Tuesday, March 29, 2011

11 More Years with My Mother

The word "cancer" is evocative of all kinds of emotions. When your mother tells you, "I have cancer," it is evocative of utter despair and panic, especially at 16. I can only imagine how heavy it is to be the person carrying the tumor and the burden of the news. Her tumor floated seemingly innocuous on the surface of the skin, plain for the eye to see but invisible to mammograms. Small and hard like a frozen pea, it wreaked havoc in her body, with surgeries, radiation and heavy drugs called for to evict every last out-of-control cell. It could've been enough to make anyone wilt but my strong mama walked the road beautifully, fully committed to the fight and continuing to live.

Tonight, 11 years later, my brother and I flanked her at a cancer survivors' mass at our church. It is with overwhelming gratitude that I thank her for not giving up, and God for keeping her with us for 11 years past what could've been a death sentence. The story doesn't end this way for so many families- we are blessed that it has for us.

If your mom is still in the world, call her today and tell her that you love her.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Allowing for Polarity

The half way point in my Authentic Relationships course is a discussion about polarities. For the purpose of clear communication, polarities are "pairs of qualities that are opposites and yet relate to one another in such a way that they define each other." Day, night. Good, evil. Flexible, rigid. Introverted, extroverted. Tense, relaxed. I've been considering all the polarities that I contain and working on integrating both poles. Osho had this to say about Integration: "Rather than night opposing day, dark suppressing light, they work together to create a unified whole, turning endlessly one into the other, each containing in its deepest core the seed of the other." One of the issues we run into with these polarities is that we prefer one end of the polarity and treat the other end as a problem to be solved, conquered, destroyed, or simply ignored.

This leads to the biggest problem I see in the spiritual communities I frequent in relation to anger and other "unpleasantness." There seems to be an unwillingness to give these qualities voice and attention, and they are bottled only to surface later at inappropriate times. The idea that we are too spiritual to have these qualities is ridiculous. Even Yogi Bhajan never claimed to be perfect- he actually said that the only difference between him and his students was that he didn't apologize for his faults. About denial, he said: "When you deny something, actually you are accepting those things very deep in your subconscious mind." In meditation, I've learned not to suppress thoughts, or I end up spending the whole time thinking about how I'm thinking and trying to stop. We will never stop thinking. And we are all filled with polarities that cannot be destroyed. We have to manage our polarities, putting them to work for us.

The beginning of this process is coming into a place of allowing- allowing any and all thoughts, feelings and polarities to arise and exist. There are masters who are able to remain constantly neutral and zen, but chances are you are not one of them (neither am I!). For us mere mortals, we're going to have bad days and there is no use pretending that everything is "soooo gooood!" when it's not. You don't have to be happy all the time. But you can certainly strive to always be truthful and allow yourself to live authentically.

Now that we're being more honest, it's time to stop seeing our polarities as problems to be solved. Here's a personal example: I can work very hard and I am also pretty self-indulgent and pleasure-centered. In the past, I have felt bad about my developed ability to relax, judging myself as lazy. Rather than seeing this as a problem, now I am working to manage and elevate this polarity. I know that in order to really relax, I need hard work to balance it and help me feel like I am actually relaxing. Both ends of the polarity are valuable. It's contrast that gives life its color and depth.

It's hard to simultaneously hold two opposites. We seem to naturally swing to one extreme or the other and glorify that ideology as The Way. When it comes to polarities, though, we have to accept that without one, the other couldn't exist. Neither pole is better than the other. Each side has positives and our job is to find those positive aspects and manifest them. Example: I contain a lot of light. I can also get pretty dark and heavy. My lightness is illuminating and uplifting. My darkness gives me a depth of feeling that allows me to better empathize with people going through hard times. Both sides are essential.

Why does this matter? Because there is immense power in harnessing our polarities rather than fighting them. We cannot ever stop being who we really are, so instead of denying our true, polarized natures, why not utilize both sides? Anger, sadness, introversion, rigidity...we've judged these things as being not as good as their opposites, but they have benefits. Anger gives us the push we sometimes need to move on. Sadness allows us the full experience of loss. Introversion provides periods of rest and renewal. Rigidity makes it possible for us to stand firm on issues we cannot afford to compromise on.

As The Byrds (actually Ecclesiastes...) would suggest, there is a season and time for everything. When it is time to reflect, take solace in your introversion. When it is time to hold your ground, turn to your rigidity. These aspects of yourself can serve you if you allow them. In doing so, you will be allowing yourself the full experience of your life, so instead of thinking about not being angry you can just be angry and move through it to happiness once more. Our life is a series of cycles, one turning into the next in graceful flow. Keep on turn, turn, turning...from one authentic, gloriously polarized moment to the next.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fantasy v.s. Reality

High Fidelity is one of my desert island, all-time, top five favorite movies. First of all, it has John Cusack, who I find so terribly charming. Secondly, it's about music, which I love. Finally, I enjoy the honest male perspective it provides. In one of my favorite scenes, Rob proposes to Laura in a bar, telling her that since he was 14 he's been chasing this idea of a fantasy woman who doesn't come with the inherent complexity that arises when people get close in a real way. He explains that he's come to realize that this fantasy neither delivers nor exists and that he's tired of it.

This week I've been resonating with this fantasy v.s. reality theme in relationships. There's this dance we do early on in relationships where we reveal little bits of ourselves, test the waters, carefully check out this new person. Some people are good at this. I am not so much. I have little patience for small talk and a total lack of interest in playing pretend. I want to know who you are- no, really. Who are you? I don't care what you do or how much money you make. What gets you excited about being alive? I can get behind talking about books and movies and childhood TV shows, but what really feels fulfilling for me, what gets me excited, is diving right in and connecting with people in meaningful ways. It's not easy to come by, but it's what I live for.

Years ago my friend Brooke told me that I was a "real girl," and that people were drawn to me because they were looking for a real experience of life. Although I have had trouble existing in my own reality at times, by and large I am pretty deeply rooted and steady. When I'm in, I'm in 150% without question...the bright side of obstinacy. Because I'm interested in peoples' authentic realities, I can comfortably hold space for them in their depths as well as their heights. For better or worse, I'm here for you. All I ask is that you're honest...which I know can be a tall order. Sometimes we don't even know what the truth is, or are afraid to voice it. I get it. As sensitive as I am to the possible anxiety in honesty, I'm here to challenge myself and you to get at it. As a Kundalini yoga teacher, I'm called to be a forklift- elevating people, sometimes abruptly, but elevating nonetheless to an experience of their highest Self. On the path of true service, sometimes one has to tell people things that are upsetting. Honesty is not always 'nice', but it should always be elevating.

That being said, I am aware of my own intensity. A long time ago I figured out that I'm just not one of those easy girls to date. All women have their own brand of coocoo, but if I am indeed real and I give people an experience of reality, that's not always easy to handle. I think I'm pretty gentle about it...but I get why it would be off putting. I am not a late night TV fantasy. I have baggage I'm unpacking, funny quirks, and no wherewithal or desire to hide them away. Why compromise myself or try to lie? I'm a terrible liar and compromising my truth always results in an icky, hollow feeling when I get what I thought I wanted. From my perspective, we are spiritual beings having a human experience. I challenge myself and the people around me to strive for that experience of the Divine in the human...Consciousness...which is hard.

And in other ways, I'm probably pretty easy to date. I don't necessarily need (or want) to talk to my significant other every day. I like handmade gifts, matinee movies and cheap, hole in the wall eats. Parents and grandparents find me delightful. I have a policy of never taking boyfriends shopping with me. I bake like a mofo and I'm a sweetheart until you give me a good reason not to be. I feel super neurotic right now, but it's only because I'm working all my weird stuff out before I get married so my husband and children don't suffer from my crazy. So, the reward for people who are willing to show up for me is a super cool woman to play and learn and grow with. Maybe intense...but 100% worth it.

Not everyone is going to appreciate me and what I have to offer, and despite what my mom says, there's nothing wrong with them. I don't resonate with everyone I meet. Attraction is complex, sometimes (often...) irrational and rarely within our control. Some day I hope to meet a dude to resonate with who appreciates me for who I am and has the gonads to dive in and be real with me. It's not the fantasy that I think a lot of guys picture...but I think it might be better.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Letting Go.

It is only the reminder that life is cyclical that gets me through certain times. These are the times, dear ones, when I am so grateful that nothing lasts forever. This is a particularly auspicious week of endings for me with a full moon, the arrival of spring and the beginning of the 52 days before my birthday. Last summer, my Siri Shakti Kaur friend introduced me to a sort of astrology system that breaks your year up into 7, 52 day cycles, beginning on your birthday. Each period features different benefits and challenges, when certain actions are better to take than others. During the 7th, pre-birthday cycle "the elements in your life that are no longer needed for your development gradually fall away in order to make way for those which are new and better." (http://www.wowzone.com/lcycles.htm) It's a time of endings and deep letting go, cleansing and renewal. 

How perfect that this time coincides with spring- the season for a good basement to chimney top clean. Since my recent move involved the very cathartic purging of half my stuff, the big clean this year is in the areas of habits and relationships. There are certainly elements in my life that need to fall away- it's a matter of doing the dropping. It feels like such a terrible loss to let go of certain things, especially people...and maybe that's healthy. But sometimes attachments to people, ideas or habits are in no way serving you and progress is impeded by hanging on. Being naturally obstinate, I love to drag things out far past the point of usefulness. "Oh I'll give up...over my dead body!" I know I've explored this before, but I still don't understand why it's so hard to let go. I'm going to blame my ego, which seems to be preoccupied with feeling right and being validated...all that mess.

Maybe what really needs to be put out on the San Francisco streets is my stubbornness...at least the aspect of it that causes me to put a vice lock on things that are long expired, and to do the same thing over and over expecting different results. I do all this inner work in yoga and feel like I've made so much progress only to fall back into the same old patterns. But it's understandable. These habits carve deep neural pathways in the brain overtime that are difficult, sometimes downright painful, to rechannel. We have to make new choices enough times consistently to change this and that's some hard work. It takes a whole lot of mindfulness, discipline and patience...*yaaawwwwn* boring! It's so much easier to unconsciously flail about and not change.

BUT! Someone wise once said that the absence of growth is the absence of life.  Growth is not possible without change, and since change is the only constant, why drag my feet against it? Relationships evolve and fall away, old habits become ineffective, and at some point (preferably sooner than later) these things need to be released. Because I also function with an "all in or all out" mentality, I always worry that once I let something go, I will not be able to go back. I don't think I've ever needed to regret anything I've let go of, though. What I do regret is allowing myself to invest so much time and energy in non-functional situations. I look forward to spending this pre-birthday spring season cleaning out my mental closets and liberating myself from restrictive, tired, old nonsenses.

It's time to adapt and evolve in meaningful ways. With the world getting smaller and more intimately connected every day, the importance of each action we choose is becoming all the more clear. We matter and what we do has an effect that ripples wider than we can see.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Springtime of the Heart

Today is the beginning of Lent- traditionally a time in the Catholic Church of abstinence and repentance. My mom and I went to mass to receive our ashes and also walked out with some solid spiritual guidance from Father Padraig. Instead of instructing the community to give something up, he advised that Lent be viewed as a time of reflection in which we look into our hearts and see what's there. We are to spend the 40 (technically 46) days of Lent opening to the love of God and allowing the knots in our heart to be undone. He said that it's perfectly fine to give something up, but it's a superficial symbol of sacrifice if we don't take the time to turn in and consider what the sacrifice means and how we can grow through this time. Lent can be a time of abstinence in which we flex our will to avoid chocolate/caffeine/red meat/Facebook. Lent can also be a time of deep self-discovery and rebirth- so that when Easter arrives we will experience a true "springtime of the heart."

Coming from the Kundalini yoga community, I'm no stranger to 40 day commitments. I have experienced first hand the transformational power of committing to and (more importantly) completing 40 continuous days of practice. I remember my first few 40 day attempts and how much resistance I used to put up to my practice. It takes time to build a daily spiritual practice into your regular schedule- to make it as natural, normal and necessary as your dental hygiene routine. My practice has grown over the last two years from 10 minutes of pranayam to two hours of meditation/set, divided between morning and evening. I used to complete 40 days with relief and fall off for a while. Now I am never without some kind of practice, laying a solid foundation for my daily life. Now that my practice has become deeply rooted in my life, I am gaining ever more depth and value with each passing day that I remain committed to taking care of myself in this way. And it all began with struggle and resistance, failure and false starts. Commitment builds so much character because we push ourselves up out of the mud over and over, and keep reaching for the light.

When you look into your heart, what do you see? Father Padraig suggested that people often avoid looking because they're afraid of what they will find. Now is the time to be courageous. Last night I looked in my heart and found immense hurt and anger, so I joined the other 1,200+ brave souls doing Spirit Voyage's Burning Inner Anger 40 Day Global Sadhana (here's a video of Snatam Kaur teaching it, if you're curious). It's only been two days and I can already feel the challenging meditation breaking up the scar tissue in my heart, making me a clearer channel for God's love to flow.

If you want to make a Lenten sacrifice, give up time each day to commit to doing something that will support you in becoming a healthier, happier, more integrated human being. If I, who am so very self-indulgent, can bend my will to support this daily commitment, you can too. When it comes to showing up for yourself, you're never late. Supporting ourselves is a decision we have to make sometimes on a moment to moment basis and you can start right now. Look into your heart. What is there that needs attention and love? What can you do every day for 40 days that will help to loosen the knots and leave you more free to laugh, love and enjoy life? Make a commitment to yourself to take this time to explore your inner world and build a little consistent self-care into your life.

It takes 40 days to change a habit. What would you like to commit to change? Every moment presents an opportunity for rebirth.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Divine Union

Tonight I got a rare, precious private audience with our family patriarch- my brilliant, vibrant 98 year old great grandpa (check him out on Facebook- no joke). He told me the one story I can't ever get enough of- the night he met my great grandma. This was back in the day when everyone was always impeccably accessorized. Her- beautiful, graceful, wearing the green suit her mother had made for her. Him- super handsome, sassy and instantly in love. They met at a skating rink when he purposely knocked her over so he could help her up...and the rest, as they say, is history. Tonight, for the first time, he looked at me meaningfully and told me that that was the most important day of his life. We've talked about the importance and joy of family before, but today he admitted that at first marriage was hard for him- as he put it "Your grandma really got on me" (ha!). But he made a deep commitment and learned to compromise...mostly to her, smart man. He reminded me that I needed to find a nice man to share my life with, to which I giggled and told him I was working on it.

Truth be told, I have been working on it, Grandpa. And oddly enough, I've never been less available for a relationship. At some point recently, I realized two very important things: 1) I am not, and perhaps never actually have been, available for a relationship. 2) I really am happier and more stable when I'm single, and that that's a pretty good argument to stay single until I can keep myself together when relating romantically. I have seen myself lose my shit spectacularly and who wants to be that girl? Oxytocin makes me crazy, yo. Clearly I have some work to do.

The realization that I wasn't actually available romantically was a little hard to take in. "But I'm so loving! I'm so open hearted and I always have been!" Really, Kirsten? Are you sure? A common pattern in my dating life has been my uncanny ability to find unavailable men. And, besides being unavailable, what do all those people have in common? Me! So perhaps I'm attracting men who are unavailable because I don't actually want to be in a relationship. I think I do because I'm lonely and instead of making friends with myself and finding what I need within, I've been looking for someone else to do that work. Ha! How tricky.

My spiritual project over the last week has been to reframe the way I view my aloneness- to enjoy the solitude and celebrate the fact that I don't require outside approval or support to sustain the steadiness of my faith. I can be, as the Buddha insisted, "a light unto (my)self." It's important to know when and how to ask for help, and equally important to know how to walk the road alone. It helps that the 90 day set I'm doing has been creating an inner spaciousness that allows me to contain myself. That is to say that I have a better understanding now of where I end and you begin, and enough room in my head to hold all my satchels and knapsacks and fannypacks...without me feeling like maybe you need to carry them all for me. I know I have baggage, I know what it is and that it doesn't belong to you.

Another key component has been letting go of the idea that I am some how incomplete. I mentioned this before, but in integrating the masculine parts of myself, I'm coming into relationship with myself for the first time. Turns out that I'm not missing anything at all! Everything that I've ever been looking for from other people has been in here all along, just waiting to be recognized. And in coming into this union with my Highest Self, I am really coming into a Divine Union with the God that vibrates every atom of my being. I am the Lover and the Beloved- complete, self-contained and lit from within. Well, I'm working on it...

A good study for this has been looking at the dynamic in my relationships with my girlfriends. I am blessed with a handful of really intimate friendships in which I am able to show up all heart and very few expectations. I've been known to tell these friends that they're my life partners, and I'm not really joking. We share our lives in a way that one might with a romantic partner. The big difference, aside from the lack of squishy stuff, is how the relay flows. There is a really fluid, equal exchange in these relationships, and I never feel like I'm grasping for more. I'm grateful for the love and support they give, and I'm never looking for them to complete me. We have remained distinct individuals, sharing our interests without dissolving into one another. So what the hell happens when romance comes in?

There are many possible theories and explanations, but lately I'm finding that as I experience this Divine Union within myself, the feeling of grasping is waning. I'm beginning to see how a romantic relationship has no hope for success without the relay- I send something over, you send something back and we both win. It's not about getting my needs met. It's about meeting my own needs and offering you my richness and abundance, not my lacking and hunger. That way, like I do with my friends, I can appreciate whatever it is that you have to offer without demanding that you give me what I should be providing for myself- namely, a deep sense of security that can really only come from within. And, my dear ones, it is impossible to be secure within yourself without being in healthy, respectful relationship to yourself. You have to get as intimate with your dark as your lightness, and take gentle, kind care of your sweet self. After all, if you won't be nice to yourself, how can you expect anyone else to be?

Here we are, Grandpa. I am holding out for a Divine Union with another that is complimentary, inspirational, challenging and elevating. Ideally, he would also have a good sense of humor, support my impulsive travel habit and be grounded in some kind of spirituality...and share my love of ice cream. Today I'm not quite ready...but maybe tomorrow. For now, I am perfectly happy flying solo.