In my post Eternal Student, or My Story Continued I spoke more on about my spiritual journey, and said I’d elaborate in a later post. Thankfully I didn’t say when, since that was positively ages ago, dahling. The good news is I’m ready to keep going!
The introduction of the eight limbs of yoga into my life is quite a blessing. It gave me a new approach to what was a stale, patchwork way of connecting to the “capital U” Universe that I had developed in the beginning of my spiritual journey. The yamas and niyamas (two of the eight limbs of yoga, concerned with ethical practice) were juicy spiritual bits of delicious goodness! Quickly, they are as follows:
Ahimsa ~ Nonviolence
Satya ~ Truthfulness
Asteya ~ Nonstealing
Brahmacharya ~ Nonexcess
Aparigraha ~ Nonpossessiveness
Saucha ~ Purity
Santosha ~ Contentment
Tapas ~ Self-discipline
Svadhyaya ~ Self-study
Ishvara Pranidhana ~ Surrender
Now, besides the sanskrit, none of this was new to me. I know those things make everybody better humans. But I hadn’t given all of them quite the amount of attention they deserved. No, I didn’t do violence, lying or stealing – in the common sense. Yet what of my words, towards myself? Towards others? Wasn’t my smack talk, even the playful, seemingly harmless joking type, a form of violence? Didn’t I lie to myself about what I really wanted so that I could content myself with procrastination and laziness? And don’t even get me started on stealing time or emotional balance!
In the context of Yoga Flirt, where all of this was introduced to me, there was an especially large amount of work to be done on these concepts. My sensuality and sexuality were repressed and depressing. Engaging my thoughts toward a more enlightened way of viewing my body and my desires (not just in sensual/sexual ways, but life in general) brought on a sense of power beyond anything I had perceived possible.
Always a fairly non-judgmental free thinker towards others, it was quite the surprise to realize how little I applied my “live and let live” philosophy to my own wants and ideas. Lack of self-esteem restricted my ability to accept my own “stuff” as okay. I believed I was weird, and kind of sick, I “should” be better, less needy, have a firmer physique – then I would achieve worthiness. I “should” all over myself. Should is a dirty, awful, demeaning, and violent word. It implies that one’s state is imperfect, which cannot be true if everything is exactly as it should be at all times, which I truly believe is the case. If you would allow me – ahem – some unsolicited advice, I would advise you to drop that word from your vocabulary completely when speaking of yourself or others. Yes, a clock “should” tell the time. No, I should NOT have to fit into what you have decided I “should” be like in any positive or negative way.
What all this did was bring me closer to the fundamental idea that there is a greater power out in that “capital U” and it’s got everything covered. My focus became doing behaviors that felt divinely right within my soul. It’s not easy, it takes practice and looking like a total idiot from time to time in the beginning. It’s worth it though, when other people’s opinions (yes, even your mother’s!) start mattering less than the internal gauge that we all have buried somewhere in our hearts and minds. Taking some time to study yoga aids in uncovering that gauge, the one that we all cover up with old ideas, fear, and the big noisy distracting world around us.
I admit, it’s easier to just float along on the surface of life or create an inflexible goal to fixate on. But if you want to be truly happy, joyous and free – it requires a whole other set of rules. I invite you to grab a spiritual mentor that you trust, that exhibits the kinds of behavior that you wish you could – and ask them how they found all that good stuff. Who do you know that is almost always smiling or putting a positive spin on a possible problem? Who would you let hold your briefcase with $1000 in it for a month? Who would you trust to tell your secret dreams to, that wouldn’t judge or laugh but encourage you to pursue them?
If you don’t know people like this, that might be step one. Just an idea.
As always, I love your feedback. Commentary or sharing your own experience is always welcome!
I had no intention of abandoning Hope on Heels for so long, as all of the positive feedback (both internal and external) let me know I was doing something right. Something good for my soul, that connected me to the souls of others.
So what happened? I always found myself too busy, too tired, too pained, too hyper, too distracted to blog. Introspection is scary, especially when there’s a lot of “stuff” going on. When I have “stuff” going on, I tend to get very busy. It’s not all bad activity – quite the contrary! I work out and help people and chop veggies and read books and do puzzles and visit friends and get organized and… well, you get it. I’ll sleep, breathe and think about what’s really going on later. As in, not now… or now… or even now!
Taking time for a long, deep soul searching is not on the agenda for most folks, but I don’t have the luxury of not examining my resentments, fears, and faults. Svadhyaya, meaning self-study in Sanskrit, is my ticket to mental, emotional, and spiritual freedom. Without this self-study, I become obsessed with the idea that something external will fix my problem. Perhaps a pair of shoes or a phone upgrade will relieve me of my suffering? Nothing on the TV or interwebs remind me to practice prayer and meditation, for those particular solutions are kept in a dark, dusty corner of our societal tool shed – if they are in there at all!
So with no introspection, no blog. This isn’t an awesome recipe or crafting blog – it’s about my truth and connecting with others. No one wants to read my to-do lists, not even ME.
Also involved with not blogging is an element of punishment. I enjoy writing so denying myself the pleasure is a form of self-flagellation: “Bad girl, you’re suffering! That must mean you’re imperfect, a condition that needs immediate correction. No writing or true enjoyment for you until you return to an unattainably, unsustainably perfect way of being.” You can probably see where this line of thinking gets me. I’m not claiming to be rational – quite the opposite – but this is where I go when I am afraid.
And I’m only afraid like that when I forget that I am a woman of faith today, that I have tools to bring me back to center. Like practicing yoga through the “other” non- physical limbs of yoga, mostly the yamas and niyamas, with my primary focus on ahimsa (non-violence AKA not beating myself up) and santosha (contentment AKA accepting my self in my current, divine state). For a few reasons I am not engaging in asana (yoga “poses”) right now… but doing yoga off the mat is an entirely different post. A post that I hope you will see fairly soon.
Unlike many people I have a whole tool shed full of spiritual solutions that I have received through friends, mentors, students, therapists and good books. My gratitude for that can’t go unstated. No matter how far I’m willing to wade out into my pool of misery, I know that there’s always a warm and fuzzy answer waiting back on the shore. So here I am, all wrapped up and finally, finally back to connecting with you.
I want to say that I thank you for your support during this period of radio silence. I still felt you all there even while I was away and it gave me strength to do what needed to get done to find my way back here with truth and authenticity. And if I wasn’t going to be real, there was NO WAY I would be able to blog. I have no interest in transmitting my suffering to y’all, only to offer my personal experiences and the solutions to my challenges that I may help you with yours or simply assure you you’re not fumbling alone in the dark through this big Universe.
Monday-itis, or the “Blue Mondays” is not something I have ever suffered from. Helpless excitement at the beginning of anything (yes, even a new week) is one of my optimism-induced afflictions that I don’t mind cultivating, not to mention Monday has been my Saturday for quite a while now, which just adds to my immunity to the Post-Weekend Depression that seems to hit most Americans. I feel this is important to the following post because my first inclination is to blame my total freaking meltdown on Monday to it just being Monday.
I am extremely talented at minimizing.
Briefly, here are the extenuating details to the collapse of civilized humanity that was me three days ago: about three weeks ago, one of my besties drove a long way to visit, and take me to and support me after a procedure that – for so many reasons- failed to occur on that day. (I could tell you that story but it just makes me mad. If you know what FUBAR means… the literal definition was revealed to me August 30. MOVING ON!)
September 9 was set as the new date for the procedure. This procedure is called an epidural, or cortisone shot, and is often helpful in relieving back and neck pain. It’s not surgery and it’s not a big deal. But I was also not allowed to drive for the rest of the day after having it done. SO! My mother drove an even longer way than my bestie did, to take me to and support me after the procedure. And this time it got done! September 9 was a Monday, and Tuesday I actually was cautiously optimistic about feeling pretty good. But then Thursday morning, three or four hours after falling asleep, I was woken up by a severe amount of pain. The same thing happened on Friday and Saturday mornings too. Saturday night I started sleeping in the guest room. Sunday and Monday I woke up in pain, but not because of it. Which is different, and better, but still enormously sucky.
This Monday, my mother texts to ask how my neck is feeling. It is feeling bad. As I respond I am having a strong negative reaction about being asked “the question” and the answer I’m giving pisses me off too. However, at this point any time any one asks me “the question” about “the neck” I have a strong negative reaction and an even stronger desire to scream, so I think nothing of it.
I go to Zumba class, have a great time, get in my car and start driving home. Suddenly I am overwhelmed by an urge to cry, so I do. I get home, get in the shower, and cry. Out of the shower, getting ready to go to a doc appointment, hubby and I have a conversation. During the conversation it is revealed to everyone present (me, my husband) that I am not in a good mood. Nothing productive comes of this conversation (though hindsight shows the lack of murder means progress on both our parts).
On my way home from the doc I realize that no human, I mean NO ONE, should have to deal with me in my current state. I text my husband that I am still not feeling well and would appreciate if he could just not talk to me at all when I come into the house. Then I wait to see if he’ll agree to my psycho conditions (which he does unquestioningly, since he is The Best Husband Ever), go straight into the guest room and shut the door. I lay down on the bed, totally shaking, stifling my dramatic sobs and weeping like an emo teen from hell.
Now, there’s a prayer that any human, having reached the end of their capacity to cope with their circumstances, will say in a generally upward direction (yes even athiests, in my experience, will direct their internal pleadings skyward, even though they don’t believe anything is there except space). The prayer goes something to the effect of “HELP ME.” It can be elaborated on but less is more in times of trouble. As I roll back and forth on the bed, clutching myself and pleading the Universe to please, please help me… an answer comes. And when the answer comes, I don’t question it. I know it is right, and that if I can just do this thing I will find relief and the strength to carry on.
What is this miraculous answer you ask? Well, I’ll tell you! I’ll tell you that it is not to call one of my spiritual sisters, or to read an inspirational book, or journal, or simply sit in silence and meditate on gratitude. Nope.
My Higher Power tells me to get out the iPad and look at the Humor page on Pinterest. (That’s right. You read it. Pinterest. You know this thing, this Pinterest? I have only recently been “pinning” things myself. It’s fun, cheaper than real shopping and also a total time suck ) I do as directed, no hesitation, no thought of how absurd it sounds that my deeply despairing self is going to use an app to heal her soul. I start scrolling through the Humor page, and lo and behold! I stop crying and cease feeling sorry for myself as I look at pictures of cats and dogs, silly e-cards and memes and the occasional clever cartoon or photo.
Ninety minutes later, I feel strong enough to text my husband and ask for some water and a hug, which he delivers with a smile and cheerful “hello.” I remember how much I really, really like my husband, outside of the undying and unconditional love I have for him. Which in turn reminds me of all the abundant joy and blessings of my life. Feeling fragile, I get out of bed and make myself continue reading “It Starts with Food” which was recommended by a friend. In regards to when one should start eating the anti-inflammatory food choices outlined within, the book has the words “Start right now.” and so I just do. I get up and make myself a meal that complies with a non-inflammatory diet. It tastes good.
(I’ve been eating that way every since. It’s only been 3 full days, and I’m not sure I feel any better or worse. But I can’t really say I’ve tried everything until I try to change how I fuel my body, and follow a plan that is supposed to relieve inflammation. Another plus is that it’s more healthy than my normal, see-food <I see food, I eat it!> diet. I had planned to start October 1st, but apparently the book caught me in a vulnerable moment. I’m not mad.)
I spent the rest of the day just taking it easy, and I lived to blog another day. Below I have included a sample of the kind of inanity the Pinterest Humor board offers as a spiritual healing tool. The Universe truly does work in mysterious ways, and for that I am grateful.
Over the last decade I have come to understand that I am not defined by what I do to pay bills. It was a difficult lesson! Both pride in my work ethic and having been with the same company my entire adult life made it hard to grasp the concept that I am not my job! What I know now is that ego about my work ethic says a lot more about me than what I am actually employed to do. Not working is usually fairly difficult for me, and I know because I have been through disability before and struggled with feelings of guilt and uselessness for not being at work.
The moment I made the decision that I was unable to work, as described in my last post, I was certain that I was doing the wrong thing. Right before I made the decision I was sure… but then my old buddy Self-Doubt showed up to create fear. I filed my disability claim and immediately decided I wasn’t that bad and should just cancel it, suck it up. Just go back to work.
The great news is that always happens when I need to take disability time off, or even when I just call in sick for a day, yet I can’t recall a time where I’ve EVER looked back and regretted calling out of work. So I just waited that BS out and went to the doctor to get the paperwork done.
I am feeling a lot of fear lately about work. Honestly, and this is the first time in my life I’ve even considered this as a possibility, I am unsure that I will ever again be able to work at my current job. So I looked at the five kleshas in yoga, to see if I could pinpoint the particular one I’m most affected by on this issue. I thought it might help if could concentrate on the particular branch of fear I was hanging out on. Unfortunately I think it’s the trunk of the affliction tree… avidya or ignorance. I like the Wikipedia definition:
avidya: ignorance in the form of a misapprehension about reality
When I express my fear out loud I am quickly assured by all that I am wrong, that I will go back and be just as kick ass as before. That fear is just a feeling I’m having, and feelings aren’t facts. Feelings can change any time, are often wrong, and can cause indulgent or poor decisions to be made. This fear feels very real though I’m fairly sure it’s a lie, and the solution is waiting to see what actually happens, as opposed to creating that reality or worrying myself to death about it.
For now, I’m doing the work to take care of my physical body, my emotional state and my spiritual connection. I’m focusing on the present and what I can do to be the best Angela today. Which means the more frightened I get, the more I focus on the immediate. I do what I can in the moment to be present for what I am being offered in that moment. It’s making for a very small world lately, but that practice has allowed me to mostly stay focused on joy despite my constant discomfort.
What a gift!
If this blog actually posts I would like to start off by saying that I wanted to quit this entry many times. This is a difficult topic to get across and although I’ve shared pieces of what’s below with friends and family, there’s a lot of information that I find very disturbing, upon deep reflection, that hasn’t ever really occurred to me before. I am practicing ahimsa (non-violence) with myself for letting things get this far, and I’m now doing everything in my power to solve my “pain problem.”
In my Yoga Flirt class Tuesday, we spoke about satya, or capital-T Truth. The lesson is always a chance to take a look inside and see if I’m living the yogic principle in question. What I realized is that, as honest as I have been on this blog about my past and my present, I have left out what is probably the biggest piece of my life for the past 3 years. To be fair to myself, sometimes I “forget” about it because it’s always, always there. It seems to me that we forget to mention what becomes mundane to us on an individual basis.
The reason it feels important to share this portion of my life is not to draw sympathy (over 3 years I’ve had plenty, but it doesn’t help any). Tuesday, the lightbulb went off that I’m not the only one with chronic pain, and that I should share my experience in the hopes that people who are suffering from it can maybe get something from my experience. Loved ones suffer too, from having to watch their friend or family member go throught their issues and being essentially powerless to help. I know there’s many of you out there that are in constant hurt, I’m not sure how many of you have been foolish enough to put off seeking extreme measures until 3 years of it has passed though!
The issue escalated so incrementally for me that it took taking a major painkiller after surgery for me to figure out how very, very much my life was being limited! I had an elective surgery in August 2010 that had severe initial pain and a long recovery period (aka boob job!) and they gave me some oxycontin, which is VERY STRONG. I realized that I had an increase in range of motion, was much more physically comfortable and could just generally breathe with less difficulty when I took an oxycontin. And that is with brand new chesticles!! That was the point where I realized something should probably be done about what I had been hoping would just go away on it’s own.
That’s when I started trying to find a solution, starting with traditional, going Eastern, and then doing any and everything anyone that had ever been in pain or had known some one in pain suggested that had worked for them. Treatments I’ve tried: massage, chiropracty, acupuncture, surgery to burn the nerves off (!) around the painful area, hypnosis, ice, heat, not doing anything but lay down when I wasn’t physically at work, being super active, some kind of osteopathic manipulation not classified as chiropracty, yoga, visualization, meditation, physical therapy, foam rollers, breathing techniques, four 200mg ibuprofen three to four times a day, Lyrica, non-narcotic muscle relaxers, quitting my much needed pole dancing classes cold turkey, hot tubs, epsom salt baths… it’s been 3 years, I know there’s other stuff in there. Nothing has been as effective as that oxycontin, which is not an option to take every day. Avoiding mind-altering pills has been my number one priority in this mess, due to a history of substance issues and also just simply wanting to be present for my life! It’s impossible to truly connect with my Higher Power or my fellow humans if I’m riding a little drug cloud. I wouldn’t trade those things for all the oxycontin on the planet. So I’ve suffered a lot because of it, and so have my relationships with family and friends. Now, I’m going to try to explain this… journey.
By now, I’d rather talk about anything but the amount of pain I’m in all the time, blah blah blah, but it’s difficult to truly understand the effect of waking up to your body demanding that something be done about it’s obviously urgent condition. Obviously there’s the physical aspects, yes. Everyone has gotten a cut or been bruised, we all know what pain feels like and we all react differently with our conscious mind. Something really cool is that your body knows what to do when you sustain an injury. You don’t have to tell your blood vessels to constrict at the site of an open wound on your body, it’s your body’s response to slow blood loss. Your body knows when the pain is too much, and will literally knock itself out to avoid feeling it! The human body is an amazing machine, working with and without the conscious mind.
As much as I’ve tried (with the exception of about 6 months where I gave up all hope and laid on the couch feeling sorry for myself) to live, or at least create a facsimile of, a normal life, I have not been able to do so because my body is the one in charge – not my mind. My whole body is dedicated, 24/7 to dealing with it’s crisis! When I sleep, my whole body tightens up to try and protect itself, so every day I have to start fresh trying to relax the muscles from my ears to my glutes. All day, my body contends with itself while I try to live my life. ACK! It is really hard to explain… but I think I figured out a way. Read on…
Remember that silly kid’s game where you try to see who can hold their hand over a candle flame the longest? Think back to the way your body reacted, and how you had to override your body’s instincts to pull away so you could show how tough you were. Remember how it got increasingly difficult to hold it there, even though you weren’t getting any closer to the flame? Go back to the point where you had to stop talking and just concentrate to demand your body to let you keep your hand there. Now envision doing that, 24 hours a day, for three years, while you attempt to hold conversations, go to work, make love to your spouse, cook dinner, sit still in meetings, visit with friends, sleep. Oh! And no one can see that you’ve got this super hot flame in various ranges of closeness (up to and including times where you’re actually touching the fire for any random length of time). Some wonder why you’re so distracted, so fidgety, why you always have that little crease between your brows. Your boss may wonder why you’re not really living up to the expectations they had upon hiring you. Friends may stop calling because you never get back to them, or because talking to you is, frankly, kind of a drag. Your husband may try to be understanding, but can’t help but occasionally become impatient. The poor guy just wants his wife back!
Because of all the energy being expended internally I am, at any given time, mildly to extremely limited on my ability to focus externally. There was a point about midway through this 3 year saga, where I had literally zero external energy to spend beyond what I would attempt to give at work. I would come home, put some ice or heat on my back, lay down on the couch. I had nothing. Nothing for my husband, nothing for our marriage. Nothing for my friends or for family. I wished my life could just stop. I felt powerless to make the pain go away. I wanted to die in that way where you don’t want to kill yourself, but you just wish you could stop regretting waking up every morning.
The truth is, as I realize it now, I might as well have taken that oxycontin the whole time I felt like that. I was cut off from my fellows, from my higher power anyway! Drugs and self-pity are closely related in their destructive power. I became motivated when I realized that my attitude was affecting my marriage to the point where my husband was happy when he could get away from me. It didn’t hurt, I totally understood why. I just didn’t like the fact of it, and realized I needed to make a decision: just let it all go… or fight to get better. I looked at my life, the facts of it, and saw that any woman might consider herself lucky beyond her wildest dreams. I knew I had felt that feeling, and I decided I wanted it back.
This turning point seems a good place to end this post. There is more, but we’re starting to layer in another yogic principle. So as soon as I recover from writing this one I’ll start on the happy middle. There’s no ending yet. Soon, I hope.
There’s a Maya Angelou quote that is popping up all over my life right now. You may have heard it in some form or another:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
That’s some capital-T Truth right there. This thought, having been presented to me several times this week, is floating around in the background of the stewpot that is my mind. To me, people are valuable for what messages they deliver from the Universe. Everyone in the world has something to teach me, and that is something I practice being mindful of on a daily basis.
My main goal is to be the best me I can be and I pray for it every day. When I strive for the best behavior I can manage, it’s not necessary to beat myself up. Often I fall short of perfection, but that’s okay. My job as a human is to be imperfect, so I’m doing my job very well!
Before I get into what is clawing its way out of me today, I want to ask you how this quote makes you feel. Who does it remind you of? What do you think is the most valuable feeling some one can give you? Do you have a person in your life that gave/gives you this feeling? Do you try to give others that feeling, the one that you want to get from others?
The most challenging part of life for many of us is relationships. I’ll speak for myself here, but I know many of you will able to identify with what I experience. Love is not a simple emotion. I love everyone in my life, to one extent or another. I love them for their humor, for their beautiful lit-from-within smile, for being difficult and helping me practice patience and tolerance. I love people like I believe Mother Theresa loved people, which is unconditionally: just the way they, wonderfully or distressingly, are.
Just to back up for one moment: There was a time in my life when I had no capacity for love, empathy or compassion. I drowned my feelings, pushed away anyone that tried to help and spent every day just surviving. I was impatient, unsympathetic to others’ suffering because I was in so much emotional pain. It was a horrible way to live, and I think that helps me stay committed to how I’m living now because I never want to feel that way, ever, ever again. My happiness relies on me loving others!
This is how I try to love: by letting people know I see them and appreciate them. I let them know they’re worthy of other people’s time, not by telling them but by hearing what they say and responding in a thoughtful way. I let them know they’re worthy of love, by being kind, praising their accomplishments, giving them hope. That is the gentle, nurturing kind of love that I cultivate (and sometimes achieve) in my day to day life.
But there is another part of love. This is where aparigraha comes in! Yogic wisdom through Yoga Flirt taught me that aparigraha means non-grasping or non-possessive, the exact opposite of co-dependent. The modern term in this context would be detachment. If you can love someone and still practice aparigraha, the love will flourish and grow.
I have a co-dependent streak a mile wide, which I keep a nice big fence around most of the time. That fence allows me to love you, and manage to not possess or control you. Which means that if you do not ask for advice, I will not give it to you. It means that if you ask for advice and then don’t take it, I don’t feel personally affronted. It means that you may not take advantage of me. I will lend you an ear, or my time, but probably not any money.
Aparigraha can also look like tough love, and I will explain what that means to me. It means that if you insist on making the same mistakes over and over, I will not listen to you whine about it. It means if you are digging yourself a hole you aren’t equipped to climb out of on your own, I will let you. And if you are on the floor and aren’t asking for help to get up, I will not kick you, but I will leave you there. To you it may sound cold, callous or cruel… but I’ve been those and it’s very different.
Many people think they are helping a loved one, when they are actually enabling them. Enabling is not about the person being enabled, it’s about the enabler. I have the opportunity to enable on a daily basis and I choose not to as much as possible, even though it’s way less painful for me. It’s very difficult for me to watch my loved ones suffer, but trying to fix their problems so that I can feel better is selfish, not loving at all. I let go with love, allow them to learn the lessons they are meant to learn in this lifetime, let them suffer instead of swooping in to save the day. I check my motives when I am compelled to “help” a loved one. Am I truly being of service to them, or do I lack faith that things are as they should be, am I just looking for an opportunity to play the hero, the martyr, the saint? When you love someone and they are hell bent on self-destruction, if you really want to help them, get out of their way. The sooner they hit bottom, the faster they can start to heal and recover.
This is where we re-visit Ms. Angelou’s quote. When you are practicing aparigraha while a loved one suffers, they may not appreciate what you are doing very much. But in the long run, there’s hope that the miracle of recovery happens, they realize you gave them space to find their way, and they can thank you for putting yourself through some misery so that they got to get rid of theirs. I know how grateful I am to the people who do that for me! They make me feel like I have dignity, that I’m capable of making decisions and problem-solving on my own, that I’m worthy of their love.
I want to know what you think. Remember those questions I asked in the beginning of this post, a long (winded) time ago?
I’ll end with another quote, not from a famous person but from an old recovered drug addict named Sherman. Any time he gave a talk, he’d always end it by saying:
“If nobody told you they love you today, I love you madly.”