LOVE: Brief (and maybe not so brief) explorations for our February class focus. The final word…
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Clearly, it’s working. After last week’s session, I could not even make it to my own front door without sobbing my face off. The guy is brilliant: that day, in addition to his usual bodywork, he placed his warm hands on the back of my heart chakra and just stayed there for what seemed like an eternity. I wanted to cry then, but I didn’t. I wanted to cry later, when he smoothed my furrowed brow with Ayurvedic oils and cradled my head in his hands. But I didn’t. After I got dressed, he asked me how I was feeling. “Like I need a good cry,” I answered, and headed home. I cried my way out of his building, I cried along the sidewalk to my place, I cried up the steps to the entrance. I had to stop to cry in the stairwell to my floor. I practically sprinted down my hallway…busted in my door…curled up on a chair. And cried.
This massage therapist is not just tapping into the intellectual, heady anger that I analyze, understand, explain and write about. In the most skillful, gentle and nurturing way, he’s reaching a much deeper, organic part of my emotions.
He’s breaking into my heart.
When I stopped crying I thought, “I wish that love would always be my first response when someone is unkind to me.” This is how I like to respond. It’s how I’ve seen myself respond. But for a period of time since December, most of my first responses were a dizzying blend of anger, blame, shame, self-loathing and sadness.
So I think this guy is onto something with his Ayurvedic touch. And I’m just gonna let the tears flow.
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Today, I’m feeling back to my normal self. I’ve encountered unkindness, conflict and challenge over the past week or so. I’ve responded with understanding and compassion – and, at the right times, detachment and indifference. In addition, I’ve returned to my practice of silently wishing wellness for each person I see on the street while walking between classes and errands. In general, I am feeling patient, positive and peaceful.
I’d like to believe that the massages alone are responsible for my shift back to center. That caring hands resting on my heart chakra would instantly restore my softness. Wouldn’t it be great if a “magic bullet” or “shot in the arm” were sufficiently healing? In no way do I mean to diminish the authentically medicinal affects of Ayurveda. The fact is, for me, healing that leads to restoration and growth requires more than one remedy. If I want to continue bypassing synthetic medication to manage my triggers and related emotions – and if I want to avoid falling back on self-medicating – I must subscribe to a diligent prescription of wellness efforts. When I sway from my tried-and-true influences and routines, I completely lose balance. The “tests” to my serenity over the past two months – a string of experiences where different people have been harmful, malicious or inconsiderate in some way – would have felt less threatening and caused little (or no) response had I been aligned with my healthiest practices.
I’ve come to embrace this recent period as an opportunity to witness my reactions – or, more commonly, my overreactions (inward and outward) – and practice self-compassion. I have been feeling enough heightened emotion and stressed energy to warrant a step back from my usual “fix it” approach, to cut myself some slack, to vent honestly and openly, and, to consider these challenges as somehow related to the intense personal shifts in values, principles and beliefs I’ve been experiencing over the past two months, as well. I’m grateful to have this understanding! Still, it has been humbling to see myself habitually on-edge and upset – not my usual warm, smiling self.
Growth does not always feel like a sweet explosion in the heart.
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Earlier, I mentioned working on “pent-up anger.”
More accurately, I would say that I am working on healthily processing strong emotions – my recurring “favorites” are grief, fear, guilt, shame and anger. (Nothing original, I know!)
Why strong, recurring and “pent-up?” Growing up with addiction, growing toward violent environments and growing away from solutions, I spent much of my life ignoring the core wounds and root causes behind my own destructive tendencies. In other words, I stuffed decades of grief, fear, guilt, shame and anger. Heck, I’ve been alive for 47 years, I drank alcoholically for 25, and I’ve been sober for only 10. So I’m still catching up on what others learned all along their lives – how to constructively manage very normal emotions.
And, I’m still healing.
Through many years of yoga and recovery practice, I have learned a lot about my history of trauma. I have come to face and analyze my past quite sufficiently. I know everything about my trauma. However, self-knowledge does not avail thorough healing – my body and heart have not fully processed through it all. This recent series of emotional triggers felt very chemical, tangible, even physical. They revealed that I must take a step back from my primarily heady analysis, which has not addressed the deeper effects of trauma.
One friend suggested that I “get out of my head and punch things.” I’m not likely to throw punches, but I get what he means.
I can certainly reach into the cracks of my sweetly breaking heart and coax out the tears.
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Clearly, if I want to answer offences with healthy responses, preserve my own serenity and add to the compassion in this world, I must maintain and condition my physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.
This is, by far, the hardest personal transformation work I’ve done in a while. Some days I think that I will never change, that people will never change, that the world will never change. I want to give up and quit. But to give in and surrender is to acknowledge that, indeed, people and the world might never change – and that I have 0% control over that. But I do have 100% control over changing myself. Changing my thoughts leads to changing my responses; and changing my thoughts and responses leads to changing my state.
If today I discovered all of my yoga workshop flyers taken down, I would think, “Someone must have taken it home as a reminder,” or “Maybe the shop owner needed the room,” or “Maybe another yoga teacher felt scared about his/her income,” or “I’m calling on the love of my friends to remind me that this is not personal.” In order to keep my peace (and therefore contribute to the peace in the world), I would deliberately choose a positive, forgiving, compassionate or loving response.
Inner peace has returned, and I feel hopeful. I had many tools to help me get here. (* See “MY TOOLS” appendix, below.) But I am a little tired. Thank god for Ayurvedic massage! More than a tool, it is a gift that allows me to be nurtured, honor my grief and weep.
Spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson says: “Healing works through a kind of detox: things have got to come up in order to be released. That is true of our personal issues, and also our collective issues. We can’t just push the darkness down, pour pink paint over it and then pretend it’s not there. We have to look at it, accept that it exists and then release it for healing.”
‘Nuff said. Trudging on with determination, hope and love…
Thanks for reading. OM Shanti.
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* MY TOOLS come from yoga, other spiritual sources, addiction recovery programs, friends, healers, and countless other resources and influences along my journey of healing, growth and transformation. They are effective for addressing a heightened state of crisis, for balancing-out post-crisis, and most importantly, for preventing crisis. Below is a comprehensive (and darn exhaustive!) list of “notes to self” that summarize my tools. In essence, they all say the same thing: take care of yourself!
Call Out The Troops
Cultivating a circle of embrace and wisdom calms the fire. The unconditional support of friends, advisors and inspirations can motivate constructive action. Recently, when I noticed that all of my yoga workshop flyers had been taken down, I called one of my best friends and said, “I am livid.” I vented – starting the healthy process of managing anger. Later, still in an emotional tug-of-war, I reached out further. A friend exclaimed, “They can tear down a flyer – they can’t tear you down!” A Facebook pal dedicated time to meditate “with” me long distance. And I absorbed this helpful message, written to yoga teacher Elena Brower from her friend: “‘I know you fly from feeling like a speck of dust to knowing you’re divine, but in the stream in-between, the best part…is that you are sharing.'”
Stick A Pin In It
“We’re as sick as our secrets” is a recovery slogan and “Nothing to Hide” is my personal branding slogan! Rigorous honesty keeps me emotionally and physically sober. At my 10-year anniversary, a friend said, “We always know how Holly’s feeling; and that’s probably why she’s alive and sober today.” Like a pin in a balloon, sharing openly deflates the problem, and makes room for solutions to flow in.
When horribly triggered by something that I’ve previously shrugged off (i.e. my flyers disappearing), I must pause to recognize that I’m in a state. “HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired)” is another recovery slogan. Sober friends suggest keen awareness of these four states, which can cause loss of serenity, and potentially, addiction relapse. Over the past months, not only was anger plaguing me, I was also skipping meals, eating snacks instead of nourishing food, isolating, staying up late and not sleeping well. At a recent meeting I heard someone share that her “HALT is out of whack” – and I woke up.
Hold Your Tongue
“Restraint of tongue and pen” (or “thumb and send”) is pure brilliance. When I feel wronged, my adrenalin is high, and healthy communication goes out the window. It is wise to take a giant step back (or walk out the door) before responding to the harmful person. Skillful communication – or, the realization that nothing needs to be said – will arise in time. Writer Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.”
Accentuate The Positive
When anger and other destructive feelings possess me, I must firmly point the mind to positive thoughts, experiences and facts. I can list my loving, trusted friends. I can read a thankful e-mail from a student. I can recall accomplishments. I must place myself in positive light. When I told a yoga peer that I was stuck in self-loathing, he lightheartedly shared: “Something to consider: the self you loathe is not you, it’s…an illusory ‘you.’ Krishna, situated in your heart, loves the real you more than you loathe the illusion you think of as you.” Although not a Krishna devotee, I can certainly accept his love when feeling horrible.
Taking the time to meditate on gratitude is an amazing antidote for fear-based emotions. When I dwell upon what I have, it’s hard to be consumed by what I’m afraid to lose.
Rise And Shine!
At best, I am a generous, thoughtful, compassionate person. As well, I am a survivor of many serious violations and assaults, I am susceptible to PTSD and I am a recovering addict. This means my best self can be challenged at times. As one might guess, I have been evaluated by medical professionals. As one might not guess, I have been advised against taking synthetic medication – and encouraged to continue my devoted yoga, recovery and counseling activities. My morning Sadhana (see “Peace Tools: Morning Routine”) is like medication for me. It guarantees excellent spiritual, physical and emotional health, and is like an insurance policy for constructive thoughts, attitudes and actions – plus, I absolutely love and enjoy it! However, guess what I abandoned during the month of December, for various reasons? Hmmm…
Listen To Your Body
Along with the emotional evidence of imbalance, I’ve also been suffering from digestive problems and middle-back pain: physical ailments of the 1st three chakras. The negative emotions associated with imbalanced lower chakras are fear, guilt and shame. Ah-ha! This is all coming together! In her brilliant book, “Eastern Body, Western Mind,” Anodea Judith writes: “The first thing I tell my clients or group members when they wish to develop their third chakra is to give up the attachment to being safe. In clinging to safety and security, we remain as children – powerless and wanting the world to be shaped for us.” BAM. I am now incorporating yoga poses for the lower three chakras into my daily practice.
Cool Your Jets
To make matters worse (which of course, I’m prone to do, being human), I pretty much abandoned my pacifying diet in December. According to Ayurvedic medicine, my Dosha or body/character type is Pitta, which is very fiery by nature. Needless to say, it behooves me to follow a diet that soothes digestion and therefore pacifies strong emotion. It also protects everyone around me! The Ayurvedic massage has been a nudging elbow in the ribs (hahaha!), inviting me to return to what works.
Suit Up And Show Up
I have been cutting back on addiction recovery meetings. Not smart for a girl who wants to stay serene. The other day, a sober elder said, “In my time in this program, I’ve seen one thing unfailingly lead to relapse: not going to meetings.” People sometimes ask why I still go to meetings after 10 years of recovery. I plan to go ‘til the day I die for three reasons: to be in the room when a newcomer walks in; to be of service; and, to stay sober. Period. The program of recovery is the only thing that has kept me clean these past 10 years (after 12.5 years of trying/failing to stay sober via yoga or therapy or religion or eating healthily or whatever). Meetings maintain my physical and emotional sobriety.
I can’t expect to be trigger free – that would be impossible. I can, however, enhance my well-being and therefore cultivate healthy responses to upsetting situations. To be well, I must address unresolved emotions from past experiences. The processes of looking back at our own actions, admitting personal responsibility, making amends, offering/requesting forgiveness, and clearing away resentments are part of many spiritual, recovery and self-examination traditions. I first practiced taking a moral inventory as part of the Jewish High Holy Days, or, Days of Atonement, which fall in the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur. In her Yoga Journal article about the process of “recapitulation,” writer Sally Kempton said, “Whether we call it ‘confession,’ ‘karma cleaning,’ ‘wise reflection,’ or even ‘moral inventory,’ … you dissolve a lot of the sludge that you carry around in your heart.” The focus is on admitting my part, not on blaming the other – even if they are at fault! Although painstaking, cleaning my side of the street pays off with liberation.
Kill ‘Em With Kindness
Mean people rock. They can be great teachers and motivators – if I allow them to be. The night I was bottoming out on chaotic emotions about my missing flyers, professional baseball player Justine Siegal posted her TEDx video, “Following Your Dreams When Others Are Mean,” in which she describes, “I felt defeated, but I thought – ‘I’m not gonna let ’em stop me.’ There were some really mean things that were done and said. I decided that when others were mean, I would be kind back. And the reason for this was not because I needed them to like me. I just wanted to keep my own peace. I knew that if I let the anger consume me… I wouldn’t be able to move forward. And I needed my own peace – so I could keep that power within, to do what I’m passionate about.” Amen, sista. I have to remember that all people have their own pain – just like me – that causes them to act out – just like me. When I am at my best, my natural response when I sense that someone is in pain is to wish them well. I might paraphrase the Buddhist metta prayer, “May you be free of suffering” or chant yoga’s “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu,” which has the same meaning. C’mon, if I could tap into the Yoga Sutras to cultivate compassion for the guy who mugged me in 2011 (see “The Yoga of Being Mugged”), I can certainly find kindness in my heart toward these recent ankle biters.
Listen To Your Elders!
Timing is everything. Over the past few weeks, ancient gems of wisdom came my way (via contemporary teachers):
“A truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively or hurt you.” By the time I read this quote from the 14th Dalai Lama, I had finally returned to this mentality. I am again able to think kindly and understandingly toward all (most of the time…and if not immediately, promptly). Thank god.
“The mind manifests anger when it jumps to the defense of the ego, and that sends our intelligence out the window: we loose our capacity to distinguish between the conscious self and the unconscious matter of the mind and body. We think ‘I have been offended’, but the ‘I’ that was offended is the false ego, not the real self.” Philosophy teacher Hari-kirtana Das’s recent yoga blog, “The Art Of Anger Management,” visits a number of yogic texts for explanations of and solutions for anger – with admirable humility and hilarity at times. Check it out.
“Rather than indulge or reject our experience, we can somehow let the energy of the emotion, the quality of what we’re feeling, pierce us to the heart. …a hardness in us will dissolve. We will be softened by the sheer force of whatever energy arises – the energy of anger, the energy of disappointment, the energy of fear. …and it opens us.” To share all that I have gained from Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart,” I’d have to copy the entire text here. Trust me – read the book.
“It was only when she lost all sense of hope, that her ego had finally loosened its grip…, that her heart allowed space for the divine to enter and work its charm.” This moment from the classic Hindu story “Draupadi’s Sari” describes when Draupadi – who is being wrongfully undressed by an evil king – releases her desperate grip on her clothing, throws her arms in the air and yells “Krishna!” (Post-Publish edit: I neglected to tell the end of the story! As soon as Draupadi lets go of her sari, Krishna hears and answers – the wrap becomes endless, so she cannot be neither disrobed nor dishonored! Thanks to Hari-kirtana Das for reading and reminding!) This harkens back to my friend’s reminder that, once we surrender our hearts to divine love, we need not fear anything. We can let go. In the past I’ve said, “Allowing love into my heart can sometimes be like using a jackhammer to plant a seed,” and, “Kirtan is like a can opener for my heart.” From here on, I’d like to loosen my grip on power tools and kitchen appliances…
Make Room For Love
“Pratipaksha Bhavana,” as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is the process of replacing negatives with positives. The Sutras do not encourage stuffing the very real troubles that come with certain challenges, but invite the mind to deliberately shift away from dark thoughts, in order to shed light on a new perspective. From life coach Laurie Gerber: “The perfect replacement for fear is always LOVE. May you and all beings everywhere find the strength and presence of mind to replace fear with love, over and over and over.”
(Note to self: May I bring positive and loving thoughts into my mind and heart the moment I feel dis-ease. May I always remember that love is the remedy for anger.)
Again, thanks for reading. OM Shanti.