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.

 

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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.

Rooted Within Me

flower-dandelion-beautiful-hd-free-wallpapers-for-desktopLast year I kept seeing visions of the contents of my apartment all in boxes. Some of them were so strong that I nearly started packing simply because it felt right. I resisted that urge when it was strong because it didn’t make sense – even though part of me fully trusted that if I started to box things up the next step would appear.

A few months ago, I found stronger footing as I began to open to impermanence from a place of abundance. Even then, with a plan to give up this place – a plan to let go – I felt some fear creep in and up. I knew the timeline I needed to call my landlady by. I knew what I wanted to do. I knew I was going to speak the words and as the time to do so approached I could feel the energy of momentum climbing up from my legs through my belly and heart and leaping into my throat.

The words kept pushing up from my heart to “just call her”. Just call her today and say it.

I was afraid to because speaking it into reality meant it would now be real. These plans and thoughts I’ve been sure of would become solid. The solidity kept bucking at the gate of my throat until I couldn’t ignore it any longer. I picked up the phone and spoke it into existence.

During the call, I was filled with so much emotion. This has been my home for a long time. The longest I’ve stayed anywhere. I do love it here.

Afterward a flood of grief and a mix of emotions swelled. I realized that the memories rising were all of letting go. Letting go of a romantic relationship here. Letting go of deep grief. Of trauma. Letting go of so many parts of myself has happened in this place. It’s held me.

This place found me when I was going through the most difficult time of my life. I feel as though Spirit reached down, lifted me up from where I was in Canada, and dropped me off here in Brooklyn – in this apartment. From here I met and was given everything I needed. Through work, through finding healers and healing, through training and yoga, through community – that’s the biggest piece for me – the community of friends and teachers and sisters and brothers. The family that grew up around me while I thought I was hidden in this place. It was here that I learned how to share with my family who was also afar. Here I learned how to be supported. .

For a long time it felt as though I was hiding. Hiding in this place below the ground and surrounded by boulders. Rocks that my landlady had brought here as they developed the area around. All these grandfathers – protectors – circle around me. They keep guard. They always have, without ever being asked.

I saw this apartment before I moved to this city. Online in an ad. There was only one picture – of the front room with a ladder in it. I knew it was the place. When I moved, I had only a couple days to find somewhere to live and the broker took me around to all these other places when I knew this was the one. I knew it in every part of me. When I finally convinced him that I didn’t want to see the other places, he brought me here.

I opened the door and felt a strong presence push me from behind. I walked about five steps in and said “yes”. This is the place.

It has been the place.

Now I can see that I was never hiding. I was picked up and dropped off and planted here. I was planted underground at a time when I was also feeling devastated and ripped apart. What I didn’t and couldn’t know then was that the ripping apart was necessary. A deconstruction. A massive realignment and re-membering that can only happen after such a complete dismemberment.

This was the place that held me. Nurtured me. Kept me safe.

I was planted here to find the others who are nearby. The people I would learn so much from and love so dearly. I came here to meet them all. I came here because we needed to meet. To exchange so much.

I needed to grow.

As I let go of this place now, the sadness that arises is of letting go of the letting go. The letting go that has led to me becoming who I am now.

Only, as I reach into those memories and find many of them faded, I know that so much has been witnessed here and that is what is hard to let go of. The grief is tied to letting go of what has already gone. It’s already happened so there’s nothing to let go of. I’m letting go of all of that letting go.

When I moved here I never dreamed it was possible to build anything at all. In fact, I told people I didn’t have dreams. I felt as though every teeny tiny bit of rebuilding I managed to cobble together was struck down easily by the next piece of hardship. I had no foundation. It felt as though I had nothing. It felt like I didn’t know what to do. Like I might not make it through.

Now, I can embrace that girl who felt those things. Now, I know that the foundation I have is strong within me. It’s so strong that it’s not contained to this place. The wonderful life and self I’ve been able to build has come from being planted here and given the nourishment and tools to flourish. I’ve been able to build this awesome life and it’s not attached to this place. The life comes with me wherever I go because it is me.

I get to come with me wherever I go. I want to come with me wherever I go.

How great is that?

I arrived here unable to stand myself, in a vicious cycle of self-recrimination and fierce destructive anger, trying to literally walk out of my body (without much luck), then moved to feeling stuck with myself and agitated by that, to now feeling happy that I get the chance to be with myself!

I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the first chakra these past few years. Safety and security. Fears around not surviving. These are rooted way back and were so strong I’m not sure I even noticed I was alive.

I was terrified of losing a job or of losing a place to live. So much fear guiding decisions. Fear without listening to what was within. I was running blind.

Now, I’ve willingly given up so much of what used to bring that safety and security. I “should” be scared or trying to figure things out, except I’m not. I feel the most safe, secure and supported I ever have.

I have instead a strong inner knowing. A knowing that these are the exact right next steps. Maybe my future self already knows how great these decisions will be. Maybe it doesn’t matter because everything will continue to add to my life, no matter what it feels like or if it’s hard or fun or serious or easy. My roots aren’t growing from false, uneasy, ground. They’re growing from so deeply within myself and the support that has graciously been cultivated all around me that I now know my way.

So much growth has happened from being planted in this place and now, instead of feeling uprooted by leaving, I’m ready for more growth. It stems from knowing I’ll always be planted in the exact right place. Faith. Trust.

For months, in all of this I’ve struggled with feeling like I need a sense of direction. I couldn’t figure it out and would only make myself feel smaller for not being able to. That has faded as I feel as though I have direction without knowing at all what it is or what it looks like or even where it will be.

I do know that there’s only one way to find out.

Opening to Impermanence

night-of-joy-1Just over a year ago I told the place I worked that I was no longer engaged in my role. It was true. My interests had shifted and even though the structure and way I could work was quite free, I still felt limited. The work was no longer in line with what I wanted to do (even if I didn’t quite know what that was).

I had prepared for a while to have this conversation and fear was rearing up as the words “I’m no longer engaged in this work and I’d love it if you could help me find another role,” came out of my mouth. I still said the words.

After the conversation, which was received extremely well, I went to my office shaking and called a close friend and said “I just had a conversation with my boss that goes against pretty much everything I was ever taught”.

I’ve always sought security through work. I’ve had an income since I was about fifteen years old. Even before that, I’d be scheming up businesses and ways to make money. I’ve been oriented towards that way of thinking. There’s nothing wrong with that whatsoever. There’s also nothing right about it. It’s neutral.

I know there are lots of people who work difficult jobs in many different ways and I am in no way denying their truth.

For me, I needed something else.

And so, this year, my job and I broke up. We parted ways after eleven years.

This was met with some deep trauma responses which fascinated me. I learned that something I wanted could also trigger trauma. It didn’t logically make sense. Shouldn’t something I want feel good? Turns out, it could feel traumatic for a period and then, with help, the trauma passed and healed.

In the weeks after I resisted the urge and thoughts to immediately jump into another job. Every time someone asked me what I was going to do I said, “I’m taking time and I don’t want to figure anything out – I’m going to allow it to unfold”.  I’m going to trust in the unfolding.

I’ve wanted time for a long time and here was this huge gift. I waited, and those impulses also passed in intensity and only flare up quietly from time to time.

For the past several months I’ve been moving in and out of feeling stressed about where to be. Where to live?

I start to calculate. Without an income for the first time in over twenty years I start to see ways to minimize. To downsize. I do try to figure it all out. I’ve never not had an income and that change feels significant.

I’ve always been good with money and with living within my means. I was brought up to know how to do that and it has served me well.

I automatically default to that way of thinking and as I spin out scenarios, the path becomes more and more narrow as I feel as though I have no choice but to give up my apartment, to move to somewhere that costs less or that I’ll have to live with other people. It feels out of my control and like I have no other choice.

I think about moving home to be closer to my family, which would be lovely, and then worry that there’s not a life there for me anymore.

I try to figure out where I want to live. Where I want to be. I start to play out a scenario and quickly it becomes fearful. I start to panic about everything I’ll lose. Everything that I won’t be near any more. Then I don’t want to leave here. I look at the stuff I’ve collected and how much I love my apartment. I start to freak out about what’s next and start to anticipate all the other changes that obviously won’t work out well. Everything starts to trap me and stick me in place.

Brief thoughts float up about finding another “job” just to maintain what I already have. They are quickly turned over though because that is not what I want right now.

I look at real-estate in places I don’t want to live just because I could technically afford it and could maybe then make money from renting it out. Strained because I don’t want to be in those places – or do I? Where do I want to be?

I let myself have fantasies about putting everything into storage and just traveling. Somehow becoming weightless and free. I then start to worry about the logistics of how that will work. My brain starts to believe that once things are in storage it’s somehow impossible to get them back out. Or if I’m going to do that then why not just get rid of everything? Where would my plants go?

I jump to extremes. Absolutes. I try to divine how everything will be.

It takes a toll and my stress and more manic energy escalates, trying to take control of the future and keeps me stuck in that place of stress.

These are not difficult problems to have on the surface, it happens to be what I’m working with right now. The commitment to accepting change and resisting falling back in to an old story that served me well and now no longer suits me.

There has got to be another way.

I noticed that I kept telling myself there’s nothing to figure out. I realized I was thinking a lot about stories I had written in the past about lack of abundance and change.

Then something hit me:

I’m coming at this decision and question from a place of lack and not a place of abundance. Seeing only lack is so engrained in me, I couldn’t even see it was calling the shots. To counteract the energy that was taking over, I kept reminding myself that change is always additive. Change isn’t about either/or, it’s about and/and. It’s not absolute. It’s about shifting the perspective from one of lack to one of abundance. I didn’t know what was next when deciding to leave work and that has turned out well. This will too.

How do I shift the story?

Within seconds, I realized that the one thing I want to change about how I live is to start to live with other people again. That is what I want and need. I always love traveling and staying with friends and family. When I return to my place, even though I love it, I’m often depressed and lonely.

For a long time, I didn’t want to live with anyone. I knew how to hide and isolate. I needed the space to heal and to do whatever I needed to do. I’ve enjoyed it very much.

That has now shifted and, with the shift, I no longer want to remain hidden away on my own.

Instead of coming at the question of where to be from a place of lacking an income, I came at it from a place of what will bring me more health and wellbeing? A place of abundance.

Once I found that place of abundance, I no longer felt stressed or constricted about the decisions. I no longer needed to figure anything out.

Once I felt abundance, more continued to open as I realized that in my thought patterns, I’m constantly looking for permanence. I keep trying to make decisions that are absolutely defined or will last forever and it doesn’t work. I seem to believe that whatever decision I make now will be what the rest of my life looks like – with no other changes ever. I keep believing that there’s some sort of security in permanence when there’s not. It doesn’t even make me feel good – it creates more stress.

I seem to have a belief that permanence exists. That is a belief that I need to let go of. Once it’s gone, there is so much more ability to move freely. Temporarily. To see everything as temporary in a way that is filling and not fearful. Temporary doesn’t need to mean loss or lack. It does mean change. I want to view the temporary nature of life through the lens of abundance. How exciting and uplifting it can be. To understand that the decision I make right now doesn’t need to be what governs the entire rest of my life. I can change and try something and then change and try again. I can expand and contract. I can grow without limits.

Without deciding what I’m going to do or how or where I’m going to live or be next, I’ve decided I want to live with others. I want to be in community more fully.

I can’t do that in this place and so, I’ve decided to leave this place that I love so much – this place that has served me well for so many years.

I’ve decided to leave this place – and not because I know where I’m going to move to or what’s next.

The decision feels full and clear. No matter what other chatter or fear arises as I move through the impending changes that will now come based on this decision, I know I can now listen to what comes from a place of abundance and not a place of lack. That shift allows me to trust more and to simultaneously be open to and help facilitate whatever step is next.

Letting Love In

loveleaf“I will not close off my heart”.

I found myself saying that after a recent romantic relationship ended. The relationship had been quite brief in terms of time and already my heart cared quite deeply.

This time I will not close off my heart. It will remain open.

That’s not what I have done in the past in similar situations. I’ve always tried to shut my heart down. To turn it off or close everything out. I’d become hurtful on top of the hurt I was feeling, berating myself for caring so much. Searching for a way out.

As it remained open, my heart actively felt more. Perhaps not more – it felt differently as it tried to stay present. I noticed. As my heart tried to stay open, I started spinning, driving myself crazy with thoughts of the future. Thoughts of the past. Thoughts of other similar dynamics and relationships that had ended. Thoughts of what to do. Where to live next year. What to be doing with my time. Thoughts that I’m not doing enough. I “should be” doing more.

“I will keep my heart open”.

My heart was trying to stay present and every other part of me was spinning away from this moment.

I drove myself so crazy trying to determine the entire future of my life all at once that I finally burst into tears. It took me two days of frustration and tears bursting out to realize that it had nothing to do with the future or the past.

I was, quite simply, sad.

After I caught on to what was happening I started to go into the sadness. The right now sadness. The primary emotion without the secondary or tertiary responses built up around it.

I went into it and felt sad. I let myself be. And … it passed. Relatively quickly. Afterward there was only deep, blissful, stillness.

Then came another wave of sadness. And another and another. All the same responses happened. Fearing about the future. About how I’m “doing nothing” about how I have “no direction”. Pulling up every related sad moment from the past. Feeling frustrated and angry that I had to be sad right now. I kept going in to experience the sadness. I shared my feelings with family and friends instead of hiding away. I went out into the world, feeling sad. I reached out and asked for help and support.

“I will not close off my heart. I will keep my heart open”.

Every time I acknowledged the sadness in the moment and let myself feel it, the sadness liked the attention and it found its way out. It liked the expression. I met the energy directly and no longer had the momentum and motion of trying to create so many internal restrictions so that it (or I) could build up enough friction to bring on a release. It wanted out and, even though I was afraid to let it move and go, I could no longer tolerate the unpredictability and lack of control that I could feel by keeping it locked inside. Letting it move and go felt good. Letting it go brought relief. Contrary to what I’ve always believed, experiencing the sadness and letting it go isn’t what feels uncontrollable – it’s keeping it in that does that.

It then felt like every moment of sadness I’d ever experienced wanted to come forward – rushing up in joy saying “she’s finally processing – hurry up – her heart’s open – get through here now while you’ve got a chance!”. It felt like the waves would continue to come up for the next thirty years if I started to let all of that come through.

Experiencing the emotion was helpful and even with that release, there was still a yearning for control. Control “over” the emotion or over how much to have or when or how. Do I release every piece of sadness that I’ve ever experienced?

That night I lay in bed, unable to get to sleep. The top of my head felt like it had sprung open and thoughts were racing through wildly. Stress. Emotion. Fear.

With my breath was caught in between my heart and my throat, the chatter felt strong, relentless and harsh.

I began to feel and realize that it always gets to the point that it feels like the thoughts are coming to attack me. One starts to pin me up against a wall and then the rest come in to foist their powers of resistance and aggression. They culminate in narrowing everything down to more acute, precise, infliction of pain. In the narrowing, there’s less room to move. There’s less to see. I begin to get locked into the pain and the patterns of trying to avoid a direct relationship with the emotion.

I start to feel sad and then angry at myself for feeling sad and then guilty at feeling either. I start to believe that “I don’t know what to do”.

If I can’t control the future or the past or the emotions coming up in the present moment, I can be in ultimate control of just how much suffering is inflicted. I at least know how to do that. I know how to do that quite well.

How much suffering is enough?

I’ve never paused to ask that question.

How much suffering is enough?

None.

The answer is none. No amount of suffering is necessary.

Without actively thinking about it, something new started to happen. I sent love to each thought that was coming up. I embraced each feeling and sensation and belief with kindness and compassion.

“I love your fear of the future”.

“I love that you have such an open heart and that you want it to remain open”.

“I love your resistance to feeling sad”.

Loving.

I sent love to the sadness. Love to not wanting to feel the sadness. Love to the way I constantly restrict myself. Love not only to the actions but also to my essence and being. Direct love.

The love started to move into beliefs and I heard myself saying “I love you for feeling like you don’t know what to do”. I felt what that feels like and loved that too.

I love that you feel like you have to know what to do. I love that you feel like you have to fix everything. I love that you do that sometimes by repressing emotions because you’re afraid that if you have them, people will leave. That if you control your emotions and keep everything inside, then that’s how to control life.

I love you for feeling.

I love that you don’t know what to do. It’s okay.

I love that you don’t know what to do. You don’t have to know.

I love that you want to be in control (and that you always forget that).
That one made me smile.

The more I loved the aspects of myself I was usually hard on, the hardness that has been used to keep pushing and creating pain and pressure, the more I began to soften.

The more love I gave, the more I could feel that I’ve had the belief that “I don’t know what to do” for a very long time. It has been there to try to keep people close. To try to ensure that I don’t do anything “wrong” that will mean they’ll leave (which just leads me to believe I do “everything” wrong). Another sword slicing through my being.

I started to love all of that too. To love that I want to keep people close. That I value relationships so much. Loving that self that emerges when it feels like I do everything wrong.

I continued to give myself love constantly. Consistently. The unconditional love of absolutely every aspect of myself that was arising – even the aspects I don’t like and usually try to attack or “fix”.

Out of nowhere, I found myself repeating the word “ahimsa”.

Ahimsa.

I perked up and smiled. In yoga, ahimsa is the yama of non-harming and non-violence. Including non-harming and non-violence to yourself.

Inflicting this suffering on myself is harm.

I can see now that so much of my belief system is designed to hurt myself. To beat myself down. To feel inadequate. Especially when I feel insecure.

Until this moment, I never viewed any of this as harmful. The pain felt normal. It was how I was used to coping and surviving. I never considered that I was inflicting violence upon myself in these ways.

When I love it: love the insecurity, the vulnerability, my “inadequacy” or “inability”, my heart softens. The corners of my lips turn up into a soft smile. My brain stops the relentless spinning.

Surprisingly, I found myself laughing. Not a laugh of judgment or ridicule – a laugh of understanding, loving, accepting. Sweet laughter of embracing all the younger versions of myself and myself right now. As the laughter softened to include me, it widened, laughing with love at how serious I’ve been and have felt about myself all these years. Laughing because it’s all made up. It doesn’t have to be the way it’s always been.

“I love that you try to determine the entire rest of your life all at once”. I smiled and then my heart widened more and I laughed again.

Laughing because of course I can’t do that. Laughing because of course I don’t know what to do and laughing because I do know – I’m doing it.

Loving the fear and insecurity and emotion.

The hurt. The pain. The friction. The suffering. All that I’ve created and inherited and absorbed begins to find acceptance. Love.

Instead of berating myself and trying to constrict myself more – to feel the pain more – and focus even more strongly on the internal attack (so I can feel more in control of something), I start to love myself for doing that and when I do that. For whatever reasons.

This love isn’t in hiding or denying any of what I think or feel or say or do. It’s not trying to stop or change or “fix” anything. It’s simply allowing an alternative to the action of my thoughts that are hurtful. The actions that cause harm. The actions that pin me in place to take on even more. It starts to heal the relationship I have within myself.

Energy feeds energy and I can choose to remain locked in that loop of striking myself down – that loop of punishing myself for not knowing what to do. Or I can accept that it’s there and send myself love.

I can feel myself widen. The desire to constrict fights back and I soften again, sending love to that constriction. It isn’t a change that happens overnight. It’s another way to start an internal shift. I know the more I can find compassion for these areas of myself, the less I will constrict against life and try to control the uncontrollable.

When I try to control the uncontrollable, I can love that too.

It’s time to write a new story. It’s time to treat myself differently. To send myself love every single moment, with every single feeling and thought, especially when I’m being hard on myself. To lift that energy and transform it to a different way of being than I’m used to.

There is no reason to keep myself in a place of suffering.

It’s a start and, the next time I forget all of this or become upset with myself that I forgot, I will start again.

With the lens of ahimsa, when that happens, I will send myself more love.

Through this shift, and introducing a tiny bit of new energy, the old energy starts to shift. I start to write a new story.

A new relationship begins.

Returning Fire

img_1854I could see myself standing on a mound of earth holding a gleaming red archer’s bow. I reached back to grasp onto an arrow and, one by one, I took aim and shot.

It occurred to me to look for a target and I couldn’t see one in sight.

As the arrows kept shooting away from me the ends started to ignite in flames.

There I stood. Grounded with a warrior stance. Shooting flame after flame out into nothing.

Where was the fire going? Was it landing anywhere?

I’m exploring my relationship to fire. The element of fire. That essential ingredient to being able to bring focus to anything. Transformation. The ability to have personal power. Will power. Drive.

In yoga fire is associated with the third chakra. The solar plexus. The sun. That great ball of fire that gives us heat; it gives us life as it simultaneously casts its light on everything.

In a kundalini yoga class yesterday we focused on building fire. Kriya after kriya focusing on the abdominals and the legs. With breath of fire thrown in there several times. Most of the sequences were two minutes long of repeating the same movement and breath. Some felt glorious. Others, painful.

Usually when a teacher says “we’re going to work with building fire today” my shoulders start to fall. I don’t want to do it. For the longest time I associated fire with anger and I didn’t want that most uncomfortable emotion to arise.

As anger and I become more comfortable with one another I realize that wasn’t it, really. At least not all of it.

I don’t want to build fire because for me it’s become quite hard. I’ve let it become weak in my system and so to try to light a fire exhausts me. Most of the time, I’d rather not even try (another sure sign that the fire needs more vitality).

Begrudgingly, I usually submit to the class, keeping an eye on just how much fire is built. I try my best to limit it. I’ve been afraid of the fire within. Afraid at how much it can be uncontrollable.

Yesterday though, it felt right. I was excited at the idea of building fire. At one point in the class I said to myself, as my body was shaking and I wanted to give up “you can do this”. “You can do this for two minutes. If you can’t do this for only two minutes, you can’t do anything else you want to do in life”.

And the thing is, I can do it. I can do all of it, even though it exhausts me. And, in class, I did. I have the strength and ability to do it. My energy was shifting so dramatically within that by the time I got home I was wiped out. I crawled into bed for about an hour. My body aching. All those areas I avoid engaging or using too much in my practice all necessarily sore. No wonder I avoid it; it’s hard.

I think the fire extinguishes in me it before it can even light.

More importantly, I think I do it to myself.

I used to have fire in spades. It was more wild. More forceful. It fed my will power which was so strong it carried me forward into anything.

And then one day it carried me forward and through something I really didn’t want to do. The sheer force of will is what led me. Because I thought I had to. I thought I had no choice.

And from that moment I gained a deep experience of pain and grief.

It was my own will that led me into those depths.

My own attempts at having power and control because I also felt completely powerless. My will stepped in to get me through the lack of power, as it always had before. Except I didn’t expect there to be such pain on the other side.

The fire that led me through got smacked right back as though the wind was knocked right out of it. As if it doubled back on itself in confusion and chaos.

From that experience I got to see the destructive side of fire. The side that rips through forests and kills everything in sight. At the same time that the fire was raging, turning and twisting destruction in every direction, I was also trying to put it out.

Extinguish it. Stop it.

In time, I became an expert at putting it out.

My will softened. This is not a bad thing. It softened and needed to stay soft. Not so forceful.

I needed the fire to be quiet for a while.

How was I supposed to trust the very same will power that led me down that path of destruction again? When I spark it up, how will I know it to be different?

A friend a few weeks ago mentioned that she saw a forest recovering after a fire. She saw the new growth on top of the ashes and decay. It struck her because she realized that not all the “old stuff” or the “destroyed” parts had to be gone before something new could take hold. The forest didn’t have to totally get rid of the “old” before there could be growth. The plants and life grew out of the ashes that were still present.

I kept enough fire within me to focus on surviving. To rebuild within all of those ashes. Discarding some of the former parts and keeping others. Blending them to become something new. It takes fire to transform. I have focused on transformation for these past several years, first and foremost. That takes a tremendous amount of effort and will power. It takes fire. It just didn’t feel like fire any more. Not in the way I used to feel it.

The element has gone flatter and wider in me. It takes more effort to get a spark to come.

Sustaining a concentrated amount of it will take even more effort. The thought of that effort then becomes exhausting. So I avoid it. I try to protect myself from aspects of something I also need.

Maybe that’s okay. Maybe it was okay to leave the fire burning quietly for these past few years.

After all, it is the nature of fire to change.

This moment is not any of those that came before.

As I saw myself standing on that mound, I wasn’t even giving the fire away to anything. It was lighting up and then being distributed out into the abyss so quickly it extinguished again.

It couldn’t collect. It couldn’t set anything else alight. It just fizzled out and disappeared.

At one point I realized what I was doing and the arrows flew only so far away from me and then started to turn back. They circled towards me, returning my fire. I wasn’t afraid. Instead I stood with ease and pulled the skin of my torso aside as if it were zipped closed in the front. I watched, with inviting comfort, as each flaming arrow entered. The fire blazed inside.

The Magic of Creatureness

img_0216I woke up one morning and felt organic.

I felt as though I was made up of nature in every single cell of my being. Organic from within. It made me feel satisfied and smiling with curiosity to move around. Feeling my inner realms anew.

Intellectually I understand that I’m nature. I often think about how much we as a species seem to have forgotten that we’re nature. How I regularly hear the words “I hate nature” from those around me and I start to wonder how that can be when we are nature.

I have also felt the disconnect without even realizing that’s what I was feeling. Until now.

A few years ago I had an experience while standing on a subway platform in midtown Manhattan. Suddenly everyone around me was transformed into creatures. I could see the creatureness in each person – in their movements and in their eyes. In the subtleties and essence of who they were.

Nothing more. Nothing less. Purely creatures moving.

What I saw in the creatureness was such elegance and beauty in everyone around me. It felt like magic. Like a curtain had been lifted and in a suspended state of peeking behind it, I got to see something different than usual. Or different than how I usually saw the world.

Through that lens and in that moment I felt no annoyance. No judgment. Simply awe.

Nature.

I’ve looked from time to time, trying to find that curtain again. I see glimpses and wonder if perhaps it was a temporary portal because it hasn’t happened since. I continue to be plagued with my lenses of perception, attaching judgment to all that I see. Constantly working to clear the lens and always finding more to clear away.

And there it was again when I awoke. My own organic creatureness.

I could feel it. Sense it. Experience it.

As I moved, I kept trying it on for size. Stretching into it. Coming more fully into the sensations. Smiling deeply.

Beauty.

When I think of nature, I see it as neutral. Neutral and symbiotic. Diverse and connected. It’s not always gentle or even seemingly kind and yet there’s room for it all to exist. Nature doesn’t seem to reject those parts of itself that feel prickly or “horrible”. Or judge and second guess those parts that destroy or grow anew. It doesn’t measure or count its actions. It simply is.

It feels as though even in devastation; nature is also able to be nurturing to itself.

With the Autumnal Equinox not long past and the days getting longer and darker here in the North, I’ve thought more about the balance of light and dark. The shadow and what’s stored in there and wants to emerge.

I’ve been thinking of archetypal energies – those emotions, beliefs, thoughts, and actions that become so deeply embedded in our sub and unconscious mind that they start to run us. While I might associate some sort of positive or negative quality to an archetype I’ve worked with like “the persecuted one” or “the brave one” I’m reminded that the energy itself is completely neutral.

It’s only once I’ve decided to suppress and submerge something I don’t like or don’t want to feel or am afraid of that it starts to take hold within me and begins to feel like it has a life of its own. It’s only my assigning qualities to it that allow this completely neutral energy to start to feel positive or negative when its neither.

Anything can be shoved down into the body, mind, spirit and suppressed – even happiness. Unexpressed, untrusted and supposedly hidden in the darkness. Perhaps it’s there to keep me “safe” but I can sense it. Lurking in the shadows. Waiting to pounce unpredictably and without warning.

Nothing can be contained forever. It will always surface.

I was in a workshop recently where we had two exercises to experience emotion. In one we worked with recapitulation and I had all sorts of old, stored memories and emotions come up and release. Anger, pain, resentment, isolation, sadness all rushing to the surface. The next was an exercise where I was sitting facing another person and as we stared into each other’s’ eyes, emotion again eventually flooded up. Love, painful joy, acceptance, hope, being held and nurtured all appearing. Different emotions in each case; both came seemingly out of nowhere and were strong.

Both times, I could stay present with the emotions. No matter how strong or difficult the sensations felt.

Totally surprised that from a place that felt completely calm prior to starting the exercises – with nothing threatening or worrying me or provoking me in this safe space these emotions still could spring up with such force.

I then realized that a part of me has been waiting for them to come to an end. Waiting for a time when I no longer have to struggle or argue or fight with the flood of emotions coming out of nowhere. I press them down so it can feel like they’ve ended. Like they might not come back. Never fully trusting how long that would hold and when I’d next be caught off guard.

I started to think back to when I was a teenager and flat our decided to not cry anymore and turn off all the valves. That’s when I started to separate out and split and it feels like pretty much everything got swallowed up by the shadow.

I was swallowed up by the shadow.

The shadow. That place that has a reputation of being scary or dark. Deep. Untrodden. That place where everything I don’t want to deal with goes to get locked up and kept hidden. Underground.

It’s difficult to see everything as neutral when you feel consumed by that darkness.

Did you ever play with your shadow as a kid?

I did. I would try to run with it sometimes, or try to outwit it. Mostly though, I remember gleefully happy moments of trying to jump right into it.

Jump right in and be with it.

To become part of it and to not be separate.

Yoga means union.

In tantra philosophy this also means allowing everything to flow. To expand and contract. To not deny any aspect or part of yourself.

To me, this is allowing true nature. Allowing every aspect to be in the light. Casting a light even on those shadowy parts which may be uncomfortable or unpleasant to be with. Being with them. Staying with them for a while as they arise. Not judging them. Letting them pass and not take me away with them.

To be nurturing to myself even when everything feels like it’s being completely destroyed.

Destruction is often a necessary aspect of growth. Destruction doesn’t need to be devastating.

Harmony also means “joining” or “union” and in a way I can now see the “harm” that can be implicit to harmony. Joining and union are inclusive ways of being. Not exclusive. To exclude is to cause harm.

I hadn’t played with my shadow for a long time. Truth be told, I hadn’t even looked for it on the ground or noticed it around me for ages. I had become so disconnected from it and simultaneously felt consumed by it.

Lately I see it with me in my practice. I smile as I watch it dance, changing shapes and forms beneath me. Expanding and contracting. Distorting. Evolving. Constantly shifting.

Elusive and not straightforward and always connected to me. The more we can become friends and play together, the more I can jump right into it and allow all that is there to be there, see it for what it is. I can begin to understand the neutrality of these energies and aspects of myself and release the judgments I’ve attached to that neutrality. Return it to its natural state and let it flow freely. No longer looking for the end.

The more I bring light into my shadow, the less darkness there is. I’m no longer taken away by the dark pulls of my shadow but in relationship with it. We’re in union together. Not separate. Not pushing and pulling. Not struggling to see who will win or trying to force anything to end. We’re in it together and there is so much light now.

I’m so much lighter now.

The more I can be nurturing to myself in this process of diving in, the more I can release what is weighing my shadow down and not serving anyone, the more flexibility and freedom I have. The less I have to carry.

Returning to neutral. Returning to nature.

That’s how the curtain gets lifted, the lens cleared. The judgment falls away.

I can be my natural true self.

That is the magic.