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Oracle Cards: Predicting the Future?

I’ve used oracle cards, or tarot cards, for a number of years in my practice, and people often ask me about them. The most common questions include, how do the cards work? And, do they predict the future?

Some of you may be disappointed to learn the cards aren’t magic. They don’t have special powers and no, they don’t predict the future. But don’t stop reading yet.

Oracle/Tarot cards are a tool to enhance self-knowledge and intuition. Sometimes we may be blocked in resolving a problem in our lives or answering a question because we are relying only on our logical mind to reach a resolution. Don’t misunderstand me: logic, reason and the intellect are important, but they are not the only way to apply wisdom to an issue.

Sometimes we know what we want to do in a particular situation. We know the right thing because we feel it. But we may not have evidence to support it – it may not be logical. Sometimes oracle cards can help us tap into what we already know, or can give a different perspective on an issue.

There are dozens of different types of oracle or tarot cards. They are intended to help the user gain insight into a particular problem, question, or situation. My two favorite decks are Healing with the Angels Oracle Cards (by Doreen Virtue – Manifestation card pictured here) and the Osho Zen Tarot.

Cards are very personal, and just because these two decks are my favorites doesn’t mean that they will necessarily speak to you. Cards generally contain a picture and a word, such as Abundance, Manifestation, Peace, etc. These types of cards can help you to focus on a particular intention, or to identify a particular area of your life that needs attention. Generally a book is included with the purchase of a card deck that will help to interpret the cards that are drawn from the deck, or may include additional questions for self-reflection.

Card readings can be done for yourself or someone else. When you purchase a deck that speaks to you, the literature included will generally give suggestions about how to focus upon an intention or question, and various techniques for drawing cards.

Hopes and Dreams, Part II

Yesterday in the car I was listening to a cd of a lecture given by well-known leadership guru Orrin Woodward called 13 Resolutions for Life. In it Woodward discusses his 13 personal resolutions and the ways in which people create real change in their lives. In part one of this post, I characterized it as a question of grounded-ness and motivation. As an extension of that discussion, I’d like to share some elements from Woodward’s talk that shed further light on this issue.

Woodward identifies 3 factors necessary to create change:

  • Mind
  • Heart
  • Will

What he means is that it’s not enough to simply know, intellectually, what needs to be done, or what is the right action in a situation. Further, it’s not enough to become emotionally involved in what the right thing is (for example, to go to a seminar and have an emotional breakthrough). Lots of people do these first two things. It’s the third one, the will, that’s key.

It’s action, applied day in, day out, over a lifetime. This is what builds true character and creates real change. It’s not an easy process. But how many easy things are worth doing? In many cases the degree of difficulty of a task is directly proportional to the sense of satisfaction one has from doing it. Woodward suggests formulating your own personal resolutions for life. And then living them, throughout your life. Not just “taking up the resolutions, but being taken up by them.” Let the resolutions become who you are.

Now, without a doubt, we’re talking about a life-long process. Know that if you do this, you will fall short, you will make mistakes. But when you’ve gone off course, you will know it. Alexander Hamilton once said that people who “stand for nothing will fall for anything.” He makes a valid point. If we each, individually, take responsibility for identifying and aligning with our true purpose in life, and living that purpose on a daily basis, that is how we create real change in the world.

Change starts with each one of us – change starts with You.

Recommended reading: Resolved: 13 Resolutions for Life, by Orrin Woodward.

Healing Relationships with So Purkh

There is a special mantra in the Kundalini Yoga tradition called the So Purkh which Yogi Bhajan specifically recommended be used by women. The mantra’s purpose is to elevate a man. Many women in the tradition use the So Purkh to “manifest the divine” in the men in their lives. A So Purkh sadhana is 11 recitations of the mantra every day for 40 days.

It’s important to realize that a mantra, or a sadhana of this sort, is in no way a guarantee to manifest a specific outcome. Rather, this type of sadhana is a way of putting energy behind an intention. And the So Purkh is an interesting and unique practice because it’s intended to benefit someone else, whereas a majority of the other meditations within the tradition are intended for the person practicing.

A good friend of mine once reminded me at a difficult time that we don’t do spiritual practice to manifest specific outcomes in our lives. In other words, it isn’t penance. It’s not as if, once we’ve meditated enough, we’ll get the right job or spouse or something like that – we’re not earning our success.

Spiritual practice is a commitment to a specific way of being in the world. It’s not a results-oriented practice in the way we often think of being goal-oriented in this culture. If there is a goal in spiritual practice, it’s to remain graceful in the most challenging circumstances, to remain peaceful in the midst of chaos, and to be a radiant light in places of shadow and darkness.

So Purkh is a beautiful and powerful mantra. To discover it for yourself, listen to the SoPurkh on YouTube. I also recommend “Ask the Yogini: So Purkh” by Ramdesh Kaur.

The Summer Solstice Experience

Every summer Kundalini Yogis from around the world gather at Ram Das Puri in the Jemez Mountains near Espanola, New Mexico for a variety of intensive workshops and 3 days of White Tantric Yoga. They call this experience Summer Solstice.It is a transformative immersion opportunity. I have had the Summer Solstice experience twice since I began practicing Kundalini Yoga. Both times I described it afterward as one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

Because Ram Das Puri is in the high desert, the weather covers some surprising extremes. It can be as warm as 90 degrees during the mid-day, and as cold as 40 degrees at night. Add to that the altitude of nearly 7,000 feet, the desert sun, the dust, the wind, and occasional torrential rains, and you have quite a climate experience! (Oh, and you will be camping, so don’t forget to bring your tent!)

A day at Summer Solstice begins at 3:45 with group sadhana (spiritual practice), followed by breakfast. Throughout the day, participants have a variety of yoga workshops to choose from. Meals are included in the registration fee and follow a special cleansing diet prescribed by Yogi Bhajan, the Master of Kundalini Yoga.

One of the most remarkable features of the Solstice experience is the intentional community. Everyone who attends participates by providing some special service as part of community-building. Being part of a group of up to 2000 like-minded people coming together to pursue a common intention is incredibly powerful. Add to that the sacred history of Ram Das Puri in the Native American tradition, and Summer Solstice is an incredible opportunity to deepen one’s spiritual practice and commitment.

I think that many times if we look back and are completely honest with ourselves, the times at which we were learning the most, and having the greatest chance of moving forward, of becoming most fully ourselves, are challenging times. Letting go of who we used to be can be difficult and painful. The degree to which we will experience pain and difficulty in that process depends upon the extent to which we cling to old ideas and beliefs which no longer serve the person we are becoming.

The dates for this year’s Summer Solstice are June 14-23, 2012. Service scholarships and financial aid are available.

Photos of Summer Solstice courtesy of Amarjot Singh.

No Pain, No Gain? Part II

“There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “May be,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “May be,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “May be,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “May be,” said the farmer.”

The point of this parable, of course, is that nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so. Things happen in life, but it is the story we attach to them that can bring us additional suffering, as was discussed in the previous entry. And emotional suffering (along with other factors, of course) can have an impact on the type and degree of pain we experience.

The idea that pain may have an in-organic cause is new to a lot of people. Sometimes the easiest way to understand it is that pain is often stress-related. Stress can be defined as wanting things to be different than they actually are. When we can’t be present with acceptance of what is, that creates a situation of stress which can lead to or exacerbate physical pain for many people.

David Morris concludes his article “Belief and Narrative” with this observation: “Knowledge of the complex ways in which cultural beliefs, values, and narratives shape pain is as important as the science of neurons and genetic markers. It constitutes a valuable resource for clinicians in a multicultural environment in which pain is the symptom that most often initiates the doctor-patient visit. It suggests that clinicians might help patients to enhance beneficial beliefs and to identify–and possibly alter–beliefs and narratives that seem to make their pain worse.”

What Morris seems to be suggesting is that the medical community’s current focus on the organic causes of pain, and attempts to quantify what is largely a subjective and emotional experience, limits what could be a more nuanced and holistic understanding of the experience of pain. Indeed, if the medical community has a focus on pain relief, it is most likely influenced by the fact that pain is what gets most people to the doctor. And, in addition, most people perceive the problem to be resolved when they are no longer in pain.

Of course, we can also add to that the prevailing belief that one must experience additional pain to resolve the earlier pain. But the reason the emotional factor is important is because to truly resolve an issue we must go to the root of the problem, to the source. Treating the surface symptoms doesn’t necessary resolve the core issue. Thus, problems are likely to recur, even with medical intervention, if the core issue as not been addressed.

I think what we’re really talking about here with pain is a paradigm shift with regard to how we approach pain…it’s not the pain that’s the problem, it’s our wanting to avoid the pain and get rid of it. If we can begin to view the experience of pain differently, as a message, we can begin a journey toward relating to our experiences in a new way. One of the keys is by shifting out of the dualistic mindset of either-or, good-bad, as the story teaches.

Read more online zen stories.

No Pain, No Gain?

As a massage therapist, I am amazed by how often I hear statements like this: “Don’t worry, I can take a lot of pain. I’m tough. Plus it’s gotta hurt in order to feel better, right?” Not necessarily! This myth seems to have originated in the fitness industry. It’s a persistent misconception, and it speaks volumes about social attitudes toward wellness.

I suppose the easy answer is that these people are simply closeted masochists, eager to suffer in a socially sanctioned way. But it’s not that simple. People are generally only willing to suffer if they think something good will come out of it. I think it’s more to the point that there’s some pervasive belief in our culture that through pain, success of some sort is achieved. Or that any success worth achieving is bound to be painful.

An interesting article by David B. Morris in The Scientist entitled “Belief and Narrative” discusses the cultural dimension of pain. Morris observes, “’No pain, no gain’ is an American modern mini-narrative: it compresses the story of a protagonist who understands that the road to achievement runs only through hardship.”

If there’s some validity to those previous ideas, it also follows that those things that are good for us (or will lead to some increased “achievement” in some area of life) cannot be pleasant, or enjoyable. Nutritious food must be taste-less or unpleasant. Exercise must be onerous and painful. Massage, too, must be painful in order to be beneficial. So it sets up an expectation that anything that is in the name of health, healing, fitness, or general wellness is likely to be, in short, unpleasant.

Morris goes on to explain the importance of narrative related to pain, in terms of “the patient’s own story.” He notes that pain is largely a subjective experience and that a variety of social and emotional factors have an impact. For example, “Chronic lower back pain is often impossible to trace to an organic lesion, such as a prolapsed disk. The narrative that describes pain as a reliable alarm system justifies countless unnecessary surgeries. It cannot, however, begin to explain why the two strongest signs predicting that an American worker will develop chronic back pain are job dissatisfaction and unsatisfactory social relations in the workplace.” In other words, many times pain has a non-organic cause, and continually searching for an organic (ie medical, physical) cause of pain is an increasing source of frustration for a lot of people I see in my line of work. Often pain is related to other factors and it’s hard for people to understand that at first.

There is a Buddhist aphorism that goes something like this: “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” This is an homage to the idea that in life physical and emotional pain are unavoidable. They are part of the experience of being here, and being in a body. But the suffering part, that is the part within our control. We can directly impact the experience we have by the stories, the narratives, we create around our experiences. The Buddhists would say that when we try to avoid pain, that is when we suffer the most.

Kirtan: Music and Mantra

Kirtan is a devotional practice that includes call-and-response chanting of mantras set to music. It could also be defined as prayer or meditation in the form of the names of the divine. The musical aspect of kirtan is slightly different from “singing” in the sense that the goal is not to be on key so much as it is to participate in the group sacred energy.

Kirtan is very much a participatory experience. One goes to kirtan not just to be an audience member, but to take part in the creation of sacred space through raising one’s voice (don’t worry, no one’s listening). The purpose is to create a sacred sound vibration, and to be immersed in the experience, to be moved (sometimes literally, as you will see in the video clips). As discussed in Meditation and the Monkey Mind, a mantra can be a helpful focal point – a place to return to over and over when distracted by stray thoughts.

If you’ve ever been to a great concert, you’ve probably experienced how the music can take you somewhere, outside of yourself. Kirtan combines this musical experience with the meditation/mantra experience. Meditation has an impact on your brain waves; it changes your brain chemistry. The easiest way to understand that change is to experience it.

Check out these popular Kirtan artists in concert on YouTube (3 very different styles):

Now that you’ve had an introduction to kirtan at home, come experience live kirtan with The Sacred Waters Kirtan Group at Unity Church in South Bend on Friday, March 23, at 7pm.

The 40-day Sadhana Challenge

“The highest sadhana is that your presence should remind people of God. What bigger and more powerful miracle than that can there be, that by your very presence you can invoke Godhood in people?” – Yogi Bhajan

Yogi Bhajan, who brought Kundalini Yoga to the United States in the 1960s, recommended that all practitioners do sadhana, or daily spiritual practice, as a way of connecting with the infinite on a regular basis. Since Kundalini Yoga meditations have impact in as little as 3 minutes, sadhana need not be long in order to be effective.

The key is consistency. Yogi Bhajan said it takes 40 days to change or break a habit. So then 40 consecutive days is the minimum time period for any sadhana. Sadhana requires a basic level of discipline, while building a higher level of commitment in the practitioner.

A lot of people think that they need to study with a famous teacher or attend a retreat in a far-off exotic location to grow their spiritual practice. This is simply not the case. Real growth comes from an individual’s daily commitment to engaging in the practice. The most popular teacher, the most amazing retreat, will not be useful without that firm and grounded commitment to the practice day after day, whether sick or well, busy or bored.

Doing sadhana means maintaining that spark of the divine within you. It will change how you feel, how you see yourself, and how others see you. But don’t take my word for it. Try it for yourself. And if you need to see the evidence, check out How God Changes Your Brain, by Andrew Newberg, MD.

Photo of Yogi Bhajan © 2004 Gurumustuk Khalsa – www.sikhphotos.com

Innerspace: Yoga and Emotional Life

Photo by Virginia Olson © 2012One of the topics discussed by William Broad in his recent interview on NPR was the impact that yoga has on emotional health, particularly for those who are suffering from depression (see Broad’s new book for the science). In this post, I’d like to share some observations from the perspective of a teacher and long-term practitioner about some of the practical benefits of yoga, in terms of one’s emotional life.

When I began practicing yoga on the recommendation of a counselor in 2003, I had been struggling with long-term depression and anxiety. I didn’t really think that yoga would help. But then again, I felt that I had nothing to lose, as the other things I had tried on my own hadn’t exactly helped either. (I don’t mind admitting I had quite a number of self-help books collecting dust on my bookshelf.) I was skeptical but willing to check it out.

I started going to yoga classes once or twice a week. I didn’t really notice too much at first. I had moments of feeling calm and relaxed. But otherwise, my life proceeded pretty much as usual, despite these blips on my emotional landscape. It was only over time, as I continued with the practice (and started spending a few minutes each day at home doing yoga as well) that I began to notice that these blips became more frequent. They also lasted longer. I grew my awareness of what I was experiencing, in the blips and outside of it. I became interested, curious about how I moved in and out of that mental space. I began to notice certain thoughts and the way they could trigger a certain mood or prevailing mindset. I began to unravel my own stories, about myself, about other people, about things that had happened in my life. All of this, over time, brought huge changes to my emotional landscape.

I think one reason why yoga is so effective for people dealing with anxiety or depression (or a variety of other emotions, for that matter) is that a regular practice which includes meditation creates a “gap” that has the potential to bring one out of his/her experience. A lot of people tend to get flooded (overwhelmed) by their emotional experiences – their emotions are running them. Yoga can, over time, build emotional awareness and emotional intelligence. When you’re “down in it”, so to speak, it’s very hard to gain any sense of perspective. The meditation aspect of the yoga practice can give a little reprieve; a different vantage point, however briefly maintained, can be the beginning of long-term and far-reaching changes.

I didn’t expect any of this from the practice. No one told me it would happen, or that it could. I just wanted to relax. I wanted a bit of peace from myself, a rest from my own stories. And it turned out that what I found was so much more than that.

Photo by Virginia Olson © 2012