I wanted to sit down and write. Yesterday, when I got home from work I found myself here looking through old blog posts trying to put pieces together. The pieces of my life that brought me here. I haven't blogged in a long time. I think I was told no less than four times yesterday that I am a writer. I've been neglecting this part of myself; maybe due to school work, teaching, and all the other stresses of life that swirl around what it means to grow up. Right now the news is muted. My coffee is waiting is for me, but there was one thing I needed to do this morning more than anything: write. I could feel my fingers ache last night, and that little whisper pulling me back here. Maybe, I even talked myself into being something else. Something other than a writer, because in the grand scheme of things, all I've ever really written about is on this blog... but, somehow it's enough. It's enough to remind me that deep within myself, without putting things down into words that form sentences, there is a part of my voice that gets lost. It's as if this is my way of anchoring; just like using my breath in a yoga class, it's an anchor providing me some sort of support to lean on. I wish I really knew where to begin, so I guess aside from searching for something to catch you up on I will just say that when looking through this blog, it makes sense. It all makes sense. The last blog post I read before going to bed last night was one I wrote before moving back to Arkansas.
I'll leave a part of it here:
But this issue of growing up, it's not all that easy because it requires a lot of courage. Particularly it takes a lot of courage to relate directly with your experience. By this I mean whatever is occurring in you, you use it. You seize the moment? moment after moment? you seize those moments and instead of letting life shut you down and make you more afraid, you use those very same moments of time to soften and to open and to become more kind. More kind to yourself for starters as the basis for becoming more kind to others.
One time when I was a child, I was feeling very upset and angry at one point. I think I was around seven or eight. And there was this old woman, who I later become very close to. But the first time I ever met her, I was walking down the street kicking stones with my head down, and I was feeling very lonely. I was basically feeling that nobody loved me very much and that people weren't taking care of me. So I was walking along angry at the world, kicking stones. And this woman said, "Child, don't let the world harden your heart."
And I always remember that. It was the first real teaching I received, I think. It's still a teaching I remember. And in terms of this teaching on maitri, this is really the key. People's lives, through all of time, have had a lot of difficulty in them The Buddha's first teaching was that there is suffering in life, If you're born as a human being, there's suffering. At the very least, there's the suffering of illness, of growing old and of death at the end. Not to mention that the more you love are able to open, there's the suffering of not getting what you want and of losing what you do want. Just some inevitable sufferings.
Nowadays, this is an especially difficult time in the history of this planet, Earth. it's a difficult time. And in times of difficulty, people get very frightened. Often when I'm teaching a lot of the questions are that people ask about just the subject. People inevitably say, "Yes, but it's dangerous, it's getting more and more dangerous just to walk down the street. We need to protect ourselves."
I think the point is when our lives are difficult, in small ways or large ways, when we're going through a lot emotionally, or when difficult things are happening in our environment, do those things cause us to become more uptight and afraid. Or do those very same things, when the teachings are applied, soften us and can open us?
To me, this is how I practice and this is the most important thing. You never know what's going to happen to us. In any day of our lives you never know what's coming. That's part of the adventure of it actually, but that's what makes us scared, is that we never know. And we spend a lot of time trying to control it so that we could know, but the truth is that we don't really know.
Really, I think a lot of people, like children, you're wanting some kind of practice that's not going to take you into anything uncomfortable but at the same time you want the practice to heal you. And it just doesn't work like that.
The question is how do you relate when things are uncomfortable? That's really the question.
As far as I'm concerned, in terms of spiritual path, that's the main question: how do you relate with the difficulties? How do you relate with the feelings you have and the situations you find yourself in?
This particular teaching on the Four Limitless Ones, on maitri, compassion, joy and equanimity is really a teaching on how to take the situations of your life and train- actually train- in catching yourself closing down, catching yourself getting hard, and training in opening at that very point, or softening. In some sense reversing a very, very old pattern of the whole species, which is a pattern of armoring ourselves. It's sort of like the essence of the whole Path is in that place of discomfort and what do you do with it? Pema Chodron tells this story so well, and I really love the message of this. In my life, I have experienced things that I blamed myself for, that I realize now, after a lot of therapy, were not my fault. I didn't practice loving kindness to myself at all for a long time, because I believed I didn't deserve it. The truth is, we all deserve it. When things are uncomfortable, it's a reminder that we are human, perfection isn't needed, but compassion is.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I could feel my heart pounding, my palms sweating and in that moment it seemed the world slowed down.
"I will teach you how to let go," she said.
I didn't really know what to say. I looked at her and she looked at me. I could feel life staring at me, asking me, "Will you play it safe?"
This question comes up ever so often; checking in with me, as if it wants to know where to go next.
I've always answered the question the same way; ripping off whatever idea I had of safety to set myself free. I breathed deeply and knew that I had to keep going.
There was something else. I'm not sure what, but I knew I had to trust myself enough to let go...
over and again.
Being that I am on the verge of turning 30; literally, staring it in the face; marching down the aisle, I can see it."I am not going to freak out," I tell myself. Up until this point, I have been excited about turning 30. "I've earned it." And yes, although this is true, I can't help but to be a little reflective, being that I am in the last two days before the final approach. "Have I really learned anything?" In high school, I took a psychology class and we were asked to write a certain number of pages each week. I am so thankful for these pages. Last spring, when I opened the journals up, I thumbed through the pages and could hear the voice of a very wise 18-year-old girl on the brink of setting out on an adventure. Since then, I have watched her grapple with change. I have witnessed her question every aspect of existence, worth and ability to be a successful human on this planet. I have watched desires change, while values have shifted into what feels more in line with the truth of the heart. I have watched as I, myself have fallen in and out of love while trying to figure out what it means to be in relationship, but slowly figuring out that the relationship I wanted the most was the one with myself. I have picked myself up off the ground more times than I would like to count and have whispered over and over again to my own sweet heart, "keep going". I will say this, I have lived my 20's well. They have been every bit of confusing and as I rest here in the experience of my own "growth," I will say that I am proud of who the 18-year-old girl has become. I continue to wrap my own arms around myself every day and whisper, "keep going". No one really tells you how hard it's going to be. No one tells you that if you choose a life of authenticity and truth it might feel as if you're marching to a drum beat that makes no sense to anyone else but you. While I sit here and write, I could not be more thankful for the practice of yoga in my life. The time when I lived in Houston, was a turning point in my 20's. I developed the best of friends who continue to stay with me in my heart every single day. They are the ones who have their hands on my back at all times encouraging me to keep going. Perhaps, we have those moments in life, when we are in this dip of healing. It might feel like a place in the valley between mountains. That is what Houston was for me. It was the place that fed me before I climbed one of my biggest mountains yet, which was my move back to Arkansas. I created a safe haven for myself in Fayetteville, where I currently live. The safe haven is a yoga studio affectionately called, Maitri and she is a light to be reckoned with. She has seen many teachers and students come and go. She remains steadfast, open and a soft comfort where I not only rest my head, but others do as well. I have made no money running Maitri. Maybe it is a fault of mine, but I realize that I am a terrible business owner especially when it comes in the form of a yoga studio. From the time I opened Maitri, I knew that I would rather fail than never try, so I have poured my heart into it and will continue to. When I was asked early on, at what point I would call Maitri successful, I said, "she already is." I have never publicized what people have shared with me about their experiences at Maitri, but I will say this, everything has been truly worth it. Maitri is a light in my life. I refer to Maitri as a "her" and I know it might be weird, but I feel that Maitri has become a place that belongs to itself and everyone who walks through the door. I don't feel that I actually own Maitri. The person who practices there and moves away carrying a piece of Maitri owns just as much of it as I do. My job is to make sure Maitri is taken care of so it can do its job in holding space for others. Maitri has taught me and continues to teach me more than I could have ever imagined. In a way, I know I could never repay Maitri in what it has provided for me, maybe not monetarily; but in every other way, Maitri has shown me my strength and perhaps, that is what I have learned the most about in my 20's: my own strength. I moved back to Arkansas, a place I thought I would never live again. When I packed up for college, I had no idea that I would later return. I thought I was returning to heal something, but maybe that wasn't it at all. Perhaps, when I was younger I fooled myself into thinking that I wasn't enough. I needed to move, to go... I got on a treadmill of trying to prove something to myself only to grow tired and realize that none of what I was doing mattered if I wasn't happy. I think we all have this picture in our heads of what our life will be like. My reality is an entirely different picture than the one I had in my head. I think that we have to always keep moving forward and do the best we can in listening and following our hearts. Right now, I am trying to listen to my own heart as I decide which graduate school to attend starting in May. I am down to the wire and a part of me goes one way and the other part of me goes the other. I have always been a "flight risk." Ugh, the thought of being tied down scares the crap out of me. One school allows me the freedom of movement, while the other school provides me with community. What I have missed out on most over the past few years is a community, what I value most is freedom. Which one? Which one? I think I am going to have go to yoga tonight, and as I breathe, maybe the answer will be revealed. Meanwhile, I will just pray on it. I am excited for grad school because in some ways, it is a new chapter. I am going back to get my masters in counseling; something I never thought I would do, yet it makes so much sense. Even as I read my journal pages from my psychology class last year, I realize now that I had everything in me then, and now it is just being revealed little by little as I get older. I am so grateful for the gift of 30. I think I have talked my way back to the excitement of the phrase, "30, I have earned you." The journey continues...
Thanks for listening. Thanks for letting these fingers type away as I try to make sense of the way I feel. 90% of time it's an absolute mystery until I can create enough space and stillness for myself to process in the comfort of the only sound being the keyboard keys beneath my fingertips.
I'm curious: Were any of you reflective upon turning 30? Did you feel sad? Excited? Scared? Proud? Did 30 feel different than other ages?
30 to me doesn't feel all that different, but it provides the best opportunity to say, you know what, "I am fucking proud of myself."
Love you all!
P.S. My birthday is Thursday, feel free to make a big deal out of it. Eat some cake!
I feel like I am learning the delicate balance between honoring my feelings; using my voice; establishing boundaries; creating a non-negotiable relationship with my sense of self-worth and being authentic in all the ways I show up. Whew, yeah, that's a lot of learning and I guess I have been in this process for a long time. At times, it has been easy, while at other times it has been a pain in the ass to learn because I get the same hard lessons over and over again. In the midst of it, I am realizing things about myself, especially when it comes to my emotions, words and actions lining up.
I'm learning that honoring my feelings takes guts. As I am navigating my way through this, there is a part of me that feels bad or guilty because as I get stronger in my sense of love and value for myself, the less I am willing to tolerate.
I have been known by many as being "too nice." I have also probably been known by many as being a "bitch." I think they go hand-in-hand because when you get to the end of your "being too nice," rope you become a bitch or, at least this is what I've noticed about myself. This is the most feared person in the world, right? The person who gives and gives and gives, then suddenly blows up.
I have had to work long and hard on becoming friends with my anger, my hurts, my vulnerabilities, my humanness and my insecurities for a long time. When my boyfriend and I started dating he noticed this tendency I have to not say how I feel. But because we compliment each other in the way that we don't have the same kind of crazy, he has been able to hold space for me to look at this part of myself without taking it personally. He invites me to get angry at him. No, he doesn't say, "Sarah, please be angry at me", but he would rather that I tell him how I feel than hold it in. He knows it's not about him.
Watching myself work through this, I realize that I developed this coping skill of keeping my feelings to myself when I was young. I think somewhere along the way I began to doubt my sense of value and I lost appreciation for how I felt thinking that my feelings did more harm than good, so why share them? I also became afraid that if I was ever angry, my parents would take it in as something they did wrong and beat themselves up. I held myself responsible for their relationship and everything else around me. I thought if I could always be okay, I could keep everyone else okay. I realize now that this was extremely self-centered of me, but nonetheless, I didn't know any better. It's taken all twenty-nine years to re-learn what I learned in Kindergarten. How I feel matters.
In a yoga class yesterday, we were all in warrior I. I could feel myself heat up as I was in the pose. I felt agitated. I wanted to move, but through the class instead of trying to "let it all go", as I so often do and say, I just sat with myself. I didn't try to see the blessing in what I was feeling. I just let myself feel the way I felt. Something miraculous happened....
For the first time today, I told someone, outside my immediate family/boyfriend/safety net that they had hurt my feelings. As the words came out of my mouth it didn't feel natural, but it did feel better to be honest and authentic than not. I didn't pretend like I was perfect or bulletproof. I didn't pretend that the way I had been treated was okay.
Regardless of the outcome, my heart felt lighter, any anger that I felt disappeared and when I hung up the phone I knew I had just honored myself in a big way. Did I just graduate emotionally?
I've never gone this amount of time without writing. Today, for whatever reason, I couldn't wait to get to this moment. Sitting here with a cup of tea, just waiting to talk. It's been what feels like forever since I have felt this urgency to write. It's like there's something that I have to get out of me or I might just explode. I think now, the words, feelings and thoughts have taken so long to brew that they are spilling over, so excuse me while I sit here and soak in this moment of having the time to breathe, write and rest my heart on the spaces between the letters and words that are typed right here.
I have a yoga studio and I write a newsletter every month with a theme. It was what my home studio in Houston had always done, so now it's what I always do. This month the theme, freedom came to me and it just happened to coincide with the symbolism of the fourth of July. Freedom is something I value. As I sat down this morning for my school lectures, I'm getting my licensing from The Integrative Institute of Nutrition to be a holistic health and wellness coach, I opened my computer to find the lecture to be about exactly this, freedom. I couldn't listen and absorb quickly enough, so I watched the lecture twice. Every word of it hit me hard. One point after another, I kept writing, listening and realizing that this was exactly what I needed to hear, so I thought I would share it with you. Seven Steps to Freedom:
1. Release your story. We all have stories. We do. We like to carry them around. Some of us have backpacks, some us have purses or really full pockets, others of us like to pile all of our stories on so high we actually fall backwards so often that the idea of putting one foot in front of the other seems impossible. I have carried some version of a story my entire life. I am writing this publicly for what feels like the first time in my life. A truth: my dad is an addict. A story: It's all my fault. Even as I write the sentence, I want to erase it. The word addict seemed so far from my world growing up that I didn't imagine writing that sentence at the age of 29. Addicts were people I envisioned who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, not my dad, who had everything together. The thing is, I'm not that much different you see. Addicts are simply people who carry around their stories. Those stories that take us back to the same place over and over again. That place that tricks us into thinking that we are less than we are. The word addict does not mean bad or broken. I would even venture to say that in life, everyone has a story that they either choose to identify with and are controlled by, or they wake up every day and choose to let it go.
2. Finding your voice. I guess this doesn't just mean speaking it. I'm pretty sure this refers to all forms of having voice. I think part of the reason why it's so hard for me to write is the terrifying fear of being seen. Finding our voices is really this call to be present, to be all here and we can only do this once we have released our stories. Finding our voice is showing up authentically.
3. Mind-Body Connection. Yeah, there's a connection there, which is why I found yoga to be a benefit from the very first time I ever stepped on my mat. It helped me to release things I didn't even know I was holding onto. Mental health is encoded in the way we think. The way we think directly impacts the way we feel. My dad refers to negative thinking as "stinky thinking." It always makes me laugh. My whole family has been in recovery and in therapy for about four years now. Yay, Dad! One of the things we've connected over is yoga. My dad doesn't necessarily do a ton of asana, but he lives it every day, and I know he understands what I do through sharing yoga almost better than anyone, because we've both been "there." We've both been at the point you get to when your body gives you no choice, but to listen, pay attention and begin the process of healing.
4. Surrendering Secrets. Secrets are the source of shame. In the lecture I listened to earlier today she said, "shame is a way of dishonoring ourselves." There is no place we have ever been that takes away our right to joy, love, compassion, kindness and happiness. Just by being here, breathing you have a right to all of those things.
5. Forgiveness. This is a biggie. It might be easy to forgive others, however, we often forget to forgive the one person we really need to and that is ourselves. When I was in high school, I was in a serious relationship. Although we cared for each other and loved each other, as you can imagine at that age it wasn't the healthiest relationship in the world. It took me a long time to heal from it. There were parts of myself that I gave away, parts of myself that I shoved down, lost, feared, disliked and the minute I started doing yoga, was the first time I caught a glimpse of what I needed to forgive. I have shed more tears on my mat than I would like to admit. I have bawled in class. I have sat there shaking while the teacher spoke. I have fallen a part on my mat and I am so thankful, because through that mess, I started to forgive myself. It was only through seeing my fears, vulnerabilities and viewed weaknesses that I could come to know them, love them and accept them. We have to forgive ourselves for the times we didn't know better, we have to forgive ourselves for the times when we've rejected our hearts, our own light and our own humanness. We have to forgive ourselves for not having the proper tools to cope with something, we have to forgive ourselves so that we can have ourselves. There isn't a piece missing. Everything is there. We just have to see ourselves through the lens that isn't skewed by what we think we should be for someone or something else.
6. Reclaim yourself. When I say we have to forgive ourselves in order to have ourselves, I mean that sometimes we forget that we are whole. We have everything we need in this moment. There's nothing wrong with you, nothing you need to fix or change. There's nothing that can take your power away. There's no one thing that can take you away from who you came here to be. BAM. Say that to yourself, soak it in, because it's everything.
7. You are whole, you are powerful, you are loved. Freedom is a choice.
The sunshine streams into the windows and she can already feel the warmth of the room on her skin. She's been in this room over a hundred times. It reminds her every day to be who she is, to step out of the familiar and into the unknown. She presses her feet into her dark blue mat. She's been here too over a hundred times, but it's different. Each day brings her somewhere new, some place she's never been before. Each new day asks her how far she will go. How deeply will she dig and does she have the courage? Each time, she answers. The answer is always the same, but comes in different forms. As she steps her right foot forward, she stretches her left leg back. She reaches her hands to the ceiling and feels her chest lift and her heart expand. She closes her eyes and breathes. The breath is steady, strong and controlled. She draws her palms to her heart, creating even more space as she inhales. She takes her elbow across her knee and holds. Steady, steady. She feels her face heat up. She exhales digging more deeply. There's more space than there was the day before, week before, month before, year before. She twists. Holding steady, feeling the twist, she softens. She remembers. Being in the corner of a similar room, in a different city doing the exact same thing. It was the first time she slowed down long enough to feel the breath moving inside of her. As she twisted many years ago it was like extracting a huge boulder out of her belly. It was something that felt enormous. Now all she feels is space; raw, empty, vulnerable space. Releasing the pose, she drops both hands down placing them to the inside of the ankle. She begins to slowly come down onto her forearms. She can feel herself shake. The sweat now dripping from her forehead, she feels a hot tear streaming down her face. Her breath is no longer steady. This is the place, the place she fears. She softens further into the pose with an exhale and drops her hips lower as she slowly brings her knee to the floor to stop the shaking. This is the place she decides how deeply she will let go. She's been here before. She remembers it from the first class she ever took. The feelings of judgement, fear, doubt, guilt, shame all lifting as she lets drops to the floor, not being able to hold herself up. The sweat pools off her forehead and down her cheeks, she feels herself releasing, surrendering, crying, grieving. As the tears now pool onto her mat, she presses her palms down and lifts her chest. She feels her heart expand again on an inhale, more space. Tears continue to roll down her cheeks. She closes her eyes and can feel the sunlight penetrating her skin as it floods in through the window. She holds there, breathing. Her breath begins to slow down as she continues to pick herself up off the floor. Now standing, eyes closed, heart open, she spreads her fingers, arms are down by her side. With an inhale she sweeps her arms up and on an exhale she folds, with another exhale she folds even deeper. She continues to move to the sound of her breath, each one getting stronger and stronger. She feels her past melting off of her. The burden of perfectionism slides down her spine and into the mat as she folds further breath by breath. Sweeping her arms up she feels herself enlivened, moving from pose to pose, she pauses. With her arms stretched out she feels the world around her fade, the only thing she can feel, see, touch, taste is her own strength. Pressing down through her legs, she slows down taking her palms back to her heart, she inhales and draws her elbow over her thigh. She feels the strength in her back leg, with her legs steady, she moves in. The breath circulates through her body, and she feels it. Holding steady, she twists further on the exhale. Space. She feels more space as she twists. Releasing the pose she moves both hands to the inside of her ankle and begins to drop down onto the floor, even though she's alone she can hear the echoes of her teachers. "Let go, let go, let go, surrender, step into your light." Once again she feels herself soften, this time she embraces the floor. The tears coming from the depth of her soul, she begins to feel herself smile through the tears. It's a smile from the core of her. It's the smile of victory. Not the kind of victory we think of when we've won something, rather it's the smile of knowing, knowing that in the deepest, darkest moments we are given a choice. As she lifts her forehead from the floor, she presses her palms back into her mat. Lifting her chest, her heart now exposed, she chooses.... To love herself over and over, to forgive herself over and over and to embrace the light and the dark over and over, laughter and tears, surrender and freedom, the known and the unknown all for the decision of a lifetime... to live, not just be alive but to live. Embracing herself she chooses to step into her light, her tears, her laughter, her sorrows, her joys, her darkness, her pain, her empathy and the beautiful heart she knows is hers. Tomorrow, she will meet herself again, and the choice will be hers. Every day is a day we have the decision of a lifetime, to simply be alive or to truly live.