When the Light Leaves the Sky

Tonight I settle into the trust that is necessary when the light leaves the sky (or our life)

into the faith that is required to run my hands over the walls of my heart I cannot see (but I feel thumping with life)

I sink into the silence that is the answer I have been looking for (though I didn’t know it until now)

into the rythym of life (its bass and its treble and its long holds)

I step into the owning of all I have (to hold, to offer, to receive)

into the shape of my presence (and my eventual absence)
and all I am meant to create, love, hold while I’m here.

Advertisements

What Are You Waiting For?

woodsWhat are you waiting for?

The world will never approve those big dreams
those too-good-to-be-trues

It will never applaud your going-for-broke
your trusting your instinct
your following your heart

You must approve yourself
trust in it all and risk it all
that heart, that gut, that comfortable life
it must all get put on the line
(the one that keeps moving forward)

This living fully is not a choice but a calling
in the pilgrimage we find the confirmation we seek
in the discomfort we find the aliveness we crave

it is hidden not in the place we search but in our bones
it is trapped in our very being that we push aside trying to please others

we must sojourn to the emptiness we fear to find the enoughness within
and journey it back to the home of our heart where it can seed, rest, and grow
big enough to support our souls and all living beings we encounter
strong enough to cradle vulnerability in its boughs and set her down softly into the world.

It’s a question that has many excuses but only one answer.
What are you waiting for?

The Exhale

FullSizeRender (5)The bottom of the exhale is the scariest place to be.

In yoga
In the ocean
In life

We are beyond empty here
Completely exposed,
in need,
at the mercy of life to grant us that next
precious
inhale.

As terrifying as it is,
it is just as liberating
just as f***ing freeing
to have nothing,
to hold nothing,
to own nothing

except this pause,
this longer-than-I-can-stand pause
where mortality and humility and fragility merge
into a kind of this-could-be-it ultimatum

That’s why it’s so scary
That’s why it’s so necessary
That’s why we must visit the darkness,
the emptiness,
the bottomless pit of our exhale

So we learn what we must do with our inhale

Our lifelong gift of inhales that are never guaranteed,
but so rich and fertile with the promise of life
that we take them for granted

We expect them to be there
until they’re not.

They’re not there, inflating the heart and soul of the mate you’re hugging.
They’re not there, lifting the belly and warming the skin of the mother you need.
They’re not there, creating that oh-so-familiar sound you expect beside you.

Then we realize we’re there,
at the bottom of our exhale,
without everything we need to survive,
to move, to proceed with this moment.

Yet while our surface starts its slow crumble
and we feel our feet begin to give way,
our heart in a slow-motion implosion,
something deeper is not moved by the terror,
by the fear

In between reaching and releasing there is this:
just this.

Just this nothingness,
just this everythingness,
just this radical presence,
just this.

When your next inhale graces you
try not to forget the landscape of nothingness
in your rush to climb to the top of everything

Visit it from time to time to remember
why you are here
why we are here
what really matters
while we still can.

What Song Are You Singing?

I’ve been struggling for some time with trying to find my voice.

You know the voice. Not the one that tells you to give up or that you need to be better. The one that is clear as a bell and won’t take no for an answer. The one you believe, not because of what it says but because you know deep down it’s your voice.

And it’s speaking your truth.

Sometimes I hear what sounds like this voice coming from other people’s writing, words, or life. It’s misleading because it makes me think, Hey, there’s my voice! I just need to say what she’s saying or do what he’s doing or live like they’re living and I’ll have it.

“The hardest journey is from your head to your heart, but once you get there, you’ll know who you are.”- The International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers
“The hardest journey is from your head to your heart, but once you get there, you’ll know who you are.”- The International Council of 13 Indigenous Grandmothers

So I try that. I try subscribing to other people’s ideas, copying other people’s practices, living other people’s lives.

It always dumps me back in the same unsatisfied spot, feeling disconnected and wondering why.

One of the reasons it’s so hard to hear my voice is because there’s so many other voices out there trying to tell me who I should be. They’re so loud and authoritative. They come with bells and whistles. They shout at me from magazine covers and websites and billboards.

It’s hard to block them out without also blocking out my own voice. I try to lower their volume by lowering mine.

If I don’t speak so loud they won’t tell me to be quiet, simmer down, and live like everybody else. If I don’t speak so loud they won’t ask me to back up my words with some action.

I think that’s how we end up living lives of quiet desperation.

Lately though I’ve been hearing my own voice. It’s strong and clear and getting louder. It asks me tough questions and it doesn’t take cop-outs for answers.

It asks me what I’m made of and what I would do today if I was going to die tomorrow.
It asks me what really matters to me and what value I put on every moment.
It asks me to show up and when I don’t it asks me what was more important than being Here right Now.
Then it asks me to show up again.

This is the voice I’ve been trying to hear. This is the voice I’ve been terrified of hearing.

I’m beginning to hear it even through the cacophony of voices media and society throw at me. I’m beginning to listen to it even when it says what I don’t want to hear.

And I’m beginning to use it. To use my own voice that speaks my own truth that was always there that I’m just beginning to hear that has something to say.

It tells me to get ready for the journey from my head to my heart. It tells me it won’t be easy and I’ll want to turn back. It tells me I’ll have to get naked and vulnerable and leave all my shields and defenses behind. It asks me to get up close and personal with my unfiltered, unedited, unbreakable truth.

It asks me to speak that truth, even if no one will listen.

It reminds me that I say I don’t want to go to my grave with my song still in me, so I better get singing.

What is your voice saying to you?

 

photo credit: dullhunk

Body & Soul

I’m in search of a little bit of soul lately. The kind you find by going in and not out. It’s an itch I can’t ignore, and it usually grabs me when I’ve been neglecting myself for one reason or another.

This soulfulness I seek feels a lot like groundedness. I know it when I’ve got it and when I don’t have it I find myself walking around in a fog like I’ve forgotten something and can’t remember what it is.

It’s my true self that I’ve forgotten, and when I find it I feel connected, free, and simply alive again, regardless of my external circumstances. It’s like I land again into my own body, into my own soul.

The last few months I’ve been taking care of a new, tiny little body and soul that needs lots of love and attention. This beautiful little baby has flipped my world upside down, and I’m not just talking about my outer world. He’s rocked my inner world in ways I never imagined, much like a wave that pulls you out to sea. You’re grateful to come up for a bit of air, but other than that you are at the mercy of forces beyond your control. Not knowing what is up and what is down feels terrifying. My mind wants to know what’s coming. It wants to be able to control it.

When I stop trying to find a way out of the storm is when I find an inner calm. I find silence, stillness, my ground, my center, my truth, my self, my soul. Here in the solace and shelter of my own soul I can rest.

This going within is a road we all must travel alone. Someone else’s map won’t show you where your treasure lies.

There is so much information available nowadays. It’s so easy to go online and find a How-to for anything. How to be happy, how to find peace, how to get healthy, how to live better. We want someone else to give us the answer, to fix us, to tell us what the next step is.

We often exercise or go to yoga to get out of our body, to get out of our mind. It seems so much easier out there, outside of ourselves. Sometimes it is easier out there, but it’s only a quick fix.

Whether it’s tomorrow or ten years from now, through choice, illness, injury or loss, we will all one day find ourselves sitting in a room with only ourself. It might feel awkward and sobering to realize this body and being we’ve lived in for decades is a stranger.

Through this body I inhabit I find my soul every time. Sometimes it’s a pleasant journey and sometimes it’s a painful one, but the one thing I always learn is there is no other way home than through the door to my heart.

The authenticity and vulnerability I find within is sometimes blinding. I’d like to turn away but I know I can’t. If I can’t look myself in the mirror and see the true me, how can I ask anybody else to. More importantly, how can I authentically step out into the world if I can’t authentically step into myself.

That’s my question to myself and my question to you.

Find your treasure. No one else will.

The Art of Shedding Our Shell

lobsterEcdysis is a Greek term used to describe “the art of escaping from the old shell.”

A shedding, if you will.

It’s specifically used in reference to lobsters, who undergo a fascinating transformation process throughout their lives so that they can continue to grow.

Because their shells are hard, in order for the lobster to grow its current shell must be broken open and abandoned.

Throughout their lifetime lobsters are continually preparing for or recovering from this molting process because they have unlimited potential for growth.

Not unlike humans, no?

To prepare for this transformation the lobster prepares a new soft shell that will replace the old one. It withdraws blood supply from certain appendages that will be lost in the molting process and any heretofore lost limbs begin to recreate themselves.

The lobster’s water intake just prior to molting causes the new shell to swell, breaking open and pushing away the old one.

Without its old shell the lobster is soft, vulnerable, and exposed. It hides itself while its new shell hardens, allowing transformation and growth to take place in safety.

The last 10 months have felt like a kind of ecdysis for me, as I’ve prepared for the transformation to motherhood. It is one of many transformations we humans are privileged to encounter during our lifetimes. Although an experience unique to women, the process of transformation is common to us all.

We all possess an exoskeleton; a shell, both literal and figurative, from which we engage with our worlds.

In animals their shell is used for protection, allows for sensation, supports and frames their musculature, and provides defense from predators.

This is much the same for us humans. Our shells protect us, create healthy boundaries and structure, and can be used as a defense.

What often happens is that as adults we are still wearing the shells from our childhood. Our emotional scars or losses we experienced in our younger years have never been allowed to regenerate.

We engage with the world from a place of lack or longing, when really what needs to happen is a healing from within.

We humans are unimaginably resilient. Like our lobster friend we can regrow parts of ourselves that were injured or lost: a broken heart, low self-esteem, fear of failure, or losing a loved one.

In order for us to heal and grow we must be willing to change. We must be willing to break out of our old shell, expose our soft, unprotected insides, and through this process grow into a new shape, a new shell, and a new stage of life.

We lose a part of ourselves in this process. We are never the same again because we are transformed from the inside out.

Honoring this process means we honor whatever stage we are in and whatever stage we witness our fellow human beings in, whether that be grieving, growing, or shedding.

Whenever the opportunity for growth presents itself to us, may we courageously rise to this occasion in our lives. May our transformations allow us to explore our unlimited potential for growth and authenticity and our true capacity for love and life.

photo credit: The Ernst Mayr Library

Hearts of Stone

stone

A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream.

The next day, she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation.

The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime.

But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.”I’ve been thinking,” he said, “I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone.”

This story is called “The Wise Woman’s Stone.”

I think the stone in this story is our heart. More particularly, the love we hold in our heart. It is our most valuable possession, and we are daily given opportunities to give it to someone in need or to hold it back.

I see love being withheld everywhere. I hold it back myself at times. When I hold it back it’s always out of fear or some part of my small self trying to protect itself or defend itself by putting up a wall, a shield, or a protective barrier.

Seeing this blockage pains me, both when I see it in myself and when I see it in others, because I know that when we hold back our hearts or withhold our love we are not just blocking love from exiting.

We are blocking love from entering.

There are so many great reasons to blockade our hearts. I’m sure you can think of instances or people in your life that you’d rather not love or let in for one reason or another.

Feel the hardness that creeps through your body when you bring them to mind. I can actually feel a physical hardening happen in my body at times. My muscles tense up, my jaw tightens.

Every time I feel that hardening I remind myself to soften. Not to open right away, or perhaps ever, but just to soften. Soften the tiniest bit to that old grudge, that old wound, that old judgement.

And it’s not for the other person’s benefit so much as it is for my benefit.

Softening my heart allows me to receive more and to give more.

It does wonders for my inner and outer world. It does wonders for my state of mind and my state of being.

Just as the ocean can wear down boulders over time, I am always surprised at the miracles positive reinforcement, repetition, and even the smallest doses of love can effect over time.

It takes radical courage to put down our guard, to forgive, and to expose both our need for love and our true capacity to love.

It is a wise human being that can love unconditionally, without exception, and without judgement.

I am so grateful to the wise beings I have crossed paths with that have shared their precious stones with me when I was in need.

I endeavor to pass it on every day.

photo credit: kittykatfish

Watch One Woman’s Dream & Dharma Come to Life

It’s not often we see people’s dreams and dharma within their reach.

These last few days I’ve witnessed Chelsea Roff standing for what she believes in, receiving the support she needs and, as she puts it, “living her life out loud.” Her will and determination left me pretty much speechless until now.

Chelsea Roff is a speaker, yoga teacher, and survivor who is literally bringing her dream to life.

She launched an IndieGogo campaign to raise $50,000 to fund her Yoga For Eating Disorders program, which would allow her to offer the unique program at eating disorder centers, high schools, colleges, and community centers free of charge, as well as conduct an evidence-based study on the effectiveness of yoga for eating disorders. According to Roff:

“An estimated 24 million Americans suffer from eating disorders, but only 1 in 10 ever receive treatment.”

With only a few days left to go and still several thousand short of her goal, she launched #OccupyYouAreBeautiful and took to the You Are Beautiful rooftop in Santa Barbara, live-streaming her camp-out until she’s raised the funds needed.

Roff’s personal story of recovering from severe anorexia after nearly dying at 15 is a phenomenal tribute to the resilience, potential, and power of the human spirit when it’s believed in, loved, and supported.

Chelsea RoffDuring the year that I wrote for Intent Chelsea was the managing editor and worked closely with me on posts and ways to expand my writing. Her positivity, creativity, and ingenuity were a great inspiration to me, and I’m thrilled to see her taking her yoga off the mat and answering her calling.

Chelsea’s story is a reminder to all of us that we can choose to live our lives out loud, make our dreams come true, and support each other on our individual yet connected paths.

Support #OccupyYouAreBeautiful here. Whether it’s from a rooftop or a laptop, on or off a yoga mat, let’s all own and occupy our own lives, voices, and dreams like never before.

photo credit: Chelsea Roff

The Light in You

two motions

by A.R. Ammons

It is not enough to be willing to come out of the dark

and stand in the light,

all hidden things brought into sight, the damp

black spaces,

where fear, arms over its head, trembles into blindness,

invaded by truth-seeking light:

it is not enough to desire radiance, to be struck by

radiance: external light

throws darkness behind its brilliance, the division

nearly half and half:

it is only enough when the inner light

kindles to a source, radiates from its sphere to all

points outwardly: then, though

surrounding things are half and half with

light and darkness, all that is visible from the source

is light:

it is not enough to wish to cast light: as much

darkness as light is made that way: it is only

enough to touch the inner light of each surrounding thing

and hope it will itself be stirred to radiance,

eliminating the shadows that all lights give it,

and realizing its own full sphere:

it is only enough to radiate the sufficient light

within, the

constant source, the light beyond all possibility of night.

*****

My first reading of this poem took my breath away, as things do when they overwhelm you, amaze you, or humble you. It’s like Ammons took the inexpressible and the intangible and weaved them into these cohesive, comprehensive, magnificent lines I can hold on my tongue.

After bathing in the pure beauty and perfection of it, my mind started to step back in. It began to analyze the poem. This part I agree with, this part not so much… on and on went the mental banter.

The mental dissension came down to the concept of enoughness. One necessary foundation for presence – or perhaps the fruit of presence – is enoughness. Whatever we are is enough, whatever we have is enough, whatever exists is enough. It engenders a state of fullness, of ease.

Into this abundant ease we can relax, settle in, remove some layers of striving, and just BE where we are. Often this state feels so energizing, inspiring and alive that we can’t help but take an enlivened step in the direction of our choice. A step out of fullness, not out of emptiness.

I would say that every phase mentioned in the poem is enough in itself:

the willingness to come out of the dark
the standing in the light
the desiring radiance
the wishing to cast light

These stages in themselves are steps to what I would call the peak experience, the ultimate state of connection, of trust, of fullness.

when the inner light kindles to a source
when our light can  touch the inner light of each surrounding thing
when we radiate the sufficient light within
the constant source,
the light beyond all possibility of night.

When we tap into our own fullness, we have more than enough to share with the world. When we experience our own open-heartedness, we are not afraid to love or to lose. When we connect with our own internal, deep-seated truth, being, existence, we can’t help but see that in every living thing around us. We can’t help but connect to their source because we are connected to ours.

In order to get here, we have to be willing to come out of the dark. We have to stand in the light. We have to desire radiance.

We have to keep arriving and reevaluating the next step from Here. I suspect there is no limit to how full and how alive we can become.

In this context, one translation of the word Namaste I often hear in yoga takes on a new depth for me, and I offer it to you, wherever you are:

The Light in Me sees and reflects the Light in You.

A Closer Look at Mindfulness

I jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon about six years ago.

I attempt to live mindfully. I call my yoga classes, “Mindful Movement.” This blog is about incorporating mindfulness into everyday life. As you can see, I’m a pretty big fan of mindfulness.

So you can understand why I caught my breath when I read (and re-read) this line halfway into Jay Fields’ book, Teaching People, Not Poses:

“The problem with mindfulness is that it’s full of mind.”

I had the uncomfortable feeling everything following this line would directly apply to me.

She proceeded to convincingly lay out a number of ways mindfulness is full of mind and to make a distinction between a mind-full practice of yoga and an embodied practice of yoga.

Commenting on what it means to be embodied she says, “The experience of embodied presence feels soft and expansive to me, whereas mindful presence feels a bit numb and tunnel-like.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine and creator of MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction), describes mindfulness as Falling Awake. He also calls it “The hardest work in the world.”

Most of us would agree that consistently showing up for our lives is no easy task, but it is a rewarding one. This is likely why the practice of mindfulness is becoming more and more mainstream.

As I reflected on my personal experience of feeling mindful versus embodied, I began to see Fields’ point. In my most “aware” and “mindful” moments I sometimes felt a sense of disconnect. While I seemed to be completely present with whomever I was with or wherever I was, my experience sometimes felt incomplete. Contrasting this with my experience of feeling “embodied,” I realized that when I felt embodied life felt like it was happening in 3D.

Everything felt alive, moved in slow-motion, and was incredibly fascinating.

Until running across that line in Fields’ book, I hadn’t considered there might be a problem with my mindfulness, and I hadn’t considered embodiment to be a separate process. The more I contemplated it, the more I questioned whether they were really separate processes. Couldn’t one lead to the other?

While musing over this concept I was presented with an opportunity to interview Julian Walker on his book Awakened Heart, Embodied Mind. With a title like that I figured he knew a thing or two about being mindful and being embodied. I questioned him on whether he felt “mindfulness” and “embodiment” could coexist and/or contribute to each other.

He responded in part, “If our mindfulness does not include embodiment, then we feel like a floating head! Ungrounded, disempowered, out of touch. If our embodiment does not include mindfulness we can be reactive, impulsive or negatively self-indulgent.”

His comments seemed to echo what Fields describes when she says, “I can do my entire yoga practice mindfully, and not at all feel connected to myself as an integrated bodymind.”

They are both expressing the need for integration, for unison, for a yoking of the body and the mind. One without the other leaves us feeling half-present, missing something, and not entirely alive.

Sitting with this concept for some time, I started to realize the question was more important than the answer. Being willing to ask and explore the question; “What is the state of my body-mind union?” This requires us to step back from what we think we know and step onto the unsteady, shifty ground of what is.

Plenty of people will tell you what it is or isn’t, but only you know when you’ve struck that balance and when your whole being is in sync.

Before reading Fields’ book where she dared to present mindfulness in a not-so-flattering light, I wasn’t asking myself this question. I was walking around trying to be mindful and wondering why it sometimes helped me feel present and sometimes made me feel less present. Asking the question forced me out of my comfort zone and into an undefined space of uncertainty and discovery.

From this unsure realm I could test my experiences with an attitude of exploration instead of looking for facts to defend my position. As I explored, I discovered that I jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon because it was a doorway from pain to presence.

As I entered the home of my body mindfully, I began to get to know this fascinating house called, Me. This process of stepping inside my own skin, of becoming embodied, required allowing my mind to coexist with my body instead of rejecting one or the other.

When I allow for an integrated mindbody experience something incredible happens. I feel at home, I feel awake, and I feel alive. In these moments “the hardest work in the world” doesn’t feel so hard at all. It feels delicious, grounded, and free, with nowhere to be but here.

This article was originally published on elephant journal.