The Urban Yoga Den

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Resurrection: A 25-Year Journey March 31, 2015

I am planting this seed where the pain of my past no longer defines me.
I am planting this seed where the wealth of my past most certainly defines me.
I am planting this seed where all of my past informs me.
From it will grow my next step, experience, thought, breath.
~ from my Spring 2014 journal, post Maha Shivaratri

*  *  *

GardenNatureBooksI don’t believe in miracles.

I believe that every outcome is the result of a chain of actions, of simple cause and effect – of Karma, if you will. What happens right here, right now, might seem surprising and mysterious. But that event was actually molded by a series of efforts – seen and unseen – that have been bubbling and boiling for a good, long time. Nothing is miraculous. Everything makes perfect sense.

The seeds, after all, have been planted.

*  *  *

Easter Sunday, 1990, New Orleans. I was still awakening from my 2nd suicide attempt in one week. I put on a white Esprit sundress and my black Vans deck shoes, grabbed my Canon AE-1 and drifted down to the French Quarter to shoot. My favorite images from that day: 1) Two little kids, dressed in Easter best, flowers in their hair, smiling widely and dancing wildly to street music – at their moment of abandoned embrace; 2) An elder couple, dressed in what we would call “vintage” Sansabelt slacks and polyester blend cardigans, watching the musical mayhem – at the moment that their hands join together behind their hips.

Images full of love and light. Taken in black and white. And I would remain lost in darkness for nearly 13 more years, slowly rising from the dead. Gradually finding my way here.

Easter Week, 2015, Washington DC. I have now been alive for half of my life. This summer I will turn 50, and this week is the 25th anniversary of those final suicide attempts – the culmination of a string of deliberate tries and careless living. Beginning around age 11, trying to smother myself out of grief when my beloved Aunt died…in 6th grade, jumping down ridiculously long flights of stairs, believing I could fly…as I grew up, guzzling down ridiculous amounts of alcohol to kill the pain of what I now know is untreated trauma…during college holiday, crashing and spinning my car across the New Jersey Turnpike while speeding recklessly through Thanksgiving Eve traffic…in-between and onward, drowning in self-destruction of all kinds. Until Easter of 1990, I’d spent half of my life wanting and trying to die.

When my 2nd suicide attempt failed, I raised the white flag. And I’ve been around ever since – increasingly alive to tell the story.

*  *  *

ShivaCardI wouldn’t say that Easter Day 1990 was an abrupt turning point. I moved forward more out of resignation than determination. I felt more patient than resilient. Change took time.

During those first 12.5 years of seeking healing, my drinking to obliteration would continue periodically. Despite enjoying stretches of dryness, having a regular yoga practice, practicing spiritual ceremony from many origins, returning to my childhood religion, changing my diet, going to therapy and so on, I still could not access a consistent joy for life nor desire to live. And admittedly, over the 12.5 years since getting sober through a program in October 2002, I’ve still reached gravely low points. I planned to jump off of a bridge after a heart-smashing breakup; I punched a wall while experiencing a terrifying PTSD trigger; and, I’ve wanted to rip my skin off during the often uncomfortable yet sacred work of untangling the thickly rooted patterns beneath my depression bouts.

So what’s the difference between the 1st and 2nd halves of the past 25 years? Since getting sober through a program, I have not used alcohol and drugs to hide from, mask or deaden my feelings. I have experienced all of life’s challenges without escape. I’ve used the tools of the program, yoga, therapy and other healing resources to face my past, clear away as much wreckage as possible, and address the origins of my addiction and mental health issues. I’ve grown to accept that certain “dark” feelings and events might be a fact of life – until they’re not. Now, I am rigorously honest about my life; I never go through challenge alone; and I never say no to help.

Today – thanks to that “uncomfortable yet sacred work” of practicing the program’s 12 steps, aiming to live yoga’s 8 limbs and accepting help from a wise and expert circle of counsel – I know exactly where my suicidal impulses originate; I have infinite resources for healing, growth and change; and I am grateful for every moment of the journey that I’ve traveled. All of it. Without this very life, this very story, I would not know how to respond to life’s inevitable trials, nor, authentically and effectively serve others with similar backgrounds and challenges. Today, I show up for life gratefully, with more consistent joy and presence than ever.

So, I believe, my path of obstacles, my pattern of resilience…both are part of a much larger, seen and unseen web of cause-and-effect. Other beings before me went through similar trials as mine, and therefore were available to guide me when I came along. And those beings passed on their experience, strength and hope, so I could then share what has worked in my life with others.

*  *  *

If I were to believe in miracles…for example, if I believed that my survival of a lengthy romance with suicidal ideation, a deep yearning to be dead and multiple suicide attempts was miraculous, then I must believe that my friend Bob’s successful suicide (or any destructive, disastrous or sad event) was also a magical, mysterious event rather than the result of distinct actions – a combination of his, nature’s and universal efforts. Karma. Not bad or good Karma. Simply Karma.

It has taken effort, not miracles, for me to reach where I am today. Just as it’s taken effort for you to reach where you are. Or anyone to reach any moment. In my opinion.

“Really, Holly?” says a voice within. “If you truly do not believe in miracles, why do you weep every single time you hear these words during the J. Brown Yoga DVD’s deep relaxation period? Every. Single. Time.”

Breath coming in and out of you, heart beating…the sun and the moon and the stars and the planets are all circumambulating each other. Life is happening. And maybe you would observe, or, at least entertain the notion that it’s inherently worthwhile. The fact that you are lying here existing right now is a profound miracle beyond comprehension. And there’s a comfort to seeing life in that way. It makes it easier to overcome the difficulties that are presented, and to really cherish and appreciate the gift of…life.

WritingAltarHmmm… “a profound miracle beyond comprehension.” Okay. Yes. Sometimes it does seem unbelievable that I’m here, now.

All in all – this Easter, I will observe 25 years of yearning to live. It feels a bit overwhelming! At the same time that I’m celebrating the journey, I’m grieving for that poor girl from 1990 New Orleans. It’s interesting. Over last weekend, I binged on TV and sugar, and then slept forever on Monday morning. Clearly, habits of avoidance. I didn’t get to the bottom of my emotions until I got on the phone with my therapist, and started describing exactly how I lived back then.

Daily, I would wake up with a stranger, drink mimosas made with cheap champagne bought with my father’s Exxon card, then go by a liquor store on the way to listen to street music in the French Quarter. I would sit on a curb and drink cheap tequila out of a paper bag. I imagined myself a writer. I hung out with celebrity drunks. At the end of the day, I would bring home a stranger. Repeat, daily. I remember every single moment of what I thought would be my last night on earth – the hot chocolate at a café, the visit to a famous producer’s recording studio, the producer’s obvious attraction to my friend, the feeling of unworthiness and impossibility, the weight of hidden trauma and isolation, the denseness of depression.

And ultimately, the triumph of pain.

I awoke the next morning, barfed up a toxic combo of drugs and alcohol, and walked around my sunny spring neighborhood in a daze. After trying a different combination of substances a few days later, and waking up again, I knew 100% that I would never be able to take my own life. But I did not know how I would go on living.

For 25 years since that Easter Sunday – with its visions of love and light – I’ve simply put one foot in front of the other. Sometimes stumbling, sometimes dancing.

*  *  *

When I recently moved into the house where I currently live, a friend sent a lovely gift and card. “Welcome to your new home! I hope it proves to be a…garden to grow the seeds of your creativity.” Indeed, the seeds have been planted.

Love life. It is, indeed, worthwhile.

Thank you for reading. OM Shanti.

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Focus: Gratitude – Inter-Faith & Cultural Fusion November 25, 2010

Around Thanksgiving, some might grunt and gripe about family dynamics (me included) This year I want to offer huge gratitude to my parents. Because Mom and Dad motivated my passion for fusing spiritual and cultural influences.

Mom (rest her soul) was a blue-eyed Church of Christ farm girl born to Irish settlers near Nashville, TN. Her love for singing was rooted in songs from black culture. I have her 1948 “Negro Spirituals” song book and newspaper clippings from talent shows where she performed the jazz standard “Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man.” She converted to Judaism before marrying my father. Dad came from a gypsy-like Russian-Jewish family and grew from adolescence to early adulthood in Phoenix, AZ, where he gravitated toward Mexican culture. To this day, he tries to remember his Spanish vocabulary, brightens up when he hears Mariachi music and takes himself out for enchiladas just to be around Hispanic families.

Both Mom and Dad brought their musical and religious influences into our home; and I grew up with an appreciation of pretty much every aspect of their eclectic tastes and backgrounds. As my cultural interests matured, I traveled right down the middle of Dad’s Spanish-tinged path and Mom’s Afro-centric inspirations to find myself impassioned for Puerto Rico. Spiritually, I’ve presently evolved into a somewhat pagan yogini who religiously observes the Jewish New Year!

So when I recently saw an advertisement for a “Bomba Kirtan” – an event blending yogic devotional chanting and Puerto Rican folkloric “party” music – I was beyond excited!

When I first heard about the event, I asked myself – is it “OK” to fuse a purely spiritual practice with a primarily social activity? The answer for me – particularly after last weekend’s amazing experience – is a hearty “yes!”

The “Bomba Kirtan” at Baltimore’s Utkatasana Yoga Studio was beyond my dreams. What a beautifully diverse community of yoga teachers, yogis and yoginis, dancers, musicians, artists, parents, children and all! After a meet-n-greet with tea and homemade cacao/fruit balls, we circled up and prepared to pray in the Bhakti Yoga tradition. After Pranayama and meditation – with mellow guitar and drum accompaniment – we transitioned to responsive Sanskrit chanting to various deities. We even included a Native American chant urging each other to “Be Here Now.” Clearly Ganesha heard us because the devotional energy was unobstructed, pure and high!

After a short break the drummers re-directed the room with rhythms rooted in the Afro-Puerto Rican Bomba tradition. People bravely jumped in on instruments, jumped into the middle of the dance floor, jumped into a culture that they were primarily unfamiliar with before those moments. Dancers and drummers played off each others’ movements and hits; chanters offered songs; and singers offered chants. In my tradition of Inter-Faith exploration, I even snuck in a chant to Oshun during a gorgeous 6/8 groove. The freedom! The smiles! When I left to drive home to DC, more drummers were arriving! I heard that the Bomberos carried through into the wee hours.

To me, the seemingly separate traditions of Kirtan and Bomba actually have much in common. The call-response of chanting and singing; the soulful call to sway, move, dance; the conversations between chanter and spirit, dancer and drummer, dancer and dancer, chanter and chanter; the movement toward ecstasy.

To blend Kirtan and Bomba in the sober and sacred space of a yoga studio was ideal for me. I felt 100% comfortable being my Self, and 100% authentic embodying all of my culturally eclectic “selves.” I can’t remember, ever, feeling so loved and loving, accepted and accepting, moved, inspired, true, awake.

Liberated.

So thanks, Mom and Dad, for bringing your spiritual and cultural curiosities, passions, traditions and backgrounds into our home. Also much, much gratitude to those that created and shared the magic of perhaps the world’s 1st (but certainly not last!) Bomba Kirtan: the owners of Baltimore’s Utkatasana Yoga Studio; the musicians gathered by Michael Harris; my fellow OM-Zoners Kendra and Justina; photographer Monica Sizemore (for these beautiful shots!); and so many more who are now connected by this unique bond.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

To view Monica Sizemore’s complete album of Bomba Kirtan photos, visit http://www.4thchakraphotography.com/. To learn more about Baltimore’s Utkatasana studio, visit http://www.utkatasanayoga.com/live/. For more information about future Bomba Kirtan events, subscribe to my Yoga Update newsletter by e-mailing hmeyers65@yahoo.com or stay tuned to the Events page of this Urban Yoga Den blog.

 

Spiritual Activism November 3, 2010

“I don’t want to talk anything political, and will stick just to music and other art forms. There are instant super stars and they also fade away very quickly. What is it that gives the staying power? It is when you can communicate…to your listeners and touch their soul.” – Ravi Shankar

This past Saturday, you could hear a pin drop in my 200+ resident apartment building.  My entire neighborhood was as hushed as during a blizzard.  The “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” was in full throttle down the hill.  I was home, doing this and that.  My Facebook status read, “I am not at the rally.”  Two people “liked” it.

Today – on Election Day, three days after the Comedy Central rally and during a thick period of “activist” invitations via Facebook and e-mail – I am preparing my “Yoga Update” e-newsletter, wrapping up our September/October “Yoga In Action” class focus.

I’ll be frank – the term “yoga activism” is not my personal fave for describing how I might take my practice off the mat and into the world.  Born in DC in 1965 and having grown up here, the word “activism” reminds me of raised fists, raised voices and raised conflict.  I understand that folks want their values, their yearning for change and their messages to be seen and heard on a wide scale; yet I tried that “raising” in my college days and it just didn’t feel right.

Thanks goodness for yoga.  Through its “Karma Yoga,” “Seva” and “selfless service” teachings I have discovered my most comfortable and therefore effective venue for what I (and countless others) call “spiritual activism.”  What distinguishes it from “yoga activism?”

In recent years, many yoga organizations and practitioners have stretched Karma Yoga (or Seva) to a level of “activism,” offering trainings, organizing groups and sponsoring events that raise awareness about causes, purpose and service.  Over this time, I have observed four distinct ways that “yoga activism” manifests.

  1. Some yogis believe in their responsibility to participate in traditional activism (protests, rallies, petitions, campaigns, etc.) to carry messages;
  2. Some share their yoga with at-risk populations, having experienced their own transformation from the practice, and wanting to pass along those tools for change;
  3. Others see the yoga practice itself as a form of values-based activism – in other words, living a spiritual life is the activism.
  4. And others devote themselves to all of the above.

To me, anyone with sincere intentions to carry a message, inspire change and share values through their own attitudes and actions is a spiritual activist.  For me, #3 above is the most natural way for me to express my yoga in action.  In that spirit, I also do a fair amount of #2-like work.

Yoga’s ancient book of Sutras generously offers a design for living where my personal choices can be productive, useful and helpful.  The only thing I have to “raise” is my consciousness.  In this subtle venue, I can indeed be “seen” and “heard” – perhaps not by massive crowds, politicians and media, but definitely seen and heard.

Recently, the barrage of well-intended e-mails and Facebook campaigns, the swarm of do-good organization canvassers on every DC street corner and the excitement-driven pressure to “sign-on” started to feel as assaulting as uninvited telemarketer calls to me.  So I invite you to please let me know if I ever seem pushy or invasive about the things that inspire me.

I earnestly applaud yoga activists for expanding yoga’s purpose and reach.  Most of the time, I feel accepting of their way, my way, all ways.  I may not always hit the mark, but my intentions to live spiritually are strong and in-check.  Some may think I have my head in the sand; I think I have my head atop my neck, hovering above my heart center.

OM Shanti,

Shanti,

Shanti.

Peace,

Peace,

Peace.