Let’s Talk… About Gun Control

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For the last couple of weeks since I wrote my letter to Congress, I’ve been trying to foster dialogue with the people of the Internet and the people of my city (hello, Colorado Springs!).

This has not been easy.

A lot of the replies that I’ve received via my blog or Twitter account have been painful. Painful is a strange word to use, but that is what comes up when I transcend the flash of anger that appears when I first hear certain things: pain.

When people ask me, “What do you think about the armed citizen that stopped the shooter in your shooting?” As if I didn’t realize she was a part of my story.
When people assert that people are the problems, not guns. As if it were not bullets that killed my sisters.
When people say that laws don’t dissuade criminals. As if they don’t set norms in society of what violence equates to, as if they didn’t set the norm that the shooter adhered to.

The list goes on. Each of these replies first pierces my heart and honestly? I want to lash out.

I want to be the same exact person I see all over Twitter. Insulting, and raging, and cursing at people I disagree with. Sometimes, I admit it, I degrade to being that exact person because it hurts so damn much.

But if I can take a step back and look at it for a second, if I get curious, something happens that changes everything.

I meet people.

I’ve heard so many stories in the past 2 weeks. Stories that I am honored to carry, and that you can go read in the comments of my blog. I’ve had amazing conversations with people I would have called “the enemy”, had I continued to react out of pain.

At this point, that means much more to me than being right. I don’t want to be on the “right” side of this discussion. I want to truly meet people and hear their heart.

So while I’m now going to tell you about some of my personal beliefs about gun violence, I want to ask that you do the same. Tell me your stories. And tell me WHY you have them. What beliefs are behind your stories? I’ll trade you, okay? But let’s be people first, and issues secondary to that. Meet me here – I promise to hold your story in a safe place in my heart.

1) What about the “armed citizen” who stopped your shooting?

Several people have asked why I didn’t mention her in my letter. Here’s the simple truth: she didn’t factor into my letter. My letter was about me, what I saw and experienced. I wasn’t her. I didn’t take the shooter down. Am I grateful to her?

Here’s my story. I remember clearly when someone came and told me that the shooter had been stopped. I instantly felt weak with relief. I never wanted him dead. I just wanted him stopped. So yes. I am grateful to her. I’m grateful she was trained enough to stop him.

The follow up question to that is, what DO I think about armed civilians?

This is tricky for me. And I think there is two parts to this, because I live in a state that allows open carry as well as concealed. So I’ll address both.

a) Are you against conceal carry?

My short answer: no. I think I speak to that in my letter. I asked people to think about their responsibility if they chose to carry, and here’s what I mean by that. Imagine your daughter, son, sister, brother, friend laying dead on the ground from a gunshot. Think about the horror and pain that would cause you. And then think about whether you could inflict that harm on someone else. If you can then I think you know the responsibility of carrying and should be allowed to do so. I know there are people who can do this, because I’ve talked to them in my blog comments.

Another thing I want people who conceal carry for protection to think about. Adrenaline. I promise you, you have no idea what adrenaline will add to the situation until you are actually smack dab in the middle of it. Adrenaline also does weird things to your body. When my sisters were killed, I thought I heard shots coming from one direction. It turns out that the shots were coming from the exact opposite direction as I had supposed. Don’t underestimate the role of adrenaline. If you want to carry and you want to carry for self-protection, train in situations where you are guaranteed to feel adrenaline.

b) Do you think open carry should be allowed?

No.

Why? Here’s one simple reason. As a gun violence survivor, it is extremely triggering for me to see someone carrying their gun in public. Just a few weeks ago, I saw a man open carrying at my laundromat. It was terrifying.

Honestly, I am wracking my brain to think of a reason to carry openly what you could easily conceal under your jacket or shirt. And seriously, if you think of one, please let me know in the comments. I’ll gladly consider a good argument.

2) Is it the person, or the gun?

I think it’s both. I wrote about what I think goes on behind violence here. So yes, I think violent people are violent. BUT, I also think it’s the gun, because a gun provides an ease in killing other that no other easily-owned weapon provides. (so, I’m not talking tanks, bombs, drones, etc) There is no other weapon that makes it just THAT easy to kill someone, and that is why I think it’s the gun, too.

3) What about regulation?

So, here’s where things get tricky and where I hear a LOT of contention. The very second I mention regulation, we all get angry (me included). I have lots of thoughts on regulation, and I’ll describe them in terms of my personal thoughts and feelings.

Here’s why I think universal background checks (UBCs) are a good idea: I feel safer knowing that we are aware of who is purchasing firearms and whether they are mentally or physically able. I can feel secure knowing that if someone owns a firearm, it’s for a good reason, and I will trust that person if they ever need to defend me.

[On this subject, can someone explain to me in the comments the issue that some of you have with form 4473 on the UBCs? Still trying to learn about this]

Here’s why I think and feel licensing firearms is a good idea: If firearms are licensed, I can safely know where the firearm has come from. I can know that the person legally acquired that firearm, and again, presumably is fit to use it. Therefore I feel safe around that person knowing that they have what it takes to own that firearm. THAT BEING SAID I also have some fear around it being used as surveillance, because things tend to get twisted like that in the US.

Here’s why I think and feel laws around gun use are a good idea: I don’t feel like laws are great at stopping criminals. But having a law about what gun use is legal makes me feel safe, because it establishes that certain kinds of violence are not okay in our society. If I know that the government thinks certain violence is not okay, I feel more secure because I feel the government takes that seriously, and will protect me and any citizen who is in a situation that goes against that law.

Here’s why I think Congress should get involved: From my understanding of things, through a variety of ways Congress is blocked from allowing research funding to go to the CDC for mass shootings. I want to know more about mass shootings so we can see predicates to them – what personality markers are indicators? What are common denominators? We know none of this, and it would make me feel much safer to base any legislation off of solid research.

And now, it’s your turn, because this is about dialogue.

I want to hear from you. But I want to hear from a different perspective. What I want to know is your WHY. Tell me about YOU – Why do you think and feel that background checks aren’t helpful? Why do you feel afraid, upset, angry about licensing firearms in general? What do you think the role of laws are in our society, and why do you feel strongly about not passing laws? YOU. Not just political ideologies here. Mainly – your stories and your heart.

I look forward to hearing and learning from you.

An Announcement!

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As you may have noticed, I’ve been using tarot cards in these posts for a few months now. My Osho Zen deck is something that is very inspiring to me, and has given me rich material for my personal spiritual path. But from the first moment I held that deck in my hands, I knew something so clearly. These cards were not just for me.

I was struck with an insatiable desire to read cards for others. And I knew immediately that I wanted to do so. It was as if the deck were speaking to me.

In the beginning, I did a few readings for friends and my boyfriend’s friends. But I’m ready to branch out now. A few weeks ago, I offered readings to my wider Facebook friend group, and was thrilled by the large response. The love of it did not go away despite the amount of readings that I did. The thrill of being a channel to help and encourage others was incredible, and I feel that part of my purpose is to be a channel to bring guidance and light to others in this way.

So now I’d like to offer my services to you. If you’d like to purchase a reading, head on over to my Tarot Readings page. I have a few formats I’m willing to do, so take a look through and see which you’d like.

I’m so looking forward to reading for you!

Growing Pains

I don certain perspectives with ease. They’re like sunglasses in the sense that they block out certain spectrums of light. Like that one pair of sunglasses that you hate that makes everything look brown.

It’s easy to see life as shit-colored.

Sometimes I wear my sunglasses at night.

That makes it even more difficult.

I was driving home from work one day about 2 weeks ago. Frustrated with myself, upset for feeling so constantly negative. A song came on that reminds me of my sisters, from The Holiday’s movie soundtrack. With tears in my eyes I wished my sisters were here, that things weren’t so hard for me all the time. I was talking to Rachel in my head as I usually do; she was my confidante sister who heard my inner life.

And suddenly I had an image of her, smilingly showing me a picture of myself. I was freaking out, WITH MY OWN HAND OVER MY EYES.

I was covering the light myself.

And I felt like she gently said, “Happiness is not as far away as you think.”

I’m still absorbing that message. Because as Brene Brown talks about, I hustle for worthiness. I hustle for love. I hustle for happiness, and I think that doing things just perfectly will get me there. In fact, one of my favorite perspectives is that IF I JUST DO THINGS PERFECTLY I won’t lose.

I won’t lose the things I desire. I won’t lose happiness. I won’t lose someone I love.

I begged Rachel, in the Critical Care Unit at Penrose Hospital, to stay with me. To be here. I repeated almost word for word the scene from Sense and Sensibility where Elinor begs Marianne not to leave her here alone. I did everything that I could possibly think of. I quoted all her favorite movies, from Harry Potter to Lord of the Rings to the aforementioned Sense and Sensibility. I sang to her. And in the end, she still left. I couldn’t make her stay for me even though I tried so hard. Even though she was the only person in my family who truly understood me, the only one in my family that I actually felt deeply connected to.

Before that, I begged my dad not to leave. I was 10 years old or so, my dad was very angry one night and threatened to go live on his own, without us. He had threatened this in the past while we had all silently frozen in the face of his rage. I changed my mind that night. I was tired of staying silent. Maybe my feelings would change something. So I hurled myself into his arms crying. “Don’t go Daddy. I love you.”

He put me away from him, moved me away… “Stop all that nonsense.”

I shrouded my heart to keep it safe. Maybe if I had held on tighter. Maybe if I had said the right words instead of “nonsense”.

I have tried ever since to hold on tighter and to do all the right things. I lost my grandpa when I was 15, and that shattered me. 6 months after that, I lost my first love, which I blamed my dad for. I lost my sisters. I got divorced. All these things, I tried so hard to hold them all together and they fell apart. About 6 months after I got divorced, I stopped drinking alcohol. A lot of my drinking had been to release myself from the vice of perfection I was holding myself in.

When I took away that crutch, my perfectionism transferred to school and to alcohol/love addiction recovery. I tried to be the perfect person in recovery. I tried to be perfect with my grades at school. This escalated and escalated until last May when I started to see what I was doing to myself. I stopped running. The instant I did, I was overcome by the deepest depression I’ve ever experienced. I’m still not clear on why… maybe because I finally stopped running from falling apart.

I’ve been unraveling it all ever since. I see it as a huge ball. I pull all sorts of strands in, but I have this huge overarching narrative that I like to believe about myself and my life.

“If I can just be perfect I will not lose.” But I can’t be perfect, so I will inevitably lose all I love.

I wish that just seeing that this is going on would eliminate it totally, but that’s not how it works. It’s helpful to be aware that this story is ruling my life, but, then I get to take action.

Which I have been, but change is slow. Especially when there are so many intertwining stories that are connected to this overarching one. And courage is hard to come by sometimes. When I don my usual perspectacles (as dear Glennon Melton calls them) and see only loss in my future, everything gets really black. I lose so much motivation to even go forward.

And so some days it takes all I have to just have the courage to believe what Source/the Universe/my Higher Power (you know, whatever I call that thing these days) seems to be telling me. To just let go and know that It has good things in store for me. Truly good things. And seriously that does take a lot of courage some days to believe. I fight myself, trying to be perfect, until I’m tuckered out and I finally give in. Then I have a cry about my losses because I need to purge the grief, and usually after that purging the world looks a little brighter again. I can see the light again just enough to find strength move forward.

I’m grateful right now for the support I have – a wonderful boyfriend who has persisted in staying by my side, my RootEd satsang who are more precious to me than I could ever put in words, and my new therapist who has valiantly gotten down in the muck with me.

After our immersion weekend for my teacher training last week, something really cool happened. I had brought a plant for the altar as an offering. As I was leaving on Sunday, my teacher asked, “Do you like plants?” and handed me an amaryllis flower, explaining that it needed some TLC. I was thrilled to take it home and put it in my sunroom/altar area. “I’m good at resurrecting things,” I said. Like I was reminding myself.

Then I walked out to my car. Tucked under my wiper blades was a bright, beautiful, colorful bouquet from my boyfriend. I offered a flower. I went home with 3.

These words sprang to mind:

“You are so full of rain,
there is so much that is growing,
hallelujah to your weathervanes,
hallelujah to the ache
hallelujah to your full, to the fall,
hallelujah to the grace,
and every body
and every cell
of us all.”
-Andrea Gibson, I Sing the Body Electric (Even When the Power’s Out)

 

Seeds grow in the dark. Even in the dark where it’s my own hand over my eyes, when it’s my own old stories that hold me back. But that also presumes they are dirt. Which presumes they provide what is needed for that seed to grow.

“You make beautiful things out of dust…” – Gungor, Beautiful Things.

There is so much that is growing. Hallelujah to the ache. To my own precious growing pains. To the sunglasses over my eyes that reveal my need to unveil myself to the world. Hallelujah to it all.

Finding Ground

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Back in February/March, I went to Sayulita, Mexico, and found myself as I have never done before. I went alone. As such, I was required to make my own self care an absolute priority, down to what I ate. While there, I encountered regular thoughts of self-hatred, regular condemnation for the lack of yoga I was doing (I’d planned on going daily while there), and general depressiveness. In spite of all this, I allowed and accepted these feelings with an equanimity that surprised even me. My big “S” Self stepped into the picture and held all the shifting in her great arms.

On the way home, I finally admitted to myself that I didn’t want to go to school for counseling, not now. This was groundbreaking, since I’d been wanting to go to school for counseling since I was 15 (so, for 10 years). What I did not realize is that this was the first of many shifts in my life this year.

I held onto my equanimity for about a month, and then my world began to tilt and I could feel my Self falling back under the influence of my scared ego. I became smaller again.

I started a supervisor position at work, which was much more difficult than I expected considering I have never been a supervisor. It was also difficult in the sense that I was officially dropping my dream of going to school.

I met a boy. We talked for a little while, then I shut him out, from fear. But this experience made me realize that I lacked spontaneity in my life generally, and that my program for love addiction was hindering me, rather than helping me. Instead of forming my own ideals about love and relationships, I was looking to others to do so for me. I decided to step away from my love addiction program, which I had participated in for almost 2 years, and in which I had completed all 12 steps required and a dating plan.

The same week I decided to do this, I moved to a new apartment. This was a mere 2 weeks after another incident at my old apartment, where someone broke into the basement below my apartment. This was the SECOND such incident I’d had in a year and a half of living there. I didn’t find out until last month (via my dad) that the 2nd guy also had a gun and fired at police. I had thankfully left the apartment by that time.

But it didn’t end there. In stepping away from my love addiction program, I also shifted my alcohol recovery. I’m not regularly attending 12 step recovery right now, though I continue to stay sober and in touch with my sponsor. I am choosing sobriety right now for this reason: I use alcohol to numb. In general in my life, what I am attempting to do is eliminate all things which I use to avoid the present and my true Self. As such I choose to continue to stay sober from alcohol at this time.

And then on June 29th, I started dating Kevin.

This completely ungrounded me. I had already had so much shifting happening in my life. From the very beginning of our relationship, I’ve struggled with massive fear. I’m not talking about the usual relationship worries and nervousness. I’m talking about flat out panic.

I am ashamed to say that it has taken me 5 months to regain myself. And there are prices to pay for not being yourself in a relationship. I am not at all proud of my behavior. I caused a lot of pain and have had to beg forgiveness. Yet on the other hand, I look at myself with compassion.

So much of this year has been about finding who I am, and not living others-defined. My entire life, I have lived defined by what others want of me. Growing up, if we didn’t fall in line with my dad’s dream of God giving us 1.7 billion dollars, we were verbally harangued. I went straight from that into a marriage that I felt like “GOD” was telling me to be in, with a dysfunctional man who was sadly a pornography addict. I finally stepped out of this, and straight into recovery programs that were very structured and I continued living by others’ ideas. I am not saying that my recovery programs were unhelpful. What I am saying is that my perception of how to “work” them caused me to again base my life on what others told me to do, when what I needed was empowerment. Truly, the biggest reason I have not returned to meetings is that I am still unable to change my perception on it, and know that I won’t until I have gained enough ground in myself.

Beginning with my decision to not go to school this year, it has been the year of unraveling living the life I was “supposed” to live, or told to live, or felt like I HAD to live… for the life that I want to live. Not in a selfish “I want to do this and fuck everyone else” sort of way, rather, in a healthy, skillful, heart-centered way. To do this I’ve had to find who it is that I am, without all the structures I’ve made myself up of.

So I suppose it was somewhat natural to go into a relationship and struggle with this very thing. Not allowing myself to feel whatever it was that I felt, out of fear that I would a) screw the whole thing up and be in another unhealthy relationship and b) cause great harm to someone else.

Ironically and very unfortunately, I caused great harm to my boyfriend, while trying to avoid it. Lesson learned. Do not abandon self, no matter what. No matter how much your feelings are scaring you, do not abandon self. Do not abandon feelings.

Thankfully, I found my yoga program just at the right time. The entire program is about becoming a teacher from the foundation of becoming your true Self. And the whole program EMPOWERS you to become your true Self instead of giving rules to follow. Through my yoga program, I’ve come back to myself.

I’ve written here about Patanjali’s sutra I.23 – Ishvara Pranidhana Dva. The sutra of surrender. The theme of the past 5 months has entirely been surrender, since the very start of my relationship. My relationship really began with the movie The Fountain, a story that I see as one of surrender, ultimately.

On Friday, I looked up at the sky and asked the Universe, please let me know I am on the right path. Make it clear, startlingly clear for me, what I need to do. Within fast succession, BOTH things occurred (I should not have been surprised). Later that day at work, I found a poem in an old notebook, one I wrote before my boyfriend and I really even started talking much, about the terror of living in an overwrought mind, and the way past it (death/surrender), that used symbolism of an exploding star (a theme in The Fountain). I took this instantly as knowing “I am in the right place.”

On Saturday, I was standing in my work breakroom and I read yet another graphic on Facebook about surrender and grace. With tears in my eyes I fell to my knees and said, “Okay. Fine. I hear you. I’m done. I will feel whatever I feel.” That night, I went to our local poetry open mic. I saw a woman walk in, and as soon as I saw her, I knew that whatever she spoke would be for me. Her poem? It was on surrender and releasing, healing wounds to heal karmic patterns. I was floored.

And Sunday, my yoga training met again. We have been doing root chakra work, lots of it, and yesterday learned a set of asana poses specifically targeted for the root chakra. We spent 2.5 hours on these poses, which was grueling and exhausting. I felt somewhat resentful that we spent so much time in them, that the teacher was pushing us so much and so quickly. But I had a series of questions that came to me as we worked together Sunday. As these questions came up, I started to feel a stronger sense of Self.

“What if I am desperately craving connection with myself?”
“How do I bring growth to that way of being?”
“In what ways can I support my heart opening?” – this, as I realized that I have to find security and strength in root chakra before I can open up through my heart.

After our asana practice (mostly thigh/leg work) and these musings, I went and hiked the Incline with my boyfriend. I was finally just there, breathing, feeling whatever I felt with him, surrendered to what is. It was a great hike, and despite all the leg work I’d already done, I had a huge endorphin high. We got to the top just as dusk fell, so we headed back down Barr Trail as it got dark. For about half the trail, I was behind him, and we alternated running and hiking steadily. And as we hiked, something hit me.

“No matter what happens with us, I will be okay.” And I knew it all the way through myself, to the very marrow of my bones. I felt like I was snapped back into my body and was instantly flooded with an intense joy, at the reunion with myself. Something about feeling the ground underneath my feet, and the burning in my thighs and legs from the hike and the root chakra asana practice (which I am convinced brought on a lot of this transformation), brought me back to myself.

I am supported. Not because someone else holds me up, but because I am enough and I hold myself. This is surrender, to myself, to the knowledge that I have what it takes to hold the world within me.

This return to myself feels like touching the solid ground after being at sea for months. There is a sense of great relief, and bliss at reunion with my true Self. I remember the woman I was from Sayulita, the one who I truly am. The one who allows and lets life unfold and is not afraid to feel it all, because I am expansive, strong, resilient.

I can’t stop the glimmer of fear that I will lose myself again. But, I will breathe, and allow the fear, and keep surrendering. I know this truth: as long as I continue to surrender, I will always find Her.

It’s been a long journey over the sea of my ego-driven self, but I am finding ground. I am finally home.

Final Note: I don’t think it is a coincidence that I am writing this on December 8th, and scheduling it to post on the 7th anniversary of the death of my sisters. This year has been one of transformation – and every 7 years, a person’s body sheds all their skin cells and gains a completely new set of them. I am in a new skin now, 7 years later, truly transformed on a physical and spiritual level. And I would not be who I am without my sisters. Deep bow to you, my dear hearts, and two of my greatest teachers.

Practice

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It’s been awhile since I wrote. Some of this is due to the places my mind has wandered lately, down dark and lonely roads. But some of this is also due to being out of practice.

My honesty has felt terrifying even to me, so I stopped practicing writing it out publicly and went underground. Found other ways to let it out – primarily the aforementioned dark places that my mind has wandered. Anxiety creeps out of the cracks of the mind-box I’ve tried to shove it in, and since I won’t create, my body trembles with the force of holding it in.

Previously, I would have bled out on paper. But I haven’t been able to. And then I got too tired. Writing felt exhausting. I didn’t lift a pen for a couple weeks. Then I started thinking about the practice of writing.

Writing doesn’t just happen when inspiration strikes.

but, you see, this is when I have usually written. And when inspiration doesn’t strike, I don’t speak, so I let it lie. Leave the ground barren and fallow, and all my blog readers drift away, tiring of waiting for me.

These are not excuses. These are lessons learned. Writing is not magic. Writing can be born of tired, bored moments, too. Not just the electric ones I wait for. In fact, maybe better writing comes from the mundane. The tedious, tenacious task of doing the same thing every day, slowly growing your skill from persistent practice.

My yoga teacher training lately has been talking about this very subject. Devoted practice. I’m finding out that I’m… well, not bad at it per se, but very undisciplined. I like to follow the shine and glimmer of newness. In yoga teacher training, I’m finding that it’s wearing off. Now I get to dig in even deeper (and with great love) to do the work. To stay consistent, even and especially when, I do not want to.

I’m finding that a big key to all of this is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.14: “Abhyasa, the practice, is the effort to remain firmly established in one’s own true Self; it is cultivated over a long time, through earnest and reverent energy, and with great love.”

So inspiration is still slow to strike. and I must admit that is again why I am here tonight, although now it’s 10:13pm and the inspiration that made me a lightning rod earlier is now wearing off. It’s taking a bit more effort to hammer out these words.

But it was my sister’s practice that inspired me.

See, she’s been taking a drawing class this semester. From the beginning of the semester until now, she’s worked hard and stuck with it, and her improvement is marked. Today, I felt a huge rush of gratitude when she told me how she was now using her talent to also process some personal things.

Besides the gratitude though, it reminded me of my own work. My sister… my lovely sister Grace who turned 18 on the 30th (holy crap! I remember when she was born!) pointed me back to my own work. And she reminded me that I can use even my darkest, most painful, most shameful feelings in a brave act of creation.

I’ve been scared to be vulnerable because

GOD. DAMN.

I’ve got some ugly shit going on in there and I don’t even want to see it. Me. The one who holds it in me. Yikes. That crap is too scary. My teacher talks about how yoga opens up the door to the basement where we’ve been stuffing crap forever. Well, the basement door got opened up for me and, really I’d rather just keep slamming the door and pretending it doesn’t exist.

Oh. And the other thing is, all that stuff in the basement reminds me that I have choices. Lots of them. All of them in fact, and all mine. For the first time in my life that I can remember, I am basing my entire life off of my own choices.

That thought in itself makes me want to hide forever. As awesome as that sounds, choice is dizzying. Decisions can make or break my whole life (I overdramatize sometimes). I’ve never picked up the pen and become an autobiography, instead of just a simple biography. I’m unused to the feel of my own fingers penning words I choose to ink down. Something about this, something about the idea of authoring my own story, scares the shit out of me. Something about the idea of choice is terrifying.

(I’m trying to be gentle with myself right now, because… sweetheart, so much new. and it’s okay, and I know this is different and hard, and like you’ve lived underground and you’re seeing the light for the first time. It’s going to be okay, I promise)

So, you can see why I’d like to stop practicing, frankly. Yawn yawn, nothing shiny and fun here, nope, just a basement full of crap I’d rather not deal with. I’d rather stay in boredom and allow that to lead me to something shinier, more electrifying. I’d rather chase the high. (As my teacher would say – isn’t that interesting? When the practice is finding your true Self, you’re… bored?)  Fear is… chilling, ghastly, panic-inducing. Give me something fun so I can keep pretending it’s not there.

This is where the going gets tough. I was warned this would happen. I’ve never before noticed how this happens for me, though. It’s not by just running away… boredom is the name of the game. Procrastination is another name it goes by. So, it’s time to practice with it. Keep showing up even though I really don’t want to. Even though it doesn’t seem important (BO-RING). Even if it seems to be too much effort. It’s time for me to make my bones.

Patanjali’s first yoga sutra: “Now, this is yoga.

Yep, now, in the fear, in the boredom avoiding the fear, in all the things I feel that I am afraid to become… now. this. is. yoga.

The night I wrote this, I practiced by expressing some things I’ve been afraid to. In an effort to continue that practice, I’m sharing it with you:

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That great love part in Patanjali’s I.14 sutra is very central, for me. I can muster up plenty of earnest and reverent energy. But I have found in the past that this results in performance. It’s only when I’m approaching my practice out of great love for myself, and for those around me, that I am able to continually remain firmly established in my true Self. Without that love, I am much too apt to stop showing up, because fear takes over.

So here I am… committing again to practice. With earnest and reverent energy. And great, great love.

Dust to Dust

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Last weekend, I started a yoga teacher training program.

A friend had told me about this program just about a month and a half ago. When she emailed me about it, I instantly KNEW. I needed to do this. I had no idea why. I had no idea where I’d get the money from. But, I needed to do this training.

It’s a unique training, to be sure. It’s not just about asana, or physical, practice. So we’re not getting together and just doing yoga all day. It’s holistic yoga – yoga in life, as a whole. Yoga as a spiritual practice. As my teacher says, capital “Y” Yoga.

Class format is 1 intensive weekend a month, and one Sunday. Last weekend was our first intensive weekend. When I saw an Andrea Gibson poem among the handouts for the class, I felt even more intensely that this was just where I was meant to be.

The weekend proved this out. My class quickly became a family. We did asana together once a day, and the rest of the time talked about life. About being your true Self. About SHOWING UP. How to show up. How Yoga helps you show up for your life. How spirituality is not about getting out of your life, but about showing up to it.

From Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday.

I felt a sense of connection that I have deeply missed. I got my heart broken open in the best way. I deeply crave connection, and yet so often I feel like it’s out of my reach. I have a deep achey loneliness that lives in my center like an icy core. I get paralyzed by it. I get suffocated by it. If you’ve ever had the experience where you’ve contacted me, and I’ve not texted, emailed, or Facebooked you back, that’s what this is about. I crave your presence. But I feel overwhelmed when I think about letting it in. I literally get tired and it feels exhausting to return communication. (and you wonder why I haven’t been writing as much lately…)

For a moment last Sunday, I let tears wash my soul and clear out a space for people to come in. It felt like I could breathe again after being underwater for a long, long time.

I am realizing that my hardship in connecting with others is really my hardship in connecting with myself and with Life at large. I was asked to write about one of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras for class. Last night, one was almost hand-delivered to me; I stumbled on it through a blog post. Ishvara Pranidhana Dva – the surrender/offer of self to a higher Source as a path to samadhi, enlightenment. Or, basically, surrendering to the flow of life. Um. Yikes. That’s terrifying. What if life screws me over?

And this is where my history comes in.

Really, the more I walk this path, the more I feel I was meant to walk this path at this time, specifically. I read this sutra last night, which encourages offering yourself to Source. I went to bed shortly after. When I laid down to sleep, I laid on my stomach with my arms above my head, setting an intention to offer myself to Source.

I fell into the deepest sleep I’ve had in weeks and promptly had a nightmare about a shooting, perpetrated by someone who, in my dream, was in a close friend group (he was not someone I know or recognize from real life).

Funny enough I take it as a sign that it was exactly the Yoga sutra I needed to read and write about, because this is just where my Yoga lies right now. The lack of safety and trust I feel in Life, generally.

How strange then, that today I discover further information about trauma and yoga and the body. Krista Tippett’s latest podcast featured Bessel Van der Kolk, a psychiatrist who is discovering how Yoga can heal trauma. The episode is here and I highly encourage that you listen.

During the program, Mr. Van der Kolk addressed how trauma victims disconnect themselves from their bodies. Trauma impairs the imagining of how your physical body feels, as well as impairing the self-observational parts of your brain that are aware of what is happening inside. Trauma activates the primitive brain (limbic system) and at times, so overactivates this system that the rational mind (prefrontal cortex) doesn’t kick in. In other words – full scale freakout, and rationality is nowhere to be found. Because of this, trauma victims can be “hijacked” by previous experiences at almost any time. When triggered, the limbic system is activated and then control is lost. Because of the constant state of “heartache and gutwrench” that trauma victims go through, they shut down their body so as not to feel it. At times this is through alcohol or drugs, at others it’s shutting down emotional awareness in the body.

*takes a deep breath* You got all that? I know it’s all science-y speak… but mostly it just says, trauma victims are disconnected from their bodies, or even try to disconnect from them because traumatic situations affect the physical body and cause pain.

From personal experience I can tell you that this is the truth. A few months ago, I wrote a spoken word piece about my sisters, in which I penned “my DNA still trembles from the paralyzing shock” and other similar phrases. Many times I do get the sense that I can literally feel it in my body.

And in yoga, sometimes it’s emotionally excruciating for me. Deeply cleansing, but wow. Coming back to your body is deeply painful after having disconnected from it. I think to begin with, I was using alcohol to disconnect from my body. After I stopped drinking, I shut off emotional awareness of my body. It’s funny, because I actually have quite high body awareness of what emotion is stored in what area. But I know it, so I can silence it. NOT so I can connect with it.

The connection actually feels so excruciating that I had a really rough meditation experience back in June, one that kept me from meditating for about 2 months. I was doing a meditation day, and we started with meditating through a full body scan. I thought to myself, “Oh, cool, this will be good.” Nope. It was at that point that I realized just HOW MUCH trauma was residing in my body. Wave upon wave of emotional pain washed over me. I had no resources with which to deal with it, and the situation it occurred in was very unsupportive for me. In many ways my body felt it had been re-traumatized.

Mr. Van der Kolk says that the feeling of being safe in the body is not there, for a trauma victim. He talks about how it is hard for a traumatized person to relax fully during savasana (corpse pose). When he spoke of this, tears jumped to my eyes. Savasana is hard for me. I cannot relax most of the time. When I do, it’s a beautiful, healing, cleansing experience and many times I cry. But it’s hard for me to fully wind down most of the time. There’s a sense of itchiness and discomfort, groundlessness, in the pit of my stomach.

Certain poses, too, trigger things in me. Twice last week, I did a pose (Supta Padangustasana, in case you were wondering) in which my outer hips were stretched. It’s probably the tightest part of my body, first off, and I can barely move into the stretch. Each time I do it, I have flashbacks that make me tear up. They’re not horrible flashbacks, but that stretch really touches into the lack of safety I feel in my body. (Yogi friends – root chakra, anyone?)

But… this is actually a good thing because I can feel like I’m in my body again. And another good thing about yoga is that it actually changes something called heart rate variability. This is where the heartbeat and the breath sync up and create a more mindful and calm experience. Yoga is a way to feel the life inside yourself, to connect again to the body. It’s not just effective on a verbal level, it deals with the whole body where things get stored physically.

Bessel Van der Kolk says at the end of his broadcast that the feeling of safety and at the same time interconnectivity to others and life is really the essence of trauma healing.

It seems that I have landed in a program that will promote both. My Yoga training is my satsang – spiritual community. And it’s through the practice of Yoga as a whole that I am reconnecting with my body. It follows then that I’ll be able to reconnect with others.

I feel it’s summed up in a beautiful song that brought tears streaming down my cheeks on Monday. It’s called Dust to Dust, which I have to say I find really profound; in the creation myth in Genesis, our bodies are made of dust and to dust we return. Again, the return to the body and the return to connection.

I’m Still Here

Source: Bibliofiend.com

It’s been awhile since I’ve written.

Most of what I’ve written lately has been sporadic pennings on a journal page, or in my poetry notebook. I’ve zipped myself shut for the silliest of reasons, but one I could not avoid. A monster in my closet with a double-fisted threat that steals all my breath and energy.

Fear. And its twin Shame.

I read Divergent this weekend. It’s odd how fiction can echo things you see in life. Stories are important, I’ve decided.

The past while I’ve spent drowning in fear. It treads my every footstep, a constant shadow, and its twin Shame covers the places Fear has missed. The both of them work together, laughing and taunting as they tie the ropes that keep me solidly inside of myself. Old, old patterns churn around and around and I stare at them, shaking.

I am crazy. I am acting crazy. No one would act as crazy as me, so I should keep it to myself. Shame sticks to me like a cold, icy blanket.

Furthermore, wanting and needing things will only get me in trouble. Conform. Stick to what I know. Get comfortable fitting in the shape of someone else’s skin. I blink wide chameleon eyes in a quest for acceptance. To deviate means destruction.

“What if I’ve always been, good enough in my skin, good enough in my skin?”

Maria Mena’s voice creaks under the record needle of the slim strand of truth still accessible to my mind.

They all want me to stay quiet. I am Beatrice in Abnegation. Always helpful, subservient, looking for approval. Giving away myself to someone else, not because they want it… because I am afraid. Being myself means losing the other person. This is my pattern, in the kaleidoscope of relationships in my life. I twist myself to conform to what they want.

My fears shake me and I react. Pounding heart, sweaty palms, I dissociate so far away from myself that I become unrecognizable, a tiny point of my former self. “Stay quiet, no one wants you to speak up, when you speak up, you lose. They will hate you for what you want. You will be alone.”

The crows come. I can’t lose control.

But recently I’m learning a different way. I read a simple quote last week. “Creative action, rather than destructive reaction.” This is my mantra. Creative Action. Do. Not. React.

I am Tris, Dauntless, in a simulation with all my fears hurtling themselves toward me. My pulse is pounding. But if you’ve read Divergent, you know how to transform simulations.

You don’t react. Not to the fear. You create something different, a new pathway. Strength. You shake in your boots, and then you change the picture. Or you calm down. Receptive to fear. Either way, you don’t react.

I’m learning. Feel fear. And do. not. react. Get creative. Change the picture. Transform fear.

It is the hardest thing I have ever done. To feel fear playing my heartstrings, clouding my mind with trembling terror, tricking me into believing the Universe does not care. That I will always be alone and it is useless to ask for what I want because even if I do get it, it will be taken away. “Just stay quiet,” the fear says. “If you smother yourself, maybe you won’t want something that will hurt everyone else.”

But I want to breathe. I want to live. And the only way through fear is the very thing that is the most scary. It’s something I wrote in a transformative poem that spoke through me after a meditation 2 years ago.

“You are not incarcerated by fear.
The key is in the space
between you
and the door.
Breathe.
Open.
There is no distance between you and freedom.”

Breathe. Do not react. Open. Feel the space. Breathe. Feel the fear, feel the vast, immense space, and breathe open. Create – strength. Tremble with the fear – receive and stay open to it.

I am not just strength. I am not just receptivity. I am Tris, Dauntless. And I am Tris, Abnegation. Brave. AND selfless. Strength AND receptive. I have a voice. And I can use it with skill.

And in the space, the space between fear and reaction – is freedom.

“What if I’ve always been, good enough in my skin, good enough in my skin…”

I am still here.