Sunday, January 27, 2013

It's The End Of The World As We Know It...

"When God is moving you toward a new consciousness, you need to recognize the winds of change at once, move with them instead of clinging to what is already gone." ~ Marion Woodman

The winds of change are blowing at a good clip right now in my life. I know they will only become stronger in the coming weeks, strong enough to lift my entire family up and drop us into a foreign land.

I find myself in a space that my teacher Vidya calls "in the midst", in between worlds, at the crossroads, hanging out in the void. It is interesting to feel a kind of dissolving of my current life happening day by day. Yesterday I taught my last class to a very loyal group of students, the last class with them for I don't know how long, maybe ever. There is a loss in these endings that has a quality of deathlike finality, because the truth is, even if I do return to this town and these same classes someday, they won't be the same. I won't be the same, the students won't be the same. It is assuredly the end of this life, at least in the way it has been.

It makes me think of a lyric from a song I loved back in the day, "It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine." ~ R.E.M.

My world as I have known it is crumbling and I am being toppled headfirst into the unknown. A death is occurring and as a consequence a rebirth. As I let go of clinging to what is already gone I can shift my focus onto what is happening now and what possibilities lie ahead. As a yogini on the path, seeking  clarity, inner awakening and ultimately liberation there is so much here to inquire into, to feel and process.

In China I will be completely anonymous. No one will know a single thing about me. The one external constant will be my role in my family, mother and wife, but other than that it is a clean slate. Which begs the question so many people have asked me and which I ask of myself too, " What will I do over there?" Huh, what WILL I DO??

There is a part of me that has a pattern of feeling that my value is measured by my "doings", having a full and hectic schedule, getting things done and feeling productive. This pattern has at times robbed me of needed rest, time to reflect, time to just be.

So the first thing I will do will be to do nothing more than what each moment of each day requires. I will take time to settle, attend to my family, breathe and feel, be present. I will take time to land and reflect on this quality of being empty. I will embrace emptiness and become still so I can use all my senses to look inside, taking time to be with me.

Wow! Amazing how it has taken this coming move to China to get me to see the certain value in this. Going on a retreat from my external identity that is sometimes wrapped up in ego and accomplishment, desire and aversion, is ripe with potential soul growth. Stepping away from things that are fulfilling but also energy consuming and sometimes a source of fatigue and frustration could be a great healing.

I want to take this transformational circumstance and dive deep into it, and by doing so dive deep into me. I will shift my focus from being a teacher of yoga and return fully to being a student of yoga, step back to self discovery and become even more of who I am.

I intend to just make space for whatever will show up, outside, and more importantly inside of me. I want to be wide awake to the wonder and adventure, as well as the sadness and loneliness that will come. I want to be a vessel of experience and insight, whether that experience shows up as delight or struggle.

Even if you are not moving to China maybe you need some of this too. More inner looking than outer doing. Pausing to slow down and empty out, to get back to the bare bones of who you are. Spaces to be in feeling instead of rushing to the next item on the to do list and staying numb.

Transformation is always happening, sometimes it is big, fiery and all consuming or more often it lives in life's subtleties, ordinary exchanges with friends and family, small choices and daily commitments. Things are constantly coming and going, moments live and die away, pieces of who we are also have a time and then pass away. The cycles of life and death are always turning. Our dharma, or soul work, is to look, listen, feel, act and create so that these opportunities for growth are more often taken than left aside.  Sometimes the best action is a seeming inaction. Taking time to get quiet, so we can hear the music of our own souls and come to know ourselves completely. In knowing one's self, evolution becomes automatic.

The only sure thing is change.

"It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine."

Here is a link to the song from the soundtrack of my life.    

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Necessary Heartbreak or A Daughter Strays

My daughter Avery is turning twelve in a week. She will always be my baby, but now I see her growing, maturing, right on the precipice of being more a young woman than a little girl. I find myself hanging on to the last threads of what is quickly fading away. Our relationship is also shifting and here is where I meet my own resistance, my heart feels cracked and tender. The legacy of motherhood is to be broken open by love. It is beautiful and harrowing, it offers the most delicious of difficulties, the sweetest joy then bittersweet as its delicate blossoms mature to fruit. Here is a timeless tale that has infinite iterations, and which all mothers will someday tell. My version goes like this:

Once upon a time, my daughter Avery pledged her absolute loyalty to me. She told me that I was the sun in her sky. She loved me best of all in the whole entire world and she would never leave my side. Even when we moved far from where we once lived, she was at ease because all she really needed to be happy and secure was me, her mother. She told me she would stay with me forever.

Recently there came a day when we discovered we would be moving again, this time to a very distant and foreign land across the deep blue sea (China). I expected her to take this news gracefully, of course, knowing that the only one who really matters, me, would be, as always, right there by her side.

I was taken by surprise when her usual ease and placidity was replaced by angst ridden tears and howls of resistance. She proclaimed her refusal to go, she insisted she would be staying put. This was a dagger in my heart. My loyal and precious daughter had forsaken me. How could this be? What evil curse was at work? Who was to blame?

She said she did not want to leave her school, her friends. She needed her friends and now she would be torn away from them. That is how I discovered that my child, my precious, was straying from me (yeah I have some drama queen in me too, like daughter like mother). I was no longer the only star in her sky, not the only light she lived by. I had competition, not only that, in a sense I was losing, losing something I so cherished. Things would now and forever be more complicated, gone the days of that pure and simple devotion, gone the unfettered love of a little girl for her mother.

In this sadness of what I felt to be the dying of what once was, I realized what every mother will have to confront and ultimately embrace. I would have to start letting go. I would have to let this unfold, resistance would only bring suffering. My little girl was growing up, asserting her individuality, her independent spirit being forged before my eyes. This is the necessary heartbreak we mothers will all share. We have loved more than we ever dreamed we could love another being. We know we would jump in front of a train for our children, or stand between them and any dark force (like the proverbial Wicked Witch of the West). We want to love and protect them, forever, happily ever after.

In the end we will have to let them learn how to forge their own path, to endure life's challenges. We will have to let them go like Dorothy to Oz. We must allow them to get swept up and away to the places they are destined to. Places that hold the lessons of their unique lifetime. They will have to confront their fears, sometimes on their own while we watch, praying, hoping, heart aching. Other times they will come back home to the arms of the brightest star in their sky and we will also return to them.

After all, after all the adventure, confrontation, and stepping into her brilliant power, after making the best and most important friends of her life, Dorothy still could not wait to click her heels and say "There's no place like home."

I am proud that I can see the outcome of my parenting thus far is a daughter who has a voice, who will say what she feels and express herself boldly and completely.  I have a daughter who trusts my love so completely she knows she can be in her truth, even if it is a truth that I won't like, or that might hurt me. She knows my love and support will continue, no question, no doubt, no fear. So yeah my heart is a little torn and achy, but it is necessary and it is good. Thankfully this process of separating happens over time. She is only twelve, and yes things are changing, but I have a few more years with her pulled near at my side.

Every ending heralds a new beginning. As Sting sang it best. If you love somebody set them free!!    
It is a good song to dance to as well.      


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Putting The OM In Home

The scriptures tell us that "OM" is the primordial vibration from which the entire universe has arisen.

This past week I went home. I went home to a place called Kripalu Center, many people go there but not all of those people will call it home. I call it home because it is a place where I have found family; my spiritual family, my sangha, my lineage, my people. It is there, in rooms where mantras and prayers have lived for decades, where residents painted sacred words right into the walls that I found my brothers and sisters, my teachers, and most importantly Bapuji, revered saint and the founder of this lineage. It is there that I rediscovered and reclaimed me, the true me, all of me! It is there, that in these twelve years of practice, exploration and connection that I have come to know my own heart and soul, the divine being and source that live right here in me.

That is the true homecoming that yoga offers to all of us, a discovery of the love that we all are, the divine consciousness that we all are, that we are all connected to, and which connects us all to each other. Bapuji said, "The world is one family."

We gathered over the weekend, this family of Swami Kripalu (or Bapuji), to honor him on what would have been his 100th birthday. It was a gathering of former ashram residents, more recent devotees, students and teachers, and even people who had never been to Kripalu before. As we came together to chant, pray, hear stories about Bapuji, to celebrate his legacy of love I could feel his presence in the room, I could see him in every face, my heart was blossoming into fullness, energy was streaming through me, I felt so uplifted, illuminated.

There was such a bright light shining as to reveal the true self and to release all that is not that truth.
There was pure and unquestionable love, there was presence and peace.

We chanted the sound of Om many times over the weekend. The sacred sound that reminds us that we all come from the same place, a vast ocean of love. We are the music of the universe that moves in us and through us. I could feel that in every ounce of my body, as our collective voices sang this most simple of hymns this truth was evident, simply known.

If this sounds unimaginable, if you think this is some new age fluff, a delusion or just plain crazy, then start some experiments. Go to a Kripalu yoga class, start a regular practice, breathe, move, pray, chant the sound of Om, love people consciously. Yes, love is the cornerstone of this yogic path. Who doesn't want more love? Swami Kripalu emphasized this practice above all others.

“Truly, the wise proclaim that love is the only path, love is the only God, and love is the only scripture. Only love can bring unity and remove the separation between all living beings. Only love purifies the body and mind. Love is not far away; it is as close as your heart. You can find it living there without walking a single step.” ~ Swami Kripalu

Maybe it is crazy. Bapuji said it is a path for fools, but I have not encountered anything more healing or empowering than being in this family of divine loving fools.

Being on this path has transformed my view of the world, it has made me a better wife and mother, a better sister and daughter, a more conscious person, more awake, fully engaged in life. It has put the OM in my home and my heart is full of gratitude.

Jai Bhagwan and Jai Bapuji!


Monday, January 7, 2013

Sandy Hook

"If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." ~ Mother Teresa

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate only love can do that." ~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

I have waited quite awhile to write about this. I was not sure I would or could.

My heart has been aching, broken, a wrenching sadness coming in waves, a despair deep as an ocean. Life is sometimes cataclysmic, there is such fragility in this existence.

One day not so long ago all was bright, the holiday season, family, children, all the good things, the best things.

I came home from doing some Christmas shopping with my husband and mother-in-law. We had shared a lovely lunch, we laughed, bustled from shop to shop in the brisk winter chill, holiday tunes playing in the street. When I got home I went to my email and saw an odd heading on one from my daughter's school. I opened it and as I read my heart began to sink, darkness rolled into me, I could not understand what these words said. I hoped to wake up. I prayed to misunderstand.

My husband came to stand behind me and I said, "Something horrible has happened, something so horrible." Tears were filling my eyes and they do right now too. So many tears, for so many days now.
I read how in a town in the same state I live in, not a far drive away, a town just like mine, affluent, quiet, idyllic, the unthinkable had happened.

Adam Lanza, barely a man himself, had entered Sandy Hook Elementary School by force and proceeded to brutally gun down six staff and twenty children. Over the coming days the details of this tragedy would be laid out along with many bodies most of them just six or seven years old. The slaying of purity and innocence is what we grieve, what I grieve.

I have heard many people talk about "evil" in reference to Adam Lanza.Yes, it is easy to be so angry with him, to hate him. What he did is the worst of what we are capable of, the heart of darkness. When we call out evil, blame evil, it lets all of "us" off the hook. If it is just that he was pure evil we don't have to honor his humanity or inspect the pain and despair that must have grown in him over his twenty years of life.  I know if we could watch a documentary of those twenty years we would see all the times , events, people and circumstances that led to that moment. We would know him as a child who was somehow not seen, who suffered intensely and was not rescued. There would be people who noticed but did not act, just as we probably all have done with someone at some time. Adam Lanza most likely lived in a very desolate lonely place and he died there too. He was once a boy, he surely wanted love. He was a human being.

When people commit atrocities large or small I think it is wise to remember, "There but for the grace of God go I." I am not making excuses, dismissing responsibility or denying the cry of outrage that issues forth from my own heart and soul as well. In fact I have been angry, furious, screaming to the heavens. I have not been angry with Adam Lanza though, I have been angry with God.

In a way I think I can understand how an Adam Lanza can come to be. I lived some dark desperate times early in my life. When I was twenty I was angry, bitter, lonely, I very often felt desperate and hopeless. I lashed out at people, mostly myself. God or spirituality were a far distant and frankly undesirable land. If life was this painful how could there be grace, not in my world. Grace was for other people, maybe, but if God's grace existed, I was definitely in exile. Unlike Adam though, certain things transpired for me that landed me in hands of help and I was able to start to recover, to heal.  I turned my life around.

Over the the last twelve years I have been practicing yoga, at first like so many I thought is was just a physical fitness pursuit, but very quickly it opened my mind and heart to so much more, but my spirit was much more resistant. Then my teacher Vidya came into my life and she has patiently and vigilantly tended to and guided my exploration of a relationship with the divine, with God. It has been a tumultuous process, with one step forward and two steps back. I have witnessed true miracles in my practice. I have felt the growth of true love and compassion in my life. What causes me doubt is the darkness and suffering I see in the world. I watch the news on any given day and I ask God "Why?".

Sandy Hook hit so close to home both geographically and energetically that it was overwhelming for me. I have a daughter who is seven years old. She is bright and beautiful, small and so innocent. I can understand in a way how an Adam Lanza came to be, but I can't fathom doing what he did. To look at a face like my daughters and want to erase it, he must have been in a state of the most excruciating illness. I can come to terms with that. What I struggle with is how God could could let this happen. I have looked to the sky crying and asked, "Where were you, and if your grace was there how could it let this pass?". I have easily extended my forgiveness and compassion to Adam Lanza but I have not yet been able to extend it to God.

As the weeks have passed now, I have persevered and even in my anger and tears I have lit my candle, I have prayed. I begin to understand that it is alright for me to be angry with God, to let it be felt as intensely as it needs to be. I have seen how this event, as tragedies do, has served to bring people together, has inspired kindness and love. It is hopeful.

I have taught yoga classes since Sandy Hook and have brought into them the question of "What do we do with this? Who will we become with this?". That we is really me to be sure. The answer is to go on, to move forward, not in denial but in feeling, to remember the darkness and into it bring light. If the result is that as a people we hug our children more, practice random acts of kindness, attend to each other more compassionately, if the result is more love, then it is new life that rises from the ashes of destruction.

I think one thing needs to be addressed in particular though. We need to love everyone. We need to love the awkward, the eccentric, the misfits. We need to see it when someone is suffering and isolated and instead of looking or running the other way we need to connect. We need to love those who are not easy to love, those who don't know how to ask for it. We need to see all our brothers and sisters as family and leave no one in exile. If we want this kind of violence to never happen again it won't be because of more or less guns, or more security in schools. It will be because we finally address mental illness with compassion and conviction. We must see the unseeable, touch the untouchables. Maybe that is what God in a distressing disguise is praying for us. After all, "There but for the grace of God go I."

As I finish writing this the warm sun is shining on my back and my bubbly bright daughters are calling to me. I am feeling much more forgiving of God and ready to get on with the business of love.

I am glad I wrote this.    

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Two Words To Tip My World

"The bad news is you’re falling through the air, nothing to hang on to, no parachute. The good news is there’s no ground.”
— Chögyam Trungpa

No ground. 

I am living between worlds, but here I am. Right now, here, in life experience. 

We all have lessons and events that life offers to us for soul growth and it is up to us to learn or not. How this works is a mystery to me, but I know it happens. How many helpings of a lesson served might be a factor of acceptance or resistance, action or retreat. Maybe it varies. I can only guess or estimate from my own experience.

What is certain, in my opinion, is that as soon as we think there is mastery, what feels like solid ground, "Finally, safety and security!", the ground gives way, it shifts again. Maybe we stumble, maybe we free fall, perhaps we are picked up by tornado like forces only to be dropped in a whole different state of being, all different expressions of no ground. 

Some of these lessons happen over time and they make themselves known gently, they ease their way in, glacially slow. Some blast in, abrupt and shattering, like a volcano erupting, changing reality in a mere instant. In a flash a new world can blossom, illusion once again torn away.

The illusion being the idea that I am in control of anything except for my personal response to these brilliant, divine offerings. I can suffer or I can soar. I can resist or relax. I can stay who I am or I can expand and evolve.

I am moving into a great wide unknown, time to fly. I will tell you why.

A little over a month ago I was sitting sleepily on my couch, considering the long journey to my bed. My husband, Stephen, was traveling so it was all up to me. Move or don't move. I had total control of this small yet immediate experience. Blissfully simple.

The phone rang and the caller i.d. let me know it was Stephen, odd for him to call me at this late hour. I answered and after a short "hello" and "how are you?", he got down to the reason for the call. My ground was about to fall out from under me in volcanic, seismic, plate shifting fashion.

He said, "I could not sleep until I talked to you."

This put my guard up and slapped the sleep off my face.   

I said, "What's going on?"

He said, "I got a call today and have been offered a promotion, but we will have to move."

Now, this was not very shocking since we have moved several times for his job and we knew a promotion was on the horizon. To me this felt like a thunderstorm event, a rumble and roar, but nothing we have not weathered before.

So of course my next question was, "To where?"

I anticipated something like Maryland, Ohio, Minnesota. Perhaps far but familiar.

The next two seconds would quickly fill with two booming, explosive words and my whole world would tilt on its very axis.

The response was, "Shanghai, China." 

Those two words instantaneously changed the face of my life landscape. All my routines, my predictable life, my very sense of who I am began to crumble.  I felt like I was dissolving, falling so fast through space and time. One second I was here, and now......and now I am here, but not quite here. I am changed, though nothing has really changed, not yet. 

I was just trying to go to bed and now I was going to freaking China! From simple to insanely complicated, just like that. It only took two words to tip my world. 

Shanghai, China, almost might as well be Mars. I have no concept, no frame of reference, no language, no idea whatsoever, and I love that. Complete newness, the ultimate clean slate.

I am so excited to go, so very intrigued, I can hardly wait. I know I am going to explore so much new territory both externally and internally. I am going to ride some big waves and crash on a few rocks, cliff jumping, life diving. No parachute.  

I do have some anxiety, maybe even a smidgen of fear, but mostly I am just totally fascinated about this new venture, this new chapter. 

Even with no ground out there, I have the very solid rock of my faith and spiritual practice, in here, in me. 

The most important people in my life are going with me.  

Lesson number one in groundlessness is that you only ever have control over your responses to people, places, events and changes. You choose your actions, your words, your way of seeing. 

When you know that you can fall with no parachute, nothing to hold on to, and know also that you are perfectly safe. You can go anywhere, anything can happen!

For me, next stop Shanghai.