My Little Girl

See this sweet kid? It’s me. I think I was about four in this picture. This locket was something that my Grandpa kept in his lunch pail until he retired. Then, afterwards he kept it on his dresser. When he died my Nana gave her back to me for safe keeping. She still lives inside my body. In my memories (cognitive and implicit), in my muscles and nervous systems. And it’s my job to care for her now. In good times and in challenging ones like what we are facing in our nation today.

When I’m reacting to life in a way that is bigger than the trigger in the present moment...enraged by an ignored text message, despair over a slight work upset, feeling like a powerless kid rather than a grown woman with options, I know that she is present.

It’s normal for our old wounds and defenses to come crashing into the present moment and many of us don’t know this or see it when it’s happening. When we are in these implicit memory experiences we can forget how to be a rational adult and sink into our kid self...reacting to an unanswered text as abandoned child left all alone rather than knowing it is just an unanswered message. We can feel utterly hopeless and powerless to make a change, protest, or stand up for what we believe is right. What we’re not realizing is that these huge emotional experiences are actually old body and nervous system generated memories of being abandoned, hurt, or terrified from our past. It’s like a movie reel is getting played over present reality.

So how do we know when we’re caught? When you have that niggling sense you’re overreacting to a challenge pay attention and get curious. You can even ask yourself this, “how old do I FEEL right now?” Another way we can start to see this process is when a trusted therapist, friend, partner, or family member reflects that we may have overreacted during an exchange. To seriously consider what they’ve shared gives us an opportunity to grow and heal.

For me growing my awareness around really big feelings that don’t perfectly match current life circumstances has been a huge relief. When it happens now I imagine the part of myself panicking is this little girl. I’ve learned to be gentle with her, not judgmental. When she’s present I ask what she needs. I ask her what’s scaring her.

By caring for myself like this my emotions can now start to settle and feel more contained. Once I’ve supported my emotional needs there’s an important final step. I remind myself that I’m a grown woman who can sometimes feel like a very small girl. This extra step helps me return to the present moment. It reminds me that though I feel powerless, I do have options. I can protest. I can vote. I can make my needs known to myself and others.

AND this implicit memory stuff, it’s not all bad news…she doesn’t just live in my tears and terror. I experience that kid when I dance, tell jokes, and run. I feel her freedom and soul every time I teach. When that happens I know she is thanking me for taking such good care of her.

It Takes a Village, Seriously!

The seductive fantasy of being a one-woman (or one-man) show needs to die. Many of us can fall prey to the notion that we should be able to accomplish everything on own. Don't get me wrong, independence is great and for some who lack faith in themselves or need constant reassurance, flying solo is an important step into autonomy and healing.  We DO need to know that we can self-soothe and weather storms from a place of internal support. This piece isn't for those people. This piece is for the many people who go the way of the lone wolf.

For those of you who find yourself in this isolating predicament I want to share something important with you. Our survival and success as humans has always depended upon our ability to bond and attach to others. True story. Sure, relationships can go south but when that happens it's time to form new communities rather than retreat from connection entirely.   

Our ability to reach to others for help, to share ideas, partner on creative projects, and get advice on new endeavors is imperative to our success. I don't personally know someone who achieved their goals in a bubble. Maybe there is that unicorn out there who did it totally alone, but I don't know 'em. Rather, everyone I know who have had career and personal gains got there from a team of support. They had family, friends, and healing professionals who played Jiminy Cricket in their lives. Others who had the skills or networking abilities they lacked. Voices to say "keep going" when the inner critic lit up. Looks of alarm that time you wanted to invest every dime in a stock that just plummeted. See what I mean? We need each other profoundly.

Take some time to consider how you can create your own support team to help you in your life. What type of healers, which friends and family members do you want to recruit to help you stay on task and remind you that you CAN do it? That way when you have normal moments of doubt, self-sabotage, or need for wisdom you don't have only your own inner voice to rely on. You will also have your community to provide the backup and reality checks that we all need to prosper.

Go team!

 

My Mask, My Self

"I think your next step into power is letting go of being a good girl." When my therapist, David, said this to me recently I registered two things. First, surprise.  Anyone who knows me knows my fascination with the dark side. From music, to movies, Stephen King novels and my newly purchased skull ring (thanks NOLA), good or nice wasn't a label I felt like I was trying to live up to. I have a potty mouth. I can be critical. The thought that I was functioning from some place of "good girl" made me bristle. Yuck. I don't wanna be good...I'm a badass. 

Secondly, because I was so averse to hearing what he was offering I recognized that it might be a "guilty as charged" moment. So I decided to be a detective in my own life and do some investigating. To live with myself for a bit and consider what he was saying, was I unconsciously acting from "gotta be good" as some old defensive way of being? Turns out, yes. I was, and that doesn't make me a phony or weak. It makes me human.

We all have ways of trying to fit in to receive love and supportive connection from family and friends. These mostly unconscious traits, behaviors, and habits start early, usually in our family of origin, and can drive how we function and operate in our daily life. Consider your life. What roles do you play that earn you recognition, respect or love? Do you strive to be a good student, caring person, rebel, leader, clown? Do you feel like you need to show up in this way, and if you don't you'll be cast aside or ignored? Building consciousness around how we show up with our masks of good girl, or go-getter, or comedian gives us a new way...a way that includes choice rather than a feeling of have to.

For me showing up as "good" takes on an "I'm here for you" aspect. A former co-worker of mine nicknamed me the cruise director. Need an ibuprofen? Directions to the store? Help holding the door open? Where to buy your yoga mat? I got a solution for it all! The problem though with always being the good girl who knows how to get things done is that it's exhausting. My energy is all up in my grill and I'm so busy tending to everyone and everything outside of me, I can forget me. As I come to know this defensive way that I can be in the world I can (occasionally) slow myself down and ask myself some grounding questions. Do I really have space to help out right now? Do I really have the time to pick up another class to teach? Answer that text? When I'm operating from a place of unconscious defense I feel like I HAVE TO do these things or people won't like me. This is all part of being a good girl. I HAVE TO is the mantra. This pattern leads to fatigue and a sense of emptiness inside. So, what to do? 

Getting to know the roles we play is an important first step in healing. We can’t address what we don't see. What's key as we explore the ways that we show up that come from pressure and fear of rejection is that we don't then beat ourselves up for our masks. Holding onto certain roles is all about survival and having a place, it's human, not wrong. Once you notice a mask or two pay attention to how your body feels when you are in your role. Is your jaw tight? Back tense? Is your energy all in your forehead? These body symptoms can help you know that you're operating from a defensive place rather than an open hearted one. The best part of all of this noticing and building awareness? Once you know that you can sometimes say NO to being a leader, or good girl/boy you can start to loosen up the mask and listen to your body, your mind, and energy instead. Under this compulsive way of being, what do I truly need?

Beginning to move from this automatic place of defense will give you more fuel in your tank and help you have better boundaries. Giving yourself away a bit less as you become more aware. We will likely never shift completely away from our masks, it's part of being human, but at least we can have a bit more agency around the issue.

 

Supposed To: My Day of Suffering

"We suffer because we are projecting the myth of permanence upon a situation that is actually conditioned, selfless, and constantly changing. Everything is interrelated and interdependent. There is nothing substantial and separate that we can lean upon. Samsara, 'the cycle of suffering,' is a direct result of our desire for permanence."

From “The Myth of Permanence” by Sakyong Mipham

I don't know about you but when I read philosophy I can have a hard time grasping the concepts in a meaningful, how does this apply to day to day life, kind of way.  In other words, I'm always curious about how I can LIVE an idea not just think it. For instance take the topic of suffering. Sure in my head I've been bouncing around the idea for a while now...we can't control the world around us yet most humans try...this habit creates suffering. When we walk around with a lot of expectations about how the present moment and its inhabitants should be we are contributing to our pain rather than easing it. Today my understanding of how I create my own suffering hit home in a new way. I create suffering...I do that every day, for many minutes of the day.

For this New England girl it all starts with the phrase "supposed to." As in today I was supposed to get a lot of work done on my computer; as in my internet was supposed to be working properly. As in I was supposed to be done by my afternoon full of clients so tonight I could rest with my family. See none of the things on my list are guaranteed to work and yet it didn't stop my mind from grasping at the thought that everything should go according to my plan. The truth is that nothing is fixed and yet every day I rely on things to go MY WAY and when they don't I repeat the refrain SUPPOSED TO and then I suffer. 

As you read above I had a big list of things I wanted to accomplish today...when the writing was on the wall that my internet was too slow for some tasks due to the weather (another supposed to...April is not supposed to be so icy and cold!) I decided to go to the drugstore across the street for some new earbuds while a file was uploading to my computer.

I approached the crosswalk at a dangerous intersection and heard my internal grumbling "I hate these people...they are driving too fast...this is a crazy intersection...what are they thinking? They are supposed to drive carefully through here...they are supposed to stop for pedestrians...." I stopped my thinking and reviewed that phrase supposed to. As I finished my walk to the drugstore I realized that I had been torturing myself all day with that phrase. Suddenly I could connect personally to the Buddhist concept of suffering. I had my real-life scenario of how I was reacting to the day as an example of the concept. 

As I watched my mind grasping at how today should be to fit my rigid view of reality, I recognized that I was contributing to my own frustration and experience of having a shitty day. You you can't totally stop pain. It's impossible. Pain is part of life and being human. I couldn't stop the ice from falling from the sky, but I could stop lamenting spring. I could make a choice to re-route my course of action rather than bang my head against the wall. I made my predicament worse by refusing to accept life as is. My desire for a different reality was making me feel terrible! So how to live it differently?

I can't make my internet work. I can't stop the rain. I can't force my computer to move faster. What I can do is let myself see what's happening and respond to it with flexibility rather than with an iron grasp on having my way. I lost an hour of work today because I kept waiting for the internet to speed up. Rather than accept the one bar of cell service my phone was showing me I kept waiting for it to get better. This is what contributed to my frustration. Had I really taken in what I was seeing, I could have taken my walk to the drugstore sooner, maybe even scrapped the project completely for today. When I finally accepted what was happening and shifted to a new plan I felt better! And that's how I wrote this blog rather than doing the 10 other things I had on my Monday to-do list. I accepted my fate and recognized that this story might be a way for others to consider how they contribute to their own suffering...and could help us all take a step into shifting away from trying to control things and into meeting the day, each other, and ourselves as is. 

Blessings to you on your journey towards freedom from suffering!

Meant to Be: Me and Yoga, an Unexpected Love Story (1/2016)

I walked into my first yoga class at 19. It was strip mall yoga. I remember being told to relax and breathe while in poses where breath, and relaxation were the last things I imagined possible. WTF was muttered under my breath repeatedly as I contorted myself into painful poses I'd never done before. I worked hard and tried to keep up with a flow that felt like it was created by a sadist. I remember feeling really angry and hateful when the class was over. No bliss. No peace of mind.  I walked away from my first experience of asana wondering what the hell my straight-edge, vegan friends getting into yoga and joining the Hari Krishnas were thinking. Nuts. They were nuts.

But like many ultimately great relationships mine with yoga started with distaste and confusion. What the hell was this practice that pushed my buttons so deeply? Why would I want to chaturanga 20 times and then hold down dog while watching my brain spin? Not willing to quit right away I tried out some DVDs by yoga-lebrity teachers and disliked those too. Some were too fitness class like, some too New Agey. And just like the woman who runs from that guy at the party who sips seltzer and challenges her mind with interesting thoughts rather than telling her how hot she is, I ran from yoga.

Flash forward by 9 years. My back hurt. It hurt bad. I had herniated discs during labor and the road to recovery was filled with intense lightning bolts of pain. Every doctor I had encouraged me to try yoga. "It's good for a bad back," they said. "It'll be relaxing," they said. With my initial experience of yoga with the sadist and boring DVDs it was hard to believe what I was hearing so I ignored the advice. After a year of limping through physical therapy, cortisone injections, and ever more pain I saw a flyer in my town for free yoga classes...this yoga had a weird name....Kripalu Yoga. Incredulous. Exasperated. I decided that I would try this yoga with the strange name.

I walked into the tiny rec center with a stinky carpet and cardio machines jammed against the wall and my tiny chunk of hope shrank even smaller. There were 10 or so people jammed into a room that only 6 people on yoga mats would fit comfortably...I was about to leave when my teacher Laura immediately sprang to help me find a spot. Everyone shifted a little left, a little right, and suddenly there was a place for me...it felt nice. My hope grew a smidge.

There was gentle chanting playing from a tiny radio. She had a sweet little altar with sacred objects I didn't recognize and this little chime that she struck right before she began to speak. After the chime sounded everyone stopped stretching and the room fell silent. We were old, young, fit, and fat people all gathered together. Looking around the room I felt a sense of ease. I felt that we each belonged there on that mat, in that place, with each other. I felt myself settle.

When Laura spoke her voice resounded through the small space, sounding like warm honey tastes...nourishing and sweet. She encouraged us to turn our gaze inward and sense our breath and body as it was in the moment. Then for about 10 minutes we breathed and noticed that practice. We began simply, just filling our bellies with breath, then breath moved up a bit higher, all the way to the collarbone. We exhaled generously, squeezing the belly. I felt my self sink deep into my body. I felt my busy mind slow way down. I felt the muscles in my body soften a little. I felt peace beginning to bubble up from inside. Suddenly my heart and brain screamed from inside of me, THIS IS YOGA!

Though the rest of the practice was challenging and again I found myself in poses I didn't know that I could do and breathe simultaneously, again I felt angry about my body's limitations, however there was a big difference between that night and my other experiences. This time I had space for it all. With my teacher's gentle cues, encouragements, and lots of reminders to notice and accept the thoughts and sensations I was having I made it through the 90 minutes of yoga without letting my frustration sweep me away, off the mat and out of the class. At the end of class I felt a sense of accomplishment, and my body felt better. Tensions were softened. Tissues lengthened. Though the flow was intense I felt like I was learning something beyond exercise for a sore back, I was learning something really important about noticing my experience and not letting it carry me away.

That was 11 years ago and I haven't looked back. I've been practicing Kripalu Yoga ever since. Not to say that this mad affair has been all wine and roses, true yoga practice isn't. I've cried, sweated, blown apart, come back together, blown apart again and got back on that mat many times. I've learned that what I experience on my mat I can take into my life...noticing the hard feelings and not becoming overtaken by them. Bringing acceptance to my limitations, celebrating my growing ability to become conscious of feelings and thoughts. Over the past decade I've had the opportunity to study with a number of yoga teachers, some true masters of Kripalu Yoga but none will ever capture my gratitude and heart like my first teacher, Laura Lin. Thank you Laura, wherever you are now. Your spirit lit the candle in my soul and I will be ever blessed for that. Jai Bhagwan!

Lost and Found: The Dance of My Soul (2/2015)

I think I danced my way out of the womb--arriving two full months early in September, 1975. From the stories I've been told, and what I can remember, I was birthed and didn't stop moving from there. I walked young and my preferred mode of walking was dancing. I danced in the living room. I pranced and twirled during West Side Story and countless other movie musicals. I sang and danced with Gene Kelly, Patrick Swayze, and Fred Astaire. Cheek to cheek...heart and body ablaze with life. When I got older I practiced the choreography from MTV videos and then took what I learned to make my own little dances set to Janet Jackson and Madonna. Life was meant to be danced through.  

In my early 20's I essentially stopped dancing, at least in organized classes and performances. I stopped imagining choreography to every song I heard. I know part of this was due to the fact that in my teens and early twenties I began to feel pressure to be a GOOD dancer. Loving dance was no longer enough. To be a REAL dancer I needed to have pointed toes, pretty body lines, my angled head aimed perfectly. I fixated on how I got pulled up to the front when I was good. I got sent to the back of the pack when my turned in, pigeon toes showed. I got pulled to the front when I got skinny, felt horrible when I was the biggest person in the room...including the classes with men. My love affair with dance became this pressurized experience of learning how to hate my body and wishing myself into another one. I grew afraid that my wild dancing ways were sloppy, lacked control, and poise. I gave up. 

Then I turned to writing. I could write and write and write and write and it didn't matter how big or small my body was. I could, in fact, forget that I even had a body. Meh. Who needs a body when you can live in your mind? Time to use my artistry in a new way. Why...I'd write THE GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL. So that's what I aimed to do. All of the passion I'd put into dance I transferred to writing.

While in college I could easily share my stories. Short stories, essays, screenplay treatments, anything. I'd write, share, get feedback, edit, show, have my voice. In school it was all part of the learning process. I didn't need to be good at it yet, I was a new writer. I was learning how to do it. I felt free from high expectations. 

So it flowed for a while. I wrote. I learned. I still occasionally danced, just did it in night clubs that blared 1990's house music instead of in classes and small stages. I felt alive, vibrant. Then a funny thing happened...I graduated. And, welcome, my darling pressure. 

Like the Queen song, pressure, it came down on me...hard. Suddenly my new creative outlet, my way of living had to become a way to earn a living. My ability to continue to write and share my work shriveled. I imagined a world of rejection opening up before me, ready to swallow me whole, ready to pull me into a pit of NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Suddenly I started feeling like my writing wasn't good enough. I was boring. My stories lacked complexity. Simple musings about every day life and heart are lame. I was no Paul Auster or E.E. Cummings, how was I supposed to make a go of this?

I wrote, published, and got paid for exactly 3 pieces of writing. They were movie reviews for a free Boston newspaper. Unfortunately my insecurity got the best of me and caused me to quit. Yes. That's right. I quit. In my head, I was about to be fired. I was convinced of it, so I quit before they gave me the boot. Turns out my internal pressure also caused paranoia.

If you've been in the self-help arena for a while you may be sensing something important about me here. "Why, she's pressuring herself!" Yes, you'd be right. That critical, perfectionist, nagging feeling that I'd never measure up, that was all coming from inside of me, and yet I imagined that it was what awaited me in the world. Sure, there were a few teachers, colleagues, and classmates who were critical and perfectionist but none of them matched what I could (and can) do to me, none of them believed as little in my ability as I did. 

That's a powerful awareness. When we can own the parts our psyche that can take someone down, that know how to be cruel. That can cause us to feel absolutely worthless, that's the ticket to our freedom. That's how we stop projecting the evil critics and haters onto the world around us and see that we are doing it to ourselves.

Of all people, it was Dr. Phil that I first learned this lesson from. I was about 25, had just quit yet another job and was watching Dr. Phil while chain-smoking when he said to a young woman (who was in the same unemployed boat as me), "What's the common denominator, here?" in his incredulous, Texan drawl. Light-bulb moment. I'm the common denominator, there's something about me that I need to understand here. 

Flash forward 14 years. After thousands of dollars worth of therapy, countless somatic psychology and Gestalt training programs, yoga, and meditation I have discovered that the monster in the dark recesses waiting to get me, is me. I feel liberated, this I can do something about. Don't get me wrong, times can still feel really hard, but now I know how to support myself through the terror, the insecurity, and doubt. I call a friend. I call my therapist and get in for some session work. I know that my feelings of being worthless are feelings, not the truth of who I am.

I've returned to dance, five years now, and I also teach, Shake Your Soul and Kripalu Yogadance--a form of dance that is about love, spirit, feeling good in the body, not about pressure to perform or be a great dancer. And slowly over the past few years I've returned to writing. Mostly ghost writing and editing for other writers. However, this blog marks my triumphant debut back on the scene. As I write that I feel the echoes of that critic, and pressure, "Will anybody even read this?" "You better edit this before you share it!" "You know, maybe this is just a waste of your time." I notice this voice. I breathe. I know that this message, it isn't the truth. I know that it means something to me to share my thoughts, my voice, with the world. I know that my soul is aching to be heard. So I breathe again and click publish.