We are approaching Winter Solstice, the low point of sunlight in the Northern Hemisphere. The time of year and the election/transition predicament have me reflecting on an important myth in the yoga tradition.

It is called the Churning of the Ocean of Milk and tells the tale of a search for immortality. In order to find it, opposite beings must work & churn together; half on one side and half on the other. Alas, once it is found there is another struggle for which half shall imbibe it.

In the story, the light beings/Devas are the one half deemed to receive it. The dark forces/Asuras are tricked out of it; although, they receive much bounty along the way and would likewise have tricked the Devas themselves. Some of the dark forces get the nectar and are made immortal nonetheless- they continue to show their power in the form of eclipses, regularly blotting out light from the Sun and Moon. They also show their power in the form of wars and plagues in general; delusion, greed, and hatred in particular.

I image you are thinking, this sounds pretty familiar…

This myth, like many of its kind, points to the incessant struggle between light and dark forces. The supremacy of light, but also the relevance of shadow and darkness as well. In the full story, they were needed to churn the ocean and helped bring many gifts and splendors to the world. For instance, the last figure to arise from the Ocean with the chalice of nectar was Dhanvantri, a celestial physician and giver of medicine. And lest we think the Devas are perfect, there are plenty of stories of their follies and foibles.

What is useful about myth is the potential to see life from a non-logical, right brain perspective. They are links between our personal and collective dramas and a deeper understanding of life and humanity. The renowned mythology scholar Joseph Campbell called myths ”pubic dreams” and dreams “private myths”.

I invite you to gently consider what is useful about this story as you live into the rest of this strange, sad, and significant year? How do dream your private myth?

The outer light is waning at this time of year- the inner light is always available. Here’s my dream:

I shine my light for the benefit of all, without exception. We work together to create a better world for all beings.

Five Facets of a Mindful Person

One early analytical model of what it means to be a mindful person was developed by Ruth Baer PhD at the University of Kentucky. This model is significant in that indicates the most important factors and provides a way to measure mindful traits and how they might correlate to physical and mental outcomes. The analysis yielded five particular facets: acting with awareness, describing, non-reactivity to inner experience, non-judging of inner experience, and observing. Using this template, here are some key touchstones to orient you towards the cultivation of mindfulness on a regular basis.

1. Be aware of what you are doing.
This does not imply it is necessarily easy, pleasant, or interesting to pay attention; simply that you are showing up for the actual experience of living rather than going through the motions. Basic daily tasks can become mini- meditations: brushing your teeth, taking a shower, getting the mail, drinking water.

2. Find new ways to articulate your direct physical and emotional experiences.
We have lots of ways to talk about concepts and things, and often don’t know how to describe what we are sensing and feeling. There is great power in noticing what you notice and speaking from your present moment reality. Try it with simple things: How does a walk make your body feel? How does someone’s smile make you feel? How does it feel to be wrong or right about something? Or, to not know?

3. Recognize that you get stressed, triggered, reactive many times every day.
It may be related to past or future events on your mind; it may be situational or relational; it may be the state of world. Recognize that it is happening and work with the energy right now. These are your patterns and unconsciously influence how you will react and respond. Conscious breathing helps to harness the stress energy and shape the future.

4. Recognize that much of what you perceive is colored by your own judgments.
Judgements are unavoidable and limiting thoughts. It is helpful to remember that thoughts are just things, not fixed realities. They can and should evolve as we grow and learn. Play with catching some of your habitual judgmental thoughts, “Hello judgment!”

5. Awareness of Awareness.
The fifth facet has to do with the distinctly human ability to be aware of the mind itself, referred to as meta-cognition. This is where the formal practice of meditation is uniquely powerful as a way to be aware of sensations, emotions, thoughts, and not so reflexively driven by them. Meditation is linked to the phenomenon of brain integration, where the three levels of brain function coordinate in new ways.

Meditate in some way- it will help you live and lead with dignity.