Lessons in Love: Good Grief.

The past few days I have really been thinking about Love. And loss.

For most of my life, I had always thought love and loss seemed mutually exclusive of one other, sort of like flip sides of a record – “Love” on side A and that terrible B-side song that nobody ever wanted to listen to: “Loss.” “Love” was the only song I was interested in listening to because, frankly, “Loss” sucks. Who wrote that tune anyway and why is it even on the back of a record with such a fantastic A-side?? There’s no beat and you can’t even dance to it. I rate that record a “0.”

Playing “Love only” is what I have tried to do, for a very long time – from the days before I got into yoga and spirituality and even when I was first diving deeply into it. The song “Love” that I thought I knew was always upbeat, joyful, and celebratory. I knew the words to “Love” and I could sing along, loudly and in tune, by golly. That song always made me feel good. And, isn’t feeling good what it’s all about? Isn’t that what life is all about? It’s all Love. Just feel the love, man. Love is all we need. But, whatever you do, don’t flip the record over and play that awful B-side song “Loss,” or any of it’s aliases like “Sadness,” “Anger,” “Depression,” or “Grief.”

My problem with all of this was that I was I had only been listening to one particular song called “Love,” over and over and over. This song made me feel great, which I thought was the whole point, and the more I listened to it, the less I listened to the B-side: “B-side? What B-side?” I thought – especially when I first began this journey – this was what living a spiritual life was all about: feeling more of the good stuff and less of the bad stuff. I thought this was yoga and that advancing in my practice meant that the more love I felt, the more I would abide in an ongoing, peaceful, calm state of homogeneous and unchanging bliss.

In those highly impressionable early days, when I didn’t know yet how to go inward for the truth, I had heard from many people and read in various literature that sadness, anger, grief, depression, etc. – in other words, all emotions most of us don’t want to feel – are called “negative emotions.” Not only that, but I had heard that these “negative emotions” are not even real, and that feeling anything but Love in any moment is not only a waste of time, but it’s not what living a spiritual life is all about. As someone who had virtually perfected the art of doing anything and everything possible so that I would never feel these so-called illusory “negative emotions,” reading and hearing this was A-OK with me!

I became highly practiced at living in my head, using my intellect and esoteric spiritual ideals to continue my life pattern of not feeling my feelings. When I felt sadness or anger, I began to equate that with a lack of practice: “Oh, I’m not doing my practices as much as I should be. This is why I’m feeling all these negative emotions.” So, I’d do the various asana and meditation practices I knew to get myself back into a blissful state. I actually bought into this for a very long time, thinking that not giving attention to these emotions was the way to make them go away. “Great! All I have to feel are the good things, the love, the bliss! I’m finally off the hook for having to feel the things I don’t want to feel.” The rest of that stuff isn’t even real. Only Love is real. It’s all I need.”

The other problem for me was that the more Yoga became my way of life and not just something I did on the mat from time to time, the more I began to feel more. Of everything.

Not only did I feel the bliss more, which was great and what I was striving for, but I also began to feel the sadness more…the anger more…the so-called “negative emotions” even more. What I began to discover is that, as much as I tried – and I’ve spent my whole life trying – it’s impossible to selectively feel. Feeling is like a light switch: it’s either ALL on or it’s ALL off. We can’t choose to only feel the things that we want to feel and not the feel things we don’t want to feel. Turns out, I had gotten pretty good at turning it all off, thinking I was achieving some sort of yogic state. Thanks to 5 years of recovery work and the discovery of Bhakti Yoga (the yoga of the heart and the emotions), I’ve thawed my frozen feelings and, gratefully, finally, feel it all. I’ve never felt more alive and more authentically me.

FullSizeRenderHowever, the past couple of weeks I have been feeling so much and everything I thought
about Love is changing and expanding. We found out that our one-year-old kitty, Addie, who had been incredibly sick for two weeks and not getting any better, had lymphoma and was at the end of her short little life. We helped her make a quick and pain-free transition and thus began the terrible grieving process…which, I’m learning, is also the incredibly healing process. And all of this has really gotten me to think about Love. And loss. And grief.

Those old yoga platitudes that I used to buy into would say, “Well, there’s really no such thing as loss or grief; everything is one. It’s all Love.” Or, my intellect would tell me, “She’s out of pain and in a better place now.” It’s so easy, under the guise of spiritual teachings, to keep freezing the feelings, to turn to the practices as a form of escapism to not deal with things that don’t feel blissful.

Yes, there really may be no such thing as loss because everything is, indeed, one, and my intellect and spirit knows this, but what of my sweet kitty-girl who is no longer physically here? I miss her. My heart aches to hold her and scratch her under her chin until she falls asleep, to feel the softest fur I’ve ever felt, to hear her purr as she presses her paws into the green blanket I have on my bed. Turning to spiritual ideals or intellectual pontificating does nothing to help me drop down to the ground in sadness and grief and feel this terrible soul hole of a loss, so that I can feel the love —not the one flavor of love that feels like bliss, but so I can feel alive with the infinite swirl of Love that has so many textures, colors, seasons, and flavors.

Yes, it’s definitely all Love, but love isn’t always happy happy joy joy, and it is most certainly not always bliss. It doesn’t always have a beat that you can dance to. Love, and the heart through which we feel it, is pulsating with all the variations of life, I’m learning. Sometimes love is passionate and romantic; sometimes it is most definitely a calm bliss with a peace that passes all understanding. And sometimes, it’s sadness and grief. It feels so good to love so deeply and fully; yet, what I’m experiencing is that loving that hard also hurts so much. I’ve loved Addie with the infinite vastness of all that I am. And now, the infinite vastness of all that I am is hurting. And healing. But, I’m only healing because I am feeling. The more I feel, the more I heal. And the more I heal, the more I’m real. That’s Yoga, to me.

*Note: If you’re interested in working with your emotions and learning about the gift that each one brings for us, I highly recommend Karla McLaren’s book called The Language of Emotions. This was a life-changing read for me and a book I regularly go to for deep wisdom.

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Strength Through Powerlessness

It has been a hard couple of BeFunky_prayer hands on the ridge.jpgmonths for me. I’m in a swirling sea of change so deep that it’s hard to find my sea legs, or land legs, or any footing at all on which to firmly stand. The proverbial sands under my feet are shifting so radically that I have been way outside my comfort zone with just about everything. And when the going gets tough and I find myself uncomfortable and immobilized, fear and its sidekick, mistrust, step right up to offer their services. If I’m grounded and centered and my sense of self is strong, it’s easy to tell fear and mistrust “Thanks, but no thanks.” However, when I’m dealing with so much change and discomfort, I will often welcome them in with open arms, as if they were old friends. With fear and mistrust by my side, I drop into my very old coping pattern of trying with all my might to exert some sense of control, somewhere, somehow, so that I can reclaim my personal power and sink my feet into some good ol’ terra firma.

I know this is happening when everything “out there” starts to bug me. I find myself completely irritated with traffic, noise, all the things I have to do, all the things I’m afraid of that are unknown, and mostly, I become totally annoyed with what other people are doing. This old pattern doesn’t serve me at all, of course, but I do find that I subconsciously revert to it when things feel massively overwhelming. I let my sense of self become weak, my power begins seeping out of me – like a phone whose battery is nearly drained – and I try to power up with everything “out there;” that is, everyone and everything outside of myself. I try to brandish some sort of imaginary saber of control in order to reclaim my sense of self. It’s an awful feeling and, often, I don’t realize that I have reverted to this old pattern until I become utterly miserable. Then I sit down with my journal to find some enlightenment as to why I feel so awful and angry and why everyone is driving me nuts. And today, with my journal in my lap and pen in my hand, I gratefully, so very gratefully, finally remember Step 1.

I have been doing 12-step recovery work for 4 ½ years now and as we say in the program, “The twelve steps are the guiding principles for our individual recovery.” Step 1 says: We admitted we were powerless over ____, and that our lives had become unmanageable.” Each 12 step program fills in the blank with the issue of that specific recovery group; powerless over alcohol, powerless over drugs, powerless over other people, etc. When I remember Step 1, I put the pause in the pattern.

I am powerless over others. When others are doing things I don’t like or don’t agree with and I feel myself trying to exert control, trying to change what they’re doing, I remember this step. Usually, it means to me, “There’s nothing I can do. I’m powerless over what they are doing.” It’s a way of surrender and acceptance, but typically, for me, there is a sense of detaching from the person and situation with a feeling of reluctant resolve: “Oh well, I’m powerless. They are doing this thing anyway.”

But today, after days of flailing around, being so bent about what someone else is doing, I finally found some welcome freedom in working Step 1 – that is, meditating on it, thinking about it, looking at it from different angles. Today, I received some brand new insights about powerlessness.

I realized that admitting powerlessness isn’t about someone else and reluctantly resolving to whatever they are doing or not doing; it’s about me and restoring my own power. I have become power-LESS. Step 1 is a way for me to remember to stop in my tracks, and acknowledge that something has happened which has caused an upheaval in my life, and I’ve stopped doing the things that fill me up because I’m so overwhelmed. I have lost my footing, become caught in an eddy of confusion, and I’ve let my power drain away. Step 1 helps me put a pause in the pattern; to stop and be aware of what I’m actually doing. I’m power-less. I’m totally depleted, energetically.

Because I’m now aware that I’m caught in the eddy of overwhelm, admitting powerlessness is the way to seal the holes in myself through which I have let my power seep out. Step 1 helps me remember that I need to power up. I’ve been going to the wrong source for power by trying to plug into the wrong outlet. I have forgotten that the recharging station is the higher power within myself, and have unconsciously reverted to looking to others to reclaim my energy and power as I let mine continue to drain away. Others are never the source of my power; therefore, I must re-orient my inner compass from pointing “out there” to pointing straight into myself: the closet contact point to my Higher Power, to Source, God. There’s no other source for my specific and unique plug to plug into other than the truth within myself; however, when I’m overwhelmed and confused and feeling alone, I can so easily forget this. If I’m trying to pull power from anything other than from deep within myself, then that means my sense of inner power has severely weakened and, therefore, I need to plug in and do my practices – yoga, mediation, journaling, playing my guitar, doing something creative – to stay powered up. And when I’m powered up, I’m power-FULL, not power-LESS. Not powerful in the sense that I’m more than anyone else, but power-full in the sense of filled up with my own unique spiritual essence.

Admitting powerlessness helps me find my inner strength by helping me feel safe, secure, and bright again. When I’m powered up from within, my boundaries are strong and I’m free from the sway of external circumstances. I become untangled from others and their stories and whatever they’re doing or not doing. That’s so liberating – both for them and for me. What a beautiful thing. I’m so grateful for Step 1 today.

“It works if you work it…and you’re worth it.”

Freeform Yoga

Freeform Yoga: Yogis doing Yoga together. For Real. Freefom Friday

This Friday will be the second installment of Freeform Friday, a new drop-in class that meets the second Friday of each month. This is not a led class, in the usual sense, of a teacher in front of the room, telling everyone else what to do, how to align their bodies, how to breathe, when to move. This is a deeply led class, but the instructions on what to do and how to do it all come from within each of us.

I’ve been doing Freefom asana practice for 15 years, but this is the first time in all these years that I have offered this as a scheduled class. I think it’s a very important addition and one that I am thrilled to share.

The practice of Yoga is about living your life with the conscious awareness that that you and I (and everything else) are the specific expression of God/The Infinite/Source/Spirit, etc. When we abide in the awareness of this fact, we are living Yoga. When we’re living Yoga, we are in communion with Source. When we’re in communion with Source, we’re in an open, receptive mental space where insights, wisdom, and inner guidance about how to live our lives flows in. In my approach to Yoga, this is the whole point. This is what it’s about: Remembering who we are and letting this deep, inner truth lead and guide us so that everything we do and say contributes to the collective harmony and healing of us, individually, and our cosmos, collectively.

However, the problem that we find ourselves in is that we keep forgetting this truth. And, because we forget, we need some things, some practices, we can do to bring us back to experience of the fact. In the Yoga tradition, there are many practices to help bring us back into the experience of Truth. Asana, the practice of poses on the mat, are only one very small part. And, they can be done with or without the yogic mindset of experiencing our conscious awareness of our inseparability with God. Asana and Yoga are not synonymous. You can do asana all day long and never do any Yoga. And, you can do Yoga all day long (which is the point)  and never do one single asana. It’s not just about the practices, but rather, it’s about the experience into which the practices take you.

Typically, when we go to “yoga” classes, they are asana classes, usually led by the teacher in the front of the room who tells everyone exactly how and when to breathe and move their bodies. This is very important for beginners, who don’t know what to do or how to do it. You learn the technique – how to place your hands and feet, how to breathe, how to align yourself in the poses – and train in the technique, over and over and over until the awareness of what you’re doing takes hold. Since you don’t know what to do at first, you need some guidance about it, so you surrender yourself to the teacher, and allow his/her guidance to teach you. This is the first step.

Unfortunately, many people consider this to be the only step. Once the awareness takes hold through all the training, many continue to make the classroom experience their only Yoga practice, never practicing on their own, outside of class. The student becomes entirely dependent on the teacher to tell him/her exactly what to do and when to do it, which is not, ultimately, what Yoga is about.  What was a necessary technique to learn in the beginning becomes a roadblock to self-trust and creativity, hindering the free exploration needed for the Yoga to start blossoming and bearing fruit.

The next step is use all of this training as a springboard to dive off into your own practice, such that you make a shift from going to the teacher outside of yourself straight into the teacher within yourself. This is where the real fruits of the practice begin to grow. Instead of depending on someone else for guidance and inspiration, you begin to sink into the depths of yourself — into the ocean of Infinity as it comes up through your unique specificity, right there where you are — for personal insights and life directions. In the context of the asana practice, we begin honing this skill on the mat with Freefom practice.

If you’ve never done a Freefom practice before, I invite you to join me tomorrow night. It’s a beautiful and powerful thing to experience. I’ll put on the music and we will all tune into our creative Source, listening inwardly for directions on how to move or not move, and practice doing exactly what we are guided to do – on the mat, where it’s easy. What each of us does will look very different, yet we will all be doing the same thing: Yoga. And, remember, Yoga and asana are not necessarily the same thing; therefore, the Yoga might look like sitting and listening to the music, it might look like dance, it might look like traditional asana sequences, it might look like journaling, or meditating, or something else. Practicing this way translates directly into living this way, which is the whole point of the practice. The point is to not get better and better at the practices of Yoga, but to get better and better at having the experience of Yoga.

Being in a roomful of Yogis doing Yoga together, each of us completely tuned into our inner guidance, is indescribably liberating and healing. I hope you join me tomorrow night. The more, the better. All are welcome, whether you know zero asanas or whether you know hundreds. It’s not about the asana and it’s not about what the expression of your Yoga looks like. It’s about having the experience of being the open channel for your guidance to find expression in the world. That’s the Yoga.

The Island of a Misfit Yogi

(Note: When I created this blog, I wanted it to be not only a place to share my strengths, but most importantly, a place to share my struggles. It’s easy to think that the teacher has it all together, that he/she is living the Yoga without any inner conflict whatsoever. Part of my path as a teacher is to be honest and share my struggles, so that it will hopefully help someone else who is wrestling with all of this, too. It would have been a huge help for me to read of others’ processes as they move through this work of deep transformation, rather than reading only the strengths or only the insights that came from the conflict. In this light, I’m sharing an experience I had yesterday. Love and peace, Carie)

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Today was the worst morning I have had in quite a long time. I arrived for my third Saturday morning class at the new yoga studio, excited to share my love of Freedom Style Yoga, and looking forward to a spirit-filled experience of being in a room full of people courageously following their inner guidance. Ah, it’s such an exquisite feeling to be immersed in a room full of that. It’s inspiring, renewing, and deeply healing. As the minutes ticked down toward 9:30, no one walked through the door of Studio 1 where I was. 9:35…nobody. Zero people showed up to my class. There were 20 in the studio on the other side of the wall, and there were 18 in the class after mine. For me? Absolutely zero.

And an absolute zero is exactly what I felt like. My autopilot pattern is to spin something like this into evidence of my worth as a teacher: I suck and nobody on the planet is interested in what I have to share. I closed the door and sat on my mat, looking out through the frosted window walls as silhouettes with mat bags made their way toward the building, for another class besides mine, and just let the tears flow. I’ve learned over the years that this work of living the Yoga isn’t work I do alone and in moments like these I have a choice: I can thrash around in an eddy of this or I can reach out for a lifeline to help get myself back into calm waters. So, I texted one of my closest friends in Virginia for help in getting out of this quickly spinning whirlpool. Thank God for my friends, who remind me who I am when I so easily forget.

I got a Kleenex and began rolling up my mat when the image hit me: The Island of Misfit Toys. This was a scene from that old children’s TV Christmas classic, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The Island of Misfit Toys was an island where all the toys nobody wanted went; toys that were not perfect, toys that were discarded in favor of newer and fancier ones, toys that didn’t fit in, toys that other people didn’t understand…like a cowboy who rides an ostrich instead of a horse, and a “Charlie-in the-box” instead of the usual “Jack-in-the-box.”

I feel like a toy on that island. More accurately, I feel like a yogi on the island of misfit yogis, except it seems that I’m the only yogi on the island. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone asked me what Freedom Style Yoga was; very few people in this region, except my already-established students, have even heard of it. Someone even suggested to me a couple of weeks ago that I change the name of my class to vinyasa flow, since nobody knows what Freedom Style Yoga is.

Today I seriously wondered about that. What else would I call it, anyway? FSY is what it is. And why should I call it something else – or worse, a something else that it’s not even remotely close to what I do? Freedom Style Yoga is what I do. It’s who I am. This style of yoga in which you cultivate the skill of inner listening and let yourself look for the feelings of rightness in the pose is all that I know. It’s a practice of giving expression to your deepest impulses and inner nudgings on the mat, so that it translates into living your life that way. Because we let the energy of Creation move through us and animate us, it’s a highly creative practice.This is what I have studied and practiced, and this is what I teach and how I live.  I am definitely a “Carie-out-of the-box” and if I were a cowgirl, I think riding an eagle would be pretty cool.

Maybe this is the curse of being a creative person: that mantra of “nobody gets me.” It’s definitely my mantra on a day like today when zero people come to my class. Because what I’m teaching is new and different, it’s so easy to let “nobody gets me” be the banner over me as I eddy in the whirlpool of isolation. But I know it’s not true and I know I’m really not a misfit yogi on my own island. My friends get me. My regular students in already-established classes at another studio love practicing in a way that gives expression to their Truth. When I’m blessed enough to teach in different cities or states, those folks get it, too. The idea of Freedom Style Yoga is completely new to lots of people, I’m discovering; but it’s growing. 50 people or zero people in these new classes, I’m pressing on and I’m pioneering forward, come what may. I’m blessed to share what I am so passionate about with anyone who is interested, whenever they’re interested.

Time for this cowgirl to get back on her…eagle…and fly. Yee haw!

Freedom Style Yoga: Meditation in Motion

Meditation, or inner listening, is the most important aspect in the practice of Yoga; it’s the basic, fundamental idea of what the practice is about. Yoga is the mental and spiritual re-orientation of moving from a muddled mindstate that feels separate from God into a clear mindstate that knows, through direct experience, that it’s the unique expression of IMG_0702God and there’s no way it could ever possibly be separate. This “mind switch” is the actual act of Yoga itself, and feels much like flicking on a light switch. The practice of Yoga is not just about flicking the switch on from time to time during your practice sessions, but keeping it on all the time, as you live your life, 24/7. It’s that simple.

However, it’s not that simple. The practice of Yoga calls us to use our minds in a new way and, as we all know, doing something in a new involves a learning curve. It takes time and practice to learn a new skill. It also takes discipline, patience, and above all else, the willingness to let yourself be taught anew. Meditation is the easiest, most effective way that I’ve found to make the mind switch and consciously enter into the state of Yoga. It’s all about learning to quiet your mind, skillfully feel the infinite energy of yourself, and deeply listen. And it all starts with motionless sitting meditation practice, where it’s easy, where there aren’t a lot of external distractions.

There are many different techniques to learn how to sit in meditation but the important thing to remember is that meditation is not about technique only; it’s about the experience into which the technique takes you. In other words, meditation isn’t just about repeating a mantra, or breathing in certain ways, or having the textbook perfect sitting posture with your hands always in a certain shape. Each technique is a tool, a means, to help you immerse yourself in the Yoga: the actual experience of inseparable union with God, Source, Infinite Love, Higher Power…whatever words resonate with you that describe your own understanding of the Creative Life Force that is being Itself as you. Therefore, meditation isn’t about simply becoming a better meditator, in terms of getting better at replicating the various techniques. It’s about getting better at fully immersing yourself in the feeling of the infinite truth of you, in a still and distraction-free environment, and beginning to abide in a state of communion and communication with the Life Force as it comes up through you.

Basically, what all of this means is that with the practice of motionless sitting and feeling the truth of yourself, you’ll begin to tap into the well of your infinite guidance and wisdom. You’ll start being able to hear the nudging and promptings of The Universe. You’ll begin to intuit inner guidance about what to do or not do; what to say or not say, for example. You’ll begin to receive spiritual insights and specific directions, teachings from your Inner Teacher, on how to move and have your being; how to live your life.

Interestingly, with increased motionless sitting meditation practice you’ll start to find that you won’t be able to be still and motionless for very long. When you get quiet and still and tap into the energy of Creation as it comes up through your very presence, you will find yourself smack in the middle of Universal Flow; alive, creative, morphing and moving. When you align yourself with this, you’ll be aligning yourself with your truth and authenticity, infinite possibilities, healing, rejuvenation, love, and joy. You’ll be moved to move and will be inspired to live and, therefore, will be an inspiration for others. This is what the practice is about: extending what you experience on the meditation cushion into your life by actually living the inner listening, living the Yoga mindstate, living “Thy Will be done” all the time, rather than just during your formal sits every day or every once in a while. So the next step, then, is being able to continue meditating, i.e. inner listening and communication, while you move through all the things you do in your daily life. The next step is letting the meditation move you.

Freedom Style Yoga is an excellent way to begin to do this. The practice serves as a way to bridge motionless meditation in formal sits with moving meditation in normal life. Freedom Style Yoga is an intuitive approach to living that involves not deciding in advance about what to do or not do. Instead of making up your own mind about things, the practice is about listening inwardly for guidance about what to do or not do, trusting into what you find yourself knowing, and being brave enough to let yourself give expression to it in the world.

In terms of the Freedom Style asana practice, we start where it’s easy. We learn how to let the meditation find movement right on the mat, a microcosm of life, where it’s simpler than jumping straight out into the highway of daily life. The mat becomes a laboratory on which to safely explore the skill of an important merger: listening while you’re moving and moving while you’re listening. With practice, the two become a seamless, unified singularity.

Now, just as meditation isn’t about technique only, neither is asana just about technique only. It’s all about the meditative experience into which the technique takes you: the experience of Yoga, not just about the experience of an asana technique. Once you get into the actual Yoga experience, you can begin to surf the experience technique-free by following the feeling of rightness, wherever it takes you. In the practice of asana, this translates into letting go of what you think you’re supposed to do in the poses and, instead of making up your own mind in advance about what to do, meditate…listen…and be brave enough and trusting enough to give the IMG_0728guidance expression in the poses. The resulting feeling is a powerful and transformational sense of freedom to be You; to do your Yoga; to listen to your Inner Teacher. Instead of coloring inside of already-determined lines, we give ourselves permission to color outside of them. Sometimes that might look like exploring options and choices in traditional poses; it might look like inventing your own poses or unique variations to classical poses; it might look like a full-out freeform practice where you do exactly what you feel like doing. I’ve taken the freeform practice a step further, off the mat, into a moving meditation dance fusion called Bhakti Moves, which I wrote about in an earlier blog.

The more you practice the art of Freedom Style Yoga, the more it floods directly into your life off the mat into the practice of Freedom Style Living. You get better and better at inner listening all the time, while you’re moving through your life, doing all the things you do every day. You learn to flow with the perfect current of life, rather than against it. You begin to follow your inner guidance and live your life with courage and trust, just like in the practice sessions. You begin to expand outside of your ordinary comfort zones into the beautiful territory of freedom and growth. You begin to be a yogi living the Yoga in the world, helping others find the bravery to do the same. It’s deeply healing for you, for everyone else, and for the entirety of Creation. And you start where it’s easy: on the cushion and on the mat.

And the Day Came

And the day came when the risk to remain in a tight bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” ~Anais Nin

I don’t know how many times I have seen or heard this quote over the years. In fact, a friend of mine posted it on Facebook just the other day. I do remember exactly when and where I was when I first saw it, though. It was April, 2001 and I was standing in the kitchen of the house of my brand new friend, Stacie, whom I had only met a few hours earlier and who would soon become one of my soul-sister best friends in the whole world. It was Friday and I had just arrBloomingived into Santa Barbara, CA to begin a 10-day teacher training journey with Erich Schiffmann, who, unbeknownst to me, would soon become my modern day guru, my dear brother and friend, and many years later, my Freedom Style Yoga colleague.

Stacie was a “local yogi” who had decided to rent out a room in her house to a teacher trainee coming in from out of town. I was standing in Stacie’s kitchen, looking at pictures of her young daughter on the refrigerator, and this quote was written in Stacie’s hand, tacked up on the side of the fridge with magnets. It blew me away in every way. In fact, I immediately wrote it down in the very front of my blank notebook for the teacher training, which would soon be filled with notes of Erich wisdom that I didn’t even really understand yet, followed by class plans for every single class I would teach for the next two years, which would teach me so much about sequencing that I would no longer need actual class plans anymore. I had no idea that this quote would be part of the beginnings of my magical, mystical yoga journey, that continues to this day.

And the day came when the risk to remain in a tight bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

When I think about a plant blossoming, it’s a long process. It takes time and there are a lot of things happening behind the scenes before the bud appears on the branch or the vine. First, the plant has to grow from a tiny seed. The seed cracks open, roots form and become established, tiny leaves begin to grow. Once it leaves the darkness and safety of the warm ground, the little plant is pounded by every sort of weather as it pushes up against gravity toward the light: rain, snow, blazing sun, flood, drought. It endures. If it doesn’t endure, it won’t grow strong enough to eventually blossom. And the whole point of the blossom is to bear fruit.

I find that so interesting, but what really strikes me about this quote is this: choice and risk. I don’t know if a plant has actual conscious choice about whether it blooms and grows or not, but I think we do. In any moment, I have the choice whether to shrink, stay small, and play it safe by staying in the familiar…or, I can choose to relax, expand into the new territory of the unknown and into my personal Scary Biggie: letting myself be seen. For me, that is the risk of all risks.

For so long, my whole life, really, my choice has been to stay in that tight bud. Smallness feels safe, for me. When I contract and shrink, it feels like I can blend in better and no one will notice me. I don’t have to feel risk, I don’t have to feel vulnerable and exposed, and I don’t feel those so-called “negative emotions.” Problem is, try as I may, I have discovered that it’s impossible to selectively feel. When I try to block out what I don’t want to feel – sadness, anger, fear – I also block out the good stuff that I want to feel – happiness, joy, peace, and love. When I play it small, I risk my own growth process; I stagnate in an eddy of my own fears and anxieties and constrict myself from feeling the freedom that comes from blooming open and turning my face toward the sun.

And the day came. Not one monumental day, but a collective day began to come. As I practiced yoga and meditation more and more, I began to have more moments of being willing to open. Little moments like these really add up, because the more I let go of trying to control the blooming, even just a little, the more the natural state of openness took over and the less I could shrink back to where I was. In 2010, I discovered a potent combination of transformation that really helped “the day” to arrive: Bhakti Yoga and 12-step recovery. My heart finally began to thaw…and feel. And the more I feel, the more I heal. The more I feel and heal, the more real I feel. It feels like so many old buds in myself are finally bursting wide open. Through Bhakti and recovery, I happened upon the incredible work of Brene Brown, which continues to help me dare greatly in the arena of authenticity by simply being who I am. Karla McLaren’s book, The Language of Emotions, has also helped me to let the blossoms burst forth. I had heard so often, in various yoga circles, that sadness is a waste of time, that anger is a worthless emotion, and that if you’re feeling fear then you’re not feeling love. Not so! I’ve learned that every emotion has a beauty of rich helpfulness. Sadness helps us let go of things, anger helps us restore our boundaries, and fear helps heighten our intuition so that we may move carefully through change.

And, of course, the Scary Biggie did happen. When the blossom finally unfolds itself and opens, then it’s seen. It’s noticed. Its sweet fragrance perfumes the air, it’s delicate beauty inspires, and then the fruit grows and ripens. After years of experiencing “the day” over and over, I finally began to feel brave enough to share my out-of-the box teachings, that don’t seem to fit into the traditional yoga mold. Next weekend I will be presenting my latest work on “finding your inner resonance” at the amazing Sun and Moon Yoga Studio in Arlington, Virginia. This work is on the current leading edge of my own personal discoveries and I’m so excited to share it with the open, loving yogis there who thrive on experiencing new ideas and new ways of practicing and living Yoga. I’m so very grateful. And, of course, I’m also anxious and fearful, as I am before every teaching engagement…but the risk to be Who I Am feels so much less risky than it used to. And that helps me to stay open and not shrink. Shrinking serves no one. It keeps the fruit from forming.

May you and I continue to find the courage to blossom today and every day. The world is in need of the specific fruit of each of our unique vines, not just fruit from some of the vines. Let’s be brave, let’s open up, and beautifully bloom. It’s worth the risk.

Shiva Visits My Kitchen

Today is Monday. Last Thursday, construction began on our kitchen remodel project. Or, more accurately, last Thursday, preparation for destruction began.

The plan is to install new cabinet doors, paint, install new lighting, new countertops, new sink, oven, and tiled backsplash.  My well-devised plan was to move all of the kitchen cabinet contents upstairs into the spare bedroom and keep everything out of my yoga room, which is adjacent to the kitchen.

I was told on Thursday that, since we decided to add new lighting to the dining room as well as the kitchen, that the dining room ceiling would also have to be retextured, along with the kitchen. This news required that my dining table, the 8 X 10 rug underneath it, all the things on the walls, and most of the other furniture in the room would need to be relocated, in order to put down floor protection and give the workers space to work.

My spare bedroom is completely full of dishes, pots and pants, and pantry contents. There is no way that a rug, dining table, small hutch, and all my art on the walls would fit up there. Plus, even if it would, hauling heavy furniture upstairs would be required. The only place for all of it to go was the yoga room. I had expected to have a card table or two in the yoga room, for coffee, the microwave, and a few things we’d need access to each day. But the whole dining room? This was not in my plan. This was not even a possible thought in my plan.

My yoga room, my zen space, my sanctuary, where I work with private clients, where I do my practice, where I sit and meditate, where I have my morning coffee each day, where I go to get away from the TV, from NPR on the radio in the mornings…is now utter chaos. The dining table and rug are smack in the middle, with newspapers  and paint sample cards and this and that strewn on top, and there are the two card tables set up, as I’d envisioned, except instead of the coffee neatly organized, random, non-coffee-related items are thrown on the table, too. Plastic bins holding various kitchen castaways are sitting on every inch of horizontal space, even under the tables. When I got home today, I was surprised to see every kitchen drawer and the pulled out cooktop sitting on pieces of cardboard in the only space there was left in the room. “Oh my goodness,” I thought (though those weren’t the actual words I used); “I’ll just go get a glass of water and sit down for a sec.” I went in to get a glass of water and there is a big hole where the sink and water filter were. Then I noticed the dishwasher, sitting naked with no countertop over it, remembering it was completely full of dirty dishes.

This is affecting me. I mean, this is really affecting me. I wish it weren’t. Trying to practice gratitude does no good and trying to focus on the end result is useless. I wish I could say that, being the practiced yogi and meditator that I am, that I have seamless inner peace, regardless of how my external world seems to be. There is nowhere in my house for me to go to get away from this destruction and chaos. Even here in my office space, I have a card table in the corner with dining room stuff piled on it. I can’t get away. I am either going to drive myself insane, taking my family along with me, or I’m going to have to make friends with this. Somehow.

As soon as I made the choice to find a way to befriend all of this, the image of Shiva slid through my mind. Shiva, lord of destruction, has paid me a visit. This Shiva energy is swirling quite ungracefully through my home, the metaphor for the self, I realized. Not only that, but it’s it’s tornadoing it’s way through my kitchen – the heart of the home, the heart of the self. AND, it’s in my yoga space – my inner sanctuary; the place where I go to find peace. I find that pretty interesting, indeed.

As of right now, I am choosing to invite this chaotic, unpredictable, everything-is-going-wrong energy straight into my heart space, straight into my inner yoga space. I’m going to breathe it in, “destruction,” and breathe it out, “chaos.” Every time I walk through my yoga room, I’m going to gently form the words of the mantra:  Om Namah Shivaya. I honor this energy of change and destruction, so that new creations may come forth. Wow, I am feeling better already.

Today is Tuesday, as I come back to this post and put the finishing touches on it. I am most definitely feeling better today; softer and much less edgy. In doing my newfound practice and reflecting on all of this, I realized that by breathing in “destruction” and breathing out “chaos” I have brought myself into the arena of acceptance, rather than resistance. It’s helped me to allow destruction and allow chaos to swirl around me, without saying “no” to it all, wanting order and predictability instead. Saying these words as I breathe has caused me to breathe deeper. Reciting the mantra as I exhale has helped me to let go. Not only all of that but something really interesting is happening: I am finding peace amidst the chaos and I am actually beginning to see order in the disorder. I am beginning to see creation unfolding in an in-your-face, hugely bold way that I don’t usually experience or notice. I am grateful for this.

Om Namah Shivaya.