Once upon a time, I tried a radical experiment. It was inspired by a conversation I had with some one I don’t think I knew particularly well. I have no idea what I was saying but they cut me off mid-sentence to observe, in a very gentle way, that all I ever seemed to do was complain. Because I didn’t speak to this person very often, I had a moment of “you don’t know me!” but it quickly passed when I mentally ran our conversation back in my head. Yep. I had whined my way through the whole thing. I conceded their point and later solemnly vowed to myself to cease the negativity for a period of time. It wasn’t long, maybe a week or a month. You wouldn’t think that would be that big of a deal: just find positive, happy things to talk about… since I am an upbeat, optimistic type that should be a snap – right?
WRONG! Very quickly I found that I literally had nothing to say that wasn’t a grouse, lament or gripe. Entire conversations would happen in my presence without me uttering a peep. If you have ever met me, even for 5 minutes, you know that it’s impossible for me to keep my mouth shut. I can’t help it, I have a comment – witty or otherwise – for everything! But at that point I was totally stumped for what to say.
A few days in to my unexpected silence, I realized that I had been unintentionally putting a lot of negativity out in the world. This was a rude awakening as I’d started thinking of myself as a Pollyanna, with a tendency to look on the bright side and inject a can-do spirit into situations. Yet there was the evidence before me, as I could not even come up with neutral topics. A change was definitely in order. I took a solid month off from complaints, and took a good look at my conversational style.
Turns out, I was always looking to make people laugh. The easiest way to do that is to complain about a universal topic in a unique or witty way. (It’s true! Listen to your favorite comedian and you’ll see what I mean.) Making people laugh is an admirable pastime – but for me, the amount of gloom and doom I spread was not worth the chuckles I got for my running commentary of depressive thoughts. The subject of conversation didn’t have to change as much as the angle from which I approached it. I set an intention to be more positive in my speech patterns, to talk of things from a place of encouraged expectation as opposed to voicing doubt that anything could possibly go my way. More Tigger, less Eeyore.
Over the years I can tell I’ve picked up the bad habit of complaining again. I am going to set another intention to be mindful of my words. It’s not that I can’t speak of problems in my life, fears, insecurities or even worries I am having. I just have to come from a place of hope that it’s nowhere but up from here. I’m doing this for a few reasons:
1. I am dedicated to be a person that is a positive influence on the planet.
2. Words are powerful. What we say out loud is more powerful than even our thoughts, because they have an effect on other people as well as ourselves. Our words shape our reality, and I want my reality to be full of joy. And if we meet and I speak of hope and happiness, maybe it will give your reality some joy too, which increase my joy even more. Everybody wins!
3. Honestly, I care how I am perceived by others. I don’t want to be seen as a Debbie Downer! I have had such a blessed life, with far more peace than I ever thought possible. I want other people to see what miracles can occur in their lives if they put their faith in the (capital U) Universe and approach their fellows with love and compassion.
4. I am hoping you’ll join me! Let’s start a movement… What should we call it? Bliss Bunch? Serenity Society? Team Gratitude? I can’t wait to hear your name nominations! Go out and recruit others. Let’s make April a complaint free zone. Who’s with me?
In my experience, we humans tend to think we are extremely unique in our thoughts and feelings: “no one thinks these crazy thoughts like I do” or “no one has this much hurt/shame/guilt/fear in their hearts” or “it’s hard for others to understand me because I am so much more intelligent than almost everyone else ever” etc.
While I’ll agree that everyone has something to offer this world, and every person is a child of (enter deity here), worthy of love and respect… I’m convinced that we are having a collective experience that becomes meaningful only when it’s shared among us. What that has to mean then, is that we have to be having the same experiences or no one would be able to exercise their empathy and emotional understanding. In other words, no one could relate to anyone else.
There is a phrase I have heard tossed around called “terminal uniqueness” which refers to people that are in a place where they’d rather literally die than be willing to accept help or guidance. Having once suffered from this condition myself, I can definitively say two things: 1. it is absolutely the most awful feeling when you believe you’re experiencing stuff no one else has ever felt or done – anywhere you go, anything you do, no one can help you, understand you or even forgive you for your thoughts, feelings, actions. 2. THERE IS A CURE.
Because the illness exists solely in your head, as soon as you are ready to be cured – poof! – you are miraculously able to begin the healing, grow, and most importantly help other people do the same. My experience with overcoming terminal uniqueness is the same as everyone else’s experience. (See what I did there?!) I needed loving guidance toward the new idea that I while I may be very special in my own way like my momma told me I am – I am not, in fact, experiencing my life differently than any human that has ever existed on the planet. I’m not a new breed of human and therefore my limitations are within the realm of human experience. In other words I was basically told, “Sweetie, get over yourself” and then comforted as the shock of realization hit me. They were indeed correct in what only moments ago I had thought obnoxious, presumptuous and downright rude.
The most painful part in this epiphany for me was the torrential rush of hope I felt as this new reality sank in. If I am understandable, if I am one among many, if my thoughts, feelings and actions aren’t despicably inhuman or inexplicably disgusting then some one, somewhere can help me. If I can be helped, then life might not be so isolated and painful. If life isn’t so isolated, so painful – then, just maybe, I can be free. I didn’t dare hope too hard right away. I had had hope before, only to have it be crushed by people in just as much pain and ill circumstance… so I was still afraid that this relief was fleeting. Freedom seems impossible when our captor appears invincible. Realizing that what is holding you back are your old ideas and thoughts (either fed to you or made up by you to survive your environment) and not any outside force, can give you courage to fight for that freedom, for inner peace, for a chance for true happiness.
Since discovering I am just like everyone else, I have found other people walking around with that same horrible mix of grandiosity and utter shame of terminal uniqueness. I’ve seen people die from it. It’s a terrible tragedy to see life end for no other reason than we couldn’t help them see how ordinary their problems are. Sometimes people have had their hope crushed so many times they simply can’t allow themselves any hope at all.
I hope this post encourages you to either ask for help, or offer it, depending where you are on your journey. Here are some of the phrases that helped me to become one among many, though they may seem harsh they were all delivered in pure love:
“Get over yourself sweetie”
“You can’t tell me anything I haven’t heard before, but I encourage you to try.”
“You haven’t done anything we didn’t already do… Twice. While naked.”
“Sorry, you’re just not that special.”
“Of course you punched her/pooped your pants/cried for three days/etc. I would have done the same thing in your shoes.”
“We will love you til you can love yourself. Go ahead and act a fool. We’ll still be here when you wear yourself out.”
“Don’t leave before the miracle happens.”
What they didn’t tell me is that the miracle was me feeling like I belonged somewhere – right here, on Earth, with you. My spot was reserved at birth, and no actions I took or thoughts I had could remove it. The same is true for every single person. Sorry, you’re just not that special…
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.
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!
Last night was Level One graduation night, I can’t believe 8 weeks goes by so fast! The transformation in such a short amount of time is astonishing, and seeing an entire group of women become confident is absolutely priceless. Their revolutions and revelations bring back memories of my own experience and the remarkable changes I’ve seen in the ladies of the YF community around me over the last 4 years. They remind me why it’s so valuable to start (and then continue!) a yoga practice. The strength and resilience gained by the mind and body support the spiritual health created by a consistent use of breath and focus.
I believe that any woman would benefit from Yoga Flirt. Last night I heard the Level One graduates sharing their stories, amazed by their own boldness and bravery in the outside world after two months of class. There were hugs and promises to stay in touch, as they will have a new instructor for level two. As the last woman left the studio, she had an enormous smile on her face that was lit up from within. I had never seen that look on her face before, but I’ve seen it on many other students faces as they break through their self-consciousness and fears! The feeling I get as their instructor is completely indescribable. For me, being an instructor means I have been given the gift of learning from my students. It is truly humbling.
Come, be my teacher! Spring session Level One starts THIS THURSDAY, May 2nd at 5:45pm-7:15pm. It’s an 8 week session, and you can sign up on the Yoga Flirt website. As a little bit of incentive, I’ll give you $30 off of Level One if you sign up for the session that starts this week. There are only 5 spots left, so please let me know ASAP if you want to take advantage of the offer to ensure you get a spot. All classes max out at 12 women, to ensure enough quality time is spent with each student. If enough ladies want to take Level One when Thursday sells out, Cathy might attempt to create another time slot. I can’t guarantee it, but it’s very possible!
If you’re in the area and want to get started, please go to Facebook, like my page and private message me, or find me on Twitter and send me a private tweet. If you’re an out of town gal, do not fret… I will collaborate with Cathy to help spread the love if we can!
For Ms. Maddy Cooley and her suggestion on my Hope on Heels FB page that I talk about “the transition and evolution of (my) mindset” as I progressed through the program of Yoga Flirt. Ask and you shall receive!
As a preamble to my own experience, it should be understood that every woman has a different experience around YF, depending on where she is in her life when she starts it. I’ve seen women start believing in themselves, begin keeping the power over their lives, their selves, that they had previously chosen to give away instead. The curriculum for YF is carefully constructed to allow a woman to soften into herself, at her pace. It allows her choices, to be made in a safe, mirror free and dimly lit environment where no one is allowed to judge. The program encourages going within and allowing a little inner naughty girl to emerge if it feels good to do so.
My personal transformation and evolution was unexpected! I felt pretty spiritually grown up, with a healthy dose of humility, gratitude and a dedication to service when I moved from LA to the Central Coast in January of 2008. Thinking I would be able to make friends and find ways to stay active in my spiritual life in a reasonable amount of time, I was not prepared for the vast emotional results of a physical change of location. Things like what grocery store to shop at, where to get my hair and nails done, and which restaurants to avoid (stuff I just knew in my hometown) were more disconcerting than they probably should have been. Adding to all the change was my 6 month old marriage, and quitting my job of 13 years… I guess I should’ve known I was going to struggle as much as I did.
It was my husband’s idea to move here, so I didn’t say a whole lot to him about the isolation I felt out of concern that he might feel bad. I didn’t want to talk to my friends in LA about how I felt out of concern they may feel sorry for me (or worse, have already forgotten all about me! Absurd). I certainly did not have any local friends that I could share my feelings of alienation and homesickness. Surely you won’t be surprised that I was unable to keep up pretense for very long! A very sudden and severe panic attack hit me while I was sitting at a red light in my new little town, all turned around trying to find a local shop. Breathing was difficult, big fat tears rolled down and I just gave in to the self-pity that I had been living in for months. That forced me to face the facts… which was that I was choosing to isolate myself and needed to ask for help, and that my spiritual self was atrophying without any nourishment. Nothing was even about to get better otherwise.
Lacking friends nearby, I struck out to at least practice meditation in a group setting at a nearby yoga studio. How that turned into pole dancing has been explained in one of my first posts! Much to my surprise, the Yoga Flirt intro class I took was revolutionary for me, I knew I’d found something to love. I didn’t leave with new friends or anything but I did feel a sisterhood with the other attendees, and was so energized that I knew I dared hope I had found a little piece of salvation.
When regular class started, my particular brand of female perfectionism involves being a teacher’s pet, so if I had to let my hair down both literally and figuratively, I was gonna be the floppiest noodle in the studio. No one was going to be better than me at letting go. If that’s sounds silly, it’s because it IS. It’s hard to have an internal experience when one eye is open, making sure no one in the room looks as relaxed as you are! I was also determined to nail the warm up movements and execute them perfectly, which had a positive result of giving me a lot of strength in a relatively short period of time.
Being strong meant that I could usually execute the new moves we learned on the first or second try. When I realized that I was developing a reputation as “the strong one” I felt humbled and grateful… and also like I belonged somewhere which I wanted very much. I was a pole dancer! The loneliness I felt started to fade as I showed up in class week after week, level after level, with the same ladies. (We were a very enthusiastic class, four of us were instructors at one point or another and two of us still are, four years later!) The result of that was I came home exhausted but invigorated, ready to face the world. Yoga Flirt gave me my swag back.
The yoga wisdom lit me up spiritually, the physical activity gave me something in which to channel my restless, free-floating anxiety, and the complexity of some of the moves even fired up a neuron or two. One of my best girlfriends in LA had always talked to me about checking on the PMS list: Physical, Mental, Spiritual. As in, what did you do for your PMS today? The answer for me was that I hadn’t in a little over a year. Now that I was back to tending the proverbial garden of my existence, other life-stuff got easier to deal with and my re-awakened mind was open to possibilities outside of class.
I attended every 90 minute weekly class, I went to every extra practice I could. I got even stronger, I started developing in-studio friendships that eventually led to being invited into the lives of some of my classmates. I participated in my practice with a dedication that I can still be surprised by… but pole dancing is so freaking fun it’s addictive. I know very few women that understand the power they can, if they allow themselves, harness over their lives simply by inhabiting and owning and loving the body that they are in. My body became a symbol of my strength when I started loving it in it’s present shape and size.
I will end by sharing the biggest epiphany about my body (and your body too) that I have ever, ever had in 37 years: One night in class, a lady that our society would typically consider unattractive due to her size, got up and danced for us. She owned every single ounce of her curvy body, gyrated and crawled and spun in various states of undress without any noticeable hesitation. I saw she had a roll around her middle, and that her thighs were bigger than the girls I saw in the magazines and I didn’t even care because she looked so unbearably hot and sexy that I just knew, in that moment, I was seeing what men see every single time they look at us in an intimate setting.
As an experiment, I used my husband as an unsuspecting guinea pig. I replaced my normal sex mantra: “Thank you for being willing to overlook my hideous flaws and tolerate my naked body. I’m sorry about my (insert your main insecurity here) and am grateful you are still able to do me the favor of having sex with my obviously flawed person,” with a new one that went something like “yes I know it is hard to believe that I’m letting you touch my fiercely sexy curves, but if you worship me as I deserve I will reward you with even more of my deliciousness. You are welcome.” The results were… beyond what I had expected. And I mean that in the sexiest way possible.