The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Fearless December 21, 2015

With today’s overcast skies, the shortest day of the year is, indeed, ending early. It’s 4pm and nearly dark. Even tonight’s waxing moon will be obscured by clouds. Call it a dark night – and day – of the soul, if you wish. Winter Solstice hath arrived. (And peaks at 11:49pm EST.)
Call me crazy, but I like darkness. I believe that I see more clearly on overcast days, that I feel more viscerally with my eyes closed, that I hear more distinctly when inwardly focused. When emotional darkness appears, I feel curious. When “dark forces” appear, I’m not afraid. It wasn’t always like this. When darkness came, I wanted to run like hell. Or shine bright lights into it. Or drown it away somehow.
But not today.
I started sobbing way before the teacher at my noon yoga class referenced light/darkness/Solstice. Taking a seat on that mat, I realized I’d not been still for a while.
I’d not processed the wonderful changes happening in my life. A new job in a new area of the restaurant world. A week of house-/cat-sitting in a beautiful neighborhood across town. A new apartment move this coming Spring. Wonderful – and, immense changes. The job has offered a set of new challenges. The house-sitting was unsettling. The journey to secure the apartment, the eventual departure from my “family” of housemates (including our lovely kitty), the vulnerability of moving in with a brand new friend – all bittersweet.
I’d also not processed the amount of hostility I’ve witnessed in the world around me lately. And, I’d not processed the surprise of seeing my ex- (who betrayed me horribly in 2010, then went to prison for the related crime) on the street, an entire year early of his scheduled release date.
Phew. So. I came to a safe place today. In a yoga studio. With a deeply wise and compassionate teacher. Atop a sacred mat space. And I set the intention for clarity and truth.
In that stillness, a buried trigger arose. I realized that I felt completely unsafe in the world. In danger. Threatened. Oh my god, I cried. I couldn’t even chant the opening “OM”s without choking up. My face was soaked, my ears filled with tears, my nose ran uncontrollably. And I encountered the impulse to run like hell. To get out. But I stayed.
I stayed and I practiced. As I flowed through the very dynamic sequence, there were times when I couldn’t think of anything but where to place my body parts. Other times, I was filled with terror for my security. Still other times, I had space for self-inquiry. “Are dangerous people trying to hurt me? Do I need to make additional life changes in order to be safe?” I kept asking myself questions until – as intended – clarity and truth surfaced.
2015SolsticeCandlePic“No, I am not being threatened. This fear is entirely mine. I own this fear. I know it well, from my PTSD experiences. And I will practice with it, through it, around it. I will pour my yoga practice all over this fear! I will remind myself of the plethora of safe places and people and situations in my life. Right now. At home, at work. With friends, teachers, fellow yogis. In community, in solitude. Yes, I feel afraid. At the same time, I know I am safe.”
The crying stopped. Acceptance, compassion and resolve arose. I found myself approaching Warrior 2 – the most basic of poses – the same way I’d taught my 1st group of youth students back in 2009. The lower body, with its grounded and stable lunge shape, represents unshakable foundation and strength. The upper body, with its broad heart center and outstretched arms, represents a balance of vulnerability and risk. I used to tell kids to look out over their front fingers and envision the “enemy” (the bully, the dreaded exam, the violent home space). To encounter their enemies while so firmly grounded, that nobody nor nothing could threaten their wide-open hearts.
Today, as I stared down my enemies, the palm of my front hand organically turned upward, and I could feel my fingertips touching the warm and wanting hearts of those human beings.
I have nothing to be afraid of.
A friend recently called me “fearless” because I talk openly about pain. The funny thing is, I nearly decided to keep today’s yoga class experience to myself. I have a big New Year’s Eve workshop approaching; and I worried that people might not want to be led by a crying, scaredy-cat teacher. Then I reconsidered. I was reminded that stability and risk co-exist. I learned I can simultaneously – and calmly – feel afraid and be safe. If I had run, or hid, or drowned, or denied…if I had not faced and inquired about my fear, I wouldn’t have understood it the way I do now. Although not completely liberated from fear (I need to find the tools to be present and clear with certain everyday things), I own it; and, I distinguish it from situations, places and people. Today, I realized that the hearts of those formerly-perceived scary people are just like mine – and, they are at the fingertips of my fearless, outstretched arms.
May stillness come; and may truth and clarity continue to illuminate this wonderfully dark day.
OM Shanti.
 

Yoga Class Focus: Gratitude Trumps Adversity November 27, 2014

SunRaysForestPathSometimes, 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?

PathWithHeartThis is a case where I cannot (yet) see the positive in the situation itself. And so, to lighten my heavy heart, I choose to give thanks for related gifts:

  • 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.

LifeIsBeautifulAbsolutely grateful:

  • 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.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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…

*  *  *

JUMPING OFF OF BRIDGES
(MARCH 2013)

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.

 

Jumping Off Of Bridges March 25, 2013

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.

 

Spring Break (Through) March 21, 2013

JoyKid(Dec09)I think I am finally back to my old self.  The one that smiles lovingly, that adores humanity, that feels her body, heart and soul energized by everything in this crazy, amazing, beautiful life.

Welcome back, Holly.  Welcome back.  Stick around.

Phew, what a winter!  I feel like I am waking up from a bad dream.  So to speak.  “Bad dream” is a funny statement for me.  I believe that all dreams – no matter how scary, disturbing or strange – are good dreams.  “Bad” dreams arise to liberate the subconscious, to release darkness from that deeply buried storage space, to shed light on what needs to be seen, and therefore, to relieve us of unreasonable fears or destructive patterns.

Just like the dark phases of waking life.

So, I am looking back at December 2012 through February 2013 as a period of awakening.  As rough as that process felt, with its intense swings, shifts and losses, I am embracing the experience the same way I would embrace my most adored teacher.  Some lessons are harder than others.

This peaceful contentment did not arrive overnight.  The shift started to happen once I honestly admitted (to myself and others) the pain of harboring resentments so fierce, I felt victimized.  It was humbling but freeing to finally see how far into negative emotion my skipping and/or stepping back from healthy practices had taken me.  Emotionally, I was not myself.  No.  Wait.  I don’t want to deny any part of my Self.  I was feeling victimized (a normal part of humanness); and, because I was not taking good care of myself, those feelings hijacked my inward state and outward actions.

I’m neither negating nor celebrating the pattern of feeling like crap and acting accordingly!  I am, rather, honoring the value of being present for and going through difficult phases – as messy as that process can be – rather than hiding, ignoring, stuffing or denying the causes of those dark times.  These past winter months were a nightmare.  At the same time – I was wide awake.  I looked squarely at the situation and took action.  Using yoga, recovery and related practices and resources (see “Love: Anger’s Remedy” for an exhaustive list of pro-active solutions), I reverse-hijacked my Self and gradually trudged back to where I want to be!

To trudge is “to walk with purpose.”  Sometimes, a purposeful gait is the only way through challenge.  Ass dragging or legs sprinting, the trip is always one step at a time.  And of course – it helps to have strong hiking partners.  Grateful to all whom “enjoyed” the journey with me.

Today, I feel lighter.  I tenderly cradle the parts of me that wrestled and wrangled through December, January and February.  I offer myself forgiveness, compassion and love.  And as I meander through my neighborhood, through this city, through the world…I offer the same to all around me.

It feels great to be walking in my favorite shoes again.

Happy Spring, y’all!  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.  Peace, Peace, Peace.

 

Love: Anger’s Remedy March 1, 2013

LOVE: Brief (and maybe not so brief) explorations for our February class focus.  The final word…

*  *  *

BuddhaSunspotsSo.  I’ve been getting these Ayurvedic massages.  To address the pent-up anger and stress I’ve been blogging about.

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.

*  *  *

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.

*  *  *

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.

*  *  *

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.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * *  *  *

* 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!

RothkoGreyCrop(Dec12)CALMING THE STORM:

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.

Halt
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.

Give Thanks
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.

RothkoRedCrop(Dec12)PREVENTATIVE MEASURES:

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.

Clean House
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.

RothkoPurpleGlowCrop(Dec12)WHAT TO AIM FOR:

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.