Monday, April 30, 2012

Delusions, Hormones and Untrue Stories

"I feel like such a heifer. I had two bowls of special K, three pieces of turkey bacon, a handful of popcorn, five peanut butter M&M's, and like, three pieces of licorice."












"Do you want to know your body fat percentage?"
I've been walking past the sign at my work for weeks. On Friday one of the trainers and I had some coinciding downtime and I asked him if he would evaluate mine. He moved around my body, pinching areas of skin with an instrument that felt so reminiscent of a piercing gun that I couldn't help but flinch. After inputting his findings into an online form, he printed out the results, dramatically circling a series of numbers. "This is how much your vital organs, bones and blood weigh. You need all those things. This is how much fat you have. You need all but 2-4% of that. Right now you're athletic. You could lose maaaayyyybe a few pounds but any more than that and you'll cease to be healthy."

Woooah.

Sheepishly, I told him how I was recently considering purchasing diet pills from LifeBooker. He shook his head violently, "No no, that would be terrible. Terrible! Don't do that." I hadn't. Instead I had opted to try cutting gluten out of my diet. Much to my dismay, I've watched and felt my body change. Turns out that it's much happier without gluten in it. What I needed was a change in diet, not diet pills. Pasta, bread, cupcakes...why you gotta do me like that?

The way that I look at my body has changed in a matter of days. As much as I love hippie feel good talk, I'm a rationalist at heart and having a professional tell me that I need all but 2-4% of my fat was a revolution. As a body professional, I understand the importance of (healthy) fat to essential body functions. And since I love myself and want to do right by my body, any crazy diet pill thoughts have been put to rest. I had a light bulb moment: "Oh I need that fat! Oh okay! Of course. That makes sense." I'll still go to the gym every other day and do yoga in between, but I'm doing so for preventative maintenance, not weight loss. Because, apparently, I don't need to lose weight, and this sadly seems to be news to me.

This is the power of unchecked personal stories. From time to time we have to review the things we believe to be true, the Gospel According to You based on your powerfully influential experience. You may find that as you grow, change and have new experiences that your old stories are no longer relevant or applicable. There was a point at which I had weight to lose but that time has gone. In order to remain healthy, I have to learn a new story in which my weight and body composition are athletic, and the fat I have is friendly, helpful and, above all else, completely vital. I have to live with it, can't live without it.

Speaking of harboring stories so outdated they turn into delusions, I have a cautionary update to my last post. Awhile back I developed a craving in my body for something my mind had already disregarded as "dysfunctional." Because I wanted it so badly with every cell of my being, I chose to interpret this feeling as a mystic, cosmic sign that it was meant to be. Of course I know better than this. I have had cravings for and obsessions with all kinds of things and most of them have been neither cosmic nor mystic. Most of them were downright unhealthy to get or even to think about at length. Still, all wise experience aside, I allowed my whole body to begin humming with desire. Bzzzzzz! Want want want want!

After about a week of this, I tuckered myself out and the desire began to wane. I was too busy to spend all my waking moments and some of my sleeping ones thinking about this. I had to let it go. And I did, mostly, until the exact same time a month later. See, during this time my friend Rebecca turned me on to an app, The Hormone Horoscope, whose daily notes have made me acutely aware of what's happening hormonally in my body. To my utter astonishment, I realized that this intense, supposedly cosmic craving I was having wasn't cosmic at all, but hormonal. I had asserted so firmly, with so much conviction, that this was my destiny. It turns out that my hormones really did make me do it!

Of course, I don't know conclusively that this dysfunctional thing which my hormones occasionally demand is not my destiny...but that's beside the point. The point it, I've allowed myself to listen to my body to the point of allowing delusion to reign.

Unless you're being stridently honest with yourself, this "right feeling" that you're having might not be telling the complete truth. Even though we're in our own heads, it's still surprisingly easy to lie to ourselves. I look at my own body in the mirror every single day but I don't see athletic even though I'm told that that's what's there. I know that this thing I want is dysfunctional but I tell myself my desire for it proves how "cosmic" it is, instead of proof that I need to go to therapy more.

If you find a desire in your body for something your mind has rejected, allow this to set off an alarm in your head. Similarly, if you believe something about yourself and people who you trust and respect are contradicting your belief, allow that to give you pause. The Ego weaves wide webs, bent on keeping us uncomfortably, cozily trapped in the same stories forever. Bring your stories and ideas and beliefs to the people you trust and respect and ask them to fact check for you. You may suddenly realize that the way you've been thinking about money or relationships or your body does not line up to reality and has been limiting the way you live your life. In this realization, you are freed to write a new story, based on how things are today, right now.

Our stories are meant to evolve as we do, and we are meant to...personally and collectively, long before you and I arrived and on and on until the sun explodes and burns our ancestors up if there's anyone left here to burn. Beyond delusions and hormones, we each have a truth that we're continually unveiling as we evolve with grace and clarity into who we already are. You cannot evolve while living in your old stories. They are an ill-fitting skin that you are meant to shed. Find them out and shake them off. Free yourself to live the happy, fulfilled, blessed life that is your birthright. You are so much more than you were. Grow up and out of it. It's time for a rewrite.

"Let go or be dragged." -Zen proverb

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Body of Wisdom

"Trust your gut. Listen to your core. Know that lives within you and interpret it. That's your job here." -Cheryl Strayed

Yoga has given me so much, and changed me inside and out. This yoga drug does indeed work. A common experience in the practice is that yogis gain a stronger sense of the subtle sensations of their bodies. We get tuned in to the place where the mental/emotional/spiritual selves meet the physical; our bodies begin talking to us and the further you dig in to the practice, the harder it becomes to ignore. I like to say that Kundalini yoga made me quit my job because within two months of beginning the practice I woke up to how horrible it felt to go there everyday, sit in a cubicle with no sunlight and have so much contact with paperwork. I had a sense of this before, but the feeling suddenly became so acutely uncomfortable that I had to get out.

Since then, yoga has "made me" quit relationships, habits, living in San Francisco and many other jobs. As soon as I start to get a funny feeling in my body- sometimes in my heart, sometimes in my gut- it's only a matter of (sometimes very brief) time before I'll be gone. Of course, you don't have to do yoga to receive information in your body about a situation or person. Knowing something in your heart or having a gut feeling are common expressions used by many people to describe this experience.

Yogi or not, it's up to us to pay attention to the inner wisdom that gets communicated through our bodies. Our Highest Selves are taking the time to share what we need to do in order to stay safe, healthy and in line with our destiny; shouldn't we listen to them? This is sounding esoteric so let's think about a time when you've experienced anxiety over something you were thinking about doing. The typical indicators of the stress response kick in; your mouth might dry out, your breathing might get shallow, maybe your blood pressure rises. The anxious feeling and the response that it's paired with are information. Being in tune with this enables us to stop and ask ourselves, "Why am I feeling anxious?" Perhaps this anxiety is indicating that the thing you're thinking about doing is not right for you in that moment, or at all. Or maybe you're facing a big decision that you know will have a positive but highly transformational effect on your life. Regardless of the reason for the feeling, it's there, and giving it some time and attention can help us clarify what is right or so totally wrong for us.

There's a therapeutic technique called Somatic Psychotherapy which integrates the mind and a conscious experience of the body. I've been seeing a somatic therapist for a while now and am finding it to be a natural, highly beneficial complement to the work I do as a yoga teacher/student, and in massage. My therapist calls attention to what is happening with my body as I talk to glean the mental/emotional information on offer. If she sees a change in posture, facial expression, tone of voice or speed of talking, she'll point it out and we'll process what's happening internally.

My massage experience thus far has taught me that the body holds our history and will tell all our secrets to those who are trained to hear. Anyone can train themselves to listen to and interpret the messages delivered to their physical body from the realm of mind and emotion. It's as simple (and alternately complex and exhausting) as becoming very sensitive to changes in the body- temperature, breathing, heart rate, posture, etc. Once you have this awareness, you can begin to interpret it and to see the way that your body changes based on how you feel on the inside.

We all have powerful, clear, natural wisdom grounded in our bodies. Shh, listen! What is your body trying to tell you?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Powerplay

Let's do a little word association. When I say "power" or "powerful," what comes to mind?

When I was in yoga school, we did a meditation during which Yogi Bhajan appeared to me and told me, "It's time to own up to your power. Stop bullshitting." This was well over two years ago and I'm just now getting around to this point on the agenda. See, when you say "power" or "powerful" none of my immediate associations are good ones. When I did this exercise, the following came up: oppressive, controlling, dominance, taking advantage, lording over, manipulating, sleazy, misuse of, irresponsible use of, politicians, warlords, kings, dictators.

Of course there are all kinds of expressions of power and people who yield that power gracefully with benevolence. But none of this springs to the forefront of my mind. It's no wonder that I shy away from power- and I don't think I'm the only one.

For me, Power feels like a dirty taboo. Being a powerful person means hurting and/or taking advantage of others. I haven't fully deconstructed why that is, but I'm sure it is at least in part due to "The Media" and the focus placed on people doing horrible things to each other. Ideas and events and people gain power from the attention that's paid to them, and because we live in a morbid, "can't look away from the car wreck" society, we feed dysfunction and pain and violence with our unquenchable thirst for this sort of coverage. If the content of the news and reality TV is any reflection of the mental well being of this country, we're in extremely poor shape.

Even in the spiritual realm you see examples of people misusing their power and influence, sometimes very seriously. Pulling from recent headlines, I knew of John Friend vaguely before his scandal broke, but you better believe I knew a whole lot more about him after he became yoga infamous. It's a shame because Anusara is a lovely practice and it would be sad for people to give it up or not try it due to this. In so many instances where the leader of a spiritual practice has ended up being unforgivably human, the practice itself and the teachings are wonderful.

When I was diving into my Kundalini teacher training, I came across all kinds of salacious and scandalous information about Yogi Bhajan and 3HO (The Healthy Happy Holy Organization). I went through a phase of being really angry about this, and feeling betrayed and misguided. I refused to read Yogiji's lectures, asserting that he was a big fraud and couldn't be trusted. Overtime, I came to realize that while he was perhaps not a perfect man, he was a great teacher. Much of what he had to say was wise, well grounded, elevating and, ultimately, totally worth listening to. I forgave him for not getting it all right in his personal life because the teachings he courageously shared have transformed me in essential ways. It's the teachings that matter. The person who delivers them doesn't have to be spotless to make them valid.

We all contain immense power. That's the basic truth. Our words and actions affect other people. Think about how a small word or a glance can crush or uplift. Owning up to our power allows us to do a few essential things on the path to practicing ahimsa (doing no harm).

First of all, owning up to our power allows us to understand that we are powerful and  that we do have the ability to affect other people with our words and actions. Once we're being honest about this, we can study just what sort of effect we're having. Bringing consciousness to this brings a whole new power because now we know how we influence those around us. This is where things get messy with the John Friends and Yogi Bhajans of the world, with rock stars, politicians and countless Catholic priests, even with the non-(in)famous. People who have realized their ability to get what they want with their power will sometimes use that power to disgraceful, unsavory ends. They may test the limits of their power by seeing how much they are able to get away with before people begin to push back. The longer and further they go, the more powerful they are.

However, before we lambast John Friend for his misdeeds, we must consider that he never would've become "The Yoga Mogul" without the attention and affection of over 1,000 teachers and 200,000 students worldwide. I'm sure it helps that he's charming and savvy- he has apparently realized his power and how he can use it to get what he wants, like so many others before him. Because of Anusara's meteoric success over the last 15 years, some have (somewhat) jokingly referred to it as a cult, but maybe there's something to that. It's a familiar story: Charismatic leader takes money from and advantage of students who are seeking that inexpressible, intangible "something" that is promised by every religion and spiritual practice. But those seekers followed him, and a leader is nothing without followers.

Which is not to say that people haven't found that inexpressible, intangible "something" while doing Anusara, or Kundalini, or during Catholic mass. Again, we shouldn't immediately disregard teachings just because the ones who spoke them did so with a dirty mouth. My suggestion is to be thoughtful about what you're feeding with your attention and who you're giving your power to. One of my favorite quotes on personal power comes from Viktor Frankl: "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances." Frankl was a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps and wrote about "the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread." Even in these most extreme circumstances, suffering this extreme abuse of power, these people refused to give up their personal power, their ability choose how to approach the situation they were placed in.

Owning up to our power can be a struggle for so many reasons. It forces us to take responsibility for our lives in their entirety- for what we do, how we feel, where we go and how we affect other people along the way. It forces us to confront our own preconceived notions about what it means to be powerful, which is a particular challenge if everything you believe about powerful people is negative. For those who have traditionally been disempowered, if forces them to reckon with their feelings around power of unworthiness and/or guilt and/or fear and/or shame.

On my path, owning up to my power is difficult because of how visible I'm afraid to suddenly become. The psychic lawyer told me that I was hiding my true self, that I wouldn't let anyone around me really see me, and it's taken me two years to admit that he's right. I've been trying to hide my light under a bushel, I even realized it last year, but the joke's on me because everyone around me already sees me, much to the horror of my self-consciousness. According to my Kunda yog numerology, the key to fulfilling my destiny in this lifetime is to be radiant and whether I like it or not, I am. Everyday someone tells me that I'm a bright light. I've spent years trying to diminish my light through various methods of self-harm, but it never worked. Like my blue eyes, photographic memory and love of ice cream, my light is an integral, natural, unchangeable part of myself. My one and only job here is to Shine.

Perhaps that's the source of true, sustainable power: realizing our purpose and living in accordance with it in every moment of our lives from that point on. Real power has nothing to do with controlling or manipulating others. Real power has nothing to do with anyone else but ourselves. Real power is bringing our internal environment (and as much of the external environment as is reasonable) under our compassionate control. Real power is actively engaging with our ability to choose, and choosing well.

Power is...
honesty, compassion, surrender, self-control, purposefulness, authenticity, choice, discipline, consciousness.

Power is...
you & me.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Gift of Confirmation

"He saw that the Soul of God was his own soul. And that he, a boy, could perform miracles." from The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Two years ago I went to Washington DC for the first time on a trip I ended up calling "The Tale of Two Psychics." The first was a lawyer, Anthony, on the plane between Detroit and DC. The second was a professional psychic, Miss Tina, who did $5 palm readings for my friend Cathleen and I in her living room above Mr. Yogato (p.s. we participated in Rule #3). Anthony and Miss Tina both gave me shockingly accurate once overs that left me reeling, mostly because I gave them very little information about myself. They sensed the transition I was entering in to and the accompanying major changes, and that I was tentative and non-committal- as Miss Tina put it, "You haven't put both feet in." This struck me in particular because the week before my friend's mom gave me a piece of advice that ended with, "I learned that closing my eyes and jumping in with both feet is way more exciting." Anthony called me out for refusing to completely give myself to and invest in anything, telling me that I hadn't achieved what I was capable of because I hadn't been able to commit. The message from all sides was clear: Put both feet in.

Anthony and Miss Tina also told me that I'm a Healer, that this is my great purpose in this life. I remember being so incredibly uncomfortable with this title, stammering that, no, they're wrong, I just facilitate. I'm not really doing anything. Anthony assigned reading- The Alchemist- and instructed me to write him an email about it when I understood what he was trying to communicate to me. I devoured the book on the flight back to San Francisco and wrote to him promptly, believing that I had grasped the meaning. And in some ways I had- it's some easily digested, heavy handed allegory. In hindsight, it's clear that while I may have gotten it intellectually, practically speaking I had no clue. The tremblings and wear of time and challenge would reveal this.

In the six months that followed that first trip to DC, I got and gave up a job I loved, met several people that heavily influenced my life, and moved out of my home of many years and back in with my family. In the time that's passed since then, I have floundered desperately, miserably, without discernible purpose. I became small and sad and selfish, wanting nothing more than to withdraw from my life and hide away. This, of course, is the exact opposite of putting both feet in. I took both feet out. I wanted nothing to do with my power and potential. "Me, a healer? Please! I'm a MESS!" And in many ways, I was.

Thankfully, nothing is permanent. When living (or not living) this way became too much to bear, I lowered a jaded, tired toe into the water and began rebuilding my life. I opened a new bank account, got my driver's license, began a workout program and found a real job- one day of massage a week at a health club that would give me a gym membership, just like I had envisioned.

On my first day of work, at the end of my first professional massage in over a year, my client looked me straight in the eye and said, "So you're a real healer." I was utterly flabbergasted and once again stammered, "Oh no, well, you know, I just channel or something, I'm not really doing anything." She laughed and told me that she had met a lot of self-professed, so-called "healers" with no actual talent for healing, but that I am talented and what I'm doing is authentic. Taking this in was a nasty, foul tasting medicine. It hurt to thank her. I wanted so badly to reject what I knew to be true, what had been prophesied two years before and was now being confirmed by a stranger with no obligation to tell me anything.

Despite my discomfort, her words planted themselves like a tiny seed in my heart that has been nurtured by the continuous confirmation that I have received since. Over and over I have been told that I am good at this, that I am doing the right thing, that I must keep doing this because, as one client put it, "You're doing the Universe's work, girl!" Each time I hear it, I am able to smile and say thank you a little more graciously with a little less discomfort. My one day of massage a week has blossomed into many days at three locations. I added the second location with some hesitation, not sure how deep I wanted to get into this. By the time I added the third, I was a woman on fire. I had a hunger so deep and a motivation so purposeful, there was nothing that could stop me. This all happened over the course of two months.

This is what becomes possible when you move out of your own way. This is what happens when you give all that you have and all that you are to your purpose. This is what it looks like to put both feet in. Denying my power and resisting my purpose left me lost and miserable for over a year. Since stepping onto the path, I am working the hardest I've ever worked, but I am inspired, energized and motivated. Before arriving at this moment, though, I had to get desperate. Desperation starved out my ego, leaving nothing but humility. And in this space, surrender became possible. My future became possible because I was finally able to fight for my Personal Legend, as Paulo Coelho calls it. Two years later, I can truthfully answer Anthony the Psychic Lawyer, "Yes, I understand what you meant for me to understand."

Confirmation of our purpose is a miraculous gift, but according to Rob Brezsny it's also our right. He has a bit about this in his brilliant new book PRONOIA Is the Antidote for Paranoia: How the Whole World Is Conspiring to Shower You with Blessings:
"You might call it the special mission you came to Earth to carry out; the divine blueprint that contains the open secret of how to be perfectly, unpredictably yourself; the master plan that is your heart's deepest desire.

Would you like help in deciphering it? The Divine Intelligence Formerly Known as God is always on call, ready to help. It's your birthright to ask Her a specific question every day about what you need to do next to express your soul's code; it's also your birthright to receive a response.

The divine revelation may not be as unambiguous as a little voice in your head. It might appear in the form of a TV commercial, an odd dream, or an encounter with a stranger. It could be demanding and difficult, delivering information you'd rather not have to deal with. Or it might show up as a clear and simple feeling of knowing exactly what to do, and it could be easy and fun."


So ask. Ask God (or the Spaghetti Monster, depending on where you stand on that) what you need to be doing to live out your purpose. Ask. And then wait, watch and listen. Be patient. Be open. Be ready to act. Be grateful when you receive your answer. Always be grateful. Your purpose is a blessing and living it is the key to a vibrant, fully embodied life. It's why you are here. Get at it.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Value of Discomfort.

Over the past few years my life's work has slowly come to center and settle around helping people have a conscious, joyful experience of their bodies in their lives. I want everyone to feel really good as much of the time as possible, and I'm an expert facilitator. Aside from my lifetime of practice being the Soother in my family unit, I have a deep, abiding appreciation for everything beautiful and pleasurable, whether it be delicious food or a stunning sunset. I'm good at feeling good and even better at helping other people get there.

The caveat to this is the Consciousness component of my mission. Anyone who's ever been spanked by reality knows that being aware is (at least occasionally) deeply uncomfortable. There are myriad distractions of various levels of healthfulness that we chase to keep feeling good or to get good and numb. While I do want everyone to feel really good, I don't want it to be at the expense of their authenticity or health.

Above all else, I think it's vitally necessary to our happiness to be honest...with everyone, but especially ourselves. Sometimes this means cozying up to our rage or bitterness, sadness or desperation. This is a full time job in and of itself. It can put great strain on our relationships and requires tremendous courage. And it is the work to be done.

This past weekend I had the honor of holding space for and bearing witness to this work being done by 400+ brave and beautiful souls at a day long meditation workshop. One woman in particular struggled throughout the exercises and I spent the day wanting to take her up in my arms like a baby and make her feel better. I watched with awe and my own level of discomfort as she walked not over or around, but straight through the heart wrenching center of her own intimate storm. By the close of the day she arrived all on her own at the other side of her experience. I didn't need to soothe her, or attempt to save her from her pain. Sitting with her pain was ultimately empowering and transformational. She did her work.

This is an important point for caretakers and anyone who aspires to help others. Do your own work. Save yourself. If you do your work, if you do it with absolute courage and conviction and honesty, you can become an inspiration and a guide to help lead others through this process. But Listen very carefully as I say this: You cannot do other people's work for them. There is no substitute for the experience of struggling through your own intimate storm. Everyone will do this in their own time, in their own way, and we are not allowed to attempt to control how and when.

That being said, we all have work to do to become the best, most exalted versions of ourselves, and putting it off won't make it any less vital to your development. Maybe you're not ready today. Maybe the perceived enormity of the work to be done overwhelms you before you even start. When I was a little girl and it would be time to clean my room, my mama would sit me down in one spot and tell me not to even think about the rest of the room until that one spot was clean.

That's my suggestion to you: pick one point to be examined and healed, and begin your work there. You are smart and brave and capable enough to handle whatever arises as you walk through your own intimate storm. Don't cheat yourself out of this chance to awaken to a real, conscious experience of your life. This is the first step on a winding path to true freedom and sustainable joy. Dive on it.