The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Remember When I Quit Teaching Yoga? September 7, 2016

Forgive me WordPress readers, it’s been…10 months since my last confession. I mean, since my last blog.

“Fearless” was a rather brief, mid-winter explosion that came just one month after – in the previous blog and all over social media – I announced that I’d quit teaching yoga. “Fearless” disclosed how unsafe I’d been feeling in the world, how my busy-ness helped me hide from that feeling, and, how a friend’s yoga class invited me to be still…and find clarity. In short: “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.”

“Fearless” launched months of deep work with my PTSD triggers (which had been popping up since November, and would continue through the holidays), and, a 10-month disappearance from this blog site.

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THWL2(18June2011)My November departure from yoga teaching had been abrupt and self-centered.

As explored in my “Taking Stock” blog, “I quit teaching yoga last week. There were so many reasons why; and it was a long time comin’. Still, my decision was rash and reactive – a result of not being honest with myself and not holding myself to truths untold. I might blog about the decision eventually. … The response to my Facebook announcement was full of solidarity from friends, yoga teachers, students and studio owners who are all struggling with, questioning or strategizing against yoga’s shift away from its mindful roots.”

I was scared. Scared that nobody liked my mindful style of teaching anymore. Scared that students would continue to complain. Scared that studio owners would continually pressure me to be something I’m not. And it became hard to remember …what was I, anyway? Was I a traditional Hatha teacher? A modern Vinyasa teacher? An alignment-based teacher? A Chakra teacher? A beginners teacher? A seasoned Pranayama and Meditation teacher? A philosophy teacher?

One thing was certain – I was not an exercise teacher. But yoga trends and studio feedback said “move more, instruct less, explain nothing.” So, I quit. But for my annual New Year’s Eve “Let Your Intentions Flow” workshop, I stopped teaching yoga.

I don’t know what I was thinking! Hahahahaha…

Gradually, I started to get my confidence back. I am a traditional Hatha teacher; a modern Vinyasa teacher; an alignment-based teacher; a Chakra teacher; a beginners teacher; a seasoned Pranayama and Meditation teacher; a philosophy teacher. My practice and teaching was rooted in my first experience with Kundalini yoga, has grown through a variety of teachings and traditions, and, is now thick with 20+ years of reverence for yoga’s incredible value beyond the class slot. Therefore, my classes are never about exercise. They are about passing on every single gem that all of my teachers so generously shared with me. Practical tools that enhance outer strength and inner peace in everyday life – for the rest of our lives.

So, I came back. Tenderly, carefully and perhaps cautiously, I tip-toed toward the yoga arena.

One of the main reasons that I felt secure returning? An invitation from Faith Hunter, the owner of Embrace Yoga DC. Embrace itself had seen its share of pushing/pulling/tugging/nudging/elbowing from the yoga universe. Opened in spring 2012 as a space where Faith could build her brand, guide her Yoga Teacher Trainings, and, develop her trainees as instructors, the studio morphed through a number of incarnations and disappearances over its years. At one point, with the studio offering a skeleton schedule, Faith moved to New York to focus on practicing with her own teachers. Little did we know what else was brewing.

In February of this year, she tenderly, carefully and perhaps cautiously stepped back into the yoga studio biz. Still living in New York, she put the word out to DC teachers: teach from your heart at Embrace. That’s when I dipped my toe in the now-welcoming waters. I offered “Follow Your Heart,” another of my signature, annual workshops. And I started teaching “Yoga For Life,” a weekly pay-what-you-can class.

Over the summer, Faith planted both feet back in DC and cultivated a rock-solid teaching, customer service and management team. In its same bright, beautiful Adams Morgan location, Embrace now offers a full schedule of weekly classes with an amazing group of seasoned teachers. We are one of the most diverse studio staffs in the city – an eclectic collection of yoga influences, cultural backgrounds and life experience.

I am honored to share the schedule, practice and work with these noble beings.

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At this moment of writing, I am choked-up with tearful gratitude. The universe works in mysterious ways. And I am just wrapping my head around where I’ve landed, and, what the near future brings.

I am now the Studio Manager at Embrace. During my part-time hours, I team up with Faith, advisers, vendors, teachers and studio assistants who tackle our business head on! We have accomplished so much since my May start; and I am thrilled with the positive energy and outcomes we are generating.

Beginning this week, I am teaching three (!) classes on the Embrace schedule. On Mondays at 7:30pm, I’m leading our “Basics/Level 2” practice, where we dissect and fine-tune sequences, poses and breathing found in typical Open Level classes. We have “Breathe & Meditate” on Wednesdays at 7:45pm, which re-awakens our wonderful weekly mindfulness community, cultivated in 2014. And “Yoga For Life,” our venue for life-long yogic traditions, continues on Sunday mornings at 8:45am.

This coming Sunday, Embrace will observe the 15th anniversary of 9/11 with “9/11: Urban Oasis.” Our regularly-scheduled classes – including Yoga For Life – will be free. Surrounding those practices, the studio will stay open from 8am-8pm, with Embrace staff welcoming yogis, friends and community to a peaceful space for rest and reflection. I hope to share some time with you (away from the crowd of Adams Morgan Day, BTW).

When Faith is away for weekend teaching travels, we are scheduling “guest teachers” in her Sunday 11am slot. From October 16 through November 6, I will guide “Come Together,” a four-week, pre-election exploration of yoga’s immense resources for individual serenity and community harmony. After warming up with intention-based Sankalpa Vinyasa, we will practice partner and group poses, bringing a sense of collaboration and levity to increasingly tense times.

In the midst of all this, “Diwali Intentions” – our annual observation of this 5-day Hindu holiday – will be held by candlelight at Embrace on Sunday, October 30th, 8-9:30pm. This Sankalpa Vinyasa practice supports the sacred inner work of inventory and intention-setting, and serves as a precursor to our New Year’s Eve gathering.

Faith has graciously offered me – and all Embrace instructors – the freedom to bring our hearts to the table in our teachings. In addition, she has entrusted me with staff guidance, operations supervision and community relations. Perhaps, though, the most breathtaking invitation came when Faith asked me to consider being a lead instructor for her Spiritually Fly Yoga Teacher Training, starting this November. This was one of the greatest honors I’ve ever received. I had to sit down for a moment. I cried a little. My heart swelled with gratitude. I said yes.

I can’t lie (nothing to hide, as always) – all of this feels at once exhilarating and daunting. This is the most that I’ve taught since 2011, when my classes were full and the yoga-workout trend was barely blooming. Beyond shadow of a doubt, I am excited to be once-again teaching my most earnest and foundational offerings. Still, at moments…well… Y’know that feeling when you organize a big party or event, and then fear that nobody will show up? Yup. That happens. Inside of my chest. That anxiety arises at times.

Plus, as a Yoga Teacher Training instructor, my responsibility is deep. Not only must I petition divine guidance to humbly serve in this capacity…I also have to design some pretty serious curriculum! (Which I love doing, BTW. I am eager to start.)

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Being asked to teach teachers acknowledged the worth of my long and devoted journey with my beloved yoga.

The invitation came after a very committed period of inner sacred work, surrounding self-doubt, relationship fears, trust issues and more. It came when the fruits of this rich work were ripe. It came from a person who is my friend, my teacher and my boss! Coming full circle since I quit teaching last November, I see that I wasn’t done…I was just resting. I am re-rooted in the ancient discipline that shapes every moment of my present existence.

And, although feeling a little anxious, my “Fearless” blog reminds me: “…stability and risk co-exist.”

Great gratitude to the gods, goddesses, gurus, guides, guardian angels, great spirits, eternal mysteries and teachers that accompany my direction and decisions. Thank you knowledge, thank you nature, thank you love. Thank YOU.

May we all know that quitting is sometimes resting, and that resting is always empowering. OM Shanti.

 

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.
 

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?

*  *  *

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.

 

Love: Anger’s Remedy March 1, 2013

LOVE: Brief (and maybe not so brief) explorations for our February class focus.  The final word…

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BuddhaSunspotsSo.  I’ve been getting these Ayurvedic massages.  To address the pent-up anger and stress I’ve been blogging about.

Clearly, it’s working.  After last week’s session, I could not even make it to my own front door without sobbing my face off.  The guy is brilliant: that day, in addition to his usual bodywork, he placed his warm hands on the back of my heart chakra and just stayed there for what seemed like an eternity.  I wanted to cry then, but I didn’t.  I wanted to cry later, when he smoothed my furrowed brow with Ayurvedic oils and cradled my head in his hands.  But I didn’t.  After I got dressed, he asked me how I was feeling.  “Like I need a good cry,” I answered, and headed home.  I cried my way out of his building, I cried along the sidewalk to my place, I cried up the steps to the entrance.  I had to stop to cry in the stairwell to my floor.  I practically sprinted down my hallway…busted in my door…curled up on a chair.  And cried.

This massage therapist is not just tapping into the intellectual, heady anger that I analyze, understand, explain and write about.  In the most skillful, gentle and nurturing way, he’s reaching a much deeper, organic part of my emotions.

He’s breaking into my heart.

When I stopped crying I thought, “I wish that love would always be my first response when someone is unkind to me.”  This is how I like to respond.  It’s how I’ve seen myself respond.  But for a period of time since December, most of my first responses were a dizzying blend of anger, blame, shame, self-loathing and sadness.

So I think this guy is onto something with his Ayurvedic touch.  And I’m just gonna let the tears flow.

*  *  *

Today, I’m feeling back to my normal self.  I’ve encountered unkindness, conflict and challenge over the past week or so.  I’ve responded with understanding and compassion – and, at the right times, detachment and indifference.  In addition, I’ve returned to my practice of silently wishing wellness for each person I see on the street while walking between classes and errands.  In general, I am feeling patient, positive and peaceful.

I’d like to believe that the massages alone are responsible for my shift back to center.  That caring hands resting on my heart chakra would instantly restore my softness.  Wouldn’t it be great if a “magic bullet” or “shot in the arm” were sufficiently healing?  In no way do I mean to diminish the authentically medicinal affects of Ayurveda.  The fact is, for me, healing that leads to restoration and growth requires more than one remedy.  If I want to continue bypassing synthetic medication to manage my triggers and related emotions – and if I want to avoid falling back on self-medicating – I must subscribe to a diligent prescription of wellness efforts.  When I sway from my tried-and-true influences and routines, I completely lose balance.  The “tests” to my serenity over the past two months – a string of experiences where different people have been harmful, malicious or inconsiderate in some way – would have felt less threatening and caused little (or no) response had I been aligned with my healthiest practices.

I’ve come to embrace this recent period as an opportunity to witness my reactions – or, more commonly, my overreactions (inward and outward) – and practice self-compassion.  I have been feeling enough heightened emotion and stressed energy to warrant a step back from my usual “fix it” approach, to cut myself some slack, to vent honestly and openly, and, to consider these challenges as somehow related to the intense personal shifts in values, principles and beliefs I’ve been experiencing over the past two months, as well.  I’m grateful to have this understanding!  Still, it has been humbling to see myself habitually on-edge and upset – not my usual warm, smiling self.

Growth does not always feel like a sweet explosion in the heart.

*  *  *

Earlier, I mentioned working on “pent-up anger.”

More accurately, I would say that I am working on healthily processing strong emotions – my recurring “favorites” are grief, fear, guilt, shame and anger.  (Nothing original, I know!)

Why strong, recurring and “pent-up?”  Growing up with addiction, growing toward violent environments and growing away from solutions, I spent much of my life ignoring the core wounds and root causes behind my own destructive tendencies.  In other words, I stuffed decades of grief, fear, guilt, shame and anger.  Heck, I’ve been alive for 47 years, I drank alcoholically for 25, and I’ve been sober for only 10.  So I’m still catching up on what others learned all along their lives – how to constructively manage very normal emotions.

And, I’m still healing.

Through many years of yoga and recovery practice, I have learned a lot about my history of trauma.  I have come to face and analyze my past quite sufficiently.  I know everything about my trauma.  However, self-knowledge does not avail thorough healing – my body and heart have not fully processed through it all.  This recent series of emotional triggers felt very chemical, tangible, even physical.  They revealed that I must take a step back from my primarily heady analysis, which has not addressed the deeper effects of trauma.

One friend suggested that I “get out of my head and punch things.”  I’m not likely to throw punches, but I get what he means.

I can certainly reach into the cracks of my sweetly breaking heart and coax out the tears.

*  *  *

Clearly, if I want to answer offences with healthy responses, preserve my own serenity and add to the compassion in this world, I must maintain and condition my physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

This is, by far, the hardest personal transformation work I’ve done in a while.  Some days I think that I will never change, that people will never change, that the world will never change.  I want to give up and quit.  But to give in and surrender is to acknowledge that, indeed, people and the world might never change – and that I have 0% control over that.  But I do have 100% control over changing myself.  Changing my thoughts leads to changing my responses; and changing my thoughts and responses leads to changing my state.

If today I discovered all of my yoga workshop flyers taken down, I would think, “Someone must have taken it home as a reminder,” or “Maybe the shop owner needed the room,” or “Maybe another yoga teacher felt scared about his/her income,” or “I’m calling on the love of my friends to remind me that this is not personal.”  In order to keep my peace (and therefore contribute to the peace in the world), I would deliberately choose a positive, forgiving, compassionate or loving response.

Inner peace has returned, and I feel hopeful.  I had many tools to help me get here.  (* See “MY TOOLS” appendix, below.)  But I am a little tired.  Thank god for Ayurvedic massage!  More than a tool, it is a gift that allows me to be nurtured, honor my grief and weep.

Spiritual teacher Marianne Williamson says: “Healing works through a kind of detox: things have got to come up in order to be released. That is true of our personal issues, and also our collective issues. We can’t just push the darkness down, pour pink paint over it and then pretend it’s not there. We have to look at it, accept that it exists and then release it for healing.”

‘Nuff said.  Trudging on with determination, hope and love…

Thanks for reading.  OM Shanti.

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* MY TOOLS come from yoga, other spiritual sources, addiction recovery programs, friends, healers, and countless other resources and influences along my journey of healing, growth and transformation.  They are effective for addressing a heightened state of crisis, for balancing-out post-crisis, and most importantly, for preventing crisis.  Below is a comprehensive (and darn exhaustive!) list of “notes to self” that summarize my tools.  In essence, they all say the same thing: take care of yourself!

RothkoGreyCrop(Dec12)CALMING THE STORM:

Call Out The Troops
Cultivating a circle of embrace and wisdom calms the fire.  The unconditional support of friends, advisors and inspirations can motivate constructive action.  Recently, when I noticed that all of my yoga workshop flyers had been taken down, I called one of my best friends and said, “I am livid.”  I vented – starting the healthy process of managing anger.  Later, still in an emotional tug-of-war, I reached out further.  A friend exclaimed, “They can tear down a flyer – they can’t tear you down!”  A Facebook pal dedicated time to meditate “with” me long distance.  And I absorbed this helpful message, written to yoga teacher Elena Brower from her friend: “‘I know you fly from feeling like a speck of dust to knowing you’re divine, but in the stream in-between, the best part…is that you are sharing.'”

Stick A Pin In It
“We’re as sick as our secrets” is a recovery slogan and “Nothing to Hide” is my personal branding slogan!  Rigorous honesty keeps me emotionally and physically sober.  At my 10-year anniversary, a friend said, “We always know how Holly’s feeling; and that’s probably why she’s alive and sober today.”  Like a pin in a balloon, sharing openly deflates the problem, and makes room for solutions to flow in.

Halt
When horribly triggered by something that I’ve previously shrugged off (i.e. my flyers disappearing), I must pause to recognize that I’m in a state.  “HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired)” is another recovery slogan.  Sober friends suggest keen awareness of these four states, which can cause loss of serenity, and potentially, addiction relapse.  Over the past months, not only was anger plaguing me, I was also skipping meals, eating snacks instead of nourishing food, isolating, staying up late and not sleeping well.  At a recent meeting I heard someone share that her “HALT is out of whack” – and I woke up.

Hold Your Tongue
“Restraint of tongue and pen” (or “thumb and send”) is pure brilliance.  When I feel wronged, my adrenalin is high, and healthy communication goes out the window.  It is wise to take a giant step back (or walk out the door) before responding to the harmful person.  Skillful communication – or, the realization that nothing needs to be said – will arise in time.  Writer Viktor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose our response.  In our response lies our growth and freedom.”

Accentuate The Positive
When anger and other destructive feelings possess me, I must firmly point the mind to positive thoughts, experiences and facts.  I can list my loving, trusted friends.  I can read a thankful e-mail from a student.  I can recall accomplishments.  I must place myself in positive light.  When I told a yoga peer that I was stuck in self-loathing, he lightheartedly shared: “Something to consider: the self you loathe is not you, it’s…an illusory ‘you.’  Krishna, situated in your heart, loves the real you more than you loathe the illusion you think of as you.”  Although not a Krishna devotee, I can certainly accept his love when feeling horrible.

Give Thanks
Taking the time to meditate on gratitude is an amazing antidote for fear-based emotions.  When I dwell upon what I have, it’s hard to be consumed by what I’m afraid to lose.

RothkoRedCrop(Dec12)PREVENTATIVE MEASURES:

Rise And Shine!
At best, I am a generous, thoughtful, compassionate person.  As well, I am a survivor of many serious violations and assaults, I am susceptible to PTSD and I am a recovering addict.  This means my best self can be challenged at times.  As one might guess, I have been evaluated by medical professionals.  As one might not guess, I have been advised against taking synthetic medication – and encouraged to continue my devoted yoga, recovery and counseling activities.  My morning Sadhana (see “Peace Tools: Morning Routine”) is like medication for me.  It guarantees excellent spiritual, physical and emotional health, and is like an insurance policy for constructive thoughts, attitudes and actions – plus, I absolutely love and enjoy it!  However, guess what I abandoned during the month of December, for various reasons?  Hmmm…

Listen To Your Body
Along with the emotional evidence of imbalance, I’ve also been suffering from digestive problems and middle-back pain: physical ailments of the 1st three chakras.  The negative emotions associated with imbalanced lower chakras are fear, guilt and shame.  Ah-ha!  This is all coming together!  In her brilliant book, “Eastern Body, Western Mind,” Anodea Judith writes: “The first thing I tell my clients or group members when they wish to develop their third chakra is to give up the attachment to being safe.  In clinging to safety and security, we remain as children – powerless and wanting the world to be shaped for us.”  BAM.  I am now incorporating yoga poses for the lower three chakras into my daily practice.

Cool Your Jets
To make matters worse (which of course, I’m prone to do, being human), I pretty much abandoned my pacifying diet in December.  According to Ayurvedic medicine, my Dosha or body/character type is Pitta, which is very fiery by nature.  Needless to say, it behooves me to follow a diet that soothes digestion and therefore pacifies strong emotion.  It also protects everyone around me!  The Ayurvedic massage has been a nudging elbow in the ribs (hahaha!), inviting me to return to what works.

Suit Up And Show Up
I have been cutting back on addiction recovery meetings.  Not smart for a girl who wants to stay serene.  The other day, a sober elder said, “In my time in this program, I’ve seen one thing unfailingly lead to relapse: not going to meetings.”  People sometimes ask why I still go to meetings after 10 years of recovery.  I plan to go ‘til the day I die for three reasons: to be in the room when a newcomer walks in; to be of service; and, to stay sober.  Period.  The program of recovery is the only thing that has kept me clean these past 10 years (after 12.5 years of trying/failing to stay sober via yoga or therapy or religion or eating healthily or whatever).  Meetings maintain my physical and emotional sobriety.

Clean House
I can’t expect to be trigger free – that would be impossible.  I can, however, enhance my well-being and therefore cultivate healthy responses to upsetting situations.  To be well, I must address unresolved emotions from past experiences.  The processes of looking back at our own actions, admitting personal responsibility, making amends, offering/requesting forgiveness, and clearing away resentments are part of many spiritual, recovery and self-examination traditions.  I first practiced taking a moral inventory as part of the Jewish High Holy Days, or, Days of Atonement, which fall in the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur.  In her Yoga Journal article about the process of “recapitulation,” writer Sally Kempton said, “Whether we call it ‘confession,’ ‘karma cleaning,’ ‘wise reflection,’ or even ‘moral inventory,’ … you dissolve a lot of the sludge that you carry around in your heart.”  The focus is on admitting my part, not on blaming the other – even if they are at fault!  Although painstaking, cleaning my side of the street pays off with liberation.

RothkoPurpleGlowCrop(Dec12)WHAT TO AIM FOR:

Kill ‘Em With Kindness
Mean people rock.  They can be great teachers and motivators – if I allow them to be.  The night I was bottoming out on chaotic emotions about my missing flyers, professional baseball player Justine Siegal posted her TEDx video, “Following Your Dreams When Others Are Mean,” in which she describes, “I felt defeated, but I thought – ‘I’m not gonna let ’em stop me.’ There were some really mean things that were done and said. I decided that when others were mean, I would be kind back. And the reason for this was not because I needed them to like me. I just wanted to keep my own peace. I knew that if I let the anger consume me… I wouldn’t be able to move forward. And I needed my own peace – so I could keep that power within, to do what I’m passionate about.”  Amen, sista.  I have to remember that all people have their own pain – just like me – that causes them to act out – just like me.  When I am at my best, my natural response when I sense that someone is in pain is to wish them well.  I might paraphrase the Buddhist metta prayer, “May you be free of suffering” or chant yoga’s “Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu,” which has the same meaning.  C’mon, if I could tap into the Yoga Sutras to cultivate compassion for the guy who mugged me in 2011 (see “The Yoga of Being Mugged”), I can certainly find kindness in my heart toward these recent ankle biters.

Listen To Your Elders!
Timing is everything.  Over the past few weeks, ancient gems of wisdom came my way (via contemporary teachers):

“A truly compassionate attitude toward others does not change even if they behave negatively or hurt you.”  By the time I read this quote from the 14th Dalai Lama, I had finally returned to this mentality.  I am again able to think kindly and understandingly toward all (most of the time…and if not immediately, promptly).  Thank god.

“The mind manifests anger when it jumps to the defense of the ego, and that sends our intelligence out the window: we loose our capacity to distinguish between the conscious self and the unconscious matter of the mind and body. We think ‘I have been offended’, but the ‘I’ that was offended is the false ego, not the real self.”  Philosophy teacher Hari-kirtana Das’s recent yoga blog, “The Art Of Anger Management,” visits a number of yogic texts for explanations of and solutions for anger – with admirable humility and hilarity at times.  Check it out.

“Rather than indulge or reject our experience, we can somehow let the energy of the emotion, the quality of what we’re feeling, pierce us to the heart.  …a hardness in us will dissolve.  We will be softened by the sheer force of whatever energy arises – the energy of anger, the energy of disappointment, the energy of fear.  …and it opens us.”  To share all that I have gained from Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart,” I’d have to copy the entire text here.  Trust me – read the book.

“It was only when she lost all sense of hope, that her ego had finally loosened its grip…, that her heart allowed space for the divine to enter and work its charm.”  This moment from the classic Hindu story “Draupadi’s Sari” describes when Draupadi – who is being wrongfully undressed by an evil king – releases her desperate grip on her clothing, throws her arms in the air and yells “Krishna!”  (Post-Publish edit: I neglected to tell the end of the story!  As soon as Draupadi lets go of her sari, Krishna hears and answers – the wrap becomes endless, so she cannot be neither disrobed nor dishonored!  Thanks to Hari-kirtana Das for reading and reminding!)  This harkens back to my friend’s reminder that, once we surrender our hearts to divine love, we need not fear anything.  We can let go.  In the past I’ve said, “Allowing love into my heart can sometimes be like using a jackhammer to plant a seed,” and, “Kirtan is like a can opener for my heart.”  From here on, I’d like to loosen my grip on power tools and kitchen appliances…

Make Room For Love
“Pratipaksha Bhavana,” as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is the process of replacing negatives with positives.  The Sutras do not encourage stuffing the very real troubles that come with certain challenges, but invite the mind to deliberately shift away from dark thoughts, in order to shed light on a new perspective.  From life coach Laurie Gerber: “The perfect replacement for fear is always LOVE.  May you and all beings everywhere find the strength and presence of mind to replace fear with love, over and over and over.”

(Note to self: May I bring positive and loving thoughts into my mind and heart the moment I feel dis-ease.  May I always remember that love is the remedy for anger.)

Again, thanks for reading.  OM Shanti.

 

Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy – Week Three January 21, 2013

“Happiness may arise from fortunate events but true joy comes from growth and goodness. Self-involvement alone is fleeting and ultimately sad; deepening ourselves and touching others triggers spiritual endorphins. Joy is the gift of being of use.”  – Rabbi Wolpe

Indeed, the magic combination for true joy is deepening myself and touching others.  This combination is also imperative for being of service.  Goodness – or even a noble intention to “do good” – is not enough.  If I do not prioritize my own growth, I cannot truly be of use.

The first time I heard the term “Spiritual Bypass” was June 2010.  Off the Mat, Into the World (OTM) co-founder and psychologist Hala Khouri introduced the concept during my 1st OTM intensive training that spring.  John Welwood – a psychotherapist, teacher and author known for integrating psychological and spiritual ideas – coined the term 30 years ago:

“Spiritual bypassing is a term I coined to describe a process I saw happening in the Buddhist community I was in, and also in myself. Although most of us were sincerely trying to work on ourselves, I noticed a widespread tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks.   

“When we are spiritually bypassing, we often use the goal of awakening or liberation to rationalize what I call premature transcendence: trying to rise above the raw and messy side of our humanness before we have fully faced and made peace with it. And then we tend to use absolute truth to disparage or dismiss relative human needs, feelings, psychological problems, relational difficulties, and developmental deficits.”

I would add that, in my experience, people (myself included) can dismiss both our own needs, feelings, problems, difficulties and deficits – and, those of others.  So if I want harmony with others – whether in service to them or in personal relationship with them – I have to do my internal work.  I must regard that work as sacred, imperative, liberating and promising.

My work right now is with unresolved anger.  I am a classic PTSD case.  I have faced many wounds from my past and have devoted much energy to understanding them.  However, surrounding many of those wounds, I bypassed processing my own emotion because I felt I was to blame, or, because I jumped straight to the spiritual approach of understanding, having compassion for and forgiving those who harmed me.

Both cases plant unprocessed anger.  Even with a thorough intellectual understanding of the harmful events, the emotion itself has been stuffed.  And sometimes, it can burst out sideways during totally unrelated challenges.  Friends can get caught in the middle as I reckon and wrestle with the “raw and KeepingItReal(Jan13)messy side” of my humanness.  When this happens, I do my best to make amends.  The responses can vary from forgiveness and reconciliation, to abandonment of the relationship.  When I hurt someone, I feel like crawling into a hole and hiding my harmful self from the world.  I avoid old friends and new acquaintances.  I feel myself retreating, and then…

…I pull myself out of the cave.

As Rabbi Wolpe observed, if I do not stay devoted to my growth, and, engaged with the world, I cannot be of use to others.  I have faith in the process; I believe in being authentically messy and unhidden throughout it.  I can’t expect everyone in my life to be willing or equipped to navigate the tough times with me.  So, I feel super grateful that there are many who are and do.  I have allies on similar journeys and we encourage each other to keep it real.  And along the way, I offer all of my experience and solutions when I am holding space and facilitating process for others.

I started this “Full of Shift” exploration 24 days ago.  (For background, see “The origins of ‘Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy’” below.)  “Make Room” emerged as the theme of the first two weeks.  But since last weekend’s New Moon, “Bring It On” has moved energetically into said room made.  Last week flew by.  It was busy, exciting, fulfilling and – dare I say – joyful.

Following are my daily “Full of Shift” Facebook posts from Week Three, with additional reflections.

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Sat, 01/12/13. Day 16. “Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy.”
Feeling lighter.
The moon is waxing toward full. Time to bring it in. Bring it on!
Whatever “it” is. More will be revealed.
REFLECTIONS: Suffice it to say, this Saturday was much different from the previous weekend’s spiral into PTSD hell.

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Sun, 01/13/13. Day 17. “Full of Shift: 30 Days of New Energy.”
Each morning, as soon as I open my eyes – even before I prepare for my daily “Full of Shift” chanting practice – I say a Jewish prayer. The “Modah Ani” says: “Good morning, everliving sovereign. Thank you for restoring my soul to me in mercy. How great is your trust!”
Some mornings, right after saying this, I roll my eyes and chuckle. I add, “I think you’re crazy – but I’ll do my best!” Because on those mornings, I feel I must be fooling this everliving sovereign pretty well, if it believes I deserve the trust to go back out into another day on this earth and make the mistakes that I do!
This morning, it went like this: “Good morning, everliving sovereign. Thank you for restoring my soul to me in mercy. How great is your trust!” <Roll eyes. Chuckle.> “Seriously! I am grateful that you restore my soul and give me your trust, day after day. I must be doing something right! And by ‘right,’ I mean that I could be doing EVERYTHING wrong, and you are merciful enough to believe I deserve another day to try again. Thank you. I will do my best.”
I think a lot of this (if I may say) “self-mercy” awakened in me this morning because of the powerful words I read before bedtime last night. Details will be in the Week-Three “Full of Shift” blog. For now, thank you Sri Swami Satchidananda, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, Rumi and Josh Schrei.
REFLECTIONS: Here are the pre-bedtime quotes which shifted my heart to mercy.
“You should have a close personal relationship with God.  God is nameless, formless, abstract; you cannot simply go and hug space.  That is why most people need a symbol.  Develop your relationship with that.  Marry yourself to that representation of God.  Think of it day and night.  Devotion cannot be compared with any other approach.  It is something super.  When you develop that kind of devotion you rise above all doubts.”  – Sri Swami Satchidananda
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”  – Rumi
“with every breath we take and every word we speak in this life, we show exactly who we are to the One who knows us best and loves us most. that love, the ocean on which we float, is infinitely patient, infinitely kind, and wants nothing more than for us to be in peace and harmony.”  – Josh Schrei

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”  – Elisabeth Kubler-RossPrayerBeads(Feb12)
Note to self: Devotion, love, peace, harmony, gentleness, mercy.

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Mon, 01/14/13. Day 18.
Back on track with the pre-dawn ritual, yay!
Over the past 17 days, there have been great losses; and there have been great gains. What did I think would happen when I committed to chanting the following prayer 108 times each morning? “Lead me from unreal, to real; lead me from darkness, to light; lead me from death, to immortality.”
Grieving. Trudging.
OM Shanti.
REFLECTIONS: A friend recently shared, “Every time you subtract a negative from your life, you make room for a positive.”  Related – another friend shared this idea from Thomas Mann, “Space, like time, engenders forgetfulness; but it does so by setting us bodily free from our surroundings and giving us back our primitive unattached state.”
The first two weeks of this exploration were themed “Making Room;” and indeed, there were subtractions so that I could be freed from certain attachments.  I am feeling the grief of some loss.  At the same time, I am feeling amazed with new connections, attitudes and habits finding their way into that space.
Still, I must diligently continue processing the emotions from the falling out with friends two weekends ago.  I have been feeling unforgiven and unforgiving.  Anger has been stewing.  And it must be remedied.  So I am seeking new ways – beyond yoga and talk therapy – to address, process and stay on top of my emotions.  I need to find the right prescription to remedy my anger, so to speak.
When I started this 30-day process, I truly did not know what it would yield.  But wow, the longer I stay true to it – even with the pain of loss and the discomfort of transformation – the more intense, valuable and mind-blowing are the results.
In addiction recovery programs, there is a practice of becoming ready to be relieved of character traits that no longer serve, and then praying for them to be removed.  I think that’s the most remarkable thing happening here.  The losses of externals (or the waning of attention on certain externals) are a direct result of releasing internals that have been working against me.
RockCreekFallenTreeCntr2(Jan13)The teachers that have appeared along this journey thus far have been tough cookies.  Pretty much socking me in the gut so my eyes open wide to truth, light and the everlasting.

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Tue, 01/15/13. Day 19.
The roots of this 30-day observation rose from this question – “How will I sustain my total well-being in order to serve others and live life on purpose?” The answers sure are coming.
REFLECTIONS: I stopped by Rock Creek on my way home from the doc today.  Misty rain dropping, swollen waters rushing, fallen trees decaying.  The smell of wet earth soothes my soul. Without fail.
Remember that quote by Satchidananda, above?  This.  This is my god.  I hereby marry myself to nature as my representation of god.  I will think of it day and night.  My devotion will be super.  I will rise above all doubts.

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Wed, 01/16/13. Day 20.
High energy today. Taught Sunrise Flow & Meditation at 7am, chanted the 108 post class, then, came home for tea and breakfast and to-do list doing. And doing and doing and doing.
KarmaBitch(Jan13)REFLECTIONS: I had to laugh (at myself) when I saw this Karma post on Facebook.  Phew.  At least I can laugh now. Took a few days to recover from a big, bitchy snafu. Telling on myself again…nothing to hide.
After a super productive day, I had tea with one of the students from my New Year’s Eve “Let Your Intentions Flow” yoga workshop.  She wanted to talk more about her experience as connected to the chakras.  This was very life-affirming – that I am still useful and of service to some (or maybe many), even after screwing up with unforgiving others.

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Thu, 01/17/13. Day 21.
For this 30-day exploration, my daily affirmation is: “How will I sustain my total well-being in order to serve others and live life on purpose?” (Yes, it’s in question form.) Today I was pondering – what comprises “total well-being?”
REFLECTIONS: “Total” includes spiritual, emotional, psychological, mental, physical, material, financial, relational, communal and familial.  “Well-being” comes from healing, growth, change, stability, balance, flexibility, willingness, confidence, empowerment, meaning, purpose.  How do I make choices in future work, education, relationships and so on that are sustainable – in other words, that don’t max, stress or burn me out!
On another tangent…as Swami Satchidananda said, yoga cultivates an easeful body, peaceful mind and useful life – even for baseball players!  I took a sample Competitive Team Sports Yoga practice to trainer Fred Carmen at a local sports training facility this afternoon.  I prepared my 1st-baseman set – overall alignment for fluid mechanics; ankles, hips and twists for power hitting and efficient fielding. Traditional yogic breathing to heat, hydrate and sustain energy in the body and balance the mind. All of this, plus, intention setting for accessing The Zone at will. Easeful, peaceful, useful.

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Fri, 01/18/13. Day 22.
Yes, today is the day I would typically post my week-end “Full of Shift” blog. But it’s been a lovely, WelcomeSunshine(Jan13)sunshiny, yummy day off with friends and I think I’ll blog tomorrow. Or the next day. You know…Shift Happens.
REFLECTIONS: What’s that? Up in the sky? It’s a bird…it’s a plane…it’s…SuperSun!  Welcome back, Sunshine!
Further thoughts on my inquiry, “How will I sustain my total well-being in order to serve others and live on purpose?”
1 – Stop lying.  To myself and others.  About effort, emotions, money…in friendships, at work…always.
2 – Know my purpose.  Seek clarity.  Say yes to opportunities.
3 – Stand in my truth.  Values, relationships, professional skills.  When I stand confidently, energy and action awaken!
4 – Take responsibility.
5 – Know my triggers.  Know what condition I am in.  Know the conditions I am going into.
6 – Know the remedies that work effectively to decrease my triggers.  Practice them without fail.  Just as someone would not go off their medication, I should not go off my regimen of yoga and meditation!
Speaking of conditions…I thought I might leave town for inauguration weekend…but…here I am! Ready to brave the crowds with yoga, yoga, yoga. Teaching Beginner Hatha tomorrow 10:30am (and a private in the afternoon); rocking Faith Hunter’s Spiritually Fly practice Sunday 11am; and hitting Megan Davis’s Vinyasa class Monday 12:30pm. Also, hoping to stay reflective and to do some journaling (writing for me). Have a great weekend, y’all!

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Sat, 01/19/13.  Day 25.
I was moved to tears by the sweetest OM at the end of this morning’s Beginner Vinyasa class…such soulful intention from these amazing beings.

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Sun, 01/20/13. Day 24.  (Today.)
OM NAMAH SHIVAYA!
For 24 days, I’ve been asking myself, “How will I sustain my total well-being in order to serve others and live on purpose?”
Today, I’ve been up since 6am, asking, breathing, chanting, praying, listening.
And – this is happening…(see photo, below)
REFLECTIONS: After I posted this status and these photos on Facebook this morning, a friends commented, “Love your coffee table/writing desk/intention altar!”  Me, too!  I set it up last night so I could awaken to its energy and influence this morning, knowing I wanted to get a lot of reflection and writing done today. It worked!  Today I:
– Practiced my morning Sadhana at 6:30am with the 108 chants and New Energy incense.
– Completed my 2012 “clearing” journaling (aka moral inventory, recapitulation, karma cleansing…whatever you might call it!).
– Had breakfast.
– Drafted this blog.
– Went to Faith’s “Spiritually Fly” yoga class with my friend Deb.
– Did my Chakra journaling.
– Ate lunch.
– Took a super hot shower.
– Practiced Yoga Nidra with my Jonathan Foust CD followed by a self-guided visioning journey.
– Journaled my journey.
– Talk with my sister in Tennessee.
– Played on Facebook.
– Ordered organic, MSG-free Chinese delivery and ate dinner.
– Completed this blog (as soon as I hit publish)!TableCouch(Jan13)

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Thanks for reading.  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.

 

The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days! December 8, 2011

“Whoever is happy will make others happy too.  He who has courage and faith will never perish in misery.”  – Anne Frank

My whole body is vibrating.

Just now, I lit my 100th stick of “Happy Heart” incense and repeated the words I’ve said each morning since August 28th – “My intention today is to grow toward joy.”  Today the intention felt larger, more expansive than a practiced Sankalpa or resolution.  Today, that statement felt like a responsibility.
Instead of re-hashing my entire journey from August forward, I invite you to check out my “The Happy Heart Project: 100 Days Toward Joy” and other blogs I wrote along the way.  It’s been quite a trip, and at times a stumble.  Over time, The Project became more than a simple morning ritual.  It motivated more effort than I’ve ever made in my decades of spiritual practice.

I don’t do any of this for myself.  By “any of this” I mean the 100-day rituals, the blogging, the yoga, the recovery work, the healing practices.  Well, OK, yes.  First I do it for myself – so I can transform, strengthen.  But only so I can share experiences with, pass-on resources to, show up for and be of service to others.

*  *  *

“It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness.  For when harboring such feelings we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit.”  – Anonymous

Resentment is ongoing anger or bitterness due to insult or injury.  The etymological root of the word simplifies the meaning even more: a repeated feeling.  Any feeling.  So a resentment could be full of anger or fear, pride or longing.  The fact is, if we are re-feeling something related to a past experience, clearly, we are unable to live in the present.  Our past pains or even successes haunt us.  We are shut off.

I consider myself a happy person.  Someone who leans toward the light.  Generally, I am able to accept life’s ups and downs while maintaining a hopeful and positive attitude.

This summer, after a mugging in June I had a series of PTSD responses that magnified negative stories, limited beliefs and destructive patterns cultivated from what seemed like a lifetime of unresolved trauma.  I was harboring major resentments – against past aggressors, against myself, against the world.  By August, I’d become hopeless.  It was a dark, dark time.

*  *  *

“It is through practicing and living through a series of agreeable and disagreeable situations that we attain full awakening.”  – Suzuki Roshi, author and Zen Master

Over the past 100 days, one of my foundational beliefs was constantly validated: Moving toward joy does not mean escaping pain, avoiding discomfort nor skirting around darkness.  It means greeting that pain, discomfort and darkness with an informed reality instead of habitual despair.  It means digging deep to reach that informed reality, to trudge toward the answers, to sit in the messiness, to look straight at the fears and patterns.  It means surrendering to help and change instead of resigning to the same old despair, depression and rage.

In life there is ease, there is tranquility and there is light…and at times, there is not.  In that very acceptance, I can cultivate happiness.  I can experience joy.  And with strong, committed and consistent effort, the habitual despair can be completely undone.

As Roshi says, it takes “practicing” and “living.”

Burning a stick of incense each morning was a tiny and symbolic gesture.  Although the repeated intention that accompanied that act truly set the wheel in motion, reinforcing a Sankalpa involves much more than words.

Over the past 100 days, there were layers and layers of practices and life.  There was the changing of seasons; there was an Ayurvedic diet for Pitta Pacification; there were increased actions in my recovery program and the huge exhale when reaching nine years clean and sober; there was daily 5:30am Sadhana of prayer, Pranayama and meditation; there were willing visits to medical professionals who specialize in PTSD and related conditions; there was the swallowing of unusual vitamins and supplements; there were specific songs that I listened to and sang until sobbing from liberation; there was soulful abandon during concerts by spiritual songwriters and chanters; there were awkward moments with trusted friends, reunions with old pals and exciting connections with new soul mates; there was immersion in the Occupy movement’s writings and videos in order to challenge my own fears of conflict and solidly reinforce my purpose of peace; there were the Jewish High Holy Days, with their sorrow, atonement, forgiveness and love; there were transformational workshops, retreats and classes with Seane Corn, Max Strom, Amy Barnes, Corrine Champigny and many others; there was the glowing Hindu holiday of Diwali, with its stories of the triumph of light over darkness.

What a trip.  And it was 100% worth it.  Because now, not only have I ceased fighting everything and everyone, I have also come to profoundly accept, appreciate and stop apologizing for my humanness.

“May we live like the lotus, at home in the muddy water.”  – Rachel Meyer, yoga teacher

*  *  *

“May all the sky be pervaded by great bliss.

“If suffering, I bear the suffering of all beings.

“May the ocean of samsara’s suffering dry up.”

My soundtrack for this 100th moment is the traditional Buddhist Offering Chant, quoted above, and sung tenderly by Lama Gyurme in the video below.  As I write, the Happy Heart sends its wafts of rose, rosewood, geranium, cubeb, oakmoss, lavender and patchouli smoke throughout my space.

To me – no matter how much I live and practice through all conditions – it would seem miraculous to reach a bliss like Nirvana or Samadhi or Enlightenment, where I would completely transcend my own suffering, cease carrying and contributing to the suffering of all, and ultimately, experience the end of Samsara – the earthly cycle of birth, decay, death.

What I can grasp, however, is Buddhist nun Pema Chodron’s simple take on attaining a “higher” state: “Enlightenment is a very grand word for fundamental happiness.  Your life becomes a path of awakening or a path of becoming enlightened.”

*  *  *

“What is important is not to have a goal but to see if our daily existence has a meaning in itself.”  – J. Krishnamurti, philosopher and author

Note that my daily statement was, “My intention today is to grow toward joy,”  not, “I want to be happy forever.”  The Project reinforced that life is truly One Day At A Time.  Gradual.  Forgiving and honest.  If today I don’t feel joy, I can try again tomorrow.

There is no goal, only intention, reinforced frequently, through a process of openness, willingness, action and growth.

*  *  *

“The spiritual life is not a theory.  We have to live it.”  – Anonymous

Simply said.  The Happy Heart Project does not end here, at the 100-day mark.

Great gratitude to the numerous teachers who appeared along the way, in so many shapes and forms.  Yoga students, yoga teachers, friends, family, strangers, co-workers, ankle-biters, outright attackers.  Road trips, songs, trees, Asana, injuries, deities.

All mirrors, all messengers.

*  *  *

May all beings find the courage and faith to grow through misery and toward joy.  Thank you for sharing the journey.  OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

*  *  *

*  *  *

THE HAPPY HEART PROJECT.  Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28, 2011 I launched “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.  For 100 days from 8/28 through 12/5, I woke up, burned a stick of Happy Heart incense and set an intention to grow toward joy.  Nearly each day I posted a “Happy Heart Project” status (and sometimes an accompanying song for that day’s mood) on Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, then saw what happened during the day.  Even though the 100 DAYS are over, it’s not too late to choose one simple heartfelt ritual for your morning, intend to practice it daily, “Like” Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, and let us know how you’re doing from time to time!

 

The Happy Heart Project: The Halfway Mark October 20, 2011

“Hey, I’m trying to hard to see the light, to see the light – to see it burn thru.”  – Abigail Washburn

When it comes to maintaining and manifesting an intention over 100 days – and that intention is to overcome a nagging internal darkness and move deliberately toward joy – it is imperative to know which tools, resources, practices and people support that intention.

So here I am, halfway into a project I started on a whim (for background, please see final note, bottom of page), and I am clearly learning what works – and what doesn’t work.

Back in August, when I started this daily ritual, joy felt elusive.  The origin of that challenge was a string of unfortunate, traumatic and painful experiences beginning in June 2010.  So the “Project” actually represented much more than a flippant whim.  It became a “Sankalpa” (deep intention, commitment, resolution) that would hopefully free my mind – and life – from the grip of PTSD, depression, anger and resentment.

And a shift is happening.  Of course, there are days when fear, negativity and doubt emerge.  Normal stuff.  At the same time, I have to be careful to not let those days stretch into a mindset.  So I reinforce my Sankalpa.

*  *  *

Move.  Toward.  Joy.

MOVE does not happen in the mind.  MOVE denotes a deliberate effort.  MOVE is an action word.

In yoga, when I think of action, I consider how I can take my practice off the mat and into everyday life.  To me, “practice” is a synonym for “action.”  Ashtanga Yoga founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois used to say, “Practice yoga, and all is coming.”  A simple metaphor – when we take action, things happen.  Aphorism I.14 of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali states, “Practice becomes firmly grounded when efforts are made over a long period of time, constantly, and with great love (or devotion, earnestness, zeal).”

So again I mention the importance of tried-and-true tools, resources, practices and people to support my 100-day Sankalpa ritual.  They have encouraged my efforts, motivated my practice and strengthened my devotion.  Other influences, however, have been downright derailing at times.

What works and/or doesn’t work as I aim to maintain and manifest my intention to move toward joy:

WORKS: Being honest.  With myself and others.   This, by far, has been rule #1 for me.  THE best elixir for battling the stinking thinking.  Not convincing myself that everything is OK when it is not.  Not writing a bunch of “happy” lies in this blog.  Sharing my process with my circles, communities, co-humans.  Being honest about everything – feelings, ideas, plans.  Saying when I feel scared.  Saying when I feel confident.  “Sticking a pin in it” when my balloon of negativity, doubt and fear gets too inflated.  Getting it out.  Sometimes constructively, sometimes like a vent.

WORKS: Being listened to – being heard.  This means choosing the listeners carefully.  To truly be heard, I want to talk to those who have the patience, compassion and love to listen to everything I need to share.  People who care to know my insides.  People who care for my well-being, who have my best interest in mind.  People who do not immediately launch into fixing the problem.  I know this about myself: I need to let it all out – my stories, my theories, my feelings, my problems, my solutions.  Once I’m empty, I become spacious, calm and able to listen to feedback.

WORKS: Listening to, considering and/or heeding well-informed suggestions from people who know me well, who’ve stuck by my side through thick and thin, with whom I connect regularly, who are mental health professionals and/or who are trusted teachers whose experience I trust.  Listening to others’ stories.  Being as open-minded and willing as possible – yet still discerning, keeping my peace, purpose and sustainability in mind.  This is explored further in #1-4 below.

WORKS: Listening to and truly hearing loved ones’ and trusted beings’ encouragement and positive opinions.

WORKS: Staying close to those loved ones and trusted beings.

DOESN’T WORK: Trying to do this alone.

DOESN’T WORK:  Tolerating bossy, know-it-all recommendations (thinly disguised as concerned advice) from people who don’t know me very well (or who mistakenly think they do know me very well because maybe they used to know me a long time ago, or maybe they’ve read my writing or have heard me speak, or for whatever reason, they believe that we are alike), who have shown that they don’t care to know me authentically, whom I have not seen in a very long time, who intrusively beeline over to me because they’ve “heard what I’m going through,” who give medical advice without medical credentials and/or whom I absolutely do not trust.  And do you know what else doesn’t work?  Allowing these people to get under my skin; allowing myself to feel judged by these people; allowing myself to cop a resentment.  Indeed, at times, my vulnerable mind lets this happen!  What works then?  Taking a pause, replacing the false thoughts with a positive belief, and then understanding that these people are coming from a place of fear and/or a need to control.  I can have compassion for them, nod politely…and move on.  Or, avoid them altogether.  Or, be direct and say, “Thank you for your concern; I have a great team of supporters whose advice I am following.  So at this time, I want to stay on track and not add other suggestions. ”  Smile.  Walk away.  Bam.

Phew, that was a sassy little rant!  Sometimes I create my own frustration by being so open and honest about my process.  But, I’d rather have the opportunity to discern between appropriate/useful advice and inappropriate/fear-based advice than not get any advice at all!

*  *  *

In addition to clarity about support and action, I’ve also started to feel very clear about the process of cultivating positive change.  Thankfully, I’ve learned so much of this from the infinite influences I’ve said “yes” to over the years.  Here are the steps I’ve taken this time around:

1 – Let go of what doesn’t serve.  I’ve heard it a-thousand times, and it really is the best starting place for me.  This past summer, after what seemed like a year-long endurance test of trials and tribulations, I started letting go of anything that doesn’t represent deep peace, true purpose and long-term sustainability for me.  Jobs, relationships, belongings.  I took risks.  In the case of jobs and relationships, if I couldn’t leave immediately, I began to cultivate an exit strategy.  One by one, I started saying good-bye.  I will be honest – financially, it is beyond stressful.  But I really needed to let go and be liberated.

2 – Take time in the spaciousness created by letting go.  I learned to not fill the space YET.  To grieve the losses.  To feel uncomfortable.  To admit and accept my mistakes.  To witness my doubts, dreams, stories – positive and negative, real and imagined.

3 – Reflect on what brings deep peace, explore what constitutes true purpose and envision what looks sustainable in the long-term.  I have exposed myself to influences I might not normally consider.  I’ve read-up on the Occupy Wall Street efforts; I’ve started taking a high-power Jivamukti class; I’ve listened to Pema Chodron CDs (I love Pema, but am not typically a fan of audio learning).  And I have indulged in activities I absolutely love – that nourish me and bring instant joy.  I have seen live concerts, bought new CDs (please see the bottom of this blog to check out the video for the above-quoted Abigail Washburn song), listened to comedy, practiced yoga outdoors, watched baseball games, enjoyed inspiring films, participated in the Jewish High Holy Days.  I have let ideas and passions brew.

4 – Define peace, purpose and sustainability.  During the peak of Occupy Wall Street and the Jewish High Holy Days, I was struck with the strongest sense of self I’ve experienced in a long time.  It seems like a combination of the results of numbers 1-3 above, the pressure of calls to action in the media, and, the intensity of moral inventory, atonement and forgiveness sparked an energy of self-definition for me.  From Facebook, other media and other sources, I gleaned quotes that called to my soul, compiled them in a journal, and started aiming to live them, day in and day out.  They include: “Occupy within: a movement in awakening;” “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more deeply in your heart;” “The unexamined life is not worth living;” and, “Do I feel happy?  No.  But I feel progress.”

5 – Take action – fill the space.  A few days ago, a yoga teacher friend exclaimed, “How’s your new life?”  She’s referring to the many changes I’ve made since the summer, when I started this process.  I reflected silently for a moment.  “It’s very empty…” and just then, a light bulb clicked on in my mind.  “It’s time to fill it,” I answered, with resolve.

This is coming up for me now that I clearly understand what works and what doesn’t to practice my Sankalpa with consistency and zeal.  With that support, I can tackle some next steps, which include: seek a  job that fulfills my true needs and allows me to continue teaching yoga; seek new yoga teaching opportunities; continue deepening my PTSD sessions and exploration; conduct a fearless self-inventory that not only identifies how I was harmed over the past year, but that also identifies what my part, mistake and/or contribution may have been to those troubles; practice forgiveness of myself and others; commit to other practices that direct me toward joy.  Thank goodness, there are many!

Let’s see what happens over the next 50 days…taking it one day at a time, of course.

Wishing all beings peace, joy, love – and a light that burns thru.  OM Shanti.

(Here is the lovely song containing the opening quote of this blog.  Enjoy!)

*  *  *

THE HAPPY HEART PROJECT.  Under the new moon of Sunday, August 28, 2011 I launched “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.  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.  Each day I’ll post a “Happy Heart Project” status (and accompanying song for that day’s mood) on Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, then see what happens during the day.  Periodically, I’ll post an UrbanYogaDen.wordpress.com blog that covers my journey.  I’m excited that one yoga teacher friend unexpectedly exclaimed, “I’m with you!” and is sharing the journey!  Join us – choose one simple heartfelt ritual for your morning, intend to practice it daily, “Like” Urban Yoga Den on Facebook, and let us know how you’re doing from time to time!