The Teachings of Number Thirty-Seven

IMG_4074When I was a kid I decided that thirty-seven was my favourite number. I can feel the memory of that moment, with resonance. Why thirty-seven? Simply because I felt like it was a neglected number. I felt that no one ever thought of thirty-seven or used it (to my knowledge) aside from counting in a linear fashion. Thirty-seven was just… sort of… there without anyone paying it much attention.

I remember writing that number over and over, sending it love.

I think I felt sorry for thirty-seven. I wanted it to be acknowledged more.

I remember having a garage sale and pricing everything accordingly: $0.37, $1.37, $2.37. This led to a discussion with my parents about the concept of pricing and making change, helping me understand why thirty-seven wasn’t used that often.

A few days before I (recently) turned thirty-seven I had a strong, healing shift of realization.

I realized that I have believed the world wants to throw me out of it.

I realized that I keep waiting for the mysterious “them” or “they” to toss me out – either because I don’t belong or I’m separate or not wanted.

I’ve written about this in different ways before, talking about beliefs I hold around persecution and being able to be seen, to be me, to be in my power. Somehow I now feel as though I have been cowering and not realizing my full unbound potential out of fear. Recently, I watched as I took responsibility for myself and for my own actions instead of blaming this invisible “them” who I kept waiting to hurt me for expressing myself.

All those times, I was resisting something and working away through to this realization.

I realized that I’ve believed the world wants to throw me out – only – it can’t.

It’s impossible.

I’m a part of this world. I come from it and out of it; not to it.

I’m not an alien that has arrived here, confused, even though I have often felt like that.

I am a part of it and so I can’t be thrown out. There’s nowhere for me to be “thrown out” to. It doesn’t exist – this other place to which I seem to be waiting to be cast out towards. Banished.

Even in death, it’s not possible.

I am a part of all that is.

I can’t be thrown out. I’m here. “They” can’t get rid of me.

As I sat with this realization through turning thirty-seven, it grew stronger and stronger. This being a part of, not separate from. Not concerned about people who don’t like me or don’t want me around (as I tend to chase after to I can feel unloved); focused instead on those people who do love me.

Abundance.

There may be times when I’m “difficult” for others to be around and that’s okay too. I still get to be here and that difficulty is also a part of all that is.

Everything. Every aspect of self and personality and transformation. Those aspects that might shift and change and those that don’t. Those aspects that all need acceptance. They are in me and they are in everyone else too.

From offering Heart Connection workshops repeatedly I have the opportunity to connect with others through the heart space in a deep way. I hear so many meaningful insights from the people who come explore and share and it often comes back to acceptance. Full acceptance for the other people in the room and for each individual to fully accept themselves. No matter what comes up. To be held and supported by one other person while making eye contact and connecting through the heart. To actually see and sense and feel through the heart while being present and witnessing another person.

To see yourself in another.

I see that more and more in myself. The more I start to connect to myself and to my heart, the more I see how others reflect what needs to be revealed for me. The bright and shining aspects and the more dark and murky ones. The parts of myself I have started to like or love and the parts that I might not like. I’m learning to sometimes simply accept that I don’t like them. That doesn’t mean anything is “wrong” or “needs to be fixed”. My tendency to like or dislike could shift at any time or not. Those beliefs are fluid.

I see now how this feeling of exclusion and strong belief that the world wanted to get rid of me meant I could treat myself in more destructive ways. It meant that I could treat others in more harmful ways. It meant that I sought more and more control and holding on because it felt as though the world was trying to spin me right out of it unless I did something. Held on. Forced my way and my will.

I see now some of the early light when I felt a glimmer of others bringing me into this secret mystery of life, helping me learn to practice a secret language. I see now how choosing to shift from using the word “but” to “and” helped me create a lens of abundance and to not always see everything through a lens of scarcity or lack (which is still my default and it’s also being broken down; deconstructed). Simple things that have led to an avalanche of a shift.

My old belief structures are falling apart. They have been for years now.

The more they fall apart the more of what is left is simply, me. All of me.

And I trust now that other people want me around. They may even like or love me. It’s up to me to not feed my ego with that energy and to remain humble while at the same time receiving what I need.

A friend asked me on my birthday about what I had learned this past year.

What came up for me was that I have learned how to be in relationship more. To not hide away or separate from others (or from myself) and to be more and more available. To live with other people. To enjoy company and let myself be enjoyed.

To allow myself to be supported by others. To allow myself to feel supported internally and externally.

To participate in this whole huge big fabric of life and, as I do, it reinforces my trust in myself and that, in fact, I’ve always been welcome here. Wanted here. Supported here. The love has always been all around me. I simply didn’t believe it. I could feel it and often tried to exclude myself from it. Instead of letting myself be held by all the support and energy that is constantly flowing. I did that – not anyone else.

Unconditionally. I’ve learned how to remove some conditions to loving.

To keep learning how to hold on less to this big spinning ball of earth – and learn that it’s not going to fling me out. I’m not here to be destroyed.

I started to feel the sensation of belonging here. I started to feel how, when I can’t be thrown out, I need to participate in the way I want to while I’m here. I don’t have a passive escape mechanism or others to blame. I need to choose how I want to be treated and how I want to treat others. For me, that choice keeps moving more and more into one of empowerment and encouragement. Love. To know that I can choose these things and let go of the outcome. To choose how to be, without expectations.

I feel more connected to all parts of myself and, as I become connected, I simply can’t treat myself or others in a destructive way. I can’t destroy myself and I don’t want to. If I can’t destroy myself, then I can’t destroy you either and I don’t want to. I may be “destroyed” or “persecuted” only if I allow that to be true. If I give responsibility away. If I give power away.

I notice that I now think constantly about how much I destroy the earth every day and that no longer feels like something I can ignore (even if I’m not sure how to shift those behaviours yet). I can’t ignore myself or my part in the fabric of life.

The more connected I feel, the more I realize how much everything is in relationship and whatever I’m a part of is also a part of me. As this new belief started to take hold, I caught a glimpse into the divine orchestration of all that is. That I’m responsible for organizing my own piece of the larger picture and while I’m doing that, so is every other living creature. We are all, consciously or not, working together all the time.

Union. Yoga means union.

As I continue to deepen my yoga practice, my teaching practice, and my living practice, my ability to become union strengthens. I notice more of what I want to feed in myself and in relationships.

I’m growing out of feeding my own death into breathing life.

I’m learning how to love where each and every person is in their process too and know that I can’t throw them out either. That is not the kind of power I’d want to have. I need to learn from each person who I find difficult and understand that they are bringing up for me the thing I need to work with in that moment. To try to not move away from what I find difficult or expect that others will abandon me in moments when I’m difficult for them. To see that we’re all a part of everything. All parts of us.

I didn’t know, all those years ago, that when I started giving love and support to the number thirty-seven it was also part of this process. Part of learning how to love myself.

I’m a part of everything. I’m a part of all that is.

And so are you.

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Rewriting with Upside-down Joy

19875350_10155483730008377_7707596673036215116_nI went upside-down today!

The energy to do so has been building for a while now. The other week, when practicing outside at my childhood home, I had a sense of wanting to go upside-down. I moved into headstand prep a couple of times and lifted one leg and the other.

I visualized myself upside-down, standing with my heat above me in the yard.

Though I noticed that most past fear at going upside-down seemed to be absent, I hesitated at their vague whispers.

It wasn’t the right moment and I moved on in my practice.

Something in me sensed and commented internally, “you’ll do a headstand this summer”.

Going upside-down has been In my thoughts for at least the last couple of months. Not as a goal or a have-to or a must. Perhaps not even an aspiration. More of a curiosity. I could easily live my entire life without ever having gone upside-down on my own. It wasn’t something I was consciously striving towards.

Today something inside me said, “it’s today. It’s going to happen today”.

So, I listened. I took my mat to the wall in the hallway and found my foundation in my arms, head pointing down, stepping my feet in closer and feeling the backs of my legs clear and open. I lifted my hips up and felt as they stacked into place over my ribs and I floated into my first headstand.

There I was, upside-down without pressing against the wall. My breath was strong and easy, helping me stay active and sensing the posture.

It felt so effortless! It felt so easy to float up, rise up, stay up.

So effortless that I wanted to stay in the posture forever! Such a sense of ease and energy coursed through me. I couldn’t stop smiling and joy emanated around me, holding me there. All systems active. All chakras happily whirring around.

I could feel the strength of arms and the space in my shoulders (something newly created!). The back of my neck was long and open. I could feel my heart balanced, my back body strong. My lungs felt clear and able to circulate my breathe through my body. My solar plexus beaming and supporting my womb and sacrum. My legs floating overhead yet strong. My spine and entire physical body felt like it was in complete alignment.

Strong. Spacious. Effortless.

I felt light. Immense joy and light moving through me. My physical body felt light in its supported structure.

So much joy circulating and emanating.

Even then the thoughts that came up were fascinating to witness. Instantly the first thoughts surfaced trying to berate me, “I can’t believe this took you so long” and “what kind of a yoga teacher can’t do headstand?” and then the other side rushing ahead “do you think you can do this without the wall? When will that happen?”.

The thoughts subsided almost as quickly as they appeared. Only a few cycles through of each. The past and future both pulling away at the present.

I came down, rested, and kept repeating out loud soft whispers of “thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you thank you!” expressed with so much beaming that I was dancing back to my mat on the floor! Excitement. I was thanking myself and thanking the divine all around. The support and help that was here today and on the journey to get here.

As I lay in shavasana, I noticed the pull of the past and future trying to creep back in and steal away the joyful present and I looked at them and chose otherwise. I chose to stay in the joy of the moment. My heart filling, my smile bursting! It became easy to stay in the moment and to be here now. In this experience.

As the day progressed I did look back on the journey to get here.

I saw memories of the story along the way. They kept floating up to the surface.

Realizing that just a few nights ago I remembered how terrified I was at going into handstand in my teacher training. I knew I wasn’t ready and yet, up we went – with someone else helping but the flood of sensation and emotion and terror was only heightened by this pose. My arms not strong enough and my core nowhere near strong enough and it just felt painful and collapsing and weak and scary. My nervous system was haywire then and to throw a system in that state upside-down didn’t help it (at least in my case). I didn’t really make it up and quickly avoided the whole thing, hiding in fear to protect myself.

I remembered another teacher who had forced me to go upside down in her class even though I couldn’t and I came right back down in tears, trauma responses screaming.

I noticed that voice of self-judgment that rose in me a few weeks ago in a friend’s class when I chose to not go upside down into headstand, “what kind of a yoga teacher are you if you can’t do this?”. I felt embarrassed that I couldn’t do it in front of another teacher. I also felt the pressure to be able to do it rising from within as I wondered what she might think of me. Fearful that meant I wasn’t good enough. Though I knew my limits and my edge.

Remembering the feeling of crunching in my shoulders and neck. So much emotion and stuck energy stored there that there was no space. I’d go into a headstand preparation and only feel the icky stuck crunchiness of my shoulders and let it turn to discomfort and pain and then come back out and be with it. There was no space. I only felt the hardness of life and carried a great deal of it on my shoulders.

Memories of the moment I learned in my restorative yoga training that that certain eye conditions were contraindications to going upside-down. I had posterior vitreous detachment so this knowledge gave me an out. “Oh, I can’t go upside-down,” I would tell people, “because of my eyes – too much pressure”. I found deep relief in having an excuse.

Last September I found out I was misdiagnosed. “Huh…. Well… there goes that excuse!”. Now I had no reason not to only I had no practice whatsoever of moving into headstand. Aside from those earlier incidents which didn’t feel safe and were full of trauma and fear.

I was a bit disappointed to not have an excuse any more. I thought I’d found a way out.

I touched on a memory in a breath workshop last October where I was receiving a treatment in front of a group to release trauma from my breath. When asked which postures I didn’t like, I said, quickly and matter-of-factly, “I don’t like to go up-side down”. This was also my way of telling the teacher “we aren’t going to do that today”. When asked why, I shied with my solar plexus caving in and my shoulders rounding and said, “it’s just too scary”. Going upside-down tipped too many emotions and sharp waves of sensations across the screen of my heart. My heart couldn’t process all that sensation then. It meant I didn’t feel safe. The feeling of not being safe was too much and my breath would match – unable to support my body.

After his kind work with me, I practiced ways of opening my heart and letting the breath come into my lungs.

Then my awareness shifted to remembering a about year ago on a dock with a fellow yoga teacher as she showed me some back-strengthening exercises. One was so difficult for me that tears released out at the unused muscles across the back of my heart and shoulders now moving into action. It was hard. It was helpful too. I cycle those practices onto my mat often, quietly building strength here and there.

I had a flash I had long forgotten: my whole right arm and right side of my back at one point felt all but gone. That was in my yoga teacher training five years ago when I was in a state of deep grief. My arm felt energetically amputated due to trauma and my body trying to shed what was “unnecessary” in order to stay alive. It was like a huge hollow void aside from one gigantic knot of energy and muscle right at the thoracic spine. The rest of my arm felt dead. Disconnected.

When my arm started reconnecting, for years, my right shoulder would fall out of place or be in intense pain. Another reason to not go upside-down. Keep my body safe. Keep my Self safe.

My shoulders and across the back of my heart and arms have been a weak spot.

As I moved through my practice in the past and noticed these different pain points, I would hear the criticisms raging up from within. I would hear my intolerance and impatience with myself. The anger at “not being able to” because my arm hurt yet again. Letting myself focus only on the suffering.

I also learned how to take care of these different pain points. I learned how to take care of myself. How to lovingly re-introduce my right arm to join the rest of me. How to notice the emotion of anger and rage stored in that shoulder. How, sometimes, when my arm separated, it was because those emotions were pouring out. They no longer needed to be stored in there. How painful and murky and dark that process often felt. How frustrated I would be with myself when my arm was in pain again. How to notice my breath and to reach out when I needed help and guidance to release more trauma from it.

Through this practice of taking care, somehow, the pain stopped being where I lived. The voices started to shift and allow the space to let myself be. To create the safety I needed internally.

The past few months and weeks I have been practicing balancing my shoulder girdle. Finding strength and space. Finding a strong foundation to balance my neck and head.

I smile again at simply knowing that today was the day.

I could easily have never gone upside-down and that wouldn’t mean I was less of a person or less of a teacher. Many people don’t have the ability to do so for whatever reason and that doesn’t make them any less. It never made me any less.

Yet there was this constant hum I can hear the memory of that was dragging me down. The constant self-criticism and judgment including “what kind of a teacher are you?”. I let my thoughts do the job of making me feel less than. It was never true.

The other week I sent a friend a note to let her know I was having strange thoughts. Crazy thoughts like “Hmmm… I’m actually pretty” and “I’m actually quite talented” and “kinda great”. These thoughts felt strange because they were contrary to the self-talk I’ve let run the show. I never believed these “strange” thoughts to be true and now… I can see the truth in them.

I can see the truth in myself.

Today was the day I went upside-down.

It felt so effortless. So much so that, in that moment, none of the effort or journey it took to get here came to mind. It also didn’t have to come to the surface, though it seemed to.

The looking back not as a measurement of where I’ve been or what I’ve been through. Not as an excuse for why I didn’t do this sooner. Or a way to make sense of it. Not out of judgment or anger with myself. This reflection and these moments that surfaced from the past have been met with understanding and love. After each recollection of struggle that appeared, I thought “I went upside-down” and immediately an infusion of joy surges through me. Every single time.

It’s as though today’s headstand is emanating healing energy and joy back in time and in this moment. Meeting those past memories and versions of myself to help them release. I no longer feel attached to the struggle or the pain in any of them. They are now infused with joy and care.

I went upside-down today and turned into a pillar of light.

Going upside-down today helped teach me that sometimes building the foundation takes time. Whether it’s taken “a long time” really isn’t possible to tell. Nor does it matter. Sometimes building the foundation doesn’t even feel like that’s what I’m doing. It’s “just” a practice.

I wasn’t ready all those times before. I wasn’t ready yesterday. No amount of pressure internally or externally would have shifted the timeline. No matter how much I pushed or tried to force myself or will it, I wasn’t ready and all those actions or thoughts of inaction only created more suffering. I had to learn to let myself not be ready yet. To learn how to create a safe space of loving care to grow into. I didn’t even know this was something I was building towards or could do. I simply kept practicing, noticing, and trusting.

The “advancement” of the practice isn’t that I went upside-down. The advancement of the practice for me is that I could learn how to live in myself and with myself. I allowed myself the time and space to heal. To learn how to get to a place where I can tolerate so much joy that it’s with me all day and doesn’t get shut down so I can return to the business of suffering. The story of suffering that I used to feel had to be the only way to live.

I can re-write my story.

Setting the foundation and opening to the joy of being.

Healing Power

IMG_3137What if power, like love, was limitless? I suspect that true power is.

A few weeks ago I started to explore my relationship with power. I found myself writing in a string-of-consciousness approach:

What do I do with my power?
Try to get people to do things? Try to get money? Take resources – share/not share.
Force my way through people who are obstacles. Yes, I’ve done that, I still catch myself sometimes.
I separate and bring together. (Within myself as much as outside of myself and with people).
Heal.
Not say what I want/need in case I don’t get it – store energy and keep power close so I don’t lose it or spend it all too soon – I might need it later and not have any left (lack).
Is expression power?
Or a way of controlling power (exertion or not).

Powerless? Do I ever feel powerless or is it really a fear of expressing empowerment? I don’t think I’m powerless. (Though this is new, I used to believe I was).

 Are power and control the same thing? Or have I confused them?

 What is the power of letting go? Loss of control not happening? More freedom.

In my current apprenticeship in Ireland, we’re exploring different enemies and their corresponding virtues. The enemies of Power, Fear, Old Age, Clarity and Death.

As I continued moving along the stream of my consciousness I started to see that I think my enemy of power is hiding it and hiding in it. Keeping it all for myself by not saying what I need for fear that moment of power seeking will cause others to leave me – or worse.

I continued to explore:

Keeping my power hidden to stay safe and because I haven’t know what to do with it. The system of education didn’t really help with this sort of true power. It was more about competing and having the smarts in order to obtain the most. Learning how to live in lack – as history tells us to.

Except that’s no longer working. Not for me.

Did it ever work? 

I’m learning I’m quite a powerful being. Not in a powerful take over the world kind of way. I’m still not really sure what this power is and I’m starting to sense it. I’m starting to sense that it’s always been there and it was forced underground.

The power itself hasn’t felt safe or steady because it’s actually so big and I’ve only really learned how to put a lid on it. Quash it. Keep it quiet.

I try to limit it, control it, which just leads to controlling everything around me when my will wants something to happen. At the same time fear expressing emotions or needs or what I can really do. Who I can really be. The labels here might be healer, witch, or other names you associate with that kind of energy. It’s always been there and yet… My stream of consciousness continued:

Is being what I am power?
Is that why they were so afraid?
And now I’m afraid of them –

 I’m afraid then only of their fears of me.

That realization struck a chord.

Is that why I seek acceptance? Wanting to know they don’t fear me?
If they don’t fear me then I can be who I am without limiting my power.

I give up my power to appease their fear.

Today I went to Prospect Park where they have placed hundreds of bright yellow pinwheels in what used to be the old Rose Garden. This place always felt sacred to me – ancient in some way. I was always drawn to it at least to wander through – and could often feel my solar plexus tense when I entered, my throat close. At the same time I loved the beauty of the area, despite the constriction I felt when entering it.

Almost a year ago today I had a deep experience where I realized the seeds of what is emerging now.  Last year I practiced in that isolated space, and let myself be witnessed even though I felt terrified. I stepped into my fear of persecution and explored what it felt like to breathe out fear.

To transform it.

Today, I happened upon this place, filled with golden wheels and instantly realized I was standing in a field of spinning third chakra wheels! Talk about a powerful force.

The third chakra in the yoga system relates to power, among other things. Stoking the fire. Building and sustaining. Keeping that fire of transformation burning.

Power to me isn’t about having things. It isn’t about making money or being “successful”. It isn’t about exerting will over others – though that is a trait that is hard-learned for me and continues to dissolve.

Power for me might mean living life without constant fear of judgment and what that will result in. Power for me might be to understand how to let my gifts or abilities be no matter what other people fear. No matter how much exclusion or the belief of persecution feels painful. Power for me might mean to feel that pain and recognize that it is only pain, not something that will truly harm me. To no longer deny that nature which simply is.

To let myself become as powerful as I already am so that I can help others realize they have power too.

To me, true empowerment is seeing what gifts another has and allowing them to fully step into their gifts, as they do for you. Sometimes by witnessing and sometimes through guiding. Without judgment or fear. Without taking over. Without exerting will over another.

In order to help allow others to be gifted, I need to ensure my own power flows without limit. Without holding on or hiding. I need to continue to heal my own distorted way of working with power and way of viewing myself.

To understand that we are all powerful beings. It’s not just me.

We are all powerful, no matter our size or shape or kind of being. True nature is unlimited and doesn’t my power doesn’t diminish and isn’t threatened by allowing others to be powerful too. Nothing is taken away. I’m not taken away.

To me, when that third chakra wheel is shiny and bright – when it’s spinning in all dimensions and is healthy and not tipped upside down or squashed or deflated, it beams. It beams out and across all other aspects of being. It beams and it feels so good!

That kind of power can feel fulfilling. Bright. Non-threatening. Fear-less.

Seeing this space in the park that used to bring a mix of fear and aspiration to me absolutely overflowing with third chakra energy let me reclaim something within myself. As though this part of the land needs to have more power generated. Through work many people have done there over the years without notice or knowing, this area has been quietly healing. It’s like the area is overflowing with power now. Becoming a stronger field of being. Brighter. Allowing more power to move through and sharing that power with everyone.

That power without fear can create so much beauty.

It’s infinite. Abundant. True power, like love, doesn’t need to be kept in a box for fear of using it or losing it. For feeling battered by it or exposed to the bullying behavior that limited power can create. Or for holding it over others to force will.

It flows, unlimited. When individual power flows, we all rise together.

I didn’t realize when I set out today to see the pinwheels that I had been there one year prior. A year ago my practice there helped me “start to not be trapped”. Now I can see it’s also about abundance, not fear of lack. Let’s put those powerful third chakra wheels ALL over the place! Let the power and energy flow. It’s not to be limited.

In tantra yoga philosophy there is an aim to allow all aspects of self to become fully realized. I see now that this includes power. This includes that third chakra that I tend to shy away from. The fire that needs to be there daily, not just when I feel like accomplishing something for some end purpose or goal and not to force power or will over others when that center is weakened. My power cannot remain hidden under lock and key. I cannot remain weak and hiding in false powerlessness. Certainly not for fear of what others may say or do.

Standing in that reclaimed place in the park today helped me understand that it’s time to reclaim my power.

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Practice Makes Practice

13613123_1746536808927415_2817902978798463288_oI used to say that yoga saved my life – twice. Now, I wonder if it also killed me.

Years ago I was quite sick. The kind of sick that the doctors said was completely made up even though I was so lethargic, I couldn’t move off the couch, my intestines were in pain constantly and it eventually got to the point that my throat would close off and I had no voice. My digestive tract was shot and all the physical symptoms that you could imagine to go with it came.

I was shutting down and no one knew what was happening. None of the specialists could find anything on their scopes or tests and so I continued to fade away.

I called whatever was happening “the dyingness”.

Now, years later, I can see that I wasn’t really wrong in calling it that. In fact, I wonder what I intuitively knew on some level even if I didn’t know then how to work with it. Though I tried to take steps to end or ease the suffering, it also felt so complete and as though it would just win. It felt like this dyingness was me.

In a sense, I was dying.

From a healing perspective, I had trouble assimilating emotion and letting it move through me. I stuck it into my body, storing up bits and pieces to become the past that would continue to drag me down. Stagnation seeped through every part of me and I was drowning in it. I was so cut off from my body that I couldn’t listen to it. Couldn’t hear it screaming out (nor could I speak it or be heard without a voice) and so, it started to deteriorate. To die.

Through that process of dying yoga came to me, prescribed by my naturopathic doctor to help strengthen my digestion. So, I went to class. Once a week for years and years. I didn’t do more than that one class and I never practice at home – I was too afraid I would hurt myself because I didn’t know what I was doing.

Working with my naturopath, I started to feel better. The dyingness (a form of aggressive candida throughout my whole body – including my brain) started its slow process of healing. Seven years of vigilant effort and the candida came into balance.

Somehow it came into balance in the midst of the rest of me sliding completely off kilter. A massive trauma along the same timeline as moving to a new country and a new high-level corporate job and even though my physical body seemed to be technically healing, my emotional body remained stunted and my psychological and spiritual bodies shattered.

What I didn’t realize for several years was that, I believed I was dead. I had walked into a traumatic experience and believed I died in that room. I held that belief so strongly that it felt true and became confusing because it wasn’t. I was technically alive though felt as though walking dead. The disconnect felt irreconcilable many times. I was disconnected in every possible sense.

In the midst of the move to New York, I didn’t practice for three months. Then, one very cold snowy day, I knew I had to go to a class and so I wandered to the one studio that came up in my google search and arrived to the gracious and open arms of a tiny Brooklyn studio complete with boot sludge piled in the back of the room.

A year passed of going to class again once a week. Of crying on the mat more than I ever had. Of trying to remain invisible in the room. Trying to hide the emotions that wanted to burst forth. Then, through synchronicity, an email arrived from a woman I didn’t know offering a Healer and Yoga Teacher training. I tested the idea out with some others though my heart already knew the connection the moment I read the subject line. I had no intention of teaching at all, yet the healer aspect appealed to me.

So I went. Five years ago today I arrived in Puerto Rico, in the rain. I stood at the airport after collecting my suitcase and stared out at the downpour. Exhausted, and stuck in place unable to take another step forward. I knew that if I stepped into this there was no stepping back and, even though I was in such a place of perpetual pain, I knew that pain – it was comfortable. I wanted to heal and yet…. I remember lifting my legs and feet slowly. Heavily placing each one back down on the rain-covered pavement and I made my way.

Part of the requirement for the training was a daily practice. In the months prior, I had upped my practice to three times a week in anticipation. I didn’t think I could “do” yoga every day and yet, something in me desired it. Which is why, five years later, I can say that I’ve never missed a day of practice. Whether my leg was healing from surgery and I couldn’t walk, or I was in any number of small spaces while traveling (including the room of a barge), or sick with a cold or what have you. The commitment to my practice is stronger than any distraction.

In reaching this moment of five years, I’ve been thinking about my practice and why. Why I do it. What brings me back to the mat every day. Time and time again.

It’s not that it’s become a vice or something that I strive for. In fact (aside from noticing that it’s been five years) this practice keeps teaching me to let go of the outcome. To understand that practice doesn’t make perfect – practice makes practice. There’s always more. There’s always a new situation – some new thing to notice or be with. It’s endless and infinite and wondrous in it’s continuity.

Through this practice that girl who kept dying could both finally die and let go of those old modes of living and being that were creating her dis-ease and also build new, healthful, patterns. I’ve learned how to balance my energy, be with sensation, have and release emotion. How to be with and release trauma – to learn that even though the process may take seven years (or more!) it’s a process. And even if something is never wholly “healed” that’s okay too. The holding on and letting go. The ability to find ease in a challenging posture and stay there and be with it. To find ease in balancing (when it used to be what I avoided most). To understand that it’s safe and okay to move from my coveted spot in the room. To understand that it’s okay to stay there when I need to. To understand that all those other iterations of me weren’t “bad” or “worse” and that I’m not “better” or “good” now. To cultivate compassion for myself as I move through this practice. I’m a human in the state of learning how to be just that.

So is everyone else.

My process is different than yours. My practice is different than yours. My teaching will be different than yours and different than other teachers.

There is no one right way.

There is no one way to be.

Through this practice, teaching has become a necessary part of it for me. It’s a practice through which I learn so much. I learn how to be completely present and in the moment. To trust what comes through as what needs to be said or heard or done, even if the responses aren’t favourable. To let go of feeling like no one likes me if they don’t show up for class – to understand instead that they’re receiving what they need elsewhere and isn’t that great? The many gifts I’ve received through teaching and through my own practice could never be described, all I know is that I feel continuously grateful. Continuously renewed. Always trying something different. Always learning to not be attached to any outcome or desired result. To let go of expectations and that every time everything is completely different.

As I mentioned, I was afraid to practice at home by myself for a long time. I was afraid that I didn’t know what I was doing and would hurt myself. Until a teacher told me something very profound. She said, “Just get on the mat and move…. And every time you hear yourself say the world “should” – like “I should do this or that” – don’t do that thing”. It’s not as hard as I had made it out to be for all those years, living in fear. Get on the mat and move. Get out of my head and into my body. That is something that needs to be done. Needs to happen experientially. Understanding the principles in books is great, applying them works even better. For me, I had to learn how to move the energy down. I had to learn how to feel safe in my own body.

I had to learn that I wasn’t dead.

As my physical body grew to feel safe and secure to be in, my emotions could move through more and more and I became more comfortable with them (still an ongoing practice for me). Old memories could rise up and out (and continue to) through the physical releasing and then the practice of letting them just go. Not analyzing and replanting them into my being. Trusting the process. As the e-motions started to move more released in my thinking. New thoughts took place and took root. Old beliefs and structures fell apart. They died – layer upon layer – and there are always more. As more of them died, I could start to return. My spirit returned to me. I was no longer fragmented. I became part of myself again. More whole.

This hasn’t been a linear process by any means. All of it was happening on all levels at once. Being in cycles and flow is a part of the practice for me too. Learning how to not take things so seriously (most of all, myself). To let myself be alive and to thrive.

So yes, yoga in many ways has been helpful in saving my life. It also has been a tool of death. To help me learn how to die and be reborn. Not better or worse. Simply, a newer version of myself continuing to practice learning how to be me.

The Occurrence of Multiple Springs

pexels-photo-428062This year I experienced three Springs. One in Ireland, one in New York and one in Canada. Three seasons of unfolding – of rising up and out – of newness being created. Two things struck me most this year as I witnessed the season with more care than I have before. First, just how much change there was day-to-day (and how much of that change occurred in such a short period of time). Second, just how much “stuff” falls in the spring. The pollen, seeds, buds, all those cocoons of potency falling to the ground or floating through the air.

It isn’t newness entirely, the Spring. It’s another cycle that creation moves through. Many plants and trees knowing this pattern and executing seemingly without thought and with purpose. The earth and elements supporting or destroying in their own collective right.

I’ve never missed seeing the Spring. I’ve noticed it in passing. I’m not sure when I last experienced the Spring, however. This time I had the space to sit with the season. To witness it on repeat in different lands. The “same” things happening with nuanced differences. The whole process much larger than I could ever comprehend; a great unfolding and unfurling.

As I notice my relationship to many Springs this year it occurs to me that I’m also in that season of my life.

I have been in a very long cycle of death. A Winter of sorts. It has been very deep and long – decades at least, more likely lifetimes and most certainly repeated over generations of ancestry. Every time I thought the Winter might be over for me, it wasn’t – not fully. The cycle needed to play out. It needed me to turn deeply inward and rest. I needed to learn how to grieve fully and release. I needed the tools to allow myself to turn inward and simply “be”. To be with what is, even if it’s death. To be with myself and to find comfort in that season of death instead of trying to flee from it or ignore it. To learn how to take the restless energy that grew up around and through and in the grief. The feelings of hopelessness mixed with depression and anxiety that took root and to allow that to all have space.

Part of the process too was to be in that death cycle and plant new seeds in the compost of what was being transformed. To both allow the state of death to be there and surrender to it while not being swept away by its strong pull. To learn that it wasn’t all that there was to life. To understand that there’s always a brightness even in that murkiness. To appreciate the murk for what it is. To appreciate death for what it is.

The keys for me were to feel what I was feeling without a “right” way to feel (as one of my dear teachers always says) and to learn how to plant seeds, no matter how small or weak at first, of possibility. Hope. Newness.

I’ve been reminded lately that in the practice of yoga and from a neuroscience perspective, we can allow the old patterns and thoughts to be there and simultaneously plant new ones. As energy feeds energy, eventually those new seeds will start to grow. The new patterns develop in the brain, body, energy, fueled by the spirit. They may need constant reinforcement and practice (or not) and, in time, the old parts do let go and there is a death at the same time there is a birth. They aren’t in opposition to one another, birth and death. They’re cycles working with a third, sustaining force. There isn’t an either/or it’s more of an and/and with many aspects taking place at the same time.

I’m starting to understand that the seasons aren’t polarities, they each support one another, interweave, and exist in union. Multiple Springs can also occur simultaneously. In dropping the seeds that are going to cultivate through Summer, take root again through the coming Fall and be dormant or incubate through Winter. We do this too and it’s even more potent when we can work together with the cycles around us. The cycle of death and rebirth that happens along with the moon each month. The cycle that happens each day with the sun rising and falling. Each hour and minute. There are endless opportunities to shift energy while also allowing the current state to run its course and to be supported in that place.

I’m noticing this more as I move and change where I’m living every few days. In giving up a permanent address, I have the opportunity to notice even more closely what happens to my patterns. I’ve lived in six places over the past two weeks and love it. With each place I feel at home in about three seconds. I feel welcomed as though I’ve always lived there. I notice that the hardest part for me is to leave the previous company or the place because I immediately feel at home and love where I am. Only to realize the next place brings exactly the same feelings though the surroundings and company are different. It doesn’t mean one is more or less, just that I can find my feet and way each time again and again with nuanced differences.

New patterns form so easily.

One new pattern is that I find myself going to a yoga class every day at 12:30 this week, just because I currently live so close a yoga studio. I usually practice at home and go to class a couple of times a week. In this new pattern I’m going to classes I’ve never gone to, meeting people I’ve never met and, I’ve done something I’ve never done before in each class. At least one new thing.

The first day I heard myself say, “I could never do that” when the teacher showed us balancing and twisting and holding our leg out straight…. And then I tried and I could do it. Rather easily.

Another new seed floating down and planting. Shifting the energy of “I can’t” a little bit further. Noticing the old thought and belief as it floated up, then trying, and learning that it wasn’t true. I can do it. That new energy created in that moment could (and will) apply to so many other things. A new seed planted, cultivated and created to grow even more.

About a month ago I noticed a shift in my physical practice. I realized that when I stepped my foot forward into a lunge from a downward-facing-dog, I was moving my shoulder out of the way. This led to harming my shoulders and separating them too much through the back body. I’m not sure if I’ve always done this or if it was a new pattern. Either way, I noticed it now so when it developed was irrelevant. Once I became aware of it, I wanted to work with it. I started to focus on the health of my shoulders as I moved, paying close attention. I noticed that when I did that – when I worked with my shoulders differently, my foot didn’t come up to where it used to (the mat long worn out in grooves where my feet and hands have always landed).

I noticed myself realizing I wasn’t going “as far” as before, stepping a full footstep back from where I used to land. I noticed myself criticizing that I didn’t take care of my shoulders and trying to search for the times in the past when I could have done it differently. I noticed myself wanting to get that foot to where it used to be and at the same time allowing myself to not. To consciously find a new footing. I noticed the movement I was making and the strength I needed to develop to move differently. How to use my body differently than I have before to move in a way that I could protect my shoulders. I let myself notice the noticing of criticism and every time let myself choose to greet the thoughts with gentleness and kindness. I met myself with words that it was okay and now I could choose differently. Now that I was aware. I couldn’t have changed anything before – without the awareness. Now I could. That became my practice. It took a lot of focus and effort and then…. It all shifted. My stance physically shorter, my shoulders happier and healthier, my thoughts supportive and loving.

The new seeds planted and sustained.

All from noticing and making a minor shift from where I used to be to where I am now. To noticing what was no longer serving me and allowing something new to form.

As I move into this Spring cycle of my life I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to float from place to place. Like a dandelion seed, floating along, taking root, finding growth, then moving on again. Not sure of where I’ll land and replanting only to shift again. To embrace the patterns that keep me moving and keep me cycling through while also at the same time embracing that they shift and change. I’m loving the newness of creating each day and finding new ways to be, without attachment to what is or will come next (or what has already been).

At the same time as I love the newness and the growth taking place, I’m also aware to not become attached or addicted to only seeking newness (while also not limiting how much I love it and enjoy it!). Tricky. How to celebrate and fully enjoy and be immersed without limiting that joy and not let expectations to form. Or, as they do, to watch how they also dissolve and become replaced with new patterns again. I’m learning to not avoid the season of death or fear returning to its depth. I understand it well now and know it can’t keep me contained and I can’t avoid it. Nor do I have to stay living within that death cycle, as I have chosen to do before.

It’s time for me to move more fully into the Spring of my existence.

For everything does have a season and just as much falls away in the Spring as it does in Autumn. Just as much is planted and grows in the Summer as it is in the Winter. Honouring the energy and power of each season and the dominant cycles of birth, sustenance and death that are within and now I can see a constant weaving between them without absolutes or one winning out over the rest. Quietly knowing they each have an equal role and importance. These cycles and patterns are here to sustain us and they work together as a whole.

So the practice for me becomes being able to be where I am, allow growth to take place, enjoy and immerse myself in the newness and transformation without expectation that anything will continue to be the same or experiencing the emotions that come when I want something to stay the same. Noticing the constant birthing and dying and finding what sustains me through it all. Finding what serves me fully in each moment.

The Life-Changing Magic

mural-1347673_1920A couple of years ago I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. I had the book on my shelf for a long while before finally picking it up. I would eye it from time to time, suspiciously, and with a touch of fear. One week it seemed as though every person I spoke with said that I simply had to read this book.

“Okay, Universe – I hear you”, I thought.

I sat down and read the entire thing in about eight hours. The emotional roller coaster that it took me on before even starting the process was wild. Deep fears surfacing at the very thought of facing all of my stuff.

What if it all left me? I’d be left with absolutely nothing? Why was that so terrifying?

As I read, I kept focusing on what would be lost. My deeply wired loss aversion kicking into overdrive, ramping up the panic and nervous system responses of fight flight freeze.

Without losing momentum I started the process. I started it and followed it exactly as outlined in the book (different for me as I usually try to get out of systems and structure, not into them). This structure worked for me.

The first day, sitting in a living room heaped with every article of clothing I owned, I picked up each item and asked if it sparked joy. If it didn’t, it left my apartment immediately. If it did, it stayed.

Item after item did leave and item after item sparked joy.

At the end of going through all of my clothes and packing up at least eight garbage bags to donate, I was absolutely emanating joy. Every single cell felt alive with joy and beaming and bursting forth.

The entire time I was reading the book I didn’t once consider that some things would stay. I imagined being left with nothing and that would be miserable. I focused on what would be lost and assumed that loss would be painful and scary. I didn’t once consider what I would gain – the joy. That amazing swell and light right up through my heart, down my arms, and throughout the rest of my being.

In the months that followed, I finished off the process. I did allow for a wide range of joy at the time – from the smallest spark or wobble of it to the times when my arms would go shooting straight up in excitement, and I’d nearly burst.

So much stuff left me.

So much stuff left me and I loved that it walked out the door. Became dispersed out into the world.

What was left with me was perfect. I had more than enough. I felt lighter, happier, and everywhere I looked the energy of joy beamed back at me.

My brain had liked this process of decision-making as well. I could feel it rewiring as I went through the stuff. My, perhaps underdeveloped, capacity for joy grew.

Beyond stuff, it did change my life. In the same way that what happens on the mat in a yoga practice translates into the world, this practice – this yoga of letting go – helped me gain more confidence in letting go of the bigger things that no longer served me. The kind of work I was doing, and eventually my apartment and way of living. It was constructed all around attachment and fear of not-having. Feelings of deep insecurity and panic at losing what I had built or of losing everything. Fear of being cast out onto the street. Those fears and beliefs just didn’t hold up any longer.

The structures shifted. I no longer needed to be tied to something (like a job) that once served me and now, no longer did. It’s almost as if the practice of aparigraha or non-attachment stepped to the forefront and eventually I became more open to impermanence. I started to feel safe within myself instead of seeking false trust outside of myself through having “stuff”.

The fear of letting go healed through this process in many ways allowing new aspects to be revealed recently when cleaning out and packing up my apartment.

I felt confident that the next right step was to leave a place I had loved and that had brought me so many gifts and as I packed up I started to notice two patterns continue to appear. In one pattern, I realized that I keep things like birthday cards and some other artifacts simply because of the person who gave them to me and that they will die one day. It sounds morbid and yet there it is. I’d circle around, hesitant to let go even if the card no longer brought me joy because one day that person won’t be around any more and I might want to look at the card. The ultimate fear of letting go – a fear of death.

I’m letting myself notice that and keeping the cards for now.

The other that struck me was I kept a lot of larger items to be put in storage. Like my bed frame and other larger pieces. I kept hitting a wall, uncertain of the joy and tied up instead in how much they had cost me in the past. Why couldn’t I just sell them? Let them go? I’d let so much else go over the past few years. Why not these?

On the very last night before the movers came it hit me as I stood there, surrounded by boxes and with a near primal urge said “why am I keeping any of this stuff? Why not let it all go?”.

It hit me: I’m attached to the suffering that I experienced in acquiring those things. It felt like such a long process to be able to afford them and I want to avoid that pain – that suffering again by holding on mixed with the fear that I won’t be able to replace them. The fear of not having enough still sneaking in there.

As soon as I saw the reason why I wanted more than anything in that moment to not keep a single thing.

Of course, it’s “just stuff” and that stuff itself isn’t want interests me. It’s the psychology and energy that the stuff illuminates and how that can translate into more of my life. How I could be so afraid of letting go that I instead choose to shut out joy? How I could let myself remain connected to suffering from the past instead of letting it go and seeing what the future might bring (without attachment to what it might be)? How could I prefer to stay stuck in past beliefs that lack is more dominant than abundance? What is it that I’m afraid of losing in death – my own or of those I love? Does keeping the birthday cards act as a shield to the pain I’m already anticipating and creating at losing people? Or do I already keep them so that my future self can find them and be reminded of the grief and loss at losing them? Or the joy of knowing them? Or Or both?

How much more am I limiting myself through what I carry around physically and within?

I’m not berating myself with these questions or to judging myself at all – they’re simply to notice that this is where I am right now and that it’s okay. To learn that I am used to and like contracting myself around the pain and events from the past and potential events in the future – and I’d like to do that less. To also understand that these ways of being are blocks to energy and to flow. They’re ways of staying stuck. Showing me blocks and stagnant energy that I’m holding for some reason – perhaps it was helpful in the past and I no longer need it. In holding them, I can see that I’m blocking movement and letting myself be completely open and present to what currently is.

As I become able to let go, more and more parts of me seem to open. More ways of living appear.

I become empty and full at the same time.

 

Heart Opening

loveleafI saw an image of myself. A younger version of myself – with my hair swept back in a ponytail – holding my heart in my hands and looking at it. My heart was outside of my body. I can’t say for sure that I was holding it with care nor distain. Uncertainty comes to mind.

Then I saw a piece of forgiveness laying on the sidewalk. It was there from years ago
when I had seen it before and couldn’t pick it up. I tried to pick it up then and it kept slipping back down onto the sidewalk. Maybe for others to walk on top of. Unwanted?

A blue drill turning clockwise and counter clockwise. Drilling into my heart with a release of balloons swirling up and out into the sky.

The back of my heart opened more than it ever had before and grew hot.

A memory of being told over and over “you have a big heart” and the pain that brought on at the time. I remember the crunching and rounding of my back as my heart felt like it ripped and collapsed at those words.

I asked my heart if it needed money and it laughed at me. Loudly, saying “don’t be ridiculous”. I laughed and felt more at ease.

What do you need most then?

A circulation of energy and light moving through it in the shape of an equal cross and infinity signs combined kept flowing over and over through and around my heart center.

I saw myself scooping up the forgiveness. Embracing the big-heartedness I had rejected in the past. Believing it now, to be true. Seeing how it both was once true and how it never left. How I’ve needed to learn how to let it be there. How to let the light shine out of this center.

The message I heard? Be grateful for everything you’re given. ALL of it.

Embrace it all.

I was tired after this guided meditation to connect with my heart. Moving deeply into the layers that, in the past, felt more fraught. In the past, perhaps all the layers of pain and distance and belief were there to try to protect something. To try to protect myself from being either too open or feeling too many sensations. Too many emotions. Trying to cut them off.

In my first yoga training I remember learning that the greatest protection is to have an open heart.

I think I’m coming to understand that more now.

In the past, it was painful to hear that I had a big heart because I didn’t feel like I did. My beliefs and actions felt out of line with that statement. I tried to belittle it. I didn’t want to be heart-centered. I didn’t value it. I didn’t know it was of value. My heart. I don’t think I treated it with care. More with carelessness. The more careless I could be then the more “protection” I would need to build up. The more sensations and emotions I couldn’t deal with the more I needed to build up those walls. It took a long time to build them up and, once there, I knew how to work within them.

Only those walls kept quite a lot out. They kept me occupied with measuring. With turning away from. With believing I didn’t understand relationship. They not only kept me distanced from the “outside world” but also from myself. They may have been helpful for a time and at some point, they became too much work to maintain. Too limiting. To segmented. Too much to try to keep built up. I no longer had the energy for it.

I realize now, I had the energy and desire to return to my heart. To return to that openness I can remember as a wee child. The child who ran, with open arms, to greet her Grandfather after his long day at work. The child who loved and was surrounded by nature. Who embraced and loved and accepted everything and everyone just as they were.

The conditions crept in, over time. The conditions that I created on how I could be loved. On how, maybe I wasn’t loveable. On how I had to behave in order to “get” love.

I mean, how does it come to the point where I actually ask my heart if it needs money?

Money is to survive, I suppose and I would like for my heart and my self and my body to survive. Yet that isn’t the currency that will keep my heart thriving.

It needs openness. It needs light. It needs energy. It needs embracing.

My heart needs to be big.

In yoga, the jiva atman or individual spirit is said to live in the heart. So when we connect with our hearts, we are also connecting with that spirit within. It’s that spirit that I’m now realizing I was putting so much condition on. Trying to limit. Trying to contain. Trying to lot allow it to be big or bright or shining.

Except that’s it’s true nature.

In scientific terms, the heart is our primary sense organ. It generates a huge electromagnetic field – it extends 8-10 feet from the body and is 5,000 times stronger than the field produced from the brain.

So why limit it?

Why prevent myself from sliding that piece of forgiveness into the heart? Fear of the power for the heart to regenerate and heal? Wanting to keep it still at a distance?

How can I keep something that is such an integral part of my essence and being at a distance? It’s already there. It’s already present and whole.

For me, I think it’s been waiting to be heard. All the while pushing and prompting my brain to catch up to the expansiveness of what the capacity of my heart can do. What it can transform.

I’m not sure that my brain has fully caught up though many patterns have come to light. My heart continues to expand and grow. It opens and opens and then closes sometimes again.

Spanda. The expansion and contraction of everything.

It’s okay. Those closings. In and of themselves they are needed at times. Only now instead of continuing to close upon closed-ness, my heart wants to take those closings as stepping stones to more opening. To more understanding. To allowing more and more sensation to move through.

In the yoga-centered chakra system the heart sits at the center. The symbol for this center is a six-pointed star – or two triangles – one standing upright and one pointing downward. This helps to represent that the heart moves through the energy drawing up from the ground – from our roots as well as what is coming in from above – our consciousness or higher/other intelligence. The heart is a powerful point of allowing all of this energy to move through. Sometimes those sensations can be strong and powerful and sometimes we may block them, creating a block in the heart as well.

As we practice in staying present with sensations and allowing whatever is happening in the moment to be processed in that moment fully – then the heart continues to remain open.

I realized this the other week when, for the first time, I felt completely balanced. I felt grounded and supported and my heart was wide open. I could feel the openness of my lungs and was present with each breath and sensation. For an entire day, I walked around fascinated by this newfound alignment.

Then all of this old “stuff” that had been stored away started to come up from below. Up from my roots and flying through my heart. It had been waiting to be released for a long time. It helped me see how important alignment is in the moment – to try to not create new stored stuff and also to have the capacity to move through and out all the old stuff.

I had trauma memories surface, seemingly out of the blue. Only this time, I sat down with them and allowed them space to surface. I went back into the memories and, for the first time ever, I met my past self in those moments with fierce self love. Every time I saw something, I focused on and repeated and met it with fierce loving energy. It was that fierceness and love that, this time, helped me to realize how unprotected and ambushed I felt back then. The walls built from carelessness didn’t work as well as I thought they had to protect me. I was busy trying to protect everyone else, leaving myself open for what felt like attack.

This new way of being with the memory helped change the quality of it. It helped discharge the stored energy and transform it. It helped bring up immense amounts of anger that were stored mostly in my right shoulder (also part of the heart center). As the shoulder disconnected, the anger started to seep out. I keep anger locked away in particular and when met with solid and love, it felt safe to let some of it out. The fierceness of me being there with me and holding so much love helped create the foundation for a massive and deep healing. The openness of my heart now allowed for the facilitation of what I couldn’t do before. It was a wild ride.

With each ride. With each alignment. With each release, my heart learns more and more how to stay with what is without limits.

How to truly stay open, without condition.

My heart is learning how to be big.