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.

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.

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.