TALES OF A TRAVELING YOGINI

images-2So lately I’ve been going to classes (once a week if I’m lucky) instead of the luxuriously unhurried home Yoga practice that I used to do, before there was a toddler in the house.

It’s been interesting… a bit scary even.

When you’re feeling raw – a mix of gratitude, deep exhaustion, overwhelm, and mad crazy love, as I often am these days, walking into a room of 30-40 people with the intention to connect with the deepest, most tender parts of yourself can be pretty confronting. It is for me at least, and probably why I’ve always loved to practice alone.

Just making it out of the house these days is huge.

What a strange, wonderful feeling to wave goodbye to my partner and baby and drive off all by myself. I’m often not more than 100m down the road before the tears begin to well.

What they’re about exactly is always hard to say. A little bit of everything. The antidote to all those times that I just had to suck it up.

I can almost hear a hiss as the pressure inside me releases.

I know, I know. I shouldn’t be sucking anything up. What about my psoas? But you know as a mama there are just so many times when you really can’t take a break. You can’t actually just drop down for a quick ‘legs up the wall’ or a 10-minute ‘i-rest’ when you feel the need. Until you get a breather you’ve just gotta suck it up.

And that takes its toll. For sure.

So when I know I’m heading to Yoga, i.e. a place where I can let it all unravel, the unraveling begins as soon as I leave the house. And so by the time I get to the studio and chat with the teacher as I register, it takes just one kind word from her, a simple ‘how have you been?’, and the floodgates open.

I could cry and cry and cry.

But she’s got a class to teach, starting in 5 minutes, and there’s 7 people behind me waiting to pay.

It’s not the time.

So I slink on over to my spot in the back row, stretch out my tired legs in my faded old Yoga daks that barely stay up, and feel pretty bloody old to tell you the truth.

There’s not nearly enough space between me and the next mat. I’m tempted to split. To go and have a coffee and some quiet time with a book or my notepad.

Of course I don’t. I stay and I breathe and I move and I just let it all be. I watch my thoughts and let them be. At times I feel my power, and I let it be. I sense my edges and I let them be. I hear my judgments, let them be. I feel myself judged and I let that be too.

I see the falsity of all of it. Who I thought I was. Who I think I am now. Who I thought others thought I was. What others might be thinking of me now.

None of it true.

I remember how easy it was to assume things, when the tables were turned, and I was the teacher cruising around the room listening to bodies. I thought I knew so much about people. I see now that while some of those assumptions might have been right, there’s always more to another’s story than I will ever know.

I also remember how easy it was, as the teacher, to just love. To see right through the layers to the essence, the earnestness, the fragility, the beauty.

And I see how much harder it is now, as the student, to receive that love, when I’m feeling so broken in so many ways.

I’m not used to being here. My mind races with strategies to turn the tables again.

In my heart though there is patience. I feel like the mother of a teenager who’s “going through a phase”. She knows she’s not looking at her daughter’s best self, but she loves her anyway.

I’m also that teenager. Unable to really express just what it is that I’m going through. Withdrawing a little from the love of those who might like to set me straight. Rebelling against structures, both internal and external, that feel forced or inauthentic.

It’s not entirely comfortable, but it’s beautiful, this breaking down.

And just as I love my daughter with my whole heart & Soul, whether she’s crying and biting or being funny and cute, that love is transforming the way I love myself.

I roll out of savasana and bring my hands to prayer,

Thank you Mother for these challenges. I’m learning to trust, even when I don’t understand.

I know now that You love me, no matter what.
By Your grace, may I heal all the places within where I still cannot love myself.
Amen

Om Namo Narayani

“The most difficult part of birth is the first year afterwards.  It is the year of travail – when the soul of a woman must birth the mother inside her.  The emotional labor pains of becoming a mother are far greater than the physical pangs of birth; these are the growing surges of your heart as it pushes out selfishness and fear and makes room for sacrifice and love.  It is a private and silent birth of the soul, but it is no less holy than the event of childbirth, perhaps it is even more sacred.”     ~ Joy Kusek, mother, doula, birth educator.

ps. Quote is an excerpt from a beautiful post, Making Room For Love, that is so worth reading. Mamas… I dare you to finish it with dry eyes. I certainly didn’t. xx

Rosei & mama b&wTales of a Traveling Yogini no longer feels apt. On my second lunarversary of motherhood I’m thinking to strike a line through that blog title and replace it with Profound Spiritual Teachings from a Teeny Tiny Guru. Watch this space. Meanwhile, Chapter One is about containment. And it starts with a little story…

When my daughter Rosie, now 2 months, was just 3 weeks old, I got a visit from our local Child & Family Health Nurse. She weighed & measured Rosie and then we sat down to talk about how it was all going. Rosie had been really engaged with her during this time, making eye contact and ‘talking’ in the way that babies do, but then pretty quickly she was grizzly and unsettled.

I went to put her on my boob so I could concentrate, but Helen the visiting nurse very gently suggested that maybe she wasn’t hungry, or windy, but that maybe she was getting tired.

Most little babies need some help to go to sleep, and if accidentally or otherwise overstimulated at that time will very quickly get ratty and upset, often flailing their little arms about and kicking their legs, fighting against the very thing they need most.

Helen asked me had I been swaddling Rosie? I said not really, that I didn’t think she liked having her arms restricted like that. She asked me to bring her a big muslin cloth, and then wrapped her up as snug as can be with her arms tucked in, and handed her back, telling me to hold her quite firmly to my chest, and sing or sway as I normally would when trying to get her to sleep.

She wriggled and squirmed, and fought against the restriction, but, soon after, she fell fast asleep. It worked.

I noticed something that day about the child in myself, the child in all of us. A lightbulb went on. As I learned how to better parent my daughter I learned how to better parent myself. I noticed these three things:

1) A child needs containment.
2) They probably won’t like it at first.
3) Creating that container for them is an act of love.

As Rosie flapped and flailed against the bliss of sleep, I saw myself and how much energy I too have wasted in flapping & flailing against the things that are truly good for me.

I might have outgrown my swaddle, but, as with most adults, there are parts of my emotional self that are still quite immature. I want what I want and I want it now, and I fight against anything that appears to restrict that. Blinded by my attachments sometimes I fail to see the bigger picture, and the deeper happiness that trust and surrender bring.

I often hear myself saying, “Just trust me Rosie, trust Mum” because I know that actually I do know better. It’s so obvious that she’s exhausted and will be so much happier after a good sleep. But I have to laugh at the irony of that because trusting was never my strong point.

Rarely did I trust my own mother. I was the kid who stuck the knife in the toaster just to see if what they said was true.

It was.

And now here I am on this thing we call the Spiritual Path. A kind of swaddle suit for grown ups, it’s all about restriction (as well as joy and bliss and happiness). The very fact that there’s a path at all implies that if you wander off then you might just fall into a great big hole. Like the Good Parent, it’s there for our safety, the safety of our Soul.

Parenting is my Spiritual Path these days, and it seems it’s all about restriction too (as well as joy and bliss and happiness). When I feel like moving I’m forced to be still, pinned to the couch by a teeny tiny being with an insatiable thirst for breast milk. Then when I’m longing to be still, or at the very least to sit down, she demands that I walk, and bounce, and sing, for hours on end sometimes in the elusive quest for deep sleep.

My freedom no longer lies in being able to do what I want, but in choosing to want to do what I’m actually doing.

And it seems that not being able to do what I want is making me a better person. It’s saving me from myself.

By grace, I have now become the Parent, the Authority Figure, the Teacher, and the Container that I so often resisted. But because I know what’s in my heart then I also know the extraordinary love that lies behind the seemingly mean holding in of flailing arms, the avoidance of eye contact when she wants to flirt instead of sleep, and soon no doubt the ‘no’s’ that I’ll say when she wants a third bowl of icecream.

The love of a mother knows no bounds, and so my Divine Mother must love me like that too. Even when She seems cruel at first, it’s only and ever Love that saves us from the worst in ourselves.

Om Namo Narayani

“God be with the mother. As she carried her child may she carry her soul. As her child was born, may she give birth and life and form to her own, higher truth. As she nourished and protected her child, may she nourish and protect her inner life and her independence. For her soul shall be her most painful birth, her most difficult child, and the dearest sister to her other children. Amen.”         ~ Michael Leunig

IMG_3141It’s one month today since the birth of my daughter, Rose Narayani Gallagher. One month since my birth as mother.

[Editors note: actually it was yesterday but the fact that I’m publishing this blog at all is an absolute miracle]

I finally understand why my teacher Sri Sakthi Amma describes Bhakti Yoga as the ideal path for this highly distracted, time-poor era of the Kali Yuga, and the perfect practice for the householder.

It’s true. There really is just 10mins per day, if that, to light a lamp and place a flower and wave some incense about. Often without chanting aloud, like today, just in case I woke up Rosie, asleep at last in her ‘happy hanger’ hammock just a few metres away. It had taken me almost half an hour of intermittent bouncing to settle her there, knowing she could wake again at any moment, as soon as she sensed the absence of a heartbeat nearby.

Our child is a snuggler. She’ll sleep happily for hours, so long as she’s in my arms or on David’s chest, all the better if there’s a nipple in her mouth. And so she should be, just one month out from the warm, dark, drip-fed bliss of the womb.

But it’s full on. My hands-free time is unbelievably precious and action-packed. I’ve never made such good use of every minute. So much so that yesterday I hit a bit of a wall.

For the first time since Rosie’s birth I tried to deal with some domestic admin, aka finalise my government-funded Maternity Leave Pay, which turned out to be an utterly inefficient run-around from one department and call centre to the next, achieving nothing. And while frustrating at any time, it wouldn’t usually be enough to bring me to tears, as it did yesterday. I bit my lip and held it together enough to get through the phone call (42minutes!), but as soon as I hung up I started to cry.

Good tears. Humbling tears. Liberating tears. After which I lay down with my beautiful daughter, who’d been half-asleep on my boob throughout, and we crashed out together on the couch for a good hour. The last thing I saw through my teary tired eyes before I closed them was the vase of half-dead lilies on the coffee table in front of me. “Fuck it”, I thought,”they can wait”.

And they did wait. But not for long. The very next morning time and space opened up again and in the gorgeous Autumn morning light I picked some fresh flowers. Rosie slept on her own long enough that I even managed to start this blog. It’s now 2 days later, of course, and this is all I need to say I think to close up.

That it’s all about the moments. Life is lived in bite-sized chunks.

I’ve never appreciated that fact so very much. I’ve never stepped up and showed up so completely, 24 hours a day, every day, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

My favourite definition of bhakti is this: ‘the simple and direct alignment of the heart to God’. And what is God if not Reality? If not Love? The Love of Reality. The Reality of Love.

And that is why it’s such a perfect practice for the householder, because actually it has very little to do with altars, and mantras, and gurus and whatever other external forms it uses to awaken us to the simple & ever-present Reality of Love.

So this is my practice now. At 2:30am breastfeeding in the dark; at 6:30pm in the ‘witching hour’ of windy tummy & over-tired squirming; in the blissful quiet of the forest where I live, walking with my precious cargo snoozing soundly in the hug-a-bub; in the shower, alone, relishing the sensation of hot water streaming down my back, washing off the day or night just passed.

Whenever, whatever, just being with all this. Letting it melt the ‘me’ so that all that remains is Love and a life in service to that.

Om Namo Narayani

“Let my idle chatter be the muttering of prayer, my every manual movement the execution of ritual gesture, my walking a ceremonial circumambulation, my eating and other acts the rite of sacrifice, my lying down prostration in worship, my every pleasure enjoyed with dedication of myself, let whatever activity is mine be some form of worship of you.”  ~ Adi Shankaracharya

Ready, set, go Today is the 3rd day past my baby’s due date. And even though I know that these due dates are just approximates, they are given so much energy from the moment you find out you’re pregnant, that it’s hard to be chilled once you find yourself ‘over’.

It’s a bit like being at the exit door of a plane at 13,000 feet, all ready to jump. You’re all kitted up with chute & mask. You’ve been practicing your maneuvers for months. You’ve faced your fears and released them to the wind. But then an unexpected current picks up and you’re told by the pilot (God in this case!) that the plane needs to coast for a while. Just hovering… mid-air… doing circles… waiting.

That’s probably a bit dramatic but you know what I mean. Everything is done. Finally, everything is done. I’m ready. Really ready. But it’s just not in my hands anymore.

I was sitting on the loo a moment ago and I thought, “mmm, maybe I’ll have a coffee”. But pretty quickly I saw that for what it was, a reaction, a rebellion almost. One of the things I do when I reach for something outside myself. We all know what our personal crutches are… sugar, a ciggie, a drink, a phonecall, exercise, or a purchase. Anything that we habitually use to avoid the discomfort of our current situation.

What dawned on me then, is that this limbo I find myself in, while strange and uncomfortable at times, is also choc full of potential to put the philosophy to good use (when it really counts), and truly-ruly practice what it truly-ruly means to let go. To trust. When it goes against just about every single impulse I have, to be still. And by still I don’t mean of body, because actually I really feel to move today. I have a ton of energy all of a sudden and might just go for a swim once I write this. But still of mind. Still at the centre. Being with. Embracing.

I got to this point in writing and thought, OK, so where do I go from here? Where’s the wisdom? The resolution? The neat & tidy words that wrap it all and make us all feel better.

But there were none. So I sat.

I went out to the verandah, set up my little perch, got out my mala and started to drop in. And what came is this: that this is not about resolution at all, but rather the lack of it. More than seeking resolution and being stressed until I do, can I just rest in its absence, in that phase before, that is tender, vulnerable, uncertain, fragile? That really doesn’t know how & when it will all work out. Expecting & visualising the very best result whilst open to all possibilities.

Om Namo Narayani.

Who is She anyway, this Narayani? A Hindu Goddess in silken sari, adorned with flowers and bathed in gold light? Maybe. But not to me. To me She is everything that ever was, is, and ever will be. She is every possibility, every situation, and every experience. She is both the fear that I feel from time to time, and the wisdom and courage that help me move through it into love and trust. She is the entire spectrum of creation. To adore Her is to be with Her. To be with this. To feel deeply this reality and embrace it… open to it & learn from it with all I’ve got.

To surrender is to trust in Her way. And that is always none other than this way. This way right now, this exact way that things are unfolding, like it or not.

So I sit. I breathe. I rest.

I trust.

Amen.

“Hope and fear is a feeling with two sides. As long as there’s one, there’s always the other. This is the root of our pain. In the world of hope and fear, we always have to change the channel, change the temperature, change the music, because something is getting uneasy, something is getting restless, something is beginning to hurt, and we keep looking for alternatives.

Abandoning hope is an affirmation, the beginning of the beginning”.
~ Pema Chodron from her wonderful book ‘When Things Fall Apart’.

Nothing LackingI am officially on ‘maternity leave’, this being the first week for many (nearly a year) where my faithful private Yoga student hasn’t come by at 4:30pm 3 days/week. In his absence, I feel to share what he shared with me about a week ago.

He told me that day that after our last session together he was at home in the kitchen (“where all great epiphanies happen”, he quipped), when he had had ‘A Moment’. He’d felt a very deep sense of OK-ness, that everything was just right with the world, exactly as and how it should be. He’s a pretty chilled guy so this kind of understanding is not new to him, but he hadn’t felt it like that for a while.

And while the experience passed, as all experiences do, it had left behind a fragrance that lingered for a few days afterwards.

It had brought him perspective, a vantage point from which to see more clearly the subtle yet pervasive anxiety that he’d been operating under of late. Despite all that he knew, he’d been feeling a lot of stress.

This sharing really touched me for 2 reasons:

1) It brought home the true purpose and power of the practice of Yoga.

And that is… mindfulness. Presence. More moments like the one I’ve described. Less grasping, less controlling, more trust, and more peace. Ultimately, a happier life.

As many times a day, in as many situations, this going away, and coming back. Coming back to the sensation of your feet on the ground, the breath in your belly. Noticing what and how you feel, and letting it be. Draining the soup of thoughts in your mind and noticing something that is actually happening. A bird’s call. Cold air on your cheek. The sway of a tree outside your window.

As his ‘teacher’ I sometimes felt concerned by the lack of physical progress that we were making, but this sharing reminded me again that that is not always the point.

2) I’m now more than 37 weeks pregnant.

Side bendWhat I can manage physically is getting less and less. My belly is huge, my hands are puffy and my wrists are really sore. It takes much less time on my mat before I run out of both juice and options. Less is most definitely more!

But there is something that is mine no matter what. Something that can never be taken away. And it’s this Returning. My ability to come back. To come home to whatever and however I’m feeling. To embrace the current reality with my whole heart and soul. To let it be OK. To accept. To just be.

And while all this might seem very rudimentary it’s also really not. It’s profound.

And standing as I am on the threshold of parenthood this feels key.

Yoga, and life, keep on teaching me this One Big Thing. That there is freedom to be found in the seemingly worst of circumstances if I use that challenge to let go. To forgive myself. Accept myself. To embrace life exactly as it’s showing up.

Happiness and Suffering are simply choices we make.

I heard a story once about spiritual teacher Byron Katie visiting a cancer patient in hospital. The woman was angry and miserable. Byron Katie asked her what was the problem. She pulled back her bedsheets to reveal one swollen leg, almost twice the size of the other. “This,” she spat, “this is my problem!”. Katie smiled and said, “So your problem is that you believe that both your legs should be the same size?”

The woman instantly got it and apparently roared with laughter, and the sudden, new-found realisation that really her problem was not her leg, but her inability to accept it.

So I’m looking down at my chubby little fingers, all tingly and sore and numb, and I’m thinking that maybe everything’s OK with the world, that it’s all just as and how it needs to be. That actually my hands are podgy because there’s about 50% more fluid in my body these days to support the totally radical business of growing a child in my womb!

Acceptance and complacency are not the same thing. But we know that already right? We’ve always got to do what we can, as I already have, to try and improve or alleviate our situation. But sometimes there’s no outright cure, and we just need to live with something (for a while at least).

It sucks to be in pain. We’d all take health and harmony any day of the week. But sometimes they’re elusive, and Reality is just screaming for us to let Her be as She is. To lean in a bit closer so she can whisper Her wisdom into our unsuspecting ear.

“Your hand opens and closes, opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding,
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birdwings.”  ~ Rumi

Om Namo Narayani

I woke up this morning thinking about attitude, how basically it’s everything. How this life is so much less about what actually happens to us and everything to do with the way we respond.

I see it for myself each day when I wake up, sometimes a bit restless, worrying about something. Other days a bit ho-hummish not quite sure where to start. But mostly, like today, already full of gratitude.

And yes, that gratitude is in large part for ‘things’ – the clean, cozy bedding that I’m wrapped in, the warm man beside me who almost always wakes up in a good mood ready for a song and a cuddle.

But most of all I’m grateful for the ability to feel grateful. Beauty is everywhere all the time if we have the eyes to see it.

It’s been a pretty heavy last week in the world. Really. I could hardly look.

But every week is like that to some degree if you dare to watch or read the world news, which I don’t.

The magnitude and insanity of the attacks in Paris (and everywhere else) caused a momentary wobble in me, as I said to David, “What kind of a world are we bringing our child into? Are we mad? Are we cruel?”.

“We’re bringing another Peacemaker” was his response.

That made me smile from the inside out.

For the last few weeks he’s been learning a new song on the guitar, Kermit’s rendition of Rainbow Connection, ready to sing to the wee one when he/she pops out. You know it right? Beautiful lyrics and the sweetest melody ever…

Someday we’ll find it
The Rainbow Connection
The lovers, the dreamers and me

Kermit sings about the Rainbow Connection, not quite sure what it is, but leaving us with a hunch that it’s something to do with connected-ness. Something that unites us all. Or maybe it’s the Unknown. The Magic. The Mystery. That which is beyond the senses, beyond the mind, beyond our understanding, beyond anything we’ve ever been taught.

What’s so amazing that keeps us stargazing?
And what do we think we might see?

Kermit in his precious innocence doesn’t give us all the Answers. He’s the first to admit that he doesn’t know. But he has a hunch that this Life is magic, and that not knowing might free us up to choose our own adventure. To follow the whisper, the call from within…

Have you been half asleep
and have you heard voices?
I’ve heard them calling my name.

Is this the sweet sound that calls the young sailors?
The voice might be one and the same.

I’ve heard it too many times to ignore it.
It’s something that I’m supposed to be.

What are we supposed to be?

According to Kermie, and according to the Muppets creator Jim Henson, whatever the hell we want! The only limit is our imagination as we follow that voice inside to our bliss. We can be a puppeteer, a bee keeper, a chef or musician, a poet, a mother, or any other possible combination. Just do what you love and share it unashamedly.

So this is my response to a week of ‘terror’.

Don’t let the beast bring you down. Don’t let the atrocities of ignorance and greed dull your dreams. Believe in love and that is what you’ll have. Believe in hate and that is what you’ll have. I feel this so deep in my bones.

And it’s my dream, my hope, that I might raise my child from that understanding.

Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection,
the lovers, the dreamers and me.
La, da da, La, da da do, La Laa, la la, La, La la doooooo

Om Namo Narayani

“When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope still is to leave the world a little bit better for my having been here. It’s a wonderful life and I love it”. ~ Jim Henson, Creator of the Muppets.

Jo portrait medium It’s a little over 5 weeks since our beautiful sister Jo Mall Kahn left her failing body for more expansive planes. I have written umpteen pieces in my head since then, but this is the first to find form. And it’s not about Jo exactly, but all that she stood for.

Edo (Jo’s husband for those of you that might not have known them), wrote something very precious the morning after Jo’s passing, to this effect:
“Don’t just worship Amma (divine)
Be Amma (divine)
That is what Jo became”.

That, in essence, was the message of Jo’s life for me, made all the more urgent by her passing. Don’t get stuck on the form! Through your devotion, cultivate the wisdom to know and express the divinity that is already inside of you! See that same divinity in everybody else! Remember who you are, give up your fear, and serve!

Jo sang and spoke constantly of surrender, but she was far from passive. On the contrary, she was one of the most passionate and engaged people I’ve known, embodying surrender through total participation.

To surrender means to be willing to change, to die many little deaths again and again as we let go of one small, false identity after another. But what remains is worth every ounce of effort – and that is Love, pure and eternal.

From the outside it might look like Jo’s life was a spiritual fairytale, and, no doubt due to her karma, in many ways it was. But she also worked incredibly hard – I saw it for myself. And Amma (our teacher in South India), in Her love, worked her too, challenging her as much as blessing her, to surrender her doubt, her fear and her unworthiness. To become all that she had the potential to become.

I remember a time, many years ago now, when Edo, Jo and I were invited to have lunch with Amma, where She talked to us about doing retreats together (before we first birthed the Bali Retreat). Amma was saying, “Lucy will teach Yoga, Edo can do some chanting, and maybe Edo or Lucy can give a talk in the afternoon”. She was completely ignoring Jo in a way that was so obvious and so painful that my protective Akka (big sister in Tamil) instinct was to say, “Yes Amma, and Jo can share her beautiful music”. She ignored that too.

It was so obviously a set up. And this is the way that Amma works. In a few simple words, or a look away, or by ignoring you completely after beaming Her radiant love at you just the day before, She has a knack for doing exactly the right thing to bring up your most childish, painful, and often unconscious wounds – the guilt, the shame, the not-good-enoughness that you’d much rather leave buried if you could.

Amma is not really ignoring us of course but merely mirroring the beliefs that we still hold about ourselves. And while it hurts sometimes, it’s an inevitable and invaluable process of clearing out the old stuff, to make more room for Love.

I know that after that lunch Jo returned to her room and sobbed her heart out, offering up her tears and her false, conditioned beliefs. I know because she told me and I know because I’ve done the same thing many times.

It’s hard though, really. In that moment it feels so raw and real and the ego so very much wants to defend. To be pissed at Amma and reject the path, or whoever else ‘appears’ to be causing the pain. I’ve done lots of that too believe me.

Jo was and still is my inspiration for riding out the rough bits while never losing faith.

Because in so many ways, when it hurts is when it really counts. Those are the moments that are SO full of potential for healing. They’re also the times we tend to forget the path entirely.

And this is how Jo “became like Amma”: She did the work. Again and again. Until her last breath (and most likely beyond) she was doing the work. Healing her past, forgiving herself and others… letting go. Refusing to buy into fear and contraction so that Love could have its way with her.

Within each and every one of us is a Divine seed, a spark, a knowing, and no matter how deeply our divine qualities might be buried we can develop them. The potential for kindness and compassion is in all of us.

To “become like Amma” means not just to worship Amma (the Divine), while carrying on in ways that are selfish, fearful, or prejudiced. We can pray all we like, but without the willingness to act upon the good teachings that we receive, nothing much really changes.

We surrender to the Divine and acknowledge our personal limitations, but when guidance comes… an inspiration or an idea to do something positive, or to let something go, we must take the action. Divine cannot do that for us! We need to participate!

We can chant and offer flowers and put our legs behind our head, but if we don’t understand the real reason for doing these things, which is to actively transform our minds and hearts, then they’re no more than hobbies or habits, even crutches.

And while Amma says that addiction to the Divine is the healthiest addiction there is, She also says that through devotion comes the wisdom to see the Divine in everyone and everything. We’ll have no choice then but to honour and serve.

Jo was so very committed to this.

And so rather than mourning her now, I feel to really celebrate all that she taught me – to honour and serve. To embody as best I can the very same qualities that I loved about her – lightness & humour, sweetness, generosity, kindness, devotion, gratitude, selflessness… the list goes on.

In that way I too, we too, become divine.

Because these are the qualities of Amma! These are the qualities of the Divine! They are in all of us!

10561759_10152961704287263_2781290514526443652_nSo let’s be the change that we want to see. Be the love that we long to receive. Find the courage to change what’s not working. And give all that we can in the short time we’re here.

“People change for the good by constantly reminding themselves of two things: I am living to perform good deeds and, I am living to improve myself for the benefit of all.”  ~ Sri Sakthi Amma

Om Namo Narayani

ps. you can substitute Amma with any other name for the Divine that works for you… many names for the One Same Love!

Equanimity

04.09.15

let-go-2-1So lately I’ve been feeling pretty shitty. And while I’ve been hanging in there knowing that this too shall pass, and that all I can do is just ride it out, doing what I can in small ways to help myself feel better, I’ve also been putting a lot of pressure on myself.

The word ‘equanimity’ has been dancing back of mind for some days, as I’ve sought to understand what it really means, when it really counts, when it’s really bloody hard to find it.

The one thing I haven’t been doing a whole lot of though, is accepting. A quick glance at Facebook this morning blessed me with several posts that reminded me in the gentlest of ways that these fluctuations – the ups & downs of clarity & confusion, sickness & health, energy & exhaustion, inspiration & not-having-a-bloody-clue-what’s-next, are all a part of the play, the inevitable extremes between which my Life happens.

But in my very earnest desire to cultivate equanimity, I’ve actually been judging myself really harshly, expecting way too much.

Q: How can there be equanimity in a culture of such tension?
A: There can’t.

Aaaaaaaah. The relief. Body softens.

This happens a lot for me. A suffering-inspired closer inspection into these beautiful, precious, oh-so-subtle & noble yogic concepts shows me how often and how very cleverly ego tries to hijack them, and use them for itself.

We see it all the time right, the seemingly equanimous and detached yogi who is clearly terrified of feeling, of getting hurt again, or having to navigate and possibly drown in the messy soup of emotion that life just is sometimes.

And while stable and reliable, even inspirational, to me he lacks a certain depth and empathy. I can’t feel him or the ‘truth’ he attempts to share.

Because the thing is that inside and at the heart of all these intense emotions is wisdom, the reward perhaps for having the courage and patience to be broken down and emptied out of all of the lies we still believe about ourselves, over and over again.

I had defined equanimity as evenness; equalness of mind. The ability to remain undisturbed, steady at the centre while the boat of life rocks this way and that.

And while this may still be true, I feel I need to expand upon my definition out of compassion for myself. What remains undisturbed is the Self, not the ego. In order to know the Self, the ego needs a whole lot of disruption and rattling. It’s messy sometimes, but it’s also very beautiful. To keep the ego undisturbed takes a mother-load of control that is rigid and full of fear. No thanks.

A few days ago I was out and something upset me to the point of tears, but I really didn’t want to cry in that situation so I bit my quivering lip and held on tight. I would save my tears for the safety of home. Talking about it with my partner once I got there, all floppy on the couch, I felt the emotion rise up again but this time I let it come. I felt my face contort and get all scrunchy, the hot wetness of tears as they rolled down my cheek.

At that point I didn’t even know exactly why I was crying, only that I had to. There was no accompanying storyline, just pure emotion. I could literally feel the pressure releasing, like a garden hose that’s sprung a little leak. The pressure that I’d been piling up inside myself and upon myself for days, weeks, always?

And then my partner did the loveliest thing. He got me a tissue, first of all, and then he picked up his guitar, sat beside me on the edge of the couch, and sang “Om Namo Narayani” from beginning to end (thanks Jojo – your beautiful version).

He sang, I cried, and breathed. I just let it all go… let it wash away. I let the fear rise up and the tension of that just melt away into trust. Trust that whatever unfolds I will be OK. I will be held eternally in the embrace of the Mother. I don’t need to worry so much about the details. I can let go.

And there it was, my old friend Equanimity.

I remembered this, again: Equanimity doesn’t live aside from the pain or pleasure, but deep inside them.  At the heart of everything, there it is. Peace.

“You cannot let go of anything if you cannot notice that you are holding it. Admit your ‘weaknesses’ and watch them morph into your greatest strengths.”   ~ Neale Donald Walsch

Om Namo Narayani

Blessed_Cardboard_SignThe conversation came up this week during post-Yoga coffee (or dandy, or chai, or whatever…), about Yoga and health, as though one should guarantee the other. “I thought all those years of practice would make you immune to disease?”. Umm, sorry, but no, that’s a myth. Let’s shatter it right now shall we?

While Yoga well practised most definitely promotes health, well-being and harmony, it’s just not as straight-forward as that. In one of my favourite quotes of Sri Ramana Maharishi, he says, “What will not happen will never happen, whatever effort one may put forth. And what will happen will not fail to happen, however much one may seek to prevent it. This is certain”. Some things are destined, no matter how much practice you’ve done.

But if ultimately Yoga is about waking up from the dream of a separate ‘me’, and if that is what we sincerely desire (a question worth asking), and we trust in the God-force to do what is necessary to rouse us, then times of ill-health, disappointment or dis-ease, are full of potential and in many ways blessings in disguise.

There is nothing like the shock of loss or possible loss to show us what we really value. All of a sudden what matters matters, and what doesn’t matter really doesn’t matter one bit.

And while we’d probably all script perfect health for ourselves if given the chance, a smooth graceful life of pleasure and ease, I think most of us can look back upon times of crisis or challenge, eventually, with enormous gratitude, and the understanding that we just wouldn’t be who we are today if everything had gone our way.

I can personally attest that the times that I’ve grown, let go, or forgiven most, and felt the most genuine compassion and empathy, were those when I felt extremely unsure of outcomes, afraid, or let down.

This last week has been a lot like that.

A precious girlfriend was diagnosed with stomach cancer, another bitten badly on the face by a vicious dog, rushed to hospital for emergency plastic surgery. Both are dedicated, beautiful yoginis. And right away I can think of several other dear friends who’ve recently danced, and continue to dance with some pretty heavy situations: divorce, diabetes, infertility, miscarriage, amputation and heart disease.

What makes these friends yogis to me, besides the fact that they do some kind of practice, is their willingness to look Reality in the eye – to accept it, adapt to it, but above all to use it to open them deeper into wisdom and love. They’ve been quite abruptly shaken from their very roots, but have dug in deeper until each, in their own ways, has found water.

My personal heroes are not, and have never been, the apparently squeaky clean goji-eating Yoga pin-up set with 800,000 Instagram followers and radiant health. And while I’m sure that many of those are truly inspirational people, I personally want something grittier. I want Real. I want Raw. I want Honest.

My personal heroes are the addicts who got clean and now work with those in recovery. The abused who now work to protect or support the abused. The one’s who couldn’t have children but now care for many. The ones who’ve used a crisis of health to change their life. Anyone, in fact, with the courage to look old hurts in the eye, and transform them into something more sublime.

And that’d be all of us, because we’ve all been hurt or disappointed at some time or other. As Rumi says, “the wounds are where the light enters us”.

So beautiful friends, let’s put our heartache to excellent use. Let it become fodder for our Yoga classes, lyrics to our songs, words to our poems, the gentleness with which we care for our children & animals, and the love in the food that we cook and share.

Will a committed Yoga practice guarantee you perfect health? No, unfortunately not.
But will it give you the tools to work skilfully and graciously with whatever Life has in store for you? Absolutely. Yes.

“What seems to us as bitter trials are often blessings in disguise”. ~ Oscar Wilde

Om Namo Narayani

23282195My friend and accomplished author and yogini, Leza Lowitz, recently published her memoir. A wise, raw and touching account of her long road to motherhood, and all that it took to ready her heart.

What really hit me while reading it, is that I know I was around during some of the really tough times that she describes in the book. A Tokyo blow-in I was never around for long, but we’d always catch up (and still do). We’d drunk hot chocolates and talked a little about the adoption process in Japan. She’d shared how tiring it all felt sometimes, and that if one more friend got accidentally pregnant and came to her for succour that she couldn’t be sure just what she might say.

But otherwise I didn’t really know, or didn’t take the time to know, the depth of all that was going on for her. She was honest, always, but stoic, because God forbid when you’ve been trying to have a kid for nearly a decade you’re not going to drop your bundle about it to every person who asks “how are you?”.

You just live with it.

And so what strikes me is this: that women hold much. Regardless of how together we might seem, and the dignity with which we go on with our work, we hold much. In our bones and our wombs, our hearts, our every cell. We hold so much.

And it’s why I feel so grateful for books such as Leza’s, because every story told seems to lighten that load. The tears I cried and the joy I felt for her, with her, were as much a balm for my own heartbreaks. And that’s how it works. The weight of a human life, with all its shame and disappointment, failure and loss, too heavy for any of us to carry alone.

Because it really can be very sad. And this is what I’m feeling – the sadness, the hope tinged with fear, and the fear tinged with hope that so many women carry on the journey of motherhood (whether they ever become mothers or not). A healthy child cannot entirely redeem the losses or setbacks that came before. They will always be there, inextricable from who that woman has become.

But they also make her beautiful. Deep and wise and stripped away in all the places that make her better at loving.

Because that’s what being a mother is all about. And that’s what the longing is all about: a relentless urge to know what it is to love another so fully, so completely, that you’d give your own life that they could live.

I love this about Leza’s story. That as rational and intelligent and insightful as I know her to be she simply couldn’t explain away her longing. Because longing is not like that. It won’t be dissuaded and it will not, cannot, compromise. To do so would be to dam the stream of our life force, to live with a crack at our core. “The truth that lives there will eventually win out. It’s a god we must obey, a force that brings us all inevitably to our knees.” ~ Cheryl Strayed.

And so she never gave up.

This Tokyo-based, American Samurai-of-a-woman, prolific writer, poet, editor, inspirational Yoga teacher and mentor to many, studio owner, manager, wife, and now mother.

God bless you Leza.

As Shogo taught you, you teach me: “Nana korobi ya oki ~ fall down seven times, get up eight.”

You can order this wonderful book through Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Here-Comes-Sun-Journey-Adoption/dp/1611720214

Let me know what you think.

Om Namo Narayani