“you’re in the right place.”

“you’re in the right place.”

The last thing I wanted to do was to start travel blogging.

I find blogs not exactly my style. I can write them, mostly if other people ask me to, but when it comes to my own website and creative projects, blogging can sometimes feel like pulling teeth. Maybe it’s because I’m driven by emotion. Give me blood-dripping feeling and my fingers fly. Listacles, how-to’s, and having a straightforwardly clear “message” for “the reader” to “leave with” stab like a knife to my soul. I, personally, don’t understand what I’m writing most of the time. And I believe in the hands-off approach with people in general; let them interpret how they will. Writing, after all, is a communication stream of infinite facets. At any point in time, we’re bound to understand differently, based on where we are in that exact moment.

So a little over a week ago, I landed in India where the days seem to spawn weeks. Something I never used to think about before, like getting safe drinking water, becomes a day-long affair here (in my alternate universe, where each day consists of seven), and I oscillate between taking classes, venturing out into the sun to run an errand here or there, and holing up in my apartment, either cooking or spending far too much time on the Internet researching things like whether or not I can fly direct from India to Hawaii, and far not enough time writing.

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My roommates — another reason not to leave my apartment!

I arrived to the airport in Delhi and immediately regretted my decision to come here. As I had been for weeks prior. Hardly anyone I spoke to would listen to my qualms. Even my therapist brushed aside my hesitations, saying (as did most) that I was in for the “trip of a lifetime” and she “was slightly jealous”. It’s interesting how we all seem to want to be where we are not.

So I spent the night in the Delhi airport, before leaving first thing in the morning for Bangalore. I had no printed ticket for my third and final flight; in America, this is something they give you at the ticket counter when you check in. Not so in India. To get to the ticket counter, I had to pass through several lines, each of which required a printed ticket. I stumbled through the lines before I was blocked several times. I was beginning to have flight anxiety. Asking anyone who resembled someone-who-might-know-something where I could get a printed ticket, I was directed in multiple angles, all with a vague wave of hand and a head nod, a language I have yet to speak. I walked outside and was hit with a smog so intense my lungs closed, and then I fell into my default, of course, which is to cry.

I finally made it up several rounds of stairs, to a desk behind a glass wall, where I hoped that my ticket could be printed. On complete autopilot, as I had repeated the same question many times, I told the man sitting behind the desk that I needed a copy of my ticket, and here was my flight information. I handed him the tickets to my first two flights as well as my phone, on which I’d managed to find some kind of outline of an airline travel itinerary, while asking him, “Am I in the right place?”

The man looked at me, no doubt noticing my clear disarray. He began checking things on his computer, spending what felt like hours glancing between my phone and his screen, before finally giving me a meaningful look and saying, “You are in the right place.”

He printed something out and pointed to another line I would need to stand in to get my actual ticket.

As he handed me my old tickets he said, “Nice quote.” At first I didn’t know what he meant, thinking I’d heard “Nice coat,” so I said “Oh, thank you.” I think he could tell I was confused because he clarified, “Nice quote,” gesturing toward my ticket this time.

Sitting on my first flight to Canada, I had scribbled a lyric from a song I’d been listening to that spoke to me, thinking the ticket stub to be garbage only to realize later, with a tinge of embarrassment, that I would have to hand it to no less than six or seven other people in various travel lines, to get onto flights and with inquiries and such. No one else had commented on it.

The quote reads: “Cause with you always feels like home.”

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Lately, finding a home has been a priority. I feel caught between places. I’ve tried living in different areas and nowhere feels like quite a fit, and I know the next place I go needs to feel like more of a fit than the last because of how hard this last year was for me and how deep of a depression I fell into. I need to find a home; I need roots. I’m filled with meaning but I’m rootless and so it’s been difficult for me to direct that meaning in a sustainable way that doesn’t deplete me of energy. The next place I land needs to be for myself and not for anyone else and it needs to be a place in which I can thrive. These are all big pressure-points building and when it comes down to it, painful feelings to experience.

I hope no one else has to feel the way that I feel, lately.

Coming to India is another in-between stop along the way to finding a home, so really it’s just another leap of faith.

My first week here has been filled with doubts, even wondering if I could leave early, but then realizing, yet again, that I don’t know where I would go if I did. So I’m committing to myself to stay for the three months I signed up for and taking things one day at a time which is really all any of us can do in any given moment.

And with this faith-leap, I have to remind myself, constantly, “You are in the right place.”

It always looks prettier from the outside-in and it always seems more magical in retrospect.

And just because I’m looking for a home, I’m well aware that I most likely won’t find it. At least not the kind of home or in the ways in which I’m looking for it. It’s always the things we don’t seek that fall into our laps unexpectedly and magically and oh-so-perfectly.

Maybe I’m not meant to find a long-term home, just yet. Maybe I need to wander a bit longer.

Maybe I didn’t come to India for any of the reasons I anticipated. I had been starting to heal in San Francisco, and my last week there I had a non-toxic place to stay, and I began to love the city once again. I had a healing support system there, and I had taken great measures to remove what wasn’t working for me.

I came to India with zero expectations but some inklings of what I might-need-to-watch-out-for and what maybe-might-happen-here and I can tell already that the above is probably not going to actually happen, at least not in the ways that I thought they might. Maybe I came for other reasons rather, which will most likely not be revealed to me until years later, if ever.

While here I’ve already found some healing avenues similar yet different from those I had in SF, so I’m exploring these as we speak. I want to think that I can cure myself of depression once and for all, but maybe instead this latest bout of depression is a necessary step along my twisted path. Fighting against my own mind takes up way too much of my energy so I may as well make friends with it. Even when my mind tells me scary things like that I have no place here and I don’t belong. Friends can be scary sometimes. Especially those closest to us. And there is no closer friend than myself.

I don’t have answers, only questions, many of which I’m tired of asking, so I think right now I’ll continue to repeat the mantra “You’re in the right place,” even (especially) when it feels like I’m not.

peacemaker, you have all the love in the world

I recently have been studying the Enneagram model for human personality, a bit, with my Yoga teacher, she herself having trained in it.

I struggled with the analysis model in the past, as I claimed not to believe in what I considered boxing people in.

I did not wish to be pinpointed, or narrowly confined.

I now realize that my strong reaction was primarily due to my ego’s misinterpretation of the whole thing.

Eventually, I consented, and decided, that because none of the numbers truly fit me, I must then be a four. The artistic, intuitive, sensitive and moody type. The one governed by emotion.

It was the only piece that possibly made the slightest bit of sense.

Until I ran into conflict, fairly recently, and through my reaction to the drama, my teacher kindly opened my eyes to a new possibility.

Upon confrontation, my insides twisted and turned and became shaken to such a degree that I tossed through sleepless nights, and wanted desperately for it all to go away.

It is exactly these types of circumstances I work so dearly hard to avoid.

And as I mentioned this to the wise one, she calmly stated,“That isn’t how a four would react. You might be a nine.”

Nine is the starry-eyed peacemaker.

Often checked out of reality, we are the dreamers who idealize the world and our emotions to such a degree that we can lose all touch with reality and our sense of self in the process, not to mention the uncomfortable feelings that go along with human life. Including, among other emotions, anger.

It occurred to me, when she told me this, that maybe, in fact, she was right.

I embraced my nine-ness and began confronting the discomfort of the drama face forward, in remedy.

A few weeks into my newfound approach, I waffled a bit, losing my sense of self, yet again, this time in the story of myself as a creator.

You see, I am highly emotional, as well as an empath, and extremely sensitive. I feel everyone else’s emotions to such a degree that I have no choice but to take them all in.

Every child’s blinking, wide-eyed stare, and every stripped shoelace life slumped by the side of the street, pierces through my paper-thin skin to a heart that dances at the wonder and rends at the very sight of despair.

And the best way I have found, for processing all of this feeling, is through words.

Family members used to laugh at the intensity of the letters I would write, when I was a teenager going through all the aches and pains of growing up.

I would grow so heated and all the emotions would become so bottled up that the only way I could possibly begin to coherently organize my thoughts was through pen and paper.

Even today, I tell people I write because I cannot talk.

Spoken words stumble and trip on my tongue.

The thoughts, ideas, and feelings swirl from my heart, through my head, to an outpouring rush from my fingertip to pounded-upon key, and only then do I begin to feel even remotely okay.

I cannot achieve this same level of okay-ness, in any other way.

Yet, through my brief Enneagram study, I realized that writing is, by no means, the end-all, be-all for me. Writing is not where my true spiritual work lies.

Writing is merely a gateway, a door opening to the horizon of the desert of real growth, through which I must walk for centuries with parched lips croaking at the far-off dream of a droplet of water.

As I waffled between understanding my intuitive, artistic,deeply emotional side, the side that must write, must create, every single day, without negotiation, in order to feel alive, and my neurotic tendencies as a passive peacemaker merely floating by, it suddenly dawned on me.

It became evident, with a spring-into-cold-water awakening, that writing holds the potential to serve an incredibly passive aggressive form of communication, depending on what I then do with those words.

Hammering out my deepest feelings, only to free the thoughts and post them in threads of ether, is a significant form of cathartic release.

But it does not take the place of picking up the phone and reaching out to those who may have hurt me, or even worse, who I may have hurt, in whatever way, shape, or form, of the moment. Even those whom I hold most dear to my heart.

And why do I write about the generality of my feelings, skimming the bottom of the ocean for shells with closed-tight eyes lest I feel the stinging of the salt?

Why do I hold other people at arm’s length, keeping them just far enough from both the brightness of my heart’s beating pulse as well as the sharp flashes of true, human emotion I at times feel toward and around them?

Why do I numb myself from feeling the deepness and the fullness to the rawest degree?

I have no problem speaking my mind around those I know to be just passing through. The temporary coworkers, transitory housemates, and people I meet on various travels.

And in the process, I have been able to foster real connection with so many strangers. Yet with my own family and friends, I am afraid. I hold back.

Because what if they don’t feel the same way? What if they do not love me as much as I love them? That could very well be the case.

In fact, who could possibly hold this much love for itty-bitty old me (as I hold my arms wider still than the span of Earth, moon, and sun combined).

When your love touches mountains, it can never be reached. And so I guess this raises my deepest, darkest fear. Of only ever being able to love on human terms, under human conditions, and in the very limitations of our earthly ways.

I once saw my life flash before my eyes.

I have been waiting for the right moment to write these words aloud (Lord knows, I’ve written them thousands of times, before, in the privacy of my journal’s safe leather binds, as well as in notes for my therapists’ ears alone).

But now feels as good a time as ever to get this off my chest. At the risk of sounding starkingly mad, I was attacked once, and in the moment, I knew I was about to die.

My attacker, as he tazed me with a stun gun shot to the neck, also had a knife, and I intuitively knew in an inexplicable way his every intention to stab me. Only then he didn’t.

And, clear as day, I felt a message from God (because God doesn’t always speak, so much, in the linearity of words or images.)

And the message filled me with a new kind of love, a feeling so full and pure that I knew I had experienced it before, possibly as a child, or perhaps in another life. As I was filled with this feeling, I knew it was not my time to go.

I was here for a mission, to feel this kind of love, again, here on Earth. As I received this divine message, my attacker stood, and walked away. Without reason, he let me go. He let me go, to run.

And so run I did.

I ran until I found the haven of my bed, in a city that would not feel safe for months to come.

I ran until I found a shell in which to hide myself away.

I ran, and I ran some more.

I ran until I found the familiar sensation of numbness I had discovered in recent years, as a soother to all the hurt.

I allowed being numb to swallow me whole.

For far too many years. Under far too many methods. Some physical, but many of which appeared as mental inflictions of an imagined sense of control.

Until I could no longer bear the shutting-down engine, sputtering in the wake of a smogged-out highway full of flat tires and pierced dreams.

I could no longer stand sleepwalking my way through life.

The re-awakening has been a slow, painful process, full of much, much feeling.

Crawling my way back to the light of day has, at times, left me battered and bruised, and feeling deathly alone.

But this aloneness, I am forever in the process of realizing, was always part of the delusion.

As was the idea that I would never be loved, just as I am, anger and all. As well as the idea that I, with all of my feelings, am too much for anybody else.

So, for all you other peacemakers, floating through life on idyllic daydreams so far, up, and away in an effort to keep your too-muchness at bay, please know, that I can feel the rays of your love, down here, from where I stand, as well as those of your anger.

I can reach to the very ends of your dreams, and I will not let go of what I find there, however slippery and gruesome the mess. I will not let go, just as so many, here, did not let go of me.

 

This article was published on Rebelle Society.

the fairy tale we dream of is now

the fairy tale we dream of is now

Sometimes you need to meditate; sometimes you need to cry.

Sometimes your thoughts and feelings will pour out of your fingers, and sometimes they sit in the dark, stalking through shadows while you peer into the eerie pools of shimmery gray water that rest on the stone-cold floor, trying to make sense of the shapes you see.

In Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott says to never write on a Monday in December. Mondays in December, draped in the dreariness of post-freedom chains, are simply impossible for writing.

So now here I sit at my computer in the still-dark morning of the last Monday in December, allowing the words to catch the tears as they stream, effortlessly, down my cheeks.

Sometimes it’s meditation, and sometimes it’s Yoga practice, and sometimes it’s a salt-bath pool made up of those very same tears. Sometimes its music, and sometimes it’s the latest trend of an adult coloring book.

December, with all of her Mondays, has got me in the spirit of reflection, contemplating the past year and where it’s taken me. All of the battles and hard-fought lessons and, time and time again, returning to the love that makes up the core of it all. Because nine times out of ten the battle is with myself.

Last year, around this time, I set a New Year’s intention. We were in a cabin in the snowy mountains, and someone brought wishing paper. So we wrote our New Year’s wishes on slips of bright red and lit each of them, one by one, allowing the sparkling embers to fly away into the cold, dark unknown.

Because that’s what you do with wishes. You hear their whispers from the center of your heart and then stir them up with your breath, giving them meaning and form to release those whispered wishes into the ether, where a magical spirit of the Universe, the ruler of desire, transforms them into reality.

At least, that’s what I believed.

Last year, I set my New Year’s intention to fall in love. Maybe fall is the wrong word. I didn’t want some kind of damsel swept up by a horseback-riding prince scenario. I was in the process of getting over someone, and I was hurting a lot more than I allowed myself, at the time, to feel.

I came face to face with the reality that you can grow, slowly, bit by bit, one word at a time, in love with someone, and because of something as trivial as timing, it will never work out.

I had to face the cold, harsh reality that sometimes the sparks stemming from my intuition lead me toward certain individuals not because we are going to be together in any of the traditional senses of that notion, but because, for whatever unseen reason, in that moment of time, we were right for each other.

And then, just like my wish, any inkling of the two of us must be burnt to a crisp, and set free to float away into the night sky. The moment will last forever, but the two of us will not.

So I, all high-hopes and fantasies, set my intention. I felt confident that I was ready. I was done with the learning experiences, the pain of unresolved issues working themselves out. I was ready for the real deal. Someone who addresses his own shortcomings and humanity in general, and wants to go deep.

Someone who wants to feel.

At the time, too, I had all the other pieces seemingly in place. My living situation was ideal, and I was about to embark on what I considered my dream career as well. The missing piece to the puzzle seemed to be, quite simply, love.

What I learned, pretty quick, is that no career is perfect and sometimes the devil comes disguised as a fairy tale. To live in what appears to be paradise, you must swap blood with the gruesome, control-gripping monster that reigns over those very lands. And the learning experiences, they never end. Nor do we want them to.

Because as soon as you stop learning, you die.

As soon as you stop growing, you wither.

As soon as you stop carving through the caverns of your soul, trying to find something more, the world, and all of its high hopes and searches for meaning, will simply cease to exist. We will walk around, empty shells under the palm trees of delusion that this picture of paradise is all we have to live for.

Needless to say, this year, my New Year’s intention did not come true. I did not fall in love. What I did do, instead, was begin a Mysore-style Ashtanga practice. I learned to stand with my legs straight. I learned to keep moving to my own internal rhythm. I learned to balance my soul’s work with intelligently-sequenced days of rest.

And most of all, I learned that each of the spiritual disciplines that I engage in, whether it’s Yoga, meditation, reading ancient texts, or journaling, is a means to an end. And as soon as I begin worshiping the act, well, then, I have completely missed the point.

So now I sit, as light dances off white-brick walls and the tips of green begin to show themselves out my window, swaying ever so slightly until I feel the itch of invitation to join in their wind-drawn movement, and realize that I am no further along than the starry-eyed child who daydreamed her way through each and every day.

I am no readier than she for some kind of happily-ever-after ending, nor will I ever be. I have never stopped daydreaming, nor will I ever stop. There is no such thing as ready. There is only right here and now. And right here, and now, I am alive.

I breathe one cold, December breath at a time, and my fingers continue to make their way through raw, wildly beating canals. And that sense of aliveness is the only fairy tale that I will ever need.

This article was published on Rebelle Society.

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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.

the real reason i started practicing yoga

I have a confession to make. There’s a bio floating out there (somewhere) about my yoga background and it is – get ready for it – a lie. Not a whole lie. A half-truth. And one made unintentionally. But I want to come clean all the same.

I started practicing yoga from a dvd in my bedroom, when I was about 11 or 12 years old. My partial-truth bio claims “as a complement to dance”. Which is true. I was a dancer (a not very good one) and I thought increased flexibility, which I heard I could get from yoga, might make me better. So the way I remembered it, I bought a “yoga for flexibility” dvd. I vividly remember practicing it in my bedroom – for some reason seated twists stand out in my memory. Maybe that dvd had a lot of them.

Memory is a funny little selective animal. Often it cages out the aspects on which we don’t want to focus our attention. Last winter, in the middle of a move, I came across that dvd again. The title was actually “yoga for weight loss”. Not flexibility. Aha – now all the twisting-postures make sense. The reality is, when I was in middle school, I had an eating disorder.

I used to limit myself to less than 1,000 calories a day. I worked out obsessively –running, swimming, dance, and, apparently, yoga, as long as it promised to turn me into a size zero.

The irony of it is – I started practicing because I wanted to be smaller, but instead, yoga had the opposite effect.

I have heard that eating disorders often originate a means for control. Which, in my case, makes sense. As a kid, I was an oddball. I got made fun of, and had a hard time fitting in. I remember one time, riding the bus home from third grade, a girl telling me the clothes I wore were weird and that I should dress more like her. She was wearing blue-jean overall shorts with bright flower patches sewed on in random (“fashionable”) places. That same day, shopping with my mom at Kids R’ Us, I saw those shorts. I asked my mom to buy them for me. That girl and I ended up becoming friends, when she realized I had the same shorts she did. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried.

We didn’t have cable until I was eleven, and to this day I still don’t know how to play video games. I think those were the kinds of things that made you cool back then, but I’m not entirely sure. I remember making a new friend when we moved in sixth grade who, upon realizing how shy and awkward I was, stopped being my friend. I have always been an introvert – and in middle school, being quiet and shy was just plain not cool.

I think the combination of getting picked on, and my sensitivity, led 12-year-old me to subconsciously realize that I could never control other people and what happened around me. As a means for coping, I gripped at controlling the one thing I thought I could – myself. Namely, my body. I became obsessed with being perfect. I thought perfection equated happiness. Because people who, in my eyes, appeared perfect, also seemed to be happy. I forgot that inherently, I am happy. Always have been. My mom claims she never met a happier baby. And as a child, I may have been a goofy weirdo, but I loved every minute of being a goofy weirdo.

That “yoga for weight loss” dvd led me to my first “real”, instructor-taught yoga class, which I took at my high school. It was taught by the gym teacher, a marathon runner who I doubt had any kind of yoga-teaching credentials. This was back before yoga was all that popular in the US (and a smidgeon of the size it is now in DC). I told someone about this and he told me I’m “like an original hipster of yoga”, because I did it before it was cool. I think that comment will make my family laugh. At the time, armed with a field hockey stick and a slew of pink hair ribbons, I was the epitome of a catholic schoolgirl, and basically the opposite of hipster. I think the most ironic thing I did was go to a Fall Out Boy concert. And, apparently, do yoga.

I have nothing but fond memories of my freshman-year yoga class. I went to a large public school, and felt lost there. I had very few friends, and spent many an open-lunch period wandering the halls by myself, because I couldn’t find anyone to eat with. But in yoga, none of it mattered. Students of all ages and social statuses took the class, and in the “yoga room”, we were all equal. The teacher would write on a chalkboard the poses we were going to learn that day. Every Friday, she put on meditative rainforest-sounding music, and we did savasana (i.e., corpse pose, otherwise known as the yoga version of naptime), for the entire class. It was awesome.

My first yoga teacher did not wear lululemon (if that even existed then). She did not chant or take photos of herself doing fancy poses, or teach us rigorous flow classes with a peak pose (at least, not that I remember). What she did do was offer us a safe space, in which to explore our bodies through the practice of yoga. She read the room, and gave us what we needed (deep rest). She planted the seeds of yoga, which, for me, have since cultivated into a lifelong practice.

That year, I started eating again. I also, unknowingly at the time, learned to listen to my intuition. I made the challenging choice to transfer to a smaller, all-girls school, where I felt less lost and more at home to be myself.

At first, eating again had the opposite effect – I went through bulimic episodes, and frankly, blew up in size. My journey with food has been a long, hard-fought, solitary battle. It took me years to get to a place where I did not count calories or feel guilty about what I ate. Today, I eat a highly intuitive diet that works for my body. I focus on whole, unprocessed, natural foods, and have eliminated foods that don’t serve my body’s health. I have written briefly about my journey with food here.

Exploring my sensitivities, and which foods do and do not work for my body, led me to another version of my former eating-disorder behavior. This time, instead of focusing on loving myself because of how I looked, I turned my focus to loving how good I felt, as a result of practicing yoga and meditating everyday, self-care rituals, and living a clean, healthy lifestyle. Yet I was still missing the point. Because both of those versions of living involve conditional love – loving myself because I look or feel a certain way.

I realized this recently, when several instances of control-related issues emerged in my life. I believe we attract into our lives what our souls require for higher growth and learning. And I needed to learn the ugliness of the control-gripping monster.

Last week, I saw a photo of myself, and I realized that I was viewing it in a different way than I was accustomed to. A great deal of my life, I’ve seen my photo, and immediately began analyzing the parts. But last week, I looked at my face, and saw the whole person. I looked at my image just like I look at other people. I think this is what it means, to love myself unconditionally. Loving myself in entirety, no matter how I look, what I can do, or how I feel.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading about the beginning stages of my yoga journey. I think this is why I love teaching yoga to all ages, but especially kids and pre-teen and teenage girls. I have visions of one day starting a mindful living club for teenage girls, where we practice yoga, meditate, and talk about mind-body health.

For me, yoga is (and was) a game-changer, the gateway to my own healing. I began practicing because I wanted to be a size zero, and I thought “yoga for weight loss” would get me there. I think a lot of us start a yoga practice because we want something specific. Writing this reminds me of the song lyrics – “you can’t always get what you want/ but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need”. I never did become a size zero, from that dvd. Instead, I got exactly what I needed.

I intentionally don't keep photos around from my disorderly phase. Instead here's one from the peak of my "awkward phase" - 15 or 16 years old. Back when I thought it was okay to cut my own bangs. And apparently I really liked pink.
I intentionally don’t keep photos around from my unhealthy-eating period. Instead here’s one from one of my prime “awkward years” – 15 or 16 years old. Back when I thought it was okay to cut my own bangs. And apparently I liked pink.
Ten + years and so much growth later <3

“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.