Let It All Fall Apart

Save your strength for those who need you to be strong
but how tender can you be with your own heart
how patient can you be with your own growth
how kind can you be to your weak parts

Hold it together when others are collapsing
but once in a while let it all fall apart
let it break in your hands
let the rivers flow from your eyes and your pores and your lips

Answer what needs to be answered
but the rest of the time let the questions rest against each other like your knees
write the answers in pencil or (better yet)
in the sand
so when the oceans of love or pain wash them away there will be a fresh slate for the new answers
the new way from here to there

Fix what you can fix
but let everything else come together (or back together) slowly
your love, your heart, your path
let them learn to trust again, to try again, to risk it all again

Save the world if you can
or just love bigger than you ever imagined
just smile at every single person you pass
just do your best every moment of every day
starting right Now.

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If Grief Could Speak (5 Things It Would Say)

If grief could speak it would say, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry it’s me that arrived at your doorstep instead of love. But I am made of love too. In fact, it’s because I love so much that I hurt so much when I lose the people I love.

If grief could speak it would say, You can survive.

I know you may not want to. I know life may not be worth living without them. I know the earth collapsed beneath your feet. I know a part of you died with them. And I know you can survive, one breath at a time, one moment at a time, one day at a time.

If grief could speak it would say, Please don’t hide me away.

I know when people see you with me they get uncomfortable. I know your friends don’t know what to say to me. I know it’s easier to hide me away when you have company over for dinner.

But I’d like a seat at the table. Will you let me speak? Will you listen to me? I can’t promise I’ll be polite or calm. I may raise my voice because I’m angry or I may collapse in a pile of tears, but if I can let it out then I don’t have to hold it here, in you.

I’d like to create some more space inside you for all of us to coexist. You, me, love, anger, laughter, peace, hope, joy… there’s enough room for all of us in your heart.

If grief could speak it would say, I love you.

You may not love me, but I love you. I love how you love so big. I love how you keep taking care of your babies who lost their papas or their mamas. I love how you keep taking care of that space your loved one took up even though they’re gone. How you leave their favorite book in the same place, how you leave their clothes folded, how you let them live a little longer in the things left behind. I love how you don’t let the world forget they were here, that they mattered, that they were a part of you. I love you.

If grief could speak it would say, Find your own way.

There seem to be a lot of “experts” out there about me. They say I arrive in stages and they make it sound like I’m something to get over, like the flu.

What I can tell you is there is nothing wrong with me and there is nothing wrong with you. I am not a sickness, I am grief. I am a valid experience and emotion and there is no right way to hold me. There is just your way. No two people receive me the same way. Let’s find our own way to dance together, to cry together, to break together, to heal together.

Let’s find our own way through this brief and beautiful life.

Published on The Huffington Post

Dear Women

I wish I had realized earlier that our worldwide tribe of women is not bound by age or beauty or success and that heroines are often the woman we just walked by without noticing.

I wish I had recognized my sister in every woman I’ve ever met and not just the ones I called friends.

In your face I see myself. The woman I’ve been, the woman I am and the woman I will be. In your strength and your weakness I see courageous examples of being human.

This is for you, for me, for us.

And for the little girls who are watching our every move.

***

For the women who have lost children, raised children or never had them.

For the ones with three kids or two jobs or both,
putting out heart and soul and pulling in minimum wage.

For the women with no one to mother them because their mamas were pulled from this earth too early,
and the ones whose mothers never showed up.

For the ones changing the world by raising tolerant, conscious, open-minded sons and daughters,
and the ones changing the world by raising community instead of children,
who mother tribes instead of families.

For the ones who can’t put food on the table but keep feeding little hearts each night,
and the women who become empowered leaders instead of power-hungry tyrants.

For the women who stand at kitchen sinks all day and sit behind desks all day and stay up all night nursing sick babies or grandparents or their own demons,
who care for everyone else first and often forget their hearts,
but when they remember them rock the world with its love.

For the women doing their best in their own corner of the world,
with the cards they’ve been given and the lot they’ve drawn.

Your best is good enough.

These are the women who are heroes because they are human,
and becoming more so with every tear they wipe and every heartbreak they survive.

This woman is you. It’s me. It’s your mother. Your sister. Your daughter. Your wife. Your grandmother. Your neighbor. Your friend.

This woman is equal parts strength and vulnerability.
We learn how to be women by watching her walk through the world,
and we become more human by walking beside her.

Originally published on The Huffington Post.

What I Remember

It’s the love I remember.

From the stranger or the soulmate,
the smallest act of kindness;
each one saying, I love you.

I remember the shaming and the pain too,
but the love gives them room to be seen, room to breathe.

That’s how I know it’s the way forward
and backward and
in and out of everything,

because I’ve felt that seismic shift
(the one where everything falls from its perfect place and my heart cracks open to reveal a depth of pain I didn’t know I was capable of.)

And love is the ladder I climb out on,
and the bridge that spans pain to presence.

And I wonder what you remember,
in those moments of mortality when life thins and you can almost reach your hand through the veil to the other side.

Do you remember the love?

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.

The Practice of Remembering

I spend a lot of time focusing my senses on external things. It’s the nature of the mind to think, to get distracted, to stay busy. I often find myself mindlessly clicking through social media with a vague sense that I’m looking for something.

I never find it, whatever I’m looking for. An answer, a connection, a direction, a purpose.

I don’t find it because it’s not out there. It’s in here.

It’s in here, in the deep dark chambers of my heart where love and fear sleep side by side.

garudasanaIt’s in here, buried in my muscles that hug my bones where tissues and issues embrace.

It’s in here, behind my ribs where my inbreath and outbreath dance cheek to cheek.

It’s in here, hiding in the space behind my eyes where seeing gives way to knowing.

It’s in here, in the attic of my soul and the basement of my body.

It’s in here, in my throat that swells with song and wails with weeping.

It’s in here, in my chest that rises in love and bows in gratitude.

It’s in me, the answer I seek, the connection I seek, the company I seek, the purpose I seek.

I don’t have to find it. I have to remember it. When I do everything falls into place. Everything falls into the place it’s always been in, I just become present enough to see it, to stay with it, to appreciate it, to inhabit it.

This is my practice. Remembering.

The Truth About Yoga Teachers

IMG_1071Not so long ago two of my longtime yoga teachers moved away within months of each other. I felt strangely lost and began looking for a replacement teacher to attach myself to. As I searched I started to practice at home more. I tried a variety of yoga studios and classes. I took a yoga teacher training.

After a while I realized that instead of finding a new teacher, I had found myself. Being “on my own” forced me to trust myself more. There was no one leading the way, so I had to find my own way. I had to learn to be my own cheerleader, my own coach, and my own compass.

Practicing on my own allowed me to spread my wings, listen more deeply to my own body, and connect with my inner teacher. This is challenging because sometimes I go to yoga to get out of my body or to get out of my mind. At times my goal is to get out of my current state of discomfort, disease, or distress, and into an easeful, blissful, serene body and mind.

While these are often wonderful side-effects of yoga, they’re not always present. In the words of Richard Freeman:

“Yoga is almost a way of looking for trouble. You may be feeling pretty good, but then you start doing postures and all of a sudden you discover there is a holding pattern that goes way deeper into your very being. You have to breathe into it and observe it as it is. The postures and the breathing, or pranayama, are like a fine-tooth comb that take out all the buried stuff you don’t need anymore.”

Not long into my practice of yoga I saw this happening. There were poses I liked and poses I didn’t like. In general, I liked the ones I was good at and disliked the ones that made me feel uncomfortable, trapped, or physically inadequate.

I sometimes choose faster classes because I get into a rhythm with my breath and my body and it just feels so good. I feel really accomplished afterwards because I release tension in my body, increase my strength, and feel balanced energetically.

YogaIn contrast, when I do a deep hip-opening practice at home, holding pigeon for three or four minutes with the intention to observe and release deep-seated tension or judgement, the experience is very different. I notice the effect of my practice less in a yoga “high” and more in the way I relate to myself and the people in my life.

One of my teachers would often say, “You know your practice is working when your relationships improve.” This was a philosophical stretch for me early in my practice because I couldn’t grasp how an hour of yoga a few times a week could transform my life.

Thankfully, I just kept practicing. And it did transform my life. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the founder of Ashtanga yoga, said “Do your practice and all is coming.” I find this reminder especially relevant when I don’t feel like practicing.

Like any transformation or growth process, sometimes it’s beautiful and spacious and sometimes it’s uncomfortable and hard-going.

This is the deeper potential of yoga that all of us experience at some point in our practice.

Whether your yoga is clearing up your life or clearing out your life, trust your practice and trust your process. Trust that, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

Don’t be surprised if that teacher turns out to be you. At times our teachers are our injuries or some other limitation. Perhaps your teacher shows up on your doorstep instead of your yoga mat, in the form of a life experience instead of as a yoga teacher.

I like to think of my yoga practice as a path with detours, alleys, and bridges. Sometimes I follow a certain teacher down one path until we reach a fork in the road. When the detour takes me to what seems to be a dead end, I realize it’s not a dead end at all.

It’s time to build a bridge or learn to spread my wings and fly.

May we all travel our unique yogic paths that lead us home to ourselves, connected in our common journey from who we think we are to who we really are.

*Originally published on YogaOneBlog

A New Perspective of Pain

“Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.”

I heard this quote for the first time recently, and it summed up a truth I had only uncovered after years of suffering.

Pain happens to all of us through life. Suffering is how we perceive the pain, how we choose to process it, and how long we choose to wear the label of pain.

It’s a choice.

The words of Joseph Campbell further expand on this concept:

“We’re in a freefall into future. We don’t know where we’re going. Things are changing so fast, and always when you’re going through a long tunnel, anxiety comes along. And all you have to do to transform your hell into a paradise is to turn your fall into a voluntary act. It’s a very interesting shift of perspective and that’s all it is… joyful participation in the sorrows and everything changes.”

How to create this shift in perspective? How to find joy in sorrow?

Practice. The shift happens subtly, in stages, and not the way you think it will or on your timeline. It starts when you meet yourself where you are.

In order to do that, you need to ask the question: Where are you?

And you have to listen deeply so you can hear the truth.

Once you know where you are, take a seat. Don’t just meet yourself and run off to find your better self.

Settle in here. Rest here. Be here.

Stop resisting your own emotions. Invite them in. Your fear, your doubt, your sorrow, your joy.

Not the story of these things, but these things themselves.

One of the things I learned in the yoga teacher training I attended recently is to start your practice from where you are. Your [yoga] practice will meet you there.

Your life will meet you here, where you are.

It reminds me of when I started surfing. I would chase the waves down and wear myself out so that when the best wave came, I was in the wrong place or was too exhausted to catch it.

People would tell me, “Let the wave come to you.”

So I share this powerful first step with you. I took this same step for years. One day I looked back and realized I had come farther than I’d imagined possible. It wasn’t by leaving myself behind. It wasn’t by pushing myself, breaking myself, or demanding of myself.

It was by meeting myself Here and taking the small step from Here. That’s how I got Here, by starting from Here.

Meet yourself where you are.

Meet yourself.

There is peace Here. From this place of peace you can choose to embrace a different perspective.

You can choose to shift your perspective. Choose to see the paradise in the hell. It’s there, buried under the suffering.

How to Live Your Life in 3D

We all love the incredible 3D experience of an IMAX movie. Watching a movie in 3D is intense, fascinating, riveting, stimulating.

You feel like you are actually there.

I started asking myself the question, Do I feel like that in my regular life?

Do I feel that engaged, that fascinated, that stimulated, that awed by my everday, regular life?

Do you?

If not, then explore the concept that not experiencing our lives in 3D means we’re experiencing them in 2D.

We’re watching our life as if it was a movie on a screen over which we have no control. We become the viewers instead of a participant. We hope for the best, but sit motionless, powerless over what is in front of us.

When we step into our lives, we change them from movies into experiences. Just like a 3D movie makes it feel like you can reach out and touch the water, like you’re surrounded by wild animals, or are surfing a 15-foot wave, so does complete engagement turn us into active participants in our own lives, capable of connecting strongly to our experiences.

If you’re wondering where to start, start here. Start now. Take a close look at what’s in front of you, who’s in front of you, and engage fully with it. This isn’t like starting a new job, where you need a new wardrobe, a new haircut, and a new external appearance to step into a role.

You are already in the role of yourself, on the stage of your life.

This isn’t about running away from our lives to some idealistic dream life. It’s about stepping into our life as it exists as if it were our dream life. Our external circumstances, favorable or unfavorable, are our current reality. As such, they are our starting point.

This quote by Nido Qubein puts it wonderfully:

“Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.”

Here we all sit, at our starting point of Right Now.

Here you sit, in the role of a lifetime, ready to take the first brave step onto your stage.

When the credits roll at the end of our life, let’s not feel as if we missed out somehow. As if it should have been more.

As if we expected a better ending.
As if we expected a better story.
As if we would have imagined it differently.

Imagine it differently.
Do it differently.
Experience it vividly.

This is your chance.
This is your stage.

This is your life.

Label Me Alive

The boys in our family started their own tradition last year, inspired by the Hawaiian tradition of “Kalua Pig,” where a whole pig is cooked underground in banana leaves. The boys decided they could do the same thing with a turkey in grandma and grandpa’s big backyard. Throwing all cooking caution to the wind, they dug a hole, started a fire, and basted their turkey with brown sugar and butter.

We called it the “backup turkey” because who knew what would happen. The half-done turkey that resulted was no match for the amount of fun they had doing it. We finished it in the oven and some brave souls even tasted it.

This year they’ve decided to improve on last year and are going to start the fire earlier. There’s no plans to cook a “normal” turkey of course cause that would be so boring! Butter and brown sugar are still on the list, although I’ve begged them to at least throw a lemon and garlic inside! The word has spread through the family and instead of just the grown-up boys taking part, this year all the little kids want to join in on the fun and games.

This got me thinking about tradition.

I’m a big fan of family. I’m a big fan of tradition.

I’m not a big fan of holidays, weddings, funerals, or any societal structure that tells you to put your life in a box and slap a label on it. The superficiality of them outweighs the meaningfulness (for me).

That being said, tradition and ritual are beautiful and rich with meaning. They don’t need to be fancy or extravagant or exotic. They can be very simple.

Occasionally within the aforementioned holidays, weddings, funerals, etc… there can be found a hint of tradition, of ritual, of meaning. I’ve had this conversation with differing minds, and I totally appreciate that many people find more meaning and substance in some of these events than I do.

It seems to me that sometimes we wait for tradition to “happen” to us or copy other people’s. I think within each of us we have the creativity and inspiration to create our own traditions. Whether they be on a family level or on a personal level, we can infuse life and meaning into our activities, celebrations, and connections.

We don’t need to wait to be grateful, to call our fathers, our mothers, or to give a gift to a loved one.

I find tradition to have grounding qualities similar to ritual. They both seem to me like water that crashes against rocks year after year after year. They wear down our hard or superficial exteriors and work their way into our hearts in a way only time can do. They do not break us open forcefully. Instead, the gradual consistency and authenticity that we bring to them reveals our deeper layers of heart and soul.

And I’m a big fan of heart and soul.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on tradition, ritual, or boxes with labels. Feel free to disagree. It’ll make the conversation more interesting!