The Urban Yoga Den

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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.
 

Pick Yourself Up, Dust Yourself Off (from the uyd archives) November 15, 2014

November 2014:
When I am struggling, friends sometimes say: “Go read your own blog!” Well, this past week has been a doozy of curve balls and losses. I recalled the blog below, from December 2010. I’m a bit embarrassed to share it, because it feels like I’ve been mostly depressed since then! Truth be told, the past 4 years have, indeed, been a severe string of betrayal, physical assaults, family hostility and loss. So, yes, I just went and read my own blog. Because this one – written in the midst of processing a trauma – is “Holly at her best.” Transparency, counsel, action, hope, resilience. Onward.
Thanks for reading. Love to you and all. OM Shanti.

*  *  *

YOGA CLASS FOCUS: ABUNDANCE – GROWTH
(December 2010)

Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, start all over again. – Dorothy Field, 1930s Musical Lyricist

When I was around 6 years old, my mom would drive my sisters and I to a farm outside of DC for horseback riding lessons. A few weeks into our series, a horse threw me to the dirt! I remember bouncing along the ground (I was a chubby little gal), standing up, brushing myself off, and getting right back on the horse – before my teacher or mom could give that standard warning, “If you don’t get back on the horse, you’ll never ride again.” At that young age, I instinctively knew that getting back on the horse was my only option.

So, as I navigate the “throws” of life – even those that take a longer recovery – deep down I know I’ll bounce back.

Reaching the close of 2010, I wish I could promise friends, students and readers that THIS IS THE LAST TIME I’ll share about the betrayal I experienced this past summer. I, myself, wish this will be the last time that I dredge up that pain in this blog. The positive? Each time I write about the pain, I inevitably write about the healing and growth.

Thankfully I’ve been programmed that way from a very young age!

You must know that you can swim through every change of tide.  – This morning’s Yogi Tea bag message.

It feels like everywhere I turn these days, writers, teachers and songs are encouraging me to drop my guard and jump into life with abandon. I’d love to. And I appreciate the encouragement! But the truth is, I’m terrified.

Fears related to the summer’s emotional trauma (and its related past-trauma triggers) are bubbling up again for a few reasons. Lately I’ve received invitations to connect with human beings. (Go figure!) A little romance, some friendships. Gratefully, despite (or perhaps due to?) my history as a trauma survivor, deep in my heart, I adore humans, humanity and humanness. In addition, with 6 months between the summer’s emotional shell shock and today’s invitations, my trust in others is gradually reawakening.

So as new life beckons, I simultaneously feel like jumping in…and running away.

I have been taught – and so I believe – that there is great value in sharing about difficulty and the process of surviving it. Not just for my own release and rebirth, perhaps also for someone who has gone or might go through something similar. So here goes. And maybe, this will be the last time.

Who says I can’t be free
From all of the things that I used to be
Rewrite my history –
Who says I can’t be free?
– John Mayer

Falls from horses were not the only dangers of my childhood.  My family household was chaotic and violent, driven by addiction and emotional illness.  Through a certain age, I found solace in music and god.  I wrote and performed songs (escape), often sang myself to sleep (comfort) and craved spiritual experience (protection).  At the same time, I existed in a state of self-preservation and readiness – prepared for the sky to fall at any moment.  Witnessing the model of my three older sisters, who frequently ran away from home, I kept a small night bag packed with pajamas and toiletries, in case I ever had to run.

Eventually, the false strength of self-reliance and isolation won out over the gentle support of god and music.  I took care of myself and often had to play other family-members’ roles.  I learned to construct elaborate lies about the screaming fights, ambulances, lateness to school and other troubles.  And for relief from the hiding and responsibility, my own addictions kicked in by age 11.

My parents are not to blame.  The inevitable fallibility of lineage shaped them as parents, and they did their best with what they had.  As did my sisters, whose only choice was to protect themselves and therefore grow apart from each other and me.  Although I was resentful toward my parents beyond my college years, I eventually grew to see the bigger picture, and soulfully love and appreciate Mom and Dad for all they offered.

I share this family background to illustrate how it informed my adult life.  Self-reliance, isolation and addiction do not nurture “normal” maturity!  Poor decisions led to dangerous situations and more trauma.  My gravitation back toward spiritual reliance began around Easter of 1990 after I hit an emotional and physical bottom while living in New Orleans.  That summer I would teach myself to meditate by focusing on one sense at a time.  This was the beginning of my relationship with the present moment, with “what is,” and with inner peace.

Some believe we are here to work out our past karma.. i need to remind myself that karma is not punishment.. just consequence. – Ricky Tran, Yoga Teacher

For the next twelve years, I sought personal wellness – and to learn how to relate well with others.  I continued meditation, started practicing yoga (yay!), used therapy, experimented with different religious and spiritual traditions, changed my diet and pretty much tried anything that might make me feel better.  Despite my best intentions, I also continued manifesting different shades of the violence and chaos of my childhood.

Continued active addiction, associated behaviors and unaddressed past trauma cemented me in old patterns.  Not until 2002, when I had a moment of clarity and sought help for addiction, did life crack open and truly begin to change.

Our December [2010] class focus is Abundance. I am sharing honestly about my past because for a long time, I felt ashamed of my journey of stumbles. Now I believe I have nothing to hide. And because of my own transformation, I have faith in every person’s ability to recover from the serious mistakes or conditions of their past.  All it takes is the willingness to ask for help. Abundant growth is possible for all.

Today, all of my positive influences from the past 20 years work in-concert to encourage productive relationships, wellness of body, mind and spirit, productive relationships and serenity.  At the same time, just like for everyone else on this Earth, life happens.  Sometime life throws some curve balls.  And sometimes we get hit by a pitch.

I was hit by a pitch this past summer.  The man I’d been seeing for 6 months revealed something shocking that he’d been hiding.  Not only did the lying hurt horribly, in addition, the nature of what he was hiding could have endangered my own well-being, and, it triggered much of my past emotional trauma. Sadly, I lost trust and love for everyone.  I lived in fear.

Thankfully, the week before that bomb was dropped, I had emerged from a week-long Off The Mat Into The World training at the Omega Institute. The “Yoga, Purpose & Action” Intensive taught self-inquiry, collaboration and activation as tools for cultivating a more sustainable approach to service work. These became the exact tools that I used to trudge through the relationship shock.  I didn’t run, I didn’t hide, I didn’t go back to addictive ways.

Despite the fear, I forced myself to reach out (ugh), and I got support (ahhh).

Always do what you are afraid to do. – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Poet & Essayist

At one point in the Fall, I was catapulted into an impenetrable state of anger and disgust after unexpectedly running into my ex. It broke my heart to harbor such negative emotions, when all I yearned for is to love and trust human beings again.  I gained counsel with Father Tom Ryan – a Catholic Paulist priest and Kripalu yoga teacher – who was firm with me regarding solutions.  He made concrete suggestions for ritualizing the transformation of anger/disgust into forgiveness/compassion.

While I was integrating those suggestions into my practices, I had a session with Somatic Therapist Lois Clinton, whose nurturing and skillful treatment awakened a sense of safety and trust. It’s hard to describe how Somatic Therapy works. In my experience, we identified certain grounding resources (i.e. deep three-part yogic breathing), constantly redirected to the present moment by working with open eyes (vs. getting stuck in the past with closed eyes), and discharged physically stuck trauma (i.e. vibrating hands, clearing lungs).  It was subtle and yet powerful!

With the clarity from my session with Lois, I followed through with one of Fr. Ryan’s suggestions. I wrote a brutally honest letter to my ex – with absolutely no intention to send it.  On the New Moon of Diwali, I burned the letter.  Sure enough, as I watched the ashes and scraps of paper float down a swirling, swollen creek, the negativity was released, I felt a thousand pounds lighter, and the shift toward complete healing was profound.

I couldn’t be more grateful to all of the teachers, healers and advisers who stepped up to the plate to support me through this tough time.  Decades of being willing and open toward these liberating processes have opened doors to immense transformation and emotional sobriety. When life happens, I am fortunate to have a huge tool box of resources, practices and people who support me through anything – from celebrations to disappointments.

Trauma is a fact of life; so is resilience.  – Hala Khouri, Off The Mat Into The World Co-founder

Earlier I mentioned that there are a few reasons my fears were recently triggered.  This week, I attended a spiritual gathering where the guided meditation was about forgiveness. Immediately, I acknowledged the potential risk of participating, and decided to stay anyway. The instructor asked us to recall an instance where someone hurt us…and then, to offer that person forgiveness.  It was tough.  I had to open my eyes to see I was safe, surrounded by (yes) trusted spiritual fellows.  I could feel my entire body vibrating.  Tears flowed.  I wasn’t sure if I was forgiving or releasing.  But I knew I needed to stay in the process.

Pick up your crazy heart and give it one more try. – Ryan Bingham, Songwriter

This morning, I was struck with a note of sadness about the summer situation. I am grateful to say that, for the first time in months, I did not connect this morning’s emotion with all the sad traumas of my past.  It was, simply and specifically, sadness about the loss of my relationship and how much it hurt to be lied to.

Regarding the fresh fears from social invitations…I am rigorously honest with each person, letting them know the shakiness I feel about connecting, particularly romantically.  One day my heart will be ready to try again. I know that I must make myself humanly vulnerable again.  I’m just not there yet.  But I will be.  I will bounce back.

You will not find a spiritual master that will suggest you play it safe, or a sacred text that advises you to avoid pain at all costs. – Max Strom, Yoga Teacher and Writer

To me, some “self-help” messages sound like the old idiom “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps.”  That harkens of my childhood of packed bags and lonely songs.  But when I read firmly encouraging words like Max’s, I yearn so deeply for love, trust and emotional freedom that I cry.

Thank you gentle teachers and butt-kickers, skillful healers and wise advisers for the abundant encouragement, inspiration and motivation you have so generously shared throughout my life.  You assure me that all experiences – throws, stumbles and curve balls of all kinds – are opportunities for growth.

I am scared. And I am growing, too.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

 

Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy – Day 2 December 29, 2012

Filed under: Inspiration,Life,Spirituality — Holly Meyers @ 2:10 pm
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NashvilleCloudsThunderhead(June2011)12/29/12.  Day 2.

MAKE ROOM.

While lighting my incense this morning, I said a little affirmation (in question form) that I feel complements this endeavor of witnessing the subtle yet abundant shifts happening in my life lately.  “How will I sustain my total well-being in order to serve others and live on-purpose?”

The question stems from my way too long term search for full-time work – in other words, my endurance of way too long term unemployment.  I do have part-time work as a yoga teacher; and for this I am deeply grateful.  Yet my search for full-time work has been beyond tough.  There is the condition that 1,000s are looking for jobs now.  And there’s the fact that I am 47 years old, 25 years away from my university degree, 7 years away from my last full-time job and seeking a new direction.

In January of this year, I sent a job search outreach letter to all of my e-mail contacts – about 3,000 folks – and had some immediate responses and support.  However, no work emerged.  So, in addition to the other challenges to this search, there’s the battle with my own negative stories – despite knowing deep down that I am talented, bright, energetic and worthy.

Consequently, the stress of the situation has become detrimental to my overall health.  There is the embarrassment of scraping to pay bills…or, to be honest…borrowing to pay bills; the ongoing, soul-sucking financial worry; the shame about my financial situation and job search failures; the basic inability to take care of myself well because I can’t afford it; the loss of faith that things will be OK; and the (very typical human) fear that I will die penniless, alone, in a gutter.  My physical, emotional and spiritual health are all suffering.

Despite this, I continue to trudge forward, day by day.  I walk with purpose through this challenge.  Most days I am smiling, acting as if all is well (because moment to moment, it truly is), and able to show up and serve others.

I like to state my morning affirmation in question form, because this is a month for asking questions, and observing what comes up.  Each day as I light my New Energy incense, I will ask…and listen.  Today, as soon as I said, “How will I sustain my total well-being in order to serve others and live on-purpose?” I heard within me, “MAKE ROOM.”  Nothing more – simply, a resounding “MAKE ROOM.”  The Full Moon was yesterday; as of today, it is waning.  Which is the best time for letting go.

So today, I will make efforts to MAKE ROOM.  More will be revealed.  OM Shanti.

*  *  *

The origins of “Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy”

Over one month, from the Full Moon of 12/28/12 to the Full Moon of 1/26/13, I intend to awaken before dawn, light a stick of my new incense (a holiday gift, appropriately branded “New Energy”), practice Pranayama (yogic breathing) and chant 108 repetitions of the “Asato Ma” prayer (“lead me from falseness to truth, from darkness to light, from things that die off to that which is everlasting”).  As with all of my other intention “projects,” I am not trying to force a specific outcome – simply to ask how I can bring New Energy to my life, to listen to any answers, to witness the subtle yet abundant shifts of late, and to see what evolves.

 

Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention – The Home Stretch July 1, 2012

“The internal practice of meditation and the external attitudes and habits we adopt in our daily lives are the means of healing the split between the selfless and the selfish, between wisdom and ignorance.”  – Eknath Easwaran (1910-1999), from “Essence of the Bhagavad Gita: A Contemporary Guide to Yoga, Meditation and Indian Philosophy

*  *  *

Today is Day 88.

On April 5th, motivated by my strong emotions about the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman situation, I started a 100-day exploration of “Ahimsa,” which is a Sanskrit term from yoga’s ancient texts, meaning “avoidance of violence.”  Back in the Spring, I was witnessing the violence around me – violent thoughts, violent speech, violent actions, violent faces.  The Martin/Zimmerman story was strongly triggering for many; and people were conflicted, angry, heartbroken and grieving like I’ve not noticed in recent years around DC (and beyond).

As the days passed and I continued observing others’ and my reactions and responses, I reflected deeply about where our tendencies toward violence come from.  Where harmful thoughts, speech, actions and faces originated.  I felt people were righteously emotional; yet at the same time, I suspected that our fierce exclamations of blame and our demands for justice were coming from somewhere much older and deeper than the current situation.  I felt that perhaps, people were attaching long-stifled feelings from past injustices to a current situation.

Makes sense to me.  Feelings bubble up like that sometimes.  And sometimes they boil over.

Over time, the same conclusions kept arising for me: Yes, I believe Zimmerman should be arrested and held accountable for killing someone; No, I don’t believe it was a Hate Crime.

I believe it was a Fear Crime.

*  *  *

The funny thing is, when I started this “Ahimsa Now” exploration, I expected to observe the violence around me, like some kind of sociological experiment, and then identify tools and resources from yoga and related practices that could address and decrease those tendencies (as related to my vision to start a non-profit organization that does this work – see “The Roots of ‘Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention'” at the bottom of this post).

Instead, what came up over and over during these early Spring days – as DC boiled with cries of Hate and Injustice – was my own, taunting, terrorizing fear of being harmed.

I have been a victim of violence many, many times.  I have been beaten, raped, robbed, verbally assaulted and emotionally abused.  Some of the actions were by people I knew, who were supposed to be trustworthy and loving.  Some were by strangers.  Some were Hate Crimes, where it was very, very clear that I was attacked because I was white.  I have felt that hatred.  It sucks.  Especially knowing that I have never thought, felt or acted violently because of skin color.  And the people who know me – including current and life-long friends of all races, religions and backgrounds – know that I could not act out of that motivation.  Since I was a child, I could not understand people’s tendency to divide based on skin color.  All I saw was what we had in common.  So it just made no sense to me.

But that’s a whole other conversation.

Back to the fun stuff…being a victim of violence!  Woohoo!  So yes, I can be triggered into great fear when my environment is boiling over.  In the Spring, Occupy DC’s battle cries were intensifying, Hate Crimes against the LGBT community were escalating, and Martin/Zimmerman fighters were in the ring.  Crime waves that typically spike in August were at high tide in April and May.

During those early days of “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention,” as the city around me boiled with emotion, I ran with it.  I wore my hoodie and went to rallies.  And then I started to really listen – to myself, and to others.  And something was very, very familiar.  I started to recognize – yet again – my own impulses to act harmfully because of my fear.  Historically, I had acted out classic fight or flight patterns.  I physically struck out, I judged, I blamed.  I abandoned relationships, I quit jobs, I left communities.  I created sooooo much separation.

And finally, in 1993, yoga and its unifying powers found me.

It has taken decades of dedicated, gut-wrenching, dreadful, beautiful, liberating, healing work to get to the bottom of why and how – due to a variety of circumstances – my unfortunate lack of processing being harmed when it happened lead to my own harmful actions toward myself and others.  And it has taken decades of dedication to learn and use the infinite tools from yoga and related practices, in order to avoid causing harm and being violent.  This process of digging deep, going through and growing through has been 100% worth it.

I highly recommend it.

*  *  *

Approaching the 3/4 mark of my “Ahimsa Now” exploration, I noticed a pronounced shift from managing my own fears toward feeling safe observing the violence around me.  As was my original intention.  And believe me, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe the violence up-close and personal!  Last Saturday, a young kid in my neighborhood assaulted me on the street (see my last blog entry, “Peace Tools: Infinite Compassion”).  I’ve also witnessed how this unusual early-Summer heat (around 100 degrees in DC many times this week) and deadly storms are affecting everyone’s tempers.  Plus, I started teaching Summer Camp, which is always a hot bed for discomfort and triggers for all involved!

Interesting how, once I have done my own work, and examined my self, my motivations, my tendencies…once I have really gotten in touch with what triggers me and what tools address those triggers…then, I am tested!

Ideas and quotes like that above, from philosopher and teacher Eknath Easwaran, keep me going.  They give me hope that, if I continue the yoga and related practices that reinforce my own well-being, my own peace of mind, my own commitment to Ahimsa – there will be results beyond my own benefit.  They give me faith that my own wellness will decrease my separation from others, from life itself, allowing me to be of service.  That movement from selfish to selfless can decrease the energy of division around me.  And consequently, the negativity between people because of skin color or whatever difference they choose to dwell upon will decrease.  And violence will decrease.

Ahimsa Now!

Maybe I’m simplifying based on my own self-study and my very un-academic study of the world around me.  But this is what I believe.

*  *  *

I’ll admit, I still have a healthy dose of fear as I walk around my neighborhood.  I am still fearful of making terminal mistakes at my jobs.  I still fear being hurt by someone I know.  I am human, and if I want to engage with life the way that I have been inspired to engage with it since I was a child – I will have to navigate these possibilities until the day I die.  Therefore, until that day, I must continue to seek and use the amazingly effective approaches toward managing my fear so it does not spark harmful actions.  It’s an ongoing process, this journey between emotion and solution.  I’ve been dedicated to it for decades; I certainly don’t expect the work to end on July 13th, when this 100-day “Ahimsa Now” exploration wraps up!

May all beings have the courage to dig deeply into their past pain, to seek teachers with whom to go through it, and to use the tools to grow because of it.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.  Peace.

*  *  *

The Roots of “Ahimsa Now: 100 Days of Intention”

“Ahimsa” is a Sanskrit word meaning, “Avoidance of Violence.”  It is mentioned in many ancient texts, including the Yoga Sutras, a collection of aphorisms handed down by yogic sage Patanjali approximately 5- to 7-thousand years ago.  In the Sutras, Ahimsa is one of the “Yama” – five recommended abstentions, or rules of conduct rooted in abstinence.  The five Yama comprise the first limb of Patanjali’s prescribed Eight Limbs of Yoga.

Avoidance of something takes great effort.  And if violence were not naturally inherent in human beings, we wouldn’t have to try to avoid it.  So, dreaming of launching “Ahimsa Now” – a nonprofit whose mission is rooted in Ahimsa – my responsibility is to come to understand the human impulse toward violence, and, to explore every available practice that impedes that impulse.

So from April 5 through July 13, 2012, I am committing to a 100-day exploration of Ahimsa.  Thanks for coming along.  OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.

 

Running Into Nature April 23, 2012

Filed under: Inspiration,Life,nature,Spirituality — Holly Meyers @ 8:39 pm
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The couch can be a dangerous place for me.

Running into nature is like running to safety.

Today I went into the woods with great mental confusion, weighty worry and enough fear to call “terror” – and I left it all there.  I came out with strength, hope, faith and belief.

*  *  *

I lost my peace this morning.

I’ve been facing misfortune for a while now.   I have been looking for full-time work without success, piecing together some part-time work with teaching and “working from home” on the job hunt and my yoga projects.  I am more isolated than ever, worried about how my bills will get paid and constantly wrestling with a negative mind.  I don’t sleep well, I grind my teeth and my dreams are weird.  I feel overwhelmed, burnt out and under-fed.  And lately, I have been getting in touch with the huge amount of fear I am existing with day-in and day-out.

The good news is: if it weren’t for my devoted yoga practice, I’d be feeling even worse.  Somehow I get through the days smiling (most of the time), able to connect (most of the time) and able to give (most of the time).

But to be completely frank – my primary mode of functioning through this is to deny the fear and push through.  So sometimes I crumble.  Like this morning.

*  *  *

There is a pattern.

I’m sitting at my desk, knowing what I should do, for the sake of accountability to others, for the sake of getting a job, for the sake of my well-being.  I start off with vigor and resolve.  And then like a shot of morphine creeping into the veins, the exhaustion hits.  I rapidly fade into fatigue.

And the couch calls out to me.

So today, just as I was curling up on the couch with my pillow and blankie, boo-hoo-ing about succumbing to slumber, a friend called.  Knowing I was sinking into oblivion and after already canceling a work-related meeting, I’d texted him to cancel our post-work plans.

When he called to see if I was OK, I fumbled for words, not wanting to tell the truth: “I am sinking into oblivion and would not be very good company.”  As I grasped for a good story, he figured it out.  “You need to get out,” he ordered.  I continued trying to explain that I was not feeling well and he repeated, “You need to get out.”  So I asked if he would come and hike with me after work and he answered, “No; you need to get out now.  For yourself.”  I continued mumbling…

“GET OUT!” he commanded, with urgency.

So I got out.

*  *  *

Into the woods I ran, as if something or someone was chasing me.

I don’t even remember the first 1/3 of the hike.  Somewhere along the way, I took a turn I’d never made before and walked toward the sound of rushing water until something about the trees and sky stopped me in my tracks.  I looked up, crying.  I searched for the right thing to pray.  I cried more.  I told the truth.  “I don’t have what I need.  I’ve tried everything.  I’m terrified.”

“Help.”

After a series of heart-felt confessions, prayers and sobs, I paused and listened.  The next thing that came to mind was:

“What do I need?”

The first answer was, “Money.”  I immediately realized it’s not that simple.

“Income.  And in order to have income, I need work.”  Yes.

And then the anxiety started to build again.  So again, the question arose:

“What do I need?”

And louder than bombs, I heard the words:

“STRENGTH…”

“HOPE…”

“FAITH…”

and then

“BELIEF.”

Realizing that I not only needed to tap into my own resources, but that I’d need the strength, hope, faith and belief of others, I added:

“SUPPORT.”

I knelt and touched the earth.  I awakened to the day, the forest, the water, the moss, the rain.  The smells and sounds of it all.  And I cried some more.

Returning along the path, I came to the crossroads where I’d turned off earlier.  I stood still with my eyes closed, doing nothing but listening, smelling, feeling.  Trying to figure out if I should head back home or walk a little more.  And then it came to me, “Running into nature is like running to safety.  So why would I leave?”  And onward I hiked.

*  *  *

Admittedly, I haven’t touched anything on my “to do” list since returning from the forest.  I made hot chocolate with cayenne and cinnamon; I ate some toast with sunflower butter and pomegranate jam; I wrote this blog.  And now I’m pretty darn tired and will most likely curl up on the couch for a nap.

Later this evening, I’ll reach out to friends and tell them that I need support.

I may have lost my peace today – but I also knew to take a break from my own mind (and the couch) to get into the vast expanse of nature.  Thanks to the willingness to ask for help, listen to suggestions and run toward safety, I am feeling the ease of accepting exactly where I am.  Which is much more peaceful than being paralyzed by confusion, worry and fear.

Tomorrow, I will see where this acceptance takes me when I sit down at my desk with that “to do” list again.

Wishing that all beings receive exactly what they need.  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

Clearing the Obstacles August 6, 2011

I am sorry to hear your pain.  You are a wonderful human being and deserve tranquility, peace, and love.  I would suggest that you stay focused on what is good for YOU, rest will follow.  –  letter from a friend

This quote sounds like something I would say to a student or friend.  Instead, it is an e-mail that a friend just sent to me.  I know he meant to write, “…stay focused on what is good for YOU, THE rest will follow.”  Yet the fact is, if I stay focused on what is good for me, indeed, rest will follow.  And I really, really need some rest.  The kind of rest that allows the heart to remember its yearnings, yearnings to cultivate clarity, clarity to turn into action, and action to yield change.

This has been the hardest blog to write, ever.  I keep starting and stopping; switching directions; adding this and that.  Stopping.  Sobbing.  And starting again.

It’s difficult to be 100% honest, and that’s what I need to do.  It’s difficult to not shade my current negative state with the positive solutions of yoga.  Is it yogic to admit that I am in pain, and that my usual solutions seem out of reach?

*  *  *

I feel it’s time for big change and I’m starting with small things.  But I wish I could crack myself open and re-program.  – letter to a friend

Last week, on my 46th birthday, I started parting my hair on the opposite side.

Ganesha, new hair part, pneumonia and me on my 46th birthday.

Immediately, I felt like a new person.  I saw myself differently.  My eyes looked happier.  My head felt lighter.  My mind was clearer.

The weekend before, I’d hit an emotional bottom where I spent an entire day acting very un-yoga-like.  OK, I’ll say it – although I haven’t had a drink or drug in nearly 9 years, I was acting as toxic as a drunken addict.  It was not pretty, people.  Some who went through that day with me were very forgiving.  Some were not.  Some recognized that stress from recent physical illness and emotional difficulties fueled my offensiveness.  Some didn’t care, because they were hurt.  And still others (thank goodness for the others) offered amazing advice and insight – including the belief that I’m hitting a bottom because big change is coming.

So last week, after a series of Facebook posts about fighting demons, letting go and changing…I parted my hair on the other side.

*  *  *

In the past month alone, notable events forced me to reevaluate my behaviors, activities and needs, and to reignite my practices, beliefs and vision.  – August “Yoga Update” (see “newsletter” tab)

To complement my fresh hair style, I’ve also been wearing my Ganesha charm more frequently.

Not only have I felt a need for newness, but also for a strong shove of old things out of the way.  When I first started practicing Vinyasa yoga, my teacher constantly spoke of “letting go of what doesn’t serve in order to make room for what does.”  I don’t frequently pray to specific deities, but being reminded of Ganesha’s power to clear obstacles (and provide protection) has been motivating.

These days, I know I need to release many things that compromise my deepest well-being in order to create space for what cultivates sustainable, lasting inner peace.  For instance, on mornings between the full and new moons, I used to pray, “Let me let go of anything that gets in the way of your will for me.”  Regretfully, that practice has faded off…but it’s time to bring it back.

*  *  *

Hindsight is 20/20.  – popular phrase

As you might know, I was mugged in June.  Feedback on my blog, “The Yoga of Being Mugged” has been positive.  People have used words like “resilient” and “compassionate” regarding my response to the situation.  I agree, and am thankful to be someone who uses yoga and other tools to recover from and address life’s difficulties.

Now here comes the 100% honesty – because I don’t want you to think that I am responding with perfect strength and forgiveness to an assault.  I want you to know that it hurt.  I want you to know that I now walk around scared and suspicious and over-reactive.  I want you to know that my past traumas have been triggered since the mugging.  And I want you to know that I sometimes act like a jerk because of this state.

If you’ve read my other blogs, you know a bit about my painful childhood and rough road toward adulthood.  These last 18 years of yoga practice, complemented by 8+ years of addiction recovery, have sparked a journey of mending and growth.  Still, I am just hitting the tip of the iceberg in undoing 25 years of destructive patterns and related consequences.

When I look back on my life’s traumas, I see the lesson behind each one.  So why am I so stuck in the pain of the past?  Because, due to my childhood isolation and later impulse to kill emotions with substances, I did not properly process and/or grieve these traumas at the time that they took place.  Making sense of them is one thing; authentically expressing and healthily processing the emotions is a whole other ball game.

Thankfully, these days I am feeling weary from past traumas robbing me of day-to-day happiness.  I am feeling a low tolerance for anything that does not match my craving for inner peace.  I am fed up with these obstacles keeping me from my intentions to be of service in this world.

So I am willing to do whatever it takes to change.

At the same time that I am willing to let go of limitations, I am somehow holding on.  I have taken the reigns, and have been gripping them tightly.  Terrified of feeling more pain, I have taken complete control of my life.  Regretfully.  Because when I am in complete control, there’s little room for you, for anyone, for a higher power, for healthy risk, for trust, for faith.

*  *  *

I’ve been learning to drive, my whole life. – Arcade Fire, “In The Backseat”

It’s time to let someone else take the wheel.  Let go.  Change.

In the Mahabharata – an ancient Hindu text – there is a story about true surrender.

A king wants to ruin a man’s reputation, and so decides to shame the man’s wife, Draupadi, by stripping off her sari in public.  A sari is a traditional Indian dress, made from several yards of material wrapped around the body.  In the story, the king begins to unwrap the sari, and in turn, Draupadi clings tightly in fear.  She continues to use all her strength while crying to god for help.

After much struggle, Draupadi realizes that, as long as she clings in fear, there will not be space for god to help her.  Bravely, she lets go of the sari, holds her hands up and exclaims, “If you want me to face this disgrace I will accept it.  I totally trust you; my life is in your hands.”  Miraculously, Draupadi’s sari becomes infinitely long, and the king becomes exhausted.  Draupadi was saved.

The first time I read this story around three years ago, I was struck by Draupadi’s willingness to accept god’s will, even if it means disgrace.  In the margin of the book I wrote, “WOW.  I wish for this surrender.”

At this very moment, I feel that exact yearning.  Since June, I have been so racked by fear that I wake up each morning with my fists clenched so tightly that my thumbs come out of their joints.

Shifting from self reliance to accepting help takes deep work.  A PTSD therapist has been helping me work through my past so I can heal from it.  Most days, I feel quite vulnerable, like a wounded animal, backed into my protective corner.  You know what “they” say about wounded animals – don’t go near them.

But circumstances have prohibited this isolation, and demanded togetherness.  Shortly after the mugging, I came down with pneumonia and had to ask for a lot of support.  All through my birthday week, my home was filled with friends bringing fresh produce, fun gifts and positive energy.  It chipped away at my rock-hard walls of “That’s OK, I can do it myself.”

I am continuing to reach out for the company, wisdom, experiences and advice of those prepared to step into the corner with me.  Yes, when they come near me, I might act overly protective.  I might swat them away.  I might misunderstand their concern for judgment.  I might mistake their discomfort for dislike.  I might offend them.  I might piss them off.  And they might or might not forgive me.

I will, however, forgive myself.

*  *  *

Here is the hardest part to write.  In my current state of imbalance, can I honorably teach the Eight Limbs, and how they outline a simple process for taking yoga’s principles off the mat and into everyday life?  How can I share “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nrodhah” and encourage yoga as a practice for calming the mind, when my mind is far from calm?  How can I authentically pass on yoga’s tools, when they don’t seem to be working for me in this time of extreme challenge?

Or does this messy phase of life illustrate yoga’s transformation?  Maybe this is my own version of “Draupadi’s Sari.”  Maybe my wish for absolute surrender is coming true.

One thing is for certain – this is my emotional bottom, and the only way out is up.

*  *  *

My god, Holly, you got mugged and now you have pneumonia?  The universe is trying to tell you something.  – a friend

My sassy answer to this remark?  “Uh-huh, the universe is telling me that I am a tough broad who can get through anything!”  Perhaps.  That would certainly match my self-reliant conditioning.  At the same time, I’m open to a totally different point of view.  By sending me a mugging, pneumonia and related challenges, the universe could be urging me to ‘fess up and say, “Come closer to me.”

See me, accept me, love me for exactly who I am – right now.  Vulnerable, fearful, distrustful and resentful.  Wounded.  Ready to focus on what’s good for me.  And more than ready for (the) rest.

OM Shanti, Shanti, 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.