Power

January 24, 2017 § 1 Comment

Gosh, it’s been a while since I last wrote here. There’s been a lot going on in my world and many things have unfolded, changed, erupted, vanished, shifted at such a fast pace that my writing has not kept up with the reflexivity in my head.

The trip to Mysore offered a lesson in many things, but the one I want to talk about is the lesson of empowerment. Given the current socio-political climate, notions of power, empowerment and disempowerment in all its varied forms have been on my mind recently, from the personal to the social.

Let’s start with the personal. I went to Mysore with a practice routine that was a twice-a-week occurrence on account of a cyst-laden wrist and the advice of a PT who believed that it’s better to do the full expression of the pain-causing activity less frequently than to do a modified version more frequently. Shaped by current perspectives about the body, physical fitness, injuries and how to recover from them, this point of view is very much grounded in the physical, and thus, also views yoga as an inadequate fitness routine. I agree with him on that count. If you’re looking for ‘fitness’, there are far better programs out there to help you achieve your goals (calorie burn, weight loss, etc etc etc). This advice however, effectively distilled the role of the practice in my life and my relationship to it. It is, in Andrew Sullivan’s words, “a ritual that let’s the rest of my life breathe“.

In the weeks leading up to my departure for Mysore I sought to balance PT logic with the inner, embodied, as yet unarticulated knowing about the practice’s importance. (I think there is a part of my relationship with Ashtanga yoga that will never be able to be fully articulated, because the resonance goes so deep.)

Preparing for this trip meant giving myself permission to cut it short if things were not ‘working out’ in Mysore. There was also a fair amount of anxiety about what I had to do to mitigate cyst-related pain in a daily practice situation, how to avoid aggravating it, how should I modify my practice and should I modify at all? These questions eventually clarified an intention to preserve and protect my body going into Mysore. I resolved to put self-care and compassion above conforming to an external representation of what the practice was supposed to look like. I would show up each day and modify accordingly, tuning into the sensations around the left wrist and shoulders and letting those nerve messages guide the shape of my practice. This meant stepping, not jumping, even in led classes. Skipping Bhujapidasana, a 1-breath Kukkutasana, a clumsy-looking Supta Kurmasana exit and no or very short Utpluthis for pretty much the first month. What I discovered quickly, was that my fears of being called out for modifying the practice were completely unfounded. It’s not that Sharath didn’t see the changes I made – he really does know everything that goes on in that room – it’s that he saw me and my practice and he let me do it. By not calling me out (as some teachers would do), he was telling me that I know what’s best for my body and how to manage whatever pain or injury I’m experiencing. And in doing so, he empowered me. For someone whose personal narrative has mostly been about disempowerment, especially in relationships with authority figures, this is a massive shift in how I see myself, my ability to trust my body and my intuition about what actions are best suited for me at any particular time. A big deal. And this is why I have come to accept him as my teacher after years of skepticism and doubt.

The notion that we have the power to shape our lives is a tired New Age cliche and yet that doesn’t make it any less true. It is a lesson that keeps showing up in practice, because the the practice and experience of yoga is about challenging the limited mental projections we have about ourselves and the world around us: how we choose to see ourselves, who we are, what we are capable of accomplishing, our capacity for discomfort, etc. The ripples that come from stepping into and owning the power that each of us has is infinite, and also, potentially subversive. We have the power to choose to see the good, the kind, the fear in others, to empathize instead of projecting and blaming our insecurities. We have the power to behave in ways that draw healthy boundaries for ourselves, for standing up to narratives and behaviors that gaslight and disempower our faculties for critical thinking.

(It’s important here to highlight that I’m not denying the structural forces behind the social issues of our time, because this is the sort of argument that a good conservative would use to justify cutting programs for the most vulnerable in our society. No, I’m writing this specifically for the other affluent and privileged individuals who live in my world, who don’t have to worry about the color of their skin, where their next meal is coming from, or where they’re going to sleep tonight. These are the people who have the means to effect real change.)

Which brings me to the social: Coming out of the Women’s March last weekend I found another kind of power – the power to speak up and be heard and be counted for values that I believe are important. It was my political awakening, in an active, visible sense. As a Sociology major in college I’ve always been aware of power dynamics in society. This, along with years working as a paper-pusher in an autocratic government and then in PR, built and refined my personal bullshit detector, particularly as it relates to authority.  Being born and raised in an autocracy that basically runs on an apathetic, disempowered electorate in exchange for the creature comforts of modern living, I’ve long had a malaise around activism and skepticism of the real value of doing things like voting, marching, protesting…..all activities that represent a healthy, engaged citizenry in the democratic process. Last Saturday showed me how it has been in the State’s interest to keep me (and the other people of my home country) disempowered about our ability to effect real change. Because when people get together in civic spaces to speak up about the values that are important to them, it is a powerful experience. It is an embodied encounter, one increasingly rare in this Internet Age, and that experience empowers you even more because you see for yourself that you’re not alone in this cause that you’re championing. That together, we can make a difference, and this realization stays with you, energizes you and inspires you to keep the momentum going. This is real power and it’s up to us not to squander it.

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Perfection

July 21, 2016 § Leave a comment

Some thoughts from last month’s full moon + solstice buzz that I thought would be worth sharing here.

***

I live on an incessant internal tension between striving, constantly, for perfection in my endeavors and also shying away from making it a reality. This is my center of gravity. The endless contradictions of wanting/notwanting as it relates to the social/professional self. I am trying to figure out where this comes from, what feeds it and nurtures it.

The big questions I am currently wrestling with relate to “doing things” in a way that can be easily measured by conventional metrics such as: “fame”, “Social media engagement” (collectively rounded up in numbers), money/profits, prestige and length of one’s client roster, number of “friends”, offspring. I feel constantly inadequate because the quantifiable answers that I can give to this big question (“What do I do”) do not measure up to the standards that are used to evaluate one’s standing in this conventional world. How do I compare with my peers with their careers, degrees, titles, children? By all measures I am unremarkable. In this paradigm I am practically unmeasurable and invisible. I am a problem for the paradigm because I don’t fit neatly into its limited checkboxes.I never wanted to fit and have sought to break out of it. And in many ways, I have now successfully rendered this paradigm a useless tool for evaluating my life, and yet I am mourning my failure to measure up to it and clinging to something that I never really cared for in the first place. Instead, I’m using this ‘failure’ to explain my low self-esteem, fuel my efforts for affirmation (in a perverse, roundabout way), and shield myself from trying new things and putting myself out there.

Wow. I sure enjoy making things difficult for myself! There are all sorts of fear tied up with letting go of this shield-crutch, which is built out of fear.

What will it take for me to let go of this crutch? Is this the only thing holding me back from my full potential?

The Precipice

January 14, 2016 § 3 Comments

If I were to imagine a place where my Self lives, it would be a small, spartan room with one window facing southwest that streams the afternoon sun at varying angles depending on the time of year. There is a basic bed for one. A wooden writing desk and chair and not much else. On that table is a book that runs on its own time. A book of my life to date. Part narrative, part textbook, it reminds me of adventure books from childhood where, at certain junctures in the story you could choose from a variety of actions to reach a different conclusion. Except in this case the choices aren’t so much a matter of flipping the page as much as they’re puzzles to solve. More and more I’m faced with puzzles that are intractable and opaque, and are often obscured in a heavy fog of big emotions like grief and sadness. Occasionally anger. Often, the feelings are so big that I cannot even fathom the question, I am too busy setting anchor in a tempest of emotions that often linger for days.

It is lonely, at this desk. I want to leave the room, to look for someone to commiserate with, to exchange notes about where they are at with their puzzles. I am looking for distraction from this onerous drudgery of sorting through heavy, isolating stuff at this stage of my journey, but I also know, deep down, that the time for conversation is over. My experiences so far have equipped me with all the skills and knowledge I need. Any search for more knowledge is a trivial pursuit. Time-wasting.

It is time to do the work, work that only I can do. That in itself is a sobering realization. I feel like I’m at the edge of a precipice that I know I have to jump off. The past 18 months have been deeply transformative and I’m surprised by the sorts of changes that have happened both within and without. But the job is not over yet, and yesterday I saw, with utmost clarity, the name and form (namarupa?) of the task ahead.

Everything clicked in place the moment I settled on the mat for Dandasana. The mind had been churning even before the first ekam, and with each breath and movement, the tension between mind/ego and Self/heart became increasingly apparent. The former wanted to cut things short and the latter urged steadiness and fortitude. I was stressing about my commitments for the next month. And the back-and-forth continued until Dandasana when I realized that the anxiety for two unrelated events shared the same root: I was stressing because I’m afraid that I’m not going to be good enough.

Not good enough for my parents (who are coming to visit).

Not good enough to do a two-week workshop with a certified teacher (who I’ve practiced with before).

Not good enough to (fill in the blank).

That’s my life story, in three words. “Not good enough”. It is the lens that shapes how I view myself in the world, the shackles of fear that paralyze me when I embark on a new project or conjure up a new idea. It is the driving force behind everything I do. I have high standards when it comes to, well, almost everything (yes, I am a snob), but the standards for myself are always that much higher. I am motivated by the fear of not measuring up – never mind that I don’t even know what “enough” looks like, thereby setting for myself an impossibly high standard for which there are no observable metrics.

When you realize that what needs to be changed requires you to upend a mode of being that is at the core of who you have been for 36 years – how do you even begin? If all you’ve known is what needs to be changed, then who is left?

Who am I?

 

 

Starting Over

December 31, 2015 § Leave a comment

The last month of 2015 took it upon itself to really drive home the lesson of learning how to be a beginner. This, in a year that has been especially about beginnings and endings. I get the sense that the Universe is really giving its all into impressing the gravity of this particular module of Life 101 before the clock runs out on 2015’s curriculum.

It’s new year’s eve and there’s a palpable anticipation of the “new year” all over my networks, with all the sentimentality of bright-eyed aspirations, courageous hopes and best wishes that today brings. It is sweet to read and to ride this wave of goodwill, a refreshing change from the endless parade of dismal news and cynicism the other days of the year. Dec 31 shows that we’re actually all optimists at heart. Tomorrow will be better, in all its newness. Tomorrow holds the potential for change and continued transformation. Tomorrow is another chance to start afresh and revisit my endeavors with fresh eyes, perspective and courage.

Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow.

What we forget (so easily) is that this promise of an abstract ‘Tomorrow’ is always present with us. Each inhale and exhale is the ‘tomorrow’ that we keep projecting out of ourselves. You don’t need to wait to find the courage to face your fears, pursue your dreams, unfold into a radical acceptance of who you are/what you look like/how you age, etc. It’s always there, waiting to be found in the rhythmic spaciousness of the breath.

Life: Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.

Happy New Year friends.

Karma + Future Suffering

September 1, 2015 § 1 Comment

A friend shared this podcast where meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg elaborates on the concept of ‘karma’. Spoiler alert: we’ve been too liberal in applying this concept to everything and everyone around us!

The true meaning of the word is complex and more empowering than pop culture would have us believe. It is not something that is inevitable, but instead, it is a tool for introspection and when applied intelligently, could help me avoid future suffering (Sutra 2.16). If where we are now is a product of the choices we have made in the past, then the choices we make now will shape our future. Therefore, it’s in our interest to choose intelligently. Or, as a Buddhist would say, to live skillfully.

Pain

June 21, 2015 § 7 Comments

Life and practice has been all about the pain in the past six weeks. Not physical pain, but emotional pain. Overwhelming, distraught, wordless pain that resides deep inside the body. A residue of past trauma, of physical and emotional abuse that still haunts me to this day. I thought I was over these chapters of my past, especially now that I’m living a new life far far away from the place and people of my childhood. But clearly my body has not forgotten, and Kapotasana has proven to be an effective trigger in resurfacing the pain and its attendant emotions: fear and grief, but most of all, worthlessness.

It’s not the first time that this pose has made me cry. The first round was in December 2014, a period of time I will never forget because I was depressed for weeks. I had no idea what was going on. This practice that nourishes me suddenly left me atomized, utterly broken and unable to do much more than mope around and weep. That phase eventually subsided, but resurfaced again a few weeks ago. This time I had the support of a bodyworker/osteopath/white witch who I’ve been seeing for the past two years. Her hypothesis that I’ve stored the pain of physical abuse in my quads has not only proven accurate, it’s also been followed by a series of events that tap deep into the heart of the pain that’s shaped me: shame, guilt and worthlessness. All of it is coming out now, one way or another. Old baggage from relationships that I want to hide forever and never have to deal with, coming to the forefront of my consciousness, resurrecting past ghosts, the past self of mine who believed that she was never good enough and who never quite fit in. And I still don’t. After all, it’s hard to fit in when you’re the only one crying in the Mysore room, every fucking time.

“The deeper the catharsis, the bigger the transformation”, says one of my yoga teachers when I clued her in on what’s going on. I cannot see beyond the pangs of this catharsis at the moment because identifying the cause of my pain has led to an unpacking of all the baggage I’ve been carrying around. It is one fucking mess after another. A cascade of painful realizations from past hurts. I am trying to rise above the ‘optional suffering’ that comes with the pain built-in into life, but some days it is too bloody hard. I have so many questions that will never be answered. Wounds so deep that I cannot see the day when they will heal, even if I know, intellectually, that they will. John Waters’ commencement speech spoke to me on a multitude of levels, but his remark about not being surrounded by assholes in his personal and professional life really stood out. Because this pain I’m processing at the moment is a product of the wonderful assholes who brought me into existence and weaved the cultural and religious environment of my upbringing for the better part of 30 years. I knew that moving away from “home” was one of the best things to ever happen to me, but it is in revisiting my past ghosts that I can fully appreciate the significance of this life event. By taking myself out of a toxic environment, I finally have the space and freedom to find my self, heal and build a new life. I have never felt more certain about being exactly where I need to be, and despite the pain, I know that time is on my side.

 

Self-Knowledge

May 14, 2015 § 3 Comments

1. Driving tightens my adductors.

2. I’m not great at following the prescribed rules. I often begin with compliance, but eventually a tendency towards questioning takes over. I like to analyze, contextualize, extract meaning and find resonance. I guess you can say I’m a bona fide shithead.

3. Traumatic stress resides in my nervous system. And it’s no fun when the full impact of stressful emotions you’ve been carrying around manifests itself on the physical plane. Pain. Lots of it.

4. The Ashtanga practice can be done by anyone with an inkling of interest, but most definitely not by those who spend 12-14 hours a day on their feet lugging light stands, backdrops and heavy wood surfaces.

5. Kapotasana B is currently the finely honed razor’s edge of my existence.

6. Sometimes, a dropback can give you the most satisfying, chiropractor-like adjustment in the upper back.

7. My anxieties have a common root: one of feeling as if I have something to prove.

8. I feel like a fraud a lot of the time. Doesn’t seem like that’s going to change.

9. Committing to a daily practice is really about committing to bravery, courage and fearlessness.

10. Holding, instead of grasping, one’s awareness, both physically and psychically is practically an art form.

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