The Miracle of Not Getting What We Want

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed by love. Like most little girls in America, I was raised on a diet of fairy tales, romantic comedies, and the persistent idea that—somehow, somewhere—there was a knight in shining armor made especially for me. He would come along on his white horse and free me from the castle of the mundane, transforming my life into wonderful.

 

Thus, for most of my life—up until recently—I chased love and was chased by love. It was the most potent, intoxicating drug I knew.

 

In high school, I fell in love with a tall boy who had the most charming laugh. Holding his hand in the backseat of my mother’s car: my heart so tender, raw, and wanting. We wrote letters after high school, but after refusing to be monogamous with me, I burned his letters and vowed to forget him.

 

During college, I discovered I could fall madly in love with women. Their breasts intrigued me. I could lie in bed with them for hours and hours, feeling our skin together like satin, lace.

 

Later, it was the poet who always wore black.

 

Then the marine who proposed marriage to me, but then one week later proposed to someone else.

 

Right after college, I married my best friend. He was a lovely man with curly hair and a rotund belly. He worked at Starbucks and loved loud parties. He made me laugh and helped me forget what I wanted to forget. We loved poetry and wine. Five years later, to my utter shock, I found our conversations growing stale. We divorced.

 

While working on a PhD, I discovered that monogamy was not the only way to love. I explored a radical method of spiritual practice called polyamory. By transcending jealousy and allowing my lovers to love others, my heart opened by miles. I felt I was on the cutting edge of human evolution. At one point, I had four partners simultaneously, all of whom were known to each other. In time, each of those romances ended, for various reasons, but I never forgot how amazing it was to say to my partner, “Honey, I’m falling in love with someone else” and for them to say, “Wow, I’m so happy for you! Tell me more!”

 

In my mid-thirties I fell in love with my spiritual teacher. It ended in more confusion and heartbreak than can ever be described in words.

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♥♥

And then there was the man who lived across the ocean. This man, who loved me as deeply and as fiercely as I loved him. He made love to guitars with his hands. I could sit and listen to his music forever.

We remembered many of our past lives together and sometimes re-entered them by accident, finishing up threads of old conversations, saying our goodbyes and making amends for tragedies that had haunted our souls.

We loved to adventure together, to the wild places of sea and tree. Everyone said we looked like brother and sister. Sometimes, when I looked into his eyes, I saw my own eyes. I couldn’t not be with him. I had no control of it. Kissing him was a breathless, deathless experience of time and space melting. Sometimes we would Skype for six hours in a single day, watching in fascination as the afternoon sun slowly dissolved into dusk.

After five years of plane rides, never enough money, and endless confusions and questions, I finally met his parents. We planned to marry and live in America. I had visions of a pregnant belly and growing a garden. I could rest easy now. I could give up teaching (which still frightened me) and trying to do anything else. My heart had found completion.

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♥♥

And then, an ending came. Even for us. Even for us.

It was one terrible winter morning, torrential rains. Flooding in his village that stopped the trains. Nightmares that were driving me insane: The immigration system was not on our side. A lingering court conviction and one too many tearful airport goodbyes. Too many miles between us. Just too much. I held the phone to my ear, hand shaking, heart racing: “I cannot marry you.” My silver ring dropped to the floor.

 

The Coronavirus came next, and the world’s borders closed. Shadows and fear everywhere.

 

◊◊

 

Months pass. I am sitting on my back porch, enjoying a bowl of chocolate ice cream with fresh raspberries. It is the first hot weekend of the season: I’m wearing shorts and my arms are deliciously bare.

 

In a flash, everything becomes clear. I now understand.

 

All those past lovers, all of them … those beautiful, blissful, and seemingly tragic loves and losses … they were my destiny. My path of waking up.

 

The intensity with which I’d chased romantic love was the very same intensity of the Universe chasing me. My obsession with men and women, with people I could touch and kiss, was simply a craving for the Ultimate, which one can never physically touch but can also touch us deeper than any person, any situation, any thing.

 

I stare into my bowl of ice cream, loosening my grip on the spoon. Watching how the red of the raspberries blend into the deep, earthy brown of the cream.

 

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, that anyone else can ever give to me that is not here already.

 

For here is love.

Right now.

This bowl of ice cream.

This breath.

These backyard trees.

No man or woman nearby.

Nobody to chase
or to be chased by.

Just love, living itself through me. Looking through my eyes. Feeling through my heart.

 

I slowly set down my bowl of ice cream, my vision swirling. Smells and sounds now heightened. I step out onto the grass, barefoot, and touch a tree. It’s covered with the most exquisite bright green moss. Tears now mixed with laughter. I’m free, I’m free, I whisper aloud. I’m free.

 

The miracle of not getting what we want. The miracle of failure, defeat, and wanting. The miracle of the broken, rapturous heart. Open, boundless, and free.

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Heal your Trauma with Loving Words

 

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Another world is not only possible,
she is on her way.
On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing
.
—Arundhati Roy

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A few years ago, I had a wonderful dream. I dreamt that I was walking around my neighborhood and two brown squirrels scurried up my legs. One perched itself proudly atop my head, while the other one lazily draped itself across my shoulder. They made little happy squeaky sounds.

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For me, this was a moment of incredible bliss! Squirrels are my absolute favorite animals! They represent so much that I love: cleverness, playfulness, and intuition. I felt like an absolute queen with these two beautiful beings adorning my body.

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So, in the dream, I am walking around, asking my friends to take a photo of this amazing moment. I am trying to hand them my phone, saying, “Please, please will you take a picture?” But no one is saying yes. Everyone is shaking their heads, looking at me like I’m crazy. No one else understands the magic of the moment.

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After many failed attempts, I realize finally that no one is going to help me. So, I breathe and just forget about the picture. I settle into the present, feeling grateful. I know I will remember this moment forever—I don’t really need a photo of it anyway.
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When I awoke in my bed, I allowed myself to contemplate the meaning of the dream. I realized that it was a message about how to love myself. The truth is: No one else needs to believe my reality. No one else needs to endorse my viewpoint. The only viewpoint that matters is mine. This is not selfishness—rather, this is the ultimate act of self-love!

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In that moment, I bonded with the squirrels and was in total bliss…who cares what anyone else thought!!
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Similarly, when we are in the process of healing trauma, we learn to appreciate our own words as the most important words.

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At first, it’s a difficult lesson to learn. It seems very counterintuitive. We are raised in a culture that tends to say, “What matters most is what others think about you. What matters most is what the community says.”
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The truth, however, is that the deepest healing happens when we can tune out all other voices and tune into the loving words that we create for ourselves.
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When we talk to ourselves in a compassionate, generous, supportive, unconditionally-loving way, deep restoration happens. We reclaim the vitality that we seemed to have lost in the moment of trauma.
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There are many ways of practicing positive self-talk. One way that I particularly love is called Mirror Magic.

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When you wake up in the morning, before doing anything else, go to your bathroom mirror and look into it. Take a deep breath. Gaze into your own eyes. Then, begin to shower yourself with praise. Tell yourself all the things that your caregivers never told you (or rarely told you) when you were a child. Tell yourself all the things that you wish your past friends and old lovers would have said to you. Tell yourself all the beautiful things that you’ve longed to hear.
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When I practice Mirror Magic, these are some of the things I love to say to myself:

  • You are strong, Anya.
  • You are beautiful, Anya.
  • You are powerful and courageous, Anya.
  • You have so many gifts to share with the world, Anya.
  • You are wise, Anya.
  • I love you no matter what you do, say, or think.
  • I love you unconditionally.
  • You will always have my love and support.
  • I’ve got your back.
  • I’m your best friend.
  • It’s ok…You are doing the best you can.
  • You are perfect, just as you are right now.
  • I love to watch you grow.
  • You’re doing an amazing job, Anya.
  • I like you, Anya.
  • I love you, Anya.

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Please note that when you begin experimenting with Mirror Magic, it may feel very uncomfortable. You may feel like you are doing something wrong or even lying to yourself. Please know that it’s okay to feel this way…and, in fact, it’s totally normal to feel this way!

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When we have undergone trauma, our brains are wired to believe negative statements rather than positive ones. So, when we hear words of praise, we may feel—at first—like something is “wrong.” When we hear beautiful, life-giving words, we may get a stomach ache or we may cringe. We may even begin to cry.

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Even though it might be difficult at first, I encourage you to keep practicing. What you are doing is slowly and gently moving yourself toward a different accepted reality.

 

Through each affirmation, you are constructing a more positive way of viewing yourself and all of life.

 

When I first began to do Mirror Magic on a daily basis, it was so beautiful and also so challenging! First thing in the morning, I would stand in front of my mirror, my hair a mess and my eyes still blurry from sleep. I would set an alarm on my phone for ten minutes. And then, for the next ten minutes, I would gaze into my own eyes, telling myself as many wonderful statements as I could. Another after another after another. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Sometimes spoken softly, sometimes loudly. Oftentimes, I would break down sobbing. As tears rolled down my cheeks, I would maintain eye contact with myself.

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In those moments, watching myself cry, I would feel such immense compassion for the little girl who tended to hear only complaints from her parents. I felt such warmth for the little girl who had few friends as a youngster and was often bullied in school. I felt such tenderness for the young woman who tended to cling onto toxic boyfriends out of desperation and loneliness.

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An important aspect to this practice is how we phrase our statements. In particular, it’s powerful to talk to yourself as “you.” When I say “I love you, Anya” (rather than “I love me”) it creates a powerful dynamic of connection within our brain. By creating our sentences this way, we are subtly tapping into the spiritual source within us.

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Who is the “I” that speaks to the “you”? The “I” is the deeper self, the wiser self, the self that already knows about unconditional love. And who is the “you”? The “you” is the frightened self, the part of you that has been traumatized and hurt. This “you” is like a child: it is longing for affection, warmth, and comfort.
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Through this kind of loving, mothering language, we are creating a sense of connection between the various parts of ourselves that have been disconnected. Yes, fear is a reality that all human beings feel from time to time. However, when we’ve been traumatized, we feel we are drowning in an ocean of fear. It’s too much fear.

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By offerings ourselves loving words, we are throwing out a life preserver for ourselves. It is something that will help us float in this world. It will save us. Even if it feels foreign or scary to do at first, we can learn to do it. And in time, the practice will become easy and even enjoyable. We savor our appreciative words. We thoroughly relish these moments of praise.
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The Gifts of Coronavirus

LisaWhen a dark night of the soul strikes, what do we do? Do we resist it and yearn for the “good old days”? Or do we allow ourselves to surrender, moving into a new depth of wisdom?

Today my lovely friend and collaborator Lisa Stearns, offers us some empowering guidance. In her life’s work of helping heart-centered women create successful businesses, she’s cultivated quite a toolbox for healing stress and overwhelm during challenging circumstances. In this interview, she speaks to those who are feeling anxiety due to being out of work or confined to the home. She also addresses creatives, coaches and healers who are wondering how to consciously align our business with the changing times. How do we continue to share our gifts with the world during shutdown? How do we love and support others in an era of social distancing?

I left this conversation with Lisa feeling renewed in what my gut has been saying all along. This dark night is not so dark after all.

Anya:  I love looking for hidden blessings.  I’ve noticed that seemingly terrible events actually have profound gifts to bear—if only we are open to receiving them.  I am curious if you could speak to that, Lisa. Are there any gifts that the Coronavirus situation is delivering to us? 

Lisa:  I LOVE the forced pause we have had to take.  Some will choose to fight it all the way, in everything they think and do.  Others, more accepting of the situation, will be experiencing an ability to view their lives in a new way, and take stock. What should stay; what should go?  Who and what is of service, or not? This is truly one of the rarest gifts one can receive.  Time for reflection.

For me personally, I have finally been able to put an end to my unhealthy drive to help.  I began this confinement like so many: feeling everyone’s pain, confusion, anxiety and fear.  I reached out every day in one way or another, sometimes several times a day, wanting to soothe.  Living in that heightened state for 2 weeks or more I naturally became depleted.  For the first time in my life I was forced to let it go. There was no choice in the matter. 

I decided I can be supportive to those who ask.  I can always love.  I can listen.  I can deeply care.  I don’t have to bleed compassion.  I don’t have to remain on heightened alert as though I am the only one on this planet that can be of support.  When I exist in a place of balance I am the best, strongest version of myself, for those I am close to, as well as the community I cherish and the world at large.  

Anya:   In your beautiful book, A List is Not Enough, you explore how to be more mindful in the face of being busy. Now that the world has slowed down during this pandemic, what mindfulness lessons are there for us to learn? How can lockdown help us on our spiritual path? 

Lisa:  In my most recent newsletter I talked about acknowledging what is: whether it is fear, anxiety, frustration, anger… whatever it is you are experiencing.  Acknowledge it fully. Cry, shout, stamp your feet, feel terrified. 

Next, notice that all of those negative emotions tend to revolve around dwelling on the things you can’t do… 

  • I can’t run my business the way I always have
  • I can’t leave my house
  • I can’t make money
  • I can’t pay my rent

As you can see, the I Can’t List is fraught with fear and anxiety.

After some reflection, move on to your next list: The I Can List.

The I Can List is filled with hope, opportunity, positivity and forward movement.

  • I can call each of my clients and ask how they are doing
  • I can focus on a re-launch once the world gets up and running
  • I can CHOOSE to enjoy this day and leave all the I can’t statements behind
  • I can devote joy-filled time to my family, loved ones, and friends

If it is possible to be open to a new reality, then all doors open.  Forward progress is possible even while in the maelstrom of a seeming disaster.  Is it hard?  Yes!  Are you unhappy, afraid, anxious sometimes?  Yes, again.  But, the rest of the time you can feel a sense of power over what you can control.

Anya:  How can people bring a sense of calm into their lives right now? 

Lisa:  I wish there was a magic answer.  But, having faced overwhelming anxiety in the form of PTSD, the best I can offer is that it starts with believing you can ultimately create a space of calm.  Here are 2 tips:

1.  Turn that Sh** off.  Seriously, step away from the news, social media and especially any nay-sayers in your circle.  Decide on a certain amount of time per day, preferably at the same time per day, to check-in. (Please limit this to no more than 10-15 minutes.)  Then, turn it off.  When the gremlin appears in your head that says, I need to find out if anything new is happening, you can say: “Thank you for that reminder.  I will check again at my prescribed time.”  Then, (this is important) choose something very diverting to engage your brain.  

2  Find a quiet space and allow for a PAUSE.  Sit comfortably and observe your breathing.  You can’t do this wrong.  It is not a competitive sport.  You don’t need exercise clothes or candles.  It is just breathing. 

Notice where you feel the breath entering and exiting your body.  That’s it.  Just notice.  (For some, observing breath might raise anxiety levels.  If this is the case for you, choose to instead observe where your body is coming into contact with a solid surface.  Simply notice all the points of contact.)

If your mind wanders, and it most likely will, guide your mind gently back to your breath or points of contact. Notice your anchors.

Practicing this for as little as 30 seconds will dramatically improve your ability to lower anxiety and fear, even anger, levels.  Do it more than once a day and you will be amazed!

Anya:  Is being calm a necessary foundation for self-love? 

Lisa:  WOAH!  That’s a powerful question. 

In my life, the answer is absolutely YES.  Before I found my calm I couldn’t get out of the tornado of my negative thoughts, old ugly stories and doubt.  It was all just really bad noise.  Once I learned to cultivate calm, the old stories and negative thoughts became independent threads, yarns I could unravel, hold up for inspection, see the fallacies and put them behind me. 

Calm allowed me to create new truths and new stories that cultivate self-love.

Anya:  Having fun seems to be a repeated theme throughout your work, both as a business coach and author. Any suggestions for having fun during lockdown and social distancing?

Lisa:   I believe that having fun helps you experience your authentic self.  For this confined time, I created a Break the Routine Jar filled with slips of paper.  They include things like:

  • Play music really loudly and dance with wild abandon
  • Jump on the trampoline and fall down a lot
  • Bake cookies in funny shapes and decorate them to look like something funny… or not.

This jar can also hold things that bring you joy and peace.  It doesn’t have to always be laugh-out-loud activities.  For example, I love to use meditative drawing to put me in a peaceful frame of mind.  So, I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.

Anya:  What advice would you give to self-employed healers, coaches, and entrepreneurs who are in the midst of drastically re-thinking how to share their gifts with the world? 

Lisa:  Be open to something new.  During the early stages of shutdown, I had a session with a client who is a massage therapist and energy healer.  She has a couple of big corporate clients.  Obviously, when they were forced to shut down, she couldn’t serve their workers. 

Here’s what I explained to her.  People who regularly see their massage therapist, hairdresser, chiropractor or acupuncturist (or any of the various helping professions), look forward to their typical established response. They think: “When I see Suzi, (my massage therapist), it’s my time.  No distractions, no interruptions.  It’s my opportunity to shut the world off.”   That response happens automatically as they walk through the door and hear you say “Hi, what’s going on today?”

I explained to my client that she can still offer that gift.  She can offer a 15-minute Calming Session. This can include leading them through breathing, helping them create a retreat at home, or if nothing else, allowing them 15 minutes to close the door to their bedroom and tell everyone Please Do Not Disturb.

My client quickly created a package that included calming breathwork and Reiki to de-stress in troubled times.  About 10 days later she emailed me, her joy and excitement absolutely jumping off the screen. Both companies loved and accepted the idea and some of her clients took advantage of the offering.

Think of what you give to your clients in conjunction with your regular service.  Do you reduce stress, encourage and inspire, provide quiet?  Whatever it is, create an offering.  

Finally, now is the perfect time to learn a companion skill. For example, if you are a massage therapist, you could study the basics of mindfulness and breathing.  When we go back to work, you can then include tiny pieces of your new skill in your sessions.  As always, if you think of your Can Do List, new opportunities will present themselves.

Stay well.

 

Healing our Trauma, Healing our World

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“Our spiritual journey occurs not in spite of the ambiguous
and problematic experience
of our actual life,
but because of it.” -Reggie Ray

 

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Trauma is a universal experience. It’s something that unites us.
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As human beings, we all have some amount of unprocessed tension, fear, or grief stored within our bodies. This is the challenge of incarnation, the challenge of physical life.
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There’s trauma because there’s immense suffering happening on our planet. Wars, economic inequality, destruction of ecosystems, and racial prejudice are only a few of the most pressing matters. We all feel these horrors, to various degrees: their ripples are felt within our own bodies, as somatic sensations of discomfort and anxiety.

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On a smaller scale, in each of our lives, there’s also the countless moments of heartbreak and shattered trust. For example, emotional neglect from parents is a subtle, often hidden form of trauma that many of us do not even recognize as being trauma. Childhood bullies also leave the wounds of trauma. Even being subjected to a competitive grading system in school can leave a deep, negative imprint, a profound sense of “I’m not good enough.”

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As adults, coping mechanisms serve to hide our unresolved trauma. We drink alcohol or use drugs. We’re constantly texting or on social media. We overeat. We buy lots of things we don’t need. These activities seem normal because everyone else does them. But are they healthy? Are they the most conscious way of living? As we progress on our spiritual journey, we begin to see that we can become more aware of these shadowy coping mechanisms and find alternative routes.

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We can find freedom from the patterns that used to enslave us. We can find joy.

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On one level, it’s quite sad that trauma is a basic human problem. On the other hand, though, it’s a situation that unites us. No matter what country we live in, no matter what language we speak or religion we profess, we all have to deal with grief, sorrow, and pain. We all need to learn how to cry. We all need to learn how to process our emotions and express our needs in a healthy way. So, in a sense, we can feel gratitude that all of us are in this together. We can have empathy for each other and do what we can to help each other.

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We are truly living in ascension times. More people than ever before are waking up to the fact that they are a spiritual being. More people than ever before are realizing that the old-paradigm values of violence, greed, and competition need to die, and we need to be reborn on a planet that values peace, compassion, and sharing.

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We all desire healing. We all hope for a better world. So, how do we get there? A powerful way to move forward is to challenge our stories, our ingrained ways of thinking that have led us to this point.
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To heal our trauma, we must question the stories we have been told by others.
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We can ask questions such as: Is violence really an inevitable part of being a human? Is scarcity the truth of life on this planet, or is there, actually, enough for everyone? Does it feel better for me to compete and “win” over others, or does it feel better in my heart to share?

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As we ask questions and create new stories, we tap into an inner courage. If some others don’t understand us, that’s okay. If others mock us, that’s okay too. We let them go their own way, trusting that they will discover whatever they need for their own journey.

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Healing does not happen overnight. It’s an awakening process that takes time. For many of us who have undergone unspeakable events in life, that process may take many years. (For me, I’ve healed my PTSD, but I still have some very difficult, anxious days.) It can be tempting to want to rush the process, but the key is to allow healing to unfold at its own pace.

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As you heal, know that you have good company along the way! You have community. Mental health professionals, humanitarians, climate activists, and spiritual teachers of all creeds are talking more and more about the amazing potentials of healing trauma. Solutions are being found. Progress is being made. We are coming together. We are doing it.

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Indeed, in the collective healing of trauma, it all begins with conversation. Opening up to each other about things that may have, previously, been too terrifying to discuss. Being vulnerable. Listening.

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Along those lines, let’s open up some dialogue here now. I’d love to see your comments shared below. What’s your definition of trauma? What traumatic event(s) have you healed or would you like to heal in your life? What tools or techniques are helpful for you? What insights have you learned along the way?

Wandering Away, Wandering Back

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If eyes can see, they can see yoga represented in online snapshots, in videos, in classes, in magazines. The eyes see bodies not our own doing yoga, and the mind may inspire the heart toward yoga. See the yoga, go to the yoga, sign up for the class, arrive. The rumor of yoga has been a blessing in many ways.

 

But the mind may also pressure the heart to do yoga so that a drive toward doing leads to a kind of physical or mental being. The pressure may push the heart out of the dynamic present and into a series of stills of the imagined body, a picture of a self. And, in so doing, we lose the inner sight of the yoga.

 

It’s a challenge to be among others in a room where yoga is being guided and not to be distracted outside of our insides. The job of the teacher is to gently help the body and the mind to find space, but the mind is busy. Very busy. It wants to know when this body will be able to do what that body does; it may also want other bodies to see what it does so beautifully. The mind may wonder what’s for dinner, or when this practice will be over so that other tasks can get done and be over. The mind yanks us out of the attention to the breath and the quivering presence of a posture, and we reach with the brain toward what we hope we will become, or to what we imagine or worry is next. Or to what we fear we will never become. Or, with pride, toward what we have become.

 

Now,the teachings of yoga.”

 

The first of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, one of the guiding texts of yoga practice, is this: atha yoganuaasanam. Now, the teachings of yoga.” I emphasize here in this quotation the word “now”; this first sutra anchors the attention to the present moment. The present moment—the now—is where we begin our practice, and it is where we aim to remain in our practice as we softly attend to the breath-led movement of asana. However, we know that the reaching back, around, and forward with a goal-oriented awareness takes us out of the now, out of the body, into an ethereal space that is disconnected from the process. In those long, distracted stretches of time we are not in the now. So, what to do?

 

Compassionate understanding: being out of the now is where the mind wants to be. It is essentially human to engage in surveillance of the environment, to future-think, to dwell on the past as experiential teaching and use it as a lens to perceive the present and future. It is fundamentally self-protective to respond to struggle with anxiety, to practice a vigilant comparison of ourselves to others. Indeed, negativity bias is what has helped us to survive in the wild for thousands of years.

 

And yet, can we ask ourselves whether surveillance is always necessary, and whether it may be causing unnecessary pain? There is suffering in the tension between what we expect and what reality is presenting to us; do we have to subject ourselves to such suffering? Can we believe that when we allow ourselves to bring the mind to the present moment—to the breath, to the nose, to the feet on the floor, to the bottom in the seat—we can actually let go of that struggle?

 

That inquiry is at the heart of yoga—are we willing to sit in that heartspace for a while or longer? Are we willing to come back to it again, and again, and again?

 

Because we are accustomed to mind-noise and mind-wandering and self-comparison, we bring those tendencies to yoga. Of course, we do. But the yoga becomes the mirror that shows us we are doing it. The teacher reminds us. And, in our developing self-practice, the Witness in our own minds reminds us. Sometimes it takes long stretches of postures before we realize that we have mentally wandered far from the now. And then we come back to the moment. We wander away, and we come back.

 

That is the essence: we come back. Release from goals, let go of being on the look-out for the past and future. Hear the breath, be steeped in the process of the practice. In turn, we are processed by the practice: wrung out, relieved, relocated in time to the only moment we can know. This one.

 

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Rebecca Ingalls, Ph.D., MSN, CNM, WHNP-BC, is a certified nurse-midwife, women’s health nurse practitioner, and yogi. She is a mother of two, and she has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga for 11 years. She lives with her family in Philadelphia.

This Goodbye is Different (A Story of Love)

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Part One:

 

It’s the middle of the night. My brain is a warzone. In just two short days, my Beloved will be on a plane yet again, heading back through the clouds to his home country—more than three thousand miles away from me. I groan, turning over in bed. Right now I wish so many things. I wish I could go back to sleep. I wish artificial and archaic things like borders didn’t exist. I wish we had more money. I wish we had conventional careers—like the ones that look good on immigration paperwork. I peek out from under my sleep mask to see if there’s daylight. No. I bring my hand to my chest and notice a slight wheeze. My asthma is flaring up again.

 

Since our instant connection four years ago, the intensity and razor-sharp lightning of our love has left us both confused. What to do with this these giant feelings? How to withstand the mirror of our love? Sometimes, we have buckled under the pressure and ran away. (The revelations too heavy.) Other times we’ve sworn undying devotion and spent last dollars on a plane ticket. Sometimes five hours will go by, speaking on Skype, and it will seem like five minutes. Sometimes we haven’t spoken for months.

 

The silver engagement ring I feel on my finger now does nothing to cheer me, as I toss and turn in bed this morning. I am pissed. What a relentless, heart-harrowing situation! Other couples don’t know how good they have it. To just live in the same city—let alone the same country—is a privilege we’ve never had. What terrible luck.

 

My back feels both cold and sweaty. My pale pink sheets twist around my limbs, as I struggle to find a comfortable position. My heart feels exhausted.

 

A few minutes before my alarm goes off, I suddenly hear a very clear message. The words seems to be my own voice, yet they’re not. It’s something else. There’s a tinge of the angelic to it, a certain flash of light. Wings. Shimmer.

 

Open your heart.

 

By the time my alarm goes off, I’m already doing much better, having breathed deeply into my heart. I feel less shaky now. As my eyes adjust to the soft morning light, I embrace the coming day. I smile and think of all the things I’m grateful for. I’m teaching yoga to a group of wonderful students today; I’ve got a refrigerator full of healthy, nourishing food; I have a circle of loving, supportive friends. So many things to be grateful for.

 

Open your heart, Anya, Open your heart…I shower and prepare my morning tea…Open your heart Anya, Open your heart.

 

Part Two

 

I climb into my pale gold, two-door Honda Civic. My yoga class just went beautifully. There was a distinct eye-shine for a few of them, as they rolled up their mat. What joy; what blessed work. I pull out onto the road and sigh. Just a half-hour drive and then I’ll be back in my Beloved’s arms again. I look forward to telling him about the class. Maybe later we’ll jog out in nature together, or maybe we’ll just spend the afternoon snuggling in bed. I’m both grateful and impatient to get home to him.

 

Normally, I turn left out of the studio parking lot. But today, for some odd reason, I’m curious about the other direction. There’s a highway not too far away…maybe there’s a different route? I love variety in my drives. I turn right and flip on my GPS, allowing the computer to guide me into unknown territory.

 

My plan seems to backfire, though. The monotone voice doesn’t lead me toward the highway but rather down some random-seeming side streets, into a quiet residential area. This is clearly not an expedient route! I notice some tightness in my shoulders now. Damn. Only mere hours left before the dreadful flight and I’m wasting it by driving around in circles. I feel a bit of my morning anxiety return.

 

Within a few minutes, though, I’m back out onto a main road. Oh, good. My body relaxes somewhat. I look up at the bright blue autumn sky. A few wispy white clouds here and there. Lovely. The autumn trees, boasting their red leaves. I’m driving on narrow, two-lane road. Barely any traffic. I settle back into my seat. I’m coming home to you, I’m coming home to you. I feel both grateful and impatient. If I could snap my fingers and be back there in his arms, I would.

 

I’m driving westbound, and a black car coming eastbound suddenly veers directly in front of my car. There’s no time to think—I slam on my brakes and scream. As our cars collide, a thought flashes through my mind: I’m about to die. After an unidentified space of time, I open my eyes. There are almonds scattered around my feet. Items that were in the back seat are now in my front seat: a purple folder, a bag of candles. Everything’s blurry. There’s a woman standing next to my car in a hooded sweatshirt. I roll down my window, fumbling with the buttons like a clumsy infant. “I’m so sorry” she says. “I swear, I didn’t even see your car.” I slowly unbuckle my safety belt and stand up, asphalt like jello under my feet. “My name is Michelle,” she says. I offer her a hug and hold her in my arms. There’s blood on her forehead and I am suddenly aware of pain in my neck and back.

 

Maybe three lifetimes pass before the police arrive. First one car, and then another. There seems to be confusion because our accident happened on the border between two cities: whose jurisdiction? I call my Beloved on the phone and he reminds me to exhale. Michelle’s friend (who must live nearby?) suddenly arrives. She holds Michelle’s hand and buys me some filtered water from a nearby shop. I slip off my socks and stand on a patch of green, praying to Gaia for help and trying to shake off the trauma like I’ve seen the birds do. I gaze at the damage to my car in total awe. Somehow, only my right headlight is busted and the hood’s a bit bent. How? I look up at the sky. I remember to exhale. Michelle comes to my side. “It’s just one bad thing after another,” she cries, anger in her voice. Her eyes stare at the ground. “My husband was shot and killed six weeks ago. It was all over the news. September fifth. I’ll never see him again.” Her hands are trembling as she smokes a cigarette. I gaze at her, heart-pounding. There’s an audible click. Something is happening here. Something important.

 

 

Part Three

 

Two days later, my Beloved Ben and I sit by the river, our favorite bench. A loving willow tree to our left, its dangling branches curl over our heads like a protective mother. A heron waits for her breakfast: she’s so still that she’s become the water. We notice that the leaves are falling down in the gentle wind: red, yellow, bursts of bright orange amidst the lingering green. “I love feeling the seasons with you,” he says, and my eyes blur with tears. Last moments before the plane…so precious, so precious.

 

I look inside my heart. I search. Where is the typical, pre-airplane panic? Where is the doom I felt two mornings ago, as I tossed and turned in bed? I search, but can find only a soft melancholy. It’s almost sweet. This moment is happening in slow motion and I am savoring all of it. The white in his beard. The creak of the swing under our bodies. The still-warm wind, dipping under my scarf and reminding me of love. His body will be gone soon, yes—but we still have prayer. We still have meditation and phone and Skype and song. What luck; what beauty. Michelle will never see her husband again. His face will never hover over the bed; his hands will never offer her steaming coffee.

 

I will see Ben again, in three months. Snow will be on the ground. Our story is not over, not even close. In fact, the miracle is this: at middle age, we have just found each other, have just begun our journey together. Some people call this a Soulmate or Twin Flame relationship. Others might call us Tantric Consorts or Abler Souls. There are many, many names for what we are. And yet, in this particular moment, all possible names dissolve. I know what we are and words aren’t needed.

 

I search my heart again, breathing deeply. In a little over an hour, his feet shall carry him from my body and toward an airplane. But…this time…it doesn’t feel like a tragedy. This goodbye is different. Something has been healed.

 

As we work together, deepening and strengthening our sacred bond, Ben and I prepare ourselves for the ultimate departure. The day when we release these faces…the way things have been…these blessed hands that have touched…these yearning, ecstatic lips that have kissed. We will move into the wild unknown. Who can say what it is, but death comes to us all. What good practice we are getting.

 

We kiss and kiss, smiling and tears. “See you soon! Have a safe flight!” My hands touch his cheeks and the skin is infinite.

How can we begin to heal the world?

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If we are to help heal the world, we need to remember that it is a sacred place.

Our actions need to be positive statements, reminders that even in the worst times there is a world worth struggling for. We need to find ways to keep the vision alive, to acknowledge but not get caught in the dark side. To remember that even the worst aspects of suffering are only part of the whole picture. We need to enter lightly.

Entering lightly means not ignoring suffering but treating it gently.

We don’t want to ignore another’s pain, but our becoming depressed or angry about it doesn’t relieve it and may increase it. The delicate balance is in allowing ourselves to feel the pain fully, to be sad or angry or hurt by it, but not be so weighted down by it that we are unable to act to relieve it. It is a matter of ends and means again: to create a caring, loving, peaceful world, we need to act with care and love and peace.

Easy to say, you may think, remembering your heavy hearts, tears, and anger when you first saw babies in Ethiopian refugee camps dying from malnutrition. But it is exactly at these times – in the presence of pain, injustice, and horror – that our equilibrium is most needed. How can we keep it? Meditation can help; singing or walking can help; talking with people we respect can help; simply being quiet with ourselves can help.

It is the continuing work of life: of learning to trust that the universe is unfolding exactly as it should, no matter how it looks to us. We learn to appreciate that each of us has a part in nurturing this interconnectedness whole and healing it where it is torn. Discovering what our individual contribution can be, then giving ourselves fully to it.

Demanding as that sounds, it is what, in the spiritual sense, we are all here for, and compassionate action gives us yet one more opportunity to live it. It is an opportunity to cooperate with the universe. To be part of what the Chinese call the great river of the Tao. It is not a coincidence that Hanuman, who in the Hindu cosmology is called the “embodiment of selfless service,” is the son of the wind god. When we give ourselves into becoming fully who we are by doing fully what we do, we experience lightness. We are like kites in wind, we are on the side of the angels, we are entering lightly.



This article was originally published on RamDass.Org


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Ram Dass is an American spiritual teacher and author of many books such as Be Here Now and Walking Each Other Home.

6 Tips for Yoga Newbies

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Is this the year you’re getting into yoga? Congratulations! What a wonderful beginning!

 

So…being a newbie might mean that you sometimes feel a little confused, hesitant, or self-conscious about your practice. You might be asking yourself: “Am I doing this right?”

 

Working with yoga newbies is my passion. I love helping people find relaxation and confidence, as they step into the yoga world.

 

Here’s my list of 6 tips to help you get started on your unique yoga journey.

 

1. Breathing is the most important thing. 

If you’re confused about how to move or how to position your body, that’s okay. Understanding the poses will come in time. For now, simply set the goal of paying attention to your breathing throughout your yoga practice. Conscious breathing is the cornerstone of yoga. When we pay attention to our breath, there are innumerable benefits to body, mind, and spirit.

 

2. Yoga is pure love.

When we practice yoga, we say YES to a world that is full of more beauty, more love. When we practice yoga, we say yes to a world where people take care of themselves and each other. At the end of a yoga class, when we bow in namaste, we are saying “I see the goodness in you, which is the same goodness in me.” When we unite our intentions in this way, we usher in a new world—a world of love.

 

3. Five minutes is better than no minutes.

If you only have five minutes today, then why not roll out your mat and do some yoga? Getting into the regular habit of doing yoga is so amazing for our wellbeing. When I hear my students complain that their lives are too busy for yoga, I remind them that if they have five minutes, they can practice. I’d rather see someone doing five minutes every day than doing one long session per week. Each time you roll out your mat, you are building new neural pathways that reinforce the feeling that yes, you do indeed like yoga, that yoga is fun. And who knows? You just might develop a pleasant “addiction” to yoga—if we skip a day, it just feels incomplete!

 

4. Yoga is not a competition.

When you’re in a class, the aim is not to do “better” than the other students. The goal is not comparison. Rather, yoga is all about community and collaboration. When we see the woman on the mat beside us holding a beautiful, complex pose, we can compliment her after class (Instead of getting jealous that we can’t yet do that pose.) When we see the man in the back of the class struggling to attain a posture, we can mentally send him warm thoughts. After class, we can strike up conversations with our classmates. “It’s so great to see you today. How long have you been practicing yoga?” Through these simple gestures, we can actually assist our teacher in co-creating an environment where we are a supportive community, rather than merely individuals taking a class.

 

5. Yoga is not a race.

Ultimately, our practice teaches us that time is not important. In fact, we enjoy our practice most when we relax and let go of timelines. We are not trying to get somewhere by a certain date. There is no rush. Our yoga practice teaches us to breathe and surrender to the wisdom of the Now. We realize that everything we need is right here, in this moment.

 

6. Explore different classes.

There are many, many styles of yoga and many, many different teacher personalities. There are yoga classes that make you jump and sweat and there are yoga classes where you sit completely still for many minutes. There are yoga teachers that make you laugh hysterically or cry tears of relief. They are yoga teachers who are more like personal trainers and seriously kick your butt. Try different classes to get a sense of what’s out there. No need to rush the process. In time, your perfect teacher will appear. For me, when I discovered my teacher, it felt like coming home.

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Hope you enjoyed these tips, dear friends! If you’d like more inspiration for your yoga journey, please feel free to drop me a line and I’ll add you to my FREE weekly newsletter. Namaste.

Healing Trauma with Rest

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In our fast-paced modern culture, we have a need for speed. The collective psyche is a blur of BusyBusyBusy.
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To put it bluntly, this is insane behavior. It’s harmful for all of us. And, for trauma survivors in particular, the impulse to rush and push ourselves is incredibly destructive.
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In order to fully heal our trauma, we need plenty of rest.
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If you are a survivor of trauma, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, more important than rest on your to-do list. In fact, I invite you to make it your number one priority.

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After resigning from a promising academic career due to sheer exhaustion, I remember so many days of just sleeping. There was literally nothing else I could do. A blue couch became my home. My partner Robert cooked my meals and rubbed my sore, aching head. I had PTSD, migraines, depression, anxiety, candidiasis, adrenal fatigue, leaky gut syndrome, severe food/environmental allergies, eczema, and other chronic illnesses. However, somewhere inside, there was a gentle, loving voice. She was telling me that I could recover, with patience and time. She was telling me that rest was a crucial part of my healing journey.
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I’m so glad I listened.
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Learning the art of rest has been one of the most valuable lessons of my life. I cured myself of PTSD and most of my chronic conditions. (I’m still working on healing my lungs). I feel so much freedom and joy. With each year that passes, I seem to be getting younger! Each year brings more vitality and health. It’s incredible.
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And yes, I still do have difficult days on occasion. When that happens, I give myself full permission to stop what I’m doing and rest.
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I have learned the delicate art of cancelling appointments and saying “no” when I’m feeling overwhelmed.
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I wasn’t always so easygoing and relaxed, though. The healthy Anya who writes this article today is a very different person than the sick Heather who I was back then. (During my healing journey, I changed my name from Heather to Anya as a symbol of my spiritual awakening.) Back then, as Heather, I was a classic Type A personality: impatient, competitive, stressed, and constantly planning and micromanaging life. I was constantly seeking validation from the outside world. I felt little inherent worthiness inside myself. And, because of this, sleeping often felt like failure because I was judging myself by the standards of Western culture. In the West, we judge our worthiness not by our spiritual wisdom but by our ability to “get things done” in the world. Our success is judged by how productive we are. Unfortunately, in my recent travels to India, I discovered that this mindset is slowly seeping into the East as well, which is a true tragedy.
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Success means not how much money you make, but rather listening to your body. Success is not about how popular you are, but rather being brave enough to stop and sleep when you are tired. Success means not building an impressive resume, but rather being brave enough to step outside the box and learn the miracle of self-care.
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If you are on the path of healing trauma, I want you to know you can do it. I thought I would be an anxious mess forever, and now I am happy, with a thriving healing business and a circle of conscious friends who support each other. Life is good.
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As we heal from our past, we can question standard societal definitions of success. We can rewrite the standard scripts and reach for something more deeply fulfilling. We can tune into our own sense of self-worth, regardless of the opinions of others. We can find we love ourselves.
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And it is this love, this unconditional self-love, that is the core of healing trauma.

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My dear love, release the guilt and shame. That’s society’s bullshit—and you don’t need to carry that anymore!
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Please know that are not lazy if you need lots of rest right now. You are not lazy at all… in fact, you are one of the bravest people in the world. You are doing what so many do not yet have the courage to do. You are lighting the way. As you heal your trauma, you allow others to heal their trauma, too.
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Sleep is vital in the trauma healing journey. If what you need right now is 14 or 15 hours of sleep at night and lots of naps during the day, then I invite you to do so. Have compassion for yourself. Listen to your body and soul.
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I invite you to not only give yourself permission to rest but also to find a way to enjoy it. And who knows?…you just might find that rest is a delicious medicine.

This life is not the only life

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The air was July, thick with campfire smoke and dandelion. He came to my apartment. It was mid-afternoon.

His soft, long brown hair…these are now stormy waves upon my neck, face, chest. A pillow holds my thrashing head.

His lips find every…single…place. Gently yet commandingly he lowers his body, full, against mine. His form is heavy and solid. Masculine. His lips. Oh his sweet lips. Slowly, he raises his head. His face is parallel to mine, hovering.

The bedroom blinds are drawn. There’s just enough light to see the expression in his wide eyes.

I know it’s time to say something…something…because I feel a restless bubbling…a heart that is growing hotter, somehow, a flame that is rising to some strange end. Without knowing what the words mean and in one breathless exhale I say I’ve known you before! My voice sounds strange—deep and husky; it doesn’t sound like mine. His eyes melt a bit. His smile is tender. He pulls his torso upward, hips now straddling my hips. He inhales deeply and speaks. At least, this time, you don’t have to watch me die.

Everything goes black.

I have no choice at this moment but to allow his words. There is a stabbing sensation in my chest. I bring hands to my heart, twisting my torso to the side in a silent request for him to move. He does, and I curl like a fetus. There is nothing now but a black, swirling, empty hole—empty yet not empty, windy but not windy.

I am nothing.

I am a tree, blown over by the storm.

I begin to howl violently. I shake and cry, a heaping mess. A small insane child. He rests on his side, front facing my front, embracing. Thankfully, he has a thousand arms.

We hide in bed for hours. Tears, mouths, kisses. We whisper of the past, remembering details from that particular death, and others. I start to write poetry without paper. We unravel the knots by speaking them. Horseback, swords, rain. I begin to understand.