Finding Our Soul Rhythm

“A child’s natural rhythm is much closer to a soul rhythm than that of most adults.”-Shefali Tsabary

reflectionLately my son has been trying to talk. He curls up his tongue and spits out whatever noises, grunts, or howls he can muster.

Unlike when he was learning to walk, he’s not cautious about it. He just keeps hammering away at sounds until, word by word, he’ll slowly begin to talk.

It’s made me wonder, When did I stop trying that hard?

Because if he tried to talk like I sometimes attempt new things, well, he’d never talk. He’d get frustrated with slow progress or self-conscious at how he appears and stop trying so whole-heartedly.

I love observing his nature and seeing how limitless, curious, and in sync with our natural rhythms we all start out. Somewhere along the line we forget that moving in time with our nature, trusting our five senses and listening to our intuition is how we accomplished amazing feats like crawling, walking, and learning to speak. No one tells babies this is what they should do. They are just naturally propelled forward by an innate drive to grow because it is how they survive and thrive.

I often observe myself reaching out for answers instead of diving in. I know people have been where I am or stuck where I’m stuck or going where I want to go, and so I want them to give me the shortcut so I can skip the hard stuff and get right to the gold.

The self-help empire is booming ($10 billion/year in the U.S. alone) because people are obsessed with getting happy, fixing themselves, self-improvement, and with “getting there.” On the surface this seems like a good thing, but what is being sacrificed in exchange?

Are we letting other people tell us what happy looks like, feels like, tastes like? Are we subscribing to other people’s definition of success, failure, and growth? Have we lost touch with our own version of happy? Have we stopped following our dreams, our instincts and listening to our soul speak?

We are here to support each other as we grow, often in deeply personal and intimate ways, but there is some work we must do alone. If we try to cheat and get the answer from someone else it may get us by for a while, but at the end of our lives we may realize we were walking someone else’s path the whole time and not our own.

Trusting my heart sometimes feels awkward because I spend so much time in my head. Speaking my truth sometimes feels vulnerable because I spend so much time listening to other people’s truth. Then I do the things I do to reconnect, recenter, self-regulate, and suddenly it doesn’t feel so awkward, so vulnerable. It just feels so right.

In those moments I know how my son feels: at home in his body, full of trust for his process and in sync with his soul rhythm.

If Walking Down the Street Was a Yoga Pose

If walking down the street was a yoga pose, how would we do it? Would we walk more mindfully, consciously, and with attention to how our breath informs our every step?

If sitting in a chair was a yoga pose, would we place our limbs with intention, keep our spine lifted and our gaze soft?

If having a conversation was a yoga pose, would we stay present the whole way through, listen attentively to every word, stay open and receptive?

If weathering difficult times was a yoga pose, would we root down into our reality, hug in to ourselves, and find the space we need to breathe, to survive, to endure?

If loving other people was a yoga pose, would we keep practicing it over and over, year after year, finding more expansiveness as we soften, stretch, and open?

If getting older was a yoga pose, would we observe our wrinkles without judgement, allow our hair to gray with grace, and stand tall in the body that has stood by us our entire life?

If today was a yoga pose, would we live every minute mindfully, simultaneously stand our ground while submitting to our hearts and aligning our actions with our intentions?

Alignment. Presence. Patience. Strength. Acceptance. We practice these things on our mats all the time, but all of life can be a yoga pose. We can limit the benefits of yoga to a few hours a week or we can tap into these same benefits every moment of every day for the rest of our lives.

photo: Corinne of Corinne’s Yoga Things

Originally published on YogaOneBlog.

A Question For All the Lonely People

Who are you?

Are you a 25-year-old widow like I was or are you a 40-year-old single mother?

Are you a 62-year-old divorced man or are you a 15-year-old boy who feels like an outcast?

Are you a 27-year-old soul-seeker who can’t find their match or an 80-year-old grandmother whose children live on the other side of the country?

Not so long ago, I thought I was alone also. I wasn’t, but the thought that I was kept me from reaching out, from feeling supported, and from finding the enoughness in my solitude.

Enoughness. The feeling that you are enough exactly as you are right now.

I spent years eating dinners on Friday nights alone. I would ride my bike past the lovers at sunset and wonder when it would be my turn. I would dread coming home to an empty house and the silence no noise could mask.

What kept me company was loneliness, and not the kind that goes away when you sleep. The kind that settles in your bones and follows you like a shadow and on the best days waits for you to crawl into bed to remind you.

I really thought I was alone. I thought I was alone in my loneliness. I thought the rest of the world had a sleeping baby and a spouse who came home and a dog who warmed their heart.

I didn’t realize until very recently (this week, in fact) that people are as alone as I once was, with one difference: They are speaking up, they are speaking out, and they are finding the enoughness in their solitude.

That’s the most courageous thing ever. To tell the world where you really are. To tell the world you are hurting. To tell the world you are human.

I couldn’t do it. For decades I kept it bottled up inside and drank from it only when no one was looking, struggling through a hangover of sadness for years.

It blows me away that in our culture we greet each other with How are you and answer I’m fine, when too often that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Whether you’re a stranger, my neighbor, my mother or my friend, the next time I see you I don’t want to talk about the weather and I don’t want to hear how your weekend was. I want to hear your heart beat and when is the last time it broke and what are you afraid of and where do you go when you’re sad and what will be your last words on this earth.

Tell me those words. Tell me your dying words. I want to hear them now, on this street corner, waiting for the light to turn green with the sun shining on this perfect day where darkness and shadow don’t exist. I want to hear them now.

Because that’s what I’m really asking you when I say How are you.

I’m saying I’m human and you’re human. I want to know it’s okay to be us. To be human, to be imperfect, to not have all the answers, to not have a buffer to life. I want to know it’s okay to bleed in public, through tears or words or laughter. I want to know you won’t turn your head when I say I’m not okay, when I say I’m working through something, when I say I can’t fake it anymore.

Do me that favor. Tell me how you are, so that whether my life feels full or empty I will feel connected to my truth and to your truth and to the space in between us, so that the next time I find my true self picking up the remains of my small self that has shattered in a thousand little pieces on my kitchen floor, I will not be afraid to show my scarred face in public.

And the next time I’m three years into a deep depression I will not be afraid you will ask me how I am.

And the next time I get a phone call that someone I love tried to kill themselves, I won’t wonder how I missed the signs. I won’t wonder what I could have done.

I will have seen the signs because they weren’t afraid to show me. I will have done what I could have done because I wasn’t afraid to see their pain and their need.

In your darkness you can’t see me, but I am here. When the light rises you will see all of us. All of us lonely people who made it through by hanging on and refusing to let the darkness snuff out our light inside.

We see you, as clearly as we see our own face in the mirror. We see your enoughness, we see your struggle, we see your humanity.

We’re here and we hear you. What do you have to say?

Originally published on elephantjournal.

We are the Space

YouAreTheSky

We are the space that holds the light {however bright it may be.}
We are the space that holds the darkness {however dark it may get.}
We are the space that holds the energy {however charged and wild.}
We are the space that holds the silence {however long and still.}

We are the space that holds the laughter {giggles, belly laughs and laugh/cry combos.}
We are the space that holds the grief {heartbreaks, heartaches and heart roars.}
We are the space that holds the beginning {the wondering, the exploring, the innocence.}
We are the space that holds the ending {the fragility, the no mores and the emptiness.}

We are the space that holds life {in our bellies, in our hearts and in our eyes.}
We are the space that holds death {of our partners, of our children and of our dreams.}
We are the space that holds the question {who am I?}
We are the space that holds the answer {when it comes, in its own time, when we least expect.}

We are the space all our experiences flow through, the space our being rests in, grows in, lives and dies in.

Honor that space. Hold that space. Enter that space daily through our breath or through our yoga or through a hug, a cry, a laugh, a word or a pause. Create the doorway into our self and then walk through it and witness the magnificence that is called being human.

Originally published on YogaOneBlog.

Soul Work

To get right to the point, Why are you here?

Let’s put our learned answers aside for a moment because I’m interested in your answer, not something you learned from a doctrine or a book or an authority figure.

And I’m not even that interested in your answer. I’m interested in your asking the question and sitting with that space in between the asking and the answering.

That space, that’s what I’m after. For you, for me, for all of us soul-seekers and truth-speakers.

A few weeks ago my teacher posed that question to a room full of yogis high on meditation and asana: Why are you here?

Tonight I ended up at this same question oddly enough through what I thought was a very innocent analysis of why Rich and Strong are so sought-after in our society. To put it another way, why Weak and Vulnerable are what we try to hide away from the world. Not what we try to deny – because deep within, in our most private of moments all of us surrender to weak and vulnerable. What is interesting to me is why we try to hide it away.

Here’s what I came up with (non-scientifically speaking):
If we reveal to the world that we are weak or vulnerable there are a few things we fear will happen:

We will get hurt.
We will be outcast and not accepted.
We will feel embarrassed.
We will look pitiful.

Wrap these up into one line and it sounds a lot like this: We will not be loved.

Follow me into this hypothetical world of We are not loved. What are our options then?
Some people avoid their reality.
Some people kill themselves.
Some people confront their reality.

Why do these drastic measures seem the only option in a world where we don’t feel loved? Because many of us would ask in that moment, Why am I here if I am not loved?

Feeling loved is powerful, healing, and vital to our thriving. But in our hypothetical world of not being loved we aren’t concerned with thriving.

We are concerned with surviving.

So the more important question in that moment seems to be not do we feel loved, but Do we love ourselves?

What I observe is that most of us don’t wrestle with these two questions – Do I love myself and Why am I here – until we have no other choice. Until life takes everything away from us that matters and strips us of every label, identity, and story we ever had.

Then all we’re left with is that question, why are we here, and the haunting echo of nothingness.

Our minds will give us answers, just as they do with the other powerful question – Who Am I? – but while the answer would be helpful, I believe the transformation happens in between the question and the answer, in the darkness. In the silence.

In the absence of knowing we bathe in pure being. The answer doesn’t matter and the question doesn’t matter. This matters. This being. This wholeness.

If we are lucky enough to get an answer, to learn our dharma, then we are both privileged and tasked with the obligation to live it.

Maybe that’s why we don’t ask the question in the first place until it’s the only thing we have left to hold onto. Maybe it’s why we cling to what we know and what other people think of us. Maybe it’s why we spend our lives trying to prove we’re strong enough, good enough, and just plain enough. Because if the world takes away its good impression of us what do we have left?

We have ourselves. And we have questions. Questions that have no answers. Darkness everywhere we turn until we look within. There we find the ember of being that is the only light that ever mattered.

Stoke that ember. Stoke it like your life depends on it.

Because it does.

I Don’t Want to Know What Kind of Yoga You Practice

garudasana

I don’t want to know if you feel strong after yoga.
I want to know if you feel softened, receptive, and open to grace.

I don’t want to know if you can touch your toes.
I want to know if you can touch your heart, my heart and the world with your truth.

I don’t want to know if you can reach the sky as you rise.
I want to know if you can kiss the earth in mourning, in joy and in between.

I don’t want to know if you can balance on your head.
I want to know if you can shake and wobble and not give up.

I don’t want to know how often you practice.
I want to know how often you cry at the sheer beauty of your own heartbeat.

I don’t want to know what brand of clothes you’re wearing.
I want to know if you’re comfortable in your own skin and how it stretches over your bones just perfectly.

I don’t want to know how yoga has fixed you.
I want to know if you know you weren’t broken to begin with.

I don’t want to know if you meditate or not.
I want to know if you can look in the mirror and see who you really are.

I don’t want to know what kind of yoga you practice.
I want to know what kind of life you live.

What I Know About An Open Heart

heart

heartMy uncle had open-heart surgery last week.

In my good-sized extended family our reunions tend to take place at hospitals instead of at holidays. It’s an interesting dynamic trying to stretch my heart open wide enough to hold both the joy at seeing my family and the sadness or stress because of why we’re at the hospital.

It feels scary to do that—to stretch my heart wide open.

It makes me feel vulnerable which makes me feel protective and afraid I won’t be able to handle it. But mostly it makes me feel open. And when I’m open love can not only flow in, it can also flow out.

I did a little research on open-heart surgery and here’s what my non-med-school mind gathered: It’s a big deal.

It can vary from procedure to procedure but in many cases the chest is opened. While the surgeon works on the stopped heart, a heart-lung machine continues to send blood to the brain and other organs.

Healing happens in phases, the first of which lasts six to eight weeks.

The medical advances and science that are required to accomplish this is amazing. What’s equally amazing to me is the findings of the HeartMath Research Center, an institute devoted to decoding the heart-mind connection physiologically and how that affects our quality of life.

Without going into too much detail, some of what they’ve found is this:

“The heart affects mental clarity, creativity, emotional balance and personal effectiveness. Our research and that of others indicate that the heart is far more than a simple pump. The heart is, in fact, a highly complex, self-organized information processing center with its own functional ‘brain’ that communicates with and influences the cranial brain via the nervous system, hormonal system and other pathways. These influences profoundly affect brain function and most of the body’s major organs, and ultimately determine the quality of life.”

This gives us a major incentive to take care of our hearts both figuratively and literally.

When was the last time we had a heart-to-heart with our heart?

These aren’t always easy conversations. I find the only time I can truly enter my heart is when I am completely present, which requires radical attention and focus. Otherwise I’m not entering my heart. I’m entering my mind. I’m entering my mind’s representation of what my heart holds, but not my actual heart itself.

My mind likes to tell me a lot about my heart, kind of like a know-it-all friend likes to give us the low-down on everyone else. But that is often not the truth of the matter.

We find what’s really going on in our hearts by stepping into our bodies (quite literally into our body and out of our mind) and thus into our present moment.

Here is where the heart-to-heart happens. Like any authentic conversation, expect some powerful clearing to come from it.

What I know about my heart is that it’s a muscle. Physically and emotionally it’s a muscle. It needs to pump to work and it needs to love to work. Not just once or twice but every moment of every day for my entire life.

Life will perform open-heart surgery on all of us many times over in our lifetime.

It will feel like our chest is being ripped open.

It will feel like our heart has stopped beating.

It will take us time to heal. When we heal, our heart will beat better than ever and it will love better than ever.

Over and over again our hearts will get broken. When they heal we will find they can hold a little more love than they could before. When we can hold a little more love, we can give a little more love.

And that’s what makes the world go round.

Originally published on elephantjournal.

photo via Pinterest

What I Learned in 2014

I learned that love is like cotton candy. It stretches with you, it sticks to you, it’s messy and delicious and makes life more fun. I learned to tread softer on my heart and in my life. I learned the cleanest line can be found not only on a wave or on a rock but in life as well. I learned how it feels to say no to myself because I’m saying yes to someone else. I learned how selfish I really am. I learned how generous I can be. I learned that I didn’t know who I married until I had a child with him and found out how lucky I really am. And that I didn’t really know who I was until I had a child. I learned that a little bit of silence can go a long way {same thing with yoga}. I learned the reason everyone loves babies, even old grumpy men, is because we see ourselves reflected in their eyes {our truest, purest self without our labels and habits and scars}. I learned my best friends are the butterflies and the bees and the trees and the leaves. I learned gratitude is a state of being {not doing}. I learned this being human is the hardest work in the world if we’re doing it right. I learned endings are the box beginnings come wrapped in. I learned to be a little more courageous and a little less controlling. I learned to ask the hard questions and listen to the hard answers. I learned to trust the universe and myself. I learned if I stretch my heart a little wider it won’t break. It will just hold a little more love.

What did you learn in 2014?

The Art of Decompressing

To quote yoga teacher Darren Rhodes: “You’ve got to be able to handle compression.”

He likens this concept to the air inside a tire. There’s a lot of compression in that tire, but because of the way it handles it, it isn’t crushed. It can roll with it, if you will.

I’m in the midst of learning how I handle compression on a new level. It’s been a challenging year full of twists, turns and transitions that seem to go on forever. My old resources for staying full and balanced have been mostly unavailable, so I’m navigating new territory in a new way and quickly finding holes in my tires so to speak.

The idea of managing compression reminds me of scuba diving. Divers can dive deep fairly quickly, but they must surface much slower. The diving compresses their lungs and the rising to the surface decompresses them, but this decompression takes time.

The compression that happens in many yoga poses is often supported by an inner buoyancy that supports our inner body even as our outer body becomes compressed. When backbending, for example, we keep our back body full energetically to support the compression of bending backwards.

We get better at handling these polar opposites – staying full while under pressure – through practice, practice, practice. In yoga we practice the same poses over and over, not to get better at them but to get better at us; to get better at staying attentive to what happens as we move into poses we like and poses we don’t like, poses that feel liberating and poses that feel compressed.

In life we practice staying attentive to what happens when we move into situations we like and situations we don’t like, situations that feel free and situations that feel compressed.

This begs the question, what supports us when we’re compressed? The air supports the tire. The air is what re-inflates the diver’s lungs as they rise to the surface. For us humans it’s Prana, or our vital life force, that supports us when life begins to get intense. That’s the air in our tires.

I find love to be a great source of Prana, both the giving it, the receiving it, and the embodying it. It’s so healing, so filling, and so powerful yet unassuming. Ironically when we feel compressed (read stressed, burdened, or tired) love is sometimes the last thing we feel we can tap into.

Thankfully it often comes tapping on the window of our soul and asks to come in. When I soften to that invitation I fill myself up, find I feel more alive and, like that diver rising to the surface, I learn that decompressing is often more a practice of allowing than one of forcing.

As I continue on my journey of learning to handle compression I hope love keeps tapping at the window of my soul, reminding me that receiving, giving and embodying love is what will support my inner being when my outer being feels compressed; and that embracing these polar opposites is what will allow me to ride through life come what may.

Everyday Enlightenment

yogaAt yoga recently the teacher suggested this intention for our practice:

I will not take things personally.

This didn’t really resonate with me, so I chose an intention that rang more true to me:

I will take things personally.

As in I will get up close and personal with my dreams, my loves, my life and my fears. I will smell their sweat and place their sticky cheek next to mine and breathe in their outbreath. I will inhabit every ounce of this human body as I rest in the hammock of being and awareness that holds it up.

I sometimes get the sense in the yoga world we’re all trying to detach and be perfectly balanced, enlightened beings. I’m all for enlightenment, but in striving for that perfect state we can miss a lot of wonderful imperfection along the way because we consider it “in the way.”

For a long time I approached my practice and my life as if it were in the way of where I was going. I wanted to get “there” because getting there seemed to mean I wouldn’t have to suffer anymore. I envisioned a state of being where stress wouldn’t sway me, family wouldn’t bother me, loss wouldn’t shake me, and life wouldn’t hurt me.

What I was doing was detaching from my reality and skipping out on my own life. I was missing the point Peter Rhodes makes when he says:

“We make a mistake when we wait for heaven, wait for enlightenment, wait for change. It is not going to happen in the future. It is happening. It is within our experience. Now is the time.”

Yoga and meditation are tools that help us bring a quality of awareness to our lives so that we don’t suffer unnecessarily. It is just so easy to use these valuable tools to bypass what’s happening right now, what’s living and thriving in our bones and bodies and lives right now; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Life is not always love and light. Sometimes it’s pain and darkness. They are the two poles of life that together light up our lives as the full experience it is.

It’s easy to fall into a practice of seeking enlightenment on a mountain top while the everyday enlightenment passes us by. Lorin Roche reminds us of this in The Radiance Sutras:

Wherever, whenever you feel carried away,
Rejoicing in every breath,
There, there is your meditation hall.
Cherish those times of absorption—
Rocking the baby in the silence of the night
Pouring water into a crystal glass
Tending the logs in the crackling fire
Sharing a meal with a circle of friends.
Embrace these pleasures and know,
This is my true body.
Nowhere is more holy than this.
Right here is the sacred pilgrimage.

I’m so grateful to that yoga teacher for her offering and for sharing an intention that was relevant in her life. It helped shed light on my own process and revealed to me an intention that has been marinating in me all year.

I will take things personally. I will live life fully. I will love more than ever before.

Originally published on YogaOneBlog.