Are we ever ready?

It’s approximately 17 hours before I embark on another yoga teacher training. This time, I’m taking the plunge into Baptiste Power Yoga, a style I fell in love with years ago for its ability to transform my body and my life.

And although I’ve done the required reading, bought my blank notebook, planned my meals, and practiced as regularly as I could to prepare, I still feel a tinge of not-readiness. I could have laid off the wine and pasta in cheese sauce. I could have done a few more classes. I could have made notes while I was reading. I definitely didn’t eat enough greens or drink enough kombucha. No, no. I should just call this whole thing off. Who am I kidding?

But then my mentor, friend, and teacher Pam posts something to the closed Facebook group:

I sure hope so.

I am ready now. Deep breaths.

I believe that we don’t do a lot of things we could because we are afraid of not being ready. Afraid of screwing it up. Afraid of looking bad. We don’t quit the job that doesn’t fulfill us, we don’t start that new relationship, we don’t get on the plane because we feel like we forgot something or that we haven’t made the necessary preparations to accompany us on the journey. We are afraid of leaving the familiar because although it might not be our dream life, it’s working for us. It isn’t new and scary. We haven’t died (yet). We are living day to day with our basic needs met and sometimes that’s attractive enough for us to stay. And…is that really working for us?

Yoga teaches us that where we stand now, in this present moment, is our path. There is no other place to be, and nothing else to do. If we are here, we are here because we are meant to be. Because we are ready. We are strong enough, smart enough, financially capable enough, and emotionally developed enough for the task at hand.

The very first Sutra of Patanjali states:

1.1 Atha yoga anushasanam

Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of yoga begins.

So, to break it down a little more, where we stand “now” (atha, pronounced “attah”, implying a blessing at this moment of transition) we join with the teachings of yoga, which are meant to be an unraveling of layers and imperfections concealing truth of who we are. And if that’s the case, then how could we prepare any more for what’s already contained within us, waiting to be revealed? It’s like trying to pack for a trip to our own house. We already have everything. It’s simply a return home.

And this theory applies not only to our yoga practice, but also holds true to our lives off the mat as well. Having recently come out of a long-term relationship, I felt like it would only be appropriate to spend some time by myself, writing sad poetry, watching sad movies about lost love, and quarantining my broken, toxic heart until some defect in it had been repaired. I felt I needed some kind of punishment for causing pain in myself and in my ex-partner. I needed to sit in the corner and have a time-out. I told myself I wasn’t ready to move on. I needed to be sad for an undetermined amount of time (probably for the remainder of this lifetime and maybe even into the next), to atone for the mistakes I made, to wallow in my aloneness and grief, to carry some kind of torch for this failed romance, and to metaphorically wear black and avoid bathing like the Romans did when they were grieving. In other words, I need to be a boring, smelly, anti-social, crying mess. How dare I think I could have fun, or meet new people, or FLIRT!? Heaven forbid!

And in reality, Heaven would want me to see the truth of who I am: perfect in my wounds and struggles, in my pain and grief, and 100% ready to be happy. Ready to return back to the effortless flow, the joy, the love and passion that I’d craved for so long, even when I was with my partner. I don’t need to punish myself. There is no wrong-doing to amend. And although there is a sweetness in allowing old wounds to close completely so that new relationships don’t poke at them, that doesn’t mean that I can’t allow my heart to come out and play. It doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the things that are right in front of me, right here, right now. On the contrary, perhaps they have appeared because I am, in fact, ready for them.

“Atha Yoga anushasanam”. I am ready. For this training, for this healing, for this journey home, for this return to love.
Namaste,
Carol 🙂

References:

http://www.yoganonymous.com/yoga-sutras-1-1-the-study-practice-of-yoga-begins-atha-yoga-anushasanam#sthash.7OW2ZFaf.dpuf

My First Sunday Without You

What would we normally be doing at this time of night? We’d probably be lounging on the couch, watching some kind of documentary on Netflix, or I’d be lazily scrolling though my Facebook news-feed with our legs entangled, intermittently glancing up to see your handsome face lost in whatever it is you were thinking about. We would share tea, or I’d mix us a drink with magnesium in it to help us sleep. Our things would be all around us: the big comfy sectional couch that we found online, the beautiful table that you built with your own hands, the plants we re-potted and nurtured together, the books we used to read each other before bed forgotten on the bookshelf.

And although you are only an arm’s length from me, I can’t reach you. Routines, misunderstandings, and neglected intimacies pile up like dust, and we forget what color our love is underneath. It’s not bright, or immediate, or attractive. And as I looked up at you, your strong arms folded across your chest, every detail so well remembered to the last hair on your face and freckle on your skin, I’d remember what it felt like when we were falling in love. That sweet, thrilling, optimistic, endless feeling time. I’d long to climb into bed with you, to feel you hold me, to comfort me, to tell me everything is going to be alright. What exactly? What’s wrong? Nothing, something. I don’t know, I don’t know.

What else can we do besides let go? Sometimes love is ripped from us so violently, so suddenly, and other times it tiptoes out like a shadow, like a sunset. And we can do nothing but watch it go, powerless to bring back its light. I can’t plead, or beg, or bargain, or manipulate, or seduce you back. I saw our separation like a ship on the horizon. At first I wondered if it were real at all – perhaps just a flicker of the imagination. A cloud. A mirage. Then it drew nearer, and I could make out the shape of the sails, the mast, the bow. It was coming, this was certain. But when? And how? And why? What cargo was it bringing? Was it here to pirate our happiness? To pillage us of our promises? I turned the ring you gave me on my finger over and over again with my thumb before taking it off, a pale band of skin left behind from wearing it for so long. I still search for it with my thumb, and its absence is like a phantom limb. Like when I reach for you in the night and you are gone. Sometimes, when I’m not quite awake, I think I’m home, and for a sweet moment I anticipate your touch, your lips, your scent. I’m happy; I’m comfortable. Then consciousness flows in like a cold wind and I’m alone in a strange bed, in a strange world, where promises aren’t kept and ships come to shore to take you away.

The pain is acute. It’s real and stabbing and it catches me in waves. I wonder if you think about me, too. Do you look at the paintings I did for you and wonder, “who is she, really?” Do you loathe seeing my clothes still hanging in our closet, the love notes I wrote you still tacked to the fridge? Do you miss that I always filled the ice cube trays and tidied up your dishes? Or are you glad I’m gone? Are you relishing your freedom? Have you wanted this all along? Are you hurting at all? It’s like you were a dream, an actor playing a character. And now the film is over and I’m no longer your leading lady, your love, your life. I’m as much a stranger to you as you are to me.

My first Sunday without you. I miss you, my love. To my deepest heart of hearts, I do. But in these quiet moments alone, I also realize how much I’ve missed myself more.

The Color of Surrender

What color is surrender?

Is it the shade of violet the sky takes

At the end of day

The luminous blush that shifts and glows

As the sun traces a golden fingertip

Down her softly clouded cheek

And descends into the folds of Earth’s flesh?

Is it the color of autumn leaves

Clinging with their last ventricle of life

To the familiarity of mother tree

Ablaze with rage against the dying of the light,

Edges curling in crispy resistance

Like aged fingers wrapping scratchy shawls

Around thin-skinned, boney shoulders

In feeble attempt to ward off the cold

Uttering one last orange-red scream

Before departing to the ground?

Is surrender the color of dawn

The peeking, pale yellow of a distant star

As it blinks, yawns, and stretches stiff limbs of light

Reluctantly sliding a leg out of the blanket of night

To attend to its duty of awakening the world?

Or is surrender the tender pastel

Of the innermost petal of a virgin flower

That quivers as the others unfurl to expose her

Like a tight knot deep in a lover’s belly;

She yearns to be massaged and unraveled,

Made vulnerable

Her longing to be seen

Finally stronger than her fear of being open?

Or perhaps surrender is pure white

The color of light

As it passes through a dewdrop

That fearfully shook on the end of a blade of grass

Before its heaviness tore the meniscus

Like the seal of a womb

Experiencing its momentary, singular life

Before being returned to the ground,

To the ocean

Where it was made.

Surrender is the color of awakening

From a night well slept;

The hue of an exhale

From a breath long kept;

The tint of tears ceasing

From a sadness long wept;

Surrender is the color

Of pure,

Aching,

Emancipating,

Joy.

Choose to be stubbornly happy

This blog is called “Chasing Santosha” because I’ve always been fascinated with happiness. What is it? How do we attain it? How do we keep it? Is it tangible? Is it real?

Yoga teaches us that happiness resides inside us at all times, and what happens to us on the surface is mere circumstance in which we can choose our reaction. A lover can’t guarantee our contentment. They can challenge us to be vulnerable, test our patience, and create chemical bubbles of lust and giddiness to burst from our pelvic floor like the froth of shaken champagne, but they cannot make us happy. I’ve quested for lasting happiness in this wanton wilderness many times before, tried to net that butterfly until its wings were tattered and it was within a flutter of its life, only to realize that even if I’d caught it and pinned it to my wall I wouldn’t feel any better then when I was butterflyless. I can’t say much for those who’ve chased santosha to the bottom of a glass or to the peaks of mountains, as I’m not much of a drinker or adventurer, and I’ve never been wealthy enough to report that money can’t buy you happiness (although I have a sinking suspicion that it can’t). But what I have pieced together in my lifetime between moments of mediocrity, the popping of champagne bottles, and the deafening crackle of hormonal fizz is that happiness is a choice.

Now. I’m not saying that we need to be happy all the time, hold hands and dance around in circles and such, and that people who have mood disorders are merely making poor choices. I’m familiar with the lethargy of depression and am well-acquainted with anxiety. What I’m saying is that while these things happen TO us, they are not US. The evidence for this intangible phenomenon of santosha is found in the hearty laugh of a beggar on the street, or in the spirit of a terminally ill patient who loves deeper and truer after diagnosis, or in how a mother allows music to move her heavy limbs in defiance of death after she loses her child. Because I truly believe, when you peel away all the layers, what we are in essence is pure bliss. To chase santosha is to come back to who you are. It’s a journey home.

The world is a big, scary, turbulent, sublimely beautiful place. Bad things will happen to you. Great things will happen to you. And it is our duty and our right to surrender to our heart of hearts — not to chase, but to BE santosha, or as Jack Gilbert writes, “we must have the stubborness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.”

A Brief For The Defense

Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come. ~Jack Gilbert

Namaste, and choose happy.

Why I Love Halloween

My favorite time of year is upon us: early autumn, when it’s still warm but there is a definite chill to the air that calls for cozy sweaters and the embrace of scarves, for long pants and boots, and the smell of delicious pumpkin and squash delights. As the weather gets cooler we seek out warmth in cups of steaming tea, hot baths, and creamy soups. I take this time to get back into things like hot yoga, baking, reading, movies, and self-reflection. And as the end of October draws near, my favorite holiday awaits: All Hallows’ Eve…Halloween!

Time for tea!

Time for tea!

Of course there are the obvious reasons why I love Halloween. The twinkling jack-o-lanterns, their jagged teeth sparkling with tea lights, the little mini chocolate bars that hit department store shelves in abundance, and the opportunity to play dress-up and admire the costuming skills of other trickers and treaters. I love planning and executing my costumes, and usually begin brainstorming in early August. I troll the thrift stores for bits and pieces and usually craft a large amount of the costume myself. I’ve been scary things, movie characters, metaphors, funny things, tongue-in-cheek things, cute things, sexy things, and even impersonated my friends. I enjoy being able to slip into different personas, and spend time researching the specifics, all the way down to the way a character walks. A successful costume is well prepared, and executed to the smallest details. If I walk into a room and either a.) no one recognizes me or b.) jaws drop – then I know I’ve done something right.

But I was thinking today about why else I love Halloween. One particular thing I’ve noticed when it comes to Halloween costumes is that a large majority of them are either blood-crazed and creepy or highly sexualized. What is it about slipping into the skin of the undead, pretending to be a dark, unearthly character, or becoming ridiculously over-sexed that is so appealing? I’ve seen the most innocent and un-sexy things turned trampy; there have been sexy ninja turtles, sexy skeletons, sexy bumble bees, sexy…bacon!? (I’m not kidding.) It seems the most sought after get-ups whisper a promise to either kill you or give you the night of your life. So why is this?

 

See, I told you. Sigh.

See, I told you. Sigh.

My theory is that Halloween explores the polarity and mystery of sex and death. Sex is the ultimate act of creation; we are in a place of utmost power, where we can literally create new life where there once was nothing. Death is the antithesis of that. We are completely powerless to the grim reaper – as much as we try to run from him, one day he will ultimately catch us all. But one thing sex and death have in common is that they are both glamorized and rendered taboo in our society, which makes them shamefully appealing. What is sexier than an attractive vampire who hunts you down and sucks your blood, and in return could give you eternal life?

 

vampire_Brad_Pitt

Yep, I’d let him bite me.

Within this metaphor is the solution to the greatest of mortal humanity’s problems: the issue of temporary sexual gratification, and of infinite death. Written between the lines of grisly vampire and ghost stories is the alluring possibility that we could maintain the miracle of creation, while cheating its counterpart: mortality. And I believe this is the underlying appeal of Halloween, or at least what it’s developed into in the Western world. We will always be fascinated with things we don’t understand, and on top of the list is sex and death. Halloween gives us permission to explore the depths of the unknown and fantasize about what it means to leave this earth, where we go, what we become, and who will meet us there. And in the meantime, we are allowed to celebrate our sexuality: which is our power and our weapon against death. By reproducing our genes in a passionate moment of totally ecstasy, we are taking a stab at beating death. And at the moment of climax we seem to lose ourselves, to disconnect, to be beyond ourselves – in a way, it’s a safe and temporary way to experience the freedom and out-of-bodyness of death; the French even call orgasms “little deaths”. Perhaps this is why evil forces always want a virgin to sacrifice to their dark causes: it is the ultimate win.

Sex gives us power over death.

So this is why I love Halloween. It’s a celebration of life and death, of the mysteries of our existence, and the eternal dance that forever binds them. Instead of running from sex and death, keeping it behind closed doors, Halloween allows us to revel in it. To celebrate it. To roll in the muck of it. It allows for perversion, for a sort of divine comedy, so we may let our guard down and howl at the moon in defiance of our human condition.

Happy Halloween, everyone. Namaste.

Howl at the moon in defiance of your mortality!

 

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Our Expansive Nature

Emotions can generally be categorized into two types: expansive and contractive. Expansive emotions make us feel light, full, buoyant, content. Examples of this are love, joy, gratitude, freedom, curiosity, playfulness, generosity. Contractive emotions are those that make us feel small, withdrawn, or sucked of our energy. We can only take so much of them before we’ve had enough. These are feelings like anger, sadness, jealousy, boredom, frustration, anxiety, embarrassment. It’s hard to imagine having too much love, too much curiosity. But we can easily feel overwhelmed when we experience only a little anger or a blush of humiliation.

In an interesting video by Jason Silva on his YouTube channel “Shots of Awe”, he names dopamine as the chemical responsible for humanity’s rise to power on this planet. Silva argues that the chemical reward – the dopamine rush – that we get for exploring new horizons is why mankind has achieved artistic, scientific, and social triumphs.

“This addiction to the new is responsible for a species that did not stay in the caves, didn’t stay on the planet, and won’t stay in the limitations of biology.”(check out the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sOlGw9VESiQ&list=UUlYb9NpXnRemxYoWbcYANsA)

I think it’s amazing that we’ve evolved this chemical reward system! We literally get high from overcoming our perceived limitations. I can attest to this in many areas of my life, specifically in my yoga practice. And I’m sure it’s easy to recall a time when you overcame a challenge or achieved a long-sought goal. It makes you feel amazing. Connected. Alive. Expansive. And craving more.

So if our reward system is rigged to attract us to the new, and we feel a physical high when we experience expansive emotions, what keeps us stuck? Why do we have days when we don’t feel like getting out of bed? Why do we make the same mistakes?

Often we think of our bodies as containers for our mind, but I think it’s our mind that’s a container for our bodies. I would argue that our mind – our ego – is responsible for holding us back.

Humans are made mostly of water, and like water it is our prerogative to flow, to be fluid, to be open, and to change shape. It is our nature to be empowered. But water can only fill space, and take the shape of it’s container. Likewise, our mind sets the perimeters, the limitations of our spirit. We can only expand as far as our mind will allow. If you think of a goldfish in a bowl, they will stay the same size until death unless they are moved to a bigger tank. Plants will only grow as tall as they can grow deep. But when given the space, they grow. However, we are suffocated by our mind – by our concern for looking good or our fear of failure. We trade the possibility of expansion for the payoff of safety, cozy smallness, and familiar mediocrity. We deny our own evolution.

Partly, the mind uses structure to make sense of things, to be able to take care of tasks like eating, going to work, taking out the garbage, telling time, and interacting with others in cooperative situations. Without some left-brain rigidity we would not survive. But, there are times when we can let go of structure, soften, and explore. These are our “light bulb” moments, our “ah-ha!” moments, when we are able to think outside the box and create something new. Or maybe we let something go. We let go of an old way of being to make room for new. We breathe new life into an old space.  Do you think a tree ever worries that its branches won’t look right, or the other trees will judge it or be jealous of it the taller it gets? Of course not. Nature is imperfect. And so are humans. In this way, perfectionism is a form of contraction. We cannot stand fully in our creative power if we are concerned about the outcome of our growth.

“Every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it and whispers, grow…grow.” -The Talmud

Yoga is simply moving our bodies into shapes in tandem with our breath. And if our mind is indeed a container for our body, then softening this container will allow our bodies to move into new shapes. So when we step onto our mat we are making a promise with ourselves – and the rest of humanity – to grow. Once we step on the mat, we agree to give up an old shell of ourselves. On a biological level, our cells will not be the same afterward. We will build muscle. We will gain flexibility. We will create new neurological pathways in our mind. We will drop what we think we know and allow our bodies to become fluid and malleable as the framework of our minds falls away. And, if the intention exists, this is a promise we make with every breath. It is our retaliation against the ultimate contraction, the antithesis of growth; it is our answer to death.

I believe that one of the most powerful human instincts is the one we have to grow, and to expand. We are made of the same particles that created the stars, the planets, and the ever expanding cosmos. And as the universe continues to press onwards and outwards in distances that we could never fathom, so we, as humanity, desire to extend our spirits beyond the confines of our minds, into a realm of infinite possibility.

expanding universe

Namaste. 🙂

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Life on the Back of a Motorcycle

me and my man getting ready to cruise!

me and my man getting ready to cruise!

This past summer, my boyfriend bought a motorcycle. He found the beast online – a 1983 Honda Nighthawk – from a older fellow who looked like your typical greasy 80’s biker. He was a man of few words, with yellow-grey hair framing his wind-chapped face, a leather cap, and acid wash jeans that he probably bought at the same time as his bike.

At first, I was completely against the idea. I’d heard the horror stories of terrible accidents, and although I didn’t want to seem like a drag, I definitely voiced my concerns.

That was until I mustered up the courage to climb on the back and go for my first ride.

It was the most thrilling, bonding, and freeing experience I’d had in a long time. It was so different from riding in a car, but also nothing like riding a pedal bike. I was amazed at how this relatively tiny machine was carrying us like a lightning bolt across the city, onto the highway, and through vistas that I’d never experienced with such proximity and speed. It amazed me that I could reach out and touch the adjacent vehicles and scenery, or smell the hot dog stands that whizzed by. I felt somewhat like an invincible superhero once I strapped on my huge face helmet, pulled on my jeans in the 35 degree summer heat, and slipped on the heavy leather jacket that my boyfriend found for me (another lucky online bargain).

The first lesson in riding on the back of a motorcycle is to allow your weight to move with the bike when it corners, making your body one with the driver’s. This was challenging at first, as I’m used to riding a pedal bike in which the opposite is true. It’s all about relaxing and just allowing yourself to lean with the bike, letting the physics of the movement bring you back up. When we rode together, I had to put full trust in his abilities to control the little blue rocket on two wheels. So I clung on, squeezing my man’s hips with my legs and holding on tight to his leather-clad torso with my arms. I loved the feeling of the engine gently rumbling beneath us, lurching between gears, as I tried my best to breathe and let go as the bike tipped precariously side to side, letting the odd squeal of half-joy, half-fear escape from beneath my helmet. To say the least, having to release my inhibitions and be at one with my man was, well, sexy as hell.

The bike wasn’t without it’s problems, however. Sometimes the bike wouldn’t start and we’d have to push start it, which isn’t an easy task, especially while wearing full gear during the mid-day summer heat. And in order to keep the key in the ignition, it had to be secured with an elastic band. The slightest knock would unhinge it and the motor would shut off. So we would routinely steal the thick elastic bands from bunches of broccoli when we went to the grocery store – they seemed to work the best. And stealing elastics made me feel all the more like a badass biker chick.

Eventually the bike saw its last day. I was sad, and also frustrated, as I’d just started to get the hang of riding. I’m still amazed that something so small carried my boyfriend and I across the highway at such speeds and distances. There were only two tiny little pieces of rubber between us and the hot pavement screaming by. And I also realized that without a little bit of fear – the worry that the bike wouldn’t start, the dizzying effect of leaning into corners, or the concern that our broccoli elastic would fail and the key would come out of the ignition, riding on the back of a motorcycle wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

And I suppose that goes for life, too. We never know what’s around the next corner, but we have to relax and lean into it anyways. We have to trust what drives us, our passions, our love, our vision, and our dreams. And it wouldn’t be the same if we didn’t have those little worries – “does he really love me? Am I on the right path? Will I have enough money? Do I have what it takes? Will I make it to the end of this journey in one piece?” Life is unknown. It’s a thrill, a wild and unpredictable ride. And when we remember how close death is at all times, suddenly life becomes so much more immediate, special, and exhilarating. A lot of the time, we can’t control where the road goes. All we can do is gear up, take a deep breath, turn on the ignition, hold on tight, and head out towards the mysterious horizon.

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