Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yoga Is...

91 years old. That's what's up.
There's a great conversation going in the yoga blogs about the commercialization/sexualization of yoga and the commodification of women's bodies in the process. A regular complaint in the blogs and their comment sections is the lack of diverse images of yogis, particularly in advertising for yoga products. The predominant image of yogis being fit, bendy, young white women has been accused of scaring away people that might benefit enormously from the practice. Being a rabid yoga evangelist, I can't tell you how many times I've been told by someone that they're not "young/thin/flexible enough" to do yoga...and you can't blame them for believing that when the images they are exposed to show them physical forms that they don't apparently resemble in poses that seem laughably impossible.

Today I came across an article about a nonagenarian named Bernice who is being touted as the "world's oldest yoga teacher" by the Guinness Book of World Records. It got me thinking about the need for yoga role models like Bernice to rally support for the practice in the yogic minorities to which they belong. We don't just need people like Bernice to be out there teaching, though. We need a diversity of images of what Yoga Is to bring people beyond the current assumptions and stereotypes. Intrigued by this idea, I began spelunking around the interwebs and came across beautiful images and stories outside of the typical yoga culture. Here are a spattering of them to give you an idea of what Yoga Is...

Meera, the Celestial Big Yoga Singer
Meera Patricia Keer's big project Big Yoga has made yoga accessible to literally every body, particularly to, as she put it, "older clientele, or anyone with stiffness, extra weight, or injury." Her goal was to create a yoga that was BIG, expansive and inclusive, and I would say she has succeeded admirably.
Abby Lentz

Also working is this area of yoga is the indomitable Abby Lentz of Heartfelt Yoga. She founded HeavyWeight Yoga which is "especially designed for full-bodied people allowing for complete stretching and body renewal" and is "about the 3 A's: awareness, acceptance and affection." Her style is easy enough for people with no prior experience and she gently encourages students to push to a place of "sweet discomfort," to work their edges and expand what they are capable of in their bodies.


Nikki (on the right) as a great tree
Nikki Myers is a for real, for real yogi who has walked the long, hard path and come out the other side with a wealth of heart and wisdom to impart to students. She created the innovative relapse prevention program Yoga of 12-Step Recovery, pairing the mental and spiritual components of the 12-Step model with the physical component of yoga to holistically treat addiction as the mind, body and spirit dis-ease that it is. Her goal is to bring yogic 12-step meetings into every city, making it just as accessible as other types of 12-step meetings, like AA and NA.






Class with Project Air Founder & Director Deirdre Summerbell
Four years ago, two volunteers from the NGO WE-ACTx began a yoga pilot program for HIV+ women and children of the Rwandan genocide. It was so effective and wildly successful that in short time, with support from the Ray of Light herself, Madonna, Project Air was born. In addition to using yoga to help these women and children manage the devastating aftereffects of genocidal rape, there is trauma counseling, meals and clothing for those who need it.


          
Yoga joy at Project Air.



The Dhamma Brothers
The application of alternative rehabilitation methods in prisons first came to my attention a couple of years ago with the release of the documentary The Dhamma Brothers, about the seemingly unlikely success of a Vipassana meditation program at a maximum security correctional facility in Alabama. Since then, organizations like the Prison Yoga Project have sprung up to spread and support yoga programs in prisons. A prison yoga program in Illinois was actually initiated by an inmate and boasts two thriving years and 150+ students participating each week. Internationally, yoga is being used in prisons all over Mexico to help break the cycle of addiction and violence with great success. This is not overprivileged, white lady yoga, my friends.


Asana in Mexico.

It is deeply refreshing and inspiring for me to look at everything that yoga is and can be in reality, as opposed to the sterile, skinny, whitewashed image perpetuated by yoga publications and companies. Let's allow yoga to be a celebration of ALL human forms and ALL physical realities, regardless of skin color, economic and social standing, criminal record, weight, age or level of flexibility. I will leave you with this photo of the prisoner-initiated yoga program in Illinois, and a quote from its first teacher, inmate and yogi, Bartosz Leszczynski:

“Yoga is the best classroom for everybody, no matter who you are. Whether you’re a saint or a sinner, no one makes any judgments.”
Ideally, wouldn't that be the case? THIS IS YOGA.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It's Complicated.

When I started so purkh-ing over a year ago, I did it with the intention of blessing and elevating my dad and brother, and resolving any lingering emotion in relationships past. The prayer can be applied for the purpose of calling in one's Beloved, but all I really needed at the time was a clean break. I wasn't in the market for a lifelong partner.

Similarly, when I set up my online dating profile I was still not looking for a mate. I just wanted to date in a normal, Hollywood movie way and get a better understanding of dudes. It's been a real mixed bag of an experiment. One guy got so upset when I wasn't comfortable coming over to his house after the first date ("I thought I did a good job proving that I'm not crazy." Ahem.) that he determined that we could never be together. Another fella smiled and flirted and smiled, sent me links to his music and never called again. And then there was the guy in rainbow cheetah print leggings. We won't get into that one.

And then! Then this man who I am supposedly only 41% compatible with found me. We started writing each other and quickly found that we had more in common than anyone else I had met this way. After dozens of messages, he took me out for beets and conversation and we immediately clicked. He seemed to possess everything I had ever asked for, silently and aloud, that I never would've thought could exist in one person. At the end of our first date I was literally dazzled, drunk although I had no drinks, practically levitating my way home.

The four days that stretched between that evening and the next when I saw him again felt endless. I grew more giddy and also more apprehensive- something wasn't right, or rather, something had to be wrong. Hoping that I was just leaning into old patterns of thinking, I met my new friend again. Open and receptive, I watched and listened, waiting.

A week after our first otherworldly meeting, the other shoe dropped. Cozy and cuddled on a couch in my favorite cafe, he tentatively unloaded his baggage- the pregnant pause in between his words that I had intuited. As surprised as I was that someone so young could've already amassed so many interesting intricacies, I had to admire the man- it was an intimate moment and his trepidation was palpable (he must really like me!). His timing was good and his honesty appreciated. I took it all in and thanked him for being forthright.

Then began the processing and questions: How devilish, how big of a deal are these details? How much do I care, and in what ways? And, most importantly, does this change how I feel about him? I observed the way in which I had built him up in my mind, how I had decided so many things about him based on what it means to me to be a "yogi" and a "spiritual person"...and how if I felt at all disappointed by his reality, that is my fault. The assumptions we make about people do not become true because we've assumed them. Our assumptive power cannot bring non-realities to life.

So here he is. This "perfect" yogi, potential Beloved partner is a human man with baggage. It stings a bit to realize his reality and then I look at my own baggage and it stings a bit more and I wonder if I have any right to lift an eyebrow at him. He and I are hauling around totally different overstuffed knapsacks, but we're both weighed down. We have junk, we have crazy, we have dysfunction. The determining factor is whether or not we can love each other not in spite of but because of all that we are- suitcases and backpacks and duffel bags included. Can I allow this imperfect person to be imperfect and not punish him for it?

Of course, this is an important question for all our relationships. Can we love each other unconditionally? Can we love like Jesus and the Buddha loved? Like Amma mama loves? Can we love each other on our worst days when we are in absolute disgrace? Can we love each other even when we've hurt one another? Can we love each other for the whole sum, the whole reality, of who we are?

It's complicated. Challenging. Heart stretching. But impossible? No. Just really hard sometimes. Practice on yourself. That's a good place to start. Softening ever softer to our own foibles so we can love each other better.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chapter Nine: Meeting the Natural Limit

No way. Absolutely not.
There is a particularly searing Dear Sugar letter response with a quote that I love which has been resonating lately:
"Limits are not punishments, but rather lucid and respectful expressions of our needs and desires and capabilities."

Everyone has natural limits to what they are able to offer one another. They don't always express them in a lucid, respectful fashion, but when you meet someone's limit, you know it. When we have a need and it falls outside of a person's limitations, it can be really upsetting and we often take this personally as a rejection or criticism. I had a conversation with a dear friend today about this and framed it this way:
Say you really want me to tightrope walk. I don't know how and am afraid of falling so am unwilling to try. As much as you may need or want me to perform this daring-do, it falls outside of my limitations and it has nothing to do with you or your value.

Let's apply this same idea to human relationship needs. Perhaps you want someone to treat you in a certain way and overtime they continually do not. You can fight and yell and demand and cry and feel terrible about yourself, but it may very well be that the person in question is simply unable to give you what you desire. You have found their limitation, your need falls outside of it and there is no amount of cajoling that can change that.

So what do you do?

Well, you can keep demanding the same thing over and over, expecting a different result (crazy!). You can be angry at the other person. You can pull the ego in and assume that they're not giving you what you want because there is something fundamentally wrong with you and of course this is all about you! You can keep struggling and trying to change the other person.

Or you can recognize that you have simply met this person's current natural limit, realize that it has nothing to do with you and meet them where they are instead of struggling to manipulate the person and situation to your liking. This is surrender and graceful celebration of reality- the easiest and the hardest thing to do.

This does not mean that you give up what you need and sit around allowing yourself to be abused or neglected, though. You deserve love and respect. If someone is withholding those things, you are well within your rights to walk away and choose to keep company with people that are generous with their affection and support.

The recognition of other people's limitations is meant to be empowering. It allows you to be realistic about what people have to offer and look elsewhere for the things they do not. Different people serve different purposes in our lives. I have friends that I know are not available for certain types of support, so I don't go to them in those moments. I don't expect them to be able to meet all my needs, because every relationship is not meant to offer you everything- even marriage. Rather than decrying what people cannot give, I attempt to identify and celebrate what they can give.

People can and do change. Limitations can expand to include whatever it is you want, but I wouldn't recommend waiting around for that to happen (Hello Bitterness!). If you've articulated what you need and your need is not met, move on down the road, honeylove. No one is young enough to wait around. Take responsibility for your sweet self and Get It, whatever It is.

And if you begin to feel your blood pressure rise in the face of unmet needs, remember: you, too, are limited. Bring attention and compassion not just to the limitations of others, but to yours as well. Knowing what you are willing and able to give, and lucidly, respectfully expressing that is a whole other source of empowerment. Give only what you can and take only what others freely give.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chapter Ten: The Bright Light

The Lady with the Lamp
Florence Nightingale's name has been badly maligned in order to describe caregivers who form emotional attachments to their patients. FloNi was no sap, though. She was a strong, courageous woman who flouted the wishes of her family and the conventions of society in order to pursue her passion. She gained the nickname "The Lady with the Lamp" from a quote in a report on her work in the Crimean War:
"She is a ‘ministering angel’ without any exaggeration in these hospitals, and as her slender form glides quietly along each corridor, every poor fellow's face softens with gratitude at the sight of her. When all the medical officers have retired for the night and silence and darkness have settled down upon those miles of prostrate sick, she may be observed alone, with a little lamp in her hand, making her solitary rounds."

The bright lights stand out in stark contrast to the darkness around them and attract an enormous amount of attention. Some people, unaccustomed as they are to such radiance, attempt to snuff it out. The brightness utterly overwhelms them. More often than not, though, people are drawn to these bright lights because they love how they feel when illuminated. Being in the light is uplifting and allows people to see their highest, best selves.

If you happen to be a particularly bright light, you may have noticed that people like to be around you and will tell you how good they feel when with you. This is nice to hear, especially if you like taking care of people and helping them feel good. Be cautious of this good feeling, though. Do not rest too comfortably and wrap your identity in it. For there will come a time when someone comes to your light and tries to possess it, control it, exploit it and offers nothing in return. Accustomed as you are to shining, you might want to give them everything for their joy and elevation, but you must not.

In Kundalini yoga, we talk about being "impersonally personal" as teachers. We are there to deliver the teachings and to deliver people to a conscious, ecstatic experience of themselves. We are there to Poke, Provoke, Confront and Elevate- not to coddle or save. 

The desire to hold on to a good feeling is understandable, but good feelings generated without are not sustainable. Bright lights are not in the world to make other people happy- they are mirrors to show us how much light we actually contain. Like the best teachers, bright lights can lead us to the gate of our own understanding so that we learn to find our own happiness within. We are accountable for finding and keeping our own happiness- we mustn't vampirically steal light from others. And as bright lights, we mustn't allow the weight and darkness of others to diminish our glow.

Shine. Radiate. Light up every dark corner with your bright truth and don't let anyone make you responsible for how they feel. That's cheating.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Rise of a New Nuclear

Awhile back I jokingly suggested to a very beloved gay friend that he and I might have a baby together if I reached a certain age and had yet to have the parent experience. He took to the idea better than I expected and we've been talking about it since. I don't know how serious he is (how serious are you about this, honey?) but the more I date, the more viable the idea becomes. Who says babies have to be born to people in a romantic partnership? Why not co-parent with a close friend you genuinely love, with whom you share important values and interests? Aside from the fact that all the homos we go to happy hour with agree that our baby would be beautiful. And that's what really matters, right?

Lately I've been living with my cousin and her daughter, my goddaughter, and informally exploring the possibilities available in the world of family, partnership and child rearing. I am by no means my godbaby's mother- I am far too indulgent to be anything but an auntie- but I have been participating in parent-like activities. I help pick her up from school, make her dinner, brush and braid her ever-tangled hair, and tuck her in with a song. My cousin and I have been sharing kid coverage so we both have time to take care of the many facets of our lives, including dating. At the end of the day, with the kid well-loved and sleeping, we swap stories, laugh and/or cry and share a kind of sisterhood I am finding invaluable. Maybe we're onto something in a Mosuo-style.

Research has a lot of conflicting things to say about the make up of a household and a child's success, but my godbaby seems to be doing just fine. She is reading above grade level, knows that a comma goes at the end of "the quote," (which my cousin pointed out some UC Berkeley students haven't mastered) and she did a beautiful painting recently that's reminiscent of Monet. She also kicks ass at math and wants to have an all-girl science birthday party. She is a happy, playful kid who gets along well with others and will sensibly negotiate for what she wants. My cousin has familial and tribe support, but when all is said and done, she and my godbaby make up a sweet family of two...and they are both succeeding admirably.

The farther away I get from my last real relationship, the closer I come to deciding to remain single, committing to a blessed lifetime of love with myself. All this dating is putting me in touch not with how much I want a partner, but with how content I am being "alone." I am not so yogic as to be without cravings for meaningful, intimate contact, but I am realizing that I have no desire or intention to be in a traditional relationship for the sake of being in a traditional relationship. My perspective would likely shift if faced with someone who moved me very deeply, but being moved, shaken up, awakened by someone like that is the perfect reason to spend some time getting to know them better...perhaps even choosing to relate romantically to them. These people are the mirrors that help show us our truest, highest selves- who we were, are and can be.

In the meantime, while I imagine, chant and look for this person, I will be my own mirror. There are things within ourselves that are more easily viewed reflected back in the eyes of another, but this is not essential to know and love myself. That's what yoga is for.

This much is clear: "Family" is what you make of it and, like the whole world, it's rapidly changing as we live and breathe.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Chapter Three: Occupy Your Body

it starts with YOU!
Let's forgo a whole lot of suspense and drama with this big ol' Spoiler Alert: The only person you can ever really significantly hope to change or control is yourself, home fry. March and occupy and scream and wave signs all you want to, but if you don't make internal shifts to become the person who can inhabit a new, elevated world, how in the heck do you expect the people of Wall Street to do so?

And make no mistake: as much as some might want to demon- and other-ize the "1%", they are people. They were born of mothers who loved them fiercely just like you were. They eat and breathe and make love and feel pain and elation. Separation is not the answer. What we need more than anything else in this world at this time is a softening to one another. We need to get real soft and real gentle, to begin to see our own reflection mirrored back in the eyes of those who seem so very foreign and so very "other." These big, nasty egos keep us apart, tell us that we are so special and so righteous and so different from one another, but we are really all just spiritual beings sharing a human experience. And we are ALL human.

All that aside, none of that is really any of my business. "What is your business?" you ask. This inhale and this exhale. This typing and sharing of my thoughts on the subject of the shifting times. I cannot control or change you (as much as I may want to!) and you cannot control or change me. If you change, it is because you allowed change to occur. I can lead you to water but I surely cannot make you drink.

We have far more control over our own bodies and minds than I think we even want to own up to because it means being accountable for so very much. But this is the really exciting thing about growing up! You get to be in total (reasonable) control over your external and internal environments. You can choose to leave or to stay, where to work, who to spend time with, what to eat, etc, etc. Sometimes the myriad of choices to be made can be overwhelming, but they are our choices to make and the source of such enormous power. This is power to be cherished and not be signed away lightly.

Above all else, though, I believe the most important choice we make is what Viktor Frankl called "the last of the human freedoms: the ability to choose one's attitude in a given set of circumstances." It is this internal, mental and emotional control that allows us to thrive when we loose the ability to influence our external environments- when disease, injury, death and natural disasters step in and sweep us off our feet. We get to choose how to view what is happening, whether we feel victimized or empowered, destroyed forever or forever resilient, and how to integrate the experience.

Yoga helps me to occupy my body- to be aware of the quality of my breath, tightness in my jaw, my posture.
Meditation helps me to occupy my mind- to be conscious of my thoughts, to intuit the outcome of actions not yet taken.

Together, these are my tools to become a person who can successfully inhabit this rapidly shifting, elevating world. While I can get behind large public displays of civil disobedience, I am also aware that collective change is impossible without individual change. Go ahead and put your money into credit unions. Peacefully occupy city centers all over the world. But the most revolutionary act you can hope to achieve is to occupy your own body, mind and heart, and to Master Yourself.

Your body, mind and heart are your domain, my body, mind and heart are my domain. This is your dance space. This is my dance space. We can support one another in our journeys to discover and live in alignment with our highest, truest, most authentic selves, but we cannot master one another. I can totally understand the desire to keep an external focus on other people's business and avoid looking inward, but other people's business is just that: none of yours. Don't you have enough to do already? Self-mastery is a full time job and you are the only qualified applicant, so get to work. The world changes because you do.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Chapter Six: Cruel to Be Kind

Let's begin with a conversation about Karma. Karma is about cause and effect. You reap what you sow. What goes around comes around, etc. Karmic actions are actions which are incomplete. The "live a good life" goal is for our choices to be aligned with the principle of ahimsa- to do no harm, to act with kindness and non-violence toward all beings. When we lean away from ahimsa in thought, word and deed, we generate ripples that can turn to waves and make big messes for us to clean up later. When we act in line with ahimsa our actions are expansive, elevating and life giving. If you think and act and speak unkindly, you will later be held responsible for those choices in ways that are perhaps uncomfortable. This is karma- the bummer effect of d-bag behavior.

As I age, I become increasingly sensitive to the size and quality of the impact that I am making in the world, or rather, the amount of karma I am generating or not. I want to preserve and ripple, build and destruct in all the right ways at the right times. I am mindful about the amount of water I use and waste I generate, about the food and products I choose to consume.

Where I am growing lately is in my understanding about all the difficult ways in which we need to be honest in order to do no harm. There are truths to be told that will disappoint or hurt in the moment, but are ultimately necessary to prevent more significant hurt in the future. We have to do and say the uncomfortable things that need to be done and said now, and do it in a way that is not violent to ourselves or the recipient.

Violence comes in many forms and I think we often miss how violent our words can be, especially when we direct them at ourselves. Ahimsa covers ALL living beings, though, honeyloves- that includes you. Telling half truths, speaking disparagingly about ourselves or compromising our well being for the sake of someone else's happiness and comfort is a form of self-inflicted violence that serves no one in the end. You deserve to speak your truth and get your needs met, and the recipient of your truth deserves to hear it, even if they don't think they want to.

The concept of being "cruel to be kind" resonates here for me. Sometimes people's feelings are going to get hurt. It's not really any of our business how people feel, though. Let them feel hurt or not. But tell the truth. Always tell the truth. And be as gentle as possible with your words.

Tonight I faced my first major test in this area in a while. I had to tell someone that I did not want to see them anymore. The relationship had long since run it's course for me but this person was still contacting me. The last time we hung out, I felt terrible afterwards and knew in my heart, in my gut, in every cell that this was not good for me. Instead of turning on myself or on him, I kept it neutral: "This type of relationship does not feel emotionally good for me anymore. I have enjoyed our time, thank you! I wish you all the best." No blaming either way, no dramatics. Straight, simple, as-gentle-as-possible honesty. He may be hurt and angry, and he is free to feel that way, but I know that pretending to be engaged in the relationship any longer would ultimately hurt us both. Considering the principle of ahimsa, this is unacceptable. In this moment I am reminded of the wise, irreverent words of my dear friend, Jeff:
"It's quite simple. If you're lying next to someone and your heart and mind are both in this same spot, this is likely the right situation for you. Otherwise, do the Universe a favor, put on your undies and take a walk..."

Start inside. Soften to your own needs and hurts and sensitivities. Think and speak of yourself gently, kindly. Practice and practice until it becomes a habit. Grow the habit to envelop every thought and word and interaction. Ahimsa. Kindness. Non-violence. Realize that sometimes you have to be "cruel" to be kind. Speak your truth oh-so-very-gently. Do your best today. Practice and practice. This is how the world changes- when you change through patient practice. Gently, now.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Interweb Dating, Part 2: Lightening the Mood

for the record, these are not my fish.
The other day I read that as of October 31st there will be 7 billion people on the planet. Being in full-on prowl mode, I calculated that approximately half a billion of those people are men. I don't know how many of those half a billion men fall within my dateable age range of 26 to 33, but I reckon that's still a whole lot of dudes.

This has been the beautiful revelation of my online dating experiment: there are just so many men to choose from in the world! The majority of the men I'm coming across aren't interesting to me, but several of them are and as I am not patient and tactful enough to pull off polyamory, I'm not looking for many men- just one, really great guy. Out of all the possibilities on the planet, there absolutely must be someone out there who's a good match for me. How could there not be? In terms of probability, I might have a better chance of winning the lottery than of not finding a partner.

Being a passionate woman of extremes, in the past I know that I have put a lot of pressure on men I meet. They have tended to either people I would never be with or people I AM GOING TO MAKE BABIES WITH!!! I'm not crazy enough to say this aloud, but I'm definitely thinking it and even I can see that it's sooo scary and unattractive.

Realizing how many potential partners are out there has completely relieved this pressure. If it doesn't work out with one guy, no worries! There are pages and pages of profiles to browse. I'm afraid I sound a bit flippant but it's been extremely healthy and important for me to learn how to interact with someone without immediately mentally marrying him. This is what happens to people who never date casually. If a guy looks at me the right way across a crowded train I begin picking out an outfit to meet his mother. There's no middle ground.

Well, not anymore! I'm learning to keep it light and ease into devotion and commitment. Thank you, internet machine, for opening up the world and showing me just how unnecessary it is to act all crazy and desperate. As my Sassy Gay Friend would say, "You love him? You met him Sunday, it's barely Thursday morning. Slow down, Crazy, slow down." Word.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Meditations on Interweb Dating

In the throes of talks about guys on the return leg of a little road trip last week, a friend of mine recommended that I try online dating. I had a brief, bored-and-sick-at-home foray into this scene over a year ago that scared me off. It just felt so artificial, with all the guys who contacted me all but sending me a copy of their bank statement. For the record, I genuinely don't care what a guy does for a living or how much money he makes so long as he's happy and doesn't complain about his situation without doing anything about it. Really. I think it's unfair that guys have to pay for everything all the time, unless they really want to- then, please, by all means. I won't object to being treated but I am just as happy going dutch. It's just my style.

This makes me sound cooler and nicer than I think I might actually be. See, I took my friend's advice and opened an account on a dating website. Not to brag, but in the past five days I've been contacted by over a dozen guys and only been interested in one of them. It turns out that I am just as discriminating of dudes as I am of clothes. When I shop, I will try on a ton of items and usually leave with nothing. I look at fabric and construction quality, fit and versatility. I am incredibly picky...because I sew and I know what quality work looks like. And because I know what I like, I know what looks good and I don't want to waste my money on something I'm not fully in love with. If I'm not sure about something, I'll wait for a week to see if I'm still thinking about it later. I usually am not (except for this blue sweater from Crossroads that wasn't there when I went back, waah! White person problem!).

When I'm sifting through the racks, there are many items that I pass over with barely a glance. This is how I feel on this dating website. I don't even bother reading a guy's profile unless he's got a great profile photo. Other possible deal breakers include: spirituality, astrological sign and drinking habits. To be fair, God and alcoholism are important considerations, but astrological sign? Really? Yes, really! Do you have any idea how many super sexy but crazy Pisces men have come and gone through my life? I've lost count. I don't even seek them out- they swim their way into my heart before I know what hit me. They should be equipped with some kind of early warning system. Pisces Tsunami approaching! Ahhh!

But seriously. I am concerned about my seemingly judgmental, superficial attitude around meeting men. At least when it comes to this, I don't seem to be as open minded as I've always prided myself on being. The internet venue doesn't always allow people's personalities to shine (and personality goes a long way...) but I definitely have a type and am not interested in giving the time of day to a guy who doesn't immediately excite me...apparently few men do (if you and I have ever gotten down or I've made a pass at you, congratulations! You are extremely attractive).

Men of character are the kind of men you want to marry and let's be honest, I am looking for a life partner of some variety. Thus far I have not succeeded in finding a man of character on the street or the bus or in bars, so the interweb seems to be a reasonable search area. Perhaps the solution here is to date the hot guys first and see if any of them are also men of character. If that doesn't pan out, then I can work on opening up to the witty guys that don't fit my usual type...or astrological preference. Maybe someday I'll even date a Leo guy...maaaaaybe. Baby steps.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

21

crazy sweetpea.
My 21 year old self used the word "hella" non-ironically.
She worked three jobs, went to school full time and went out dancing 3-4 nights a week.
Unsurprisingly, she regularly slept in until 2:00pm on the weekends.
She made a lot of lists and schedules.
She loved school.
She cursed like a trucker.
She lost her dear friend and cousin to leukemia, and handled the news with tears and a bottle of champagne in the bathtub.
She was a great record keeper.
She was unabashedly, brutally honest in private, incredibly passive and non-confrontational in public.
She lived in her head and could be really hard on herself.
She was a wild, spontaneous party girl.
She fell absolutely head over heels in love with New York City.
She was an expert in turmoil creation.

Recently I dug through my livejournal in search of the name of a sweet sailor I met years ago in a Hawaiian bar when I was barely old enough to be there. In looking for the gentleman's name, I ended up sifting through a year's worth of drama and trauma, joys and triumphs, lists and unsent letters. I laughed and cried along with the detailed, raw reality of my 21 year old self and found myself filled with gratitude for the way I used to document my life. My memory tends to be spotty and it's lovely to be reminded.

For all her havoc, my 21 year old self was pretty wise. She had smart, safe rules and boundaries around intimacy that limited her experience, but prevented the kind of damage that can leave young people prematurely jaded. If she looked at the last year of our life she would wag a finger and wonder at the ability we've seemingly developed to totally ignore our own truth, despite all this consciousness work. As much as I've learned over the last six years, there were lessons already learned that my 21 year old self would like me to remember:
1. Just show up. She wasn't always perfect, but this woman was committed. She would go to class or work even if she was exhausted or hung over. She had figured out the power and importance of consistently showing up to her life, and she did so fiercely.
2. Use discrimination when letting people close. As much as her prudence might've been fear motivated, it kept her body and mind safe and sacred.
3. Tell the truth. She could be timid about speaking honestly to others, but she was very much in touch with her own truth privately. Because she was so honest with herself, it almost always kept her out of sticky situations.
4. Push yourself. You are so capable. This woman worked so much, so hard in so many ways. Her ability to do so could be attributed to her springy youth, but she was also very self-motivated and hungry. And it's that kind of youthful zeal that accomplishes great things.

The only thing I think I could really teach my 21 year old self is something I'm still working on everyday: Relax. Drop the drama. Loosen your jaw. Be renewed in play. Get out of your head! Life is so important and serious, and also not. You can't be serious about everything, dear 21 (27) year old self. Choose your serious battles wisely and wage them flexibly. Breathe. Everything is and will be okay.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Conquering That Which is Unconscious.

Say you have a bad habit. Perhaps it's a habit that is so deeply ingrained that even once you're aware of it, you cannot stop. Specifically speaking, I have a talent for attracting damaged men. As damaged as they may be, the one, real common factor amongst them is me, so the truly damaged thing is how attractive I find them. I've identified and admitted my problem, and yet, even with all this consciousness, my damagedar is just as keen as my gaydar. The one emotionally fucked man in the room and I will inevitably find each other, make a powerful connection, I will reach out and he will never respond.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

As I grow in self-love, this cycle becomes less satisfying with each heartache. I am unhappy and for the first time actually think that this is a problem to be solved. My big question is, how in the hell do you stop doing something that's so unconscious? When the people you are instantly attracted to always end up being the same type of person, I suppose you can just assume that your taste is bad and have someone else pick for you. Anyone know a good yenta?

That's the thing about breaking habits. You have to make a new choice enough times to form an entirely new, healthy habit. I am attracted to damaged men for a litany of boringly cliche reasons that I won't get into. On some level I know that if I were to work out all my internal garbage, I would be able to make new choices, even unconsciously. However, I've done this type of internal work before and I resist it every time because I never forget how hard it was the last time. It takes a whole lot of courage and self-discipline to push yourself into honestly looking at all your shit, and I am often short in self-discipline. Aside from the fact that the damaged, unreliable men I love are awfully exciting. It's hard to come down off of that. I need to start skydiving or swimming with sharks.

Maybe someday I'll work out this part of my crazy and it'll be exciting when a man is respectful, adoring and healthy. After all, chasing after people who hurt us is sooo early 20's. We're growing older and wiser, right? Yes, right...

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Preface: Where Babies Come From

five days old, millions of years in the making.
Our story, yours and mine, begins as so many stories do, with a girl and a boy. Not just one set of girl and boy, though, but with hundreds of couples who came together to make new life, reaching through time and space back to an ancient place, oh-so-long ago. We are the outcome of an infinite number of other people's choices and a whole lot of grace. Allow your mind to wander back through the generations, tracing your way through the delicate, intricate path that brought your being into the world, and then you try to tell me that the things that people do don't matter. Our decisions matter precious much, not just to those alive today, but to all those who are to come. The ripples we ripple reach farther than we can see. Never doubt your importance in the grand scheme of things.

In love or indifference, in lust or intoxicated, in the traditional bed or the back of a car, our parents got down and we sprung into being. Our bodies began as two distinctly different pieces of organic matter, each vibrating with millions of years of intelligence and information. We were all born of an ovum that was grown inside our mother when she was growing inside our grandmother, and so on and so forth. The ovum that became us called forth the most worthy contribution from our fathers, our two original pieces fusing and immediately beginning to multiply. The intelligence inherent in our tiny early beings unfolded, each bone and muscle, organ and nerve forming from clusters of cells each containing a blueprint to build our perfect bodies. Considering all the things that could go wrong in the process of our development, it's incredible that the human body is so uniform and that we end up here at all. There's a reason it's called "the miracle of life." You are a part of that.

There is nothing "ordinary" about you. For all our incredible uniformity, every human being really is a unique snowflake. Even identical twins have different fingerprints. When you look at yourself in the mirror, you can beam with pride at the fact that you are the only you that ever was and will be. The ripples rippled by ancient ancestors reached out across unfathomable distance to create you, and the ripples you ripple with every heartbeat and breath are creating the future.

That's how babies are made- not by "accident," although it may seem like it at the time. Babies are the product of infinite choices across lifetimes. There is nothing accidental about any of us. You really are quite special. You are a miracle.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Your Body is Beautiful.

My mother bought me my first bra at 9 years old out of necessity. Unaccustomed to such accoutrements, I almost always forgot to wear it and would panic when I remembered my new, missing article of clothing. My breasts arrived amply and without warning, becoming the source of a good deal of embarrassment and shame. I got into the habit of wearing baggy, ill-fitting clothes to hide what I didn't realize were lovely curves, and began to identify as a "big girl." I have never really been overweight, but I didn't look like the models in Seventeen and YM, and to me that equated to being fat. So I hid my body under my big clothes and hoped that no one would notice me and my feared, resented breasts.

Then I went to college and started taking ballet three mornings a week and practicing on my days off. This physical activity combined with shifting hormones led to loss of baby fat and my favorite high school teacher questioning my eating habits when I went to visit her over my winter break. Even still, I continued to compare myself to the models and actresses populating the popular culture I consumed, and in my mind I never measured up because I still didn't look like them.

curvacious cutiepie
Then Hollywood gave me a role model in the form of Scarlett Johansson, the reviver of a modern day hourglass figure. There's a scene in He's Just Not That Into You where she looks positively bodacious and I remember seeing her and thinking, "Hey, wait a minute, I kind of look like her!" Finally! A woman in entertainment within my generation that looks like, well, a woman. The industry has been dominated by the flat chested, no hipped Kate Moss aesthetic for the whole of my formative experience and it was deeply empowering to see ScarJo on the screen in all her busty, hippy glory.

Shows like the enlightened, inspiring (and hilarious) How to Look Good Naked are encouraging women to stop comparing themselves to airbrushed, unrealistic images in magazines and movies, and start loving and working their bodies just as they are. The aforementioned show uses an interesting exercise in which the host asks the woman being body image reprogrammed to place herself in a line up of other women based on size. The woman inevitably always thinks she's three to four sizes bigger than she actually is and it's obvious looking at her in the line up. She cannot see what I see.

And yet, it's taken me ages to begin to see my own body clearly and learn how to appreciate and make the most out of my shape, instead of hiding it under over sized, shapeless garments. I still find myself in front of the bathroom mirror turning around, scrutinizing every inch and frowning at the areas that I find dissatisfactory. I possess a growing consciousness that every time I pass this sort of judgement on myself, it hurts me a little more. With every scornful look, I am missing out on an opportunity to affirm my worth and appreciate my amazing body for everything that it is, instead of furrowing my brow over what it is not.

Ultimately this is what we lose when we get lost in comparisons: the ability to appreciate what is. There is a beautiful Osho card that addresses this, Comparison:
"Who ever told you that the bamboo is more beautiful than the oak, or the oak more valuable than the bamboo? Do you think the oak wishes it had a hollow trunk like this bamboo? Does the bamboo feel jealous of the oak because it is bigger and its leaves change color in the fall? The very idea of the two trees comparing themselves to each other seems ridiculous, but we humans seem to find this habit very hard to break. Let's face it, there is always going to be somebody who is more beautiful, more talented, stronger, more intelligent, or apparently happier than you are. And conversely, there will always be those who are less than you in all these ways. The way to find out who you are is not by comparing yourself with others, but by looking to see whether you are fulfilling your own potential in the best way you know how."

This comparison habit can extend beyond our own self-image into our relationships with others with the same result. When we compare our partner or child or friend to another, focusing on what the other has that they do not, we are missing the wonderful things that they do have. This can also apply to moments in life that we find unpleasant. By demanding that someone or something be like something else, we are losing its reality and what it has to offer. I am attempting an internal shift in which I opt not to compare myself or another person or moment to anything or anyone else. With grace and neutrality, I hope to begin to open to the reality of everything, celebrating with every breath the beauty on offer in every person, in every moment.

As with most transformational journeys, once again, the path begins within, with your next glance in the mirror. Will you ask yourself to change and withhold your love until you do? Or will you look yourself in the eye and pour your love out without condition or comparison?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Honestly!

There is nothing that irritates the shit out of me more than being lied to. When I ask a question, especially a specific, direct one, I expect an honest answer. If I didn't want to know, I wouldn't ask. Believe me, I know that telling the truth can be really tricky. I have not always been perfectly honest. I've been known to exaggerate, bend the truth or omit things altogether. We've all been in situations where telling the truth seems absolutely unthinkable, the confrontation simply too much to bear. Confrontation used to terrify me- even small, silly things like calling the phone company. It's been one of my greatest learning curves, one that I still work on daily, to gracefully navigate confrontation and speak my truth.

Practicing doing so and becoming more confident has not necessarily made it any less complicated, though. Yogi Bhajan said about communication: "Let your words be straight, simple and with a smile," but it can be awfully difficult to find a way to say the things we need to say in a way that won't elicit this kind of a response: "But dear ones, do you see your words? They are so fucking ugly." It's graceful, simple directness that I've been working on lately. I think to myself, "How can I communicate this in a way that will, as Yogi Bhajan also suggested, not wreck today but create a better tomorrow?"

It helps to understand that we communicate in order to get our needs met. There's an acronym about communication that I love: WAIT! Why Am I Talking? It's useful to be able to identify what you are hoping to achieve in your communications in order to help get your needs met, and then be as direct as possible. The real challenge is that we have to be honest with ourselves first, and that requires enormous courage. Ever told someone (and yourself) that "it wasn't a big deal" but it really was and you just keep repeating that and brushing it off until you almost believe it? There is always something unsettled there, though, a lingering resentment towards the other person and ourselves for not allowing it to be the big deal it really was for us. We have to be brave enough to speak our truth and ask for what we need, and confident enough to believe that we deserve it.

We all know that telling the truth can be harrowing, but it can also be wonderful. Here is my case for honesty:
1. Hope to get your needs met. Do you know any psychics? I had an eerily accurate $5 palm reading once over a frozen yogurt shop in DC by a psychic named Miss Tina. She is extremely gifted. Other than that? Nope. Point being, you cannot ever hope to get your needs met unless you open your pretty mouth and ask. Set boundaries. Ask for what you're owed (because you deserve it!). Advocate for yourself. Otherwise, no one will know and you cannot blame them for it (except Miss Tina- she knows all).
2. Help the people you love. Help them help you by filling them in on what would support your happiness (if they're worth your time they'll want to know!). Help them become better and brighter by sharing your concerns or observations about them (with compassion and tact...remember, we're communicating for a better tomorrow). Good communicators make good lovers.
3. Destroy assumptions. You know what they say about assumptions? They make an ass out of you and me. Shine a light in the dark with your honest words and get rid of ambiguity and gray areas. So many problems in life arise because we have not communicated clearly. You don't know until you know.
4. Show some respect. Lying is disrespectful. Period. Yes yes yes, I've done it before. And I came out the other side seeing how badly it can hurt people, how it can destroy friendships and make an enormous, unnecessarily painful mess. You owe it to people to be honest, especially in matters of health and safety. Sometimes being honest hurts people, too, but it's better to hurt them now with the truth than put it off and hurt them later with the truth and months worth of lying. Grow up, grow a pair and get it over with.
5. Live free. Imagine how easy and free you can live in a life without lies! Imagine all the brain power you'll have freed up not having to keep track! You could finally learn to knit or play chess!

Honestly, we have to steel ourselves for the possibility that the outcomes of our honesty may be disappointing. Sometimes we state our needs and no one responds or we are flat out denied. Sometimes we share a concern with a friend and they respond defensively. Sometimes the people that we speak to do not actually hear us at all. Nonetheless, it is so completely, vitally important to speak truthfully, with compassion and grace and clarity and tact whenever possible. That last part can be hard but becomes easier with practice.

Love is impossible without trust and trust is impossible without honesty. Our honesty is the best thing we have to offer one another. Like most transformational journeys, the path of the impeccable word begins within. Honestly acknowledge what it is that you need and muster the courage to ask. Your voice deserves to be heard, honeylove. The world needs your honesty and the people who really love you want to hear it. I certainly do.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Anchors Within!

The tattoo spanning the upper middle part of my back is an anchor. Inscribed on said anchor is the first part of this Sanskrit quote: "As the Mind, so the Man./ Bondage or Liberation are in your own Mind."
My life is grounded in this philosophy. It is the essence of Raja Yoga, the royal yoga of the mind, from which all yogic forms were derived. The second Yoga Sutra states that "the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga." Plainly spoken, the entire goal of yoga is to control the mind. If we have control over our mind we cannot be bound by anything outside of ourselves. It means becoming unfailingly neutral: being able to perceive the happenings of the world without allowing our experiences to create ripples in the pond or making decisions about how things are. It means approaching every moment with curiosity instead of judgement: "Oh hello! What is this? How interesting!"

This is not meant to be an exposition on the Sutras, though. Ten months ago I pulled up my anchor and set sail. It wasn't until I had given up my independent adult identity defined by job and apartment that I realized how heavily I had come to rely on it for stabilization and security. I could wander far, knowing that I had a key that fit a lock on a door behind which my private life quietly hummed. Pots and pans, books and photographs, a bathmat...all arranged just so. Since trading it all in for some gypsy bells, my answer to the question, "Where do you live?" has become "Everywhere!" And then I laugh.

Behind the laughter is ten months worth of not-always-but-mostly arduous aimless wandering. Don't get me wrong- the first two weeks of being totally untethered were exhilarating. Maybe some people would've enjoyed it for longer; I am not one of those people. Besides my friends, you know what I always loved most about summer camp? The consistent, predictable daily schedule. Outside of normal structure and with my identity being de- and reconstructed, I was lost. Every day I would beg the universe to tell me what to do with my life. Every day (for a while...) I pulled Osho cards looking for guidance, and almost every card I pulled told me that I would find the truth within. And so every day I meditated with great discipline, visualizing everything I could manifest that would help me feel secure again, seeking and grasping desperately...and totally missing the point.

Being someone else's anchor is a heavy weight and when it became apparent that no one was going to rise to the occasion (rightfully so...), I began making choices to restabilize my life and give it some structure. I filled my empty days with teaching, learning and all kinds of creativity. Becoming self-contained and driven reminds me of the tortoise, which reminds me of an Osho card that I'm particularly fond of, Slowing Down:
The Knight of Rainbows is a reminder that, just like this tortoise, we carry our home with us wherever we go. There is no need to hurry, no need to seek shelter elsewhere. Even as we move into the depths of the emotional waters, we can remain self-contained and free from attachments. 

As imperceptible as it may be to me after the struggles of the last year, it would seem that I have chosen this for myself. Outside of extreme circumstances, we do what we want all the time, and apparently what I wanted (and needed) was to embrace what I had been avoiding for so long: the ability to be my own anchor, my own source of stability and security. And so I set about to create a situation in which I had no structure and would have to fill in the blanks.

There is a little child part of myself that is determined to wait miserably for as long as it takes for a "grown up" to provide this. My message to her is that she will be waiting miserably forever because there is nothing and no one outside of ourselves that can provide what we really need: internal, abiding, consistent stability and security. Sometimes it's nice to receive outside support from friends or one's spiritual practice, but ultimately, as our only real life long partners, we have to learn to provide this for ourselves. And because I am a very capable, care taking grown up, I can confidently assure my little self that I am the one she's been waiting for.

The Osho cards are right: the truth is within. Everything is within: all the answers, all the love, all the reassurance, all the stability. There are no knights in shining armor. I am empowering myself to create and recreate my life, imbuing every day with purpose and meaning, with grace and gratitude. It's a matter of deciding that there is something worth living for and determining what that is.

Sometimes I still wake up foggy without consciousness of how precious that waking breath is. Sometimes I forget my passions and look for them in other people and places. It's a whole practice in and of itself to stay internally anchored, to stay hungry, driven and dedicated to one's own beautiful vision without continuous approval and support from others. Nevertheless, it is important work that helps us to ultimately see our vision through to fruition. Therefore, begin every search within. You may be surprised how many questions you are already capable of answering and how much you already contain. You are the one you've been waiting for.

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.
-Albert Camus

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mama Knows Best

Ben Folds has a song about a couple on the verge of breaking up that I hold in mind when I start to get self-righteous about someone I feel I've "helped." It's this particular part that humbles me every time:
She said, "You've been pushing me like I was a sore tooth.
You can't respect me 'cause I've done so much for you."
He said, "Well I hate that it's come to this
But baby I was doing fine. How do you think
That I survived the other 25 before you?"


Note the difference between this...
On Monday night my cousin took me to a talk at the Blum Center for Developing Economies at UC Berkeley, where we heard Kavita Ramdas speak about the value of investing in women and so-called "women's issues" that really concern the whole population (trivial things like education and health care, pfft). She challenged the very word "developing," asking us to consider what these countries were supposed to be developing into, exactly. Considering the current economic climate in the "developed" countries of the West, they may not present a healthy, successful model for other countries to follow. She went on to site five diverse examples from around the world of local women solving very specific local issues within their communities, and asked us to consider that the scale of impact of a project does not necessarily dictate its value. At the end, I commented on my increasing discomfort with all the various "Save Africa" campaigns and asked how she would defend the specific, local work being done by great organizations like RAWA and Project Air to people who place high value on projects of a large, general scale.

...and this

Much to my delight, she flew into a beautifully eloquent tirade about the arrogance of "saving" anyone. As the former president and CEO of the grant making organization Global Fund for Women, she found that the amount of money poured into a project had very little to do with its success. What was the biggest factor? The commitment and investment of the community. She asserted that in order to really, truly be helpful, one would need to examine their own underlying assumptions about the people they might seek to help.

For example...These days the general public seems to view Africa as a single country filled with nothing but emaciated AIDS babies, violent conflict and desperate poverty. Do those things exist on the African continent? Awfully, yes, and they are causes worth shedding light on. But this is not Africa's only story. Africa is an enormous, richly diverse land mass with some countries and people that don't need saving at all. Many of the problems that exist in some of the places in Africa are a direct result of the influences and aftermath of colonization, and the continued influence of foreign business interests intent on squeezing every drop of oil, every diamond, every precious metal out of the soil. Africa doesn't need to be saved. For the first time in far too long, it needs to be left well enough alone.

Which is not to say that I am opposed to providing help to the places and people that require it. However, I think it's important to make sure that the help you seek to provide is actually relevant and necessary. How does one go about determining if someone needs help? You ask them- "Do you need help? What sort of help do you need?" For who will have a better sense of priorities than the people who might need help? To decide that you already know what is best is to fall back on your underlying assumptions, which may or may not be correct. How will you know if you don't ask?

As another example...Perhaps you are concerned about the plight of oppressively veiled Afghan women. If you were to ask the feminist political and social organization RAWA (Revolutionary Association of the Women in Afghanistan) what they needed, they wouldn't beg you to save them from the veil. They would implore you to send them more small digital cameras so they can continue documenting human rights abuses through holes they cut in their burqas. They would tell you how the burqa has become a shield, allowing them anonymity in their efforts to subvert the very people who seek to oppress them. They would ask you to send school supplies so they can continue to educate women and children, and medical supplies so they can continue to treat people in refugee camps. This powerful Afghan women's group is saving Afghanistan from the inside, and they have the intelligence and where with all to do it.

Personally, I came to understand the vital necessity of self-salvation during my time volunteering on a suicide crisis line. I could say all kinds of things to callers to soothe or distract, but ultimately they had to decide to save their own lives. The line is designed to be supportive, but moreover, empowering. I was there to empower callers to do something about making their lives move livable, operating under the idea that they had the ability and, more importantly, the right to make their own informed choices. Some people needed more help than others, but everyone still had the power of choice. When they chose to keep living it was them that were the saviors, not me.

People are capable of doing all kinds of extraordinary things. Sometimes people make harmful choices for themselves, but those are their choices to make. Sometimes people are stubborn and will refuse help when they actually need it. Except in the cases of emergency surgery or being pulled from a burning building, we are the ones who save ourselves. We leave relationships that aren't working. We get (and use) a gym membership. We liberally apply sunscreen. We recognize a need in our community (or country) and find ways to address that need. We are the ones we've been waiting for.

When offering assistance to another, make sure they need it. If they need assistance, make sure you know exactly what kind. Never presume to know what they need and, unless you're the firefighter on the tall ladder, never posture as their savior. Throw your support to community organizations that are doing the work you didn't even know needed to be done until you found them. Humble yourself before heartbreaking issues that seem utterly insurmountable by asking what needs to be done and if there is anything you can do to help.

It's time that we move past the gross, patronizing, imperialistic idea that "Africans" (or any other people of "developing" nations) are godless heathens that need saving. It's time that we let go of the insecurity that propels us to assert that our way is the only way. It's time to grow up, get real humble and ask:
How may I serve? What may I share?

There is so much we don't know and can't ever hope to know if we don't ask.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Curse of Too Much, Not Enough

"Am I okay? Am I okay? Am I okay?" I am plagued by this question. Every moment of every day it rolls around in the depths of my subconscious, seeking an answer in everyone else's words and actions. When I look in your eyes, no matter what I ask aloud, I am really asking you if I am okay.

"Am I okay?"

The implication in asking is that I do not believe that I am okay. For reasons obvious and still opaque, I have come to this point in my life thinking that there is some terrible flaw in my very make up- something about me that makes me unworthy of respect and adoration. It is the curse of too much and not enough. I find myself privately, quietly lamenting how if only I was a little more and a little less then I would be "perfect" and "worthy" of love. If I was enough and not quite so much, then I could fix it. There is something wrong with me and it is ruining everything.

This is not true. This is the ego speak of a little child who is self-centered enough to really believe that they have the power to single handedly ruin everything. As an adult, I can laugh at this part of myself with compassion- "Oh dear me, how misguided." I can see that it's ego centric. I can see that it's a small person's attempt at exerting control and influence over their environment. I can understand it with my intellect, examine the roots of this internal question and clearly articulate my feelings about it. But thus far nothing has succeeded in helping me to change the question- "Am I okay?" echoes in every heart beat.

In the book The Four Agreements, the author talks about how we make all kinds of agreements throughout our lives, from subtle to obvious, that create the version of ourselves that we know. At some point, I got the idea that I was not okay and I agreed with it. Since then, I have sought reinforcement of this idea and agreed with it over and over again. Every time I reach out to someone who has been unkind to me I answer my own internal question: "Am I okay?" "Nope. You're not good enough to protect from other people's cruelty. I'm going to keep exposing you to it. If you were good enough, you could help them. Try harder. Try to be more and less than what you are. If you're good enough you can fix it."

What a ridiculous, oppressive trap. The one and only way out is to begin to answer the question differently. We do this not with words but with powerful, meaningful, supportive actions to show ourselves that we are worth taking care of, worth respecting, worth adoring. We have to, as Sugar suggests, fill our own empty bowl.

Of course, the act of self-support is difficult to achieve when you're still not sure if you're okay. It's just one of those "fake it til you make it" things, honeyloves. Practice being nice to yourself in big and small ways, every day, until you confidently believe you deserve it. In the meantime, align yourself with the people who love you outrageously much. Unless you are a truly horrendous person (and, let's be real, you're not) there are far more people out there who respect and adore you than people who do not. Stick with your fans and take every opportunity, every glance in the mirror to affirm your worth. A friend of mine taught me to say, "Thank you, that's true" when someone gives me a compliment. It felt a little funny at first, but it's a good place to start in making new agreements about yourself.

Hopefully someday my internal question will change with a conversation that begins like this:
"Am I okay?"
"Yes, my dear. You are okay."
"Thank you, that's true...I am okay!"

What is your internal question? How does it inform and/or impact your vision of yourself and the way you live your life? Does it, perhaps, need to change?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Year in the After Burn

group.hug.man.burn.dust.storm.dance.party!
A little while ago, Facebook began reminding me of my statuses from years past. Today, it reminded me that I came home from my first trip to Black Rock City exactly a year ago. The actual status was:
"speechless. so tired. so happy! and grateful! i'm a rocketship, zoom...!"

My experience of Burning Man was a refreshing reset button, helping me to move on from a relationship far past its usefulness and gain a stronger sense of myself as a powerful, whole, goddess of a woman. It is still my favorite vacation ever. It was what happened when I arrived home from the desert that made all the difference, though.

The day I left for BRC, as I sat in the lobby of my building wearing a hula hoop and waiting for the lovely Sarah to collect me, I met the cute, young couple that was moving into the apartment next to mine. We exchanged casual conversation before I left and I promptly forgot all about them until the night I arrived home late to heavy bass music shaking the building. And then there were the disturbingly violent emotional and physical abuse heard through the walls, the emergency calls to police and the fear of retaliation from the guy who seemed so nice in the lobby a couple of weeks prior. Suddenly, my little safe haven wasn't feeling so safe.

Two weeks after the burn, I got word that the rent on my massage space was going up. It was not entirely unexpected but the timing was earlier than anticipated and I was left with a choice: work that much harder to sustain my business, or let it go. Having just stolen Reg's Osho cards while packing up our tent, I consulted the deck and I pulled Letting Go...bahaha!:
To choose this card is a recognition that something is finished, something is completing. Whatever it is--a job, a relationship, a home you have loved, anything that might have helped you to define who you are--it is time to let go of it, allowing any sadness but not trying to hold on. Something greater is awaiting you, new dimensions are there to be discovered. You are past the point of no return now, and gravity is doing its work. Go with it--it represents liberation.

Wow...yikes! It's not common to receive such a direct answer to a question and Reg had made it clear that while you are welcome to ignore this card, its arrival signals a very definite end. And so I wrote the most hippie resignation letter ever, referencing the above quote and talking at length about my feelings.

As I wrapped up my time in my massage space, my home environment continued to get more uncomfortable. The kids upstairs got a drum kit which they played randomly throughout the day and it became clear that I wouldn't be able to live there anymore. My dearheart lovebug Siri Shakti shacked up with me for a while and ended up being the biggest help in my transition out of my apartment and my city life. During this time of abundant change, I also met a guy who (figuratively) set me on fire. I am still recovering.

The day of the move came and I awoke with Florence + The Machine ringing in my ears. The dog days of life in a beautiful, chaotic, putrid, vibrant ghetto were over, to be replaced by a wandering, winding, sometimes dark and painful, sometimes ecstatic, path into the depths of my own heart. It's been the greatest gift of my life thus far to be torn apart and put back together in this way. It is a very good God who will deny me what I think I want in order to give me what I really need.

On Sunday night, I pulled the Letting Go card as my insight for the week. This has been the reoccurring theme of my journey over the past year. Let Go: of control, of expectations, of conditioning, of Ego, of assumptions, of projections, of outdated relationships, of outdated anything. Let go let go go on...in big and small ways, every day, let go. This surrender is the path to freedom. The build up to surrendering is a bitter, brutal battle but the act of surrender is a non-doing. It is a gentle sigh.

And then? There is nothing. There is no struggle, no grasping, no fear. There is only the peace of being in the flow of life, open and ready to serve the will of the "breath inside the breath," as Kabir put it. I have control over nothing, nor the right to control anything, but my own experience of life. That is all. And so I breathe and chant and stretch and listen very carefully, awaiting the tiniest whisper in my ear, awaiting the revelation of the next path in this beautiful, mysterious life.

As my tribe flows back into the Bay, and I am reminded of my own joyous homecoming last year, my heart stings a little to have been physically absent from the burn. But when I consider it, I see that this entire year has been a Rite of Passage- from the moment Letty's tires turned back onto the highway off of the playa to the moment I stayed home and embraced my adult challenges with grace and discipline. It's a passage I didn't even know existed, but here I am, growing up and into myself in real, meaningful ways. I am grateful for these milestone reminders and the time and space to consider the passage of time and how these passages create us.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gracias Grazie Merci Danke!!

This week I've had the pleasure of hanging out with two very darling, extremely grateful little children. These kids say thank you for everything to everyone. The ice maker in the freezer starts making ice: "Thanks refrigerator!" They like the strawberries from Trader Joe's: "Thank you Trader Joe's!" We see the garbage man: "Thank you for picking up the garbage, garbage man!" No joke. They do a lot of other adorable things as well, and are basically the kind of kids I hope to raise someday: curious, silly, bright, adventurous and grateful.

Being surrounded by a sea of gracious thank yous all week has been extremely uplifting and really put me in a gratitude mindset. While writing on the train this morning all I could think about were the many things I'm grateful for, and so I listed them. This put me in an indelibly good mood that carried through my walk home during which I decided to throw any remaining normalcy to the wind and say thank you to the sun and trees and bushes and grass and birds and cars that I passed on the way. I'm sure I looked crazy (I probably am...). In any case, you'd be crazy not to be crazy grateful for how ridiculously blessed this life is. Our very existence is a miracle. So I ask you...

What are you grateful for?

Orienting yourself towards abundance, grounding yourself in the richness that already surrounds you, is a much better way of attracting more abundance than always thinking about what is lacking. Gratitude: it's what's for LIFE!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Love Recycled, Grown, Transforming.

The myopia of love (or infatuation, whatever ails you) is so enveloping when you're in the thick of it that it perhaps never occurs to you that someday you will not care about the person who used to take up 97% of your brain power. Time and space begin to stretch between you and your former, and eventually their name will come up in conversation and you'll realize it's been months or years since you thought of them. Or their relationship status on Facebook will change and you can begin to answer the question, "What happens to all those people I used to be in love/infatuated with?"

This is not something I ever really consider. By the time I let someone go, I've exhausted myself and the connection so completely that there's no returning- it's part of my intense, all-or-nothing charm. Recently this guy I used to have a mega-crush on got married. Long ago I sent him to the Island of No Romantic Feeling and he had come to only exist for me in the periphery of my consciousness. Still, something funny happened when I was looking at a photo of him at the end of the aisle, beaming at his beautiful approaching bride. It was not jealousy, but curiosity- "Who have you become to be able to look at that woman that way? What's happened to you over all these years?"

Of course, I don't know the specifics, only the general details that Facebook supplies. One might fall into a thought spiral considering why it couldn't have been them at either end of the aisle- what was wrong with them or missing, etc. Danger danger! Over the last year I've become acutely aware of how it's less the people involved and more the timing of the relationship. Some people are never a good match even in the most ideal circumstances, but sometimes it really is just a question of timing. Sometimes people meet while one or both parties are in other relationships, or one or both parties are just getting out of a relationship. Sometimes two people meet when one of them is moving far away in a week or going through some other major transition. We relate to one another not in a vacuum but within the broader context of our lives, and life is not always conducive to nurturing love.

It takes everything that's ever happened to us, every shred of experience, for us to become who we are- the groom busting at the suit seams with so much love, the wizened young woman content to wait until someone looks at her that way. Whatever role (if any...) I played in helping the guy of my past to become the man of some other woman's future, I am grateful. Because the man that elopes with me someday, barefoot on a quiet beach, will be the guy of other women's pasts. He'll know how to take care of my tender heart because he will have had his heart broken and broken hearts along the way. We will come together in the right place at the right time and I will say a prayer of deep gratitude to all the women of his past who helped ready him to be the man of my future.

Love- and infatuation-fueled myopia stems from a starvation economy mindset in which there is not enough to go around. This lacking is an illusion. Life is rich, ever expansive and abundant. Reconsider all your relationship "losses" as mere stepping stones on the path to becoming who you need to be in order to attract your beloved. The best that I might hope for, my ideal, is a wizened young man who will meet me where I am and continue to evolve and grow with me, sharing in this crazy, beautiful mystery of life. No matter how many stepping stones it takes, I'll be over here joyfully living my life and holding out for a look so filled with love.