may 5th email
Hello Yogis,

I don't even know where to begin this newsletter, because there is so much to cover! Happily, 2017 has been a very full year. After kicking off January with my Goal Chaser workshop series, it inspired me to re-focus my own goals. This turned into a lot of reading and self-study (svadhyaya). I enrolled in an anatomy and physiology course at Kapiolani Community College. We did several dissections and learned all about the way our bodies align and function. For those of you who attend my classes, you know I am very interested in the anatomy of yoga, alignment, and just simply being. This experience and more sparked within me an even deeper desire to learn.

A year and a half ago I had reconstructive ankle surgery on an injury that I have had since 5th grade (I broke my tibia and fibula). As a full-time yoga instructor the experience was both humbling and informative, and it shifted my entire mindset on kinesiology. After months of physical therapy with minimal improvement, my surgeon recommended that I find a sports exercise trainer in Honolulu who specialized in biomechanics of the ankle. Aside from enrolling in more physical therapy, I was at a loss as to how to find somebody with such specific qualifications. In fact, many people come to me to improve function through yoga after an injury or to enhance athletic performance, but I have nowhere near the knowledge to guide a person, even myself, back to their full capability. I knew I wanted and needed to learn more.

My own rehabilitation has precipitated a complete change in the way I instruct yoga and the way I lead my yoga teacher training program. What began as a lot of self-investigatory work has become an even more narrowly focused passion or a purpose. I am on a quest to learn more about biomechanics, exercise physiology, and anatomy. With a background in both psychology and public health, and of course yoga, I know that improved physical function translates to happier people and improved public health. Aside from my recent ankle surgery, over the years of my research career, I became more and more interested in the physical aspects of function as opposed to the psychological aspects. I have seen how the former can improve the latter. If you are interested in this topic, respond to my email. I have always had the intention of earning my doctoral degree but then life happened - in a beautiful way, my plans changed.

I truly believe in listening to the pull of life. Whether you feel the pull of your interests or what makes your heart leap, we have to practice getting quiet and connected enough to hear and feel it. Between yoga and some consistent vision and goals work, I make a practice of trying to feel these pulls. I have been an athlete all my life. I’ve always been intrigued by the way our bodies move and function. I was a psychology major, and I’ve always been interested in how our thoughts impact our reality. In college, I nerded it up big time and hit the books really hard. I did well and entered the world of research and had aspirations to become a doctor.

I became a yoga instructor after college because it was the natural next step in my yoga practice. I worked in psychiatric research for three years following college before studying public health in graduate school (which was a stepping stone to earning my doctorate). Through graduate school I continued my teaching of yoga. I stepped into it as a full time teacher after graduate school, it was intended to be a temporary gig. But all I wanted to do was teach, I absolutely loved it and I still do. I allowed myself to continue to be pulled. I learned so much. I developed programs, taught 200-hour teacher trainings, hosted retreats, large events, corporate yoga, and more than one thousand private classes. I was also lucky enough to work with many amazing companies as an ambassador. Shout out Lululemon, Manduka Yoga, Banan, Jugo Life Juice, UltraMana Coffee, Peace Cafe, Moana Surfrider, and most recently Susan G Komen.

As I mentioned, things started to shift for me after having an ankle surgery 2015. I poured over physical rehabilitation literature, enrolled in an online nutrition program, and the anatomy and physiology course. I worked with many physical therapists and I practiced yoga. All in an effort to bring my little ankle and everything it affected back to “normal”. In many ways, the healing I sought was similar to the healing my students were seeking. This “pull” of interest became so strong, that I connected to a University of Hawaii professor who is at the forefront of biomechanics research. I began sitting in on a few of his lectures. In just a few hours time, I felt information overload (in the best way possible). I loved every minute of it all. Before I knew it, I was applying for a PhD in exercise science.

Because my yoga business took off, and life pulled me into my yoga career, I always said that the only circumstance under which I would ever go back to school for my PhD was if I had a burning desire to learn everything on a topic and if I had a personal interest in it. I’ve decided to become an expert in this area. I am still going to be teaching yoga, so don't worry there!

I am so excited to tell you that I am going back to school to study exercise science. Trust me, I never saw this day coming. I will be doing research in biomechanics. I already integrate a lot of science into my classes. Earning a doctorate in this field will definitely help take my knowledge to the next level. I am so excited for this step in my career. I am especially excited to integrate this knowledge into my yoga teachings. YOU will all benefit from this next step.

Now that I have been accepted, it is hitting me, just how much work lies ahead. Right off the bat, I begin with teaching an 80 person lecture. Let's just say, there will be a lot of studying and yoga happening this summer before school begins in August.

Deep breaths and Sun Salutations,

laura mary

Photography by Lululemon and Chelsea Abril.

Choose Happiness
Aloha Yogis,

Happiness is a choice. This month join me in taking active steps towards happiness - choose happiness. Maybe for you happiness means more walks, time with friends, yoga, or bubble baths. For me choosing happiness means creating freedom in my schedule to choose what I want to do, be it hiking, yoga, reading, or even cleaning!

Some other techniques:

1.) Be present + honest. To live in the present moment is happiness. One of the core tenets of being present is to be honest - all the time. If for a moment you are not honest, it takes you into a state of worry or distress and out of the present. Stay present and honest.

2.) Meditate.

3.) Surround yourself with people that lift you up.

4.) Get enough sleep.

5.) Smile more.

If a baby cries, we don't assume malice of the baby, no. We don't think, "that baby is out to get me"...rather, we think, that baby is hungry or tired. Similarly, as adults we might be drained of those same basic needs. Before assuming malice of another, consider that their less than stellar behavior could be attributed to lack of sleep or hunger. Not everything is complicated, in fact, more often than not, it is simple! Don't overthink situations and give others the benefit of the doubt.

What I have read recently: Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

As the Emperor of Rome, he had the same mental struggles as we do and was trying to improve as a person, just as we are. When he lived he was the most successful and powerful person in the world. He would pour his thoughts into his personal diary unaware that one day it would be found and published. The message I received was that success and power do not equal happiness. Happiness is internal.

These techniques really help me and I hope they work for you too. Everything is a practice: yoga, soccer, nutrition, physical fitness, everything - including happiness.

Choose Happiness,
laura mary

Photography by Lululemon.

There are 23,040 breaths in each day. How many are you aware of? That is equivalent to 16 breaths/minute. Make an effort this week to go outside into #theairoutthere. Lululemon's winter slogan has really resinated with me. I lead a meditation on behalf of Lululemon on the benefits of presence, nature, and breathing in the air out there atop Kuliouou Ridge Trail for a group of local influencers in the community. Step outside, forget the fluorescent lights, wifi, concrete, and enjoy a few deep breaths in the air out there.

XOXO,

laura mary

Aloha Yogis,

I cannot believe 2016 is nearly over. It has been a year of highs and lows. The lows basically revolved around rehabbing my way through a serious injury. I learned a lot and my injury has impacted the way I teach, practice, live, and view the purpose of my teachings. The highs, were plentiful, but the true highlight was being engaged to Derek. I cannot wait to officially be a Linsley and marry my best friend in 2017. Cue the cliches...but it is true, he inspires me to be the best version of myself, always.

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Here are a few other highlights from 2016. I almost felt the need to take out my planner to review because so much happened. In February I taught Vision + Goals at Wanderlust Oahu which was once a big “one-day” type of goal for me and it happened.

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At Wanderlust, Lululemon asked me to be their ambassador and it has been one wonderful year in partnership and collaboration with this inspiring company.

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2016 also marked my first ever Go Deeper Yoga + Goals retreat on the Big Island, I am already gearing up for the 2017 Go Deeper Retreat!

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I taught a retreat on Maui exclusively for Lululemon ambassadors past and present where we camped and got real with our goal setting.

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I taught a few Vino and Vinyasa events this year. I am happy to say it is still going strong in fact, it is growing; What began in 2014 as a small 30-something size class has grown into a 300-something size class!

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I took my teaching to the East Coast this year and taught in New York City, Saratoga Springs, and Boston.

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I taught a few fundraiser events this year, one that stands out was Downward Dog for Diabetes. The class raised money for research on juvenile diabetes and was a huge success.

diabetesA new event popped up, run by my student and dear friend which she dubbed “Mai Tais and Meditation” stay tuned for more on this class series!

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One more 200-hour teacher training is in the books and it was such a special group of yogis this year. They have grown into brilliant teachers who are now sharing their gifts and knowledge with the world. I love the ripple effect of my job. Being in a career of service is important to me. I know that whether I teach a group or one on one and impact someone’s day positively, they will carry their practice with them and impact everyone around them - in a ripple effect.

I'm grateful for the opportunity to have continued teaching various army platoons this year which always leaves me feeling inspired and grateful.

Several trips to California and the east coast later, I am happy to be staying put in Hawaii for a while, including the holiday season! With that said, I have some BIG goals for 2017. I am excited just to be writing this to you. I will be able to share these goals in due time. For now, I will share what is happening in the next few months, mark your calendar:

 

Vino and Vinyasa - FREE class

Moana Surfrider - Waikiki, Hawaii

January 17, 2017

 

Vino and Vinyasa - FREE class

Moana Surfrider - Waikiki, Hawaii

May 24, 2017

 

Go Deeper Yoga + Goals Retreat

Kapaau, Hawaii

May 26-31, 2017

 

200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training

Honolulu, Hawaii

August 2017

 

XOXO,

laura mary

october 2016 email
What would you say to your 20-year old self?

Write everything down because it’s all very fleeting.

Do you know when you are sitting in meditation or savasana and you are in that characteristic state of flow? The ideas (your ideas) are simply flowing, effortlessly. You are semi-aware of their fleeting state yet surprisingly not worried about writing them down, as though you know the experience of flow is more beneficial than cutting it off to write down some thoughts? Well, I have been having this a lot lately. Of course, the moment you come out of your flow-like state to consciously take a moment to write down your genius thoughts, they are now gone. POOF. Such is how my week has been going.

Inspiration is flowing. Yoga is flowing. Reading is flowing. When I regularly practice yoga and read, I feel so much more inspired. Pepper that with getting outside in nature and it is simply my recipe for inspiration. Try it. Yesterday, I completed two books. I was definitely in the beloved flow state. I also, hiked and practiced yoga outside. Needless to say, I was feeling good. The day before yesterday, I finished another book. Granted, Derek is away, so I do have some extra time on my hands. On top of that, a few of my private students are away right now, which leaves me with bundles of time. You could say I am in the work of self-helperry (yes, that’s right, self-helperry). Add to that my studies and work experience in psychology, and it’s no wonder I am truly fascinated by the mind. I am fascinated by happiness, flow, and living the best life possible for you. My mission statement has evolved into something that truly gets me out of bed each day: To empower and inspire you to realize your potential to elevate the world.

“Your potential, the absolute best you’re capable of—that’s the metric to measure yourself against. Your standards are. Winning is not enough. People can get lucky and win. People can be assholes and win. Anyone can win. But not everyone is the best possible version of themselves.” -Ryan Holiday

As an athlete, I know our mind and bodies are inextricably linked. We need to equally focus our life practices on both. We can’t let the noise of the crowd get to us, be it positive or negative. As a college athlete, if you allow your attention to wander to “What are the spectators thinking? Is the coach going to leave me in? Man - I can’t believe I missed that shot!” your energy will flow there and you will be counterproductive to what you intended to achieve: playing time, a win, success, goals, whatever.

The amazing human and athlete, Simone Biles, comes to mind. Gymnastics is an extreme pressure sport. If she were to let the Olympic expectations get to her head, she would as they say in sports, choke. She has mastered and implemented transitions and tumbling series that no one else even attempts and she sticks them! Now, if she measured herself against others, rather than herself, she wouldn’t attempt those never before tried tumbling passes. You are both your biggest advocate and your worst enemy at times. We all live and deal with ego, but what our success and failures depend on is that we will practice control of the ego.

I wanted to write you all because I have read a book this week that I can say has changed my life. I’ve never before finished a book and immediately began reading it again, until today. True story. Add "Ego is the Enemy" by Ryan Holiday to your wish list!

“Don’t bow to gatekeeper, you are the gatekeeper” -Ego

Ego is...

...an unhealthy belief in our own importance.

...a magnet for enemies and errors.

...the root of every conceivable problem and obstacle.

...when we don’t seem to have what we want, or maybe we get what we want and always want more.

...the proverbial “sick man, ignorant of the cause of his malady.” -Lucretius (a few thousand years ago)

...always there, undermining us through everything.

...“inhibits true success by preventing a direct and honest connection to the world around us.” We can’t improve the world if we don’t understand it or us.

...“If you start believing in your own greatness it is the death of your creativity” -Marina Abramović (performance artist)

...“False ideas about yourself destroy you.” -Frank Shamrock (UFC champion)

I’ve heard someone describe their practice of reining in the ego by purposely putting themselves in the position, weekly, to be the worst in the room at something. I love this because never have I ever felt so silly as when I was learning to surf. Well, I am still learning. Meanwhile, Derek’s 8 year old niece is bravely conquering surfing after 30 minutes. Then there are the yoga postures that humble you. Some I refer to as “humble-asana”.

Life begins and ends at your comfort zone. We can see how the ego easily grows thorns if we are never failing. Conversely, if when we do fail (and we all have) and we plumet hard into a downward spiral of negativity, that too reveals the steady grip your ego has on you. Make a practice of steadily receiving praise with an even mind and noticing what went right and steadily receiving feedback while noticing what went wrong. As Holiday says, “you can win and be lucky or an asshole.” We aren’t here to be jerks, so let’s rock life and rein in the ego. Get outside of your comfort, fail with grace, and pick yourself up the better from having failed. There is a difference between confidence and ego.

Pursuing great work, is often terrifying. Our ego calms the fear...sometimes even paralyzing us with excuses so that we never even begin. We are afraid to bruise our precious egos, well I say shoot big, and when you fail, learn from it!

The problem today is largely due to the world of social media and, with that, self-promotion. On our Instagram accounts, as Holiday points out, “we can claim ourselves as CEO of our exists-only-on-paper company, we can publish articles about ourselves in sources that used to be reserved for objective journalism.” This is a slippery slope, because for many companies, and I could put myself in this group, we have to share and market ourselves. We can’t pursue our work, our purpose, if we keep it to ourselves. I think there is a difference between confidently putting you and your work out into the world because you believe it is powerful (confidence) and shouting from the rooftops your amazingness (ego).

Ego and macho-ness work for some, but actually it’s most successful with regards to its interference in our failures. Egomaniacs actually perform their best when they tame the ego. Only when we are free of ego and baggage can we actually perform our best. From an athlete’s perspective this couldn’t be more true. When you step into the state of flow that I referred to earlier, you block out the sound and signals from others. You are you and in this present flow state less interference or noise comes in from anything outside.

A year ago, a student gifted me George Mumford’s “The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance”. He knew I was a college athlete and now a mindful yogi and thought I would enjoy the read. He was right! I think college athletics would have been a completely different experience for me had I read this book. I was too much in my head, in dire need of mindfulness teachings. I put tremendous pressure on myself not just to get straight A’s but to perform well on the field.

Mumford is the mindfulness and meditation coach to many NBA greats, including Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal, and Kobe Bryant. “It’s more a monitoring aspect with more-- rather than ‘I got to make this shot’ -- no just shoot,” Mumford said. “You’ve trained your nervous system to do it, so now your conscious thinking needs to be quiet and let your body do what it does… Nothing exists but this moment and what you’re doing.” The flow state is a magical place to be. We should try to enter it on a daily basis. For these elite athletes, they could easily hinder their own performance by allowing ego to take a mental center stage. Mindfulness, flow and humility are their present moment practice. Hard work and discipline trained their bodies, now they need to let go of the mind wanderings in order to step into their strengths and perform unhindered by ego.

This week, join me in a practice of humility and discipline. If I fail (when I fail) I won’t be wrecked by it. I will be gracious in my success and resilient in my failures. You are unique. It’s not to say, don’t be inspired, but let’s keep our ego in check by remaining humble and knowing that we, just like our neighbor, are imperfect. Perfectly imperfect.

We all vacillate between humility and ego.

"When we remove ego, we're left with what is real. What replaces ego is humility, yes— but rock-hard humility and confidence. Whereas ego is artificial, this type of confidence can hold weight. Ego is stolen. Confidence is earned. Ego is self-anointed, its swagger is artifice. One is girding yourself, the other gaslighting. It’s the difference between potent and poisonous." -Ryan Holiday

“They that soar too high, often fall hard, making a low and level dwelling preferable. The tallest trees are most in the power of the winds, and ambitious men of the blasts of fortune. Buildings have need of a good foundation, that lie so much exposed to the weather.” -Dale Carnegie

Ego can be managed and directed. We can be both great yet humble.

With Love,

laura mary
Photograph by Derek Linsley at Haleakalā

Fall 2016 Newsletter

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Fall2016

I deserve everything I dream. Go big. My playing small does not serve the world.

After having a very inspiring friend visit me this week, I am reminded of the above mantra. I am here, you are here, to do something BIG. What is it exactly? Well, I am not sure yet. I have some longer term goals that I can say truly light me up, but they are longer term. It’s great to have a mantra to guide and motivate you towards reaching a goal. It carries the vibration of excitement and an inspiring energy which reminds you that your dreams exist to be reached. But how? How in the short term, or in the now, can we take steps to reach our dreams? And why don’t we all just go full throttle ahead towards our dreams?

Sometimes the fear of not reaching our dreams inhibits our action. We can be paralyzed by the daunting realization of the many hurdles that stand between us and our dreams. Here is what I am doing, and I would love for you to join me.

Practice doing something this week that takes you one step closer towards reaching your dreams. These tasks are meant to be somewhat uncomfortable. You will be challenged. Finding the time to get started might mean staying up late or waking up early to get real and put words on paper about what your dream looks like and what avenues you can take to get there. It might mean a social media post on where you are headed to put the word out into the Universe. It might be a goal-focused conversation with your partner or best friend. The question is how do we begin today, if we haven’t given thought to our dreams? The answer, we set goals! Let’s move intentionally through our day, our week, to take active steps towards our goals. You can post-it note your mantras and repeat them until the cows come home, that won’t be enough. Dreams don’t work unless you do. Mental and physical sweat is a prerequisite to living your dream.

My BIG goal is to write a book, one day. I always timeline it as one day. Time stamping such a large goal is frightening. But as I say in yoga class, why not today? We never know how long our journey will be, why put anything off? There are plenty of action steps I can take today that are even more intimidating than the larger goal itself of writing a book. Nonetheless, I’ve timestamped my biggie as a 5-year goal!

I got really real this week and wrote/updated my 1-5-10-20-year goals. Today my dreams are bigger than my fears, and my actions are louder than my words. Rather than simply write and talk about my goals, I am going to be about them. I am committed to daily writing of some sort. I am committed to a daily sweat too. Enter: #autumnalgoals ...

I will chronicle my journey on my instagram account @lauramaryyoga. If you are really into vision and goals work, I have a separate instagram account dedicated to these visiongrams @lauramary_creates.

Last year, I was so singularly focused on rehabbing and healing my ankle, I lost sight of my why. Why am I here? What am I here to do? What is my purpose? I got caught up in thinking why me? I was thinking about how frustrating it was that this happened to me. I forgot that life doesn’t happen to you but for you. I keep coming back to this idea, it has been pivotal for me on the daily. When I notice myself feeling like a victim, I come back to my bigger WHY and remember that life happens for me not to me. I have definitely been challenged over the last year and I’ve grown stronger because of it. I can't lose sight of the fact that I've also reached some big goals over the last year (Wanderlust, Lululemon, Go Deeper Yoga Retreat, 200-Hour Teacher Training Curriculum, Ambassadorships). I feel inspired to continue growing.

As it turns out, my graduate school thesis was on the topic of exercise motivation and life goals. Now, in full circle, my current work life involves exercise (yoga) and life goals (my vision and goals work). It is this rocking combo of physical and mental sweat that lights me up. My thesis findings revealed that across all subgroups there was a relationship between intrinsic motivation and the perceived importance of physical fitness. Furthermore, within the subgroup of “active" participants (university athletes, club sport, and intramural) there were higher intrinsic aspirations compared to the ”non-active” participants. Intrinsic aspirations were consistent with life goals and motivation. When compared to all other motivation subgroups, the importance of physical fitness had the highest correlation to life goals.

Why does this all matter? The relationship is important as we are all seeking fulfilling lives with high levels of well-being and happiness. Higher levels of well- being are demonstrated amongst individuals who report goals related to self- acceptance, affiliation, community feeling, and physical fitness; Conversely, low levels of well-being and happiness are found for individuals whose goal orientations are focused on financial success, attractiveness, and popularity (Kasser, Ryan, & Schmuck, 2001; Sheldon et al., 2004). Go figure, it’s intuitive, we already know all of this so let’s translate it to action.

Practice working out to work in! Sweat every day, physically and mentally. The two are inextricably linked. Write your goals down. Rock your #autumnalgoals and watch this year as they begin to happen for you!

Goal on,
laura mary

 

 

Photograph by Lululemon, Chelsea Abril
PS- The scar you see on my right ankle in the photo above reminds me...life happens for you.

Fall is around the corner

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Hello Yogis!

September is here. The kiddos are officially back to school. Not mine, but yours! It is time to get serious about the way we are spending our time. Fall is right around the corner. Even though I live in Hawaii, when I let my brain register that it is fall, I am able to feel a crispness in the air. With this feeling, I am brought back to how I felt growing up on the east coast during the fall - inspired. Between the beginning of soccer season + purchasing new school supplies (always my favorite part about the new school year) + a few new stellar outfits - I always felt optimistic. Though, I don't feel any change in temperature here in Hawaii, in fact, it feels hotter and more humid than usual, I do feel this "school year" is going to rock! I find that because my brain registers that it is fall, it is conditioned to ready me for a year of growth, optimism, strength, and achievement. I feel this optimism in my mind and body.

Some big events are on the calendar this "school year" including my brother's wedding in October, my own wedding in 2017, my second Big Island yoga retreat (Go Deeper 2017), and ongoing home renovations. Yes, I am happy to report that we frequent Lowe's every Saturday!

Teacher training is well under way and I am absolutely loving, loving, loving each moment. Every time I lead a TT, I remember the WHY behind yoga, including why I fell in love with yoga many years ago. It also reminds me of all of the ways I can better live my yoga. Last weekend we covered yoga anatomy and yoga mythology. Coming up this weekend we are diving into more yoga anatomy and Ayurveda. As we head into the week 5 lecture series, I feel pretty darn grounded and happy to be doing what I am doing. Yes, #joblove is completely accurate.

Several yogis expressed interest in a February 2017 yoga teacher training. As we say in yoga, the seed has been planted. I am thinking, planning, and fairly close to opening enrollment for a February 2017 TT. Yep, that's right. If you are interested, please email me at info@lauramaryflynn.com to get the conversation going.

Why wait for January 1st to feel inspired and get going? Start today! Let your brain and body remember that Fall means fresh new beginnings and get going. You have a whole "school year" of opportunity ahead of you. Don't wait, start today, get inspired and get moving!

With Gratitude,

laura mary

August Possibility

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Hello August,

I am excited that you are here! Last year, August became one of my favorite months of the year. It marked the beginning of my 200-hour yoga teacher training which I hosted at Power Yoga Hawaii. It also marked the beginning of my first ever social media challenge - a lifestyle challenge. This year the teacher training begins on August 20th, but nonetheless, August still carries the vibration of possibility for me. I am greeting you (August) with gratitude, as Day 1 of the #AugustLifestyleChallenge is to start a gratitude practice.

I practice gratitude...when I think of it, on Thanksgiving, when I need it, often, but not regularly, not daily. I chose to place the gratitude practice first in the 31- day social media challenge because I feel it is a practice which if implemented daily for an entire month will yield a major shift in overall happiness.

A student gave me the transcript to George Saunder's 2013 Syracuse Commencement Speech. It touched my heart, I shared his message in my Thursday Beach Yoga class at Magic Island. Have a read, if you are looking for some inspiration. Here is the New York Times blog on the speech. I paid more attention this week to how I was acting or not acting with kindness in various situations. I dare you to not feel inspired to be kind. Enjoy!

"Down through the ages, a traditional form has evolved for this type of speech, which is: Some old fart, his best years behind him, who, over the course of his life, has made a series of dreadful mistakes (that would be me), gives heartfelt advice to a group of shining, energetic young people, with all of their best years ahead of them (that would be you).

And I intend to respect that tradition.

Now, one useful thing you can do with an old person, in addition to borrowing money from them, or asking them to do one of their old-time “dances,” so you can watch, while laughing, is ask: “Looking back, what do you regret?” And they’ll tell you. Sometimes, as you know, they’ll tell you even if you haven’t asked. Sometimes, even when you’ve specifically requested they not tell you, they’ll tell you.

So: What do I regret? Being poor from time to time? Not really. Working terrible jobs, like “knuckle-puller in a slaughterhouse?” (And don’t even ASK what that entails.) No. I don’t regret that. Skinny-dipping in a river in Sumatra, a little buzzed, and looking up and seeing like 300 monkeys sitting on a pipeline, pooping down into the river, the river in which I was swimming, with my mouth open, naked? And getting deathly ill afterwards, and staying sick for the next seven months? Not so much. Do I regret the occasional humiliation? Like once, playing hockey in front of a big crowd, including this girl I really liked, I somehow managed, while falling and emitting this weird whooping noise, to score on my own goalie, while also sending my stick flying into the crowd, nearly hitting that girl? No. I don’t even regret that.

But here’s something I do regret:

In seventh grade, this new kid joined our class. In the interest of confidentiality, her Convocation Speech name will be “ELLEN.” ELLEN was small, shy. She wore these blue cat’s-eye glasses that, at the time, only old ladies wore. When nervous, which was pretty much always, she had a habit of taking a strand of hair into her mouth and chewing on it.

So she came to our school and our neighborhood, and was mostly ignored, occasionally teased (“Your hair taste good?” — that sort of thing). I could see this hurt her. I still remember the way she’d look after such an insult: eyes cast down, a little gut-kicked, as if, having just been reminded of her place in things, she was trying, as much as possible, to disappear. After awhile she’d drift away, hair-strand still in her mouth. At home, I imagined, after school, her mother would say, you know: “How was your day, sweetie?” and she’d say, “Oh, fine.” And her mother would say, “Making any friends?” and she’d go, “Sure, lots.”

Sometimes I’d see her hanging around alone in her front yard, as if afraid to leave it.

And then — they moved. That was it. No tragedy, no big final hazing.

One day she was there, next day she wasn’t.

End of story.

Now, why do I regret that? Why, forty-two years later, am I still thinking about it? Relative to most of the other kids, I was actually pretty nice to her. I never said an unkind word to her. In fact, I sometimes even (mildly) defended her.

But still. It bothers me.

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. 

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

Now, the million-dollar question: What’s our problem? Why aren’t we kinder?

Here’s what I think:

Each of us is born with a series of built-in confusions that are probably somehow Darwinian. These are: (1) we’re central to the universe (that is, our personal story is the main and most interesting story, the only story, really); (2) we’re separate from the universe (there’s US and then, out there, all that other junk – dogs and swing-sets, and the State of Nebraska and low-hanging clouds and, you know, other people), and (3) we’re permanent (death is real, o.k., sure – for you, but not for me).

Now, we don’t really believe these things – intellectually we know better – but we believe them viscerally, and live by them, and they cause us to prioritize our own needs over the needs of others, even though what we really want, in our hearts, is to be less selfish, more aware of what’s actually happening in the present moment, more open, and more loving.

So, the second million-dollar question: How might we DO this? How might we become more loving, more open, less selfish, more present, less delusional, etc., etc?

Well, yes, good question.

Unfortunately, I only have three minutes left.

So let me just say this. There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter. Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition — recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.

Because kindness, it turns out, is hard — it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include . . . well, everything.

One thing in our favor: some of this “becoming kinder” happens naturally, with age. It might be a simple matter of attrition: as we get older, we come to see how useless it is to be selfish — how illogical, really. We come to love other people and are thereby counter-instructed in our own centrality. We get our butts kicked by real life, and people come to our defense, and help us, and we learn that we’re not separate, and don’t want to be. We see people near and dear to us dropping away, and are gradually convinced that maybe we too will drop away (someday, a long time from now). Most people, as they age, become less selfish and more loving. I think this is true. The great Syracuse poet, Hayden Carruth, said, in a poem written near the end of his life, that he was “mostly Love, now.”

And so, a prediction, and my heartfelt wish for you: as you get older, your self will diminish and you will grow in love. YOU will gradually be replaced by LOVE. If you have kids, that will be a huge moment in your process of self-diminishment. You really won’t care what happens to YOU, as long as they benefit. That’s one reason your parents are so proud and happy today. One of their fondest dreams has come true: you have accomplished something difficult and tangible that has enlarged you as a person and will make your life better, from here on in, forever.

Congratulations, by the way.

When young, we’re anxious — understandably — to find out if we’ve got what it takes. Can we succeed? Can we build a viable life for ourselves? But you — in particular you, of this generation — may have noticed a certain cyclical quality to ambition. You do well in high-school, in hopes of getting into a good college, so you can do well in the good college, in the hopes of getting a good job, so you can do well in the good job so you can . . .

And this is actually O.K. If we’re going to become kinder, that process has to include taking ourselves seriously — as doers, as accomplishers, as dreamers. We have to do that, to be our best selves.

Still, accomplishment is unreliable. “Succeeding,” whatever that might mean to you, is hard, and the need to do so constantly renews itself (success is like a mountain that keeps growing ahead of you as you hike it), and there’s the very real danger that “succeeding” will take up your whole life, while the big questions go untended.

So, quick, end-of-speech advice: Since, according to me, your life is going to be a gradual process of becoming kinder and more loving: Hurry up. Speed it along. Start right now. There’s a confusion in each of us, a sickness, really: selfishness. But there’s also a cure. So be a good and proactive and even somewhat desperate patient on your own behalf — seek out the most efficacious anti-selfishness medicines, energetically, for the rest of your life.

Do all the other things, the ambitious things — travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness. Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality — your soul, if you will — is as bright and shining as any that has ever been. Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Teresa’s. Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place. Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.

And someday, in 80 years, when you’re 100, and I’m 134, and we’re both so kind and loving we’re nearly unbearable, drop me a line, let me know how your life has been. I hope you will say: It has been so wonderful.

Congratulations, Class of 2013.

I wish you great happiness, all the luck in the world, and a beautiful summer."

With Gratitude,

laura mary