You have rekindled this fire inside me
And now I am burning, BURNING!So much so
That if I stepped into a stream,
The waters would carry this fire.
And all the oceans in the world
Would be set
With this mad passion.
You have rekindled this fire inside me
And now I am burning, BURNING!So much so
That if I stepped into a stream,
The waters would carry this fire.
And all the oceans in the world
Would be set
With this mad passion.
The slow passage of time
as I wait for you to appear to me. Deeper into the night I go
For your face o my Beloved.
Then slowly, too slowly for time
Your shadow emerges.
First, a glimpse,
Then clearer and clearer in the darkness.
Oh all this waiting was worth it,
For your flawed perfection.
For the knowledge,
That you were with me all along.
Though it took complete darkness
To know that you were there
This morning I walked through my City of Sydney, drinking in the sights with these eyes for the last time before heading off for a month long adventure. In nine years, this will be the longest I have left this city and I am sitting here somewhere between being nervous and excited. It is a bit like going on a first date with someone who you’ve had your eye on for a while and you know it’s going to be a game changer. I am leaving my home, my cat, my students and my community but this is the next chapter of a story that started a long time ago. Finally, after three years of dreaming of it, I am hopping on a plane to undertake a 200 Hour Prana Flow Teacher Training with Shiva Rea in Greece.
It feels like I am standing here on the edge of change – ready to let go of what was, honouring what is and completely open to what will happen.
My first 200 Hour Teacher Training was done locally, with BodyMindLife in 2012. It was no doubt a life altering experience. So much changed for me during this time including a shedding of a long-term relationship and a huge change in career. I’m glad I had opted to do it part time to allow me the chance for slow integration into all aspects of my life. This time however, I am taking the plunge. I am immersing myself completely in the experience, limiting my contact to the outer world to a minimum.
Every time I go deeper into this path something of what I was, is stripped away so that I can become more of what I was meant to be both as a person and as a teacher. These events are magical even though they might not always be easy. They have a way of releasing an old way of being, a way of thinking that no longer serves us and sometimes even old relationships. Leading into this, I have been very careful not to make big commitments as I know that these are very personal journeys and it would not be fair to make a promise that I am not sure I will be able to keep.
There is so much to experience and so much to learn within yoga and we are lucky to be in Australia at this time as the tribe is continuously growing. We have had an influx of great international teachers including Ana Forrest, Maty Ezraty and Bryan Kest, each bringing with them a wealth of knowledge that has fed my own practice and my teaching.
Prana Flow however, has always been close to my heart.
This was a style that was introduced to me more than two years ago by Chanel Luck and Simon Park. Being an ex traditional dancer, something about the ritual and ceremony in combination with discipline, intelligent sequencing and the freedom of flow spoke to me. It was like the practice was telling a story and my body opened to participating in this tale that was being spun.
I am in love with how elements including the weather, the cycle of the moon and the energy of the students in the class are all welcomed into the space to create a complete experience. I am fascinated by how the more Tantric philosophies that honour the feminine are involved. The way the flow is taught has given my body and soul a freedom that can only be found when my mind can get out of the way. There is an intuitive intelligence to it that can only be felt. There is a fullness and wholeness to it that feeds the soul.
And so we unfold.
When I decided to become a yoga teacher, it also meant that I had committed to a lifetime of learning. It meant a dedication to self-enquiry. Yoga is a lifelong process, a loop that keeps looping. We learn and we practice so that we can keep teaching. Sometimes we have to go back to our own lessons in life and in practice to be able to give. If the day ever comes when I don’t want to practice and feel that I have nothing more to learn, then it is probably a sign that I should stop teaching.
For now, the path is taking me deeper into knowledge of myself as a person. This is the knowledge that informs me as a teacher to be able to offer more to my students on their own paths and I am so grateful to the teachers and life lessons, hard as they may have been, that have brought me here.
So here I head into the next leg of this journey. It’s hard to be away from loved ones and the support that I’ve come to cherish from my community but we are in continuous flow and sometimes, the river has to take us in a solitary direction before we can come back to the sea. I look forward to returning to my city and my community with a new way of seeing things, more to share and so much more compassion.
According to statistics, one in four children in the US have been sexually molested. I don’t know what the statistics are in other parts of the country, but that is a big number. It means that every fourth person you meet has been in some way or other, sexually taken advantage of. I don’t know what the statistics are in Malaysia or in the UK where it happened to me but it could be similar. And yes, it did happen to me.
This was 29 years ago, when parents thought that the world was a safe place and that you could allow children to play securely and innocently. He was an acquaintance of my mother’s, someone she was taking a course with in Manchester, UK. It was already a rough time, as my father had sent me to my mother along with a letter that he was leaving her for a younger woman. She was devastated and I was confused.
How does a six year old even begin to describe the situation? It was a public place, and there was no pain involved but something about the situation didn’t feel right. I couldn’t even find the words to say what had happened and my mother was already upset, so I kept it quiet. Keeping it quiet however, did not mean that nothing manifested of it.
I’ve lived my life panicking every time a man stands too close behind me, and when a man assists me in child’s pose, my initial reaction is to stop breathing and freeze up until the message gets to my brain that I know the person and that it is OK to relax. It took me years to get used to the assist in downward facing dog where someone grabs you from the hips and pulls you back. Even now, there are only a few men I can relax into the assist with and I am extremely sensitive to the intention behind the touch.
It was never spoken of, but it has always been somewhere in the shadows.
And it wasn’t until two years ago that I had a vivid memory of the experience. My abuser had come from behind and he wasn’t rough, but he did touch me in an inappropriate way. A child might not know it in their mind, but children are sensitive receptors of touch. It was a lucky thing that there were other people around on the other side of the room or it could have been worse. I wanted to look out the window and he carried me until I could see. It was subtle but I did feel violated.
The event has been playing in the back of my mind for all this time.
‘When the student is ready, the teacher appears,’ old Buddhist proverb.
And so I must have been ready as the right teacher appeared. She had been through a worse experience than I had, relived the memory and come out the other side. I remember being in her class over a year ago, and the feelings surrounding the situation for me came up. Even from the first class, she noticed that I had trouble connecting to my sacrum and was coaxing me to bring breath into the area. It has been a slow process and part of the thing that made is so was my fear to face the assault.
It takes a lot to face these things but last Wednesday, something clicked. Ana Forrest, my beautiful teacher coaxed us to go on a quest towards identifying the blockages that keep us from being whole. In case of a traumatic event, a part of you remains in that time until you go back and free them. Ana said the magic words, telling us that the worst was over. We had survived and we were alive.
That, I think was what did it for me. I decided at the beginning of class that I would chase this fucker down so he could have less power over me. That intention must have been potent because even from the beginning as I was bringing breath down to my sacrum and pelvic area, the tremors began. They continued through core work and most of the class. Finally, when we got into Shavasana, they took over, wrecking my entire body and causing me to panic to the point of not being able to breathe. Luckily Claire, Ana’s assistant, lovingly stayed with me, gently touching my head and cueing me to keep breathing. As soon as we were out of Shavasana, I was a sobbing wreck.
It did not finish there.
Through the day, when I got home, I would sit down, start breathing into my sacrum and the shaking would start followed by sobs. Emotionally, I had to revisit that time of being confused, scared and betrayed. That feeling of being left alone overtook me, and most of all were the very strong feelings that as this was happening to me, my father, the one who was meant to flex his muscles (he was an ex footie player) and protect me was busy starting a new romance. He had let me down, and that’s where my belief that men leave you when you’re weak started.
There were some positives to it though. I was finally able to speak to my mother about it and gave the six year old a voice. She has been a rock through these times. She continues to be amazing, caring, calling me and supportive in my determination to get through this. She’s stuck through me in my crazy quest and called every day since.
We women are so much stronger in our compassion than we give ourselves credit for.
On Thursday I went back. The tremors started early, and towards the end, we were in a compromising Frog pose with a big roll under our bellies. That’s when they fully took over my body. A big part of me wanted to leave the pose and run out of the room. Another part of me was absolutely adamant to chase this fucker out of my body. Ana stayed with me through almost all five minutes of the tormenting ordeal where there were moments when I truly believed that I might die.
But I didn’t and here I am.
I’ve been a gaping wound all week. The memories, and the feelings surrounding them rise and fall like waves. They take over me and I am a shaking mess all over again. Sleep has been sometimes easy but most of the time not. I’ve had nightmares and gone to some really dark places in my mind, but as much as it scares me, I don’t want to put a temporary salve on this.
This will be a tough ride but I want to live my life fully so I am choosing to go through this. The other option is to live my life behind a safe wall where ‘fine’ and ‘comfortable’ are good enough. They are really not so I am living the days occasionally getting thrown into my past knowing that only by facing the nightmares will I be able to shine light on them.
The first 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training I did, I was recovering from a breakup. This time, I will be so much more vulnerable as I head into another time of big change. Sometimes though, it is in times of darkness like these that you learn to find your own light. I could bury it and stick a positive affirmation on it, but that’s not where the work is done. There is greatness and magic in the world however, as what you need always gets provided to you. In my case, I have a strong and loving bond with my family even though they are far away, a generous and solid community that holds me in their arms, wonderful friends and a nuturing yoga practice.
I am also taking steps to protect myself now. Where I would spread my love without fear of backlash before, right now, I am a bit more cautious. Where I see threat of unnecessary hurt, I step back. Some friends will taper away. This is when you know the ones who are leeching on your life force, the ones who only want you when you are light and easy. If you have a partner, this is when you know a weak person from a strong one.
In 2012, a few months before I went into my first 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training, I made a radical decision. I decided that for a year, I would observe Brahmacharya. Named for the state of searching for the ‘Great One, Supreme Reality, or Self,’ Brahmacharya is one of the five Yamas according to Yogic texts. In Vedic traditions in refers to the state of celibacy one chooses during the life stage of being an unmarried student and fidelity when married. In modern times, it is better known as a state of being sexually responsible. In Hindu and Buddhist traditions, Monks practice Brahmacharya their whole lives as it is considered necessary for their spiritual practice.
It wasn’t a decision that required a lot of consideration on my end. I loved the sound of the word, ‘Bharmacharya,’ and something about doing it felt completely right. I chose the more strict sense of the word, not only refraining from the sexual act, but also anything that could lead to it including kissing, extreme alcohol consumption and situations where I am alone with a man I am attracted to in a private setting.
As soon as I had decided on it, it was like I had donned a veil that made me sexually invisible. There was a sense of liberation in being able to let it go and practice my Yoga, learn my texts and most of all, learn more about myself. Once I had taken the whole dynamic out of the picture, I found a lot of freedom. I learned to walk in my own skin without trying to gather the attention or to please a dominant male figure.
A lot came up in that time but once the year was up, and as I was ready to lift the veil, my beloved father passed away. Now that opened up a whole other can of worms and Brahmacharya was extended. The relationship between a daughter and a father is always something pretty amazing. My father, no matter what he did was my hero. Whenever he was in a room, his was the only presence that mattered to me. We had our ups and downs of course. When we disagreed there were so many strong emotions running around that the charge was palpable. It was the love that was also the double-edged sword. When he hurt me, I would lash out as strongly but the love was so deep that when I hurt him, it was akin to taking a knife to my own heart.
My father was a bit of a narcissist in that he never saw how his actions hurt the people who loved him. Growing up I was used to him getting distracted either with a new relationship, a new love interest or a new work venture and he would disappear during those times. Those were the days when he didn’t return my calls, or was simply not available. Then when the thing that had his interest for the moment went to shits or he got bored of it, he would be back and I would welcome him. It hurt like hell but I was young not to see the cruelty and selfishness in it so it became the norm.
When he passed, the patterns that I had carried on from my relationship with him to my relationship with other men came to light. Of course, I never loved anyone quite as strongly. How could you love an employer, friend or lover as much as you love your own father? Not even close. But I did notice that in my relationships with men, I had been willing to accept a degree of cruelty. I’m not saying that the men in my life have been cruel, not all of them anyway, but there have been acts of cruelty that I had previously quickly forgiven and even sometimes apologised for. In doing so, I had been cruel to myself and reaffirming the belief that I was not worthy and therefore it was my responsibility to hold things together. That was a pretty big one to see and a bigger one to disprove. Thanks goodness for the friends who see your light even when you can’t.
There is something to be said for not being in a romantic relationship and seeing these patterns. I haven’t been a monk where emotions are concerned. Of course, I’ve had crushes and emotional interests but the commitment to my practice has held me from getting into going forward with a relationship. I had nothing to lose. I’d spent my entire twenties almost continuously in long-term relationships. The thing is, when you are in one, you’re so caught up in the highs and lows of it that you can’t step back and say, ‘wait a minute, here’s that behaviour that I am repeating.’ I’m not saying the change is immediate but like with everything else, you have to notice the pattern to change how you act to it. That has been my greatest lesson.
I have many lessons to learn, I’m sure, but it has been three years and eight months since I committed to a state of learning these lessons on my own. This has in a way become a crutch to save myself from complications and the possibility of pain, but what is life without some complication. It might be time to opening myself to lessons that involve another dynamic now.
In about two weeks, I enter into my second 200 Yoga Teacher Training. The main teacher, the amazing Shiva Rea is a true Tantrist. This time instead of slow assimilation to practice, it will be a month away in an insulated situation, but once the month is done, I think it is time I consciously lift the veil of Brahmacharya that I’ve been wearing all this time.
To victory in facing fears, taking risks and standing in the discomfort of the fire until change is ready to happen. Jai!
Thirteen years ago I stumbled into my very first yoga practice. It was at my local gym in Malaysia where the room was air-conditioned to be almost freezing and the teacher was jumping from one pose to another. In my second class with her, she got us to do drop-backs with a wall. The next day, my lower back felt really tweaky and uncomfortable. Needless to say, I never went back to her and resigned myself to the gym.
I am of the hyper mobile, super flexible variety of human being, whose primary physical activity in my youth started with dancing and cheerleading. I have sprained my left ankle about four times, my right one three times and have a dodgy right knee. Anyone who performs or does competitive sports would know that the nature is, if it’s in season and you get injured, you keep going. As a result my left leg is still prone to injury and my right knee has days of protest. It didn’t get easier as I got older. By my late twenties, I had a pretty back lower back and my right shoulder was pretty mangled.
Then someone suggested I try yoga. Due to my fear of chiropractors, physiotherapists and doctors in general, I gave it a go. It was a bit of a shop around to find something I could stick with. I tried Bikram, and although I loved the heat, hyper-extending legs did not work with my ankles and knee. Not only that, my fiery personality seemed to get even more so, which really doesn’t bode well when work requires you to interact with people a lot.
It was only by chance that I looked on Google and found a different studio near where I worked. It started with an Introductory Pass, which at the time was $25 for two weeks. It blew my mind! There was still the element of heat but being told not to hyper-extend anything made everything about a hundred times harder. I would go into this place with carpet that smelled horrible and big classes, and by the end of the classes I wouldn’t know which way was up and which was down. Shavasana came as a relief. By the end of two weeks, I was hooked.
This was Vinyasa.
It was in no way easy and every time I got one move down there was something else to learn. Then there were these teachers who would give me the shits by asking me to get out of ‘my spot,’ and on occasion move me to the front. Sometimes I would even cry in class. For the first time in ages though, my body felt good. I loved that no two classes and no two teachers were the same. There was personality in the practice. There was heart.
At first I practiced like a mad woman. The harder and hotter the class, the more chaturangas, the more I would push myself through it. What happens however, is when you get tired you lose form. I was tired in every way possible and one of the teachers sat me down and told me to take a break.
So I did, and went to do a week of Iyengar.
It was hellish! Sitting still was not my forte and I got really impatient with all the props involved. I would get into a pose and fidget like someone coming off hard drugs, but the precision of Iyengar is amazing! After a week my back felt fabulous and I went back to Vinyasa with all the new alignment points I’d learned.
Then three years ago something called me to do my first 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training. All I wanted to do was know more about this practice but the seven months of training were priceless and surprisingly, I came out wanting to teach. In December 2012 I finished Teacher Training, in January 2013 my father passed away and by February I had boxed my high heels and left the corporate world.
On the 12th of April 2013 (my 33rd birthday), I taught my first Community Class in BodyMindLife. Two years later, I am still there.
It was in no way the ending of a journey, but a beginning. In a world of blond, 6’ handstanding vegan yoginis who like kale smoothies I am most definitely different. Being more mobile than strong means that arm balances come very slow and one moment of not being aware means an injury. Flexibility is a great thing, but needs to be balanced with strength. My continuous work is in not going all the way into bendy poses just because I can and not to practice injured as it brings about other injuries. It is a lesson I seem to have to keep learning again and again. As I type this, I am recovering from two displaced ribs, and a hamstring and a wrist injury. Note, trying to lift a scooter is probably a bad idea on any day. After all my resistance, I am working a physio and have magically found the most amazing CrossFit coaches at CrossFit Black to help my strength conditioning.
Yet yoga continues to be my first love and as I teach and learn, I’ve discovered that yoga is not just asana. My practice has changed through the years. I still love those hot sweaty classes with 50 students breathing together, but I also love waking up in the morning and losing myself in an hour of ground based, deep Yin. Just about a year ago, I started meditating and even within that it keeps changing.
This practice has taught me compassion and love, and being peaceful in joy and sorrow. It has taught me acceptance and that it is OK to not be strong all the time. It has taught me that drama is just a distraction and a good life can be lead without the fluff. It has taught me that the tendencies I have on the mat are often the same ones I have in my daily life. It has taught me that things end but that doesn’t mean you discount what happened, and that new beginnings happen. We are ever changing beings and more than learning poses or how to sit still, we are constantly learning about ourselves. Within this practice I have found family, community and connection, and the realisation that between the blacks and whites of wrong and right, there are they greys of the in between.
I’ve realised now that it doesn’t need to be any one way. Some days you need that practice that challenges you physically and other days you just need to do the simple stuff and reconnect with your breath. Some days practice is easy and without resistance, and other days you go in with all this stuff and practice is a nightmare. Some days you go into practice and you’re laughing all the way and other days, you are a ball of sweat and tears at the end of the practice. But you don’t have to be any one way to practice, not a certain body type, or weight or age. You come as yourself on that day, in that moment and whatever you do is perfect.
More than the teacher, my practice is based on how I am on that given day.
And this in itself has been a journey. It is discovering that yoga is not one thing. I’ve had the privilege of learning and practicing with some of the best teachers in Australia and Internationally, and at the end of it, yoga is a journey of self-discovery. You learn from the different teachers but the magic is in finding your yoga. As a teacher I have learned that what I do and what I offer might vary. It is not my place to tell students about their practices, bodies or beliefs but to share what I know so they can explore. All we can do is try as much as we can to meet students where they are and move with them to wherever we can go together.
I still believe that there is magic in the practice and it is still my first love, but the journey continues and is ever evolving. As I teach, I am also learning and as students are learning in my classes, they are also teaching me. I am ever grateful to my teachers and to the students who light up my classes, and most of all my community for being there. I’m hoping that my learning never ends.
Next stop, Prana Flow in Greece, June 2015.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this concept of ‘home’. Now my understanding of this concept is about the same as my understanding of motherhood. It is a mental understanding, but emotionally, there is so much mystery and ambiguity. My mother is so certain of her home. She is certain of where she comes from, where she belongs and where she will end up. Growing up, she used to tell me that I should feel such and such a way towards a place, a country etc., and yet, at 34 although I know my history, culture, where I came from, I am still unsure of what home is.
I’m certain I that I am not the only one who feels this way.
Perhaps this is the plight of children whose homes were broken early on in life or whose parents moved around through the early years. You are barely able to land before being uprooted again, a new adventure, a new journey and new people coming in and out of your life. Comfort zones get shifted so much that when you grow up, you don’t quite know where it is. Connections are built and then shortly thereafter they are lost in the ether. It gets a bit easier but you wonder if it is because you have grown quite desensitised or if it because you just don’t have the courage to let your connections get as deep as they used to.
Perhaps, there is a fear that if you let yourself land, the earth will again be ripped out from under you and you are free falling through nothingness.
But does that mean that you never want to stay?
Does that mean that you have not the desire to ground down and know that you are safe, that you never have to go anywhere else again?
Perhaps to stay is what you want, but you have become so used to not having that comfort zone that it somehow has become your comfort zone. To stay, to trust, to come up against barriers but to wait it out and keep moving in one direction instead of changing course has somehow for you become the uncomfortable.
At some point if you’re lucky, reality hits. Something prompts you to sit down with yourself and look, really look at where you are and what you want in your life. The decision needs to be made to stay or go.
Starting over is always an option but to what end?
But to stay?
To let people into your life again?
To open your home to friends and allow them to become family?
To open your heart to another person and in extension their family, friends, culture, history? Trying to navigate two lives, two personalities.
Oh how terrifying!
In the end though, it comes down to a decision.
You, the rootless wanderer, do you dare put your roots down and let them grow?
Can you commit to your practice knowing that in time your views, your body, your limitations will change and truths will be uncovered that might not be so easy to digest. Could you jump into the ether of meditation knowing that it gets deeper and deeper. Are you brave enough to say ‘yes’ to something two months, six months or a year in advance as a way of saying to someone, ‘I want you to still be in my life in that time.’ Can you stay with a job as the responsibilities increase and you become more of who you were meant to be. Could you possibly be with a person, going forward, hitting a barrier, waiting it out and then going forward a bit more, to hit another barrier again, your patience tested to the limit but your heart given the chance to slowly expand.
Perhaps this is your version of transformation to fire. A situation so scary you just want to close your eyes, your soul, your life again, but you know who you are. The reason it was so hard to commit was because you knew that once you did, you would give it everything that you had.
Through fear, so you committed.
So here you are.
Giving it everything you have, everything you are, risking your heart, your soul and the only life you have ever known.
Open and vulnerable, you just put your feet down finally and let yourself land in the unknown.
And perhaps, that is the only way to know ‘home’.
Twice in one week I have thought that it was going to end for me.
The first, when the plane I was on did this big dip and for an instant we were free flying. That instant felt like forever as the sounds of screams went along with the sound of my crazy heartbeat. I had a moment of panic, adrenaline rushing, and then in the next second, I realised that there really was nothing I could do about it. Surrender.
The second time, I was crossing the street and an old man who probably wasn’t even looking at the lights kept going when he was meant to stop. Of course, this time, being on my own two feet and on the ground, I could just run out of the way. If he had been faster or me, slower the result of course would have been very different.
You go away, think about and decide on things. These moments of deep contemplation that are just so valuable. The thoughts that you keep to yourself and only share with those you hold dear your heart. From these thoughts and contemplations are born deep intentions. And then as if to seal those intentions in place, the universe sends you these little warnings, reminding you that you are not here forever and that your life can’t operate on cruise control.
It is time.
Sometimes you wish you were that person who would enter a room by breaking the door, or get close to a person by hacking off their armour. But you are not. You will knock before you enter, and allow someone to remove the layer between them and yourself when they feel ready. Sometimes, in a leap of faith, you open your door and remove your veil so they may see you first, with the knowledge that you don’t share this much of yourself lightly. You are that who finds your passions and fires sacred, only to be shared with those of your choosing.
In a world where everything and everyone is hard, and fast, and loud, your gentle flame is different, unfamiliar and you wonder if you are even noticed. Perhaps not, not by everyone anyway, but the people who can really see, the ones who take the time to look instead of just believing a good marketing strategy, these people will find you somehow. No matter how much you cloak yourself in blackness, these people will see the deep colours hidden inside.
These are the people you will build your life with.
Sometimes you wonder if you will ever build this life, if you will ever land, if this dream you have of knowing the meaning ‘home’ in your heart instead of just in your head will ever come to pass. You’ve been here before, risking it all only to have it come crushing down. Do you even dare try again?
The time you’ve spent alone has afforded you knowledge of yourself. You know that when you act, it is not to fill a need or to pass the time. You know that if you do this, you are giving it the best that you can even though you know there is every chance it could break you.
And what if the point of taking a risk if the loss of that which you desire means nothing to you?
But you can’t make that which you desire yours unless it is meant to be yours.
So what do you do?
You take a chance. Then step away. Send it your love. Give it space.
Whichever path this fork in the road was meant to take will take you closer to where you are meant to be.
You could have closed your eyes, but to be forever living in fear, doors and windows closed is now no longer an option. The reaches of time and mortality have awakened you from your slumber. Thoughts of the end, the feeling you felt when you thought the plane was about to fall have moved you to take this leap, hoping that the earth will catch you.
Sometimes you have to leap to find your ground again.
There is always a time of year when it is a bit introspective, when you pull back a little bit and spend some time inside yourself. Yes, those who know me might argue that that’s how I spend most of my time out of work, teaching and the occasional socialising but this month for me it takes on a different level altogether. It is currently day 18 of the Muslim fasting month, Ramadan and although it might come as a surprise to a lot of people, I do observe it. In fact, there is something about this act of abstaining that fills me up.
I wouldn’t usually write about this as I think my personal beliefs are my own, but I do realise that I belong to a community and within this community, for a lot of people, I might be the only Muslim person they get to connect with like this. Of course, some people might question how good a Muslim I really am, but that is not for a human to judge. I am just sharing an experience that a lot of people find completely foreign and unknown.
Ramadan for those who don’t know, is a month according to the Hijra or Islamic calendar when Muslims all around the world take to abstaining from food, water, sex or anything that includes putting things into the body, from the crack of dawn until the sun sets for a duration of 30 days. It is not a cleanse or a diet, and in fact, because no water is allowed during the day, some might argue that it isn’t really healthy for the physical body. One can also argue that constantly being on one cleanse or another through the year isn’t really a sign of a sound mind, so to each their own. Ramadan is more a mental, emotional and spiritual practice.
During the evenings, there is a strong focus on community where people often gather for Iftar (breaking of fast) and big prayer gatherings, either at home or at the mosque. A lot of people have the view that once the sun goes down we gorge ourselves until we can’t move anymore and although this isn’t necessarily true, I do believe that we perpetuate this belief.
There is so much more to this month.
Different cultures around the world ‘teach’ Ramadan in different ways. It is only compulsory to Muslims once they have reached puberty, and only then if they are sound of mind and healthy. In my culture, the Malay culture (my name is Azra and it’s not because I had some hippy parents who decided to give me a unique name), we start ‘playing’ with fasting at about the age of 9. We might go a few hours from 9:00am – 12:00noon and then with time extend it. By the age of 12, most of us are comfortable doing it all day.
My own understanding of this month has taken on it’s own form of yoga and has changed with the years. When I was a child, I fasted out of the fear that if I didn’t fast, then I wouldn’t get to celebrate Eid, the celebration at the end of Ramadan. After my grandmother passed, I didn’t care about Eid anymore but I fasted out of the fear of getting roasted in hell if I didn’t and I pretended that Eid mattered because it was supposed to. While I was in Malaysia, it was the family thing to do, then my first couple of years here, I had friends from Pakistan and Indonesia who did it with me. Then there were a couple of years when I didn’t participate at all.
In the last couple of years however as my yoga practice deepened, it has taken on a different meaning to me. Ramadan for me is a part of my life, a part of practice. It is this month in the year that I pull myself back and spend more time than usual in quiet contemplation. As it is winter, the crack of dawn here is at around 5:30am, so I am awake at around 4:00am. In this silence, I have my morning meal, write in my journal, meditate and at around 5:30am, start a slow yoga practice.
My practice in this month changes. It is more sensitive and compassionate, and I go into poses in degrees instead of just jumping in. I modify where I wouldn’t usually and take rests when I feel they are needed. It is true that when you have less fuel, you have less energy, but I’ve also learned, that the less you move, the ‘heavier’ you will feel and in winter, it is this movement that keeps you warm. I remember when I was in university in Malaysia and most of the boys would disappear during the daytime in Ramadan (sleeping) only to emerge when the sun was about to come down. It’s great on paper, but really it makes you more lethargic than just going about your business.
And you are meant to go on like you are not fasting anyway.
The whole purpose of this month is to understand suffering. In places where people are without, they don’t get to sleep all day or sit in air-conditioned rooms or take a break. Without food or water, life goes on, as it should for people observing Ramadan. It is a time when you get to see how you react to things when your blood sugar levels are low and what you reach for first when the prayer calls sound time to break fast. It is also a time when you consider what you put into your body. Honestly, since I don’t eat meat, this has become way easier for me. Plant based proteins are way easier for my resting digestive system to process and I don’t have to do a whole lot of planning. A good stew, soup or broth often does enough.
Ramadan, done consciously and it is a whole lesson in getting to know yourself.
It is also an act of community.
I don’t participate in the evening prayers because I like my solitude at the end of the day, but if I didn’t work most nights, and if I had more space, this would most definitely be the month when I would invite friends over to break bread with me. The act of sharing is very much part of this ritual, no matter how little you have. In my way, I suppose I am sharing by bringing little bits of things to people at work and deriving great satisfaction when they enjoy the treats.
Like in yoga, the essence of Ramadan is in self exploration but wrapped around it is this whole idea of building community.
It is so much more that just starving for the sake of gorging when the sun goes down.
This year, Ramadan decided to teach me another lesson. Right after the halfway mark, a massage kicked my body into a whole other level of detox. As I write this, I am recovering from a cold, but am still suffering from a painful chesty cough. The heaviness in my chest reminds me of how it felt when I had childhood asthma right after my parents split up. If you believe in the correlation of the body and the emotions like I do, illness to the respiratory system or chest area is a sign of the body releasing some trauma to the heart. It could be some unexpressed grief, or hurt or heartbreak. This is my body letting go of something that it has probably held on to for a while in a way that only she knows how.
Why now? Why not now? The body does things when it is ready. Letting my digestion rest and allowing myself to step back probably allowed my body to go into this exhale, this release of what it didn’t need anymore. It is by no means easy, but the body has it’s own wisdom in coping with things and for me this is the perfect month for it.
Last week, a friend and I were chatting and we got into the topic of ‘just knowing’ that the person you were with was the one you were going to significantly be with. Both of us wondered how people ‘just knew.’ Also, how do you know the other person got the memo? There are, after all, two people in a relationship.
And once you both know, can your past or the stuff that happened with your parents influence you into not knowing?
Almost fifteen years ago (was it that long ago?), I thought I knew. I, we, were both so confident in the fact that we would be together that we spoke of marriage, children, where we would live etc. I was so sure that I failed to see how his dreams and mine just didn’t align. In fact, I was so sure that I didn’t even make my own dreams.
We were so young that we didn’t even know ourselves, so how could we possibly know we wanted to be with each other? When I started to explore my dreams, I realised that trying to be the person who fit into his dreams would be the end of me.
Then about seven years ago, it happened again.
This time though, it was more that I really wanted to know. Perhaps we both did in a way. We worked the social scene well, but he never really met any of my friends. Because I was the nomad and wasn’t fully rooted here, I was just sort of absorbed into his social life. There was a lot about the friends and family that I loved, but in a way, I wonder if I distracted myself into this elusive ‘knowing’. At some point, you have to wonder about not being able to have a meal together without the television on or just being able to do simple things together, like go for a walk in the sun, or go to the beach, things that require you to actually be together.
Maybe it is a personality thing.
I’m such a sucker for love stories it’s quite worrying. In my travels I have friends who met their current partners when they were 19 or even younger than that. Somehow, they knew then and they know now. Something about their knowing allowed them the space to explore their dreams with the comfort of having a place to land in the end. Then I’ve met people who know within the first few meetings. Then I’ve also met people who don’t worry about knowing for sure and just go with it. And yet I also know people who might know but will analyse and second-guess themselves into not knowing.
Is it the curse of the thinker to never find this kind of knowing? – The kind that comes from deep wisdom and intuition instead of the head.
Or is it such that when the time comes, your heart will just know and your head will shut the fuck up?
Perhaps you can’t know until you truly know yourself and embrace the parts that you keep hidden from the world. Until then perhaps you will date the job title, the big car, the physically attractive person who will look good together walking hand in hand and at social events. It is perhaps not until you know the loneliness of that of relationship that you understand that perfection might not be perfect.
It is all an exploration isn’t it?
This knowing is such a mystery.
I don’t know how to know but I know that I can’t start to know until we can see each other without the glitz and the glamour (in my world, it includes being sweaty, smelly and occasionally teary and snotty as well). We can’t know until we can laugh with (and at) each other, fall over, make really bad jokes, go through conflict and recover, be in silence together, know how to tease each other, have conversations and walk, just walk without having to do.
We can’t know until we can just be together – you and me. No candles or flowers, no sweeping off feet (definitely no sweeping off the feet), no social spotlight, just us being apart of each others’ unglamourous and sometimes even mundane and uninteresting lives.
Will I ever ‘just know’?
Perhaps I did.
But perhaps really knowing is over rated.
Perhaps it is just knowing enough, letting go of perfection and expectation, and then taking a leap of faith with the rest. Perhaps it is a degree of surrender and a lot of trust. What is life after all without taking some leaps and what value is love if there is no risk involved? And what can we know until we know?
My best friend from high school just got engaged.
It is an amazing thing as they’ve been together for about 15 years now. Suddenly, I am one of the last ones in our group of friends who is single. I suppose, since I am making no active effort to change that situation, I can’t say that I am unhappy. It’s not that I can’t ‘do’ relationships. Like everyone else, I have things that I am particular about and some things that I am really relaxed about, and relationships after all, are learning to adjust with things like that.
The thing I can’t ‘do’ is dating.
It is a treacherous and ridiculous thing. My environment is made out of 80% females. Cut out the gay males and you’ll have about 5% – 7% straight males. Discount the ones who are either taken or in this job for the girls, and you’re left with about 1.7% of the population. Add to that the fact that I’m at work most of the time, I’m not your stereotypical yoga girl and that dating students is a self-imposed no-no (there’s this thing called ethics and I’d rather avoid going down the messy road of studating), it leaves me about a one in a million chance when hell freezes over.
Going out of the circle is even more insane.
The dating world in Sydney, like the corporate world and the rental market is in a word – fucked.
You are either there to fuck or you’re fucked over.
The corporate world ripped me to shreds and the dating world is just as treacherous. There is a certain aggression to things, a certain rush, wanting to ‘seal the deal’ and yet even on the first date, most people already have one foot out the door in case something better comes along. It is bright lights and lots of promise but strip it bare and there is nothing.
According to the newspapers, rent in Sydney is really high because there are more renters than there is good property. The newspapers also say that it is the same about men. There are a limited number of men and a lot of women. Again, exclude gay men, the unemployed men and the men who are under 35, and what’s left? Online you say? I think I’ve addressed that one here: https://azphoenix.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/online-dating-just-not-my-thing/
It could just be my thing. A lot of people like dating but even when I was younger, I never enjoyed it. And I’ve never once in my life been capable of having a few men on the go at the same time until I could decide on the ‘best’ one.
I quite like leading a drama free life. It gives me space to be available for everyone else when they have dramas.
As a teenager, what I really wanted was to fall in love once in my life. It would be someone I knew as a friend and he would know me as a friend, innocently and like the quote by Ann Landers, my love would be friendship caught fire. Oh young innocence.
There were some wee issues here. First, I am straight girl who went to a Catholic all girls’ school and secondly, my best friend was a female. Now she’s engaged so that’s definitely not happening.
So I’ve often ended up dating men I am stupidly attracted to. My nature is that I never get into anything unless I’m going to give it my best shot, so once I’m in, I’m in… When I say stupid, I mean totally brainless. I am often on cloud 9 until three years later when I crash. Often times I don’t even realise that I’m the only one holding the relationship up until I’m exhausted. It’s like a long jump out of a plane, without a parachute into a forest fire.
The problem with going out with someone you’re electrically attracted to is that you are trying to impress, and when you get into a relationship, the initial veneer kind of chips off. On my end, men are often attracted to me because I seem easy going and carefree. Underneath it all, I am a control freak and I quite like quiet nights. They expect me to be this ‘entertaining’ and ‘happy’ little minx all the time and when I’m not, they are highly disappointed. I on the other hand, am attracted to big buff footie player types and end up disillusioned because he’d rather smoke pot and drink than go for a walk.
Things get hard, and with both my long-term relationships, I found that we didn’t have the underlying friendship to help us through when they did. Now I look back and realise that had I not dated them, we would not have even really been friends.
Oh who knows with this stuff really. And who knows what might come. Anything is possible in this world. Maybe by some miracle, without actually having to brave the murky torrents of any dating scene, it’ll just ‘happen’. I don’t know how. Somehow. You’ll just have to believe that magic is possible sometimes. Or perhaps my life will take on a different path. Perhaps I’ll adopt a child or have one on my own.
All I know is that if I don’t want to date, the world won’t end.
There’s a whole full life ahead.
“Love is friendship that has caught fire. It is quiet understanding, mutual confidence, sharing and forgiving. It is loyalty through good and bad times. It settles for less than perfection and makes allowances for human weaknesses.”
Almost 8 years ago I did something crazy.
I quit my job, broke up my engagement and moved to Sydney, Australia. To this day, I maintain that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. You see the first time I came over was in 2000. I absolutely did not like most of the people I had come with. But there were days and moments when I was either wandering alone or could pretend they didn’t exist that something about this place took root. It was the city, it was the beach, it was being surrounded by water.
It could have been anything.
It was falling in love and not being able to pinpoint exactly what made it happen.
I would have stayed but I had a story to go through in Malaysia. There was University, which I was half way through, and I the conversations that had started with my ex fiancé still had to be completed. So I saw that through.
Three months after my engagement ended, heart in shreds I left.
Moving to a new city is never easy but people do it all the time. Some people do it with family, some with friends and others following their partners. I could have gone to the UK or where I have family or went to Melbourne or Perth, where there is a larger community of Malaysians, but for some reason, none of those options occurred to me at the time.
It made it tougher, but it was the right choice.
Being on your own after always having family and being surrounded by friends who had known you for years is never easy. It is a whole new way of being, a whole new way of living and a way of learning who you are independent of all these things. My father was one of those people who didn’t really exist without an audience. He always needed someone to be on show for and I was cautious of becoming that so of course, I did this. Don’t even get me started on how the actions of one’s parents can affect the course of one’s life. It’s great as long as you can stop and take note of it.
2006 through to 2008 were fully experimental. At a young age, I was in a committed relationship so most of my partying was done within the context of that. We didn’t drink much due to my health issues but there was the pot (which my ex loved) and the E (which was more my thing). Can’t drink but drugs are ok? Only in your early twenties can you operate with such logic. Side note, this is all in the past. I teach yoga and do not condone the use of drugs.
As a Masters’ student, you only have classes three days a week, spend some time in the library, write a lot and socialise even more. I was so lucky in my group of friends. I think I always have been. They were truly good people. Together we learned this city, not just the touristy bits, although we did wear out the floors at Bungalow 8, Cargo and the Argyle quite a bit. We also learned the little nooks, the quiet corners and the beautiful graffiti on the backstreets.
Then we finished school, my friends left, I got a job and relearned this city again.
My friends in University were made up of people who could afford to study here and pay rent. The people I met at work mostly came as backpackers. With them another part of the city opened up to me, the part of people who came without attachment and were ready to fully embrace the decadent and crazy. Somewhere in that craziness I fell in love for the second time in my life and he showed me the city through his eyes. It was the places where he had gone since he was young, the family and the new and foreign culture. For three years I was totally involved.
Then that ended. Funnily enough, in a way, that relationship closed a circle of rebounds that started after I ended my engagement. It was awful and it was amazing and then I had to relearn life again.
So most of my friends had left and then I got so absorbed into his family and friends, and once it ended, it was like I had started life here all over again. It was the only time I thought I might leave for good. My visa at the time was in the air. In my stubbornness, I didn’t even consider being sponsored by an employer as I’d never met one I wanted to stay with that long and I didn’t want a partner visa. At that point, I had to know that if I was staying it was because I was meant to be here. If I was the job would come and if I was meant to fall in love, it too would happen after that.
Turns out I was meant to stay. After seven years, my residency was granted.
This place in a strange way has my heart. I love the different pockets of society and how people are so different from one place to another. Good coffee is so easy to find and even in the rush, there is always someone taking it slow at a coffee shop, watching the world go by. There are parts that are dark and angry, and then you take the train across the bridge and the sight of it takes your breath away. You look out from Waverley Cemetery and see this beautiful vast ocean.
Two nights ago, I walked through the city from Circular Quey to Darling Harbour. It’s crazy how you can be completely invisible and yet still feel like you are a part of something. Occasionally someone will walk with you for a bit and strike up a conversation, but mostly it is solitary. I love it. Sometimes I stop and just look, how the Opera House is really not pretty from close up but if you go across to The Rocks it is amazing, how the old buildings and the new ones somehow just cohabitate next to each other, and how different people just move around in the crowds. There is a breathing energy to this place.
This walk is one of my ‘things’, something I’ve never really done with anyone else, but maybe someday I will with a friend, or a lover if I can ever bring myself to brave Sydney’s treacherous dating scene (that’s a whole story on it’s own).
Sydney is a play of shadow and light. Occasionally they merge in a kaleidoscope of rainbow colours. It is mine but not really mine. In both the night and day, there is something beautiful about it.
When I went to yoga teacher school, part of the process was self-study. In fact the niyamas, part of the eight limbs of yoga includes the practice of svadhyaya which is a study of your inner realm. Yoga, after all is more than a physical practice. It is the life long practice of looking at yourself, finding your issues and working on them in the quest to becoming an enlightened being. With practice and time, the layers are peeled back to find our atma or higher self.
Now, as a teacher, I find myself in constant self-study and to add to it, I am surrounded by healers. It is great in a way, but in another, not so much. You see healers can sometimes see problems everywhere. There is always something that deserves a deeper look at, always something that needs to be fixed. Sometimes, it can go too far, like a person who enrols you in dance classes in a style you hate because you can’t get your steps in time with everyone else. It creates pressure and you end up resenting the dance even more. The thing too is that healers can be broken, and sometimes, in not wanting to be broken alone, there is projection, making their stories the stories of others, but it is not the case. It is never the same.
Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, and one of the things I decided in my 30s was that I would only surround myself with people I actually like, but some days, I grow wary of the digging. Being female, I am good enough at breaking myself down so having an army of people turning every action or non-action into an issue doesn’t really help matters. Sometimes all the digging is a bit like reading those useless ‘how to’ articles in female magazines, you know the ones, ‘how to meet prince charming,’ ‘how to live an awesome life,’ and ‘how to make a man love you,’ etc. If you actually just put the articles down, you might realise that your life is pretty awesome and that you are, in fact a shining star. All these things that are there to ‘help’ sometimes just creates is this sense of not being enough or not doing enough.
The thing is, not everything needs to become an issue and every issue should definitely not be made into an excuse. We all carry scars from our childhoods and our youths. In their own way, they not only shape who we are but have also brought us to this space here and now. My heart carries the scratches and bruises of being my father’s daughter and the unhealthy relationships I have had in my life, with self, with people, with addictions. My heart might always wear these scars and perhaps, although she may never fully heal, it is fine, she can move forward and with time, she will get where she’s going.
All this poking and prodding and digging, how much does it really help? The emotional body is not quite like the physical body. My right hip flexor is sore and that can directly be traced back to my torn hamstring and how I compensated for that by doing things differently. The emotional things however, the deeper things, well, perhaps they are fine as they are. Perhaps, although there is a deeper story it is not for us to know yet. I am tired of how my being single becomes a dissection of how I am either not manifesting, setting intentions, putting it our there or the opposite, putting it out there too much. I am tired of how caring for someone means that I am not taking care of myself while they get what they want.
Life and yoga to me, is this great amazing dance. You dance on your own, figuring out your own steps, you dance in a group, finding ways of how that works and you dance with a single other at different times, in different ways, friend, sister, lover. You can help someone if they’re dancing with an injured foot, but who are we to say that people are not dancing the right way or to question their steps.
You might see two people dancing at opposite ends of the room with this amazing chemistry between them – she with just the right amount of softness to compliment his strength. Occasionally they dance close to each other but they move away again. Sometimes you just want to make them dance together, and when they don’t you start handing them pamphlets of dance schools that can help. I’ve learned that some dances, like the dance I dance when I’m alone, are not made to be shared. They are my steps to my tune. It is the same with a dance between two people. They each come to it with their own breaths, steps, backgrounds, rhythms and sometimes, it takes time to figure out how to dance together. They lose count, step on each other’s toes (sometimes on purpose) and they might even drop each other, but nothing is broken, nothing needs to be fixed. It is their own dance, to dance for themselves, not for you. And if you are the dancer on the floor, this is your dance, not for the world.
Life is a process.
Yes, we want to get there, wherever there is. We want that perfect handstand, we want to be loved, and we have so much love to give, but some things, the good things, no matter how you dissect or tear apart, you just can’t rush. Perhaps, there is nothing wrong with being fine with how things are not exactly how you want them to be. Perhaps, not liking having my feet of the ground is not some big character flaw that I have to fix and perhaps giving love not knowing if it is returned is not something that means I’ll spend my life pining while the ones loved just take.
There are always a million things that can be wrong, that can be fixed, but there comes a time when everything is just fine the way it is. Les Leventhal reminded me that a flower opens when it is time. If you pull the petals open, they break. It is the same with most things – your body in practice, your life in its journey and your heart. When it is time, nothing you can do can stop what is going to happen from happening.
Live, love, cry, break.
Listen to the music and dance. This track might be shit but the next track might be fucking awesome. What you do at that exact time is always the right thing, and if you decide that you want to change your dance, slow it down, take a partner, change the pace – there is always space for that too. Remember that in a dance, there is that strength, but also that ultimate surrender to the music. Most of the time, you don’t really know what music is going to start playing.
My life, as some of you know, is a series of experiments.
It used to be different. I used to just do what I did and go on doing that. Then, I hit a wall, or fell into a well. One or the other. Either way it was really quiet down there in that chasm, and in the silence a voice said, “well, you’ve drank and drugged yourself into this state, and it’s not really working out is it? So how bout you try something else?”
The first time I heard that voice was in 2009. I thought it was just my hangover speaking, so I ignored it and kept going as I was – smoking, drinking, running around the hamster wheel thinking I was getting somewhere but really I wasn’t.
Then 2011, the wall hit me again. Of course it was the wall’s fault. I was getting nowhere so how could I possibly hit it?
This time the voice rang even louder and went on for a long time. And it wasn’t that I had nothing to lose. I had everything to lose, but the voice was right, what was going on was just not working out. If I didn’t love my own life and my own heart, who else was going to?
This fucking process of change.
It is tough work. It hurts the head. It hurts the heart. It is time consuming and damn scary.
And after all that work, sometimes you end up at square one again. That’s where I’ve been this last month. Not physically. That bit is fine. It wasn’t that I had a ‘fuck it’ moment, drank a bottle of bourbon, smoked a pack of cigarettes and then inhaled a KFC bucket for good measure, but I did hit an emotional slump.
There was a moment of hopelessness when stuff that was happening the whole month then the alert for my late dad’s birthday came up and I was just sad, and angry. Just so angry at him for all the reasons I should have been angry at him with before but kept inside because he was my dad, and I shouldn’t have been angry at him. I was angry at the legacy he left me, the half truths and lies.
With that anger came all the fear that I thought I had worked through – the fear of falling down, of a broken heart, not letting anyone come too close, the fear of actually letting myself love someone I liked because that would be too much, wanting to cover up all of me with my some spray that would move focus to my sexuality because that would keep the deeper part of me safe. So much, too much and it all hit me.
Then five days came where I met my physical, mental and emotional edge every single morning in gruellingly beautiful yoga practices. Day four was when I hit rock bottom and had a cry. Day five my body bounced back but inside who knew what was going on, and it wasn’t until later in the day that I found out. Something had been unlocked somewhere and it was ready to come out.
Series of experiments right?
Well, sometimes, you’re taken back to an old experiment from years and years ago that you’d forgotten the result of.
I found myself in a dark club with about three drinks in me, which is just a good time on the dance-floor with good friends in my now emotional state, but as I was visiting an old emotional state, it was interesting. Some random started dancing with me in a suggestive fashion. It was an invitation, and for a while, I replied to that invitation. He didn’t know me so the attraction was just physical and you know what? It was damn nice that someone found me physically attractive.
Then what happened?
Well he danced too close and I was jolted back to now and the realisation that although easier and less scary, it was really not what I wanted. Random meetings can be a nice distraction but I want to take the road untraveled before. I want to be known, as terrifying as that is for me. I want to walk into something with my eyes open ready to give it everything that I’ve got. This disposable ‘hi, you’re hot so let’s go out for a drink or five,’ thing just won’t fly anymore.
This new road won’t be as quick.
It is one toe in followed by a deep breath, then a foot, another deep breath, sometimes running back in fear, but then moving forward again. It is working through challenges as they come one at a time, awkwardness, fear, hearts beating crazy fast that they feel like they’re leaving our chests sometimes, it will be spending time apart and then coming back again and again and again, and then one day, just finding yourself there in that place you wanted to be.
Perhaps being there, upside down with your feet in the air and someone else helping you stay up will be the scariest space yet. So what do you do? You can run of course, but you can stay, taking it one step at a time, knowing that every day is an experiment in trust, in love, in knowing that as scared as you are, so are they, and that in this, you are together.
Every experiment has the potential to blow up in your face, but I keep doing them with the hope that one day, one of my experiments works out and a garden will grow, and I wish the same for you.
Last week, a friend paid me one of the highest compliments a woman could pay another. We were talking about women and she said to me, “Babe, you to me seem really comfortable in your sexuality. You don’t play it, but you sit in it really well.”
Sexuality is a funny thing.
In my teens, I remember being really uncomfortable about it, trying to hide it behind baggy t-shirts and changing the way I moved. The teenage years are awkward anyway. Suddenly no matter how you try to keep it that way, the way you walk becomes less angular, there are hips to maneuver and don’t even start with the breasts. It is like you are relearning to live in the same skin.
Arguably, some people go through life that way, but ideally you’ll grow out of it.
Dancing helped me as it made me more comfortable in the shape of a woman. I say shape because I was shaped like one but really hadn’t settled into it.
Then I turned 19 and dated an older guy (he was only present in my circle of friends because he was repeating his final year for the 2nd time or something). We didn’t last very long. Ironically one of the reasons was because I didn’t want to sleep with him, but it was around there that my sexuality took centre stage. It was not so much sexuality, more sexiness – the kind that was in your face. I had discovered the control dial, and it was turned up all the way. It was that insecure, rather dirty knowledge of having the power to put it out there but not follow through.
The leap from the awkward teenage years to being insecure in your twenties can be a pretty fluid, and organic one.
Looking back at my life from my 30s, it’s damn well comical.
I’d like to say that some days I can’t believe that girl was me, but that would be a lie. I know for a fact that it was. Mind you, I was in long term relationships for about 8 of the 10 years of my twenties, so I wasn’t out there all that much. When I was, it was funny.
Even now sometimes, I see myself in the younger girls sexually try to get the attention of men. There is that very pronounced sexiness, pushing it forward, radiating it from the skin. In a world like ours where everything is loud, bright and quick, that’s what a lot of men will notice first. Apparently competition is tough in the nightclubs of Sydney and the pages of Tinder so I suppose the more you lather on sexiness, the better your chances are.
But really, are they?
It all comes down to what you want. I’ve always been more a relationship girl than a sleep around girl, but if I am honest, almost all my relationships in my twenties started with sexual intent. The invitation was put out there pretty early in the game, and then the rest of the time was spent trying to build a relationship from that. It was how I comforted, resolved arguments and settled discussions. I would do anything to keep a man from walking away back then even when he treated me awfully.
A testament to how uncomfortable I was in my own skin.
The transformative powers of yoga and meditation brought that fact up in my face.
To deal with it I chose celibacy and donned this energetic burka through resolve and intention. Suddenly I was invisible in the sexual sense.
It was only meant to be a year.
The first of which went by quickly. It was when I was about to lift it that the biggest test happened. My dad passed away in January 2013. With something like that you want someone to lean on, the comfort of touch, the distraction of a kiss, just to know that someone is there and that you are wanted.
I must be a sucker for punishment. I extended the period instead.
It has been 15 months since my dad passed away. How I wanted to have someone distract me from the nightmares that came almost every night those first three months. In that state though, it would have been a need instead of a connection. It’s hard to connect when you can’t even find the ground beneath your feet.
You might think I’m just going on about whatever and losing the thread of the sexuality conversation. I’m not. I’ve found that being comfortable with sexuality comes hand in hand with being comfortable on your own, in your own skin on this ground. The last two and a half years, I’ve played with it a bit, first shutting it down completely, then letting it buzz and then organically just growing into my skin as a woman.
The effect on me is that I am fully here with no corners left dimmed. I feel myself filling out this skin and nobody else needs to be in here. You don’t need to be having sex to sit fully in your sexuality. Some have said to me that I am not honouring my woman-ness by not having sex. I believe that I am doing just that by wanting to wait for someone who can see me as a complete woman with a brain, a heart and a soul.
My ban has been lifted but I am in no rush. Well meaning friends try to push it but really, it is not needed.
Sometimes you have bad days and you need someone else to make you feel sexy, but really sexuality is not directly related to the sexual act. It is the skin you wear without shame whatever your preference. It wraps itself around you from the inside out. It walks with you when your feet stand comfortably on the ground. It expands and contracts with your breath, part of your life force. It isn’t related to your height, your weight or the colour of your hair, it is how you stay in it all.
It scares me sometimes, but it is a part of me. It is this woman-ness, the ability and strength to put the heart out there and the courage to allow it to break, then to rebuild over and over again. It is beautiful, soft, vulnerable and magical but solid and real at the same time. It is the soft shawl that can wrap itself around a blade without getting torn to shreds. As much as it scares me however, I love it. I love the freedom that comes with being a woman, the fluidity, passion and flame and ability to be strong in surrender. Not here to be conquered or saved but able to step into a space like donning a second skin – daughter, sister, friend, lover, team-mate, partner, the one who stands behind you or by your side depending on the day and occasion, warrior, nurse, teacher, student and everything in between.
Finally gaining the recognition that I am all of it and yet none of it… And getting here, oh what an adventure it has been.
They say the only thing that’s constant is change, and whoever they might be, they are right. Nothing ever stays the same for longer than is necessary and even in the stillness things are moving, gathering, becoming what they should be.
I am supposed to be this person who facilitates change and yet, I still feel myself scared shitless when big things shift.
You think you’ve reached this destination, but then you realise that that is not the case at all, that there really is no ‘destination.’ It is but an illusion, an oasis where you may rest for a bit before things go on again. You’ve done all this fucking work, but life just doesn’t stand still. There’s still more work to be done.
Underneath it all of course, is fear.
You know that feeling. When your stomach does flips at the thought that things could be different. It’s not that this place here is better than what could be. It is just that through familiarity, it has become safe.
It’s like being in your bed when you have all the pillows arranged just so and your spot is perfectly set, comfortable, warm enough but not too warm, soft enough but not too soft. The thought of having to move the setting just seems a bit like too much work. Just a little bit unsettling.
What if you adjust but it doesn’t work out and you have to readjust?
But you’ll have to readjust anyway.
Summer moves into winter, and as it gets colder, you will move things around, thicker blankets, more pillows.
Then when it grows warm again, you adjust again.
It is just the way of the world.
Situations change as they must. Roles change. And scariest of all is the fact that relationships too evolve.
But why, why are these big changes so scary?
Why do we do this thing where we go back and forth?
Why delay the inevitable?
I suppose it is fear and not knowing.
Perfectly valid reasons.
But fear when mixed with a touch of desire turns to excitement, and knowing, well, what do we know anyway? We can only know things when we get there.
You only have three choices.
Try to run in the opposite direction.
Stay the same.
Or surrender and move forward to something that is petrifying but has the potential of being one of the best choices you’ve ever made.
Which will it be?
Some things are meant to happen anyway.
You might fight, deny, bury it under the excuses stemming from your past experiences, but this is here.
This is now.
We think so much about reasons not to… but what if this time, we focused instead of the reason to do it.
A flower will bloom when it should as it should, and trying to keep it as it is will only break the petals. When it is time too, the petals fall off, making room for another incarnation as it should.
The question now is:
Will you let the lotus bloom or will you break the petals by trying to keep it closed?
When people ask me if anything changed in my life when I decided to do my Yoga Teacher Training, I answer by saying, “my whole life fell apart.”
And it did.
I had my first taste of Teacher Training in August 2011. Little did I know that it would be the catalyst to tremendous change in my life. It was when I finally decided that I wanted to do the first 200 Hour Teacher Training, and although I thought I could go on with life as it was through this process, the universe had other plans. Three weeks after that, the relationship I was in fell apart. There was a bit of toing and froing, but in the grand scheme of things, it dissolved rather quickly.
A few months after that, I gave up smoking, which truth be told was even more difficult as my relationship with cigarettes had spanned about 14 years by then. However, I thought that since I was grieving a relationship, why not go through withdrawals at the same time. Needless to say, the last part of 2011 was pretty much time spent rolling around in the muck.
As the sun rose on New Year’s Day 2012, in Byron Bay however, I realised that that part of life was behind me and there was nowhere I could go but forward.
That was not the end of it.
The week before I went for the first Teacher Training retreat, I packed up everything I owned to move to a new place. Then off we went on retreat, beginning the most intense journey of self-discovery that I had gone on my entire life. There was a lot of laughter, but also a lot of tears as we slowly went through those months of exploration. Never had I stopped to look inside and question myself so deeply, and never had I written down in detail the life that I wanted.
Through all of this I had also decided that if I really wanted to know myself, I needed to just be by myself and therefore had decided to adopt the yogic yama of brahmacharya (celibacy). It was a difficult choice as when going through a breakup, sometimes you want to stick a band aid on the pain by jumping into a new relationship. However, as I was going through big changes in my life, I was just not in the right space for it.
Time came, time went and in December my first teacher training was completed. 2012 had been a crazy year and I thought I could spend some time just finding my ground. Again, I was wrong. On the 29th of January 2013, my father passed away. Two weeks later, my full time corporate stint ended, and soon after that, my life got suspended between two worlds.
Something had to give. The world of yoga beckoned me more and more, and by the second half of 2013, I had completely transitioned into this life.
Things were happening, and layers were being unpeeled.
After seven years of being in Australia, I finally received my Permanent Resident status, and it was during these times of challenge that I found out who my true friends are. It was during this time also that I adopted beautiful Portia, a rescue cat who has become the queen of my house. In a land where I am in essence alone, I found community, and I found family.
I’ve had glimpses of what my life could have been like had I stayed where I was. Perhaps I would have started a family. Perhaps I would have climbed the corporate ladder. It seems a pretty picture and yet, I have no regrets at not being there. I know now that that frame was never mine to fit into.
And so here I am, far far away from where my life was two years ago, or rather, seven years ago, when this journey truly began.
I am altered, and yet I sit more comfortably in my skin than I have ever sat before.
Now I know that everything had to fall apart.
I had to fall apart.
Transformation begins when you take that first step into the fire and when it is right the universe helps you. Sometimes the help comes in a scary way where the doors you could have walked through to return to where you were close with a force that you can’t fight – a breakup, a death, the loss of a job, the loss of a dream that you once held so dear, an idea that had to change, a perspective that needed to be altered, a love that needed to be severed. You crawl through the mud, and sometimes you just want to say, “fuck it all to hell! I want to go back to where I was,” but something won’t let you, and so, you just keep going.
It is not always without pain. In fact, most of the time, it is with a lot of pain and the journey forward might not be smooth either, but you go on, one step at a time, towards the place you were meant to be.
The world breaks down to be rebuilt.
As we stand here, at the horizon of a new year, know, without a doubt, that this is exactly where you were meant to be.
I’m a romantic but I’ve gone through long spells of having no romance in my own life. I’m not big on reading relationship do’s and don’ts. I’m not big on dating rules. I’m definitely not big on early morning conversations. The only valid question I can think of for early mornings is, “do you want coffee/tea?” In all my years, I’ve loved a lot, but only fallen in love twice. Fallen in love in the way that I let my existence be altered and was brave enough to allow for changes in my life plans. Both times brought me to a different place and there are no regrets.
The familiar to me is living life on my own, learning new things, making plans and having just enough room for family and friends. It allows me to keep my own space, a separate being responsible for just me. It allows me to play it safe.
So when people speak to me of romance and relationships, I often don’t know what to say.
Having someone else in your space is unfamiliar and scary. I must have known what having someone was like before, but it’s been so long that the memories feel like they’ve been wiped away from my DNA, and besides, you can’t use the same map when you’re exploring a new country.
And that’s what it is.
A new person coming into your life – unchartered territory ready to be explored, no maps, no GPS systems, just your intuition guiding you. Suddenly, you want to say things even when there is nothing to say. You want to share your day even if the most exciting thing is a new soap commercial. Things that were once without meaning now remind you of them and of bits of conversation that you shared. And you want to hear about their day even though you know what they did was no different from what they did the day before. It is just to speak to them, to hear their voice, to have them close.
Suddenly there’s a person who reminds you of nobody else that you know, but so much else reminds you of them. When they’re there sometimes you don’t know what to say, but when they’re not, you just want to speak of them, just for the sake of saying their name.
It’s an inexplicable alchemy but no matter how you question it, it just feels right.
You find common ground and places where you are different. Life hasn’t really been altered, but their presence in yours just makes it that tiny bit more. You didn’t even feel like anything was missing from your life before, yet if they were to walk out now, there would be this irreplaceable gap there. Something you would feel more than you would see.
It doesn’t matter if they are across the room and you don’t speak to them. All that matters is that they’re there, and if you look up, your eyes would meet even if for just an instant. You look at them when you think they’re not looking and perhaps it goes both ways. The two of you getting to know each other from a distance, even as you grow closer, like looking at the earth from far above, but also walking along the vast planes. To see, really see, but to also know the sense, the taste, the smell, the feel, letting them touch you in deliciously scary ways.
There are times when you second guess yourself – are you being too obvious? Or not obvious enough? Did you say too much? Or too little? Are you showing too much of yourself? Or not enough? Did you touch them too intimately? Or were you too cold? Did you scare them away? And then, you let it go because it’s been said, and it’s been done, and too much or too little, when you come back together again and smile at each other, all is right in the world.
Sometimes you wonder why they had to show up when your life was just right as it was. You were contented, minding your own business, then along they come and suddenly they are there with you even when they are not with you. You found a million reasons why you shouldn’t be thinking of them, but the minute you see them it all becomes invalid, as there standing before you are the two million reasons why you do think of them – their unbelievable kindness and amazing gentleness, the sound of their voice, the way their eyes crinkle when they smile, a laugh that just makes you laugh with them, the way that it just feels so right when they are there. It really leaves no space for the arguments you’ve been having in your head because something beyond that is winning out.
You’ve put so much effort into leading a simple straightforward life, but this could be the thing that alters it. Things will change. You know they will. Your plans will be modified and so will theirs, but perhaps it’s time for the unfamiliar. Not so much changing the route you’ve mapped out as allowing for another way to get to this destination.
It’s thrilling and it’s exciting.
It is the end of the life you know.
And you also know that it is just the beginning of something else.
We sometimes talk about being ‘goddesses’ and ‘standing in our feminine,’ in a way that denotes the inferiority of the masculine, but the truth is, in each human whether they are born female or male, both these energies exist. Not one is superior to the other, and the need for one or the other varies with time. For instance, when I was going through a tough time, I wanted to surround myself with feminine energy, but at some point when there was too much around me, I found it stifling. I love a man who is comfortable with the feminine, but I also find a man who stands just a bit too close in my space with red hot masculinity extremely sexy, especially if I know that he doesn’t do it with everything in a skirt.
I read this piece ages ago about dating a yoga goddess. It’s really great for the self-esteem, but on the other hand, who’s to say that a Yoga Goddess is any different from a Prada Goddess. Sure, if you’re a yoga girl, then dating someone who loves his drink and lives on steaks might just leave a lot to be desired when it comes to finding a place you both enjoy. And if you love being outdoors and he loves his TV, then it might not garner much conversation time. Incompatible bed times make things difficult if you’re asleep by 9:30pm and he’s not up until 11:00am and if one of you feels somehow that the other is not as enlightened/smart/anything will just cause imbalance in the relationship.
My friend Karen-Anne digs deeper into philosophy with her answer to the article mentioned above, and I agree with her: http://flyingdragonyogis.com.au/2013/12/04/self-awareness-for-goddesses/. Just because we use different terms (cleanse instead of diet, divine masculine instead of man), doesn’t make us totally different than the average Jane.
Something about calling myself a ‘goddess’ and sending invitations to the ‘divine masculine’ just doesn’t speak to me. It might work for some. And some people, in relationship want to be adored. It’s great in small doses, but I would rather be loved than put on a pedestal as some great ideal. Why would you want to see yourself as superior to the person you’re dating? Why would you want him to think that he’s not enough? Sure you might be the better planner while he’s the one with more physical strength, and he might be more analytic while you’re more intuitive, but not one trait is better than the other. Then there are some things that you love doing together; cooking, going to the beach, watching movies, whatever. Sometimes you will annoy each other but that’s not because you’re a Goddess while he’s a dud. It’s just because you don’t agree on everything, and that’s a good thing.
At the end of the day, I want to be with someone who I can talk to, laugh with and play with. He could work in the creative field or the technical field, be a martial artist, Crossfitter or Yogi. It is important however, that he finds joy in what he does like I find joy in what I do. He could come from any background, as long as he has a good relationship with his family. Occasionally I will challenge him, and he will challenge me, and we will motivate each other. Our differences will be just as important as the things we have in common. Sometimes things will get tough, but a lasting relationship is when you choose to stay instead of go. Some people use the principal non-attachment as a reason not to commit, and sure, if you don’t get attached, you won’t get hurt, but that bit of attachment can also feed into the effort put into the relationship. More than the job, family background or whatever, is who he is as a person, and in anything of this nature, there is that something that nobody can put a finger on, that from the outside might not make sense, but somehow just feels right.
The practice of yoga is a journey in finding your path. If it feels right for you, then go ahead and be a floating Gypsy but if what sits dear in your heart is finding a place to land and build, then it makes you no less ‘Yoga Goddess,’ or a ‘Divine Masculine’. Some just want to be free, others want to have another someone, and others want to have children. Not one is better than the other.
It took more than two whole years of being completely alone but now I know that I want to land. Casual, fleeting flings might leave a lot of freedom, but it is just not for me. The only time I want to be a Goddess is when he is right there with me being a God. Other than that, I want to be able to take off any masks (because it is only human nature that we wear them sometimes) along with my shoes, not be judged for having pizza if I feel like it, and occasionally not have to do anything but sit on the couch together. I would want that underlying friendship which allows me the freedom to be unabashedly me.
As much as the Goddess energy is within everyone, I would rather not feel like I have to be some semi-fictional ideal.
I am a firm believer that masculinity is a feminist issue. You might think it’s not but the ideals and ideas that men are brought up with affect women so much as daughters, sisters, partners and friends to these men. As a son, how your father treats your mother and sisters often affects how you will treat women, and as daughters, how we are treated by our fathers often affect our future relationships with men.
In some societies masculinity can be enhanced not only by the car, job and social status but also the number of women one can juggle at the same time. It isn’t a pretty look at things, but it is an idea that has been passed down through the generations, perhaps not so much in spoken terms, but in the respect that is given to these men. My father was such a man, and I’ve been one of those women. Now I don’t see myself as a victim of a patriarchal society but I must admit that my views were influenced by what I saw around me. The idea that a man would mess up and that it was a woman’s job to forgive, stay and carry on as if all was dandy was deeply rooted in my mind. If a woman messed up however (talked back/put on weight/worked too much) it would be valid grounds for a man to walk out or find someone else, this not just as a partner, but as a daughter as well.
These views, coupled with the behaviour I saw from my father and my experiences with relationships had done my head in. So, I threw in the towel. Of course I got into these types of relationships because I thought that they were what relationships were meant to be like. Nobody was to blame but myself. The situations you find yourself in are situations that you think you should be in. To stay, go, or re-evaluate your views on things is your choice.
To be honest, I wasn’t into re-evaluating anything. I just wanted to throw in the towel, practice yoga, sit at home with my cat, watch chick-flicks and reruns of Will and Grace, write and have nothing else to do with the dating scene. Read: I was a big chicken who blamed men for all the problems of the world and thought that the only way to be safe was to be alone.
Of course, what happens when you step away from things is you get to really look at them. So much of modern dating is based on that first impression, the initial spark. Taking a time out means ignoring any sparks that might come about, and being able to look at the person causing these sparks. Some days, you meet a new friend, while other days, it’s just like a match that struck once and blew out. What happens when you put your own spark out is that the people who come into your lives are allowed to just enter without any ulterior intentions.
Somehow in my desire to have nothing to do with men, I met men. Really met them. Yes, most of them are gay. My dear friend Ingrid even jokes that if I’m all over a guy and I say that I love him, chances are he’s gay. Gay, straight, slightly bent, don’t have the necessary parts, if you want to be, then you’re a man.
Beautiful people appeared – fathers, brothers, sons, husbands, lovers and friends, all trying their best to find a way. We say men play games, but we do too. We’ve all fallen victim of social ideals of playing it cool and we’ve been hurt before so we play it safe. Bloody rules about women not being the first to text or call, or not texting for three days after a date and not replying because it might make you seem too keen. What on earth? It’s driving us into thought instead of emotion. Sure, some concentrate so much on not getting hurt that they hurt other people, but there are people who are just built more resilient than others. Men, women – so many still have the courage to put themselves out there again and again, to communicate even when they don’t know how and to love even through the toughest times.
I met good men. Great men. Men who try their best to take care of the families they love, who take the time to sit alone getting to know themselves, and stand comfortable in their own skin. They speak to women like equals instead of possessions and every day they make me laugh and smile. There have been conversations that have sparked ideas, after which I have gone home and had a lot to think about and there have been some who have made me step out of my complicated thought processes and made things really simple.
Most of all, I have learned that not all men will either walk away or make it about them when you are upset or distressed or had a little cry. There are some who stay close enough and when you’re done with your own process, just take you in their arms and hold you for as long as you need.
So, as much as an exploration, this is also a ‘thank you’ to the men I’ve met in the last couple of years. I know I have days when I am less than charming and can be a bit unfair at the male population, but thanks for being there for me through these trying years. Sometimes I think we have complicated things so much with our thought processes that we have to separate things into these long winded categories, break it down into tables of what is what and create pie charts to the point where we don’t know which end us up with our emotions, and we can’t just be. The truth is, we are all constantly relearning new ways of being and we should all give ourselves some credit for trying. As you question your masculinity, sometimes I question my femininity, but that is fine as our roles are continuously changing.
Perhaps it is this community that we are in, that allows us without judgement to continually explore has something to do with it, but in all my life, the people who I’ve met in the last couple of years have been most exceptional and I am thankful for you all. And maybe it isn’t that complicated after all.
A while ago, a decision was made. A big decision. At the time, I knew that it was what I needed. My life had been traveling within the same spiral for years and I didn’t know how else I could get out of it. So I stepped out of the circle completely. Some might say that I fell off the face of the earth into some parallel yet unknown universe.
In this void that I created, I finally allowed my attention to sit on the scars that had been there for years. You know those ones, the ones that are so bloody and filled with puss that it’s easier to just stick a bandage on them and hope they heal on their own. Those deep ones that if you leave long enough cut through so deep to the bone that you end up having to remove the entire limb. There were a few there so instead of moving forward, I decided that I should stay and work on the things that needed work.
This state of alone-ness was only meant to last for a year. In this time, I have had various healing treatments from an entire retreat to kick off a life overhaul, to massages, cleanses (you know, you cleanse the liver, then the kidneys need a wash out, then there’s the intestines and then it’s back to the liver and it never ends), Reiki, yoga therapies, AcuEnergetics, and all the way to psychic and tarot readings as well as internet research (some were great, some were just plain weird and due to what I do, some are necessary on a regular basis). Fortunately, witch doctors are rather scarce in big cities.
There are days however, when I wonder if all this healing work is just an excuse. You see, when I decided on celibacy for a spell, I put massive blinkers on. I’ve always been a bit daft when it comes to these things in the first place. It has to be ridiculously obvious otherwise I’ll just see it as a friendly thing. With blinkers on, my ‘friend’ pants were on and they were staying on no matter how smoking hot or ridiculously obvious the guy was.
More than two years later, my blinkers are still on. I said I took them off, but a conversation I had last week showed me that I have made many excuses to keep them on. It was one of those days when a man’s perspective gave me a different perspective. We had both gone undergone similar energetic treatments, but where he didn’t think he would go back, I did keep going back. I suppose if he had stepped out of the treatment room and fallen in love, it would be as simple as him meeting someone awesome and falling in love. Whereas if I had stepped out of the treatment room and fallen in love, I would have gone into this whole story of how the treatment had released me from past hurts, unlocked such and such and opened my heart and then I fell in love. Sure that could have been part of it, but surely it wouldn’t be all of it. Surely this other person would have something to do with it as well.
Which leads me to this.
As much as healing treatments are great for you, I wonder if sometimes they can be a crutch. I know they have been for me. I wanted to remove my man ban in January, then I found other stuff to work on, and then more stuff, and so on and so forth, and the work continues. My seven main chakras are still shit some days, and Mars and Venus are no closer to being aligned than they were when I was 16.
What are we trying to achieve really?
We cleanse and starve ourselves, go for endless treatments and keep finding issues that we need to work on before we think we are worthy of love. We read countless books before we think we have the right to be a parent. We think that until we can become the most awesome and perfect girlfriend/boyfriend/parent in the universe, we just shouldn’t do it. However, in all this, all we keep finding are reasons why we are unworthy. It’s like those times when we have a small injury where we just need to stretch it out but instead of doing that, we keep getting second and third opinions until we meet some crazy crook who decides that it needs surgery, which leads to even more time off the game.
I’m not saying that healing treatments are useless. Depending on the individual, some will work, and some won’t, but perhaps, there needs to come a point where the digging stops. Perhaps there needs to come a time when we stop getting outside opinions and let the information sink in. After all, that’s what yoga and meditation are for. Perhaps it’s OK to continue working but keep life going at the same time. Consider the pressure (and sheer boringness) of being or being with someone perfect. What else would there be left to explore?
Without fuck ups, how uninteresting and bland would life be?
We are all works in progress, but there comes a time when progress actually means just being OK with what is and going from there.
Sometimes you’re just traipsing through life without a care in the world then something taps you in the head (loudly!) and you realise that this path you’re traveling on is not really where you want to go.
For me, this thing was yoga.
It had been coming in and out of my life since I was in my early twenties. Occasionally it would step away, but it kept coming back. Like a very persistent suitor, it just wouldn’t leave me alone. Even when I ran out crying or was so angry I wanted to bite through the mat, it kept coming back. When I first realised that there was a relationship forming, I fought it. I’d show up in my worse form – angry, hungover, drunk, reeking of cigarettes, ready to pick a fight. Yet it still stayed, standing silently in the corner while I went through my little drama, giving me space and then moving back in. Somewhere along the line, I stopped fighting it and we became friends. Then, the realisation came that I was in danger of falling completely and utterly in love.
Now I’ve loved many things in my life, but this was the game changer and I knew it.
And like with all game changers, it was time to rewrite the future.
Why rewrite the future?
Well, if you keep going on as you are, your future will be exactly the same as your past. You can get into a million different relationships, but until you stop and have a look at what’s going on with yourself, it really won’t be any different. You can start six thousand new hobbies or go for a gazillion treatments but until you actually look in, the outside will remain the same.
Most people operate on a pattern that they’ve had for ages. These are the lessons we have learned through life, either from our parents, friends or our own behaviours. In yoga speak, they are known as samskaras. They are the patterns that have been repeated so many times that they have become grooves in the landscape of our lives. Some are good. A healthy eating habit perhaps or a past of being caring, but as we are all works in progress, we often find some bits that we want to chip away at to make room for something new.
You’d think it would be as easy as that.
This is one of the processes that take time. It requires a lot of looking back into the past, considerable time alone, and meditation. It is not a process for the faint hearted, that’s for sure. Great memories will come back to you but along with them there will often be rage and despair, among other things. There are moments when you are so frustrated you want to hit a wall, or chew through the floorboards. There are moments you laugh at old jokes and the next thing you know, you are sobbing into your blanket. It is so easy to get stuck in the past, where it is safe and dark, but time moves forward and at some point, you’ll have to emerge out of it. There are parts of your life that you might need to cut loose, and sometimes, without you intending it to happen, you lose people who are dear to you.
My big process took about two years, and then I added 40 Days on top of it just to seal the deal. Some people start with the 40 Days, or 21 Days (because that’s how long it takes to change a habit), but there is always somewhere to make that first step. It requires a commitment to yourself more than anything else, and a burning desire to make things different, and to be different.
As with all changes, a big part of it is a solo journey. You need that time on your own to reflect, perhaps to write, and to just sit in silence, taking note of the patterns of your thoughts. However, no matter what journey you are on, there is always someone else going through something similar, and the universe in all its glory will often bring these people right into your path. So even when you are traveling alone, you never truly are.
I saw this process with a beautiful group of people who took on a 40 Day Revolution. It was a commitment to five days of studio practice, a day of home practice and a solid twice a day meditation practice. Some might have started the journey just to get their asana yoga practice set, but through the 40 Days, things shifted. They shifted. I shifted along with them. It wasn’t an easy journey, but it was a beautiful one. These people showed up day after day in their courage and in their vulnerability, allowing for change to happen. It was the courage of people who wanted something to change and making that commitment to change it.
The thing is, change is a never ending process. You constantly have the chance to rewrite your future. Sometimes, you’ve got your future written down, and then you meet someone you grow to care for. You can play it safe and keep your futures separate or you can take a chance and write a future together. Because you’ve already rewritten your future, you know it won’t be the same as your past, and you know this person is not the same as the persons you’ve tried to write futures with before.
The process of rewriting the future closes some doors; perhaps those ones that have held you in the past, but in place, it opens other doors allowing you to move forward. It is a chance taken, a change made and a life open to ever more possibilities. It is unsafe, unknown and oh so exciting. It is letting go of the life you had for the life you want.
Sometimes I walk around this city that I’ve adopted, lost in my own universe of thoughts and whatever music is playing in my ear. I came here for the first time at 20 knowing I would come back. One broken engagement and a few years later, I did. No friends, no family – Just me, with no anchor and no knowledge of what life would have in store for me. At the time, I did not know if I would leave or stay, but as the years passed, here I am still.
Although I came from another crowded city, this one is different. Here I did not have the foundation of friends I could call when that first winter hit. Here I did not have a cousin whose home I could hide in during times of heartbreak. Here in my weakest moments, I learned to find my own strength. As any singular nomad will tell you, there are times when it gets lonely, but there are also times when being alone gives you the freedom to explore.
I have fallen in love in this city, thinking that it was that love that would keep me here. I fell out of love, but still remained. There have been lives built on the foundations of this city, and they too have fallen apart, only to be rebuilt into a different kind of existence. There has been laughter and tears, and through it all, I kept finding myself over and over again.
The New Year enters this city in a big way. Friends, acquaintance, and strangers come together to invite the new, hoping perhaps that this coming year will be the one where dreams come true, where everything just falls into place and they find what they are looking for. Perhaps they will fall in love on this night. It is a night of hopes, dreams, aspirations, intentions, and for some, action. Two strangers meet and endeavour to build a life together. Two lovers part hoping to find themselves again.
For some, a connection is found. For others, standing in a crowd is when they feel most alone, like a lost child looking in through a window at a family. For some, plans are made months in advance, while for others, it is the same tradition they have held their entire adult lives, in the comfort and safety of familiar friends. There are those standing on the harbour, waiting to be rescued and those out to rescue. Then there are the travellers, the nomads, the gypsies; where no plans are made, where there is absolute trust that where they end up on that day is where they are supposed to be.
Every New Year that I have welcomed in this city has been different, and without planning, I know that this year will be different again. I do not know what it will be, but I know that it will be.
As I stand on the Opera House steps over looking the Harbour Bridge, or by Waverley Cemetery looking out at the ocean, my breath is taken away all over again. I thought love would be what kept me here and I was right. At 20 I fell in love and although I fell in love with my ex fiancé right after that, this city already had my heart. This city hides me when I want to hide and lets me be seen when I allow it. In this city I knew complete and utter loneliness, and it was here that I finally fell apart after a whole lifetime of holding things up. It is here that I found how being alone allowed me to see that I was never on my own.
Sometimes it is when you think that you have nobody and you are completely alone that you find your somebodies. They might not be your blood, but you are united in moments of gold – they are the person who speaks to you on the bus, the stranger who steps into your place of work and ends up sharing their life with you, the friend who just holds you for a while when you’re feeling vulnerable, or the random person who smiles at you on the street.
It could be a moment or a lifetime, but it is these times that remind you that you are never truly alone.
For over two years now, I have been single and celibate, not so much as kissing a man in that time. Somehow, it is the celibate part that gets attention more than the single part. Somehow, it has become ‘unhealthy,’ and I am denying myself ‘the expression of my femininity,’ like sex can somehow make one feel more like a woman than any other thing in the world. Sometimes I believe these ideas that have been cast upon me by other people. And sometimes, when I have spent four days in spandex (not the same pieces for all four days of course), and I’m covered sweat yet again, both my own, and other people’s, I do have moments when I feel a bit less than feminine.
So it was nice to put on a dress and heels, and catch a random man cast an appreciative glance, smile or even greeting my way. To this stranger, I am not the yoga teacher, the person who fixes his posture or the person he shares his aches an pains with. I am not the person who cashes the till or locks the studio up at the end of the day. I am not the asexual best friend who he jokes around with. He doesn’t know the decisions I’ve made and the thoughts in my head. To this man, I was just a woman walking down the street who might give him my number or go home with him.
Perhaps, given the chance, the encounter could have progressed. When I was younger, believing that every avenue needed to be explored, it probably would have. Perhaps numbers would have been exchanged. A call here. A text there. Trying too hard to make something happen when it could have been left as a nice random exchange. Perhaps I would have tried to make him like me because the more men wanted me, the more of a woman it made me feel like. I was never a flirt, but that didn’t mean I that I didn’t sometimes wonder if the amount of attention received meant that one was a better woman than another. Those thoughts always flew away as quickly as they came however.
There were always more interesting things I wanted to do and learn.
There were people I wanted to meet and know; their stories, their lives.
And in these explorations, and doing things, I am too learning that the expression of femininity might not be limited to the late night trysts you have with a man in darkness. If it is, I want more than that. Perhaps I am old fashioned, but I am learning that femininity is more than looking like a stereotype of what the average male wants you to look like. It is not the long hair, or the diets, or the oh so flirty way you say his name as you saunter towards him. It is less than that, and it is more than that.
It is about how you feel.
I am in my feminine when I am bathed in sweat, dancing between the postures. When I have spent a day in spandex, or elbow deep in numbers trying to find that missing link in the counting. I am there as I sit here in my towel, exploring these thoughts. When I am the shoulder to cry on, the teacher, the best friend, the sister, the daughter and even when I am cracking the whip. I am in it as I sink in the bath at the end of the day, and I am in it as I haul a box across the way. I am in it in my anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, happiness, joy. It is there when in my interactions, when I speak, touch, listen, and love. It is in, and a part of me and no person has a right to say that I am not honouring it by not feeding my base desires.
And perhaps, my deeper desires are stronger than my base desires. That desire to be seen as a whole, a person, a friend. Perhaps my femininity is in wanting to turn things inside out, to stand there emotionally and mentally vulnerable, to allow him to see me from within and move from there. Perhaps, in my 33rd year, I am starting to believe that romance is not a roll between the sheets, but conversation and deep friendships instead, and that as a woman, I owe myself this right to hold any part of myself back until I feel completely ready to share it.
Perhaps, I am learning that instead of jumping into the arms of a random person who is attracted to me on sight, I would rather be with the person who knows me. Perhaps, right now, my femininity is expressing itself in the ability to let go of instant gratification, slow it down, appreciate the journey and just allow space for things to happen.
Sometimes when you least expect it, a part of your past, long forgotten waves at you across the distance, and like it or not, your attention is brought back to it. It could be an old friend, an old lover or just an old place forcing you to turn around from where you stand and look back.
There are times when you have moved so far away from that world which once held you that you’ve forgotten it even existed. Then it calls you back, and you return for a visit. However, like Alice revisiting Wonderland as an adult, the dark recesses don’t look quite as dark, and the things that once consumed you, don’t have so much of a power over you anymore. You know there is a demon to slay, but either because it has shrank, or you have grown, the demons don’t look so big anymore. The powers they once had over you somehow diminished with time.
The past is a funny place to be.
There is always an option of staying there, safe in the comfort of old stories and replaying scenarios, where you are still that same person stuck in your version of a child’s wonderland. You can stay, in the same grooves made by your parents, moving on to the same lives they led, the same patterns, the same habits. It is a familiar place, one you know deep in your marrow, where the outcome is one that you have grown to expect.
Sometimes however, the universe has other ideas.
You take a potion, or you make a small decision and things are set in motion. Somehow without even realising it, you have stepped out of that place. The old cast is still there, but you are no longer part of that story, or they are no longer part of yours. Looking back on the person you were, you realise that you are no longer that. What you thought, that image you wore as armour was but a role that you played, a mask you put on for that ball.
Then you realise that through the years, layers and layers of yourself have been shed. Those bonds that once held you, the bonds you once saw as a safe embrace are just that, the bonds you put on to stay safe, to stay in a place where you didn’t need to change. Once the thread unravelled, there was no turning back.
You have become a complete person on your own.
You know now that no ties will make you more of a person and no great love would need you to be less of who you are. You’ve found that as much as you have love to give, you are also worthy of a love that is just as great. Revisiting the Wonderland of the past has opened your eyes to the reality of now. You know now that your past, the stories that were told to you and the future are not the same.
In a deep backbend, you allow the back of your heart to push you forward, and that’s sometimes how life works. A push from the past sometimes reminds you that you are here, in a moment that is not that, and that everything that has happened has led you here.
Revisiting Wonderland gave you a moment to bow and say ‘thank you,’ for the part of your journey you shared, for the lessons learned and for the role the past has played in your journey towards yourself. One bow, one nod of recognition, like two distant strangers passing each other on the street and then you let go and move on – to your separate lives, to your separate futures.
You return to the embrace of the friends who share your life now with your mask removed, as you stand strong in your vulnerability. You catch the eye of the person who makes you smile in a knowing look you share with each other. They were always there, laughing with you, patiently holding you when you needed, facing your fire when it raged. Now finally, you take each other’s hand to start building from the present.
The past is done.
That book is closed.
You are free.
I am trying to write something that I can give to you but the words are taking their time. I am trying to reach out and touch you with my words, the same way I saw two friends touching each other the other day. There was so much love in that instance, it stopped me in my tracks. There was this giving and receiving, total trust and surrender. She moved the boundaries between them as she ran her fingers over his skin and he softened into her touch. The most intimate of moments, yet a moment so pure the connection between them radiated through the room.
Are we like that too?
When I lower my boundaries, stepping away from the world of social media and instant messaging to have a conversation with you is that what I am doing? Our friendship is the same as a million other friendships in this world, and yet, it is one that is unique to only us. We stand there, skin against skin and sometimes, I can feel your heart beating underneath this skin, inside this shell that is your body. Your voice has become familiar to me, and your touch, sometimes a challenge, but at other times a source of comfort and safety.
With you, I am learning trust. With you, I am learning that I can allow for moments of softness. I am learning that if I need you, you are there. With you, I am learning that there is more intimacy in the moments we spend together conversing and breathing than I have known with lovers in the dark. We know each other like this. You. Me. A knowing look, a moment shared between two people. I know how the skin of your hands feel, the rumble of your laughter, the sound of your breath. So intimate, so real, a solid entity in a world where everything else is air.
Do you know that to me, you are fucking beautiful. All the things you consider flaws, the parts that you hide from the world, the things that make you uncool – these are the things that make me love you. I know you have your mask on for a reason, as do I. It keeps us safe, but sometimes I wonder if instead of fearing the person behind the mask is unworthy of love, we are more afraid of someone loving this person. Not being loved allows us to remain in our little world, so we love people we feel we are unworthy of and we love people who are unworthy of us. Perhaps deep down we know that it is when love comes and is returned in kind that our carefully constructed worlds might change.
So we build boundaries.
We raise our masks.
We write stories.
We make the things that are already happening impossible. Yet here they are. Possible. Happening. We just choose not to see them. We find that one more thing that we have to work on before this can happen, we tweak and change, we make ourselves busy, leaving no space, so we can have just a little more time in this safety. We think we are not ready, but the fact that this is happening means that we are.
In a way that is unique only to us, we know each other. Before you say a word, I know that it is you standing close to me, a completely foreign but familiar entity. We’ve known each other for a while, yet every day we are just starting get to know each other. You continue to change as do I. Our lives continue to evolve, moving between emptiness and fullness, and yet, in these cycles, we are still here for each other.
Why are we fighting this gravity between us?
Why do we find that one more reason to not allow ourselves to just surrender to this moment, this thing that sits between us silently?
It is bigger than you and I together combined. It is that space that engulfs our two lives, creating a whole new space in the process. It is allowing the universe’s wrecking ball to break everything that we have built so far so we may rebuild again. It is allowing that final hold to drop and allowing our hearts to love, really love, to be uncomfortable, to be awkward, to find ourselves in a strange new land and to allow our separate universes to turn upside down.
It is the courage to let that raging person sitting behind the mask finally bask in the embrace of love.
A few weeks ago, my mother came to visit. In an effort to organise my kitchen in a way that makes sense to her, she used wall hooks to hang up my cooking utensils. Unfortunately however, the wall hooks were hung with tape and since she left, they have been falling off the wall one at a time leaving no marks. It made me think of how we do a lot of things in life. To save on initial time/money/effort, we tend to just stick things in place using methods that are cheapest/quickest/most efficient, but as we learn in management 101, the most efficient might not be the most effective.
This comes as a reflection as I have committed to a 40 Day Yoga Revolution. This journey includes five days of studio practice, one day of home practice, a day of rest and meditations twice a day along with some journaling. I am learning very quickly that it is one thing to just put your name on the board, but quite another thing to allow for the practice to really affect you. Putting your name down without any real fire is akin to using sticky tape to hang a photo frame on the wall. It is the continuing practice that is a challenge, especially when you somehow end up teaching four classes a day.
In our world of quick solutions and instant changes 40 days does seem like a long time. However as the first week of the revolution ends, I am reflecting on all aspects of my life. By nature, I am highly impatient. My right shoulder is a work in progress so side planks, arm balances, inversions and even crow pose sometimes makes it feel uncomfortable. In my early days of practice, I would get extremely frustrated with the shoulder, and I would push through. Then of course, I would hurt it, and not be able to do anything for a while. Through the years, I have become more patient and careful with my shoulder and apart from every once in a while, it is progressing for the better.
Ah time… That thing that we all think we don’t have. When I worked in the corporate world, nobody had enough time, or money, or anything. Everything had to be done yesterday, and of course, tomorrow, everything falls apart. In relationships, we are constantly rushing to get ‘there’, wherever there is – marriage, kids, etc. Two of the biggest relationships of my life started within two months of knowing my previous partners. Sure they lasted for four and three years respectively, but when times got challenging, we didn’t have the underlying friendship to allow for healthy communication.
Time is relative.
In our world, 40 days is a long time, but in the grand scheme of things, what is 40 days after all?
We can implement personal change in a day, but it is time that will tell us if this change sticks. We can overhaul an organisation or a country just by writing a piece of policy but it is time that will let the change settle through the people involved. We can look at someone and be attracted in an instant, but it is time that will allow us to see if the two lives can fit together.
Why am I doing this?
Like a lot of people, my life is pretty set. I have done things the same way for long enough that it has become a safe cocoon.
As scary as it is for me, I am doing this to allow for the possibility of things coming into my life that will change it. It could be a change in my meditation, a change in my practice, growth with work, the courage to lower my defenses when I do feel attraction to someone, a relationship that affects me more than just physically, a new idea or a new way of waking up in the morning. I am here to let time do what it may. Instead of using sticky tape, I am allowing for a mark to be left on the wall.
Last week I met a woman who might have thought that she was being assertive, but to me, it was bordering on aggressive. This is not uncommon. I have worked with people like this, dealt with people like this, and at times, been this person. What is sad about this situation is that we see it more often than not in women, and more noticeable with those who have either had corporate careers or are in high powered jobs.
Do we truly believe that by being aggressive we get what we want?
Do we think that this trait gets us ahead in life?
Is it because in a world of standards and expectations there is no space for human error?
Is it because we believe that gentleness is in fact a weakness that won’t get us what we want?
Is it because we truly believe that to get what we want we have to take it, sometimes by force?
Or is it that at the core of it, there is this animalistic thing inside us that feels bigger than the other person when we exert our power in such a way?
It’s true we live in a fast world where we want our questions answered right there and then. In my professional life I have been expected to have the names of 200 delegates in my head when they ask for it. I have met anger and impatience when I have had to stop and think before answering them. I have been asked to write five pieces of copy by the end of the day, dropping everything else. Often times these requests were made in a way that was more like a demand with an implied ‘or else’.
I admit that I was more aggressive when I was younger. I too thought that I was being assertive. First it got tiring. And then I realised that it wasn’t worth it. I realised that when I was that way to the person who does my manicures and pedicures, or the waitress, or my hairdresser, or the guy at Myers, I was only doing it to drive home the fact that they were there to serve me, that that in fact made me the person who was higher in the food chain of life and that I didn’t have all day to wait for them to be human and shit. I realised that what I was doing was in fact, a form of bullying. Sure there was no physical violence but I was exerting my power over someone else in an unkind way, and who knows what that person would have been through before I came in?
It is not always easy to change patterns but I’m trying to put the mirror up to myself. I suppose I’m a lot more laid back now. My aggression only comes up as a defence mechanism, more so towards men (if I’m attracted, it’s to keep them out, but other times it’s a lack of trust). However, on the rare day when I’m emotionally wrecked and facing aggression from someone, I do retreat into myself (which is something I have to work on, I know).
At the end of the day, it is about putting the mirror up and asking the questions:
Are you really just assertive, or are you being aggressive?
Is being gentle really a weakness?
Do you use aggression to exert your power as a director/manager/client?
Does this behaviour get you that promotion/discount/hot dog, and faster than being nice would?
How quick are you to ensure that people get into trouble if your needs are not met?
Are you, in fact, a bully?
Today marks the 20th day of Ramadan for Muslims all over the world. During this month, among other things, we refrain from food and drink from sunup to sundown. Of course, seeing as how it’s winter in Australia, it isn’t a very long day at all.
Like others in the world, I am also practicing Ramadan.
I have been practicing this since I was eight years old, but it wasn’t until I started living alone that I really understood the meaning of it. When you are surrounded by family, every night is a big feast and you end up eating more than you actually need because you’re not really being conscious. In recent years, this for me has become a month of introspective consideration, of early mornings, waking up before the sun for a solitary meal and revelling in the quiet of that time of day.
This year, Ramadan changed for me yet again.
It is the first year that I have really needed to manage my energy so that I could continue practicing, work, and still serve others in my yoga teaching. I must admit that the first two weeks were a bit of a trial as I was working six day weeks, running a conference where my shortest day was 10 hours long, and teaching on top of that.
A lot had to change just to remain standing those first two weeks.
Where I would previously go back to sleep after a cup of tea, a date and some water in the morning, this year I have had to carefully consider my meals so they may serve me through the day. I am lucky as I am not finicky about labelling my food as ‘breakfast food,’ ‘dinner food’ and so on and so forth as it gives me freedom to eat as I feel is needed. There have been mornings when I have had a bowl of pasta for breakfast, knowing that I would have a strong practice and a long day.
Where the bed beckoned before, this year I have opted for staying up after my meal (that’s from 4:30am for us here and let’s be honest, who can sleep after a bowl of pasta?). The mornings have been filled with silent meditations, writing in my journal and quiet contemplation in long baths. There have been many days when I have just indulged myself in long, slow home practices as the day slowly grew light.
My bed time has been modified too as I try to be in bed by 8:30pm or at the latest 9:30pm. If I wasn’t much into hanging out at pubs and bars before Ramadan, this month, the chances of that have been reduced to zero.
In Ramadan, life is modified.
And on the mat, my practice had to be modified too.
It was a great thing having Les Leventhal here during the second week of Ramadan. If you’ve practiced his classes, you’ll know that they are advanced classes on steroids. The heat is on, and you’re doing at least eight poses on one leg before you switch to the other. In equal parts, he will remind you to breathe and encourage you to go for it. Now, I’m not as strong as a lot of people are on a good day, and even less so this month but practicing a class like that teaches you things. You can go hard, end up in a heap halfway through the class or walk out because you get lightheaded, or you could modify your practice and make it through the duration. When your body says ‘no more,’ you always have the option of sitting in meditation enjoying the positive vibes around you.
There was also a lesson in managing the ego here – that voice which says, ‘yes, go for it, you can do that one more vinyasa! You don’t need child’s pose.’ Did I indulge? Of course I did and then I went to teach and I didn’t have the energy to demonstrate even the simplest pose, let alone support my students. The class left me so drained I couldn’t even hold a conversation after, which doesn’t help as people might have questions.
And then you learn to receive and be soft. I have amazingly supportive friends, so my life this month has not been lacking in terms of hugs, mini-massages, and even a 10 minute Reiki boost. People have been very understanding when I have not been able to show up for parties after a long day at work, and when I haven’t made it to brunch during the daylight.
In order to keep going, things had to be modified.
10 days to go and although I am tired, I am doing it because I want to. After all, who is to stop me if I decide not to fast? It is a lesson that we don’t need as much as we have to survive. The lessons of Ramadan work hand in hand with the lessons from yoga. It teaches you of patience and surrender, waiting for a time when you can just have a drink and knowing that the sun won’t set until it is time. It is a time to take note of when you’re tired and hungry, and how that affects you emotionally. You learn how your body works or how you react when you don’t have the energy to do as much as you are used to doing. You are living on less sleep and less food than usual and it is interesting to see how that affects you. And you start thinking about the people who live like this every day, and not just from when the sun comes up to when the sun comes down. In a world where it is all about having more, doing more and being more, it is a time for less.
It’s been a while since I last wrote something for you. Two weeks of movement – dynamic energy, fire, flight. When the world moves quickly like that, it’s easy to lose track of where the heart is and what it needs. But as the world usually does, it allows time to land, a time to negotiate with the discomfort of slowing things down. The discomfort of not knowing what comes next once you have cast your intentions out to the ether.
Another full moon comes. Another phase of life ends. Perhaps it is just time, but no ending should go un-mourned, no part of life let go without being honoured. There was a certain emptiness before, but it was an emptiness that invited an exploration. It was, in essence, a space to allow the lotus to bloom into its full glory, to marvel at the majesty of a beauty that grew from the mud.
And now, the lotus has bloomed so it is time to move into a new realm.
There is a sense of unfamiliar familiarity with this realm. You’ve been here before, but not in the same way. I have been here too, but not with you. Yet, I have, you have, and we have – from lifetimes before, in different manifestations. I was the person who smiled at you as a child, only to then run away. You were the person I knew in my youth when I was lost, and you were as lost as I was. Yet, you were not, I was not, and we were not. Nothing has changed between then and now, and yet, everything has changed. We have changed. Many lifetimes have passed within this one incarnation.
Your heart, as it beats, is new to me, yet it is not.
My body and its movements are familiar to you, but it is still a strange new animal.
We have spoken of the same things before in different ways, with different people. Here we come, sharing that same past with each other, but with different eyes than we had before.
Maybe it is because we have grown.
Or maybe it is because we have still some growing to do, with each other this time.
Empires have crumbled so that new ones can rise. What different are we, the people who have had lives before this?
We have had lives where we have grown and crumbled, lives where we have each danced in the ecstasy of love and mourned within the despair of loss. In these lives we have known the highest high and the lowest low. In these lives we have known anger and loss, loneliness and desire. We have each learned our lessons of who we are up to this point and here we come together because something bigger than we are said that we should.
And now, what do we do?
You can run. I can hide. We can bury it all deep under the surface and never look at it. We can distance ourselves from this discomfort and nothing will change.
Or we can take a bit of silence to honour that journey which has brought us to this place.
And then perhaps it is time…
Time to believe in a bit of magic.
Time to have a bit of faith.
Time to find a bit of courage.
Time to just take a deep breath, and as gently as possible, soften, surrender…
Last Friday was one of those days that hit me unexpectedly, and again, had me crying in public. I don’t really know when this public display of emotion started. A friend who has known me since I was 19 once said to me that in all the years we spent together (from university through to our mid-twenties) she had never seen me shed a tear, even during the most difficult of times.
You see, I was brought up in an environment where crying was seen as a very negative display of emotions. As a child, if I cried for no (obvious) reason, I was given a reason to cry. As a teenager, my being upset would prompt my mother to tell me how upset it made her, and of course, I didn’t want to upset her, so I learned to keep it all in. In my previous relationships, I dealt with various degrees of reactions to my tears from emotional bullying (kick her while she’s down), to flippant, to having the men emotionally retreat. One even started cheating on me when I was going through a tough time. Then there is that ‘crazy’ label used for things they don’t understand. Asking for a shoulder to cry on, in my experience only led me to feel worse. When a friend of mine said that her partner could just be there and hand her chocolate as she completely broke down, I was totally amazed at his maturity. It never crossed my mind that anyone could just do that.
The thing is tears can be prompted by a whole range of emotions including those that are yet unnamed and just need an outlet. I had become used to crying alone, and so, I had built this shell around me. I would wait until I was completely on my own to break down. When my engagement ended, I waited to move to another country to do the bulk of my grieving, filling the time between that end and my move with a fling that left me feeling worse. When my grandmother passed on a couple of years ago, I was in a relationship and yet, I dealt with it by crying into my yoga mat and just texting my then partner. I didn’t expect him to be there for me, and he didn’t call. Somehow I felt that emotionally, he was ill-equipped to deal with my grieving.
I very rarely shared my tears with females, and even more rarely would do it with the men in my life be they relatives, friends and especially partners.
And then I took that crazy vow of celibacy: https://azphoenix.wordpress.com/2013/01/23/act-of-celibacy/. It was an interesting and amazing journey. However, just as I was about to step out of it, my father passed away and I retreated again into myself. I am so grateful for the friends who were there for me during this time. Although I tried to shut the door, they waited right outside, ready for when I could allow myself to need them. It was a lesson on how there were people out there who are at the same time both gentle and strong enough to support you through your grief.
That is the thing about grief and tears. Most of the time, you don’t want someone to make it better and you definitely don’t want someone to make it about them. Sometimes, all you want is for someone to hold you and to let you cry, or to hand you a baby to hold for a little while.
When my father passed away I was sad, and I was angry – angry at him for being the kind of father he was and angry at him for not telling me how ill he really was. Most of all I was angry at him for not being around during my moments of vulnerability, these moments of vulnerability when he, as a father, should have been there. The last thing I wanted was to let another man in or even have one near me. I felt that people in general couldn’t be relied on in times of grief, and more so if they were men.
I was wrong.
As my yoga practice has grown and my mask has dropped, I’ve learned that people can be there for you if you let them. They might not be in a position to do something about it, but a hug is free and tissues don’t cost that much. There are friends who will not brush it off if you cry for your grandmother who passed away 15 years ago. There are friends who will bring you gelato and let you hold their baby for the warmth and comfort. There are friends who will sit with you, waiting patiently for the sobs to subside and for you to catch your breath so you can tell them why you are upset. And there are men. These men who are just there with their gentle strength, neither running nor reacting to your tears, offering their warm arms so you can melt, even if just for a moment. These men just listen while you open up with your emotions and although they might have that manly desire to fix everything, they don’t try to. They are just present.
There are people who understand that sometimes emotions flow out in bursts before laying dormant for a while. Then something triggers them, and there they flow again, and that there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
And there are times you learn that strong emotions can awaken different parts of yourself that might have been asleep.
For the first time in a long time, last week I wished that I wasn’t spending the evening alone. I wanted to curl up on someone’s lap and let him hold me. When I awoke in the middle of the night, I wanted to hear another person breathing beside me, to feel his warmth and know that comfort.
Tears are amazing. They remind you that you are alive. They are the physical manifestation of your feelings, showing you that your body and your emotions are connected. They are the gateway, allowing things that might remain stuck inside to flow. And sometimes they come only to tell you that it is time to let your guard down and write the next chapter of the story.
The other day, someone asked me, “how come your hips are still tight even with all the yoga your practice?” It is an interesting question that can be answered in many different ways. On a physical level, sitting down for long periods as well as activities like cycling and running can affect the hips that way. On an energetic and emotional level, tight hips can sometimes signify a certain degree of resistance, or emotions being held, trust or any number of reasons, depending on where the individual is in life. In my case, mine were feeling a bit tight because of a combination of physical and emotional reasons which I won’t go into.
What interested me about the question is the idea behind it that a chosen activity or spiritual path can be a cure to life. Yoga, prayer, whatever path we choose, we sometimes think that it will protect us from life.
When I was a child, I believed so strongly in prayer. I still do. But as a child I would pray for a specific thing, mostly for my father to come home, and when he didn’t I got angry. What I wanted, really, was to not feel the pain of it all, but of course, that never happened. And then, I thought that God had a personal vendetta against me because of it. As I got older, I learned of another way to deal with pain – disconnection. Alcohol was a great tool for this method, along with a life of partying, and then sleeping it off. It worked for a little while, and then it got old.
Then, in the great old age of 30, yoga made an appearance. Not the gym yoga I had done before, but the kind of yoga that gave you space to be with yourself. I looked at all the happy, healthy people and thought, that this might be it, the cure to all pain and suffering. Asana practice led to meditation and stillness, and prayer. Slowly, I worked through my physical injuries, and then the emotional injuries, but guess what? There are days when the hips are still tight, or the shoulder is out of whack. Sometimes I still spend half of class crying into my mat.
Because life doesn’t end and as long as we live in the world, shit will happen. When people claim to not feel pain or sadness anymore, I wonder if they have let the parts of themselves that can feel all that die. And yes, it is safe when you’ve learn to shut the world out, living a solitary existence, but is that really living?
The only cure to life is death.
All the yoga, prayer and meditation did not stop my father from passing away. It doesn’t stop my shoulders from being sore sometimes, and it sure as hell doesn’t stop sadness or anger from making an appearance in my life. Instead it has taught me to stop and take some time exploring these injuries and emotions.
This is the path of surrender without giving up, knowing when to back away instead of walking away. It is taking the labels of “good” and “bad” out of emotions and just feeling them. Crying when you need to cry. Being angry when you need to do that. Taking time alone when you need that. Or simply walking up to a friend and giving them a hug because that’s what you need. Have you ever felt like crying but ended up laughing hysterically instead? Well, that is the energy moving.
Sometimes the energy just needs an outlet.
A friend at work asked me how I could still breathe and hold my space even when I am angry. The answer is simple. I have since stopped trying to push my anger down and sit on it. If I need to, I will get up and go for a walk. Sometimes I get into an inversion just so I can see the world in another light. And of course, breathing techniques help. The way I manage my anger though, might not be the same way you manage yours, and it is your journey to find your tools.
Yoga, prayer or meditation – shit will happen.
It is how you deal with it that will change. Surrender and acceptance doesn’t stop sadness, but it allows you to feel with a certain degree of peace. Self exploration in the silence allows you to find safe ways of letting emotions flow through you in a compassionate way. And perhaps, you had these skills all along, but as you read more books of people telling you how it should be, you forgot your own intuition, the higher Self that guides you through the smooth and rough. This Self which is made of equal parts shadow and light, and knows things that your brain might not.
So explore. Learn. Feel.
There is no cure to grief apart from grieving.
And there is no cure to life apart from living.
There’s a moment in time when you need to pause.
You’ve said “yes,” to that which has moved you (https://azphoenix.wordpress.com/2013/05/23/yes/) and said “no,” to the things that serve you no more.
You know where you are going, but there is something saying, “no need to rush, what is inevitable will happen.”
And some things are just that.
Like the light that comes after the night, and the warmth that comes after the cold.
That word has been sitting with me for a month now.
In a way it is completely liberating but in another way, it scares the heck out of me because it means giving in to something I don’t know. I find myself resisting. Why? Well because nobody knows what the inevitable is until it happens. It is that thing which either is or isn’t yours no matter how hard you try. For someone who needs to always steer the direction of this ship called life, giving in to the inevitable is about as easy as brushing your hair with your toes. There is a slight tensing of the shoulders and a more than slight tightening of the hips. If trusting the known is not easy, trusting the unknown is the test of ultimate surrender.
In the last two weeks, I have sat in yoga class after yoga class fighting the resistance in my hips. I have been angry at my body for not doing what it usually should. Instead of the relaxed effort I am used to, there has been this tense, unrelenting strife. Every posture from standing, to balancing, to even melting has been a trial. Sleep has been a nightly battle.
And in reply, my anger awakens, like the boiler of an old steamer ship, rumbling. Instead of the steady flame that sits inside me, there is a roaring fire in the depths, ready to speed ahead and crash into anything in its path.
As things kept getting busier and busier for me, I just kept going. Plowing through one thing, then the next and the next, and then I crashed. In a heap of sweat and tears on my trusty yoga mat, and realized that although I thought I could not afford to stop, I needed to stop.
What’s coming could be exactly what I want, or it could not.
But what I needed was this moment between then and the future.
I needed the now.
I needed a pause.
Just like the first time someone takes your hand where you tense up before letting your palms melt into each other, softening but strengthening the bond. Just like that breath you take before you dive into the ocean, that tensing before your whole body melts into half pigeon, that holding of the breath in for just a second before releasing into shavasana. It is just like that slight pause, pulling away and looking at each other between the first brush of lips and the second, deeper kiss.
The pause allows you to collect yourself, to know that no matter how things come out the other side, you are whole.
It is what brings all of you into this one place – Knowing that it was the past that brought you here to the doorway of the future.
One moment in time between what was and what will be.
One moment to melt the resistance.
One moment to know that however it turns out things will be as they should be.
One moment to embrace the unknown inevitable.
The third eclipse in this short span of time comes to us with the next full moon, and with it, is a time to say “goodbye,’ – a time to release, and perhaps even let a whole section of yourself die. Most of us are uncomfortable with endings and a lot more of us don’t like talking about death. It is the final end. The place where you can’t go back to what once was. It is that place where your footprints get washed away by the sea and all that is left is to go forward, into the unknown.
There is comfort in the old, a familiarity, a certain safety, and to hold on is so much easier than to let go and step towards the future. We might say that we don’t believe in these things, but sometimes, something greater just moves us in this direction. Without ever intending to, we leave the past and head towards the future. Something closes, something else opens. Like my teacher Mel would say of a backbend, “it is like everything in the past pushing you forward from your heart.” There is a beautiful sadness but also an excitement of what is to come.
It can be comforting having just that one string so that we can hold on to the past, but sometimes that string needs to be cut. In that space where there was left the faintest of connections, there needs to be just emptiness. The faint imprint left by a former lover is wiped away by the rain, allowing the glow of a new sun to spread it’s warmth on a clean foundation. Sometimes a lover becomes a friend, other times, even the friendship can’t be salvaged and the lover becomes a stranger. A friend or even a stranger becomes a lover.
You think your heart died the last time it broke.
Going back into that space where you allow things to enter seems crazy.
But something stirs again – Perhaps the tiny flickering flame of affection, growing into desire and in the future, who knows?
You died once when your last life ended.
And you are reborn into this new life.
The heart beats.
It wants to soar.
It wants to go into the unknown.
You’ve found your centre and don’t want to lose it, but your heart, the centre of it all is ready to bring you off your axis.
It is time.
The final goodbye led to the first hello. And the darkness makes the light seem so much brighter. Something different, someone different, is scary. It is the possibility of your universe being flipped upside down in a way that is beyond your control. It is two movements in one – allowing something unknown into this comfortable and familiar space that you have painstakingly built while you yourself move into an unknown dimension. It is a doorway to another part of yourself, yet undiscovered. How do you know that you will like this undiscovered self? How do you know that you won’t?
Right now the questions are being asked and not answering is no longer an option.
Will you let go?
Will you let the past rest where it belongs?
Are you going to release fear and step over a threshold into a new life?
Can you allow a glance to become a lingering look?
When someone reaches out their hand to you will you take it?
Are you ready to immerse yourself into the unfamiliarity of the future?
A million questions, and the only answer that will make a difference is…
This man is a part of my life. Even when he’s not physically here, he’s here. We have a special relationship that transcends all logic and matter. This man is my hero, but he is also my destroyer. This man makes me strong, but he can also be my weakness. This man knows how to hurt me, and I him, and along the way, we have both hurt each other and ourselves along with the other. This man makes me want to fly, but he can also bring me crashing to the ground. There is no separating this man and me. I call this man Papa.
This is not a good story, or a bad story, it is just our story.
It is the age old story of fathers and daughters, and how sometimes fathers don’t realise the effect they have on their daughters.
It is the story of my father and I.
This is part of the story that has made me who I am.
We’re too alike, but also very different. When we fight, it’s like a big explosion, and when we’re good, it’s like we’re in a bubble, just him and me. He can make me glow like no other, but he can also make me cry like no other. He was always the more affectionate parent, and in my late teens, he’d still walk down the street with an arm around my shoulder, and I’d still sit in his lap. When I think of him, he is always the life of the party. He is the kind of man who draws attention to him, and in fact thrives on that attention. One of my earlier memories is of a party at our family home, with his friends all over the place, and that big abomination of a beer tap bar thing that he had. We always had so much beer!
Just before I turned 7, life got really complicated. So began the years and years when my father would be there a moment, and gone the next. So began the years, when my mother came undone. But, as I told a friend, you have to grow up some time, and 7 is as good an age as any. It was a whirlwind. For long stretches I wouldn’t see him as he was busy with his life and then when it suited him, he would show up, and I would light up. For the longest time, I felt that he was the colour of my world and when he was gone, everything was grey. I remember bits and pieces. It was a difficult time which I remember in bits. One of the things that stood out from that time was bumping into him at a chemist with my very pregnant stepmother. That was how I knew I was going to be a sister.
That was when I realised that I was no longer a part of his family.
I was confused.
I had gone from being his princess to the person who looked in on the life that he had built. My stepmother wanted no part of me in it and he didn’t really try to give me a place in that life either. For years this was the story. He would be away when he was happy and he would come back when things didn’t go right, when he was sick, when he was jobless, when his marriage fell apart. He came like a force of nature, uprooting us from the routine we built, then he was gone, and we had to build our lives all over again.
On my 21st birthday, I found out (from my grandmother) that he had another family in Indonesia that he had not told me about and the anger that I had built for 16 years took over. I stopped taking his calls, refused to see him, and didn’t talk to him. It was not that I had stopped loving him. My love for him lived through the anger and pain, but I needed time to heal. I needed time to find myself in a place where I was not constantly waiting. Waiting for him to come home and then waiting for him to leave. I got engaged, I broke it off, moved to another country and still I didn’t feel that I was strong enough to speak to him without letting him take over my life all over again.
The year I turned 30, I called him. We spoke, we cried and without even having to try, we became father and daughter again. He sent me photos of another family that I was not part of. At least this time I was allowed some part of my brother’s life, even if only by phone. In the last couple of years, we spoke as often as we could considering the distance. When my grandmother passed, I was in my way, part of the grieving and papa spoke to my mother when he went back for the funeral. His main concern apparently, was how after all the years in university I had decided to become a yoga teacher and event manager. He didn’t understand it, but he was supportive anyway.
My baby brother knows a different man than the one I knew growing up. He might not realise this now, but among all of papa’s children, he was the one who had him around for the longest time. He didn’t know the papa who used to dance and sing along with Dan Hill. He didn’t know the papa who would walk into any restaurant and charm the waitresses with his sense of humour or the papa who loved the fast life in a casino. He never knew papa when he was wearing suits and standing in the limelight.
The relationship between a father and a daughter is so very special. Even after 10 years of no contact, it didn’t take very much for us to fix ours. A father makes all the difference, either by being present or absent. For a long time, I would love unavailable men because that was what I thought love was like. Me, waiting, always waiting for him to part the clouds and shine his light on me for but a little while, and to that girl I was, that tiny bit of light would illuminate my life for days. He might have had moments where he thought I didn’t love him enough. The truth was that I loved him so much that at times I felt that it was only when he shone his light on me that I existed. I lost my center with him because when he was around, he was my center.
On the 29th of January 2013, my father passed away.
All the things we had talked about in the last few years will never happen. He won’t ever visit me or eat my cooking again. We will not hug, hold hands, or watch stupid comedies together again. His lame dad jokes are gone forever. He won’t give me away in marriage and if I ever have children, the only thing they will know about their grandfather is from the stories I will tell them.
My father, born in the year of the dragon, left us in the year of the dragon.
He had faults and he had virtues. He was my father, but he was also just a man. He made me laugh and he made me cry. He was the one with the romantic gestures, who would send flowers for birthdays and wouldn’t be embarrassed by public displays of affection. He would text or call just to say, “I love you,” and he might never have known it, but it made all the difference to me knowing that even though he didn’t understand why I chose this path in life, he loved me anyway. He was my hero even when he was sitting around in his sarong a singlet. There were good times and there were tough times. There were times when I’d think he wasn’t listening and I’d ramble on, only to find later that he’d leaked the information to my mum, the time I got (yet another) piercing while on his watch and my mum was angry at him for months, our little singalongs, the little jokes we share. Every time I hear Deep Purple’s, Soldier of Fortune I think of him.
At the end, I hope he knew that he was loved and that he will be remembered.
And the last thing I said to him?
Well, I said what I always said at the end of our conversations, “I love you papa,” and he said, “I love you too girl.”
Every other day, someone in the wellness industry will put something up about being happy. It’s usually one of those cute little word poster design things, like the one below.
This is the world that I am a part of and I do love the people in this community but today, I’m going to play Devil’s Advocate to the ‘be happy,’ mantra. I suppose since this is an ‘industry,’ one would need something to sell, but I do wonder if selling happiness could be dangerous to the public. The way it is portrayed, it looks like being happy is the be all and end all of your purpose to life. You eat well, you exercise, you smile, you pick happy friends and that’s what life is supposed to be.
What about the other emotions that we, as humans have the capacity for? It seems to me that as we push the ‘be happy,’ mantra, we alienate the rest. Sure, the rest is not as pretty as being happy, but pushing things under the rug is just not healthy. At some point these emotions will bubble up in an eruption, and like larva flowing out of a volcano, it will burn everything in its path. Also, with the rich array of emotions that humans are capable of, happy seems to be a bit trite, and dare I say it, ‘fluffy.’
And what about the people who are going through a tough period? What if this whole idea that we are made to be happy just makes them feel like there’s something wrong with them? I have met so many people who go through a tough time and the first thing they do is think themselves ill, seeking psychological help, and medication. As the world reaches for this concept of ‘happiness,’ it is like being unhappy every once in a while is just not normal. (Note, I’m not talking about prolonged periods of depression here, but the times when one could be a bit down on energy due to any number of things including work, relationship or even physical health issues) Or worse still is the person who just doesn’t feel like going out, but with all the YOLO and ‘be happy,’ going around turns to party drugs. Why? Well, because according to the hippy trippy stuff, not being happy is somehow wrong. Because we are meant to be happy all the time. And when we are not, we are somehow lacking or unwell.
On the other side of the spectrum, there is this issue with surrounding ourselves with happy people. Sure it’s great. Happy people make other people happy, but what about that person who stuck with you while you were down in the dumps and is perhaps going through a prolonged period of misery. What if they just got divorced or if they just lost a parent? They have every right to be miserable and even angry for a while, but does that mean that you walk away because being with them makes you miserable? Does that mean that they are mentally unwell? Time is relative. Some people get over things in a month, others take a year, and it might cramp your happiness vibe but time is what a lot of people need.
I know most people mean well when they tell other people to be happy, but perhaps the message needs a bit of a revamp. Happiness is not a permanent state. It is balanced off with periods of disappointment, sadness, grief, anger, exhaustion and a myriad of other feelings. Life is like the ocean while we are this little sand castle on the beach. Sometimes you just don’t know what the waves will bring in. It can just tickle you or completely destroy you. These experiences and feelings, even though they might not be pleasant, do enrich our lives in their way.
Pushing happiness the way we do, is not honouring this fact that there are things greater than us. Actually, sometimes I feel like it’s the opposite extreme of drumming the Seven Deadly Sins in someone’s head. Difference is, the mantra, “you must not blah blah blah,” is replaced with, “you must be happy.” This idea of, “must,” “should be,” or “shouldn’t be” anything is always a dangerous one to have. It is too black and white, and if anything, as teachers, we want people to accept the greys in between.
Perhaps in this world where people come searching for something more, our message should be a kinder one, like acceptance, compassion and most of all, peace. To be happy all the time is to deny or even fight other emotions but to be at peace is to calmly accept any feelings that come with a lot of compassion and allow them to stay as long as they need to. It has an element of surrender and softness, but also a lot of strength. It is not denying or burying things in order to ‘be happy,’ but entering the space that is not happiness with a sense of acceptance. Because being human is feeling a range of emotions and we need to accept this in a way that is healthy and compassionate.
The concept of home is one that has eluded me for a long time. When my mother thinks of a piece of land or a state as home, I don’t understand it. Although I understand the concept of a ‘home’ country in my head, I don’t understand it in my heart. That idea of home being a place to land, a place that is safe where I could be my complete self and be loved for all of me is seemed only available where my maternal grandmother was. Once she passed on, no physical structure or piece of land was that place for me anymore.
Growing up, I would visit the states where my parents came from and try so very hard to feel that sense of connection and belonging that I had heard about. Both sides would say that I was too much like the other and too alien to them, and I suppose, having inherited my father’s illogical exuberance and growing up with my mother’s practicality, alien was what I was. Still I tried, getting into relationships with people who knew that concept of home. Sadly, these relationships made me feel even less like I belonged, and the harder I tried to fit in, the more lost I felt.
Through this entire period however, I would have occasional instances where I did feel that feeling of being able to let my heart rest, and just be me, accepted in all my facets – sitting in a mosque alone on a rainy day, visiting my grandmother’s grave, sitting in my room after yet another fight with my (then) fiancé, and just driving around aimlessly with the music blasting. However, I wanted more! I wanted to feel that way with people, about people, about a place, about something! I dreamt about falling in love and knowing, just knowing, that I was finally home.
So like any other practical person, I left my family, the country I was born and grew up in, and the friends I had known since childhood. All in the quest of finding a place to call home.
I won’t recount it all here but it has been a long road, filled with emotional adventures. Amazing memories have been made, beautiful friends, phenomenal broken hearts, humbling experiences, laughter, tears… you know, the usual things you see on a journey. I fell in love, and for a while thought that I’d found home, but home is a place that holds you as you change no matter how, and the kind of change I was going through didn’t turn out to be the right kind.
Then something unexpected happened. Anyone who has seen me run (with or without heels), or attempt to throw a ball knows that anything physical apart from a night on the dance floor is really not my thing. Somehow, however, flying through this life, I landed on a yoga mat. Ok, ok, I admit it wasn’t the first time… but it was the first time I stayed.
So journey continues, amazing friends (I really have been blessed to heaven and back in the friend arena), great, make that awesome hugs, amazing conversations (definitely not easy ones), more laughter (sometimes to dissipate the horror of core cultivation) and more tears (fucking hip openers, one hand on the back heart and there it goes) … and then, just silence. In the silence things started happening, and I found myself exploring what was in it.
Almost four years later, I’m still on the yoga mat, still exploring the movement, and the silence. Life has changed in leaps and bounds (oh man how life has changed). It’s like layers have been peeled off, and I am discovering more of me all the time, and the thing is, I will continue to change.
But did I find home?
Well, not in the way that I thought I would. Although I still dream of it sometimes, home didn’t turn out being the fully equipped kitchen, beautiful bath, two cats (Bruce and Selina) or yard with the vegetable patch and a German Sheppard named Butch as I’d imagined. It isn’t a country or a piece of land. It didn’t even turn out being a man.
I know you think I’m going to say that my yoga mat is home, but it really isn’t.
My yoga mat and practice were the tools that took me home.
But home really is just wherever I am, feeling safe, centered and present. It’s the moments in the morning when the sunlight streams in, watching a sleeping cat, holding a baby, lying on the grass staring at the sky, listening to music as I wander along the city, walking in the rain, sitting in meditation. It’s the peace in the chaos, and the chaos of my thoughts in the silence. It’s the book that I am currently reading, the movie I’m watching and of course, it is being on the mat breathing with loved ones and strangers alike.
Home is in the places where I can accept all of me without trying too hard and without judgment, and knowing, just knowing, that I am whole as I am.
Yes, true yoga doesn’t care about what you wear to class. In fact, it is not uncommon to see photos of Gurus sitting around in loincloth type things, but sometimes I do think about clothes and fashion. It’s difficult not to when you’re trying to balance in dancer’s pose and right there, in your line of vision is someone’s bits hanging out of their tiny yoga pants. Sure it’s not supposed to matter and it’s all about focusing on the self, but we’re all (well I am) only human, and even though you’re comfortable with your bits hanging out, other people in the class might not be. And let’s be honest, sometimes, it can get intimate enough without throwing nudity in there too.
So here are some tips because believe me, I’ve seen a lot in a yoga class, and I mean a lot!
Check your crotch… Those leggings you wear under your dress might not work in a yoga situation as they get rather thin around the crotch when you stretch. Believe me, when you go into happy baby, or standing forward fold, people can tell the colour of your undies, the style and even if you’re not wearing any. Tip – patterned pants are actually better at hiding unnecessary sights.
Loose is not always best… Sure, it’s healthy to let things down there breathe once in a while, but perhaps try sitting in baddhakonasana in front of a mirror and you’ll see what others can see when you’re lying there in supta baddhakonasana.
A sports bra is a good idea… This is personal experience which is embarrassing but I’m willing to sacrifice my dignity so it doesn’t happen to anyone else. In my early days practicing, I would do so in a tank top and a bra. I mean, this is yoga right? And I’m not dangerously massive in the boobage department so what could go wrong right? Well, wrong. I went into a downward facing dog, and peekaboo, a whole boob had decided to breathe itself out. Needless to say, I always, always make sure things are properly tucked in now.
Size matters… Even in yoga there we do tend to compare ourselves with the tiny person in the class, but there is no point getting a top which is a size smaller if you end up not being able to breathe. It is actually stressful enough with the heat and trying to keep up with the poses, and not being able to breathe properly actually will affect your practice. Nobody knows what size your top is apart from you and the sales person. And that hot yogadude? Well, he’s into acceptance. If he can calmly sit in a class where girls are regularly breaking down in tears, the size of your clothes won’t matter.
Save ‘hanging out’ for other times… Please, stay clear of the loose floaty shorts. You can wear them to basketball if you enjoy a bit of bounce, but not to yoga. And for the love of God, please don’t ever wear them to class without underwear. When people stand behind you in airplane, they see the entire lay of the land, and don’t even think of supta baddhakonasana! Sometimes the heat and general lethargy makes it really hard to concentrate as it is, and seeing things we shouldn’t really doesn’t help.
People know you want to keep things in place but… sometimes your pants are too tight. Yes, you are God’s miracle and we know it, we just don’t need to be reminded of it in every bridge, wheel, camel and reclining hero.
Those tiny Bikram pants or budgie smugglers… Might be great in 40 degree heat, but they don’t exactly stay in place when you’re in poses like Natarajasana. Nuff said.
If you still love your tiny pants and don’t want to give them up, then maybe a G-string or a thong? Just something to hold the bits in place, for the sake of the person who is having a hard enough time as it is trying to centre and balance.
Taking your tops off is fine in most cases but maybe might be overkill in a yin or meditation class. Again, we know you are God’s beautiful miracle, but perhaps allow for the opportunity to connect with God (or any higher power) instead of your gorgeous chaturanga pecs in the slower classes? Most of the people who come in are just starting to work into this area and believe me, starting a meditation practice is hard enough without the distraction of your beauty.
Guys and girls
The colour of what you wear says a lot… especially if it’s a heated class where you’re sweating. Believe me, it tells people almost everything. As a friend of mine said, “are you trying to say white and sweat don’t mix- or in actual fact they do a little too well and transparency follows- so it might be a shade to avoid?”
I love yoga a lot more than I love fashion but the thing about yoga becoming more and more popular is that there are more and more things available for various yoga practices. Although it’s not about brands, the availability of them does make it easier for us modern day yogis and yoginis. Brands like Lululemon Athletica (apart from that one see thru fiasco), Onzie, Lorna Jane, Liquido Active and so many more make clothes to keep the important bits covered so that you can practice comfortably. Even your trusty trackies will work as long as you’re comfortable and things are held in place. The important thing is to choose what you’re wearing based on what you’re practicing be it a strong flowing practice in a heated room or a more static practice.
If you have anything to add to this list, please do so in the comments box.
And check out some of these amazing teachers, they’re dressed 🙂
Edits by the Shunti Sisters
My late father was an ‘I love you,’ type of person. Sometimes he would call or text just to say that. No matter what kind of day I was having just those three simple words made it better. As simple as they were, the last four months without those simple calls and texts has left a hole in my universe.
It’s a whole big phenomenon this ‘I love you,’ or rather, the simple, ‘love you,’ syndrome, and the varying reactions to it.
What does saying it mean to you?
A few years ago, with the main people I spent my time with then, the L word was saved for parents and partners, very rarely for friends. If I had said that I loved them they would have thought that I was either high on drugs or drunk, which was my natural state back then anyway. Never would I have said it while sober! First, it would make me feel way too vulnerable, and second, things would have gotten very weird very quickly. I was even in a long term relationship where it was never said. Well he probably really didn’t love me, but I did. I just didn’t want to say it because I was afraid he wouldn’t say it back… again, things would have gotten weird. More than anything, it was my fear that held me back.
Nowadays however, I find that a lot of my phone calls, texts and meetings end with ‘love you!’ Sure, there is that sense of vulnerability. Even with friends, if you love them, you’d hope that they loved you back too. In that vulnerability however, is also that sense of freedom.
Why do we get so weird about saying simple words to people we are close to? And why do we get weird when someone close says it to us? When did loving and being loved become a negative thing? You’d think in a world where things are being blown apart because of hate, having someone tell you that they love you would be a good thing.
Perhaps some people feel a sense of responsibility when they tell someone they love them, like they have to be there for them ALL the time. Perhaps it is that idea that if you love someone, you have to be with them forever. But do you really? Love is big. It carries through distance and space. Even when our journey with someone ends, it doesn’t mean that the love has to. I have friends who have moved all the way across the world, and just because I can’t see them all the time, it doesn’t mean that I don’t love them.
When I had my dad, knowing that I was loved made a difference to my day and my life. Knowing that I was loved and that my dad had my back gave me the courage to walk away and not take crap from people who sucked up the love I gave them but had nothing to give back. And more than that, knowing that I could tell people that I loved them without them shutting down, gave me a sense of liberation. Love is this strange element where the more you give, the more you get back. It’s like that little speck you throw out into the universe rolls around, gathering particles and growing, and it comes back, big enough to envelope you.
The only dilemma I see with being a ‘love you,’ sort of person is when it comes to loving in that way, convincing and being convinced that that’s the case, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.
So it’s Friday. If you love someone, tell them (only do this if you really love them however, doing it to get laid or to get something out of it is just unethical), and if someone says it to you, accept it.
Until next time, I love you!
As I reach my 33rd year, and with this new moon in Aries, I am thinking a lot about new beginnings.
Something shifted this year. An old life ended, and a new one is just beginning. Bhairava https://azphoenix.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/the-terror-of-my-own-universe/ has been my companion for a while. What I feel is akin to falling in love – my heart is ready to float out of my chest into the unknown, but I am terrified. What was before was familiar, but what is coming is unchartered territory. I can’t go back. I’ve been pushed out of a door that shut and bolted itself right behind me, and strangely all I can think of is my hair.
Why do you wear your hair the way you do? It is part of your identity, the person you want to show the world. A good hair day makes you feel good and a bad one can sometimes stop you from stepping out of the house. Women through history have perfumed their hair on special occasions. Even Muslim women who wear the head cover pays attention to her hair, brushing it until it shines. A successful courtesan tends to her hair painstakingly. When a Hasidic Jewish woman gets married she either shaves off all her hair or wears it very short under a wig. When a person completes the Islamic Haj, he or she is required to cut off a bit of hair to signify a new beginning. The power of symbolism is that one simple act can signify a million different things to different people.
Sometimes it’s not about the hair at all. It is an act that signifies something greater.
And there is something romantic, beautiful and strong about this kind of symbolic act.
Symbolism through history has had a strong impact. It is the ring on a finger, the burning of old love letters, the tombstone for a person whose body was lost at sea, the solidarity of standing silently in protest. After intentions are made, a symbolic act gives something just that much more strength. Like Abraham’s sacrifice of a ram instead of his son, a symbolic act can be an act of devotion, of surrender.
The practice of yoga, is amazing for the physical body but it also feeds our souls with posture that signify more than the obvious. There is mountain pose symbolizing the balance of Ardhanaishvara even without perfect symmetry. There is Hanuman Asana, signifying the devotion of the Monkey God as he leaped to Sri Lanka to rescue the beautiful Sita. In Natarajasana, there the peace and balance of Lord Shiva in the face of destruction. Then there is Shavasana, corpse pose, signifying that all things must end. And of course there are the mudras, each a symbol of the intention.
So based on all this, this year, I feel like something symbolic is needed, so I did something terrifying.
I chopped off all my hair.
The last time I did this I was 19 and fearless. At that age, I fell hard and fast, mourned deeply and then would do it all over again the next week. I didn’t worry if any man would find my short hair attractive and if I didn’t have dates, then I would find something else to do (getting caught smoking by the campus guard and running because we thought it was a ghost perhaps?). We did stupid things, and then we laughed about them. Life was simpler, and so was I.
Without my mane, I feel a bit exposed, vulnerable. A lot more visible are the wrinkles, the dark circles, the freckles that I’ve just recently stopped trying to cover with makeup. More than that, every emotion I feel seen through eyes that can’t be hidden with a flip of the hair. In cutting it all off, I am allowing myself to be vulnerable.
So this is my act of surrender along with an intention to let go of the past and a prayer for the future. This is my goodbye, hello, sacrifice, gratitude, asking for blessing, forgiving and asking for forgiveness, letting go of love and inviting love in, shedding old skin so that a new one can take shape. This is me allowing myself to stop waiting for my father to come home. This is one book closing so that a new chapter can begin.
A symbolic act need not be great. It doesn’t have to mean anything to anyone but you. It can be as simple as a new journal or as complicated as a move to a different country. It can be laying your forehead down on the mat in surrender, or holding your hands in a mudra. What matters most is the intention behind it. It is your journey, your choice, your story. Doing something symbolic is, in itself, a form of therapy.
What symbolic acts would you like to bring in to your life, your practice, and perhaps to seal your intentions?
From January 2013 I taught a yoga class in Hyde Park on Wednesday evenings. It was a free class mostly of friends and friends of friends, affectionately named “Hump Day Yoga.” As of last week however, due to the weather change and the dark that creeps up on us earlier, Hump Day Yoga is no longer is session.
It was bittersweet for me.
As a teacher, I get attached to my students, and a part of me wishes they could be with me for as long as I can teach. I love seeing how they progress from week to week, and the fluidity of how my class plans change as they change. I love the banter that goes on, and how they have become comfortable enough to bring themselves into child’s pose when they need it. I love seeing them grow in strength and flexibility and how they brave the dark spaces in meditation. And I love how this beautiful group of people has made a mid-week yoga session a platform to reconnect, build new connections and to have proper, honest conversations. For some of them, this was the first step into an unknown world and I thank them for sharing the experience with me.
As a student however, I understand that this journey is a personal one. You meet teachers that speak to you and you might travel with them for a while. Then the time comes when you might go your separate ways. You need the space to explore your practice, perhaps try different styles, and listen to different ways of being told things.
The space on the mat does not exist in a bubble, you come in carrying the weight of your day, your diet, the sleepless nights and injuries on a physical, mental and emotional level. When we get onto the mat, we don’t leave the rest of us behind. My Hump Day students have become comfortable with that and know that it’s perfectly fine to take breaks, and to have a laugh when they need.
The role of the teacher is but to guide, and offer a safe space for people for self enquiry and self exploration. However, a teacher too brings all that they are into class. When I started teaching, I worried about bringing my personality into class, of being vulnerable and open with my students, but Hump Day Yoga allowed me to learn to relax.
We are all a work in progress, as students, as teachers, as human beings. In our journey we will meet people who open doors for us to get to the next level of our work and we make the choice to walk through that door or not. So I thank my Hump Day Yogis for three months of beautiful practice and for both opening the door for me, and stepping into the invitation I sent to you. You were as much my teachers as you were my students, and may our practices continue to grow so that we can bring more into our future meetings.
Some of the Hump Day Yogis speak about their practice here:
“Yoga is a great de-stressing activity for me. I am able to clear my mind of all pressures outside of the class and just focus on me, my body and my mind. This mid-week yoga session is exactly what I needed. As I lay on the ground at the end of the class staring at the tree branches and evening sky, nothing else mattered. I was relaxed, at peace and had no worries.”
– Shady Lim, Marketing Manager , http://www.shadytravels.com/2013/03/how-i-de-stress.html
“Hump Day Yoga (HDY) is why I love my Wednesdays.
Why do I love it so much?
I get to de-stress, BREATH, and challenge myself during this 75 minute session, but it’s also about the people sharing their day, week & their life with you. It helps me achieve a level of physical exercise and a mental fulfilment.”
– Jenny Schnell, Client Services Manager
“A few month ago, I faced one of the biggest challenges in my life and I needed to find myself again. Thats when a long time lost friend Az invited me to her yoga sessions and it was truly uplifting experience to reconnect with friends that I hadn’t seen in a while and with myself that I had been brutally tough on. Az would always bring stories and wise words for every one to think about and Id come out of the class not only physically balanced but also mentally empowered. Although it was for a short term but I personally really enjoyed the experience and am grateful that I was a part of it.”
– Nina Jung, Marketing Manager, http://www.junglebananas.com/
‘Azra’s yoga classes are fun! A playful yoga teacher, Az’s deep knowledge of yoga generally and her own practice shine through more and more each week. I am looking forward to being guided by her for years to come. Namaste my friend.’
– Meriana Baxter, Yoga Teacher
For a while after my last relationship ended, I gave this whole non-attachment thing a go.
On the one hand, I get it. Imagine being so attached to the outcome of getting into a full split that you literally split your hamstring at the seams, or me being so attached to the number of ‘likes’ I get to my blog that it loses all essence of me. On a larger scale it could be getting so attached to the idea of “success” that you shut down your conscience. Then there is the classic – changing who you are for the outcome of making a relationship last (been there, done that, still learning).
There is the other side of it though. In order to become a monk, one must let go of all attachments. This is not limited to iPods, apartments and cars. These amazing individuals renounce EVERYTHING – their names, their families, and the thought of ever building a home with someone. Even outside the monastery, there are people who have adopted this philosophy of non- attachment – moving fluidly from place to place and relationship to relationship. Hey, if it suits them, why not?
However, after trying it out, I wonder if it isn’t, in essence, a cop out. What is falling in love if not allowing yourself to get attached to some degree? Allowing yourself to want another in your life for a certain period of time? This is not just limited to romantic love. It could be love for anything or anyone. Some people feel things like this strongly. When they put their roots down, it grounds so deep into the earth that replanting would mean snipping off some parts of themselves. When they love, they love fully, no holding back. For such people, perhaps not getting attached in the first place is more a matter of self preservation.
Imagine falling in love with no holding back. One moment you would be this solid entity and the next you would dissolve into the relationship you were in. Or finding a book you love, letting yourself just dive in, characters becoming real for you and for a few days, just disappearing into the story. Fabulous isn’t it?
Unfortunately, being this also means that when you cry it is with abandon. Yours are not the pretty tears that can come and go in a second. In fact, you often need to make sure that you are alone when you are sad as it takes over you and you need a few days to get through it.
Compared to all that, non-attachment is the much safer option.
Then I remember what it was like to fall in love, and what it was like to even think about building a future with someone, dreaming, imagining. The connections I made to friends and families. And I think about the end of the relationships I had in my life – The sadness, the anger, the tears that flowed for days. How everything broke open and left me a gaping wound.
And you know what?
I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
Sure I am working on how to preserve myself a little more than I used to. My mentor Mel keeps reminding me to hold my heart in a little bit because if I don’t I’ll end up breaking my back, both physically and energetically. This is especially as a yoga teacher where putting my heart out there would just leave me an exhausted mess, no good for anyone in the long run.
However, it was the range of emotions that I have gone through that have given my life meaning. It is the beautiful sunshine, radiance of light, heavy storms, winter cold and everything in between that has made me grow. Even though severing roots hurt like hell, every time I rooted down, I was touching someone and making a connection that in turn, made my life more. Total non-attachment to me is like living in a safe greenhouse while being connected is like being out in the elements, living life to its full range.
Although some of the people in my past were not worth it, my own growth was worth every bit of pain. Every tear cried, every time my heart shattered into a million pieces, they made me more of me as much as the happy laughter and hugs. So although I will continue working on holding on to my personal space, I do so with intention to allow myself the space for healthy attachment and connection because otherwise, what use would teaching and touching be?
What will you choose?
You know how sometimes you listen to people talk about things and your brain just goes, “Oh my fucking nuts, I do that!” Except you don’t really want to admit it so instead you tell the friend next to you, “yeah, I’m a bit like that….” A bit… the understatement of, like, forever.
That was me last weekend.
One of those “aha” moments that I didn’t particularly like.
I had gone with a friend of mine to listen to a lovely lady speak about her life experiences. She spoke about hanging on to life too tightly and trying to steer things, therefore not allowing life to flow as it should.
Hey, we all do that don’t we? We see this road towards our goal and just drive down it with a one track mind, not enjoying the view, and sure as hell not taking into account that there are many roads to this destination.
It was a hard pill to swallow for me. I mean, look at me! I’ve been fucking practicing yoga five times a week for at least the past year. Resistance? What resistance? I’m all over this ‘surrender’ shit, aren’t I?
Well, no, I am not.
Control freak tendencies are hard to kill. And to be honest, they’re not all bad. One doesn’t make it through tough childhoods, uninteresting university days, crappy relationships, shitty jobs and keep going through life’s general mishaps without a certain degree of control. One definitely cannot manage a store, an event, or even a blog for that matter, without some controlling tendencies.
But like everything in life, these tendencies have a dark side.
Sometimes we get used to being in control that we can’t just settle down and chill the fuck out – in life, in work, in relationships. It is especially apparent for people who have been alone for a long time.
I realized that at the beginning of this year, I was holding on so tightly that my jaw had fused together. I was trying to navigate life exactly as I wanted it to go. Although I can bend my body to touch my toes, otherwise, I could be very inflexible and unaccommodating.
Then there was this big explosion. I was stunned and dropped the tight reins I had on life.
And guess what?
Well, I spent a few days in bed crying, that’s a given, but without me grabbing onto life like my life depended on it, life went on.
Life. Went. On.
I just went along for the ride. And here I find myself – another incarnation, another road.
Even as it flows now, sometimes I feel my resistance rising and sometimes telling myself to back down is easier said than done. Letting the currents flow is a scary experience. Not knowing is frightening. For one who is used to driving life, this is a foreign experience. A humbling experience because I now know that I try to steer this vehicle called life. And love, I try to steer that too… always holding on and holding back.
But life is bigger than me. I can hold on and steer all I like but with one gentle nudge I can be thrown off my seat and it flows again. And we learn to accept the things that are difficult because life goes on.
No holding back.
And we ride as we should.
Live for a few days in the meditation,
“I am immersed in the flame-
The flame of time,
The flame of love,
The flame of life.
The universal fire flows through me.
It took me almost two and a half years of regular practice before I even attempted sitting in meditation on my own. Even with my eyes closed and no mirrors, and although I have been celibate for a while now, I know I look nothing like the picture of the monk meditating on the mountaintop. And I sure as hell don’t feel like it most of the time.
Every meditation is different. Some days I am on this cloud of euphoria, others I would be in tears, then are the days when conversations go on with the 50 people living in my head, or worse still, conversations with people in my life, played in BluRay on the canvas of my brain. Other days reining myself in is akin to trying to tame a dragon.
There are days when there is this dance going on inside me and it reaches a climatic point of ecstasy, followed by a long exhale and total bliss. An internal orgasm, where the universe inside me is fucked into a state of euphoria.
Then there are days where the thoughts just pass by like clouds and my attention is centered on the sensations over and under my skin and the steady beating of my heart.
And occasionally, I fall asleep.
Because no two times are the same and absolute stillness and focus almost an impossibility, I though that I was meditating wrong.
You can have a million meditation guides but truthfully, nobody has the roadmap to what goes on inside you.
Then last weekend I spent some time with meditation guru, Dr. Lorin Roche http://www.lorinroche.com/. With Lorin’s playfulness and sense of mischief, we explored the teachings of the Vajnana Bhairava Tantra. Lorin’s approach to meditation makes you feel like there is no need to become a poster, that meditation, like yoga is something completely personal and that you are free to explore what works for you. You welcome every part of you into the seat of your meditation, even the ones that you might not be overly fond of. It is a place where you find love for yourself and perhaps even send love to others. He made me feel like I had not been failing the meditation exam after all. There was so much acceptance and security that for a while, I even forgot myself and danced with the words of the texts.
And there’s that word – Bhairava, meaning “terrible.”. It is that place where you want to go forward but you are petrified. I realised that a lot of times, this is exactly how I feel when I’m in yoga class – being upside down was it for me for a long time, and then meditation.
Not everyone is but I am – Scared.
But it’s perfectly fine to be.
Step into that fire wholeheartedly,
Starting with the big toe,
Then surrendering everywhere.
Only the not-self,
Which doesn’t exist anyway,
And I am not doing it wrong after all.
Meditation is not the celibate monk on the mountaintop.
Shit comes up in meditation because we have a life. The monk on the mountaintop has renounced all their connections. We have not and in meditation is where we can deal with the emotional drama, separate the stories from the reality. Like a massage where the therapist needs to dig in to the tissue to release it, so meditation sometimes allows us space to dig into our emotional tissue in order to release it.
It is a limitless exploration of our universe which includes all of us – our thoughts, bodies, emotions, the parts we like, and the parts we might not. Ever pulsating. Ever changing. A vortex of instances that are occuring. Atoms and particles forever moving. Light and dark, eternally dancing. Sometimes slow and gentle, sometimes wild and free.
It can be utter stillness or an internal pulsation, or even a dance party under our skin.
Just like there is more than one path to life, there is more than one path to meditation.
It is an exploration, looking inside with wonder and finding our own journey to ecstasy.
It is the burning away of the not-self.
For me, meditation is sometimes like stepping on a cloud and sometimes stepping into a flame. I never know what might come up. It is a continual exploration. I now go into this state of terror with the question, “what have you got for me today?”
Attend to this continually,
And awaken into tranquillity.
Your essence is renewed in the flame,
For the flame knows itself as flame
Since the first heartbeat of creation.
Verses from the Radiance Sutras, Verse 29.
There is a string at the tip of your thoughts.
See it change colour.
Keep following and again it changes colour. The texture of the string changes too, from smooth velvet to jangled, dark and murky grey. A bit like something that has been put through a crimper, almost impossible to be straightened out again. On you go, following this string into a place where it spreads become thick and fluffy, like cotton candy, like soft wool. It is so comfortable that you just want to lay there in it, enjoying the softness, but something pushes you forward and on you go. The string becomes barbed wire, covered in thorns. You want to turn back but you can’t so forward you go, fingers bleeding and tears stinging your eyes. The climb is endless, the journey long.
There is a whole world to discover, but you haven’t moved at all.
This universe inside you is a journey unto itself.
You want to go back to the comfortable places, the safe havens, the bits that give you something beautiful to hold on to, but sometimes, sometimes, you are just attracted to the crimped pieces of string, the barbed wires, the places where you bleed and cry. You stay there for a bit, and it too becomes comfortable. In time, you learn to let go, and the string smooths itself out.
All it needed was your time, your attention, and your forgiveness.
This is meditation. This is where you listen to the stories in your head – the darkness, the light and everything in between. Here is where you open to the grey areas within your soul.
In this space of silence you find yourself.
It is no place you haven’t been before. But perhaps, there is a place that needs your acceptance and your love.
And then let it dissolve.
Follow the string of your thoughts. It is but a guide to the vast space of silence that lies within you….
He said, “you think you’re a lady, but I know you’re a woman….”
This morning, I find myself thinking of the first line of the song, ‘Love Puts on a New Face,’ by Joni Mitchell, thinking about the difference between a lady and a woman. Is there even a difference at all? When I was growing up, there wasn’t much talk about being a woman. A girl became a woman when she got her period.
But a lady… ah becoming a lady required some effort beyond the physical.
What is a lady though?
When I was in growing up, being a ‘lady,’ was a desirable trait. It ensured that you were respected and that you ended up married to a gentleman. Among the rules of becoming a lady included speaking well, having good manners, keeping your eyes open and your legs closed. Sure I agree with having good manners and speaking well, but shouldn’t that be everyone?
As I grew up, I realised that these rules were just the tip of the iceberg, and that there were more lists to come. All you need to do is open a women’s magazine, and it will give you all these lists – what to do to be such and such, what to say, how your romantic life should be, what to do on the first date, the games you have to play. I’m not a reader of men’s magazines but I’m sure they are also full of instructive and useful tips. To be normal nowadays, you would have read at least one self help book in your life, one that’s got yet even more tips. And of course, in the wellness world there are tips on how much you exercise, how often, and of course, what you should (or rather should not) be eating.
While we become a people who are intellectually intelligent, have we lost the ability to find things out for ourselves?
Let’s look at this. There was a time when there (oh my god!!!) there were no magazines to tell you what to eat. You’d eat something, and then if you felt muggy, heavy or just not right in your body, you would not eat it anymore. Same goes for a workout routine. Feeling a bit sore is great, feeling your muscles stretch and work is great, but you have to be aware of the difference of discomfort and pain. In a yoga practice, discomfort is something you work with. It’s your edge and as you keep working, the edge grows further away. Pain… well, that’s that red flag that goes ‘ouch!’ and if that’s what you feel, adjust, or even find a replacement pose. And instructor will get you to do poses, but you always know your body best.
And you do. You know yourself best. You know what feels right in your body, and more than that, you know what feels right said out loud.
When someone you like asks you out and you have the urge to jump up for joy, why not just do it? Jump. Cheer. Give yourself a high five if you want. But oh wait… some magazine said that you shouldn’t be over-enthusiastic right? You have to play these stupid games so that it looks like they’re more into you than you are into them. That way, if it doesn’t work out, although your heart might hurt, your ego remains intact, right?
There’s that fucking ego again.
All these rules, all these lists, all these have tos , have not tos and don’t you dare do thats!?.
Maybe it’s because while we are following lists, things become intellectual pursuits. Once we let go of these lists and start feeling, then it becomes complicated. Lists keep things black and white, but once we go into sensation, there are a million colours in between and sometimes the colours blur into each other. It’s fucking scary. There is no ‘scientific proof’ in the world of feelings, and sometimes things can collide. Anger and love. Hate and compassion. Sadness and fear. A lady and a whore. A mother and a lover. A gentleman and a villain. Desire and distaste.
But perhaps, it’s simpler than that… Perhaps we follow these lists for the one basic thing – the fear of being unloved.
As for me, I’m going to give up trying to be a lady or a woman for that matter. I want to just be – to make mistakes and say stupid things, to just swear when appropriate (not at parents or elders though, that’s just basic human decency and respect), and to just be OK with myself when I’ve eaten more than 500 calories a day plus a bag of chips, when my dress size is not a 6, and when I fall over while demonstrating a pose in class.
Because you know what?
Sometimes a perfect life comes is made up of many imperfect moments.
So yeah, let’s all throw out the bloody lists and work on the areas between the blacks and the whites.
Edited by Cazz Eccles: http://lovewhatitloves.wordpress.com/
Up until very recently, I worked within the corporate world. Some people think the corporate world is great while others don’t really have the time of day for the greed of the bigger organisations.
Yes, let us be honest in saying that some organisations just cannot justify their existence.
For a time, I had started taking an aerial view and trying to find meaning in my daily work. What I came up with, in a nutshell, was this; I worked for an organisation that existed to make a profit. There are many reasons an organisation can exist – to educate, develop people or create a platform for something or other, i.e. provide a service. However, in a lot of smaller organisations, the desire to make a buck within a world of ever increasing costs often got in the way of other things, like actually having a purpose, unrelated to making a buck.
The world is a tough place to live in. If you work in corporate, you would spend at least 40 hours a week in the office. Your colleagues often end up knowing you better than your partner does. You’re together at work, then you’re stressed and you go out for drinks with colleagues. You talk, and let’s be honest, office affairs are so common nobody even blinks when one happens. After traffic, TV, etc, a person might spend about two hours a day with their partner. TWO hours? Compared to the eight hours they spend with their colleagues.
Sometimes I feel like what we are outside of the office doesn’t matter much, or rather, we spend so much time in the ‘office persona,’ we forget that we are individuals outside of this organisation. People who don’t ‘fit in’ or conform with the mould might get the work done, but they don’t get the promotion. And of course, there is the ego stroking that’s required when you work for petty people. Of course, not everyone is like this. I once had a CEO who knew I swore like a sailor and wouldn’t think twice about kicking a rude bastard out of a store. He gave me free reign and in turn, I ran his store like it was my own baby. Fuck, the man could be a politically incorrect ass, asking you the most direct and personal questions but, he knew the people who worked with him and how to make them tick.
Going back to being a corporate robot, at some point, we forget that we are a separate entity with our own thoughts and desires, and we become part of the ‘we.’ Oh the dreaded ‘we’. You think you’re immune, well next time you’re on the phone with a client or talking to your friends about work, just watch yourself. Suddenly it becomes, ‘we this,’ and ‘we that,’ and ‘we think,’ or ‘we feel.’ When did this ‘we’ happen? Do you even agree with some of the things that ‘we feel’ should be done? Sometimes it was someone else’s idea and you don’t really buy into it, but to show a ‘publicly united’ front, you have suddenly become part of the fucking ‘we.’ To be fair though, it’s not just the corporate world. You could be working in McDonald’s, and still be part of their ‘we.’ If like me, you’ve ever managed a retail store, there might come a point where you forget where you begin and the store ends.
Has our existence been reduced to our professional roles? When we first meet someone, one of the first five questions that we ask is what they do for a living. I suppose up to a certain level, it tells us something about them, but does it define them? My late father was defined by his profession. I remember him working from 7:00am to 7:00pm on most days. For his work, he gave up a lot of things that he loved, including soccer, tennis and whatever else he liked. Then when he was no longer part of that big ‘we,’ he wasn’t really part of anything else. He had spent so much time at work that he forgot about the other things in his life, like being a father, a son, a brother.
I too had lost myself a few times. Being caught up in the ‘we’ through the day, I found that at the end of the day there was no space for ‘me’. I was too tired to know what I wanted as a person and my brain has been in ‘we’ mode so much that I couldn’t state what I desired or needed as an individual. I could make good decisions when it came to the company, but could hardly make any when it came to anything else.
Us humans, we are pack animals, even when we don’t admit it. We belong within community, but modern life has broken down traditional communities. More time is spent at work than talking to neighbours and the desire for gossip, which to be honest, can be just a bonding exercise among neighbours is fulfilled by watching reality television and reading gossip magazines. Oh don’t even get me fucking started on TV addiction and what that’s done to our ability to connect to people, have conversations and be part of a community. We are making up for grassroots community by becoming part of the manufactured concrete community, filling our desire to be part of a ‘we,’ at the office before we go home and sit in front of the TV or some gaming console.
I don’t know why it is, but perhaps it makes us feel bigger when we are dealing with strangers. Or perhaps it makes us feel like we belong. Or simply, perhaps it just makes us feel like we are less alone. Either way, just take time to observe, perhaps you are so much more part of the ‘we’ than you care to admit. And perhaps, nowadays it’s not so much about bringing your personal life into the work space as it is about letting your work take precedence over your personal life.
Edited by Cazz Eccles: http://lovewhatitloves.wordpress.com/
Last weekend on the 10th of February 2013, we welcomed the year of the Snake according to the Lunar Calendar. In Hindu philosophy, the God of Destruction, Shiva wears a garland of snakes around his neck. In Christianity the serpent is depicted as being a creature of Satan. The serpent is depicted as Shakti, or pure consciousness in Kundalini yoga. As your Kundalini rises, she undulates, climbing your spine to rise through the crown of your head and meet her lover, Shiva.
Legendary empress Cleopatra ended her own life by allowing a poisonous snake to bite her. The serpent has been depicted as the symbol of evil power and chaos, but also of fertility, life and healing.
The thing is though, although beautiful and mesmerising, the serpent (or naga) is not something you could ever know everything about. It is a mystery creature that dances with such grace, and you never know when it could strike.
I like snakes. Like the comfortable weight of one as it slithers across my shoulders, arms or legs. Like the way they are just so emotionally in tune that they can just pick up when someone starts to panic. Like the cool sensuality of this majestic animal as it moves, seemingly without any rush, and how it looks at you, like it knows something. And yes, secretly, I like the thrill of having something calm, yet dangerous close to me, something so smooth, yet so strong that it could crush me in its’ embrace.
As the snake slithered into our lives this year, I found myself going through even more changes. Like beautiful Satya, one of my teacher, said recently, the coming of the snake [in a way] signifies a shedding of skin. How much more could let go of? In the last 18 months, among the things that had been shed from my life included a relationship, some friends, an apartment I had lived in for three years, and my role as papa’s little girl, along with some addictions including my beloved cigarettes. Surely I’ve shed enough already right? Well, Someone out there has opposing views, as on Monday, I also shed a job in the corporate world.
Am I scared?
Of course I am.
I am petrified!!!
But there’s also a small thrill inside me.
It is the same thrill I feel when I snake is slithering over my skin. In this thrill is also a sense of sensual aliveness. Life has me in its unrelenting grasp as it slithers all over me. At the slightest provocation, it could squeeze me and break me.
What comes next? Only time will tell.
So my loved ones, as we welcome the serpent into our lives, what are you ready to shed? What thrills await you? What sensuous journeys will you take? And most of all, will you be calm as the serpent does what it must?
Edited by Cazz Eccles, Word Warriors: http://lovewhatitloves.wordpress.com/
I’ve been single and celibate for about 18 months now; my mother thinks that that’s a long time for me to be single bearing testimony to how co-dependent I was through my twenties.
Right now, being single seems appropriate, but today of all days, I have to admit to myself that there is something I miss—kissing.
Well not just kissing, because I get a lot of that in life, but heart palpitating, show stopping, push me against the wall and leave stubble burns on my face kissing.
My first kiss was rather uneventful; actually, I remember it happening, but don’t remember the details.
I was a kid, if you can call 17 a kid, that is (so sue me—I was more interested in books than boys and considering how teenage boys don’t seem to value the importance of a shower, you can’t really blame me). And yes, he was a teenager too (a bit younger than me actually); we had no clue and it was nice and cute and he became my boyfriend for a month.
Actually, although the kissing was alright, I was not ready to deal with the other things that came with it.
And I got better at not running for the hills (refer to top, I flipped over and became co-dependent)…but I digress.
Sometimes, it’s a stranger you meet and before exchanging names, you’ve somehow started this amazing conversation, not really knowing who kissed whom and really not caring because you don’t want it to stop. Then, the evening ends and you have the choice to either go on or say goodbye, no regrets either way (well actually, if you’re drunk, probably more regrets if you go on).
And then there is that kiss where somehow, without a word, you just reach this mutual agreement and before you know it, fingers are in hair, bodies are pressed against each other and you are just ready to let go and risk drowning—that moment when every sensation starts where your lips are meeting. Where time no longer exists and you can explore each others’ lips for hours.
Like wine though, some kisses get better with time and the familiarity breeds a certain confidence.
Those moments when you’re walking down an alley and he just presses you against a wall and gives you the deepest kiss, and suddenly, you’re burning up, wanting more—a tease, a promise, a debt to be collected in private.
There are the gentle kisses when you wake up in the morning, a greeting, soft as a morning breeze.
A kiss can say so many things:
I love you.
I want you.
I am yours.
Oh how I miss it, especially the ones where there is surrender and nothing else; not a surrender to him, or him to you, but a surrender to the kiss.
You know without a doubt, that you are safe. And you forget about the laundry or movie that’s playing or the yoga practice that you’re missing and you are just present, making the moment last into many moments; allowing the kiss to take you wherever it wants to.
Man, did I tell you how much I miss kissing?
As featured on: http://www.elephantjournal.com/
You know how sometimes the universe hits you once, and while you’re still reeling from that, it hits you once more, just for good measure? You’re already down on your knees. Another hit and your chin ends up on the floor. Some days it’s expected, but there are times when you’re just not prepared, but then, when are we ever prepared for life’s big events?
Think of those days. Perhaps when you’re in a prolonged extended side angle, knowing that the next step is to fly. The sweat is flowing freely from your body. You ready yourself, walking that back foot forward, prepared to fly into a standing bird of paradise, and then you find, what’s this? That foot, the one you so want up in the air, simply does not want to get off the ground. Fuck. You fidget, move, squirm, but it just isn’t feeling right. Your body has detached itself from your mind and just won’t do what it should.
Then there are days when the world just doesn’t look great, when although the sun is shining, your heart is hurting. Work is just doesn’t inspire you, or the baby can’t stop crying, or the spouse is being a pain in the ass, and there’s nobody to talk to because everyone is just drowning in their own crap. And you’re pretty sure that if you spoke to someone, anyone, you’d just get pissed off anyway.
Now think of those days, and enlarge it to a grand scale where not just your body is not up to task, but your emotions feel like they’ve been put through a shredder.
Some times in life, you just want to tell the whole world to just fuck off because you have absolutely nothing to give right now. Beep. Beep. Call back at a later date… you’re just a bit shattered at the moment.
You take one step forward, then the universe pushes you down the flight of steps, and your goal looks about as close to you as Mount Olympus does. You’re just so tired that there are just no more tears to cry.
Some days are just a bit shit.
Some days are a lot shit.
So what do you do? Grab the nearest bottle of strong alcohol? Go out on the town and pick up? Spend days in the stupor of being stoned?
Or maybe just bury it all in some hippy-trippy affirmation.
The reality of it is just that sometimes, you’re just not happy. In fact, there are times when you’re just absolutely devastated and you’re not sure if you can make the effort to even breathe.
Our modern world dictates that we should be OK all the time, to work, to hangout with friends, to get on with life. We life in a society where the dark side is often hidden under layers of fake happiness, but at the end of the day, you want to be real, even if it means being a bit raw. Even if it means staying in child’s pose for a bit longer so our hearts can recover.
Because you know what?
That’s the fucked up reality of life, and perhaps it makes sense to be OK with just not being OK. It’s not all roses and rainbows. There are days that are going to be dark and dreary, and occasionally, it’s just about sitting there in the darkness without trying to force a light.
Sometimes, there’s nothing left to do but to be broken and to be fine with it – And perhaps, somewhere in the broken pieces, life will reshape itself and move into the next incarnation.