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.

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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.