Unrestrained by Demons

It’s been quite a year. Can you relate? I’m not speaking of 2016 (although…my heavens, 2016 has been filled with revelations and reckoning), but rather the last 12, 13, 14 months themselves. The last…long while. So much self-reflection and quite painful investigation into the what’s and why’s of this life.

It can get heavy. Being an emotional being can at times be draining, can leave us feeling depleted and weepy. The lows can get as low as they get high. It can become incredibly daunting to process the ups and downs of life, to navigate one’s own emotional liberation, while still going out everyday and operating as a functioning member of society. That sounds dramatic, but do you ever feel as though the sheer weight of processing your own grievances feels like a full-time endeavor? One you want to just commit yourself to for a week (or five), in solitude, surrounded by healing, supportive space and silence? It’s so challenging to sort through our thoughts when we’re burdened by the need to simultaneously work, maintain relationships, construct the outward appearance of having it all together (not that we’re meant to pretend that our suffering doesn’t exist, but most days no matter how lost in our heads we want to get, we still have to be adults and live our lives). This is reality, despite the suffocating moments of fear and anxiety that visit us all, from time to time.

It can be really tempting to live a life shut off from that emotional processing. Because it’s just hard. The idea of avoiding all that mess can seem easier. Sometimes denial can look, from afar, like such a cozy alternative; not having to feel our feelings, not being blindsided and ambushed by the underbelly of what it means to be an emotional creature in this huge, undulating universe.

But I would never again choose that alternative. I’ve lived in it before; the stuffy, damp, darkly shrouded realm of denial. It’s isolated. It’s claustrophobic. It actually doesn’t feel safe at all. If you’ve ever been there, you probably know that it feels like laying in a dark room with a heavy box on your chest. Even though the box may be like Pandora’s, filled with a whole mess of stuff, it can be far more productive, albeit terrifying, to throw open the windows and start sorting through the aching feelings and thoughts that lay locked up and waiting for our attention.

This stuff – the wading through the suffering, I mean – is, as I view it, the price we pay for being alive.

I’m currently reading (slowly, savoring) my favorite author, Elizabeth Gilbert’s, newest book Big Magic. Liz’s prose slay me. She is, as I say, one of those authors that “makes you feel so much more comfortable with being alive.” Because, let’s be honest, the human condition can feel really intense, lonely, daunting, and uncomfortable at times. Liz reminds us that fear (insert: trepidation, personal demons, struggles – all manifestations of fear) is always with us. She suggests that we be inclined to accept and embrace our fear. Invite it along on the journey we are taking with creativity (insert: love, joy, adventure, abundance – all manifestations of creative living). Her brilliant concept is that, on this road trip of life, we are driving, creativity gets the front seat, and fear gets the backseat. Fear is welcome to come along (because we don’t actually have any choice in the matter, do we?), and it is allowed to speak up, but it does not get to decide where we’re going. It does not get to lay its hands on the map, or even fiddle with the radio station (Liz, seriously, is my greatest inspiration as a writer – this stuff comes from the creative depths of her imagination – what a vision! – get thee to a bookstore and buy yourself Big Magic).

What a notion, right? I feel, and I’m speaking for myself here, that the overwhelming urge is to banish fear, and all its expressions, from my life. I have been standing outside the car, arms crossed, brow furrowed, tapping my toe impatiently waiting for fear to unbuckle, get out of my backseat, and let me get on with my journey.

I might as well turn my distressed gaze upward and start looking for pigs flying.

I’m not proposing, nor is my great hero Elizabeth Gilbert, that we should be super comfortable with the idea of carrying fear around in our back pockets. It’s uncomfortable; it’s supposed to be. But this is the non-negotioable byproduct of having been gifted the most exquisite opportunity of creative living (which we all have been gifted, by being born as human beings with opposable thumbs and incredible cognitive function and hearts so gloriously capable of being wrecked by love that they could just swallow up the whole world with their power for adoration).

We all have our “things” that hold us back. We all have our demons. But we are worthy of living lives unrestrained by demons. If we can, collectively, stop waiting for the demons to release us, for fear to get out of the car, and just realize this uncooperative passenger is going to endlessly serve as a beacon of where we don’t wish to go (because, at its root, fear is a mechanism of self-preservation, sounding off when danger might be present), we can see its purpose. We are high-functioning human beings with the discerning power to notice when we are being chased by a lion and fear should get to use its lung power with all its might, for good rather than evil…and when faith, love, intuition, and creativity are being drowned by the drunken, garbled hollering of our backseat fear (who somehow seems to have climbed onto the dashboard and got its sticky hands on a microphone).

We have the capacity to take a step back, look at our lives, and see where we’re being pinned (or, sometimes, glued) to a spot we no longer wish to be. We have the power to investigate why we’re immobilized. We have the capability to change that.

I have a tendency of getting stuck in a rut. I am fearful of change, and the unknown brings me great anxiety. A life of ritual and routine has brought me great comfort. My chest grows a bit tight at the image of jet-setting wanderlusts, living out of suitcases and going where the wind blows. No, no, I’ll wait patiently for my niiiiiiice, detailed itinerary please.  But that’s just me. And a huge part of this presses is in getting to know ourselves, and embracing our quirks and tendencies. Learning, through trial and error, where to push our boundaries and where to respect our needs. I went heaving and hyperventilating into a 3-month study abroad venture overseas back in 2009. I literally fought for breath and sucked on tears as I wrestled with the militant French operator and a dinky little calling card in a Parisian phone booth, begging my mom to come and visit because WHO DECIDED IT WAS OKAY TO PUT AN OCEAN BETWEEN US FOR A QUARTER OF A YEAR and I hadn’t slept in 36 hours and HOW DID I GET TO FRANCE?

By the end of my trip I was seriously devoted to finding a way (ANY way) to stay in Italy, cash in my plane ticket, and preserve the little world I had created with my friends in this foreign land where everything exotic had become familiar and reality was suspended in favor of 20 year old, wide-eyed, first-time independence.

…didn’t see that coming.

What made it so wonderful and tolerable was that, after the initial shock and severe discomfort of having no familiarity, no routine, and no way of predicting what was ahead…I reestablished all of those things that kept my needs met. I made routines. I settled into my Florentine flat, put my belongings in their new places, found a local market, carved new neural pathways in my brain, got to know my surroundings, created nourishing relationships, and set up a daily routine. All while testing my boundaries.

I did return home as planned, fortunately, but I do think back regularly and fondly on my time living Europe as an experience I’m so deeply grateful I had. It showed me I am capable of wrestling fear to the ground and making a run for it.

Letting go of control and powering through the impending horror such an act produces makes for a sweet, intoxicating exhale; like a flood of dopamine, or (on some much smaller level) the ecstatic amnesia a new mother experiences, forgetting the pain and agony of birth upon beholding their precious infant.

It is so tempting to stay on the shore where everything is safe and protected. But, the reality is that we only perceive this space to be safe and protected. It’s a deeply seductive act, for many of us, to try and preserve a sense of stability and safety by putting on our control freak panties and hyper-managing every aspect of our lives. This doesn’t make us safe. This sacrifices sanity for perceived safety. Not even real safety. Just our carefully constructed belief patter of “if I do this, and this, and this, everything will stay okay. I will be safe.” That is a very sad and disappointing way to live each day, I think.

I’m not saying we all need to turn our lives upside down, or go jump on a plane and live in Europe for 3 months in order to experience life from a place of love and creativity rather than fear (though maybe the thought makes your heart skip a beat and, actually, is just the type of experience you do need). For many of us, though, the healing medicine can be found on a much smaller scale. It can be accessed in our day-to-day lives. It might just mean doing things differently today than you did yesterday (that is often a big enough shake up for me, honestly, as a diligent creature of habit). It also doesn’t mean things have to be different every single day, because ritual and routine are beautiful and holy, just so long as they don’t come from a place of fear and seal every crack in the structure where love and creativity might try to seep in and stir things up.

Maybe it means starting a creative project or finishing a degree. Maybe it’s finding the courage to use some of that built up PTO and taking a trip. Maybe it’s climbing out of the unemployment shame and getting excited about a new career. Maybe it means going to a yoga class for the first time or revisiting a forgotten passion for hiking. Maybe it means going out to eat, or maybe it means staying in and preparing a favorite recipe. It could mean asking for help. It could be breaking a pattern of isolation and going out with friends, for an introvert. It could be a day or night of self-care and indulgent alone time at home, for an extrovert. Perhaps it’s looking at your body in the mirror and not breaking your gaze until you are able to see yourself through the eyes of someone who loves you unconditionally. Maybe it’s a commitment to a new routine, or maybe it’s the courage to break out of a rut. Maybe it’s the act of daring greatly enough to build an avenue between the two.

Whatever it is, whatever your sweet, pulsing heart knows in its very depths is an act of great courage…that is the first step in your journey. We all have demons (not a one of us is immune, no matter how “perfect” someone else’s existence and “put together” life may seem…they too struggle, I promise).

We all experience loss, fatigue, sadness, anxiety, depression, negative self-talk, FEAR. We are all united in this human condition, no matter what ways our fear and creativity display themselves. We may look different, but we are not. We are all the same. We are all paddling our little boats furiously towards freedom and love. But perhaps, in a joint effort of all the eyes reading this, we together can start to see our fear as something new. Rather than a block of darkness, threatening to sink our boat, we can view our fear as something useful. As a necessary component on our journey, an irreplaceable cog in our wheel of healing. A threatening shadow of heaviness to keep the brilliant light from blinding our eyes; a little hunk of pressure providing just enough weight to slow our speed, so that we don’t race feverishly past all the opportunities to pause, and be shattered by the staggering beauty of how very far we’ve already come.

 

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Snakes and Saving Grace

I have dreamt of snakes three times in the past couple of weeks. Twice last night. Once I woke up with a gasp, lurching to the other side of the bed, my hands curling in fear towards my face. An orange snake was definitely slithering up the side of the bed towards me. Not threateningly, but slitheringly, enough to jolt my sleeping body sideways and “gasp” me awake. Snakes, in the Dream World, can actually serve as Spirit Animals, totems, indicating healing and intuition. They can signify transformation.

I’ve always been super keen on dream analysis. It’s been a large part of my intuitive processes, for as long as I can remember. So it comes as no surprise that dreaming of snakes or serpents shed light on the working through of difficult situations in one’s waking life, specifically in regards to emotional experiences. Hi. Are you, like, spying on my life?

My thrice snake dreamt subconscious is wailing, “I GET IT, WE HAVE SHIT TO WORK OUT, I’M TRYING!” But the snakes are hissing, trying? Clearly not. Pick up the pace, babe, I’ll slither faster to make you jump.

And jump I have. Jolt I have. Shaken awake, I have been.

I read this  a m a z i n g  piece last night from Pure Green Magazine, 6 questions with one of my teachers and greatest sources of inspiration, Elena Brower. Everything in our lives, everything in our bodies and minds, are a balance of the feminine and masculine. Two energies. They are not separate; they are one, one spectrum. One undulating, but often vacillating, span.

I have been struggling with this spectrum, or perhaps upon this spectrum, rather intensely of late. I listened to an e p i c  podcast yesterday as I strolled through nature, a discussion between two powerful women. A 20 minute conversation in which Ashley Turner, one of my other greatest teachers, soul sisters and sources of inspiration, dove deep into the very subject of balancing masculine and feminine energies within each of us. The importance. The threat we face when we don’t allow these energies to balance. The fear surrounding this allowance.

As a female entrepreneur, an experience which Ashley and Jackie Dumaine touched heavily on in their dialogue, there seems to require quantum leap for success. An illusion that we must abandon our soft feminine sides in order to succeed professionally, financially and stand alone in our power.

This has played a small part in my energetic tug-o-war lately. Part of it has also been rooted in the subtleties of yin and yang. Yin being the soft, slow, more sumptuous feminine energy; yang being the active, more vigorous, masculine energy. We need both. We need Rajas (get up ‘n go!) in balance with Tamas (inertia) to find Sattva (luminous “balance”), in the yogic teachings of the Gunas. There is no one elemental requirement, it is a recipe, a concoction, a desperate need for what I like to call operational balance. 

By “operational balance” I mean mobility. We are never truly in a state of stillness. Even when planted in deep meditation, our cells are changing, our hearts pumping, the molecules of air floating around us. Our atoms are vibrating. Our breath streaming. Part of my intention, as a yogi and as a human being, is to find a steady place of “operational balance.” Stillness within motion. A secure sense of serenity whilst the world moves around me, whilst my physical being tinkers away at maintaining life, homeostasis, within me. Sounds blissful, yeah?

I’ll be really honest here.

I’ve failed miserably at this intention for the past few months.

Yes, you heard me right, I said for the past few months.

It’s no wonder I’m jolting awake from dreams of reptiles invading my bed. No wonder I’m popping awake first thing in the morning, eyes blinking wildly, mind grasping at what day it is, where I’m headed, what I’m to do once my feet hit the floor.

I’ve been constantly mobile, even when still. Even laying in bed, in between dreams, planning, scheming, mentally penciling out all that I want to accomplish, all that I perceive to have fallen short of, all that I can do better.

I’m not ashamed to write it here because I believe, fervently, that to call ourselves on our own shit is to stand in truth. It is to seek redemption, healing, a soothing over of our own foundations. Even if it’s a quivering, knock-kneed, sulking and lackluster stance, it is one anchored in truth.

My feminine energy has felt siphoned and weak, lately. I’ve been bulldozing it with my masculine energy. Physically, professionally, mentally. This has left me depleted and super emotional (my femininity screaming at me to please nurture Her by making me weep at country songs on the radio, fall to my knees at my altar, adorn myself with protective crystals and keep flowers in my room to brighten the dimming flame of my inner Light).

So, what does one do, in a predicament like mine?

Turn to teachers. Read. Journal. Podcast. Seek inspiration. Draw from the well of creativity. Bask in the glow of the muse. What my life is made up of are all elemental necessities; all things, activities, beliefs, practices that I need, that I rely upon, for productivity, growth, wellness, health, balance and nourishment. I don’t want to rid my life of anything I’m doing. But I need to add to my repertoire more healing, balancing, loving practices. I need to call upon some of the balancing and replenishing coping mechanisms I so adoringly practice, but have let fall by the wayside. More yin to stand equally with my yang. What I’m saying is,

I don’t want to do anything differently; I want to do DIFFERENTLY what I’m already doing. 

Does that make sense?

It’s not about what we do, it’s about how we do it. It’s not so much what we say, it’s the attitude with which we say it. It’s the conviction with which we believe what we believe. It’s the energy with which we love, not the words “I love you.” It’s not the physical form, but the ethereal matter within that brings a person alive.

So bring on the snakes. I’m ready for the emotional healing. I’m ready to take on the swelling challenge that floats before me. It’s frankly easier to stop doing one thing and replace it with another. It is. It doesn’t sound like it, but it is. That’s easier that doing the same thing differently. It takes a cunning, articulate focus, an unparalleled depth of desire and commitment, to cultivate the very subtle finesse needed to recalibrate one’s approach to one’s own life. THAT is transformation.

Our human minds often resort to black and white thinking, I am no exception. It is the crux of my struggles in this life. While it’s difficult to change behaviors and patterns of any kind, it’s simply easier to go from black to white. Rather than white to ivory, black to ebony, shades of grey, varying degrees of sameness.

But this is my challenge for us all, dear serpent-powered Tribe: to fertilize the soil in which we have already planted. The earth from which we already grow. I believe in us, collectively and individually, I believe in our capacity to approach our lives, to inch towards everything we already do, think, believe and practice with refined tact. Reborn strategy. I believe we can renew the way already are, so as to better serve our highest purpose. I believe in us. I believe in our transformation.

Sometimes, what we perceive to be the scariest things, like snakes and spiritual elevation, are actually saving Grace we’ve been awaiting. Sometimes, it’s just the call of our own, sacred transformation.

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Band of Survivors

I think we all deserve a round of applause. Hooting, victorious applause. Every one of us here [I’m envisioning cosmic collective humanity, all rallied together, handholding]. Why, you ask? Well, apart from being downright fabulous beings of Divine Light, we have all managed to make it to this moment, right now. This space, right here. This…existence. We’ve survived everything that’s come before this very moment. Think about that. I mean really think about it, for just a minute.

From birth. We were utterly helpless, reliant solely on our parents or our caregivers to nurse us, feed us, keep us alive. We managed to survive al of the harrowing emotional episodes we’ve encountered in our however many years. We beat all of the odds that have ever been against us in our lives, up till now, and there have been many every single day. Down to sheer statistics, to likelihood of getting into a car wreck or being diagnosed with cancer, of being the one person to react wrong to a vaccine or being struck by lightning [just had to throw the token “one in a million” statistic in there…]. I don’t mean to sound morbid, I mean to sound triumphant! We didn’t do anything better than anyone else but we have had Grace on our side. We have made decisions that led us to where we are now. Every little fragment of every little decision has had a part to play in the very physical and subtle space that we, for now, call the present moment.

We are one big band of survivors.

Slow clap.

It may sound like I’m teasing when I say that, but I’m not. What got me started on this train of thought was something I saw this morning as I was walking the dog. Or someone rather, but it was the situation more than the person that struck me as so very, achingly poignant. Archetypal. 

As I crossed the street I could see a figure up ahead, flamboyant with hunched shoulders. The closer I got I could make out that she was a girl, playing on what I thought was her phone. Fourteen, maybe fifteen. She was wearing leopard print onesie pajamas. I’m assuming it was meant to be ironic, but what do I know, I’m 25 and irony is not high up in my toolkit. The girl’s highlighted bun was perched on her head, straw like and irritated. The feet of her pajamas were in the gutter and she sat, knees knocked, on the curb with her eyes fixed on her hands. I got closer and saw she was picking at the already chipped black polish on her fingernails. She slid her eyes sideways to take in the dog and girl with the hustling gate rapidly approaching her, before shifting them back to the polish, her expression seeming to grow just infintessimaly more dismal. I had headphones in my ears but I imagined she let out a sigh right then.

After I passed her a look of damn I’m glad to be grown up flittered across my face, my eyes blinking for a second too long and then widening in the way that one does when one sees something almost disturbing. I felt like empathy and love were flowing out an open cavity in my back, showering the girl with hope that she probably couldn’t yet feel or identify. I just felt so raw, suddenly, for this child who I may never see again. Mind you, she could have been waiting for friends, she could have been getting air after a fight with her mom, she could have been older, or younger, than I thought (I mean, she was sitting on a curb in pajamas at 10am on a Monday…), she could have been home sick, she could have been pretty darn happy for all I know. But from the ten second snapshot I saw, I recognized the universal prototype of teenage uncertainty. We’ve all been there, in some way. At some time we felt we didn’t belong, or couldn’t quite pin down where this roller coaster of a life was taking us, or just plain didn’t know what the hell to do with ourselves.

The latter is what I read from this girl’s energy. It just made me want to tell her, whisper in her ear, it’s not so bad…someday this will be a charming memory, you’ll laugh and say I actually wore footie pajamas to be ironic and you’ll laugh. I didn’t, though, because who the heck am I? A twenty-something walking the dog in a Maui visor with an umbrella. Basically the kryptonite to an ironic teen in leopard print pajamas.

But it made me feel so human, that brief flash of a perfect stranger in a pretty ordinary situation. I feel like most of my teens, the earlier teen years, were pretty painless in that I was happy almost all of the time. But looking back I can pick out incessant body image issues and a tendency to worry. I remember the hormones and the confusion, the exaggerated emotions and I’ll just DIE if he doesn’t like me back‘s. You remember your own examples, I’m sure. Bad haircuts, acne, early or delayed puberty, bullying, self-consciousness, the desperate desire to identify, body image, the opposite sex, drug use, whatever is part of your own intricate fabric that you think of and say oh yeah, I remember that, I’m so glad I’m not a teenager anymore is what I’m referring to.

We survived all that. Pause for effect…seriously! That’s a big deal! It makes me cringe to think about going through my teens again, even though they were pretty fun. It makes me laugh too because I was so scared to finish high school, certain that those four years would forever be the “best years of my life,” years I’d pine over into old age. HA. Not just “HA” but “HA” with a snort and an exaggerated eye roll. That’s just adorable to think of now. 

There is no grand sweeping point to be made here other than…we survived. Everything…and nothing. All of the risks, obstacles, seen and unseen. All those “end of the world” moments and experiences. All of the misery, scattered about the [hopefully] vastly overwhelming contentment that has been life up until this point. We have endured. We have survived. From the unsure, wavering, knock kneed discombobulation of adolescence to adulthood. We may still be unsure, wavering and discombobulated at times, perhaps even knock kneed, but we’re here. We made it to now. We survived the fairly grueling journey of growing up. And that, in my opinion, deserves a round of applause, a moment of appreciation, a cheers [holding up my mug of herbal tea in triumph to us all]. Because, really, what is life about if we can’t celebrate every victory, big or small, conceptual or tangible? We can. We must. Tonight I make a [tea] toast to all who have made it this far [which is every single one of you]. All who have successfully arrived in the here and now, the past an irrevocable tapestry of ups and downs, highs and lows, wins and losses…all making us who we are now. Prayers for those who aren’t in the here and now, whose souls had different journeys. Perspective for us, this great band of survivors, to be oh so grateful for this life we have…to be sitting here sharing in this notion together. Grateful for the past we have, for the future we hope to have. We are one. We are on a journey. No matter how grim things have been, may be or will someday be again, we will endure. We are survivors. One big, connected tribe. Take my hand.

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Exactly Where We Need to Be

Tonight I sat for meditation and a heavy sadness sat with me. It washed over me a few minutes into my practice, my eyes closed, my face unsuspectingly soft. The sadness came creeping in like fog through the gnarly branches of winter trees, naked and shivering in the barren cold. All of a sudden my breathing shifted. The inhalation quickly deteriorated, its quick, jostling nature the familiar precursor to heaving sobs. An increasingly ragged exhalation signaled the arrival of raw, undiluted emotion.

Sadness. We so often run from it, don’t we? We cower under our eyelashes, refusing to look it in its solemn face, we refuse to look up and notice that it, in fact, has a soft face. A forgiving face. A face that says please just see me, acknowledge me. It takes a moment of bravery, in between jostling inhale and ragged exhale, to look up and say okay, I see you.

Tonight I chose not to run. I chose to make eye contact with the melancholy gaze of Sadness. The olive branch of acknowledgment. I chose to sit with the emotion. I chose to feel it, sit with it, invite it into my being and really understand it. I had the meditative equivalent of tea and crumpets with dear ‘ol Sadness.

It felt heavy. Dripping. Like cloth, saturated, drooping from the weight of its contents. The fibers threatening to tear, the fluid sneaking through, the bulging burden of it straining at the fabric. It felt wet like tears, thick like paint, warm like blood. It didn’t feel uncomfortable, but rather familiar. Familiar not in a depressing way, in the oh I’ve felt so sad in my life way, but in a human way. In a natural, nourishing way.

I let the sobs come. I felt the tears stream. I felt the serenity of my expression melt into the ugliness of crying. I observed as every sad experience I’ve ever had washed over me, through me, under and around me. I spun in the whirlwind of my truth, my journey, the steps I’ve taken and the path I’ve walked. I embraced my many moments of sadness, loss, doubt, fear. I felt each one not as an individual experience but as a brief flash, each one adding a little weight to the emotion, tossing its two cents into the bursting, dripping weight of sadness. 

And then it passed.

As quietly as the sadness arrived, it left me. Tears still wet on my cheeks, the heaving just stopped. The heaviness lifted. The ache throbbed less with each pulse of my heart. The thickness diluted by acceptance, I noticed my mind’s instant reflex to fill this void of vulnerability with thoughts. I flickered between thinking and non-thinking, mildly overwhelmed by the crash of emotion I’d just encountered in a matter of minutes.

How powerful it is to just sit with an emotion.

We are so adept at doing everything but sitting with our emotions. We’re stellar at justifying, questioning, explaining, analyzing, denying and rationalize our emotions. But just sitting with them? Just looking them dead on and inviting them in? It’s as if we don’t trust that the emotion will leave. If we let it in it will make a home, it will tear us apart, it will fill every crevice of our being and drown us in its enormity. 

I’m challenging us to release this fear, and to welcome emotion with the faith that it will be nourishing experience. A blesson – my new favorite word – a blessing and lesson bundled into one. 

While tonight’s meditation had a visit from Sadness, the other evening I sat with anxiety. I felt it, fully. I turned it over in the stillness of my open palms, tasted it under my unmoving tongue, lifted it and felt its weight with my beating heart. It felt like cracking, flaking plaster; linoleum peeling away from the floor, old wallpaper curling up at the edges. It felt like a surface that couldn’t bear to touch its interior.

After coming out of each meditation, respectively, I noticed the feathery layers of my reaction. I felt intensely alive. Deeply flawed. Perfectly myself. Cleansed. Validated. Accepted. Honest.

I didn’t feel happy, per say, but I didn’t feel blue either. I didn’t feel proud or disappointed, satisfied or discontent. I just felt…like me. Deeply, holistically myself. Pure and simple. And what better way could one possibly feel?

Tonight in yoga my teacher closed class with the affirmation, “I am exactly where I need to be.” What a blessed mantra to accompany the fostering of companionship with one’s emotions. No darkness could be too dark, no rockiness too rocky, no newness too unfamiliar, if one truly believes this.

I am exactly where I need to be. We all are. Once we grant ourselves permission to not just think the words but feel them, believe them to our very marrow…only then can we begin to deeply acquaint ourselves with the harsh beauty of what lives within us; the exquisiteness of our own true nature. Only then can we see, really see, that we are exactly where we need to be.

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Samatha

I discovered something about my mind tonight.

That sounds so funny, referring to my Awareness as separate from my mind…ahh, yes, and here the effect of yoga practice is made evident 🙂 we are separate from our minds. We are separate from our bodies. That’s what has kept me returning to my bolster each morning and evening, to sit by candlelight in meditation. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m human, and in the depths of anxious spells I’ve been known to abandon my meditation practice. It was not a priority, I guess. I’m admitting that, as taboo as it is in the yoga culture to say “meditation just wasn’t a priority for me.” It is now, but there’s certainly something addictive about the go-go-go nature of Western culture, particularly the west coast, Bay Area vibe of movers and shakers. I suppose that’s part of the silver lining, though, is that no matter how moving and shaking your environment, no matter how busy your culture, no matter how bright the lights and loud the noise outside your windows (or how quiet and dark, perhaps)…you have this space. You sit, you practice meditation, you observe yourself from afar.

Just like in asana, the practice shifts. It is never the same. You never come to your mat exactly the same as you did the time before – literally, our cells are changing, dying and renewing, with each breath we take – just like you never kneel before your alter or take to your meditation cushion as the same physical being. We are changing physically, emotionally, spiritually, mentally, energetically, always.

When I say I discovered something about my mind tonight, I suppose the magic in that discovery is in the details. I’m beginning to normally reference my mind as a separate entity. For me, as a practitioner, this feels like leaps and bounds. Sure, when I take to my cushion the morning, I may fully identify with my mind again. I may fully identify with the ache in my knees and the fact that I feel bloated and sleepy. I may totally identify with all of that. Or I may not. I can’t say now. What I can say is that tonight I closed my eyes and sank right into that safe space. I slipped away from my mind and body, away from identifying with them, and away from attachment to thoughts. Thoughts still swam around a bit, but I felt safe in a harbor, a little nook I’d created for myself. That’s what meditation has become for me, a quiet little port to anchor my vessel for a spell. Whether I hum, practice pranayama, chant mantra in my mind or simply slink into the warm darkness of my own Consciousness, there’s a system reboot happening in my mind and on the astral plane.

The discovery that came to me tonight was my mind’s tendency to obsess. This is nothing new to me, I’ve been this way as long as I’ve been conscious of my own thoughts. It’s a behavior I have, a coping mechanism most likely, and a karmic tendency I was born with. It’s my karma to work this out, to practice the release of compulsive thinking. I find myself planning my days out a week in advance. But that’s not enough, it’s not enough to have a plan and to “know” how things will unfold. No, my mind continues to turn it over…and over and over and over. Until I’m hardly even feeling the satisfaction of having the plan in the first place and am almost waiting anxiously to cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s. That’s no way to live.

…whiiiiich leads me to yoga. This is precisely why I am a dedicated practitioner. This is precisely why I know I will practice yoga, everyday, as long as there is breath within me.

The discovery that I keep dancing around was so simple. I suddenly had a flashback to myself, three years ago, sitting in my car, hands resting in my lap. I was dressed in black slacks, my trusty clogs, a crisp collared button down, hair pulled back, eyes closed. The sun was setting in the distance, purple and gold on the horizon. I was breathing deeply, full inhales and long exhales. I was trying desperately to cleanse my mind of nagging anxiety before going into work for the night. I was still in college and bar backing at a fancy restaurant downtown to pay the bills. Let’s just say I was way over working in the restaurant industry at that point. This little pranayama before work had become my routine, to try and make peace with the compulsive broken record anxiety that, otherwise, would play round and round in my head all night. There’s nothing worse than having obsessive thoughts banging on the windows of your brain and not being able to focus your attention on them. That’s the nature of the beast, with compulsive anxiety; you have this convincing sense that, if you could just give the thoughts your energy, fully dedicate 100% of your attention to them for a moment, let them stand on their soapbox and leak out all their obsessive glory into your awareness…that then they’d be satisfied and you could dispel them. That’s really not the case, though. Once they leak into your brain they have to be mopped up. But what’s the better decision – to let them come in and make their mess, or to lock them out entirely? Neither way is healthy. Locking them out entirely can result in denial which can become a prison all its own.

So, the me from three years ago sat in her car each evening before the dinner shift, practicing the only method of anxiety quelling she knew at the time. This angst that plagued me so regularly had become regular, almost comfortable. Comfortable in an I can’t really breathe, tightness in my chest, jaw clenching kind of way. It was guilt mixed with anxiety. So I’d breathe. That was my means of slowing down enough to get myself into the restaurant and through another night of drying hot glasses and pouring rich people their cocktails.

What I realized tonight is, that one thought that used to plague me for years, is now gone. It’s simply not relevant to my life anymore, and so my anxiety has let the thought flee from its clutches, out into the world to be claimed by the air. But did I really even notice it left? Not completely. From time to time I breathe a sigh of relief that I no longer circulate around that guilt-fest that used to occupy my precious Awareness so often. But, for the most part, it goes unnoticed because it’s been replaced by just another, more relevant symphony of obsession.

Where does it end?

Again, such is the nature of the beast. But I heard a teacher recently say something beautiful. We so often identify ourselves, they said, we claim these titles like, “I have an anxious mind,” or “I’m a stressed out person.” We develop these identities, and then we just live with them. When we stress out or have outburst of frustration or fall victim to a fit of obsessive thinking, we just rationalize it with, well I’m a stressed/angry/nervous/obsessive/whatever person. It’s normal for me, this is who I am, we tell ourselves.

But it’s not who we are. At our core, we are peaceful. Silent. Perfectly imperfect. By nature we are untouchable, divine and exquisitely handcrafted. Our bodies and minds cannot hinder our supreme existence. But we so often fail to see ourselves in this light. Even after moments of greatest clarity, I find myself slipping back into the conditioned thought patterns of identifying with behavioral or personality traits. We are none of those identities.

We. Are. SO. Much. More.

We are infinite, limitless, astral.

When I came out of meditation tonight, I felt a surge of emotion. From root to crown, the feeling just sort of bubbled up, a gentle eruption. I felt compelled to just let it flow through me. My face crinkled and a few tears crept out. I couldn’t pinpoint what had made me cry, nor did I really feel the urge to. It was definitely a release.

I think what happened was subtle, and made even subtler by the meditative state in which it came to me. The flashback stirred up some emotions, like sand at the bottom of the sea, some long forgotten truths that had lain down on the floor of my mind. Its habitual tendency to latch onto a thought and obsess over it, the years I spent gnawing on this slice of guilt and regret, chewing it to pieces and choking on the shreds. It all shifted tonight and rose to the surface, and it wasn’t pretty. It hurt my heart. This realization that I spent so long feeling this way, worked so hard to erect walls around the thoughts, to try and keep the spillage from pouring over the dams I’d built…the realization that, even though I’d wriggled free of that particular mental shackle, I’d opened the gates for replacement obsessions to step in and take its place. I just felt so sad for my Self, for having let my poor mind be tortured by these obsessions, for having wasted so much of my energy trying to squirm out from beneath the oppressive thumb of guilt.

I know it was all unconscious, but the understanding finally set in tonight; this is why I practice. I always knew that, deep down, but never before had I been presented with such a tangible, real example of why I practice. Interestingly, it poked through my Consciousness during meditation, probably because my mind is too busy planning out every next step when the sound is on and the lights are up. This discovery had to wait until the lights were low, the mute button had been hit, and it could lurk in, unannounced, as I sat in silence.

The discovery didn’t feel like a violation of my safe space. It felt like I’d unconsciously agreed to meet my demon, in a mutually neutral area, to peacefully hash this out once and for all. This karmic tendency of mine causes me suffering. The root cause of suffering, however, is ignorance, say the yogis. My demon and I agreed to identify the interplay and call a truce, neither of us agreeing to step down from our role, but neither of us threatening any action. I’m certainly aware of this tendency, and of this demon. They’re certainly aware of me. And, for now, I think that’s enough. I’ve identified the karmic tendency, seen it in effect, and realized that I am not that tendency. I am not bound by that tendency. I will work through that tendency. I feel the release. And that’s enough.

I suppose that’s the nature of release, after all. The deep and gentle sense of liberation that’s left in its wake. Even if the situation isn’t solved, even if there are still pieces to fit together, there is a vibration of freedom nonetheless. The truth is that there will always be pieces still to fit together. There will always be more to discover. So why label anything as finished, or unfinished? We are always unfinished. Beautifully unfinished. Limitless. Release is always followed by another mount of energy and, subsequently, another release. It’s an ebb and flow. A cyclical process. The “circle of life,” if you will, spiritually. Practice, practice, practice. As Byron Katie says, “What would my life be like without that thought?” We have the power to change our reactions to the thoughts we’re having. We have the power to liberate ourselves. It’s an exhilarating truth, one that keeps me returning to my practice day in and day out. Reach for the stars, eager spirit. We are made of stars, after all. For tonight, though, I will rest in this release. I will savor the liberation and welcome tomorrow with clear eyes, ready for whatever release it has to offer.

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[*Samatha meditation is the practice of pacifying the mind, practicing tranquility.]

Be Here Now

Where do you hold stress in your body? Do you know? Close your eyes for a second and feel it out. Think about it. I don’t want you to invite stress into your body, but let your imagination and power of recollection take you back to a time when you were anxious or stressed. Where did the emotion manifest physically?

For me, stress cozies up and makes itself at home in my jaw.

I’m sure it’s the same for many of you. It’s a very “in your face” (quite literally!) space to hold tension. When I’m feeling energetically wired and stress is manifesting in my being, I begin to notice a feeling of tightness in my jaw. I find myself moving it around a lot during the day and waking in the morning with an almost swollen sensation. I can feel the indentations of my teeth on the insides of my cheeks. I wake startled…what day is it? Where am I going? What’s my plan? I can feel that my jaw has been active all night, likely clenching, potentially grinding.

There are chronic grinders out there and I am not one by any means. I have, however, identified that when I stress out, I clench my jaw. Not by pressing my teeth together, but by hardwiring my mouth shut using the musculature that I’d much rather be exercising by smiling and laughing.

I notice this tendency sometimes, when I’m just mindlessly working. While my teeth are apart, my lips are pressed so firmly together that my jaw is growing tense and tight. What the H, right? Why am I locking my lips up like my mouth is frigging Fort Knox?

That’s not all. When stress builds a nest in my jaw, my mind is usually the culprit. So I find myself with lockjaw and a rat race headspace. Early this morning I saw a quote by the wonderful Byron Katie, and it helped me identify my current issue.

If you are mentally somewhere else, you miss real life.

-Byron Katie

Ah, Ms. Katie, you’ve been peeking into my brain again. So, I’m sure you can guess said “current issue.” I’ve not been present. I’ve been mentally going elsewhere on a regular basis, missing out on the beautiful joy of what’s going on right in front of me. I come in and out of my mindful presence, it’s not constant that I’m away. But it’s not constant that I’m present, either, and that’s enough to shake me. I want to be present all the time. 

I’ve been hormonal, that’s my first inclination. To offer an excuse. My schedule recently changed. This is a super busy month. My dad is having open heart surgery this week. I have a lot of homework. Blah, blah, blah.

I’ve always had OCD. Mild, but there nonetheless. That paired with a new schedule, bursting full plate and beautiful hormones doing somersaults through my body, I’ve managed to lean on my coping mechanism. While it’s not booze, drugs or late nights, it’s stress-inducing and damaging nevertheless. What’s my coping mechanism, you ask? You have to promise not to laugh at me…

Planning.

I SAID NO LAUGHING.

I’m a chronic planner. I rely on my schedules, lists and penciled in (ha, who am I kidding, penned in) intentions. My upcoming week is like a delicious recipe, every ingredient and its preparatory demands listed out, planned for, expected. (Sidenote: the OCD in me is afraid that anyone in my immediate life reading this might from now on challenge me not to plan, or to – GASP – be flexible…gah, please don’t!). The issue is not whether things will go according to my plans or not. That was never in my control, whether I pretend it was or not. The issue is that I know it’s more than likely all going to go off without a hitch. It nearly always does (save for those rare slice your thumb open, up all through the night, sleep through your alarm and throw off your entire day occasions). Even though my routines are typically quite similar to the week before, and almost always unfold seamlessly, I continue to plan…list…and obsess.

That’s where it gets dirty.

I found myself, this very morning, in downward dog…thinking about my plans for Monday. 

MONDAY!!!!

It’s Thursday, for F sake. 

Not constantly planning the next move…that’s an intention I journaled just last night. Easier said than done, little grasshopper. To an extent, my lists and planning are admirable qualities. They serve a purpose. They’re a driving force behind my entrepreneurial endeavors. On the other edge of the sword, I can fall back on this “skill,” if you will, as a mechanism for coping. For taking my mind elsewhere. I’ll dive head first into planning and organizing my life, even the little things like yoga and green smoothies that are like clockwork in my life, so that I don’t have to deal with whatever is stressing me out today. Whatever is on my plate right now that I just can’t palette. Be it work, stress, obligations, fears, you name it, it’s an escape tactic. Speaking of stress, this is an epic ted talk on stress and has revolutionized my thinking on the topic (when I remember to see stress in this way, that is!). It seems to be a silly confession, but it’s the truth. We so quickly slip back into our old patterns of thinking, our old habits…hence being mindful and living mindfully. In pursuit of mindfulness, and seeing stress as a powerful tool and something to thank my body for knowing how to utilize, I constantly bring myself back to this talk.

So, what’s a sore-jawed, busy body girl to do?

Blow through the lips (a tried and true Mel favorite). Say no more. Commit to not over-commiting myself. Say yes to me-time. Pull my prana inwards. Brew a cup of tea. Journal. Meditate. Run a bubble bath. Sleep more. Dedicate myself not to doing less, but doing as much more slowly. 

That’s really it, for me. I have no deeper, more articulate suggestions other than do what feels goo and slow the F down. Breathe deeper. Release the jaw. BE. HERE. NOW. Stress is a combination of hormones and it’s the body’s natural response. If a tiger were to pounce out of your kitchen and come slinking towards you right now, you’d be really dang happy to have the adrenaline to get the heck out of dodge, right? The only problem is that, in our modern society, we’ve hardwired ourselves to have the prowling tiger reaction to missing a cab! Or losing our car keys. Or forgetting to pull the trash cans out on trash night.

Like, seriously, some of the silliest crap ever “stresses us out.” The magic in that? The missing half of that sentence? “…only if we let it.”

We’re in the driver seat. We’re the captain of our own ships. And, you know what? After a week of a sore jaw and racing mind, I’m saying ENOUGH! I’m taking back the reins. I’m calling myself out. I’m saying hey, you know what Sara? I get that this is a coping mechanism. But look at your life, it’s pretty freaking rad. You’ve got it really good and to allow this stress ball fiasco to unfold in your precious mind is unacceptable. Be present. You have beautiful people, experiences and lessons right in front of you…don’t miss it!

Whatever your coping mechanisms, whatever your “weakness” (which, let’s be honest, is really just a gift and strength in disguise), identify them. Call them out. Shed your glowing light on them so that they have nowhere to hide, and then blow your lips at them and watch them scatter. Watch the power they have over you dissipate. Once we call something into our consciousness it’s a lot harder to float along allowing the behavior to continue, allowing the mindset to remain. Presence is difficult, which is why it’s a practice. 

So let’s practice. Find the place in your body that harbors stress and thank it. Right now. Say thank you ______ (for me it’s thank you jaw) for doing all you do for me, thank you for sheltering my tension when I couldn’t invite it into my awareness. Thank you for now releasing it. 

See how it feels. Move the body part around, give it a little rub, physically place your hands on that space and close your eyes. Say to yourself, I release you of all tension and strain. I am present. I am here, right now.

And then let it go. Because that’s the goal, isn’t it? To be neither forward nor back, but to be here. Right now.

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Elephants and Energetics

Two nights ago I dreamt of an elephant. I was in charge of her, she was on my watch. We were in the downtown plaza of my hometown, an outdoor grassy square, when she moved out into the street. I was helpless to stop her. She was an elephant, for goodness sake, and I just a small human being!

The elephant danced magestically, swinging her trunk. I scurried after her, worried but not crying out. As I followed her path I came to a building, she’d disappeared into it, her trunk visible behind the high balcony. Suddenly, as dreams do, my elephant was fierce. What was outside and on my watch was now suddenly a lion, one with a big, bushy mane, absolutely beautiful in her feline grace. She was fearful and gentle. I called out to her, suddenly very worried, she couldn’t care for herself and I was in charge. I had to get to her! As I cried out, the fierce creature inside the courtyard reached over and grabbed the lion by her mane, pulling her up over the balcony to be devoured. I screamed out, guttural cries, NOOOOO! On my watch! My elephant, my lion, my sacred space, that was in my hands to protect!

Off the top of my head I can say this: we passed into Leo on the 23rd, astrologically speaking, and elephants symbolize strength, power, wisdom. Ganesh is the remover of obstacles. What could the lion represent? She was fearful, gentle, too gentle to protect herself. She never even lifted her gaze when she was grabbed by the mane. Unsuspecting. Apprehensive. Perhaps the dream signifies the removal of these traits, traits that I interpret as obstacles.

Yesterday I pulled out my Dreamer’s Dictionary to further investigate. Alas, the elephant does bode good omens, as I’d intuitively known. The lion is, according to my book, said to be “a symbol of social distinction and/or business leadership.”

Business leadership. Ding, ding, ding. I’ve been ruminating a lot lately on the manifestation of my dream career. A beautiful hybrid of writing, nutrition, yoga and Ayurveda, all captured beneath the umbrella of “holistic wellness.” That is my passion. That is what I’m here to live, breathe and share.

I have a little statue of Ganesh on my desk. I also have a small, handcrafted bowl made by my friend and fellow yogini Meaghan. It’s an exquisite piece of pottery with the Om symbol stamped into it. Periodically, when faced with a staggering obstacle looming over me, I write down in active language the resolution of said obstacle and fold it up tiny, placing it into the cup. I place Ganesh in front of it. The first two obstacles I placed into my cup were removed from my life. One of them I cannot even remember…I’ve been that absolved of the struggle. The third shred of paper I just placed into my cup this past week and, with Ganesh standing guard, I know now to just trust the process, and walk away.

Trust the process. Words spoken from teachers to Tribe. Words that I carry with me. Words that resonate in the depths of my soul, traveling up, up, up. Words that ignite each chakra, my energy centers, reverberating in the truth that I speak each day and infusing the intuition on which I am learning to rely.

I am more in touch with my energy centers now that I ever have been. The nucleus of my being runs on the fuel of a holistically lived life, a dedicated yoga practice, the influx of love that I am blessed to receive each day from the cherished human beings I share my life with. Today, for instance, was a huge day. I began the morning with my practice, a vigorous flow at the studio, followed by a strenuous and long hike with my cousin whom I rarely have the opportunity to spend such quality time with. Later I taught a yoga class. Straight after that I zipped over a town for a sunset photo shoot. It was a magical day. It was also, however, a day of outpouring energy.

I feel it now, in my being, after the day I had. I feel the delicious and yet debilitating aftershock of such a deluge. Physical energy in my yoga practice, social and physical energy on the hike, holistic energy in teaching, spiritual and emotional energy in modeling…such different modalities and yet all springing from one divine source.

Our energy reservoir is not bottomless. My energy feels depleted this evening, but in a way that leaves me exhilarated, alive, liberated. I know I will dedicate my intention tomorrow to expanding my energy, reestablishing myself in my center, building back up the vibrational energy that fuels my passionate existence.

Perhaps that is yet another way to interpret my dream…seeing the elephant as the world and the lion as energetics. Predator and prey. Hungering, vulturous chaos and sacred, essential life force. It is our responsibility to protect and preserve our vitality, our prana, our life force. In letting the energy flit around anxiously, fearfully, ungrounded, insecure, one risks one’s energy center being depleted in one fell swoop by the ever-changing tides. Sucked up by the elephants thirsty trunk. Too much vata and easily comes unanchored.

I feel deeply in tune with my energies, my dreams, my purpose here on earth…I feel like my interpretation of this last vivid dream is warm, getting close to the core of it…but I could be full of . Whatever the dream meant, all that matters is this resonance it has in my spirit. The “aha” moment it gives me. I could be spot on or way off and that really doesn’t matter. You could be reading this thinking I’m a total eccentric or maybe a smidgen genius and that really doesn’t matter either. All that really matters is how our own interpretations of all that occurs inside our own little Universes and how it makes us feel.

Connecting to the feeling of it all, of life; the taste, sound, touch and scent of it, the palpable vulnerability and beauty in it…that is what matters. Experiencing our dreams, relationships, thoughts, meals, asanas, devastations, celebrations, grand discoveries, moments of delusion…experiencing them uniquely and fully is what really matters.

So whatever the meaning of my elephant dream, whatever the state of energetics, tonight I am at peace with the process. I am content in knowing I trust it, that I fully experience the beautiful little idiosyncrasies of my life, and that I relish in my quirky attempts at dream interpretation. Because if I don’t take a stab at it, how will I ever enjoy the fruits of imagination? Because I thrive in the harnessing of intuition. Because the creative spark of self-observation is alive in me, both in my waking and sleeping state.

Because even if I’m completely wrong, that’s okay. I was never trying to be right.

 

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