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?
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.