darkness & light & everything in between

darkness & light & everything in between
brene brown quote
Photo Source: Pinterest

This week I hit a breaking point. 2½ weeks ago, I moved across the country, with the expectation delusion of having at least a 2-3 month “honeymoon phase” before sh*t got real and I started to realize this isn’t vacation; I actually live here now. I thought the first few months would be filled with fun activities and exploring and writing and taking pictures and just about loving every part of my new life. Well, it has been filled with those things, along with re-learning the hard way (because that might be the only way I learn) that because I am an introvert as well as highly sensitive, trying to keep up with all the adventure without adequate time for rest & recuperation leaves me feeling drained, exhausted, disoriented, anxiety-ridden, you get the gist. Hence my breakdown earlier this week.

But here’s what I’m realizing – those feelings, and the breakdown moments, well, they’re real. And they deserve to be paid attention to.

I think so many of us go through life focusing on the “bright side”. One such bright moment in my week (because even among the darker pits of breaking-down, I experienced many bits of brightness scattered in the mix), was when I learned the difference between sympathy and empathy. A takeaway for me: empathy never begins with the words “at least”. That is sympathy, poking her baby toe into the pool, vague attempt at swimming, before retreating back to the sunny deck where she feels more comfortable.

To live with empathy requires a willingness to take the leap off the high dive, immersing body & soul in the depths beneath. Both the joyful depths as well as the frightening ones.

And if you don’t face your own feelings, tickling the dark, scary monsters living under the bed, you will never be able to truly feel empathetic to someone else’s.

So why do we run from our dark feelings? We are so ingrained in needing-to-stay-positive, write-down-our-three-gratitudes and wake-up-every-day-with-an-attitude of I’m-so-lucky-to-be-alive because everything is good; we fail to recognize that feeling good can be as much of an addiction as alcohol, tobacco, or drugs. It just often goes unrecognized because it’s seen as a “good”, healthy addiction. But addiction is addiction. No goods, bads, ifs, ands or buts about it. And if you’re addicted to feeling good, chances are you are running from whatever you associate with feeling bad.

In yoga practice, I am a fidgeter. My teacher brought my awareness today to a habit I have developed, the infamous “butt scoot”. Instead of just taking the next pose, I literally scoot my butt backwards, like “God forbid I come close to touching my neighbor’s mat, better get out of the way”. 99.9% of the time, I’m nowhere near their mat. The other .1% that I do touch it, guess what? They probably wouldn’t care. And if they did, then that’s where the work in their own practice lies.

So, anyway, I fidget. I pride myself on learning to feel comfortable with discomfort, inviting in sensation in my body, and sitting with what is in my yoga practice. Yet pretending that I do all those things is living in a false sense of delusion because the reality is, that I fidget. I fidget because it’s uncomfortable, and I’d rather invite in the discomfort slowly, gracefully, in my own time, on my own terms. My teacher also pointed out that this isn’t truly practicing Vinyasa. She’s right – it’s not. Vinyasa means linking breath and movement. When I butt-scoot, fidget, get comfortable on my mat, and then take the pose, well, at that point, I’m off my breath count and cruising, doing my own thing.

Mid-breakdown-week, when I was just about at the height of my I-can’t-do-this feeling, I had left the shala, walking my *lovely* route to work, through some kind of warehouse/under-the-highway section of San Francisco, taking in odors of burning rubber and car-repair shops, trying to avoid trash strewn on the sidewalk, when I saw a homeless person step out into the street right in front of me, pull her pants down, and start to pee. Deciding that nobody should have to walk directly by that kind of situation, especially before 7:30, my instinctual reaction took me across the street. It seemed, at the time, jay-walking worthy.

Yet as soon as I crossed to the other side, I recognized one of this city’s awesome no-pedestrian-crosswalks at the next light. Cars whizzing by off the highway exit, I had no choice but to retract my steps, and retreat back across pavement, facing the offender and then continuing my walk, beside her, post public-peeing. I had tried to remove myself from the situation, and San Francisco threw me right back in it.

And then, walking a few paces behind, I started to imagine what her life must be like, for her to resort to public urination, in the street, in broad daylight, in front of other people. What brings someone to that level? I started to feel all sorts of emotions – empathy, sympathy, confusion, despair. All of the feelings I had been avoiding by hiding out on the other side of the road.

The world holds a lot of brokenness in it. And I firmly believe that by looking the other way, we’re not doing anyone a favor. Least of all, ourselves.

The only way to get to the other side of darkness is through. It takes a lot of courage to feel things so deeply, especially if you’re an empath. But I’m beginning to understand I have no other choice. Staying numb or living in delusion is no longer an option. I must stay awake.

Because feeling all the things – the happiness, as well as the pain, the screaming muscles mid-pose, as well as the release and newfound lightness immediately after — it’s all part of living. Wanting to cry and scream and rip my hair out because I feel so frustrated about something is my soul crying out for me to listen. Feeling despair and the brokenness of the world is acknowledgment that human life holds a lot of shadow, and only by shining our light into those shadowy places, do we realize that maybe the darkness wasn’t quite as dark and scary as we once thought it to be. Or maybe it’s still just as dark, and that’s okay too.

In self-reflection, tonight I realized that my writing tends toward the positive, cheery, let’s-find-the-happy-twist-here-together style. Nothing wrong with that. But I will never take away the world’s inherent brokenness with my words. We are all made of light, and to light we shall return. But before that happens, we’re living a life here for a reason. The darkness exists, for a reason. Time to acknowledge that, and face all the feelings fully, because, braveheart, we have been thrust into the fire by life, and we have no other option.

learning to hold hands with myself

IMG_5489Right now I’m in the Outer Banks, North Carolina. Every morning, I practice in one of the most beautiful places in the world. Out on the deck, facing the ocean. Open air above me, I make shapes and play amidst the salty breeze. I gaze forward and witness the horizon extending out into infinity directly to my front.

Yet this morning, I had a visitor join me on my mat. A black fly, just like the biting pests who nearly forced me off the beach our first day here with their relentless stings.

And as I moved through the practice, the more frustrated I became with this uninvited visitor. Although he was somewhat courteous in that he did not bite me directly, he continued to skirt around my body, traipsing through the open-faced poison ivy wounds on my arms.

I began to stomp and cry out. Tears forming at the corners of my eyes, I shouted, “Fuck you fly, get off!” So yogic of me, right? But one thing I’ve found in my years of practice is yoga is nothing like the cover of a magazine. It is a messy, salty, sweaty, living beast that changes shapes and form as consistently as the changing tide, and all too often involves curse words and the occasional toddler-reminiscent temper tantrum. Because that is real life.

And then I remembered where I was. I realized the fly was taking me out of the experience of the ocean, the natural beauty all around me. I blew my nose to find a passage to breath again and then allowed the air to carry me, returning within and moving forward despite the distractions.

There will always be a fly. The flies are the doubters, the disbelievers, the ones who nag at you and tell you that you’re not good enough, just as you are, in this moment. The flies are the ones who don’t understand what it’s like to be in your body, your soul, your spirit. So they attempt to take you out of yourself. They don’t understand, so they continue to swarm, possibly catching a glimpse of the light that you emit from within, and craving more. They come ever closer, yet they do not stop their incessant buzzing.

Just the other day, I asked my family members to read a story that I worked on for the past two months. This morning one of my family members told me he had finished it. He told me he liked it, and then told me no less than twenty things I need to change about it.

It’s important to have people who push you forward, toward growth. But from where I stand, it feels like there are twenty things I need to change about myself, in order to be able to communicate with other people. And that’s the part that hurts, deeply. I could not convey this feeling to my family member in words, so I just began to cry. He responded by saying it makes him uncomfortable when I “get emotional” about things that are simple. But it’s not simple. It never has felt simple to me. It feels overwhelming, like I don’t know where to begin, and words don’t even begin to capture what I feel inside. It’s like the ocean. I can try however I might to put words to the vastness and the beauty, the ethereal existence. But the written description always seems to fall short.

Right now in practice, marichyasana b has been the bane of my existence for a few weeks. I struggle with the bind. My teacher tells me I have the strength and the flexibility; I just need to learn how to hold hands with myself. I believe it’s all connected. Practice, life, writing, love. All intertwined and maybe my hands don’t quite reach yet, but I can continue to wrap around in whatever way I can, and try my best to take things one at a time. Learning to hold hands with myself.

“you’re allowed to jump crooked”

5.7blog quoteThree days ago, I walked into the Mysore room for the first time. Normally it takes me months, years even, to process things and feel like it’s okay to write about it. But right now, I’m reading a book, Scary Close, by Donald Miller, which talks about dropping the act (aka the masks we wear) in order to connect with people and find real intimacy. Through reading, I have discovered that my waiting-till-the-story-plays-out-in-order-to-write-about-my-actual-experience is all part of this idea I have that I am not enough, exactly as I am, in this moment.

So in order to attempt to blast that idea through the roof (or something along those lines), this is me writing about what is happening in my current life, full of judgment about the experience and all, without the nice, fluffy bow wrapped on top of a pretty little story-resolution package. With the full knowledge that it is still super early and I could decide Mysore isn’t for me, like, tomorrow. But who cares? I will never know what is going to happen in the future. It’s enough of a challenge absorbing what’s happening in the present moment.

I am also posting this without obsessing over every comma or begging asking a parent or housemate to read it prior. Yikes.

So my first day practicing Mysore-style, I went through Sun A’s, and my teacher came over and told me to attempt a jump-back. I looked at him and smiled, saying, “I jump crooked”. He told me to do it anyway.

Here’s the thing – I do jump crooked, and I do not know why. I have personal theories that it’s related to my “scoliosis” (my spine is slightly curved) – but really, it’s probably a combination of that and neuromuscular patterns formed from years of moving a certain way. And I honestly don’t even know if I have scoliosis. I’ve heard so many varying explanations for the way my body is from different bodywork practitioners; it’s one of those things that feels pretty impossible to define. It’s easier to put words to it and say “I’m this way” but the truth is that I don’t know and I’m always changing, so why narrow myself like that?

What I do see is the physical evidence that something is out of alignment, because of the simple fact that when I attempt to jump forward, I go to the right. I’ve tried so many different ways to train myself to go straight. I’ve used blocks. I’ve wrapped myself in voodoo bands, done flossing methods, rolled out on lacrosse balls, and used foam rollers. For a period of time, I even focused really intensely (no joke) on always stepping forward with the opposite foot from my default. I tried to re-pattern my body through seeing a chiropractor for years, as well as, more recently, a Thai massage therapist who claimed he could “fix my hip right quick”. But truth be told, it took me years to establish this movement pattern of jumping right, so naturally, it will take some time and a little lot of trial-and-error to un-do the pattern, right?

Anyway, later, he told me these magic words: “You are allowed to fall down. You are allowed to forget what comes next. You are allowed to jump crooked here.”

Later that day, I thought about being allowed to jump crooked, and I started to cry. I had gotten used to other people’s reactions, upon seeing my strange little crooked jump. Often, they laughed with me over it. I’m the first person to laugh at myself. Sometimes they are surprised and ask me what just happened. Sometimes they try to fix me. They are all just trying to help. Somewhere down the road, I created a story about it, and decided to stop jumping until I could get it straight. I learned to hold back to avoid any potential reaction. And consequently, I continued to cloud myself from a point of practice – meeting myself exactly where I am, crooked jumps at all.

A space where I’m allowed to jump crooked? That, to me, feels healing. But then again, no one before ever prevented me from jumping crooked, other than myself. I’ve always been allowed.

resistance

resistance

Sometimes, life gets real uncomfortable. In my experience, the peak of the discomfort often happens right before a major shift. The challenge lies in learning to stay through the resistance.

One time, I was in a group meditation sit, when I suddenly had the overwhelming urge to get up and walk out of the room. This had never happened to me before. Sure, I get uncomfortable, fidgety, and want to move, frequently during meditation – all part of the practice. But this time, I visualized myself getting up, rolling up my mat, walking away, and driving home. Leaving made complete sense to me in that moment. However, instead of actually following my urge to leave, I sat with it. I allowed the urge to pass, and a breakthrough happened. Something shifted.

Around the same time, last summer, I was “stuck” in a job that was not a good fit, in which I was no longer growing. I knew this, yet I had no clue how to change the situation. I spent hours aimlessly google searching things like “jobs in california” (no job-type or even area of “california” designated). I read pretty much every article out there about “finding your purpose” and “making your dreams come true”. Eventually, I came across a website where people posted yoga-related work and volunteer opportunities, and found a listing for a one-month volunteer position as an organic gardener in Belize. I applied, and got it. That day, I remember feeling this sense of disbelief and happiness. It was over. I was leaving.

I called my dad to tell him the good news (not to ask for his advice). They wanted me in Belize in just a few weeks. I was going to go and learn how to garden and teach yoga to children there. My dad, naturally, asked all the right questions – like what was I planning on doing with my condo, what would I do after the month volunteering was over, etc. I had no solid answers other than “figure it out”. And then he threw me for a loop. Rained all over my near-sighted parade. The words he said, I will never forget – “You’re headed in the right direction, this just isn’t it.”

In that moment, I felt overcome with anger, frustration, and sadness. I was talking to him on the phone in the hallway of my old office, completely visible and populated with coworkers, yet I could not stop myself from crying. I hid behind some kind of potted plant as the tears rolled down my face, nodding and telling him okay, I wouldn’t go to Belize. I cried because I knew he was right. If this were the right opportunity for me, I would have gone, regardless of what my dad said.

I went back to my desk, feeling defeated. The very next day, my breakthrough came. I had a conversation with my manager, and it became clear that due to circumstances outside my control, I no longer had the option of staying in this particular job. I was ready to move, and so I did. And as I moved, the right opportunities appeared in front of me. Everything fell into place, naturally.

I could not have planned any of the events that transpired last summer and fall more beautifully. They occurred as a result of the universe in action. All I did was show up each day for the ride. That is how change happens. Out of my control. The difficulty for me has been learning to let go of the need to make something happen, and to just appreciate the opportunities as they arise. Life offers exactly what each of us needs for our own personal growth. With growth, there is always going to be discomfort. Naturally, we tend to resist the discomfort, and consequently, the growth. It is much easier to stay in our comfortable patterns. One of the sneakiest patterns out there is the tempting desire to run away from the approaching storm. Staying on a rocking boat is tough – it requires a gritty core to stand upright in the tremble. But when you can stay through the discomfort and accept it for what it is, resistance in the form of sensation, well then, that is when change flows.