One in Four – A Walk through Shadow and Flame

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.

It is a process of riding the waves day by day, and a transformation through fire. At the other side awaits a stronger person with more compassion and so much more love for self and others.0c136b5c56fd13046766ee65c4826572-d6ha2cv

Landing

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’.

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The Journey Home

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.

Follow the road...

Follow the road…

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.

Confessions of a Commitment Phobe

This morning, I read an opinion piece on how “Prince Harry must marry.” Honestly, I have been the target of such speeches for a while.  It’s not uncommon in my family to be an over 30 single woman, but there are still comments on how bouts of tempers could be cured by “marrying her off.” Being one of these tempestuous women, I can confidently say that the temper tantrums are not cured by any means. They’re just given another target. Confession – I almost walked out of my own engagement because they were late. How’s that for a temper tantrum? In hindsight of course, I should have walked out, but that’s a different story altogether.

The truth is, when someone speaks to me about marriage, more specifically mine, suddenly I can’t breathe. Mention the words “husband,” or “wife,” and I suddenly feel my blood pressure drop, and have to sit down for a bit.  (Strangely enough, the word “partner,” I’m fine with) When someone speaks about my wedding, what I see is not the pretty dress and the beautiful gathering of family and friends on a perfect day as we celebrate love.  (I only see the pretty and beautiful when it’s someone else’s wedding) What I see instead is way too much work followed by a lifetime spent in catering to someone else’s whims; a husband, children, in-laws, husband’s friends.  No more quiet mornings where I can get up and do as I please, the need to negotiate everything including what movies to watch, and less and less of my beloved silence and solitude. Even thinking about it makes me tired. Because of all this, I am labeled as a “commitment phobe.”

On the other hand, I really do like being in a relationship, depending on who the relationship is with, that is. The resistance towards commitment is not about sex. In all my life, be it three months, or three years, I have been completely monogamous in every relationship I’ve been in. Hot tempered yes, impatient definitely, jealous on occasion and slightly crazy through it all, but still 100% in it and completely in love. I also cook home made meals, do the laundry, humour man flu attacks and make an effort with partners’ parents and friends. Sometimes, I even like these new non-strangers. However, I draw the line at ironing, oh and yes, changing my surname.

Why am I along with others like me, labeled as a commitment phobe? Or selfish even? Does it only count as a commitment when it’s made to someone else? Does life only count as being complete when you’ve walked down the isle? And wouldn’t it be more selfish to have children “because everybody is doing it,” knowing that you’re not ready to give as much attention as is needed. Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think motherhood should be a half assed job.

Personally, I think way too much time is spent worrying about committing, sometimes not by the committer him/herself. Sometimes it’s the family and the loved ones who we know just mean well. Other times it’s by some random who doesn’t overly care, but just wants gossip. I know many people who are committed to different things – their yoga practice, Occupying, changing the world, gardening, and even someone else, but they’re still not committing where it counts because they don’t plan on walking down the isle. Julia Gillard is Prime Minister, but the big thing is that she’s not married and doesn’t want children. It’s not natural apparently for a woman to not want those things. In this day and age, really…

It’s perfectly fine to be a commitment phobe I think. Relationships are not just of the romantic kind. There are close friends, family and of course, your hairdresser (I’m pretty committed to mine). However, here’s the clause – anything is possible in this world. Even the unlikely and the impossible.

Between Chihuahuas and Children

 

Yesterday, I was on the phone with my mother, and she said that she wanted grandchildren. Of course she’s said this before, countless times and sometimes I humour her, sometimes I ignore her and sometimes I just annoy her by saying that I’m going to the pub to accidently get her one.  Yesterday, I asked her why, and her reply, “I keep seeing my cousins/friends with them and they’re so cute!” The way she said it, it was like her cousins and friends had acquired pet Chihuahuas for their handbags instead of actual little people.

My aunt, who is like my second mum is the same. There’s a lot of talk of wanting grandchildren, and how babies are so cute. Unfortunately, although her oldest son is 26, the grandchildren talk is more aimed towards me. (Settling down at any time before the age of 29 is unheard of in my immediate family). Even my father, who is barely done parenting as my youngest brother is only 14, goes on about grandchildren. About 10 years ago, they were going on about my uncle’s kids. They turned out to be monsters however, so everyone lost interest pretty quickly. All the offers to babysit, gone, just like that.

I do wonder sometimes if people who are of grandparent age have forgotten about the real deal of being parents to newborns. The general statements are, of how babies are so cute, and God forbid you mention your apprehension at having one. It’s almost unsaid that if you’re in love, and you’re with someone, then the next step would be to have children. To be honest, I don’t think the previous generation thought very well and hard about having children.

You’re old enough, you get a job, you get married, then you have a baby. It was just the way. Sometimes, there was slight consideration about how much it would cost to raise it, but very minimal thought about education, attention and being emotionally strong enough to be a supportive parent. Schooling and medical costs were the government’s problem and getting a scholarship into a good university was the child’s problem. When I was growing up, there was no thought to medical insurance or even having a backup plan for university costs. It was all dealt with when it happened, and whoever was available just pitched in and took care of the kids. Sadly enough, this situation has produced a rather stressed out person in me (as is proven in this piece).

Don’t take this the wrong way. I do like children, and I don’t see them as a waste of air, but in spite of all the fluffy talk from my mum and aunt, they are hard work. It’s not just a matter of falling in love and having a baby. It’s so much more than that. I’ve seen some great kids and I’ve seen some kids that have not turned out great, and a lot of times, you can’t blame the kids. It’s more than just popping them out, and I think before embarking on this journey, it is so important to go through a period of self enquiry. Sometimes you realise that you’re ready, and sometimes, you might find that you’re not, and you never want to.  It’s important to understand that it is fine to not have children.

I have a couple of friends who are getting married but don’t want children. Everyone they have told has acted like it’s unheard of, but it is their choice, and I command them for being honest about it.  We are not talking about an accessory here. We are talking about a real live human being who will grow, who needs attention and love, and who will need to be supported for at least 16 years of their lives. Children, these little miracles, are so pure, perfect, sensitive and intuitive. If you are angry, they will absorb that anger, if you have image issues, they will absorb that too, when you are confused, you will confuse them, and when you can barely take care of yourself, it will affect them too. It is the biggest commitment you will make and although you hope they will love you, they might not.

A lot of people think that having children proves that they are OK, that they have reached a certain point in life. Like the shoes, handbags, cars and houses, children have become a status symbol.  It’s a certain kind of child who plays a certain sport, goes to ballet lessons or plays a certain instrument. The problem is all this showing of statuses does affects the child. Add to that the constant stimulation – TV, iPad, endless video games. And man, have we created some really over stimulated, highly stressed out children in this world.  Why? Because mum and dad are over stimulated and highly stressed as well.

There is a lot to think about for parents. As for grandparents I don’t know what it is.  Maybe it’s the second chance for them without the messy bits. Maybe it’s the child they can return at the end of the day – something cute and cuddly to play with without having to then deal with night feeding, diaper changes, tantrums and potty training. But the decision really must lay with the people actually having the child. This is not a gift you can return, and it’s not even a gift that keeps giving. This is a person. Someone with thoughts, feelings and needs, and if you can’t fill your own needs or if your own needs are your only consideration then maybe think again. If you feel that you (either alone or both you and your partner) are ready to give and keep giving, then it is time, but if you’re unsure, perhaps get a pet. And get one for your parents, a young active one they can show off.