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?
I want to love and forgive as I imagine my higher power loves and forgives – in my belief that means everyone deserves both love and forgiveness in equal amounts. My biggest struggle in that goal is loving and forgiving the people in the world that have hateful or naive ideas about the safety, respect and freedom of others. I don’t have a lot of interest in politics or the religious debate. I avoid discussion on those topics, as I don’t believe most (myself included) have enough real information to form a cogent argument. Heartfelt and logical discussion? Possibly. Informed and educated exchange? Most likely no. When these topics come up I usually find something else to do, to avoid being drawn into negativity when I hear hatred or regurgitated dogma.
The point of this topic is that lately I have been finding myself concerned that I will run across hatred on my personal Facebook page. I have close to 500 FB friends, obviously I am not close to all of them and therefore do not necessarily know if their beliefs align in Universal love and forgiveness. I try to be truly open-minded and not dismiss out of hand anything that has a logical or heartfelt basis – I even understand the “my religion is the only right one” stance or the “my lifestyle is the only proper lifestyle” idea. It makes sense that one would choose the ideals that embody goodness in one’s mind. There are a lot of philosophies out there but rarely do I meet people embracing hypocrisy as a way of life.
There is a certain topic in particular that I have been fearful of seeing under fire on my personal FB feed, but I’d like to avoid moral, political or religious specifics here and just talk about my personal struggle with executing my own belief system in the light of other people’s hatred or naively formed opinion.
Let’s say that I have a personal affinity and an affection for men and women that, for vital nutritional reasons, must eat raw onions – we’ll them “Raw’rs”. If they don’t eat raw onions, they can become very ill to the point of hospitalization or perhaps death. I grew up around quite a few Raw’rs, and they weren’t seen as special or different – they were just people. They would eat raw onions right in front of my family without any apology or hesitation! In public they were more hesitant to eat their raw onions, because some people would get upset about it. I was taught that those upset people were special and different in a negative way, but that they weren’t necessarily bad people either.
The people that got upset about public raw onion eating thought that the Raw’rs were different, perhaps a lesser type of human since they had a different nutritional needs than “normal people.” Since “Normals” found the smell and sight of raw onion eating offensive and wrong, they expected Raw’rs to do it in private or utilize nutritional alternatives that science had found. The Normals thought the Raw’rs were making a choice, that they liked eating raw onions all the time and ignored the alternatives because they were morally or mentally ill. Soon there was political involvement regarding the rights of Raw’rs to be able to eat in public. Some states had to actually create a law allowing Raw’rs to eat in public!
When I was younger I hung with a Raw’r crowd. I even tried a raw onion diet for a while, but realized I didn’t have those nutritional needs and went back to Normal eating after a few years. During those few years I saw firsthand the treatment that Raw’rs received, the looks, the stigma – the embarrassment they felt for being themselves in public. Because of the hatred directed at them, most Raw’rs learned to be open-minded. I found that attractive. I also found that the Raw’rs from my childhood were some of the physically and emotionally safest people to be around. Normals in my life hurt me, but a Raw’r never did. Quite the opposite! Even with their differences in behavior, they were role models in how to live love and be family, because they had felt the hatred of strangers their whole lives and realized the vital importance of the acceptance of family and friends.
I think this is a good way to illustrate the weirdness surrounding bigotry and hatred. There’s an argument that the smell of raw onions can be a bit strong outside of a kitchen. The thought of someone biting into a raw onion like an apple literally nauseates me! Ugh! So couldn’t we make a point that Raw’rs should be treated differently in order to not offend the Normals? I think it’s ridiculous to put humans into pigeonholes that limit or expand their freedoms, but I invite you to use this example to explore your own ideas about race, religion, sexual orientation, politics, breastfeeding in public, vegans, hunters… sub yourself in as a Normal and ponder what you’d fill in for the Raw’rs. This has been a good exercise for me in exploring where my close-mindedness and fear manifest in relation to different cultures and lifestyles. I want to be 100% open-minded, even to those that don’t want to be – or can’t be.
I wish I always behaved like everyone is equal, deserving of love and respect in the same amounts as everyone else – in the same amounts I yearn for in my heart. I’m a work in progress, and I hope you are too.
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!
Practice. Practice. A spiritual practice, a yoga practice. Same thing, when it comes down to it. Practice being imperfect, and having a sense of humor when you perceive failure. If you really want to be a better person than you are, learn to laugh at yourself more. Become an expert at it!
Recently in class I fell for the first time, I mean hit the deck hard, right on my thankfully extra squishy backside. It didn’t hurt, I was super close to the floor, plus I’m blessed with a big ole booty. As I was getting up, a gal in class said “You were laughing even as you fell,” as if she thought that was really cool. I thought back and realized she was right. On the pole, realizing a fall was imminent, I started laughing because I had managed to tangle myself up so badly! It was pretty funny, maybe you had to be there (maybe you have been there!).
Many of the people I do spiritual work with seem to think that being a grown up means that one has to take “self” very seriously. Maybe it does, and that’s why I don’t feel very “grown up.” This happens every year around my birthday: I start wondering just when I am going to stop feeling like I’m a teenager, even though I’m not sure that I even want to feel older. To me, it’s quite enough to settle for being responsible and dependable, and leave the rest of adulthood to the stodgy types.
It is said that age is a state of mind. To be honest, I don’t try that hard to be an adult about things. To me, that seems really, really boring.
Yoga Flirt helps me keep a youthful mindset. It doesn’t hurt that practicing Yoga Flirt involves swinging myself around on a vertical monkey bar!! When I first started YF, I did take it seriously. I wanted the teacher to see how wonderful my form was, how well I performed the moves. I was up in my head the whole time, paying no attention to what my body was feeling or the transformation available to me in that magical studio. While it is still tempting once in a while to compare myself to the other ladies in class, tempting to become discouraged enough to stop practicing and go find something that I can be the absolute best at immediately (HA!), I remember the yoga philosophy that I’ve learned in every level.
Thankfully the lessons in the beginning of class usually dispel that drive for perfection, shifting the focus to the practice instead. Practice doesn’t often mean perfect, but focusing on the end result takes away from the journey anyway. Another thing that seems “adult” is being results driven, disregarding the opportunities to experience what happens between setting and achieving a goal. There’s so much life that happens, while we’re waiting for results… and remembering to be present in the moment takes practice.
Practice being imperfect. Practice being quick to laugh (especially at yourself). Practice being quick to cry tears of joy or pain. Practice asking for help, admitting you don’t know everything. Practice being afraid and doing it anyway. Practice having a light heart and an open mind. Practice trusting that there is enough love, money, time in the Universe for you to get exactly what you need, exactly when you need it. Practice breathing, pausing, detaching with love. Practice yoga. Or even better, practice Yoga Flirt!
I recently visited the Yoga Flirt website to find my testimonial, written back in 2009. I had been in class with the same set of ladies through level 4, but most of the ladies I joined up with in level 5 had been in that level for a few sessions. We did the normal structure of class, with dancing at the end. It was all challenging and interesting and fun, but when the dancing started it just turned… POW!
Here’s a piece of my testimonial:
“…I attended my first level 5 class last Monday, and I could barely keep my jaw off the floor. I was so amazed and moved by the power those women had over their bodies, and it made me realize the power I had developed over mine. Not just in physical strength, but the power to own my physical beauty, my sensuality and sexuality! … I can’t describe the feeling of freedom that comes from completely letting go and finding out what happens when you don’t hold back! It can be scary, but it’s SO worth it.”
That first level 5 class has left an impression in my mind, even after all this time. Reading this testimonial back, I realize that somewhere along the line I relinquished the power I felt over my physical body. I started having severe, constant neck pain and it was so physically and emotionally exhausting that I barely had any energy for living. I became hopeless. Exercising was out of the question, but eating for comfort was easy enough. The result of that is something I’ve already shared: I’m heavier than I’ve ever been.
The good news is that I’m taking the power back. I am committed to becoming physically fit! More exercise (every time I get a chance!) and listening to my body about when it’s time to eat are the two most important actions. Slow and steady wins the race, so I’m staying off the scale for now and just doing the footwork.
Revisiting that testimonial also renewed my love of Yoga Flirt. It’s easy to forget how much my life changed that first year of pole dancing/yoga philosophy lessons, but it changed quite a bit. YF helped me deepen my spiritual life, I feel closer to the higher power that I believe in. This tells me that the divine powers that be can deliver spirituality in the most unexpected ways. It pays to have an open mind.
There are a lot of great yoga blogs, I follow some of them (see right sidebar). They know infinitely more than I do about yoga! What I do know about yoga is this: It’s not just about holding poses and all the physical benefits that one gets from consistent practice. If you dive in just a little deeper you will find that there are great suggestions on how to live a more peaceful, contented life. Who doesn’t want that?
I encourage you to check out a book about yoga at the library, ask your yoga teacher what they know, or just google yoga and get the low-down on what yoga is really about. Maybe there’s something for you, a tidbit of deep wisdom that will touch your heart, mind or soul and give you that glow that so many a yogi display. Let me know what you find!
So, where were we? Oh, yes that’s right… Possibilities, and the foundation it was built upon. Learning a new lesson each week in YF class was a great start. The information was seeping in around the edges of my life, it was effortlessly happening. It was like I had just been waiting for some one to tell me how to do what I’d wanted to do all along.
But now we’re getting back to not knowing what you don’t know that you don’t know. For instance: I had no idea that I had such a hang-up about letting myself try to look good (or even hot!). Before YF, applying make up was something I did for work or a special occasion, and I definitely didn’t go in for revealing clothes. If I did do myself up or wear something a little clingy, I was sure that people were thinking, “Why is she trying to look good? She’s obviously vain, and she’s a fraud too. She looks like a fool in that dress/skirt/eyeliner.”
WHAT? Why would a grown woman be afraid to be feminine? It has to do with my childhood, of course! I felt that drawing any attention to myself was a bad idea, because it surely was when I was a kid. My peers would make fun of me if I didn’t wear the “right” outfit, or changed my hair in an uncool way. If I wore something that showed off my body they’d say I was conceited, and that I was just trying to stick my boobs out so the boys would look. (Like that’s a bad thing?) That right there helped me develop some rotten self-esteem, believing I didn’t deserve to feel good by looking good. Baggy jeans and an extra large t-shirt were my uniform for several years.
I was at the point in my life where I would try to wear make up more often, but I avoided having any personal “style” at all costs. Then we moved away from a set dance routine in YF. I don’t want to give everything away, but we learned to freely express ourselves through movement in level four. Cathy encouraged us to wear and remove layers, stop thinking about moving and just move. She encouraged us to be our true selves, and not mimic others. Otherwise known as: having your own “style.” Since I fancy myself such a great student, I felt I should not let Cathy down. Letting my mind be led by my body was a difficult but wonderful process. I began to develop a trance-like state when I danced. Everyone in the class, teacher and students, were super complimentary and supportive when I truly let go. They could tell I was really being authentic with my dance.
And so, a personal style was born! I was once afraid, but not any more. Sure, I still have confidence issues from time to time… but for the most part, I wear what I like and if people don’t like it, well every one is entitled to their opinion.
There’s also the idea of self-expression, and being bravely authentic during the times when a woman is expected to just, well, take it like a man. Cowgirl up, you might say. I don’t fake feeling fine anymore with my true friends. On the whole, I am pretty optimistic and positive, but everyone gets her panties in a bunch from time to time! So when I do, I let people know. I will usually dance it out in class anyway.
When my precious doggie died, I danced to “Heavenly Day” by Patty Griffin. As the song came to an end, I just crumpled down on the floor and cried. Cathy brought me a tissue and a hug. It felt good to be so raw in such a safe place that I do it as much as I can! I find a song to match my mood and hash it out in stilettos. If you’re angry, stomping around in 6-inch heels, then taking them off and chucking them at the floor is very therapeutic. And the gals in the crowd will just hoot and holler and love you for your emotional honesty.
Emotional honesty, once experienced, can be like a drug. It feels so good to name your pain or joy when it’s safe to do so. The yoga principle for truthfulness is satya. Practicing satya in class has helped me be more honest outside of class. Come to find out, having a real feeling about something isn’t frowned upon if you’re with the right people.
Yoga Flirt has taught me that I am safe, even when I’m sexy, passionate, or even just sad. It has taught me more about finding the right people to be authentic with, and they have taught me more about finding my truth. My truth changes, and so it’s important to stay on top of it. Check my emotional temperature, if you will. A weekly class where I am asked to examine my truth gives me an opportunity to see when it changes, ask why it changed and – yes! – remember that it’s probably going to be different next week any way.
I hope you find your truth today, and that you say it out loud to some one you trust. And maybe you could share a little truth here, if you don’t mind? I’d love to hear what’s really going on.