Living Beyond the Shoulds

It’s difficult for me to “just” let myself be. Those constant voices pushing me from inside feel as though they never cease. I’m not sure what measurement I expect to match up to because I know there isn’t one.

This past year I have traveled quite a bit which meant not seeing my family as much as I’d like. I really started to feel it and took six weeks to come home.

Home. Is where the heart is?

All I wanted to do was spend time with my family.

How quickly the internal voices came in when I arrived back home. Those voices asking me, “what are you doing with your life?” and pushing and prodding for an answer. Not that this is a bad thing.

The thoughts grew in power, feeding on guilt because I wasn’t “doing” much. I wasn’t working. I started looking for a job and questioning the path I’m on. I gave the idea of a job right now a sideways glance, knowing full well that it wouldn’t “solve” any of this spinning. If anything, it would just be another distraction away from what I want to be doing; how I want to be living right now.

I got distracted with thoughts about money. Housing. Mortgages. Working. Retirement. The energy around me felt quite strong. Not wrong; just not for me right now.

This energy started to make me turn on myself and attack. A theme I’m used to. In the spirit of self-study – I watched. I noticed what happened as I looked at job boards.

Then I finally realized I was doing exactly what I had wanted all along. All I wanted was to spend time with my family and I was. In abundance. And it was wonderful.

The more I realized that the more I let go of the lack (or the belief in what I was lacking and not doing). The more I focused on the moment and what was currently happening. The more I could start to connect even more deeply with love and light to myself and to my family. The more I could let go of that second-guessing worry and fear that I wasn’t doing something I “should” be doing. I felt a deep peace come over me and my heart expanded. I felt love bigger and more potent than any I have felt for a long time. Probably since I was a little kid, exuding love. Love that perhaps I’ve been limiting because it felt like too much to handle.

In my first training, my teacher explained to us the concept of a daily practice or sadhana. The best thing she said for me to hear was for us to get on the mat every day and move. Every time the word “should” came into our heads – “I should do x pose now or next” to not do that.

Years ago, I started incorporating that philosophy into my physical practice every day. Every day not knowing where I’d be going next and discounting the shoulds that came up and instead feeling or following what I needed or what happened spontaneously. What I realize now is that she was offering us a key to being able to work with all the myriad of “shoulds” that appear in a lifetime. To instead trust what is inside and to live authentically, not bound to what others think reality or life is or isn’t.

So, from the outside, taking six weeks to spend with my family may seem a luxury when faced with the modern way of working where family separation is often a key part of making a living. I’ve done that for many years and all the while I had a pulling feeling of sadness and missing. One that I ignored for some time or didn’t understand how to interpret when it would grow to a point where the separation was too hard. I didn’t know how to listen. I was caught up in the shoulds.

Now, I’m learning how to listen beyond the shoulds.

Now I know that home, for me, is where the heart is.

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“Perfecting” Shavasana

crossIn the twelve or so years I’ve been practicing yoga I have noticed the shift in importance regarding shavasana. It used to be that a ninety-minute class would have space and time for at least a ten to fifteen-minute period at the end to lay on your back, arms and legs stretched out long on the ground. A time of stillness, rest, a time to absorb the effort and energy of the practice.

A time to practice death.

Corpse pose.

I remember the first time I learned that shavasana was corpse pose. My teacher at the time rarely explained that relationship because it often freaked people out. We humans tend to have a complicated relationship with death.

I’ve noticed how over the years, class length has shortened and, with that shortening, shavasana often becomes two minutes or three. Sometimes five minutes will be spared.

It’s a challenge – or at least it was for me when I first started practicing. To just lay there. My mind would always race around and I can actually remember the energy moving through my field and in my body. The energy prompting so much resistance to laying down. I never knew if I was “doing it right” and wanted to open my eyes and look around the room. What was everyone else doing? Really – I was just supposed to lay here? That’s all?

Later on, as the effort of the physical practice preceding was often difficult for me, I relished getting to that place of shavasana. It was met with an excitement.

Now, as a teacher and as a student, I notice how this important part of the practice is often relegated to the clock and getting the next class in on time. The few minutes that we all now seem to “fit in” really never enough to fully get into the posture.

At a retreat last year I overheard the teacher talking about how there is no perfection of a pose (which I liked). I heard him say to a student, “if you’re going to ‘perfect’ one pose – let it be shavasana”.

I smiled.

The teacher continued, “in the end, it’s the only pose that you’ll be able to do so why not do it well?”.

Death. A moment of dissolution. A moment where form no longer matters and we enter into the formless.

In yoga philosophy the cycle of life and death is often described by the Gods Brahma (as the creator), Vishnu (the sustaining force or preserver) and Shiva (the destroyer). I’ve always imagined these three playing out like the image of a sine wave where the creation starts and then rises up into a pattern for a length of time or effort and then falls back down and finds a completion of some sort only to rise again. It’s not quite so linear as so many things are being born and dying constantly, and yet this is how I understand it.

What I start to notice is where within that cycle I’m most comfortable and where I’m not. I love the creating force. I enjoy the start of things. I can be in the sustaining force for a great length of time (sometimes to my benefit and sometimes to my detriment) whether it’s a project or relationship or an emotion or any aspect of life. The destruction phase is one that I’ve been learning to become more comfortable with. Be it a physical loss, death of a person or being, or the many other deaths we experience in a lifetime. The positive deaths of personal and psychological growth are some aspects of this destruction such as learning that a belief that served you when you were three may no longer be necessary as an adult. The dissolution of a relationship, marriage, a business or completion of a major project are other possibilities (to name a few).

In the past several weeks I’ve noticed myself moving through what has felt like a phase of dissolving. The yoga studio I have been a student at and have taught at for seven years announced that its closing. For me, this is one of the last pieces of a pattern of death that has been happening for some time.

I noticed when I received the news that I immediately thought of all the students I wouldn’t see and wouldn’t get to say goodbye to (I’m away for their last month of business). I felt the emotions of sadness and loss rise up and I actually let them be there. Not long after I had a workshop that was canceled because no one signed up. I immediately felt as though nobody wanted what I had to offer, even though so many people have said the opposite.

It was this dissolving force. For a few days it felt as though I was dissolving in it. This also brought up a significant moment of trauma for me from the past. A moment which led to a direct experience with death.

Yet, the deaths do happen. Constantly. The dissolution can feel (for me) as though there’s nothing to hold onto and so I start to grasp for what I know. Often, that is to look for old beliefs or old memories with similar charges of pain or emotion. The difference in this moment for me was that instead of having those beliefs beat me down or control me, I took a look at them. I sat with them. I felt the pain the thoughts inflicted.

As I noticed the thoughts rise up repeating in a way that felt as though they wanted to skewer my heart, it also felt as though a massive gateway opened in the bottom of my heart. It was wide and deep – like  a great void while also full of vibration. It was as if something in me had physically unlocked and opened. The first day it happened, I closed the door to the gateway. I simply said, “not right now”. The gateway closed and the pain dissipated, as did the thoughts. I found relief. Though I knew that they had only gone temporarily, I felt proud of myself for setting that boundary in the moment. It was too much for me right then.

In the days that followed I felt the sensations rise again and again only more subtly at first and I realized a connection to what I was feeling right now and a significant moment of trauma that was still charged with potent emotion and all of these belief that “nobody wants what I have to offer” which morphed into “I have nothing to offer”. The difference now was that I have so much evidence to the contrary. I could simultaneously hold with compassion the beliefs that were trying to hurt me, and at the same time reveal that they weren’t true.

The sensations rebuilt in intensity across my heart and I noticed that as I gave up my resistance and let myself step into what was happening, the gateway reopened and reappeared. I was afraid to go through it the first time. I didn’t know what would happen on the other side. I feared dissolving. Losing. Falling out of form or being. Only as I kept myself separate and distanced from this fear of going into the gateway, that was exactly what was happening – I was feeling myself dissolve and I was reacting to it instead of being in it. So, as the gateway reappeared I knew this time, I had to go through. And so… I did.

I walked into the dissolution. I walked into the sensations and feelings. And it released a huge energetic block from the past. My heart healed. The gateway closed. It gave way. I gave way. I accepted dissolution much more fully.

Not only could I witness how I managed and held myself through trauma in the past. I could allow this part of me to move through the gateway and into death now. I wasn’t ready before.

And now I’m free of that structure. Free of the form. I moved into formlessness and it was challenging. It felt challenging to be without an anchor and to notice when I searched for them.

To move into formlessness and know I was also safe. Know that I’m not moving into my actual death. While, at the same time, know that there is a major part of me dying and that death is one to celebrate and honour.

I can see now how I have often stayed in that sustaining force. I have often stayed there to avoid dissolving (even if where I am staying isn’t healthy or if I hold on to emotions or resentments simply because at least they are something I know). Now I know that I also need to dissolve. I need to embrace it and be able to move into it in order to live well. To not live in death or a fear of death and to be able to sit with it and beside it and know that it’s okay. That it’s a part of living.

It feels as though I’ve entered completely new ground. Only it’s not fully new. It’s built upon the foundation of all those times in shavasana. No matter what happened during them, the fact was that I am able to practice “perfecting” that pose. It’s far from perfect (and may never be, even in my actual death) and it’s not the “perfecting” that interests me. It’s the practice.

Do No Harm… And…

Do no harm.

Ahimsa.

This is the first limb of Patanjali’s system of yoga. The first yama or principle is inspired by the premise that all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy; therefore, to hurt another being is to hurt oneself.

I’m starting to explore this concept in a different way than I have seen it before. As I’ve grown through my yoga practice and other healing work, I’ve started to see ways in which I send harm toward myself and how to send myself love in those moments. I’m not always successful at doing this and the thoughts sometimes spin out of control and, recently, I became tired of them.

Last year, I started to see a pattern of anger and resentment stemming from moments when I feel hurt. A pattern of internalizing the emotions out of fear of expressing them (especially anger) to another person. Fearful that the anger would erupt and I would lose the person as a result. Fearful then at that loss of abandonment that I then pre-emptively would try to get that person out of my life. I would take on all the pain that was caused and without saying anything, but often try to emanate it and will that they felt it too.

I caused harm to myself in this way and to others because, of course, the anger would still come out. I would be unkind or mean. I would often lash out to another being or myself.

Though I would never ever say the words, “you hurt me”.

I couldn’t give voice to the direct moment or experience. Instead, I let myself be hurt.

I took it on. I held all of it. I turned it inward (because I could dole out the punishment internally or to myself and control the amount – or so I thought).

In the past few weeks I had some experiences where I was incredibly hurt. Of course, I didn’t say anything directly. Instead, after trying every coping mechanism I had, my behavior escalated to match the hurt I felt and throw it back.

After a few attempts to clear it up, there was some success. And then, when I was again on my own and felt safe, for the first time in my life I actually really truly felt the sensation of anger. It was so strong and I stayed present with it. Wow! That is some powerful stuff!

In my yoga practice that night, I had an interesting thing occur. I could feel all of the anger and, at the same time, there was this fusion of it with love. I didn’t know that those feelings could merge. That they could be implicit in one another. It started to give me a new understanding and it started to let anger feel more safe.

I’ve kept anger separate for so long, I have had to learn that it’s okay to even feel it. Let alone express it.

A few years ago, the therapist I work with had explained that anger is healthy because it lets you know when you feel hurt. That concept rattled my brain. It didn’t make sense and it did make sense. All those years ago a seed was planted.

I’m not sure when or how but in the wake of being with this emotion and thinking about feeling hurt, I replayed a bunch of other times when I didn’t say anything. I had a flash of a near memory that I can’t quite place – that somewhere along the way I learned or was taught to not show people you’re hurt because they’ll know how to hurt you again. Don’t tell them. Don’t give them the ammunition to use against you.

I learned never to say, “you’re hurting me” or “don’t hurt me” or “stop”.

I never really learned that hurting me is not okay. Or, if I did learn it, I didn’t take it in or understand it.

I have never given voice to someone else directly for causing me harm. Not once that I can remember.

Don’t show your weakness. Don’t be vulnerable.

So I masked it. As best I could and as best I knew how.

I hold it. I hold onto the experience.

I absorb it.

I take on the responsibility. I take on the anger. I hold it in my body and my cells.

The anger can’t be expressed. The hurt can’t be expressed.

The wounds deepen and kept being held.

The triggers widen.

Unexpressed hurt that can turn into anger often leads to depression. This has been true for me. In the wake of all of this new growth with anger, I did reach a limit of being able to stay with it and I just wanted it to go away. I then felt the edges of depression creeping in around the corners of my being and, my new anger embodiment I told the depression, “no”.

“No. No. No. No. No. You are not coming back”.

I felt myself flip back into the anger and that made the depression go away. Huh…

When I start to look at how I got to where I am now through the lens of the chakra system, I can see all the first chakra work I have done to feel like I belong. Like I’m safe and that I matter. I can see the belief work I’ve done in the second chakra – including so much emotional exploration and understanding how controlling and limiting held beliefs can be. How to find movement. I can see the third chakra and shifts in my feelings of powerlessness and power and how to try to not exert power over others (including leaving them before they can leave me). I start to see the fourth chakra of relationships and connection to others and to myself and how stunted it has been because of my belief and that is tied to the fifth chakra – of not giving voice.

Not giving voice to my needs. Not asking for help. Not saying, “you’re hurting me”. It never even occurred to me as an option.

Not even once.

I find that surprising.

What are some of the outcomes? If I say, “you’re hurting me”…

The person could choose to keep doing it or hurt me more. That has been my belief.

What is more likely, is the person might say, “oh, I didn’t realize that – I’m so sorry” or “I’ll try to not do that again”.

The person may hear me and may not want to hurt me. They may even take responsibility for it (meaning I wouldn’t “have” to). Even if they don’t – my expressing it or giving it voice means I’m not passively allowing myself to be hurt.

Why have I never thought that those outcomes were options?

I was too busy being caught up in it to see it. Reacting in the ways I always have.

Because the belief was so very strong, it has been running the show. It has been behind every decision I made. Behind all the fear. The taking on. The not expressing.

There are other dimensions of course. Other pieces of the puzzle that fit in. Other beliefs that also led me here, underlying and playing along with this one.

I’m starting to see how my fear of persecution is linked; because I let myself constantly feel attacked without knowing how to protect myself. How hard it was to accept and ask for help when I was deeply wounded (I was more comfortable staying in the wound… until I wasn’t). How much I have frozen in the past when blindsided by hurt without knowing which way to go or what to do.

I am only just starting to wrap my head around this realization as it is so very new. It’s fascinating for me to see these connections now. And, in seeing them, to hopefully learn (with help!) how to shift and make different choices going forward. To choose to heal all of this hurt instead of staying in embedded or exposed wounds. To hopefully learn how to no longer take on more.

To say no. You’re hurting me. Stop. It is not okay to hurt me.

In my Apprenticeship in Ireland we work with the sacred law that “nothing shall be done to harm the child”. I wonder if hearing that so many times in the last two years has also helped contributed to this realization. I think it has.

Nothing shall be done to harm the child.

Ahimsa.

Do no harm…. And…. Take no harm.

The Illusion of Movement

IMG_5147I am constantly hard on myself and I’m getting tired of it.

It’s one thing I’m remarkably good at – those thought forms flowing as if they’re designed to hit me as their target.

Since they are coming from me, they rarely miss. It’s quite well-designed, if I think about it. A constant barrage designed to… designed to what?

On one side, it seems as though this stream of relentless hardness is trying to beat me down. Perhaps designed to keep me in place? Keep me small?

On the other side, I am reminded that this is my way of assuming control. I turn all energy inward because I can control just how angry or upset or disappointed I feel with myself. I can control how hard I am on myself. It feels safer than to express it to or towards somewhere else.

It lets me believe I’m taking it all on at the same time as it feels like I become pinned down.

The more it starts to zero in on the target, pinning me down, the more I typically have let the thoughts win, escalating often into a more manic energy or a depressed one, depending on the thoughts coming. Until now… now something is different.

It’s interesting because right now is the most free I’ve ever been in my life in many ways. I’m constantly moving with my nomadic lifestyle (I’ve been lucky enough to stay in 44 places in five countries in nearly 7 months). I’m always meeting new people and deepening relationships with people I’ve known for a long time. I’m accepting support more than I ever have before and, a lot of the time, I’m feeling quite full and happy (something not all that long ago I didn’t believe was possible).

In this constant movement, I’m also seeing some of my dreams come true. For years and years, I said I didn’t have any dreams. I didn’t believe in them. When people asked me what they were, my mind was blank. Empty – nothing came up except for a deep feeling of a knot tied from my throat to my root. I felt like I needed to defend myself and created the lack of belief in having dreams.

Now, I see that my dreams have always been of becoming a healer, and living a nomadic life. I just never thought they were possible or things one “could” be or do. People who are constantly on the move are never really valued in history. I see now how many of my decisions come down to feeling valued by others. I never felt secure enough internally to live that life even though I yearned for it (until, one day, I felt rooted within myself and off I went).

So, imagine my surprise as I laid down in shavasana to listen to a yoga nidra a couple of days ago that happened to do with the theme of feeling stuck. I immediately understood all this inner chaos as surfacing areas where I feel stuck in my life (and have been for what feels like ages).

Huh… I didn’t see that coming at all!

With all of the physical moving I’m doing right now, all of the new experiences, all of the things I adore, I didn’t realize I have also been feeling incredibly stuck and that stuckness has been rising to the surface in a relentless barrage of thoughts about what I’m doing and not doing with my life. I give myself a hard time about choosing this path of being a healer. I give myself a hard time about not having a “job” and traveling so much without a steady income. I hear the voices of what I “should” be doing. These are the tip of the avalanche of thought that then cascades down zeroing in, repeating, expanding, growing stronger and (for the past week or so in particular) the thoughts have been constant, loud, and so frustrating to sit with.

In my Way of the Wise Healer training a few weeks ago we were asked to make a commitment. Mine came up in an earlier healing session and as I said the words, “I commit to loving my womb,” out loud I felt a swell of emotion spring up from the depths of my being.

This area for me has been a main point of storing weakness. Storing trauma. Storing stories that aren’t even mine – stories and beliefs I’ve inherited. Storing experiences and emotions.

My womb been treated as a storage unit.

In the yoga chakra tradition, this area of the physical and energetic bodies is associated with the element of water. It’s an area that needs to be constantly moving in order to stay healthy. Constantly in flow. In my past, this area has received massive blows physically and emotionally. It has retained and held on to so much. I’m used to it holding on to so much.

A few years ago, I received my first Mayan Abdominal massage and as I was nearly levitating off the table as the practitioner did her work, she said to me with a strong and caring voice at the end “you need to let go”. It took me a year and a half to have another treatment because so much was stirred up from that first one. I’ve been taught how to do it myself and have, intermittently.

With this commitment to love my womb, I started to treat myself to the abominal massages again. The physical attention to this area in a loving way is difficult for me. Even resting my hands over my womb and imagining love going to this area is challenging. It’s a huge block that has also softened. I’ve sensed this area as a weak spot energetically and also psychologically in the past. It makes so much of what has happened in my life make sense – to see the stories created around my womb. How I’ve treated it and not taken care of it well.  In a way, it’s a weakness that I’ve come to wear as a badge of identity and I’ve become attached the weakness. I’ve become attached to the story of that weakness because that means nothing needs to change. I can stay weak. I can keep holding onto a reason for that weakness and use the story as an excuse for so many things.

Only I no longer wish to remain in that story of weakness. It’s part of what I need to let go of.

I’m used to my womb contracting and holding onto so much. Perhaps that’s part of the weakness in this area too.

It’s been hard for me to even face this area of my physical body. It’s been a challenge to send love to that part of myself. For years I couldn’t have even considered that possibility. Now it’s more like a strong dissonance or disregard rather than a full on war of ignorance.

A few days ago, I stopped with the massage and I realized today that it’s what has stirred up all this energy and emotion and thoughts that are wildly working their way through. It can take a while for deeply held and stored patterns to shift and when they don’t want to, they start to scream out. No energy – not even the hard stuff – wants to give itself up. It doesn’t want to die.

And yet, I need that old energy to die so I can facilitate and give life to new energy here.

The block held here reaches into many parts of my life that I still have dreams of fulfilling. Finding a man to share my life with. Co-creating a family.

More dreams that I denied for a very long time. I used to say I never wanted to get married or to have children. I used to hold firm to beliefs about how I’d never find a guy. Now, I do want those things. In the past I would tell myself, painfully, all the reasons why that life wasn’t for me. All designed to keep me in the realm of impossibility. The belief of not being able to. Not having. Now, after all these years, I do believe they are possible. Now I see myself with love and being loved. Now… the energy that still feels stuck is the part that wraps me up in seeing what I don’t have or can’t have instead of all that I do.

I remind myself to see the abundance all around and that does often shift the thoughts. I’m constantly learning that when I get caught up in self-criticism and the vacuum of lack, I need to pause and see that nothing has been taken away from me. I need to pause and send those voices in my head love and compassion. I need to hear them and know that they are shifting. They’re screaming out for attention. They’re screaming out for love. They feel scared and are trying to find a way out of feeling that way. Even if it’s to remain stuck – that is at least something they know.

It’s almost as though part of myself gets to become the parent to these thoughts because I see them not as current thoughts or truths; they are old parts of me that were created for different purposes along the path of life. They aren’t right or wrong. They’re just no longer what I need. It’s time to thank them for serving their purpose and let them go too.

Now I can see that it’s from that stuck and stagnant energy that these thoughts start to form. Trying to keep it stuck, as it has been for years? Or trying to send me messages that it’s time to let go. Time to release?

The second chakra developmentally holds our likes and dislikes (which aren’t set – they can shift and something you’ve never liked can become liked). As those likes and dislikes are formed they start to inform a greater story and help create a system of beliefs or a lens through which to see the world. This area governs polarities of energy which for me have often been quite extreme. It’s one of the sources of creation and creativity (the other being the fifth chakra) and as it’s the element of water it is often associated with emotion, movement and how we move through life – with fluidity and ease or with rigidity and hardness?

The hard parts of me are maybe starting to erode and my go-to response and structure is to favour rigidity. My first tendency is to block flow, not allow it to move but to try to control it. I’ve had to find movement and continue to cultivate it. I’ve had to discover that I had a physical body and I’ve learned to be with the sensations and emotions that move through it instead of constantly trying to make them not move. I’ve learned that beliefs are just beliefs – they too can die and be reborn. With these new and evolving skills, there is still so much stored in the body yearning for release and there are dreams rising to the surface that I shoved aside for years (along with all the ways I discounted them).

It’s almost as if me being on the move so often distracted me from how stuck these parts of me really are. I can see now the illusion of movement. Even though parts of me are racing ahead and feeling great, other parts are now crying out and needing some time to be heard. It’s time to pay attention to this neglected part of myself. Time to heal.

Mistaking Connection

IMG_4347When I was a kid I often watched The Littlest Hobo on T.V. – it’s a series with a dog who moves from town to town, from home to home, helping to facilitate some sort of shift or healing or change. Growth. By the end of each episode he would move on and I would be left, sitting nearly frozen, and sobbing away. Sobbing my heart out at him leaving all by himself. Wandering off, most times without even saying goodbye. I felt so attached to the goodbye (extra hurt that there wasn’t a proper one) and I didn’t understand that he had to leave. Why? Why couldn’t he just stay there in that place where people loved him and needed him? He’d move on and I’d watch again with the same result. Happiness, joy, sadness. Over and over.

It is interesting now that I’m the one who is nomadic. I’m the one who decided to open to impermanence and sort of “hit the road”, coming into people’s homes and lives. I don’t know that I facilitate anything while I’m there and that’s okay. What I’m learning is how to receive more fully and how to allow gratitude to fill me up. In five months, I’ve stayed in 38 places in four countries.

Every time I arrive at a new place I feel at home almost instantly. The same things need to happen and yet new patterns emerge just as quickly. Simple things like finding food or a route to take to offer class. The different ways people go about their days. I like that emergence.

What I’m noticing lately is connection. I’ve been thinking of how much I would cry at those good-byes I witnessed through the T.V.  I’ve been thinking of how much my heart felt twisted up in knots and my stomach wailed. They weren’t even my own and yet I responded as if they were. As I move from place to place I’m noticing that saying goodbye isn’t difficult or devastating. I may or may not see the people I’m with again (some I’ve just met when I show up on their doorstep) and I notice that something has shifted.

I think that until now, I have confused connection for attachment. That confusion has caused me to grasp onto the attachments I’ve had, mistaking them for connection. When I think of the Yamas, aparigraha comes to mind as the virtue of non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-coveting, and non-grasping. The Yamas are a part of the key on the path of alleviating suffering.

That is what I was doing all those years ago – it was almost as if I watched the show in order to create and inflict suffering. Yes, there was joy also and I liked the show. Knowing myself now, I suspect I watched it to try to invoke some sort of suffering. As I take a look at myself through the lens of aparigraha I see that I have often clung to stuff, relationships, work, etc. and clung to the state of suffering itself because I was fearful of losing the attachments I had created. I was fearful that losing them would be painful. I think I was even afraid to lose my attachment to suffering.

I can see that I’ve sought attachments in relationships, not connection. I’ve created and spun many ways of becoming attached and, of course, feel that suffering when they become “taken away”. When a relationship ends, I wonder, how much of my grief is loss of the actual relationship and how much is the suffering because of all the attachments I’ve created are also being cut. I’m seeing how many times I’ve built something based purely on attachment. It’s kind of staggering to witness. Creating attachment comes so easily for me and, once lost, it can be disorienting, extremely painful and the attachments seek another place to stay alive or become, well, attached.

Except something new seems to be growing. Now there is an abundance of connection. I’ve created and strengthened the connection I have with and within myself. I’ve strengthened my connection with nature. As I continue to become more and more connected, I start to feel a true connection with other people. I listen more. I notice the play between being and feeling connected with others and what happens when there is a disconnection (particularly in being present when listening). What I’m starting to understand is that connection is limitless. Connection is a huge and powerful flow of abundance and connection has nothing to do with attachment. The more connected I feel and become, the less attachment I have or need. The foundation has started to shift.

When there is connection, there is no need for attachment.

As I leave one place for the next, I haven’t once felt a sense of suffering. I have felt so fully connected wherever I am that I haven’t needed to create attachments. I then haven’t needed to cling to those attachments or identify myself by them. I’m simply starting to flow and open to this huge channel of connection that is everywhere all the time. Moving on feels effortless.

The more I open to this abundant connection, the more full I become. The emptiness that my attachments helped create (or my own internal lack that helped me rely on attachments) and the fear of losing starts to give way too. The attachments are simply things I create, often to manipulate or find a false sense of security, belonging or being. The attachments have been a crutch. Maybe because I felt so very disconnected. Maybe I had to learn how to connect.

To learn the distinction between creating attachments and creating connection. What I’m starting to see is that you can’t covet connection. You simply are connection.

For whatever reason, this is part of my practice. Letting go of attachment and learning that my attachments aren’t real. Letting go of the expectation of suffering and seeing if I can let go of inflicting suffering. Shedding all of that energy spent seeking how to become attached and, instead, letting connection be boundless.

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.

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.