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.

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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

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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!

Stepping Through the Fire – My Story

When people ask me if anything changed in my life when I decided to do my Yoga Teacher Training, I answer by saying, “my whole life fell apart.”

And it did.

I had my first taste of Teacher Training in August 2011.  Little did I know that it would be the catalyst to tremendous change in my life.  It was when I finally decided that I wanted to do the first 200 Hour Teacher Training, and although I thought I could go on with life as it was through this process, the universe had other plans.  Three weeks after that, the relationship I was in fell apart.  There was a bit of toing and froing, but in the grand scheme of things, it dissolved rather quickly.

A few months after that, I gave up smoking, which truth be told was even more difficult as my relationship with cigarettes had spanned about 14 years by then.  However, I thought that since I was grieving a relationship, why not go through withdrawals at the same time.  Needless to say, the last part of 2011 was pretty much time spent rolling around in the muck.

As the sun rose on New Year’s Day 2012, in Byron Bay however, I realised that that part of life was behind me and there was nowhere I could go but forward.

That was not the end of it.

The week before I went for the first Teacher Training retreat, I packed up everything I owned to move to a new place.  Then off we went on retreat, beginning the most intense journey of self-discovery that I had gone on my entire life.  There was a lot of laughter, but also a lot of tears as we slowly went through those months of exploration.  Never had I stopped to look inside and question myself so deeply, and never had I written down in detail the life that I wanted.

Through all of this I had also decided that if I really wanted to know myself, I needed to just be by myself and therefore had decided to adopt the yogic yama of brahmacharya (celibacy).  It was a difficult choice as when going through a breakup, sometimes you want to stick a band aid on the pain by jumping into a new relationship.  However, as I was going through big changes in my life, I was just not in the right space for it.

Time came, time went and in December my first teacher training was completed. 2012 had been a crazy year and I thought I could spend some time just finding my ground.  Again, I was wrong.  On the 29th of January 2013, my father passed away.  Two weeks later, my full time corporate stint ended, and soon after that, my life got suspended between two worlds.

Something had to give.  The world of yoga beckoned me more and more, and by the second half of 2013, I had completely transitioned into this life.

Things were happening, and layers were being unpeeled.

After seven years of being in Australia, I finally received my Permanent Resident status, and it was during these times of challenge that I found out who my true friends are.  It was during this time also that I adopted beautiful Portia, a rescue cat who has become the queen of my house. In a land where I am in essence alone, I found community, and I found family.

I’ve had glimpses of what my life could have been like had I stayed where I was.  Perhaps I would have started a family.  Perhaps I would have climbed the corporate ladder.  It seems a pretty picture and yet, I have no regrets at not being there.  I know now that that frame was never mine to fit into.

And so here I am, far far away from where my life was two years ago, or rather, seven years ago, when this journey truly began.

I am altered, and yet I sit more comfortably in my skin than I have ever sat before.

Now I know that everything had to fall apart.

I had to fall apart.

Transformation begins when you take that first step into the fire and when it is right the universe helps you.  Sometimes the help comes in a scary way where the doors you could have walked through to return to where you were close with a force that you can’t fight – a breakup, a death, the loss of a job, the loss of a dream that you once held so dear, an idea that had to change, a perspective that needed to be altered, a love that needed to be severed.  You crawl through the mud, and sometimes you just want to say, “fuck it all to hell! I want to go back to where I was,” but something won’t let you, and so, you just keep going.

It is not always without pain.  In fact, most of the time, it is with a lot of pain and the journey forward might not be smooth either, but you go on, one step at a time, towards the place you were meant to be.

The world breaks down to be rebuilt.

As we stand here, at the horizon of a new year, know, without a doubt, that this is exactly where you were meant to be.

Happy 2014.

New-Moon

Yes

The third eclipse in this short span of time comes to us with the next full moon, and with it, is a time to say “goodbye,’ – a time to release, and perhaps even let a whole section of yourself die.  Most of us are uncomfortable with endings and a lot more of us don’t like talking about death.  It is the final end. The place where you can’t go back to what once was.  It is that place where your footprints get washed away by the sea and all that is left is to go forward, into the unknown.

There is comfort in the old, a familiarity, a certain safety, and to hold on is so much easier than to let go and step towards the future.  We might say that we don’t believe in these things, but sometimes, something greater just moves us in this direction.  Without ever intending to, we leave the past and head towards the future.  Something closes, something else opens.  Like my teacher Mel would say of a backbend, “it is like everything in the past pushing you forward from your heart.”  There is a beautiful sadness but also an excitement of what is to come.

It can be comforting having just that one string so that we can hold on to the past, but sometimes that string needs to be cut.  In that space where there was left the faintest of connections, there needs to be just emptiness.  The faint imprint left by a former lover is wiped away by the rain, allowing the glow of a new sun to spread it’s warmth on a clean foundation. Sometimes a lover becomes a friend, other times, even the friendship can’t be salvaged and the lover becomes a stranger.  A friend or even a stranger becomes a lover.

You think your heart died the last time it broke.

Going back into that space where you allow things to enter seems crazy.

But something stirs again – Perhaps the tiny flickering flame of affection, growing into desire and in the future, who knows?

You died once when your last life ended.

And you are reborn into this new life.

The heart beats.

It lives.

It wants to soar.

It wants to go into the unknown.

You’ve found your centre and don’t want to lose it, but your heart, the centre of it all is ready to bring you off your axis.

It is time. 

The final goodbye led to the first hello.  And the darkness makes the light seem so much brighter.  Something different, someone different, is scary.  It is the possibility of your universe being flipped upside down in a way that is beyond your control. It is two movements in one – allowing something unknown into this comfortable and familiar space that you have painstakingly built while you yourself move into an unknown dimension.  It is a doorway to another part of yourself, yet undiscovered.  How do you know that you will like this undiscovered self?  How do you know that you won’t?

Right now the questions are being asked and not answering is no longer an option.

Will you let go?

Will you let the past rest where it belongs?

Are you going to release fear and step over a threshold into a new life?

Can you allow a glance to become a lingering look?

When someone reaches out their hand to you will you take it?

Are you ready to immerse yourself into the unfamiliarity of the future?

A million questions, and the only answer that will make a difference is…

Yes

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The Intimacy of Celibacy

Over a year ago, I made the conscious decision to be celibate.  This meant no physical anything with anyone, so no pashing and definitely nothing beyond that.  When I first tell people this, the responses I get vary greatly.  Some have looked at me incredulously with the question, “why?” Some have lectured me on how I am fighting natural human urges, and therefore not taking care of my needs, while others, mostly close friends, have been very supportive of the decision.  In a world where more is always better, I made the decision to go with less.

Flowers by Opulent Garden: http://opulentgarden.com.au/

Why am I doing it?

Well, in the last 10 years, I had had one four year relationship, followed two weeks after it ended with a one year fling, then a couple of years and flings in between, followed by a three year relationship. Having not had much time alone at all, I felt that in the midst of major life changes, it was right that I take some time alone.  What’s physical intimacy got to do with it you say?  Well, that’s the thing.  Physical intimacy, without actual intimacy, to me, is pointless. In a casual encounter, most of the time, you’d be off your face anyway and would be less likely to remember the thing. It’s just mutual masturbation.  And at least on your own, there’s none of the morning after (or just after) awkwardness.

As I delve deeper into my yoga studies, I have also come to believe that we are as much spiritual, intellectual, emotional and energetic beings as we are physical beings.  And that sex or any sort of intimate physical activity is a sharing of energy.  This act in part was to acknowledge the fact that yes, I had given away my energy to people who had left me in an emotional draught after, and also to show myself some respect. You know that feeling when you meet someone you’re attracted to in your beer goggles, and you make out in a club or wherever, but when you go home, there’s not only a hangover but an inexplicable emptiness as well?  Worse still if it ends up becoming more than a quick pash.  Well, I’d decided that the short term high was not worth it anymore.

Unfortunately, making a big decision like this, and being completely determined to keep it, does require some life changes.  For one thing, drugs are a complete no-go now.  Not even a puff of weed have I taken in at least 18 months.  For another thing, no longer do my weekends consist of two nights in a pub, drinking myself silly, followed by spending the entire weekend in bed with a hangover.  In fact, my whole social life has had a revamp.  Strangely enough, giving up physical intimacy has fostered other types of intimacy.  No longer being able to hide behind alcohol and loud music, my socializing options have evolved into long walks and beach outings, hours of brunch and coffee (well tea in my case), the occasional glass of wine and beautiful dinners, all of which require a substantial amount of conversation.  If I am attracted to a guy now, I can’t go into default ‘get drunk and pash’ mode… I actually have to talk to him.

In a world where feminism and equality means that women can do anything men can do, including having random sex, this act of mine might go against the grain.  However, what are feminism and equality if not giving me the freedom to make my own choices.  I have been lucky to have the support of my very feminist mentor, Dr. Heather Moritz through this.  Her pure shakti essence, humour and often unique outlook on the world has definitely had an impact of my life, and have helped me hold my own in this controversial decision of mine.  Ironic how what I’m doing now is seen as different when as little as thirty years ago, someone who did the opposite was pretty much ostracized.  Goes to prove that you should just do what feels right for you at any given time.

Looking around, I see a lot of sex, but not enough intimacy.  To me, it is not intimacy unless there is vulnerability on a level that is other than physical. And for me personally, I have had long stretches of time where my physical self has been disconnected from my emotional, mental, spiritual and energetic self.  This for me, has been an exercise in starting to align all the different layers of what makes me, me.  It has been a chance to regroup and re-gather. My yoga practice has grown.  And on days when I am so present, lying down in shavasana at complete peace, feeling sweat drip off my skin; the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual satisfaction has been greater than any I have had previously.  In this place, I am complete.

It’s not that I’ve stopped shaving my legs.  In fact, through this period, I have learned to take care of my body even more.  It is this living, breathing being full of sensuous possibility. It comes with expressive spirit, intellect, and most of all, a heart. Now I know that sharing myself with someone who can’t appreciate all that, or is not in touch with all that in themselves would be a cop out on my end.  And no, I’m not missing out on anything because on my own, I am complete anyway.

A year on, I am still on this journey.  Although I had an online dating account for a bit once the year was up, but I rethought the whole thing and found it too contrived and forced. It’s gone now.  Dear Michael (the number of times Michael is mentioned, you’d know I’d be lost without him.  The man really is my Master Yoda) asked me how I would let the universe know that I am open to it, and my answer was, “the universe will know anyway.  It’s only a matter of me being ready for it.”

Online Dating – Just Not My Thing

I am a single woman in my 30s.  Having ended a relationship over a year ago, I had decided to embark on a journey on my own for a year.  Well, that year ended, and I found it was time to get back on the horse, so to speak.  Although I have a somewhat active social life, it is now more restrained that it was previously.  Gone are the nights spent in dance clubs and weekends spent in hangover-ville, to be replaced with meals with friends, yoga classes, and socialising within the same community.  Having exhausted options to meet men in my circle, especially since the yoga community is at the moment made up of 90% women, (guys, come on, get your assess into the studio will you?) I was led to the only option (apparently) left.

Love

Love

So, in an attempt to get back in the market, I joined an online dating site. I’ve heard that some people find these sites highly effective.  However, one might need to go through hundreds of profiles to find one that fits.  So, not wanting to have to scroll through hundreds of personals, I joined one of the sites where people are matched with you based on some form compatibility.  What could be compatible with a Muslim yogini ex traditional Malay dancer with one foot in the yoga community and another foot in the corporate world, and dyed red hair to top it off, I honestly don’t know.

So anyway, there were a few nice guys on there, and a few weirdos as usually happens on an online dating site, well, and real life. The fact that I didn’t end up dating one of them for a fun time is a big step forward for me. To be completely honest, I met a couple of people who if I had met in any other circumstance would have become friends.  I am told that the site I am on is more “serious,” for people who really want a relationship, which according to some, it looks like I don’t.  And herein lies the problem.  It’s not that I am 100% not open to a relationship.  The fact that I am on a dating website proves that this is not the case.  It’s that either date or part mentality, leaving no space for anything else.  Those who know me know that I don’t work well within black and white situations.

It seems to me that a lot of times, everything else we do is something to tick off the list.  Finish school, check.  Go to university or trade school or whatever, check.  Relationship, check.  Marriage, check. Baby, check. And the truth of the matter is, I don’t want a relationship to be something that I am checking off a list of things to do.  Perhaps I am a dreamer or a silly idealist, but whatever happened to the magic of infatuation? And then from that infatuation leading into love? Or a friendship that blossoms over time into something more? Or even letting go of force and allowing something to develop organically? We rush everything, and this is just something I don’t want to rush.  When you go on that first date generated from an online meet, it is make or break. The option of becoming friends is just taken out of the equation, because of course, when we’re on dating websites, we have everything else in life but a relationship, so that becomes a goal.

A relationship as a goal? I can’t deal with that.

It seems sometimes that although we want relationships, we are not really open to falling in love.  Yes of course it is important to have an idea of what you want in a man, but which attributes matter to us, and at what point do these attributes become another thing we are doing more for the benefit of everyone else? It seems with all the logic and algorithms and boxes to tick, that everything comes from thought and intellect, but what is love if not a matter of the heart, a matter of feeling? Sure, there’s sex, but if there’s anything I’ve seen in our society is that although we have sex with more people in our lifetimes, we’re actually more likely to have some barriers up (including alcohol) and therefore less likely to be intimate.

I strongly believe in surrendering to what is, and that nothing happens until it is time to happen.  We need only be open to it happening.  There is effort and push in everything, and perhaps in this matter, there need not be.  So perhaps, it’s time I shut the account and allow what will be to be.  After all, if one doesn’t fall in love, it doesn’t mean that one leads a loveless life. And being alone doesn’t mean that one is lonely. Call me old fashioned. Call me a confirmed old spinster. Call me a hopeless romantic, or just call me plain hopeless, but you know what? For some things in life, it’s really great to just be able to trust and surrender.

A New Year Wish from Me to You for 2013

New Year’s Eve 2013.

Sometimes I can’t believe how fast time flies. Sometimes I think that time doesn’t move quick enough.  You know some years you think that you’ve done nothing, not left the country, not fallen in love or got a new job or anything BIG, and you start feeling a bit down? Well, I’ll be honest.  A couple of days ago, that’s where I was.  I had fallen into that trap again. What trap say you? The trap that sets a standard on what you do or where you go in order for it to matter. Again, I was measuring myself against the general standard. And then of course, there was the full moon, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish.

And then, I went back and read a letter I wrote myself on New Year’s Eve 2012.  You see, I’m quite done with resolutions. In my experience, resolutions are a bit shallow. Instead, I was taught to set intentions, and better still, to paint them within a bigger picture. In this letter I wrote myself, I had painted a picture of what I wanted my life to be like, and in doing so, there were of course steps that had to be taken in that direction.  You think about where you want to be, and it also prompts you to think about the things that don’t really fit into your lifestyle anymore.  It can be anything from a bad eating habit to a whole person that you decide to move away from.

I’ll share a little yogi secret here:

Writing things down is a very strong way of affirming them.  It takes things from an internal environment and actually puts it out there. Better yet if you can write it, seal it and get a trusted friend to mail it to you at their discretion.  No matter when this letter comes to you, it will be the right time.  With resolutions, we tend to hang on to them they stick in our minds and sometimes can become quite rigid and stuck. Writing things down and releasing them into the ether can be a great way to let it go. If you’re not a writer, then make mind maps.

When I read this letter, it made me think of what this year has been about for me.  Sure I didn’t get a new job, buy a house, or car, or have a baby, or or or… any of those things that society holds as a milestone.  Some years are just not like that. Yes, yes, I know in our society it’s all about making things happen, but without the right foundation, how will we know it the things that we make happen will take root?

Sometimes, you just have to take a year, or two, or four, or however long you need to unlearn the things that you’ve learned and do a bit of detox from the past so that you can make space for the future.  Sometimes, you just have to let yourself break and rebuild from the ground up.  Life is such a journey. Just when you’re dancing with Lakshmi Ma, Kali Ma can come a crashing in with her necklace of ears and her skirt of arms:  https://azphoenix.wordpress.com/2012/07/09/dancing-with-goddesses/.  And you know what? Sometimes you just can’t tell that kind of force to “fuck off.” You can try, and before you know it, your ear will be right there hanging around the lady’s neck.  The only thing you can do sometimes is surrender (not give up, just surrender).

The truth is, although I felt like I was moving nowhere, I did move forward from where I was yesterday, and I did get what I wanted out of this year.  Although I am always going to be a work in progress, the work has started. I’ve heard that the biggest journey you make is between your head and your heart, and perhaps this year for me, that journey has begun.  There are no good years, or bad years, they are just different.  There is no “there” to get because as Heather would say, “It is all already inside you.”

So tonight, loved ones, before you go out into the hustle and bustle of celebration, take some time to celebrate yourselves.  A few moments of silence to find your centre, and when you write, write for yourself.  This is your journey. Nobody else’s.  Think about it. Will 2013 be a year of setting foundations? Will it be a year of healing? Or growth?  Making things happen? Moving on? Sit with yourself, and set YOUR intention.  Perhaps instead of thinking about the things you “have to” do or achieve, go into it thinking of what you need for yourself, for your health, for your growth, and what you can do about it.  Sometimes, the BIG journey is the one that happens within.

Happy New Year dear ones. May the light shine on you, and for you, and may it not shine so bright it blinds you, but bright enough to lighten your darkest days.  My love is with you, wherever you are.

With honour and with love

With honour and with love

On a personal note from me, a wish of gratitude to family and amazing friends, mentors and teachers both formal and informal, my exes, even the ones who broke my heart, the horrible bosses and managers who encourage their staff to shine, to lovers and acquaintances, past, present and future.  And you, whoever you are who I am meant to meet. There is a lesson in every meeting and in your way, you are my teachers and you all touch my life, so thank you.

Always at the Beginning

When my yoga instructors first introduced me to the concept of ‘the beginner’s mind,’ I thought it was a load of crap.  I mean, if you have to start from the beginning every time, how are you supposed to get anywhere? Most importantly, how was I supposed to know as much as I wanted to know if I had to start from the beginning of the book every time.  We only have so many hours in a day after all. It’s like walking from Sydney to London, and having to start from Sydney every time you make a stop.  When would you ever get there?

Then last week, I was attacked by a case of food poisoning.  That, coupled with 12 hour working days, seriously did me in.  And then of course, a couple of days after I got back to Sydney, thinking that I had made up for my sleep deprivation and dehydration, and that my internals were healed, I went into a progressive yoga class.  In my mind, I had spent reasonable hours in yoga classes and would be fine.

My body however, was saying something else.

But there I was anyway, jumping into class with a mind that thought that I could do everything.  The result, was sweaty and dire.  I found out that over a week, my muscles had weakened.  You see, my body was taking a beginner’s stance but my mind, with the aid of my ego (or in Sufi terms, nafs) was not having it.  At first I was in a state of physical struggle because my mind was saying, “you know this pose, you can go deeper. You did it last week!” while my body was going, “shut up, this is not working for me today!”  In this struggle I was not paying attention to my breath, therefore putting myself into the ever amazing ‘fight or flight’ mode.  The more annoyed I got, the faster my breath, and the more wobbly my poses got.  Once I took note of what I was doing and concentrated on my breath my poses lessened in depth. And then it was the two voices in my head arguing about what my body was going to do – Muz was probably right when he said that to some degree we are all schizophrenic.

People wonder how I have been practicing yoga for three years and I fall more in love with it every year.  In a power vinyasa flow, yes the sequence of the practice changes but in Bikram it is the same 26 poses in every class, and you see people doing the same thing four or five times a week for tens of years without getting bored.  Part of this awesome-ness, I think is attributed to the cultivation of the beginner’s mind.  We are taught to see every breath as a starting point, and every pose like it is new to us.  We are trained to not make assumptions about our bodies based on yesterday or even five minutes ago, instead focusing on right now.

If you watch a truly experienced yogi, they know what their bodies need in that instance. You might see them break it out in full jump-backs and upward facing dogs and just like that switch to modifications, and almost just as quickly switch back to crazy poses.  They can preserve energy and maintain a generally steady heart-rate throughout an entire 90 minute class.  The beginner’s mind for them, works in every instance.  They have learned to discipline their egos, and have a wonderful ongoing dialogue with their bodies.  When they fall out of poses they start from their beginning, ensuring that their foundation is strong before they move on.  When they get into strong poses, it is with compassion and communication instead of pushing, struggling and panting.

A few months ago, I read Keith Richard’s biography, Life.  In it there was an account of how Keith relates to his instrument.  He would be playing and sometimes he would stop, hold his guitar up and look at it in wonder, like he had never seen it before.  It was through this beginner’s mindset that he keeps seeing new possibilities, and that has made him one of the best guitarists, in my book at least.

We have a lot of stimulation nowadays, and somewhere in our minds we have the assumption that new is good, and we just want to move away from the beginning.  People don’t say it but some relationships fail because people get bored.  They expect their partners to keep things interesting, but can you imagine what it would be like if you looked at your partner with beginner’s eyes every day?  Can you imagine what it would be like if every time you made love it was not based on the assumption of “oh he/she liked this yesterday and therefore they would like it today?” Can you imagine if every kiss and every touch was like the first?

What if every project you were meant to do, you came at it like it was the first time you were doing a project?  What if you looked at the tree in your backyard like you’d never seen it before?  What if every time you stepped on grass or sand, you savoured how it felt on your feet like it was completely new to you?  Have you ever watch a child play with its own foot like it was the most amazing thing ever?  Isn’t it fascinating?

At the Disaster Management conference I ran late last month, they said one of our failings it that we plan all upcoming disasters on the last one. The thing is, that’s how our brains work on everything.  We have all these assumptions and past experiences that we rely on and before you know it, based on one experience, you’re saying things like, “this always happens to me,” and, “you always do this!” Well, once is not always. Once was just once.

We have become a society where think that new equals exciting, and old equals boring so we buy new toys, get new cars, and jump in and out of relationships – just another way of how we look for validation externally.  At the end of it, the new get old and we look for other new things, never knowing contentedness.  We assume we know all there is to know about things and off we go looking for something new.

And what’s this fascination with reaching the end?  We start new relationships where the old ones left off, and we start a job like we already know all there is to know about it.  We hire people who sound like they know everything, when what they know is based on their past organisation and might not work with ours. When you read fairy tales, the big white wedding is “the end,” but what would happen if we started seeing everything as the beginning?

The end of your single life is the beginning of your life together. Likewise the ending of a relationship is the beginning of your journey towards finding yourself. In a yoga pose, every instance is the beginning of getting to know where your breath is, how your body is feeling, where your thoughts are going.

Yes life moves, as it will, and every day we are getting older.  Our fear of the end makes us cling to our mortality and live in fear of death, but what if death is the beginning of something else? It’s only how we look at things, and when I look at death as another beginning, it seems to me that every instance, no matter what stage in life we are at, we are always at the beginning…. and at the beginning is where there is possibility, and magic.  So for the sake of possibility maybe, just maybe, it’s time to start celebrating the things we don’t know instead of the things we do know.

Everyday Rituals

A couple of weeks ago, I was having breakfast with the lovely Cristina A., and we spoke about rituals, and how important these rituals are in nurturing ourselves.  Cristina is a massage therapist and therefore spends most of the day nurturing other people.  (Side note – if you’re in Sydney, go see her.  The woman is amazing). For her, having a ritual where she spends time nurturing herself is vital so that she can continue giving to other people, so every night she gives herself a massage.

Personally, I too have my own self-nurturing rituals.  In the mornings I treat myself to complete silence while I have my lemon water and boil my chai.  As I slowly sip my chai, I make sure that I am sitting down on the couch with no phone or laptop near me so that I can really savour that bit of my morning. Soon enough, I know my day will be filled with things to do, phone conversations, emails and all my senses will be assaulted in full force.  My rituals don’t stop there.  At night, I often make myself a cup of chamomile tea, light incense, massage myself with lavender oil and spend silent time writing in my journal.  Before the lights go off, I often spend at least an hour without the TV or music on.  In a world where we are over stimulated, this is my way of giving my senses a rest.

 
Last week, I was away at a conference. What this means for me is that I pretty much get up at crazy o’clock and work 12 hour days.   A few years ago, I would have added some alcohol and half a pack of cigarettes to my exhaustion along with the socialising.  This time I could add a bout of food poisoning. The fact that I am living out of a suitcase in a hotel room also means that I don’t have the stuff I need to put me into a lavender infused stupor, and I go to sleep thinking about the conference and wake up to check my email for last minute messages.  My mother goes, “oh how nice, you get to stay in a hotel.”  Sure, hotels are great, and I love being able to go for 6:00am swims in places where it’s warm enough to do so, but my rituals pretty much go out the window.

It was only when I didn’t have these rituals that I realised how much they ground me.  The simple act of feeding the cat, giving her a cuddle and smelling the tea as it boils brings me to the present.  The silence I enjoy in the mornings and evenings just gives me space to just let go and relax.  Watering the plants in the mornings and while they’re in bloom, stopping to smell the jasmine gives me a moment to appreciate things.

We don’t realise this, but we do a lot of shit every day.  Making sure we have the keys, phone, wallet, and yoga/gym/cycling gear packed up as we check the email on the phone and lock up the house to chase the train to get to work on time is a lot of work.  And most of us do it within two hours of getting up.  Our brain processes everything that we see, hear, touch, taste, smell and feel, and in our world where things are going all the time, our brains process a lot.  So for me, taking the time to do these things sometimes allows my brain to slowly warm its engine instead of going from zero to sprint.  Do that to a car every day and see what happens to it.  Allow a car to slowly warm up and see how much longer it takes before wear and tear sets in.

My alarm generally goes off at 5:30, and a lot of people wonder why I wake up so early.  The thing is waking up early gives my senses the time to slowly come alive.  I am not jumping out of bed, into the shower, having breakfast on my feet and rushing to get dressed before running out the door in a frenzy and getting to work 2 minutes late. For me it’s not the length of sleep that matters but the quality of how I fall asleep and how I wake up.  If I wake up rushed, then my whole day will pretty much be screwed, not in any other sense, but just because I wake up right into fight or flight mode. These rituals are what work for me.  They keep me mentally sane and give me the time to keep physically healthy as well.

I used to think that rituals had to be elaborate productions, but they really don’t.  Any act, however small or big that you perform religiously becomes a ritual.  It is the thing that you do every day to keep you grounded and sane, and most of all, it has to be right for you.  I used to say that I didn’t have the time to do things for me as other people needed my attention so much more. I had grown up believing that other people were more fucked up and needed me more than I did.  As it was, the fact that taking care of me made me feel guilty was pretty fucked up in itself.  While others knew that I had their backs when they needed, when push came to shove, they didn’t really have mine.  At one point, the shit hit the fan and I pretty much had a melt down.  Lucky some people actually really do love me so they stuck around, the energy vampires fucked off, and some people still think they have a right to my space, but that’s a different story which we will revisit when I can put it down in a nicer way.

Maybe these rituals already exist but you haven’t been paying attention to them.  This might sound a bit weird, but sometimes taking the time for you is a start in making time.   Just pay attention to yourself and the things you do, because you know what, nobody is worth your own attention more than you are.   As we put prayers in place to celebrate our God, or whatever else we worship, so too should we have these rituals to celebrate ourselves.

So, here are my rituals, what are yours?