Friend, from the very beginning, you were not broken. You were not born into sin. You were not destined for the spiritual garbage heap. There was never anything fundamentally missing from your life.
You just thought that there was. Others tried to convince you that you were not good enough, because they too felt not good enough. In your innocence, and with no evidence to the contrary, you believed them. So you spent all those years trying to fix, purify and perfect yourself. You sought power, wealth, fame and even enlightenment to prove your worth as a ‘me’. You compared yourself to other versions of ‘me’, and always felt inferior or superior, and it all became so exhausting, trying to reach those unreachable goals, trying to live up to some image that you didn’t even fully believe in anyway, and you longed for the deep rest of yourself.
But you were always perfect, you see, from the very beginning. Perfect in your total imperfection. Your imperfections, your quirks, your flaws, your weirdnesses, your unique and irreplaceable flavours, were what made you so loveable, so human, so real, so relatable. Even in your imperfection, you were always a perfect expression of life, a beloved child of the universe, a complete work of art, unique in all the world and deserving of all the riches of life.
It was never about being a perfect ‘me’. It was always about being perfectly Here, perfectly yourself, in all your divine strangeness. “Forget your perfect offering”, Leonard Cohen sings. “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”
2013 was a very difficult year for me. So many losses, farewells, failures.... dreams lost or abandoned. My body was like a tree and God was the wind... a gusty wind... he moved me this way and that way... and sometimes it felt like Angels bumped heads with each other and their tears ran down my face to join with my own on an almost daily basis. I've described 2013 before as a storm or a roller coaster ride in my life... that it was. So many ups and oh so many downs.
If you have spoken with me recently or follow me on Facebook then you probably know that in the beginning of my most recent heartbreak, I figured that this was it. That this was the last time I'd look at a person with total trust, with an open heart, with complete faith. Since then I've basically lived as a hermit, withdrawing myself emotionally from most everything, including yoga, my books, family, friends, and society. I've discovered that this kind of life is very lonely though. It's not very fulfilling and in fact, can it really be called living? Have you experienced this before?
I've spent so much time experiencing sorrow this past year. I've gone through all the stages of grief: sadness, anger, denial, etc... Tears have been shed on an almost daily basis and then sometimes they stop when I get so angry that I close up and retreat back into my cave... desensitizing... and then they come right back out, as if they had been pooling there within me all along... just waiting for the dam to be lifted...
Until about five days ago.... and then the tears suddenly stopped and it wasn't completely due to anger or frustration... they just stopped. Things became clearer... or maybe I ran out of tears? I don't know, but I do know that tomorrow starts a new chapter in my life. I will venture forth out of my cave and into this world with a new outlook....
It's a wintery Friday today and I am eagerly waiting for my friend Jillian to visit me tomorrow. Her mission = to help me smile again...
Thus my new outlook. A new lesson learned in this roller coaster ride called my life.
I have recently been among the millions of people that decided not to be sensitive anymore. The people that have grown thick skins around themselves just to avoid being hurt by anybody. This comes with a great cost. Nobody can hurt us, but nobody can make us happy either.
So, I've contemplated this now for the past week and figured that when I start becoming open, both things become available: Sometimes it will be cloudy, and sometimes there will be sun. But if I remain closed off in my cave, then there is no cloud and there is no sun either. It is good to come out, to dance with the sun, and yes, sometimes to feel sad with the clouds too... and sometimes it will be very windy. But... When we come out of the cave, all things are possible, and one of the things is that people can hurt us... but that is only one of the things.
There are millions of possibilities; so if you've been here before, let's think of those things instead. If we do this then we will become happier; we will become more loving. We will be more available, and other people will be more available to us. We will be able to laugh, we will be able to celebrate. There are a thousand and one possibilities. Why choose only one thing, that people may hurt us? I'd rather go on in this new chapter thinking that maybe they will make me smile again instead.
Love, Love, Love you my fellow yogis. ~ Ashley
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
I wake up every morning and go about my day, but always I come back to thoughts of my mother... Sometimes these thoughts and feelings are overwhelming. It feels like I am a hopelessly small island in the midst of a storm and I just can't help the tsunami of emotions from washing over me, consistently, throughout the day. Sometimes it almost renders me useless for a moment... in tears... or even numb. Sometimes I smile. Sometimes the waves slide over me and then wash away some of the pain. Sometimes I am not affected much at all.
Through my Yoga & Ayurveda studies, I have repeatedly observed that lifestyle choices, such as diet, exercise, and daily routine, can be a potent source of healing as well as a cause of disease. Many health problems seem intertwined with the stresses of daily life, family and relationship problems, and worries about jobs and money. Others are directly connected to eating the wrong kinds of food or getting too much or too little exercise. In regard to the stresses of daily life, I have learned that our emotions play a vital part in our physical health. In fact, this is obvious with a little observation. When a person is depressed their body shows it... slumped shoulders, chin down and forward, chest caved in some, combined with a lack of energy and sometimes appetite. When a person is proud, their head is held high, their chest is forward and reaching up towards the sky, their chin is up, they are full of energy.
I have also grown more and more aware that illness provides us with an invitation for self-transformation, an opportunity to change our way of thinking, feeling, eating, and in general caring for ourselves and our lives. It never ceases to amaze and delight me how quickly and powerfully life can be set on the right track and balance restored simply through a proper diet, herbal medicines, meditation, body awareness, an appropriate exercise program, and other purely natural means. For example:
In 2011, I entered the ashram at 7 Centers Yoga Arts Academy for my 200 hour, classically trained, Hatha Yoga teacher certification. Within the first week I became very sick. I had mucus coming from every hole in my head; I had a fever; I had the shakes. What caused this sickness? Upon reflection and education, I realized that it was stress that caused me to become ill. I was so nervous and so anxious and my body was so full of fear of the unknown. Deep down, while sick, my intuition told me that I was sick due to this stress, that I needed to chill out. I knew it! But I just didn't know it yet... I didn't know yet how to listen to my body. It was through my yoga studies and body awareness that it became clear to me... that my emotions have a direct impact on my overall health. Each time I've gotten sick over the years, I can directly connect it to a negative emotional state that I've been experiencing... and with practice, learn to change and avoid the sickness.
My Point. I miss my mom on a daily basis. I experience stress from work, bills, life in general. I worry. Sometimes I even freak out. But through yoga, meditation, and observation, I am aware that this happens. That I feel these things. This awareness helps me stop, reflect, and then change how I feel.
"Yes... I feel sadness... I miss my mom... I feel like crying... I will sit here with that for a moment and then I will think of how much I love her and how she is in a better place with less suffering... and I will make this cup of tulsi tea, roll my shoulders back away from my ears and straighten my spine and write this blog now."
"Yes, the fact that my computer just shut down for no reason, rendering this blog possibly unsaved, is really, really irritating. My heart is beating faster, I am scowling... chill out.. it's okay... you can start over... it's not the end of the world... relax your shoulders... relax your face... take a deep breath... maybe another deep breath... okay, smile and start over."
Just like that, we can cease to suffer. We all feel pain in some form or fashion throughout our lives. Pain lets us know we are alive! But we don't have to suffer dear yogi's. We can choose to smile, feel love, and let go.
As 2012 comes to a close, some of us celebrate the good that has entered our lives and reconcile that which has brought sadness, insecurity, or anger. This kind of emotional (vichara), or self-reflection, is a powerful way of releasing the past and making space for new life to flourish. I often celebrate the New Year by making a list of my intentions for the year to come—writing down what I want for myself, using affirmative language, and—of course—making it all sound yogically kosher: "In the year to come, I'll serve my students with joy. I'll experience abundance in my spiritual, emotional, and material life. I'll live within my heart and center and respond through love." Stuff like that. This year I intend on spending more time consciously recollecting my words and actions of the previous year... Something that's not always easy, but I find that it is exactly what I need sometimes.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says that Vichara/Self-Reflection is a way of clearing the underbrush out of our inner field. When we make up our mind to look clearly at our own unconscious actions, or the inner murk that can hide our less savory motives, we dissolve a lot of the sludge that we carry around in our heart. The miracle of (Vichara), or self-reflection is that it creates a current of self-awareness that can bring transformation all by itself. The process of recalling a charged event, bringing it to consciousness, feeling remorse if appropriate, and then letting it go is the precursor to letting go of the negativity and self-judgment embedded in the memories of actions we might regret.
Looking at ourselves honestly is not easy for most of us. Often it's downright uncomfortable. Our habits of self-justification, blame, and denial often are deeply rooted. Some of us have a hard time admitting our successes. Most of us have an even harder time admitting our mistakes. One reason for this is that we identify so closely with our usual way of doing things that we don't believe that we can change. Sometimes we don't want to! However, the more you get in the habit of looking back at your day, week, or month and clearing your discomfort, the more automatic it becomes.
And so this morning I spent time rearranging my alter and my inner-self to reflect my new focus and intention for the upcoming year - Gratitude and Self-Healing. The essence of an altar is to honor Divine energies, express gratitude, give offerings and ask for blessings and protection. My last alter was focused on opening my heart and so it had pictures of people I hoped to forgive or send love and compassion and peace towards... My new alter includes a picture of my grandparents and of my love, Mike. Other little things are here and there. A mala that I gave to my Grandma about a year before she died. Flowers and a rose quartz mala that Mike gave me. Crystals, incense, and pictures of deities that create a loving feeling in my heart... A quote that moves me, which I posted in the last blog entry, but you can read it here if you like.
While I was adding a few finishing touches on my new space, I became just a little bit sad... The idea of purposely spending time meditating on my own self-healing and continued gratitude for everything, well it's a little bit intimidating... And then this song came on my iPod. Perfect timing. I closed my eyes, naturally fell into a meditative position, my left hand went into Gyan Mudra, while my right hand rested on my heart... and I surrendered... to myself, to my past, to the future. I sent love to my past, present, and future self and to everyone I love... Despite having a following moment of slightly wet lashes, it has been a good day... This new alter seems to create a feeling of peace and harmony with the way my life is at this moment... I feel more gratitude for the people in my life, the memories I have, whether good or bad; the experiences I've endured or thrived in... So today, I adjusted my alter, spent about 25 minutes in seated meditation, practiced Anusara Yoga and then went running/frolicking with my dog Gracie. I feel really whole and happy today. I hope you do too.
“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
"When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life."
- Eckhart Tolle
This morning when practicing, I had a moment when I realized the difference between doing and being in each posture.
Through the years, I have practiced and flowed through the same sequence with minor changes here or there depending on the part of my body that needed love.... and even though the sequence remains essentially the same each time I practice it, the richness lies in finding newness and presence everyday in a pose I do every single time my feet touch the mat.
Some days it is a struggle. Other days everything seems to flow with ease and effortlessness.
Yesterday I went downstairs to my yoga room and laid my mat out and then just stood there thinking about how I had not practiced yoga in four days and that my body was probably going to be stiff and not as limber as it usually is (not really a good way to start a practice = with self loathing, disappointment etc). As I was flowing through my sequence I became aware that I was annoyed with my body and with myself for losing balance in my life... I even punished myself with words internally: "Four days Ashley! You're not a good yogi... etc".
The lack of flexibility in my back while in Bhujangasana (Cobra) annoyed me. Chaturanga annoyed me because my arms felt weak. When I attempted to "float" back to the front of my mat to be in Ardha Uttanasana, I literally slammed my feet down instead of lightly placing them between my hands. Ugh, the frustration! When I went into my first Uttanasana (Forward Fold) I was unable to touch my head to my knees because my hamstrings were too tight. All these things bothered me. I was aware they bothered me, but it seemed that becoming aware of it wasn't enough to make my feelings change immediately. At least not yet.
Over time I felt my hips loosen up. My head touched my knees, my shoulders gave way and my heart opened up and I became aware that my body was returning to me. I held Bakasana (Crane Pose). It felt good and I smiled.... but the battle with my ego did not end there. I started flying through my asanas... focusing on the future, on Savasana. On being done with this practice. On being able to say to myself, "Good job, you practiced, you did it". I was quickly going through poses, my teeth were tightly shut, I was not breathing properly, I was subconsciously just trying to be done. One hour later and many attempts to come back to center or be kind to myself resulted in me simply ceasing to practice. I stopped. I just stopped and I stood there and I thought to myself, "What's up with you? What do you want?" So I lied down on my mat, closed my eyes, and I did not move or think for 20 minutes. And it felt good... and after 20 minutes I sat up and decided that I would just stay here all day until I forgave myself for being so silly one hour earlier.
After Savasana I picked up my yoga notebook and my copy of the Yoga Sutra's. I have had this kind of practice before in my life and with a little research I found the following lesson:
Practice and Non-Attachment
Two core principles: Practice (abhyasa, 1.13) and non-attachment (vairagya, 1.15) are the two core principles on which the entire system of Yoga rests (1.12). It is through the cultivation of these two that the other practices evolve, by which mastery over the mind field occurs (1.2), and allows the realization of the true Self (1.3).
I felt so much better after reading that. I let go of my attachment to what I thought my body should feel like and what my practice should look like. Some days it's a struggle. Other days everything seems to flow with ease and effortlessness. Accepting that this particular practice wasn't like others before it, and being with whatever has changed, gave me an experience on the mat that I can utilize in my daily life. I am grateful for that.
After giving in to my body and lying down in Savasana, I found total satisfaction with scaling back, and becoming less concerned with how far I've come, and more into how deep I can go. It's never ending. Instead of spreading myself thin, I found unlimited abundance with simply being where I am.
"It's the same sequence, but everyday is different."
This mornings practice was different, just as I knew it would be. I found joy in my breath and in my body. I felt happiness that I was sore, that my hamstrings were even tighter than they were yesterday. It can be easy to get caught up in the accomplishment of postures, like I did yesterday with Bakasana and when I thought to myself that I would feel better if I could just say to myself that I did the whole practice, however with that, there is little experience with Grace. With being in the pose and the joy that I can even be in the pose, as I am.... Merely Doing a practice lacks the presence and reward of Being in the practice; of simply being.
Balancing the effort of my practice with non-doing becomes a subtle practice in and of itself.
"It's the same sequence, but everyday is different."
Now, this morning, I've come to a point where I've listened to my inner voice, and pressed on a bit further, knowing that nothing has been lost, and nothing is really gained by doing so. All is already available, and always has been.
It's so cool how our teachers in all their forms: a book, yourself, an asana... Have a way of subtly teaching us these vast and important lessons. You know what I mean? :)
Do you want peace? Forgiveness offers it.
Do you want happiness, a quiet mind,
a certainty of purpose,
and a sense of worth and beauty
that transcends the world?
Do you want a quietness that cannot be disturbed,
a gentleness that can never be hurt,
a deep abiding comfort,
and a rest so perfect it can never be upset?
All this forgiveness offers you.
~A Course in Miracles
Somehow, in the last couple days, I got caught up in focusing on what has been lacking in my life... instead of focusing on the great blessings that have been bestowed on me. I guess it is something we can all get sucked into from time to time.
I feel awkward writing about something so personal... especially since I just had a wonderful time of yoga in the park... but I feel this need to express myself some and the lessons that I learned today.
It started when my sweetheart started frowning more often than not and when we both became stressed about a lack of funds. He recently came across a quote on his daughters yoga page that broke his heart, again...
To quote his daughter, "After almost two years of college I took a semester off to receive my second 200hr training in Kundalini Yoga through 7 Centers Yoga Arts. This training brought an amazing level of peace to my life, that at the time was very chaotic. My father left our family, essentially leaving us emotionally and financially high and dry you could say."
This hurts us both because it's so not true, which leads me to question perspective and reality.
Mark Twain said, “Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.” I hope this is not true in this case.
My sweethearts ex-wife requested a divorce over 6 years ago and since then he's provided for them all in every way... for the very Kundalini training and all yoga trainings that his daughter has taken and that she quotes as a savior during this time, and for her and her brothers college, all their cars, the roof over their heads. All their bills. Computers. Insurance. Medical expenses. Car repairs. You name it. And his heart has been open and never once closed off to his children... So... he's been hurt. I've been hurt. We've both worked so hard to keep them afloat as well as ourselves... it just hurts. We both keep hoping that this isn't the case anymore... that her perspective has changed, but she's given him no reason to think otherwise...
*Sigh... so here I am. Becoming aware of this sorry and pitiful state within myself. It has been important for me to continually remind myself of all that I have to be grateful for...
Anaïs Nin (1903 - 1977) said, "We don't see things as they are, we see them as we are."
I learned this quote from a guide when I was a young girl... after experiencing many traumatic events.... it made me realize I no longer wanted to feel broken or empty or abandoned or alone, because I truly wasn't.
So maybe, his daughter is just so wrapped up in the feelings of loss for him in her home that she feels bereft of everything else (emotional and financial support) in general? Even though that's not reality.
In practice I have been sending energy to the core central axis of the body.... starting from the bandhas, reaching up through the heart center and extending through the top of the head... continually finding a grounding sensation with the earth. It can be a magical experience... then the periphery seem to line up in a dynamic way. Connecting to prana... feeling subtle energy... I find it one of the most fascinating parts when it comes to the practice of yoga... the sensitivity we can tap into... feeling the grace that surrounds us... its beautiful... its powerful... and I'm sending peace her way. Om, shanti shanti shanti... Peace. Peace. Peace.
“Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked.”
― Patanjali, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Love is the essence of our life. I have written this blog with love, and I offer it to you, dear reader, with the hope that the suggestions offered here will become a vital part of your self-healing and continued well-being.
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