3 Steps to Creating a Sacred Space…

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Early in my earliest days of sobriety, my first sponsor gave me this advice: “It doesn’t matter what your religion, your spiritual affiliation.  Create a sacred space, and go to it each and every morning when you wake up.  Set your day with sacredness.”

I took that advice very much to heart and have lived the advice each and every day for over 20 years.  Each morning, I light a candle.  Each morning, I approach my altar, bow to the teachers who guide me, and sit on my cushion to follow a set series of exercises for approximately 20-30 minutes.  Some days is is only 15, some days 45 or even a full hour.  No matter the schedule, I am there to give myself the gift of touching a sacred space – both within and without.

The importance of this practice is thousands of years old.  It is a practice we need now, more than ever.  Our present culture is intensely outward focused, and we become swept away easily thanks to the immediacy of our technology.  By giving ourselves ten or fifteen minutes a day to turn inward, to breathe, and to touch something profoundly still, is a powerful practice.  In recovery, it becomes essential.

Here are three steps to creating a sacred space in your home:

Step 1: Find the Space

It doesn’t have to be an entire room.  Find a space in your home that you can clear – the length and width of a yoga mat will do.

A corner of the bedroom near a window will give you morning or evening light.

Use the short wall of your home office to create a sitting area that is also set up as an altar.

If you need privacy, think of using a closet.  Empty the contents, remove the rod, and set it up as the place where you can “be” without being disturbed.  This is particularly good if you have animals or children who might disrupt the space.

Lovely altar in a closet:

If you have spare bedroom, create an entire makeover and change it to be a sacred room.

If you live in a studio apartment – clear a space on your kitchen counter or put up a shelf on a wall to create a small sacred space.

Step 2:  Create the Space

There are no “rules” to creating an altar or sacred space.  Make it yours by using what is sacred to you.

Begin with a candle.  Scented, unscented, large or small the variety is endless.  You can find angel candles, Buddha statues where you can place a candle, Christian candles, a Menorah – any time of representation will do.

Perhaps you have found a feather that is from a meaningful walk.  Shells from a special vacation.  Stones, crystals, a memento from a loved one, Mala beads.

Use a glass bowl to fill with water and sprinkle fine oils to scent the space.

A picture or representation that will give rise to a sense of divinity.  Buddha, Jesus, Mary, Saints, Mother Theresa, the Dalai Lama…..

The base of the altar can be a piece of wood covered in a lovely fabric.  You can find many small tables upon which you can place your items.  If you are particularly handy, you can make your own!

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Step 3:  Use the Space

It’s one thing to have a sacred space in your environment.  It’s quite another to create the commitment to use it every day.  It is the daily practice that gives rise to the sacredness within us.

When you get up each day, light the candle on your altar.  Take time to sit quietly for a few minutes and set your intention for the day ahead.

Creating a routine for yourself is important.  Reading the same prayer each day, or from a book of prayers each day connects us to words of wisdom and gives us thoughts to carry us through the day.

Breathe.  Using a myriad of breathing exercises available (Yoga, Kundalini, Tibetan, etc.) helps to focus our breath and our brains.  Sitting quietly for a few moments being aware of our breath is a powerful exercise that engages our parasympathetic system.

Engaging in movement: Yoga sequences, Kundalini, Tibetan Yoga, prostrations – engaging our bodies in sacredness supports our breath, our prayers, and our intentions.

Use your space to journal, reflect, read. To pray, meditate. To connect, and to be connected.

Using the space on a regular basis supports the importance of the placement, the area you have created where you come to “be” and engage in acts of serenity on a daily basis.

Each day, consciously choose your recovery, and all that supports it.

 

The common poison…

“Is sugar toxic? It is when you consider how much the average American swallows each year—a whopping 130 pounds of added sugars. That’s about 22 teaspoons a day, way over the max set by the American Heart Association in 2009. New science shows that this overload of sugar—often stemming from hard-to-detect hidden added sugars—is affecting your body in all sorts of strange ways.”

Prevention Magazine

My story with sugar dates back to early childhood, before I was even 10 years old.  Whenever I visited my father during the summer months, I purchased bag fulls of candy, chocolates, caramels, and hid them under my mattress.  Every day I would sneak candy and feel a relief from a nagging and persistent ache inside – anxiety, fear, self-loathing – at that age I had no idea what the emotion was, only that the candies made it go away.

Years and years later, after swearing off the stuff over and over and over again, with only short term respites (six months at the most) I was once again face-to-face with my demon poison.

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Driving back from a particularly difficult day at an outpatient treatment facility where I was working full-time as an addictions counselor, I stopped off at the store to pick up some snacks for a long drive home.  It was late, going on 11pm, and I was tired.

Some apples, seltzer water, and then down the candy aisle.  I picked up some chocolate “turtles” and decided to purchase enough to last at least a couple of weeks.

The trip home was one immersed in thought, reflecting on numerous issues relating to self-doubt, reinforced by a particularly harsh supervisor and even more harsh program director.

As I unpacked the car in front of my house almost an hour later, I searched high and low for the chocolates – thinking it would be nice to decompress with a piece or two and a glass of milk before retiring for some much needed sleep.  They were nowhere to be found.

It suddenly occurred to me that the empty plastic bag on the passenger seat was the original bag purchased at the store.  How could it be empty?! Had I consumed that much?!

I had.

Mindlessly.

Thus began a very hard look at myself, and my need to reach for sugar every time I had an emotional reaction of insecurity, self-doubt, or turning against my self.  Sugar had become my panacea, my numbing agent, and my alternate to alcohol and drugs in my life of sobriety.

I began with awareness.  Each time I heard my inner dialogue engage in “sugar talk” I would acknowledge it, and take some deep breaths.  Delay the cravings, breathe through the anxiety.  Alternatives, such as fruit, chewing gum and sugarless sour candies also helped.

When I began the practice of drinking a full glass of warm water with one half a squeezed lemon each morning, something began to change.  My taste buds slowly lost the desire for sugar.  The mindfulness practice continued, along with a more engaged level of breathing techniques.  A sense of commitment arose within me as I worked harder to strengthen  my self-esteem and held longer to my center during difficult moments.

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The practice paid off.  I have not indulged in any sugar binges in almost two years.  In the past 77 days, I have barely eaten any sugar, but for a very small bite of a cookie on Christmas Day, and tablespoon of a desert when out with a friend for dinner.

The results are well worth reporting:  A greater sense of calm; a stronger awareness of the triggers that formerly had me reach for sugar; a deeper sense of self worth as I accomplish my intention one day at a time toward wellness; and of course, a body that feels less dragged down by sugar, healthier, and experiencing renewed energy levels.

How to begin? Start by reading labels on every single food you ingest.  You will be amazed at the number of grams of sugar in everything from salad dressing (make your own) to spaghetti sauce.  Becoming educated in what is inside our foods is a critical first step.

Go through your cupboards and assess what is a “sugar based” food, and what isn’t.  If you are consuming sugared cereals or PopTarts for breakfast, your day is starting off with high levels of the processed white stuff.  Try a protein shake made with Almond Milk and a banana for a longer term energy source.  Green juicing is another healthy option that is sugar free and feeds your body at the cellular level.

The important thing to keep in mind is that, like everything, releasing the hold that sugar has on our lives is a process.  Take it one day at a time, step by step, and you will begin to see the shift in your own life.

For more information, take a look at these resources:

Authority Nutrition
http://authoritynutrition.com/10-disturbing-reasons-why-sugar-is-bad/

Wellness Mama Blog
http://wellnessmama.com/15/harmful-effects-of-sugar/

Atkins Web Site
https://www.atkins.com/how-it-works/library/articles/10-ways-sugar-harms-your-health

WebMD
http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/health-effects-of-sugar?page=2

Huffington Post
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kristin-kirkpatrick-ms-rd-ld/dangers-of-sugar_b_3658061.html

Harvard Health Publications
http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/eating-too-much-added-sugar-increases-the-risk-of-dying-with-heart-disease-201402067021

Women’s Health Magazine
http://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/how-sugar-affects-the-body

Enlightened Recovery….

 

I’ve often thought that if a new paradigm of recovery were to evolve, it would be one that embraced yoga, meditation, nutrition, journaling, and the 12 Steps.  It seems that the day has come when that exact prescription has been brought forth in the genius of Tommy Rosen.  Tommy is the author of Recovery 2.0: Move Beyond Addiction and Upgrade Your Life (Hay House, 2014).  This isn’t just another book on how-to, or another recovery story that is meant to impress.  This is a breakthrough in how recovery can be approached, and in my opinion, should be approached.

I had the pleasure of attending Tommy’s Recovery 2.0 Conference last year and was more than impressed.  With a top-notch list of thought leaders in a week long series of interviews, Tommy led each one on a journey of inquiry about their approach to recovery.

Not sobriety – but recovery.  To return to an original state, to return to the state of oneness that always was, and always will be.

Luminaries such as Gabor Mate, MD, Jamison Monroe, Ashley Turner, Guru Prem and Nikki Meyers, to name but a few. As each interview unfolded before me I sat riveted to my computer screen.  The concepts, intentions, beliefs and principles that were being put forth were the very same that I have always maintained were the foundation of long-term recovery.  In fact, they were the exact principles that I had personally been using for my own path of recovery, which is now in it’s 21st year.

Several months later, I had the privilege of being selected for Tommy’s Recovery 2.0 Retreat in Costa Rica.  I had no “expectations” other than to experience a week long immersion in a country I had long wished to visit.  This practice has been a part of my spiritual path for over three decades, but it had been two years since I had last had a chance to enjoy the benefits of taking time off for an intimate period for self-discovery.

After the first day, I knew this was no ordinary retreat.  This was different.

My years of pursuing Tibetan Buddhism and immersing myself in silent or meditation retreats, etc., were experiences of challenge, yes, but also deeply rewarding.  However, there was always a “brittle” quality that I felt during and after the experiences, which led to a gradual diminishing of the commitment of practice and return to the frayed experience of a stress-filled existence in the Washington, DC beltway.

From the first session with Tommy Rosen, (and later sessions with his wife Kia Miller), the lyrical, humor filled, engaging, approach was – might I be so bold to say – enlightening.

Perhaps because the focus was “recovery” – a more profound experience to abstinence from alcohol, drugs or other substances that cause suffering – perhaps because in addition, the yoga was “old school” and the spiritual practices deeply embedded in the Kundalini tradition.

What was true for me was that it brought me back to my original self in a way I had not expected, nor anticipated, but welcomed whole-heartedly.  On the second day I had a memory bubble arise from a time when I was fifteen years old and attended a “lecture demonstration” of yoga – the sequences and chants were the very same that I was doing in a glass enclosed yoga studio overlooking the Pacific ocean.  I was truly “returning” to something that had resonated with me almost forty years ago.

Upon return, I willingly engaged in a daily practice that continues to this day – one I embrace, enjoy, and look forward to each and every morning. The beltway is still challenging.  However, there is no sense of brittleness; rather, there is a sense of ease, calm, and ability to breathe more easily when the challenges arise.

I now bring these techniques to my sessions with clients, and the results are impressive.  Breathing techniques are diminishing anxiety and cravings; body movement is helping to connect the individual to a long lost relationship with the “self.”

My path has deepened, and become one of a joyous and abundant enthusiasm for life which now drives my passion to serve others, to be an abiding example of hope, integrity and compassion – and to illuminate the path of recovery.

May my dedication serve each and every one of you on your path.

 

 

 

 

 

Reconciling our Past…

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Our past is one of the things we used over….it could have been a week, a month, last year – yesterday.  It was definitely something we didn’t want to remember.

Getting sober means having to take a look at the long shadow we threw behind us as we barreled our way through a destructive path.  Whether it was ruining ourselves or wreaking havoc on others’ lives, the obsession and insanity of addiction blinded us to the effects of our actions.

But looking at that “wreckage of our past” is hard – painful even. There is always a fear associated with seeing the darkness of our souls.

The irony is that if we actually look at the fear, we find that a light is all around us. It takes courage and faith.  But that first step toward examining the shreds and shards that we have left as a twisted trail behind us, is the first step toward creating wholeness of our lives, and a future we can be proud of.

Breathing into our fear helps to melt it away like molten lava – slowly – burning away trepidation, hesitancy and insecurity.  With each breath we can realize we are actually “doing it” – examining what really was, is, and understanding what will be – if we don’t use for the next 24 hours.

Not long ago I was able to close the door and reconcile a part of my past from over 20 years ago, around the time I got sober.  The beginning was a bit shaky, I was admittedly scared of what I needed to look at.  But I recognized that the fear was just an unwillingness to be rigorously honest about what it was like, what happened, and what I had or had not done to rectify things.

Packing up my mother’s life after her death and piling them into a truck, and seeing parts of my life in all the belongings, I then drove 1,000 miles to bring everything back home.  While I drove in rain, oppressive heat and beautiful sunsets, I had ample time to reflect, to breathe in silence, and to review the past.

Looking at the kaleidoscope of rights and wrongs, good deeds and bad, hitting bottom and then rising like a phoenix all those years ago, I came to the subtle understanding that everything had unfolded exactly as it had to.

Exactly as it did.

And reconciling my past in this way I found peace in my mother’s death, a greater understanding of the journey of disease to recovery, and ultimately, a peace in allowing the light to envelope me and flood my being with Love.

 

The Importance of Breath.

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The Importance of Breath.

How many times a day have you stopped to breathe? Consciously breathe? How many times have you caught yourself engaging in such shallow breathing that you are barely bringing any air into your lungs?

Breathing is essential to life – but in our harried days we literally forget to inhale properly.

Begin the day with an Ocean Breath:

Stand with feet 3 to 4 feet apart, knees slightly bent.
Place your palms together in a prayer position.
Inhale through your nose and open your arms to the side, while straightening your knees.
Exhale loudly through your mouth and bring your hands back to the prayer position, and bending the knees.
Repeat.
Do this exercise for several rounds and begin to feel the breath flushing out stale air, and bringing in fresh air; releasing fatigue, and bringing in refreshed energy.

End the day with Calming or Slow Breath:

Use a timer on your phone or clock and set it for 3 minutes.
Sit comfortably in a chair or on the floor as you desire.
Keeping the spine erect without strain, begin your breathing sequence by inhaling slowly to the count of 4.
Feel the air coming in through your nose, filling your lungs slowly.
Exhaling to the count of 4, feel the air escaping your lungs slowly.
Don’t stop the breath – just be aware of slowing it down for the 3 minutes.
(This is a great preparation for a good night’s sleep.)

Or you can listen to the link for Yoga Zen before bedtime.

Whenever you are caught in traffic, take the time to focus on your breath. Be aware of breathing in, and being in the present moment.

Whether you are in the gym, walking to and from appointments, or simply sitting quietly reading a book, check in with your breath.

It’s your life force. Use it!