The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Gratitude, Pt. 2: Shiva and the Darkness November 25, 2011

Filed under: Gratitude,Recovery,Yoga — Holly Meyers @ 3:08 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

I recently found myself apologizing to god.

It was the umpteenth time that I’d broken out in sobs while singing along with Jai Uttal’s “Om Namah Shivaya.”  To be exact, it was Monday, October 24th.  I was driving to rehearse with The Shaktis, an all-female Kirtan group with whom I play percussion.  Two days before, I’d returned from a little road trip to Pennsylvania – first, Philly to see Jai Uttal in-concert; then, Easton for a two-day Max Strom yoga workshop.  The day after the road trip, back home in DC, The Shaktis lead one of our most joyous and spirited Kirtans yet.

So as I drove to the rehearsal that Monday, I was brimming with contentment.  Chanting my little heart out.  And suddenly, sobbing uncontrollably.

I am accustomed to being emotionally moved by singing and chanting.  The vibration tends to hit me right in the heart.  Even Jai says, “The singing voice, enriched with a full breath, directly touches that well of emotions inside.”  Still, I had to ask myself, “Why have you been crying every single time you chant ‘Namah Shivaya’ repetitively?  What are you feeling?”

photo: Holly Meyers

Gratitude!  I was crying my thankfulness, realizing I’d come full circle.  I mean, my goodness, since the Spring I’d been through intense periods of questioning everything.  My yoga practice, my yoga teaching, my yoga jobs, my other jobs, my relationships, my associations, my everything!  I started to let go of what felt wrong, what felt like sandpaper against my skin, what felt threatening to my wholeness.  I let go of a lot.  And I ended up feeling completely lost.  Lost in a darkness that felt like drowning.

As they say, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Come end of Summer, I began to emerge.  I launched “The Happy Heart Project” and set the firm intention to grow toward joy by practicing a symbolic ritual – burning a stick of “Happy Heart” incense 1st thing each morning for 100 days.  I took a Labor Day retreat to the Satchidananda Ashram and had a heart-to-heart conversation with a twisted old pine who seemed to beautifully signify the trials and triumphs of my life.  The Jewish High Holy days stirred my sorrow, yet also reinforced my softening, my surrender.  Friendships challenged me; and friends cherished me, despite my awkwardness.  Autumn – my most transformational season – crept in, grey and wet, and dampened my growing inner glow.  And then I sunk lower than ever, my emotional sobriety on edge, my physical sobriety at risk.  The week before I would reach my 9th anniversary without alcohol or drugs, I craved their comfort.  I stayed honest.  I stayed close.

I took a road trip.  There’s something about a geographical cure.  There were no twisted, story-telling pines on this journey.  Just a change of scenery.  A break from my “stuff.”  Strolling the country’s oldest Farmer’s Market, breathing northern air, driving new highways.  Chanting with Jai and other transplanted pals in Philly.  Breathing with Max and long-lost Off the Mat Into the World sisters in Easton.

So returning from this trip, I was – after a period of tormenting darkness – finally back in the light.  I was sober, safe and sound.  That Monday, singing my heart out to Shiva, I cried.  I cried because I made it through.

Then for some reason, I shamefully said, “I’m so sorry.”

I apologized for having become depressed, for being in the dark so long.  As if I had left god’s side, influence, presence, light.  And it hit me – NO!  God took me there.  God took my hand and led me into that darkness, because there was something I needed to see.  Remember all of that questioning and letting go that started in the Spring?  It sprang from a mugging – an incident I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but that brought out a fierceness in me.  I started to put my foot down, to set strong boundaries.  I also started to overreact to certain upsets.  Because in fact, the mugging was a trauma, which triggered unresolved past trauma that needed attention.  And it didn’t just tap me on the shoulder.  It broke down my door.  By force, I had to get the help I needed in order to look at it, start to heal from it…and no longer be ruled by it.

photo: Holly Meyers

So there might be a light at the end of the tunnel – but sometimes, the tunnel itself is well-lit, and leads into the dark.

And into the darkness we went.  God and I.  So I could experience that depth of despair and subsequent transcendence to joy.  So ultimately, I could share the story with others, in case they ever go through something similar.  God was with me the whole time.  No apology necessary.  I went where I was meant to go.

From singing Kirtan, I have come to embrace that god has many faces.  For example, Lord Shiva plays many roles: devout yogi, cosmic dancer and drummer, menacing protector.  Shiva is commonly called “The Destroyer,”  but he actually governs destruction, transformation and regeneration.  As Jai says, “He wipes the slate clean so that new writing can be written.  He destroys everything so that rebirth can occur instantly.”

It makes sense to me that god, in the form of Shiva, led me deep down to the bottom.  To show me the realities that needed to be faced.  The same realities that now inform my purpose, inspire my actions and give me something to share in service to others.  During that dark period, I was yearning for surrender, security and trust the whole time.  Now I know that I was never alone.  I was always safe.  And I was always loved.

And for that, I cry tears of gratitude.  OM Namah Shivaya.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

Advertisements
 

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: May/June – The Eight Limbs May 21, 2010

On July 13th, Past Tense Studio in Mt. Pleasant will celebrate its 1st year of operation!

For me, this year at Past Tense was a wondrous opportunity to practice weekly with groups of adults (vs. periodically with private clients, or, daily with young children).  Adults who are devoted to their yoga practice. I have felt honored to witness the growth of pure beginners into seasoned yogis.  I have watched the MtP yoga community blossom, thanks to newbies and seasoned students alike.  Fellow teachers have inspired and motivated each other.  I myself have transformed immensely from this energy.

Since July 2009, our Bi-Monthly Focus has bounced around the yoga universe, from Anatomy & Physiology (i.e. oiling the hip and shoulder joints), through Health & Wellness (i.e. immune-boosting Pranayama practice), to Philosophy & Ideology (i.e. heart-opening Chakra exploration).  In these final months of our 1st year together, we will discover where all of these concepts originate.

The May/June Bi-Monthly Focus is the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Book Two of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (discussed in the recent March/April Wrap Up post) lays out yoga’s Eight Limbs.  Probably the most widely known are Asana (Limb #3 – poses), Pranayama (Limb #4 – breathing exercises) and Dharana (Limb #6 – concentration as a form of “meditation”).  With yoga classes becoming more and more accessible, we can share these limbs in community and reinforce our practice.

But there are five additional limbs – and I believe they are in order for a reason.

The Eight Limbs represent a process of growth from heady self-examination to soulful universal connection. The first two limbs – Yama and Niyama – list the ethical premises of yoga.  After we’ve set our intentions for values and virtues, we move on to Asana, to address physical limitations such as aches and toxins.  Next, Pranayama continues detoxification, awakens our life force energy and balances our nervous system.  With the 5th limb, Pratyahara, the senses are softened to remove outer distractions.  During Dharana, we concentrate intently on one point of focus.  Deepening into the 7th limb, Dhyana, our concentration shifts into meditation, and there is no separation between the meditator that point of focus.  The 8th limb, Samadhi, is generally described as “enlightenment” – but to me, that harkens of apart-ness.  I like to think of Samadhi as one-ness (like the “oversoul” that Walt Whitman wrote about).  It occurs the moment when our practice of yoga’s previous seven limbs brings such peace and confidence that we are selfless.

For me, Samadhi would be a state of consistently being my best self and offering that self in service to the world.

LIMB OF THE WEEK!

Each Sunday at the 8:30am “Ahhh-some” class at Past Tense, we’ll launch our “limb of the week.” Together, we can deepen our practice by exploring each limb through special poses, breathing exercises, meditations and Sutras excerpts.

  • WKS 1 & 2 (MAY 9 – MAY 22) – YAMA/NIYAMA
  • WK 3 (MAY 23 – MAY 29) – ASANA
  • WK 4 (MAY 30 – JUNE 5) – PRANAYAMA
  • WK 5 (JUNE 6 – JUNE 12) – PRATYAHARA
  • WK 6 (JUNE 13 – JUNE 19) – DHARANA
  • WK 7 (JUNE 20 – JUNE 26) – DHYANA
  • WK 8 (JUNE 27 – JUNE 30) – SAMADHI

To review Weeks 1 & 2, Yama/Niyama:

How do we wish to behave in this world?  In Book Two, Sutra 2.29 spells out suggested “do’s” and “don’t”s for yogic living.  By earnestly setting our intentions on the Yama (abstinence) and Niyama (observance) – and remaining compassionate and patient with ourselves in this goal – we begin to still the mind as promised way back in Book One.  “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” – “yoga restrains disturbances of the mind.”

There are five Yama and five Niyama – perhaps reminiscent of other spiritual traditions’ moral precepts. The Yama include: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (continence or chastity) and Aparigraha (non-greed.)  The Niyama are: Saucha (purity), Samtosha (contentment), Tapah (acceptance), Svadhyaya (study of spiritual texts), and Isvarapranidhanani (worship of God or self-surrender).

Most of these are self-explanatory.  Still, I’d like to add something about the “G-word.” I don’t think one has to believe in a mystical “god” in order to practice yoga authentically.  For Niyama #5, I focus on the “self-surrender” part.  I play a more ethical role in the world when I dissolve my isolating self-reliance and surrender to the guidance of some kind of “higher power” – whether that HP is my parent, my doctor, my Asana practice, a wise text or nature.  HP is any being or resource whose influence faithfully restores me to my essence.  And to that, I’d gladly surrender.

If these ethical suggestions seem overwhelming, keep it simple. I like to reflect on and set intentions to practice just one Yama or Niyama at a time.  Or, I might generally reflect on my own, personal, well-examined (and life-long reinforced) character qualities (or patterns) that I hope to decrease or increase, one day at a time.  One thing’s for sure – I feel the most peace of mind (aka my “chitta” is free of “vritti”) when I am useful and of service to others.  And the Yama and Niyama outline a design for living that will inevitably lead to that.

Next week…limb #3 – Asana.