Didi Ananda Devapriya's Meditation and Yoga Blog

One Simple Tip for Looking and Feeling Beautiful, Inside and Out

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Smile! It – is just that simple. Smiling literally lights up our face. We shine when we smile. When we are at our best, we are smiling. When we are in love, we smile more. When we are satisfied, we smile. When we are joyful we smile.

Sometimes – just as I begin to meditate – I remind myself to relax and smile. Immediately – I feel my heart open and a positive, light feeling fills me up. Smiling reflects our natural state of being – it relaxes us , remind who we are. Everyone looks more beautiful when they are smiling – like a flower blooming, our face seems to reflect our soul more completely when we smile.  Nobody is particularly happy with the pictures on their driver’s license or passports when we are not smiling.
But another secret is that we actually feel happier when smiling. While smiling is usually an automatic response to positive feelings, it is a two way street. When we do it intentionally, as a practice, smiling helps us to trigger those same good feelings. We smile when we feel happy and smiling helps us to feel happy.  Researchers have confirmed this, discovering that smiling alters brain chemistry – stimulating the release of dopamine, endorphins and seratonin – which lift your mood and protect you from stress. (1)  In yoga practice, this connection can be considered a part of the science of “mudra”, an ancient study of how different subtle positions of the body, from hand gestures to different gazes of the eyes, to smiling impact our entire system.
One of the fundamental practices of a spiritual lifestyle – from the 10 ethical principles of “Yama and Niyamas” is “Santosh” which means contentment, or happiness. This is not only a principle – it is a practice. It means – we do not just have to wait for happiness to happen – we can cultivate it, with intention. Practicing gratitude is a way to open our hearts towards the beauty of life.
In Italy, I heard a beautiful Italian proverb: “A tree that falls makes more noise than a forest that is growing.”  So often the negative things in life jump to the foreground, obscuring all of the other positives that we are surrounded with.  On the other hand, our gratitude is often like a drop of water on a hot skillet that quickly sizzles and evaporates. What you focus on grows, so when we choose to practice noticing the forest growing around us, cooling our restless mind so that the drop of water doesn’t sizzle away in a few seconds, then we experience the contentment, joy and satisfaction that we crave.
Smile….
“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
footnotes:

Friendship – the Key to Overcoming Prejudices

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Who me, a racist?

Virginia Blackburn was a powerful and beautiful black African American woman working as a social worker at a women’s centre in a poor inner-city neighbourhood in the Midwest.  She was a close  friend and  wise mentor for me in my early twenties. She invited me to different workshops on themes such as overcoming racism, classism, sexism and other types of isms.  I was shocked to discover how these barriers had limited my ability to feel close and connected to others. I considered myself a liberal, open minded person. I had grown up in a multi-ethnic highschool and most of my best friends were non-whites – Korean, Chinese, Indian. I had even gone to a formal dance with a black friend as my date, and had to cringingly endure the loud and embarrassing comments of my somewhat deaf French-Canadian grandfather like  “Oh he is good looking for a black guy!”  I was a good person and I was dedicated to principles of equality for all.  I certainly didn’t see myself as a racist and would never consciously participate in hurting anyone because of their identity.

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Right Action, Continuous Effort, Perfect Finish

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EightfoldPathThe Eight-Fold Path lies at the core of Buddhist teachings.  The eight practices are designed to help us to align our lives more closely to Dharma – our divine potential.  Each of the practices : right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration and right understanding helps to channelize our energy towards spiritual realization. The word “samyak” is translated as “right” – but it could also be translated as “good”, “accurate” or “well-done”.  In this case, these things are “right” when they take us closer to our spiritual self.  Spiritual practice is not something limited to the moments we spend with our eyes closed on a meditation cushion.  It is a way of life. Every moment presents us with the opportunity to live from a deep place of harmony with our soul, and these eight points help us to reflect on the different ways we can train ourselves to remain aligned.  I was recently asked to give a presentation at a spiritual conference on “Samyak Karmanta” – or “Right Action” so this article will limit itself to just reflecting on that point. Read more

What is the best way to open your heart chakra? 

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heart cakraIf you would like to feel more love in your life, there is a guaranteed method to open your heart: do selfless service.  We all have an inherent human need to feel we are contributing towards making the world a better place. Altruism is not just a characteristic of  a few special saintly people that we admire from afar – it is our part of our true nature. If we are not expressing our need to feel that we are helping others, something is missing, and we feel depressed, lonely, empty – even when we may seem to have everything we need on other levels.

I am speaking from personal experience. In my early 20s I went through a very dark period in my life, and I was suffering from a deep depression.  Something was missing in my life – but I wasn’t sure what it was. My attempts to understand myself had only led me deeper into an inner labyrinth – the more I analyzed my depression, the more reasons I seemed to find to be depressed.  Depression, though, is a wonderful catalyst for personal and spiritual growth – and indeed, it led me to begin my own personal quest to understand the meaning of life.  This led me to the local library where I began to systematically devour the section on spirituality – reading wisdom teachings from many different sources which gave me the thrilling realization that they were all saying remarkably similar things.   Read more

Rasa: the sweet juiciness of the spiritual flow

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images“Existence without juice is dry and tasteless” – Robert Svobodha

Like many sanskrit words, Rasa has multiple layers of meaning, each which contribute to a more complete understanding of its subtler dimensions. In its simplest, most mundane definition, Rasa means “juice”. It is also associated with the sense of taste. In order to taste anything – it becomes a juice before we can sense taste properly – the salivary glands produce saliva which emulsify food into a liquid. If the tongue were to be thoroughly dried off and then you put a piece of food on its surface, it will be difficult to sense its taste. Rasa is also referred to in Ayurvedic medicine as the stage of digestion when food has mixed with digestive fluids and becomes a “juice” which will then be absorbed into the bloodstream – or in Ayurvedic terms converted into “Rakta”. However, this isn’t the definition that we are most interested in. Rasa refers to not only the physical “juice” which gives us the sensation of taste – but that inner essence in all types of experiences that give us the feeling of “sweetness” or “sourness”, bitterness etc..
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Uprooted

A healing story I wrote for Syrian refugee children coming to the Child Friendly Space that AMURT runs in Lebanon for the second training I was asked to lead – 9 months after the project launched. The story offers  a metaphorical mirror for these children whose lives have been uprooted into a new country. They have experienced interruptions in their schooling and must struggle to catch up again in a new, strange environment. 
A tiny tomato seed was planted in the warm, dark earth inside of a safe greenhouse. Soon, a tiny green shoot had sprouted through the earth, and began reaching up towards the sunlight. It grew, and grew…And then one day, a shovel came, and roughly dug into the earth next to her and in one sudden lurching movement, the tomato plant was dizzily free of its familiar bed of earth. A small chunk of earth clung to her tiny hair like roots. Several of the roots stung as they had been severed when the plant had been torn from the ground.

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Is there more to the Law of Attraction?

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Since the film “The Secret” was released, there has been a lot of buzz about the “Law of Attraction” – often focused on enhancing our wealth, health and material success. This is natural  – it is natural that all beings seek pleasure, happiness and comfort. Anything that promises to help us to achieve these objectives is bound to attract our attention and capture our imagination. Understanding and utilizing the “Law of Attraction” by focusing on positive thoughts in order to magnetize the things we want to experience and have into our lives promises just that. However, is material success a sign of an enlightened, positive, spiritually elevated mind?  This point of view seems to me to be deeply problematic.   Read more

The Nest Builders

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Staff training for AMURT’s Child Friendly Space for Syrian refugee children

This is a story I wrote for Syrian refugee children. I was invited to Lebanon in the spring of 2014 to give a training for the staff of a “Child Friendly Space” program that AMURT was initiating. It was my first trip to the Middle East and we were staying in an area that was predominantly run by people from the “Dru” religion. It was beautiful and I was very impressed – by the warmth of the people, beauty of the landscape, history and culture…not to mention the wonderful food…But I was also deeply touched by the plight of the Syrian refugees – most of whom were middle class business owners, or even rich landowners that now found themselves displaced and in atrociously impoverished, overcrowded, unheated conditions.  I wrote this story while on the trip to Lebanon – I missed a connecting flight and spent about 12 hours in the Istanbul airport.  At that point, I hadn’t yet met any of the refugees – I was just researching and reading everything I could find online about their situation. So the next day, when I began the workshop – I wasn’t sure if the story would resonate…but by the time the birds squeeze into the crack in the building – several of the Syrian participants started to say excitedly “Oh – it’s just like what happened to us!! What will happen now?”. The story is one that is designed both to reflect, using metaphor, the situation of having to leave a dangerous place (the bombing in Syria) and also one of hope….and nest building…
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The Great Oak and the Gray Squirrel

A strong, tall, shady Great Oak tree with deep roots stood in a meadow of butterflies and buttercups. The winter snows had long melted and the summer sun had warmed her leaves. Every day, calling on the help of Father Sun, she lovingly worked to slowly create acorns. All of the Light she received from Father Sun, and all of the minerals the earth generously gave to her roots she carefully saved and stored up inside of each and every acorn. And deep in each and every acorn heart  she wrote down all of the lessons she had learned from Life. How to bend in the stormy winds, how to seek water deep below the earth during dry seasons, how to reach towards the sun and how to spread a leafy dress to flutter gracefully in the wind.  She dreamed of her acorns growing into strong, tall oak trees like herself and it gave her great joy.

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Juniper the Rabbit – a healing story for children’s home children

Ionut from Familia AMURTEL with “Juniper”

I wrote this children’s story for our smaller children from FAMILIA AMURTEL. Many of them have certain behaviors – such as hoarding food, that stem from their traumatic history of neglect during critical developmental stages in infancy. This story uses metaphor to communicate compassion and understanding, and at the same time show a healthy way through the distressful behavior:


Juniper was a white baby rabbit. She lived with 27 other baby rabbits inside of a small cage. It was very crowded and uncomfortable. When the farmer came with food, all of the rabbits scrambled on top of each other fighting for their share. Juniper was small and not very fast, and the others climbed over her and ate up most of the food before her. She was always still hungry when the food was finished, and cried for more, but nobody listened. They were too busy trying to get food for themselves too.

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