The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Wild Is The Wind: A Story Of Heartbreak, And True Love April 19, 2013

Love me, love me, love me – say you do.
Let me fly away with you.
For our love is like the wind.
And wild is the wind.
Give me more than one caress.MagnoliaSun2Colorful(Apr13)
Satisfy this hungriness.
Let the wind blow through your heart.
For wild is the wind.
You touch me – I hear the sound of mandolins.
You kiss me – with your kiss, my life begins.
You’re spring to me, all things to me.
(Hmmm…)
Don’t you know you’re life itself?
Like a leaf clings to a tree,
Oh my darling, cling to me.
For we’re creatures of the wind.
And wild is the wind…so wild is the wind.
(“Wild Is The Wind” ~ arranged/performed by Nina Simone)

* * *

I used to think I’d sing this song at my wedding.

Decades ago, when I first heard “Wild Is The Wind,” I believed that true love should feel wild. That together, my lover and I would feel a devotion as natural and sweeping and consuming as the wind.

These days, I’m not so sure about that formula for partnership. And, two painfully broken engagements, a few messy breakups and one recent heartbreak later, I’m not sure there will ever be a wedding to sing at.

But I am sure of this – true love IS a devotion as natural and sweeping and consuming as the wind.

* * *

This week was a doozy. The world watched bombs and victims and heroes and villains. In the midst of that tragedy, I lost a love to the truth.

We knew each other in high school. Twenty years later, we landed in jury duty together. We dated off and on for the next 11 years, with gaps in between of one, two, even six years. Each phase ended the same way – him saying that he just can’t settle down, and me saying goodbye…until the next time we were drawn together again.

Talk about wild.

Deep in my heart, I wished, “Some day…” Some day he’ll have a change of heart; and I’ll sing “Wild Is The Wind” at our wedding.

Actually…nope. Not gonna happen.

Without getting into the details or timeline or psychology of it all (I’m sure you’ll make your own assumptions and draw your own conclusions), let’s just say – it’s over. Earlier this week, he told me that he is unavailable on more than one level. He told me some truths that hurt deeply. He told me, once and for all, that he can never see me again.

I sense that this time around, it’s really over. Because after all these years, I am finally growing to want what’s best for me, and, I have finally gained the tools to accept the truth and move on. This week, I listened deeply; I thanked him for his honesty; and I said goodbye.

But my heart is still feeling a bit ouchy. I’ve lost a friend. I’ve lost a lover. I’ve lost a magical story. But y’know what? It’s time to let go.

* * *

Today, quite by chance, I heard “Wild Is The Wind.” During deep relaxation, at the end of a much-needed energizing and strengthening yoga class. A class that relieved my mind of the week’s challenges, and fueled me for a productive and present afternoon.

Then I heard those first beautifully ominous notes of the song, and knew I was in for a good cry.

Love me, love me, love me – say you do.

I exhaled a silent sob. Because he can’t. He can’t love me.

Give me more than one caress.

This line made me a little squirmy. But I continued to let the tears flow as the music washed over me.

Satisfy this hungriness.

WhiteCameliaNora(Apr13)And all of the sudden it hit me – no human being could ever satisfy my hungriness.

Shiva popped into my mind. I know this might seem goofy, but I sometimes dedicate popular love songs to god instead of a man, a dream, a wish. And who better than Shiva, who has accompanied my journey through a million births, lives and deaths over the past 47 years?

You kiss me – and with your kiss, my life begins.

My silent sobs were replaced with soft smiles.

You’re spring to me, all things to me. Don’t you know you’re life itself?

A resounding “yes” struck my heart.

I continued to happily embrace and breathe in the life force behind our eternal cycle of time, the prana of life itself. The renewing power of Shiva.

After resting, I rose up, reborn. I walked out into a particularly breezy day.

Let the wind blow through your heart.

Today I heard “Wild Is The Wind” with fresh ears. I heard it as a song about the deepest devotion that exists. The purest Bhakti Yoga in my heart. The true love between my higher power and me.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

Advertisements
 

Kirtan Is Like A Can Opener For My Heart February 28, 2012

“We never know what’s gonna happen with our emotions.  We try to control them.  We try to suppress them.  But…those old yogis knew that wasn’t really the way – they knew that these emotions were a crucial part of bringing the human being to divine consciousness.”  – Kirtan leader Jai Uttal

*  *  *

Leading into February and our monthly focus of The Heart, I attended a Kirtan with Bhagavan Das.  This is what I wrote in my journal the morning after:

Bhakti.  Devotion.  Kirtan.

Crying out to god.  Crying out my love to/for god.  Gratitude to god.  Reverence for god.

This big voice, crying out a huge “Hello!  I love you!  I thank you!  I surrender to you!  Please be with me!”

After a short time, I could no longer hear my voice as separate from the room.  Could no longer hear my voice at all.  Could only hear one voice, made of about 100 beings, all singing their hearts out to god.

When a chant was unfamiliar to me, I chose to listen deeply until I felt totally comfortable with one small part, and then a whole verse, and then maybe the whole chant.  When I didn’t get the chant, I allowed this sacred cavern of voice to fill my ears, my heart, my soul – and so, still, we prayed together.

Beyond any Kirtan experience so far.  The closest comparison would be the many times the group in a Lakota style sweat lodge reached pure oneness from the weaving together of heart-felt prayer or gut wrenching petition to god, which brought us so close in our yearning and love and respect.

That, too, was Bhakti, I am now realizing.  Those lodges led to such awareness of the power of surrender to the great mystery, as well as the power of service to others as a way of giving back for the great nourishment we received.

Bhagavan Das – 2 & 1/2 hours non-stop Bhakti.  Very reminiscent of those clock-free sweat lodges.

For me, Bhakti is such deep devotion and liberated love, it leads to unswerving trust and therefore total surrender.  It’s what I crave.

Each morning for years, I have prayed: “I am yours.  Please build with me and do with me as you will, as you need, as you wish,” and “Grant me strength to do your bidding.”

Courtesy of DC Supersonic Kirtan

This, to me, is Bhakti Yoga.  And Kirtan is one form of this yoga of devotion.

*  *  *

The first time I said “Kirtan is like a can opener for my heart” was the day after an extra-special,

female-led DC Supersonic Kirtan near my house.  I was honored to play percussion for the all-gal

group.  The event fell toward the end of the Off the Mat, Into the World “Yoga, Purpose and Action” Intensive here.  So my heart was already quite worked up from that deeply stirring training.

I felt the infamous “Bhakti Bliss” during and after the evening of responsive Sanskrit chanting.  Indeed, Kirtan was like a can opener for my heart.

The next day, when we wrapped up our Off the Mat training, I ran outside and gave my phone number to a total stranger!  Hah!  I’d seen this guy all week – he was working on a nearby park’s landscaping.  We’d greeted each other each morning on my way in to training, and each afternoon during lunch.  So at the end of the Intensive, with my heart wide open (and some of my gal-pals urging me on), I took the plunge and ran out to introduce myself.

About one hour later, he texted me to say that he had a girlfriend, but that he’d still like to meet.  YUCK!  I asked him to throw away my number and I never heard from him again.

I’ll tell you, in the past I might have said “OK” to such an arrangement.  In the past, my heart rebounded from drama to drama because I had no faith that love could take any form other than low self-esteem matched up with deception leading to inevitable betrayal.  Sad but true.  So…

Phew!  A close call.  Thankfully I wised up quickly enough to recognize this as one of those times when the heart – wide open and vulnerable – was not the best voice to follow.  Live and learn.

Over the past 10 years, I have come to understand that the heart must be healthy before I follow it.  Yoga teacher and writer Josh Schrei is currently exploring that point in his 8-part Elephant Journal series, “Your True Heart And How To Follow It,” which has become a kind of University of The Heart for me.  I highly recommend it.

*  *  *

“Love is not a monochromatic feeling.  We have passion…fear…longing…ecstasy…we have the absolute bliss of that moment when the individual self dissolves into the great oneness.”  – Jai Uttal

Courtesy of DC Supersonic Kirtan

So what in the world is happening when I chant Kirtan, that could make me so vulnerable?  As I said above, practicing Bhakti Yoga “leads to unswerving trust and therefore total surrender.”  After chanting Kirtan, I can walk out of the yoga studio or concert hall and mistakenly give that trust and surrender to whomever or whatever comes next.  So again, it is important to find the balance between a beautifully open heart, and a dangerously exposed heart.

My healthy heart is not locked closed, but it is wisely contained.

*  *  *

Sometimes I look back at what I’ve published with HUGE fear that readers will judge me as stupid, crazy – or even cursed!  Stories about major breakups, past addictions, family brokenness, loss, grief and pain expose pieces of my life that are potentially embarrassing, or worse.

The reason I am able to tell honest stories about difficult events, is that I am living proof of change.  I am not my past – I am not my yesterday, I am not even my moments ago.  I know that, at this very moment, I am not the girl who mistakenly chose harmful boyfriends, I am not the girl who grew up drinking away her pain, I am not the girl who used to leave jobs, cities and relationships because my upbringing had not taught me how to stay.  I am me, here, now – resilient after setbacks, learning and ever-growing.

In my blogs, I not only expose the tough truths – I also aim to highlight the triumphs of yoga over all of life’s perils!  I also hope to share my process of emotional growth in case others relate.  As Jai Uttal says, “…these emotions were a crucial part of bringing the human being to divine consciousness.”

With its forceful (yes, forceful) habit of prying my heart open despite my Krypto-locks and iron chains, and its time-tested tradition of uniting hearts with an ever-benevolent, all-knowing and protective energy – call it god, higher power, the divine, great mystery, whatever – Kirtan has taught me that in this very moment I can celebrate my beautiful, broken, healing, human, hard-won life.

*  *  *

“The singing voice, enriched with a full breath directly touches that well of emotions inside.”  – Jai Uttal

Now that Kirtan plays a bigger part in my life, and I have faith in sacred singing’s power to shift the mind, I am also practicing non-responsive chanting on my own.  Each Saturday and Sunday morning, after prayers and Pranayama, I chant 108 recitations of the popular mantra, “Asato Ma, Sat Gamaya; Tamaso Ma, Jyotir Gamaya; Mrityor Ma, Amritam Gamaya.”  Lead us from non-truth to truth (or from unreal to real); from darkness to light; from death to immortality.

Repetitions of this powerful chant steer my sometimes misguided mind from pettiness to importance, from negative to positive, from destructive to productive.  It took a little while for me to find personal meaning in “from death to immortality,” because I don’t necessarily accept immortality in a religious sense.  Recently, though, after I started the 108 weekend repetitions, I embraced the idea of being led from things that die to things that last.  For example, my self-centered fear is something that comes and goes according to experience, environment, situation.  But love is something that exists eternally, despite conditions.

*  *  *

“…the mantras…are words that have been sung for centuries…by people just sitting and patiently, patiently, saying god’s name over and over and over again to create a connection from their own heart to that great, great heart.”  – Jai Uttal

A few weekends ago I attended another fabulous “DC Supersonic Kirtan” in this Bhakti-filled town.  When I got home, I wrote this in my journal:

Kirtan is the musical manifestation of Bhakti yoga.  Devotion takes many forms.  Jubilant.  Festive.  Mischievous.  Rowdy.  Reverent.  Mellow.  Serious.  Intense.

I feel at home in my heart these days.

I no longer need intense ritual to pry open the doors of a firmly shut heart.  No longer need clever practice to pick the lock.

My heart is well. 

And so I will follow it.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

Falling Off The Yoga Wagon July 22, 2011

Why does it take a sick day for me to realize I have totally abandoned my yoga practice?

For the past two days, I’ve been battling a sinus infection.  This morning, after sleeping 11 hours, I woke up, chanted mantras, said prayers, wrote in my journal, practiced breathing exercises and sat to meditate.  All of the fear, anger, distrust and resentment of recent weeks (due to a mugging and other trauma triggers) melted into pure, big-picture, heartfelt acceptance.  Everything made sense.  I felt peaceful and whole.

This collection of rituals is a simple 30-minute Sadhana (routine) that I like to practice every morning.  Today I realized that it’s been months since I’ve committed to these efforts on a daily basis.

In my experience, I can count on a daily reprieve from all kinds of “dis-ease” as long as I maintain my spiritual condition.  For someone like me – a trauma survivor who drowned pain and reality with alcohol for 25 years, and who has been undoing old patterns for the last eight years – that maintenance is essential to my ongoing growth away from my past and toward a healthy future.  Daily Sadhana guarantees that I will be liberated of self-centeredness, grounded in peacefulness and therefore available to serve others.

Yoga is the umbrella for all of my maintenance efforts.  During my yoga teacher training, we studied the six branches of Integral Yoga – Hatha (primarily poses, breathing, cleansing), Raja (philosophy, ethics, mindfulness), Jnana (reflection, self-inquiry, analysis), Karma (selfless service), Japa (mantra repetition) and Bhakti (devotion to and worship of a higher power).  In the Yoga Sutras, we hear, “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” – yoga negates disturbances of the mind.  Therefore,  the goal of yoga is to cultivate a peaceful mind.  IY founder Swami Satchidananda believes, “There are many ways to reach the same goal. Whatever you call it, it is called Yoga.”

Indeed, it’s all yoga.

When I say that I have abandoned my yoga practice, I don’t just mean that I haven’t been going to class or practicing poses. I mean that I have not been greeting the day with chants, prayers, reflection, breath work, meditation.  I have not been ending the day by reading positive literature, making a gratitude list, praying for others.  In between rising and bedtime, I have not been serving as I could.  I have not been well enough to show up for others.  And I most certainly have not been surrendering to a higher power.

And so, right here, right now, I take the first step toward a solution and admit – I have fallen off the wagon.

“The origins of this phrase lie in the 1800s, with the temperance movement. During this era, many people felt that alcohol was an extremely harmful substance, and they abstained from alcohol while encouraging others to do the same. The term references the water wagons which were once drawn by horses to water down dirt roads so that they did not become dusty. Members of the temperance movement said that they would sooner drink from a water wagon than touch a drop of alcohol, so when someone failed to keep a temperance pledge, people would say that he or she had fallen from the wagon.”  – http://www.wisegeek.com/

For me, daily Sadhana is the “water wagon” that keeps me from falling back into all sorts of unhealthy habits.  And I intend to jump back on that wagon the moment I press “Publish” on this Post.  Because, with You as my witness, a publicly stated intention will be hard to break.

Wish me luck.  OM Shanti.

 

Focus Wrap Up: The Eight Limbs – Yama April 10, 2011

It was 10:38am on Sunday, April 3rd when I started writing this wrap up, and the New Moon hung invisibly above.

In that Sunday’s classes we wrapped up our March focus on the 1st of the Eight Limbs of Yoga – Yama, or, abstinence. I extended the March focus through April 3rd so the New Moon – at the height of its energy of surrender, letting go and dissolving – could reinforce our liberation from what we might refrain from in our attitudes, our actions, our lives.

During the past month, our classes bravely began a journey of self-examination by way of yoga’s 1st limb.  For me, such exploration of patterns and beliefs is a process.  I have grown to understand that I might not be transformed within the period of one class, one month or perhaps one lifetime!  Each time I step onto the path, I am simply opening a door – maybe even just a little crack – to look inside with curiosity and compassion.  Still, this is deep work, and I try to balance intensity with restoration – during my personal efforts and our classes.

In his commentary about Yama (and Limb #2 – Niyama, or observance) in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Swami Satchidananda says: “These points are for whole-time, dedicated Yogis; and so, for them, Patanjali allows no excuses.  For people who aren’t that one-pointed toward the Yogic goal, these vows can be modified according to their position in life.”  So rather than introducing the Sutras’ list of five yogic abstinences (non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, non-greed), I invited students to cultivate their own, personal Yama.  Toward the end of the month, we considered the official Yama from Patanjali’s ancient guidance.

Along with students, I cultivated my own personal Yama based on my “position in life.”  And the position I’ve been playing for most of my life is…

DEFENSE.

Last week, I squarely faced the huge deficit this role has hollowed out of my heart, soul and life.  Ugh.

What happened?

A number of things.  I’ll skip the long story about childhood and other traumas leading to the necessity for self-defense.  If you’ve read my past blogs, you know that I am devoted to looking backward in order to move forward with health.  You might also remember that just last summer I was blind-sided by a serious betrayal that erased all my trust in humans.  My heart was on lock down.  In my yoga practice, with professional counsel and through other spiritual practices, I started to open back up.  More recently, during the Off the Mat Into the World leadership intensive in early March, I revisited my bruised little heart and noticed that it did not feel so safe after all.  It was still in defense mode.  Again, I re-committed to the process of looking inside, taking action, sparking transformation.

But the biggest eye-opener happened last week.

I went through a breast cancer scare after a doctor’s examination.  Thankfully, at the radiologist appointment a few days later, I found out that I do not have cancer.  During those in-between days of fearful anticipation, however, I contacted family and spent a lot of time with friends for support.  Knowing me as well as she does, one friend reached out her arms and said, “Put your hands in mine.”  I did.

Then she told me, with resolve in her voice, firmness in her stance and steadiness in her eyes,  “You are going to be OK.  And you will not be alone.”

I felt my entire body seize up in defense mode.  My stiffened hands could not hold on.  My eyes could barely meet hers.  When I did look her in the eye it was through a hard plate of glass.  I could hear her words but not feel the sentiment in my heart.  I wanted to believe her but could not.  I could not trust for fear of being betrayed again.  I could not accept her love.

What’s the big deal?

If I don’t allow myself to accept love, I will never feel loved.  That’s it in a nutshell.  I don’t think I need to go into the specifics of how humans need to share love; how vulnerability is essential to trust-building; how risk-taking might be the only way to true intimacy.  The fact is, if I don’t take action to continually and consistently address, transform and heal the core wounds of my heart, I will continually and consistently struggle with every relationship in my life – at work, in family, with friends and otherwise.

Realizing this last week, I set a deep intention that will bring purpose to my Eight-Limb work in the coming months.  A Sankalpa.  My own personal Yama:

I aim to abstain from fear-based responses to life’s invitations for connecting, trusting and loving.  I will liberate my icy-cold, walled-up, scared little Anahata Chakra through heart-opening Asana, heart-expanding Pranayama and Bhakti-influenced practices.

Some wounds are hard to heal.  But for the sake of Ahimsa (non-harming – the 1st Yama from the Sutras), I am going to non-harm myself by taking the risk of being vulnerable.  No holds barred, I am rolling my shoulders back, breathing deeply and chanting my heart out. I am abstaining and refraining from, letting go of, dissolving, and surrendering fear.  Damn-it.

Why abstain?

As mentioned in the Intro to this month’s focus, I want to offer my best self in service to the world.  That is what Samadhi (yoga’s 8th Limb) means to me – an interconnectedness that dissolves separation, invites love, cultivates trust.  So in the end, I don’t want to heal my heart so I feel better – although I’m sure that will be a benefit!  In the end, I want to liberate my heart so I can serve others with authenticity, strength and sustainability.

Wishing you peace, joy, love and light.  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

Focus: Abundance – Love & Light December 31, 2010

I have long believed that people are beautiful beings, inside and out. Our humanness, our perfect imperfection, our state of constant growth gives me faith in the beauty of life as a whole.

Tonight a street drunk and I watched a meteor fireball together. I was walking to yoga class when a huge white comet-looking thing with a long firey tail burst across the sky then disappeared. “Wow.” We stopped dead in our tracks. “Ha lo visto?” I asked in my unpracticed Spanish. Yes, he saw it. He told me that it would keep going. We stood together for a few moments, faces lifted toward the sky. Then we went on our respective ways. Before we got too far, he yelled to me and gave two thumbs up. I waved goodbye to my new brother.

The gift of light and a moment of love between the two strangers who witnessed it. Seriously. Love.

This is how I experience humanity – when I’m not stuck in fear, distrust, anger and disgust, I look around and I love everyone. I love the street drunk, I love the pushy drivers, I love the grumpy shoppers, I love the crying babies, I love the lashing out friends. I love them in addition to the smiling, cheerful and sober people. So thankfully, it’s been a very loving couple of weeks.

Finally. The return of love and light.

I didn’t plan for the weeks to unfold like this. I didn’t will any of this beauty to happen. I simply wrote a decidedly revealing blog about pain and healing and bouncing back (see “Focus: Abundance – Growth”) a few weeks ago, and soon after, the fog started to lift.

Too simple to be true?

For me, the fact is, when I look squarely at and then honestly share my “stuff,” it’s no longer in the shadows. Writing out my “stuff” sheds light on it. I take action, I spark the flame. I turn my face toward the light. I stretch my arms out to it.

And the light reaches back to me in all kinds of ways…

*  *  *

It all started on Friday the 17th. I practiced a slow and prayerful Vinyasa with my 7am class. We were flowing to Alexi Murdoch’s “Orange Sky,” a spiritual ballad about the power of fellowship on the long road of life. I paused to look outside – and the sunrise sky was a radiant orange! Of course, I was brought to tears.

And from there forward, I have been shifting away from past troubles and toward inner happiness. Hallelujah!

It doesn’t hurt that our December Class Focus has been Abundance, and in my own practice, I have been savoring the sweetness of a favorite Asana among the challenging. Dwelling on that instead of loathing the other poses. Knowing that somewhere along the set, that sweetness is coming. I can bank on it.

Just like life. I’ve been dwelling on light.  And love is coming. I can feel it.

*  *  *

The day after that beautiful orange sunrise, I curled up at a cafe for hot drinks with a friend, and mused about living in the solution of a spiritual life. We were both weighing out certain situations in our paths. I encouraged her to trust her instinct, to research rather than run away from seemingly risky situations. To live. And to discern.

And breath by breath, I am taking my own advice, diving in a little bit while exercising healthy caution.

That evening, I popped around the corner to DC Supersonic Kirtan’s monthly chant fest. Kirtan is like a can opener for my heart. No caution here! With everyone around me singing their lungs out to the gods, there is no room, no need for caution. I leave every Kirtan blissed-out with love. Fearless. It’s like rebirth.

Fueled by Bhakti bliss, the next day was deeply connective, relaxed and joyous. I felt I had more to offer the day, the world, my life. My tiny studio apartment (aka The Urban Yoga Den) became a wonderfully crowded house of chilled-out, indulgent women, celebrating a few rare hours of down-time together at my annual (pre-) Solstice gathering. I love to just stay in the background and soak in how these wonderful women relate, interact, connect.

People are precious! And spending carefree quality time with like-spirited pals is priceless.

Later that night a friend and I discussed the world of dating. He mentioned the sensitivity of navigating what we like and don’t like about our mates – or what they may or may not like about us. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “I like everything about you.” He was stunned. “Perhaps even the things you don’t like about yourself.” He paused to absorb the news. “No one has ever said that to me,” he revealed.

We are all works in progress. Growing, stumbling, flying, crawling.  For me, it’s easy to love someone for all that they are. The way I would like to be loved.

The way I would like to love myself.

*  *  *

Moving along the holiday week, the good vibrations kept flowing. I started a temp job. Typically I spend my days alone, at my home office, working on my own projects. Deeply fulfilling, yet also primarily self-serving. There’s nothing like suiting up and showing up for a group of workers and supporting their goals. I am certain this interaction and service to something beyond my personal intentions has also encouraged my softening heart.

To end the week, I attended Caroline Weaver’s “Warm the Heart” workshop on the morning of Christmas Eve. I love Caroline because she’s not afraid to bring god into a yoga class. (Hello, god!) Or god as some personal concept of higher power or a virtue that’s worth our full commitment. The uplifting, devotional energy of her class was so enveloping, I don’t remember much about it, except getting to a point in Warrior 1 where Caroline reminded us, “Remember, you are dedicating all of this to your highest virtue.” I felt this breathtaking swell of gratitude in my heart.

“Thank You Thank You Thank You Thank You” I whispered repeatedly like a Mantra.

I strive to remember to dedicate ALL of this – not just my yoga moves, but my entire life – to something beyond me. When I remember that life is about playing a small role of service in the big picture of the universe, the great mystery, the infinite abyss, nature, Jesus, compassion, generosity – whatever name you pick for your god idea or highest virtue – I feel an abundance beyond “having.” I feel the abundance from giving.

*  *  *

Earlier in the week, during Winter Solstice, I’d visited family in Nashville and experienced a totally spontaneous opportunity for pure service, for giving without expectation of receiving. Karma Yoga. I awoke on Solstice morning, after what is known as the darkest night of the year – maximized this December by the the full-moon lunar eclipse. I thought, “THIS is like New Year to me. I truly feel different.”

I continued to lay in bed, in and out of post-alarm clock dozing. My brain started to play that age-old “should” game – I should get up, should do Pranayama/Asana, should pray, should make tea – and then it locked in on one thing. The broken bird house and bottle of Elmer’s Glue sitting on the desk across the room. My dad’s fix-it project. But he’s never been a fix-it guy. Since childhood, I have always been the fix-it girl. If you’ve read my story in other blogs, you know that at times I had to be.

I admit that sometimes my “fix-it” nature is not productive in adult life and relationship worlds. But in this instance, looking at my dad’s broken bird house, “fix-it girl” was the appropriate role to play. My 1st preferences (Hatha Yoga and prayer) were all about my routines for well-being – which I do believe are essential to being able to show up for others. On this morning, however, lazying around in bed after a full night’s rest – I am fine, my well-being is intact. But Dad’s bird house – something that brings him great joy – is not. It’s broken. And I can fix it (and with strong staples, not Elmer’s Glue).

My dad was so excited. He filled up the bird house with seed, went out the back door, and shouted, “Hey guys, we’re back!”

Karma Yoga occurs when love sets the priority. When priority outweighs preference. When big picture beats self-centered routine.

*  *  *

There are many more little stories of heart opening, light shining, exhaling, melting moments from the past weeks. I’ve been basking in the small yet profound pockets of joy.

For instance, while driving to the airport early in the morning, listening to Paul Duncan’s “The Lake, Pt. 2” I watched streams of sunlight (aka “Jesus rays”) burst through the clouds. I thought, “Hmmm, last Friday the sunrise burned radiant orange, and now it’s bright and golden.” And at that moment, I felt a jolt of realization that the days, the universe, my world is getting progressively brighter! The lunar eclipse proves that it’s always darkest before the dawn. It dawned on me – there is personal significance to this year-end season, more than just “The Holidays” and gift shopping and programmed cheer. BRIGHTNESS RETURNS. And at that moment, driving and crying joyfully, it felt like the 1st time I’d ever recognized that significance.

Also, while on my Nashville trip, I felt my 11-month-old grand-nephew burrow his little body into my heart center in the most loving embrace ever. (Ever.) I reunited with my ex-brother-in-law (who has always been like a true brother to me, and my only brother) and got a big bear hug. I witnessed the passion for life returning to my big sister after a very heavy number of years.

And remember that friend who I like everything about? A few days later, during a different tone of conversation, he said he cares about me. “Yeah? How and why do you care about me,” I angrily snapped back. He then proceeded to list the ways and reasons that he cares for me. I was floored as I silently absorbed his penetrating truths. He told me he loves me. And we continued to dwell in that love all evening. I haven’t felt that loved in a long time.

To no fault of the people who love me – just my own obstacles.

On Christmas morning, snow swirled softly outside my window and the swirly songs of Sea & Cake warmed the air inside. My 1st 100% free day in what felt like forever – I flowed with the solitude here in my cozy little home…writing, lounging, being. (Milking that isolation as long as I can. Hehe.) Then I got my butt out the door to accept invitations from the loving and caring people in my life.

*  *  *

In my December classes, I have been encouraging students to concentrate on the space between poses. To take time to grow into each shape.  To be present with the transition, the process, the breath. To make room for discovering abundance where it was unexpected or unplanned. I guess my own instruction has been rubbing off on me. Bit by bit, I have been opening up where I was once firmly sealed shut. Leaving space for orange skies and Jesus rays. Allowing the darkness of an eclipse to reveal joyous Solstice light. Making room for love.

To be honest, it doesn’t always feel safe. But I’m opening up anyway.

For a few of my classes, to complement our Abundance theme and reinforce that we are all surrounded by a supportive community, I taught an Asana set that built to a group pose. We held hands in a big circle for a collaborative Warrior 3 (not my most stable balancing pose). As we leaned into the circle, I felt the entire group unite with a strong energy of responsibility toward each other. We floated into and held the pose for a few long breaths.

Now that’s love. The dedication to serving your neighboring yogi. Or maybe just your neighbor. Or maybe just the random stranger with whom you watched a fireball streak across the dark sky.

* * *

Thanks to friends, family, students, strangers for the beauty of life. Your humanness fortifies me. Happy holidays, merry new day, abundant being.

OM Shanti. h*

P.S. No kidding – after drafting this blog, I checked e-mail and found the following holiday wish from yoga teacher and writer Max Strom:

“Dear Friends, I hope that on this day you experience a rise of the sun within you, the return of the light within your life, the embrace of your family who surrounds you, and the knowing that you can begin again anew. I write this as I witness the sunrise out my window and hear the winds of change blowing the trees outside.”

(Photo credit: “This exceptionally bright fireball meteor trail was photographed with a fish-eye camera at a Czech Republic station of the European Fireball Network on January 21, 1999.” [GSFC, 1999])

 

Focus: Gratitude – Inter-Faith & Cultural Fusion November 25, 2010

Around Thanksgiving, some might grunt and gripe about family dynamics (me included) This year I want to offer huge gratitude to my parents. Because Mom and Dad motivated my passion for fusing spiritual and cultural influences.

Mom (rest her soul) was a blue-eyed Church of Christ farm girl born to Irish settlers near Nashville, TN. Her love for singing was rooted in songs from black culture. I have her 1948 “Negro Spirituals” song book and newspaper clippings from talent shows where she performed the jazz standard “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” She converted to Judaism before marrying my father. Dad came from a gypsy-like Russian-Jewish family and grew from adolescence to early adulthood in Phoenix, AZ, where he gravitated toward Mexican culture. To this day, he tries to remember his Spanish vocabulary, brightens up when he hears Mariachi music and takes himself out for enchiladas just to be around Hispanic families.

Both Mom and Dad brought their musical and religious influences into our home; and I grew up with an appreciation of pretty much every aspect of their eclectic tastes and backgrounds. As my cultural interests matured, I traveled right down the middle of Dad’s Spanish-tinged path and Mom’s Afro-centric inspirations to find myself impassioned for Puerto Rico. Spiritually, I’ve presently evolved into a somewhat pagan yogini who religiously observes the Jewish New Year!

So when I recently saw an advertisement for a “Bomba Kirtan” – an event blending yogic devotional chanting and Puerto Rican folkloric “party” music – I was beyond excited!

When I first heard about the event, I asked myself – is it “OK” to fuse a purely spiritual practice with a primarily social activity? The answer for me – particularly after last weekend’s amazing experience – is a hearty “yes!”

The “Bomba Kirtan” at Baltimore’s Utkatasana Yoga Studio was beyond my dreams. What a beautifully diverse community of yoga teachers, yogis and yoginis, dancers, musicians, artists, parents, children and all! After a meet-n-greet with tea and homemade cacao/fruit balls, we circled up and prepared to pray in the Bhakti Yoga tradition. After Pranayama and meditation – with mellow guitar and drum accompaniment – we transitioned to responsive Sanskrit chanting to various deities. We even included a Native American chant urging each other to “Be Here Now.” Clearly Ganesha heard us because the devotional energy was unobstructed, pure and high!

After a short break the drummers re-directed the room with rhythms rooted in the Afro-Puerto Rican Bomba tradition. People bravely jumped in on instruments, jumped into the middle of the dance floor, jumped into a culture that they were primarily unfamiliar with before those moments. Dancers and drummers played off each others’ movements and hits; chanters offered songs; and singers offered chants. In my tradition of Inter-Faith exploration, I even snuck in a chant to Oshun during a gorgeous 6/8 groove. The freedom! The smiles! When I left to drive home to DC, more drummers were arriving! I heard that the Bomberos carried through into the wee hours.

To me, the seemingly separate traditions of Kirtan and Bomba actually have much in common. The call-response of chanting and singing; the soulful call to sway, move, dance; the conversations between chanter and spirit, dancer and drummer, dancer and dancer, chanter and chanter; the movement toward ecstasy.

To blend Kirtan and Bomba in the sober and sacred space of a yoga studio was ideal for me. I felt 100% comfortable being my Self, and 100% authentic embodying all of my culturally eclectic “selves.” I can’t remember, ever, feeling so loved and loving, accepted and accepting, moved, inspired, true, awake.

Liberated.

So thanks, Mom and Dad, for bringing your spiritual and cultural curiosities, passions, traditions and backgrounds into our home. Also much, much gratitude to those that created and shared the magic of perhaps the world’s 1st (but certainly not last!) Bomba Kirtan: the owners of Baltimore’s Utkatasana Yoga Studio; the musicians gathered by Michael Harris; my fellow OM-Zoners Kendra and Justina; photographer Monica Sizemore (for these beautiful shots!); and so many more who are now connected by this unique bond.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

To view Monica Sizemore’s complete album of Bomba Kirtan photos, visit http://www.4thchakraphotography.com/. To learn more about Baltimore’s Utkatasana studio, visit http://www.utkatasanayoga.com/live/. For more information about future Bomba Kirtan events, subscribe to my Yoga Update newsletter by e-mailing hmeyers65@yahoo.com or stay tuned to the Events page of this Urban Yoga Den blog.

 

Wine & Kirtan April 9, 2010

I just got home from “The Chant Super Tour” concert with Kirtan musician Krishna Das and spiritual singer Deva Premal.  Although I like her lullaby-like versions of Santeria chants for Yemaya and Oshun, and I don’t mind hearing her music in yoga classes, Deva’s work is a little too soft for me.  Tonight I enjoyed her partner Miten’s and her version of a Gospel blues song (with an astonishingly hot flute solo by Nepalese accompanist Manose) – but I couldn’t wait for the second act.

Because Krishna Das packs a strong punch.

During his Bhaja Govindam chant, I was clapping so hard that my arms tingled through the entire next song.  At the end of his set, I had no idea what time it was and I barely felt the surprisingly cold rain as I walked to my car.  Although he encouraged the audience not to leave the wholeness of the world around us to float off to a separate “spiritual” experience, it was definitely hard to not be swept away.

Aside from this event, I’ve seen a few concerts over the past couple of weeks.  (I swear this will relate back to Kirtan.)  I saw Wilco at the Strathmore in North Bethesda (formerly known as Rockville to those of us who grew up around here), and David Gray at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore.  Being a non-drinker who mostly hangs out in non-drink-centric places, I found it jarring to walk into the lobbies of both venues and smell the overpowering scent of alcohol.  No judgment, honestly.  It’s simply jarring.  As a non-drinker.

As a non-drinker and a yogini, it’s even more jarring to walk into a Kirtan concert and be hit in the face with that same smell.  And to smell it reeking on people’s breath while they sang and sweating from their pores as they danced.   At one point, I noticed that I was barely breathing while chanting, because I was so tired of inhaling alcohol fumes.  And you know me – I’m a huge breather.  Pranayama all the way.  But not tonight.

So it was a weird experience.  And I just thought I’d share about it a bit before going to bed.

Something I definitely appreciated from Deva was her description of Sanskrit chants as powerful medicine.  This reminded me of when I used to participate in Native American sweat lodge ceremonies – and the elders would warn newcomers not to “mix medicines.”  In other words, some people thought it would be cool to get high before doing a sweat lodge; and the elders explained the dangers of mixing “medicines” that had different purposes.  Drugs having one purpose (no need to explain), and the lodge having quite another (praying like heck while purifying intensely).

So tonight, while I understood that some people like to relax with a glass of wine (or something), I wondered what their experience would have been like had they simply allowed the power of Sanskrit mantras to create that relaxation.  Kirtan’s purpose is to express devotion to a Higher Power and it is a form of Bhakti yoga; while wine’s purpose…

Anyway.  As we chanted our powerfully medicinal songs, I wished the elders were there to share their warning.  Without their guidance, even I might not have thought about the significance of keeping medicines separate.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

(PS: Yes I know that this is more attitude-y than my typical posts.  I know that not everyone experiences yoga in the same way.  Personally, I’m gratefully accustomed to and really appreciate yoga spaces being free of other “medicines.”  Can you say “Eight Limbs?”  Goodnight now.)