I am an Auntie Allison to one beautiful little being in the world: my niece. She is the most incredible little human I’ve ever met. She plays, is creative, signs words, talks and has imagination. She laughs with her whole body (and sounds just like her Dad, my brother). She sees the world around her with curiosity and engagement. She pays attention – for better or worse – to absolutely everything that is happening around her. When I’m with her, I feel more present than at any other time. Perhaps this is how parents feel on the best of days.
Spending time with my niece last Fall when she was just learning how to walk was a stark reminder of how to be here now – in the present. She would pull herself up and wobble around on her little zebra walking cart or along a wall. She couldn’t yet let go of her support. But you saw in every single moment of her trying to pull herself up, in her simple steps – the fact that she was completely present just with that moment and nothing else. And if I was with her feeling that moment, I was so fully present as well. And time flew by. I had just a few days with her and it seemed like they were gone in the blink of an eye and suddenly I was back on the plane coming home.
This weekend I got to see her again for two long stretches of play time. She now runs around, talks, eats with silverware and closely watches everyone around her and imitates them. Hours become minutes when you are playing with her. This time around she was holding a teddy bear and pretend crying – then she would rock the bear and comfort him. She hears music wherever it is playing and dances to the beat. She tries to play every musical instrument she can find – or improvises one out of a table 🙂 It is amazing to be present to her learning emotions and more advanced movements, and expressing them through play. She saw her other cousins running and she went right after them. She saw how someone played with a wind-up race car and within moments she had mastered it herself. Through play she was completely present focused, albeit in different ways this time around. I was with her in each of those moments of play!
When we are in the moment of now it feels easier to delight and play. Time becomes timelessness and we merge with being awareness rather than doing something. I slept less in those few days last Fall than my regular schedule (my brother would drop my niece on my sleeping chest each morning when she woke up so I would wake up too), and yet I felt more rested than ever. This weekend I ran around a bit crazy driving here and there to make it to all the family functions, and yet I did not feel exhausted. There is something about being aware in the present moment that charges our human-being-ness like nothing else. I also felt a tremendous drive of creativity and insight upon coming back to my regular life.
In our current world that moves faster than ever before, it feels like we have very little time to “be here now.” Everyone I know is thinking about tomorrow, their 10 year plan, their life list and goals. I know that making plans and having dreams is such a great thing – I’ve written about it on this blog and I just taught a full weekend at Kripalu about moving from past through present into future Self with Forrest Yoga self-care practices. But I think sometimes we get so caught in our development and evolution that we forget to be here now and enjoy the simple moments – like walking our niece with her little shopping cart toy.
There’s nothing radical about this blog post. You’ve probably heard it a million times that being present is a gift. Heck if you were in class last week and over the weekend with me, we had the intention of being clear and present about eight different ways (and as one of your pointed out, with a lot of variations of splits thrown in). Perhaps you have felt the same present focus around a child or activity in your life that does bring you more fully into the moment. Take this as just a gentle reminder to get to those children, activities or triggers that bring you into your present moments more often. Use each one as a fuel for your soulfulness and your Being. As our news and world events these days keep reminding us, our time here is precious and unpredictable. May you delight in every moment. I’m not ready to share my niece, but maybe a yoga class playing around could be a good compromise 🙂
While I was away traveling and teaching yoga, I missed a dear friend’s birthday. I was in Peterborough teaching a part of the Forrest Yoga Foundation Teacher Training for a couple of days and then I visited my family in London. One afternoon during my time in London we decided to go to a proper afternoon tea sitting at Fortnum and Mason – a really old, iconic department store with a beautiful tea room. It was an incredible experience – so delicious and so filling. They were even able to accommodate my gluten free diet.
When I got home I asked my friend and another if they wanted to go out to an afternoon tea here in Chicago at the Peninsula Hotel to celebrate Friend #1’s birthday. I’m so happy they agreed! We met up today and sat around for a couple of hours sipping on delicious teas, eating finger sandwiches and tiny cakes. We sang a really quiet happy birthday to our friend so as not to alarm the calm tea room. We talked about our lives and laughed and smiled. I left feeling totally reset and uplifted.
Here’s the thing: each one of us could have spent those two hours complaining, whining or otherwise reminiscing about some of the really hard, challenging and awful things we are passing through these days (or have passed through). We each have them – really intense things that are the stuff of our life now and before. Instead each one of us spoke about our current wins, our delights and joys, the challenges we have overcome and who helped us. We talked about role models and inspirations that kept us going on days that felt tough. We encouraged one another on current paths that are really uncharted territory. In short, we had our own little empowerment tea meet-up – and it was glorious. We each got to be ourselves full on – vulnerable and raw – and to feel the support of the two others in that open state. We simply and yet very profoundly delighted in each others company. And because of that lovely company, we only have pictures of food!
I came home to see a post from a new Forrest Yoga Teacher who was traveling with a friend and realized she used to be a “misery loves company” kind of gal – and now she couldn’t stand it. I thought back to the many times in the not so distant past that I would dramatically change myself in desperate attempts to get people to like me or commiserate with coworkers complaining endlessly about this or that – our negativity and my inauthenticity fueling a downward spiral. I would hope to find community by fitting in or “doing the right thing” only to feel left out and alone. And I got to thinking about how far I’ve come with the company I keep as a result of my internal practices of inquiry. What a difference it has made in the quality of my life to actively filter the influences around me so they support the person I most want to become. Also how accountable I have become of my own actions in sustaining my energy and purpose.
There were many times in my life when I had little choice about the company I kept. As a figure skater I was placed around other figure skaters who trained at my same level. We were all so competitive with one another that nothing ever felt friendly or real. As a really nerdy high school student I never felt like I fit in anywhere so I didn’t really keep much company – I moved around between many groups never really staying long enough for anyone to get to know me. In college I received a scholarship contingent upon me living in a house full of other scholarship recipients and I didn’t even get to choose a roommate. It constantly felt like house full of strangers with a few exceptions. It was not until recently that I made the company I keep a conscious act.
The people we are surrounded by day in and day out have a real affect on how we feel. We have some choices about who we spend the majority of our time around. I know that we can’t always choose family situations or work colleagues, but we can profoundly support ourselves by monitoring who we let “in.” I used to think I had to let everyone in. As a result, I put forth a really diluted version of myself – I think one of my fellow Forrest Yoga colleagues called it my vanilla version! When I made it an active endeavor to fill my life with the kind of people I most wanted to be in my field of energy and in my heart, I felt different. Suddenly it was as if the world was in color again and the energy of life around me was on fire.
To be vulnerable, open and authentic around people and to feel their love and support is a magical gift. I decided that I wanted to surround myself with those kind of people – the ones who saw me just as I am: a perfectly imperfect human and love me anyway. The people who I can talk to about major screw ups without feeling like I’ll lose them. The people who inspire me to be a better version of myself, who help me on the days I lose my path, who remind me of my inherent goodness. And these people are the ones that I can also love as perfectly imperfect beings and reciprocate back to.
One of my favorite poems, “The Invitation,” by Oriah Mountain Dreamer has a line: “I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.” And each and every time I reach into the question if I’m keeping the best company that will propel me forward, I ask internally if this person would stand with me in my own personal fire of life. If the answer is yes, I know I’ve found my person. If the answer is no, I move on now.
I’m thankful for the presence of really supportive people in my life these days. I send prayers and blessings of lovingkindness to those I had to let go of or part ways with over the years for various reasons. The process has made me more comfortable in my own skin and stronger in my life path. So now I ask you, do you like the company you keep? And if not, where is it time to make a change? And if yes, can you say a thank you for those that bolster you up just for being you? I’m thanking my two friends for not only a glorious tea date, but also just the inspiration I needed in a laughter, cake-filled, conversational afternoon.
This weekend I taught a Forrest Yoga class themed around internal dialogue. Our internal dialogue is the running speech going on inside our heads all the time – and often it’s quite a harsh monologue! This intention for class struck a cord with the students and many realized that behind the scenes a litany of devastating stories were passing by at any given moment. If left unconscious, the stories we tell our selves can be detrimental to our well-being. Once brought to light, there is often an uncomfortable period of acknowledging the havoc these stories have wreaked on our life choices and path. So what are we to do about the stories we tell ourselves internally?
I’m no stranger to storytelling! One of the first things that brought me into the practice of Forrest Yoga was Ana Forrest asking me the simple questions, “Do you believe your injury can heal?” “What can you do in this moment?” and “Who is the person you most want to become?” My answers when I met her were something along the lines of: my injury cannot heal this is just how it will be for me forever, I can’t do anything in this moment or any other moment because I am totally and completely incompetent, and I don’t want to be anyone because there is nothing noteworthy about me that matters. WHOA! Holy harsh internal dialogue! Ana could sense this tendency in me from the get-go. None of these stories were true and she had seemingly magical methods to get me to the truth: healing is always a possibility, there is always a choice we can make in each moment to move towards our own path of healing, and Spirit can help us to uncover the person we most want to become through an exciting and fascinating journey into our Self.
Perhaps you too are currently plagued by a nasty internal dialogue of stories like mine. Here are the tools I’ve learned through Forrest Yoga and through my other teacher, Bridget Boland, to rewrite the stories running inside so that they are supportive of the person I most want to become.
Identify where you hold the story physically. Every story in your internal dialogue lives in your body. When you come across a story you’ve been running with, FEEL where it lives. Take the first area that shows up in your awareness when you repeat this story. You must feel where it lives in your body – you can’t think about this one! Once you find the home of your story in your physical body, do things that reach that area and shift its perspective. Take deep breaths that stir the energy of this spot. Do poses that affect the spaciousness this area holds. Flip yourself upside down and sense what happens to this house of your story. Changing the physical home of your troubling story changes how you are able to see, feel, understand and rewrite an inner tale you’ve been telling yourself.
Align with your wisdom centers. Our head is only one of many wisdom centers in our toolbox – and it’s the one that gets too much stage time! Practicing physical postures where you align your head with your heart and gut can help you glean insight from the wise cave of your heart and the intuition of your gut. Experimenting with simple breathing exercises and traditional pranayama can help you draw on the wisdom of your breath. Meditating on the areas of the 7 major chakras – pelvic floor, pelvic bowl, middle abdomen, heart center, throat, middle brain and top of head – can help you pull in understanding from your sources of emotion, creation, digestion, relationship and so much more! As you get more information, the old story begins to feel small and you realize it doesn’t actually fit you anymore.
Ask someone you trust outside of your mind. Sometimes a trusted ally or friend can be the light that pierces through a damaging story. I trust my shaman, Bridget, a lot. I’ve known her since I was 21 and she assisted Ana in my Forrest Yoga Foundation Teacher Training course. When I get stuck on a story that I think is true, but feel is limiting me – she is an ally who can reflect to me how kooky some of my internal dialogues are. It’s important to have these mirrors outside of yourself to remind you of what is helping you forward and what is holding you back. A trusted outside source can help you to become conscious of the stories you tell yourself that are not, in fact, true. The same sources can then inspire you to see the actual. We have a practice in Forrest Yoga that is similar whereby two teachers sit together and tell each other “what’s great about you.” There’s never a dry eye! Again and again our stories have limited our ability to see our own Beauty – we just need to be reminded of it now and then!
See all the possibilities. Oftentimes when we get stuck in our lives it is because a limiting story has taken up roots inside us. Our limiting stories may relate to our physical abilities, our career paths, financial situation, relationships and so much more. We get accustomed to seeing only what we think we know and excluding all the other possibilities. Ana was able to model to me through her injury journey the possibility of recovery from my own injury. When I would ask her questions about her injuries and how she worked to promote healing in her own body, her answers would inspire a curiosity in me to seek out how I might also experience healing. Seeing another possibility and being curious about it reminds our mind that there is not only one way things can go. This reminder sets us up for re-crafting the visions we have about our Self.
Write them and read them out loud. This is perhaps the most difficult tool I’ve used to help rewrite my internal stories: I physically wrote them out on a piece of paper and read them out loud to myself. Feeling the downtrodden, sad, depressed or angry feelings that arose in me when I read my internal dialogue out loud helped me to understand how damaging these stories were to my physical, mental, emotional, energetic and spiritual well-being. I started writing out what I wanted to believe about myself, what I wanted to foster in myself and the way I intended things to happen. Reading these statements, while also very uncomfortable in a different way, brought on feelings of hope, happiness and excitement. Now I know that when a thought comes up that heavily weighs me down, I have to return to the drawing board to find a new one that helps to lift me up.
Take the time to explore what your internal dialogue is talking about inside you all the time. Feel, do you like the conversation that is being spoken? If not, take the time to bring in these tools so that you can build up your own inner champion and experience your life from a place of truthful affirmations. I know that some of you may worry that without your negative internal critic, you’ll never get anywhere in life. The truth is that you will evolve beyond your wildest imagination as you let go of that critic and tell yourself some more truthful and compelling stories.
This morning in my Memorial Day yoga class at Equinox, the intent was to practice from a Forrest Yoga concept called “Building Your Warrior’s Heart.” This practice relates to using backbending poses to release hardening in the areas of the chest, shoulders, upper back and ribs – bringing in a fresh new energy and resiliency to the area around the heart. When the backlog of hardness around the heart is opened there is an ability for deep breaths to penetrate long held layers of emotion and release long dormant waves of feeling. As these energies release there is a clearing of emotional stuckness and a meeting of the experiences of life from a distinct softness, freshness and strength. The purpose of building a warrior’s heart is to remind Spirit of the counsel of heart energy in life decisions and actions – to help give the energy of the heart a strong set of legs, a clear head and wide reaching pair of wings so that it can fly through all avenues of the life path. When your Spirit feels the freedom of your heart to experience life, you are able to more readily absorb the sweetness and Beauty around you, and to take action from the preciousness of the life by which you are surrounded. This practice felt important on this day when we pause to honor and remember the warriors in our culture who have died so that we may live out our lives in freedom.
Both of the lineages that I work in – Forrest Yoga and iRest Yoga Nidra – have made strong headways into working with veterans, and lately I have been feeling a call in similar directions. I’ve been thinking a lot these days about veterans in general and specifically about a Grandfather that I never met. I’ve been curious about the stories of the lives of veterans after they come home from serving our country, and recently I came across some rather remarkable information related to this particular Grandfather I never knew. His story has been fascinating me – I think in part because I have been thinking so much about how cycles in history seem to repeat themselves. Our time right now feels like certain aspects of his time are being repeated – tragically. Genocide, repression, fear, power struggles. He was a celebrated World War II veteran and did some extraordinary things overseas…and then he quietly returned home to raise his family and support them through their lives without really ever talking about the remarkable things he did during the war. His service was tremendous – as was that of thousands of other servicemen and women in that war and countless others – and then coming home it feels like part of that incredible service is forgotten or unknown. Our country and so many others are built upon the belief, conviction and service of these members of our military. At times I think we forget or misunderstand their incredible sacrifice that has brought about our way of life. I feel drawn to know more about their stories and to play a part in remembering them not just one day a year, but each and every day I get to live a life in a free country.
So today as I am thinking of him and so many others like him past and present, I’m also feeling the importance of developing our own warrior’s heart as a way of honoring the gift their service has given us – as a way of honoring our own freedom. When we sit in counsel with the wisdom of our heart, we know our own values, we can process our life experiences better and we can move into the world in a really powerful way without being bound by our old emotions or our troublesome experiences. We each have the power and responsibility not only to honor those who have fought to protect and serve our country, but also to develop within ourselves the strength and suppleness of heart to move forward in the world with compassion, self-awareness, softness and strength. We have an incredible capacity as humans to care and tend for things – this is the wisdom I hope we bring forth from our warrior’s heart. May we care for each other, tend to the garden of humanity and grow a world we can be really proud of.
Some time ago I subbed a class for one of my colleagues. Subbing is one of my favorite things to do because it gets me out of my comfort zone – puts me in front of new people, mixes up the formats I’m teaching and totally shifts my schedule so my day feels different. On this occasion, I stepped in to teach at the last minute to help out – someone was sick and needed coverage. I’ve been there and I had the time open so I jumped on it.
I planned a really fun fluid class as this was listed as a Power Vinyasa practice at the time. I knew that the students would want more movement than my regular Forrest Yoga classes. I was pumped! I couldn’t wait to get in there to share with them. I know that my sequencing is different than many other styles of yoga because Forrest Yoga considers sequences from a different angle of preparation and pacing, but I have always been able to use my creative sequencing knowledge to build fun class experiences for many levels.
I walked in the room and a small group of students was there – they all looked absolutely annoyed and downright offended that I was there to teach. One student even rolled their eyes as I went to set up my mat. I’m used to not getting a “warm welcome” as a sub – they are used to their regular teacher, I get it. I also know that I am human and I can completely misconstrue the energy of a room because I am feeling nervous. I’m always nervous when I sub so I thought, “Oh I must be reading too much into this! They are probably just a bit tired today and didn’t know there was going to be a sub. It will be great.”
I typically start each class by checking in with each student and getting to know them a little bit. I had seen everyone in this room at least once, but I could not remember many names. As I went around the room, the energy got more challenging. No one wanted to tell me their name. No one wanted to say how they were feeling that day. When I asked how they were doing, I got answers such as “Please make sure we do headstand” “A good class always has a wheel” and “Upward Facing Dog.” Finally towards the end of saying hi to each of the students, one said to me, “Can you please just teach us real yoga and not what you normally do?” And my heart stopped. I got it – they didn’t have any interest in what I was excited to share with them.
I decided in that moment to run an experiment – one that I am actually a bit scared to write about. I threw my carefully planned sequence out. I took each thing they had asked for and put it into the most generic sequence framework I could recall. There were lots of “vinyasas” and no cues about alignment (if you know me, you know I am really keen on alignment!!). There was no guiding force behind the sequence. It was a messy hodge-podge. One student had asked that I not correct them as it “interrupted a strong flow.” So I didn’t assist any of the students. That is also very strange for me as my natural teaching method is to be helpful to each individual and to use touch in a loving way as I teach. I was sure this class was an epic failure – I had just “dialed it in” with a terrible sequence and lots of new-age lingo.
Then the shoe fell, so to speak: THEY LOVED IT…I’ve never gotten such high praise for a class. At the end things like “I knew you could finally get how to teach for real” and “Thanks for the best class you have ever taught” were said alongside hugs. I have never felt so sick to my stomach. And the reason is that I was being praised for being totally and completely inauthentic.
This experiment showed me a lot about myself and others. It showed me that I value my authentic style of teaching more than I value being liked. It showed me that some students don’t have a lot interest in experiencing something different on the mat outside of what they habitually do. It also revealed to me that when I am myself, I draw to my teachings exactly the students I am meant to reach. I got a glimpse of what it feels like to “dial it in” as a yoga teacher. It felt boring and draining to me to teach from that space of inauthenticity.
I hope that you will risk in your own life showing your real self even if it isn’t popular. The world doesn’t really need more flashy, fake or phony – there is enough of that on reality TV. Much to the contrary, the world really needs YOU – you in all your glory. There will never be another person like you in all of time – please share of yourself. Feel into your own life: where have you been dialing it in? And would you take a chance even for a day or two to let your full self shine? The rewards for this risk are incredible! It runs vibrant energy through you when you are authentically yourself. It brings into your life realm the opportunities and people you were made to work with. It inspires vision and takes you in directions where you can really be of the greatest good to those around you. It is a like a magnet for amazing things when you are authentic to yourself.
I’m still not sure what “real” yoga is but I do know that where I teach from is precious – precious to my own heart and to those I share it with. There may be fewer upward facing dogs and more cues about alignment, breath and Spirit, but I love that I get to share that depth of my real self with you in my classes and out.
I’ve always been something of a loner. I’ve never spent a long period of time with the same circle of friends. I was never popular or very social. I spent much of high school and college extraordinarily reserved. No one ever asked me to a dance or out on a date until much later in life. As a figure skater I spent a lot of my childhood with myself on the ice practicing alongside coaches or with headphones covering my ears practicing my moves on my rollerblades when I couldn’t get to the rink. I ran for my high school’s track and cross country teams – also very solo experiences. I was more comfortable with my nose in a book than I was socializing. These patterns followed me into my first jobs out of college and eventually into my teaching career in yoga. It’s not that I avoided social activities or didn’t have friends…I just found it more than challenging to sustain relationships with others because of my own fears, habits and choices. This has always been an interesting predicament for me because I am in fact quite extroverted.
Flash forward to a comment I remember as clear as if it were yesterday – maybe because I have recently returned to the place, to the very room where it occurred, or maybe because I have been thinking of it since the day it was muttered. Years ago I came to Kripalu, where I was recently teaching, to take a course with my teacher, Ana Forrest. We were doing a group sequencing exercise and I was holding back. I didn’t want to offend anyone. I didn’t want to be wrong. I didn’t want to make waves. And as Ana watched us deliberating as a group, she noted that I was quiet despite having taken more of her trainings than anyone else in the group. As the day ended and we went our own ways she rest her hand on my arm and said very quietly but very strongly, “Allison, the time of the lone wolf is over.” And then she walked off. (Some day I’ll tell you more about the wolf analogy and why she chose that metaphor for me.)
This was her way of telling me that holding out, that isolating myself out of fear, that not risking sharing what I knew was a habit that needed to end. She was encouraging me to share my gifts and work with the community around me without fear. I took this comment to heart and for the next several years I threw myself into a project and job that required close collaboration with colleagues – hoping to make friends, to build community, to break out of my shell and trust others as I never had before to co-create something magical. I put all my wisdom and efforts out in the open. I revealed myself professionally as I never had before. I tried really hard to be a great teacher, a great colleague, to work well with others and learn from them. It went horribly. I will spare you the messy details – no one needs to hear them here – but needless to say that I went back to being a lone wolf licking its wounds rather quickly after the experiences I went through trying to reach out of my shell.
I armored myself back up. I locked up my heart. I internalized the messages that I was unlovable, untalented, stupid, a fake, a failure, manipulative, a thief, unkind, screwed up and unworthy of anything good in life. In fact these were just some of the words hurled at me by those I tried to co-create with. And I believed every word hook, line and sinker. This was another of my patterns: to believe what others thought of me over my own knowledge of my Self. I went back to being just me – I stopped trusting other people or even reaching out to them. I “did my own thing.” That’s all I could do – I was so destroyed inside. Colleagues would ask me to share a tea date or take a class together, and I found every reason in the book to avoid them.
For years I prayed and asked for a personal understanding of what had gone wrong – of what had happened, of what went awry and what I was supposed to learn from it. I did some work with healers, shamans, business mentors and medicine people. Magical things happened. I learned a lot about myself – and about others. I came to some very deep understandings about my personal responsibility in situations, but perhaps more importantly that others had a responsibility for their actions too. Somewhere in my heart there was a longing to be in the world with others – not just to teach others or be taught, but to have a community with my peers and colleagues built upon relationships of trust. I couldn’t yet ask for a friendship, but I realize now that I was looking for that too.
Fast forward to now – back to Kripalu. I was there with a team of colleagues co-teaching and co-creating the most beautiful week of Forrest Yoga ceremonies, practices and specialty classes in all the things that we are passionate about. We shared meals and conversations, practices and delightful hands on assists. We shared our wisdom and we shared our fears. And some place deep inside me smiles because it feels like the time of the lone wolf actually is over. These members of my tribe don’t care if I’m good enough, smart enough, worthy enough…they already know that I am and so much more. Like a yoga teacher spotting a new student in a handstand, I feel it in my very bones that these individuals would spot me through any misstep even if I offended them, coach me through my fears, laugh with me when I screw up, comfort me when I’m sad and offer up an understanding of heart I never realized I was longing for. They know that I am more than enough just as I am – perfectly imperfect – and they want to remind me of this fact with every interaction. And they reflect back to me that I do the same for them – that I can spot them through their rough spots and remind them how worthy they are just as well as they do for me. This is the type of community connection I’ve been longing for – and I think a lot of other people are looking for it too. Having met many people as a teacher and as a human, I can feel a collective craving for an understanding and supportive community that is often lacking in our day to day lives.
Surround yourself with people like these gems – those who see your value, who will hold you up no matter what, those who would tell you when you are wrong but stay by your side anyway to figure out a pathway forward. Be with those who know the messy truth of all there is to you and share in it. Let go of the people in your life or your past who make you feel like you have no value, like you are not enough. Release the influences that tie up your heart in knots, cast doubt on your Self, and refuse to work with you when things go down the troubled path. They are not worthy of your effort. Risk revealing yourself – the rewards far outweigh the possible pain or sorrow. We gain nothing from holding back except a sense of loneliness. There is so much to gain from reaching out to those around us and sharing of our experience with those we come across. Now more than ever these connections to see, hear, feel and touch one another are so important. The time of the lone wolf really is over, and if we are to survive as a human race we must learn how to strengthen the ties that bind us to each other lovingly over all the potential things that pull us apart from one another.
And just so you know: wolves are some of the most social and behaviorally sophisticated animals on the planet – without their pack they wouldn’t make it very long. We humans are much the same: we need each other to survive the joys and trials of everyday life. I hope that as a teacher, friend, woman, sister, aunt, and human, I can start to help you find your pack to support your thriving life and Spirit so you don’t feel as alone too. I hope to be a beacon for those who have felt a bereftness of community in their life – that they may come to know others who can spot them through their perfectly imperfect moments. If this calls to your heart, I hope to connect with you soon to keep this work going! I see more collaboration with my colleagues in the future – and instead of being afraid of it, I’m excited for it.
There was a rendition of the Addams Family made into a movie in the early 90s featuring Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston. I remember having it at home on VHS and watching it with glee. I loved the old TV show and I loved this movie – for some reason I found it so funny. I even dressed as Morticia Addams one year for Halloween. A particular scene has been popping into my head regularly: the scene about unfinished business. Early in the movie Raul Julia’s character, Gomez Addams, is meeting with his accountant. His accountant proposes a new idea masked in philanthropy to get more money from the Addams family…and Gomez responds by flipping through his calendar ridiculously fast and saying, “this sounds like new business and we do not discuss new business….until next quarter.”
Why would I be thinking about this scene and writing about this obscure older movie, you say? Well, because I have a lot of unfinished business that can’t wait until next quarter. I’ve been reflecting on the fact that every week I write out a to-do list, and every week the darn thing gets longer and longer. And as it grows in length, and my teaching, administrative and personal tasks grow by leaps and bounds, so does my anxiety with the continual accumulation of unfinished business each week. At times it feels as if I am drowning in things left undone.
At a recent appointment with my acupuncturist, Grainne McKeown (she is incredibly talented, check her out if you are looking for an amazing Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner), she asked me if I was feeling anxious while she was listening to my pulses. And suddenly it just came rushing out in a messy flood of things to do, thoughts on my mind, and tears. I was feeling completely and totally anxious and overwhelmed that “nothing” was getting done. Perhaps you can relate?
We spent a few minutes talking about things left undone. It leaves me with a tremendous feeling of anxiety when things are left undone. The reality of the situation is that there is ALWAYS more to be done. There is no possible way to complete everything on my weekly list in the hours of one week…I should call it a reminder list rather than a to-do list. And then Grainne brought up a great point: she said, “Well really, life is completely undone and all we have are the moment to moment experiences we are present with. Life isn’t done until we are dead.” Boom.
My mind also drifted during our conversation and my resting time during our session to the fact that we sometimes want things to come undone: a tight hamstring, a knotted upper back, a toxic relationship. How could I come to appreciate the balanced Beauty of what I wanted to be undone and what was presently unfinished? How could I understand the contradictions of being, doing, done and undone?
As homework from her, I’ve been shifting my meditation practice the past few weeks to work with these reflections. How to sit with what I wanted undone and what was unfinished presently and fully. The amazing result: the anxiety goes away if I am fully present with the fact that everything is undone and it’s beautiful that it is unfinished. My whole life is actually undone and each moment simply weaves another thread into the tapestry of my existence, but never really finishes the tapestry until I’m gone. At times I pull threads out of my tapestry of life that no longer go with the pattern I’m weaving. Sitting with the unfinished business presently and consciously acknowledging my ability to undo things I want to, I can actually see and perceive all the threads of moments before that have been added and taken away. There is something calming to recognize what I have done, to appreciate the threads that are unfinished but coming up, and to know that a part of being with the unfinished business is removing threads that no longer work. This practice also remarkably helped me to feel much more Being and much less Doer.
Forrest Yoga has a similar meditation practice that I used to practice a lot when I first started working with Ana, but had forgotten was in my tool box. During meditation one Advanced Teacher Training, Ana reminded us that a great way to process incoming thoughts, emotions and disturbances was to keep a pad of paper at our side and to write down everything as it came up and then to go back to meditating. This simple act of recording the unfinished thoughts, the processing emotions, the creative ideas and more that arose during meditation, gave a brilliant lightness to the undone rather than an anxious heaviness.
Perhaps you too have a lot of unfinished business or an anxiety-producing to-do list. Maybe you have things you are actively trying to undo in your life. Try these simple tools on your own and feel if they help you to connect to greater ease, clarity and peace.
1. Sit down or lie down. Close your eyes. Ask yourself, “Self, what is undone?” Feel what arises in your mind or body. Notice colors, shapes, sounds, smells or people that come up for you. Sit with the feeling of what is undone as each piece of unfinished business arises. Notice the threads of things you have completed that are tied to some of these still to be woven threads. Feel emotions that arise when you are with your unfinished business. Then ask yourself, “Self, what would you like to undo?” and repeat the mindful process of feeling what arises. Start with 5 minutes of sitting and as it gets easier, add in 1 minute at a time.
2. Sit down with a pen and piece of paper next to you. Begin to breath slowly and smoothly with clear attention to the feeling of your breath. Any time your mind wanders from the breath, pick up the pen and write down where your mind wandered to. Keep going no matter how many times you have to stop and write something down. It may take several times of doing this type of meditation before you have any long stretches of simply holding attention to breath. That’s great! You can review and reflect on what you wrote at the end, or simply throw that list away if it feels better to do that.
I hope that these two simple meditation exercises can help you to fascinate on the Beauty of what is undone and unfinished in your life. Dissolution and coming undone are essential building blocks for new things to come. Unfinished tasks offer up opportunities for creativity and excitement. So when anxiety arises over how much left there is to do in your life, pause for even a moment to remember that those incomplete pieces are vital to what is coming next. And you get to be the weaver of what comes next!
I haven’t written on my blog in months. I haven’t written much in months period. After our beloved dog Rosie left us in December and I wrote about the experience, I felt kind of dead too. I had lost my inspiration. I felt like hibernating. I wanted to climb into a blanket fort on the couch and watch romantic comedies indefinitely. I was not only sad, I was depressed about her loss. It felt like she took a huge part of me with her into the ether. I decided to sink into winter like I never have before. Lots of sitting – little writing, exercising, or exploring. Then a serious health situation with my partner demanded my attention stay relatively home-bound, and I remained internal in many ways over the past few months.
Flash forward to March 22 – and suddenly there was a new dog in town. No – really. We got a new dog and his name is Town. And he changed us in ways we would never have anticipated, and revealed to us new parts of ourselves.
As you can see, Town is big! So much bigger than our last greyhound. He is also strong, a voracious eater, plays with toys, cuddles with us, leans like a pro, and loves to snuggle up in the morning. In short, he is completely different than our last greyhound. This has been a wonderful surprise as we thought we needed to find another dog like the beautiful girl we lost. It has brought us out of our shells in new ways to have a completely different personality in the house. It has helped us to open our hearts again to a new and wonderful creature in our family. And it has inspired my transition into Spring in ways I had not anticipated. Maybe it is the long walks outside, or the longer daylight hours – the slightly rising temperatures or the meditation training I did in early March – but suddenly I feel re-charged and inspired again. I really think it is thanks to this new member of our family that our household feels more alive this Spring than ever before!
This sense of re-charge – of new beginnings – of surprises and unexpected turns in my year both delightful and tragic, reminds me so strongly of the natural order of things. There is a birthing, a living, and a dying off of all things. Something as simple as dinner has a creation, an enjoyment and a clean up. This cycle is all around us. I’m so happy that our new dog reminded me not to get stuck in the dying off part of the cycle. Rather he brought me back to the fact that things dying off can be an incredible springboard to new things being born.
Join me this Spring in not only emerging from the polar vortex of a winter many of us had, but also in springing out of the things that have died off into new growth. Take the time to mourn losses and to pay respect to things that have passed in your life. But also remember that there is something sweet, unexpected and wonderful just around the bend when you keep going. And it may arise in the most unusual package! Here’s to a Spring revival and so much more!
Since returning from a trip to Maui, my mind has been on the idea of wild. This is a result of the confluence of many things. A friend, student and colleague gave me a book entitled, “Women Who Run With the Wolves,” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D, all about the wild woman archetype in various traditional stories and in psychology. She gave this to me knowing that I: 1. have a special thing for wolves, 2. love psychology mixed with shamanism and ethnography, and 3. have been called a wild woman in my own right. I was reading it in Maui while experiencing all sorts of other “wild” things – like giant whales breaching out the water near our boat and huge sea turtles swimming alongside our stand-up paddle boards on a morning lesson. Being in the presence of the whales, in particular, triggered in me some depth of Self that I can’t even put into words – some reflection of wild mammal meeting wild mammal in an intuitive understanding like no other.
When I arrived home, the wild thoughts continued. It’s turned to Spring here in Chicago recently, and with that there have been tulips blooming and trees bursting into flowers. All around, if you pay attention and look closely, there is evidence of wild natural energy on the move coming forth. There are bulbs shooting their growths up through the earth, leaves going from tight bundles into spread open boughs overnight, and green manifesting all around. What makes these acts wild is the fact that they happen of their own accord – the tulip isn’t saying, “Well, you know, I guess I should start pushing upwards” but rather is driven by its very nature of being tulip to grow up out of the bulb through the soil.
Then this week in class, a new student I don’t know well, came up to me at the end of practice, gave me a fist bump, and said, “You are one wild yoga teacher….and I thank you for that. It makes all the difference.” I think the wild this student referred to was my passionate cuing, challenging inversions in the sequence broken down so everyone could try their craziness, and a commitment to the intent of the practice to radiate energy through every corner of the body. For me, these components are the refined practices of me being a teacher authentically presenting a sequence in a way that fascinates me – and therefore hopefully also fascinates my students. Wild was a new way to describe it.
I’ve spent the greater part of the past decade or so teaching, and the past 15 years practicing Forrest Yoga, dedicating myself to the practice of refining a connection to my authentic Self. And then bringing that authentic Self to not only my daily life, but to my teaching. I have used the words quiet, subdued, alternating with crazy and upbeat, emotional, sensitive, and empathic to describe myself, but it wasn’t until this week that I could actually feel the “wild” in me that others have seen.
When patterns repeat, pay attention. The pattern of this archetype of “wild” repeating in my vacation experiences, reading, observations of nature, and teaching has made me pause and consider the importance of being wild in our own way regularly. Sometimes, our culture or our schedule keeps us so tightly wound to being a certain way, that we forget or lose the time to be who we really are. And just like the bulb bursting through the soil, or the leaves unfurling, or the giant whale breaching out of the ocean – there is some Wild Thing in each of us – some nature that is beyond thinking and in the realm of our being.
In an endeavor to help you connect to your own energy of Wild Thing, here are some ways I’ve found to play with this primal energy. I just now have the word “wild” to help define it!
1. Make noise! Instead of being quiet, belt out a song, howl, screech, trill your tongue, play with your voice in the multitude of different ways it can make sound. Ana Forrest often has us howl or make coyote sounds to break the ice and connect to our more authentic primal selves when we hit physical blockages in practice. Check out this little wolf learning to howl! Practice along.
2. Get into nature – and keep your eyes open. Even in the city, wild energy is happening all around you. Watch things grow, bloom, die, disperse, and revive. Pay attention to the wind, sky, clouds, and cycles of sun and moon. Let these cycles of life show you a deep river of wild in glimpses all around you. This river can be both orderly and chaotic, grotesque and beautiful, striking and startling.
3. Spend time with four legged creatures. Whether you have animals at home, or friends do, or you volunteer at a shelter, being around animals reminds us of the carefree side of our Wild Thing nature. I look at my dog when she runs up and down the hallway with pure delight, and it reminds me to sun salutation up and down my mat with pure delight as an expression of my wildness. Look into my dog’s eyes and see what peace can also await in connection to the river of wild energy feeding you.
4. For 10 minutes a day, let down your filter. Say what’s on your mind, really, even if it’s only to an empty room or a voice memo on your phone. Write in a journal about things your intuition speaks to you, or about dreams you have had. Part of developing authenticity of Self and exploring your wild side is knowing what is you when all else falls away and what is a role you are playing in your life. We all have both!
Looking back on my life, I don’t remember the teachers who were perfect or extraordinarily smart in some way. I remember my teachers who were a bit crazy and wild – the ones who were themselves in the classroom, and, as a result, inspired me to be myself. My math teacher who wore a cowboy hat and boots (in suburban Chicago!) and told me, “Who cares if you are the only girl in this math class!” My chemistry teacher who let us play with unbelievable experiments that no other teacher would have allowed, and laughed when we melted a hole in the lab table with high molar sulfuric acid and asked what the chemical reaction of that was. My debate coach who played in mock debates with us defending any position – no matter how crazy (think: what are the implications of submarines bumping into each other on a world political scale) – to teach us about the value of seeing all sides even when we don’t agree or can’t fathom something. My yoga teacher who howls, dances, drums, and dresses in bright patterns. These people have tapped into their Wild Thing – and because of it they were/are passionate, talented, effective, and deeply inspiring human beings. By connecting to your own wild vein, you can not only deepen your knowing of the river feeding your Self, but also get inspired by the primal gift of your own life. My student’s comment this week made me hopeful that in my escapades into authenticity, I too have begun to tap into my wildness in an inspiring way that will bring my life energy into the lives of others in a crazy, weird, challenging, impactful, and memorable way.