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

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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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Rewriting the Future

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.

Not quite.

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.

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Dear Past, I Thank You

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.

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A Lesson from Your Tears

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.

Unspoken Words

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.

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.