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.

Oh Ralph

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us or we find it not.”  

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Lee Mtn – Dover, Arkansas

Beauty is within us and until we recognize this the beauty of the world will only be blur of colors or obstacles to maneuver through – arriving at our destination as quickly and blindly as possible. We will only be carrying hurried images rather than the amazement of the world.

I’ve tried to learn to stop. Of course, I’m wonderful at times and other times I’m screaming at the driver in front of me to “MOVE!”

This to say, I’m speaking more to myself than to anyone else really.

I’m becoming a lover of myself but not in the arrogant mindset that permeates our society.

I love my flaws and strengths.

My passion that can override logic.

My gratitude for this moment because of those I’ve lost.

My unconventional upbringing and who that has formed me to be.

My red face that burns whenever more than one person looks at me.

My doubt in what I believe.

My grandmother-like qualities – 4:00 dinner, bed by 9:00, inability to fully function until I have 2 cups of coffee in my system.

My idealistic hope with the acknowledgment of my once ( and still sometimes) cynical mind and heart.

My excitement in multiple projects – meaning sometimes I only finish one of ten.

My family of friends – blessed beyond measure for the souls in my life.

My God – the incomprehensible and unconditional love that flows freely from the Holy Trinity.

Ok, well that is a lot of “My.”

I hope that you find the  time to embrace all aspects of yourself.

Loving yourself  helps you fully love another.  I think it is somewhat impossible to really love another person if can’t love yourself.  I know…this is something you have heard multiple times. I’ll admit this was a hard lesson that I may have to learn again.

Learn to stop and see the beauty in your soul. I believe this will enable your eyes and heart to see the beauty surrounding you.

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.

 

 

Toxic: extremely harsh, malicious, or harmful

Definition of Tox-ic:  

: containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation
2: : exhibiting symptoms of infection or toxicosis
3 : : extremely harsh, malicious, or harmful 
4: : relating to or being an asset that has lost so much value that it cannot be sold on the market
Over the past year I  found myself living in two relationships (neither involving family members) that were toxic; one that was exciting but harmful to my soul’s true longing as well as others and the other one that had been maintained due to my inability to speak truth into it and acknowledge that the feelings I had were not that of the other person.

I caused hurt in both individuals.

I wish the hurt, anger, and wounds could have been avoided and looking back I acknowledge that I could have at least eased some of the pain, especially to one individual.

This week I’ve thought of both of these relationships often due to recent conversations that involved their names or to continued reaching out by one of them. My heart aches thinking that I’ve left any bitterness in someone’s mind, that I’ve left the idea lingering that I think they are a “bad” person — this is not true.

Our journeys together were and are over.

We did not bring peace to the world we lived in, rather a toxic, often surface level with heated emotions existence that willingly caused harm to more people than we even wanted to grasp.

One should have never begun but that is a lesson learned in itself and the understanding that I need to find rest in God for these tempestuous emotions.

The second ended without the comprehension of the other person involved. The relationship founded enormously on the other person’s life, initially with my full consent. This turned into draining conversations that left me avoiding phone calls (admittedly not correct way to handle situations) and interaction.

These statements are not intended to mean that I am guiltless in the toxicity of these relationships. I was an active participant and I fully believe that the mixing of our personalities and current situations in life were not life giving — this not making either of us “bad” individuals.

Though good has come from these relationships.

I’ve become a stronger individual that seeks a community of lovers of kindness, action, and accountability.

My truth telling in relationships of all kinds has deepened and my initial status quo mentality has been transformed: redefining and deepening relationships.

The maintaining of daily, immense gratitude for my friends which stayed the course even when I fell into the dark night of the soul for many years. Thank you for loving me when I deserved it the least and for watching me grow with encouragement and without judgement.

My community has flourished since I found love for myself, renewed love for God, and for life in general.

I hope the lesson I’ve most learned by both of these relationships is to live my truth while remaining gentle with myself. 

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Somewhat unrelated quote and link to an affirming article:

“In the meantime, trusting that he knows our needs, can we cast off society’s stereotypes, the shame and the pressure and the judgment, and live FULLY in our own bodies, not needing any other human to make us complete, trusting that if Jesus could do this life alone, we can too?” Excerpt from In which being Single is something to celebrate written by Emily Wierenga

First Loss

For the past 12 years on September 26th, I’ve made a single phone call early in the morning. I call a dear woman who has been nicknamed my “adopted mother.” She lost her son on this day and I lost someone I cared for dearly. I’m not one to believe in the “it was their time” mentality, but I’m also not going to strip this away from someone who uses this frame of thinking to help them live each day. I do believe that if you are willing, good can come out of the greatest pain.

Richie’s death left me feeling for the ground, searching for air, and reprieve from the onslaught of emotions. The insurmountable pain and the complete perplexity of knowing that there really isn’t anything you can do to change the current circumstance were terrifying. I have one vivid memory of being completely inconsolable and my grandma coming into my room, brushing my hair and acknowledging she knew there wasn’t anything she could say or do to help my pain ease. She allowed me to be in pain and that is a gift.

With grief, I believe you have to feel it fully and let it run its course. The pain becomes less, though can occasionally rise randomly, but life is still livable, enjoyable and full of hope and love. This was my first experience in losing someone very close, unfortunately it wasn’t my last in my late youth and 20s.

I learned I am breakable. But I’m also mendable. I lack control in many parts of life, but I can control how I view life and at least strive to live it fully and openly. That good can come out bad, even if you can’t see it at the time.

I extremely value my relationship with my “adopted mom.” She has been there, standing by my side while I mourned the loss of my mother, bestfriend, and as of late, my grandmother. She understands or at least knows the feelings of grief and of the battle to restart life. She has been a confidant, encourager, faith builder, and accountability friend. I am thankful to Richie for allowing me to meet his mother and for her continued love over the past years. Maybe that was the point of it all, who knows. I’ve learned to leave those questions at bay and just live in the moment.

“But grief still has to be worked through. It is like walking through water. Sometimes there are little waves lapping about my feet. Sometimes there is an enormous breaker that knocks me down. Sometimes there is a sudden and fierce squall. But I know that many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it.” Madeline L’Engle

Ma’s Birthday

Today would have been my mother’s 57th birthday. This isn’t something I usually advertise, bring up, celebrate, or so forth. But this year, I’d like to honor my mother for the mother she was able to be and the positive remnants she left upon  me.

1. First and foremost:  The love of all cultures. In 2nd grade, I remember mom pulling me out of school to attend GlobalFest at Arkansas Tech University. While we were watching the Hawaiian dancers, a reporter approached my mother. She willingly told him that the education I was receiving that day, by learning and interacting with those from various countries, would be absolutely more beneficial then anything I would learn in my class. (It should be noted that my mom was a public school teacher) Accompanying the story was pretty awesome picture: The background was filled up by a huge blow up globe, my hair was half pulled up with a scrunchie, leaving massive curly teased bangs and neon pink shoelaces. My mom, oh she was very professionally dressed and looked beautiful.

2. My political leanings and interest. The most vivid memory I have was when my mother pulled me kicking and screaming around War Memorial Stadium (it was the celebration for the troops coming home from Operation Desert Storm) to meet the, then Arkansas Governor, for a picture. I kept telling her he was just some creepy old guy. Well, I guess I was somewhat right. My mother took it upon herself to have this picture plastered in our home, in her classroom, and of coure in the local newspaper (wasn’t one enough?) to cement our families’ reputation as yellow dog democrats. This led to my rebellion in high school: I became a Republican. Needless to say my membership in either party did not last. But my political interest is still present and I’m happy it is. Now my friends know who to blame…

3. My religious freedom. When I was about 10 years old after being christened in the Presbyterian Church, attending a borderline cult-ish, evangelical, non-denominational church, and yearly Midnight Mass attendance my mom let me run free. Now, I’ll admit I would have preferred more religious structure at such a young age. However, this ingrained the idea that the religion and spirituality I am is by choice, not by force. My mental image is when I was 12: I would wear a cross, a Star of David, and carry Karen Armstrong’s History of God (that really dived into all three Abrahamic Faiths) everywhere I went. Then comes the perplexing moment when I joined, meaning “dunking” baptism, in the Church of Christ. Oh but that story is for a different time.  I have to give full credit to my mother for my exploration of most of the churches in my hometown and any religion book I could get my hands on. I think she would be happy to know that I have almost covered all my “Christian bases” now that I’m a confirmed member of the Episcopal Church. (I still have snake holding to cross off on my list)

4.  Belief in higher education. Though my mother was not alive during most of my undergraduate and graduate education, she was there in spirit and motivation. I remember having that moment, that many experience if they have lost a loved one, during my senior year of college. I excitedly picked up the phone to tell my mother I would be graduating with an awesome GPA…but then I remembered. Yes, I was sad but I was also very thankful for her influence upon me to seek out knowledge and to challenge myself.

The list can continue with her full support of me taking ballet, gymnastics, baton, cheerleading, playing clarinet, taking horseback riding lessons, to loving music and live concerts. She was my first introduction to Journey, Led Zepplin (I had a massive crush on Robert Plant when I was 8), Eric Clapton, Don Henley (post-Eagles).  In 3rd grade, she drove my friend, Shantay, and me to see New Kids on the Block in Tulsa and then also accompanied me to see my “first love” play (Bush). She wanted me to experience life.  And I did and am.

For many years, I would only focus on the failings of my mother. Yes, as I have said before, she had her own problems and issues that affected me and my grandmother (who I often refer to as my mom, those words are for another day). But that’s not the whole story. She had intense compassion for others, I just wish she could have found compassion and unconditional love for herself.

Ma’s High School Senior Portrait