Stirrings of a Nervous Breakdown…I mean Spiritual Awakening?!

I intended to write about feminism – a list of why we need a new movement and a direct response to those that have decided that feminism is no longer needed. Yet, this is what came out when I sat down to write.

It is revolutionary and terrifying to release the control and movement of your breath into another’s control. At least for someone that likes to be in control, which of course, isn’t me.

About a month ago, I was in the middle of my 2nd Yoga Teacher Training Intensive at Circle Yoga Shala that was focused on Pranayama (Breathing Techniques). I climbed the hills of Hwy 7 to the shala with a hybrid of emotions not yet knowing these would be forced to the surface in a room full of individuals due to focusing my attention on breath alone (under the guidance of my teacher, Matt).

On the 3rd day, we began the practice of Kapalabhati – “Skull shining breath.” (Get your jokes out now, Amanda).  In the middle of practice, I felt my chest tighten, my jaw clench, and tears flood down my face.  Completely perplexed by what was going on, I tried to make myself as small as possible in the room, not garnering attention from anyone. I have always been the “I don’t cry in front of other people” person. Also, I loathe being the center of attention which is obvious by the deep shade of beet red that rises in my face.  Yet, here I was sitting in what felt like a crowded room searching my head rather than my heart for why on earth I couldn’t gather myself and stop. I didn’t want to sit through this and show what I perceived to be a weakness. For some reason, I stayed put. I didn’t rush out the door and head off that mountain though I entertained that thought for about 15 minutes.  My tears slowed but I knew the minute we circled up to talk about our experience they would return. All Matt had to say was “Why the drop in spirit?” and here they came.  What I struggled the most with was my inability to pinpoint the cause of this downpour.  I sat there thinking is this what a nervous breakdown is? Have I completely lost my mind? Graciously, Matt moved to the next person.  I was really hoping for a break, but after everyone shared we went back to practice. And here they came again, but rather than forcing the tears and the emotions to go back to a tightly closed bottle, I sat there and let them come. I could not do the practice that was being taught, but I did stay with my breath body.  The practice came to a close and I wiped my face as we circled up. Holly (my teacher too) came in and noticed my drained face. She had me try and relate what was happening.  She observed that even in that moment I was barely breathing, so her only instruction was to breath in my stomach.  The rest of the day went on with a screaming headache but with kind love from my teachers and all the other students.

That night, upon Holly’s invitation, we sat down and discussed my experience.  I cannot write everything I learned from her that night; this would go on and on. What I am reminded right now, is the understanding and full belief that the trauma you experience in life is reflected in your body and your breath. If you spent much of your life in survival mode, this is reflected in your posture and where you breathe.  At the moment, I no longer need to be in survival mode. My task is to learn how to reside in peace and allow the wounds that have healed to be only a part of me. All the stories that have molded me into who I am today do make up my identity, but not all of it.  It is difficult to relay in words everything that was revealed to me.

The next morning, I woke up with a new sense of self-confidence. By showing my softer side to those around me and even to myself, I became more open. The guilt of previous mistakes, decisions, slowly began to drop off and I was ok with “mistakes” again. The perfection I set was the isolating force that kept me from fully diving into humanity. As well as my normal doomsday perspective of “expect the worst and be surprised with the best” was replaced with the life perspective “to be present in the joy and sorrow.” It could probably go without saying, but I have a lot to unlearn along with returning to my body and my breath with loving kindness.

I’ll call this a mini-spiritual awakening, rather than a mini-nervous breakdown. I’m hoping the effects continue to soak my entire being. I’m intensely grateful to my teachers and fellow yogis at the shala and all my dear friends and teachers back home in Little Rock. I’m awed by the loving embrace and encouragement that you all send my way.

“Some of you say, ‘Joy is greater than sorrow,’ and others say, ‘Nay, sorrow is the greater.’ But I say unto you, they are inseparable. Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your board, remember the other is asleep upon your bed.” Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

The Big V

alone

Vulnerability (surprise): At times I cringe at the word, what it applies, the aftermath when things go, well, not as you have planned.  Growing up in a house where my vulnerability was without control – small child surrounded by one careless and reckless adult – I grew up quickly and left this part of me walled off and for many years I only let a few pass through.  At times, I would function as the IDF, letting you through but rarely acknowledging it and some day you may have come to the crossing and found the border closed off, no passage, regardless of what your ID card said.

Along with my childhood, other life experiences have led me on the path of making everything casual and without expectation, at least outwardly. Living through the deaths of those close to me – family and friend alike – my only expectation for much of my life was to forge the path alone because ultimately that is all you have. Given for me it could go without saying that, I believe God was and is with me, however at times the dark night of the soul would reign and any kind belief in a spiritual presence felt absurd.

Funny thing is people constantly compliment me on how independent I am.  Of course, I am independent and I value my freedom and inner strength. But also, you have to understand I don’t have, nor have I ever had, the choice to be any other way. Some folks have safety nets; I have a black hole that is looming.

I promise this will become less cynical. Now to passion since I feel like they can and do go hand and hand.

The concept to live passionately has always resonated and detracted me –I understand the romanticized notion, but when you have lived through some chaotic times this is also a taboo. Living life fully I’m on board with. However, I do believe that analysis gets a bad rap. Spontaneity is amazingly wonderful and sometimes detrimental. I don’t think that your default setting should be living life without thought or concern for reality.  Living life intentionally, doing this “passionately”, being cautious yet fearless and always open to adventure – it’s all a balance (as we used to say at Eastern).  Going all in on one side of the coin is going to leave a trail of hurt within yourself and to those you are surrounded by.  Maybe I’m off here but that is where I sit on this notion yet I can see where passion towards life has taken me to wonderful and dark places, both valuable.

I have lived my “vocation” passionately and failed miserably – however I would not trade these experiences however bad, dark, depressing and off putting they can be to others. They have made me 100% fully who I am today and shockingly I like who I am. I believe walking the fine line of self-confidence, self-love and hope in your own growth is possible.

 Now the uplift…

Over the years, I have learned that I have an amazing community of friends that have decreased the black hole and allowed me to become comfortable with acknowledging and embracing my vulnerability.  Furthermore, the phenomenal example that my grandma laid out in front of me – her strength, courage, and perseverance despite the circumstances consistently remind me that I can and will make it. That is ok to ask for help – which isn’t a sign of weakness nor co-dependency, but true community. We are to lift one another up because ultimately we are reliant upon one another and creation.  We, as beings, cannot live this life alone.

All and all vulnerability and I have comes to terms with one another – in a passionate embrace of a life lived through loving kindness and regard for yourself and all beings and creation. I have become more open to the idea to being present and curious for the right now – allowing the past to be my story, the future to be untold.

I live for the present moment with a logically driven, emotionally open heart.

At least on most days.

Friday’s Tears

Copyright by Ryan Lee
Copyright by Ryan Lee

Last Friday I hit a frustration and irritation wall that left me casting bitterness towards a group of people. (It was probably a good thing I had taken a Sabbath from all social networking/media for 48 hours during this time.)

I’m going to say something that is glaringly obvious: Building community is tough, gut wrenching, and counter-cultural.

We easily speak about community, our internal longings for this Beloved community where we can share our deepest secrets (picture Little Women attic style with the inclusion of the strange neighbor, Laurie) and find rest for our tired souls. Yet, when it involves action many shy away or then claim that they are “private” or prefer a personal relationship with God or honestly, don’t give a rat’s ….. about doing anything outside of their normal routine.

I was very thankful for the miraculous family of 5 that loaded up their 3 kids and traveled across town to share a meal with their sometimes grumpy and stress filled godmother. They saved my sobs that evening.

Here is my confession: My pride was damaged. I had placed myself out there for all the world to see and in my own mind I had failed. Failed at engaging others into spending time with people they barely know to share a meal. I was trying to just offer a space and not use any persuasion as my priest so challenged us on Ash Wednesday. I made this whole thing about me, me, me.

All and all it boiled down to being hurt and losing sight of the reason for beginning this discipline.

My ah ha! moment came during savasana on Saturday morning when my lovely yoga teacher shared the following words:

“When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”

― Rumi

I had stopped acting from my soul.

I had stopped feeling overwhelmingly grateful that even one person walked through my doors.

I had forgotten the reason – to build community (however small) and to learn hospitality. To allow God to teach me instead of plowing my way through what I thought should happen.

This Friday, I hope that if tears flow they come from the happiness of having beautiful souls in my life and the fact that I have food, warmth, and comfort to offer another person – a brother or sister. As well as, the understanding that I have a God that remains within me during times of absurd self-absorption and misguided direction.

 

 

First Attempt at a Communal Meal

Copyright by Linda Lundgren
Copyright by Linda Lundgren

“We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship.”   

― Dorothy Day

Yesterday was my first attempt at hosting a communal meal in my small,  intoxicatingly cozy apartment.

I’ll confess I have much to learn in regards to remaining calm while cooking and finding the confidence in my Amanda-trained skills. This was my first time to cook a full meal for more than, well me, in quite some time.  On top of that, I wanted to ensure that the kids had something yummy to eat.  Amanda graciously passed along an easy, scrumptious, and healthy recipe and as always she motivated and kept me standing firm during the whole process.

So let’s lay out the meal plan and if you are expecting it all to be fully homemade, then you don’t know me very well.  Remember I’m the girl who didn’t know how to work an oven till I was in high school.

  • Main dish – Amanda’s Arugula/Tomato/Basil Angel Hair Pasta.
  • Healthy Option #2:  Above dish but substitute Angel Hair Pasta with seasoned spaghetti squash
  • Mashed Sweet Potatoes with brown sugar
  • Amy’s Mac ‘n’ Cheese – I’m not ashamed and the kids loved it!
  • Garlic Bread
  • Tofutti Cutie Ice Cream Sandwiches
  • And the biggest hit of the night: PISTACHIOS! Freddie and Addie’s new favorite.
  • Friends brought hummus and veggies and homemade wheat/rosemary bread to complete the meal.

All and all a filling meal that helped me gain even higher respect for friends who do this on a daily basis for their families.

The time seemed to stand still and I believe many of us felt this was a natural thing to do on a Friday evening – the sharing of a meal with one another after a week of work and the beginning of a weekend. Something within us aligned to this natural gathering.

I witnessed the beauty in chaos; in children’s laughter and clumsiness, 6 kids in a one bedroom apartment with 4 adults trying to eat as well as assist these little hands, a cat that unwillingly lead parades of running children through plates and cups, and the meeting of friends that had only heard stories of one another.

My favorite hilarious moment of the evening was the drenching of a  20 month old due to her inquisitive nature of the cat’s water bowl. This resulted in a naked baby from the waist up with a ruffled skirt and pink leg warmers/pink chucks to complete her adorable look.

It was the beauty of community in full chaotic force and I yearn for next Friday.

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” 

― Dorothy Day