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Archive for November, 2016

Laws of Gravity

So there’s this guy I follow on Instagram named Brian Andreas (@brianandreas).  Hes’ an artist and a poet and his posts either make me tear up a little, smile to myself and feel all fuzzy inside or break my heart into a million little pieces.  One of the three.  The other day he had a post that said “Mainly, the only time I get afraid is when I’m convinced  life has made a serious mistake & life keeps ignoring me because it has better plans.”

And that kind of reminds me of one of my most favorite, yet least productive pastimes, which is to try to control the universe.  Now, I’m not advising against going for what you want and taking the necessary steps to get there.  This whole trusting the universe thing isn’t about just resting on your laurels and waiting for things to fall in your lap.  That sounds pretty unproductive as well.  What I’m talking about is this need to try to force things to happen that are really just out of your control.

Here’s how you know if you’re trying to do that:

It feels like you are holding this heavy chain link leash to a large dog and you’re in a park surrounded by squirrels and the road is a little bit icy so you dig in your heels and scream at the dog but the dog is deaf and he’s just going to do what he wants to do.

Get it?

Here’s another way to know that you’re trying to do that:

You feel completely icky and twisted up inside because you know without a doubt that you are trying your best but even your best won’t change the situation at hand.

That’s where trusting the universe comes in; that’s where it’s necessary to let go of the leash.  It’s this space where you trust time to do its’ work and give other people the permission to act however they wish, knowing that you can’t change anyone but yourself.

A couple years ago I was in a bit of a spot where I was trying to hold the leash way too tight.  I was miserable and I sought the guidance of a therapist.  One day we were talking and she called me out on this whole trying to control the universe thing.  She held up a pen in her right hand and said “Now what’s going to happen if I drop this pen?”

I think I might have rolled my eyes a little as I realized she actually wanted me to answer.

“It’s going to fall and hit the floor,” I said.

Then she opened her right hand but before the pen could fall to the floor she swooped in with her left hand and grabbed it.

“That’s you,” she said.  “Things are going to happen here one way or the other.  But they will never get a chance to play out if you keep getting in the way.”

Oh.

I was recounting that story to a friend the other day and she remarked, “Sometimes the pen just has to hit the floor.”

Trusting the universe scares the shit out of me.  I’m the type of person who will read a really bad book in its’ entirety purely because I need to know what happens in the end.  Also I’m an only child (nothing I can do about that) and a bit of a perfectionist (currently in recovery for that) so I’m a little wired to try to control the situation around me.  Trusting the universe sometimes feels like and sounds like ‘not enough’ sometimes.  But the truth is that it’s everything.

When I’m able to drop the leash I can glide around in peace on that icy path and when I stop trying to hold the universe together, my arms are open for things that will better serve me.

And when I let the pen hit the floor, I can pick it up again and start writing a new story.

 

 

 

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The Storm

A few weeks ago, I spent some time digging around into yesteryear.  I was asked to produce some pictures from my awkward childhood and that led to pages turning of old photo albums, journals from my distant and not-so-distant past, and my book of poetry from a time when words flowed out of me and could not be stopped.

Some of what I found was comforting….I no longer have a silver tooth and a perm for starters.  But the read through the journals was nice too.  I read of past pains and smiled a bit for the relief that they were over.  It gave me a sense of peace.  That everything eventually passes and leaves in its wake a little bit of wisdom.   It’s comforting because it allows sort of a crystal ball for the present.  Although I don’t know how current things in my life will play out exactly, I do know that they will play out one way or the other.   This too shall pass and all.

But what of those things that keep playing out over and over?  Well, that’s where the book of poetry comes in.  Sure, some of what spilled out of me in my teenage years was super angsty and almost laughable.  But I feel like some of it I could have written a year ago, or a week ago.  And that’s a little disconcerting.

I did a workshop last weekend in which we dealt a lot with these deeply wounded parts of ourselves that keep showing up over and over in all adult lives.  The woman teaching the workshop led us through a group meditation in which we were asked to acknowledge what part of our past selves, our child selves, keep showing up and wreaking havoc in decisions that we continued to make in our present lives.  It could be a message that we somehow got into our head once, or more than that….and though it’s no longer true, we keep living our life in reverence to it.  In the yoga world, we call them samskaras (loosely translated to mean ‘some scars’).  The description I’ve read that most makes sense to me is that they are like grooves in a record.  Places that are easy to slip back into if you’re not careful.  The default.  The go-to.

That all sounds a little hopeless doesn’t it?  But here’s the thing.  Once we acknowledge these grooves, truly look at where they are, how they got there and then figure out we don’t want to play that song over and over….well, maybe we pick up the damn needle and put it somewhere else.  It’s not easy work.  Lord knows holding up that mirror of honest reflection is not always pretty.  But it’s the only way to break into new ways of being if the old ways are no longer working.

All of this is an incredibly long introduction for the poem I wanted to share….finally, after 20 years.  I wrote it in 1997 and it’s the one I was always most proud of.  I read it today and I wouldn’t change a word.

“The Storm”

In spite of longing she chooses not to leave

Instead of recovering she chooses to grieve

She wants so bad to believe

That one day the rain will stop

The pain will make puddles in which she can dance

Jumping up and down, head tilted back, catching every little emotion

Her mind says “this isn’t good for you”

Her heart says “this is gonna hurt”

But somewhere between those insane yet vital organs something tells her he would love her

He would love her if only he knew

He would give her everything if he had a clue

That her heart sang songs of god and her body could be a sacred gift

Her thoughts could lift them both above this rainy day

Until then, she gathers a bucket of emotions, only slightly rusted after all these storms

And sifts through them

Discards truth and tucks forgiveness under her arm

This storm she can survive.  With or without him

Closure after closure

She stumbles back in the wet shoes, her toes squish together in the sole

Falter too often.  Blindly in the rain

Because of the comfort of his warm hold

She stays

Never thinking “How did he get to be so good at this?”

And “Is he so good that he forgot how perfectly my chin fit on his shoulder?”

And why can’t she forget?

Jumping up and down, trying to shake it off

And knowing that the itch is in a place she can’t reach

It’s the small of her back.  And it’s only ticklish when he puts his hand there

In spite of this smile that lights up her life she chooses to leave

Instead of hurting she chooses to be freed

So she gathers a bucket, getting rustier with every storm

Faith is slipping through a small hold that’s been weathered away in the bottom

She discards hurt and tucks forgiveness under her arm

She’ll need it for the next rainy day

 

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Wherever the Coin Lands

In my time at the ashram last week some of my most profound moments came spent in the presence of a man named Krishnan Namboodiri, the Vedic priest there, who blessed the twice daily satsangs, spent his life in devotion to mantras, yoga and the Sivinanda tradition.   He is probably in his late 60’s or early 70’s, shorter than me with a big round belly and a thick accent from his native India.  His laugh is easy and his energy is peaceful.  It’s difficult to look at him and not be reminded of the happy Buddha.

Krishnan teaches yoga class every now and then and I was fortunate enough to be in attendance as he presided over one of the sessions.  Though it was quite difficult to understand his accent, it was hands down one of the best practices of my life.  Perhaps it was the five days of intense yoga I had been doing, but my poses were more solid in that class than they had felt in a while….but perhaps it was also just being in the presence of this man that allowed me to stay in a headstand for two solid minutes.  Also, he demonstrated scorpion, no handed headstand, crow and peacock pose at the front of the deck.  And that was pretty badass.

So this Vedic priest also did astrology readings.  As soon as I found this out, I rushed to make an appointment for the day before my departure and was told to come prepared with questions that I wanted to be answered, two pieces of fruit and $50 to be donated to Krishnan’s home village back in India.  I went to my appointment, full of nerves, a little scared of what he might have to say.  Those nerves subsided quickly as I stepped into a small room and sat next to the priest in front of a large wooden board.

I told him my name and birthday and he gave me a coin and told me to place it anywhere on the wooden board.  There were various stones and tokens on the board, representing the stars and planets.  Once I placed my coin, Krishnan began to write numbers on a chalkboard quickly, erasing every once in a while and consulting a pile of cowrie shells next to the board every now and then.  It was a sight to see….and roll your eyes all you want to hear but some of the things that he told me during this reading was enough to suspend anyone’s disbelief.  He answered questions that I had wanted to ask without me even asking them.  He pinpointed the year of my divorce without me telling him I was divorced.  And other stuff too that will remain between me and him and a few close friends.

As the reading dwindled to a close, he asked me if I had any further questions.

“Well..um…I feel like I’ve suffered quite a bit in the past couple of years, Krishnan, and I want to know what I’ve been doing wrong,” I asked, my voice a bit nervous for the response.

He looked at me, laughed and threw his hands in the air.  “It doesn’t matter!” he said.

I looked at him a bit confused.  “It doesn’t matter,” he said.  “That was yesterday.  This day is new.  Move on.”

Well then.

At that moment, a weight lifted as I realized how much I’ve been wanting to punish myself for past actions, how I’ve wanted to hold on to hurts and pains, how I’ve wanted to remain completely uncomfortable in my comforts.  I’ve struggled to learn lessons and sometimes I have but I’ve kept holding on to the package that these lessons came wrapped in.  And then sometimes I keep making the same mistake over and over.  And that’s super frustrating.

We’ve all had more than our fair share of reminders lately about the fragility of life….and how things in this existence can turn, on a dime, as they say.  And if every moment allows us to laugh a little and figure out who it is we wish to be, what we wish to bring forth… then why wouldn’t we spend a few moments embodying that?  Every moment gives us a chance to be a little different.  Because those old comfortable ways of being and thinking…..are they really keeping your comfortable or are you tossing and turning your skin?

Yes, I’ve had some pain and confusion in the past.  It doesn’t matter.  I’ve put myself in situations that have caused me pain.  It doesn’t matter.  A couple of days ago, the day was super gray.  It doesn’t matter.  The breath is still moving in and out of me, each one a little different than the one that came before it, serving as a reminder that amidst the chaos there is calm, a constant reminder that I must first let go to take in.

When my reading with Krishnan was finished he gave me an apple, his offering to me.  I walked straight out to the beach, sat in the sand, watched the waves and ate the apple.  And I laughed, a big full belly laugh.

 

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Yesterday morning I awoke in an ashram in the Bahamas with the sound of waves in my ears.  I was surrounded by people who lived in hermitage, people who were retreating.  I had to catch a boat over to the main island just to leave the ashram.  The Bahamas is a beautiful place, surrounded by turquoise waters that will suspend you in disbelief upon first sight.  On the way to the airport, my cab driver ran all of the red lights; it was dark out and he feared carjacking if he brought the car to a stop.  All is not as it seems.  And the world of the ashram that I had just left was so different from what awaited across the bay in the real world.  And the world that I was about to re-enter, coming back to the States on  Election Night was something that I could not prepare myself for.

This morning I awoke confused and scared.  The sky is gray but I have hot coffee and my big brown dog at my side.  I settled on to the couch with a book that would require little thinking.  I didn’t want to think much.  I had planned on writing today.  But now I didn’t even know how to start.  And then my friend said in a text thread said that she was going to become a hermit.  I had just spent a week among hermits.  And I have something to say about it.  And that’s what finally got me to the page, typing these keys, tears spilling down my face.

Here’s the cliff notes of where I spent the past week.  I was at the Sivinanda ashram.  Sivinanda is a lineage of yoga and spirituality passed down from a Swami who was prolific in India in the 1930’s.  Ashrams are a place of spiritual hermitage.  They are open to visitors like myself who wish to spend some time in retreat.  They are open to others who make this their lives, spending months, years or maybe a lifetime in this place of spirituality and seclusion.  These people who are there for long periods of time are the most peaceful bunch of beings I’ve met.  They lead a quiet and simple life and have renounced meat, coffee, sex and alcohol in a quest for enlightenment.  They are called brahmacharyas.  They chant a lot.  And at the end of every chant the words “Om Shanti.”  It’s a chant which means peace for all of human kind, peace for all things living and not, peace for the universe.  Which is awesome, right?

One day, my roommate and I inquired about taking a boat over to the main island, to spend a day as tourists in Nassau, shopping and seeing the sights.  The brahmacharya with whom we inquired with was shocked that we would even want to leave the ashram to head into that place of noise.  It was then I began to think about this hermitage, about this practice of practicing peace all day but never leaving the bubble of the ashram.

And I am never, ever one to question one’s means to seeking enlightenment.  I understand that this path of spirituality that the brahmacharyas and the swamis have chosen have led them squarely to this life.  I respect them for their abilities to spend their days chanting for peace and renouncing some of the things that bring most of us a ton of pleasure.  But I can’t help thinking…..”Man, I’m sure the crime ridden community across the bay from you could really use some of that peace you’re creating right now.”

It’s easy to be happy in a bubble.  It’s easy to practice peace if you seclude yourself from anyone who might push your buttons.  It’s easy to maintain your faith in humanity if you never see the worst of it.

While on my trip I was reading a book called “A Return to Love” by Marianne Williamson.  It’s based on the Course of Miracles and one of the teachings says that there exist three levels of teaching in relationship.  The first level is casual encounters, the ones we have with people we pass on the street, the ones we interact with for maybe just a moment of our lives.  The next level is that of a more sustained relationship and the third level is those relationships which last all of our lives.  However, “it is mostly in casual encounters that we are given a chance to practice the fine art of chiseling away the hard edges of our personalities.  Whatever personal weaknesses are evident in our casual interactions will inevitably appear magnified in more intense relationships.”

In other words, if we become hermits we might attain peace with our blinders set in place surrounded only by people of our choosing.  But we never get to practice these great lessons which might spread more understanding in the long run.  This is not the time to retreat, it’s the time to fight.  And by fight, I don’t mean guns and bricks and words filled with venom.  I say fight in terms of perseverance of the good that we know can still exist within us.  It’s going to be the bravest thing that we can do these next few years.

We are a nation half in shock today.  The other half rejoices.  We are split down the middle.  We are scared and we are blaming and are telling our children and our loved ones that it’s going to be OK because it’s all we hope for.  We can turn our fear into a fire in our belly that perhaps never existed before.  We can mourn and we can grieve, but as  with all deaths and ends, we must somehow find a way to come out of it, taking with us the best that we know still exists within us.  This is going to be a very painful process.  This is not going to be easy.  Om Shanti my friends.

 

 

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