The Thief Called Comparison

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“Comparison is the thief of joy.” ~ Teddy Roosevelt

 

I talk about this quote a lot, it’s been with me for years and years, and I’m sure I’ve written about it in several blogs. But, it bears repeating: “Comparison is the thief of joy.”

 

Part of what Yoga helps us to do is to turn inward, to become familiar with consciously inhabiting our own center point, such that we shift from a habitual, external focus in the world to an internal focus of presence while we’re in the world. We learn to drop anchor into the steadfast constancy in ourselves – our closest contact point to The Divine – so that we stop drifting around on the choppy waves of the ever-shifting world outside of ourselves. We practice this in the slow context of the meditation cushion and mat, so that we learn to be anchored within as we go about our daily interactions with the external world, where everything flies around at warp speed.

 

Maintaining this tether of centered-from-within presence while in the fast-moving world is hard and I am most definitely a work in progress with it all. It’s getting easier that it used to be, but I still find myself losing my center sometimes, letting my energy and power drain out to other people, other situations, and other things outside myself. When I choose to do this, I slowly pull my anchor in and start drifting. I know this is happening when I start to lose my joy, my grounded sense of self, which feels terrible – as it should. And if I don’t catch the awful feelings as feedback of how I’m choosing to use my awareness, I find that I easily revert to a very old pattern of looking “out there” for my sense of self so that I can feel better. Every time I choose to look outside of myself to feel better, I make a pact with that old thief who takes away joy and all other good feelings: comparison.

 

Instead of slowing down and reclaiming my grounded center, which is what’s needed and is the only way for me to feel better, I start looking around at other people, what they’re doing, and make the comparison that other people have it all together. It’s easy to look at others and the way they present themselves in the world and think they have a perfect life and don’t ever struggle about anything. Because of this comparison I make, the resulting feeling is to think that something is somehow defective in myself and I don’t have enough of what they have; which puts me into a state of lack. Feeling less-than and feeling like I am not enough or don’t have enough is like gasoline sitting next to the fire of low self-worth. If I choose to pour that on the fire, it’s only going to get bigger.

 

I find that the Facebook experience can really ramp this up. I post things, like this blog, for example, or vacation pictures, or something I’ve been doing or thinking about…and then I scroll through the news feed to see what my friends are up to. My goal is  connection at the beginning of the scroll. Facebook is a great way to stay connected to my friends and when I’m centered and anchored in who I am, I love seeing what people are up to. I enjoy celebrating their joys and smile with their smiles. However, if I have chosen to pull up my anchor and drift, losing my ground and my center, my desire for inner connection becomes an experience of outward comparison.

 

Instead of an interactive experience of real-time conversation, where there’s a back and forth exchange of energy, an outward pulse and an inner pause, I’ve noticed on Facebook, that my sole focus is outward – on others. When I scroll through the news feed, I’m doing nothing but looking at other people’s stories, other people’s pictures, which are like visual sound bites. If I’m not anchored in my truth, comparison rears it’s ugly head. How can it not? It’s the by-product of being adrift on the choppy waters. If I continue to let myself scroll through the news feed without the inner anchor dropped, tethered to my joy, feeling my abundance, feeling that I am enough, appreciating my unique individuality…well, all of that slides down the drain and I’m using what I see to fuel my state of lack. Suddenly, I’ve poured the gasoline on the fire.

 

Here’s what I begin hear in my head: “Wow, everyone else has the perfect marriage – look how happy everyone is. They probably never argue or have any issues to work out. Oh, gosh, look at that, people going to a family reunion and actually enjoying being around all those relatives. Man, everyone else goes to Europe except me – I’ll probably never have the money to see Paris, like I’ve always dreamt about. Oh, God, look at her body. I’m 53, I have cellulite that won’t go away and saggy skin I can’t do anything about and now I’ve decided to let my hair go gray. And great, I’ve been doing Yoga for more than 20 years and I can’t even bend my body with any semblance of that that. I suck. What is wrong with me?”

 

Comparison is the thief of joy.

 

Here’s what I’ve learned.

 

The thing is that most of us don’t post pictures on Facebook of ourselves going through hard things, feeling less-than, feeling scared of life, anxious over the state of perpetual not-knowingness and not having things all figured out. We don’t talk about feeling less-than, or feeling frustrated and overwhelmed because our lives don’t seem to compare to those of others. We like to post and share our successes, but we don’t post about the foundation upon which success is built: failure. In order to walk, we must first learn to fall. And there are a whole lot of us in the world walking around, which means there has been a whole lot of falling happening. We all fall. Every single one of us. Birds have to learn how to fall before they can fly. In order to rise up, one must first fall down. We don’t like to talk about that so much.

 

There is no such thing as the perfect anything. Each of us is on our own path, never before seen by anyone, and struggling is part of it. If we were able to get underneath the visual sound bites of Facebook posts to the whole stories behind the pictures of apparent perfection that we see, we would indeed discover trials and hardships behind every one of them. We all fall, we all fail, we all feel insecure, and none of us – nobody – has it all figured out. None of us are perfect, no matter what any pictures look like, but we are all ENOUGH. We are enough. We have enough, we are beautiful, we are gifted, talented, and here to let our innate brilliance shine out into the world. The world is in need of what we’ve been given.

 

One of the things that’s been important to me as a yoga teacher is to share my own struggles, to share how hard things can be, and to clearly say that I don’t have things figured out. It’s so easy to think the teacher has it all together and lives in a constant state of bliss. Not true! This business of living the yoga is not for the faint of heart. It’ll pull you out of your comfort zone, it’ll bring you to your knees at times. That’s part of learning to walk the path through uncharted territory. As we keep going, listening inwardly for how to take each step and bravely putting one foot in front of the other, we will discover who we really are: The Divine being Itself right there where we are. When we allow ourselves to be the place where that shines through, we become healed and changed, which heals and changes the world.

 

So, I just wanted to say: “I do not have it all figured out” and “I don’t know.” These are some of the most freeing and empowering words in my vocabulary. It’s taken a whole lotta years walking forward on my path for me to let these words come to the surface; more than 20 years of yoga and meditation, over 8 years of recovery work, and what feels like lifetimes of a slow growth of courage welling up inside myself to let go of the pretenses of appearing to have my life perfectly stitched together. I don’t. Nobody does, despite how things appear on the surface. That’s why we’re all here on planet, I think; to to get our hands dirty in the soil of this earth and the uncomfortable messiness of embracing this wild trip of a ride of being spiritual beings embodied as humans for a while. Though we walk together, each of us is on our own journey. Let’s not let comparison steal our joy.

 

~ namaste

 

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“How are You?” ~ The Trance of Negativity

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We had a discussion in class a couple of weeks ago about negativity that has rocked my world, to say the least. One of my students brought up the question of how to stop the constant commentary about everything that’s wrong. This is a commentary that starts inwardly and then gets expressed outwardly into the world, as a way of interacting with others. It always seems to be in search of someone else to agree with it, because once two or more are gathered together in an agreement of idea, it becomes strengthened. We had a very interesting dialog about all of this and it’s been on my mind ever since.

I’ve actually been watching this phenomenon of negativity for quite some time now. It all started years ago when I began asking a very intentional question whenever I’m in front of a class teaching: “How are you?”

This is a plain, simple, three-word question that, for me, gets right to the point of why I’m asking it: connection. I want to know how my students really are, how their day was, how they’re feeling. I want to know what they’re bringing in with them so I can organically weave together a class experience that’s tailored to where everyone is at the moment. I don’t ask “how are you” to exchange superficial pleasantries, which is, strangely, often the level of where this question lives in our society. Superficial pleasantries and surface-level chitchat sucks the soul out of me. I want to dive under the chop of the surface water and drop down with people into something real: an actual experience of shared feeling, empathy, and heartfelt community.

When I started doing this in class (and subsequently doing it more in my daily life), I began to notice something very interesting. The response to my “how are you” query would fall into one of two answers. The first would be a flat-line response: “Good.” Or the even flatter answer, spoken with a monotone and no pause whatsoever: “Good-how-are-you.” How bizarre. The purpose of the question is to foster connection, but what was actually happening was zero connection whatsoever…just as if I had never even asked the question at all.

The second response that I began to notice was a litany of everything that’s wrong. “How are you?” “Ohhhh…I was stuck in traffic because of all the college students. None of them know how to drive. The roadwork is still going on. They never finish anything; it’s such a mess, a constant construction zone wherever you drive. I hate it.” To be clear, this type of second response I’m talking about is not someone who is sad or hurt or dealing with some type of real struggle. Those situations naturally seek real connection and empathy. What I’m talking about here is a trance-like, outward flowing stream of negativity that surrounds someone and travels with them wherever they go, sort of like Pigpen’s dirt cloud. It has a repellant quality, which doesn’t create any sort of connection, either.

Unlike the response of “good,” which is kind of like a big old wall that you can’t get around, the litany of negativity is insidious. As I mentioned earlier, it seems to be constantly seeking someone to agree with it, sending out big tentacles like a giant squid. Once another person drops into that negativity by agreeing with it…”Yeah, they can’t ever fix the roads around here”…then a new, stronger stream of negativity is birthed and rippled out into the world. Whoa.

The more I noticed this sort of negativity as a response to an invitation for connection, the more it really started to get my attention. First, I was really puzzled as to why this would this be an answer given to the question of “how are you.” I mean, “good” makes sense in a way, but a litany of negativity says nothing about how the person actually is, such as: “I’m feeling stressed out because traffic was so intense.” But then what stopped me cold, right in my tracks was this sentence I said to myself: “Wow, I’m so glad (speech slowing)…I don’t…(speech screeching to a halt)…do…that.”

Oh my God, I actually do this. This trance of negativity is so subtle and seductive that I didn’t even recognize that I had been under its spell.

I grew up with the trance of negativity in my family of origin; it was the way everyone communicated, actually. I remember being a little girl at my grandmother’s house at Christmas or some other family get together, listening to everyone talk only about how awful everything was. The answer to every single “How are you?” became a litany of how terrible everything was – the traffic, the drive, the this, the that. It’s interesting thinking back on that now, because I was always listening from some other room. I think even way back then, I knew something wasn’t right about that and didn’t want to be in the room with it.

But we often adopt those old familial patterns such that they become our own familiar patterns. This negative pattern becomes a sort of a walking trance state that feels like normal. I think a lot of us get caught in this eddy of negativity, such that it becomes our pattern of being in the world and our pattern of interacting with others. I certainly was caught in it.

My big realization, though, lies in this idea that I’ve read about in lots of different places: In order to keep it, you’ve got to give it away. There are many ways to interpret this idea that include sharing and being of service to others, but I’ve always understood it and applied it to things such as love, peace, and calm. The idea is that when I’m giving love and peace away – that is, when I’m emitting it out into the world – then that is the experience that flows through me. Whatever is flowing through me at any time is what I get to keep.

And here’s the mind-blowing thing: We are always emitting something. That something comes from whatever we’re centered in.

Whoa, so when I am flowing out the trance of negativity, then that is what I get to keep. This is a huge insight for me. Negativity has a certain feeling/tone. It makes me feel down and dis-spirited, depressed. It’s separation mentality in a very clever disguise; so much so, that I didn’t even recognize it. Negativity does not feel good; it makes me feel terrible. And then I when I have cycles of feeling down and terrible, I wonder what’s wrong and what caused me to feel this way. I only began to connect these dots this week. My trance of negativity brings me down! I hadn’t even realized it. And wow, and not only does my own personal litany of negativity bring me down, but when I join in the litany of negativity of others, which is so easy to do on social media, then down I go, as well.

The question then is what am I centered in and emitting, or giving away? There are only two choices: separation mentality (not experiencing my unity with The Divine) or yoga mentality (consciously experiencing my unity with The Divine). And the effects of those two choices are either conflict or peace. Tension or calm. If I’m not sure which one I’m centered in, I just need to have a look at the effects I’m experiencing, which is something I’ve been doing for a long time. But wow, when I’m too-tranced over to do that – because, obviously, sometimes I am – then all I have to do is look at what I’m agreeing with and what I’m giving away. Because, man, that is certainly what I get to keep.

So, how am I? So very grateful to have had this massive realization this week. Feeling very thankful to be on this ever-new journey of learning and self-discovery called Yoga.

Trusting the Teacher Within

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Photo by Anne Jablonski, Feathered Pipe Ranch, 2017

 

Trust.

Trust Me.

I will flow through you,

Through your hands, through your heart.

 

Do not be afraid of being uncomfortable.

Sink in, settle in.

You are misperceiving the situation.

All is well and all is good,

Trust more than ever.

Relax in the not-knowing.

 

You are right. Something IS happening.

I DID bring you here for a reason.

The reason is to learn to be a

Teacher of love, a teacher of Me,

Of you, of everything,

Of pure clarity.

 

I understand that it doesn’t make sense,

But you are listening!

It is not possible for me to steer you into

Any direction other than

The truth.

 

You didn’t come half way across the country.

There is no country,

Only Me,

Which is everywhere, always,

No space, no time.

You need to quit defining my voice

By your perameters.

 

Trust – come on – dive in, fully, into Me.

Why do you keep second guessing yourself?

Thinking you can’t do this

Or aren’t worthy.

Because you are.

Do you think I would have called so loudly

If I didn’t know that you are the one for this job?

 

You’ve come a long way

But we are just beginning our Work.

 

It is worth the small effort

Required by you

Which, at the moment,

Is TRUST.

 

I wrote this on October 30, 2002 in Palm Springs, CA. I was at the Southwest Yoga Conference, assisting my teacher Erich Schiffmann for the very first time at the exact same conference where we had met the year before in Austin. This poem marks a very important time in my life. I was one year into an apprenticeship with a teacher who miraculously appeared out of nowhere and my life was radically shifting and changing in massive ways that I couldn’t explain or even put words on. I was beginning to have all sorts of spiritual experiences that were vastly different from anything I had ever encountered before. For as long as I could remember, I had longed to “hear” God, to be able to receive inner guidance like all the mystics wrote about being able to do – those mystics I identified so strongly with, but didn’t really know why. And when hearing/feeling/sensing spiritual guidance and communication started happening to me, it was wonderful, exhilarating…and also seriously caused me to doubt and question my own sanity.

This “poem” was the fist of hundreds of writings that I would begin to channel over the next several years. These little poems were how I first began to connect with and “hear” divine guidance. And as I wrote in those last few lines in the poem up there, it’s true: “We” – what felt like God and me – were just beginning our work. And work it was. This was the start of a very difficult and tumultuous time for me. It was the beginning of what would shape everything about the way I practice, teach, and live the Yoga: learning to discern and hear inner guidance in my life, allowing everything that I am to be guided by this inner voice, the Teacher Within, and to, trust it, trust life, and trust myself. This way of practicing and living would eventually come to be called Freedom Yoga.

My practice with the writings was simple: open the notebook, put pen to paper, get out of my head about what to write, and simply let the words flow. This is a term I now call “channeling.” Not channeling, like channeling another entity, but being an open and flowing channel for God, Source, The Infinite, to come through. Time after time, writing after writing, it was clear to me that these weren’t words I was making up. They were coming from a place outside of my usual word choice and writing patterns, and they were most certainly coming from a place of wisdom that felt outside of myself, at first. The directions and insights were not general; they were specific bits of information that were relevant to me in the moment. In other words, it was always something I needed to know and it was always worded in the way I would most easily understand it.

I knew when these writings were happening that they weren’t just for me; they were meant to be shared. In fact, many of the writings contained those very words. However, at the time, though, that thought completely terrified me. I was highly practiced in staying small, planted in the belief that I had nothing of value or worth to share. These writings were such a deep, vulnerable part of myself that back then I didn’t talk about them or let anyone see them. Nobody in the small Texas town of my world was doing this sort of thing, channeling writings from God. I was very fearful of being labeled as “crazy” or “out there.”

This was a really hard time for me. Except for my two friends in California – Erich and Stacie – there was no one around me who could understand where I was coming from and what was happening to me. I felt so alone and isolated…which actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise because I had no other choice than to stay in my actual experience and not rely on what anyone else thought.

I’m so very grateful to have the record of these writings to remind me of where I have been, because I forget. As I go back and read over the words of what came through my pen during those years, I’m reminded of how rough things were for me in the beginning; all the flipping and flopping, all the back and forth that happened, all the acceptance and resistance, welcoming and pushing away. I forget about it because now all of this has been integrated within myself such that it feels smooth and normal, like how it’s always been.

If someone had told me on October 30, 2002 that in 16 years that I would not only be sharing this poem for the whole world to see, but that these writings would come to provide the foundation of self-trust that would become everything about how I teach and live now….well, I would have had a heart attack right on the spot. And, if I had been told that day that the process of channeling the writings and dealing with all the difficulties I experienced would be the fuel for a book on Freedom Yoga that I am just about finished writing now, as I sit here in April of 2018….well, I don’t even have words for that.

After all these years, it feels good to share the poem. I’ve got a chapter in my book on the writings, in the section on courage and self-trust, where I talk about the extreme difficulties I encountered early on in my yoga journey. It’s so easy to think the teacher has it all figured out and never struggles. I struggle all the time. Trusting the voice of God, my Inner Teacher, my deepest truth is still hard for me at times. For me, spiritual growth has meant getting outside my comfort zone of complacency and sharing the gifts that come up through me. Shrinking is no longer an option that feels good.

Sharing ourselves with the world is so important, especially right now. It’s a very interesting time of intense change on the planet, at the moment. We’ve all been given gifts of the spirit; unique, beautiful precious gifts that not only make us who we are but that affect change and transformation. I think that if we really want to see wholeness restored in our own lives and on the planet, we need to pour the healing salve of our gifts into the collective wound. It seems to me that what’s needed is for all of us to step up and be willing to be who we are, to let our true colors, our true gifts, be the light that shines forth. This takes a huge amount of courage and self-trust, but the more open we become, the more it helps others open up, too. The ripples keep on rippling. In other words, the call is the Be Who We Are. Without shrinking. Without telling ourselves that we’re worthless or valueless or that we have nothing to share. Each of us has so very much to share and staying small serves no one. Let’s be brave. Let’s trust the voice, the guidance, the wisdom of the Inner Teacher as it comes up through us and out into the world. The world is in need of it.

Namaste, Carie

The Left-Hand Turn: The Journey Into the Ranch

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The Feathered Pipe Ranch in Montana means the world to me. It has been an integral part of my spiritual journey: it’s influenced my life in more ways than I can count and continues to play a huge role in helping me to unfold into the truth of who I really am. Many of my most profound, life-changing moments of spiritual connection have happened at the Feathered Pipe Ranch; moments where I experienced, without a doubt, that there is indeed a loving Higher Power who not only has my best interests at heart, but is walking right beside me on my path and guiding my every step along the way.

For the past 15 years, every summer for a week in July, I have made the journey to the ranch. I was blessed to be Erich Schiffmann’s teaching assistant for 14 of those years. Erich has been my one and only teacher and those weeks every summer with him and my closest friends who I met there during those years were water for my soul. As the years passed and I started developing my own teachings and trainings, those July weeks assisting Erich at the ranch became even more sacred for me. They helped me return to the grounding element of service, which is how my work with Erich began, and kept me rooted in the place that has shaped and nurtured me into the person and teacher that I am today. This journey has become an annual pilgrimage for me.

This past year, 2017 the journey took a different turn. Erich had announced in 2016 that he would be taking a break from teaching and would not be back at the ranch. A core group of us decided to come back anyway in 2017, to be together at this crossroads and discover our new direction. (Incidentally, there couldn’t have been a more perfect place to gather for this reason, as this is precisely what the feathered pipe that the ranch is named for is all about. When native tribes were at a crossroads and needed direction, they would hang the feathered pipe in a tree, whereby it would be blown by Great Spirit, pointing the direction of the next phase of the journey.) I was honored to be the facilitator of our group, leading our morning sessions, anchoring us in familiarity, introducing some new ideas into the mix, and holding space for what was to flower from this giant change for all of us.

The pilgrimage continues this summer in a new way. I will be teaching my own week at the ranch during August 18-25, an offering of Freedom Yoga that I’m calling Be the Real You: The Art of Self-Trust. The week will be rich with all of the stories and teachings I have learned from Erich that color everything about the way I teach, practice, and live Yoga…and will also be infused with my own teachings and new discoveries that revolve around themes of authenticity, rightness, ease of being, inner listening, courage, and self-trust. I feel so grateful to have the opportunity in August to give back some of what the ranch has given me over the years. It’s going to be a wonderful week.

If you haven’t been to the ranch yet, it’s hard to understand how special it is. It’s not just another retreat center where you get away to feel better, do a bunch of yoga, and then go home, back to the grind. Feathered Pipe Ranch is a place of healing transformation that nourishes and fills your soul all the way up and overflows, so that not only do you feel amazing, but – and most importantly – so that you can take it home and begin to help nourish others and make a difference in the world. The spirit of the ranch will wrap its loving arms around you so that you effortlessly enter into your true essence. If you come this summer, you’ll see what I mean. The story of how the ranch came to be is nothing short of miraculous. It was birthed from deep intention, spiritual guidance and vision; you can feel that with every step you take and every breath you breathe while you’re here. When you come, you’ll hear the story for yourself and understand why, for example, there is a huge elk on the giant mantle inside our yoga space, presiding over all we do.

I love everything about the ranch and being there, but I especially love the process, the physical journey, of making my way there. The outer act of arriving always seems to parallel the feeling of inner arrival, for me.

My journey to the Ranch is a long one; Montana is a ways from Texas. For many years, I would get up at 3am, to leave at 4am to drive to Houston or Austin, fly to Salt Lake City, then fly into Helena. Now that I’m older, I leave later. 🙂 But because it’s a full day’s travel for me, I like to arrive a day early, Friday, and stay in Helena down in Last Chance Gulch. There are so many lovely memories I have of us gathering for dinner, reconnecting with each other, and of course, toasting my once-a-year martini with Anne, my bff who I met at the ranch maybe my second year there. After dinner, we’d walk down to the indoor carousel to get ice cream, and, inevitably, we would always seem to miss the closing time by about five minutes. So we would just enjoy the night air, talk about our anticipation of the week together, and marvel that the light at 11pm still looks like dusk. The next day we begin the wonderful drive to the ranch, usually stopping off at Real Foods – the sweetest health food store ever — and picking up a few necessary items, like the traditional black pepper kettle chips and dark chocolate. Then we’d hit the highway, enjoying the beautiful scenery, chatting in the van about the weather, how the year has been, how the ranch is doing, and if there have been any bear sightings yet.

Then we come to it – my favorite part about the trip: that hallowed left-hand turn off the highway that has become so very special to me that it brings tears to my eyes now just thinking about it. We turn left, leave the highway behind, and begin our inward journey to the ranch, into ourselves. The moment we turn left, I am aware of the holiness surrounding us all. I know that we’re embarking on such a special week – sacred, powerful, and meaningful – that I savor every moment of this drive in. I know that when I leave the ranch in a week, I will be radically changed.

We travel down this road for quite a while, through fields of beautiful green grass and tiny purple flowers. The gentle mountains stand watch for us in the distance, with their ageless strength. We wind around log homes dotted with wooden fences and granite boulders. After a while, we come to the fork in the road, with the hanging wooden sign that reads Feathered Pipe Ranch on the left side of the fork. I love this part of the trip. It perfectly illustrates one of the fundamental themes of Freedom Yoga: awareness of the ever present choice-moment that we’re always in. We come to a fork in the road of our lives and ask ourselves, “Should I go left or should I go right?” Instead of making the decision on auto-pilot, from past experience or our conditioned patterns, the practice is to pause and sense inwardly, and then dare to go with the choice that has the clear feeling of rightness about it. Left! Under the sign we go! Emotions swell into a crashing wave of joy and gratitude as I sink a little deeper into myself and exhale a few layers of tension.

We curve around, as the hills on either side of the road become steeper, lined with larger boulders of granite. I usually roll down my window and stick my head out of the car, like a dog in the back seat, so happy to be on this ride. I savor the smell of the piney air, the wind in my face and I smile with happiness too huge to hold back, knowing we’re almost there.

And then – and it always takes me by surprise — there it is on the right: the lake with the cattails, the grassy lawn with the picnic tables and Adirondack furniture, and the beautiful log lodge…all right there, all waiting for me for a whole year, just like I left them. We curve around the lake, drive past the dining hall and we’re here! Oh joy!! I jump out of the car, raise my arms overhead to the clear blue sky and thank God for allowing me to be here, yet again. I am home.

I can’t wait to make that inward journey together with you in August. You’ll see what I mean about that left-hand turn when you experience it yourself. We’ll all arrive at the ranch at various times on Saturday, August 18, get settled in, have dinner in the dining hall, and then come into that wonderful opening circle to begin our week. We’ll create a lovely space where we can let go of the defenses and pretenses we lug around, so that we can fully be who we are. The yoga that we’ll do every day — whether it’s asana, discussion, chanting, or maybe even some dance — will have a sense of ease and will be designed to cultivate self-trust and inner listening, and foster a deep experience of union with All That Is. There is nothing like sitting in the lodge’s yoga space, looking skyward at the incredible beams, looking out the windows to the mountains, and looking up at the beautiful, majestic elk who selflessly holds the space in the room for us. You’ll have time during the week to sleep and rest, get a massage from the healing body workers at the ranch, lay on the lawn, meditate amongst the prayer flags at the stupa, hike up to the ridge at Sky Farm, eat incredible nourishing food, have meaningful conversations with people, laugh like a little kid, and look at the stars that are unlike any you’ve ever seen before.

I hope you’ll join me. I really look forward to sharing the magic of the ranch with you, as well as the stories, teachings, and history that are part of my soul. If you have any questions about what we’ll do in our sessions together, or what the ranch is like, I’d love to hear from you.

Here are the details:

Be the Real You: The Art of Self-Trust

August 18-25 at the Featherd Pipe Ranch

https://featheredpipe.com/feathered_retreats/self-trust/

with love,

Carie

 

Going Gray: A Spiritual Practice

“Don’t regret growing older. It’s a privilege denied to many.”

~ author unknown

 

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Last week, on March 7, I celebrated two huge anniversaries on the same day. March 7, 2010 was the day I walked into my first 12-step meeting and began a life-changing journey of recovery from codependency. These years have been a spiritual unfolding into profound sense of freedom and empowerment from within; such a beautiful parallel to the work I have done and continue to do with Freedom Yoga. I’ve learned to set boundaries, let go of people pleasing, and, above all else, be true to myself. This work has enabled me to become disentangled from who or what others say I should be, so that I can bravely reside deeply in my center point, the place of authenticity – the real me – where I find my voice, speak my worth and my truth, and let my gifts shine through.

Without these eight years of recovery, I know I would definitely not be celebrating the second big milestone in my life, and on the very same day, too: March 7, 2017 was the last time I had my hair colored. This is so huge for me. I can’t believe I’ve made it this far, actually. The decision to begin growing in my gray – and whatever color was actually present – was something that I had been agonizing over for years. With all the work I had been doing on letting my genuine and real self come to the surface with Yoga and recovery, I gradually began to experience more and more dissonance with continuing to keep my red hair as vibrant and gray-free as it was when I was in my 20’s.

Everything about the way I practice, teach, and live Yoga calls me to be as real and natural as possible and yet, coloring my hair felt like I was continuously rejecting who I am now, who I have become. I’m such a different person now than I was when I was 20, 30, or even 40. I’m 52 now, with plenty of lines etched into my face. I’ve had so many moments of expressions that this is how my face looks now. Why is the outer appearance of the gift of living for this many years and more considered to be something I should “fight” or not welcome? I love myself now and I love where I am now. Though my stylist is fabulous and I loved the way she made my hair look, the incongruence and inner tension of it being artificial was finally too much to bear. I was ready to really let more of the real me grow in and be seen.

It caused me to really do some serious pondering. What is beauty, really? Gosh, if I do this, what if I turn out to be ugly? Does beauty actually have to do with hair color? And what’s so wrong with gray hair, anyway? It is an outer sign of wisdom and experience, of a lightening that occurs as we soften from the hard edges of youth into a flowering of our true essence. Why is there such an obscure societal pressure for women to cover this up? Why is gray labeled as “distinguished” in men and when a woman goes gray she is seen as “letting herself go?” Why are men allowed by society to age, yet, women are expected to keep looking younger as they age? This is so very bizarre. And why is “young” considered to be a preferred state? Especially, as the quote above says, if age is a privilege denied to many, that means getting old is a privilege afforded to the very few.

So, one year ago, I decided to take damn scary plunge, stop fighting aging, and start embracing this privilege I have been given. Is it possible for me to welcome aging as an outward sign of the wisdom I have collected and integrated during my 52 trips around the sun? God, what if I look terrible, old, ugly, used up? I know, inwardly, I am none of those things, yet, will I be able to look in the mirror as the grays come in and see beauty in there somewhere? I had to find out.

This process of allowing and accepting who I really am has not been easy. This business of growing in my gray feels like a massive transformation that I am working hard to stay open and present to. Unbeknownst to me, I had so much of my identity wrapped up in being a redhead. Letting go of that has been really hard; however, it has been one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done because it has brought me closer to my real identity. Who do I say that I am? There are only two answers: 1) I’m Spirit embodied; the specific and unique self-expression of God/Source/The Divine; truly birthless and deathless…or 2) I’m something separate and apart from Spirit that is marching toward my demise. One answer is true and the other answer is illusion – truth looking like something else.

When I am rooted in my deepest truth (answer #1), I know that I am the Changeless One being this thing called “Carie” for a little while. And the Changeless One always and forever manifests Itself as what looks like constant change, impermanence, and ever-newness. My skin is different, my body is different, my inner world is vastly different, and, of course, my hair is different, too. It just doesn’t make sense to me anymore to chase parts of myself that have changed and are gone, trying to artificially re-create them, and yet be so resistant to embracing what is actually here, now.

Of course, I miss my vibrant red hair, but truth be told, it had lost its natural vibrancy a long time ago. It’s interesting to see a different me in the mirror with such a lovely softness around my face. My eyes feel brighter. I have grown to really love it, actually. My hair now feels like something of a crown, an outer sign of the inner work I’ve been doing for so long, and continue to do. I’m looking forward to it all growing in. It feels so good, like the real me is so much more on the surface of myself than ever before. But I have to stay with it, this process of allowing and acceptance. I do catch myself saying, “You idiot, what are you doing?” Then I smile and realize I’ve gone off to answer #2, take a few breaths, feel the truth, and get myself back to answer #1.

Lord, I Know I’ve Been Changed

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Vulnerability. It’s everything about the way I practice, teach, and live Yoga. Brene Brown, author, shame researcher, and one of my biggest inspirations in life, defines vulnerability as uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. Her work informs nearly every aspect of the way I live my life, both on and off the mat. Freedom Yoga is a highly creative inwardly guided practice based on deep inner listening, courage, and self-trust. We listen for and become sensitive to feeling divine guidance, life direction, insights, revelations and then dare to actually do what we’re guided to do, on the mat, which eventually translates into our daily lives. Being creative – that is, allowing Creation to flow through me in all that I do – is everything for me.

Turns out that according to Brene’s research, vulnerability is the very birthplace of creativity. Not more study, more asana, more rules, but the ability “Let go and let God,” as it were. If I want to be changed, to grow, to feel my inseparable unity with Spirit, and truly live a guided from within life, flowing along on the river of Divine Creativity, then I’ve got to be willing to embrace uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. In short, I’ve got to let myself be seen.

That’s scary as hell. This means that I have to be willing to let go of my white-knuckle death grip of control and let the never-before-seen newness in. It means that I must be brave enough to let go of comparison and what other people think so that I can speak my truth, speak my worth, and tell my story with a wide open heart. When I’m in the teaching role, it means I must courageously stand in the exposing spotlight of sharing my teaching insights that feel out there on leading edge for me, even if I know others might not agree with them. If I want creativity to flow through me and not just regurgitate the past (as Krishnamurti said), then I can’t just watch others inspire me from the bravery of their vulnerability, and continue to sit on the back row of complacency, hoping to blend in and not be seen.

Interestingly, and much to my surprise, one of the places I have been able to cultivate vulnerability and letting myself be seen has been my church. For several years now, I’ve been a member of an incredible African-American church. I love everything about it. Spirit flows through everything about our church, from the way we sing without sheet music, to the freedom to dance and clap (refreshingly, never on the one), to the way people are guided to stand up and share their experiences, to the exuberant and heartfelt emotional praise that occurs every Sunday.

Most every single church experience of my past included zero vulnerability. There was an order of service from which there was never any deviation and the choir practiced to excruciating detail such there would be no mistakes. All of the possibilities for vulnerability were starched and pressed right out of there. Now, my church experience is a fluid sea of spiritual creativity, where what exactly will happen is always uncertain, but is always moving and deeply profound and exactly what everyone needed. Sunday after Sunday, the healing vulnerability continues to wash through the desert of my soul and nourish me beyond belief.

Though the church was the most welcoming church I had ever experienced, it took me a very long time to finally join the church. The level of vulnerability, being seen, and simply not ever blending in was very intense for me.  For so long, I felt like an outsider, being the only white person there. I was so afraid I’d do something wrong or be disrespectful in an unknown way, that I held back quite a lot. Finally, I got brave enough to join the choir and sing the type of music that truly feeds me, spiritually. Of course, my spot is smack in the center of the choir stand. Since everything is so Spirit led here, often we will sing different songs than we rehearsed or sing them in different ways than we rehearsed. This was terrifying for me! What if people saw me –of course they can see me – up there not knowing the words, looking like a total idiot?

Finally, I started to feel less and less self-conscious up there, more me. If I don’t know the song, it’s fine and I jump in when I can. I’ve really learned how to relax in the not knowing and in the uncertainty. After some time, I began to wonder, “Oh wow, wouldn’t it be something to lead those songs,” I thought. “To be able to be in a place where I could let go and improvise and riff like the song leaders do…wow…that would be amazing.”

Well, two weeks ago, the music director asked me if I’d be willing to lead a song called “Lord, I Know I’ve Been Changed.” We were doing some old spirituals for black history month. Apparently everyone knows this song and has grown up with it…except me, of course. I told her I’d give it a try, without too much thought over what that entailed. When you lead a song, you go up to the micropohone – yes, the mic – all by yourself, to sing parts of the song, all by yourself. At rehearsal, I was sweating bullets, but managed to quasi-sing my verses. Then…we got to the holding pattern of the choir, over which the leader is expected to riff extemporaneously. Eek!!! I couldn’t think of anything to sing, to say, to do except to feel the need to crawl into a hole and disappear. “I’m so sorry, I can’t do it,” I said. “You’re going to have to find someone else for Sunday, I just can’t do it. I’m going to lose sleep and be a nervous wreck.”

I felt relief. Driving home, I was thinking, “It’s good to know when to say no. Whew. Yeah, someone else will do it and I can just stay safe and blend in.” Vulnerability problem averted!

Two days later my pastor texted me an image with the word “Godfidence” and said “Let God use you on Sunday.” Oh man, I thought I was through with that. I thought about it, pondered, and decided I would give it a go on Sunday.

Sunday came and, of course I didn’t know it in advance, but my song was first. So, I stepped up to the mic with no idea whatsoever about what was going to happen. “Let God use you, “ said the text said. So, as the music was playing, I basically talked to the congregation and told them what I’m writing here in this blog about vulnerability. I talked about how scared I was and how hard it is for me to be seen. Then I closed my eyes, really let go, and launched into those lovely, slow and slidey old-school spiritual tones and words:

“Lord, I know I’ve been changed. The angels in Heaven done signed my name. If you don’t believe that I’ve been redeemed, follow me down to that old Jordan Stream. Stepped in the water and the water was so cold. It chilled my body but not my soul.”

I could feel myself being changed with every note. Something took over me and I don’t even remember what happened, really. The riffing part came and I riffed! Lord have mercy, talk about being seen!! But, somehow, I did it. It felt amazing. It felt like a baptism, like something monumental had occurred. I really do feel massively changed.

And I can’t wait to do it again. But not anytime too soon.

 

 

 

A Gift of Impermanence

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As I sit here, the sun is coming up through the window just to my right. Now, the light is splintering through the corner of my glasses and the yellow orange glow is starting to reflect off the warm earthy orange walls of my office space. It’s nice to savor this moment, because I know it will be gone in just a few more breaths. It will change; it will be different that it is right now.

Life is like this moment; it’s an ever-changing kaleidoscope of constant change. Creation is perpetual, always and forever manifesting Itself as things that well up into existence, look one way for a brief moment, and then shape-shift into what looks like something else for another moment. Things are constantly coming and going, shifting and moving; and yet, the world often seems so predictable and permanent that I just keep my nose to life’s grindstone and don’t even bother looking up to witness and appreciate the unfolding cosmic play. Most of the time, I’m living on the assumption that everything I have in my world will be exactly as it is today, tomorrow.

And then, inevitably, thankfully, something comes along to shake me back into awareness. Sadly, often it takes the death of someone I know to come back to the reality that all of us are going to make an exit at some point, that our lives as we know them are quite impermanent. We’re here for just a blink of an eye, and then we move on. Other times, the shaking by the shoulders into reality comes with something very lovely, like a breathtaking sunset that streaks across the whole sky for a few minutes, then Etch-a-Sketches itself into darkness. Two days ago, my shake came in the form of beautiful, white snow.

Snowfall is very common in the world, of course, but it’s a rarity where I live in southeast Texas. I’m 52 years old and have only seen snow here about 3 or 4 times. We often get flurries and “wintry mix,” which is wet and sleet-like, but the snow hardly ever accumulates on the ground or in trees. When it does “stick,” it only sticks around very briefly. Well, four days ago it was 80 degrees here and the next day a cold front moved in. The day after that, at 5:45 the flakes started coming down. It was totally unexpected. Big, fat, fluffy snowflakes – no wintry mix – poured down for several hours. I’ve never seen that sort of snowfall here. We stepped outside into a winter wonderland. It felt like that moment in The Wizard of Oz, where Dorothy opens her door from black and white world into technicolor. Otherworldly.

Because this is such a rare occurrence, and one that is impermanent, snow here is like magic falling from the sky. Neighbors old and young were out in the streets, giddy like little kids, running up and down, laughing, shouting, “Can you believe this?!” After a couple of hours, everything was covered in a beautiful, soft, white, sparkling, gorgeous blanket of peace that landed on everyone and everything. That’s the thing about snow; the gift of it is a present for all, everyone and everything, not just some people and some things. It’s such a lovely equalizer of beauty and abundance that seamlessly stretches from one house to another, turning separations into a unified singularity. Each tree limb – large and small – was graced with a God-kissed highlight of Presence, and every house received free postcard-like holiday decorations. There was so much reflective light, even at 11pm, that it looked like daytime outside. All of us out there were fully aware of the miracle. Yes, indeed. That’s what it was.

I even cancelled my class the next morning, declaring a snow day. I knew all of it would go away quickly, so I wanted to go down to the park and take pictures and walk in it, hearing that sound of snow compressing under my feet that I typically only hear when I go to Colorado. I just wanted to savor the whole experience. It had already faded a great deal overnight, but was still so incredibly beautiful. The soft blue light of the early morning was magnified by the reflection of it in the snow. Every few breaths, I could see the change, the constant newness. A hint of blue sky began to peek through the gray and soon, the sun began rising, adding warm golden hues to the cool blue-grays. Little by little it began to look like snow falling all over again, as the white, dusky flakes started to fall from the trees. Once the sun came up in the sky, the glitter began its dance all across the white. Exquisite. Breathtaking. I knew all of this would be gone within a few hours. Such impermanence. And because I know it would be gone soon, I found myself drinking in as much as I could through all my senses.

And, sure enough, by 4pm, it was all gone. Except for a few bits of snow still on rooftops facing north, there was no evidence of what just happened. The grass is still green and the sky is blue. But everything is radically different. I’m different.

I’m so grateful for this gift of wonderful, miraculous, unexpected snow, which came and went in less than 24 hours. May it help me to stay present, appreciating and savoring each moment in my life, finding the wonder and beauty in the so-called everyday mundane. May it help me let go of what I think I’m so sure about so I can be a more full participant in this cosmic play, this ongoing dance of change and impermanence. May I remember to lift my head and keep looking and noticing the miracle, which is always present and always ongoing. Today, I’m choosing to not miss a thing.