The Other Path to Enlightement

Imprisioned in the house from the cold, Christmas is a holiday to get through and New Year’s resolutions have never worked for me, so I struggle… every year, this time of year.   Repressed memories.   Unreached goals. Fear of more failure.   Gratitude for having more than enough laced with guilt in thinking of all those in need. I know this is part of the cycle – to doubt myself and the good of humanity. This is not the time to place false external expectations on myself; it is when I peer into my cracks and burrow into the dark crevices in meditation. From inside, I find what I need and manipulate those spaces.   Yes – manipulation because that is another term for manifestation.   It is in the scary dark corners that I remember how to manipulate my own mind.   And it does not happen from a place of repressed emotions or joy but from honest outbreaks wrapped in acceptance.

“Enlightenment is understanding that there is nowhere to go, nothing to do, and nobody you have to be except exactly who you’re being right now.”   – Conversations with God

We glorify rigidity and schedules and sweeping “undesirable” under the rug.   The intellectual outdoes the intuitive. Our pursuit of unbridled knowledge and proper etiquette is the systemization of compressed emotion and lack of spontaneity.   What if I don’t keep it together today? What if I surprise myself and cry in front of you just because I need to? Let my tears flow for this screwed up world. Cry for my friends who have left too early, and the ones that live feeling alienated. And then what if I tell you that it feels good to cry? That there is no shame.   What if I scream at the headlines with no remorse? Would you be shocked to know I believe in righteous anger? Self control is not for the Self – it is a coupon book of societal etiquette – which is not normal but repressed; or dull and mundane at best. Sadness, jealousy, self-loathing; rip it up and replace it with something pleasant out of the Ms. Manners book.   Seeing someone in their unmasked vulnerability is too delicate or complicated or unpredictable.   Repression of shame, grief and anger is safe and keeps us within the norm, but normal is average and average is a cop out.   None of us are on this planet to be average. I’d rather be called oversensitive or emotional than normal or stable.   Reserve the stable label for medical coding.   We all have something powerful and unique to share on this journey and we can’t recognize it by playing it safe. So in the safety of my morning space, I ask:

Who do I want to be for the world this year? I can’t answer that unless I fully embrace what I feel. What do I long for? What am I passionate about? This is not selfish – it is selfless, because that is how I give the best part of who I am. But I approach passion with kid gloves in the private of my meditation.   Passion has two faces – desire and aversion, and if I’m not careful, the aversion exhausts me emotionally.   Passion is the fire of desire…and desire, when manipulated, brings us to the highest expression of ourselves.

What is desire? It is a rollercoaster relationship with my emotions; emotion is the byproduct of desire.   Explore the emotions.   First the dark ones.   What do I fear? When do I protect myself from a new beginning by being complacent? When do I stop or not start again because of past failures and guilt? When and with whom do I withhold forgiveness? The kind that hides in contractive thoughts of myself and others. What do I crave that takes me away from my truest self?

Yes, desire.   Physical, mental and spiritual.   Acknowledge it.   Illuminate myself in it. I am made of the same partially torn cosmic cloth as my source and it doesn’t serve the world to deny who I am.

So I ask, what do I desire? It is found in the the spaces when I feel creative energy. What do I do that keeps me in my highest vibration? Prioritize those things for myself. And who supports me in my highest vibration?   Spend time with them. How do I encourage desire in my life, without confusing desire with expectation?   I allow myself to WANT, with no presumptions or pre-arranged notions of what I will get so that the small, partial pleasures are satisfying.   And denial is acceptable, because that too, serves my highest good.

Passionate, Peaceful New Year,

Megan

Choose Love

Raw and scared and hopeless and unsure and angry and revengeful: Hatred is a result of all of these faces. There is no need to see photos of victims, know their names or hear their stories; I choose not to know so please don’t talk details.  My protective cover is on. The sensational story lines are for the primitive brain where we chose to attack or hide.  My heart already knows them as me.

Each time it happens, being alone is where I release.  How do I know how long to keep the band-aide on? As long as the wound is healing, it needs to be in the dark where all filters are off. In daylight, I walk a line between not suppressing my emotions and trying to hold space.  One morning I don’t want to leave meditation because that may be the only place all day I don’t feel guilty for smiling and not attaching to the madness.   And the next day I want to scream at the top of my voice “I am tired of all this shit you hateful pricks”.  I also cry unobstructed without needing to explain why.  “Stop your crying.  Act like a big girl.” That is the bad advice I heard the mother tell her child last week. I am a big girl and I do cry. I allow myself all this and more.  Each emotion has it’s own energy. I feel their sensations in my body and give permission to go there. I can hold myself in sacred space. And whatever they may be, I make peace with my thoughts.

Somewhere along the way, I learned it is not in my job description to tell others who I am. No matter how long or how well you know someone, you never truly know them. People are not put in my path so I can tell them about myself.  They are here to teach me about mySelf.  They expose my difficult parts so I can grow spiritually.  What makes me weak, angry, judgmental? Please push those trigger points.  I will embody a stronger vibration.  But when the world feels this broken, part of me feels the need to explain myself – that I am like a bear and my method of self-nurturing is hibernation. It doesn’t mean I don’t care or am in denial or avoidance. Solitude is where I dig deepest into my heart space beyond all that is black and dead.

“Don’t look for the light to find me, become the light.” The first glimpse is not going to come from the evening news, on social media or in an emotional discussion on current events.  I find it alone in my wounds.  If I let myself get caught up in the stories and conversation, even with the best of intentions, I stay in the dark. The wounds become universal wounds – my wounds.  Evil prevails and too much energy goes toward trying to fathom the despise in another soul. I am my thoughts.  Why do I want them to repeatedly be of hateful humans and tragedy? They want me to be scared and judgmental. Protect yourself. Don’t trust each other. Instead I will be stronger in my resolve to see myself in others; because it is not death I fear – it is a world of better people living IN fear.

Hatred is a small child throwing a tantrum.  It has limitations and will exhaust itself.  It is only satisfied when it gets attention and recognition; Enter the Aquarian Age of information where Mass Media nurtures hate.  Love knows no boundaries, has no agenda and tiptoes quietly through the human madness. The energy of the heart heals.  The mind judges.  The heart is empathetic and compassionate.  The mind wants revenge and justice.  Nothing sinks us into survival behavior faster than allowing hatred to gloat; or it sends us into an emotional upheaval that society then tells us to restrain; or into the ego where anger lives.  We are certain we are better than the perpetrator.  I tell myself my hands are not weapons of hate.  But what are the small ways that my words and thoughts harm others?

Today is a full moon.  I choose to magnify love.

Namaste, Megan

Falling, Flying and Wakeful Napping: Healing My Concussion

(This first person perspective was written in July 2010 while 6-20 days post-concussion. The timing of the concussion was incredibly serendipitous; six days later I was scheduled to attend an 11 day Yoga of the Heart training with Nischala Joy Devi at Kripalu Yoga Center. The program is designed for cardiac and cancer therapy, but it was a remarkable recovery option for concussion. This piece was never shared publicly until recently when it was typed up for a 15 page research report on Yoga for Concussion as part of a 300 hour certification with Inner Peace Yoga Therapy.  Thought it was not an official part of the research, it was included as a personal insight into a messed up brain and my continued motivation to study yoga therapy. I still believe the main component of recovery from concussion is patience, but I am hopeful that the standard of care will go beyond rest, limitations and restrictions. As multidisciplinary treatments are more readily understood and used in all areas of medicine, treatment plans that follow the yoga therapy model will continue to be developed for concussion.)

Falling, Flying and Wakeful Napping: Healing My Concussion

Being on a plane on a clear day is so amazing. It is a form of humility to feel so small as a city as big as Chicago shrinks down to something resembling an H scale train set. In years of flying, why haven’t I noticed this before? Comfortably connected, but without boundaries or motives; differences and judgement disappear from this height and my reality is tested.

This connection comes after going through the airport with a mixed sense of awe and fright at the number of people all scurrying along their own path. Winding my way through O’Hare is baby steps. I’m cautiously hesitant and extremely overstimulated. Living in the moment and being fully aware of my immediate surroundings is the only shield of protection, (that and a pair of dark sunglasses to hide my deep black eyes from inquisition). The words “please don’t touch me” repeatedly roll through my brain like an unchosen mantra. Resourceful with my energy, or lack there of, I allow myself to see everything without being there; unable and unwilling to join the party or react.

Oddly enough, an airport has never felt so peaceful. At the same time, I recognize that my brain is trying to chew through its leash and do what it wants. My movements are awkwardly unpredictable, like a blind drunkard. When I attempt to order a smoothie, my mind plays a game of Mad Libs with the sentences. Thank you understanding smoothie maker dude for your patience. I think you know the secret of my shattered brain.

Writing this now from the plane feels therapeutic because I have time to think and correct. This is perfect. My brain needs a challenge, but on my terms. Getting the thoughts from my head to the pencil to the paper takes time. And lots of erasing. When I go back to read the scribble, it is as if someone else wrote it.

It is likely that my desire to move in slow motion and watch the rat race in O’Hare as opposed to joining it is an innate, medical necessity. Six days ago, I was knocked unconscious when a pole of flying metal three inches in diameter hit me in the right temple, sending me to the ER with a concussion. With little memory of what happened, I know the best thing I can do is be present and forgiving of myself. My brain needs a healing, nurturing environment with limited stimulation. What could be more healing than yoga in the Berkshire mountains?

So I am on my way to Kripalu to do an 11 day “Yoga of the Heart” training to learn to teach yoga to heart and cancer patients. The irony is that I am now the one that needs serious recharging. After doctor recommendations, discussions with others who had concussions and reading all the gore the internet has to offer (in between much-needed naps), I have come to accept that it may be awhile before I no longer feel like a sea-sick sailor. At least I know my humor portion of the brain is still there as I seemingly inappropriately laugh out loud in my plane seat like a crazy person after writing the words “sick sailor”; the reality is that I was taken out by a sailboat boom.

Understanding this is a time to listen to and honor my body, I’m optimistic the word salad will settle as my brain finds balance. Mentally, I have made a list of the things I probably should not do: sailing (don’t really want to,) water skiing, any fast movement or contact, anything that raises my blood pressure or makes me sweat, and definitely no yoga inversions. That is a hard bit of reality when you love yoga, have 3 fun kids, live on a lake, the month of August is approaching and your nickname is the Energizer Bunny.

I keep coming back to one thought though: I believe in the healing power of yoga.

When I signed up for this training months ago, the ultimate goal was to empower others who also believe in their own healing power. The other day, frustrated and scared, I found myself doubting that same holistic approach to healing. Then I looked back at what brought me to yoga over 20 years ago – a desire and BELIEF that I could manage my panic attacks through breathing and meditation. After a double vision re-reading of Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s “90 Second Rule”, I promise to give myself 90 seconds of circuitry freedom to flush the brain no matter what flies out of my mouth. With courage and searching for the appropriate-emotion-meter in my brain, I am considering an additional purpose for this training. My hit to the head was taking one for the team – only I got hit with the bat instead of the ball. I will approach this as a research participant trying to study the benefits of yoga therapy for Post Concussion Syndrome. More to come…

11 days have come and gone and the Puja graduation took place tonight; amazement and joy. I’m beginning to remember what it is like to be a whole person in mind and body. Appreciating that there is no control group – I would have been hard pressed on this sacred ground to find someone else who wanted to get hit in the head and NOT practice yoga – I have to believe there is no better way to heal from a concussion than a yoga retreat; specifically the peaceful protection of Kripalu under the leadership of Nishala Joy Devi: veggie diet, no TV, radio, cell phones or overstimulation…not even my computer, which I purposely chose to turn off the past 10 days, (mainly because of the instantaneous high power headaches it caused); surrounded by calm, attentive people taken to a surrealistic level – the Cleaver family in yoga pants smelling like a garden variety of essential oils. Everyone smiling, but the kind of smile your feel in your heart. The environmental factor is huge: it is easier to be peaceful and centered when you are surrounded by it. And unlike in the airport, where I suspected people looking at my black eyes thinking “poor lady, someone beat the shit out of her”, there is no judgment or labeling. We are all here to heal from something, and some of the deepest scars are not visible. This setting is a true Avalon for those in need of quiet personal space and unconditional love.

As for the practical instruction I was blessed to received in the name of learning to teach Deep Relaxation Through the Koshas, I cannot say enough about the healing benefits of this mystical state between wakefulness and sleep. Guided Deep Relaxation through the Koshas, specifically when in the hands of someone as masterful and compassionate as Bhaskar Deva, is a blissful holistic opiate. I looked forward to my daily afternoon “naps” (don’t fall asleep or you will miss the good stuff!) like a kindergartener rolling out their mat after milk and cookies. Only in this case, the “nap” kicked ass on the cookies. The commercial “this is your brain and this is your brain on drugs” where they show the egg frying in the pan met its antithesis. With each Deep Relaxation, my brain took a relaxing trip to the island of tranquility. I imaged my brain as a little superwoman being fed the anti-kryptonite/concussion serum during each relaxation session. It was as if I could feel the neurotransmitters throwing a party inside me as the swelling subsided.

On the down side, listening to, processing and writing notes was a gigantic struggle. As I look back now, it’s as if someone else occupied my body and thoughtfully took notes for me. But this, too, was part of the healing. The exhausting part admittedly. Getting the two hemispheres of my brain to team up again and send the appropriate messages to my hand resulted in lots of cross outs, chicken scratch and frustration. (I would love to blame the poor spelling as well, but that is a genetic flaw.) Too exhausted to do anything but sleep in the evening, I would reread my notes in the quiet morning hours in my dorm room proud and amazed at my ability to focus that long. The first few days, it was as if I was reading all new material. What fairy delivered this information while I was sleeping? Gradually, my brain began to recognize bits and pieces of the material from the day before. The language and thought process made friends with my writing hand too. Since this was an intense 100 hour training, taking notes was necessary. And to some degree, the processing of seemingly endless hours of intellectual information may have aided my recovery. If I were to go on-line today, however, and search out yoga for concussion treatment, I would look for a program with less intensity and more nap time – think retreat not training. But the daily dose of deep relaxation is a must!

As far as the yoga asana goes, my practice was stripped down to about 1/4 of its usual strength and vigor. Delightful! One of the things I thought I would miss the most – the challenge of flow, big backbends and inversions – was replaced with grace; an acceptance of what I could not do and embracing what I could. In the yoga philosophy, this translates as being able to recognize my strengths through self-study (svadhyaya) and surrendering limitations to a higher purpose (ishvara pranidhana). Fortunately, Kripalu style yoga lends itself well to a gentle practice. In the big picture, the physical poses were like being offered desert when I was already satisfied from the meal; not necessary, but a pleasant accompaniment. I also learned to “under-do” – to fill my awareness on less, which is a feeling I will carry with me in my practice.

From a practical standpoint, I don’t hold much hope that football players or wrestlers will retreat to Kripalu after a concussion. But trust me when I tell you, it is their loss.

On to the real world. That’s a whole other story. Can you say relapse?

Peace,

Megan

The Perfect Act

This may teeter somewhere on the yogic realm, but blogging about David Bowie fulfills a need to thank the man who widened my teenage eyes. Growing up in a we-are-all-the-same bubble of white, Catholic suburbia, Bowie had loads to teach me about being a happy teenager.

Not to underestimate his brilliance, which filled the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, the gratitude I have for this man has to do with his influence on social norms, or lack thereof. He was my Guru of Self Expression. Split Persona. Ziggy Stardust. Alternate Ego. Aladdin Sane. Individualism. Thin White Duke. Call him what you will. He made me realize that doing what I want is a really big deal; embracing the “AM” in the “I AM”. I understood and accepted ‘teen-me’, knowing that imperfections were not character flaws.  And he charismatically taught me that differences in others are ok; including the clothes they chose to wear, the color of their hair, if they are “too thin” or “too fat” and their sexual preference. Bowie got me thinking; Can I be who I want? Can I make a difference? Can I look at the weirdness in another and appreciate that perhaps that is the best part of them?

Listening to his dazzling lyrics, I imagined that we are all seeds that come from the same package, like those packages of mixed wild flowers where you never know what you will get.  We land in different soil and grow in a variety of environments and conditions. Together, we make a beautiful garden. To see it any other way was missing the point. The awe of this world is found in our individuality. To be able to embrace that in ourselves leads to acceptance of others.

I was at a yoga class yesterday morning when a few women in their 50’s who were unfamiliar with Bowie’s legacy spoke about his passing.  One of them commented that her big brother took her to see him in 1979 when she was 18, not knowing anything about him or his music. When her friends asked about the show, she said her only other standout concert was Lady Gaga; but that Bowie had more elaborate costume changes, better theatrics and a more powerful presence on stage. Then she said what mattered, “he was one of a kind.”  Aren’t we all?

Bowie arguably did exactly what he wanted, even in leaving his body on a Sunday, (2 days after the release of his 26th album “Blackstar” on his 69th birthday). In Girl Loves Me, he asks, “Where the fuck did Monday go?” It went to a pouring out of tributes to you, Mr. David Jones. Your final transition aroused a social media storm. The Facebook homepage filled with fascinating stories, dark lyrics, brilliant musical memories and absurd photos. Search your name today and see that you are the freak flag flyer that gave so many permission to do the same.

With three teens of my own, I look at current role models in the music industry and appreciate that Bowie was an innovator with a filter. However outlandish he may have been, he worked through his own conflicts without being offensive. Ahimsa in a pop icon. And to me, David Bowie was the Perfect Act.

“Whatever you do, let it be a perfect act.  What is a perfect act? It harms nobody, it brings at least some benefit to somebody.  If you have control, you can use anything and everything to achieve some good purpose. Keep that in mind as your goal.  Whatever you think, whatever you say or do, ask yourself: ‘Will it harm anybody?’  the answer should be, ‘Absolutely no,’ The next point is, ‘Will it at least benefit somebody?’ The answer should be ‘Yes.’ if it is not benefiting anybody, it is a wastage. So, no harm to anybody, at least some benefit to somebody.” – Swami Satchidananda

Namaste Guru of Self Expression,

Megan