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Going With The Flow, When There’s An Obstacle In The Way December 31, 2017

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Abhyasa, Books, Changing Perspectives, Faith, Fitness, Healing Stories, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Life, Mala, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, New Year, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Surya Namaskar, Tantra, Twin Cities, Vairagya, Vipassana, Whirling Dervish, Wisdom, Yoga.
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If we learned nothing else in the last year, it was that things don’t always go according to (our) plan.  2017 was a year that, for some of us, seemed to go awry even before it started. There were times when we fell down and wanted to throw our hands up. But, instead, many got up…and kept moving forward. There’s merit in that.

I didn’t think I needed a personal reminder of the merit of moving forward, no matter the obstacles. But then I started confirming my plans for the New Year’s Day 108 Sun Salutations and well…let’s just say William Butler Yeats had it right:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

In 2013, I started leading a New Year’s Day morning japa-ajapa mala practice of 108 Sun Salutations. A year later I added an afternoon practice. At times I thought about renting a space and combining the two, but I ignored the writing on the wall. I was in the flow of my own making, totally and utterly attached to the momentum that worked for me.

So, this year I was thrown into a bit of a tailspin when I discovered I needed to relocate the morning practice. I kept moving forward, confirmed a new location, and, for the sixth year, the practice is full.

Then, on Wednesday, I learned about a scheduling issue that resulted in the cancellation of the afternoon 108 practice at the Downtown Minneapolis YMCA. Thankfully, anyone who was planning to attend that practice can scroll to the end of this blog post for options which will allow them to keep moving forward.

And there’s merit in that. Not just merit in the idea that we keep moving forward, no matter the obstacles. There’s something to be said for letting go of our attachments and going with the flow.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that we rollover and play dead when things don’t go our way. Nor am I suggesting that we jump on a band wagon headed for Hades just because there’s a lot of momentum pushing us in that direction. Instead, what I’m suggesting requires going a little deeper – into ourselves and into the situation – in order to leverage the momentum in a skillful manner. What I’m suggesting requires understanding the powerful dynamics of movement(s).

Vinyasa, a popular form of Hatha Yoga (the physical practice of yoga) is often referred to in English as “Flow” or “Yoga Flow.” Three (3) of the 12 poses in Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) are so ubiquitous in the West that some practitioners think those poses are what makes something a vinyasa practice. All of which contributes to people overlooking a key element of the style and tradition: the meaning/intention underlying the practice.

The word “vinyasa” comes from the words “nyasa, “ which means “to place, to touch, to apply” and “vi,” which means “in a special way.” In a Vinyasa yoga practice, poses are placed so that, in theory, the movement matches the human body’s natural tendencies (to extend/expand on an inhale; to flex/contract on an exhale) and practitioners can move one breath (to) one motion (i.e., flow). When we match the movement to the breath, the movement becomes seamless and very much like a dance – or a moving meditation.

Similarly, the name of the insight meditation technique and tradition “vipassana” literally means “to see or to recognize” (“passana”) “in a special way” (“vi”). In Insight Yoga, Sarah Powers wrote, “So vipassana is the art of seeing or relating to life freed from the mesmerizing power of our entrenched prejudices and preferences. This unconstricted view breeds insight into the underlying nature of things.”

Therefore, if we can see and/or recognize the underlying nature of ourselves and our surroundings (causes and conditions), if we have insight into the evolution of ideas (starting with the desires, which are the seeds of these ideas), then we may place or apply ourselves in a way that works with the flow of energy, rather than against it. The very thing that stood in our way (the obstacle) becomes our way. Or, as Marcus Aurelius wrote is his personal notebook, “Our actions may be impeded, but there can be no impeding our intentions or dispositions. Because we can accommodate and adapt. The mind adapts and converts to its own purposes the obstacle to our acting. The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

In a 2014 Psychology Today review of Ryan Holiday’s The Obstacle is the Way (which is a great handbook on old fashioned stoicism), Dr. Alex Lickerman refers to situations that train us to deal with challenges, stating, “… when victory over external barriers is contingent upon victory over internal ones, the greatest benefit a situation has to offer us is training—by which I mean a challenge that forces us to grow in a way that makes achieving our goal possible.”

To me, the physical practice of yoga (any style or tradition) or a seated meditation practice are ways to train the body and mind for the challenges of life. Each practice comes with a different set of challenges, and a different set of obstacles. Every practice, in its own way, pairs internal barriers with external barriers, and (because so many of my practices are vinyasa practices) a different set of ways to go with the flow.

2018 promises to be a year full of challenges.

Let’s start it off with a practice, or two.

Monday, January 1st – New Year’s Day:

9:00 AM – 11:00 AM 108 Sun Salutations with Susan (Yoga Center of Minneapolis, St. Louis Park – REGISTRATION)

10:00 AM – 1:00 PM 108 Sun Salutations with Myra (reservations required – THIS PRACTICE IS FULL)

10:00 AM – 12:30 PM “Set Your Course!” with Nora Gordon (Big River Yoga – REGISTRATION)

10:30 AM – 1:00 PM New Year’s Day Practice with Nancy Boler (reservations required – THIS PRACTICE IS FULL)

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM 108 Sun Salutations & Restorative Yoga with Vie Boheme (Radiant Life Yoga – REGISTRATION)

12:00 PM – 2:30 PM 108 Sun Salutations with Aubrey Weger & live music (Yoga Sanctuary Mpls – REGISTRATION REQUIRED)

12:00 PM – 2:00 PM 108 Sun Salutations with Kate L and Rachel R (CorePower Maple Grove)

1:00 PM – 2:30 PM New Year’s Day with Ian M (Downtown Minneapolis YMCA, members & their guest)

1:30 PM – 4 PM “Sankalpa Shakti: The Power of Inspired Intention” with Ben Vincent (Vincent Yoga at One Yoga – REGISTRATION REQUIRED)

2:00 PM – 3:45 PM 108 Sun Salutations with Jennifer Davis (Blaisdell YMCA, members & their guests)

Tuesday, January 2nd – “What’s In A Name?”

Wednesday, January 3rd – “New Beginnings”

Saturday, January 6th – Epiphany / “Manifesting Your Intention”

~ SEE YOU ON THE MAT ~

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Seriously, Is That All You’ve Got? December 31, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Books, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Health, Hope, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Life, Loss, Mala, Meditation, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Mysticism, New Year, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Texas, Twin Cities, Whirling Dervish, Wisdom, Yoga.
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It is New Year’s Eve eve. And, while I still have things to do in anticipation of the New Year, I am more than ready for the arrival of 2017. Funny thing is, all of us who are “D-O-N-E, stick-a-fork-in-it, done” with 2016, have to admit that it hasn’t all been bad. There have been some memorable and very personal highlights and there have been many changes for the better. Oh, then there’s the fact that this whole “new year” thing is completely arbitrary.

Yes, yes, there are reasons and explanations for why the Western world celebrates a beginning and an ending at this time of year. But, in some ways those reasons and explanations are beside the point. What’s important is that change is always happening – and most of it is beyond our control. Since being out of control can be psychologically uncomfortable, we take control by choosing a transition to celebrate. The celebration is a reminder that everything, including hard times, ends and that the end of one thing marks the beginning of another thing.

We can only hope the new thing is better than the old thing.

Even when, it’s the same thing over and over again.

Throughout history, different cultures have had different ways of marking transitions. One yoga tradition is to practice 108 Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) when the seasons change on the equinoxes and solstices. Here in the West, we have also taken to practice this yoga variation of a marathon when the calendar year changes. (I am again leading the Surya Namaskar malas at Nokomis Yoga (this practice is full) and at the Downtown Minneapolis YMCA (3 PM – 6 PM).)

Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) are a moving meditation consisting of 12 poses. The series of poses are linked with breath so that we mimic our bodies’ natural inclination to extend the spine and open the heart as we inhale, to flex the spine and engage the core as we exhale. Or, you could think of it symbolically: as reaching for the sun as you inhale, drawing its energy to the earth as you exhale. Or, you could reach to the Source of all the things as you inhale, surrender to that Source as you exhale. Or…you get the idea. Whether you come to the practice from a physical-mental, psychic-symbolic, or emotional-energetic perspective, this series of poses engages your whole being: mind, body, and spirit.

Since the practice mirrors the cycle of time – the beginning of each breath marking the end of another, the end of each pose marking the beginning of the next – we inevitably find ourselves appreciating it, enjoying it, and then wishing it were done. We can be lost in/absorbed by the effortless repetition (ajapa japa), but then find our brains want a delineated break.

We seek the break, not because we’re tired, per se, but because it’s a way for our brains to absorb the pattern. And, in that moment, we may create the break by asking the question that has been coming up a lot in my practice: Is that all you’ve got? Seriously, is that all you’ve got?

I can’t remember if it was during an interview or during a teacher training, but I very clearly remember Seane Corn describing a conversation where she said to the Universe, “Bring it; but, bring it gently.” I love that sentiment. It acknowledges that throughout our lives we are going to be faced with challenges, and it simultaneously reinforces the idea that we can be ready to meet those challenges head on. It is a statement sourced in strength, courage, and wisdom – without being braggadocios. In fact, it embodies the splendor of humility.

This secular calendar year, 2016, New Year’s Eve happens to fall on the 8th Night of Chanukah. (Therefore, New Year’s Day 2017 is the 8th Day of Chanukah 5777.) Hod (humility, splendor, surrender, or gratitude) is the eighth aspect of the Divine found on the Tree of Life (in Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah). Physically it is symbolized by the left foot and leg. Energetically it is directly connected to Gevurah (Strength, discipline), Tiferet (Balance, Compassion), Netzach (Endurance), and Yesod (Foundation or Bonding). It can also be energetically connected to the 3rd Chakra, our physical core, which is related to our personality, our sense of self, and our self esteem.

I could go on, but what I’m getting at here is that the question (Is that all you’ve got?) isn’t something I’m asking the Universe. I know the Universe has more in store for us. I know it’s going to bring it (hopefully, gently). What I’m really doing, at those moments when I want to throw in the towel, is asking myself the question: Is that all you’ve got? Seriously, is that all you’ve got?

My early teachers often said, “How you do yoga is how you do life.” Whether we are in the middle of 1 hour, 90 minutes, or 3 hours of yoga – or anything else – we all have that moment where we want to throw in the towel. But, if we pace ourselves, we inevitably get a second wind. And, while I don’t always feel this way after I other physical things I do, in yoga and in life I almost always feel like I could have handled a little bit more. Not that I want to or need to – but, that if I had to, I could dig deep and pull up a little bit more of whatever I need to face the challenge.

The first day of 2017, is just another day on the calendar; just another day in our lives. It’s a beginning and it’s an ending. So, yes, celebrate, set an intention, and move on.

But, don’t forget that this liminal or transitional moment is also a middle. And, ultimately, the most significant thing that’s changing is your awareness and your perspective. Start noticing what you’re doing when you ask a question like “Is that all you’ve got?” Start noticing what you’re doing when your answer to the question changes.

Feel free to share your experiences by commenting below!

~ Happy New Year, Happy New Perspective ~

2016 Kiss My Asana #17:Practicing in Scordatura, As Intended February 18, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Confessions, Dharma, Donate, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Karma Yoga, Life, Loss, Love, Mantra, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Movies, Music, Mysticism, One Hoop, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Science, Suffering, Tantra, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Volunteer, Whirling Dervish, Wisdom, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

– Romans 12:2

 

“It is the aim of my pilgrimage on earth to show my brethren by living demonstration how one may serve God with merriment and rejoicing. For he who is full of joy is full of love for me and for all fellow creatures.”

– Baal Shem Tov*

 

“‘Where are you going?’
She said, ‘To that world.’
‘And where have you come from?’
She answered, ‘From that world.’
‘And what are you doing in this world?’
And she said, ‘I am sorrowing.’
‘In what way?’ they asked her.
And Rabia replied,
‘I am eating the bread of this world,
And doing the work of that world.’”

“Rabia Song” by Zuleikha*

 

Follow me for a moment, while I tell you a story: Once upon a time, a great composer created a piece of music that would inspire the world. The only problem was that none of the existing instruments in the world sounded quite right as the featured soloist. She tried everything. Finally, she decided to make a special instrument – that had to be played a special way. In her studio, the instrument sounded, mostly, divine. Honestly, it sounded OK if treated like any other instrument. And, it had the unfortunate knack of being really off-key if it wasn’t held properly or used appropriately. However, when proper care and attention were taken, there was nothing like it on Earth. It would sound heavenly and enhance the sound of all the other instruments in the orchestra. Knowing she wouldn’t be around to pass the instrument along in person, the great composer left the instrument, music, and instructions for a very competent musician.

 

Like all music, the figured bass should have no other end and aim than the glory of God and the recreation of the soul; where this is not kept in mind there is no true music, but only an infernal clamour and ranting.” – Johann Sebastian Bach

 

I have it on good authority that Yogi #17 (Greg) is a very competent musician. Like Yogi #16 (my good authority), he is also a healer whose presence is as soothing as his favorite music. If the world really were an orchestra – full of divine instruments and competent musicians (like Greg), who knew how to play their holy instruments – all would be right with the world.

 

 

Unfortunately, the musical story above doesn’t always end well.

In some versions of the story most of the composer’s instructions were lost; the music was rearranged; the special instrument may (or may not) have gotten a little dented; and the conductor didn’t know who was supposed to lead.

So, there you have it: the state of the world as we know it. We have these bodies that can touch and be touched – yet, we often feel disconnected from our bodies, and all the bodies around us. We have these minds that can draw in, process, and evaluate information in the present moment – yet, we spend quite a bit of time making up stuff about past and future moments. We have something driving us to live, to love, to play and be known – let’s call it a spirit – yet, we continuously ignore that our bodies, minds, and spirits are connected. It’s enough disharmonious ranting to make Bach pull off his powdered wig!

 

“Two things are guaranteed to hook you up with the God of Love: sorrowing and rejoicing. You do not need to go searching for either; they are written into the architecture of human existence.”

– (*All with asterisks) Excerpted from God of Love by Mirabai Starr

 

Somehow there is harmony and beauty in the world. Maybe, as Mirabai Starr indicates, that harmony and beauty (like sorrowing and rejoicing) is part of our basic make-up. Maybe we just need a practice, the right music, a healer like Greg, or a teacher like Matthew Sanford to help us connect to the very fibers of our being.

All I know for sure, is that on any given Sunday (or Monday through Saturday), someone realizes that they are more than their body, more than their mind. On any given Sunday (or Monday through Saturday), someone awakens to the fact that they are connected to something Divine/Universal. And, maybe they see the Divine/Universal something as an anthropomorphic being, or maybe they feel it as a sensation of connectedness to the people around them. Either way, this awakening comes with a responsibility and a purpose to play the notes they’ve been given.

 

“To be tender, loving, and caring, human beings must be tenderly loved and cared for in their earliest years, from the moment they are born.”

– Ashley Montagu

 

“The simple act of touching is of extreme importance to the healthy functioning of the human organism. The skin can be considered the outer layer of the nervous system. The skin is the boundary of our bodies. Through touch, that boundary is gently broken down, permeated by another, and our whole internal system enhanced and stimulated.”

– Excerpt from Wheels of Life: A User’s Guide to the Chakra System by Anodea Judith, Ph.D.

 

Greg, like Matthew Sanford, believes in the power of touch. It is important not only for the person who needs care, but also to the caregiver. It is critical to the person dying, as well as to those who go on living. During the KISS MY ASANA yogathon, it’s easy to reference the people who have obvious external signs that they’ve experienced trauma, loss, and disability. However, let’s not forget the caregivers and the space holders. While “best known for adapting yoga for persons living with disabilities,” Mind Body Solutions also offers workshops and trainings for caregivers, healthcare providers, and whole organizations. Remember: Everyone benefits when we integrate our mind-body, on and off the mat. So, if you want to honor a healer (or a musician), go to Sharon’s page (she’s matching donations) and KISS MY ASANA!

 

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“If there is light in the soul,
there will be beauty in the person.
If there is beauty in the person,
there will be harmony in the house.
If there is harmony in the house,
there will be order in the nation.
If there is order in the nation,
there will be peace in the world.”
– Chinese Proverb

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MULTIPLYING YOUR POWER EXPONENTIALLY (TO THE POWER OF 108) January 3, 2016

Posted by ajoyfulpractice in 108 Sun Salutations, Algebra, Bhakti, Books, Buddhism, Changing Perspectives, Depression, Faith, Fitness, Gratitude, Healing Stories, Health, Hope, Japa, Japa-Ajapa, Karma, Kundalini, Loss, Love, Mala, Mantra, Mathematics, Meditation, Men, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Music, Mysticism, New Year, Pain, Peace, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Suffering, Surya Namaskar, Tantra, Texas, Tragedy, Twin Cities, Uncategorized, Whirling Dervish, Women, Writing, Yoga.
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“(1, raised to the first power) times (2, raised to the second power) times (3, raised to the third power)”

– One of John G’s responses to my question about other people’s favorite reasons 108 is significant

 

“That’s the way, I remember it, I remember it that way / From the day, I was living there, I remember it that way /
Some of our stories fade as we grow older / Some get sweeter every time they’re told / That’s the way, I’ll remember you that way”

– “That’s The Way I Remember It” by Chris Gaines (aka Garth Brooks)

Memory is a funny thing. It is more about perspective than reality – and, as such, the days and moments we remember change as we remember them. On the flip side, our perspective shapes our reality.

So, if we remember ourselves overcoming obstacles and meeting challenges, we will put on our big boy/girl panties, keep our chin up, and ride through the next storm. If, however, we forget we survived the challenge, forget that we found a way to make the obstacle the way (to paraphrase Marcus Aurelius), and only remember how hard it was to ride while soaking wet, we’ll stop riding – which is just another way to say we stop living.

Doing 108 Sun Salutations is a wet and wild ride! While doing it, people experience all kinds of things. There are moments when they aren’t sure they’ll make it one more breath – let alone 6. 12. Or 20. There are moments when they wonder how they got talked into doing it in the first place. There are moments when they feel like I’m a toddler saying, “Again!” There are moments when they can’t believe they aren’t done – or that they’re still standing. There are moments when they feel vibrant and alive. There are moments when they are amazed at everyone moving and breathing together. There are moments when everything outside of the present moment ceases, stops.

Then, there is the moment when they finish – and, as Patricia and Elizabeth said first, they feel a great sense of accomplishment. And that’s what most people remember. That’s the reason people keep coming back to do it again, and again, and again.

A feeling of accomplishment, especially when it comes from harnessing the power of awareness (mind), community (body), and breath (spirit), produces a combination of momentum and clarity. Momentum and clarity are one way to consider the two kinds of energy that make things happen: Shakti (Prakriti) and Shiva (Purusha).

Shakti (Prakriti) is nature in action and stillness. Like the seasons, it is the power of change and movement. It is symbolically female and thus gives birth to ideas so that they move from the brain or heart and into the world. Shiva (Purusha) is pure consciousness. It is arrogantly untainted by doubt, fear, or prejudice. It is symbolically male and thus provides seeds of awareness. Everything and everyone in the world is created when an idea – which is a single (or series) of electrical impulse(s) in the mind – meets the step-by-step plan that makes the way for things to happen.

 “As my teacher Pandit Rajmani Tigunait explains: Tantric masters discovered long ago that the success in both the outer world and the spiritual realm is possible only if we awaken our latent power, because any meaningful accomplishment and especially the attainment of the ultimate spiritual goal requires great strength and stamina. The key to success is “shakti” – the power of the soul, the power of the divine force within. Everyone possesses an infinite (and indomitable) “shakti”, but for the most part it remains dormant. And those whose “shakti” is largely unawakened have neither the capacity to be successful in the world nor the capacity to enjoy worldly pleasures. Without access to our “shakti”, true spiritual illumination is not possible. Awakening and using “shakti” is the goal of tantra.”

– from The Four Desires by Rod Stryker

A few Sundays ago I ended a conversation (with Terre and Jill at the Blaisdell Y) by saying, “Everything is tantra.” Meaning: Everything is the weaving of “the richness of spiritual experience and the fabric of everyday life into a single vibrant tapestry.” (Rod Striker, The Four Desires). You feel this weaving in the 108 mala when you have to deal with your personal limitations (physical, mental, and emotional) in order to connect the movement with the breath, and your mind-body with the spirit of the group. You feel the weaving when you recognize your heart’s desire – and start making it a real thing in the world. In The Heart of Yoga, T. K. V. Desikachar says “to attain what was previously unattainable” (i.e., coming together with your goal) is one way to define yoga.

Yoga and Hindu philosophies, however, are not the only places where you find this idea of weaving the seen and the unseen, the profane and the sacred. It is a fundamental aspect of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim mysticism. It is why the Dervishes whirl; it is why anchorites and anchoresses (like Julian of Norwich) withdrew from the world; it is, on a certain level, why people say Mazel tov!

As I mentioned at the end of the 2016 New Year’s Day practices, I often find myself wanting to wish someone, including myself, “Mazel tov!” Just before New Year’s Eve 2015, I ended a journal page with the above blessing and then thought, “Good luck…that doesn’t sound quite right in this context.” But it felt right. So, I went deeper.

I knew that “tov” means good – and that in the Jewish tradition something is good because it is meaningful. But, to discern the meaning of “mazel,” I turned to Aron Moss, who writes on chabad.org:

“The word mazel literally means ‘a drip from above’ (in reference to the zodiac)….Thus mazel is the influence dripping down from the stars.”

 

“There is another meaning of the word mazel that is more relevant to the phrase Mazel Tov. Mazel is the term used in Jewish mysticism to describe the root of the soul. The mystics say that only a ray of our soul actually inhabits our body. The main part of the soul, our mazel, remains above shining down on us from a distance.”

On special occasions, Moss says, we feel the power of that drop splashing down into us. It is a moment when we are consciously aware of our unlimited possibilities. It is a moment when we feel we can accomplish anything. And a critical part of success is remembering that feeling!

Completing 108 Sun Salutations is as much a symbolic accomplishment as it is a physical/mental/emotional accomplishment. That symbolic feeling may last for a few hours, a few days, or – like a drop of mazel – you may feel it splashing into you throughout the year.

I hope the latter will be the case for everyone reading this.

If you were not one of the 51 people who started 2016 with me or with a sense of accomplishment, do something now (!!!) that is the symbolic equivalent. Try something new, something you didn’t realize you could do, and (maybe) do it with some friends. Most importantly, do it with awareness. Then, once you’ve harnessed your power, set an intention (not a resolution, but a promise to yourself) to remember this powerful feeling.

2015 Group Sankalpa (Intention): “I am an instrument of peace and love. I am healthy, happy, and whole.”

2016 Group Sankalpa (Intention): “I have what I need to fill the world with love and light. I am healthy, happy, and whole.”


 

I am humbled, honored, and continually amazed by the presence of the people who share their practice with me. Know that you will be a great source of inspiration to me - and others this year. Thank you, thank you, thank you - 108 times over!

If you haven’t already done so, please check out my 2013 New Year's follow-up, which includes a link to the (password protected) Recovery 101 sequence.

 

Aron Moss ends his mazel article with the following blessing, which I offer to you:

“May this drip of inspiration from your soul above not dissipate, but rather have a positive and lasting effect, that from this event onwards you should live your life with higher consciousness. You should be aware of the blessings in your life and be ready to receive more and more…. Good mazel!”

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