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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From a Sweet, Juicy Place of Love

So much has transpired since my last entry here. I turned 27. There was a Full Moon. We nearly lost our patriarch, my Grandfather. His circumstances improved. I thought I had to move. I house-hunted like mad for a week. My cousin got married. There was a New Moon. I found out I didn’t have to move. I went on a couple dates. The earth did who knows how many pirouettes on her axis.

Life went, beautifully, on.

Despite the epic changes I have imparted on my life in the past three months, despite the uncertainty – a thing I bend over backwards, quite literally sometimes (on the yoga mat), to avoid – I have been brought to my knees in sheer gratitude for all the love and abundance that IS my life, lately. More so than ever before. I have been brought TO LIFE.

I find it so interesting, the concept of uncertainty and “the unknown.” I mean, it’s hilarious to me that I even look at it as an option. As if my perceived structures of control have any effect whatsoever on the chaos that is time and space! Things are going to happen, the earth keeps spinning, life goes on.

I recently joked with my parents, “Is this just how life gets, as an adult? One thing after another? You think you have everything all settled and then BOOM, car trouble. BOOM, something at home breaks. BOOM, something else pops up.” They smiled sideways and wrinkled their brows as if to say, “………Well, DUH.” The problem is not that life hurls “one thing after another”, I am now realizing. The issue is that I expect it not to do that! The story that I have is one of a child, where others take care of business for me, others help me through every decision and oftentimes make them for me. It’s kind of my autopilot, to be honest. I’m used to calling up my mom when I get a confrontational text message or email, when something happens at work, when someone wants to have a serious discussion – I need to carefully detail her advice before reacting. I do this. I don’t trust my own judgement, even though my life is lived by way of intuition. It doesn’t make sense, right?

I think a lot of us are like this. I am so endlessly blessed to have the support system I have, but I see now that I have taken advantage of their wisdom and advice so frequently, that when it’s up to me to make decisions…I balk. I worry that someone will say, “WHY did you say/do that???” I worry that someone is not going to like that I acted like a doormat or didn’t stand up for myself, or that I didn’t say the appropriate things during the conversation and now the moment has passed.

But you know what? WHO CARES! SO WHAT!?

If I’m in the driver seat and it’s up to me to make the decisions that only have to live with, then why wouldn’t I be most concerned with my reaction to my own life?

It makes so much sense, when I lay it out like this. But, at 27, I am just now learning how to carefully remove my training wheels and balance on my own. I am just now respecting and giving weight to my own thoughts, opinions and motives. It, is, SO, liberating.

I am also working more towards being more grounded and authentic (read: less of a people pleaser), and more trusting and content in the day-to-day (read: less of an “uncertainty avoider”). I am fiercely working on coming from a place of love rather than fear (have you ever taken a day to do inventory on how many times you move from a place of fear rather than a place of love? It’s astonishing, really).

No matter how much we plan, life has its own agenda. Don’t get me wrong, I am in no way demonizing planning. It’s awesome. It’s kind of my middle name. I always have a plan. But sometimes, just letting the fluidity of life take its course, can be so much more delightful than you ever could’ve planned. I’ve begun planning for today, instead of all week. Yes, there’s a rough outlined sketch of the week in my head, but by not calendar planning every detail of the week (in pen, no less), I suddenly can breathe so much more deeply. I have the freedom (as if I didn’t have it before…) to change my mind. To do things differently. To make my Tuesday plan my Thursday plan instead, and do something else on Tuesday. To NOT do things I don’t want to do, and to add in as I see fit. Why wouldn’t I live this way all the time?

In the well-intentioned act of planning so as to cultivate a structure of perceived security, we can often sink unconsciously into a fear-based way of living. Preventive. Frightened. Walking forward, tentatively, with our hands outstretched trying to ward off any potential chaos. 

BUT THAT ISN’T LIVING. That isn’t LIFE.

So now, I am taking another vow (y’all know how much I love those…). I am taking a vow to live life as it comes. I’m always going to scribble lists on post-it notes and write on my calendar. I’m always going to roughly sketch out my plan for the week, mentally. It’s who I am. There’s nothing wrong with being this way. But there’s something very wrong with going on autopilot and boxing out the potential for unexpected beauty. Unexpected chaos will enter our safe little emotional villas whether we invite them in or not. But unexpected beauty? It has a much harder time sliding through the cracks. We actually have to step outside, we actually have to look up, to see it.

And it is there, always.

I am committed to stepping outside, as often as possible. I am committed to looking up. I am committed to letting the beauty wash over me, shatter me, day after day. I am committed, in every single moment, to approaching my life from a sweet, juicy place of love.

Won’t you join me?

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Holding On, Riding Through

Lately I have been living viscerally. Life has been so…I don’t even know how to put it. Interesting? Doesn’t seem to cover it. Unpredictable? Grand understatement. Frightening? Inarguably. Exquisite? Without a shred of doubt. 

But what happens when life is all of this at once? Naturally it’s always all of this at once, there is no separation, but what happens when mind acknowledges all of this at once? It’s overwhelming for the human psyche. At least in my experience. We, generally speaking, love separation. Separation as a means of coping. How does one subsist if life is both pleasurable and painful at once? Deeply haunting and incomparably radiant in the same breath? It’s enough to make my eyes fill with tears just writing this. I understand it and yet it’s difficult to comprehend the oneness of it all at times.

Mercury is retrograde through July 1st (my birthday) and this past Thursday was the full moon. The full moon cusped right on top of Friday the 13th, a very spiritually auspicious day. A dear friend of mine wrote on Friday that, in ancient times, Friday the 13th was the day of Love. That in honor of the Goddess Venus, couples would stay home on this day to make love. How amazing is that? The day, regardless, is packed with potent energy. As is the full moon. As is Mercury. By the way, Mercury in retrograde means that, from our perspective on earth, the planet appears to reverse its orbit. Hence the flow of “backward” energy in many of us celestially awakened beings. Read more on Mercury in this lighthearted piece.

All this being said, I was going pretty strong up until about a week ago. I was making peace with Mercury as I tend to do in the few times per year it goes retrograde; being gentle with my own forgetfulness and working to harness the opposite flow of energy for good rather than evil, if you will. With the full moon, however, my body welcomed a stormy shift of emotion. An emotional (temper-ish) tantrum unlike any I’d had since I was a little girl. A full blown hyperventilating panic attack, again, unlike anything I’d experienced since childhood. A deep-set and overwhelming need to control what was going on around me and a complete emotional shut down when I realized I could not. It was alarming, considering what I practice every single day, that I was not able to reach my yoga and pull myself out of the hazy confusion. Everything became viscerally real before my eyes. Life and death. So many deaths have crossed my radar in the past weeks, a number of people in my immediate life have left this world, and the experience rocked me. 

The ultimate breakdown occurred with family-related circumstances and one of those moments occurred when life begs one to be with one’s own Tribe. All I could think of was curling up in my momma’s arms as though I were a broken baby bird. The realization that life is unpredictable as the weather, determined as the wind and yet stunning as the sunrise was all so destabilizing in this particular that I sought the comfort of the only thing that grounds us (or me, rather) in such a moment. My family. When life gets too real, loss is palpable and fear is threatening to sink one’s ship, it’s time to head to port.

I still feel queasy from the experience, this morning. I still see the faces of those who have died floating past my vision and it still brings me to tears sitting here writing about it. This is coming from someone who believes deeply that nothing is an accident, that there are no mistakes, that we are held by the Divine Mother and everything is happening as it’s meant to happen. This is coming from a dedicated yogini whose self-inquiry has uncovered deep-rooted fears and faced them head on. This is coming from someone who works every single day to meet fear with love, to seek Truth and nourish Spirit with it. So to be so toppled over by life, by the realness of it, by the horrific interlaced with the breathtaking…was unexpected. 

I suppose the whole matter lies embedded in the human need to control. To control one’s own life, control the length (and sometimes events) of the lives of those one loves, control the weather and sadness and successes and the past. We even tear ourselves up over trying to control what has already happened. Am I speaking to you? 

The point is that these Truths exist all wrapped in one neat package. One pill to be swallowed. It’s when we break apart the capsule and try to sort through the threads of Truth within, separating them, hiding the “bad” ones under the tablecloth, that we find ourselves in conflict. It’s when we can’t believe that the monstrousness of the world is as necessary as the brilliance of the world. Naturally the latter is always easier to digest and celebrate. But ignoring the Truth and existence of the former, that’s when we begin to draw veils down over ourselves…veils that only obstruct our own vision. I don’t know about you, but I seek clarity, in all forms.

It’s hard when your comfort in this world, your trust in this life, is shaken. It hasn’t happened to me in a very long time. But I know it has happened for a reason. It has offered me a chance to seek Truth over ignorance. It has offered me an opportunity to deepen my own self-inquiry immensely as well as tap into the collective consciousness and the rawness of humanity. It has allowed me to share in an experience that many, many, many other souls are also having. I am still riding the waves of this tempest, but after the maternal medicine I received I am riding more smoothly. I am grateful for a tribe of supporters, for parents who support and love me, and I am absolutely overflowing with love for my brothers and sisters who experience suffering under the guise that they don’t have that same network of support…because they do. It may not be in the same physical way as others, but it is why I come to my mat with the intention of healing. It is why I focus, personally, on emanating healing energy. Because I know how blessed I am to have my loved ones, and I seep gratitude for them every single day that I breathe. I can’t imagine what it must feel like to navigate this thing we call life in a state of loneliness. 

You are never alone.

And yet…alone is all we ever truly are in essence. Another surface dichotomy that, upon examination, is all One. I haven’t a neat package to wrap this up with nor a fancy ribbon to wrap around it to give it the appearance of tidiness. This is raw, real self-inquiry on the page. This is an honest conversation about how gorgeous and terrifying it is to be human, to take the risks and experience the blessings that we do every single day. This is about Oneness. This is a reminder that, in every single breath and every single heart beat, we are in this together.

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Standing at a Precipice

Last night I dreamt, presumably consecutively, that I was trying on lingerie in a fancy European shop with Sandra Bullock and then standing on a balcony looking out at the view marveling that I could see Spain from where I stood. In the dream, strangeness had no name, as dreams tend to go. So to be standing in, what felt like London or Paris, gazing out at what, my dream sensibility thought of as the island or continent (ha) of Spain, was both awe-striking and yet totally acceptable. I spoke to my companion, now resembling more Penelope Cruz or Jennifer Lopez, I can’t seem to keep the celebrity faces straight as I presume they were morphing (again, as dreams go), marveling at how close we actually were to such an exotic, seemingly faraway land. Such adventure at the tips of our fingers. We could see it from where we stood, the wonder! At the end of this dream, my companion (onto whom I presume I was projecting my own identity – again as dreams go, for me at least) realized I was right and packed her bags. In a smart travel getup complete with a super chic sailor’s scarf, she climbed aboard a ship to traverse the small distance separating one country (island, continent, block of land, no definitions held any meaning in this dream) from the other and set off for her adventure.

The first dream is totally inconsequential (or is it?). Trying on fancy French lingerie with some girlfriends, one of whom just happened to be the super star Miss Bullock herself (oh, the crowd I run with…HA!), chatting about men and life. The latter holds far more weight, in my mind.

I just couldn’t get past the awe I felt, my eyes devouring the chunk of land that held on it such adventure, such newness.

As for the A-list cast, I simply attribute that to having watched the Oscars on my recent visit home. How did I remember this dream? Well, I frankly wouldn’t have, if not for my who-knows-what-A.M. scribbling on my whiteboard in the dark. I woke this morning to see a few words from each dream scrawled in light pink chicken scratch, diagonally across the whiteboard where I write out my to-do list and reminders. Funnily, even in my sleep-laced state, I had managed to scribble said chicken scratch diagonally just beside my neatly bullet-listed itinerary for the next day. Gave me a chuckle before diving in to translate what my dream walking Self had so pointedly wanted to remember.

I’ve been carrying this with me all day. Adventure lay at the tips of my fingers. Destinations and notions that, by default, seem so foreign, exotic and faraway…can actually be seen from right here. Right here where we stand. Who knew?

I find this dream to be very symbolic of life and the way I look at it, especially in the coming year. I feel on the brink of something, something I can’t quite name. There’s a lot of energy going full steam ahead with all I’m personally pursuing and building, and there’s lots under wraps. A lot in the works. It feels great, and at the same time it sometimes feels like a kettle about to boil. Steam just begging to burst through the spout. A volcano trembling, sending microscopic fragments of stone flying, hot magma bubbling just beneath the surface.

I’m standing at a precipice. The path behind me has been erased. It’s move forward and move upward. The only two directions to go. Sometimes, when fear and doubt set in, the view is foggy. It can be frightening. But what my dream has shown me is that whether or not I can see “Spain” off in the distance, illuminated by bright, sunshiny rays against a blue backdrop, my “Spain” is there. Spain symbolizes the journey, the next step, not even a destination. For me Spain symbolizes my dreams. Adventure. Even on those foggy days, I can walk on the clouds. I can step off the crag, leaving my precipice behind me as just another stop along my path, and walk barefoot on the soft, billowing sky cushions. Even if the ground is not solid, I know it will hold me. Be it hard or soft, I will make the journey. I will remember “my Spain.” I will leap, and I will be held.

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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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Practicing With the Master

I had the extreme pleasure and honor of practicing with the great Maty Ezraty this weekend, co-founder of the world renowned YogaWorks school of yoga. I did my teacher training with YogaWorks. YogaWorks is the fountain of knowledge from which awe-inspiring teachers such as Annie Carpenter, Kathryn Budig, Jesse Schein, Shiva Rea and Seane Corn, to name just a few, sprung. YogaWorks was founded in 1987 by Maty Ezraty, Chuck Miller and Alan Finger. The method, to give you a brief synopsis, is a blend of Ashtanga (a vigorous “flow” practice), Iyengar (highly alignment based) and the yoga teachings of Desikachar. What that lovely cocktail provides is a safe, accessible, effective and satisfying method of yoga practice.

Now, that being said, I’ve long awaited my introduction to Maty. This weekend she visited our neighborhood studio (the flippant nature with which I say that is totally facetious – there’s really only a handful of YogaWorks studios in the US, twenty-seven if I’m not mistaken) and I didn’t miss the opportunity to study under her wisdom.

The workshop I took was on…drumroll, please!…backbends and inversions! Yahoo! These two postures are two of my favorites, and yet two that I feel I could use many a workshop on to fully understand. But, alas, such is the nature of practice…no matter how many times one comes to the mat, or how many workshops one takes, there is always, always, always room for growth. The possibilities are endless.

Now, after two sessions with Maty, I will be perfectly honest. I’m sore in places I didn’t even know existed. I’m shampooing my hair going, hmm that aches, that’s sore, yep that definitely got worked…jeez what even is that muscle!? Truly. Sore in places I didn’t even know had muscles. But I digress…

Maty’s teaching was nothing short of exquisite and she’s also flipping adorable. I feel a little silly referring to a master teacher and spiritual being as “adorable,” but hey, she is. She’s hilarious, effective, commanding and probably doesn’t even weigh 100lbs soaking wet. I felt like the jolly green giant standing beside her!

That’s all beside the point, though. I could go on and on about this weekend, I could go on and on about the YogaWorks method and I could go on and on about the brilliant teachings I’ve experienced. What I really want to emphasize is something Maty said during savasana. My beautiful friend and fellow yogini was sitting outside the practice room after workshop in a daze of enlightenment much like I felt, stimulated by these same words I’m about to share with you, so I know it wasn’t just me. There was magic in this line. It held space in the room of beating hearts, heated bodies and knowledge soaked minds.

…the alignment serves as a tool to focus the mind…

The asana functions as a mechanism for going deep inside, really centering in on a posture and sitting in it, staying in it, being still within it. It is there that the alignment serves as a tool to focus the mind. That’s what the asana is about. It’s not about how one can contort one’s body or how “good” one can become at a pose. It’s about the mind space. True yoga is not about the asana, which all YogaWorks teachers learn in training, but the simple and gentle way Maty put it today really managed to slip into my mind in a way where I could grasp and understand it in a new light. The asana, however challenging or simple it may appear, is a container for the practice. It’s a space to move into, a physical expression of focus. One cannot really practice asana without total dedication, stillness and presence; three qualities sincerely lacking for the average person in this modern society. So, where does one go to cultivate these qualities? These traits that will infuse one’s quality of life exponentially, in all arenas? The mat, of course.

…the alignment serves as a tool to focus the mind…

That’s essentially what Maty said. I wish I could go back and record her exact statement. Yet, at the same time, I am glad I can’t. The fog through which I distinctly remember her words, richly sedated by savasana, is perfect. It’s all just perfect. And I am grateful.

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For anyone interested in a YogaWorks teacher training, it comes HIGHLY recommended by yours truly!

Image of Chuck and Maty found here.

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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