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Yoga Class Focus: Gratitude Trumps Adversity November 27, 2014

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

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

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

 

*  *  *

“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.

*  *  *

“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.

*  *  *

“…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.

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WE Shall Overcome August 28, 2013

LET US NOT SEEK TO SATISFY OUR THIRST FOR FREEDOM BY DRINKING FROM THE CUP OF BITTERNESS AND HATRED.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

This morning, in the midst of a very personally needy time, during which – admittedly – my yoga and spiritual practices have become greatly self-centered (just trying to put on my own oxygen mask first, y’all)…I pause to offer my Sadhana to this brilliance, to this vision, to this dream.

WE SHALL OVERCOME.

Si se puede. Yes we can. Believe me, believe this statement. Whether wrestling with a personal struggle, or working for a global cause – freedom is possible. Whether suffering from the chains of internal doubt, shame and self-hatred, or from a prison of great mistakes made – freedom is possible. Whether victim of a single crime today, or traumatized by historical injustice – freedom is possible.

WE CANNOT WALK ALONE.

Connect, unite, trust – and all can and will be changed. As hard as that can be for me, I strive to release my history and live in the promise of today. And if that’s too challenging, I build those connections, those unions, that trust moment by moment. Because I have witnessed this: in our souls, our families, our communities, our countries, our world today, all is solved by circling ’round the table. By opening our eyes, our minds, our hearts to each other. Beyond black and white, y’all. Beyond origins. Beyond preferences. Beyond anything material or surface or temporary. Beneath all of that is sameness. Beneath our skin is a heart full of love. Beneath our bones is the soul of humanity.

I HAVE COME TO REALIZE THAT MY DESTINY IS TIED UP WITH YOUR DESTINY. I HAVE COME TO REALIZE THAT MY FREEDOM IS INEXTRICABLY BOUND TO YOUR FREEDOM. (Paraphrased)

Free at last, free at last…
Peace. Shalom. Shanti. Ahimsa Now.

 

Holly Go Lightly June 15, 2013

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

 

Gratitude, Pt. 2: Shiva and the Darkness November 25, 2011

Filed under: Gratitude,Recovery,Yoga — Holly Meyers @ 3:08 am
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I recently found myself apologizing to god.

It was the umpteenth time that I’d broken out in sobs while singing along with Jai Uttal’s “Om Namah Shivaya.”  To be exact, it was Monday, October 24th.  I was driving to rehearse with The Shaktis, an all-female Kirtan group with whom I play percussion.  Two days before, I’d returned from a little road trip to Pennsylvania – first, Philly to see Jai Uttal in-concert; then, Easton for a two-day Max Strom yoga workshop.  The day after the road trip, back home in DC, The Shaktis lead one of our most joyous and spirited Kirtans yet.

So as I drove to the rehearsal that Monday, I was brimming with contentment.  Chanting my little heart out.  And suddenly, sobbing uncontrollably.

I am accustomed to being emotionally moved by singing and chanting.  The vibration tends to hit me right in the heart.  Even Jai says, “The singing voice, enriched with a full breath, directly touches that well of emotions inside.”  Still, I had to ask myself, “Why have you been crying every single time you chant ‘Namah Shivaya’ repetitively?  What are you feeling?”

photo: Holly Meyers

Gratitude!  I was crying my thankfulness, realizing I’d come full circle.  I mean, my goodness, since the Spring I’d been through intense periods of questioning everything.  My yoga practice, my yoga teaching, my yoga jobs, my other jobs, my relationships, my associations, my everything!  I started to let go of what felt wrong, what felt like sandpaper against my skin, what felt threatening to my wholeness.  I let go of a lot.  And I ended up feeling completely lost.  Lost in a darkness that felt like drowning.

As they say, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Come end of Summer, I began to emerge.  I launched “The Happy Heart Project” and set the firm intention to grow toward joy by practicing a symbolic ritual – burning a stick of “Happy Heart” incense 1st thing each morning for 100 days.  I took a Labor Day retreat to the Satchidananda Ashram and had a heart-to-heart conversation with a twisted old pine who seemed to beautifully signify the trials and triumphs of my life.  The Jewish High Holy days stirred my sorrow, yet also reinforced my softening, my surrender.  Friendships challenged me; and friends cherished me, despite my awkwardness.  Autumn – my most transformational season – crept in, grey and wet, and dampened my growing inner glow.  And then I sunk lower than ever, my emotional sobriety on edge, my physical sobriety at risk.  The week before I would reach my 9th anniversary without alcohol or drugs, I craved their comfort.  I stayed honest.  I stayed close.

I took a road trip.  There’s something about a geographical cure.  There were no twisted, story-telling pines on this journey.  Just a change of scenery.  A break from my “stuff.”  Strolling the country’s oldest Farmer’s Market, breathing northern air, driving new highways.  Chanting with Jai and other transplanted pals in Philly.  Breathing with Max and long-lost Off the Mat Into the World sisters in Easton.

So returning from this trip, I was – after a period of tormenting darkness – finally back in the light.  I was sober, safe and sound.  That Monday, singing my heart out to Shiva, I cried.  I cried because I made it through.

Then for some reason, I shamefully said, “I’m so sorry.”

I apologized for having become depressed, for being in the dark so long.  As if I had left god’s side, influence, presence, light.  And it hit me – NO!  God took me there.  God took my hand and led me into that darkness, because there was something I needed to see.  Remember all of that questioning and letting go that started in the Spring?  It sprang from a mugging – an incident I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but that brought out a fierceness in me.  I started to put my foot down, to set strong boundaries.  I also started to overreact to certain upsets.  Because in fact, the mugging was a trauma, which triggered unresolved past trauma that needed attention.  And it didn’t just tap me on the shoulder.  It broke down my door.  By force, I had to get the help I needed in order to look at it, start to heal from it…and no longer be ruled by it.

photo: Holly Meyers

So there might be a light at the end of the tunnel – but sometimes, the tunnel itself is well-lit, and leads into the dark.

And into the darkness we went.  God and I.  So I could experience that depth of despair and subsequent transcendence to joy.  So ultimately, I could share the story with others, in case they ever go through something similar.  God was with me the whole time.  No apology necessary.  I went where I was meant to go.

From singing Kirtan, I have come to embrace that god has many faces.  For example, Lord Shiva plays many roles: devout yogi, cosmic dancer and drummer, menacing protector.  Shiva is commonly called “The Destroyer,”  but he actually governs destruction, transformation and regeneration.  As Jai says, “He wipes the slate clean so that new writing can be written.  He destroys everything so that rebirth can occur instantly.”

It makes sense to me that god, in the form of Shiva, led me deep down to the bottom.  To show me the realities that needed to be faced.  The same realities that now inform my purpose, inspire my actions and give me something to share in service to others.  During that dark period, I was yearning for surrender, security and trust the whole time.  Now I know that I was never alone.  I was always safe.  And I was always loved.

And for that, I cry tears of gratitude.  OM Namah Shivaya.

OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.

 

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!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Falling Off The Yoga Wagon July 22, 2011

Why does it take a sick day for me to realize I have totally abandoned my yoga practice?

For the past two days, I’ve been battling a sinus infection.  This morning, after sleeping 11 hours, I woke up, chanted mantras, said prayers, wrote in my journal, practiced breathing exercises and sat to meditate.  All of the fear, anger, distrust and resentment of recent weeks (due to a mugging and other trauma triggers) melted into pure, big-picture, heartfelt acceptance.  Everything made sense.  I felt peaceful and whole.

This collection of rituals is a simple 30-minute Sadhana (routine) that I like to practice every morning.  Today I realized that it’s been months since I’ve committed to these efforts on a daily basis.

In my experience, I can count on a daily reprieve from all kinds of “dis-ease” as long as I maintain my spiritual condition.  For someone like me – a trauma survivor who drowned pain and reality with alcohol for 25 years, and who has been undoing old patterns for the last eight years – that maintenance is essential to my ongoing growth away from my past and toward a healthy future.  Daily Sadhana guarantees that I will be liberated of self-centeredness, grounded in peacefulness and therefore available to serve others.

Yoga is the umbrella for all of my maintenance efforts.  During my yoga teacher training, we studied the six branches of Integral Yoga – Hatha (primarily poses, breathing, cleansing), Raja (philosophy, ethics, mindfulness), Jnana (reflection, self-inquiry, analysis), Karma (selfless service), Japa (mantra repetition) and Bhakti (devotion to and worship of a higher power).  In the Yoga Sutras, we hear, “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah” – yoga negates disturbances of the mind.  Therefore,  the goal of yoga is to cultivate a peaceful mind.  IY founder Swami Satchidananda believes, “There are many ways to reach the same goal. Whatever you call it, it is called Yoga.”

Indeed, it’s all yoga.

When I say that I have abandoned my yoga practice, I don’t just mean that I haven’t been going to class or practicing poses. I mean that I have not been greeting the day with chants, prayers, reflection, breath work, meditation.  I have not been ending the day by reading positive literature, making a gratitude list, praying for others.  In between rising and bedtime, I have not been serving as I could.  I have not been well enough to show up for others.  And I most certainly have not been surrendering to a higher power.

And so, right here, right now, I take the first step toward a solution and admit – I have fallen off the wagon.

“The origins of this phrase lie in the 1800s, with the temperance movement. During this era, many people felt that alcohol was an extremely harmful substance, and they abstained from alcohol while encouraging others to do the same. The term references the water wagons which were once drawn by horses to water down dirt roads so that they did not become dusty. Members of the temperance movement said that they would sooner drink from a water wagon than touch a drop of alcohol, so when someone failed to keep a temperance pledge, people would say that he or she had fallen from the wagon.”  – http://www.wisegeek.com/

For me, daily Sadhana is the “water wagon” that keeps me from falling back into all sorts of unhealthy habits.  And I intend to jump back on that wagon the moment I press “Publish” on this Post.  Because, with You as my witness, a publicly stated intention will be hard to break.

Wish me luck.  OM Shanti.