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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Life – A Series of Crazy Experiments

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?

 

Change.

 

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.

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It Was Never a Failure

When my relationships ended, I had a view that they were “failed” relationships. It was also what my mother believed when her marriage ended.  Why? Because that’s what society has had me believe. We are made conditioned to believe that every relationship that doesn’t make it ‘till death do us part’ is a failure, and us failures along with it.  The pitying looks from friends, the “oh, I’m sorry,” the coupled up friends who constantly try to fix you up, the questions that are asked of you, they further substantiate this view.

You see, I had grown up thinking that the ending of every relationship (including my parents’) had somehow been my fault.  To me, if people don’t stay together, it means that they did not try enough, or that they were too weak to weather the hard times.  Because I thought this way, I ended up shouldering about 90% of the relationship.  I would try, forgive, compromise, and give in, until there was nothing left of me.  I realized that every time I got out of a relationship, I was exhausted from trying to hold it up. I believed so much in giving 100% that I forgot that it took two people to make the effort work.

Then I read this article: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/04/my-marriage-was-not-a-failure-but-a-successful-masterpiece/, where a woman speaks about the ending of her marriage. By taking a stand and saying that although her relationship had ended, it was, in fact, a successful masterpiece, she made me think of my own relationships.  Yes, I loved these men, but a big part of it was a fear of “failing.”  Part of my mourning the loss of every relationship was also me mourning my own failure.  I questioned myself until there was nothing left to question.

But who says that a relationship that ended was a failure? Yes, so you might not have made it to the altar or from the altar to the grave, but who sets these ideals?  When I took stock of things, it made me realise, that it was never a failure.  In every relationship, I had given a part of me, and at the end of them, I had learned a bit about me.  I had loved like there was no tomorrow, taken the time to really know my partners, and accepted them for who they were while still seeing everything that they could be.  I had had faith and belief even when they hadn’t. A lifetime had been spent in every relationship, and every single one had made an impact on me. The way I had handled each ending had also evolved as I got older,  I had come to the realisation that althought the journey together had ended, the love didn’t have to.

Yes there are scars, but scars only mean that you open yourself enough to get cut. The tears only mean that you cared enough to mourn a passing.  Pain can only come if the relationship matters enough to you to feel. Without pain, it was only time spent for no reason.  Every relationship is part of the journey that takes you to this point in life.  It is a risk, hope, you opening your heart to something greater than yourself, and letting someone else in.  No matter what you are made to believe, even though it was not forever, everything that you gave and everything that you learned makes it a great success.

Between “fuck you,” and “bless you”

Here’s something that’s not really a secret. Sometimes happy people just annoy the shit out of me.  Sometimes I wish the world would leave me alone in my misery without trying to fix it.  Sometimes, I wish I could just sit in the darkness with my bottle of wine, ice-cream and bag of chips. Some days everything just makes me want to swear, and I wish I could crush someone else’s joy within my fist.  It’s like I want to reach out with whatever is sitting in my heart and let that darkness just melt all over the world and the people around me.  Oh yes, how great it would be if I could just do that, and then take everyone to the pub with me.  Possibly play some pokies and then engage in an intimate, but meaningless exchange with someone, a friend, a stranger, it was all the same, a fuck, just to say, “fuck you,” to the world. That sometimes was actually all the time for a few years. It was that few years when I had let the dark out, and I stood and laughed an empty hollow laugh while she destroyed my body, my heart, my soul, my life.  And I relished every moment of it.

There was a lot I had kept inside. Pain. Anger. Disillusionment. Disappointment. And because I couldn’t speak to anyone about it, the darkness just seeped out through the pores of my life.  I thought I had found a way to cope, but my cup had run over.  Every emotion I had kept inside since I was six, every “fuck you,” I hadn’t uttered, every punch I hadn’t thrown was pushing its way out of me, ripping a hole through the fabric of my life. My family had me believing that I was a hot tempered angry child (well duh, my father had left and I wasn’t allowed to react), so I had learned to keep everything inside, overcompensating for this person that they had made me believe that I was, but being “nice” just wasn’t working in the long run.  Neither was being patient. It was like giving birth to a demon, but instead of coming out of where it should come out of, it was clawing its way out of my heart.

Then my heart got cracked open in a backbend. In all places, it happened in a yoga studio.  Of all the things in a yoga class, backbends and hip openers used to be the ones I hated the most of all.  I didn’t (and still don’t) have much upper body and core strength so you would think that I would hate the million and one chaturangas more, but nope, it was working on those two areas of the body that killed me.  And no wonder. The backbends were heart openers, and hip openers? Well, the hips are our emotional depository. Frog pose, I would face with a lot of dread, and strong back bends like floor bow or wheel, I would only go to half of my capacity.  Even virabadrasana 2, where the chest and hips were opened was hard for me.  It wasn’t really my body. My body would go there without much complaint most days, but there would be this fear inside me, just not wanting to be opened like that.  Of course, I was not allowed to get away with it. The people who had been brought into my life would not let me get away.  Sometimes I was coaxed into the postures, other times, I was lifted into them by brute strength. My dear friend and instructor, Andrew does this thing where he tries to lift me off the floor while I’m in full floor bow. If that doesn’t open your heart, I don’t know what will.  There were days when I would end up sobbing, and there were days when I would end up laughing.

Don’t get it mistaken. There was no, “I love you,” back then. In fact it was closer to the stronger version of, “screw you!” and there was no screwing involved. It was just the mental dialogue, and then only because I could not scream at anyone unless I wanted to attract attention to the angry, disheveled person that I was.  Of course, there are days when you feel like you’re alone in class, especially when you’re in half pigeon, or meditation, and that’s when it all comes out, the anger, the tears, every “fuck you,” never uttered, every punch never thrown, flowed with my tears into my mat.

Then I read a quote from famous yoga instructor Seane Corn where she said, “you have to get to the fuck you before you can get to the bless,” and it all sank it.  I had spent almost my entire twenties in that internal and eternal, “fuck you.”  To get anywhere at all, it wasn’t about turning away from it again, it was about turning back into it.  Not lashing out to anyone, but sitting and letting these emotions flow through me.  That’s right, through. They had to be acknowledged so that they could pass.

Right now, I wish that I could say that I’m in a space of “bless you,” 100% of the time, but unlike the yogis who sit alone in mountains, I actually have to live in the world.  Occasionally, the “fuck you,” still makes an appearance, and it always will, on the yoga mat, in life, in love.  It’s just how it is, but maybe the way to deal with it is to stop pretending to be “nice,” and just acknowledge the “fuck you.”

Never Not Love

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Here’s a statement that might cause some controversy in my family – I don’t believe that love means that you HAVE to be with someone forever. You could, but you don’t have to. And I don’t believe that you didn’t love someone enough if you don’t pine away and die waiting for them to come back.  I think up to a certain point, my mother did, and then after a certain point, she just believed that she didn’t love this man anymore.  I suppose it makes it easier when you think that way, when love is either black or white.  My mother believed that while she loved my dad, she could not have moved on. I’m hoping that she will fall in love again, but that’s a different story altogether.

It would be great if love could be put into boxes of extremes. When you can say, “I love him and therefore I am staying with him forever no matter what,” or if you can say “I’m leaving because I don’t love him anymore.”  Most of the time that is not the case.  Sometimes you walk away, but the love remains.  So my relationships ended, sometimes there were fights, but most of the time when I look back, the fights were only because we wanted really different things and both of us were not willing to compromise, or because one of us was tired of doing all the compromising, or because we wanted things to stay the way they were when it was time for things to change.

Yes, you can argue that if there was really love there would be compromise, but sometimes, you’ve just got two people that have taken the same journey together but just reached different points.  Sometimes, you just change.  And sometimes holding on to love too tightly can turn it into poison, especially when holding on to a lover means loving yourself less. We are all different. A yoga class is a great example of this. In a group class, we all start in the same position and we go down the same road, but based on a large array of factors, everyone ends up in different postures, or one would hope so if everyone was following their own truth.

The thing is, sometimes people who have made it to the altar, or the judge’s chambers, or even the three year mark, can get a bit smug.  To them, real love is that love, and that is not wrong.  What I have learned though, is that there is no standard mould to love. You can love without possessing. You can love and stay in one place.  You can love and spend a part of life together, or you can love and spend you whole lives together.  Sometimes love is like a raging fire that burns you to the ground, sometimes it hurts, sometimes it is as calm as a soft breeze and sometimes it flows like a river, smooth then turbulent. Sometimes you have it all with one person, and sometimes you have bits with different people.

Who is anyone to say what love could be, or should be, or will be? Everyone writes their own story, and has their own ideas.  Some people refuse to say “I love you,” because to them it means that it’s permanent, that it’s forever, some people just say it because it means nothing, and some people say it to the people they love. I didn’t use to be an “I love you,” sort of person, and I don’t think I will ever be the kind to say it the way some people ask, “how are you?” (what is the point of asking when you don’t really care?), but I do say it a lot more than I did, and I only say it when I mean it.  Love is no longer something I save for family and lovers because there is love between good friends too.

So if I say “I love you,” sometimes it doesn’t mean that I want to have your babies.  One day it might but sometimes it’s because you’re a good friend and I love you. Because in my eyes, and in my life, even though it might not be always good, or lasting, it was never not love.