandonment, it is likely that you will have more experiences of abandonment in adulthood. Each time anew that abandonment wound gets reactivated, so that the person who has just walked-away carries the flavor of your mother or father, or whoever it was that created the original injury. Like having a wound that is scabbed over but still festering inside, the new experience removes that scab so that the wound has an opportunity to release the infection underneath.

When people leave us – when we digest that Outer World experience and feel the Inner World experience of ‘I’m not enough’ or ‘something is wrong with me’ or any version of ‘I’m bad’ – we can begin to shift the translation from Outer World to Inner World, reminding ourselves of those people who do love us and know how to stay. We can remember that a person who leaves and who doesn’t hold loyalty as a character trait, might not be the person we want in our lives. Holding compassion towards our own suffering, we become become tender with the part of us that believes that we are somehow unloveable. We can draw upon the Metaphysical World to sustain us – Releasing the ties we have into the person who walked away, handing them back to the Something Greater, while we also reconnecting to the Something Greater ourselves. Remembering that we are born of GodSpirit, we let them choose the fork in the road, and know with certainty, that God always walks our path with us. We are not alone. We are not abandoned, for the Great Spirit is always with us.

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3

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Jun 042013

I have been practicing yoga for about 20 years, some years with more consistency than others. And I have been a yoga teacher for over ten years, again, some years teaching more than others. The way I practice at 48 is very different from how I practiced at 28. At 28, my yoga practice was rooted in a push to be more – be better, learn how to do that next difficult pose, get twistier, be more spiritual and grounded, etc.  So this very Western focus on attaining was interweaved throughout my practice, though I would have denied it at the time. I did not realize then that the push to be more and to be better was just the flip side of an ‘I’m not enough just as I am’ belief system.

This is the paradox of yoga, and spiritual practice in general: When we push to become more – more grounded, more enlightened, a better yogini – we lose the essential something that opens us up to our Bigger Self and add a kind of tightness and drivenness which is contrary to the yielding and surrender necessary in spiritual practice. One of my favorite approaches to yoga is Anusara. In Anusara yoga, the first of the five universal principles of alignment is to open to grace, which is the yield and the surrender that is required to open to the Something Bigger. This is the primary purpose of all yoga practice, to open our awareness to our connection to the Something Bigger which both resides within us and is us, of which we are and are a part of.

So for those of us who practice yoga, be it on or off the mat, my metta (loving-kindness blessing/hope) is:

May we open to grace. May we relinquish the mistaken belief that we are not enough as we are right in this moment. May we recognize the divinity in our own being and within all living beings.

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3

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Jun 032013

When Mary Oliver says, “Someone I loved gave me a box of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift,” she is not suggesting that we not rage against the darkness, that we do not own our suffering, that we stand by and passively say, ‘oh thank you so much for hurting me’, or that we rise above it in one breath. To do so would be what is referred to as a spiritual bypass – the acting like everything is good and fine and sweet, while encapsulating the difficult so that we never have to experience our own shadow…The wanting only the lightness without acknowledging that the other side to light is dark. The bible says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” There are times we should be angry, weep, grieve, feel our vengeance, resentment, rage, or whatever emotional state arises. Our job on this planet is not to become so enlightened that we leave this plane of existence. Our work is to live into the question “how can I become more fully human?” There is no right or wrong, no good or bad in an emotional state. When we make friends with our emotions, when we can sit present with them, eventually, the intensity softens and we sequence through them.  It is the wisdom of Robert Frost stating, “there is no way out but through.”

Note that Mary Oliver says “it took me years to understand this, too, was a gift.” The assumption underneath this statement is that in those years there was a processing of the darkness happening. And, that it was only in the healing and deepening nature of time that she was able to receive the gift of the darkness. This is not to say that she asked for it, or that her loved one’s intent was one of gifting. Rather, that she came to the understanding that it was a gift. We have all been wounded, and most deeply wounded by those we love, for it is those we love who have the greatest access to our vulnerability. At some point, after the grieving and raging have been lived and honored, we then get to make a choice to ask ourselves, “what learning did I or can I receive from this?”  We can languish in our emotional states indefinitely, we can resent and feel ourselves the victim, or we can choose to find the good. There is a dicho (adage) in Spanish that says, “no hay mal que por bien no venga,” which literally translates into, “there is no bad out of which good does not come.”

It is the truth of I would never wish my childhood on anyone, however, because of my childhood suffering I have a huge capacity for compassion. Because I not only survived, but now thrive, I can hold the hope for those who are still suffering from the aftermath of trauma. It is my compassion and healing that allows me to bear the light to others who are still in the caves of darkness. It is the truth of though it was painful, three years of dating and having a series of men emotionally high-tail it, that I was able to work through the next layer of my abandonment issues. Through those experiences, I became thoroughly familiar with my resiliency and stopped turning rejection inward or doubting my worthiness.

We all have been gifted a darkness. None of us, myself included, would willingly choose it. But darkness is as unavoidable as light. So when the darkness arises, we can choose to not be afraid of the dark. To sit present with the dark until the dawn arises. And in the light of a new day, we can choose to leave the darkness, there, in the past, and fully enter into the warmth of a new day and a new way of being.

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3
Integrated Spiritual Counseling

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Jun 022013

We all know what it is like to be ungrounded. To feel out of sorts and out of control of some aspect of our lives or of other people. We all know the suffering of having our emotions throw us into a state of chaos, or to be so shut down and be so separate from others that we are an island of isolation. When Leonard Cohen says, “If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be sick every day,” the sickness he is referring to is the ungrounded heart-sickness we experience when the focus of our energy is too internal. When we believe we are the center of the universe – that our suffering, our thoughts, our chaos is The Everything. What Leonard speaks to is the need to expand our awareness. To not confuse one drop in the ocean (i.e., ourselves) with the entire ocean itself. What is called for is a sense of self that includes others as well as the Something Bigger. When we understand that we are not alone in this Great Adventure we call life, when we know our place in the world is simply a small part, we do not have to make such a big deal of our lives. We don’t confuse the drop for the ocean. We belong to a Something Greater – we are one among millions that actually are the Something Greater.

There are many ways to cultivate being the Ocean. We can, in the midst of our internal chaos, look around when we are in public. We can see others around us and remember that they also think the world revolves around them. And yet, here you are together in the soup called life, none of you orchestrating traffic, or your DMV experience, or whatever experience you might be having. Each of us is creating the experience by doing our one part. No one person is creating or orchestrating it. We are simply participants. Drops of the Ocean.

If we are in our own space, then we can imagine others who are also in their own space, imagining the world revolves around them and their thoughts, family, chaos, etc. All of us operating under the illusion that the world is small and revolves around us. Then we remember the world, or humanity as a whole, or the planet , or any other way we choose to conceptualize the Something Bigger. And in becoming the ocean, in the awareness that we are a part of the Something Bigger, the intensity of our suffering softens. We relinquish the illusion that this emotional state we have is such a very big deal, because we are all having emotional states that transition from one moment to the next, like ocean currents, just one part of the larger whole.

Sabrina Santa Clara / Authentic Alchemy x3
Integrated Spiritual Counseling

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