The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

How May I Serve You? August 12, 2014

“For as long as space endures and the world exists, may my own existence bring about the end of suffering in the world.”
– Shantideva (8th Century Indian Buddhist Scholar)

*  *  *

I’ve written countless blogs, posts, comments and remarks about suicide, addiction, depression and trauma. I’ve described how the power-trio of recovery programs, yoga and therapy is responsible for my hard-won desire to live – which exists despite my ongoing battle with the desire to die.

So although the suicide of Robin Williams is on my mind and affecting my heart, I don’t want to write another piece about how I stay alive despite the odds. I don’t want to write about my belief that some people – whether ailing from addiction or depression or cancer or poverty or drive-by-shootings – are not meant to make it through…and that I could be one of them. I don’t want to write what I’ve written before. (Although, if you’re interested in those stories – which I poured my heart into – they are listed at the bottom of this blog.) Instead, right now, I want to write about the difference between practicing yoga solely for my own well-being, and, practicing yoga for the sake of supporting the well-being of others. Because at a certain point in my 20+ year practice, I became strong enough to shift my focus from me to you. And I believe that shift is the main reason I’m not dead.

Today, the only reason I continually work so hard to heal myself (it’s a life-long commitment!) is to be of service to others. Yes, those efforts do yield a much welcome reward of feeling better and loving life. Still, my primary purpose is to serve.

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EmbraceInterior(12Aug14)

Embrace Yoga, in Adams Morgan, DC. I’m fortunate and grateful to call this beautiful space my yoga HOME – for practicing, teaching, and today, blogging!

In 2008 and 2009, just after receiving my Yoga Teacher Certification, I was hired to design and teach a yoga program at a DC public charter school. Back then, I had no intentions of teaching children. Although my personal practice had always been quite mindful, I wanted to be a Yoga Trainer, pass on physical alignment benefits and work with injured yogis and athletes. But it was a good first job, and, paid quite well. So I started teaching 30 kids per session – at-risk inner-city youth, who were literally climbing the walls, with little interest or ability in slowing down long enough to practice a series of yoga poses, no matter how many physical benefits I touted. One day, out of pure frustration, my approach shifted from the physical to the psychological – and I paused the class to tell them my story. To share that I’d grown up in an environment of addition, chaos and violence. That I was a distracted student and troubled teen. That, potentially, a simple yoga practice might have changed my direction from self-destructive to healthy and productive. And that I may have side-stepped years and years of struggles and pain. They heard me. And although some were still incapable of being present for the practice, they did try harder. One student, Erik, made notable progress. Seriously – this was a kid who could not sit still for 10 seconds, who was constantly being kicked out of his academic classes, who was every teacher’s challenge. The Friday before Spring Break, I asked him to co-teach a class when we returned to school. Tragically, Erik was murdered by his mother’s boyfriend the next day. Upon returning to school, all teachers were asked to reinforce the city’s crisis response team. I ended up sitting in the hallway with six children crying into my lap, asking difficult questions and listening to honest answers. And then I visited each class, leading mindful breathing exercises and listening to honest feelings. I even led a session for the crisis response team and teachers.

Right there, the seed of offering yoga as a sustaining tool for service workers was planted. And as I encountered more and more opportunities to share practices for emotional healing, resilience and empowerment, my own practice became rich and resourceful.

Hanuman pic from Wikipedia

Hanuman, a model of devotion and service.

And thank goodness. Because in 2010 and 2011, I would endure a wide range of major life difficulties. First, I experienced a relationship betrayal. I continued to teach, carefully keeping my emotions separate from class, and drawing upon my personal practice to stay centered and sane. Second, later that year while I was on my way to teach, I learned of the horrible car accident and near death of a dear, dear family member. I could think of no other response but to show up for class. Sitting on the train, walking down the block and pausing before entering the studio, I used my spiritual tools. I sent Metta (prayers for well-being) to my family, I breathed deeply and evenly, I grounded into my feet. And then I walked into the room, put on the music, sat down…and started to cry in front of a crowd of students. We held eye contact and each others’ hearts for a brief moment. I took a cleansing breath, got centered, and invited the group to close their eyes and bring into their hearts anyone in their families who may be suffering. We practiced with more earnestness than any class I’d taught before. The closing OM was one of the most healing moments of my life – and after class, student feedback was positive. Third, I was mugged in front of my apartment on a summer night. Early the next morning, without mentioning the incident, I taught meditation and yoga classes themed on compassion. Just as our Yoga Sutras suggest, I recommended decreasing resentment by cultivating compassion for those that are hurting – including those who direct their pain outward and therefore hurt others. Yes, I was helped by those teachings that morning – and, I would end up devoting months to additional PTSD work to address the anger and fear that would gradually begin to surface and powerfully rule my every breath. Fourth, I ended up extremely depressed. There’d been just too much emotional trauma over the course of those years. In the late summer, I started playing percussion and singing in a Kirtan group and pointing my practice toward Bhakti (devotional) Yoga, which resulted in a growing sense of safety and trust. I also took a break from teaching and focused on addiction recovery activity – attending daily morning meetings, sharing with rigorous honesty, re-connecting with community and offering to be of service however possible. When I returned to teach that autumn, I incorporated Bhakti and Karma (serviceful action) Yoga into my classes.

Some might say that I was teaching for my own benefit. Because clearly, I did benefit. To bring the truth of my life into the safety and care of beloved communities; to gain trust where there was paranoia; to discover new depths of love from connecting with a higher power  – what amazing gifts to myself. At the same time, I believe I offer others my example of acceptance and humanness, and, an infinitely wide-open invitation to bring their authentic selves into my classes…to be messy and bold and honest in the company of caring friends and mindful strangers…to feel the safety and embrace of sacred space..and to take their own precious time to heal and grow.

On a winter Friday, 2012, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred. I was scheduled to teach an evening “Happy Hour” yoga class. After hearing the news, I walked slowly around the city, looking into the eyes and faces of passers-by, wishing wellness for all beings, praying, crying. I knew that my responsibility was to be present with my own response, my own grief, my own needs. To take ample time for that processing. And then, to show up for students. That evening and the next day, my classes were packed – as were classes all over the city and country, I imagine. How noble, when yogis bring their troubles into communal space! I brought my truth to those classes – I shared yoga’s solutions for navigating resentment, anger, grief, pain. I encouraged open minds and hearts. I cried a little. I caught my breath and silently prayed for those crying in front of me. And although my job was to hold space, together, we held space for each other.

None of this is new. For 15 years before becoming a yoga instructor, I brought my struggles, grief, confusion and emotion to yoga classes, and my amazing teachers passed down their tools and solutions. Community connected and supported each other’s healing. Yoga started to chip away at the patterns of pain. Now, as a teacher, all I do is pass that on.

How may I serve you?

How may I serve you?

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Yoga does not magically make everything better. But it does offer practical strategies for more gracefully and constructively navigating difficulties. I am driven and honored to share those practices. Today, I teach children, adults, athletes, nonprofit workers, ailing people, healing people, healthy people, studio yogis and kids on the streets. Although I accept many volunteer yoga gigs for cause-related organizations and under-resourced individuals, for the most part, I get paid to teach yoga. Still, I call it Seva – service. I show up for no other reason but to facilitate the students’ practice. I don’t wear fancy pants, I don’t teach exercise, I don’t care to demonstrate hard poses. Simply, I share the foundational yoga tools that have helped me cultivate wellness in a challenging world. And yes, I receive financial compensation for some of it. Because in order to live sustainably, and therefore be available to teach, I need to earn money.

Teaching yoga is an honor and a gift. More importantly, however – practicing yoga is a responsibility. Without that essential sustenance, I have nothing to offer. Without the unmatched benefits of a daily practice that consistently teaches me how to heal, grow and serve (and I will tell you, honestly: on depressed days that practice might only be a little Pranayama and prayer – or a great, big, cleansing cry), I cannot contribute to the healing of the world around me. Each day, I yearn to effectively ask, “How may I serve you?” Each day, if I am useful, I am alive.

Thanks for reading. OM Shanti.

 

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Past blogs about experience with and recovery from addiction, depression and trauma:

Jumping Off Of Bridges (From The UYD Archives)

Running Into Nature

Growing Pangs

Shiva And The Darkness

The Yoga Of Being Mugged

Yoga In Action

Wine And Kirtan

Surrender, Recovery And Death

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jumping Off Of Bridges (From The UYD Archives) June 19, 2014

19 JUNE, 2014

A couple of months ago, I heard about a California yoga teacher trainee who committed suicide. Everyone in her yoga circle was completely shocked. They said there were no signs…

Last week, I received a gutsy, honest message on my Urban Yoga Den Facebook page about my “Jumping Off Of Bridges” post from March 2013.

“Even though we are strangers you saved my life,” she wrote.

Her Facebook note went on to courageously reveal:

“I’ve done yoga on and off since I was 14. Within the past 5 years I began to take it more seriously than ever. But, like all good things do when someone is depressed , it got pushed to the way side. … Deep down I knew I couldn’t kill myself… So what does any iphone user do? I Googled ‘why you shouldn’t kill yourself.’ And your blog post about the Philadelphia bridge popped up. I read it. And reread it. And bawled my frigging eyes out because the story was so heart breaking and because low and behold someone got it.”

Wow.

This, folks, is why I write how/what/when I do. The practice keeps me alive, and apparently, some others, as well. I recommend trying it…let us know how you really feel. Stick a pin in it. Don’t be alone. Write it out. Because I no longer say, “I don’t want to live.” I might say, “I don’t want to live like this,” but I know that “this” can change with effort…and/or angels. Because before I could even write usefully about this stuff, I had to first reach out for my angels, my life-savers.

However…I will say this from experience with dear ones who took their own lives: sometimes there are signs, sometimes there are not. Sometimes they reach out, sometimes they cannot.

I argue to say that: we are not saved by each other, but by our own seeking. Thank goodness for the times that we are compelled to reach out – for inspiration, for hope…for each other. For our angels who “get it.” In this, we save ourselves.

Love to you, my dear reader. I’m glad we’re both here to tell our tales.

Here, in retro, is mine…

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JUMPING OFF OF BRIDGES
(MARCH 2013)

Five years ago this month, I was scheduled to jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge.  I wrote it on my calendar for March 7, 2008: “Philly.”  I was planning to drive from DC to see the Irish band Hothouse Flowers, get drunk, and then jump.

That February, my fiancé had broken up with me – with no notice, with little explanation, and without ever speaking to me again.

I was devastated.  This was the one.  This was the relationship that erased all of my past failures and illustrated all of my current accomplishments.  This relationship proved that I was beyond a painful history with men, and moving forward with a healed soul.  This relationship gave me everything I dreamed of: a wonderful man, two amazing step sons, an awesome dog and cat, and a happy household.  I hadn’t recognized that, beneath this perfect picture, my partner was harboring his own past relationship resentments, a dark and debilitating depression…and a deep longing to escape.

My heart was smashed with his phone call.  The pain of the loss was unbearable.  So I decided to kill myself.

*  *  *

By March 2008, I’d survived multiple suicide attempts throughout my troubled life.  In fact, I’d spent most of the first 37 years of my life wishing or trying to die.

GtownFoggyMorningKeyBridgeFlipped(Nov11)It seemed meant to be.  I was unplanned – conceived after my mother had a tubal ligation!  I once heard my parents fighting about money problems – saying that if I hadn’t have been born, they would be better off.  I developed a deep feeling of being an unwanted problem.

(When I write truthfully about my family, I always have to add: I love and respect my parents, and I love and respect my family.  I understand that we all suffered – even way before I was born.  The ancestry of pain leaves a tough road to travel.  We do our best.)

As a kid, my first suicide attempt was trying to smother myself with a pillow when my beloved Aunt Jeannie died from Cirrhosis of the liver.  Much of my family suffered from alcoholism and its related violence and neglect.  Despite this, Aunt Jeannie consistently showered me with attention, affection and adoration.  She would swoop in for visits, in all of her New York City glamour and flair, bringing gifts and hugs and kisses.  She was a star to me.  When she died, I wanted to die.  I didn’t know that it’s impossible to smother ones self.  I passed out from crying and took a long nap.

From there forward, I thrived on recklessness.  When I was 17, deep depression felt like a mid-life crisis; and I believed I would be dead by 34.  As I got older, I essentially divorced from my family.  I raised myself, nurtured self-destructive tendencies and geared straight toward danger.  I experienced sexual molestation from community members, rape by a friend’s brother, beatings by strangers and boyfriends, and more.  Other dangers included driving maniacally.  I once landed in a life-risking crash – after which I felt very angry to still be alive.

My next deliberate suicide attempts were as an adult, when I hit an emotional, physical and spiritual bottom while living in New Orleans.  In those days, I was convinced that everyone around me was achieving their dreams, while I was at a dead end.  My “romantic” relationships were abusive and empty, my professional life was non-linear and grasping, my connection to god was willfully severed.  After quitting a retail job, I spent my mornings, days and nights drinking and hooking up with strangers and street musicians.  I used my parents’ gas station credit card to buy booze and food.   And my worried and enabling dad paid my rent (bless his un-knowing heart).  My reality was shameful and sad, and it sickened me.  I saw no other way through, than to get out.  Within one week, I tried to kill myself twice, using different mixtures of alcohol and substances.  I woke up dazed both times.  And again, I was very angry to be alive.

After that week, it appeared that I was not meant to die.  (Yet.)  So I ruefully resigned to keep living.  Over the next decade, despite desperate, in-vain attempts to figure out how to decrease life’s pain…despite becoming a vegetarian, seeing therapists, moving all over the country, observing religious ritual, and even trying yoga, I would drink myself to oblivion countless times.

In fact, all along my life timeline, the most pervasive and slow suicide effort was my succumbing to addiction.  I drank alcoholically from age 11.  For the next 25 years, I would deaden myself to emotions, to growth, to the world.

However, despite what looked like a road to ruin, my journey took a transformational turn after I turned 37, in 2002.

*  *  *

Also by March 2008, I had finally enjoyed a sweet, 5-year phase of contentment and joy.  I had been working a strong program of addiction recovery and was 5+ years sober.  I’d been seeing a very effective therapist for those years, and was healing from my traumatic childhood and destructive adulthood.  Plus, although I started while still drinking alcoholically, I’d been practicing yoga for 15 years, and was feeling it gradually shape my emotions, my growth and my world.

So, when the February breakup happened, I was blindsided and felt betrayed – not just by my fiancé, but by life itself.  After so much transformational work, this crap would still happen?  Well, yes.  It would.  And I could not accept that.  So the March 7th Philly trip was planned.

Yet clearly, I did not jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge.  What happened?  Yoga, recovery and therapy – my power trio – gratefully intervened.

The addiction recovery program taught me to be rigorously honest.  Right after the breakup, I showed up at meetings, blurted out my pain and cried myself into a puddle on the floor.  I spoke about not being able to eat.  Recovery friends came to my house with irresistible Thai lemongrass soup.  I spoke about feeling betrayed by god and feeling that I would die from the pain of loss.  Recovery friends listened intently and sensed that I was at risk.

Knowing that I was planning to go see Hothouse Flowers in Philly – and that my ex and I had taken our 1st road trip together to see that band in that city – a recovery friend invited me to go to a Brazilian Dance class at a yoga studio with her on March 7th.   OK, she didn’t just “invite” me – she pretty much forced me.  Up to that night, I had primarily been practicing yoga on my own at home for a few years.  Being back in a mindful, intentional space felt healing to me.  I bought a class pass and started showing up for (and crying my eyes out during) yoga classes regularly.  I couldn’t believe I’d abandoned practicing yoga with others, in community.  Even the minor embarrassment of crying in public was far outweighed by that public’s absolute embrace and understanding.

Having skipped my March 7th suicide plan in favor of Brazilian Dance at a yoga studio, my therapist was relieved.  Still, because my depression persisted, she wanted me to be evaluated for psychiatric medication.  I visited her recommended psychiatrist, and had an eye-opening experience.

I described my lifelong desire to die.  I described the conditions of my childhood and my history of self-destruction.  I described my self-reliance, separation and isolation.  I described the breakup, the devastation and my March 7th suicide plan.  I also described my rigorous efforts in yoga, recovery and therapy.  I described my friends, communities and connections.

At the end of our appointment, he said: “In my evaluation, I do not see a need for medication.  You seemTouristShot to be doing all the right things.  For you, reaching out for help and sharing with others is 100% more powerful than any medication.”  I was shocked.  “Even though I recently planned my suicide?” I asked.  He countered, “That was supposed to happen on March 7th, right?  Today is March 31st.”  I had to laugh.  The psychiatrist explained that, in my case, suicidal ideation is a coping mechanism.  When I imagine or even instigate my own death, I feel relief from my pain, and start going toward the solution.

I’ve been trudging toward the solution ever since.  Life since 2008 has become more challenging, to be honest.  I have been through additional relationship betrayals; I have lost jobs; I have been mugged; and I have experienced other hardships.  My friends and family have experienced very, very tough trials.  But even with these troubles, life is not like that destructive past.  I am not engulfed in atmospheres of addiction, crisis and danger.  In late 2008, I became a yoga teacher, and my life now revolves around this beautiful community.  In 2012, I celebrated 10 years of sobriety, and I currently continue to attend meetings.  I practice the 12 Steps of recovery and the 8 Limbs of yoga to my best ability.  I strive to show gratitude for my own healing and to share transformational practices by being of service however possible.  And I have continued periodic therapy with the non-medication prescribing doctor.

*  *  *

Yesterday, I was driving from Philly to New Jersey while spending the weekend reuniting with some yoga teacher training friends.  Suddenly, I gasped at the irony – without planning this, I was driving over the Ben Franklin Bridge, five years after planning to jump off of it.  The previous evening, I had been to a Kirtan concert, where much water was consumed.  K.D. Lang’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (made “famous” by suicide victim Jeff Buckley) was playing on my car stereo.  And I was feeling quite distant from devastation, depression and death.

How could I not cry tears of gratitude and joy?  I knew at once that I had to tell this story.  I know people who, right now, are suffering from the pain of great losses.  Who are considering death and actively trying to kill themselves in one way or another.  I love these people.  I LOVE YOU.

I share my story to say: pain sucks!  And pain ends.  This too shall pass.  My healing power trio is yoga, recovery and therapy.  You might need or prefer a different combo.  No matter what, I urge you to seek what works for you.  To start – say “yes” when people offer soup, dance classes, meetings and conversation.  Jump off of that bridge in a different way – allow yourself to fall into the arms of others.  Surrender.

I LOVE YOU.  OM Shanti.

 

Falling. Smiling. February 6, 2014

“BE PREPARED TO FALL OVER WITH A SMILE.” – J. Brown, yoga teacher, instructing Tree Pose.

I’m falling.  Again.  I don’t think I got the job that I wanted.  Or the other one, that I wanted just as much.

I’ve been falling a lot since moving five months ago.  I left my beloved hometown of Washington, DC – and long-developed communities of love, support and stability – to be closer to my aging father in Nashville, TN.  And it’s been hard.

Without getting into all the details, I’ll summarize: financially, materially, physically, emotionally, spiritually…I am facing the hugest challenges I’ve ever encountered.  I am more unstable and insecure than I have ever been in my entire 48 years of life.

And yet, most of the time, I’m smiling.ShelbyPondDownwardDogTree(Jan14)

“In Tree Pose, it really is important for you to make a practice of falling over with a smile.  Because it’s not so much about whether or not you can stand on one leg.  It’s about what’s happening in your thoughts right now while you’re doing this, and if you can have some say about that.  Can you just be lighthearted enough in this moment to fall over like it’s no big deal, regardless of everything else?”

Thank god for yoga.  Thank god for 12-step recovery.  Thank god for wise guides and teachers.  Thank god for my willingness to listen, absorb, act, practice.  Thank god for the innate understanding that – by taking my yoga practice off the mat, my 12-step principles out of the rooms, and, my mentors’ suggestions into my life – I have infinite resources for surviving tough times, which gradually transmute into a state of thriving and serving.

Sometimes I think that the more I fall over, the more easily I surrender, accept and reach contentment.  The more easily I smile despite the bumps and bruises.  Smile and go on.

ShelbyYellowGrassDeadTree(Nov13)“The idea is, every time you do a tree pose practice, you make it about summoning this mental framework where you can fall over and smile like it’s no big deal.  On good days and bad days, and when you’re falling over a lot, or when things are good or bad, over time…you’ll get better at having that mental framework.  Having lightheartedness, even when things aren’t going the way you want them too.  And that’s a really valuable skill.  More valuable than being able to stand on one leg, for sure!”

Thank god for those mornings when I wake up with a worried mind, knowing that I haven’t heard from potential employers, don’t have next month’s rent, and don’t have what I need to thrive.  Thank god for those days when I ask god, “What do you want from me?  What am I doing wrong?  Do you even exist?”  Those times when, for three hours after my sunrise alarm rings, my brain is occupied with doubt and questions.  Those days when I frustratingly go back to sleep, over and over.  And then finally…FINALLY…put my feet on the floor and do the next right thing.

Today, that thing was putting on J. Brown’s Yoga DVD.  This morning, I did the complete practice for the 1st time since Winter Solstice, when a DC friend mailed me this wise and knowing gift.

“YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING OR BE ANYTHING.  YOU CAN REST.”

Despite five months of living hell, I am taking care to take care.  By putting my wellness first, I have the health and energy to show up for my dad, for my family, for my community.  And, hours, days and periods of great effort during this demanding phase of life – I rest.  I allow myself longer hours of sleep, unstructured time in nature, restorative deep relaxations.

“Let your breath come in and out all by itself. Your body surrenders to gravity and the floor.  The effort that you’ve made on regulating your breath and your body is relinquished.  And then…all the effort that you’re making in your life, jobs and apartments and relationships.  All of it.  It can be relinquished.  You can have some time to lie here, where you don’t have to do anything and you don’t have to be anything. And maybe…just existing, you would observe – or at least just entertain – the notion that it’s inherently worthwhile.”

NashPorchDuskTreeTop(Jan14)“THE FACT THAT YOU’RE HERE IS A PROFOUND MIRACLE TO BE CHERISHED.”

This statement at the end of J. Brown’s guidance into deep relaxation really made me smile today.  Because there’s only 0.02% chance of my being alive today.  I was conceived after my mother had a tubal ligation.  And despite their financial pressures and familial problems, my parents chose to have and keep me.  In addition, as a recovering alcoholic who was active in my addiction for decades before getting sober 11 years ago, I could and should have been dead a million times.

I needed that reminder this morning.

If I ever doubt my existence (or god’s), I need only recall how many falls (falls that started even before I set foot on this earth) it’s taken for me to reach where I stand today: alive, resilient, sober, awake, responsible, able.

Smiling.

Oh my gosh – I always laugh at myself when I fall out of poses!  (Yes, I’m that giggling goofball in the room.)  I invite you to give it a try!

And now, back to the job hunt.  Thanks for reading. And smiling. OM Shanti.

 

Surrender, Recovery and Death January 22, 2014

“OUR TIME ON THIS EARTH IS SACRED,
AND WE SHOULD CELEBRATE EVERY MOMENT.”
~ Paolo Coelho

This morning I am saying goodbye to a treasured DC friend, Sovani Meksvanh. Since before Christmas, I have been posting on my personal and Urban Yoga Den Facebook pages about his battle with late-stage cancer, and how touched I’ve been by his balance of strength/action and acceptance/surrender. Last night, I posted my final thoughts about this beloved soul…

*  *  *

ON SOVANI’S PAGE:

I know that Sovani is not reading this, but his beloved family is. Your father/son/brother has always been a very special being to me. I will never forget our first social outing. Somewhere around 2005, he hustled up and down the ramps of RFK Stadium at one of the 1st Nationals games, taxing the heck out of his lungs, and putting up with my crazy baseball fandom the whole day. Over the years I’ve seen him help dozens (if not hundreds!) of people who are in recovery…from many different “ailments.” He is, to me, the perfect example of a Spiritual Warrior – one who shows up for life and all of its trials knowing that his Higher Power has simply sent him to live out a purpose more significant than his own human will, to strengthen from that ultimate surrender, and to use that strength to be of service to others.
All this time, over the past few weeks, I’ve never “cheered him on,” encouraging him to fight. Not because I want to let go of him, but because I want him to let go of fighting – I’ve wanted Sovani to give himself a break. And then there was a point where he started writing about feeling safe in His hands, and I exhaled so profoundly, knowing that Sovani finally melted into the care of his HP instead of fighting so hard…
Well, that’s how I perceived it. And it helped me so much, to observe what I saw as pure surrender and devotion.
I have been meditating and praying and crying and loving for weeks…and all of this is a tiny fraction of the support and commitment and effort that you have offered him, consistently and honorably. What an amazing family you are. I send my love and my comfort from Nashville…I wish I were there…

FROM MY PAGE:

I dedicate this song (Te Extraño by Marta Gomez) to the strong spirit of my dear friend in DC, Sovani, whose cancer battle I’ve been writing about since before Christmas. His condition has worsened – since Saturday, he has been on life support, and today his organs started to fail.
Bless his beautiful young daughters, mother and family members who have been by his side through this journey, and updating us on Facebook the entire time – which to me, has been precious, since I moved away from DC in September. Despite the weeks of meditation, prayer, tears and love in his honor, I am feeling a bit useless. And I miss him. I wish I were there…
Bless Sovani, who – as everyone knows – has been the strongest fighter one could ever meet. I mean, he was diagnosed with cancer 17 years ago, folks. And all along, he has insisted on, taken risks with and surrendered to the most experimental and progressive treatments available. But the surrender that impressed me the most was over the past week or so, when Sovani started posting about his surrender to the loving care of his Higher Power.

Photo: Michaela Ringerson

Photo: Michaela Ringerson

So, this song is for Sovani, and, for his amazing family. Sending so much love to DC tonight, through the wind, through the cold, through the snow. 
Sometimes, for me, all love songs are simply conversations with god. LOVE LOVE LOVE.

Pero te extraño hace tantos días

que las palabras se confunden con la voz
los sonidos ya no hablan de tu amor
no imaginas la melancolía que se cuela en mi ventana si no estás
y el silencio que me obliga a recordar
tantos años de vivir
toda mi vida junto a ti
tanto tiempo, tanto espacio para ti.
¿Cuánto tiempo hay que esperar?
¿Cuántas miradas recorrer,
para sentirte en un abrazo
y no verte envejecer?

But I miss you
It’s been so many days that words and voice have been confused
And sounds still can’t speak of your love
You can’t imagine the melancholy that creeps into my window when you’re not here
And the silence that obliges me to remember.
So many years of living all of my life with you, so much time, so much space for you.
How long must I wait? How many visions must recur…to feel you in an embrace…and to not see you grow old?

*  *  *

What could I add to that today? Hmmm…one thing. I am in the midst of a new phase of adult life, having moved to Nashville from DC to be closer to my soon-to-be 86-year-old father, who is struggling with dementia and increasing physical challenges. I am also deepening my relationship with my sister, from whom I was separate for decades, due to my addict lifestyle. As most of you know, I have now been clean and sober for more than 11 years. And thankfully, over the past few years, my sister has graciously invited me back into her life. She lives a bit south of Nashville, and we are teaming up to support Dad. So, this new phase is not always comfortable – but the three of us are doing our best.

My biggest challenge during this new phase of adult life? Dwelling in and acting from love and faith.

And so, to Sovani and his family, I say: THANK YOU.

CoelhoOurTimeOnThisEarthIsSacred(Jan14)

Image: Journey to Peace

I am grateful to Sovani and his family for Facebook-ing their journey over these recent months; I am grateful to Sovani for always sharing about his family so lovingly; I am grateful to have witnessed the gracefulness and transparency of his daughters as they navigated this process; and, I am grateful to Sovani and his family for sharing about their Faith so openly. I have learned so much from all of them; and I thank them for teaching me the best way to step forward in the journey with my own father.

With this family’s example as my inspiration and motivation, I shall aim straight and high to celebrate every moment of this sacred life.

From Sovani’s family this morning: “After careful and thoughtful consideration of the medical team’s advice, the Family has decided to remove Sovani from life support to relieve him of needless pain and suffering. God Almighty, Our Father in Heaven, Creator of the Universe please forgive his sins and receive his Gentle Soul into Your Arms.”

*  *  *

This is my 1st formal blog since before September, and my move from DC to Nashville. The intensity and quantity of challenges that have arisen over these five months prompted me to use Facebook more often, for briefer and more expedient updates. So much has happened since September. Sometime in late Fall, I drafted an update blog called “Shalom, Y’all.” But it fell to the wayside as more important priorities – my job search, my care for dad, my general adjustment to TN and my grieving of my beloved DC – took precedence. I didn’t realize that grieving a long-time friend would also become a priority.

I am posting “Surrender, Recovery and Death” on my Urban Yoga Den blog, because I like to pass on spiritual lessons as they happen in my life. Plus, there is so much yoga in the story of Sovani’s dying days…

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, “Isvarapranidanani” (there are many alternate spellings) is the 5th virtue discussed in the 2nd limb of yoga. The 2nd limb, or “Niyama,” suggests 5 ethical values to follow if one wants to live the yogic life. “Isvarapranidanani” has been described as “surrender of the self to God,” “offering everything to the Lord or to Humanity,” “sacrifice of all to the Lord”… You get the picture.

I yearn for this kind of surrender. I know it would help me when I feel frustrated with and harmed by my father – who can be quite hostile due to his illness. I know it would help me when I feel scared of losing my dad. I know it would help me when – due to such heightened vulnerability from the move, from my lack of sustaining work, from my family situation – my old core wound of being a problem rears its ugly head while dealing with my father, my sister, and others in my life…causing me to react like a threatened child.

When I look back at the peacefulness and grace that Sovani and his family portrayed through their process, I am compelled to reach deeper into my own soul for the surrender that I crave…or, should I be reaching more widely beyond my own self for that surrender? More will be revealed.

From experience, I do know this – like the 12 Steps of recovery programs, the 8 Limbs of yoga are in order for a reason. And for me, there have been many parallels in my practice of both the Steps and the Limbs.

So in this case, if I want to access the surrender I seek, I must re-commit to study and practice of Limbs 1 & 2 – the Yama and Niyama (the 10 suggested virtues). And, I must broaden that commitment to include Limbs 3-8…a process of reaching my most ideal way of living, which includes: Asana (poses), Pranayama (breathing exercises), Pratyahara (regulation of the senses), Dharana (single-focused concentration), Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (“enlightenment,” or in my own simple terms: when my actions and behaviors portray the intentions and virtues that I have been aiming for since Limbs 1 & 2).

I must also energize my commitment to integrating the 12-Steps into my daily life. As Step 12 suggests, I aim to practice the program’s principles in all of my affairs, in order to carry a healthy message and be of service to others.

Photo: Sovani Meksvanh (I loved his shameless selfies...especially these, while I was so far away.)

Photo: Sovani Meksvanh
(I loved his shameless selfies…especially these, while I was so far away.)

And so today, I am saying out loud: I re-commit to the deepening of my spiritual practices, so I may replace my fear-based reactions with a god-based surrender, faith and love…and therefore, act toward others with love and in service.

Let’s see how that goes (she says with a slightly mischievous, quite human and very forgiving smile)…

I’ll close with another timely parallel between the tools of yoga and recovery:
In his commentary on the Niyama (yoga’s 2nd Limb and collection of 5 virtues to observe), Sri Swami Satchidananda says: “All spiritual life should be based on these things. They are the foundation stones without which we can never build anything lasting.” And, in the two primary texts for 12-Step recovery, Bill Wilson and his co-writers say: “There is a direct linkage among self-examination, meditation and prayer. …when they are logically related and interwoven, the result is an unshakable foundation for life.” And, in relation to the 3rd step, which invites me to turn my will and life over to the care of god (and I’d say that’s the surrender I’m seeking!), “…this concept was the keystone of the new and triumphant arch through which we passed to freedom.”

I am grateful for both of these influences on my life, and that they both led me to a very significant relationship with an amazing man named Sovani. May god bless you and keep you, my friend. Love love love.

*  *  *

HAH! In true Holly fashion, I just spent the morning side-stepping my grief…expressing it in a very structured and intellectual manner…writing, quoting, analyzing, learning, sharing…  And later, I’ll read everybody’s loving and honoring posts on Sovani’s page.

NOW, in true honor of Sovani and my relationship with him, it’s time to get messy, surrender to my heart, and let the tears flow (oh, god – even as I proofread this piece – here they come)…into music and nature I go.

Thanks for reading. And thanks for your love. OM Shanti.

{PS – Please forgive WordPress for posting inappropriate advertising at the bottom of my posts…I can’t afford to upgrade, and they need to survive!}

 

Letting Go and Moving On? August 30, 2013

RockCreekBridgeGreenSpringAlthough I did not plan things this way, it’s no fluke that the next New Moon and Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) coincide with my move from DC to TN.  I have been letting go of DC since the last Full Moon.  On Tuesday, September 3rd, I’ll get in my U-Haul, drive south, and let go completely.

The 2nd-half of my trip falls on Wednesday, September 4th – so I will arrive at my new home in East Nashville on “New Year’s Eve.”  This is the 1st year since September 2001 that I will miss attending Rosh Hashanah services.  Next week, I’ll be observing the opening of the Book Of Life by carrying boxes and furniture up two flights of stairs to my sweet little flat.

Sounds appropriate to me.

Thursday morning, the New Moon will peak and I will rise at 5:36am CST.  I will continue my personal Rosh Hashanah observances by reflecting on my previous year, and considering any amends, resentments, unfinished business to address.  I will repeat “I’m sorry, I love you” many times and probably cry a lot.  (For many reasons.)  And I’ll spend ample time moving things around my new space, deliberating each placement’s energy and meaning.

If that’s not a great way to begin anew, I don’t know what is!

In packing up my books, I’ve left out six, so I can access them readily upon arriving in TN: The Makhzor (a guide-book of prayers and practices for the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, know as the Days of Awe); “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali” (the most utilized text in my collection); “The Golden Present” (Swami Satchidananda’s collection of daily reflections); Alcoholics Anonymous (an important recovery text); Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (another); and my journal.

This collection represents the foundations of my life: spiritual and religious ritual and practice, the Eight Limbs of yoga, and the 12 Steps of recovery.

*  *  *

During August, we’ve been exploring the Eight Limbs in my yoga classes.

Swami Satchidananda’s commentary on Yoga Sutra I.50 says, “In this state <the 8th Limb, samadhi> you become a jivanmukta, a realized saint.  Jivan means one who lives; mukta means liberated…”  He goes on, “A jivanmukta may be doing anything.  He or she need not be sitting in samadhi in some cave; this person may be in Times Square, but is still a jivanmukta.  A jivanmukta is involved in the world for the sake of humanity without any personal attachment.”

Judaism’s prayers and recovery’s steps also speak of healing and growing – in order to be of service in the world.

This move to TN would not be happening without these foundations.  Many years ago, when I lived without these influences, my self-centered ego drove all of my attitudes and actions.  I was neither willing nor capable to serve anyone or anything beyond my own needs and desires.  Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would one day move to Nashville, Tennessee to be closer and of service to my aging father.

Today, I can’t imagine NOT going.

So thank you.  Thank you to all of the friends, family members, communities, teachers, healers, helpers, strangers and others who – unwittingly or intentionally – pointed me in this direction.   Who generously offered their authentic selves over these decades and helped me become who, how and what I am today.

As I let go of being physically and geographically close to my DC-area community, and move on to join and cultivate new community in TN, I don’t feel like I’m leaving anything behind.  On the contrary – I feel like everything is coming together…

Much love.  OM Shanti.  h*

 

Holly Go Lightly June 15, 2013

Filed under: Inspiration,Philosophy,Spirituality — Holly Meyers @ 5:56 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Image“There is a light and it never goes out.”  ~ Morrissey

*  *  *

There’s some drilling or sanding or sawing going on in one of the apartments beneath me; and it’s piercing enough to make my skull feel like there’s a dentist office in its core.

I’m using all of my yoga tools to navigate this minor annoyance.  Slowing my breathing into three parts through the nostrils; listening to the whisper of each inhale and exhale; releasing the tension in my jaw with each breath out.  I’m also tapping into the Somatic Experiencing Therapy practices I’ve learned in my PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) treatment.  Softly focusing my eyes on the room around me, feeling the contact of both feet on the floor, observing sensations in my body.

PTSD exercises to address some bothersome construction noise?  Well, yes – because before this morning’s noise came last week’s bad news.  And I’ve been in and out of my body ever since.  Trauma includes experiencing, witnessing and/or absorbing violation or shock.  Responses to trauma vary, and can include physical pain and dissociation.  So last week, when I was blindsided by some tough news about a loved one’s hardship, my body tightened to the point of deep pain.  And I checked out.  I checked out of my body.  (This response, BTW, can happen to anyone, not just trauma survivors.)

Since last week, I’ve jumped into action to respond to the situation, and, I’ve committed to a healthy amount of self-care for stress relief.  Still, there are times when small annoyances – such as unexpected and seemingly endless piercing noises – can increase stress and consequently trigger the physical check out.

Hence the yoga and Somatic practices in response to this morning’s noise.  Because I need to feel my fingers in order to type.

*  *  *

“Murdha jyotishi siddha darsanam.”

Aphorism III.33 in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (one of yoga’s primary ancient guides) describes a light at the crown of the skull, which – after steady practice of concentration and meditation, and, a consequent liberation of the mind – illuminates great knowledge, lessons, teachers, masters.

I’d prefer to have a light in my skull than the sensation of a dentist’s drilling!  Thus the importance, for me, of practicing yoga’s Eight Limbs, and, including Chakra-based Hatha Yoga exercises.  Beyond the instant gratification of simply getting on a mat and moving my body, Chakra work and the Limbs offer me long-term solutions for life off the mat.

As described above, through the practices of Dharana (the 6th limb, concentration) and Dhyana (7, meditation), we can reach Samadhi (8, liberation).  Clearly, though, there are five limbs before these final three.  I believe that when the Eight Limbs are practiced in order – either within one session of yoga practice, or, as applied to specific life situations – they become a journey from the basic human condition of challenge, distraction and frustration to the liberated state of enjoying an easeful body, peaceful mind and useful life.

The first two limbs have nothing to do with the physical exercise that most consider as “yoga.”  The Yama (1, things to abstain from) and Niyama (2, things to practice more of) invite us to consider values-based or ethical intentions.  Only then, after setting intentions for how we want to behave toward ourselves and others, do we step into Asana (3, poses).  Once the foundational bodily systems – the digestion; the organs; the nerves; the joints and muscles; and everything in between – are stimulated, balanced and strengthened through physical exercise, the body presents fewer obstacles to mental focus.  In addition, after Asana, our lungs are primed for Pranayama (4, breath regulation), which connects our physical attunement to our ability to concentrate.  There are many forms of Pranayama, and they are all designed to decrease distractions such as emotional imbalance (anxiety, anger, etc.), environmental discomfort (heat, cold), and even fatigue.

Through Asana and Pranayama – or, Hatha Yoga – the Chakras can be activated.  Chakra work is part of Ayurveda, India’s traditional medical system.  Loosely described, Chakras are energy centers throughout the body, which affect our physical and psychological functions and well being.  In yoga, we primarily explore seven Chakras along the top half of the body, from the tailbone to the peak of the skull.  As with the Limbs, I believe that our Chakra work is progressive – through poses and breath work, we initially activate the energy at the base of the spine, and then make efforts to raise that vibration to the crown of the head.  In the first three Chakras, we visit our basic foundations of origins (tailbone), connections (sacrum) and identity (belly).  In the next three Chakras, we ascend through our higher centers of passion (heart), expression (throat) and intuition (forehead).  The crown Chakra represents an energy of great clarity and illumination.

This is an extremely simplified description of the Chakras.  Chakra work also includes Ayurvedic diet, “Kriyas” and many related practices, and, would take an entirely separate blog (and much additional study) to describe.  I highly recommend attending Chakra-focused classes and workshops to learn more and feel the profound affects of using poses and breath work to become physically and emotionally balanced.

Getting back to the Eight Limbs – Pratyahara (5, senses regulation) comes prior to the aforementioned trifecta of Dharana/Dhyana/Samadhi (6, 7 & 8), takes many forms of practice and addresses sensitivity to external distraction.  So, by the time we reach Dharana, we have deliberately pointed the mind, awakened the body and shaped the breath toward intention; the senses have softened; and concentration can deepen.  When our single-pointed focus deepens to the point where we no longer concentrate on something, but actually experience it, we have crossed the line to Dhyana.  For example, when silently repeating a word or mantra, such as “Peace” or “Shanti,” at some point, the meditator may actually begin to feel peaceful.

Ahhh, the 8th Limb…Samadhi.  My favorite way for describing Samadhi, or, liberation, is to compare it to “The Zone.”  When an athlete is “in The Zone,” she has finely-tuned her practice with such resolute intention and action that she no longer has to think about her feet, her arms, her technique, her pace, the goal post, the plate, etc.  When in The Zone, she becomes one with her purpose and easily flows toward it.

The Patanjali’s Sutras prescribe practicing yoga much like a disciplined athlete prepares to perform – consistently, over a long period of time and with total earnestness.  As we say in addiction recovery programs, the steps are in order for a reason – and so are the limbs and the Chakras.  We grow through each; we take two steps forward and one step back; and if we have an issue with one limb/Chakra, we can retreat to the previous for its wisdom and strength.

*  *  *

I just spent the month of May digging into our class focus on “Light,” and exploring Sutra III.33 and the Chakras.  The timing was perfect.  Because when I got punched in the gut by bad news last week, although initially rocketed into anxiety and worry, I was able to navigate toward solution and action.  I posted a vague update on Facebook and then stayed off for a day.  I drew upon all of my healthiest resources (which, due to my history of trauma, extend way beyond yoga alone) and was able to – despite extreme stress – show up for life.

The evening after receiving the news, I jumped onto Facebook to check in…

“Hello out there. I am hopping onto FB to thank everyone for responding to last night’s post with messages, texts, comments and calls. I feel your support, care and love.
Last night I received blindsiding news about a serious situation in a dear one’s life. It is not a health situation; it is, however, a very private situation. And it will demand a lot of my energy, immediately and over the coming months.

“Yoga, Judaism, addiction recovery, spirituality, mindfulness, intentional living…thankfully, all of these wonderful influences fuel me with everything I need to get through any situation. And I feel comforted to know that, if I run out of fuel, the community that has emerged from my life circles will lend me some of theirs. I am so, so grateful.

“You are probably familiar with the airlines’ brilliant philosophy to ‘put your own mask on before attempting to help those around you.’  I am taking action toward simplification, fortification and self-care. For example, a visit to the chiropractor and a heart-opening practice with my teacher got me back into my body this morning. Plus, I ditched my current Ayurvedic cleanse/New Moon fast plans and am diving into healthy sustenance…ok…and some comfort food…! And sadly, I had to cancel/postpone some of my volunteer projects; but I am still hoping to serve in simple ways. Because being of service not only supports others – when I am struggling, it truly strengthens me.

“I am neck-deep in calls and e-mails and action about this situation; so please forgive me if I haven’t responded to your messages. Again, thank you for reaching out. I will reach back as soon as I can, because I treasure you and want to connect. Sending so much love. OM Shanti.”

*  *  *

Approaching yoga through the Eight-Limbed journey – particularly when we reach Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi – we are promised an “everyday enlightenment.”  Through consistent focus on, attention to and respect for the Eight Limbs and constant awareness of Chakra energy, I’ve enjoyed longer and longer periods of union with my highest values, therefore supporting sustained ease, peace and service.

I aim to access that light at the crown of my skull, not for the sake of being higher or better or separate from other yogis or beings, rather, in order to find my teachers, discover my lessons, deepen my knowledge and work toward mastering my craft of living life on life’s terms.  For me, the teachers have appeared in many different forms – including tough experiences.  Phew!  Thank goodness, after a long life of hardships, I became willing to learn; and I have discovered a valuable lesson from every challenge.  Over time, I have learned how to apply yoga, related resources and an eclectic toolbox to address all of life’s annoyances, traumas and tough news.

Today, I can walk lightly despite very heavy realities.  And may you, as well.  OM Shanti.

*  *  *

“Lead me from that which is false, dark and temporary to that which is true, light and everlasting.”  ~ Hindu Prayer
“I stood in the sunlight at last.”  ~ Bill Wilson, Co-Founder of Alcoholics Anonymous
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  ~ John 1:5
“Blessed are You, L
ORD, Who creates the lights of the fire.”  ~ Jewish Prayer
“May the light of truth overcome all the darkness.”  ~ Integral Yoga Prayer

 

Jumping Off Of Bridges March 25, 2013

Five years ago this month, I was scheduled to jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge.  I wrote it on my calendar for March 7, 2008: “Philly.”  I was planning to drive from DC to see the Irish band Hothouse Flowers, get drunk, and then jump.

That February, my fiancé had broken up with me – with no notice, with little explanation, and without ever speaking to me again.

I was devastated.  This was the one.  This was the relationship that erased all of my past failures and illustrated all of my current accomplishments.  This relationship proved that I was beyond a painful history with men, and moving forward with a healed soul.  This relationship gave me everything I dreamed of: a wonderful man, two amazing step sons, an awesome dog and cat, and a happy household.  I hadn’t recognized that, beneath this perfect picture, my partner was harboring his own past relationship resentments, a dark and debilitating depression…and a deep longing to escape.

My heart was smashed with his phone call.  The pain of the loss was unbearable.  So I decided to kill myself.

*  *  *

By March 2008, I’d survived multiple suicide attempts throughout my troubled life.  In fact, I’d spent most of the first 37 years of my life wishing or trying to die.

GtownFoggyMorningKeyBridgeFlipped(Nov11)It seemed meant to be.  I was unplanned – conceived after my mother had a tubal ligation!  I once heard my parents fighting about money problems – saying that if I hadn’t have been born, they would be better off.  I developed a deep feeling of being an unwanted problem.

(When I write truthfully about my family, I always have to add: I love and respect my parents, and I love and respect my family.  I understand that we all suffered – even way before I was born.  The ancestry of pain leaves a tough road to travel.  We do our best.)

As a kid, my first suicide attempt was trying to smother myself with a pillow when my beloved Aunt Jeannie died from Cirrhosis of the liver.  Much of my family suffered from alcoholism and its related violence and neglect.  Despite this, Aunt Jeannie consistently showered me with attention, affection and adoration.  She would swoop in for visits, in all of her New York City glamour and flair, bringing gifts and hugs and kisses.  She was a star to me.  When she died, I wanted to die.  I didn’t know that it’s impossible to smother ones self.  I passed out from crying and took a long nap.

From there forward, I thrived on recklessness.  When I was 17, deep depression felt like a mid-life crisis; and I believed I would be dead by 34.  As I got older, I essentially divorced from my family.  I raised myself, nurtured self-destructive tendencies and geared straight toward danger.  I experienced sexual molestation from community members, rape by a friend’s brother, beatings by strangers and boyfriends, and more.  Other dangers included driving maniacally.  I once landed in a life-risking crash – after which I felt very angry to still be alive.

My next deliberate suicide attempts were as an adult, when I hit an emotional, physical and spiritual bottom while living in New Orleans.  In those days, I was convinced that everyone around me was achieving their dreams, while I was at a dead end.  My “romantic” relationships were abusive and empty, my professional life was non-linear and grasping, my connection to god was willfully severed.  After quitting a retail job, I spent my mornings, days and nights drinking and hooking up with strangers and street musicians.  I used my parents’ gas station credit card to buy booze and food.   And my worried and enabling dad paid my rent (bless his un-knowing heart).  My reality was shameful and sad, and it sickened me.  I saw no other way through, than to get out.  Within one week, I tried to kill myself twice, using different mixtures of alcohol and substances.  I woke up dazed both times.  And again, I was very angry to be alive.

After that week, it appeared that I was not meant to die.  (Yet.)  So I ruefully resigned to keep living.  Over the next decade, despite desperate, in-vain attempts to figure out how to decrease life’s pain…despite becoming a vegetarian, seeing therapists, moving all over the country, observing religious ritual, and even trying yoga, I would drink myself to oblivion countless times.

In fact, all along my life timeline, the most pervasive and slow suicide effort was my succumbing to addiction.  I drank alcoholically from age 11.  For the next 25 years, I would deaden myself to emotions, to growth, to the world.

However, despite what looked like a road to ruin, my journey took a transformational turn after I turned 37, in 2002.

*  *  *

Also by March 2008, I had finally enjoyed a sweet, 5-year phase of contentment and joy.  I had been working a strong program of addiction recovery and was 5+ years sober.  I’d been seeing a very effective therapist for those years, and was healing from my traumatic childhood and destructive adulthood.  Plus, although I started while still drinking alcoholically, I’d been practicing yoga for 15 years, and was feeling it gradually shape my emotions, my growth and my world.

So, when the February breakup happened, I was blindsided and felt betrayed – not just by my fiancé, but by life itself.  After so much transformational work, this crap would still happen?  Well, yes.  It would.  And I could not accept that.  So the March 7th Philly trip was planned.

Yet clearly, I did not jump off the Ben Franklin Bridge.  What happened?  Yoga, recovery and therapy – my power trio – gratefully intervened.

The addiction recovery program taught me to be rigorously honest.  Right after the breakup, I showed up at meetings, blurted out my pain and cried myself into a puddle on the floor.  I spoke about not being able to eat.  Recovery friends came to my house with irresistible Thai lemongrass soup.  I spoke about feeling betrayed by god and feeling that I would die from the pain of loss.  Recovery friends listened intently and sensed that I was at risk.

Knowing that I was planning to go see Hothouse Flowers in Philly – and that my ex and I had taken our 1st road trip together to see that band in that city – a recovery friend invited me to go to a Brazilian Dance class at a yoga studio with her on March 7th.   OK, she didn’t just “invite” me – she pretty much forced me.  Up to that night, I had primarily been practicing yoga on my own at home for a few years.  Being back in a mindful, intentional space felt healing to me.  I bought a class pass and started showing up for (and crying my eyes out during) yoga classes regularly.  I couldn’t believe I’d abandoned practicing yoga with others, in community.  Even the minor embarrassment of crying in public was far outweighed by that public’s absolute embrace and understanding.

Having skipped my March 7th suicide plan in favor of Brazilian Dance at a yoga studio, my therapist was relieved.  Still, because my depression persisted, she wanted me to be evaluated for psychiatric medication.  I visited her recommended psychiatrist, and had an eye-opening experience.

I described my lifelong desire to die.  I described the conditions of my childhood and my history of self-destruction.  I described my self-reliance, separation and isolation.  I described the breakup, the devastation and my March 7th suicide plan.  I also described my rigorous efforts in yoga, recovery and therapy.  I described my friends, communities and connections.

At the end of our appointment, he said: “In my evaluation, I do not see a need for medication.  You seemTouristShot to be doing all the right things.  For you, reaching out for help and sharing with others is 100% more powerful than any medication.”  I was shocked.  “Even though I recently planned my suicide?” I asked.  He countered, “That was supposed to happen on March 7th, right?  Today is March 31st.”  I had to laugh.  The psychiatrist explained that, in my case, suicidal ideation is a coping mechanism.  When I imagine or even instigate my own death, I feel relief from my pain, and start going toward the solution.

I’ve been trudging toward the solution ever since.  Life since 2008 has become more challenging, to be honest.  I have been through additional relationship betrayals; I have lost jobs; I have been mugged; and I have experienced other hardships.  My friends and family have experienced very, very tough trials.  But even with these troubles, life is not like that destructive past.  I am not engulfed in atmospheres of addiction, crisis and danger.  In late 2008, I became a yoga teacher, and my life now revolves around this beautiful community.  In 2012, I celebrated 10 years of sobriety, and I currently continue to attend meetings.  I practice the 12 Steps of recovery and the 8 Limbs of yoga to my best ability.  I strive to show gratitude for my own healing and to share transformational practices by being of service however possible.  And I have continued periodic therapy with the non-medication prescribing doctor.

*  *  *

Yesterday, I was driving from Philly to New Jersey while spending the weekend reuniting with some yoga teacher training friends.  Suddenly, I gasped at the irony – without planning this, I was driving over the Ben Franklin Bridge, five years after planning to jump off of it.  The previous evening, I had been to a Kirtan concert, where much water was consumed.  K.D. Lang’s version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” (made “famous” by suicide victim Jeff Buckley) was playing on my car stereo.  And I was feeling quite distant from devastation, depression and death.

How could I not cry tears of gratitude and joy?  I knew at once that I had to tell this story.  I know people who, right now, are suffering from the pain of great losses.  Who are considering death and actively trying to kill themselves in one way or another.  I love these people.  I LOVE YOU.

I share my story to say: pain sucks!  And pain ends.  This too shall pass.  My healing power trio is yoga, recovery and therapy.  You might need or prefer a different combo.  No matter what, I urge you to seek what works for you.  To start – say “yes” when people offer soup, dance classes, meetings and conversation.  Jump off of that bridge in a different way – allow yourself to fall into the arms of others.  Surrender.

I LOVE YOU.  OM Shanti.