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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I Will Pray

My secret is simple: I pray.

Prayer. So many implications, so caught up in politics and a thick could of confusion, or so it seems nowadays. What is your relationship to prayer? Does the word comfort you, cloak you with wordless warmth and familiarity? Or does it drag you back down memory lane, gravel scraping at your knees, images of parochial school and knuckle-wrapping nuns?

I was raised Catholic. Loosely, I should say. Both sides of my parentage are Catholic, but only my dad grew up with the whole nine yards. Altar boy (with a famous story that I always loved to hear him tell, of the time he disrupted the entire mass and ticked off the priest because he was snapping and unsnapping the buttons on his clerical apparel.

As a child I observed mass with my parents, but not every Sunday. It was sporadic, and yet totally meaningful. I was baptized, went to Sunday school, had first communion. In fact, my first communion ceremony is one of my fondest memories. Although I admit the fondness of my memories revolve primarily around food, and the lovely cream lace dress and matching gloves I wore for the occasion. If not for the letdown of how airy and tasteless the waffle cone host was (and the fact that an older girl had on a larger version of my very same cream lace dress), I remember devouring a delicious shrimp pasta dish at my favorite fancy restaurant on a sunny day by the river after church. It’s no wonder I’m such a foodie today. I digress…

I prayed every night. I asked God to bless my family, to hold them safe. I sent my energy out into the world and asked the Grace of our Creator to wrap every last suffering human being in its safe grasp. I prayed fervently, asking that those who were cold, hungry, sad, lonely, hurt and lost be removed, if only for a moment, from their pain and shaken by the remarkable sensation of a tight hug. An embrace. I energetically embraced the whole world, every night before I fell asleep.

Little did I know that was the beginning of my life’s purpose as an energy worker.

My relationship to prayer was, in part, fear-based. I didn’t fear God. But I was afraid that if I didn’t pray for my family to be safe, they wouldn’t be. I also remember the guilt-ridden moments that haunted me, the moments when I began to question just to whom I was praying. I couldn’t wrap my mind around this masculine, white-bearded man in the sky. I didn’t feel close to him. I started to feel more and more certain that we had an energetic Creator, but less and less did I associate this feeling with the man painted gloriously on the walls of churches.

I continued to pray. If anything, as I grew older my spiritually deepened with the intensity of a sharp decline, like that of the ocean floor when you’re wading carefully out and then, suddenly – all at once – the sand drops off and you’re suddenly hip-deep and your heart leaps into your throat. I looked up at the canopy of the sky and I was sure. Of what, I didn’t know. But I was certain. There was something more.

I had a conversation with a girlfriend one starry night, likely after sharing a midsummer joint laced with rebellion and perceived adulthood, about the afterlife. She was certain that we just become fertilizer after we die. I was emphatic. You’re telling me that if a car t-boned us right now and killed me, that I’d be nothing? Despite this conversation and all of my beliefs and my thoughts and my energy and my soul . . . that I’d just be GONEShe looked at me. Blinked. You’d just be worm food, she confirmed. I was aghast.

No. Fucking. Way.

I had a panic attack early one morning in my Art History class at 19, the room dark and cool, the projector’s click deafening and the art flashing across the screen vivid, color and texture giving life to centuries of faith. I suddenly felt, more powerfully than ever before, that there’s no way on God’s green earth that we couldn’t go somewhere after this life. It can’t possibly just end, lights out, sayonara. We are spiritual beings, we are comprised of great cosmic matter, our bodies are simply vehicles!

I stumbled into the fluorescent lighting of the University hall and clutched at my chest. Tried to calm my breath. Fought the inherent physical urge to hyperventilate that I had developed 10 years prior upon witnessing a cheerleading accident. But that’s another story.

I spilled into the women’s restroom and looked into the warped mirror. I didn’t have answers. What I had was a sensation. That sensation, I now recognize, was conviction.

When I lived in Italy, my relationship to the church was rekindled. I took Art History again, for fun this time, and fell in love with the romantic history of the abbeys, the chapels, the brilliant beauty that is mass, no matter the religion. I attended services in Italian and looked, awestruck, at the images of angels and demons, saints and monsters, decorating the very ceilings of these exquisite works of architecture. My heart broke for the fury and pain that shook Europe, and all parts of the world, at the hand of opposing beliefs. My mind expanded and contracted and expanded again. My soul opened.

But still, I was locked in a confusing ring of prayer and religion. Surely, they were one and the same. That’s what I’d always been taught. I finally felt protected enough, by the cosmic forces that be, to admit (at least to myself, in moments of quiet vulnerability) that I wasn’t religious. I confess, I even experienced a spell where I drove past churches on Sundays, saw families spilling out, and felt completely alienated from them. Like they existed in some fairytale bubble, believing some stories that were just so blatantly not true. I felt very distant and disassociated for a short time from the entire concept of religion. But quickly that softened. I came to see religion as a beautiful coping mechanism, rather than doctrine. 

Shortly thereafter, I found more meaning in the word spirituality. It was given shape and texture, as if dropped into the crown of my head by the angels themselves. Suddenly, my conviction began to take form in informal, unbranded magnitude.

Spirituality.

When I fell, shattered, onto my yogic path five years ago, it was on my knees in prayer. I sobbed through every savasana. I set intentions. I prayed my damn heart out. I went and visited an ashram where Jesus and Buddha and Krishna all sat lazily together on one wall’s mural. No separation. One God, many forms.

Things began to make sense, but they were still so foggy. Alas, the sensation deepened.

When I met my main teacher, Seane Corn, a couple of years ago, I finally understood the conviction I had felt for so much of my life. God. She gave me back the G-word. The word I had come to cringe at, sure that it meant the white-bearded man in the sky with the harsh brow and many rules. But through Seane’s sermon-like practices, through the works of Marianne Williamson and Anne Lamott, I began to feel held and utterly understood by a vast sisterhood of likeminded seekers. I began to talk spirituality with my parents, openly, explaining to them my sensations and listening, cherishing, theirs.

Now, all these years later, I find myself praying upon waking, throughout the day, saying a blessing before each meal, upon hearing a siren, at the sight of a sunset, giving thanks as I go to sleep. Prayer to me is not the official business it was as a child. It is an act of gratitude, an act of service. My asana practice is laced with prayer. It is begun and ended with prayer. I invoke into my daily space the essence of Grace. I pray to the Goddess, the Divine Mother, the Universe, our grand Creator, God. I see that all is one. I see that there is no separation. I feel more connected now to the angels than I have ever before in my life, and that connection grows deeper each day. I feel connected to God with my bare feet on the earth before the crashing ocean or a luminous, sky-shattering sunset; I also feel deeply connected to God inside of churches. I no longer see any segregation. In fact, I see God everywhere.

I have learned that there is nothing more Holy than love. Nothing more sanctified than the commitment to embrace, accept, unify and adore. I have come to a place of clarity, understanding, utter conviction. Sure, I have some more words now to give weight to that conviction, some ways of describing the depth of my devotion. But there’s still no way to put words to what I feel. There’s still no way, nor a need, to describe in analytical terms the sanctity of spirituality. It simply is. We simply are.

But one thing is for certain. When I am asked how I can be so calm, when anyone asks how I’ve gotten from point A to point B, whenever I ask myself how in God’s name I got through anything, how I find the courage to look fear in the face and choose love . . . when I wonder how I will one day get through the inevitable heartache that life dishes out, my answer is simple. I will pray.

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Awaken

I believe that what happens to us in this life is preordained. We are held and guided by a higher force. Call it what you will; Divine Mother, God, cosmic consciousness, Goddess, Self, the universe…we are held.

But just because things are “happening as they’re meant to” does not mean we should walk blindly through this life. It does not mean everything will fall into place and we have no work to do. We do have work to do. There is work to be done.

Preordained grace does not give us a free pass to fall asleep at the wheel. We cannot expect destiny to neatly lay gifts in our laps, just because we’re trucking along. We must be aware, we must activate, we must awaken.

What is it that sustains our own unique little universe? What is it that tugs and pulls at the sinews and fibers of our own unique little matrix? What is it that keeps us up at night, when the stars vibrate so silently that it’s deafening? What is it that strips away our layers till we’re raw and crying at the sheer heartbreaking beauty and terrifying mystery of the unknown?

Wafting from cracks in the pavement, showering down from the stars, emanating from the shivering branches of trees is our “meant to be.” It’s everywhere. It’s everyone. It’s all around us. But we must fearlessly turn our gaze upwards. We must look it straight in the eyes, we must peer into the darkness and trust the light will appear. Because the Divine Mother can lay everything out perfectly, but if we’re blind and sleeping, how can we see Her signs? How can we hear Her whispers?

Just because our destiny beckons us does not mean it is inherently ours. We must – we must – activate our power. Too often we give our power away. Too often we mistake fearful compliance for divine trust.

Trusting the process, allowing the sacred to hold us safe, is very different from throwing up our hands and giving in. Offering ourselves to the Divine and allowing Her to take the wheel is irresponsible. We are not empty vessels. Our ships can crash if we do not make an effort to steer them. We can ask Her grace to fill us and guide us, but we then must step up to the plate. We must do our part. We can be led Divinely down the most sacred, perfect path – the path where all our deepest desires will manifest – but if we don’t see them, we will pass them by. Do you understand what I’m saying? Am I speaking to you? We can walk right past our soulmate, pass by the building where we would have been offered our dream career, completely miss the courtyard filled with the guiding light that was to inspire our greatest artistic masterpiece…if we don’t pay attention. You can lead a horse to water…we must recognize our thirst and willing to drain the water.

I pulled an angel card from my oracle deck just before sitting down to this piece. It was “Blessing in Disguise.” It read, “What appears to be a problem is actually part of your answered prayer. You’ll understand the reasons behind your present situation as everything resolves. Trust in heaven’s protection and infinite wisdom to answer your prayer in the best way.” The angels sent you this card to help you recognize the blessing in the midst of an apparent challenge. What you’ve appear to have lost needed to fall away, and will be replaced with something better. Have no fear for your future, but continue praying and following the guidance that comes to you through repetitive feelings, thoughts, visions and words. Additional meanings for this card: One door closes another one opens • The “how” is up to God with respect to the best way to answer prayers • Release the need to control and predict the outcome of this situation • Trust.

My guru gave me a mantra some time ago. Om Parasaktyai Namaha. It means offer every disturbance to the supreme Shakti, treat every ripple as sacred teacher, release the intense need to craft your life so Grace can guide you and hold you safe. I recite it every day. Before asana, after asana; during, before, after meditation; in the car; in my bed; before a meal. Sometimes at the strangest moments. Sometimes in moments that simply beg for the fullness of those words. The mantra is dropped into my consciousness from above whenever needed, and I don’t question it. I marvel, yes. But I don’t question it. I take the life raft, I swallow the spiritual pill, I infuse my cells with the medicinal potion of their weight and trust trust trust.

We can get so caught up in definitions, concepts, the illusion of permanence. We can become so  afraid of ideas, of words. God, prayer, holiness, Spirit. These words have caused wars. These arrangements of letters elicit images, palpable reluctance, visceral emotions. But what is any word, really, but a feeling? Why do we allow ourselves to be locked up in definitions? Why do we even attempt to define ourselves, or anything at all? Man laid meaning to letters, after all.

Love. Truth. Trust. Wisdom. Remembrance. Oneness. Peace.

These words are just as sacred as God, prayer, holiness, Spirit, temple, worship, scripture. Because what are they but feeling, emotion, vibration?

One of my most favorite, cherished poems is this one…

My heart holds within it every form,
it contains a pasture for gazelles,
a monastary for Christian monks.
There is a temple for idol-worshippers,
A holy shrine for pilgrims;
There is the table of the Torah,
and the book of the Koran.
I follow the religion of Love
and go whichever way His camel leads me.
This is the true faith;
This is the true religion.
~Ibn Arabi

We are one. Love is our common blood. Truth is our uniting force. Angelic Divinity is our shared source. We are born from the same pure spring. We drip the same magic, we contain within us the same vast, black, starless canvas of moonlit, wondrous potential. So why do we insist on keeping up this act, why do we continue to cover for the ignorant villain that is separation? There is no separation. All is one. We are one. We are everything. We are everyone.

Our paths are littered with gifts. But just because we consist of stardust and bliss, just because we are children of the God and Goddess, does not mean we will be without suffering. Learning to remember the sweetness of our own inherent worth, learning to read the symbols and hear the poetry of our own deserving nature, learning to recognize the depth of the unconditional love that holds us safe…is not always easy. But it is essential to our transformation. Without awakening and activating, we cannot transform. Our souls will remain suspended in a false safety. And it is just that…false.

The people, places, experiences, objects and feelings that puncture our hearts, stretch our spirits, spill into our crown chakra and trickle through our cellular matrix are meant. to. be. there. They are sent to us from grace Herself. May we swallow our fear and learn to trust the burning in our center that leads us forward, that beckons us towards these people, places, experiences, objects and feelings. They are our teachers, our temple, our idols and our religion. They are the very reflections of ourselves, the counterpoints of our own souls. They are no accident. 

I believe that what happens to us in this life is preordained. We are held and guided by a higher force. But we must come to terms with our responsibility in this journey. Often our greatest blessings are disguised by a thin veil of conflict, confusion, fear, doubt. Don’t be fooled by the disguise. See through the veils. Burn away the doubt with truth. Anoint the questionable with faith.

It is overwhelming what an extreme privilege it is to be able to hold space for such a sacred practice, to be able to commandeer such an exquisite venture. Acknowledging how very blessed we are, what a sincere honor it is to be able to pursue liberation, is the most grounding, humbling, gratifying practice. It is the precipice for the deep work that will, inevitably, lead us to our own freedom. Our own recognition of truth, love, healing. Our own clarification of God and holiness, Spirit and prayer. We are being led and invited to awaken. To active. We are being called forth. It is time for our own discovery. It is time for us to open our eyes and expose the sacred, preordained life we have so profoundly chosen. Wake up. It’s starting.

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Give All Back to Spirit

Say “God” in a yoga room – much less any other room – and you may well lose half your class. Figuratively and even literally. The notion of God is tangled mercilessly in the web of religion. The image of a man in the sky with a long white beard ruling over humanity with staff in hand may come to mind when the G-word is dropped. Many of us were raised religious; some of us were even provided quite a patriarchal network painted as religion. Religion aside, though, God is a word often skirted around for fear of the ensuing implications. My yoga teacher Seane Corn has the greatest definition of God. It is, “that which exists within that is of truth and love.” Who could argue with that, right?

God, by this definition, exists within us all. God is whatever and whomever we, as individuals, deem proper. You could be drawn to the word “God,” or perhaps Divine Mother, cosmic consciousness, the Universe, higher Self or the powers that be resonate more deeply with you. The point is, God is me as God is you as God is everyone. We are all part of the Divine fabric, intricately woven threads each endowed with our own, marvelous sprinkling of Grace. Our expressions of spirituality are different, our prayers different, our vibration different. This is how it is meant to be! There have been wars waged over religion; unfathomable blood shed over what God is or isn’t. It’s devastating to consider, especially when the truth (as far as I see it) is no one man or woman is more Godly than another. We are all Godly. It’s just a matter of how, or if, we choose to express it.

How does one go about expressing God in day-to-day life? Kindness. Compassion. Love. Generosity. Gratitude. Just to name a few. While cathedrals and chapels and shrines are stunning, we needn’t go to such trouble to express our devotion on a moment-to-moment basis. We are Divine expressions of God in and of ourselves! Our bodies are our temples. Our breath and movement is our prayer. Our very existence is an expression of devotion and, with mindfulness and commitment to Self and other, we have the capacity to fortify the unification of humanity.

I am a yoga teacher and soul activist who is deeply spiritual and open about my faith in Grace, the Divine and intangible cosmic beauty. On this path, I have been faced repeatedly with the judgment that yoga is a religion. I was even told recently that all yogis are “going to hell” because they fancy themselves “above God.” What the what? First of all, the ancient system of yoga originated in India. It is a multi-layered practice, and asana is only one limb. Yoga is not a religion. Hinduism and Buddhism are the two most well known religions associated with the yoga practice, but they are completely separate.

It’s important to differentiate between spirituality and religion. Religion is the subscription to a specific dogma. “A particular system of faith or worship,” according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. On the other hand, spirituality is less a practice and more an embodiment. It is defined as “relating to or affecting the human spirit or soul as opposed to material or physical things; not concerned with material values of pursuits.” Quite different, yes? I will definitely admit there are some grey areas. A religious person can be deeply spiritual. But, on the contrary, there are countless spiritual beings who are not religious in the slightest. So one must be mindful of how one does differentiate, if discussing religion and spirituality. Especially when yoga is involved in the conversation!

Spirit is where we all came from. The Divine essence of existence. The pulse of the Universe. The rhythms of nature and the cosmos, the steady thread of unchanging bliss. My guru, Mynx Inatsugu, taught me what our “true nature” actually is. We are not the bodies we live in. We are not the minds we have in our heads. We are not the titles and various identities we accumulate throughout our lives. Because all of these are changing. Our bodies grow and age, our minds learn and change, our identifications come and go. The one steady constant we have had since coming into this life is the simple thread of awareness we were born with. It is unchanging. It is unaffected by weight, height, intelligence, memory, success or failure. It is the sweet nectar of our very being. It is our own personal dose of Spirit.

Spirit comes from the Latin root “spiritus” meaning “breath.” As yogis, and as human beings, everything comes back to the breath. Breath is life. Breath is prana; life force; sacred energy. Without the breath, we cannot survive. Similarly, without Spirit, we cannot survive. We can live completely disconnected from Spirit, in denial of it, or completely oblivious to it…but it will persist. It is threaded into our very spiritual matrix. We are vessels of Divinity. We are conduits of Grace. We are Gods and Goddesses in the flesh. We can argue it all we want, but we are vibrational beings of light living human lives on this sweet little planet. We come from the stars; we are literally made of stardust. The human restrictions of flesh and thought cannot contain us; we are inconceivably more than anything any human mind could even process. What power that offers, right? We all have this inherent capacity to “be good and do good,” by birthright. We are all cut of the same cloth.

It’s really easy to identify and cling to the changeable nature of things. Money, possessions, politics, relationships. It’s practically impossible not to cling to these things, at least some of the time. But the real problem lies in the belief in duality. The belief that you are different than I am. The belief that what I’m doing is wrong and what you’re doing is right. Seane Corn says that all things happen exactly as they’re meant to “so as for our souls to transform.” We are on a journey, all of us. We are here to grow, expand, transform and learn. We are here to spread love and be love but, most of all, we are here to remember how to love. We are here to teach each other. We are here to spend every single day practicing the art of seeing God in one another, of practicing compassion and kindness, to our Selves and to others. We are here with a great responsibility to the very magic of which we are comprised…to recognize the power that lies within, to never forget it, and to stand in awe of the great gift we have been given. You are God, you are Spirit and you are perfect – absolutely perfect ­– just by breathing.

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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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Goodnight Dream Weavers

I’ve been dreaming like crazy lately! Lots about events that are happening in real life. Warped into bizarre realities behind my eyelids as dreams tend to do. As we can all tell by my last essay, dated May 25, a whole two weeks ago, it’s been too long since I’ve downloaded on Body Karma the myriad of musings that play inside my mind from day to day. Trust me, I’ve had lots to share and lots to tinker on about, as I so love to do, but as my dreams imply, I’ve been a bit scattered of late.

I’m currently in nutrition school. I have just nine months left (but who’s counting?) and am very much excited about the concept of finishing and bringing together the final stages of my business. Holistic Wellness. I’ve been building this for years and am elated that, this time next year, I will be able to finally begin putting forth the energy I’ve been cultivating all this time.

That being said, I’ve found myself buried in homework and studies much of the time, thus leaving little free play time to weave words here in my sacred space with all of you. I’ve so missed my bi and tri-weekly posts, goodness have I missed them. It’s interesting, the rotation of things in life. What are non-negotiables rise to the surface and what can be feasibly lived without (or tolerated less often) sink to the bottom, like shiny gemstone river rocks. My feigning hunger for literature, avid chakra and Ayurveda studies, detailed journaling and constant attention to Body Karma have all waned significantly in the past months. To balance my dense nutrition reports, projects, studies and learning I find myself filling all spare time with exertion of sorts. Asana, hiking, walking the dog, stretching, foam rolling, more yoga, trigger point therapy…I suppose the time I spend sitting and plugging away at meal plans and condition reports are so intellectually jammed with information that I crave an excessive amount of movement to balance it out. It all sometimes seems like an endless hamster wheel, the routine of each day, each day turning into a week, weeks bleeding into months and suddenly it’s a new season…

It’s a good reminder to be present. Present and grateful. I’m finding more and more that gratitude is the antidote to everything, gratitude heals all wounds, pacifies all doubts. Speaking of all that one learns with each passing year, I’m 25 for several more weeks. I’ve always been comically neurotic about my birthday. It must be a past-life thing or some karmic tendency embedded in my cosmic DNA. This is my last banana as a _____-year-old…this is the last time you’ll talk to me as a _____-year-old…never ever again will I ever be ______ years old. It’s frankly ridiculous and yet, as ever, I confess it here to you. It’s not that I mourn the aging process, not at all. I’m always excited about my birthday but I have some bizarre obsession with what’s being lost, in the same breath. Some strange pull to cling to what I’m leaving behind. The last everything as a whatever-year-old. I’m doing a little better with bidding farewell to the iconic 25, and yet I still manage to sign off from every journal entry with a PS) I’m 25… as though I of all people would forget.

I’ve found my dreams to reflect the state of my life lately. Busy, deeply laced with symbols, intensely colorful, wrought with emotion. I’ve journaled as many of them as I can [which I always recommend clients and friends do, we learn so much about ourselves and our subconscious mind when we make note of our dreams], oftentimes in the middle of the night with one eye open, scrawling sideways across a blank page of my journal, fragments of dreams, images captured in several words that I hope will initiate access to the full memory come morning. It almost always does.

So what does this mean? I think it means I’m trying to think of a thousand things at once all day long. I don’t feel stressed out (for once in my life) which is magical, a welcome peacefulness that’s been carefully cultivated, but my busy dream state exposes the preoccupied nature of my waking mind. Perhaps this is why I so love my time on my yoga mat, or one of the reasons. An hour, give or take, to blissfully check out from the constant, albeit scenic, train ride of the mind. Thoughts, constantly, at all hours of the day. It makes me rather fond of my dreams, no matter how alarming or unnerving they may be at times, because they dance on without my having to take any part in them. I don’t have to decide which to have first, which to remember best or which to have last the longest. They just go on, like a picture show, illustrations of my deepest fears, woes, triumphs and fantasies playing out on a private screen behind my eyelids. How magical, no?

When people ask me how I am lately I find myself at a loss for words. To reply “busy” would be foolish, who isn’t busy? To reply “blessed” would be sincere, and yet too cheeky to get away with in most circumstances. But the latter is the really the honest to God truth. I may be busy with my energy going in ten different directions, but I will never fail to see the absolute abundance in which I rest. Many are not so fortunate. I do not know the meaning of hardship, of hard work, of struggle. Yes, I have had my share of trying experiences, I have known tragedy and I have experienced my own humble spectrum of oh so human passion. But I have no right to be anything but grateful. Grateful for my dreams, my opportunities; grateful for you, for this space, for the chance to share these words; grateful for my connection to the Divine, to God, to the energy of which we are all comprised and the collective consciousness of which we are all a part. I am so thankful. So with that I will say goodnight, abruptly, while my Truth is most alive and my gratitude most abounding. “God is that which exists within that is of Truth and Love,” my teacher Seane Corn says. Thank God for Truth and Love. Sending out a wavelength of healing energy and love tonight, and dream weaving in vibrant color. May peace in its purest form fill your being and may we always, always, always return to gratitude. Namaste ❤

 

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A Good, Fierce Practice

The first of the 8 Limbs of Yoga are the Yamas, the conscious restraints of our behaviors, of which there are 5. I find myself, of late, balancing between the second and fifth yamas…satya, truthfulness, and aparigraha, non-possessiveness. The others are ahimsa, non-violence, asteya, non-stealing, and brahmacharya, moderation. In the practice of satya I find myself gravitating towards the element of non-judgement…holding space for those who don’t flow the way I flow, allowing their differences to teach me rather than unsettle me, staying grounded in opposition and finding an even deeper anchor in the steady practice of remaining compassionate.

It is a very human urge to judge. We make judgements all day long, every day, from simple (“I should drink more water right now because I’m thirsty,” to complex, “I should tell my husband he needs to pay more attention to me because I’m beginning to feel detached from the relationship,”). Just because a judgement comes up does not mean it’s fair, correct or appropriate, but it comes up nonetheless. In my practice of satya, which also encompasses being honest and forgiving, I aim to see clearly the thoughts I have and judgements I pass rather than trying to stifle them. I meet them with kindness and love. I examine, dispassionately, their truthfulness and concede that, inevitably, there is always an element of falsity to one’s own judgements.

It is also quite human to be possessive. Possessive of time, possessions, even other people (this is where it has been trickiest for me). It makes me think of the story of the traveling monk. A man meets a monk in an airport. The man is sitting with his humble suitcase, waiting for the plane to arrive. The monk is sitting across from him with nothing, hands folded peacefully in his lap. The man smiles at the monk, and asks him, “Where is all your luggage?” The monk smiles back, “You yourself only have one small suitcase, where is the rest of your luggage?” The man glances at his conservative suitcase, “Oh…I’m just passing through,” the man says with a shrug. A gentle pause, and the monk replies, “So am I.”

Point being…how does a suitcase full (or, let’s be honest, HOUSE full) of possessions really serve us? In many ways we are served by the things we own, we use them daily and are grateful for them. But in many other cases they simply weigh us down, like anchors around our ankles. Keeping us stagnant, keeping us stuck at home paying for the expensive things by which we are surrounded. What I find is worse, in my experience, is being possessive of another human being. We cannot own one another, we cannot even own our own selves. Our spirits, yes, but these bodies and minds are temporarily on lend from God.

The Divine has placed us for a certain amount of time on this planet to — what? To do what? My answer is to BE LOVE. Not to own the world’s finest things, not to own one’s partner or children or dearest friends, not to base one’s self-worth on the accumulation of material goods or even notions…but to be good and do good. To love oneself and one another. To leave a mark on this planet, a jet stream if you will, of truth and love. Of light. Of authenticity. To have lived fully, for one another, humbly and with utmost regard to the phenomenon of this opportunity at human life. To have all that we have, and to have it for the great lengths that we do. The blessing of cognitive reasoning to even have this conversation, to even digest this notion of living more simply so as to open oneself up to love and freedom. Because that is what the 8 Limbs of Yoga are about…leading one in a solo, spiritual, cosmic journey towards liberation. Freedom. I certainly don’t anticipate getting to the 8th limb, which is Samadhi (enlightenment) in this life, and frankly I wouldn’t want to. I have much work to do at the bottom rungs. I have been blessed with the lives preceding this one to know that I have done much work already, and now I am consciously aware of the ladder before me. I start at the very base rung, on the very first yama, and work my way upwards…with integrity, passion, awareness, purposefulness and, above all, gratitude.

This practice of yoga is one that is lifelong, if so we choose (and it’s quite obvious I’ve chosen). There are fierce practices that can last a lifetime embedded in each yama itself, not to mention the intricacies of the other 8 Limbs. This practice will not gift us with immediate relief from the suffering of life. In fact, quite the contrary. The practice will open us up to greater depths of feeling, which can at first cause suffering. But, by always coming back to the yamas, we can ground ourselves in the pulse of our own true nature and not get carried away with self-judgement.

My two chosen yamas for current practice come to mind yet again. Truthfulness – forgiving myself for the urge to judge myself, and embracing my imperfect human tendencies as simply the container for my beyond perfect spirit (all of our spirits are untouchably perfect). Non-possessiveness, being non-attached to the outcome of my practice (a huge challenge) and trusting the process. Practicing diligently, with Grace, and always asking for the guidance of the Divine in the endeavor to stay calm and non-possessive of the very relationship between the tangible self and the God within. I believe that, whether or not one is a yogi, the 8 Limbs are universal. Anyone can practice them. Anybody living out in the world, amongst other human beings, can find a fierce daily practice in these simple yet profound concepts. We are devastatingly beautiful in our humanity…and it is up to us to see and embrace that, as our souls traverse this journey. May we always vow to uplift one another and see our selves in one another, so as to proliferate the most healing energy that could exist…compassion. The work is done on the inside, the effects radiate outward, and the ripples undulate onward…

Namaste

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