The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Yoga Class Focus: The Freedom to Heal August 29, 2014

Make space. Clear the way. Widen the paths. And in this liberation…heal.

The theme of my July classes was FREEDOM; and we kicked off our month of focused practices with a special “Declaration of Independence” workshop.  I teach this July 4th workshop annually; and each year, I’ve approached the session with a hint of motivational speaker style. “You can liberate yourself of obstacles and declare new truths!” Together, in the spirit of our forefathers, we celebrated Sankalpa – resolute intention for change.

MatFeetJournalCandleIncense(Summer2014)This year was different. This July 4th, the fires of freedom were not blazing with glory. I toned down. I got real. I simplified. And I asked: “What is your dissatisfaction with life? Could you still find inner peace if nothing changes?” Because life is a mix of action and change, and, surrender and acceptance. Yoga does not promise us that everything will be exactly as we wish it to be. That if we set a Sankalpa, have strong resolve and work to manifest our deepest intentions, everything will go our way. Nope. On the contrary, “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” – the 2nd aphorism in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – teaches us that, even when things don’t go our way, we can still enjoy a calm mind.

So, mirroring the motivations of our country’s founders, we spent the morning of Independence Day professing our dissatisfactions. And then, we got on our mats to explore how we can cultivate flexibility, patience, curiosity, willingness, acceptance, surrender in our bodies. After our Asana practice, we invited those same concepts into our minds and journaled: “What if the change I seek can’t happen right now? What if it can never happen? What if the outcome of the change is not what I expected?” Wrapping up the morning with Yoga Nidra and a guided journey, we invited this spaciousness into our lives.

Over the month, we continued with similar themes, discovering physical liberation in twists and binds. With the Yoga Sutras as our guide, and “Sthira Sukham Asanam” as our mantra, remained devoted to balancing effort with ease in order to unlock life’s pressures. We affirmed that, even in a bind, we can feel free.

Freedom! Freedom to move with ease. Freedom to let go of expectations. Freedom to accept things – and ourselves – exactly as they are.

In August, with spaciousness as our best friend, we moved on to our new class focus: HEALING.

Our precious ancient Sutras promise: “Heyam Dukham Asanam.” As Swami Vivekananda translated: “The misery which has not yet come is to be avoided.” Not “can be” avoided. Not “might be” avoided. IS. TO. BE. AVOIDED. I don’t know about you, but every time I read this aphorism, I breathe more freely. Because I remember our ancient yogis’ simple formula – if I practice yoga as described in our foundational texts, I will sidestep future physical AND emotional pain.

So at this point in development – after setting foundations (June’s focus) and cultivating freedom (July’s focus), there is room to heal. With devotion toward practicing with a balance of effort and ease, action and surrender, and, change and acceptance, I have the spaciousness to heal past pain and patterns, and step into the future with wholeness.

This is not just a monthly theme for practice. This is not just a Sankalpa set for class. This is not just my body on the mat. This is not just my journal in a workshop. This is life.

Note to self…

Thank you for reading; and, thank you for practicing with me – even if/when you are miles away. OM Shanti.

 

How May I Serve You? August 12, 2014

“For as long as space endures and the world exists, may my own existence bring about the end of suffering in the world.”
- Shantideva (8th Century Indian Buddhist Scholar)

*  *  *

I’ve written countless blogs, posts, comments and remarks about suicide, addiction, depression and trauma. I’ve described how the power-trio of recovery programs, yoga and therapy is responsible for my hard-won desire to live – which exists despite my ongoing battle with the desire to die.

So although the suicide of Robin Williams is on my mind and affecting my heart, I don’t want to write another piece about how I stay alive despite the odds. I don’t want to write about my belief that some people – whether ailing from addiction or depression or cancer or poverty or drive-by-shootings – are not meant to make it through…and that I could be one of them. I don’t want to write what I’ve written before. (Although, if you’re interested in those stories – which I poured my heart into – they are listed at the bottom of this blog.) Instead, right now, I want to write about the difference between practicing yoga solely for my own well-being, and, practicing yoga for the sake of supporting the well-being of others. Because at a certain point in my 20+ year practice, I became strong enough to shift my focus from me to you. And I believe that shift is the main reason I’m not dead.

Today, the only reason I continually work so hard to heal myself (it’s a life-long commitment!) is to be of service to others. Yes, those efforts do yield a much welcome reward of feeling better and loving life. Still, my primary purpose is to serve.

*  *  *

EmbraceInterior(12Aug14)

Embrace Yoga, in Adams Morgan, DC. I’m fortunate and grateful to call this beautiful space my yoga HOME – for practicing, teaching, and today, blogging!

In 2008 and 2009, just after receiving my Yoga Teacher Certification, I was hired to design and teach a yoga program at a DC public charter school. Back then, I had no intentions of teaching children. Although my personal practice had always been quite mindful, I wanted to be a Yoga Trainer, pass on physical alignment benefits and work with injured yogis and athletes. But it was a good first job, and, paid quite well. So I started teaching 30 kids per session – at-risk inner-city youth, who were literally climbing the walls, with little interest or ability in slowing down long enough to practice a series of yoga poses, no matter how many physical benefits I touted. One day, out of pure frustration, my approach shifted from the physical to the psychological – and I paused the class to tell them my story. To share that I’d grown up in an environment of addition, chaos and violence. That I was a distracted student and troubled teen. That, potentially, a simple yoga practice might have changed my direction from self-destructive to healthy and productive. And that I may have side-stepped years and years of struggles and pain. They heard me. And although some were still incapable of being present for the practice, they did try harder. One student, Erik, made notable progress. Seriously – this was a kid who could not sit still for 10 seconds, who was constantly being kicked out of his academic classes, who was every teacher’s challenge. The Friday before Spring Break, I asked him to co-teach a class when we returned to school. Tragically, Erik was murdered by his mother’s boyfriend the next day. Upon returning to school, all teachers were asked to reinforce the city’s crisis response team. I ended up sitting in the hallway with six children crying into my lap, asking difficult questions and listening to honest answers. And then I visited each class, leading mindful breathing exercises and listening to honest feelings. I even led a session for the crisis response team and teachers.

Right there, the seed of offering yoga as a sustaining tool for service workers was planted. And as I encountered more and more opportunities to share practices for emotional healing, resilience and empowerment, my own practice became rich and resourceful.

Hanuman pic from Wikipedia

Hanuman, a model of devotion and service.

And thank goodness. Because in 2010 and 2011, I would endure a wide range of major life difficulties. First, I experienced a relationship betrayal. I continued to teach, carefully keeping my emotions separate from class, and drawing upon my personal practice to stay centered and sane. Second, later that year while I was on my way to teach, I learned of the horrible car accident and near death of a dear, dear family member. I could think of no other response but to show up for class. Sitting on the train, walking down the block and pausing before entering the studio, I used my spiritual tools. I sent Metta (prayers for well-being) to my family, I breathed deeply and evenly, I grounded into my feet. And then I walked into the room, put on the music, sat down…and started to cry in front of a crowd of students. We held eye contact and each others’ hearts for a brief moment. I took a cleansing breath, got centered, and invited the group to close their eyes and bring into their hearts anyone in their families who may be suffering. We practiced with more earnestness than any class I’d taught before. The closing OM was one of the most healing moments of my life – and after class, student feedback was positive. Third, I was mugged in front of my apartment on a summer night. Early the next morning, without mentioning the incident, I taught meditation and yoga classes themed on compassion. Just as our Yoga Sutras suggest, I recommended decreasing resentment by cultivating compassion for those that are hurting – including those who direct their pain outward and therefore hurt others. Yes, I was helped by those teachings that morning – and, I would end up devoting months to additional PTSD work to address the anger and fear that would gradually begin to surface and powerfully rule my every breath. Fourth, I ended up extremely depressed. There’d been just too much emotional trauma over the course of those years. In the late summer, I started playing percussion and singing in a Kirtan group and pointing my practice toward Bhakti (devotional) Yoga, which resulted in a growing sense of safety and trust. I also took a break from teaching and focused on addiction recovery activity – attending daily morning meetings, sharing with rigorous honesty, re-connecting with community and offering to be of service however possible. When I returned to teach that autumn, I incorporated Bhakti and Karma (serviceful action) Yoga into my classes.

Some might say that I was teaching for my own benefit. Because clearly, I did benefit. To bring the truth of my life into the safety and care of beloved communities; to gain trust where there was paranoia; to discover new depths of love from connecting with a higher power  – what amazing gifts to myself. At the same time, I believe I offer others my example of acceptance and humanness, and, an infinitely wide-open invitation to bring their authentic selves into my classes…to be messy and bold and honest in the company of caring friends and mindful strangers…to feel the safety and embrace of sacred space..and to take their own precious time to heal and grow.

On a winter Friday, 2012, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred. I was scheduled to teach an evening “Happy Hour” yoga class. After hearing the news, I walked slowly around the city, looking into the eyes and faces of passers-by, wishing wellness for all beings, praying, crying. I knew that my responsibility was to be present with my own response, my own grief, my own needs. To take ample time for that processing. And then, to show up for students. That evening and the next day, my classes were packed – as were classes all over the city and country, I imagine. How noble, when yogis bring their troubles into communal space! I brought my truth to those classes – I shared yoga’s solutions for navigating resentment, anger, grief, pain. I encouraged open minds and hearts. I cried a little. I caught my breath and silently prayed for those crying in front of me. And although my job was to hold space, together, we held space for each other.

None of this is new. For 15 years before becoming a yoga instructor, I brought my struggles, grief, confusion and emotion to yoga classes, and my amazing teachers passed down their tools and solutions. Community connected and supported each other’s healing. Yoga started to chip away at the patterns of pain. Now, as a teacher, all I do is pass that on.

How may I serve you?

How may I serve you?

*  *  *

Yoga does not magically make everything better. But it does offer practical strategies for more gracefully and constructively navigating difficulties. I am driven and honored to share those practices. Today, I teach children, adults, athletes, nonprofit workers, ailing people, healing people, healthy people, studio yogis and kids on the streets. Although I accept many volunteer yoga gigs for cause-related organizations and under-resourced individuals, for the most part, I get paid to teach yoga. Still, I call it Seva – service. I show up for no other reason but to facilitate the students’ practice. I don’t wear fancy pants, I don’t teach exercise, I don’t care to demonstrate hard poses. Simply, I share the foundational yoga tools that have helped me cultivate wellness in a challenging world. And yes, I receive financial compensation for some of it. Because in order to live sustainably, and therefore be available to teach, I need to earn money.

Teaching yoga is an honor and a gift. More importantly, however - practicing yoga is a responsibility. Without that essential sustenance, I have nothing to offer. Without the unmatched benefits of a daily practice that consistently teaches me how to heal, grow and serve (and I will tell you, honestly: on depressed days that practice might only be a little Pranayama and prayer – or a great, big, cleansing cry), I cannot contribute to the healing of the world around me. Each day, I yearn to effectively ask, “How may I serve you?” Each day, if I am useful, I am alive.

Thanks for reading. OM Shanti.

 

*  *  *

Past blogs about experience with and recovery from addiction, depression and trauma:

Jumping Off Of Bridges (From The UYD Archives)

Running Into Nature

Growing Pangs

Shiva And The Darkness

The Yoga Of Being Mugged

Yoga In Action

Wine And Kirtan

Surrender, Recovery And Death

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga Class Focus: Foundations for Freedom July 2, 2014

During June, my class focus was “Foundations.” I told students that I felt like I was starting over as a teacher, after a 7-month absence from the Washington, DC yoga community. So together, we started from scratch.

September 2013 "farewell" party with DC teachers and students. Little did we know, I'd be back in 7 months!

September 2013 “farewell” party with DC teachers, students, friends. Little did we know, I’d move back from Nashville after 7 months!

Each practice, we arrived together. With the Eight Limbs as our guide, we observed and then shaped our thoughts, our physical being, our breath and our senses. We meditated on Sankalpa (deep intention or purpose), and then chanted OM to transition into Asana. We flowed through six traditional Integral Yoga sun salutations, focusing on each of the 1st three Chakras for two repetitions.

Always, we set these foundations of the Limbs, Sankalpa and the Chakras. And OM. That essential syllable that syncs up the room’s vibrations.

And then the practice opened up for variety. One week we explored Yoga Sutra 1.2: “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” (“yoga calms the mind’s disturbances”) with a heart-centered set. Another time it was Sutra 2.46: “Sthira Sukham Asanam” (“postures are both steady and easeful”) with a set of strong lunges and chair poses. Next we deepened our Pranayama (breath work) and Dharana (meditation) skills. Finally, we wrapped up the month with the story of Shiva, the original yogi (or, the O.G. – Original Guru, LOL) and an intensive on twists.

The beautiful morning light at my yoga HOME in DC: Embrace Yoga.

The beautiful morning light at my yoga HOME in DC: Embrace Yoga.

And yes, we practiced twisting from the foundation of the spine.

Personally, I cannot imagine practicing yoga without these foundational elements. Therefore, I certainly cannot imagine teaching without them, either.

I feel extremely grateful that my teacher, Faith Hunter, invited me back to my twice-weekly sunrise yoga slots and sub regularly at her studio, Embrace Yoga DC after I returned to DC in March. June was, indeed, a fresh start for my teaching. And thanks to my students, my personal practice is also rejuvenated.

Our July class focus is “Freedom.” For Asana, we will build on last week’s twisting set, and explore how physical mechanics can liberate the body for safety and ease, plus, strength and stamina. Conceptually, we’ll discover the Yoga Sutras’ keys to freedom from resentment…freedom from attachment…freedom from whatever trips us up, pushes us down or holds us back.

In fact, my July 4th “Declaration of Independence” class, 10-11:30am at Embrace, addresses exactly that: What do I want to be free of in order to live my truth? As the amazing 70s soul band Funkadelic said, “Free your mind…and your a** will follow,” brilliantly illustrating how Sankalpa (shaping the thoughts) should always proceed Vinyasa (flowing yoga poses). Heeheehee. Join us on Friday and witness the proof.

Thank you for reading; and, thank you for practicing with me – even if/when you are miles away. OM Shanti.

 

Jumping Off Of Bridges (From The UYD Archives) June 19, 2014

19 JUNE, 2014

A couple of months ago, I heard about a California yoga teacher trainee who committed suicide. Everyone in her yoga circle was completely shocked. They said there were no signs…

Last week, I received a gutsy, honest message on my Urban Yoga Den Facebook page about my “Jumping Off Of Bridges” post from March 2013.

“Even though we are strangers you saved my life,” she wrote.

Her Facebook note went on to courageously reveal:

“I’ve done yoga on and off since I was 14. Within the past 5 years I began to take it more seriously than ever. But, like all good things do when someone is depressed , it got pushed to the way side. … Deep down I knew I couldn’t kill myself… So what does any iphone user do? I Googled ‘why you shouldn’t kill yourself.’ And your blog post about the Philadelphia bridge popped up. I read it. And reread it. And bawled my frigging eyes out because the story was so heart breaking and because low and behold someone got it.”

Wow.

This, folks, is why I write how/what/when I do. The practice keeps me alive, and apparently, some others, as well. I recommend trying it…let us know how you really feel. Stick a pin in it. Don’t be alone. Write it out. Because I no longer say, “I don’t want to live.” I might say, “I don’t want to live like this,” but I know that “this” can change with effort…and/or angels. Because before I could even write usefully about this stuff, I had to first reach out for my angels, my life-savers.

However…I will say this from experience with dear ones who took their own lives: sometimes there are signs, sometimes there are not. Sometimes they reach out, sometimes they cannot.

I argue to say that: we are not saved by each other, but by our own seeking. Thank goodness for the times that we are compelled to reach out – for inspiration, for hope…for each other. For our angels who “get it.” In this, we save ourselves.

Love to you, my dear reader. I’m glad we’re both here to tell our tales.

Here, in retro, is mine…

*  *  *

Five years ago this month, I was scheduled to jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge.  I wrote it on my calendar for March 7, 2008: “Philly.”  I was planning to drive from DC to see the Irish band Hothouse Flowers, get drunk, and then jump.

That February, my fiancé had broken up with me – with no notice, with little explanation, and without ever speaking to me again.

I was devastated.  This was the one.  This was the relationship that erased all of my past failures and illustrated all of my current accomplishments.  This relationship proved that I was beyond a painful history with men, and moving forward with a healed soul.  This relationship gave me everything I dreamed of: a wonderful man, two amazing step sons, an awesome dog and cat, and a happy household.  I hadn’t recognized that, beneath this perfect picture, my partner was harboring his own past relationship resentments, a dark and debilitating depression…and a deep longing to escape.

My heart was smashed with his phone call.  The pain of the loss was unbearable.  So I decided to kill myself.

*  *  *

By March 2008, I’d survived multiple suicide attempts throughout my troubled life.  In fact, I’d spent most of the first 37 years of my life wishing or trying to die.

GtownFoggyMorningKeyBridgeFlipped(Nov11)It seemed meant to be.  I was unplanned – conceived after my mother had a tubal ligation!  I once heard my parents fighting about money problems – saying that if I hadn’t have been born, they would be better off.  I developed a deep feeling of being an unwanted problem.

(When I write truthfully about my family, I always have to add: I love and respect my parents, and I love and respect my family.  I understand that we all suffered – even way before I was born.  The ancestry of pain leaves a tough road to travel.  We do our best.)

As a kid, my first suicide attempt was trying to smother myself with a pillow when my beloved Aunt Jeannie died from Cirrhosis of the liver.  Much of my family suffered from alcoholism and its related violence and neglect.  Despite this, Aunt Jeannie consistently showered me with attention, affection and adoration.  She would swoop in for visits, in all of her New York City glamour and flair, bringing gifts and hugs and kisses.  She was a star to me.  When she died, I wanted to die.  I didn’t know that it’s impossible to smother ones self.  I passed out from crying and took a long nap.

From there forward, I thrived on recklessness.  When I was 17, deep depression felt like a mid-life crisis; and I believed I would be dead by 34.  As I got older, I essentially divorced from my family.  I raised myself, nurtured self-destructive tendencies and geared straight toward danger.  I experienced sexual molestation from community members, rape by a friend’s brother, beatings by strangers and boyfriends, and more.  Other dangers included driving maniacally.  I once landed in a life-risking crash – after which I felt very angry to still be alive.

My next deliberate suicide attempts were as an adult, when I hit an emotional, physical and spiritual bottom while living in New Orleans.  In those days, I was convinced that everyone around me was achieving their dreams, while I was at a dead end.  My “romantic” relationships were abusive and empty, my professional life was non-linear and grasping, my connection to god was willfully severed.  After quitting a retail job, I spent my mornings, days and nights drinking and hooking up with strangers and street musicians.  I used my parents’ gas station credit card to buy booze and food.   And my worried and enabling dad paid my rent (bless his un-knowing heart).  My reality was shameful and sad, and it sickened me.  I saw no other way through, than to get out.  Within one week, I tried to kill myself twice, using different mixtures of alcohol and substances.  I woke up dazed both times.  And again, I was very angry to be alive.

After that week, it appeared that I was not meant to die.  (Yet.)  So I ruefully resigned to keep living.  Over the next decade, despite desperate, in-vain attempts to figure out how to decrease life’s pain…despite becoming a vegetarian, seeing therapists, moving all over the country, observing religious ritual, and even trying yoga, I would drink myself to oblivion countless times.

In fact, all along my life timeline, the most pervasive and slow suicide effort was my succumbing to addiction.  I drank alcoholically from age 11.  For the next 25 years, I would deaden myself to emotions, to growth, to the world.

However, despite what looked like a road to ruin, my journey took a transformational turn after I turned 37, in 2002.

*  *  *

Also by March 2008, I had finally enjoyed a sweet, 5-year phase of contentment and joy.  I had been working a strong program of addiction recovery and was 5+ years sober.  I’d been seeing a very effective therapist for those years, and was healing from my traumatic childhood and destructive adulthood.  Plus, although I started while still drinking alcoholically, I’d been practicing yoga for 15 years, and was feeling it gradually shape my emotions, my growth and my world.

So, when the February breakup happened, I was blindsided and felt betrayed – not just by my fiancé, but by life itself.  After so much transformational work, this crap would still happen?  Well, yes.  It would.  And I could not accept that.  So the March 7th Philly trip was planned.

Yet clearly, I did not jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge.  What happened?  Yoga, recovery and therapy – my power trio – gratefully intervened.

The addiction recovery program taught me to be rigorously honest.  Right after the breakup, I showed up at meetings, blurted out my pain and cried myself into a puddle on the floor.  I spoke about not being able to eat.  Recovery friends came to my house with irresistible Thai lemongrass soup.  I spoke about feeling betrayed by god and feeling that I would die from the pain of loss.  Recovery friends listened intently and sensed that I was at risk.

Knowing that I was planning to go see Hothouse Flowers in Philly – and that my ex and I had taken our 1st road trip together to see that band in that city – a recovery friend invited me to go to a Brazilian Dance class at a yoga studio with her on March 7th.   OK, she didn’t just “invite” me – she pretty much forced me.  Up to that night, I had primarily been practicing yoga on my own at home for a few years.  Being back in a mindful, intentional space felt healing to me.  I bought a class pass and started showing up for (and crying my eyes out during) yoga classes regularly.  I couldn’t believe I’d abandoned practicing yoga with others, in community.  Even the minor embarrassment of crying in public was far outweighed by that public’s absolute embrace and understanding.

Having skipped my March 7th suicide plan in favor of Brazilian Dance at a yoga studio, my therapist was relieved.  Still, because my depression persisted, she wanted me to be evaluated for psychiatric medication.  I visited her recommended psychiatrist, and had an eye-opening experience.

I described my lifelong desire to die.  I described the conditions of my childhood and my history of self-destruction.  I described my self-reliance, separation and isolation.  I described the breakup, the devastation and my March 7th suicide plan.  I also described my rigorous efforts in yoga, recovery and therapy.  I described my friends, communities and connections.

At the end of our appointment, he said: “In my evaluation, I do not see a need for medication.  You seemTouristShot to be doing all the right things.  For you, reaching out for help and sharing with others is 100% more powerful than any medication.”  I was shocked.  “Even though I recently planned my suicide?” I asked.  He countered, “That was supposed to happen on March 7th, right?  Today is March 31st.”  I had to laugh.  The psychiatrist explained that, in my case, suicidal ideation is a coping mechanism.  When I imagine or even instigate my own death, I feel relief from my pain, and start going toward the solution.

I’ve been trudging toward the solution ever since.  Life since 2008 has become more challenging, to be honest.  I have been through additional relationship betrayals; I have lost jobs; I have been mugged; and I have experienced other hardships.  My friends and family have experienced very, very tough trials.  But even with these troubles, life is not like that destructive past.  I am not engulfed in atmospheres of addiction, crisis and danger.  In late 2008, I became a yoga teacher, and my life now revolves around this beautiful community.  In 2012, I celebrated 10 years of sobriety, and I currently continue to attend meetings.  I practice the 12 Steps of recovery and the 8 Limbs of yoga to my best ability.  I strive to show gratitude for my own healing and to share transformational practices by being of service however possible.  And I have continued periodic therapy with the non-medication prescribing doctor.

*  *  *

Yesterday, I was driving from Philly to New Jersey while spending the weekend reuniting with some yoga teacher training friends.  Suddenly, I gasped at the irony – without planning this, I was driving over the Ben Franklin Bridge, five years after planning to jump off of it.  The previous evening, I had been to a Kirtan concert, where much water was consumed.  K.D. Lang’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (made “famous” by suicide victim Jeff Buckley) was playing on my car stereo.  And I was feeling quite distant from devastation, depression and death.

How could I not cry tears of gratitude and joy?  I knew at once that I had to tell this story.  I know people who, right now, are suffering from the pain of great losses.  Who are considering death and actively trying to kill themselves in one way or another.  I love these people.  I LOVE YOU.

I share my story to say: pain sucks!  And pain ends.  This too shall pass.  My healing power trio is yoga, recovery and therapy.  You might need or prefer a different combo.  No matter what, I urge you to seek what works for you.  To start – say “yes” when people offer soup, dance classes, meetings and conversation.  Jump off of that bridge in a different way – allow yourself to fall into the arms of others.  Surrender.

I LOVE YOU.  OM Shanti.

 

My Father Is My Super Hero June 13, 2014

DadHighSchoolHunk(June2014)

High School Hunk And Super Hero In Training

My mother is my Guru.  And my father is my Super Hero.

You may have read my blog about Mom being my greatest teacher.  I’ve re-posted it on her birthday, her death anniversary and Mother’s Day…

Why have I not celebrated Dad in a blog?  The man has supported me – carried me, really – through so many things. Our bond is deep, and our love is strong. Particularly now…

It’s time.

*  *  *

Memory #1: I’m just a little kid, transitioning from taking baths, and learning how to take showers. I’m terrified of getting water in my eyes, and extremely sensitive to the cold. Our hot water heater is small; so short showers are essential – as is not using hot water elsewhere in the house while someone’s in the shower (i.e. doing laundry, washing dishes, simultaneously showering in another bathroom). It’s winter. I’m alone in the shower, and the water goes cold. I howl out in pain. Somewhere out in the house, I hear my father yelling at someone. Then the bathroom door opens – Dad to the rescue! He wraps me in a dryer-warmed, fluffy towel and sits me next to the heater, which he’s cranked-up to high. He leaves, shuts the door to keep in the warmth, and goes out to yell some more.

Memory #2: It’s summer. I’m probably about, oh, 8 or 9 years old. Dad and I are in the back yard, by the gazebo that he is building by hand, from scratch. He’s trying to get a nasty knot out of a piece of tangled rope. He’s failing and extremely frustrated. He growls, “Damn it,” throws down the rope, and stomps inside the house. Holly to the rescue! I pick up the rope, patiently un-do the knot, and take it to my father.

Dad & Mom, Happy, The Day I Left For College

Dad & Mom, Happy, The Day I Left For College

Memory #3: As a pre-teen, I start to sense my father’s immense frustration with my mom’s alcoholism. And, having witnessed Dad’s grief when his sister – my beloved Aunt Jeannie – died from cirrhosis of the liver, I try to make my mom stop drinking. It’s Friday evening. The family is getting ready to go to synagogue for Sabbath services. My mom makes a gin martini to take with her in the car. I spill it out in the kitchen sink. She slaps my face. I sit next to my father in silence for the rest of the night.

Memory #4: In very early childhood, I overhear my parents arguing about money. My father says that, if I had not been born, they would not have financial problems. I would not recall this event – plus the fact that I was an unplanned child – until adulthood, during therapy. For most of my life, this “core wound” had subconsciously shaped my negative self-image as an unwanted problem, plus, engrained my own financial problems. My father is not at fault; he is not a bad person. Such fights are normal between parents under great stress of hardship. My father spoke out of frustration; and he didn’t know I could hear. The kicker? For decades during my own active alcoholism and through tough times in sobriety, my father would give me money (adding up to a great amount in total) – ignoring his own limitations, enabling my pattern of financial instability and reinforcing my “core wound.” Again – nobody’s the bad guy in this unfortunate twist of family dysfunction. The outcome? A bittersweet emotional and financial dependence that would leave both my father and me depleted…

DadHollyNashville(June2013)

Dad & Me, Nashville, Father’s Day 2013

Memory #5: June, 2013. I find out that my father has serious financial challenges. Having accepted so much from him over the years, I immediately blame myself. Although one of my sisters assures me that it’s not my fault, and encourages me not to take the blame, I still feel partially responsible. That Father’s Day, I visit Nashville to observe how Dad’s doing in general, and discover that his dementia is worsening. I decide that if my DC job search continues to yield rejections, I will move closer to help Dad with his finances and his life until he passes on. I move to Nashville in September – without savings, and without a job. I live on loans from friends while trying to secure work. Nothing materializes. While I spend time managing and improving my father’s finances, my own are crushing me with worry. Family dysfunction rears its ugly head, and due to irrational decisions beyond my control, I am legally removed from my father’s affairs. I return to DC to start from scratch…celebrating some victories on behalf of my dad, but completely broken, inside and out – and, heartbroken at leaving my beloved father.

These scenarios sum up Dad’s and my relationship – two people trying to save each other, amid a backdrop of historical family dysfunction, hardship and stress. Not the healthiest dynamic, we know.

Still, we love each other more than anything in the world. And love is rich with mistakes and forgiveness, imperfection and acceptance. Dad’s and my love is messy, for certain – but it’s our mess.

*  *  *

My father is my Super Hero.

He once blamed me for the family’s money problems. He enabled me financially for decades. And through his enabling, he rescued me from dying.

On Easter Day 1990, I floated around the French Quarter in a soul-shining haze of gratitude for life. Days before, I’d stumbled around my New Orleans neighborhood in a drug-induced haze from a botched suicide attempt – my 2nd in one week.

I’d become unemployable, and was spending most of my days in the same pattern: Wake up with a stranger and drink mimosas made with cheap champagne bought with my dad’s Exxon credit card. Make my way to the French Quarter, buying a quart of cheap tequila on the way. Sit on a curb, eat 7-11 sandwiches, drink out of a paper bag and listen to street musicians. At the end of the day, go drinking with the street musicians. Take one home. Wake up the next morning and start over.

Little did he know…my father was financing this debauchery. Had he not, I’d probably be dead. Despite living dangerously, I had my own apartment, control over its key, and, a car with gas in it and a phone in the case of emergencies. I had money for food, and money for booze. I didn’t have to ask strangers for help, and I didn’t have to live on the streets.

Still, I was clearly lost. And compulsively stuffing a lifetime of unaddressed trauma  (results of family hardship and addiction-related events) into a tequila bottle did not remedy the internal self-loathing and defeatist thoughts. So I decided to give up. Twice in one week, I combined as many substances as I could buy and steal, and went to sleep hoping to not wake up – yielding failure both times. Apparently, suicide was not meant to be. The 2nd time, I resigned to stick around and spent the next 12 years seeking the desire to live. I would still drink alcoholically; I would still depend on my father’s money; I would still leave jobs, men, friendships; I would still jump all over the map trying to run from myself; I would still end up living at home at times; I would still battle with my internal negatives.

Simultaneously, new influences started to chip away at my self-reliance, avoidance and denial.

On October 22, 2002, at age 37, 12.5 years after that Easter awakening and six months after my mother died from complications related to alcoholism, I crawled into the rooms of 12-step recovery. I started to pick up the pieces of 26 years of active addiction, and began my current journey of holistic healing through yoga, recovery, therapy and other wonderful resources, responsible living, and, amends for past mistakes.

I called my dad that afternoon. “I just went to my first meeting,” I told him. “Good,” he answered, exhaling, with a tone of relief in his voice.

He did know.

*  *  *

Moving to Nashville meant the chance to pay a great debt to my father. Or so I thought.

Despite what happened – the financial ruin, family conflict and emotional depletion – I am grateful for those seven months (what I now call a “successful fact-finding mission”). In fact – due to all that happened, I had the opportunity to see the big picture clearly, to face the facts of my relationships with my siblings, to discover the reality of my father’s financial patterns, to redefine my relationship with him, to enjoy a major emotional breakthrough, and, to embrace a new way of thinking.

Those negative stories associated with my “core wound?” False. I am not an unwanted problem. The happy ending to this story? IT’S NOT MY FAULT.

Hitting my own financial, emotional and spiritual bottom during my attempt to “save my dad” actually saved me. So again, in a roundabout way, Dad rescued me. Had I never gone to Nashville to face his and my financial realities, patterns and mistakes, I would have never been freed of that debilitating “core wound.”

Amazingly, since planning my move from Nashville back to DC, I am no longer paralyzed by negative thoughts when trying to apply for jobs. I no longer feel a shameful, guilt-ridden debt toward my father. I know what I owe him – and that is LOVE.

Liberated, I have moved into a fresh, new phase, uninhibited by false beliefs that used to paralyze me and squash any chance for adult development. I am embracing life with more passion than ever, rediscovering true connections with friends, cultivating community in my beloved hometown…and…working my ass off!

Dad has always been my consistent source of encouragement, faith and unconditional acceptance. He’s been my champion, my cheerleader. I can’t tell you how many times he’s said, “Don’t let it get you down!” when the hard knocks hit. He has always, constantly told me how much he loves me, how much he believes in me. So now, when I call him to consistently report good news about work and life, he is thrilled.

I’m finally growing up.

*  *  *

Let me tell you how much one grows up while spending the prime years of adulthood drinking reality away: Not at all. Addiction leaves no room for personal and emotional growth. Today, at nearly 12 years sober, I’m still undoing old patterns, making up for past mistakes…and…committing new ones. The difference now? I am aware, accountable and willing to take action to change.

I typically don’t spend a lot of time defending myself, because I have faith in my character. Still, I will say this:

Some may believe that my father’s current state of financial woes and related issues is all my fault. Those people can have their blame game, their misdirected anger and their battles. I’ll take no part. I know exactly how I contributed to my father’s current condition; and I now know the other factors at play. I am not the problem. I am a daughter that shows up, that accepts responsibility, that would do anything for her father – just as he did for me. Over many years of feeling that I “owe him” for giving to me so freely, I’ve taken action to serve him however possible – by sharing life with him, cleaning and cooking during visits, spending quality time, and, showing my love for him in many ways.

I have grown to feel completely at peace with my sincere efforts, and plan to continue them, along with direct financial amends, as soon as I am able. I’m saying this here, now, with all as my witness.

And that, my friends, is the end of my explanation and defensiveness about this issue. Let’s move on…

*  *  *

DadCereal

The Man Today, Relaxing, After 80+ Years Of Leaping Tall Buildings In A Single Bound

Have you ever noticed that, when the Super Hero swoops in to rescue the distressed victims, she or he never asks: “So, what happened, guys? Why are you in so much trouble?” That selfless hero just plucks ‘em up, no questions asked.

Over and over, my dad jumped into fires, hot water and quicksand to pull me out. He saved me – whether or not I deserved to be saved, and whether or not it was healthy for me…or him.

Someday I will tell you more about how my father positively influenced my life, my diverse cultural yearnings, my commitment to good health, my career direction and more. How he’s the guy behind my percussion talents, my yoga class music choices and my love for Washington, DC.

But the most notable way my father influenced my life? He once regretted my birth; and then he saved me from dying. And most recently – after seven months of tough truths, humbling honesty, stressful interaction and unconditional love…after coming full circle in our relationship and shedding old stories that no longer serve us – he reawakened my passion for life. Finally, I can absorb all those years that – in addition to supporting me financially – he heroically scooped me up, kept me warm and held me high.

I love you, Dad. More than I can express. You are, and always will be, my Super Hero.

Happy Father’s Day, y’all. OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti. Peace, Peace, Peace.

*  *  *

(Note: I read this piece to my father before publishing it; and we cried together out of love and respect. He approved publication. Also Note: Whenever I write truthfully about my family, I always have to add: I love and respect my parents, and I love and respect my family.  I understand that we all suffered – even historically, way before I was born.  The ancestry of pain leaves a tough road to travel.  We do our best.)

 

 

 

Deflated Balloons & Silver Linings June 4, 2014

Photo: Larkin P. Goff

Photo: Larkin P. Goff

I once heard an elder in recovery share that, when consumed by great emotion, it’s essential to “stick a pin in it” by sharing. I’ve followed suit ever since. For me, to harbor negative emotions is to go toward a drink. As a recovering addict, to drink is to die. So, being open and honest is essential.

Particularly with anger or sadness, talking, writing and sharing about the situation decreases the emotion’s hold on me. I connect this tool to the yogic practice of Pratipaksha Bhavana – replacing negative thoughts with positive. After loosening the emotion’s grip on me (or my grip on it!), I promptly turn my thoughts to the Silver Linings of the situation. Not to deny the cause behind the emotion or stuff the problem, but, to free myself enough to handle the issue with more ease and peace.

You might say, “I’m not an addict. Why shouldn’t I let my feelings blow up like a balloon? I love stewing in anger, or, pulling the covers up over my head for a day.” Of course – it’s normal to feel intense emotion. And, it’s healthy to let it out – to release it constructively, with intentions to examine the cause and decrease its repetition. At this point in my 20+ years of practicing yoga, studying its ideology and experiencing its benefits, even if I were not an addict, I would definitely choose to address, process and neutralize my emotions. I have found that, in every case, the wise sages and yogis are correct: reaching a place of inner peace pays off personally, and, globally.

*  *  *

Today, I’m “sticking a pin” in a balloon of sadness: I had to cancel my Father’s Day trip to Nashville. Ugh.

I’ve spent every Father’s Day with Dad since my mom died in 2002. Having just unexpectedly returned to DC after abruptly “moving” to Nashville last fall, I really wanted to continue the annual tradition of seeing him for that special weekend. But the fact is, I cannot afford to miss work. I have one goal right now: to work my way out of debt. And that requires a very, very simplified lifestyle. Without baseball games, without dining out, without travel. With room for the unexpected and essential, like last week’s ER visit, a high-cost monthly asthma prescription, a replacement for a ruined shoe and an upcoming doctor’s appointment.

I could stew in self-pity over this! Poor me, poor me – pour me a drink. Or, I could process my sadness by feeling, honoring and sharing it…and then move on to the positives. And there are many.

Silver Linings of prioritizing debt reduction, and therefore, canceling my Father’s Day trip:
– Although I am sad about not seeing my father, I am very happy that I have steady work.
– Although my father will be sad about the trip cancellation, he’s very happy that I have steady work.
– By prioritizing debt reduction, I’m addressing my own financial responsibilities; and, I can help address my dad’s financial needs – which are stressed partially due to my past “borrowing” from him.
– Since returning from the Nashville family fiasco, I’m exercising more financial independence and accountability than I have in a long time.
– By cutting back on costly entertainment and leisure, I can spend quality time with friends (taking walks, hanging at the park, finding free events, and sharing tea and snacks at home) and be more mindful about my eating habits (cooking nutritious meals).
– I am learning to say “yes” when friends want to treat, which can be difficult; in the past, I’d rather fake an air of stability and go broke than accept a “handout.”
– I am appreciating simple self-care rituals, such as: meandering urban strolls, deep relaxation/Yoga Nidra sessions at home, and, winding down at night with a sweet treat, lavender foot rub and cup of Rasayana (warm milk with spices).

MeditatingLegsMudra(July2011)All of this cultivates a feeling of balance, contentment and ease – which in the end, are the most important outcomes of any situation. Because when I am ill-at-ease, I am adding to the world’s dis-ease. And when I am feeling peaceful, I am adding to the peace around me.

*  *  *

Again, I’m not saying that sadness is a bad thing. And I’m not saying that the cause of my sadness should be blindly replaced with random happy thoughts. By using the “stick a pin in it” tool, and, by practicing Pratipaksha Bhavana, I’m creating space to handle the problem with more gracefulness, and, to focus on the positives within it. Because every challenge has a Silver Lining, if I am willing and able to do the work to discover it – and most importantly, to step forward with its beauty.

So today, in concert with feeling natural sadness about not seeing Dad for Father’s Day, I’m also happily deflated, and gratefully shining.

Thanks for listening. May your emotions be deflated, and the Silver Linings grant you freedom to grow. OM Shanti.

 

It’s A Family Affair May 29, 2014

“To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.”  ~ ConfuciusNashvilleGrate(Fall13)

I have written and re-written this blog 1,000 times. In those drafts, I: shared the sad and messy facts about families dealing with aging parents; reprinted my raw and emotional Facebook mini-blogs from February and March, when family matters blew up in Nashville; proved myself right and damned myself for screwing up; expressed devotion, concern and love for my father. Trying to get to the bottom of my unrest about my time in Nashville and my decision to move back to DC, I have examined every confusing corner of the situation.u

As of today, I’ve been back in DC for exactly two months. A few intense Full and New Moons have passed. The spiritual books I’m reading, the yoga classes I’m taking, the life experiences I’m having – they all point in one direction. The mirror is being held up, and I am being invited to look myself in the eye. The universe has been scraping away and wearing me down – in the best way possible. It’s time for change, for good.

At 2:40pm EST yesterday, while I meditated for the New Moon peak, this statement consumed my thoughts, shook me to my core and erased my confusion:

I really must clear my heart of anything but LOVE.

Because in the end, the pain of harboring resentment in my heart is bigger than any original harm. So here, dear friends, is the final draft of this blog.

*  *  *

FORGIVE ME FACEBOOK; IT’S BEEN MORE THAN THREE MONTHS SINCE MY LAST BLOG POST…

One hour after posting my last piece, “Be My Valentine,” my life turned upside down. That afternoon, after a heart-liberating massage, I was glowing with positive energy toward life. Then…unexpected family matters began to abound. And I learned something very important: whereas I’d believed that I moved to Nashville to take care of my aging father until the day he died…I suddenly understood that I was actually visiting Nashville on an important fact-finding mission.

Relatively soon after posting that February blog, I left Nashville to move back to my hometown of Washington, DC. There was no other course but to throw up the white flag, trust that my father would be helped by others and return to the place that historically nourishes and restores me: my true HOME.

During and since my time in Nashville, I have felt angry, harmed, righteous and vengeful. I processed these feelings through my practice, and, with my dear friends and others close to me. I wrote about the situation on Facebook. Now, it’s time to let those feelings go, and, leave that situation in the past. And if the resentments surface again (because they could), I must vow to revisit and re-process them in privacy and with respect, and, in appropriate venues and constructive ways.

I exposed my family’s pain – and by doing so, I caused harm. My Urban Yoga Den page on Facebook is now free of all mentions of my family during those times.

This was a tough pill to swallow…a humbling reality to accept.

As I said, since returning HOME, my reading, my classes and my experiences have been softening my wall of self-justification for processing the family situation so publicly (i.e. family is a part of life, and the Urban Yoga Den talks about life; it’s my personal mission to not hide anything; the blog’s rigorous honesty is in service to others; and – ahem – it’s my retribution for being harmed). With that thin veil of “valid reasons” lifted, I finally saw what was beneath it: I’d been acting on an emotionally twisted mix of desires to be seen as right, to be seen as special, to be seen as healthy, to be seen as good…and also to be seen as pitiful. I wanted to be loved…and also to be outcast. Beyond that? I discovered my desire to “own” my father and to be the “best” daughter. Ugh, why? Because of the undying shame I feel about the debt I owe him, after decades of an unhealthy financial dependence.

And at the heart of all of these discoveries? The most important truth of all: I am terrified of losing my father. I love him more than anyone in the world. I always have.

*  *  *

“Unless we come to understand the self-defeating nature of our own possessiveness, we cannot stop making war.” ~ Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

When I read this sentence from “Why We Fight: Practices for Lasting Peace,” I immediately wrote “MY dad” in the margin. I realized that I’d wanted Dad to be “mine.” Forever. Much of the motivation behind my move to Nashville to help my father had come from an intense fear of losing him. Of course, there were so-called “noble” motivations, as well. For instance, my father had helped me emotionally and financially for much of my life. So, I wanted to give back more substantially than before – visiting a few times a year to clean, cook and hang out. Attached to that noble motivation, however, was an underlying feeling of shame, guilt and accountability to a great debt…which also led to the feeling that I had to be there for him, had to do the most for him and had to be the best for him.

It’s complex, I know. It’s family.

What rings true right now, however, are the negative results of my possessiveness. It drove my division with my sisters, it drove my defensiveness with Dad’s community and it even drove my own inner battles when feeling insufficient in serving him.

In his book, Tigunait reminded me, “Yoga simply says, ‘Remember, this whole world with all its objects has evolved from God and still exists in God. Every single object, every single aspect of this world is pervaded by God. Things of the world are given to you as gifts. Learn to enjoy them without becoming attached to them.’ (Isha Upanishad, verse 1)”

“Even people,” I wrote in the margin. My father is God’s gift. He’s not mine at all. Or anyone’s.

“The knowledge that we have these worldly resources at our disposal and yet we are not their owners will protect us from disputes and disagreements,” Tigunait assures. I believe him. I don’t want continued conflict with my family. So, through specific practices and resources, I’m learning to love my father without needing to possess or prove anything to anyone. And that includes transmuting my possessiveness into appreciation for the beauty we’ve shared, feeling gratitude for each current/present moment with him (even if on the phone or through the mail), and, believing that I always do my best in service to him.

It also means releasing my dread of saying goodbye.

*  *  *

“Love and tolerance of others is our code. And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone.” ~ from addiction recovery literature

I admit there is still a part of me that wants to prove – to readers, to friends, to community, to family, to everyone – that I am the good one, that I am right, that I am this or I am that. The fact is: this “I-am-ness” is what separates me from others, creates friction and ends up causing harm. Even saying that I’m bad, that I’m horrible, that I’m unforgiveable (because at times the mood can shift from self-righteousness to self-pity) results in the same separation.

Enough! I am what I am at any given moment, and what others think about me is truly beyond my control and none of my business. Only I must sit with myself and know myself. And in the end, if I truly want to cultivate inner peace and therefore spread peace around me (Ahimsa – non-harming – the essence of all my yogic practices and life intentions), then right/wrong and good/bad cannot matter at all.

Tigunait’s book speaks of world wars. For me, it relates to my own internal, interpersonal and family battles. It’s all the same. Societal wars evolve from individual toxicity. “These subtle problems,” he says, “can be solved neither through political negotiations nor with sermons. They are the subtle causes of our external catastrophes, and the only way to overcome them lies in applying spiritual tools and committing ourselves to the disciplines that lead us to self-transformation. … Such a thing can be done. It requires courage, tolerance, forbearance, endurance, and a total commitment to practice the philosophy one professes… The great scripture, The Bhagavad Gita, says, ‘Peace is priceless. Attain peace at any cost.’”

*  *  *

I crave LOVE. And so I must choose LOVE whole-heartedly.

For decades I failed to live with any principles at all. Presently, thanks to the 12 steps of addiction recovery, the 8 limbs of yoga and additional positive influences, I’ve not only established values; I do my best to live them. I still fail at times. I own, examine and aim to mend my past and current errors. I am human. That’s all I can do.

In one of my March Facebook mini-blogs, I said that I was “burying my wars,” and I meant it. No more family battle tales – they would only feed the cycle of pain. With some space and time between what happened during my seven months in Nashville and this present moment, I can now focus on the silver linings, the lessons learned and the immense personal growth.

It’s time to take the lessons learned in Nashville and apply them to my renewed life, back in my beloved hometown of DC. I have plenty of opportunities to practice healthy “family dynamics” with my friends, new co-workers and community members! Our goal may be to build love and trust, to serve a business mission, and/or to create safer neighborhoods.

Whatever the task, there is a lot at stake in these relationships.

*  *  *

OMMM…
SAHANA VAVATU
SAHANAU BHUNAKTU
SAHA VIRIYAM KARAVAVAHAI
TEJAS VINAVADHITA MASTU MAVID
VISHA VAHAI HI
OM SHANTI SHANTI SHANTI.

DCYogaNook(Mar14)OMMM…
May we be protected together.
May we be nourished together.
May we work together with great energy.
May our study together be enlightening.
May there be no hatred between us.
OM peace peace peace.

The rich stories, ideology and practices of yoga can provide a framework for positive interactions and outcomes. This yogic prayer has been a fixture in my daily practice for months now. Sometimes I would leave a recording of it on ‘repeat’ and listen to it softly all day and night. It helped decrease my upset about family matters in Nashville, it helped through my transition back to DC, and it helps in my renewed life with its very normal interpersonal challenges. Coming from this past year’s bumps and bruises, my fears of being harmed and/or of losing something valuable can make me hyper-sensitive at times. Hah, go figure – this work is still at the roots of my greatest growth. Thankfully, I’m HOME, where my “family-of-choice” is cheering me onward and upward. After rising from the fire of my Nashville experience, I feel stronger than ever, and ready to keep growing.

In my ideal “family,” there is honesty, openness, acceptance and support. There is hardship, challenge and pain. Discomfort and willingness coexist – as do care and anger. Together, we protect, we nourish, we work, we study, and above all, we LOVE.

Thanks for reading – and, thanks for being part of my family. OM Shanti.

 

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 381 other followers