In the Flow

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.

greece-santorini-tours

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

Brahmacharya

sacred-sexuality-with-dr-ray

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!

Journey Towards Sexuality

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.

Female Mudra

Female Mudra

Marks on the Wall – Reflections on Taking 40 Days

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.

Change

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.

The Cure to Life

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.

Why?

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.

grief

Peddling Happiness

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.

If you want to be happyHappiness Habit

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.

Unhappy people

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.

What screws you most in the head

Smart man, Rumi was

Smart man, Rumi was

Shut Up Your Brain and Start From Where You Are Now

I’m tired. My brain is fried from all the self enquiry that’s been going on for the past three years or so.  You see, I went through a period where I decided when things had become a pattern and so I went back to my childhood and the issues that have contributed to my bad decisions as an adult.  Not only have I been doing this for myself, I have also been doing this with my friends and past boyfriends.  Sometimes however,  it just becomes an exercise in justifying why people are assholes.

Today, I was reading a post by the fabulous Tanya Mah: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/10/ive-got-a-bone-to-pick-with-my-yoga-teacher-tanya-maria-mah/ and as she always does, she’s set me on a whole different path of thinking.  Us women (and some men, but more women), we like to analyse, and dig, and analyse some more.  We find reasons why we’re too giving, too loving, too cold, too warm, too thin, too fat.  We go through our chakras looking for imbalances hoping that they will tell us what’s wrong with us so that we can fix it. And then we try our whole lives to fix the things that are wrong with us, obsessing and stressing, thinking “I can do this once I fix that,” or “he will love me once I deal with my ….. issues.”  We meditate to the point of hyperventilation waiting for what Bryan Kest describes as “Kundalini to come up your asshole.” Why? Perhaps because once we’re there, we’ll be worthy of the good that’s coming our way.

And that’s the good side of it.

It can go a whole other direction for some.

Believe me, I’ve met people who have gone into a period of self enquiry and instead of finding things that they can fix, they find excuses.  They find patterns from parents, siblings, exes, strangers, bosses, just anyone and instead of being something to work on, it becomes something to blame.  The self enquiry becomes the “because” in the sentence, “I’m a dick because…… (my mum, my dad, my ex, my cat, my dog)”  It’s a journey of never being happy, blaming the single state for such and such, then getting into relationships and blaming the relationships for other things.  And the work stops there.  There’s the excuse, followed by a whole lifetime of using it, hoping that some poor sod will love them despite it or fix them because they have a reason (or reasons) why.  Sadly enough, some poor sod (usually from the category above) does.  And in the end, the poor sod is just another source to blame.

As much as I am an advocate of self enquiry, it’s one of those weapons that in the wrong hand can cause destruction.  You know how they say “with great power comes great responsibility?” Well this is one of those cases.  Self enquiry can definitely be a gateway to great power, or rather self empowerment.   However, used without responsibility, it makes way to great excuses that one can use their whole life long.  Without self awareness, you can end up sitting at home in your 60s still blaming your parents for your five failed marriages.  And of course, there can come a point when you end up searching so deep you just confuse yourself and end up frozen in space, incapable of making a decision, stuck in your fear.

Believe me, I’m one to talk.  Upon embarking on this whole self enquiry journey, I found a million things to blame my parents and family members for.  Of course, when you go back to your childhood, who else would you have to blame right?  Well, for a while I was stuck in a cycle of blame, helplessness and excuses.  And then I found reason after reason why I didn’t deserve happiness.  Just like Tanya said in her piece it always seems like there’s one little tiny thing more to do to be happy, one more chia seed or green smoothie you need as part of your diet, yet another detox for another season and in the end you find yourself in a cycle of unhappiness.  Some days I find myself running around like a headless chicken (or as the Aussies say, “headless chook”) until I hit a point of dazed confusion not knowing which end is up.  Sometimes there are so many words going round that I don’t know what they mean anymore.

It gets tiring.  At some point, you have to realise that a bit more needs to come with it, that just sitting there playing black and white movies of your childhood is not enough anymore.  At some point, the real work starts.  So yeah, while self enquiry is great, it needs to come with some self awareness.  Sometimes things are just as they are.  You might not be meditating 12 hours a day and you might not be able to do a handstand.  You might be single or your relationship might not look as perfect as your friend’s does on Facebook. (Because everyone’s relationship looks more perfect than yours on Facebook doesn’t it?) You might no longer be a size 6 and be able to dance all night anymore.  You might not want a relationship at the moment, and you might never want children.

But WHO CARES?

People who judge you can suck it.

At the end of the day, stop with the digging and blaming, and realise that while some things (abuse, torture, etc) are complicated and require a lot of going back to deal with the feelings, your mum tapping you on the arm is not.  Your dad forcing you to go to school, is not.  Sure everyone’s a dick sometimes, but there’s no point going into self-enquiry if at the end of the day, you get lost in your memories and they make you even more of a dick.

Yes, sometimes you need to go back into the past to deal with the things that you left hanging that need to be dealt with, but do so with awareness. It doesn’t have to be that way for every single thing.  Sometimes, there really is no point over-complicating things.  You can’t change the past. It is what it is and, perhaps instead of putting all our energy into going backwards, we need learn to detach from the past move forward from where we are.  And more important, perhaps we should just be who we are (well unless you can be a unicorn, in which case choose to be a unicorn) or you’re a dick, in which case stop blaming the family pet you had when you were four for being cuter than you, and get help.

Peace. Namaste. Ommmmmmmmmmmmm………………………

Why So Serious?

Life is serious business. One minute you’re happily eating sand and digging worms out from the ground, then someone paves the back yard and ships you off to Kindergarten where you’re expected to be able to colour within the lines.  Then comes Elementary School, and Middle School, and the pressure develops.  You’re expected to do well in your exams because that’s what’s going to guarantee you a great future.  You get into a good High School, which you’re chuffed about then your parents expect you to do well at that too.  Here come the comments like “if you played less and studied more, you’d have a brighter future”. Never mind that you don’t even know what you want for lunch.  You’re expected to know what you want to do for the rest of your life.

So you get into the University that they want you to get in, but it doesn’t end there.  Next, you have to not only graduate, but get Dean’s List and stuff, because that’s what’s going to ensure you that dream job. What do you do? You hangout less, and spend more time studying. Finishing university, you apply for jobs here, there and everywhere, and then the first job comes and you think you can relax a bit because hey, now you make your own money. Wrong again.  Next comes the pressure to buy a car/house/dress well/hangout in the right place, and whatever else is expected of you. You’re so focused on these things, everything else in life is a blur.

You go to work, where you’re expected to do what the company wants you to do, for the good of all. You look forward to Friday night, play night, when you can let loose, have a few drinks and be an idiot.  Mind you, this is the only time when it’s acceptable to behave like an idiot, because everyone else, who’s drunk is in the same mind frame, and let’s face it, nobody’s going to remember much the next day, apart from that massive hangover the next day anyway, unless you have work to do, in which case, hangover or not, you sit down and try to do as much as you can.  Then one day, you wake up, and can’t remember the last time you really laughed, or felt light-hearted.

Why do we care about acceptable behaviour? Does it really matter what a stranger thinks? I’ve just realised that it doesn’t really, not to me. I remember when we were young and broke, and us girls would just go to shopping centres and try on clothes.  Didn’t matter that we couldn’t afford them, or that the sales people looked at us a certain way.  Then there were those times when we’d just sit in a coffee shop and look at people, a passtime that we call “studying life”.  It was cheap and it guaranteed a good time as long as you were with people who shared the same disdain for inferior life-forms. There were nights when we’d just drive around, and stop in a strategic spot to watch the sun rise, and days we’d just walk in the park, and play with borrowed kids or someone’s dog.

As time passed, these moments shortened and grew further apart, but recenly, I have been reminded of them.  Trying on 20 pairs of shoes with no intention to buy, just talking to each other and seeing how we have all changed, making silly fart noises with our hands, eating chocolate ice-cream with chocolate sauce and random comments that came out of nowhere.  These things don’t cost much, but these are the things that have made me feel lifted. What I’ve realised is,  when the car breaks down, or the rent is due, or the boss is on your case for something, or the world just wants so much from you, it really helps to have someone who can be silly with you, and won’t give you a “you’re so lame” look when you’re being silly. The best people in your life, are the ones you can do these things with, the ones who help you find your inner child.  Then there’s the bonus of having a memory of these silly times, when you’re down, and you channel into them and you snicker to yourself, or better still, you laugh out loud. I’m so thankful for those people in my life who let me express my inner child, and let their inner children come out to play with mine.

At the end of the day, there’s childish and childlike, and although we grow out of being childish (hopefully), being childlike is good.  A few people have commented that they expect me to be a very strict parent, but providing it happens before I turn 103, I would like to be the kind of parent who will laugh with my kids, run with them, and still have that lightness and silliness that comes from the inner child within.  Nothing wrong with it people. Whenever you feel like letting your inner child out, I’ll let mine out, and they can go out and have a play date. 🙂