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.

Why Does Everything Have To Be So Hard?

Over the last several weeks I have been asking myself this question a lot.  But it is the wrong question.

By way of background, in the last few months I have had major cervical spine injury confined to my house for six weeks in a hard collar and am now less confined but still in a soft collar with lots of limitations.  Most limitations come now from my body – the muscles they cut through in my back and neck, and just my neck altogether, plus the atrophy that occurred by going from pretty active to complete inactivity.  Healing is slower than I would like, a lot slower.  During this time my daughter was rejected by her birth mother she was reconnected with this past summer.  She is suffering and it is hard for her and for me.  And as I am trying to get healing and restore my body and get back in balance roadblocks to doing the things that I think I need to do for healing keep coming up.  So I get frustrated.  There is constant conflict between my husband and I and I am not sure that we can work through our differences and I’m not in shape enough to put much effort into it now.  So the marriage is hard.  And I ask the universe why do things have to be so hard?

The thing is that things are hard because of my mind.  Certainly things are challenging and emotional issues.  I have a teacher who tells me open up to things being hard and once you fully open to things being hard then they won’t be.  Not necessarily because they things I find hard will change but because I will change – my thoughts about them, my feelings, and opening to the universe allows change.  I get that.  And I still find that hard at times although it is getting easier.

My guru has a teaching that says surrender and staying in the present moment are the same thing.  I always had trouble with the idea of surrender and the how to surrender in the midst of trying to function and do the next right thing.  Attaching surrender to just staying in the moment I could understand.

Hard is a concept of the mind just like easy is.  When I can actually stay in the present moment while I might feel challenged I don’t feel like things are overwhelmingly hard such that I want to pick a fight with the universe.  Really hard exists for me when I am attached to things being a certain way.  Like healing from major surgery should not take this long.  Like wanting my children to always be happy, healthy, etc. when I know they too have come into this lifetime to do certain work and I can’t interfere with that.  My daughter came here, at least in part, to work through what it means to be abandoned.  Hard is an expectation that her struggle would not bring up my own abandonment issues because “I worked through that already”.

Hard and easy therefore come back to attachment and non-attachment.  They come up when I have an expectation that things are supposed to be different than they actually are.  When I think things are not, from a universe perspective, perfect exactly they way they are.  Letting go of expectations about outcomes is not easy for me.  Its really hard to sit with ok, full healing from surgery is going to take the time it takes and just be ok with that.  Because I get into my mind and I want to plan things, to manage things.  I know there is incredible arrogance on my part to assume that things should be different – i.e., that my daughter should not have to suffer so much with being abandoned when she has had two loving parents.  But nothing but her working through it is going to change it because its not about me.  Even a neck surgery I didn’t plan isn’t really about me.  What is about me?  How I choose to sit in each present moment and my ability to do that.

So after I had a big fit this past week about things being so hard I decided that I needed to change what I’m doing.  I need more meditation and less doing.  More being and less thinking.  Space between my thoughts.  I find consistency with this hard alone at home.  It is where I struggle the most in my practices.

Then I was reminded that I have to ask for help.  Over and over again perhaps.  Help from others, help from God, help from my higher self….  however, one looks at such things.  I’m getting better at that.  Slowly.

And gratitude.  Yes, I had a major surgery that changed many things in life or at least put many things I wanted on hold.  (check the wants and don’t wants…. note to self).  But my spinal cord is no longer endangered which means I can hug my children, walk, and feed myself.  Things I admit to being attached to.  So gratitude.  I go back to teaching yoga tonight.  A thing I love and have missed.  My daughter is essentially ok, she just has work to do, like we all do.  More gratitude.  My son who struggles in other ways is ok and he self esteem is in tact.  More gratitude.

Final note to self, its my thoughts that make things hard or easy and how attached I am to things being the way I think they should be.  So when I get space in between my thoughts through practices, my sadhana, things are easier.  When I am able to get to a place where I am not attached, or at least less attached, to things being a certain way then things are easier.  At the end of the day, breathe, meditate, and scrape your tongue and everything is ok exactly as it is right this moment.

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.

My Child’s Pain

It has been quite a while since I have written anything.  Life got busy and I had major neck surgery.  I am looking forward next week to getting out of this neck collar.  It has been hard, but the hardest thing I have had to deal with is my daughter’s pain.

Over the summer we located her birth mother and she had her first of many conversations with this woman.  She discovered she has sisters, two children that this woman kept, and a brother that this woman gave up for adoption as well.  She talked to her sisters, she talked to her birth mother.  The brother she may never meet although the universe decides these things.

After months of this woman telling my daughter that she loves her, can’t wait to meet her, wants to be a part of her life etc., she bailed.  She talked to me on the phone and said she had just been leading my daughter on, she has no room in her life for her, that there was a reason why she gave the kids up, and that she does not want to hear from her again.  And I had to break that news to my daughter who was, of course, devastated.

I held this sweet girl in my arms the best I could with a neck collar while she cried.  And it has been about two weeks and she has easier and harder times with it.  I’m thankful that I never took her to meet this woman as I think it would have made it even harder for her.

The cruelty of what this woman did is beyond my comprehension.  And I know it would not offer my daughter any comfort to tell her that while she feels some sort of connection because this woman gave birth to her, this woman does not think of her as her child.  And she is not her child, she is my daughter.  I brought her home from the NICU with her twin brother and they have been mine ever since.  I have cared for them when they were sick, looked after their every need, played with them, taught them, and most of all loved them.

My life has not been easy at least in childhood and my relationship with my parents was hard and I was on my own very young.  But nothing in my life has been harder than walking my daughter through this devastation.  I have cried more in the last two weeks than the last ten years.  There is just something about being helpless in the face of her pain – I could not stop what happened and I can’t put a bandaid on it.

I also think that when your child goes through something it brings up things for the parent about their own childhood.  So its twice the pain.  But also twice the opportunity to heal.

I let my daughter watch me cry.  I also let her see me do my own work on myself.  And this sweet 14 year old girl has a brother who struggles to understand things so he would keep talking about it trying to understand that my daughter was not going to have a relationship with this woman.  When I was about to ask him to stop talking about it and that he and I would talk later, my little girl looked and me and said “it is ok mom.  If I don’t hear and talk about the reality of it then I won’t accept it.”

So over the last two weeks there have been tears, therapy, more tears.  But my girl is smart.  She decided to explore what she actually likes doing for fun, what brings her joy, and to do more of those things.  She is starting to cook, to draw, and wants to learn to play the drums (I promised her a drum set).  So she talks about her sadness and anger but also holds space for the fact that something might shift in the future.  She refuses to say or hear anything unkind about this woman.  And my heart breaks a little every time she says maybe she will try again in a year or two.  But I know that she has her own path that she has to follow and it is not for me to say.  My job is to love and support and protect her the best I can.  But about this, it is her path.

It just took me aback at how much pain I experienced over her pain and how much it brought up for me.  And that I know is my work.

Life can be complicated.

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.

Are We Old Enough To Talk About Suicide?

Today my daughter wanted to watch this new movie 13 Reasons Why.  A movie about the suicide of this girl who apparently left tapes behind for people explaining how they were in part responsible for how she felt, which feelings led to her suicide.  I have vaguely heard of this movie before and knew there was some controversy about it but I had not seen it and I do not intend to.

The argument with my daughter was pretty straight forward.  She thought she was old enough for the topic and should be allowed to see it and “all her friends were watching it.’  I said, no, it is not your choice as it is my job to protect you and that I would decide after watching it or finding out more about it.  Somehow she came to the conclusion that my protecting her was an excuse – an excuse for what I do not know.

After soliciting opinions from people I trust who had seen it, I emphatically denied her permission to watch it.  She was pretty upset.  But all opinions that came in were that this movie glorified suicide without any insight or direction to something that would help someone with this struggle.

My daughter was so insistent that she was old enough for the topic.  But is anyone really old enough to manage suicide or the desire to end one’s life?  Having had this struggle and having attempted suicide in the past, I think not.  There is no preparing someone for the reality of this struggle.  We can talk about getting help and where to get it.  We can talk about what to do if someone says they are feeling so despairing that they want to end their life.  But the actual reality of that despair and what it is like to be in that or be in it with someone going through that?  There is no preparing for that.  There is help and support but that does not diminish the trauma of going through this as the suicidal person or the outsider trying to help.

I hear people say “the struggle is real” and “life is hard” all the time.  But these are flippant statements of minor struggles.  The struggle of choosing life is a whole other thing.  To have to face what it means to be here, with all of what life does and how the mind sees no other options other than death – that is the ultimate struggle.  To find meaning in life when the mind says it has no meaning.  To uselessly try to find meaning in the traumas of life, the pain, the suffering – only to find out that sometimes there is no meaning other than those things have brought us to where we are today.  To this point of finding joy amidst the pain and suffering.

What I have learned is that we have to process everything.  That most often the despair, fear, sadness just needs to be heard in detail.  That we can in fact go back and write a different ending – perhaps not “in reality” but rather energetically.  I have done this a lot in my personal work around my parents and the traumas from my childhood.  I have used statements like “that was not my real dad, my real dad would have done this…” and I have talked to my “real dad” and asked questions, told him how I felt with my therapist playing the part of the real dad, mom or whoever it was I needed to work with at the time.  It did change the story for me.  I did help me know that there is that essence of people – the essence of the real dad and mom to work with to help heal.  My therapist calls it part of the re-parenting process.  The work was unspeakably hard and required a lot of support.  But for me the decisions I made about life not having meaning, that nothing and no one was safe, that I had no worth in this world, that life itself was not safe and that therefore death was better were decisions I made during this trauma period when I was young.  For others I am sure the story is a little different although the feelings are so very often the same.

But as a parent now of these 13 year olds, I get to be that real mom.  The one who protects and nourishes.  I am a fantastic mom not just because I do these fabulous things with my kids but because I know what it is to not have that role model in my life.  I don’t know how I ended up being such a great parent but I did.  I did not act like my parents did.  I made different choices.  My kids will probably never know all of that.  They don’t need to.  They need to know they are loved and valued, that their love is precious and wonderful and more than enough.  I have told them bits and pieces of my life.  My struggle about life and suicide I do not share with them and I am uncertain that I ever will.  Certainly not now and not without good reason.  The hubris of youth thinks it is prepared for anything.  But its not.  I’m grateful that I know this and that I can protect my kids by saying no, you are not ready.  No one really is.  We deal with it and get help and support around it when it comes up but to say we are ready for that is just the mind being arrogant and indulgent.

This glorification of suicide in a movie frightens me.  Was it made just because it could be made?  Because someone had the idea?  Is that kind of like making the atom bomb without thinking of the consequences just because it could be done?  And why are so many parents just letting their kids watch this movie?  When did it become ok to detach from the consequences of letting children decide for themselves what they are gown up enough to do, see, and experience?  I may not be able to stop them from everything I think they should be protected from.  But I won’t sit blindly by while they expose themselves to things that are so hard, so traumatic and that will ultimately desensitize them to something that is truly horrible.