Grace talks about Unconditional Love within relationships.
Warning: This is an opinion filled writing – even a bit of a rant. I mean no offense to doctors, healers and those who devote their lives in service of others.
“My doctor has no idea what’s going on!”
Well, why should they?
When we go to an allopathic, western-oriented physician these days, we have a 5-10-minute consultation in which to upload as much information as we choose to disclose about a symptom presenting itself as bad or wrong. I’m curious in what reality this could be an effective method of healing someone. I’m not harping on western medicine at all; how could ANY healer, be they massage practitioner, naturopath, Chinese medicine specialist, life coach, energy healer or therapist possibly get an accurate picture of your life and all the pieces that come together to enliven you?
How can we give anyone an accurate snapshot of our lives? Most of us don’t even know what’s going on within ourselves.
And that’s the rub: YOU don’t know what’s going on, so how could someone else heal you?
How do we give so much power to our health care providers, trusting that they understand us, can heal us and declare us cured when most of us don’t have a clue what’s going on inside ourselves?
Sure, doctors, counselors and other specialists know a lot about certain things. But, they hardly know anything about the entire make-up of life that has brought us to their door.
I would like to argue that YOU can actually know more than anyone else about yourself. Your doctor knows about livers, kidney function, supplements, cardiac health, nutrition, etc, but they don’t know you nearly as well as you have the potential to know yourself.
Want to really empower your health?
Start paying attention.
Notice how you feel after you eat certain foods, drink certain drinks, or interact with certain people. Notice what happens to your blood pressure when you exercise or don’t exercise, wake up in the morning, watch TV, check Facebook, only get five hours of sleep night after night, interact with children, dwell on a conversation with your partner. Start becoming aware of your triggers, anxiety patterns, energy levels and mental cycles.
Most importantly, notice what you feel resistance to, what you don’t want to experience. Notice your discomfort and how that creates patterns that you enact daily.
It can be as simple as that.
Then, if or when you get sick, develop cancer, or start feeling depressed or overwhelmed, you can bring your own unique awareness of your body and patterns, and work together with a specialist who knows about the brain or the lymphatic system, to unlock a more integrated and functional system within your unique configuration of human.
Please, don’t rely on someone else to know you better than you know yourself. You don’t have to know everything about anatomy, physiology or neuro-biology. But you do need to know you.
For all those on the Path of Awakening, may we all be inspired to surrender.
These days when we think of Tantra, we think of experimenting with sound, movement and sex, but the path of Tantra as it was created about 1500-1000 years ago was a dedicated path of spirituality that permeated every aspect of being. Initiates would undertake intensely disciplined practices to go beyond the limited perceptions of the mind, and often took months or years as a renunciate, away from their homes and families, away from anyone they knew and essentially, away from themselves.
Taking away sensorial input and committing to a practice of mauna, noble silence, has been a practice in every mystical awakening tradition since documented human history. It may seem extreme now, but it was common for rites of passage and initiations into different phases of life, especially for those who were healers, shamans and people with a longing for God–for the Divine spark manifest in our very being.
When I decided to apply for the 49-Day Silent Retreat at Hridaya, I didn’t think of any of those things. I just felt a longing in my heart for solitude and said yes. They said yes, too. And then I got very scared. What had I done? Would I really spend 40 days all alone in a room? Would I go crazy and lose my mind? (two very different things, come to find out) I’m quite used to living around the world and being on my own, but this was going to be a whole new level of “on my own.”
Sahajananda, my teacher and the founder of Hridaya Yoga, created the 49-Day Silent Retreat to support those with a longing to go deep. Many who live at the school have attended and come out the other side changed, in various ways. We all face our own challenges, breakthroughs and moments of transcending. The layout is this: 10 days at a group silent retreat with the school (50-100 people together) and then 40 days in solitude at a hotel an hour away from the school. One person on the retreat is dedicated to service, cooking us sattvic vegan meals twice a day and handling our needs, should they arise. In all that time, we practice noble silence which means no talking, making sound or looking at one another, a pivotal part of the practice of mauna. After this period of 49 days, there is an additional seven-day retreat which the school allows participants to join. We had 3 days of transition before the 7 days, making a grand total of 59 days in silence.
I won’t be able to share all of the experiences, thresholds and moments of surrender I experienced in this period, or in the weeks since, and that isn’t my intention. My intention going into the retreat was to surrender, surrender, surrender; to give up control and give up “me” at every turn. So, I’ll focus on these experiences, their arising and the residual space they’ve left, which is simply Love. I will not spend time defining the concepts. If they interest you, look into the Hridaya teachings which, in my opinion, capture the essence of the spiritual path of nonduality with clarity and Heart.
This article will be raw, vulnerable and imperfect. I invite you to read with the heart, rather than the mind, and to take in the essence, not necessarily the words. May whatever you take from this writing inspire your mind to quiet, your heart to open, and your faith in the path, to rise.
The Present Moment
I’ve been on the spiritual path for a while, long enough to understand that it takes a lot of time to ripen in the vision, and the deconditioning and persevering faith it takes to break free from the collective paradigm I find myself in. I’ve spent periods of three to four months at a time in spiritual schools, and experienced that the longer the time, the deeper the dive. But I’ve still always lived in “time,” meaning the construct of days, hours and minutes. I’ve been tied to the clock since I can remember, and have lived, as most of us, fragmented between doing this and doing that.
From the first day of the retreat, I decided to let go of time completely. Let go of what day it was, what time it was, how long I’d been practicing or sleeping or doing anything. I found it easier intended than done. There was a struggle for the first week or two in solitude as my mind desperately wanted to compare how much I had meditated or practiced today versus yesterday, and especially how much time until the meal was served (we received one meal at 11:30am and one at 6pm). In the 10-day retreat, I never looked at the clock except to be at school at a certain time for sessions. Once in solitude, I didn’t set my morning alarm, didn’t time my practices and in fact, turned the clock around so I wouldn’t see the time unless I intentionally picked it up and looked. There were a few times I was struggling with practicing more or taking a break, so I was glad I did have the clock to relieve me of the feeling of anticipation. As with the deconditioning process of most things, there were a lot of patterns and tendencies to break through. For me, being able to say, “I meditated for this long” has always been a way that I value myself. My mind just loves comparison, especially comparing with myself. So, this was something to drop again and again whenever it came up.
Eventually there came a moment, maybe two weeks into the five-and-half weeks of solitude, when the idea of practicing and not practicing ceased. Where there was no separation between being on my mat or eating a meal or taking a walk on the beach. Eating a banana mid-morning became simply a continuation of awareness; eyes open or closed, walking or sitting, lying or stretching, it all became simply Being instead of doing. My teacher advised us before the retreat, “Let go of whatever you do and simply Be in joy.” So, I did. No time. No comparison. No right or wrong.
This isn’t to say there weren’t thoughts about those habitual tendencies of the mind. Thoughts were there, but at a certain point, they didn’t register as “my” thoughts or anything worth taking notice of. They just arose and fell into the background of consciousness. After a while, that background became my only identification. Instead of identifying with the waves, I sank into the ocean of the present moment.
Sleeping and Waking
I decided to experiment with sleep, a practice recommended in the Yoga and Tantra traditions. During 10-day silent retreats, I typically start lucid dreaming, not sleeping much, and remaining conscious most of the night. This time, when we went into solitude, I started an experiment where I slept most of the night lying on my back with a glass of water on my chest to keep me conscious, even when I eventually fell into the state of sleep. Within a few days, I hardly lost consciousness in the night at all, but rested deeply and maintained consciousness throughout the night.
I also found what I like to call “the sweet spot” between waking and sleeping, a deeply restful state with the eyes open or closed with a fully present consciousness and completely relaxed body and mind. I discovered this during lying down meditations, which I began practicing during solitude to relieve myself of chronic neck and shoulder pain. Soon I discovered that it put me in this sweet spot where I could stay for hours or longer.
When I discovered that this deep place could continue through the day and night, I started perceiving that time just continued to be the present moment with no interruptions except the wandering attention of the mind. And eventually that dropped away and was not a distraction.
Impermanence & Spontaneity
Another effect of the continuous present moment awareness was the feeling of prolonged spontaneity. I found myself surprised by what I chose to do in the moment, be it going for a walk, sitting in meditation, lighting incense, taking a nap, etc. I stopped planning anything, and more noticeably I stopped trying to be efficient. When I took my first Hridaya meditation retreat, this was a concept I deeply resonated with: letting go of the efficiency mind that tries to be one step ahead of the moment. This future-jumping mind gets in the way of the present moment being perfect, surprising and magical as it unfolds; it judges right and wrong based on what it thinks will be best before it actually happens. This was the existing programming of my mind.
This present moment perception led to an understanding of impermanence, a central tenet of Buddhist wisdom. The only thing permanent is existence-consciousness itself, not any thought, emotion, energy or material creation. These come and go, if we let them, and dissolve back into the Pure consciousness. As I watched every one of these rise and fall, rise and fall, I started to see the deep Truth in this teaching: that all things are impermanent. ALL things. This understanding led to the ability to surrender more and more.
I found myself letting every day, every meditation and yoga practice be different. Instead of grasping at how they should be or if they went deep or what I was experiencing, I just let them be exactly as they unfolded. And in that unfolding was the most beautiful state of Joy. The Joy of Being in the moment. I know this sounds like every clichéd spiritual teaching. I can hear that. And yet, it’s exactly what I felt and still feel.
The only intention I carried into my days was to create the best conditions in each moment. That meant following the needs of my body, like eating less and less as my metabolism slowed way down, and moving less and less as my heart rate slowed way down. Or even going for a run on the beach if there was a big upsurge of energy–if something felt different, I went with that exactly as it was. It may not seem like rocket science, but for me this letting go of all expectations whenever I noticed them come up led to a huge shift in how my days played out. And continuing to be in the present moment now that I’m teaching and writing again brings this Joy more and more into whatever I’m doing in the world.
There were hard moments and hours. For me, three demons especially plagued my thoughts, and it wasn’t until I could automatically send compassion to the thoughts and people they were about, that they began to dissolve.
The first was about my intimate relationships and letting go of expectations around what things would look like when I came out. There was a solid week where this came to my mind every day. Sometimes I ignored it and let it float by, which it always eventually did. And sometimes I looked at it, examined what was sticky, what stories it triggered for me and why it kept coming back again and again. I began to uncover that some thoughts simply are triggered by imagination or memory of other thoughts. They come up and overlap until the mind/ego grabs on and starts to weave a story. And some thoughts just come up because we’ve deemed them important and have programmed our mind to go to them again and again. This is a thought pattern, I realized, that I had deemed important, as meaning something about “me.” And that’s the level where I had to let it go. Nothing that happens in my relationships means anything about who I am or who my partners are.
About this, a passage from my journal: “During a series of external events last night, I watched the monkey mind. It really does attach to the next thing that comes up bigger than what it’s currently attached to. One thing seemed so big and all encompassing for the mind, then the next totally superseded it, then the next. The one before disappeared (for a while) because the mind just dramatizes and tries to get something wedged in the hamster wheel to play over and over again. When the energies of the Heart are more aroused than the mind, it all dissolves again right after it comes up. There are many thoughts still, but they just don’t matter so much anymore. They just come and go like trains passing by, but the awareness of the whole station is greater.”
As a reflection, having been home a few weeks now, I’m so grateful to have spent time looking at the sticky points. Of course, the expectations that were secretly hiding away about what my intimate relationships would look like three months later, do not live up to their stories. And external life has shifted. In a way, I tested myself to see what would happen if such and such a story came to be. I prepared myself for the things that have actually happened and for possible situations in the future. It feels like my heart has expanded to take in every possible outcome, instead of weaving through what makes me comfortable and avoiding the discomfort. And, of course, it’s impossible to avoid discomfort when relating with other people.
The second demon was a life situation in which I felt I had failed just days before I left for the retreat. This thought came up again and again and again, day after day after day. At first, I spent a lot of mental energy justifying my actions, saying to myself “it’s okay that I did that,” and creating a whole story about why it was okay. So basically, I was in big, fat resistance to what was, and the story I created about it. When this thought pattern would begin to arise, it pulled all of my attention and I couldn’t focus on anything else for minutes or longer. And then one morning I was journaling and realized that this was what was meant by a demon. I remembered the story of the Buddha facing his last demon in his final meditation under the Bodhgaya tree and sending unending love and compassion until it dissolved. So I tried this, and . . . it worked. It worked like a magic wand. When I opened my heart instead of closing it off and being in resistance, my pain and reaction dissolved, my hurt dissolved, my identity around the story dissolved. I sent compassion to the people affected in the situation and I sent compassion to myself. And within 48 hours, it was completely gone and never disturbed my thoughts again.
This became my routine when anything triggered hurt, pain or identity gripping: open the heart, breathe into the heart and send Love to anyone affected by this thought. I can tell you after experimenting with this for about seven weeks: it works. And it is incredibly purifying to the mind. Instead of creating more and more thoughts, it leaves the mind quiet, calm and still; capable of perceiving the True nature, the background of stillness, instead of being obsessed by thoughts.
My third demon was food. It usually happens that what normally challenges you in everyday life comes up in retreat. Having struggled with lifelong mental and physical challenges around food, I knew this was going to come up, and it really did. On the very first day of my 59 days, I got quite sick, and after purging my body of any food in my system, I didn’t eat a meal for the next 48 hours. Fasting is not a regular practice for me, as it usually stirs up my control issues around food and I’ve found it healthier the last few years to just eat whatever I want and create a relationship of freedom with food. But this period of necessary fasting – for my body, not my mind–felt physically very purifying, and left me quite available to the lightness of the body that was to come. And it triggered a whole slew of patterns about being happy that I wasn’t eating. For years, maybe decades, I used food to feel in control, especially the decision to not eat. Sometimes that would turn into binging, too. In this extended period of silence, I watched all of this come up – every single day. And every day I did my best to return to the Heart, return to the freedom of Pure Being, while witnessing the patterns that have kept me locked in control around food for 20+ years. I made some deep discoveries that unlocked those patterns and eventually realized this: I Am Free. Totally free to choose my relationship with anything in the outside world.
Three weeks out of retreat, I can now say that this is a lasting change. So much of my energy has been released by not constantly worrying about what/how/why I’m eating, and just listening to what my body really wants. The mind doesn’t need to be involved in these decisions at all. What joy.
At the beginning of our journey, Sahajananda said, “The spiritual journey is about going into uncharted territories. It’s about giving up the limitations of control. It requires a constant reconnection to the unknown.” This quote stayed with me and carried me through many scary moments of surrender. At first that surrender was active, with the intention that I, Grace, am giving up something, like a pattern or habit, a piece of identity or a story of reacting to external situations.
Then one afternoon when conditions seemed the worst to sit and meditate, a fit of laughter seized me, and the surrender became beyond me. I’ve heard many spiritual teachers talk about the Divine Mercy bringing surrender, and this was the experience I began to have more and more. Instead of “me” letting go of “something,” I started letting go of me. I stopped believing I was a separate thing or that there was anything separate from me. I began experiencing the world as One.
This perception carried through to more and more moments of my day and led to deeper experiences of surrender. As the control mechanisms of my mind tried to take over, I chose to surrender and go deeper into the unknown. I opened to those moments of feeling beyond a “me;” I let surrender win over fear. And the joy just kept opening and opening to unlimited depths.
One passage from my journal around day 40 said, “Carefree, light, childlike, joyful, spontaneous, gleeful, sweet and tender. No pushing into surrender, just letting go.”
Sahajananda often talks about a sense of transparency and availability to the Divine Flow. Around the third week in solitude, I started understanding what this meant. With no one recognizing me, seeing me, talking to me, I started to feel like a ghost. Being in a constant state of meditation, I felt I was becoming more and more transparent, full of more light and less material. I watched my body processes slow to nothing, including my digestion and my blood pressure. No mirrors, no being seen. It was the most incredible phenomenon to become as light as light and to feel like I was floating in the air.
This had a massive effect on my consciousness in that I felt less separate and more unified with everything around me; that my Being was one and the same as all things, or that perhaps there are no individual beings, just one Being of which I am a part. From my journal: “Noticing that not looking in the mirror this long creates a bit of a separation from the body – Who Am I becomes a more real question…Who is it that’s looking through my eyes? Who hears with my ears?”
After a few weeks of intense investigation of the mind, I stumbled into this state of transparency and began to see the mind as transparent. Near the middle of the retreat I wrote, “There is an unbelievable vastness of the mind – how inconceivably infinite the power of perception is. Today I felt like I was melting the mental separateness I usually experience into union.” Along with this, internal and external stopped feeling differentiated, and from this came a feeling of freedom: first in small drips and eventually in waterfalls. The feeling of Joy – a permanent joy, not the fleeting happiness experienced from external circumstances being how I want them to be – was the new state of Pure Being. And the vastness into which I was melting felt simply free. As Sahajananda says, “There is such a freedom in solitude.” Yes, I found that freedom. And now I get to play in it while doing my daily activities, making phone calls, driving and playing in life.
The day we broke silence was incredible. Tears poured from seemingly nowhere for hours. The idea of talking or looking or being on my device was so far from any desire I had. In fact, I noticed a few days after the retreat ended that I was in a desire-less state. There was nothing I wanted except to keep diving into the ocean of the Heart, the ocean of God. As I move back into my work of personal coaching, Spiritual teaching and leading silent retreats, my only desire is to offer these teachings to others so that they may feel this peace of Pure Being and Joy of the Heart in their lives. So that we may all choose to surrender our identities and live in the Bliss of Compassion that comes from the transparent expression of the Heart.
In the last three weeks, the overall sensation of integration I’ve felt is one of stability. No longer does my spiritual path feel like achieving states of consciousness. Instead, it feels like a sweet naturalness and awareness that extends and expands. I notice when the triggers of my patterns come up, and instead of reacting to them like I have in the past, there is a tender compassion for my own stories. I can see how attaching to my identities and unconscious patterns in the past has caused so much suffering, and choose to forgive myself and others when I see these memories. I notice the wandering attention of my mind with laughter, not seriousness, and let my awareness return to the gravity of the Heart. And at the bottom of all this is Love. Just Love.
The last time you had a broken heart, did you spend a lot of energy wishing it hadn’t happened? Trying to fix it?
We often view having a broken heart as being a victim, whether someone else broke up with you or you lost a loved one to cancer or you moved across the country and it ended a deep relationship. I would like to submit another angle for heartbreak: that it’s the best medicine for knowing, accepting, and loving ourselves.
It leads us to show up more as our whole self.
Most of us have layer upon layer of walls around our hearts, hence we don’t let people see us as the full human we are. We don’t even see ourselves fully. Breaking our hearts, in whatever way that happens, can cause enough of a shift to let new parts of us be revealed.
Read the full article at Beducated.
Do you get overwhelmed by other people’s energy? Would you like some tools to cope with energetic boundaries? This short video offers practices to help create boundaries for you.
If you practice nonmonogamy, you might have already been through the new and shiny phenomenon, where you or a partner meets someone new and it awakens the fun, unpredictable New Relationship Energy (NRE).
This could go a number of ways. Two of the most common are:
- It kicks up a new appreciation and desire in your existing relationship
- You find yourself comparing your new love to your current relationship
Obviously, option one is preferred. Without awareness, option two can easily happen…but it doesn’t have to. Let’s see how to deal with jealousy in a polyamorous relationship and examine the habits that can lead to a comparison of new love with existing and how to create patterns that help NRE fuel your existing love, not necessarily create a desire to replace.
The Mind’s Task of Comparison
Comparison is one of the fastest paths to disaster in poly relationships.
Even if we think we don’t compare partners or past relationships, our mind and ego are constantly on the lookout for better or worse. That’s our mind’s job, to put things in order (*note: hierarchy) so it can have linear thoughts. While we don’t need to despise our mind for its instinctual task, we can recognize that it creates a lot of suffering.
In fact, most suffering comes from this desire of the mind to separate, identify and compare.
When this sets one relationship against another, we get just that: a fight. Who’s the better lover? Better partner? Better listener? This is what the mind will ask you and desperately try to get you to answer.
Continue reading the full article at omooni.com.
My spiritual journey has been the most practical time of my life. And by practical, I mean that practically speaking this path of connecting to Spirit has made countless changes in my everyday life and the way I relate to myself, my friends, students, fellow teachers, and to my family. These days I’ll begrudgingly admit that the last one is the hardest. Even with my progressive, quinoa and kale-eating, pilates-teaching, past-life talking family, it’s still hard.
In 2016, for the first time in my life, I’m wholeheartedly excited to be living in my hometown, seeing my family weekly and building community in the Northwest.
I began “growing apart” from my family in 2005 when I moved to Boston from my home of Seattle. I just needed something different, something to get me out of the rut of life I found myself in two years after graduating college.
That year, I dove into Yoga with reckless abandon and it began making some huge changes internally and externally. My favorite three studios were a Bikram hot yoga studio, a Baptiste power flow studio, and a great little place that held weekly restorative yoga. A bartender friend and I started attending Sunday morning restorative classes which gave us some space from the fast-paced life of Boston restaurants to feel our bodies and just shut the hell up for an hour and a half.
One Sunday morning, sun streaming in through the front windows amidst a particularly excruciating hip opener, the instructor offered the famous quote, “If you think you’re enlightened, go home.” I laughed along with everyone else and thought it was cute and witty. I didn’t have any idea how much this statement would affect me over the next 10 years.
Back then when I returned home to visit family and friends in Seattle, it was full of reunion, doing our favorite things, catching up and relating on mutually agreeable terms. My college friends were moving in some different directions, but we still had similar struggles in how to find our places in the world with idealism, creativity and some reality checks about paying rent and car insurance.
At the end of my year in Boston, I moved to Kripalu, a Yoga retreat center in western Massachusetts, and had two intense months of practice, introspection and growth. When I returned to Seattle in November 2006, it was the first time I felt…well, different. Like maybe my family didn’t understand me quite as well as they had before. Like maybe my priorities had really changed from those around me. And what do you know…judgment! So. Much. Judgment.
I had these recurring thoughts that my family wasn’t good enough, that their ways were so mundane, that they should (ugh!) be doing what I was doing. I judged their jobs, their habits, their food choices and mostly that they choose to live a life that was based in routine and patterns.
Here’s the first rub from the aforementioned enlightenment statement about going home: my family triggered a lot of the things I realized I didn’t want to be anymore. When I get triggered, one of two things happen. Either I freeze and just want to crawl into a hole and hide, or I get upset and reactive and want to yell and scream at whoever offended me. When this happens, there’s not much chance of me responding with compassion, kindness and patience and things tend to turn into a conflict or an argument and elevate more.
I didn’t know before I had left for those first few years away that my family that everyone had unspoken agreements about how I was supposed to act within the family dynamic – as a sister, daughter, aunt, cousin, niece, granddaughter. They assumed I was the same as the last time we saw each other. As did my fiancé who was living in Seattle. And his family. And my college friends and high school friends.
During those beginning years on my spiritual journey, I started resenting my family for simply being who they were and who they had always been. And, man, that’s not fair to them.
I was frustrated by the things I was and was not supposed to talk about and ask questions about, like why we did the things we did and what was the motivation behind my family’s lifestyle, something maybe they didn’t think too much about. I wanted to have all those deep, mysterious conversations about authenticity, spiritual practice, ways to transform my inner and outer landscape and the like.
I made the mistake that nearly everyone makes when “coming back” – a term I grew to resent more and more over the years of coming and going – believing that what I was talking about was more important than what my family was talking about. That how they lived their lives wasn’t good enough. I will admit I said some very hurtful things. And I hated being in my hometown.
I especially hated being in the suburbs. A lot. I had grown to love city life and country life, but the suburbs are a confusing jungle somewhere in the middle, in my very humble opinion, and I get lost with the miles of strip malls, unpredictable traffic, airplane noise, and very sad expressions on people’s faces. Suburbs drained me. And my family’s routines drained me, too.
Early in 2007 I took my first adult trip into the wider world: 3 months of WWOOFing (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) in New Zealand. I was joined by a friend from Kripalu, someone who was in a similar place of shedding the old and attempting to live a conscious life. It’s great to have compatriots and commiserators on the path. We spent a lot of time unpacking our emotions, recognizing our patterns and saying how we wanted to be free of all of that. And we were living it thousands of miles from America, from our families, the places we get stuck, and in the midst of living with Kiwis – the most grounded, connected and open people I had met as a whole.
And then I came back to Seattle again in 2007 – to my awaiting fiancé and family, which was really hard. So hard, in fact, that the relationship with my fiancé ended abruptly and I spiraled into my quarter life crisis and picking myself apart for not being on more solid ground by the time I was 27.
After the very challenging breakup, I grew to resent being in Seattle even more. The worst part for me was that I was living in the suburbs on the eastside of Seattle. It was actually a very sweet location, just above the Redmond farmlands and Woodinville wineries, but it was at least an hour from my family, 30-90 minutes commute to my music teaching jobs, and the other random work I took that year to cover the rent, like bartending at a golf course.
I wanted to leave again so badly that I was taking it out on everyone. I was even more bitter towards my very, very patient family. And then finally my mom gave me an out. Out of the blue one day she sent me a job ad for teaching English in Korea, which led very quickly to my first overseas teaching gig.
So did I get all that resentment and frustration out of my system? Alas, no. Which brings up my first lesson about digging up things with your family.
Lesson 1: Go wherever you want for as long as you want. Your lessons will be waiting for you when you get back.
The universe is patient. Very patient. Your karma is there to work out with your family whether you like it or not. And if you’re like me, you probably don’t. I ran away from my lessons again and again, but they were always waiting like an eager puppy ready to pounce and lick my face when I came home.
After three joyful, independent and sometimes lonely years among expats, travelers and Yogis, I once again came back home. My return to the Seattle suburbs in 2011 began with some peace and settling in, as I lived at my mom’s house on a lake, had long morning practices and spent regular time with my niece and new nephew. I was happy to be home and inspired to become a full-time yoga and music teacher, hoping it would all come pretty easily.
And it did. Until it didn’t.
I craved the company of people who inspired me like my expat friends had, to be around people who threw caution to the wind and jumped on a plane to the Philippines at a moment’s notice.
You can grow and change as much as you want while you’re away. When you come back, most likely your family will be pretty much the same as you left. They’ll be enjoying similar routines and patterns while you might be a completely different person with different preferences and habits.
Whatever is waiting in the shadows will come up at some point when you go back home. For me, it’s the way my family talks to me and pretends like we haven’t hurt each other over the years. We like to live in the realm of “everything’s okay.” That feels to me like being in denial about our years of stuff that we could be working out and forgiving each other for. We could be developing new patterns around our triggers – pretending they’re not there does not make them go away. If that were the case, we would be the perfect family model.
This continues to be a struggle today. Last week, my mom said to me, “Aren’t you over that yet?” about some childhood pain. Sure, it was 20 years ago but no, I’m not over it yet. So as I work on forgiving myself and my family, I invite them into the work, too. I can choose to say things to my mom like, “Actually, I still have some hurt feelings around that. And I don’t blame you. I’d really appreciate it if we could talk about that.” Another example is a conversation my sister and I had recently about our co-dependent relationship patterns. I find that by acknowledging our familial patterns with acceptance instead of denying them and playing the victim/martyr empowers me to make better choices in the present. And I can see how it helps my sister also uncover some hidden motivations and maybe feel free to make new choices, too.
I’m not sure that everyone feels that way, yet. We’re still learning, I guess.
Lesson 2: You’ll probably need to relearn how to communicate with family.
If you need something different, you have to ask! This is very, very hard for most of us. And even if you do develop the language to ask, your family members may not be able to give you what you need. Or they may have some resentment that you’re not appreciating them the way they are.
Let’s face it: most of us haven’t spent a lot of time negotiating and communicating about how we talk to each other. Maybe you’ve gotten good at that with your chosen family or close friends, but there is a lot more freedom to do that with people you don’t have 20+ years of history with. And a childhood. And guilt, shame and all the other things we build up conditioning around. Not to mention that our parents are doing the best with what they were given. Do you think they have any more tools of healthy communication than you do? Not likely, unless your dad happens to be Rodney Yee or Jack Kornfield.
Most of us live in our family patterns our entire lives without changing them. We hold the same grudges, speak to each other with the same tone of voice – like passive-aggressive, martyr, straight aggressive, even abusive and toxic patterns, etc. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to change these patterns and ask for something different. But someone needs to. None of us were born with perfect families. We all have karma and stuff to sort out in this lifetime – with our family members. That doesn’t mean we have to come back to abusive situations or make amends with everyone. Maybe our lesson is to make an empowered choice for ourselves not to associate with certain people. Maybe it’s to develop more compassion. Maybe it’s to forgive. Even Ramakrishna, the 19th century enlightened master, was said to scream at his family for their material ways and lower vibrations. I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel better about my family dynamic.
I recently had a talk with my mom about when I was going through PTSD a few years ago and how challenging that was for my family. I took all of my frustration and irritation out on my family and reacted to literally everything they said and did. Nothing was good enough or accepting enough. My mom and I had a great conversation about how I could have asked for help and that they really just wanted the best for me. That gives me a lot of courage to ask for help next time and to let them support me, no matter how messy or uncomfortable it is.
Saying to your parents, “Don’t talk to me like a child,” isn’t going to create new habits. It will probably make your parents feel hurt and get defensive. And please don’t make the mistake of trying to create new patterns while you are feeling triggered or reactive. That will only make things worse. Make some intentional time to talk to each other when everyone has ample time and has eaten (hanger will ruin any good conversation). Bring up a particular pattern, like how they are critical of your job or your partner or some way you feel pressured. Or maybe it’s asking them to express their love or respect.
The same strategies can work for developing communication with your kids! Set up a situation where everyone is comfortable and relaxed, start with some positive conversation or appreciation, then express something that you’d like to change or bring to everyone’s attention. Maybe you’d like to spend more time together, for them to stop asking for money, or to hear that they appreciate you. Ask them for exactly what you’d like and express that you’re doing the best you know how and are willing to make changes that will help them, too.
When we get into these conversations in my family, there are a lot of “Huh! I didn’t realize that hurt you,” or “Well, I’ve never thought about that before.” Give them the benefit of the doubt that if they knew they were hurting you, they’d change. And if you want things to change, take up the difficult responsibility to compassionately and empathetically ask for those changes.
Lesson 3: It takes a lot to accept your family just the way they are.
My students are often asking me about “outgrowing” their friends or finding new community that they can better relate with at this stage of their spiritual growth. If you look back over the last 10, 20, 30 years, you’ll probably notice that your closest friends have shifted more than once. They revolved around your job, your hobbies, where you were living, your spiritual choices, etc.
We get to choose our friends and also choose new friends or allow new community to come into our lives as we change. I find that the people I choose to spend time with these days are people who are on a very similar trajectory as me. That has changed a lot in the past 10 years. I still stay connected with a lot of my communities from the past, but I don’t feel I need to cling to friends I had during other versions of me as we’re growing apart.
That is not the same for your family. We only get one birth/childhood family, plus the new members that are picked up along the way like brother-in-laws and stepmoms. We only get what we’re dealt. So as we change and grow into new versions of ourselves, recognize that they might feel left out. They spent your lifetime loving you the way you were…and now you’re different! In 2000, my mom and brother moved to Australia for a year. When they returned, they were both remarkably different. They had spent the year shedding their skin, taking new adventures and living outside their comfort zone. It was a process of re-balancing for everyone when they returned.
Part of why I love traveling is going to places where no one knows a thing about me and I can show up fully present to what that moment needs. It’s easy to put down baggage when it’s not attached to my immediate surroundings. And part of why I love coming back is because the hugs, kisses, and chats are so deeply familiar and filled with years of collected understanding.
I can clearly see some of the lessons I need to learn from my family – notably patience, forgiveness, communication, and empathy – and why “coming back” is so necessary for me. Going away is very important too. Now I have a fresh perspective on the roles I play and the assumptions I have about where I do and don’t fit in. I’ve experienced what family looks and feels like to different cultures and can recognize that, although my family is far from perfect, they are really trying their best and are willing to support me if I just give them a little guidance and recognition.
Lesson 4: You will get triggered by your family. And you can create new patterns.
Home is where most of our programming comes from. We grew up with a whole bunch of samskaras, patterns or habits that create neural pathways and behavior patterns that we live from our whole lives…or until we learn to rewire them. We can get to the bottom of these motivating thoughts and subconscious programming with a lot of intentional work, like counseling, yoga, mindfulness, ecstatic dance, creative writing, coaching, etc. Eventually we can unravel the causes of our suffering and stop living the same patterns and triggers day after day, year after year, triggers which are often tied to the sights, smells, and memories that we grew up with.
It’s possible to be proactive about the habits that exist in your family dynamic – even if they aren’t your fault or were formed during your childhood – and intentionally create new habits that will keep you present and kind. For example, I really don’t like my sister comparing my lifestyle with hers and complaining about how I spend my time. I could retort, “Well, you’re the one who chose to have kids,” (which I totally have said in the past), or I could say, “I hear you. It’s really tough to raise three kids mindfully. How can I support you?”
Practice with people outside your family who can deal with your upsets and triggers. Role play the hard conversations with people who can give you feedback and hold you through challenging memories. Play the worst-case scenario game and play around with how you would respond to your family member getting really upset by what you are offering. Most likely what actually happens will be easier than that scenario.
Conflict is a natural part of relating. No matter what your family dynamic is, there is conflict on some level. For real. Every relationship has it. If you’re like me, you tried to live in denial of this for a long time. Maybe the conflict in your family lives at the surface and feels constantly volatile. Or maybe it’s buried deep and never mentioned. Be aware that all families have their challenges, their miscommunications, their minefields. Take the lessons you learn on your path into your family dynamic without expecting others to change. But watch out for that judgment and expectation that your siblings should be changing in the same ways you are. That will only create more stress and disappointment.
The patterns that exist in your family have taken decades to create. Even more than that, they are probably ingrained from your parents’ parents and maybe their parents, too. Kindly introduce new ways to communicate and appreciate each other, but don’t expect everyone to jump on the bandwagon. Just because it feels good to you doesn’t mean it feels good to others right away.
I’ve recently started digging up some core wounding around my parents and siblings that I’d love to share with them. I also realize that if I open that can and pour out the contents, it will surely cause some pain. So we talk about things slowly, little by little. My mom gives me time to explain the things I want her to know and I give her time to deal with it in her own way. We’re still working on it, but there feels like a lot of space to talk about things we used to keep tight under the rug. Sure it’s uncomfortable, but every time we uncover a little more it feels like years of tension being lifted.
So be kind to yourself. And be kind to your family. Set the habits that will keep you present and kind, that will keep your love tank full. Remember, you’re in for the long haul with your family. Things take a loooooooong time to change. Years. As another teacher of mine says, “slowly, slowly.”
Polarity and sacred union are fundamental principles in Tantra. From the consciousness of oneness, or God, there comes the twoness, or duality. The two are lovingly named Shiva, the principle of pure consciousness and direction, and Shakti, the principle of energy, power and manifestation.
David Deida describes this duality as the banks of a river -“Shiva”, and the water flowing within -“Shakti”. The banks hold the flow, but the flow also carves the banks.
In spiritual sexuality and sexual Tantra, we reach unity when Shiva and Shakti become one, uniting through intentional practices, rituals and lovemaking. This takes our human consciousness from duality, how we normally experience reality as you and me, black and white, hot and cold, to nonduality, the consciousness of oneness.
I first learned all this six years ago in a Tantra fundamentals workshop taught to a group of heterosexual attendees by a couple of heterosexual instructors. As a bi-sexual woman, I got the message that I was included in the sexual practices of Tantra, when I was with men. Maybe I could give other women yoni massages or support female journeys and transformation, but I couldn’t possibly reach these ultimate levels when I fucked my girlfriend. Could I?
Read the whole article on Omooni.com.
My New Year’s intention for 2016 was two-fold: 1) Live fully empowered in each moment, and 2) Love fearlessly.
Well, when that’s what you’re putting out, take a guess what you’ll be getting back. Yeah, be careful what you wish for.
This year started with a bang of falling in love. After a year and a half of taking self-time, being intentionally single, diving into my own practices and a long period of solo integration, I went to the dangerously transformative island of Koh Phangan, Thailand and was struck by an incredible Australian woman who challenged me to be a more truthful version of myself. Not that I had been lying exactly. But I had been hiding behind a lot of mechanisms and patterns that kept me safe. I exactly hadn’t been loving fearlessly.
Like not being truthful about my sexuality.
Here I am, an empowered sexuality and relationship coach and facilitator. And when I did some investigation, I found that I still was carrying about 35 years of shame about being bi-sexual…and polyamorous. I was very good at hiding under the framework that if someone wanted to know something about me, they’d ask! But I don’t often hear people walking around asking, “What’s YOUR sexual orientation? Are you in open relationships?” Most people in America live under the heteronormative assumption. And I’ve surely been guilty of that as well.
So I guess you could call this my coming out. It wasn’t exactly my intention to fall on the heels of Seattle Pride and the tragedy in Orlando. But I do strongly believe that these kinds of tragedies can effect change, personal empowerment and political shifts worldwide. Like perhaps supporting marriage equality in Australia (did you know gay marriage is explicitly illegal nationwide??? What???) and encouraging people to step into the most authentic version of themselves.
So what is loving fearlessly, for me? First, it’s embracing all the parts of me and loving them all equally and fully. Not just the successful, socially acceptable ones. But the ones that have brought me decades of shame and embarrassment like my near-lifelong fear of open water (cured!) or the fact that I never learned to ride a bike (still haven’t). Those things are pretty hard to share publicly.
The next step is to know that your relationships will cause you pain at some point. They just will. And that the pain is totally worth it. Rumi says, “You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens.” Tiptoeing into love will never break you open to actually knowing love. Staying safe will never crack your threshold to truly knowing yourself and connecting deeply with another soul.
That doesn’t mean it needs to hurt or that we should stay in loveless relationships. But sometimes the lovelessness is actually caused by our fear of going deep, being transparent and trusting to our partner enough to be vulnerable. If you’ve never read or seen Brené Brown, start with her TED talk. And then read her books. All of them. I honestly had no idea the places in me that were closed until I started ripping off the Band-Aids and looking beneath the surface, embracing all that muck as the actual fabric of my being and what’s got me here thus far. And then comes the ability to transform and let the lotus flowers sprout.
I can’t tell you how often people say to me that they want deep connection but they’re afraid to get hurt. I will tell you that it hurts. Having the aforementioned amazing Australian woman here for two weeks and then having to drop her at the airport a week ago hurt. It still hurts. It will continue to hurt until we see each other again. And…my heart is breaking open to new capacity which is flowing over to my clients, my family, the woman who just served me a cup of tea, my roommates who had to endure our lovesick ways, etc.
How is that possible? How can we turn the pain of separation and love wounds into more love? By recognizing that what you’re experiencing is actually love. It is unconditional love that you choose to stay in no matter how much it hurts. It is going in and in, to quote Danna Faulds. The feeling of separation which is the cause of our pain is our original wound of being separate from everything – from our connection to the Divine. And the bliss of reconnection, experiencing ourselves as the mystical unknown that we are is worth a million heart breakings.
Every time we crack the shell we’ve built over our hearts and minds, we allow ourselves to be more loving and more loved. Not Disney, romantic comedy love. But actual love which flows freely regardless of who or what is in front of you. It takes remarkable courage to let your heart break again and again so that you may let light in the cracks. You will feel more than you’ve ever felt. And I think this is what all religions and spiritual paths are teaching us: to feel it all, to embrace it all, to experience it all, and to turn it all into love.
How to know if you’re loving fearlessly
Are you loving fearlessly? Are you investigating all the edges, rough patches, sticky places and dark hiding spots where you don’t want to look? This means embracing shadow. And shame. And the places where we’re afraid to be messy in favor of “saving face.”
Here are 4 things to consider when investigating how fearlessly you’re willing to love. Be kind to yourself as you answer them. If this is a process you’re just starting or are already immersed in, be sure to create some support systems for yourself. Talk to your loved one about this journey and let them know you might need some extra cuddles, Kleenex, and more air time than usual. And be prepared to need that and ask for it. Also if you know people going through this process, let them know they can be real with you without judgment or the need to fix things. They’ll appreciate it more than you’ll ever know.
1) What are you lying about?
To yourself? To your partner? To your community?
What parts of yourself do you just omit from conversations? Especially things like mistakes and embarrassments. We don’t need to constantly talk about our failures, but we also don’t need to be afraid to share them and be a little vulnerable. It will probably also inspire someone else to be more open to the things they’re not so proud of. Being vulnerable is numero uno importante when it comes to loving fearlessly.
Whatever you’re the most afraid to share, especially those skeletons that are dusty and dank from rotting in your closet for decades, give them some air time with people you trust. You will feel years lighter and more authentically yourself. And better yet, stopping the lies – which we all tell to maintain our precious image in our different social circles – makes less mental clutter because we have less to remember and less stories to keep straight. More space to show up and just be you.
Another revelation I had of late was that I loved being involved with my friends’ integrated communities, but I was terrified to do that myself. I tried to keep people separate and compartmentalize all the parts of my life. Opening all of these boxes and letting them mix has felt really messy and scary. And relieving. And surprisingly inspiring. It gives me room for my life to cross-pollinate a little bit, for my friends and lovers to know about each other, and to transfer the lessons I learn from one life situation into another.
2) Are you having the hard talks?
Another place to look is if you’re talking about that stuff that makes you cringe. With a new lover recently I had the STI/safe sex conversation which used to make me want to run and hide in a corner. After 5 years of being poly, I’ve boiled mine down to a few sentences of pertinent information and relevant questions that get it all out in the open and allow us to enter into trusting space, compassionate communication, and honesty. I spent my younger years being pretty sexually open and sex-positive. But I wasn’t taught that these are things you talk about or how to talk about them which led me to believe I was doing something wrong. And when I do something wrong, my inner demons love to persecute me. Mercilessly.
Someone recently said to me, “I don’t usually talk about that in my relationships.” Whatever that is for you, start talking about it! Where you feel dark and squeamish, there are most definitely demons haunting you and holding you hostage. My family didn’t used to talk about our core wounding, how we’ve hurt each other and what we’ve learned from each other. But we’re starting. And I feel a lot less elephants in the room and eggshells I have to carefully step around and avoid. Which frees up so much energy to actually be myself.
3) Are you making mistakes?
Love is messy.
If you’re not making mistakes and learning from them, you’re probably just repeating the same patterns and assumptions that you learned from your parents, teachers, movies or your society. Here’s a great conversation starter with partners and lovers: what’s a mistake you’ve made recently? What have you learned? How can they help hold you accountable for seeing that pattern when it comes up again?
To undo an ingrained pattern takes WAY more work than creating the pattern in the first place. Recognize that it’s going to come up again and the more people you have who can compassionately remind you that “you’re doing it again,” the more likely you are to grow out of habits that no longer serve you.
4) Do you say “I love you”?
When was the last time you stopped an important person in your life to tell them you love them? A family member? A chosen family member? A cousin? A co-worker or co-leader? Someone in your community? Do you tell people you love them? Or show them in different ways? When and how?
I used to be in the “we haven’t said I love you yet” camp in my intimate relationships. Where one person quietly says “I love you” after months of awkward dating and working up to those all-important, make-or-break, could-leave-you-feeling-horribly-uncomfortable words. But I also didn’t used to know how to love fearlessly. In a way that loving someone isn’t wrong and doesn’t need to be reciprocated.
It’s actually okay to say I love you and not have the other person say it back. Because love isn’t dependent on someone else’s feelings. It’s an unconditional gift that you offer from the heart because you want them to know they are loved, supported and cared for. Which doesn’t make them responsible for your love or feeling a certain way about you. When you offer love in this way, there is no disappointment or rejection. Just love.
One little trick to this is also discerning if your loved ones are actually hearing you when express love. They might not speak the same language as you when it comes to giving and receiving love. In my family we often say “I love you,” but I spent a chunk of my childhood feeling unloved because of the walls I had built to receiving. Check in with your families, friends and intimate relationships and find out how others in your life feel most loved. They might need you to translate your love expressions into the language of physical touch, kind words or acts of service. And you might need to ask them to do the same.
Love rests on no foundation.
It is an endless ocean,
with no beginning or end.
a suspended ocean,
riding on a cushion of ancient secrets.
All souls have drowned in it,
and now dwell there.
One drop of that ocean is hope,
And the rest is fear.
Here we are, embarking on a new journey around the sun. Another winter solstice has passed and we are slowly returning to the light. So, now what? I hear that question a lot and every time I greet it with a new response.
Now we pause for gratitude.
Now we breathe in the life around us.
Now we get quiet and listen.
Now we learn and grow.
Now we dance and sing.
Now we shed the old and make way for the new.
Winter is the season of slowing down, of being yin, turning inwards and reflecting quietly. I have taken some time in the past few months to reflect on my intention of 2015 to trust my intuition and that little voice and feeling in my gut that says, “Yes!” or “No.” I’ve found that the more I listen to it, the more it rings like a gong instead of dinging like a triangle. It captures my attention and has programmed my mouth to respond authentically, instead of following what I “should” do. And that has created the fearlessness with which I enter 2016…and return to you.
The notion of “coming home” is very sacred in the mystic traditions of this planet. It is called many names, but always means returning to who we really are, instead of living from the limitations we create for ourselves. This year I’m so excited to embark on some new authentic offerings with courageous and inspiring teachers here in Seoul and in the Pacific Northwest. The rumors are true: I’ll be in Seattle in early April and will spend the Spring and Summer offering workshops, courses and retreats in the Seattle and Portland area, and beyond. With these offerings comes the call to “come home,” to step into the light and to manifest the life that truly inspires you.
I am in the process of creating a new website and fine-tuning the offerings I am most inspired to share this year. While I have some ideas already lined up, I am also open to the needs and desires of my communities near and far.
So, here is my call to you: Join me in creating and sharing offerings of authentic exploration and creation!
Contact me with…
- Your personal or professional desire for 1 on 1 Yoga Coaching or Life Coaching
- Connections to yoga studios to host offerings for Conscious Living and Relationships
- Companies, corporations or groups interested in Mindfulness Training
- Retreat or workshop centers geared towards Satsang – Communities of Truth
- Women’s groups yearning to explore the Sacred Feminine
- Inspired ideas for collaboration
Stay tuned for another email this month with dates and details. And in the meantime, let’s set a collective intention to fearlessly connect with those who inspire us to be more than what we think we are. I’ve created a vision board with the teachers who most inspire me and with whom I’d like to study and share. For I’ve found that the only limitations I have are those I impose on myself. Let’s shatter those limitations and grow together.