Think about it.
I had this dream, as a child, that my Grandfather and I were being chased by a fire-breathing dragon around the nursery school I attended. We were running for our lives through the labyrinthine hallways, narrowly escaping the monster. With the shadow of the beast reflecting off every wall at every turn, I could hear my Grandfather’s laboured breathing and I knew, in the end, we wouldn’t make it–the monster would win.
As an adult, this is how I’ve led my life, running from one dragon or another, only now the dragon has shifted from the green, scaly beast to invisible entities with names like Shame, Rage, Fear, and Love. Any “large scale” emotion gets my feet feeling like hot potatoes and, before I know it, I’ve busted out along the road, running and wheezing, although not really sure why.
This past week delivered me to the shores of the poisonous lake of Shame. Shame of my body. Shame of womanhood. Shame of aging. Shame of sexuality and relationships and body hair and simple everyday thoughts. Whatever it was that was going on in my life, it seemed to be coated in the corrosive slime of Shame. I knew it was there, I could feel it in my body:
- rapid pulse
- shallow and quick breathing
- a sense of constriction in my chest
- interrupted sleep
- reduced appetite
- feeling a need to wretch
(Do you know any of these?)
And my mind followed after my body, becoming cloudy, with thoughts trying to move through a thick, pudding-like fog.
Shame. Although it could have been Fear or Love or anything.
What do you do when you get triggered by large emotions? Me, like I said, I run. I run like crazy and I run in all sorts of different ways. I become obsessed…with ANYTHING. I feel the need to keep doing, and what I do tends to push my body to an unhealthy edge. I push too hard in the garden. I push too hard in exercise. I feel it’s utterly necessary to dance, and then I push too hard once again. I simply push too hard…in my relationships, in my body, in my mind. All of this in the simple attempt to outrun the beast, the thing I don’t want to face, the thing I am convinced will kill me if I stop for even a moment to look around.
A person cannot run forever. I, for one, am super tired. Yesterday, as I was beginning to lose steam and was starting to think, “This thing is going to catch up with me. I’m doomed,” a new thought entered my mind, “What if I just…stop?” What would happen if I just stopped running? If I know, in the long run, I cannot sustain avoidance, that avoidance will ultimately kill any joy and vitality in my life, what’s the risk in stopping? If I don’t, I will lose everything anyway.
Many schools of martial arts teach that, instead of engaging in a conflicted relationship with an opponent by pulling away, soften the interaction, make connection by stepping towards the threat and into the situation. Channel the energy inwards. Yesterday my friend emailed me this gem, “Shame only says these things because it fears that you will figure out how truly awesome you are and leave it behind for good.” Something about that broke my heart. Nothing likes to be abandoned. Why, then, do I abandon that part of me, the dragon, that clearly wants to make contact, that is asking for something from me, that is asking for my time and my love? Why not move inwards and make a connection with the thing I fear the most?
So I stopped. I put on the brakes and fixed myself to the spot. And the dragon stopped with me. Soon I will drum up the courage to turn around, to sit down, and to observe this thing that chases me. I will give it my time and my attention. Eventually, I hope to approach the beast (perhaps with a yummy slice of pie) and to give it a hug. This is the woundedness in me that begs to be touched, to be comforted, to be heard, to be healed and there is no one in the world but me who can do this. And there’s no one is the world who does not have this woundedness within them–we all have it; no one is alone in this experience.
I think we’re given these big emotions as tools to break open our hearts. How can we shame someone else when we know the crippling pain of shame ourselves? How can we actively threaten the safety of another when we know abject terror? How can we not extend love freely when we’ve fully taken love into our own hearts?
So the next time you get the sense that you’re freaking out, that you’re running away from something that is making you uncomfortable, take out this tiny little note that I’ve sent along to you and with you: This may be the tool, the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Stop, breathe, look, love…and offer it pie.
Maybe we’ll both get the chance to see that the dragon just isn’t all that scary.
If you catch sight of me the next time you’re running, screaming, down that road, stop and come grab a seat beside me. We’ll breathe together. Maybe we’ll do lunch. Just know I will be there, that I have been there, and will, no doubt, wind up there again. This learning is forever. ;)
May we be happy.
May we not suffer.
May we know peace.
All my love and blessings,
Standing yoga balances–the art of standing on one foot–are known to increase concentration, to strengthen the legs, knees, ankles and feet, to calm the nervous system, and to increase mental focus. That’s what they’re known for but the reality, as I consistently witness in my classes, can often look like something else. Nothing seems to get the majority of my students more riled up than standing balance poses. This is where I most often witness anger, frustration, despair, and “giving up” as bodies teeter, with feet and legs working hard to keep an upright, balanced position. This is where my students are more likely drop out of practice after only a few short moments by leaving the body and entering the realm of speech. Instead of doing the pose and experiencing the challenge in the body, they will turn to me and exclaim in wonder at how hard it is, at how they simply can’t do it and don’t understand why; in short, they will run away. And this is where it all gets interesting.
We humans hate like hell to feel off-kilter. We don’t like to feel wobbly. We don’t like to feel out of control. We don’t like to feel vulnerable, especially when other people are around to witness our struggle. So why, then, would we take a standing balance pose and purposely put ourselves in a position where we are constantly at risk of falling over? For precisely the reasons we resist: to feel wobbly; to feel out of control; to feel vulnerable, especially when other people are around to witness our struggle. We take these stances and challenge our comfort zones in a contained way so we can learn more about ourselves, so we can understand our chronic responses to feelings we often label as “less than desirable”. In trying to stand on one foot in a yoga class, we may discover that we get right pissed off when we lose balance and fall over, and this leads to us wanting to give up. Or we may find out that when we feel vulnerable, we begin to talk…A LOT; we try to escape the feelings in the body by moving into distracting speech.
All of this acts as a signpost to how we behave out in the world. Life is an endless stream of events that work to throw us off balance. How many times have you had your day set with all the tasks perfectly spread out and timed, and then the curve ball came crashing in–your car has a flat tire, you get an emergency call about a family member, you wind up in bumper-to-bumper traffic getting nowhere fast? Disorienting, isn’t it? Can you come back to balance when things have thrown you for a loop? Can you maintain your composure and stay calm? Can you allow your mind and breath to settle before deciding on how to proceed? Can you take a few breaths? Maybe. Maybe not.
I always hear the voices of my teachers when offering standing balances to my students: Teacher One: ”It’s not about whether you will fall out of balance, it’s about what you do when you get there.” (Will you try again?) Teacher 2: ”Ah, not today.” (Some days it’s just not working. Some days you need simply to stand still…on both feet.)
Trying to find centre in the midst of the chaos that can erupt when thrown off kilter is an amazing way to break your heart open and to find compassion, both for yourself and for all the others out there who are working to do the same. So the next time you fall over (and you will), whether it be physically or otherwise (like when you lose your composure and your temper), instead of scolding yourself for failing somehow, offer yourself compassion for your humanity; say to yourself, “Ah, not today. Today, in this moment, I cannot achieve balance,” and take 3 deep breaths. See how that one simple thing can change your life.
And when you’re out in the world and you witness someone else losing her balance in some fashion, feel your heart open up. If you can, offer assistance. If you can’t offer assistance, perhaps offer compassion in the same way you did for yourself: ”Ah, not today. Today, in this moment, she cannot achieve balance,” and take 3 deep breaths for her. And if even that feels like a stretch, because sometimes people, in their loss of balance, can act in ways we just cannot understand or soften towards, just breathe and see how that one simple thing can change the world.
I’ll be seeing you, face-planted, on the mat and on the mat of life. Maybe, when we lock eyes, we can smile at one another; we won’t be alone.
Until then, much love and many blessings,
I was first introduced to the notion of not practicing as part of an active practice in Jon Kabat Zinn’s book Wherever You Go, There You Are. The very watered down summary is essentially that you cannot fully understand the value of a practice and what it does for you and your life until and unless you stop the practice. Using yoga as an example, a practitioner cannot really understand what yoga has done for her body, mind and soul, unless she’s been away from the mat for a time. Then she can witness her body’s aches and pains, her mind’s neuroses and whirring reality, and her sense of disconnection from spirit, to name a few things. Conversely, when she returns to the mat, she can witness the suffering moving out of her.
Well, folks, today is my quasi day of non-doing. It has been a long, grey winter and, as one who is not fond of the cold, it has led to many months of being cooped up inside. The beginning of Spring has proven to be quite soggy. Today, however, is a moment of reprieve where the sun is shining brightly and the outdoors are simply begging me to come out and play. Okay, it’s more like my nose is pressed up against the glass and I’m calling out, “Can I, Mum, hunh? Can I, can I go outside?” The garden beckons and, just for today, I must obey; the clouds and the rain are scheduled to roll in again starting tomorrow.
So, I honour my dedication to my writing, to this blog, to you, the reader, enough to come in and lovingly say, “I’ve gone fishing.” May you also have the opportunity to “go fishing” when your heart and soul need it the most.
Many blessings and much love,
We humans like very much to point the finger outwards when things in our lives aren’t going exactly as we’d like.
Have you noticed that?
You’re getting fat because your job is stressful and doesn’t allow time for any kind of physical activity. It has nothing to do with shoving piles of restaurant food in your mouth and driving to the corner store. No, no! It’s out….there.
Your relationship busted up because your ex is emotionally stunted and refused to do anything to help the relationship. It had nothing to do with your sitting, glazed-eyed, in front of the TV for hours playing video games instead of helping a bit with the housework. No, no! Again, out…there.
You have no friends. Nobody calls you or asks you to do things. You’re so alone. Of course it has nothing to do with your refusal to reach out to others, or that you’re a compulsively negative, unpleasant human being. No, no! Go ahead, guess where. You’ve got it! Out….there.
How many of us actually stop and take a cold, hard look at what we’re doing to help create the painful situations in our lives? How many of us actually have the courage to look truthfully and admit to our contributions when we see them? Acknowledging that you have a large part to play in your own misery feels like a heart-stopping, stomach-clenching shot in the face with a pail full of cold water, but is has to be done, folks, if any real change can take place in your life.
Go ahead, take a look.
Trust me, it only gets better from here.
My real work began the day the light turned on in my head and I realized that I was an abusive partner. I was using the circumstances of my life as a (weak) excuse for my horrid behaviour. I was dealing with my own abuse history. My Dad was chronically emotionally unavailable. I suffered from depression. I thought I might be gay. Blah, blah, blah. Admittedly, all very stressful things to contend with, but as an excuse to use my partner as an emotional punching bag? About as useful as saying, “I shot the guy because I didn’t like the weather.” There was no valid excuse for my behaviour. True, I was acting unconsciously up until the time consciousness smacked me in the face. Then there was no going back. It was a terrifying and nauseating feeling to realize I had been as abusive as my own abuser, only in a different way, and it was the best thing to ever happen to me.
If, according to you, your life sucks right now, I encourage you to take a deep breath, grab that mirror, sit down and have a hard look at yourself. What are you doing to contribute to the muck?
Here are some of the muck-stories I’ve heard:
1) There are no good available wo/men to date. Really? Is this true? Beyond the very easy question of ”Have you put yourself out there,” I encourage you to dig a little deeper. How available are you? Are you clear and open to the possibility of love, or are you still hung up on, and bitter about, all the things you believe your ex did to you? If you’re even a little bit hung up, my friends, you are not yet single and available. You are still dating the ghost of your past partners. Break up. Don’t you think it’s about time?
More interestingly, ask yourself if you stand in this world as a quality partner. If you were a stranger looking in on you, would you want to date yourself? Do you have the kind of personality and attitude that draws people in, or repels them? If you wouldn’t date yourself, you’ve got some work to do. Become the partner you wish for. Develop and harbour those qualities within yourself.
2) I wish I had a friend to hang out with, but no one calls me or asks me to go places. The friends I do have are all into games; nobody communicates. When was the last time you asked someone out for a coffee, or invited them over to your place just to chat? Have you initiated contact with someone in your life just to see how they’re doing? Are you playing games with the people in your life, dropping little emotional bombs on their doorsteps and then running away? Are you communicating with your friends? Honestly, are you?
As you did before, ask yourself if you would have yourself as a friend. Are you the kind of person others would like to befriend? Are you warm, approachable and engaging? Do people feel safe and energized in your presence? Are you able to reach out, to communicate, to give? If not, and again, you have some work to do.
3) I can’t stand drama, but I have so much of it in my life. :) Do you really hate drama? I mean REALLY? I used to have a good deal of drama in my life, although I lamented that I couldn’t stand it. It took some doing, some gluing myself to the spot until I could see that I sucked drama towards me just as powerfully as my lungs suck air. I used drama as an excuse, as a cover-up. I used drama to hide my fear of doing the work I wanted to be doing. I used it as a way to avoid the painful reality that I was dissatisfied with the quality of the relationships in my life. I created a whirlwind of drama when I felt bored or stagnated in my life instead of creating art. I used it as an antidote to depression instead of working to figure out the root cause of my depression. I used drama like a drug to anaesthetize myself, to numb me out so I didn’t have to actually make any changes in my life.
So, from one who has been there, I ask: For what purpose are you using drama? I’ll bet the farm that you’re at the centre of that maelstrom, conjuring up the forces to keep you from seeing something you don’t really want to see, or to get in the way of your doing something constructive about an uncomfortable situation.
What are you avoiding?
4) My life would be so much better if… Would it? If you sincerely looked into yourself right now, is your internal environment receptive, even slightly, to things that are good, or are you committed to seeing nothing but the dark side of life? Because, let me tell you, if you are hanging strong to the idea that the glass is perpetually half empty, there could be a conga line of good fortune parading in front of you, and you will smack it away as if it was an annoying insect.
Try this instead: My life would be so much better if I realized how good my life is right now. My life would be so much better if I realized how much I actually have. My life would be so much better if I learned how to say thank you for simple wonders and small mercies. My life would be so much better if I realized I’m here because of the decisions I’ve made so, if I don’t like it, I can choose differently and create change. My life would be so much better if I allowed my life to be so much better.
It hurts to take an honest look at yourself, to see where and how you create your own misery, but it’s the only way to freedom. To skitter around trying to change external circumstances, things over which you have no control, is positively futile and will only lead to exhaustion and collapse. You cannot change the world; you are not that powerful. And the world owes you nothing. But you can change yourself, and maybe you owe yourself a little bit of peace. The only way to do that is to look deep into the looking glass and to fall in. There is magic in that space and your world will never again be the same. You wanted change, right?
Believing in your ability to float,
It was a year ago, April 1, that I made the difficult decision to drop one day of work at the office and to, instead, devote that day to my writing. The plan was very clear: create pieces, enter them into contests and work to get them published. I can say with pride that, but for a few days here and there, Wednesdays have become my writing days. My loved ones have made the transition with me (Thank you so much!) and now support the time I spend locked away in my room. While I may have “lost” a day’s pay at the office, I gained an extra teaching day and have managed to essentially fill my weekday classes; therefore, nothing, really, was lost. After a relatively short time, I got to spend more time in my life getting paid to do what I love. Amen.
Today another one of my pieces was rejected. That makes for a 100% rejection rate. One year later, not one single piece that I consciously put out into the world has been accepted by an outside source. And still I write on. I remember sitting with my teacher in a private session as I began the process. She was questioning how I thought I would manage any rejection of my work. I recall saying, with absolute calm and certainty, that I would be okay. I knew that, just because some judge in a contest did not choose my work, did not mean my work was crap. There are all sorts of reasons for a rejection and, so long as no one was nasty to me, I would be just fine. One year later I can honestly say that all really is well.
The whole experience has been very interesting and has provided me with a number of learning experiences. I was approached by an online publication to submit poetry on a regular basis. In questioning one of their policies, I discovered I was not particularly fond of their philosophy nor their style of communication. That experience allowed me the wonderful opportunity to tell a publication that their product was not a good match for my work–I got to reject them…and it was fun. I have also learned that the whole process of submission destroys a bit of something for me. Adding an element of competition to my creative life gets me feeling like a crab in a bucket filled with other crabs dragging each other down as they try to reach the top. That’s not why I started doing this. I started because I needed to, because, without feeding my relationship with the written word, I go a bit nuts and nobody likes that much. I do it for the sheer joy of creating word-pictures, and for the challenge of taking the complex mess that’s in my head and straightening it out with words. I do it because I love it, but the competition was killing that so, I’m glad it’s gone. I feel no further need to compete. I have my glorious little blog-home and, for now, that’s perfectly good enough.
If I could say something to the writers out there it would be this: Don’t let anything get in the way of your love affair with words. Don’t let the rejections stop you. Don’t let silence stop you. Don’t let others’ opinions stop you. If you need to write, write. If you love it, commit to it as you would a loving relationship. Fight for it. Nurture it. Romance it. Just don’t let it go. If you need to write, write, no matter what. And if you need to share your voice with the world, start a blog, leave notes on public benches, slip a poem inside a book in the library, just do something. You don’t need the outside sources to make your voice be heard. The establishment writers once relied upon is gone. If you need to share, self-publish, baby. Go all the way! ;)
In honour of my one year anniversary, and of all the things I’ve learned thus far, I offer the very first poem I created back in April, 2012.
Many blessings, much love, and all the support in the world for your creative ventures,
to water to wind.
stamp –presses down
– a tender pool of waves.
Wind-whisked water, warmed by sun,
nourishes the earth.
is my soul.
At the depths,
wind finds a crack and enters, filling me
Dropping to open, I
– liquid gold.
It was a scene all too familiar–me standing in a changeroom, fluorescent lights casting shadows in a most unappealing way, cringing at the sight of myself in the lilac-coloured t-shirt I was trying on. I could see rolls. I could see belly. I could see that I was no longer 16. I heaved a deep sigh and decided that I looked too grotesque in the t-shirt and needed to put it away.
The sales associate, an attractive, funky, fuller-figured woman asked me how it went. I could hear the whining in my voice as I explained how I couldn’t possibly purchase the t-shirt. ”I understand, hon,” she said. ”You’re having one of those days. You’re feeling depressed so nothing looks good.”
“No,” I replied, “I’m not depressed. I’m coming to terms with the fact that my body is not 16 any more and I’m having a hard time with it.”
“HONEY,” she said, loudly, “I’m 44!” And she spread her arms wide for all to see.
Damn, she looked good in her loose royal blue top, black leggings and high boots. There were curves there, and wrinkles, and, no doubt, her boobs would sneak down towards her waistline if she let them out of their sling, but she wore it all very well. She wore it with pride even though, as she confessed, she wasn’t feeling so hot about herself that day either.
Why do we, as women over 40, do this to ourselves?
Then I saw this trailer and it explained so much:
Middle-aged women really are invisible, aren’t we? TV is stocked with ads focusing on cute little baby girls, young women obsessed with buying the “right” tampon, and women over 50 who are smiling joyfully because their diapers held up when they pissed themselves in public, or they didn’t hoark their dentures into the birthday cake, thank you Poligrip! So where are we, the perimenopausal queens?
Oh, we’re there and we’re horrifying. Actresses whom I admired when I was a teenager, women not much older than I, are still showing themselves on the pages of magazines and on TV screens, but they’ve mangled themselves, all in the name of beauty and youthfulness. Blindingly white porcelain veneers, facial skin stretched tight like plastic wrap, lips Botoxed into life preserver status, and boobs packed full of things that just can’t be good for you. Yes, we, the middle-aged women, are the Frankenwomen, hacking ourselves to shreds so that we can go back in time, back to that 16 year old body.
Hate to tell ya, ladies, but it ain’t gonna happen. No amount of mangling yourself will ever make you 16 again. (I know. That’s a hard one to take.)
So then, again, why do we do it? I think it’s to be seen, to have a presence in this world, to be acknowledged again. I understand that. It’s horrible to feel like you don’t exist, like you could run down the street naked and on fire, and no one would see you. Feeling like a non-entity is a certain kind of torture, yes, but attempting to make your mark by playing into a demented, youth-oriented, culture that sexualizes women, and throws them away when their “worth” expires, is equally as demented. I say give it up.
Here’s the thing: We can’t change anyone’s mind about us, but we can change our own minds. Maybe the world refuses to recognize us but we can recognize ourselves. We’re never invisible when we can see ourselves.
This morning I had a fantasy about starting a project (I love my fantasy projects.) In this fantasy, I would issue an invite to middle-aged women everywhere to send me pictures of their soft, scarred bellies with rolls. Bellies that have held (and sometimes lost) babies. Bellies that have grown and shrunk, and grown and shrunk, from persistent dieting. Bellies that have undulated with laughter, and have folded in excruciating pain. Grown woman bellies, the houses of grown woman stories, for the world to see, and if not for the world, then, for ourselves. I think I would call it The Belly Project. :)
Here’s my middle-aged belly:
And how about yours? Have you looked at yours? Have you seen it with eyes of love? Can you dare to? I pray that, some day, you do. I pray that, one day, I do too.
With much love from the full-bellied, middle-aged sisterhood,
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