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Yoga Class Focus: Gratitude Trumps Adversity November 27, 2014

SunRaysForestPathSometimes, gratitude does not come overnight. Sometimes days, weeks and months can pass before thankfulness finds its way into a broken heart. But from experience (and lots of it), I know there will be a silver lining to every story of challenge, hardship and adversity. If you’ve read my blog before, you are familiar with my efforts to use yoga, addiction recovery, therapy and related resources to heal from past trauma and cultivate a life of balance and wellness. I’m also devoted to sharing these experiences and tools with others. I’m not perfect; still, I do believe in every being’s potential to heal, grow and change.

And for that – the faith, the belief, the hope – I am grateful.

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful for two specific things.

 

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“Humility and gratitude go hand in hand.”
~ Swami Sivananda Radha

#1: I don’t know where my father is.

You may have read my past blogs about last year’s family fiasco. I’d moved from my hometown of DC to Dad’s retirement city of Nashville to support him as he ages. There were major issues with his house, his health and his finances. Although I was able to help successfully in many ways, my time there was challenging from every angle – work, health, home, community, family. The most difficult was watching my father fade with dementia. The most damaging was my sisters’ hostility toward me. I became financially, physically and emotionally depleted. After gaining counsel, I made the very difficult decision to return to DC, where – with the support of deep roots and caring communities – I could rebuild from scratch.

Over the past year, I have been ostracized by my sisters and by my father’s community. I understand where their blurred perspectives originate, and know that my side of the street is clean. I was the one who showed up for him devotedly and dependably since my mother died more than a decade ago. Because throughout our lives, Dad and I have shared an authentic love beyond description. This October, he told me he was having surgery for skin cancer on his head. Our last conversation was November 9th, the day before his procedure. And now, I can’t reach him, he’s not reaching out to me, my sisters and his friends are not contacting me, I have no idea how he is, and I can only guess where he is.

And…I AM GRATEFUL? How?

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

  • I am not the only one who loves my father. Dad has his own higher power(s). I must have faith that he is being cared for. Plus, I have the chance to utilize my own toolbox of wellness resources in order to love him, forgive my sisters and cultivate compassion about the family dissonance. My prayers are for his whole health, and, for a joyous Thanksgiving, wherever he is.
  • My friends are my family. This year, I was invited to multiple Thanksgiving meals. There is an “Orphans Dinner,” a “Vegetarian Friendsgiving,” a “Gluten Free Thanksgiving” and assorted gatherings in communities I’ve been part of for years and years. My “family of choice” has also chosen me – we share similar roots, shared experiences and a yearning for healing and growth.
  • What a difference a year makes. Last winter in Nashville, I accepted a Second Harvest food donation for my family. It was one of the most humbling experiences of my life – but, that box of food went a long way when resources were short. This past week, I joined a group of volunteers at a DC nonprofit, giving turkeys and groceries to families in need. This experience widened my gratitude for where I stand today. Things are far from stable, but thanks to seven months of recent steady work, I have food in my fridge…thanks to returning to DC, I’ll share holiday meals with dear ones…and thanks to gleaning the best from a past of hardship, I am able to serve others in ways that I once needed.

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“Once you know that suffering is for your benefit… You’ll gladly go through it.”
~ Swami Satchidananda

#2: I was recently fired from my restaurant job.

Exactly four weeks before, my boss sat me down for a glowing progress review. A month later, she scornfully scolded and terminated me. I’m a willing, honest and dedicated worker. When I make mistakes, I take responsibility and seek solutions for improvement. Over that last month, however, there was scrutiny. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. And then, bam…see ya.

And you know what? I AM GRATEFUL.

Oh, sure, I’m also feeling a mixture of injustice, anger, financial worry and general upset. With slight hints of self pity. I’m human. But in the end, this is clearly a case (as many friends have remarked in their own ways) where “god” or “the powers that be” are doing for me what I could not do for myself.

LifeIsBeautifulAbsolutely grateful:

  • It is a blessing to be free. I have been liberated from a place that handles professional affairs in a manner that I will not accept.
  • When one door closes, another one opens. Since being fired, I have received numerous offers to teach yoga in studios, at schools, for birthday celebrations, for nonprofits and more.
  • My confidence is boosted! I still must look for sustaining work (because teaching yoga does not pay the bills). And that last job – my first as a waitress/server – was at one of the most popular and busy restaurants in the city. So I am thankful for seven months of training and experience. Even while navigating interpersonal challenges with staff, I honed all of my past professional skills in customer service, marketing, event coordination, catering and more to become an awesome server. And I can take that anywhere. In the meantime, generous friends at a family-owned restaurant are giving me a few shifts, so I can keep up my chops.
  • That job was a gift. One of the managers knew that I’d had a tough year away and – knowing that I had little restaurant experience – gave me work, so I could come home to DC and start strong. Over those seven months, I was able to get on the road to financial recovery. And for these next five months, thanks to generous landlords, I have a roof over my head, and the potential to continue chipping away at bills and debt through new work.
  • I have some healing to do. I believe that I am a healthy woman. Truly. In body, mind and spirit. Thanks to that workplace experience, I am tackling yet another layer of sacred inner work. I had the opportunity to see how staff dynamics can trigger my PTSD – particularly now, after such a tough year with family dysfunction. Thanks to being healthy enough to take accountability for my part and see where I need to grow, I am venturing on a fresh direction toward wholeness.

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“…she learned that surrender is quiet.” 
~ from “Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling,”by Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms, a nonprofit serving women recovering from addiction and sexual trauma.

I’m a fighter.

That’s exactly why the recent job termination meeting was such an ironic victory. I had good reason to defend myself. However, I was silent. As the list of “wrongs” was aired, I squirmed internally and took mental notes. At times, I couldn’t help but look surprised. Although frustrated, I pursed my lips. I kept my feet firmly on the ground, my hands resting on my legs, my mind clear and my mouth shut.

Surrender is quiet.

Funny – I’d read the above line from “Snake Oil” on the bus ride to the meeting with my boss. Chapter 3, “Seeds of Healing,” introduces us to a number of Thistle Farms program participants, who work producing healing balms, bath salts and oils for the nonprofit. “Val, like every employee of Thistle Farms, began every morning in the meditation circle before she began to work. She said during her time at Thistle Farms she learned that surrender is quiet. She says in order for her to heal and forgive, she has to surrender everything. Through the journey of surrender, she learned how much quieter it was than all the fighting in prison, with family, with the world.”

Interesting timing, eh? The evening after being fired, it hit me – I had been fighting a lot at that job. Fighting my own fear of failure and financial insecurity; fighting my own negative voices; fighting other’s accusations; fighting for consistency; fighting for staff accountability. After that much battle, it’s clear: the job simply wasn’t meant to be.

As for the family situation, I’m not as quiet. My grief tends to shout, and, I’m having a tough time quelling that voice. There’s still a bit of wrestling; but I know most of it is within my own soul.

Still, it can feel good to give up. To wave the white flag, and accept what’s here, now, real and true. That job is gone, and it’s time to move on. I can’t reach my father, so I must focus on other joys. For me, acceptance is the 1st step toward Samtosha – one of yoga’s five Niyama, or value-based observances, as described by the Eight Limbs in the Yoga Sutras. Samtosha means complete contentment with whatever exists. And such contentment has the potential to transmute into GRATITUDE for the silver linings or lessons. With consistent observance and practice of surrender, acceptance, contentment and gratitude comes the mindful serenity that yoga promises.

I have to ask myself:

Do I want to walk around in misery and resentment about my adversity; or, do I want to cultivate inner peace despite hardship and nurture forgiveness despite hurt – and therefore contribute to harmony around me and in the world?

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Aside from mentioning it in the August Yoga Class Focus blog, I never officially wrote about the September and October theme of GROWTH. I reckon I was too busy growing, and encouraging the process in others. So here we are in November, jumping on the GRATITUDE bandwagon! It simply cannot be helped. C’mon, aside from being connected to Thanksgiving marketing, it’s the perfect tie-in to yoga philosophy. Not to mention, exploring GRATITUDE invites us to take stock, offering an inroad toward New Year’s Intentions.

Nearing the end of 2014, I might say that my last year included a doozy of bumps and bruises. Justifiably, I could focus on the family problems, the job loss, my ongoing PTSD issues and my related fears about the future. On the other hand, I could exercise the yogic tenant of Pratipaksha Bhavana, and replace those negatives with the positives listed above.

The act of being grateful gives me something warm to hold in my heart, even when the chill of adversity breaks it. Gratitude softens me enough to squarely face my wounds. It keeps my mind open to – eventually – giving thanks for what initially shut me down.

No matter where you are in the world, I wish you a day of THANKS-GIVING. Heck, with yoga’s guidance, we could enjoy an entire lifetime of gratitude. I’m certainly aiming for that.

*  *  *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Note to self…

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

 

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.

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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 The Nature Of The Beast May 24, 2012

You have been holding up the mirror for me lately.  Showing me, telling me, reminding me of who, how, what I am.  How I can be.  How I might be.  How I could be.

It does not feel good.

Because I am already deep in self-examination.  I already know the mistake I made.  I already know that I missed the mark.  I already know how I failed you.  I just hope that, like I do hundreds of times per day for others, you will have some compassion, some patience, some tolerance.  Some faith that I am doing the work to look within and change.  Some consideration for my humanness.  Some forgiveness.

And maybe even some respect.

I am trying my hardest to connect this to yoga.  But I have to admit, at this moment I am weary from having good intentions yet feeling like the bad guy.  I am frustrated.  And I am concerned.

That’s all I’ve got on the matter.

You?

*  *  *

Somehow, Kali just popped into my mind.

Kali is the Hindu goddess associated with empowerment.  She reigns over time and change.  In addition, she represents the fiercely protective mother, yet is often misunderstood due to her appearance.  From Wikipedia: “Her eyes are described as red with intoxication, and in absolute rage, her hair is shown disheveled, small fangs sometimes protrude out of her mouth, and her tongue is lolling. She is often shown naked or just wearing a skirt made of human arms and a garland of human heads.”

Phew!  This force of change, protection and empowerment has the appearance of one who is harmful.  It’s important to remember, however, that Kali only harms the demons that threaten our well-being.

I bank on this.

So I am here, wrestling with these ideas of wanting to do good, to protect, to empower.  Of wanting to do this during a time of instability and change.  I am here, weathering this storm.  And I’m cool with that.

*  *  *

Good news to report – since my last post I have not crawled onto my couch in a bitter morass of self-pity or depression.  That sprint into nature last month?  It did, clearly, deepen my belief, faith, hope and strength.

I am a resilient girl.  I’ve come through a lot.  And I’m prepared to go through more.  Thanks to nature and yoga and protective forces like Kali, I am fortified to keep trudging the road of healing, growth and service.

No matter what I see in the mirror you so kindly hold up for me.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

 

The Yoga of Heartbreak February 13, 2012

Filed under: Valentine's Day,Yoga — Holly Meyers @ 5:26 am
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Four years ago I was dumped.  Just days before Valentine’s Day.  Right before our one-year anniversary vacation.  By phone.  And quite by surprise.

By his design, we would never speak to or see each other again.

Bewildered, unable to sleep and eat, and clawing for some sort of sanity, I made my way back to yoga.  I was practicing at home in those days – but it was an inconsistent effort.  My heart was caving in, my world was small, and I needed to surrender my well-being to a safe community.

So for the first time in years, I attended a yoga class.  And – you guessed it – I cried my way through the entire session.  I don’t remember if there were hip openers or heart openers or an emotional tone in the teacher’s voice.  All I recall is dim light, bright yellow walls, a harmonium drone and the freedom to grieve.

The space of a yoga class can feel like the security of a parent’s protection.  I am lucky that my path has safely led me to such rooms for practice.

*  *  *

2008 was not the first time that yoga hugged me through heartbreak.

I started practicing yoga in 1993.  My first style was Kundalini, and it brought rapid transformation during an era of toxic and destructive living.  So when I met my first major love of life in 1997, I felt emotionally healthy and ready for partnership.  He was a Latin percussionist like me, he lived a spiritual life like me, and he seemed open-minded like me.

So when he suddenly announced that he’d been born again as a Christian, I was blindsided.  Still, because I was in love, I prayed, “God willing, I will be a Christian.”  Yup – god willing, this Jewish-born, Santeria-chanting, Kundalini-practicing girl would be a Christian.  I prayed night and day for about a week.  But the message came clearly – I was not meant to be born again.

I broke up with him by phone, then unplugged it for the rest of the weekend.  We would never speak to or see each other again.  (Talk about Karma.)

Even though I made the decision to say good bye, I thought I would die from the pain of losing my first love.   Friends advised many remedies for broken hearts.  But the remedy that really pulled me through was yoga.  Because Kundalini yoga had empowered me to stand in my truth.

*  *  *

Shortly after the 2008 breakup, I became a certified yoga teacher.  My blooming Vinyasa practice had evolved from a dabbling home routine to a consistent, studio-based commitment; and I yearned to give back what had been freely shared with me – the refuge to be wholly human, imperfect, striving, grieving and healing while in the safe hands of yoga community.

My deeper studies of yoga added the philosophical dimension that would carry me through my next big break up in 2010.  (Yup, I just keep on trying!  Lord knows why…although, I’ve been single since this one.)

If you’ve read my blogs from June 2010 forward, you are aware that I went through an unimaginable betrayal.  After seven months of dating, my boyfriend revealed that – beginning long before he and I even met – he was under investigation for a federal crime.  He decided to tell me when his lawyer finally let him know that the trials would start soon, and he would most likely be going to prison.  (Nice of him to come clean.)

Not only did this shocking news knock the wind out of me (again), but the crime was something that I could not stomach.  I had to say good bye.

“Have compassion for the unhappy,” encourage the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  “Detach from the non-virtuous.”  In the months following the breakup, I went through phases of extreme anger, disgust, distrust and isolation.  Yet my intention was to reach compassionate detachment – not only for the sake of honoring another human’s suffering, but for the sake of my own inner peace.

And thankfully, because I was a teacher, I felt an accountability to live my yoga in everyday life as well as possible.  The responsibility to continue serving and teaching drew me out of an unfortunately familiar pain (the third big fat heartbreak) that could have sucked me away from my beloved yoga community.  Instead, I continued to suit up and show up.

*  *  *

Practicing Asana (physical yoga) has reinforced the absolute reality that life is a process, that time takes time, and that I will feel at ease if I accept, surrender to and be patient through transitions of all kinds.  Practicing yoga’s philosophies means that when the uncomfortable transitions occur by surprise, I can authentically process my pain, honestly express my humanness, and all along, continually reach out to the ideas that will bring peace.  And teaching yoga offers the ultimate refuge, in my opinion.  Not an escape, but a commitment to constantly dig for yoga’s solutions to life’s inevitable heartbreaks – and pass those solutions on.

Grateful.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy August 26, 2011

“The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy” launches this Sun., 8/28.  Curious?  See below, then “Like” Urban Yoga Den on Facebook or subscribe to UrbanYogaDen.wordpress.com to stay informed, join in, and/or, share your efforts!

Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28, 2011 I will launch “The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy,” an effort to document my daily journey away from an annoyingly encroaching emotional darkness and toward the hopeful light of happiness.

The “Project” idea arose when Whole Foods Market discontinued my favorite morning ritual incense – Happy Heart by Maroma’s SPA line – leading me to buy their last 10 boxes.  “Hmmmm…100 days of Happy Heart, ” I thought.  And the project was born.

For 100 days from 8/28 through 12/5, I will wake up, burn a stick of Happy Heart incense and set an intention to grow toward joy.  I will see what happens during the day, and journal about it each night.  When I finish a 10-stick box of my precious incense, I’ll post an UrbanYogaDen.wordpress.com blog that covers my journey over those last 10 days.  The blog will also be posted on Urban Yoga Den on Facebook.

If you’ve read my blog lately, you know that I’ve been in the process of healing from a number of physical and emotional challenges (illnesses, health scares, betrayals, violations) – some have occurred over the past year, and some are connected to older events that have been triggered by recent trauma.  (Please check out “Be A Yogi” and other recent entries for background.)  During this 100 day Project, I’ll share the practices and tools from yoga and other resources that consistently guide me toward the inner peace that allows joy.

I know there are no guaranteed outcomes for this 100-day project – only intentions and footwork, one day at a time.

I’m excited to say that one yoga teacher friend unexpectedly exclaimed, “I’m with you!” and will be sharing the journey!  So, we invite you to join us – choose one simple heartfelt ritual for your morning, intend to practice it daily, and let us know how you’re doing from time to time!

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