Sunday, September 22, 2013

Holding Happiness and Struggle

"I am learning so much right now, about myself, about holding happiness and struggle both at the same time. I am learning about acting and letting go in synchrony. Wow."

The quote above was a recent Facebook post of mine. Quite a few people liked or commented on this and a few asked to me to teach them about this, so I decided to elaborate and get specific.

At the very heart of this powerful learning is struggle. I am struggling. The center-point of that struggle is a complex and tangled web of beliefs and questions about myself, my worth, and also about power and control.

I have circumstances in my life, as we all do, over which I have no power or control. Does that make me powerless? I have had moments where I have felt that it does, moments where I just want to lie down and give up, moments where I feel I am too afraid or weak to handle the challenges of my life. I have felt small and lost. I have questioned my value and worth.

The particulars of this experience or story are not as important as the feeling of it, the energy or loss of energy. The particulars are the "story" that is unique to me, the feelings and energies are essentially human. You have probably felt this way too, in some way at some time, maybe right now.

For the sake of understanding the learning I am in,  I will share some of the details of my current struggle, the story.  I live in China with my family, as my husband is on a work assignment here, meaning a new culture, new environment, a big learning curve. We have three children here with us, two of them are teenagers. Do I need to say more? Probably not, but I will. I am also teaching yoga at a studio. The environment and mindset are so foreign to the yoga world I have been in and I am swimming against the current.

My son, Mason, has ADD and a computer addiction, besides being a teenage boy.  I know. I am up against it with him. His grades are not so good, but worse are his attitude and bold disrespect right now. He is angry because his father and I have set some strong boundaries around school and computer use. He is railing against it. My other two, girls, almost 13 and 8, are also finding bumps and struggles in this new life in China. I love them all so much. It hurts me intensely to know they are and will have to go through their own trials and tribulations in this life. My mother instinct wants to fiercely protect them even from themselves. I thirst for a power and control that are impossible to have.

The yoga culture here is, again, a circumstance which I am operating under. It is what it is and I am who I am.  Many of the "beginning" students here have far surpassed my asana abilities, and deeper practices or spiritual practices are somewhere way in the background. I feel a bit like Alice down the rabbit hole, out of place, awkward and unsure.

It (the struggle) seems to be coming at me from all sides and I have found myself feeling paralyzed and breathless at times. Point to the exit sign, I want to run away!! I have felt this so deeply and agonizingly.Then, eventually, a breath comes and my wise and true self with whom I am reconnecting through yoga helps me to remember; pause and be. Be with it, open to it fully, let go. 

The despair, the loss of empowerment, the depth of the struggle live not in these details, the story, but how I am choosing to relate to it. I cannot control all these events and circumstances, I most certainly cannot control other people. I can control myself and myself alone. Even amid struggle there is this beautiful possibility of happiness and contentment. To hold happiness and struggle together, to allow them to coexist is such a powerful action. True happiness does not come from control of the external world it comes from a deep connection in the inner world. I feel this when I accept all parts of myself and trust my heart, trust life, trust grace. I pause into my sacred breath and feel abundance and gratitude for all I have and even these struggles, they are surely wise teachers helping me to evolve, helping others to do the same as well.

 I would do my children a deep disservice if I protected them from all hardship, from their mistakes and heartbreaks. I would cheat them in so may ways and on every level. I know that when I listen to my own life.

I would cheat the yoga community here if I tried to fit in, if I did not show up and offer my teaching in its unique expression. If I tried to do that I would really be lost. 

I do not have this mastered in any way. I have moments of success and many moments of forgetting. I am a student of this life, learning lessons as they come, finding more acceptance as it goes. In this way I can be in the action of my life, engaging with all the people and events, but in the moment not clinging to those actions or an expected result. I still become reactive, afraid, angry, more often than I would like, but I am understanding it more. I am learning about these aspects of myself and integrating and harmonizing my light and shadow sides slowly, diligently.

Yoga is about union, wholeness and completion. We are all yogis, maybe some don't use that terminology, but we are all seekers of this union, this deep knowing of ourselves. Yes, to marry that which seems so deeply separated over and over until illusion is stripped away and all is revealed as perfect and harmonious, life flowing from source. Happiness in the midst of struggle, action enjoined with surrender. The essence of life being love.

My children need to be who they are and I most powerfully guide them by loving them. I do the best I can as a mother and then I let go, the love is constant, the circumstances ever changing.

I show up in my teaching with what I have in my body, mind and spirit in that moment. It is an offering that I need not cling to or depend on for my sense of self. I act and surrender.

My own yoga teacher is currently focused on the concept of deliberate faith. I know that there can be no faith without surrender, no lasting happiness without letting go. To let go and step forward into the unknown deliberately and repeatedly is the fire of transformational practice, the light it creates is love. These serve as my guideposts, my pathway, and so I carry on.

"I am a pilgrim on the path of love." ~ Swami Kriplau


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Daring To Be Me

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

     This week, on Friday, at 2:00 Shanghai time to be exact, I will officially begin my part time teaching gig at Y+, the biggest yoga studio in Shanghai. Exciting? Yes. Terrifying? A bit.

This studio has three locations, it is fancy, high gloss, big city yoga, way out of my comfort zone. It's clientele is predominantly super bendy Chinese women in their twenties, versus me, a not so bendy 42 year old woman and mother of three, further still from my comfort zone. The yoga culture here is all about the body, achievement oriented, far from spiritual, all about sweat and doing the next more advanced pose, a universe away from my comfort zone.

There is that quote, maybe you have heard it, "Your life begins where your comfort zone ends." I am about to step into a whole lotta life! This is that yoga of "bearing the consequences of being who you are". From the get go I had a choice, to try to fit in and mold myself as best I could to blend into these surroundings, or I could dare to be me and accept whatever outcome that provided.

When the studio manager interviewed me a few months ago, I was very transparent and conscientious in making sure she completely understood where I stand on yoga practice, as well as what strengths and gifts I bring to the table and what I don't. I talked about being a yoga educator and not just a one dimensional asana leader. I talked about a yoga that everyone can practice, and populations who need yoga and are not being served by the current yoga culture. I admitted that after all these years of practice I can not do a handstand and probably never will, but that my spirit and life force are exponentially stronger, and I know myself more with each day of practice. At the end of this lengthy interview I wasn't sure where I stood, but I knew I had been completely authentic, honest and true. The studio manager said she wanted to set up an audition class. I agreed, heart pounding.

She billed my audition class as "gentle flow" and it would be open to all studio members. Leading up to the class she asked me if it would really be gentle? Even on the day of the class she asked me if it would be very gentle and if she would get very sweaty? I told her it would be gentle and definitely not very sweaty. I had planned a flow, very Kripalu in style, compassionately working and opening the whole body with a focus on self inquiry and awareness of all aspects of being, and, of course, a lot of breath!

As I led the class I could sense many of the students were unfamiliar with such a gentleness in the movements and this emphasis on feeling and inner focus. I stood firmly on what I have learned from my teachers and my practice, be true to myself, have faith in my path, when in doubt, breathe. Really, in no uncertain terms, it was dare to be me or just not show up at all. I can't will my body into being other than what it is. I can model acceptance though, I trust that shift will happen.  

"The feedback from the class was mixed." I was told in a subsequent meeting. "Many of the students loved it and appreciated this style of yoga. Those who rated the class lower," the studio manager explained, "did so because they thought it was not hard enough, not intense enough." I said to her, "But it was listed as a gentle class." "Yes," she replied, "and that is where, like you, I see a problem."

The fact is that people here, at least the people I have seen on the yoga mat, have a resistance to being gentle or doing less, and perhaps that is born out of a lack of understanding of yoga, and also, perhaps, a true reflection of the fast paced life and demanding mindset of people here in China. (Not so different from the culture I left back in the states.)

I wondered now whether the studio would want to hire me? I had dared to be myself, to show up and teach from my place of authenticity, and offer something that goes against the grain here. I almost had to pinch myself when the studio manager said, "We need you here. We want to sign you on as a regular teacher at the studio."

In just a few days, I will once again show up, heart pounding, returning to my inhalation and exhalation, faith unfolding, as well as mats.  I will dare to be me, nothing more, nothing less.  I will teach from my heart and let it be an offering. I will take this chance, step out of my comfort zone and dive deeper into living, and I know deep down that by doing so, I will certainly help others to do so as well.  Wish me well.