Wednesday, October 22, 2008

SharedBliss: Interview with Deb McNamara, Yoga Teacher & Sustainability Educator

From Deborah McNamara's Yoga site.
(Worth a tour just for the photos!)

Listening to: This woman never fails to delight me.

Bliss: For the first time in a long time, I'm reading a novel which captured me within the first page. Has anyone else read it? The prose is poetic; the characters and the plot are complex; and yet, it's also fantastical and creepy in that Gothic way that I love. And it is his first book! Crazy.

A few years back, my partner and I had only been car free for about three years, and we decided to take a class at our local grocery co-op. It was about developing a deeper sense of place. Perfect. We learned later that it was a packaged class from the Northwest Earth Institute.

Recently, I was trying to think of different types of people to interview for Blisschick, and that class came to mind. Certainly, I thought, someone who works for that delightful organization must be living their bliss, right? So I emailed them and received a reply within a day from this most amazing person. Yay! for instincts!

Deb McNamara is the Director of Business Partnerships and Outreach Team Leader for the Northwest Earth Institute. She facilitates workshops and retreats on sustainability, ecological footprint, environmental leadership, ecopsychology and yoga. She recently served on the Curriculum Development Committee in the development of Menu for the Future, a guide on creating and supporting more sustainable food communities ( Deb also teaches classical Hatha Yoga at Root Whole Body Wellness Center in Portland, Oregon. To learn more about Deborah’s yoga, visit Deborah’s blog:

Deb also has someone who takes kick-butt pictures of her:

Describe the PrimaryBliss of your life. How did you come to know that this was your PrimaryBliss?

Bliss is a practice. My experience of bliss is the continual practice of recognizing again and again that this one precious life is Sacred, Beautiful and a Gift. The “primary bliss” of my lifetime is the profound recognition of beauty that arises in each moment.

This recognition manifests in my experience and practice of feeling and being in my body, recognizing the heart-breaking gift that each glance I take is, each breath, each movement. The heart-breaking quality derives from the fleeting and impermanent nature of each moment, and the bliss and beauty simultaneously arise with the opening of my heart to the continual recognition of both my present moment Life (and all that I love about it) as well as my imminent Death.

My bliss is rooted in the practice of coming back again and again to that which I Love and feel gratitude for moment after moment. It is rooted in letting my heart break on a continual basis at the enormous amounts of beauty and pain draped throughout the tapestry of my days. My bliss is rooted in feeling my interconnections with all that surrounds me: how my inhale is exchanged with the trees I walk past, how my exhale falls on the person next to me.

The more I practice feeling, loving, and recognizing beauty, it has become a calling to live graciously, gracefully, lovingly, with generosity, intentionally. The more I open my heart to the gifts of being alive, the more responsible I become to my larger community.

As such, my practice put into action is the whole-hearted dedication of my life to cultivating and sharing the awareness that Earth, Life and Body are sacred, with my work being to advocate for the preservation and protection of life in all its forms, to inspire people to accept responsibility for Earth and to take actions that model sustainability and sanity.

What types of choices and sacrifices did you make to be able to craft this bliss-filled life?

When my choices come from a place of love and generosity, this becomes the lens of contentment. I choose intentionally to continually practice the art of service: to share my presence as a gift and to dedicate my time to that which is in service of Life, Earth, health and well-being, relationship and community.

I choose to practice not compromising my values and to not spend my time doing anything that does not cultivate sanity (that which promotes health, well-being and life). I do my best to choose work, products and processes that do the least amount of harm to plants, animals, other humans and the Land. This means eating local and organic foods, spending more money to buy fair/direct trade, and supporting organizations and companies that embody corporate social responsibility and sustainability practices. This means radical lifestyle shifts with sustainability and social justice being the primary lenses through which I make every decision.

And when I fail myself, I let myself feel the disappointment and pain. I choose to stay wide awake to the effects that I have on others and the Earth. I choose to question the status quo and push my own boundaries of being radical in a culture that prefers dissociation and avoidance. I can always do more to cultivate health and beauty on more systemic levels, and this knowing is my growing edge. Bliss is ignorance when it doesn’t remember and integrate pain, injustice, violence and the cruelty of living a lifestyle that sucks the life out of the land. I choose to continually remember this, and to make choices that reflect this understanding.

How does your PrimaryBliss radiate out into the rest of your life?

Through my spiritual practice (and the moment to moment giving away of this practice as a gift), the lifestyle choices I make, my work on behalf of the Earth, the giving away of my yoga practice through my yoga teaching, and through my presence.

What are some other activities that also give you this sense of bliss? Things that make you lose track of time?

Slow walks, taking care of plants and garden (reminding myself of my connection to the larger natural world), writing letters, conversations addressing the subtleties and complexities of life, a quiet yoga practice, resting in silence, paying attention to the texture of natural light in all its forms, time in the woods and mountains...

What is your daily or weekly spiritual practice?

My practice in a juicy nutshell: to love that which arises and to offer a sustained recognition of love outwards through my interactions with everything I encounter. My life is a practice.

What music is your bliss?

The sound of wind. The sound and feeling of my breath.

Name books or authors/poets or people who are your bliss, who influenced your bliss.

The list is too long to recount! When you see the Divine mirrored in all that is life, influences are everywhere and endless. The greatest influencers: Mom and Dad (Joan and Bob McNamara), brother and husband: Rob McNamara and Chris Peraro. My hatha yoga teacher, Sofia Diaz. My favorite poet: Hafiz. Earth.

What advice would you give to someone who feels they have not yet discovered their PrimaryBliss?

Stay wide awake!

Be fully engaged in your life! Cultivate recognition of the power of your heart and your capacity to feel. Resist cultural pressures to shut down. Practice full engagement of your senses. Let your heart break that you and all that you love will one day end. Practice love. Notice again and again: what do you love about this present moment, and this one, and this one?

Keep coming back to that which you are grateful for. Practice recognizing beauty. Let your challenges and pain mix with your recognition of beauty, and your experience of love and gratitude. Don’t keep your realizations to yourself; Give away your presence as a gift. Practice peeling away the layers that keep you from fully offering the beauty that you just are. Share generously. Give away what you most need.

Know where your center of gravity is and move from that place. Know what drives your movements. Practice certainty. Breathe deeply. Find times for stillness. Find out where equanimity and compassion reside in your experience and practice moving from these places.

Before doing anything, just be – here, now.

And Deb had this at the bottom of her email:

I have a thousand brilliant lies
For the question:
How are you?
I have a thousand brilliant lies
For the question:
What is God?

If you think that the Truth can be known
From words,
If you think that the Sun and the Ocean
Can pass through that tiny opening Called the mouth,
O someone should start laughing!
Someone should start wildly Laughing –Now!

Recently, I wrote about the breath as a clue to your passions. How paying attention to things that take your breath away can guide you to understanding what you need.

There is a breathlessness in Deb's writing; I noticed myself reading faster and faster throughout her interview, and I think that is a clue as to the importance of all that she is saying, as if her messages to us are just tumbling forth, gathering speed like an avalanche of love in action.

So, we will just sit with her now and appreciate the millions of unique snowflakes that she has so graciously shared.

If you're in Portland -- lucky you -- you should certainly take a class with this wise woman of the wilds.


Pink Heels said...

Another wonderful interview. Thank you for sharing these insightful perspectives with us!

ecoyogi said...

I wish I was in Portland to meet Deb. She sounds like a soul friend. I will email the interview to a friend whose brother lives there. He and his girlfriend would love her work.

Rob said...

Thanks for the great interview, I wish I was in portland hanging out with Deb to!!!