The Year in Review – A Positive Reflection on 2014

My bestie Carly and I decided to do a little “round up” of our own on all the positive things that have happened or benefitted us this past year. We have a renewed interest in positivity heading forward into the New Year, so we decided we should end our last year on a good note. You can find Carly’s post here.

2014 has been one of the most challenging and transformational of my life. Mindsets and ways of being have shifted and continue to shift. Beginning with my quarter life crisis in March, and lasting all the way until December, my life has been in utter upheaval this year. It’s as if the Universe decided I needed an overhaul.

Or perhaps I decided it… I was the one to take one small step to be more powerful in my life, to embrace it with an open heart. Considering that my word for the year was audacity… Yeah.

There were a few things that kept me going this year that I want to share here, as an offering of gratitude to them and how they moved me through.

Andrea Gibson – The Nutritionist
This poem saved my LIFE in April/May/June. There was a period of time where I literally listened to it daily just to have the strength to go to work. I would put it on in the morning before work, shed a few tears, buck up, and leave. I have no idea what I would have done without it.

Sayulita Trip
This trip that I took alone was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. If I could afford it, I’d take a trip alone every year. This one was a massive reset button on my life. It was also gloriously beautiful and I had the chance to just take it all in and enjoy. That, despite getting sunburned so bad on my chest that I blistered. Yikes! Haha. The little things just didn’t seem to matter anymore; I was the most myself I’ve ever been on this trip, and it was glorious. It’s been a hallmark of my year.

RootEd Yoga Teacher Training
I have no idea what I would have done this year without this amazing, vibrant, vulnerable community around me. I have learned so much about what it means to be rooted in myself, and what it means to relate to others. I have never plugged into a community so much in my life, in a true way, in a consistent way. It’s weird, but good. Plus, I am finding that I truly love Yoga in all aspects. It’s always drawn me, but there’s a greater draw now.

My first date with Kevin.
We ran around town looking for hammocks. We ordered the same meal at Ivywild. We ended the night with The Fountain and some kissing and stuff. ūüėČ It was one of the most glorious, synchronous¬†nights of my year.

Kevin, in general
To be truthful, Kevin has been far more gracious to me than I feel like I deserve (he disagrees). He has been an absolute rock to me. I have been a stormy ocean of a girl at times and he has been the levy that I come up against but it holds me in, in the sweetest of ways. I’m so grateful for who he has been in my life thus far.

Visiting my bestie, Carly.
It wasn’t for the greatest reasons, but getting to see my best friend FO LYFE Carly (the one I linked up with on this post!) in July was a huge highlight of my year. Much singing of Chandelier, conversations until all hours of the morning… it was fantastic.

Spoken Word Poetry
This was the year I’ve really gotten into spoken word. And holy mother of pearl guys. That stuff has changed my life. I walked into an event and immediately felt at home, like these were my people. Their vulnerability encouraged me to become a more vulnerable person.

 

These are just a few things that have influenced me this year. I know there are many, many others that I am forgetting. But in the wake of all the transformation I have experienced, these things have kept me going. These have been the core things that have provided the inspiration I’ve needed to keep going this year, and I’m so grateful that they appeared in my life as they did.

Here’s to you, 2014! I can’t say I’m sad to leave you, but I do leave with a deep bow to all you have brought me.

As for 2015… I have a new word for this coming year.

I don’t make resolutions, I think that’s silly. I have some ideals. But this word is one I want to be a guiding light.

Savor.

I want to take in all the moments. I want to see the holiness. I want to never, ever forget the purity of the present. And I want to CHOOSE to enjoy it. Enjoy it all. This word for me is about truly enjoying. I feel that up to this point in my life I have enjoy, full body enjoyed, very little. So for this year, that’s what I’m setting as my intention.

To full-body savor the experience.

Welcome, 2015.

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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.

Shell

I am sharing a very vulnerable piece of my heart today, over on the blogging collective I’m involved with: The Sisterwives.

I would love it if you would please go view this piece. It took a lot of guts for me, both to write it and to record it. It’s not something I often make public. But I wanted to share this with you all.

You can see it here: Shell

Okay. I overdid it.

I wrote awhile back on how full my life was. I’ve had some friends caution me in the past 2 weeks about taking care of myself. I even thought I was fine, just doing life. Well. I was wrong. (Surprise!)

I got to this weekend and I have been totally wiped out. Not a little, but a lot. To the point where I’m noticing emotionally to an extent that I haven’t in a long while. I went to a poetry slam last night, and while the content was deeply moving as usual, one poem particularly rocked me. A woman shared about the death of her mother.

During the poem, I was okay. I could hold it together. It made something deep inside me ache, but I could hold it together. The next poet came up and did a funny poem to break the mood. Except it didn’t break mine. Something had lodged in my throat and in the spaces between my vertebrae. When I laughed at his lines, suddenly that’s when the tears came. I sat laugh-crying as my stomach contracted trying to purge up the feelings. Death and sadness, of course.

It stuck with me. Another poet, just after that, did a poem I’ve heard him read before about his time in Afghanistan. It’s rough, but I was able to sit through it the first time. I couldn’t sit through it last night.

I only get like that when I’m terribly overextended. r¬†Worse, I’m 3 weeks from a recovery anniversary and I haven’t been at enough meetings. I went to one¬†alcohol recovery meeting last week. That was not enough.

I’m not even going to tell you what I did all week. I had it all written out and it made me sick to look at all of it.

And now when all the feels are hitting… things are crashing on my head. It’s the Columbine anniversary tomorrow. On April 29 I have another anniversary for a former Azeri student (knew him when I was teaching English in Azerbaijan) who was shot and killed. I have some other stuff coming up that’s rough that I can’t mention here just yet, but I’ve felt it coming on for about a month now. I’ve worked very hard to build a recovery community, and lately it’s felt like I still have no one, or very few, to fall back on. I know part of that is my own brain after being out of meetings the past couple weeks. But part of that is true. And I’m really tired of working so hard and getting nothing.

Hell, I’m just really tired.

I’m not going to take an official blogging break, but if you don’t see me here for a bit, that’s why. You’re welcome to read my other material especially if you’re new here. (See my About The Writer section) That in itself explains why it’s so imperative for me to make sure I’m gentle with myself.

Think of me. I’ll be back when I have more to give, which hopefully will be soon. I’m off to do some self care. ūüôā

Love you all.

Spoken Word Poetry – My Messy Beautiful

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Recently, I got involved with spoken word poetry.

Now, I’ve been a poet since I was 15. I spin words like a grandma spins yarns for knitting blankets, sweaters, and baby booties. Some of you have picked up on my poetic ways through various posts. However, spoken word is a whole new experience to me. I’m not just reading my poetry. I’m acting my poetry. That’s totally out of my comfort zone. But I am inexplicably drawn to it. I can’t get over it.

The first time I saw spoken word poetry, I was blown away. I instantly thought, “I want to do that.” I twiddled my thumbs and didn’t pick it up again until last year. I was required to do a creative project for my Psychology of Diversity class, and I decided I would do a spoken word poem. It took me a month or more to get the words just right. It was so fun to perform and so fun to see how speechless people were.

I still wasn’t all in, but people kept mentioning this spoken word poetry thing to me. A fellow classmate at my school went to the meet up on campus. I thought about going but it was my last semester.¬†I finally went to my first slam with¬†a dear friend¬†in February.¬†It was a Friday night after a long week and I debated not going, but in the end, I pushed myself out of my apartment and down the street to the nearby slam. I walked in and had the pleasure of sitting on the front row. I didn’t know what this was going to mean.

I saw the expressions, the tears, the anguish, the passion bleeding across every face that walked up to that stage. Even on the faces that felt superfluous, redundant, mortified and ashamed to be standing shredding their hearts in front of a room of half-strangers, passion was lurking. And the skilled wordsmiths who stood and burned themselves like incense to the sky made me realize why an Old Testament god might have demanded offerings. These poets hadn’t just written the words; they became funeral pyres to them.

Fire is catching, especially to a fellow wordsmith.

Their words spilled out onto me like the perfume the prostitute poured on Jesus’ feet. She washed his feet with tears, kissed them, dried them with her hair. My dirty, road-weary heart full of care was doused in a sacrifice bought by their full year’s salary. I cried because I heard, in the echoes and the timbre of their voice, the same story I told in my darkest and brightest moments. When they talked about sorrow, I saw my dying sister’s face on a white hospital bed.¬†These poets took death, love, sex, passion, social prison, and all the feelings of inadequacy, and showcased them like jewels for the world to see.

I wanted to do that. Desperately. And something in my heart jumped then and I thought, “I can do this. I need to do this.” Because every word they were saying was every word I’ve been saying since I was 15 years old and begging for someone to listen to me. I knew these people, because we’re all connected somehow. And because the quiet words I’ve written and kept to myself are the ones they were living out loud. They were warrior freaks and unashamed, and I cracked open a little more in the presence of their brightness.

Vulnerability is catching, too.

So I read, officially, for the first time a week later. My hands were shaking and I could barely look at the audience.

I’ve been a poet for more than 10 years, but bearing my heart like lion’s teeth and having that kind of audacity – well, that’s new. It’s nothing to write these words here where I don’t actually have to speak them. But there’s something about hearing your voice echo through a room. You’re exposed. It’s like being a stripper but with your heart. Your words are dancing on a pole, sliding out of your mouth, wrapping back and forth like a snake. And all I could wonder at that moment was, “Am I good enough?”

I know my quiet written words are good enough. I know when I’ve written a kick-ass poem, or a well-crafted blog. But this was new. This feeling of being so inside my element yet so. damn.¬†vulnerable.¬†My respect for these poets has grown by the hour as I feel the fear whipping at me like high-speed winds on a clifftop. Standing in front of that microphone is like jumping into the abyss.

Yet, it’s taught me something new about bravery, and courage, and staying with my mess.

It‘s shown me that audacity is windmill-kicking that gripping, gnawing fear right in the face. It’s trying again even though your soul wants to stay in the “not good enough” litany it always provides.¬†And when you still feel inadequate, and small, and like an island to yourself up on that stage with all the eyes boring into your soul, it’s telling yourself, when you leave, that bravery isn’t built by doing only the things you know how to do best. It’s built by grabbing your passion by the horns. Cuz you’ve got Old Red underneath you, and it’s the biggest, baddest bull of them all. Unbroken and untested in the arena and you’ve got to stay on for 8 seconds and you have no damn idea how. And courage is saying, “Well fuck it, if I die this will have been the best 8 seconds of my life.”¬†So you get on, and you ride.

That’s real bravery for me, right there. Not just sticking with what I know best, but jumping out into new territory. Being a trailblazer.

The last time I read was two nights ago – Saturday night. I wasn’t going to read. But I decided to just go for it anyway, with a raw, vulnerable poem I’d written after the last slam. I’d stayed up until 2am trying to write something good enough for the audience, and finally when I was worn down and squeezed out, I gave up. I gave up and wrote about how painful it is to try to find words to encapsulate something that’s indescribable. I went down to the rawest part of my soul and plumbed it, pulling up the junk for all of them to see. That was the poem I¬†chose to read¬†only two nights ago.

It’s the poem I’m going to read for you, now.

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project ‚ÄĒ To learn more and join us,¬†CLICK HERE!¬†And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback,¬†CLICK HERE!