Monogamy: Not our Nature, but an Advanced Spiritual Practice

monkey-princess

I’m a princess, but I’m also an ape.

As a little girl, I loved fairy tales. The idea of one day meeting my Price Charming and living happily ever after excited me more than anything. As I embarked on my adult life, I began dating and quickly realized that there is no such thing as magical glass slippers, a grandiose pumpkin-turned-chariot, or perfect Princess hair, and there was definitely no Prince Charming coming to carry me off into the sunset. It started to seem that meeting that special someone who would make my childhood dreams come true was about as likely as talking mice cleaning my apartment while I was out getting groceries.

Yet, I still clung to the idea of true love. The kind of love that stands the test of time. That exhilarating relationship that can be both passionate as well as secure, heart-fluttering as well as comfortable, and virtually effortless while still helping me grow as a person. I just haven’t met the right person yet. He wasn’t the right man. Just keep looking. These were my mantras. But one’s heart can only be smashed into a million pieces and stuck in a Vitamix at full speed so many times before a girl’s gotta blow the whistle and say, “OK. Hold on a minute. Let’s think about this. Maybe this whole system is fucked.” (I know, not very Princess-like of me, but I’ve still to find my fucking glass slippers, so, fuck it.)

Then I found a paperback at a used bookstore (how very Belle of me) called Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What it Means for Modern Relationships.1 Sounds interesting, no? I’ve always wondered why marriages fall apart (my parents included), why it seems like every guy I’ve dated loses interest after a year or so, the sex dies off, and it starts to feel like I’m more like one of the evil stepsisters than the Princess. Esther Perel, relationship counselor and the best-selling author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, would call “a passionate marriage” an oxymoron. We expect our partners to give us companionship, security, familiarity, closeness, and safety, and yet we desire mystery, novelty, uncertainty, surprise, and spontaneity. As she doubtfully laments in her recent TED talk, despite all these contradictions, toys and lingerie are going to save our marriages and long-term committed relationships.2

So how do we reconcile our two very different sets of needs? Perel conducted a study of people in over 20 countries, and asked them when they are most attracted to their partners. Across cultures, religions, and other differentiating factors, the common answer was: “When my partner is away. When he/she is on stage. When I see him/her in their element. When he is in his tuxedo/she gets dolled up.” In other words, we are attracted to our partners the most when they are unfamiliar. When they are, essentially, a stranger.

So why are we so turned on by novelty? Christopher Ryan, psychologist and co-author of Sex at Dawn, would argue that studying our ancestors would shine a light on our modern sexual desires and needs. Research suggests that our ancient kin lived in nomadic, egalitarian tribes, and members of the band had sex with as many others as they liked. It’s no coincidence that our closest animal relatives are the chimps and bonobos, both polygamous species . There was no boredom among these sexually promiscuous and mortgage-free beings. The offspring resulting from their untethered romps would be cared for by the whole tribe, which we know to still be a good idea – as the saying goes, “it takes a whole village to raise a child.” Sex wasn’t the only thing they shared; food, shelter, and other necessities of life were gladly and evenly distributed, which reduced or perhaps even completely eliminated the need for warfare or conflict. It’s hard to say, since fossil remains can’t tell us any utopian stories. However, there’s plenty of archeological and biological evidence for the peaceful nature of our ancestors, and if you want to find out more, I’ll lend you my copy of Sex at Dawn.

A few short millennia later, upon the advent of agriculture, we stopped living in small nomadic bands and living the hunter-gatherer life, and adopted private property as the highest good. Suddenly there was a sense of ownership, and having limited resources in a particular place that needed to be rationed and accounted for. We then needed larger families to work the land, and someone to inherit the farm. So monogamy seemed to be the solution: create a secure nuclear family unit that will allow for stability and survival, and assure that the man can continue to pass down his genes through the female, so that all his hard work of running the homestead pays off (in an evolutionary sense, the passing of DNA is the ultimate touchdown). However, this system pits neighbor against neighbor, strips females of their sexual rights, and creates an endless societal battle to be better than the next guy. This ideology is still going strong today, as we fight to live in the largest homes full of the most beautiful things, drive the fastest cars, wear the coolest clothes, and generally try to keep up with the Kardashians.

OK, so things aren’t looking good for monogamy. It seems that we created it as a myth, no more real than a fairy tale, to support our “evolution” as an agricultural/industrial society. I think it’s human nature to stick to your guns once you make a big decision. If you’ve ever done something drastic, it sucks once you’re past the point of no return to realize that, “oops, I made a mistake.” Most of us, I believe, would sooner continue on the path of ruin than admit to being wrong, and say, “let’s turn around.” So we continue to move “forward” with monogamy and industry, even though there are horrific consequences. Infidelity. Broken homes. Broken Hearts. Loneliness. Sexual frustration. Genital mutilation. The devaluing of the nutrition in our food. Global warming. Just like going to the local Shell station to fill up the tank using fossil fuels to run our vehicles, I grew up believing that monogamy is the only way, and something I should subscribe to and fight to attain, otherwise there is something wrong with me. At least if I decide to continue living in North America. There are plenty of societies alive and well today that use a similar polygamous and egalitarian approach as our ape ancestors. And despite the western world insisting that they adopt some form of marriage/pair bonding and start owning livestock and tilling the field, because this is “natural” and “right”, the societies continue to live their way, in peace and happiness. So is our way the only way? And if not, can we turn back, or at least loosen up our neckties and corsets a little?

Without perspective and education, it’s easy to think human society has always been and will continue to be in an exclusive relationship with monogamy. However, research shows that there’s more than one way to thrive as a species; monogamy isn’t good or bad, it’s a choice – one that may or may not go against our nature – but a choice nonetheless. In his TED talk, Ryan reasons, “to argue that our ancestors were sexual omnivores, is no more a criticism of monogamy than to argue that our ancestors were dietary omnivores is a criticism of vegetarianism. You can choose to be a vegetarian, but don’t think that just because you’ve made that decision, bacon stops smelling good.”3 In a similar argument, author, speaker, and self-acknowledged polygamist Michael McDonald states, “monogamy is normal, but not natural. It is the cultural norm, with centuries of assumptions and confirmation bias backing it up, and it may seem like sacrilege to say that it is unnatural, but then again it was once sacrilege to say that the earth revolved around the sun instead of the other way around.”4

So, it’s no wonder we are having such a hard time committing to our partners, since the economic necessity of the nuclear family has waned, religion has less of a hold on our private lives, and women no longer need to rely on a man to support her basic survival needs. So where does that leave monogamy? Was it just a brief aside in the history of the human animal, and should we begin to turn the car around and head back towards our nomadic, egalitarian, orgasmic, polyamorous roots? Or is there a third fork in the road, one that will lead us to become a deeper, more developed race?

In his article, McDonald also champions those who are brave enough to navigate the tricky and human-nature-challenging waters of monogamy. “If I had the power… I would be encouraging polyamory as the norm, and monogamy as the advanced, only meant for the most experienced. There should be books and workshops and university classes about how monogamy works, building upon the principles learned in polyamory… Monogamy should be reserved for the experts.”4 Indeed. I’ve heard from many of my advanced yoga gurus that the most intense form of yoga is relationship. People could spend their whole lives trying to master all the poses in the ashtanga series, and at the end of the day, they still have to work hard to get along with their spouse. We need to demystify the idea that monogamy is going to work effortlessly, and that we will be naturally as attracted to our partners 30 years into marriage as we were on our first date. Perel points out the myth of sexual spontaneity in long term relationships, or the unlikely notion that sexual desire will magically manifest while we are doing the dishes. “Committed sex,” Perel insists, “is premeditated sex. It’s willful, it’s intentional, it’s focus and presence.”2 I find this concept comforting. It helps normalize all those years after experiencing a break up or a partner’s plummeting libido, thinking I was somehow inept, broken, or “bad” at dating. In reality, both my partner and I were just devastatingly human. Thinking I could make my first puppy-love relationships work was like trying to do a perfect handstand in my very first yoga class. So now that I’ve got a little more experience under my belt, I know more of what I want, and I know that vegetarianism isn’t for everyone (I was a veggie for 8 years before the smell of bacon got me, too), I can move forward into the kind of relationship that is going to fulfill me completely.

In the end, it all comes down to self love (and I’m not talking about the kind performed using a vibrator). If we are using monogamy to “get” love, or rely on relationship to fill a void, it is destined to fail just as much as sleeping around is. If we want to get to the nitty gritty of what our nature is, I would argue that anything that causes anxious attachment, jealousy, self-depreciation, or limits our growth is unnatural. The endgame is to be happy, no matter our relationship status. We can learn to live with each other only after we’ve learned to live with ourselves. At the end of his talk, Ryan leaves us with this: “Our fight is not with each other, our fight is with an outdated Victorian sense of human sexuality that conflates desire with property rights, generates shame and confusion in place of understanding and empathy.”3 I would add that our prerogative is to stop chasing contentment (santosha), cease looking for it in monogamous (or other) relationships, and realize that it’s been there all along, inside each of us, for millions of years.

References:

1.) Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What it Means for Modern Relationships by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá

 2.) TED Talk: The Secret to Desire in Long Term Relationships by Esther Perel https://www.ted.com/talk /esther_perel_the_secret_to_desire_in_a_long_term_relationship

3.) TED Talk: Are We Designed to be Sexual Omnivores? by Christopher Ryan https://www.ted.com/talks/christopher_ryan_are_we_designed_to_be_sexual_omnivores#t-324705

4.) Article: A Polyamorist View of Monogamy http://together.guide/a-polyamorist-view-of-monogamy/

 

 

 

Shift Happens.

Ah, fall. That time when I lament the departure of summer, and yet am super excited about the changes that the new season brings. I love fall. I love the quieting down, the introspection, the perfect temperature for running and biking, and the chance to re-group and set new goals. Fall is Vata time, which means routines become paramount for feeling balanced. I’m a Vata dosha, so I feel like autumn is my time. Not, of course, without the initial PSD (Post Summer Depression) and the inner kicking and screaming that goes on when I feel the first cool breeze at the end of August. I go through all the stages of grief: Denial (no way, summer’s not even close to over. It’ll be hot until at least October.) Anger (I HATE WINTER! I HATE IT!!! I’M MOVING TO HAWAII!) Bargaining (please, please, weather man…just give me one more hot day on the beach, then I promise I will put on a sweater!) Depression (I’m just going to stay in bed all day where it’s warm and read books.) And finally, Acceptance (I guess it can’t be summer 365 days a year. I do like to wear boots, and scarves. This isn’t so bad.) I think I’m almost there. Almost.

I was in yoga yesterday, thinking about some major changes happening at my workplace. I panicked over the changes because I felt like I’d finally found a place that I could call my professional home; I love my coworkers and bosses, and I feel useful and respected. So when I found out about these changes I immediately went for the worst-case scenario: I’m going to lose my job. I will have to do things differently. The dynamic will not be the same. I will lost my happy place. Then as I breathed and moved in my practice, I remembered. Change is not what causes pain. Change is inevitable. What causes the pain is the resistance to change. If nothing ever changed, nothing would grow. Nothing would be alive. And if growth is the most important thing there is, as one of my teachers Baron Baptiste would say, then change is a part of that equation.

So I will go into this new season with as little resistance as possible, go with the ebb and flow of it all, stay open to the changes and continue on the journey. And maybe sweeten the deal with a PSL.

 

Namaste.

 

The Urge to Purge

I just got rid of a lot of stuff. I mean a LOT. It could be due to the fact that I’m moving into a smaller space with limited storage. Or maybe because it’s spring. Or maybe I’m at that age where I’m tired of being surrounded by useless trinkets. And I think the largest reason that I’ve purged a large portion of my belongings is that I’m truly ready to let go of the past and be light. 

The thing about holding onto the past is that it gets heavy. Literally. 

I kept all my old school books and binders with endless notes from my high school and university days. Why? I suppose I felt like these books said something about me. I was a good student, usually top of the class. It was a huge part of my identity. Who was I if I wasn’t “the good student”? I was afraid to get rid of all these books because it could mean I’d be erasing a hard-earned badge of honor. All that time spent carefully penning notes, sleepless nights writing essays and studying for tests…for what? For my efforts to be stored away in a box in my closet, to be lugged around from home to home, never to be looked at?? To be honest, a large part of my motivation came from laziness. Those boxes are damn heavy! 

Tossing my school books was hard for me, I’ll admit. But once I did it, I felt light. And weird thing is, I didn’t feel any less intelligent, or any less accomplished. If anything I felt smarter because I wasn’t going to have to pack up and move 100lbs of paper again. 

I also got rid of over half my closet. My new home doesn’t have a lot of closet space, so largely this purge was practical, too. And as I tossed unworn items into a bag bound for goodwill, I noticed how good it felt. The jeans that don’t fit. That shirt that always hung a little weird on me. My “goal dress”. That cute albeit itchy sweater. The silk hippy pants my ex bought me. Toss. Toss. Toss. Some clothes have a bad mojo attached to them, but I kept them anyways because I figured one day I would have the perfect occasion and I would regret not having them. And there they hung, for months and months and months. And so I decided to only kept the ones that make me feel awesome. The ones that regularly make the rounds from my body to the laundry and back. No longer will I be choked by my scarves or corseted by my dresses. I got rid of underwear that ride and pants that grope me without asking. I dumped my “goal” clothes because they don’t love me unconditionally. I decided it’s time to make my closet work for me instead of the other way around. I suppose my clothes were a sort of identity marker too; they say something about me, or about who I want to be. By wearing clothes that I like and feel comfortable in only, I guess that means I might be getting closer to being truly comfortable in the skin underneath them. So that’s a win. 

Lastly, I deleted the old text messages from my ex. We broke up almost a year ago and for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to erase them. I kept every single iMessage from the very first awkward text where he asked me out to the last ones where we barely spoke one word answers to each other. Again, I suppose keeping these meant that somehow I could preserve the love we had, which was a huge part of my identity for three years. I pour my heart and soul into relationships, and deleting him from my phone meant losing all that love I gave. And that’s not how it is at all. He taught me so much and I will continue to cherish those lessons and memories forever. And…I’m ready to move on. With love, with compassion, and with way more room on my phone to take pictures of my feet in the sand, like this: 

  
After The Great Purge of 2016, when I see something I want to buy, I really think about it. I pause and make sure I really need it, or really really really want it…not by impulse but out of true passion (let’s face it, I really only NEED maybe 3 pairs of shoes – tops – but there’s something about a set of sexy heels that can really make a girl’s day). I notice when I’m holding onto something because of fear, and then I promptly switch back to thoughts of abundance. My new mantra could be something like, “I am enough, silk hippy pants or not”. And if I keep something sentimental, I really pay attention to how it makes me feel: am I afraid to lose something if I don’t keep this symbol? Or can I be grateful for something in the present and know that my heart is like a hard drive that never runs out of space, where love resides eternally?

What do you want to purge from your life? What are you ready to make space for? What’s heavy that you could let go of? 

For more thoughts and tips on our compulsion to hoard, check out this lovely article: 

Fear Is Why We Have Too Much Stuff

Keeping it short and sweet today…now go put your feet in the sand. 😉 

Namaste

The Power of Touch

“If you love and feel compassion for the other person, and feel the ultimate value of him; if you don’t treat him as if he is a mechanism to be put right, but an energy of tremendous value; if you are grateful that he trusts you and allows you to play with his energy – then by and by you will feel as if you are playing on an organ. The whole body becomes the keys of the organ and you can feel that a harmony is created inside the body. Not only will the person be helped, but you also.

Conscious Touch is needed in the world today because ‘love’ has disappeared. Once, the very touch of lovers was enough. A mother touched the child, played with his body, and it was massage. The husband played with the body of his woman, and it was massage. It was enough, more than enough. It was deep relaxation and part of love.

But that has disappeared from the world. By and by, we have forgotten where to touch, how to touch, how deep to touch. In fact, ‘touch’ is one of the most forgotten languages. We have become almost awkward in touching, because the very word has been corrupted by so-called religious people. They have given it a sexual color. The word has become sexual and people have become afraid. Everybody is on guard not to be touched, unless he allows it.

Now, in the West, the other extreme has come. Touch and massage have become sexual. These days massage is just a cover, a blanket, for sexuality. In fact, essentially, neither touch nor massage are sexual. They are functions of love. When love falls from its height, it becomes sex, and it becomes ugly. So be prayerful. When you touch the body of a person, be prayerful… as if God himself is there, and you are just serving him. Flow with total energy. And, whenever you see the body flowing and the energy creating a new pattern of harmony – you will feel a delight that you have never felt before. You will fall into deep meditation.

While massaging, just massage. Don’t think of other things, because those things are distractions. ‘Be’ in your fingers and your hands as if your whole being, your whole soul, is there. Don’t let it be just a touch of the body. Your whole soul enters into the body of the other, penetrates it, relaxes the deepest complexes.  And make it a play. Don’t do it as a job. Make it a game, and take it as fun. Laugh, and let the other laugh, too.”

touch

I love this quote from Osho, because I love touch. I love affection. And I’ve learned so much from it recently.

Two things happened simultaneously that helped me realize the power of touch. I believe that everything happens for a reason, with intentional timing. And these two things came together in a way that makes me stand back, nod, and say “hmmm. Yes, that makes sense.”

The First Thing

In the 5th weekend of my YTT, we learned the Art of Assisting. “Assisting” specifically, not “Adjusting”; there is power in words and the difference here is extreme.

In previous models of yoga (which I’d like to presence as not being “wrong”, merely different), I’d learned many adjustments to help students correct their postures, move deeper, find new space, etc. and yet I had not made a practice of adjusting people in my teaching. Something about it didn’t feel quite right to me. Sure, if someone was about to hurt herself, I would offer an adjustment, but this happened so rarely that I’d forgotten how to put my hands on people. And when I did, I felt it was intrusive, egotistic, and more about showing what I knew how to do than about serving the body in front of me.

Then we learned how to “assist” people. The physical mechanics of the assists aren’t all that different from the adjustments I’d learned before, with one key difference: The concept that the person in front of me is perfect and whole as they are, and I am merely sharing love with them through my hands and other parts of my body as I encourage them into a space of empowerment and possibility.

Whoa.

So, with this in my bones, I started putting my hands on my students. I noticed a few things.

1.) I felt a greater connection, a humbleness, a servitude, and a profound sense of “there’s something greater at work here” that didn’t exist before.

2.) When the verbal cues didn’t land in someone’s body, (ie: “pull your shoulders back, bring your shoulders together on your spine, hug your thoracic spine in…”) a simple gesture of sweeping my hands across the back resulted in exactly what I wanted.

3.) The time in class flew by.

4.) People thanked me for “the best class ever” and came back.

What I attribute these results to is the exchange of energy that happens when I simply rest my hand on someone. It doesn’t have to be a huge, mind-blowing assist that takes my student into a back bend that they’ve never done before, or something fancy to show how much I know. Sometimes just resting my hands on someone’s back and breathing with them, or gently tapping the top of their head to create length in their spine, or playfully rocking their feet side to side in happy baby can create a connection that will stick with that person.

What is the je ne sais quo magic of assisting? In my opinion, what we all look for in every moment, whether it’s in a yoga class, on social media, in comfort food, or in the embrace of a lover is connection. We ache to connect. To others, to ourselves, and to something beyond this earthly realm. Touch is a gateway to all of those things: a 2-way superhighway of direct energy firing love from one divine being to another. Now that is magic.

The Second Thing

“It is believed that the effects of Abhyanga are similar to those received when one is saturated with love.” ~from The Chopra Center

Over the last few months, I’ve been taking a course on the habits of Ayurveda. Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga, and has a collection of daily routines to optimize health and wellness. These habits have been practiced for thousands of years, and I’m beginning to see why.

To be honest, I fumbled my way through several of them, like eating a plant based diet, going to bed before 10pm, scraping my tongue every morning, and doing a daily yoga practice. Then we came to the 6th Habit, Abhyanga, or self-massage.

I’ll be frank. At first I couldn’t get down with the idea of slathering warm oils on myself head-to-toe every day. The thought of taking that much time and effort, as well as the very act of having to touch myself that much, was abhorrent to me. I thought to myself: “I’m a simple girl. I shave my legs every 3 days, I wash my hair twice a week, and if my skin is dry I’ll slather on some Lubriderm. I’m good.” And, being committed to this program, I tried it.

I spooned a dollop of coconut oil into a bowl and stirred in some essential oils that I bought for  massaging other people’s necks in sivasana. It smelled nice, and it wasn’t as messy as I’d feared. I started with my feet. “OK”, I thought, “I’ll try putting some oil on my scaly shins.” It took a few days, but before I knew it, I was full-on oil partying from scalp to sole.

The result? Obviously my skin thanked me — being a Vata constitution, my skin is naturally starved of moisture most of the time, and the coconut oil actually helped (unlike my Lubriderm and countless other drugstore trials and errors). And what was really profound was how it changed my relationship with myself.

I’d been working with the concept of “self love” for a long time, trying to figure out what it means, how to practice it, and how to gain benefit from it. I knew I should love myself, and I even went so far as to stare into the mirror and say it to myself (and felt really stupid and fake about it). And therein lies the problem: Self Love was a concept. It wasn’t a practice. The words were meaningless. As meaningless as a lover telling you they love you and not showing you they love you. I believe we are a society of love-starved people, and just having the concept of love is enough for a lot of us. It was enough for me for a long time. Until it wasn’t anymore. And then I found Abhyanga.

Turns out the power of touch works when you put your hands on yourself, too. And I’m not talking kinky, lights down low, Barry White in the background, glass-of-wine-and-vibrator-in-the-bathtub kind of self love (although there is a time and place for that, too). What I mean is taking that same intention, that same loving energy that is a channel for the divine, and turning it upon your own skin. In the same way that “adjusting” becomes “assisting”, “self massage” becomes “self love”. I looked upon myself as a perfect, whole, divine being of light, and used massage as a celebration of that divinity rather than the disconnected act of slathering cold cream onto my dull skin in order to cure it of its unsightly dryness.

The first time I completed Abhyanga without skipping an inch of my skin — non-apologetically getting into every space: my imperfect belly (that before I couldn’t even bring myself to touch before, and instead hid it under high-waisted yoga pants), my thighs, the backs of my knees, my armpits, my breasts that I always felt were too small, that space between my shoulders that’s sore all the time, my scarred arms and knees, the spaces between my toes — all of it. I unconditionally coated it all in warm oil until I was a glowing, slippery, shiny ball of lavender-scented love. And it made me cry. I actually teared up in my bathroom, standing on a ratty old towel, my hair clumped in a stringy mess of oil, and realized that I could tell my image in the mirror I loved it until I was blue in the face, but that day I actually received the love. I felt it. And the power of touch made that possible.

So go out there and touch someone. Touch your lover, your kids, your friends, your students, yourself. Let’s spread the love.

A big touchy-feely Namaste,

~Carol

More info on Abhyanga:

http://www.chopra.com/ccl/the-benefits-of-ayurveda-self-massage-abhyanga

What “Depression” Feels Like

I avoid calling the bouts of sadness and anxiety I experience “Depression”. I don’t like to think of myself as “sick” or “victim” to something outside of my control. In the past I’ve been treated like a patient, interviewed, tested, medicated. Numbing or bandaging the feels never worked long-term. Sure, I feel a lot. Life’s ups and downs hit me like the highs and lows of the world’s largest roller coaster, making me excited, anxious, gleeful, nauseated, and terrified from moment to moment. Usually I can breathe through the feels, knowing that this too shall pass. But there are certain days that the lows are just too much.

Every so often – sometimes aggravated by an event, sometimes out of the blue – sadness will arrive like a needy house guest. Life must go on, but with the added responsibility of entertaining this uninvited specter. Sometimes it comes in slowly, sneakily – slithering under the door like methane gas, undetected until it’s too late and I can’t breathe from its toxicity. Or sometimes sadness kicks the door in on my life and ransacks my house. It finds me shivering under my bed, picks me up by my ankles, and tosses me around like a rag doll. It finds the things I love and burns them, calls all the people I care about and tells them my darkest secrets. It gets into my subconscious and weaves nightmarish visions of my greatest fears, causing me to wake up screaming. It buckles me into a lead suit and ties a belt tight around my chest and throat. It turns the faucet behind my eyes on, so that if I so much as blink, the well will overflow.

On the outside I may look normal, perhaps a bit weary. But in reality, I am struggling to stand up straight, to keep my eyes open, to not tear at my skin and try to peel off the heaviness. I would get annoyed when well-meaning friends would say “just change your way of thinking” or, “shake it off” or, “choose not to let it bother you”. I felt that is like asking a person with a broken leg to just “get up! Shake it off, it can’t be that bad.” Sometimes, sadness takes longer to heal. Sometimes, I have to sit with it, wait for it to pass. It is real, tangible, and can be as debilitating as a broken bone.

I have made progress. I used to allow this unwanted house guest to take over my life. Like the stereotypical “emo kid”, I would cancel plans and appointments so I could stay home and sit in a dark room, waiting for the storm to pass. Sometimes, I still do this. But something happened to me recently that made me realize that my life doesn’t have to come to an abrupt halt when sadness hits.

I was in my Yoga Teacher Training, day 2 of 3 long and challenging days. I’d had a panic attack the day before, and was still not fully recovered from the adrenaline dump. I had barely slept. It felt like I was paper thin, transparent. I couldn’t anchor to anything. I hoped that if I didn’t look anyone straight in the eye I could disappear completely. If someone tried to interact with me, I felt like I owed them an apology. “Sorry for the mess. I haven’t cleaned up yet, I have this really rude house guest who just shows up without warning, don’t judge me based on who I am today.” To simply be in public was pressing me up against my edge, grating me, burning me. We got into the first pose and I started balling my eyes out. Heaving sobs ruptured up from the heated nothingness and I saw the drips hit my blue yoga mat and disappear like rain on hot pavement. I wanted to bolt. To hide. To cover my face and my body that now felt huge, like it was taking up the whole room. I was a black hole, sucking the life out of everyone and everything. How dense, how hot, how dark. Oh, to be able to disappear, to cease existing, would be so very delicious.

Breathe. OK. Hands on the mat. Fingernails. Knuckles. There’s my feet. The same toes as yesterday, the same ones attached to the happy person that was there before. She’s still here, somewhere. Listen to the cues. Make them happen in your body. Mechanical at first. Just go through the motions. You have nowhere to go, just be here. Familiar shapes create a crumb trail for me to find my way back into my body. Warrior 1. Warrior 2. Side Angle. Directions to help weave my way through the labyrinth. The breath starts to get bigger. The sadness starts to get smaller. It’s getting brighter inside. Less dense. Leg up, spread your toes. I do. I feel. The house guest sees I’m busy, and with a snarl, takes her dirty boots off my kitchen table and goes, for now.

The black hole supernovas, and I am once again the entire universe.

 

“Moving On” Doesn’t Mean “Stop Loving”

When we first parted, I wasn’t sure how I’d continue to live happily with the hole left in my heart. I wondered if people do this all the time – regular people walking around with huge cavities missing from their souls, going about their business, functionally handicapped by the immense pain that comes from loss of love. Was I one of those people now? Did I have this invisible affliction, like a disease, or an amputation? Do they make prostheses for the pieces of us that go missing when we lose out on love?

I also wondered if my ex was feeling any of this, or had he moved on? I detest the word “ex” because it reminds me of being in school and getting a question wrong. There’s the green check marks beside the correct answers, and then there’s those dreaded red X’s. I’ve done something wrong. I messed this one up. I didn’t study hard enough for this test of life. Or perhaps it’s when we take a big, fat sharpie and cross out something we don’t like, when we can’t erase it but we want it gone. Like a mistake made in pen. I wrote you in pen in my life. I was sure of you. But now I can’t erase you, so perhaps I’ll just ex you out.

I felt like I was waiting for something – for a wound to close, for some kind of catharsis, so I could say, “I’ve moved on”. I wrote a verse:

What do I do with this love for you?

It’s not enough to call me back…into the arms,

the sheets,

the smells,

the heat,

the anger.

But it’s restraining me from moving on.

I’m stuck in this purgatory of love

That is over

But not gone

It haunts me like an echo

That bounces off the spaces in my heart

The ones you left

When you took me with you – wherever you’ve gone.

What do I do

This love is too sweet to forget

And too painful to remember.

 

Then I saw you. I needed my vacuum back. And my university degree, in a broken frame, because it broke when we moved in together. My palms were sweaty when I walked over to our old home. The house that is now just yours, not mine. Not ours. I realized that over 4 months, I’d forgotten what your voice sounded like. It is so strange to me that in the same lifetime I could have known you – known everything, every detail, shared every intimacy, every dream, every goal…and then somehow forgot the sound of the voice that spoke those promises. So strange.

Beyond acquiring my Dirt Devil, I felt like I needed something. “Closure”, so I could “move on”. But as we spoke I realized two things:

1.) As much as I love you, I realize that being together would no longer serve either of us, and

2.) There is no such thing as “moving on”.

Not how I thought of it, anyways. Not like scribbling out the mistake, not like going back and studying harder for the questions I got wrong…there was no wrong. I am not wrong. There’s nothing WRONG with me. And there’s nothing wrong with you. There’s nothing to fix. There’s nothing to eradicate so I can avoid future suffering in relationships. It just is. We are no longer as we were, and it just IS. The pain is dull and cold, and it just is. There’s nothing I can do about it. And, it’s okay. It’s not a handicap, or a badge, or a weight, or a hindrance. It’s not a reason to lock myself in a room, quarantined because I am somehow deficient at love, sure to wreck the next ship I sail. I left you BECAUSE I love you. Because sometimes it’s okay to love someone and not be with them, because it’s better that way, for no other reason than because it IS. Because we are imperfect and life is messy and uncertain, and there is no higher power with a giant red pen to make giant “X’s” on our mistakes. The only higher power is love, and I love you. I will always love you. I will always be a little sad. And that sadness will make me soft, and appreciative. Knowing this sadness will make me more grateful for the warmth of happiness. This space you left has just ripped my heart a little wider, and I will only love bigger because of it.

I have not moved on, but you have moved me. And I will be forever grateful for this.

 

Namaste.mike carol

You aren’t special (and that’s a good thing)

I recently began another yoga teacher training. My last post was about being ready for it, and as it turns out, I got my ass kicked.

I needed it; in retrospect I see it as a good thing. But the amount of self-inquiry and resulting muck that surfaced from the quagmires of my soul really shocked me. I felt massively alone in my stuff. I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there. I wasn’t strong enough. I was still too attached to my demons; I didn’t want to burn them yet. I cried. A lot. I felt like a gaping open wound, putrid and pussing and disgusting.

And so I took myself out. I went into survival mode. I shut down. I sat there with my shells around me for the rest of the weekend, smiling like a plastic doll. I didn’t know what else to do. From my perspective, I was doing the group a favor. No one needs to see this mess. Everyone else has stuff, too, but no one is as shameful and broken as me. I’m different. I’m special. And my instructor called me out. She said something that at the time angered me, hurt me, and twisted the knife that was already in my chest: “Carol, you aren’t special.”

What? I’m not special? At first my ego pricked up its ears and said, “Um, pardon me. Have you met me before? I’m pretty goddamn unique.” Then I went through a spiral of insult, shame, anger, resentment, fear, and then finally landed somewhere on the shaky ground between appreciation and disbelief. Once my ego calmed down a little, I was able to re-think what she said. My inner dialogue went something like this:

“So, you mean all those years that I spent locking myself in my proverbial laboratory working on my proverbial Frankensteins were for nothing?”

“Well, did you really want to create a monster, anyways? Were you going for infamy?”

“True enough. But I did want to do something worthwhile with my life. But since I’m not special, I might as well give up. Someone else can do the work I was planning on doing, and probably better than me, too. Do you think Einstein thought he was special?”

“I doubt he had time to think of that while he was discovering the laws of the universe.”

“Yea, I bet he didn’t even think about it. He just did the work. OK. So maybe I can still do the work but not have this “specialness” quality about it. And that’s cool, actually, because it means that I can ask for help, and I can collaborate, and I don’t have to be alone so much.”

“That sounds nice.”

“Wait, does that mean I’m not unlike the rest of the people in the room here, even though I feel like no one understands truly just how dark and scary the inside of my skull is?”

“Pretty sure, yep. I think most people would agree their head can be a pretty scary place.”

“So I don’t have to be ashamed of what I’ve been through or how I feel about it? I’m not alone? This is pretty big…”

And so then I decided to give up “specialness”, and embrace community, wholeness, and self acceptance. Warty proverbial Frankensteins and all.

I think Marianne Williamson nailed it in her book “A Return to Love”. In the context of the book, she talks about the destructive nature of the “special relationship” in terms of romantic union.

Although the word “special” normally implies something wonderful, from a Course in Miracles perspective, special means different, therefore separate, which is characteristic of ego rather than spirit. A special relationship is a relationship based on fear.

So if I continued to live from a space of “special” and “separate”, I doubt I would ever get any real work done. I would be afraid of what people would think, and worst of all, I feel like in order to maintain my “special” status, I would have to hang on to the most effective things that make me “special”: my fears and limitations. I’d probably get them framed and hang them on my wall for everyone to see. “Hey everyone, check out my masters degree in self-loathing, pretty cool, huh? Or how about this trophy I got for best supporting actress in my parent’s divorce? Groovy, right? OK now, please vacate my dungeon so I can continue to be alone and miserable and pretend to do some work when really I’m just going to wallow in self pity.”

Sad, but true.

So giving up “special” is actually a really freaking good idea. And that doesn’t mean that we don’t have unique gifts, talents, and personalities that we should share with the world. Quite the opposite, actually. If we are indeed one, then we actually have a responsibility to shine our brightest at what we are good at. If you think of yourself as a cell in a body, what happens if the cell breaks off and starts to do it’s own thing because it feels “special”? It becomes cancerous. And what happens if each cell works its very hardest at doing its unique job in the body? It creates a healthy, happy, whole.

As Marianne Williamson says, “What’s our miracle here? It’s a shift from thoughts of specialness to thoughts of holiness.”

And my take on holiness is that it means “whole-i-ness” – to recognize that we are at one with something greater, something powerfully good, that we are never alone, and that no thing is big enough to separate us from that.

So cheers to not being special, but to being one, and kicking ass together.

Namaste.

 

Previous Older Entries