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Haters Gonna Hate November 7, 2016

“Our world is wounded, fractured, broken and burning. We are products of this place and it is our job to heal the world through the healing of our selves.” ~ Chani Nicholas

The difficulty of maintaining peace of mind during this world’s current upsets is obvious. On the eve of the U.S. Presidential Election, I am preparing for a week (or potentially, a much longer span) of holding sacred, peaceful, neutral space for the staff and students of the yoga studio where I teach and manage…the neighbors I pass on the streets…those sharing bus rides with me…social media friends…and many more beings.

How? By clinging to, relying on and willingly using tools that have saved my ass during times of suffering, frustration and discomfort. These practical resources include prayers, yoga and meditation practices, breathing techniques, spiritual teachings and quotes, recovery meetings, talk therapy and more.

I recently saw a meme: “Prayer does not change the world. Prayer changes us, so we can change the world.” Peace begins with me. And perhaps you.

Here, I share readings, tools and experiences that are helping me immensely these days…

* * *

“We put our hope in the awareness and in the promise that there will come a time when greed and injustice will be gone from the earth. We hope for a world completely repaired, all the inhabitants of this planet turning to each other in reconciliation, realizing that no one shall be excluded from the security of life.” ~ Jewish High Holy Day prayer

“May all of creation form a single bond with a balanced heart. May this occur soon in our lifetime.” ~ Jewish High Holy Day prayer

 

* * *

“OM Sahana Vavatu. Sahanau Bhunaktu. Saha Viriyam Karavavahai. Tejas Vinavadhita Mastu Mavid. Visha Vahai Hi. OM Shanti Shanti Shanti. (May we be protected together, be nourished together, work together with great energy. May our study together be enlightening. May there be no hatred between us.)” ~ Sanskrit Chant

Some people love to hate. They use hatred of the Other to validate their own worthiness – when, the only thing that truly validates worthiness is LOVE. Therefore, people who love to hate are actually deficient in love.

People who love to hate fear that, if the Other receives love, there won’t be any left for them. If the Other is validated, they go unheard. If the Other wins, they will lose their security. Haters believe they must blame, alienate and separate from the Other so they can receive praise, acceptance and inclusion.

Some hateful people believe – at their deepest and often most wounded core – that they are not worthy of praise, acceptance, inclusion and love. They do not understand that they are in dire need of positive validation; so instead, they pursue allies in their hatred – fellow haters, bullies, gangs, cliques and activists that validate their negative beliefs of Others, and, that reinforce their negative image of self.

People that love to hate are looking for love in all the wrong places. They cannot recognize true love when they see it.

Until…we choose to love them despite their hatred.

Why do I know so much about haters? Because I’ve been one. And I’m guessing, so have you. What yanks me out of hatred faster than anything? Remembering that we are all human.

“Meditation on the principle of compassion is a means of erasing our own hatred, cruelty, and fear, and replacing these traits with love, kindness, and a deeper understanding for others. Those who meditate on compassion rise above the primitive urge of self-preservation, and thus their reactions toward others are not motivated by fear.” ~ Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

* * *

“By cultivating friendship with those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, cheerfulness toward the virtuous, and indifference toward the non-virtuous, the mind retains undisturbed calmness.” ~ Yoga Sutra 1.33

I have forgiven the man that raped me, the men that mugged me, the people who abandoned me, and those who betrayed me. Not overnight. No, no, no. Not overnight. Over years and years of commitment to healing my wounds, I have grown to see my perpetrators as suffering beings who deserve compassion, and, their harmful acts as separate. Consequently, over time and with dedication – and after grieving with support – I became able to let go of the traumas. What do I gain? Liberation. Peace of mind. A healed heart. My whole self.

“These four keys should always be…in your pocket. If you use the right key with the right person you will retain your peace. Nothing in the world can upset you then. Remember, our goal is to keep a serene mind. From the very beginning of Patanjali’s Sutras we are reminded of that.” ~ Swami Satchidananda

* * *

“Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah. (Yoga clears disturbances of the mind.)” ~ Yoga Sutra 1.2

This promise is the 2nd sentence in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – four long chapters about yoga’s eight-limbed design for living. Because it all comes down to this: the more I know about yoga, the deeper my practice becomes, and, the more inner peace I enjoy.
August in DC was a burning hot month. Hot temperatures. Hot tempers. Heated debates. Desperate actions.

As unrest continued to build, conflicts continued and November approached (you know what I’m talking about), DC only burned hotter.

Still – you can keep your cool as the heat rises and arises. Practice Sitali Pranayama (the yogic cooling breath) and Naadi Suddhi (alternate nostril breathing). Attend Restorative and Slow Flow classes instead of intensely heated or extremely powerful classes. For your own good – and, for the good of those around you – you can keep the peace. You can increase the peace. You can teach peace. You can breathe, embody, sweat peace.

“If my body is made primarily of water and animated by the breath, is it possible to call the water in the body ‘mine’ and the air outside of my lungs ‘the world?’ …and so it becomes hard to talk about a body practice as separate from a world practice. I move my body and I’m moving a corner of the world.
“Yoga occurs when our inner work manifests in the world around us.
“The world of mind and body, in the nondual tradition of yoga, is inseparable from the larger world… The interconnected reality we call ‘yoga’ orients us toward a mode of perception that sees reality as an interconnected web in which our own small story line is only a part and certain not the most prominent.” ~ Michael Stone

* * *

“Namaste.”

Translated literally from the Sanskrit, “Namaste” is a simple greeting meaning “Salutations to you.” It is not offered to a certain kind of being, nor to a certain part of each being. It is offered to the whole of every being.

Even haters.

“Namaste” cannot mean that one life matters more than another at any time – it means that all lives matter equally at all times. “Namaste” cannot mean that elevation and separation are the keys to justice – when historically, they have been the keys to conflict. “Namaste” cannot mean that out of guilt or pity, we move to “be of service” to those we see as having less than us – it must mean that we see ourselves as equals with those different from us in any way, and, stand together in a solidarity of humanness.

“Namaste” means that compassion is an equal opportunity offering.

It also means that I stop writing about “those haters” and start admitting that I’ve loved to hate.

We cannot truly come together until we can salute the whole of each being and all beings as a whole.

“Mother Teresa diagnosed the world’s ills in this way: we’ve just ‘forgotten that we belong to each other.’ Kinship is what happens to us when we refuse to let that happen. With kinship as the goal, other essential things fall into place; without it, no justice, no peace. I suspect that were kinship our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice – we would be celebrating it.
“Kinship – not serving the other, but being one with the other. 
“Only kinship. Inching ourselves closer to creating a community of kinship such that God might recognize it. Soon we imagine, with God, this circle of compassion. Then we imagine no one standing outside of the circle, moving ourselves closer to the margins so that the margins themselves will be erased. We stand there with those whose dignity has been denied. We locate ourselves with the  poor and the powerless and the voiceless. At the edges, we join the easily despised and the readily left out. We stand with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop. We situate ourselves right next to the disposable so that the day will come when we stop throwing people away. The prophet Habakkuk writes, ‘The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint…and if it delays, wait for it.'” ~ Father Gregory Boyle

WAIT. FOR. IT.

Haters gonna hate until our love erases their reasons.

Thanks for reading.
Namaste. OM Shanti. Peace.

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Remember When I Quit Teaching Yoga? September 7, 2016

Forgive me WordPress readers, it’s been…10 months since my last confession. I mean, since my last blog.

“Fearless” was a rather brief, mid-winter explosion that came just one month after – in the previous blog and all over social media – I announced that I’d quit teaching yoga. “Fearless” disclosed how unsafe I’d been feeling in the world, how my busy-ness helped me hide from that feeling, and, how a friend’s yoga class invited me to be still…and find clarity. In short: “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.”

“Fearless” launched months of deep work with my PTSD triggers (which had been popping up since November, and would continue through the holidays), and, a 10-month disappearance from this blog site.

*  *  *
THWL2(18June2011)My November departure from yoga teaching had been abrupt and self-centered.

As explored in my “Taking Stock” blog, “I quit teaching yoga last week. There were so many reasons why; and it was a long time comin’. Still, my decision was rash and reactive – a result of not being honest with myself and not holding myself to truths untold. I might blog about the decision eventually. … The response to my Facebook announcement was full of solidarity from friends, yoga teachers, students and studio owners who are all struggling with, questioning or strategizing against yoga’s shift away from its mindful roots.”

I was scared. Scared that nobody liked my mindful style of teaching anymore. Scared that students would continue to complain. Scared that studio owners would continually pressure me to be something I’m not. And it became hard to remember …what was I, anyway? Was I a traditional Hatha teacher? A modern Vinyasa teacher? An alignment-based teacher? A Chakra teacher? A beginners teacher? A seasoned Pranayama and Meditation teacher? A philosophy teacher?

One thing was certain – I was not an exercise teacher. But yoga trends and studio feedback said “move more, instruct less, explain nothing.” So, I quit. But for my annual New Year’s Eve “Let Your Intentions Flow” workshop, I stopped teaching yoga.

I don’t know what I was thinking! Hahahahaha…

Gradually, I started to get my confidence back. I am a traditional Hatha teacher; a modern Vinyasa teacher; an alignment-based teacher; a Chakra teacher; a beginners teacher; a seasoned Pranayama and Meditation teacher; a philosophy teacher. My practice and teaching was rooted in my first experience with Kundalini yoga, has grown through a variety of teachings and traditions, and, is now thick with 20+ years of reverence for yoga’s incredible value beyond the class slot. Therefore, my classes are never about exercise. They are about passing on every single gem that all of my teachers so generously shared with me. Practical tools that enhance outer strength and inner peace in everyday life – for the rest of our lives.

So, I came back. Tenderly, carefully and perhaps cautiously, I tip-toed toward the yoga arena.

One of the main reasons that I felt secure returning? An invitation from Faith Hunter, the owner of Embrace Yoga DC. Embrace itself had seen its share of pushing/pulling/tugging/nudging/elbowing from the yoga universe. Opened in spring 2012 as a space where Faith could build her brand, guide her Yoga Teacher Trainings, and, develop her trainees as instructors, the studio morphed through a number of incarnations and disappearances over its years. At one point, with the studio offering a skeleton schedule, Faith moved to New York to focus on practicing with her own teachers. Little did we know what else was brewing.

In February of this year, she tenderly, carefully and perhaps cautiously stepped back into the yoga studio biz. Still living in New York, she put the word out to DC teachers: teach from your heart at Embrace. That’s when I dipped my toe in the now-welcoming waters. I offered “Follow Your Heart,” another of my signature, annual workshops. And I started teaching “Yoga For Life,” a weekly pay-what-you-can class.

Over the summer, Faith planted both feet back in DC and cultivated a rock-solid teaching, customer service and management team. In its same bright, beautiful Adams Morgan location, Embrace now offers a full schedule of weekly classes with an amazing group of seasoned teachers. We are one of the most diverse studio staffs in the city – an eclectic collection of yoga influences, cultural backgrounds and life experience.

I am honored to share the schedule, practice and work with these noble beings.

*  *  *
At this moment of writing, I am choked-up with tearful gratitude. The universe works in mysterious ways. And I am just wrapping my head around where I’ve landed, and, what the near future brings.

I am now the Studio Manager at Embrace. During my part-time hours, I team up with Faith, advisers, vendors, teachers and studio assistants who tackle our business head on! We have accomplished so much since my May start; and I am thrilled with the positive energy and outcomes we are generating.

Beginning this week, I am teaching three (!) classes on the Embrace schedule. On Mondays at 7:30pm, I’m leading our “Basics/Level 2” practice, where we dissect and fine-tune sequences, poses and breathing found in typical Open Level classes. We have “Breathe & Meditate” on Wednesdays at 7:45pm, which re-awakens our wonderful weekly mindfulness community, cultivated in 2014. And “Yoga For Life,” our venue for life-long yogic traditions, continues on Sunday mornings at 8:45am.

This coming Sunday, Embrace will observe the 15th anniversary of 9/11 with “9/11: Urban Oasis.” Our regularly-scheduled classes – including Yoga For Life – will be free. Surrounding those practices, the studio will stay open from 8am-8pm, with Embrace staff welcoming yogis, friends and community to a peaceful space for rest and reflection. I hope to share some time with you (away from the crowd of Adams Morgan Day, BTW).

When Faith is away for weekend teaching travels, we are scheduling “guest teachers” in her Sunday 11am slot. From October 16 through November 6, I will guide “Come Together,” a four-week, pre-election exploration of yoga’s immense resources for individual serenity and community harmony. After warming up with intention-based Sankalpa Vinyasa, we will practice partner and group poses, bringing a sense of collaboration and levity to increasingly tense times.

In the midst of all this, “Diwali Intentions” – our annual observation of this 5-day Hindu holiday – will be held by candlelight at Embrace on Sunday, October 30th, 8-9:30pm. This Sankalpa Vinyasa practice supports the sacred inner work of inventory and intention-setting, and serves as a precursor to our New Year’s Eve gathering.

Faith has graciously offered me – and all Embrace instructors – the freedom to bring our hearts to the table in our teachings. In addition, she has entrusted me with staff guidance, operations supervision and community relations. Perhaps, though, the most breathtaking invitation came when Faith asked me to consider being a lead instructor for her Spiritually Fly Yoga Teacher Training, starting this November. This was one of the greatest honors I’ve ever received. I had to sit down for a moment. I cried a little. My heart swelled with gratitude. I said yes.

I can’t lie (nothing to hide, as always) – all of this feels at once exhilarating and daunting. This is the most that I’ve taught since 2011, when my classes were full and the yoga-workout trend was barely blooming. Beyond shadow of a doubt, I am excited to be once-again teaching my most earnest and foundational offerings. Still, at moments…well… Y’know that feeling when you organize a big party or event, and then fear that nobody will show up? Yup. That happens. Inside of my chest. That anxiety arises at times.

Plus, as a Yoga Teacher Training instructor, my responsibility is deep. Not only must I petition divine guidance to humbly serve in this capacity…I also have to design some pretty serious curriculum! (Which I love doing, BTW. I am eager to start.)

*  *  *
Being asked to teach teachers acknowledged the worth of my long and devoted journey with my beloved yoga.

The invitation came after a very committed period of inner sacred work, surrounding self-doubt, relationship fears, trust issues and more. It came when the fruits of this rich work were ripe. It came from a person who is my friend, my teacher and my boss! Coming full circle since I quit teaching last November, I see that I wasn’t done…I was just resting. I am re-rooted in the ancient discipline that shapes every moment of my present existence.

And, although feeling a little anxious, my “Fearless” blog reminds me: “…stability and risk co-exist.”

Great gratitude to the gods, goddesses, gurus, guides, guardian angels, great spirits, eternal mysteries and teachers that accompany my direction and decisions. Thank you knowledge, thank you nature, thank you love. Thank YOU.

May we all know that quitting is sometimes resting, and that resting is always empowering. OM Shanti.

 

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 Focus: Taking Stock November 9, 2015

8 November, 2015

This week marks the Indian holiday of Diwali, which is generally known as the Indian Festival Of Lights. Yet, it signifies so much more. Most markedly, the 5-day festival celebrates the triumph of Light over Darkness by recalling the many battles won by virtuous warriors over evil demons. On a social level, it represents a time of families gathering to share sweets and sweetness, couples honoring their partnerships and siblings acknowledging their love. On a practical level, the holiday signifies a fiscal new year, when businesses start a new financial calendar, take inventory and take stock.

For me, the arrival of Diwali marks a period of taking stock in all areas of life, and, of beginning to shape intentions for the next calendar year.

Annually, from late July (my birthday) through the early Autumn (Equinox, Jewish New Year and my sobriety anniversary), I spend time reflecting on the prior year. That reverse reflection shifts into all-wheel-drive when Diwali arrives. There is something about the shift in weather that energizes me inwardly. My dreams start to spark up, my passions start to speak up. I begin taking stock of what I presently “have,” why I presently live and how I presently love. And so on. As I inventory my life, I start to look forward with deep intention. By late December (Winter Solstice and traditional New Year), I am feeling a positive pull toward productivity and manifestation.

So while most yoga studios, yoga teachers and people in general are jumping on the Gratitude bandwagon for November, I am pausing to inventory my life – so I can jump on the approaching Sankalpa train with as much discernment, clarity and resolve as possible.

***

I quit teaching yoga last week.

There were so many reasons why; and it was a long time comin’. Still, my decision was rash and reactive – a result of not being honest with myself and not holding myself to truths untold. I might blog about the decision eventually. But, for now, I’m consumed with planning my New Year’s Eve Sankalpa Vinyasa workshop.

Wait – didn’t I just say that I quit teaching yoga?

The response to my Facebook announcement was full of solidarity from friends, yoga teachers, students and studio owners who are all struggling with, questioning or strategizing against yoga’s shift away from its mindful roots. And among the post’s comments was one question: “What about New Year’s Eve?” I’ve taught my “Let Your Intentions Flow” workshop for five years in DC. Teaching that late-night session of sacred inner work not only facilitates students’ New Year “resolutions,” it fuels me with purpose. So…when my teacher, who also owns a studio, mentioned that I could hold the workshop there, I said “Yes.”

This in itself marks a huge period of Autumn-supported reflection and inventory – I may change what I offer and how I offer it. As this change brews, I’m excited to look into some dark corners and see what I might illuminate going forward.

***

Which brings me back to Diwali. Yoga has always given me permission to be authentic, my whole self. It has encouraged me to look squarely at my past, my present and my potential. It has kept me safe through dark times. It has made me curious about that darkness. And it has consistently guided me toward the light of truth.

For this week’s Diwali observance, I’m re-reading and re-posting 2012 and 2009 blogs about the holiday – my perspectives and experiences have not changed. The ideas and practices are tried and true. I hope you enjoy them.

Happy Diwali! OM Shanti.

***

November 15, 2012 – Diwali Class Featured in Huffington Post!

Photo: Rita Maximilian

Photo: Rita Maximilian

I am honored (floored, really) to be featured in this Huffington Post blog (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dawn-cherie-araujo/diwali-columbia-heights_b_2131582.html) – “Diwali Yoga in Columbia Heights,” by religion journalist Dawn Cherie Araujo – about our special yoga class last night.

As my friend Sachin notes in the article, the practice was mind-blowing.  I will not take credit for that outcome, however – it’s the result of the yoga itself, and a roomful of very strong intentions.  Heartfelt thanks to our students, from our wonderful little 8-year-old guest to the rest of the yoga veterans in the class.

Yoga is such a gift.  Love love love…  OM Shanti.

*  *  *

November 13, 2012 – Diwali’s Balance of Darkness with Light

“What is important for a movie?  Both – light to make it; darkness to show it.  The minute you learn to respect and see both sides of the coin as equally good, you can enjoy both.  It is only a matter of understanding and acceptance.  Let us have that light of understanding.  Accept things as they are.  Then, life is worth living.  The world becomes a heaven on earth for you.”
– Swami Satchidananda

In less than one hour, I’ll teach my annual Diwali-themed yoga class.  This Indian holiday is commonly known as the “Festival of Lights,” signifying the triumph of light over darkness.  Ancient history tells of a number of battles across the nation ending, with great victories over evil forces.  To welcome home the heroic warriors on the dark eve of a New Moon, villagers lit their paths with glowing oil lamps.

Hence the ongoing tradition of celebrating this particular New Moon with lamps, fireworks and other uplifting festivities.

For me, Diwali reminds me of the necessity of both darkness and light.

I used to be very, very scared of the “dark.”  The moment a hint of sadness or lowness or depression showed up, I was in action – figuratively lighting my oil lamps to brighten things up.  These days, I have found a strength in welcoming times of darkness, struggle, challenge.  Not that I like to dwell there for long – I can appreciate a rough patch and at the same time know that I must do some reflection and practice to shed light on its lesson.

So there is a balance.  Darkness and light must exist.

As for battles – I will admit that sometime my greatest battle is with myself.  Although I have come to be at peace during most of my dark times, there are still situations where my fears can get the best of me.  They can lead me into poor choices, rash decisions, intense self-protection.  But less and less.  Thankfully.

So today, my greatest victory is not when I “win a battle,” but when I surrender my fears and allow the battle to dissolve.

What are your battles?  Which have you “won?”  Celebrate them tonight!  And which have you surrendered from?  Celebrate them, too.  Recognize your victories.  If you are currently in a dark time, have hope for the triumph of light.

‘Tis the season of shortening days.  Autumn calls us to enjoy the comfort of candles, fires, warmth.  To cultivate our own light.  This very natural, womb-like, growing darkness can be an invitation to experience a balance of darkness with light, of light with darkness.  Enjoy.

Happy Diwali.

OM Shanti.

*  *  *

October 20, 2009 – Where the Wild Things Are

“You need good light to make a movie, is it not so?  And then you need good darkness in which to show it.  Isn’t that funny?”  – Swami Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga

I have a confession:  I’m scared of the dark.

Well, not “the dark,” as in a dark room, or a dark forest or dark places like that.  I’m afraid of the dark-ness within me.  That’s right, folks.  This Diwali-celebrating, Jewish-new-year-observing, eight-limbs-of-yoga-loving gal gets sucked into the tunnels of doubt, despair and even depression at times.

Another confession: I think sometimes I try too hard to “dissolve” that darkness.

Heaven forbid I head back to that bottom mentioned in my 9/24 “Welcome to the Urban Yoga Den” entry.  Even now, nearly 20 years later, when darkness taps at my door, I feel terrified.  My solution?  Do something.  Quick.  Light candles, exhale and let go, practice more rituals.  Do, do, do.

Y’know all this new moon/Autumn/Diwali activity that I’ve been writing about and practicing lately?  Is it healthy and positive, or is it my way of escaping the discomfort of life’s dark moments?  The fact is – life hurts sometimes.  The question is – should I run away by engaging in non-stop activity; or should I take a deep breath, stick around and see what happens?

I saw Where the Wild Things Are last night.  When I first saw the trailer back in July, I sobbed.  That kid’s pain leaped off the screen and into my chest.  And when he leaped into his fantasy world…wow…without getting into the details of my childhood, let’s just say I related big-time.  And that was only the trailer!

In the original Where the Wild Things Are storybook, it take Max 12 pages to travel from his bedroom forest to the wild things’ island.  His journey in that little sailboat lasts “through night and day and in and out of weeks and almost over a year.”  All of that time and effort to leave the past, the pain, the ickiness behind!  And in the end, where does he end up?  Where the wild things are – an island of monsters.

Seems familiar to me.  Hmmm.

How gratifying to finally see the film after so much anticipation.  Spike Jonze hit the nail on the head.  I’m getting choked up simply recalling how vividly he portrays a child’s reactions to confusion, betrayal, neglect and alienation.  How a child creates a fantasy world in order to cope.  How that child learns that, even in his imaginary kingdom, there is confusion, betrayal, neglect and alienation.

I’m that child.  I mean right now.  I’m that kid.  It’s taken a while, but I’m learning that even with the warm glow of Diwali’s lights, even with the sacred space of yoga, even with the refuge of doing, doing, doing – life happens.

Monsters will always show up – on far-off islands, at home, in loved ones and within my own self.  Where humans are involved, there will be pain.  There will also be joy.  Where reality exists, there will be darkness.  And there will also be light.

So there’s nothing to be scared of after all.

“What is important for a movie?  Both – light to make it; darkness to show it.  The minute you learn to respect and see both sides of the coin as equally good, you can enjoy both.  It is only a matter of understanding and acceptance.  Let us have that light of understanding.  Accept things as they are.  Then, life is worth living.  The world becomes a heaven on earth for you.”  – Swami Satchidananda

*  *  *

October 15, 2009 – Diwali Intentions

Sometimes I feel very emotional after teaching a particularly energized Integral Yoga class.  Tonight was one of those times.

For the months of September and October, our classes have focused on Pranayama (see Tips-n-Tools for more on our bi-monthly focus), or breathing practices.  Complemented by this week’s waning moon and the coming of Fall, our exhales have come to mean more than a mere letting go of air.  Indeed, they’ve become symbols of transformation.

So at tonight’s IY class at Past Tense Studio, under a rainy sky and just four days before the new moon, we imagined our battles, troubles and trials in the palms of our hands.  Holding our palms together at heart-center, we honored this darkness, and perhaps grew to understand it.

Next, after inhaling our fingertips toward the sky, we exhaled and allowed our arms to open wide, releasing our darkness.  With each exhale we began to dissolve what no longer serves.

The intention in the room felt so deeply human, even vulnerable.  How could one not be moved?

Today marks the opening of the Indian holy days called Diwali – from the crescent to the new moon, as that pie-in-the-sky whittles away to nothing, Hindus, Sikhs and others celebrate the proverbial triumph of good over evil within individuals.  During this Festival of Lights, as the night sky darkens to moonless, the golden glow of oil lamps fills streets and homes.

Indian folkloric tales share the journeys of historical characters returning from exile, imprisonment and battles to be welcomed by candlelit temples and rows of oil lamps.

And here in the Mid-Atlantic, as the moon disappears and the change of seasons falls upon us, we exhale in yoga class and let go, let go, let go – making room for more light within.

In Autumn, nature begins its own process of letting go.  Green grass turns dry brown, leaves turn brilliant colors then drop to the ground, blue skies surrender to misty grey and the sun sinks lower each day.  Things appear to be dying in the fall.  At the same time, gardeners plant bulbs that nestle in the ground to be nurtured by fall’s fertilizers.

‘Tis the season to say goodbye to the old, to let it die off and sink away.  So plant your bulbs and let them rest while you live each changing moment of autumn.  Light a candle, wish your darkness farewell, then let yourself glow.

I am setting a Diwali intention.  Between today and the new moon of Sunday, October 18th, as that sliver of a moon disappears, I invite you to join me in envisioning your darkness between the palms of your hands – embrace it, honor it, understand it.  Lift your fingertips to the sky, and exhale to let go, let go, let go.

May the light of truth overcome all the darkness.  OM Shanti.

(P.S.  Gratitude to Liz Workman of Nashville’s Belmont Lotus, and many others who believe that our obstacles can be teachers, for the inspiration.)

 

Resurrection: A 25-Year Journey March 31, 2015

I am planting this seed where the pain of my past no longer defines me.
I am planting this seed where the wealth of my past most certainly defines me.
I am planting this seed where all of my past informs me.
From it will grow my next step, experience, thought, breath.
~ from my Spring 2014 journal, post Maha Shivaratri

*  *  *

GardenNatureBooksI don’t believe in miracles.

I believe that every outcome is the result of a chain of actions, of simple cause and effect – of Karma, if you will. What happens right here, right now, might seem surprising and mysterious. But that event was actually molded by a series of efforts – seen and unseen – that have been bubbling and boiling for a good, long time. Nothing is miraculous. Everything makes perfect sense.

The seeds, after all, have been planted.

*  *  *

Easter Sunday, 1990, New Orleans. I was still awakening from my 2nd suicide attempt in one week. I put on a white Esprit sundress and my black Vans deck shoes, grabbed my Canon AE-1 and drifted down to the French Quarter to shoot. My favorite images from that day: 1) Two little kids, dressed in Easter best, flowers in their hair, smiling widely and dancing wildly to street music – at their moment of abandoned embrace; 2) An elder couple, dressed in what we would call “vintage” Sansabelt slacks and polyester blend cardigans, watching the musical mayhem – at the moment that their hands join together behind their hips.

Images full of love and light. Taken in black and white. And I would remain lost in darkness for nearly 13 more years, slowly rising from the dead. Gradually finding my way here.

Easter Week, 2015, Washington DC. I have now been alive for half of my life. This summer I will turn 50, and this week is the 25th anniversary of those final suicide attempts – the culmination of a string of deliberate tries and careless living. Beginning around age 11, trying to smother myself out of grief when my beloved Aunt died…in 6th grade, jumping down ridiculously long flights of stairs, believing I could fly…as I grew up, guzzling down ridiculous amounts of alcohol to kill the pain of what I now know is untreated trauma…during college holiday, crashing and spinning my car across the New Jersey Turnpike while speeding recklessly through Thanksgiving Eve traffic…in-between and onward, drowning in self-destruction of all kinds. Until Easter of 1990, I’d spent half of my life wanting and trying to die.

When my 2nd suicide attempt failed, I raised the white flag. And I’ve been around ever since – increasingly alive to tell the story.

*  *  *

ShivaCardI wouldn’t say that Easter Day 1990 was an abrupt turning point. I moved forward more out of resignation than determination. I felt more patient than resilient. Change took time.

During those first 12.5 years of seeking healing, my drinking to obliteration would continue periodically. Despite enjoying stretches of dryness, having a regular yoga practice, practicing spiritual ceremony from many origins, returning to my childhood religion, changing my diet, going to therapy and so on, I still could not access a consistent joy for life nor desire to live. And admittedly, over the 12.5 years since getting sober through a program in October 2002, I’ve still reached gravely low points. I planned to jump off of a bridge after a heart-smashing breakup; I punched a wall while experiencing a terrifying PTSD trigger; and, I’ve wanted to rip my skin off during the often uncomfortable yet sacred work of untangling the thickly rooted patterns beneath my depression bouts.

So what’s the difference between the 1st and 2nd halves of the past 25 years? Since getting sober through a program, I have not used alcohol and drugs to hide from, mask or deaden my feelings. I have experienced all of life’s challenges without escape. I’ve used the tools of the program, yoga, therapy and other healing resources to face my past, clear away as much wreckage as possible, and address the origins of my addiction and mental health issues. I’ve grown to accept that certain “dark” feelings and events might be a fact of life – until they’re not. Now, I am rigorously honest about my life; I never go through challenge alone; and I never say no to help.

Today – thanks to that “uncomfortable yet sacred work” of practicing the program’s 12 steps, aiming to live yoga’s 8 limbs and accepting help from a wise and expert circle of counsel – I know exactly where my suicidal impulses originate; I have infinite resources for healing, growth and change; and I am grateful for every moment of the journey that I’ve traveled. All of it. Without this very life, this very story, I would not know how to respond to life’s inevitable trials, nor, authentically and effectively serve others with similar backgrounds and challenges. Today, I show up for life gratefully, with more consistent joy and presence than ever.

So, I believe, my path of obstacles, my pattern of resilience…both are part of a much larger, seen and unseen web of cause-and-effect. Other beings before me went through similar trials as mine, and therefore were available to guide me when I came along. And those beings passed on their experience, strength and hope, so I could then share what has worked in my life with others.

*  *  *

If I were to believe in miracles…for example, if I believed that my survival of a lengthy romance with suicidal ideation, a deep yearning to be dead and multiple suicide attempts was miraculous, then I must believe that my friend Bob’s successful suicide (or any destructive, disastrous or sad event) was also a magical, mysterious event rather than the result of distinct actions – a combination of his, nature’s and universal efforts. Karma. Not bad or good Karma. Simply Karma.

It has taken effort, not miracles, for me to reach where I am today. Just as it’s taken effort for you to reach where you are. Or anyone to reach any moment. In my opinion.

“Really, Holly?” says a voice within. “If you truly do not believe in miracles, why do you weep every single time you hear these words during the J. Brown Yoga DVD’s deep relaxation period? Every. Single. Time.”

Breath coming in and out of you, heart beating…the sun and the moon and the stars and the planets are all circumambulating each other. Life is happening. And maybe you would observe, or, at least entertain the notion that it’s inherently worthwhile. The fact that you are lying here existing right now is a profound miracle beyond comprehension. And there’s a comfort to seeing life in that way. It makes it easier to overcome the difficulties that are presented, and to really cherish and appreciate the gift of…life.

WritingAltarHmmm… “a profound miracle beyond comprehension.” Okay. Yes. Sometimes it does seem unbelievable that I’m here, now.

All in all – this Easter, I will observe 25 years of yearning to live. It feels a bit overwhelming! At the same time that I’m celebrating the journey, I’m grieving for that poor girl from 1990 New Orleans. It’s interesting. Over last weekend, I binged on TV and sugar, and then slept forever on Monday morning. Clearly, habits of avoidance. I didn’t get to the bottom of my emotions until I got on the phone with my therapist, and started describing exactly how I lived back then.

Daily, I would wake up with a stranger, drink mimosas made with cheap champagne bought with my father’s Exxon card, then go by a liquor store on the way to listen to street music in the French Quarter. I would sit on a curb and drink cheap tequila out of a paper bag. I imagined myself a writer. I hung out with celebrity drunks. At the end of the day, I would bring home a stranger. Repeat, daily. I remember every single moment of what I thought would be my last night on earth – the hot chocolate at a café, the visit to a famous producer’s recording studio, the producer’s obvious attraction to my friend, the feeling of unworthiness and impossibility, the weight of hidden trauma and isolation, the denseness of depression.

And ultimately, the triumph of pain.

I awoke the next morning, barfed up a toxic combo of drugs and alcohol, and walked around my sunny spring neighborhood in a daze. After trying a different combination of substances a few days later, and waking up again, I knew 100% that I would never be able to take my own life. But I did not know how I would go on living.

For 25 years since that Easter Sunday – with its visions of love and light – I’ve simply put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes stumbling, sometimes dancing.

*  *  *

When I recently moved into the house where I currently live, a friend sent a lovely gift and card. “Welcome to your new home! I hope it proves to be a…garden to grow the seeds of your creativity.” Indeed, the seeds have been planted.

Love life. It is, indeed, worthwhile.

Thank you for reading. OM Shanti.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note to self…

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

 

Yoga Class Focus: Foundations for Freedom July 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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