All I Had To Do Was Ask

In February of this year I had significant cervical spine surgery that was debilitating for a time.  They removed a section of c4,5,6&7 and affixed a rod on each side screwed in from c3 to t1.  I was in a hard collar and feared being isolated at home.  But at the encouragement of my therapist, I reached out to my yoga community and they came through.  They set up a schedule to visit me and take me out so that I would not be alone at home all the time.  It was a unique opportunity to connect with people – there was nothing else to do anyway as I was not really allowed to do much.  I think the time was good for me and for them.

Two weeks post surgery, my daughter’s birth mother with whom she had been reconnected with during the past summer, dropped her like a bomb.  I had to break the news to her that this woman wanted nothing to do with her even though she had claimed love and affection and a desire to know her for months.  The pain was indescribable for me and for my daughter.  And I felt helpless to help her much of the time as I was still in a hard collar recovering from surgery.  And still my yoga friends came as scheduled even though the minute they asked me how I was I would start crying like a baby.  They still came.

In the meantime, I was missing a huge section of my 300 yoga teacher training and worrying about how to get that done, get functional, start driving again, get my daughter and myself through this most painful time.  I went back to teacher training and proceeded to make up all the contact hours I needed doing private yoga clinics and other work while finishing the rest of the program.  Thankfully those with whom I did my training were deeply compassionate and allowed me to do this independent work so that I could finish.

But I was attached to some things.  I wanted desperately to finish training and I pushed too hard on my body to do it when it was not yet healed.  And the day I finished training and got my certificate I was hospitalized with acute respiratory failure with hypoxia.  And upset about it tremendously even though I did not feel or breathe well.  You see, I was also attached to going to see my guru Amma and I knew if I did not get out of the hospital I could not go.  I missed the first night of seeing her but I talked the doctors into discharging and drove straight out to MA to see her.  But I was still pretty sick and had to take oxygen with me to nebulize breathing treatments.  I took three brand new tanks with me to ensure I had enough to be there safely.  I got there and had such a moment of relief.  Finally, it was all coming together.  But not so.  I checked into my room and went to do a breathing treatment before going down to the main hall to see Amma and there was no air in the oxygen tank.  I switched tanks.  No air still.  There was no air in any of the brand new tanks that I brought with me.  I knew this meant that I had to leave, to go home.  I knew this meant that I was pushing too hard for things that were not for me at that moment.  Knowing this did not even begin to stem the tide of upset, anger, frustration, sadness, and disappointment – all of which were followed by tidal waves of self hatred.  As I was leaving the hotel I handed my key back to the hotel clerk and let him know to release the room if someone needed it and why I could not stay.  I did not ask him for a refund, it did not occur to me.  But he looked at me with such compassion and said he was sorry I was having such a hard time and that he hoped it got better.  And he waived the fee for my room.  It was a bright light of compassion when I felt like I was in a place that was really hard and dark.

After this time, I sent out an email to my yoga/enlightenment intensive friends spilling everything that was going on for me, my mind stories about everything that was going on, and my feelings about it.  I asked for help.  I asked for support.  And I got it.  Emails, texts, phone calls, visits.  It was beautiful and it helped ease things for me.

Then one friend from Maine suggested putting together a weekend in Maine where we could all gather.  I was looking at it as support for everyone but it turns out it was mostly for me.  These dear people gathered together – a six hour drive – to spend time together.  We had sacred space.  We did dyads.  We did art therapy projects.  We hiked.  I spent some time doing personal work with a couple people who are strong enough to be with my darkness and compassionate enough to be willing to witness my darkness, my struggle.  We meditated.  Saturday night they literally held me in a circle of love, everyone putting hands on me, as we listened to beautiful music and they listened to me discharge my struggle.

It was the greatest act of love I have ever experienced.

I don’t know how to fully process what happened.  Their incredible kindness, compassion, and love.  All of them in different ways.  I felt humble and not worthy.  Worthy and grateful.  Sad.  Overwhelmed.  Overjoyed.  I felt so very much.

And all I had to do was ask.

My mind is still blown away and my heart still full.  I carry that weekend with me all the time now.  When a song comes on.  When a hawk flies by.  When I see beautiful mountains.  When I think of my friends.  How incredible is this gift of community?  I don’t have words.  The gifts of my yoga and EI community.  The gifts of the friendships I have made.

The lesson.  Ask and you shall receive if you are open.  I stand ready to be there when they ask.  I also stand ready to ask again if needed.  Its an invitation to them, to the universe.  An invitation to be loved the way everyone needs and deserves to be loved.

Humility lives in asking for help.  In saying I can’t do this by myself.  A friend told me that humility would be a big part of my process.  And it is.  All the time.  I just look at humility as a gift rather than a weakness these days.  I don’t get humble enough often enough.  Maybe that was the point in the debilitating surgery, my daughter’s heartbreak, the sickness.  I had no control and had to be willing to ask for help.  Humility.  Love.  Kindness.  Compassion.  Community.

Thank you my dear dear friends.

Monkey Mind

When I first started going to yoga classes I would hear teachers talk about the “monkey mind”.  (I immediately thought to myself that my mind is more like a two year old running with scissors and playing with matches.)  About how the mind jumps from one thing to another telling us stories and we believe them as if they are the whole truth about who we are.  I was completely destroyed when a yoga teacher said “don’t believe everything your mind tells you – it is not true most of the time”.  I lived so much in my mind from such a young age, and my mind is what got me through so many things I thought, that it was incomprehensible to me that my mind would tell me things that are not true.  And this began a journey for me that changed my life.

For the vast majority of my life I ran from any feelings.  I had little to no tolerance for fear, anger, worry, resentment, terror, sadness, grief – and yet I had a lot of them.  When I was a teenager into my early twenties I ran with alcohol, drugs, random sex with strangers, bulimia, suicide attempts.  Anything and everything that would block out feelings.  Then my life shifted and I gave up the alcohol and drugs and went back to school.  And I substituted constant work for mood and mind altering substances.  I worked full time and then went to college and law school full time.  And when I graduated I worked Sunday through Friday 14 to 16 hours a day and never took a holiday or vacation.  I worked Christmas, New Years, 4th of July.  It didn’t matter.  I just needed to work to the point of exhaustion to not feel anything.  I still threw up everything I ate and slept with a loaded gun under my pillow for a long while just in case I could not take it anymore.

Then life changed again and I moved to another state to get married and have kids and gave up my career as an attorney.  That is when things got really hard.  And I’m not talking about the infertility and the adoption process.  I’m talking about all the time I had with my mind with nothing really to occupy it.  I still threw up everything I ate and struggled with suicidal ideation.  More so in fact because I had so much more time with my mind.  This continued until I found yoga, and a therapist trained in more Eastern practices.  Then the real work began.

I did not even realize that I was avoiding feelings.  It is only in looking back that I know this.  At the time I was too busy surviving.  In November of 2015 when I went to my second enlightenment intensive that I was able to tap into all those heavy and hard emotions and I sobbed for hours.  I was not sure what was more sad.  That I had not cried until then since August of 1993 or the fact that I was actually aware of this.  But finally I was able to start to release.  An opening of the floodgates.

Because I was now able and willing to feel things, I was more able to notice that there was what was actually happening and that I was telling myself things about what was happening.  What happened and the story.  So if a friend had to cancel plans I could notice that but also notice the story that I told myself about this that would usually go something like “I knew she didn’t really like me, no one does.  I don’t belong here on this earth.  I don’t know how to do this life thing.”  And it was immediate.  And so very quickly after would follow the despair, loneliness, etc.  And I genuinely believed that these things were true about me and that this was the totality of my life and who I was.

Slowly, however, just by starting with noticing what I was feeling (with lots of help and support from an amazing therapist) I was able to sit with my feelings.  I was able to get just enough space to notice the story and actually hold it up for examination to see if it was something that I really believed.  I would get constant help with this asking others that I trusted for perspective and feedback.  By no means do I do this perfectly or all the time.  I still get led around by my mind a lot.  But the more I practice noticing what is actually happening and separately noticing what my mind did with the experience, the better I got at staying present.  And even when I was being led around by my mind, it did not take me as long to get back.

I had the first dramatic joyous result of this practice when my kids had their b’nai mitzvah.  I had planned out that day practically since we brought them home as babies from Arkansas.  But fast forward 13 years and a great deal of emotional and spiritual work on myself with a mindfulness embodied practice, I was able to stay present for an entire day experiencing a joy and pride I had never experienced before.  Notwithstanding the fact that my husband and I were trying out a separation that summer and there were many challenges in our family, I enjoyed every single minute.  I did not try to document the day with photos.  I did not worry about how it was going to go, how the kids would do, whether they would have a good experience.  I watched them and got to see their immense self pride, their joy in having everyone they loved celebrate with them.  I got to see my friends who were there to support and celebrate with me.  From the family dinner the night before, to the morning service and the party that Saturday night.  And because I stayed present for every minute, at the end of the night when things broke up I had no regret, no wishing it could go on, no worry that I missed something.  It was, for me, the culmination of several years of hard work on myself.

My gura Amma says something like we have to declare war on our minds.  Hold them up for examination.  And that is what I try to do every day.  I try to stay present in the moment.  I try to notice whether my mind is telling me a story (and it almost always is).  I try to not believe everything my mind says.  I allow myself to have feelings and when I start to judge myself for how I think or feel, I notice that too.  And try to have compassion for all those places.

Through sharing my struggle with my mind and my feelings, I give myself permission to be human like everyone else.  I step more firmly into who I really am every time I use these practices.  And I have come to realize that everyone has this struggle.  I used to think that it was just me or that I was somehow worse than everyone else.  But I know now that we all struggle with our minds to varying degrees.  That we all come from the same source however we each visualize that and the isolation slowly dissolves.  It is still work every day but the benefit of this war on my mind stuns me.  Lifelong loneliness, grief, isolation, anger, frustration eases.  And I walk with my permanent self, with who I really am, with increasing grace, ease, and compassion.

And for this I am truly grateful.

Seeing Amma

I am preparing to see Amma next month in MA.  It will be the third time that I have gone and the experience has been mind blowing, traumatic, dramatic, lonely, and yet filled with love and compassion the likes of which I have never experienced.

Amma is considered by many to be a fully enlightened being, a saint.  She does and sponsors great humanitarian efforts throughout the world.  She is said to have hugged over 34 million people.

I went for the first time three years ago to get a hug.  I approached the whole thing with an attitude of suspending disbelief.  I was still in the process of deep emotional work, and still am most of the time.  I was suspicious and reluctant to believe.  I went for two days.  I got a few hugs.  I got a mantra which meant I accepted her as my guru even though I was not sure.  And I cried.  I cried through every hug and so much of the time in between.  I started to think I had been through a war.  I had, it was in my mind.  Amma says we must declare war on our minds to achieve peace.  And I did.  And I slowly learned the mantra and so much more and came to use them regularly.

Last year I was more up on my game.  I had done more spiritual work and was prepared for the emotional tidal wave being there and getting a hug would bring.  I was more prepared.  This time I got in the question line.  She only takes a few.  And while the others in the question line passed through quickly, she had me sit there for four hours before answering my question.  A woman who works closely with her came to me and said “she is doing work on you, that is why you have to sit there.”  I had figured as much and I was grateful and a little resentful – “I’m not so bad off that I need four hours of work” right to “thank God she is helping me.”  Then I got more hugs and volunteered at various tasks.  It was more fulfilling than the first time.  And I upped my game on the spiritual work.

Brene Brown says in one of her books that once you get into the arena you can’t ever go back to the place you were before you got into the arena – no matter how much you might long to from time to time.  I think of this often.  But I don’t really want to go back to that place.  It was lonely and miserable and I did not even know what it meant to be present or in-body.  I do now.  And the work FEELS miserable at times but my life is by now means miserable.  Perspective has shifted.  I have shifted.  I am not done with the work yet.  But I am oh so much closer.  I have a teacher that says everything we want is guaranteed – the only thing not guaranteed is when – this lifetime or some other.  But then thinking in terms of time leaves us identified with time as if there is a difference between 5 minutes and 500 lifetimes.  A hard concept for my mind.

So this year I plan to go.  And I am making these plans with much more peace.  I know that I will know many people there and that the vibration of these people gathered together is high, so much higher than my vibration alone.  I know that I will cry when I get a hug and that this is ok, even exactly as it is supposed to be.  I know that I still have work to go although I have made great progress.  I know that I wish everyone could experience what it is to be held in Mother’s arms and feel loved.

To all those parts before today, today, and after.  Ahimsa.  Compassion.  From there all else flows.

Accepting Limits and Letting Go

I have never been all that accepting of limits and the things I have let go of generally have claw marks on them.  A friend once told me that my issues with authority were so severe that if I were dictator of the world I would stage a coup d’etat.  I once looked backed and saw how much of my life was set up so that no one could tell me know.  I had a lot of attitude and very little trust in others – a product likely of being on my own at such a young age.

But even as a grown adult now, there are few areas in my life where someone other than me sets the limits so when I bump up against a limit I really struggle.

Six and a half weeks ago I had major neck surgery – they cut out a section of four vertebrea in the cervical spine and put in two rods to hold my neck together.  This happened while I was in the middle of my 300 yoga teacher training with a very busy schedule of training, teaching 4 classes a week, two kids and just life happening.

At first I did not want to put teacher training on hold and wanted to miss as few days as possible and was working a plan to make up the time I would have to miss as quickly as possible.  Post surgery in a hard collar life started to change.  I could barely life my arms up to wash my hair.  I was not allowed to drive.  And was in too much pain to do much of anything.  Thankfully I had a strong community, sangha, that organized visits and taking me out so that I would not be too lonely or bored.  My surgeon cleared me to go back to training provided I did no asana.  I went for one day and was in so much pain that night and the next day.  Then I started dreading going back.

I have learned things in yoga.  One is called ahimsa.  Non-violence.  Compassion to self and others.  The other was non-grasping or clinging to things.  I sat with this for a few days and contacted the head of my teacher training and let her know that I would not be able to finish this year.  They are letting me suspend training and pick it up where I left off at no additional cost.  Very kind and gracious.  But it was a big letting go.  I could hear myself saying “I am not a quitter!!”  But then I could hear the quiet little voice saying – ahimsa, compassion.

But there was also the limits my body has set.  I could not drive for six weeks and had to depend on others for pretty much everything.  Hard.  I have a great and kind sangha but I struggle still with trusting that they will be there.  And the limits my body sets every day. That I can only walk slowly right now until my neck heals rather than do all that yoga.  That I can teach yoga now but I had to become practiced at teaching with more verbal instruction/assists and less demonstration.

Everything as I age – I will be 50 this year – is a new limit.  A new opportunity – welcome or not, to let go.  Its hard.  But the moment I let go is the moment that I get peace.  So that I can be happy for my fellow trainees who will finish this year without resentment or bitterness – which would have been a thing for me in the past.  And every yoga pose as I slowly start to do them will be learning what my new limits are and offer me an opportunity to meet myself with ahimsa rather than aggressively pushing through something to potential further injury.

And finally, as I age so do my children and there is big letting go there.  I no longer dictate all parts of their lives and have to let them figure some things out themselves.  Let them make their own choices even if it is not a choice I would make.  With guidance for sure but there are more and more areas where we talk things through and then I let them make their own choices.  Its interesting to watch the progression.  And the progress I make all the time in more easily and quickly, accepting limits and letting go.

As they say, let go and let God.  Surrender.

I Sent You Nothing But Angels

Such a hard thing to remember – that God sent us nothing but angels to help us experience Who We Are in this lifetime.

I was reading Walsch’s children’s book The Little Soul and the Sun and in this book God tells the little soul who wants to have a body so it can experience itself as the One Who Forgives to remember that God sent him nothing but angels to help him.  The point of it is that even the people who come and do things that are hard or that we call bad are doing it not because they are bad but because they have agreed to lower their vibration to allow them to do this thing so that we can experience ourselves the way in which we came into this lifetime to experience ourselves.

The language gets a little convoluted in explaining this but the statement – I have sent you nothing but angels – keeps coming into my mind.  Perhaps because there are people in my life with whom I am struggling.  Marriage is hard.  Friends who are no longer friends can be hard.  The things that people do that can be hurtful are hard.  The lying.  The cheating.  The stealing.  The self absorption.  The unkindness.  We encounter these things throughout our days and lifetimes to varying degrees.  The question for me is to how to let this stuff go and not sit in disappointment, anger, resentment – whatever the feeling is.  For me, the feeling I struggle with the most is disappointment.

But I read this book and the statement I have sent you nothing but angles keeps coming to mind and it is helping me to release some things I have been holding onto from my childhood, broken relationships etc.  To know that perhaps we agreed that this person would do something that would allow me to experience myself as a person who forgives. Or a person who is kind.  And then likewise, that I have agreed to do things that my mind would judge to be bad in order to help someone else on their journey.

I’m not sure what the Truth is.  I do know that it feels better to believe that God has sent me nothing but angels.  I am learning to forgive other souls. I am learning to forgive myself.

Tell Me What God Is

I worked with the question “What Is God?” during this past enlightenment intensive and have remained with the question.  I keep hearing the direction in my head for dyads – “tell me what God is.”  Over and over again until I fear I am going to lose my mind.

Fear of going insane and fear of death are two of the blocks to enlightenment from what I understand from the master.  And I have lost my mind in the past.  It is hard to be in the psych ward as much as I have been earlier in my life and not have a fear of going insane, of getting locked up again.  And much of it stems from needing this connection with God so much and feeling like I don’t have it, or have it nearly as much as I want.

Wanting, longing for something, is so hard.  The pain sits in my heart and belly like a huge gaping open wound.  But even though it is painful there is a sweetness to it.  The sweetness is new to me, the pain is old.  The sweetness comes from having a taste of what it is to feel God in me, in the world, in others.  The relief of not having that feeling of isolation and separateness for even microseconds is tremendous.

I decided last night that I need to work on my relationship with God in a different way.  The longing and crying out to God is essential but it is rather vague in some way.  And I need that relationship to be personal.  So I have started my own conversations with God. And giving God all of me – all my thoughts, feelings, and life stuff, all of my struggles.  One of the teachings I have heard is that we have to give all of it to God, even the hate, the anger, the fear, the anguish.  It is hard for me because that is not what I was taught when I was young.  But it is what I am trying to follow now.  It feels much more authentic than pretending not to be angry about life, about how hard the journey is, about how worried I can get, about how alone I feel in this world.  Although truthfully I am feeling less alone now than I ever did.  Slowly, ever so slowly, I am building that sangha, that community.

But for now, my focus is on that connection with God.  A deep and personal connection.  A vision almost that God could hold me much like a child giving me all the comfort and love in the universe.  That feeling is what makes the struggle mean something.

Tell Me What God Is: EI 5

I am reeling having just returned from my 5th enlightenment intensive.  I worked on two questions this time – first “what is life?” and then “what is God?”.  It was by far the most profound experience I have had durning and intensive albiet not a direct experience.

For those who are unfamiliar with an EI, it is a retreat designed to achieve enlightenment or a direct experience of The Truth.  You sit in dyads taking turns being a speaker or a listener.  So someone will sit across from you and give you your direction, in my case this weekend “Tell me what God is”.  Then as the speaker it is your job to contemplate the question and communicate absolutely everything that comes up for you during your contemplation in that five minutes.  This goes on for 18 hours a day with the enlightenment exercises being broken up by meal, snack, walking, work, lecture and sitting contemplations.  There is often social silence imposed during the intensive so you are not communicating with others outside of the dyads.

It does not usually take long for people to fall apart during an EI.  At any various times people may be laughing, sobbing hysterically, screaming.  Its not hard to lose your mind during and intensive.  But that seems to be part of the process to me – losing the mind to directly experience The Truth.

For the first time in my EI experiences, I did in fact completely let go into the technique taught for contemplating and communicating to the point where I was sobbing out for God for several enlightenment exercises spanning 4 or 5 hours.  I was able to get out of my own way to fully feel the painfully sweet longing for God.  I did not have a direct experience which is always somewhat disappointing but it was beautiful nonetheless.  In the agony is the ecstasy.

But coming home and integrating that experience is always a little challenging.  I tend to process things through my body and it affects my sleep and how well I interact in the world.  The process of settling back down into daily life.

And I really must have lost my mind as I have already signed up to do this again in 6 weeks.  It is with fear and excitement that I say – I can’t wait!