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.

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.

Adoption Unfolding: Finding the Birth Mother For My Kids

Not being able to have kids of my own was a huge issue for me.  I went through a long, protracted, agonizing grief period.  I was angry at God and my body and filled with longing and despair.  It was something I longed for since I was small.  A family of my own that no one could ever take away.  I remember feeling entitled to this because things had been so hard and screwed up in my family when I was a child.  This continued well beyond the time when I adopted my kids.  I love my kids beyond words, that is separate from this longing that I experienced.

When we adopted the kids, it was basically a closed adoption.  We met the birth mother once and there was no communication between us after the day we first arrived in Arkansas to adopt the kids.  She had lunch with us and then took us up to the NICU to see the kids.  She left suddenly, I imagine because the pain was so great.

The kids have always known that they were adopted.  My 13 year old daughter has gone through many periods of longing to know her birth mother.  She was and is young and I did not really imagine that I would be dealing with her meeting her birth mother before she was 18.  That all changed this week.

My daughter again brought up the issue of wanting to know this woman who gave birth to her.  The desire, the longing, pulls at her maybe in a similar way to how wanting children pulled at me.  So this week I searched for and found her birth mother.  I spent some time crying while looking through this woman’s FB page.  I looked at her family, her husband, her daughter, her life.  It seemed like she had pulled her life together and was pretty happy.

So I sent her a message, sobbing the entire time not exactly sure why.  The message basically said that I’m the woman who adopted your kids and my daughter wants to know you.  I told her that I hold her in a place of immense gratitude, that I hoped my message would find her well and not cause her pain.  I asked her to contact me and welcomed her to look through my FB page to see the kids.  I was not sure she would contact me and hoped both that she would and a little bit that she would not.  Mostly that she would.  Then I told my daughter that I had found her and let her see her birth mother’s FB page and the message that I had sent.

I had no idea what would happen.  Would she respond at all?  Would she be upset?  Would my daughter be ok if she did not respond?  If she did respond, how would I feel?  Would my daughter prefer her to me?  Would my daughter forget me?  Would she still love me?  Questions that don’t need an answer for the most part.  They are patterns of not feeling worthy and patterns cannot be reassured.  So I took a deep breath,  One of the gifts I learned in yoga and the personal work I have done the last several years is that I can breathe into any kind or amount of pain and it will lessen, it will ease.

Yesterday afternoon the birth mother replied to my message.  She said she had wished for this day for many years, that she thought of the kids and us often.  She said she needed a little time to pray about it but that she was grateful that I had reached out.  I was surprisingly excited to hear from her.  Not just for my daughter, but for myself as well.  This too surprised me.  After sitting with it for just a short period of time I realized that I want to share them with her.  I want her to see that I cherished the gift I was given.  I want her to know all about them and know that I did a good job.  I want her to see that they are happy and well adjusted.  I want her to like me.  Then I did the unthinkable and told her all of that in a message.  She thought it was sweet and said that she never doubted the kids were wonderful and well loved.  We have not had any communication since that and I expect it will be a few days before we do.  I told my daughter about all of this with my husband who is having a really hard time with it all.  My son just doesn’t want to know.  He said, “look Wuddles, I’m fine and I’m going to be with you forever so don’t worry.’  He also said he is not interested in meeting his birth mother at this time.  But he is at a different stage of development and has challenges of his own.  He may change is mind, he may not.

So all of this is a lot to sit with, and here I am surprised again.  I have no fear that this is going to be a negative experience.  I know that my daughter’s innate nature and the way I raised her means that her heart is big enough for more than one person.  And so is mine.  I can see a world at some point where the birth mother and her family become a sort of extended family to my kids.  We share the biggest possible thing together, the kids.  Likewise, I know that none of that may come to pass.  My husband is upset and having a really hard time with it.  My son is on the fence.  I have no idea whether the birth mother’s husband and family know that she had these kids and gave them up for adoption and what them knowing might do to her life.  I don’t know what fears she may have and whether she is willing and able to face them.  There is a lot that I don’t know.

What I do know is that I have done so much work on myself and learned so much from my yoga practice that I can sit with not knowing.  My mind can spin fears and I don’t have to believe them.  I can allow my heart to be open enough for any of these possibilities.  I can sit in the contradiction and be ok.  I can breathe anytime it hurts.  I can feel relief rather than fear.  I can know that this may be one of the biggest gifts I can give my daughter, that she doesn’t have to wait until she is an adult to find this in her life like so many do.  I can wait while this all unfolds and not feel the need to rush to see how things work out.  I can be thankful for whatever this brings to my life and the lives of my kids.  I can watch all of this unfold and know that God sent me nothing but angels to bring us to this beautiful place where we can grow and experience ourselves and each other in a place of light and love.  I can do all sorts of things today that I could not do before I started on this healing journey.  For all of this, I am grateful.

Namaste.

Suffering and Contradiction

One of my teachers often says that its not that we have problems that is the issue, its that we have a problem with the fact that we have problems that causes us so much distress.  Its true enough for me.  There is the problem and then there are the stories that I have surrounding the problem.

I have had a fair amount of time in the last three years to become more familiar with yogic and buddhist philosophy.  The idea of suffering and living in contradiction.

Suffering first.  They say that pain is inevitable and suffering is optional.  To a point I agree.  Being human we have things that happen in life that we don’t like, don’t prefer, and so we have pain when they happen.  Its about attachment.  I want certain things.  Some are big like wanting my kids to be healthy and happy.  Some are small like wanting people to get out of my way when I’m driving and I’m in a hurry.  But big or small, the pain comes when in the form of resentment, anger and fear around the things that I am attached to.  Many years ago someone explained it to me like this – you have resentment when you realize you did not get your way in the past, anger when you are not getting your way right now, and fear when you think you might not get your way in the future.  Part of me rejected this statement on the basis that some things it is legitimate to be attached to because anyone would – like having the kids be healthy and happy.  And its true that nearly everyone wants their kids to be healthy and happy.  This does not change the fact, however, that this is an attachment to things being a certain way and once I become attached to things being a certain way I experience pain, anger, fear, resentment, sadness, happiness, joy.  But being human I tend to focus more on the feelings that I have that I have deemed unpleasant rather than the happiness and joy.

Suffering though, true suffering, comes when a few things happen.  When I attache to an outcome.  But also when I believe the things my mind tells me about anything.  My mind does what minds do.  It thinks so many thoughts.  And most of them are not true.  And many of them are incredibly negative.  And yet I believe many of them without ever questioning the truth of my thoughts.  The statement that I should not believe everything I’m thinking because it might not be true threw me for a loop when I heard it the first time.  After all, everyone told me I was always right and how could I think something that wasn’t true?  The mind is a powerful thing.  But back to suffering.  I have attachment and belief in what my mind says.  When it comes to suffering the way my mind becomes a problem is that it tells me that whatever feeling I am having around what is happening is going to last forever.  So the anger, fear, resentment, sadness that I experience when I am attached to something being a certain way and it isn’t my mind says is going to last forever.  And I often believe this at least temporarily when in the midst of discontent and so I suffer.

Thank God for yoga.  I have heard most of the things that have helped me in yoga classes.  That the mind thinks thoughts.  That I am attached to things.  That I can focus my attention on the present, on a point of focus like my breath and to the extent I can live in the present I don’t suffer.  That I can strive for a place of witness consciousness where I can notice what my mind is doing without becoming engaged with what my mind is doing.  Notice without judgment.  Its a very hard thing for me.  For most people probably.  I’m working on it, every day with varying degrees of success.  Running away from these feelings and ideas does not alleviate suffering but opening to them does.  Opening to fear and really allowing myself to experience fear is what has helped to dissolve fear.  But it is a day by day thing that I have to keep practicing.

One of the other huge things I had to learn is about contradiction or perceived contradiction.  That you cannot have or appreciate light without dark, happy without sad, good without bad, etc.  It is in the agony that we find the ecstasy.  I had to learn that it is ok to have contradictory thoughts and feelings and in fact that this is healthy.  Two opposite things can be true at the same time.  My mind likes for only one thing to be true when most often I have to open up to contradiction.  It is easiest for my mind to think of this in terms of light and dark.  We all are light and good at the soul level but darkness had to be introduced in order to see, appreciate, or experience that light.  The things that seem like contradiction are what happen to open me up to both things.  I can open up to light because I have experienced dark.  It has been a great tool for me in this healing because it grants perspective to the darkness and then allows for light.  But this too is a process not an event.

No Mud No Lotus

I hated this expression when I first heard it in a yoga class.  I’m not sure why but I think what came up for me around this was “where is the the lotus?”  I was so lost in the mud I could not see the lotus; so lost in the struggle I could not see the joy.  And, even when I got a glimpse of the lotus, my cynical mind would tell me that flowers die and look at all the mud on it, not seeing the beautiful flower at all really.

Today, sometimes, I can see the flower as a beautiful flower.  That has been a hard fought battle.

I have been neck deep in the struggle all of my life.  In the earlier years it was a struggle just to survive.  Survive things at home and then just survive on my own at a pretty young age without support.  Making choices that don’t make sense to me even now.  When I look back at my life I often wonder how I did not become a serial killer, end up homeless addicted to something, or just die from one of the many horrible things I did to my body.  Those moments of Grace were huge for me.  Those times when I was able to go left instead of right and make a choice that would radically change my life.

And now that I am older with a family of my own, it is a struggle to find meaning, to let go.  To remember that many of the horrible things that happened are in fact over and that I can relax now.  To know that I don’t have to live in a constant fight or flight response.  Fear had become such a part of my life that I did not recognize it anymore and would actually tell people I was not a worrier even though I was terrified nearly all the time.  It has been so hard to learn, even a little bit, to relax into what is and tell my mind to let go.

From all objective standards my life is good.  I have two amazing children, I am working on the marriage thing but it is not horrible even when it is hard, I am financially secure and don’t need to work, and I spend much of my time doing what I want whether that is yoga, visiting with friends, therapy and lots of it.  But even with all of this goodness, I struggle to find meaning.  My mind will tell me that my kids don’t really need me and that I have nothing to offer the world – that there is no reason for me to be here.  I know on another level that my children do need me and they would be devastated without me.  The struggle is with my mind and the feelings of worthlessness that I have cultivated over the years.  This is not a surprise given where I have come from.

My life has undergone tremendous shifts at different times.  Externally.  Huge shifts that changed the course of my external life.  But while things changed on the outside very little changed on the inside.  I was looking for an outside solution to an inside problem.  The last three years have been working on the inside problem.  The problem of me, my mind and how much I believe my mind the minute it comes up with a thought.

Witness consciousness is a terribly hard thing to achieve.  I get moments of it now, sometimes long moments when I can observe my mind and my feelings without being disturbed by them.  It is there that I find a little peace.  And it is in working to get there that now I get glimpses of the lotus.  I get moments of joy.  Like teaching yoga and talking with a person new to yoga who says she was so terrified but now is feeling relaxed and is so enjoying coming to class.  To watch that transformation on someone else knowing what it was the first time I relaxed and let go of my mind in a yoga class (which might have been the first time I relaxed in such a way in my life).

My children are beautiful.  I have amazing friends.  A therapist who has gone to battle with and for me relentlessly to bring me to that place of freedom.  I live in a place with many beautiful things.  The real lotus for me now though is none of these things.  The lotus for me is in being able to rest my mind and personality so that I can have peace and see and enjoy each of those things in the moment.