Fearless December 21, 2015
Yoga Focus: Taking Stock November 9, 2015
8 November, 2015
This week marks the Indian holiday of Diwali, which is generally known as the Indian Festival Of Lights. Yet, it signifies so much more. Most markedly, the 5-day festival celebrates the triumph of Light over Darkness by recalling the many battles won by virtuous warriors over evil demons. On a social level, it represents a time of families gathering to share sweets and sweetness, couples honoring their partnerships and siblings acknowledging their love. On a practical level, the holiday signifies a fiscal new year, when businesses start a new financial calendar, take inventory and take stock.
For me, the arrival of Diwali marks a period of taking stock in all areas of life, and, of beginning to shape intentions for the next calendar year.
Annually, from late July (my birthday) through the early Autumn (Equinox, Jewish New Year and my sobriety anniversary), I spend time reflecting on the prior year. That reverse reflection shifts into all-wheel-drive when Diwali arrives. There is something about the shift in weather that energizes me inwardly. My dreams start to spark up, my passions start to speak up. I begin taking stock of what I presently “have,” why I presently live and how I presently love. And so on. As I inventory my life, I start to look forward with deep intention. By late December (Winter Solstice and traditional New Year), I am feeling a positive pull toward productivity and manifestation.
So while most yoga studios, yoga teachers and people in general are jumping on the Gratitude bandwagon for November, I am pausing to inventory my life – so I can jump on the approaching Sankalpa train with as much discernment, clarity and resolve as possible.
I quit teaching yoga last week.
There were so many reasons why; and it was a long time comin’. Still, my decision was rash and reactive – a result of not being honest with myself and not holding myself to truths untold. I might blog about the decision eventually. But, for now, I’m consumed with planning my New Year’s Eve Sankalpa Vinyasa workshop.
Wait – didn’t I just say that I quit teaching yoga?
The response to my Facebook announcement was full of solidarity from friends, yoga teachers, students and studio owners who are all struggling with, questioning or strategizing against yoga’s shift away from its mindful roots. And among the post’s comments was one question: “What about New Year’s Eve?” I’ve taught my “Let Your Intentions Flow” workshop for five years in DC. Teaching that late-night session of sacred inner work not only facilitates students’ New Year “resolutions,” it fuels me with purpose. So…when my teacher, who also owns a studio, mentioned that I could hold the workshop there, I said “Yes.”
This in itself marks a huge period of Autumn-supported reflection and inventory – I may change what I offer and how I offer it. As this change brews, I’m excited to look into some dark corners and see what I might illuminate going forward.
Which brings me back to Diwali. Yoga has always given me permission to be authentic, my whole self. It has encouraged me to look squarely at my past, my present and my potential. It has kept me safe through dark times. It has made me curious about that darkness. And it has consistently guided me toward the light of truth.
For this week’s Diwali observance, I’m re-reading and re-posting 2012 and 2009 blogs about the holiday – my perspectives and experiences have not changed. The ideas and practices are tried and true. I hope you enjoy them.
Happy Diwali! OM Shanti.
November 15, 2012 – Diwali Class Featured in Huffington Post!
I am honored (floored, really) to be featured in this Huffington Post blog (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dawn-cherie-araujo/diwali-columbia-heights_b_2131582.html) – “Diwali Yoga in Columbia Heights,” by religion journalist Dawn Cherie Araujo – about our special yoga class last night.
As my friend Sachin notes in the article, the practice was mind-blowing. I will not take credit for that outcome, however – it’s the result of the yoga itself, and a roomful of very strong intentions. Heartfelt thanks to our students, from our wonderful little 8-year-old guest to the rest of the yoga veterans in the class.
Yoga is such a gift. Love love love… OM Shanti.
* * *
November 13, 2012 – Diwali’s Balance of Darkness with Light
“What is important for a movie? Both – light to make it; darkness to show it. The minute you learn to respect and see both sides of the coin as equally good, you can enjoy both. It is only a matter of understanding and acceptance. Let us have that light of understanding. Accept things as they are. Then, life is worth living. The world becomes a heaven on earth for you.”
– Swami Satchidananda
In less than one hour, I’ll teach my annual Diwali-themed yoga class. This Indian holiday is commonly known as the “Festival of Lights,” signifying the triumph of light over darkness. Ancient history tells of a number of battles across the nation ending, with great victories over evil forces. To welcome home the heroic warriors on the dark eve of a New Moon, villagers lit their paths with glowing oil lamps.
Hence the ongoing tradition of celebrating this particular New Moon with lamps, fireworks and other uplifting festivities.
For me, Diwali reminds me of the necessity of both darkness and light.
I used to be very, very scared of the “dark.” The moment a hint of sadness or lowness or depression showed up, I was in action – figuratively lighting my oil lamps to brighten things up. These days, I have found a strength in welcoming times of darkness, struggle, challenge. Not that I like to dwell there for long – I can appreciate a rough patch and at the same time know that I must do some reflection and practice to shed light on its lesson.
So there is a balance. Darkness and light must exist.
As for battles – I will admit that sometime my greatest battle is with myself. Although I have come to be at peace during most of my dark times, there are still situations where my fears can get the best of me. They can lead me into poor choices, rash decisions, intense self-protection. But less and less. Thankfully.
So today, my greatest victory is not when I “win a battle,” but when I surrender my fears and allow the battle to dissolve.
What are your battles? Which have you “won?” Celebrate them tonight! And which have you surrendered from? Celebrate them, too. Recognize your victories. If you are currently in a dark time, have hope for the triumph of light.
‘Tis the season of shortening days. Autumn calls us to enjoy the comfort of candles, fires, warmth. To cultivate our own light. This very natural, womb-like, growing darkness can be an invitation to experience a balance of darkness with light, of light with darkness. Enjoy.
* * *
October 20, 2009 – Where the Wild Things Are
“You need good light to make a movie, is it not so? And then you need good darkness in which to show it. Isn’t that funny?” – Swami Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga
I have a confession: I’m scared of the dark.
Well, not “the dark,” as in a dark room, or a dark forest or dark places like that. I’m afraid of the dark-ness within me. That’s right, folks. This Diwali-celebrating, Jewish-new-year-observing, eight-limbs-of-yoga-loving gal gets sucked into the tunnels of doubt, despair and even depression at times.
Another confession: I think sometimes I try too hard to “dissolve” that darkness.
Heaven forbid I head back to that bottom mentioned in my 9/24 “Welcome to the Urban Yoga Den” entry. Even now, nearly 20 years later, when darkness taps at my door, I feel terrified. My solution? Do something. Quick. Light candles, exhale and let go, practice more rituals. Do, do, do.
Y’know all this new moon/Autumn/Diwali activity that I’ve been writing about and practicing lately? Is it healthy and positive, or is it my way of escaping the discomfort of life’s dark moments? The fact is – life hurts sometimes. The question is – should I run away by engaging in non-stop activity; or should I take a deep breath, stick around and see what happens?
I saw Where the Wild Things Are last night. When I first saw the trailer back in July, I sobbed. That kid’s pain leaped off the screen and into my chest. And when he leaped into his fantasy world…wow…without getting into the details of my childhood, let’s just say I related big-time. And that was only the trailer!
In the original Where the Wild Things Are storybook, it take Max 12 pages to travel from his bedroom forest to the wild things’ island. His journey in that little sailboat lasts “through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year.” All of that time and effort to leave the past, the pain, the ickiness behind! And in the end, where does he end up? Where the wild things are – an island of monsters.
Seems familiar to me. Hmmm.
How gratifying to finally see the film after so much anticipation. Spike Jonze hit the nail on the head. I’m getting choked up simply recalling how vividly he portrays a child’s reactions to confusion, betrayal, neglect and alienation. How a child creates a fantasy world in order to cope. How that child learns that, even in his imaginary kingdom, there is confusion, betrayal, neglect and alienation.
I’m that child. I mean right now. I’m that kid. It’s taken a while, but I’m learning that even with the warm glow of Diwali’s lights, even with the sacred space of yoga, even with the refuge of doing, doing, doing – life happens.
Monsters will always show up – on far-off islands, at home, in loved ones and within my own self. Where humans are involved, there will be pain. There will also be joy. Where reality exists, there will be darkness. And there will also be light.
So there’s nothing to be scared of after all.
“What is important for a movie? Both – light to make it; darkness to show it. The minute you learn to respect and see both sides of the coin as equally good, you can enjoy both. It is only a matter of understanding and acceptance. Let us have that light of understanding. Accept things as they are. Then, life is worth living. The world becomes a heaven on earth for you.” – Swami Satchidananda
* * *
October 15, 2009 – Diwali Intentions
Sometimes I feel very emotional after teaching a particularly energized Integral Yoga class. Tonight was one of those times.
For the months of September and October, our classes have focused on Pranayama (see Tips-n-Tools for more on our bi-monthly focus), or breathing practices. Complemented by this week’s waning moon and the coming of Fall, our exhales have come to mean more than a mere letting go of air. Indeed, they’ve become symbols of transformation.
So at tonight’s IY class at Past Tense Studio, under a rainy sky and just four days before the new moon, we imagined our battles, troubles and trials in the palms of our hands. Holding our palms together at heart-center, we honored this darkness, and perhaps grew to understand it.
Next, after inhaling our fingertips toward the sky, we exhaled and allowed our arms to open wide, releasing our darkness. With each exhale we began to dissolve what no longer serves.
The intention in the room felt so deeply human, even vulnerable. How could one not be moved?
Today marks the opening of the Indian holy days called Diwali – from the crescent to the new moon, as that pie-in-the-sky whittles away to nothing, Hindus, Sikhs and others celebrate the proverbial triumph of good over evil within individuals. During this Festival of Lights, as the night sky darkens to moonless, the golden glow of oil lamps fills streets and homes.
Indian folkloric tales share the journeys of historical characters returning from exile, imprisonment and battles to be welcomed by candlelit temples and rows of oil lamps.
And here in the Mid-Atlantic, as the moon disappears and the change of seasons falls upon us, we exhale in yoga class and let go, let go, let go – making room for more light within.
In Autumn, nature begins its own process of letting go. Green grass turns dry brown, leaves turn brilliant colors then drop to the ground, blue skies surrender to misty grey and the sun sinks lower each day. Things appear to be dying in the fall. At the same time, gardeners plant bulbs that nestle in the ground to be nurtured by fall’s fertilizers.
‘Tis the season to say goodbye to the old, to let it die off and sink away. So plant your bulbs and let them rest while you live each changing moment of autumn. Light a candle, wish your darkness farewell, then let yourself glow.
I am setting a Diwali intention. Between today and the new moon of Sunday, October 18th, as that sliver of a moon disappears, I invite you to join me in envisioning your darkness between the palms of your hands – embrace it, honor it, understand it. Lift your fingertips to the sky, and exhale to let go, let go, let go.
May the light of truth overcome all the darkness. OM Shanti.
(P.S. Gratitude to Liz Workman of Nashville’s Belmont Lotus, and many others who believe that our obstacles can be teachers, for the inspiration.)
Resurrection: A 25-Year Journey March 31, 2015
I am planting this seed where the pain of my past no longer defines me.
I am planting this seed where the wealth of my past most certainly defines me.
I am planting this seed where all of my past informs me.
From it will grow my next step, experience, thought, breath.
~ from my Spring 2014 journal, post Maha Shivaratri
* * *
I believe that every outcome is the result of a chain of actions, of simple cause and effect – of Karma, if you will. What happens right here, right now, might seem surprising and mysterious. But that event was actually molded by a series of efforts – seen and unseen – that have been bubbling and boiling for a good, long time. Nothing is miraculous. Everything makes perfect sense.
The seeds, after all, have been planted.
* * *
Easter Sunday, 1990, New Orleans. I was still awakening from my 2nd suicide attempt in one week. I put on a white Esprit sundress and my black Vans deck shoes, grabbed my Canon AE-1 and drifted down to the French Quarter to shoot. My favorite images from that day: 1) Two little kids, dressed in Easter best, flowers in their hair, smiling widely and dancing wildly to street music – at their moment of abandoned embrace; 2) An elder couple, dressed in what we would call “vintage” Sansabelt slacks and polyester blend cardigans, watching the musical mayhem – at the moment that their hands join together behind their hips.
Images full of love and light. Taken in black and white. And I would remain lost in darkness for nearly 13 more years, slowly rising from the dead. Gradually finding my way here.
Easter Week, 2015, Washington DC. I have now been alive for half of my life. This summer I will turn 50, and this week is the 25th anniversary of those final suicide attempts – the culmination of a string of deliberate tries and careless living. Beginning around age 11, trying to smother myself out of grief when my beloved Aunt died…in 6th grade, jumping down ridiculously long flights of stairs, believing I could fly…as I grew up, guzzling down ridiculous amounts of alcohol to kill the pain of what I now know is untreated trauma…during college holiday, crashing and spinning my car across the New Jersey Turnpike while speeding recklessly through Thanksgiving Eve traffic…in-between and onward, drowning in self-destruction of all kinds. Until Easter of 1990, I’d spent half of my life wanting and trying to die.
When my 2nd suicide attempt failed, I raised the white flag. And I’ve been around ever since – increasingly alive to tell the story.
* * *
During those first 12.5 years of seeking healing, my drinking to obliteration would continue periodically. Despite enjoying stretches of dryness, having a regular yoga practice, practicing spiritual ceremony from many origins, returning to my childhood religion, changing my diet, going to therapy and so on, I still could not access a consistent joy for life nor desire to live. And admittedly, over the 12.5 years since getting sober through a program in October 2002, I’ve still reached gravely low points. I planned to jump off of a bridge after a heart-smashing breakup; I punched a wall while experiencing a terrifying PTSD trigger; and, I’ve wanted to rip my skin off during the often uncomfortable yet sacred work of untangling the thickly rooted patterns beneath my depression bouts.
So what’s the difference between the 1st and 2nd halves of the past 25 years? Since getting sober through a program, I have not used alcohol and drugs to hide from, mask or deaden my feelings. I have experienced all of life’s challenges without escape. I’ve used the tools of the program, yoga, therapy and other healing resources to face my past, clear away as much wreckage as possible, and address the origins of my addiction and mental health issues. I’ve grown to accept that certain “dark” feelings and events might be a fact of life – until they’re not. Now, I am rigorously honest about my life; I never go through challenge alone; and I never say no to help.
Today – thanks to that “uncomfortable yet sacred work” of practicing the program’s 12 steps, aiming to live yoga’s 8 limbs and accepting help from a wise and expert circle of counsel – I know exactly where my suicidal impulses originate; I have infinite resources for healing, growth and change; and I am grateful for every moment of the journey that I’ve traveled. All of it. Without this very life, this very story, I would not know how to respond to life’s inevitable trials, nor, authentically and effectively serve others with similar backgrounds and challenges. Today, I show up for life gratefully, with more consistent joy and presence than ever.
So, I believe, my path of obstacles, my pattern of resilience…both are part of a much larger, seen and unseen web of cause-and-effect. Other beings before me went through similar trials as mine, and therefore were available to guide me when I came along. And those beings passed on their experience, strength and hope, so I could then share what has worked in my life with others.
* * *
If I were to believe in miracles…for example, if I believed that my survival of a lengthy romance with suicidal ideation, a deep yearning to be dead and multiple suicide attempts was miraculous, then I must believe that my friend Bob’s successful suicide (or any destructive, disastrous or sad event) was also a magical, mysterious event rather than the result of distinct actions – a combination of his, nature’s and universal efforts. Karma. Not bad or good Karma. Simply Karma.
It has taken effort, not miracles, for me to reach where I am today. Just as it’s taken effort for you to reach where you are. Or anyone to reach any moment. In my opinion.
“Really, Holly?” says a voice within. “If you truly do not believe in miracles, why do you weep every single time you hear these words during the J. Brown Yoga DVD’s deep relaxation period? Every. Single. Time.”
Breath coming in and out of you, heart beating…the sun and the moon and the stars and the planets are all circumambulating each other. Life is happening. And maybe you would observe, or, at least entertain the notion that it’s inherently worthwhile. The fact that you are lying here existing right now is a profound miracle beyond comprehension. And there’s a comfort to seeing life in that way. It makes it easier to overcome the difficulties that are presented, and to really cherish and appreciate the gift of…life.
All in all – this Easter, I will observe 25 years of yearning to live. It feels a bit overwhelming! At the same time that I’m celebrating the journey, I’m grieving for that poor girl from 1990 New Orleans. It’s interesting. Over last weekend, I binged on TV and sugar, and then slept forever on Monday morning. Clearly, habits of avoidance. I didn’t get to the bottom of my emotions until I got on the phone with my therapist, and started describing exactly how I lived back then.
Daily, I would wake up with a stranger, drink mimosas made with cheap champagne bought with my father’s Exxon card, then go by a liquor store on the way to listen to street music in the French Quarter. I would sit on a curb and drink cheap tequila out of a paper bag. I imagined myself a writer. I hung out with celebrity drunks. At the end of the day, I would bring home a stranger. Repeat, daily. I remember every single moment of what I thought would be my last night on earth – the hot chocolate at a café, the visit to a famous producer’s recording studio, the producer’s obvious attraction to my friend, the feeling of unworthiness and impossibility, the weight of hidden trauma and isolation, the denseness of depression.
And ultimately, the triumph of pain.
I awoke the next morning, barfed up a toxic combo of drugs and alcohol, and walked around my sunny spring neighborhood in a daze. After trying a different combination of substances a few days later, and waking up again, I knew 100% that I would never be able to take my own life. But I did not know how I would go on living.
For 25 years since that Easter Sunday – with its visions of love and light – I’ve simply put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes stumbling, sometimes dancing.
* * *
When I recently moved into the house where I currently live, a friend sent a lovely gift and card. “Welcome to your new home! I hope it proves to be a…garden to grow the seeds of your creativity.” Indeed, the seeds have been planted.
Love life. It is, indeed, worthwhile.
Thank you for reading. OM Shanti.
Yoga Class Focus: Gratitude Trumps Adversity November 27, 2014
Sometimes, gratitude does not come overnight. Sometimes days, weeks and months can pass before thankfulness finds its way into a broken heart. But from experience (and lots of it), I know there will be a silver lining to every story of challenge, hardship and adversity. If you’ve read my blog before, you are familiar with my efforts to use yoga, addiction recovery, therapy and related resources to heal from past trauma and cultivate a life of balance and wellness. I’m also devoted to sharing these experiences and tools with others. I’m not perfect; still, I do believe in every being’s potential to heal, grow and change.
And for that – the faith, the belief, the hope – I am grateful.
On this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful for two specific things.
* * *
“Humility and gratitude go hand in hand.”
~ Swami Sivananda Radha
#1: I don’t know where my father is.
You may have read my past blogs about last year’s family fiasco. I’d moved from my hometown of DC to Dad’s retirement city of Nashville to support him as he ages. There were major issues with his house, his health and his finances. Although I was able to help successfully in many ways, my time there was challenging from every angle – work, health, home, community, family. The most difficult was watching my father fade with dementia. The most damaging was my sisters’ hostility toward me. I became financially, physically and emotionally depleted. After gaining counsel, I made the very difficult decision to return to DC, where – with the support of deep roots and caring communities – I could rebuild from scratch.
Over the past year, I have been ostracized by my sisters and by my father’s community. I understand where their blurred perspectives originate, and know that my side of the street is clean. I was the one who showed up for him devotedly and dependably since my mother died more than a decade ago. Because throughout our lives, Dad and I have shared an authentic love beyond description. This October, he told me he was having surgery for skin cancer on his head. Our last conversation was November 9th, the day before his procedure. And now, I can’t reach him, he’s not reaching out to me, my sisters and his friends are not contacting me, I have no idea how he is, and I can only guess where he is.
And…I AM GRATEFUL? How?
- I am not the only one who loves my father. Dad has his own higher power(s). I must have faith that he is being cared for. Plus, I have the chance to utilize my own toolbox of wellness resources in order to love him, forgive my sisters and cultivate compassion about the family dissonance. My prayers are for his whole health, and, for a joyous Thanksgiving, wherever he is.
- My friends are my family. This year, I was invited to multiple Thanksgiving meals. There is an “Orphans Dinner,” a “Vegetarian Friendsgiving,” a “Gluten Free Thanksgiving” and assorted gatherings in communities I’ve been part of for years and years. My “family of choice” has also chosen me – we share similar roots, shared experiences and a yearning for healing and growth.
- What a difference a year makes. Last winter in Nashville, I accepted a Second Harvest food donation for my family. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life – but, that box of food went a long way when resources were short. This past week, I joined a group of volunteers at a DC nonprofit, giving turkeys and groceries to families in need. This experience widened my gratitude for where I stand today. Things are far from stable, but thanks to seven months of recent steady work, I have food in my fridge…thanks to returning to DC, I’ll share holiday meals with dear ones…and thanks to gleaning the best from a past of hardship, I am able to serve others in ways that I once needed.
* * *
“Once you know that suffering is for your benefit… You’ll gladly go through it.”
~ Swami Satchidananda
#2: I was recently fired from my restaurant job.
Exactly four weeks before, my boss sat me down for a glowing progress review. A month later, she scornfully scolded and terminated me. I’m a willing, honest and dedicated worker. When I make mistakes, I take responsibility and seek solutions for improvement. Over that last month, however, there was scrutiny. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And then, bam…see ya.
And you know what? I AM GRATEFUL.
Oh, sure, I’m also feeling a mixture of injustice, anger, financial worry and general upset. With slight hints of self pity. I’m human. But in the end, this is clearly a case (as many friends have remarked in their own ways) where “god” or “the powers that be” are doing for me what I could not do for myself.
- It is a blessing to be free. I have been liberated from a place that handles professional affairs in a manner that I will not accept.
- When one door closes, another one opens. Since being fired, I have received numerous offers to teach yoga in studios, at schools, for birthday celebrations, for nonprofits and more.
- My confidence is boosted! I still must look for sustaining work (because teaching yoga does not pay the bills). And that last job – my first as a waitress/server – was at one of the most popular and busy restaurants in the city. So I am thankful for seven months of training and experience. Even while navigating interpersonal challenges with staff, I honed all of my past professional skills in customer service, marketing, event coordination, catering and more to become an awesome server. And I can take that anywhere. In the meantime, generous friends at a family-owned restaurant are giving me a few shifts, so I can keep up my chops.
- That job was a gift. One of the managers knew that I’d had a tough year away and – knowing that I had little restaurant experience – gave me work, so I could come home to DC and start strong. Over those seven months, I was able to get on the road to financial recovery. And for these next five months, thanks to generous landlords, I have a roof over my head, and the potential to continue chipping away at bills and debt through new work.
- I have some healing to do. I believe that I am a healthy woman. Truly. In body, mind and spirit. Thanks to that workplace experience, I am tackling yet another layer of sacred inner work. I had the opportunity to see how staff dynamics can trigger my PTSD – particularly now, after such a tough year with family dysfunction. Thanks to being healthy enough to take accountability for my part and see where I need to grow, I am venturing on a fresh direction toward wholeness.
* * *
“…she learned that surrender is quiet.”
~ from “Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling,”by Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms, a nonprofit serving women recovering from addiction and sexual trauma.
I’m a fighter.
That’s exactly why the recent job termination meeting was such an ironic victory. I had good reason to defend myself. However, I was silent. As the list of “wrongs” was aired, I squirmed internally and took mental notes. At times, I couldn’t help but look surprised. Although frustrated, I pursed my lips. I kept my feet firmly on the ground, my hands resting on my legs, my mind clear and my mouth shut.
Surrender is quiet.
Funny – I’d read the above line from “Snake Oil” on the bus ride to the meeting with my boss. Chapter 3, “Seeds of Healing,” introduces us to a number of Thistle Farms program participants, who work producing healing balms, bath salts and oils for the nonprofit. “Val, like every employee of Thistle Farms, began every morning in the meditation circle before she began to work. She said during her time at Thistle Farms she learned that surrender is quiet. She says in order for her to heal and forgive, she has to surrender everything. Through the journey of surrender, she learned how much quieter it was than all the fighting in prison, with family, with the world.”
Interesting timing, eh? The evening after being fired, it hit me – I had been fighting a lot at that job. Fighting my own fear of failure and financial insecurity; fighting my own negative voices; fighting other’s accusations; fighting for consistency; fighting for staff accountability. After that much battle, it’s clear: the job simply wasn’t meant to be.
As for the family situation, I’m not as quiet. My grief tends to shout, and, I’m having a tough time quelling that voice. There’s still a bit of wrestling; but I know most of it is within my own soul.
Still, it can feel good to give up. To wave the white flag, and accept what’s here, now, real and true. That job is gone, and it’s time to move on. I can’t reach my father, so I must focus on other joys. For me, acceptance is the 1st step toward Samtosha – one of yoga’s five Niyama, or value-based observances, as described by the Eight Limbs in the Yoga Sutras. Samtosha means complete contentment with whatever exists. And such contentment has the potential to transmute into GRATITUDE for the silver linings or lessons. With consistent observance and practice of surrender, acceptance, contentment and gratitude comes the mindful serenity that yoga promises.
I have to ask myself:
Do I want to walk around in misery and resentment about my adversity; or, do I want to cultivate inner peace despite hardship and nurture forgiveness despite hurt – and therefore contribute to harmony around me and in the world?
* * *
Aside from mentioning it in the August Yoga Class Focus blog, I never officially wrote about the September and October theme of GROWTH. I reckon I was too busy growing, and encouraging the process in others. So here we are in November, jumping on the GRATITUDE bandwagon! It simply cannot be helped. C’mon, aside from being connected to Thanksgiving marketing, it’s the perfect tie-in to yoga philosophy. Not to mention, exploring GRATITUDE invites us to take stock, offering an inroad toward New Year’s Intentions.
Nearing the end of 2014, I might say that my last year included a doozy of bumps and bruises. Justifiably, I could focus on the family problems, the job loss, my ongoing PTSD issues and my related fears about the future. On the other hand, I could exercise the yogic tenant of Pratipaksha Bhavana, and replace those negatives with the positives listed above.
The act of being grateful gives me something warm to hold in my heart, even when the chill of adversity breaks it. Gratitude softens me enough to squarely face my wounds. It keeps my mind open to – eventually – giving thanks for what initially shut me down.
No matter where you are in the world, I wish you a day of THANKS-GIVING. Heck, with yoga’s guidance, we could enjoy an entire lifetime of gratitude. I’m certainly aiming for that.
* * *
Thank you for reading; and, thank you for practicing with me – even if/when you are miles away. OM Shanti.
Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off (from the uyd archives) November 15, 2014
When I am struggling, friends sometimes say: “Go read your own blog!” Well, this past week has been a doozy of curve balls and losses. I recalled the blog below, from December 2010. I’m a bit embarrassed to share it, because it feels like I’ve been mostly depressed since then! Truth be told, the past 4 years have, indeed, been a severe string of betrayal, physical assaults, family hostility and loss. So, yes, I just went and read my own blog. Because this one – written in the midst of processing a trauma – is “Holly at her best.” Transparency, counsel, action, hope, resilience. Onward.
Thanks for reading. Love to you and all. OM Shanti.
* * *
YOGA CLASS FOCUS: ABUNDANCE – GROWTH
Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again. – Dorothy Field, 1930s Musical Lyricist
When I was around 6 years old, my mom would drive my sisters and I to a farm outside of DC for horseback riding lessons. A few weeks into our series, a horse threw me to the dirt! I remember bouncing along the ground (I was a chubby little gal), standing up, brushing myself off, and getting right back on the horse – before my teacher or mom could give that standard warning, “If you don’t get back on the horse, you’ll never ride again.” At that young age, I instinctively knew that getting back on the horse was my only option.
So, as I navigate the “throws” of life – even those that take a longer recovery – deep down I know I’ll bounce back.
Reaching the close of 2010, I wish I could promise friends, students and readers that THIS IS THE LAST TIME I’ll share about the betrayal I experienced this past summer. I, myself, wish this will be the last time that I dredge up that pain in this blog. The positive? Each time I write about the pain, I inevitably write about the healing and growth.
Thankfully I’ve been programmed that way from a very young age!
You must know that you can swim through every change of tide. – This morning’s Yogi Tea bag message.
It feels like everywhere I turn these days, writers, teachers and songs are encouraging me to drop my guard and jump into life with abandon. I’d love to. And I appreciate the encouragement! But the truth is, I’m terrified.
Fears related to the summer’s emotional trauma (and its related past-trauma triggers) are bubbling up again for a few reasons. Lately I’ve received invitations to connect with human beings. (Go figure!) A little romance, some friendships. Gratefully, despite (or perhaps due to?) my history as a trauma survivor, deep in my heart, I adore humans, humanity and humanness. In addition, with 6 months between the summer’s emotional shell shock and today’s invitations, my trust in others is gradually reawakening.
So as new life beckons, I simultaneously feel like jumping in…and running away.
I have been taught – and so I believe – that there is great value in sharing about difficulty and the process of surviving it. Not just for my own release and rebirth, perhaps also for someone who has gone or might go through something similar. So here goes. And maybe, this will be the last time.
Who says I can’t be free
From all of the things that I used to be
Rewrite my history –
Who says I can’t be free?
– John Mayer
Falls from horses were not the only dangers of my childhood. My family household was chaotic and violent, driven by addiction and emotional illness. Through a certain age, I found solace in music and god. I wrote and performed songs (escape), often sang myself to sleep (comfort) and craved spiritual experience (protection). At the same time, I existed in a state of self-preservation and readiness – prepared for the sky to fall at any moment. Witnessing the model of my three older sisters, who frequently ran away from home, I kept a small night bag packed with pajamas and toiletries, in case I ever had to run.
Eventually, the false strength of self-reliance and isolation won out over the gentle support of god and music. I took care of myself and often had to play other family-members’ roles. I learned to construct elaborate lies about the screaming fights, ambulances, lateness to school and other troubles. And for relief from the hiding and responsibility, my own addictions kicked in by age 11.
My parents are not to blame. The inevitable fallibility of lineage shaped them as parents, and they did their best with what they had. As did my sisters, whose only choice was to protect themselves and therefore grow apart from each other and me. Although I was resentful toward my parents beyond my college years, I eventually grew to see the bigger picture, and soulfully love and appreciate Mom and Dad for all they offered.
I share this family background to illustrate how it informed my adult life. Self-reliance, isolation and addiction do not nurture “normal” maturity! Poor decisions led to dangerous situations and more trauma. My gravitation back toward spiritual reliance began around Easter of 1990 after I hit an emotional and physical bottom while living in New Orleans. That summer I would teach myself to meditate by focusing on one sense at a time. This was the beginning of my relationship with the present moment, with “what is,” and with inner peace.
Some believe we are here to work out our past karma.. i need to remind myself that karma is not punishment.. just consequence. – Ricky Tran, Yoga Teacher
For the next twelve years, I sought personal wellness – and to learn how to relate well with others. I continued meditation, started practicing yoga (yay!), used therapy, experimented with different religious and spiritual traditions, changed my diet and pretty much tried anything that might make me feel better. Despite my best intentions, I also continued manifesting different shades of the violence and chaos of my childhood.
Continued active addiction, associated behaviors and unaddressed past trauma cemented me in old patterns. Not until 2002, when I had a moment of clarity and sought help for addiction, did life crack open and truly begin to change.
Our December  class focus is Abundance. I am sharing honestly about my past because for a long time, I felt ashamed of my journey of stumbles. Now I believe I have nothing to hide. And because of my own transformation, I have faith in every person’s ability to recover from the serious mistakes or conditions of their past. All it takes is the willingness to ask for help. Abundant growth is possible for all.
Today, all of my positive influences from the past 20 years work in-concert to encourage productive relationships, wellness of body, mind and spirit, productive relationships and serenity. At the same time, just like for everyone else on this Earth, life happens. Sometime life throws some curve balls. And sometimes we get hit by a pitch.
I was hit by a pitch this past summer. The man I’d been seeing for 6 months revealed something shocking that he’d been hiding. Not only did the lying hurt horribly, in addition, the nature of what he was hiding could have endangered my own well-being, and, it triggered much of my past emotional trauma. Sadly, I lost trust and love for everyone. I lived in fear.
Thankfully, the week before that bomb was dropped, I had emerged from a week-long Off The Mat Into The World training at the Omega Institute. The “Yoga, Purpose & Action” Intensive taught self-inquiry, collaboration and activation as tools for cultivating a more sustainable approach to service work. These became the exact tools that I used to trudge through the relationship shock. I didn’t run, I didn’t hide, I didn’t go back to addictive ways.
Despite the fear, I forced myself to reach out (ugh), and I got support (ahhh).
Always do what you are afraid to do. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poet & Essayist
At one point in the Fall, I was catapulted into an impenetrable state of anger and disgust after unexpectedly running into my ex. It broke my heart to harbor such negative emotions, when all I yearned for is to love and trust human beings again. I gained counsel with Father Tom Ryan – a Catholic Paulist priest and Kripalu yoga teacher – who was firm with me regarding solutions. He made concrete suggestions for ritualizing the transformation of anger/disgust into forgiveness/compassion.
While I was integrating those suggestions into my practices, I had a session with Somatic Therapist Lois Clinton, whose nurturing and skillful treatment awakened a sense of safety and trust. It’s hard to describe how Somatic Therapy works. In my experience, we identified certain grounding resources (i.e. deep three-part yogic breathing), constantly redirected to the present moment by working with open eyes (vs. getting stuck in the past with closed eyes), and discharged physically stuck trauma (i.e. vibrating hands, clearing lungs). It was subtle and yet powerful!
With the clarity from my session with Lois, I followed through with one of Fr. Ryan’s suggestions. I wrote a brutally honest letter to my ex – with absolutely no intention to send it. On the New Moon of Diwali, I burned the letter. Sure enough, as I watched the ashes and scraps of paper float down a swirling, swollen creek, the negativity was released, I felt a thousand pounds lighter, and the shift toward complete healing was profound.
I couldn’t be more grateful to all of the teachers, healers and advisers who stepped up to the plate to support me through this tough time. Decades of being willing and open toward these liberating processes have opened doors to immense transformation and emotional sobriety. When life happens, I am fortunate to have a huge tool box of resources, practices and people who support me through anything – from celebrations to disappointments.
Trauma is a fact of life; so is resilience. – Hala Khouri, Off The Mat Into The World Co-founder
Earlier I mentioned that there are a few reasons my fears were recently triggered. This week, I attended a spiritual gathering where the guided meditation was about forgiveness. Immediately, I acknowledged the potential risk of participating, and decided to stay anyway. The instructor asked us to recall an instance where someone hurt us…and then, to offer that person forgiveness. It was tough. I had to open my eyes to see I was safe, surrounded by (yes) trusted spiritual fellows. I could feel my entire body vibrating. Tears flowed. I wasn’t sure if I was forgiving or releasing. But I knew I needed to stay in the process.
Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try. – Ryan Bingham, Songwriter
This morning, I was struck with a note of sadness about the summer situation. I am grateful to say that, for the first time in months, I did not connect this morning’s emotion with all the sad traumas of my past. It was, simply and specifically, sadness about the loss of my relationship and how much it hurt to be lied to.
Regarding the fresh fears from social invitations…I am rigorously honest with each person, letting them know the shakiness I feel about connecting, particularly romantically. One day my heart will be ready to try again. I know that I must make myself humanly vulnerable again. I’m just not there yet. But I will be. I will bounce back.
You will not find a spiritual master that will suggest you play it safe, or a sacred text that advises you to avoid pain at all costs. – Max Strom, Yoga Teacher and Writer
To me, some “self-help” messages sound like the old idiom “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” That harkens of my childhood of packed bags and lonely songs. But when I read firmly encouraging words like Max’s, I yearn so deeply for love, trust and emotional freedom that I cry.
Thank you gentle teachers and butt-kickers, skillful healers and wise advisers for the abundant encouragement, inspiration and motivation you have so generously shared throughout my life. You assure me that all experiences – throws, stumbles and curve balls of all kinds – are opportunities for growth.
I am scared. And I am growing, too.
OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.
ATONEMENT October 3, 2014
“We cast into the depths of the sea
Our sins, and failures, and regrets.
Reflections of our imperfect selves
What can we bear,
With what can we part?
We upturn the darkness,
Bring what is buried to light.
What hurts still lodge,
What wounds have yet to heal?
We empty our hands,
Release the remnants of shame,
Let go fear and despair
That have dug their home in us.
Opening heart –
The year flows in,
The year flows out.”
~ Marcia Falk
+ + + + +
This poem was part of the Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) services I attended with my father in Nashville nine days ago. And today marks the final 24 hours of the High Holy Days. Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement – begins at sunset.
The intensity of this poem truly captures the depth of inner work that Jews approach each year at this time. The new year comes first, then a ritual of casting away obstacles, then a period of forgiveness – offered and requested – and finally, Yom Kippur. Tonight’s and tomorrows prayers, reflections and fasting bring us to neutral, gift us with a blank slate. We step forward with healthy, peaceful, loving intentions after having done our best at releasing past transgressions – committed by and against us.
Phew! Like I said: intense. In 12-Step Recovery, there is a similar process. And in many spiritual traditions, there are processes of examining our behaviors, discovering their roots/motivations, making amends, and, forgiving ourselves and others.
SOMETIMES, THE GREATEST AMENDS AND THE DEEPEST FORGIVENESS ARE OWED TO OUR SELVES…
For me, this was one of those years. Yes, I made mistakes in my actions toward others; and I did my best to process, understand, take action about them. There is a bit more work to be done there; and it will be done promptly.
However, reflections this week have led me to a certain “blueness.” Not depression, not remorse. But grief. Grief of years lost to unhealthy, toxic, harmful and self-destructive behavior. This fall – right now – marks the 25th anniversary of my darkest descent into alcoholism’s painful grip…25 years ago, I was in the midst of the worst time of my life. It’s heartbreaking to recall how much I harm I did to myself, how little honor I had for life, how badly I wanted to die.
No details. Not here. Not yet…
So today, I am reflecting back and also standing right here, in this present moment. After September’s Yoga Class Focus of GROWTH…well, I’d say that I have grown a lot this past month! And as I prepare for Yom Kippur’s 24-hour rally, I am setting the following Sankalpa (an intention of deep resolve and purpose, stated as if it is already happening):
I DEEPLY LOVE AND FORGIVE MYSELF.
Because today, 25 years after not even knowing the meaning of these words, I truly do love and forgive myself.
I wish this for you, too.
THANK YOU for being a part of this beautiful life. You help me know that I am loved, accepted, understood, supported and cared for.
LOVE TO ALL. ShalOM Shanti.
(Book was a gift from my dad – one of my family’s original prayer books for the High Holy Days.)
Turning, Churning & Balance September 21, 2014
“Life is to challenge you with its ups and downs. Ride over them without losing your balance.” – Sri Swami Satchidananda
What a beautiful week of teaching at my fave neighborhood studios, Embrace (Adams Morgan, DC) and Past Tense (Mt. Pleasant, DC), beginning last Saturday and wrapping up this morning. Students are so darn devoted to yoga practice! I am honored to share what’s been passed to me, and share the experience of GROWTH…which has been our September yoga class focus. Thank you, yogis, for putting your minds, bodies, inhales, exhales, senses and hearts into our time together.
Hopefully our efforts will pay off during this coming week of intense energy all around us. (And I will admit, for the sake of brevity, this is a very watered-down version of true astrologer’s wise accounts of what’s coming.) Tomorrow at 10:19pm EST, the Autumn Equinox occurs, signifying not only the turning of the seasons, but simultaneously, equilibrium. According to most calendars, we observe the arrival of Fall on Tuesday, which also leads into the Libra New Moon, peaking early Wednesday morning at 2:14am EST – and happens to coincide with the Sun in Libra. This combo not only signifies the New Moon’s typical opportunity for rejuvenation and fresh starts, but also, the presence of Libra’s scales, which can be tipped or balanced. Add to this, people of the Jewish faith will observe Rosh Hashanah – the New Year – at sunset on Wednesday, beginning a 10-day period of moral inventory, exchanges of forgiveness and atonement. (Author’s note, 9/22/14: Holy cr#*, how could I have forgotten Navratri, the 9-day Hindu holiday that falls within the same dates as the Jewish High Holy Days? Navratri, the celebration of the Divine Mother during the sacred shift of seasons? Navratri! Jai!)
Even if you are not Jewish, don’t believe in astrology and aren’t attentive to the change of seasons – people around us will be observing and affected by these events. With the energies of deep reflection, inevitable transition and new beginnings abounding, we can tap into the energies of balance and equilibrium for our benefit – and ultimately, for everyone’s.
In today’s morning classes, we worked very slowly…very deliberately…through the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Chakras (earth/origins, water/connections and fire/identity). In my experience, during times of turning and churning, it has served me quite well to focus on these three foundational energy centers before moving into the “open heart” that yogis love to explore in classes. Who wouldn’t want an open heart? From my teachers, I have learned that a healthy, aware, “open” heart requires the support of a healthy base below.
As I prepare to travel back to Nashville for the 1st time since this past Spring’s phase of challenge and churning, I’m grateful to have spent this week sharing yoga’s powerful practices for balance, harmony, insight and heartfelt living. Thank you.
Wishing everyone a Happy New Season, Happy New Moon, Happy New Year. OM Shanti.