Thursday, January 30, 2014

My Final Installment of The Chloe Chronicles is now online at TheBark.com

My last installment of "The Chloe Chronicles" from the December 2013 print edition of Bark magazine is now up on the Bark's website. I handed in this installment about three weeks before Chloe died. In this piece, I wrote about how Chloe was slowing down and showing signs of aging. I wrote about how I was starting to worry that some day she might get sick and die. I had no idea she was actually quite sick, yet as I re-read the piece, the signs are there.

 I don't know how to react upon re-reading this. I could feel ashamed and horrified that I treated her "signs of aging" so lightly; or I could feel awed that, at some level, we got to say goodbye in such a such a deep way.

What awes me most is the pull-quote Bark chose to use. A few months ago, when I expressed my concerns about to Chloe that I wouldn't be able to handle it if she got sick, she replied (telepathically, of course): "Don't worry. We are together now. That's all that matters. And when the time comes, you will still be with me and I will be with you."


Thank you, Bark Magazine, for publishing The Chloe Chronicles and allowing me to honor her in this way.

Here's a link to the column.  Enjoy!
http://thebark.com/content/chloe-chronicles-part-x

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Seven Ways to Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder - My Spirit Voyage Blog

Hi Beloveds:
I'm finally re-posting my SpiritVoyage.com blog here on my own pages.  Better late than never.  Enjoy!  xooxx
Lee

Seven Ways to Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seven Ways to Prevent Seasonal Affective Disorder seasonal-affective-disorder-illustrationjpg-db63cfaad6997295_large
by Lee Harrington (Upma Kaur Khalsa)

By now, most of us are familiar with the term "Seasonal Affective Disorder," as well as it causes (chemical imbalances caused by changes of season, temperature and/or amount of sunlight available) and effects (depression, lethargy, inertia, etc). I was afflicted by this disorder for years--especially during those long dark winters in the Northeast. And at first I tried approaching this SAD from both traditional, Western, and alternative routes: Vitamin D, light box therapy, St. John's wort. I even, for a time, tried  taking medication--which helped, I suppose, but made me feel dull-witted and not quite real. Finally--in a more drastic measure--I decided to just move to Florida for the winters. The Florida sunshine helped, believe me; but after five seasons of SAD I finally decided to approach the disorder from a more organic standpoint: Kundalini Yoga.

One of the most challenging aspects of SAD, for me, was the complete lack of motivation I experienced on a daily--sometimes hourly--basis during the winter months.  Especially first thing in the morning.  The cause of this lack of motivation is neurochemical: decreased levels of noreperephrine and serotonin caused by decreased exposure to sunlight. But the effects can be devastating--especially to us work-obsessed Americans who thrive on being productive. (I like to use the word "creative".)  Sufferers of SAD who find themselves too depressed to create can become even more depressed out of frustration. And round and round it goes.  But the good news is that there are many, many simple practices from the Kundalini Yoga tradition and beyond that can help those who are prone to SAD break this cycle of seasonal depressions.

1.  START ADDRESSING SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER NOW
While many of us don't start to feel the full effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder until December or January, many physicians--both Eastern and Western--now believe that the best time to start addressing the disorder is in the fall, when Daylight Savings goes into effect.  (My doctor actually advised me to start my pranayamas and kriyas in mid-summer, after the summer equinox.) The reason is fairly obvious: as the days shorten, and we lose two precious minutes of sunlight per day, our serotonin and dopamine levels are slowly but surely being affected by these changes. Our energy wanes, our moods slowly darken, and our minds cloud. Then, all of a sudden, in the throes of cold,  cold January, you wake up and find that you can't, well, wake up. But by addressing any potential neurochemical imbalances now, we can stave off these crippling winter depressions.

2. GET SERIOUS ABOUT YOUR KRIYAS (KEEP UP AND BE KEPT UP)
The thought of doing 52 minutes of daily practice--or even three minutes--can be vastly intimidating to the SAD-afflicted mind. I remember once bemoaning to a friend: "I don't have the energy to do all the practices that I absolutely know will give me energy."

But then I remembered three very important, life-changing quotes.  Arthur Ashe's "Start where you are." And Yogi Bhajan's "If your sadhana is more important than your neurosis, you are fine. If your neurosis is more important than your sadhana, you are not."  This statement really woke me up.

SAT KRIYA
Yogi Bhajan has called Sat Kriya one of the most powerful and complete kriyas in Kundalini Yoga, adding that "If you want to change the world, do Sat Kriya." There's a reason Sat Kriya is also known as "The Everything Kriya." Its benefits are innumerable, and sufferers of SAD will enjoy its energizing, mind-clearing, Kundalini-raising effects. You might find that practicing Sat Kriya for just three minutes a day will shift both your mind and body from that frozen state of "I can't do anything because it's too cold and dark" into a more expansive state place of fortitude and action.


KIRTAN KRIYA (SA TA NA MA)
Kirtan Kriya is another extremely powerful (and simple) kriya that can help shift the SAD-plagued mind. Yogi Bhajan has said that if you had time to do only one meditation per day, Kirtan Kriya should be the one. Among its other benefits, this kriya eliminates brain fog, breaks up negative habits and patterns, and balances the hemispheres of the brain--thus restoring emotional balance.
HOW TO DO KIRTAN KRIYA

Music for Kirtan Kriya

SODARSHAN CHAKRA KRIYA
Yogi Bhajan has said that of all the twenty types of yoga, including Kundalini Yoga, this is the highest kriya.  "This meditation will...cut through all barriers of the neurotic or psychotic inside nature...This kriya will give you the necessary vitality and intuition to combat the negative effects of the unchanneled subconscious mind.”Simply put, this meditation "cuts through all darkness" which is basically what a person in the throes of SAD needs most.

Music for So Darshan Chakra Kriya


For three times the benefit, trying practicing the"Triple Kriya" meditation, which consists of Sat Kriya, Kirtan Kriya and Sodarshan Chakra kriyas, in that order, for 11 minutes each. You will be your own internal sunshine for the rest of the day (and for lifetimes to come).

3. PRACTICE MANTRA
Ek Ong Kar Sat Nam Siri Wahe Guru
The Long Ek Ong Kaur, also known as Morning Call, Long Chant, and the Adi Shakti Mantra, is one of my all-time favorite mantras. According to Yogi Bhajan, chanting this mantra will open up all the chakras, charge your solar centers, purify your karma, and align your soul to the Universal Soul. In SAD terms, this mantra is perfect for those dark cold mornings when you're so depressed you can't get out of bed.  In fact, I used to chant this one while in bed (pushing myself up into the proper posture first, of course). This mantra literally gave me the energy, strength and will to rise. In my humble opinion, it's better than caffeine.

INSTRUCTIONS ON HOW TO DO LONG EK ONG KARS
MUSIC FOR LONG EK ONG KARS:

Another terrific mantra which is particularly good for SAD is:

Ardas Bayee / Amar Das Guru / Amar Das Guru / Ardas Bayee
Ram Das Guru / Ram Das Guru / Ram Das Guru / Suchee Sahee

Also known as  "Mantra to Illuminate the Dark Night of the Soul," the name speaks for itself. This mantra helps transform those SAD feelings of yearning and hopelessness into feelings of deep faith and hope.  There are many extraordinary recordings of this mantra to choose from. Singh Kaur's version is particularly stunning: as sweet and gentle and rejuvenating as morning sunlight.
ARDAS BHAEE CHOICES:

Singh Kaur

Snatam Kaur

4. BREATHE THROUGH THE RIGHT NOSTRIL
Another quick fix for those who are too depressed to even think about doing their practice, a great place to "start where you are" is breathing through the right nostril. This simple yet profound practice stimulates the Pingala channel, also known as the male channel or the solar channel. Just a few minutes of right-nostril breathing can help stimulate one's own internal solar energy, thus counteracting the lethargy and mental fogginess some of us feel on those cold winter mornings and/or when the afternoon sun begins to set.

5. COMMUNE WITH THE SUN
At this point, most of us SAD sufferers know about the importance of absorbing sunlight and of taking Vitamin D. In yogic traditions, practitioners are advised to expose their hair, head and skull to the sun at least once per week. Yogi Bhajan always stressed that exposing the forehead to sunlight is especially beneficial.  This is because the forehead bone is porous, which means that more light can pass through and stimulate the pituitary gland. And a well-stimulated pituitary gland, as we know, results in healthy levels of dopamine, serotonin and melatonin.

But who wants to expose themselves to full sunlight in the winter, right? Especially those of us who live in colder climates? When I lived in the Hudson Valley I would do my morning practice in front of a sunny window, positioning myself so that that first ray of morning light beamed straight onto my forehead.
To take it a step further, try transforming your daily dosage of sunlight into a devotional practice. I've always loved the concepts of those mythological sun gods of Egypt and Ancient Greece; so whenever I am in the sun I like to offer thanks to Ra and Apollo for sharing their healing light with this planet.  I ask them and my other guides to help my body to integrate this blessed sunlight as efficiently as possible, so that I might be of utmost service to humanity on that day. I swear it makes a difference. (They don't use the term "Sun Worshiper" for nothing.) If you think about it, the word "RA" in itself is a powerful mantra. In the Kundalini Yoga tradition it means "sun."  Among American sports fanatics, it means "Yahoo!"  So you can't go wrong.

6. STIMULATE THE SENSES

FLOWER ESSENCES
Flower essences are distilled tinctures that basically carry the vibration of flowers, meaning that when you take a few drops of, say, Summer Snowflake essence, you are taking in the frequency and qualities of Summer Snowflake. This delicate flower is winter hardy but also thrives in extreme heat.
There are hundreds if not thousands of essences to choose from, which can seem a bit overwhelming at first. So my advice is to call the essence makers directly--these kind and caring people will usually offer intuitive suggestions based on your personal needs and constitution.
Some of my personal favorite flower essences for Seasonal Affective Disorder are:
Swamp Candles or Summer Snowflake
Yellow Rose
"Lighten Up" or "Solstice Sun" combination essences from Alaskan Essences

AROMATHERAPY:
Most aromatherapists agree that citrus oils are the best choices for Seasonal Affective Disorder It makes sense if you think about it, given that citrus typically grows in warm, hot, sunny places.  Think California in a bottle! Organic essential oils are best, distributed with cold-mist  diffusers.  Spirit Voyage blogger Donna Shepper wrote a wonderful piece about the use of essential oils to help treat SAD:  Read it here.

7. EMBRACE THE DARKNESS:
Depression can be uncomfortable and painful. There's no doubt about that. But when approached from a spiritual standpoint, it can also be beneficial. Yogi Bhajan used to stress that  "In all darkness, there is a light and in all light there is a darkness."  Author Michael Beckwith also points out that "a dark night of the soul may be considered to be a moment of gestation; a new inner realization that is gestating. Just as a seed needs to be in the darkness before it breaks into the light, there are spiritual realizations gestating within us. We may be giving birth to something, so it doesn't feel comfortable."

I also like to remind myself something I learned long ago: Whenever you feel like giving up, recognize that you have reached a moment of great change. That's your moment of power. Like Yogi Bhajan says: "Keep up, and you will be kept up."

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

I am staying at the guesthouse at St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge, Massachusetts for the holidays, because I love to sit with the monks as they sing. They have the most amazing, soul-shuddering harmonies.

Anyway, this morning at prayer service I sat right in front of a beautiful manger display from Jerusalem. My eyes kept returning to small statues of the animals depicted in this particular scene: the cow, the ox, the donkey, sheep, goats and even some camels. I could picture dogs and cats running around happily in the background, off-camera, so to speak. And it really warmed my heart to know that these sweet and gentle creatures were present at the birth of the Christ. They stood witness before and therefore were part of this sacred family. That's no small thing!

I know there is debate as to whether animals were actually present at this sacred birth, but regardless: we 21st-century humans should try to remember that these animals are all noble and sacred beings and deserve to be treated with respect, love, and reverence. As do we all. Their (and our) ancestors knelt at the cradle of the Christ. May it be so!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Laurie Anderson on Lou Reed's "Good Death"

As a meditator, I was very struck by Laurie Anderson's farewell tribute to her husband Lou Reed in Rolling Stone magazine.  Sometimes it can feel as though our meditation practice isn't "doing anything" or "getting us anywhere."

But Laurie Anderson's essay gives a clear example of just how beneficial a strong meditation practice can be: it can help transform the moment of death from one of fear and uncertainty into one of peace.  I encourage you to read this.


http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/laurie-andersons-farewell-to-lou-reed-a-rolling-stone-exclusive-20131106?page=2

Grief has changed my voice...

Grief has changed my voice. Usually when I sing lead there's this inner flame that I can access and pull up and out through my voice. I can't find that flame right now. I'm not saying that this is a permanent situation or a catastrophe; it's just interesting to go inside oneself and discover something missing. But....I am going back into the studio with Gaura Vani and friends to record more vocals in a few weeks. Please pray that my voice returns by December 8th!

Friday, October 25, 2013

The latest installment of "The Chloe Chronicles" is here.

The new print edition of Bark magazine just came out and I just re-read the latest installment "The Chloe Chronicles," which I handed in about three weeks before Chloe died. In this piece, I wrote about how Chloe was slowing down and showing signs of aging. I wrote about how I was starting to worry that some day she might get sick and die. I had no idea she was actually quite sick, yet as I re-read the piece, the signs are there. 

I don't know how to react. I could feel ashamed and horrified that I treated her "signs of aging" so lightly; or I could feel awed that, at some level, we got to say goodbye in such a deep way.

What awes me most is the pull-quote Bark chose to use. A few months ago, when I expressed my concerns about Chloe that I wouldn't be able to handle it if she got sick, she said (telepathically, of course): "Don't worry. We are together now. That's all that matters. And when the time comes, you will still be with me and I will be with you."

Thank you, Bark magazine, for publishing The Chloe Chronicles and allowing me to honor her in this way.

Friday, September 27, 2013

SAYING GOODBYE TO CHLOE



I'm sad to report that my sweet, sweet dog Chloe (also known as Gopi) died very suddenly and very unexpectedly this morning, from hemangiosarcoma. Basically, she had tumors on her spleen and lungs which burst quite suddenly, causing severe internal hemorrhaging. Apparently this particular sarcoma is difficult to detect until it's too late. I had no idea she was sick and thought that any lethargic behavior she had been displaying the past two weeks was related to the dog-attack in early September. (She was mauled by another dog while under the care of a dog-sitter). Anyway, when I came home from NYC late last night, she could barely walk, and didn't give me her usual high-spirited greeting. In fact, her personality seemed to be absent. And her abdomen was bloated. And her feet were cold. My poor sweetie. I realized she was seriously ill and took her straight to an emergency veterinary clinic in Poughkeepsie. 


The vet at the emergency clinic actually advised me to euthanize Chloe last night, right on the spot, but I could not do that. No way. I chose to bring her home with me instead. The vet said Chloe would likely die within twelve hours, from the hemorrhage. But still, I wanted to bring her home. I suppose it was a bit selfish of me, but I wanted to have the opportunity to say goodbye. We gave Chloe some painkillers and lifted her back into my van. Chloe was still too weak to walk once we got home, so we spent the night lying on the floor in the foyer. She panted all night long, likely in pain, while I recited mantras and prayers from the Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian and Jewish traditions.
I told her how much I loved her and what a good, kind, loving being she has been. I kept reminding her how pretty she is, and how sweet, and how everyone enjoyed her company so much. I thanked her for being my companion. She wasn't 100% coherent, but I think at one point she wagged her tail. (I had gotten one kiss from her before we went to the hospital, and it was cold. As cold as death.)

Oh, Chloe. You sweet thing.

After a long night in which neither of us slept, I decided to take Chloe to our regular vet--Dr. Rothstien at Saugerties Animal Hospital. Dr. Rothstein practices TCM and acupuncture in addition to traditional veterinary medicine and I absolutely love him. As I drove to Saugerties, I started to allow myself to believe that Dr. R would have a magic herb to cure Chloe. From what the emergency clinic said, it was unlikely Chloe would survive. But I hoped that Dr. R would at least be able to do some acupuncture to ease Chloe's suffering. I even accepted the fact that I would elect to have her euthanized if Dr. Rothstein recommended it. I had said my goodbyes, after all.

On the way to the vet I brought Chloe up to the monastery (KTD) for a very important task. There, Lama Tundup--a Tibetan monk--performed the TIbetan Buddhist version of "last rites." He read passages from an ancient Tibetan text--none of which I understood. He fed Chloe some mantra seeds which were blessed by the Karmapa. Chloe could barely swallow at that point, or even operate her tongue, so I had to plant the seeds on her tongue, the way a priest might administer communion. Chloe's gums were white from anemia. Her tongue was brown. I wanted to cry, but I was told it is important to make sure our animals (or any beings) remain calm at the time of death. I kept petting her, reminding her that she was going to have a very auspicious rebirth. At some point during the ritual, Chloe became semi-alert and turned her body to face Lama Tundup. He touched the text to her forehead. Did she feel it, I wonder? Did she receive some powerful, karma-clearing transmission?

Like many dog guardians, I often feel guilty that I am not "doing enough" for my dog. Yesterday, for example, I was not with Chloe during those hours in which she fell ill. I feel VERY guilty about that. As in: how dare I go sing in New York City when your dog is dying? But we all know that thoughts of guilt are silly, destructive thoughts. Plus, I didn't know she was dying. I thought yesterday was just another day. Anyway, as I watched Lama Tundup give Chloe more mantra seeds, I thought: well, if even it's true that I "I didn't do enough" for her in this lifetime, at least I am making some effort to ensure that she has an even better lifetime the next time around. She will likely be reborn a human.

So then it was time to go down to the vet for our 9:00 appointment. I drove with one hand on the wheel; the other on Chloe's cold paw. I sang Om Mani Peme Hum for her, and the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra. Could she feel it? Or was she locked in her own private place of pain? Or non-pain, if the painkiller was still working.

I found myself wishing--as I often wish--that I had a partner, because then that partner Could be the one driving the minivan, and I could be in the backseat hugging Chloe. Instead, I just held on to her paw. It felt smaller, as if she had already begun to shrink.

We were now about ten minutes away from the Saugerties Animal Hospital. Thus it was time to seriously address the issue of euthanasia. In Buddhism, there are different schools of thought about this. Some teachers feel that if you make the decision to end another's life, you are taking on negative karma, because you are ending someone else's cycle of suffering prematurely. Other teachers feel (as I do) that if your true desire is to ease the animal's suffering, then the act of euthanasia is actually a benevolent one. But as I drove down the hill from the monastery, knowing what I was about to do, I considered both theories. And I decided that even if I did indeed risk taking on more negative karma for euthanizing my beloved dog, I would do it anyway. I would bring more suffering upon myself in order to ease hers.

I am not trying to toot my own horn here. It's just that I've never really looked at love from that angle before. I haven't really done any heroic or noble things in this lifetime, but in that second I realized that this thing people call sacrifice isn't sacrifice at all. It's just pure love.

Shortly after I had this realization, Chloe died. We had just pulled into the animal hospital parking lot. I don't know how to describe a lifeless body--the way it sags. But those of us who believe in reincarnation trust that there is life beyond the body. This is what I told Chloe.

Was it wrong to keep her alive in her diseased body for another twelve hours? I think the soul-Chloe would say no. I think the soul-Chloe knew I would have been paralyzed with guilt for the rest of this life if I had had to make the decision to end her life. I think she also knew I would have been paranoid about the negative karma. So she, in her life-saving way, she saved me. Again. Those of you who are now thinking "Lee analyzes too much" are correct. So let me just end with this:

She knew I loved her. And I knew she loved me. We are complete. And so I say goodbye to a beloved friend.

Right now, through my window, I can see fat squirrels frolicking across the lawn. And there is no one to chase them.