Do you trust yourself to take your own hand and find the light in the darkness? I didn't. For the better part of the last two years, I was the last person who's judgement I trusted. I looked here and there for advice and methods to get me through the discomfort and self loathing that consumed me. I was so closed off that I wasn't even conscious of the extreme self loathing, and it came forth in behaviors that I couldn't explain.
I felt if the tools I possessed worked, I wouldn't find myself in such a place as I was in - mentally, emotionally, and physically. It seemed if I could find a tried, step by step concrete way, I could do the thing and have the power, as Emerson said. At the very least, I could fake it until I make it. I faked the shit out of it while my soul screeched to be heard.
From these two states, two things will happen. I will become open to the lesson. The lesson I need to move into the next immediate layer of my personal development. Or, I will reach my goal. I will succeed.
If I go by what Mandela says, I've been learning these last few years. For a bit, I was sad about wasted time and energy. My negative self talk overtook dealing with the realization that I had been filling holes with elements that were not my own in avoidance of accepting that I already possessed what I needed. This avoidance created the necessity of the lesson that scrambling for answers provided. I felt empty and scared, looking for validation. To acknowledge that I had the answers was a huge responsibility. First, it was the fact that it was time to apply what I know and to do so with a different sort of discipline than I was using to keep digging. Then, there was my identity. My entire egoic identity has been aligned to needing to pursue healing and truth. Who am I when I start applying it and it works? What do I become then? Our egos, always in search of homeostasis, hate the unknown. It can be a scary place. Will I even like that version of myself?
I did not believe in my ability to be my own best teacher. It felt like if I was, I'd have already drawn the conclusions I needed to be in a better state of being. My self worth has been so low that I based every accomplishment upon whether or not someone else authenticated it for me. What I felt about it was pushed aside until someone could say "good job". I didn't matter to myself. It was only what I could prove myself to be to others. And, the part of this acknowledgment that remains a current struggle is, what does it matter how good I feel I've done, am, or worthy of receiving, if I am experiencing it alone? Obviously, the seeds for understanding the concept have been planted. I haven't found the Miracle Grow. Right now, all the being with myself is feeling boring because I have experienced loneliness my entire life. The thing is... being lonely, being alone, and being with yourself are three different things. They can exist separately. I have never been comfortable being with myself.
I am feeling able to release the guilt I have felt letting go of these prescriptive methods/practices that did not flow for me, and at times felt negating to the truths that were intimate with me. I have not failed. I am learning a more meaningful way to view spiritual practice. I am discovering and honoring the processes that have worked for me for a long time. I am giving credence to the fact that instead of labeling my practice as "not enough," I need to be willing to take my practice deeper, especially if it has supported me. I should trust my knowingness to be the proof that I need. My connection and true passion for a practice is all I need. I don't require a more financially secure and public person's backing to prove to me that their way is the way, unless I want to duplicate them. To be them.
We've all heard it said that there is nothing new under the sun. If truth is truth, then this statement without a doubt is true. In that sense, no understanding of truth is original understanding. None of us are unique in the ability to comprehend and obtain truth. Our individuality comes in our expression of our understanding of truth.
explore these truths to the highest levels possible for them in this life. As memes have made certain ideas cliche, I point out yet another that is meaningful. You can only lead another as far as you have led yourself.
As someone on a spiritual or yogic path, don't glue yourself to one teacher even if your goal is to master a certain branch of yoga, or type of spiritual practice. Be present with multiple teachers so that ultimately, the exploration is your own unclouded by dogma and strong opinions. You are your best teacher. Anyone, any text, or any experience contributing to your learning them becomes a resource. The only way to true understanding is the journey through yourself. Otherwise, you're repeating a script and keeping your contribution to truth small if not hidden all together -- from yourself and the world.
I am not small. You are not small. We are manifestations of supreme energy with the free will to be the conductors of it. Our ability to tap into truth comes with trusting ourselves to know it without external validation. We must see our own capacities and accept responsibility for ourselves.
I am not chasing any more programs that box me in to rote expression. The only practices I need are tools that help me access my own creativity and capability to live and share truth as I understand it. There are many teachers. There is only one set of truths, simple and Divine.
It's a marked and steady decline from my youth. It would take me an entire essay to explain to outsiders how living here is so unlike the urban American experience that it is as if you're from an entirely different country. Cultural norms, stereotypes, and etiquette are difficult to translate. It's a place that the developed world over still finds it politically correct to publicly and openly insult without most people thinking less of you for doing so. I've experienced it often firsthand, even from people I thought respected me. It may be worse from within our own state where whole swaths say, "We're not THAT Kentucky," when referring to the eastern part of the state.
This place, more so the landscape, is my home. It is the substance of my blood. It's a place you should experience with a guide. Not just any guide. Not a romanticized reframing narrative of how its quaint, enduring beauty has been falsely portrayed. Not the resiliency narrative of a people perpetually oppressed and misunderstood as if they were the butt crack of society. The scapegoats. While both hold merit and are important pieces of the story, they are glorifying oversimplifications. It's far more complicated and nuanced. In not taking the time to convey or discern the big picture, many efforts of revival here shoot off their own toes, spin wheels, and self sabotage.
As much as this place is a part of me and what I want to keep in my life, there is a significant aspect of me that feels stifled, put down, and silenced. Working on my own groundedness, I have realized that the place I call home has never fit outside of a few mossy rocks and rolling mountain streams. That part of me wants to go. I imagine some sort of balance where my permanent dwelling is here or another part of Appalachia and I travel for my work. I have both worlds in that scenario. I have my landscape. The microcosm that created my body and foundations, while at the same time finding a wider interpersonal community where I can contribute through sharing embodiment workshops, yoga, and my writing. I can share with people who are interested in my perspective and experience, while I learn from them and their offerings.
I have some beautiful opportunities to share some aspects of who I am here. Those chances keep me from feeling devastated. Yet, overall, I often feel a waste. I feel as if I am an odd peg with a chipped corner and one side swollen from getting wet. I belong to the set, but I don't fit well in the hole. The only time I don't feel awkward here is when I am teaching a yoga class. As soon as I end with "Sat Nam," the awkwardness floods back in. I have stopped being in public here aside from errands, school events for my children, teaching yoga, and wherever I can escape into the woods.
There are ghosts here to dodge. Eyes that have shared with you behind a screen like a confessional, but won't look at you in the grocery store. Ducking behind displays on aisle end-caps to avoid small talk that is only cordial. Empty store fronts of inaccessible, unsustainable opportunity. A community you love so much it breaks your heart, but has only so many tiny spaces where you can squeeze in for a moment if you can behave not pushing too many wrong buttons. I've pushed those buttons, and like a mouse in a scientific experiment, received the electric jolt to associate with the behavior. I use the word "afraid" a lot. I'm adverse to small town drama because it is no longer worth the consequences. I'm happy to risk when my heart is passionately led. Other than my personal work in my little room and teaching yoga privately and at my local library, I haven't felt passion in a very long time. I have not felt the space for it. I have not had what I need to add fuel to what burns in me. The burning turns to sadness unexpressed and dies there uncomfortable to breathe.
I don't know my answer. I want to trust that the opportunity comes where I find that balanced place I mentioned before to feed my soul. I know that it is becoming harder for me to accept as when I visit away from here, even conversation in the checkout lines feels so much warmer and genuine. There are more spaces for me than I have the ability to fill. Here, I find myself more insular and reclusive than is healthy for me, and I don't have much impetus to change that in the current configuration of home.
Maybe... just maybe... I haven't been home yet.
Some of the writing I am about to do is going to be not only uncomfortable for me, but it could be uncomfortable for those who choose to spend some time reading it. Where I find myself in my spiritual journey (awakening) is refinement. Layer by layer my inconsistencies, untrue beliefs, and outdated operatus modi are being revealed to me in order that I do the work to shed them. Sometimes the shedding happens immediately upon a no longer useful pattern or outright contradiction coming into consciousness. Most of the time, the process is slow as these things become deeply ingrained into our body's pursuit of homeostasis, however it has come to expect that familiarity to feel. What I reveal might be embarrassing to me. It might provoke comments that will trigger me, and I will have to pause to harness the opportunity choose to see truth instead of reacting.
For a long time, I have tried to spiritually bypass working through some of these layers. A really good description of the effort that takes was written for Psychology Today by Ingrid Clayton Ph.D. "The shorthand for spiritual bypass is grasping rather than gratitude, arriving rather than being, avoiding rather than accepting. It is spiritual practice in the service of repression, usually because we can not tolerate what we are feeling, or think that we shouldn't be experiencing what we are feeling." I wanted to fix myself desperately. I have felt guilty and ashamed of my path, and I continue work on shedding that layer as I will mention again later.
Then, there is the segment of our spiritual culture that will refute my work also through spiritual bypass. As facing our darkness, owning it, and accepting it, can feel the opposite of the bliss that should come with discovering spiritual truth, many disown this process. That which we don't give our attention to, in theory, will fade away. It's the method of ignoring or shaming the "negative" in favor of identifying with or being identified as "positive." As Shakespeare wrote in The Merchant of Venice, "All that glitters is not gold." Psychoanalyst Carl Jung adding, "What you resist, persists." If we are all mirrors for one another, that which we readily identify as a hang up in another, is likely something to be unburdened within our self. I find I get really prickly at the "accentuate the positive" and "I have no time for negative people in my life" memes. My insides react as if I am being personally attacked. That reveals to me that I am still hoping for approval from the wider spiritual movement as someone who has a relevant voice, but I know that my very nature sets me up to be rejected by many of those who do have the capacity to "choose happiness." I won't be palatable with my darkness. I will be told I should smile more as I have been told again and again. My smiles are a currency greater than gold.
She meant no ill, but the part of my ego that felt I had accomplished something important by posting the video in spite of being self conscious, and sharing the truth of this uncomfortable self concern, didn't want to hear that it could be seen as simply a contradiction to what I already understand is truth. Like the Green Day song, "I'm a walking contradiction, and I don't have the right." Consciousness outgrows habits and old systems of belief, but those old ways hang on for as long as they can. What struck me more was the question of whether I should only share the ways that my consciousness is growing and not reveal the truth that ego and shadow fight back to win. I questioned the relevance of sharing my journey at all. Do I only seem like someone milking struggle? Identified with struggle?
If so, I am beyond embarrassed. I don't want to be so pretentious as to think that is my contribution to life. I graduated with the same GPA as many in my high school class who are now doctors and lawyers. Currently, I would be homeless in a month if I made any kind of slip up. I have a Master's Degree in Education, a Bachelor's Degree in English and Creative Writing, and a slue of certifications. What good am I aside from motherhood? How important is the contribution of a writer, yogi, and someone fully immersed in a spiritual path if there's nothing monetary to show for it? In a society where you are measured by your financial worth and achievements, where do I fit and what is my excuse? I am not a monk or a nun being supported by my service to Source. Again, judging myself based upon the perceived judgment of others.
Then, I had a conversation with a yogi I follow on Instagram and am greatly inspired by. Their posts are their practice and snippets of their daily life. They told me that through my posts (we don't know each other personally) they "see that life is challenging and I'm sorry. It can't be easy. Your strength and perseverance are a model for everyone." How could someone like me be a model? They were trying to encourage me and tell me that I am seen, but I was taken back to the question of the first conversation - Do I appear as someone seeking sympathy or highlighting struggle over perseverance/strength? How is my struggle any different than anyone else's? I began to tell myself I am not exceptional in any way and I should be ashamed to accept such a compliment. I'm not doing anything more than any other human. I wrote back a long message of embarrassment saying I hope I don't seem pretentious, whiny, or a complainer, or at worst deemed a "negative" person. I was worried by not seeming "good at" practicing spirituality even though I claim it as my nature. What is that again but and identified ego? Honestly, I admire this person in such a way that part of me feels embarrassed and judges myself as weak despite their use of the word "strength."
The last conversation was with a young teen who follows me on Instagram. Ultimately, this conversation is why I am choosing to continue to accept myself where I am and share as much as I can of all parts of the journey. She asked if it ever gets easier to openly write about hardships and struggles. I answered both yes and no. I have gotten used to vulnerability and I am drawn to do it regardless of fear. Yet, part of me still worries that I will be wrongly seen and judged because it has happened before. I don't want to be accused of tainting the vibe, or become that "negative" person no one has time for in their life. I know I shouldn't care, and in the end, I don't because I choose to go ahead and share. I can discuss very difficult things without being depressed or hopeless. We don't respond to difficulty in a uniform way. I have some level of desensitization to many things I discuss which gives me the space I need to analyze it effectively. In fact, telling the tale gives me the means to separate emotions from truth and apply logic and intuition to things that have happened or are happening. I could tell the story to a live auditorium of people and be fine. When this young woman responded that what I said was helpful, I felt a renewed responsibility to keep being open.
Those who can relate, find comfort, be inspired, learn from, challenge, or guide me from what I choose to write about are worth continuing in the shadow of a landscape that unveils the tendency in me to see my healing process as stages of failure instead of growth. With work, I will accept that a spiritual path is a legitimate path.
When I get down, I go to tattoo therapy. Here's what I worked on last night. Tattoo by the amazing apprentice tattooer Mikie Burke.
It’s the things we spend our lives pushing into the periphery as far as we can push (as if we have no peripheral vision) that are ultimately the things we have to face head on to be truly free. Life doesn’t leave anyone without keys no matter how complicated the locks. Experience is the way we learn. It’s the impetus for change. It’s the marker on the tree that lets us know we’ve been on this path before, and asks us if we want to go there again. Bringing these experiences into focus, is the only way to transform them into the keys we need to unlock the parts of our truth that will allow us full and fulfilled expression that is uniquely our own.
The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University states in a report titled “The Foundations of Lifelong Health Are Built in Early Childhood”: “Experiences are built into our bodies and significant adversity early in life can produce biological “memories” that lead to lifelong impairments in both physical and mental health.” This truth we cannot change. We can, however, decide how these “biological memories” affect our lives.
1. The way we experience the present (and through our choices made in the present – the future), is directly influenced by imprints left in our brain by past events.
A simple Google search on the topic of the developing brain will show you that much of the way we live our lives is written into our being by our early childhood experiences. We come into an understanding of the way the world works in that manner. Add too that the trials and triumphs of adolescence and the lessons of the earlier experiences are either amended or reinforced. Even before we were born, as shown by the field of epigenetics, our very DNA has been written with genetic predispositions for certain physical and mental behaviors based upon these same types of experiences had by our ancestors. Yes, the physical and emotional abuse your grandmother experienced before becoming pregnant with your mother could be the cause of your natural propensity toward anxiety as much as the constant bullying by your classmates in school makes you second guess your relevance in your career and creative pursuits.
2. These imprints create our body’s experience of homeostasis and what we don’t unpack, explore, and grow to understand will be destined to be relived as we attempt to create stability and balance in our lives.
Imagine yourself an infant. You give your mother subtle cues that you’re hungry. You squirm, wrinkle your nose, and wave your arms, kicking your chubby legs. If your mother is close by, she instinctively notices these cues and offers you her breast or a bottle. But, if she’s busy in the other room, and the subtle cues go unnoticed, you resort to crying.
In a situation of neglect, you may cry until you are physically wiped out and become quiet, yet still hungry. You grow despondent.
Each time any of these scenarios play out, your baby brain takes note of the result of your efforts so that you can more effectively communicate your needs in the future. If the neglect situation continues, you will eventually stop providing any cues and become what the medical community blanketly terms “failure to thrive”.
This type of trial and error learning is the basic blueprint of how our bodies over eons of time created in us survival mechanisms that allow us to adjust and adapt to some of the harshest situations. Whether we like it or not, these patterns become our body’s calibration of normal and we’ll seek out and attract experiences and situations that give us the sensations of normalcy. Yes, that emotionally abusive stepmother is still cutting you down with her words as you look for everyone you meet to manipulate your emotions for their gain, and you find those who will so you can react. It’s homeostasis rather than stepping out in a complete unknown territory.
3. Our past contains our earliest and most basic perception of the world.
Are you a natural pessimist or an optimist? Our past experiences (and, yes, our genetic predisposition) set us up to believe that the world is either for or against us. Logically, we know that the entire collective world cannot be designed to work against us. Everyone has experiences that can be labeled both good and bad. Sometimes there’s a predominance of one type over the other, but every day we can experience things that can be placed under either of these labels.
However, certain types of events experienced in our past create patterns of response in us that can lend themselves to certain behaviors that really mess with the way we experience the world. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) affect our brain development and directly impact both mental and physical health. This in turn influences our social-emotional wellbeing, creating an experience of life that feels almost adversarial.
Common ACEs include: bullying, death of a loved one, accidents, chaotic home life, sexual abuse, poverty, illnesses, emotional/physical abuse, separation from a primary caregiver, parental incarceration, and more. Unfortunately, many of these experiences are not as rare as we’d like to think. Our ability to “look on the bright side” is hindered.
4. Our ability to define our own truth is correlated with our ability to transform our narrative of the past.
When the Pharisees asked Jesus when they’d see the Kingdom of God, Jesus answered: “The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! Or, lo there! For behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.”
So many depictions of heaven seem kind of cheesy to me. It’s because heaven is a very individualized state of being. You are Divine and that Higher Kingdom is one you must build for yourself. Only you know what’s best for you.
First, you must become intimate with how and where it all went wrong. We cannot change the past. The past is not now. There is no need to fear it, or try to fix it. Sure, it might bring up some uncomfortable, even sickening vibes. How can we release the charge of those vibes without being willing to face them head on? What if you could rewrite your story? Not erasing painful things, but finding your personal truth among the memories?
5. A house is only as sturdy as it’s foundation.
In working with the imbalances life has created and, honestly, will continue to create in our basic framework (housed energetically in our bodies in our lower triangle of chakras - focused energy centers in our subtle body: 1-2-3), we shore up our foundation.
Our root chakra is associated with our feelings of belonging in a body and on this earth, sense of place, tribe, and/or family. The sacral chakra takes it a step further into interpersonal relationships with friends, kin, and lovers. It’s our beginnings of self-expression and creativity. Then, our solar plexus brings us to the “I”. We become individuals based on the support we found or did not find when coming into being through our first two chakras.
Blocks and imbalances anywhere in the lower triangle comes into our manifestation of reality impacting our presentation and effectiveness in life and our spirituality/wellbeing.
So, just as this filthy, dark past created our experience of the present, dealing with its creation in the now, acknowledging what it left within us, and rewriting the story of what we will allow it to manifest in our future are the keys to becoming free of it.
I cannot positively think away my trauma, the events that make me lie awake at night with guilt… the inner complaints that threaten to make me a whiner. No. I can only make the decision to put it to work for or against my well-being. I decide the narrative it creates in my life. It’s still there in all its glory, but I am the one in charge of the story.
So, when I sit down on my yoga mat, write/journal, bring out my oracle cards, conduct a ritual, or assess my chakras, I’m guiding myself through those dark spaces that if left unconscious will direct my life with their own agenda every damn day. Utter chaos.
No amount of affirmation, positive meme scrolling, gratitude, or loving your neighbor will process the energy of these places.
It’s hard to love the neighbor who sexually abused you, the school mates who relentlessly called you names, or yourself after acting in unconscious and hurtful ways, and to be grateful for the lesson when it keeps interrupting your ability to focus on life now. When it reaches out to you through expressions like night terrors, PTSD, anxiety, social phobias, and more, you can try to forgive and forget all you want. Those dark places will keep surprising you by coming back up.
These events literally wired your brain. It is through loving and accepting all of yourself that you can choose the gift that your darkness brings.
Sometimes, darkness is so scary or alien an idea that we’re confused as to how to go there without getting lost in the despair. That’s when we may need a guide. Someone who has been there before with themselves and others.
They aren’t a therapist, or a psychiatrist. They are a peer, and can share tools to help light the way and dig through the rock to the coal seam. That’s the work I do with clients. The realest of real.
If you’ve ever been totally put off by the “happy hippie” aesthetic, the under explained law of positivity, or even counting your blessings, it could be time to face your shadow.
If you don’t want to go alone, find someone who’s gone before to guide you there. Can you trust anyone who has never gone on the shaded path, but instead chose to “change their mindset” when the shit hits the fan? How will they react to heavy emotion and events? Where did their dark side go?
All this time, I had been avoiding my comfort in the shadows because I didn’t want to be constantly explaining myself to the #blessed crowd.
I made myself palatable as often as I could, and reigned myself in when I wanted to take a conversation into the realm of what is seen as negative talk only because it makes people feel uncomfortable with me and their selves. I didn’t want to be the person people avoid because she’s always talking about the bits that they want to push back into the dusty corners.
Yet, part of facing my own truth is to accept that life has wired me for this work, people need a hand to hold, and I am rather content to offer mine. It doesn’t look like rainbows, pumpkin spice lattes, and tropical paradise, but it is damn beautiful all the same.
Meet Kelli Hansel – The Shadow Guide.
The same three episodes of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations played repeatedly at least three times that night. One, he was somewhere in Spain eating in a local's home. I thought of how Mimi always was the one cooking for us when we all lived together. How would Bourdain feel about her food?
I had been watching Anthony Bourdain for years. I was relieved that at least those three episodes was something of a distraction as opposed to infomercials and other random television bullshit that plays in the wee hours of the morning. Through Bourdain, I saw parts of the world that this working class mountain girl will never get to see with her own eyes. I would watch him have experiences as I would want to have them. Ask the questions I was curious about. See the parts of life that aren't just for show. His jokes felt like they were coming from a friend who got my brand of humor. Watching him felt real. There was empathy in his eyes. A knowing from somewhere deep.
I lost my Mimi not long after that night. She had played the biggest role in raising the woman I am today. Having watched her suffer, I stopped fearing death. When I understood that miraculous healing is not what we are owed and that this life is but a blip in the whole scheme of things, I realized that death means freedom. It's real freedom. And, that when she passed on, she would no longer hurt, suffer, be cold, feel bodily pain, worry, fear, or anything like that. She'd be transmuted.
I experienced the death of my grandfather, aunt, and uncle during that same period of time. And, each time, while I was sad and wished they didn't have to go, I started feeling relieved for them. They each had to suffer so much before death. Sure, you may think it morbid. Heartless even. But, freedom is boundlessness. I only want freedom and boundless nature for my loved ones.
It was within this time frame that I began to not want to exist. I wanted that boundlessness too. I was done having to be at the doctor all the time, having entire days lost to physical pain and listlessness. Done wondering if I was a good enough mother. Done trying to juggle finances and being poor despite busting tail. Done waiting to live because everything was consumed by timelines and priorities I didn't create. There was nothing to make me want to stay aside from the pain that it would cause my daughters to know that I couldn't stay for them. That was the only thing that kept me living.
You cannot judge someone for feeling this way. Sure, you can say, look at all they have going for them. Look at the life they have that I wish I had. You can call them ungrateful, negative, thoughtless, selfish... but, unless you can understand the loss of emotional attachment to living coupled with a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual exhaustion associated with going about the day in and out... in and out, then you cannot know how not wanting to exist feels. You cannot judge what you cannot comprehend.
It isn't that a person does not value or see their blessed life. It isn't that they are negative or have stopped seeing beauty. And, other than putting a higher priority on their own suffering than that of their loved ones, you can't even say it is selfish. We make other similar life choices all the time. Accepting or declining medical care, smoking cigarettes, walking a tightrope, doing drugs, eating crappy food, driving the car too fast, climbing Mt. Everest... things that we deem worth the risk despite the pain it might cause to us or others in the future. In a way, that's actually living. The thing to realize is that the people who decide they don't want to exist are too exhausted to keep trying. They made the pros and cons list. They did the risk vs. benefit analysis maybe 1,000 times. And, in the moment they end it, the finality of not existing felt like freedom. Boundlessness. All else would go on. Life, for all of us is a series of struggles as much as it is blessings. We cannot save our loved ones from that experience because they are alive.
I understand how "out there" this sounds. Unless you've felt it, it's a hard thing to intellectually grasp. We are born with the instinct to survive. A newborn baby has the ability to wiggle, smell, root, and find it's mother's breast with no help when placed on her abdomen. I watched my grandmother fight for her life even after she knew it was over. We fear the unknown, naturally. Until, through experiences and chemical configurations in the brain, loneliness, and lethargy from whatever cause, the unknown becomes more appealing than the experience we are having. Suicide is NOT normal. It is NOT an answer. It's an avoidance of the problem all together.
What we have to do though is make "suicide" a word we use. We need to ask our friends about it in conversation. We need to check on the friend that seems so very strong and courageous as often as the one who is having obvious struggles. That doesn't mean a text (though that is good), it also means visits. It means getting up in their business even if it gets on their nerves. It means meeting them where they are - even when they decline invitations, finding something that they can say yes to and doing that. It's about really seeing a person. Not just a social media account. It's about eye to eye conversations. It's about belly laughs. It's talking about the tough stuff.
"As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt." ~Anthony Bourdain, Parts Unknown
In a culture that puts so much value on "manifesting" and "postivity," we cannot neglect the experiences that allow us to understand what a "happy life" means. We cannot stop giving space to our pain and hurt. We cannot underappreciate sadness.
Discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life. ~Susan David
Stop avoiding your the topic of your friend's suffering. Stop ignoring that funny look in their eyes that you kind of wanted to ask about, but didn't want to intrude or make things uncomfortable. Be willing to get uncomfortable dammit! It won't KILL you!
This past week, despite all the great things in my life, the feelings of not wanting to exist would well up from time to time. It happens when I haven't had a break and get really tired. Now, that I understand those feelings, I think I will always face them when things are especially tiring, hard, or the right combination of this or that brings them up. I have attempted suicide twice in my younger years, before I truly grasped what it was I wanted to do in attempting such a thing. Now, being a mother will keep me from attempting, because I know that I don't want to be a source of any suffering for my girls. Yoga will give me reprieve. I will be open about the thoughts and tell people that if I quit talking about it, that's when they need to pay attention most. Being unmedicated now, I know I must diligently use my new coping tools. I will teach yoga, and I will give myself and my gifts as a resource to humanity. Anyone who wants to sit with me, I will, with honor, listen and I will share if you want to know. Don't discredit me or the things I share with you because I have these feelings. Don't label me negative. Yet, I will still be ok with the thought of not waking up. I have lost my attachment to living even in all its beauty and glory. Time is only now and a long, happy life is never a guarantee. No reason to be attached.
Then, today, while wishing I had more energy to face my day, I saw that Anthony Bourdain had made the choice to end his time here on earth. I cried. I've cried multiple times. I feel like I have lost a good friend. I've openly talked about him as my favorite of favorites. His work opened the world up to me. I'm devastated especially for his daughter, whom it was obvious he loved dearly. I hope she has a good network surrounding her. I hope Anthony is free. Boundless. He, if any of us, knew the beauty this world offers as well as the bad, and understood it twice as good.
Buti (Marathi Indian) – the cure to something hidden or kept secret
After a few times seeing clips of Bizzie Gold and the Dynamic Flow DVD, I was intrigued. I recognized elements from my vinyasa and kundalini practice, but there was an undogmatic freedom and power I had yet to experience. I wanted to know what it was that I was witnessing as I watched Bizzie move. So, on March 19, 2017, I did the 30-minute Dynamic Flow practice in my bedroom. It kicked my ass and I fell in love. I had found the missing elixir to aid my healing.
Despite being what I had thought was pretty fit, as I continued to practice, I found Buti a challenge. My joints would swell. My doctor told me that my body just didn’t like the intensity, and if I were to continue, I should do so mindfully. He, knowing me and my determination, said, “I’ll see you back when you have an injury.” I love a good challenge, especially when my success is up to me and only me. I knew my body should be and would be capable if I listened and supported my effort properly. I kept up, mindfully. My joints stopped swelling.
Within a few months, I had all the DVDs available. I live in a very rural community with poor internet access, so I waited to subscribe to the Tones. The closest, in person, class was over two hours away. No one in my town was doing Buti. Buti, alone, was motivating me to keep up. Before too long, I was following the three days on and one day off schedule recommended by the DVD inserts.
The change was subtle at first. I didn’t know if I’d stay enthusiastic. I had no clue that I was committing to the practice that would lift me out of the dark pit. Oh, but I had. I connected with the tribe of butisattvas on Facebook and was floored by the beauty and loving kindness there. No cat fights. No body shaming. Personal answers to questions from Bizzie herself and all the other master trainers. This practice was not created to leave you in the deep waters to sink or swim. It was created as a tool for thriving. Never before had I been in a group of women that actually felt like a genuine sisterhood.
Soon, I stopped getting on the scale every week. I stopped using the tape measure I bought to measure inches to avoid weighing on the scale. I no longer felt the need to monitor my intake of macros. I just kept up with my autoimmune protocol paleo diet and started supplementing collagen and turmeric. Then, I found Golden Ratio Nutrition and used the protein powder to support my new level of activity in a way that brought vitality.
By July 2017, my community had crowd funded my Buti certification in Nashville, TN with Talen Lane. Experiencing the Buti sisterhood in person gave me a new level of understanding in my practice and friendships that are still ongoing. While I haven’t had the opportunity to teach Buti much in my community (my Buti class will start at Evolation Yoga Kentucky in just a few short weeks), I already use the principles I was taught to enhance the beginning vinyasa classes I do teach. I know that one day I will share Buti with a tribe of Appalachian Kentucky butisattvas, and we’ll be badass.
The most important thing in all this is the fact that I’m ok with my body for the first time in my life. I appreciate its strength and its intrinsic healing powers. I see beauty in its flaws. Even those, like my stretched tummy, that still gives me pause when looking in the mirror. I’m in the best physical shape, at age 39, of my entire active life. I’ve taken my yoga practice to places I could not have without the aid of Buti. I know what it feels like to stand in my worth and know I work hard. I trust that I am strong enough to make it now. I questioned that before.
Yoga means – “union” or “to yoke.” It is the connection of mind, body, and spirit through breath. It is learning to be fully in the body in order to spiritually transcend its limitations. I have practiced yoga for fifteen years now. I taught yoga before Buti, but Buti taught me yoga. This year has brought me away from a daily desire to not exist. I’ve reached a degree of healing that I had given up on finding. I’m pursuing dreams, taking risks, finding inner confidence, learning to be grounded, and showing my daughters what it means to live life out loud. There’s still so much room for growth that I get scared sometimes. How much more wondrously real can it get? What I know now, because I found Buti, is that I have what I need to move forward with grace, supportive sisterhood does exist, and my body is not to be a shamed object. I know that I am fierce. I am strong. I am awakened. I am Buti.
I can’t help but share my story when I hear the struggles of others. The year I became a mother, I learned the hard lesson that ignorance is not bliss. More of us, especially women, should be sharing the truth of our stories. We need to share it all, even the hard parts – the parts we’ve yet to fix or grow into, included. It’s how we learn from our own mistakes and from one another. It’s how we can prevent a little heartache and some aimless wandering. You may be thinking, I don’t want people to think I’m a negative person. Or, on the opposite end, I don’t want anyone to think I’m bragging. I understand. Totally.
My story of healing sounds nearly impossible if I tell it in its entirety. Pieces of it are scattered throughout this blog and my other writings. I share bits of it on social media. A lot of it isn’t easy to hear, but I try not to be shy about sharing those parts too. I’m a warrior. I battle depression, anxiety, Hashimotos Thyroiditis, polyarthropathy (chronic non-specific joint pain), chronic migraines, and chronic gastritis and colitis. I have a little bit of stuff that likes to slap me in the face every morning. But… I’ve lost over 100 pounds, and I have weaned myself off of all prescription medications aside from my daily thyroid hormone.
I could say that the main factor in getting this far for me was consistent positivity, but that would be a HUGE lie. It would not only be a lie, but it could even set others up for failures in their own journey if they think positivity alone can get them where they want to be. Try remaining positive when in constant pain, worrying that something you said days ago was taken the wrong way, and all the while you don't want to exist anymore. In that state of being, nothing is as simple as a positive attitude. Worse than that is if that positivity is a distraction from the things we’re truly feeling, because it will keep coming up and asking for our attention. For those of us born into a state of fairy like bliss, positivity may come naturally. For others of us, life coupled with brain chemistry wired us differently.
I don’t mean to sound derogatory toward people who naturally tend toward positivity. In fact, there are aspects of that tendency that I can become envious of if I’m not careful. Yet, we must point out, in the age of incessant out of context quoting and the popularity of memes, that positive thinking, as it is portrayed by that mostly online culture, is not accessible to many people who desire to make positive life changes. At worst, those types of attitudes can bring shame, guilt, and alienation to those who feel like they must always keep a positive outward appearance to not seem like an ungrateful, sour person.
There have been times when I personally have felt demeaned for sharing aspects of my story that others perceived as negative. Other times, I’ve taken a deep personal look at this idea that a “change of attitude” is what it takes to bring happiness. I saw a meme once that brought such a sick felt heartache to me that it shocked me to feel it. It said:
The person who posted the meme said they had no room for negative people in their life. It felt as though because I was in a state of unhappiness, I was being accused of being ungrateful. I am immensely grateful for my life and always have been. I do go through periods of intense unhappiness without losing that gratitude. Secondly, I felt rejected by this person for any possibility of friendship or working together because I openly share my struggles with depression and anxiety. Our society sees these things as negative, therefore, did they perceive me as one of the negative people they were referring to in their posting?
I took a long time to explore this idea for myself. Was there something I was missing? Is it really as simple as saying – hating my pain is negative, I need to stop whining and just accept my pain as a permanent part of my life. Be positive. It isn’t that simple. For me to make positive changes in my life, I could not wait for myself to feel that positive attitude, I had to harness the energy of the emotions seen as negative to create my forward momentum. I had to transform "negative" emotions into positive motion.
A fair number of people reach out to me who are also feeling sadness, depression, or intense struggle. Often, these feelings are coupled with health problems, financial issues, or loneliness. None of them want to remain in this state. They want it to end or at the very least believe in the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. It is naïve to expect that someone (even yourself) can just choose not to feel the emotions our society have deemed “negative.” To transform these emotions into forward, or healing momentum takes time, goals with a plan to reach them, and a willingness to be more flexible in your thinking. Consistency in those three things is key. Some things will be worked at hard with no results. Some will make you feel worse before you get better. Others will ask you to confront some really hard truths about yourself and your life. The process will demand you use your intuition to guide your way forward.
A lot of language I hear from people as they share their story is self-limiting, such as: I have no motivation. I can’t. I won’t. Others use blame shifting like: There’s no time. The kids won’t let me. I can’t afford it. I have no support.
I’m not going to call those “just excuses.” They’re not. Many of these things are very real obstacles. I am, however, going to call it “stagnant” or “stiff” thinking. While some obstacles will be ever present, those things do not have to block us in other areas. If a person I’m talking with doesn’t respond to my suggestions, or seems resistant, I know what I am offering isn’t something they are ready for at the present time.
For example, diet can be pretty difficult to change, but you want to make yourself physically healthier overall. Don’t start with diet. Start with exercise. You can exercise at any time. You can exercise for free. Research shows that exercise lifts the overall mood. Exercise can look a lot of different ways. Begin by setting a goal. I will exercise 3-4 days a week. Then, make a plan. I will wake up 30 minutes early and do chair yoga. I will always use the stairs at work. After dinner the kids and I will walk the dog. With that, you’ve begun. As you reach goals, you’ll become motivated to create more. You may begin see some of your obstacles differently, turning them into opportunities.
If you’re wanting to begin a healing journey, but find yourself “stuck”, ask:
For those who carry some heaviness of heart or circumstances, it can sometimes be the things meant to guide us toward the light that add to our darkness. No one sharing these memes or ideas means harm. The most important thing to remember is that everything exists in shades of gray. Nothing is completely black or white. No one will be happy all the time. You don’t have to accept your darkest days as a state of permanence.
According to the Buddha, there is suffering. Suffering is common to all. Everyone experiences the tears of birth, sickness, old age, and death. Buddha said,
“There is happiness in life, happiness in friendship, happiness of family, happiness in a healthy body and mind, but when one loses them, there is suffering.” ~from the Dhammapada
Two days after my birthday in 2011, before I became a mother for the third time and that birth along with subsequent events sent me into this bizarre realm of simultaneous excited joy and the personal space of death (I've not maintained spaghetti arms - LOL.), I received my spiritual name from the 3HO organization. I read the name - Hari Dass Kaur, but I felt disconnected from it, disappointed even. The email read:
You have been blessed to live as Hari Dass Kaur, which means the kind, creative and prosperous Princess who loves to serve God and who is God's Lioness.
Hari Dass Kaur, the very essence of it's meaning is vague. The names are translated from Gurbani (in most cases) - sacred language of the Sikhs- using the Gurmukhi alphabet - sacred alphabet of the Sikhs. However, there aren't literal translating capabilities using the English alphabet, so it is tranlated in order to achieve the nadh, or the sound current of the name, which is the most important part. This means it is more important that the name be pronounced correctly than spelled a certain way. The names are meant to lead us more fully into our destiny as we adopt them as our legal name, a name we use, a personal mantra, a prayer, a meditation, or any combination of these. The more we speak or hear this spiritual name, the more this destiny becomes our reality.
"Hari" is one of the many names of God (Source, Creator, Universe). It is the aspect of God that actively creates or takes away and in taking away creates a new thing, being, or situation. And, as the email said simply, Dass means "to serve." I couldn't help but think, why else is anyone here? We are here on the whim of the Divine no matter how we understand what the source of our existence is. I closed the email and had looked at it only one other time until a new virtual friend of mine reminded me of the 3HO spiritual names and I remembered I had one.
About two weeks ago, I opened that email again. After all that I have gone through beginning with the triumphant birth of my Gweneth, and the sweet bliss that entering into the realms of death gave me... My midwife being arrested and charged with murder when the birth of a baby she attended directly after mine ended tragically. The case being drawn out for three years without a trial. Her being on house arrest and in a county jail for 10 months. Me conversing with those working on setting her free. Opening my life up to these strangers. The emotions involved. My PTSD being triggered which was still very real from the first time I became a mother. My realizing I had no business being a doula, birth advocate, or childbirth educator anymore as my thoughts on all of it were drastically changing and I had a ton of inner work to do. This thing which had become my identity falling away much to my relief. This resulting in a constrained sense of freedom that wanted to be expressed. Extreme ups and downs as I fought against accepting and expressing the emotions that would lead me to this freedom. Excessive amounts of physical and emotional pain that made me wish for death. Pain like I wouldn't wish on the people I consider my worst personal enemies. Working to fight this disease (Hashimoto's) that keeps trying to put me in a place of weakness. Finding a way to begin speaking my truth. Asking my husband to see and hear me again and also be present. Knowing that I was strong enough to expect that because I deserve that. More emotional extremes that made me feel like a lunatic. Becoming a public affairs director for WMMT - a small community radio station. Sending my daughters to a cottage school. Moving into town rather than living off grid. Exposing myself in so many ways to more people than I ever wanted to... I understood that name, Hari Dass Kaur, for the first time.
Regardless of what your belief is in a Divine Intelligence or even that of a seemingly miraculous, but very explainable science, I think we'd agree that if we aren't living in our Truth (not being true to ourselves), what's the damn point? Why even live at all if we don't allow ourselves the freedom to be the fullest expression of who we are? If we aren't allowing this quintessence to be expressed, this embodiment of life force that is uniquely ours from the moment we opened our eyes/third eye in this life, we aren't only short changing ourselves but everyone else in our life. Hari Dass Kaur (the kind, creative and prosperous Princess who loves to serve God and who is God's Lioness) might be the hardest thing I have left to express in this world. I've learned to express emotion. I can complain with the best of them. I love words. I love writing words. I love the radio and making stories for the radio. I adore art and making art. Music pervades my soul. I enjoy feeling anger and expressing that to anyone ready to listen when the time is right. Expression isn't hard for me. Allowing my Truth to be the expression of my life no matter what that means for me, my friends, or my family, that feels scary.
I am realizing as I am getting answers from the medical end of my health and emotional issues, that what I have been experiencing over the last four years, but very intensely since Spring of 2015, is a kundalini awakening. If anyone clicks on that link, I'm running the risk of being seen as a "nut". That's ok though, I don't care. I'm used to being seen as a nut in most ways. I fly my freak flag with pride and have since I was very young. However, I'm also a serious person and hope to be taken seriously, not made fun of. I know that someone will see this as beyond eccentric and into the silly. I run the risk of friends, family, and colleagues seeing me as someone lost. Kundalini awakening is true though. I'm in this process right now, and it isn't at all simple (though not everyone experiences it the same way). I hurt on many levels. I long for things to feel balanced. Until I realized that kundalini awakening was what I was experiencing, I was perfectly fine with death as a solution to what I was feeling, though I didn't want to inflict it upon myself. I was tired and didn't want to try to overcome anymore. I didn't want to fight. I didn't want to cry alone, or whine to my friends on Facebook and embarrass myself. I didn't want to experience anything but nothingness.
Now, I feel I have a plan. I have a way to exist. I work on seeing this awakening process through and I become the expression of life that I was meant to be. Through all of my struggles, sadness, fighting, winning, feeling, joy, pain, learning, I can be of service to the Most High. That Higher Power that is in us all. That Truth. I can be there for others. I can use my gifts and experiences to reflect back this Truth to others so that they too can see it in themselves, knowing they aren't alone. The thing is, I don't worry about what this means. I don't worry about more pain. I don't worry about loss of any thing or person. I'm not concerned about suffering. For what I know is, I am complete and this life is a brief moment in the expanse of time and all that is given me is purposeful to an end goal. This isn't just some meaningless accident of tragic chaos, suffering, and pain. I'm capable of working through all this with the help of those the Universe will send me who want to support me through each stage of this journey. I know I will find that place of peace. Now, hope has returned in the name, Hari Dass Kaur.
“The moment you touch your soul, you become fearless." -Yogi Bhajan
This past summer and early fall, I gave myself the space I needed to get in touch with my soul. I found there a fire burning so bright and asking me to change my whole life to feed it. I made some significant changes. I went from homeschooling to working mother. That was the biggest. I decided to move on the grid. I'm packing today. I began teaching yoga, and I applied for and received a grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women to finish an essay collection I'm working on concerning events in my own life as a rural mountain woman. I feel the essays will illustrate the universal experience of being a woman. My 3 year old goes to a babysitter 3 days a week now. Between yoga work, driving, and my work as public affairs director at WMMT, I'm doing this thing 50-60 hours a week.
Another gift I gave myself during this time, was to be honest with me. I searched my heart and let myself be free to experience things my heart longed to experience. We don't have this freedom all the time, and when we do it is intoxicating. I'm 37, so maybe what I experienced some would call a mid-life crisis. I'll be a lucky person to get another 37 years, so maybe it is. For me, it held real meaning. For the first time in a long time, I gained the feeling that there was something to hope for, not just for my daughters, but for myself. I felt like I woke up and had decided to come out of the shadows to live.
However, there were some moments for those who were attending to my needs that became frantic. What I was experiencing while they were assessing my bleeding and getting it under control was bliss. My body grew warm and fuzzy. My ego retreated. I felt whole. I didn't care if I continued on in life in the physcial body. I felt like I was completed. It is very hard to describe, but I haven't felt anything as good before or since. What makes it even stranger to talk about is, if I hadn't been tended to. If I had been alone to care for myself, I likely would have bled too much and passed on. In the moment where the veil between worlds grew very thin for me, I felt most at peace. That makes people uncomfortable. That makes it hard to share because there aren't many who understand.
This summer, I began finding a way to live and recreate those feelings of letting go completely. It isn't as easy to replicate in life as it is when your body actually is letting go of its life blood. Life is complicated. I'm a realist. I fought to keep that energy going, but it became just embers and I've had to accept that for now. I couldn't control the death of it and I've taken that in a hard way. I've sunk into a dark and grieving place. I'm not a crier. I've been crying a lot lately. The hope I built has been put away. I'd say it is gone, but there's always the possibility she will return. She stayed in Pandora's box after all. I just have to not wish for her anymore. I find myself thinking more and more about those moments. "Kelli, stay with me," she said. I thought, why? I decided I didn't care to stay and if it was meant that I go, I'd let it happen. "Just a minute," I said. Another minute in complete surrender. I long to go back there. I'd happily go back there unafraid.
I was fighting tears Monday while driving the girls out of the holler. Right as we were going into the creek, I noticed what appeared to be an old weathered bone on the flat rocks in the shallow part of the creek. I collect bones, skulls, and other natural oddities, and I stopped to get a better look. I opened the car door and discovered this very heavy statue. It's been either buried or in the water a long time. It was painted at least twice. Once red and once black. It had also been mounted to something. Maybe a fence, entry way, or gate. It looks like it is holding a staff or spear. A resting warrior. The Universe had sent me a gift with no explanation of how it made it there on that day for me to find. Universe told me to rest. To be patient. It's ok.
Then, I get word from the artist Bonita Parsons that someone who wished to remain anonymous had bought this piece of art from her and asked her to send it to me! I adore this piece and when I found out I cried. I feel so unworthy of such a gift. I socialize very little. I don't talk on the phone even with family and friends I want to talk to. I forget to answer some messages I get on Facebook. Very few people really know me. I am as a ghost and very alone. I have no idea why someone was compelled to gift me this. It makes me feel very thankful and at the same time sad. When I write about my own life, I write it honest. It isn't a bad kind of sad, but it is a type of sad. I've cried several times over the receipt of this gift. I simply don't feel worthy of it and would like to understand why it was given me.
The Universe has gifted me twice in a week when I just wanted to completely give up. I don't want to stoke the embers. I want a lobotomy. Yet, Universe is telling me that my life is a gift. Don't squander it. It is ok to be sad, but it isn't ok to take yourself away from the collective before it is your time to go, whether you do it metaphorically or physically.
I discovered with certainty this summer that my totem animal is the crow. Crow medicine and those who carry crow as a totem can be intense. It's true. It's not a thing we can help and it comes to use by nature. Crow crosses the veil of existence on the regular and is thought to live outside of time and space. Crow carries an honest message and doesn't care to deliver it. Crow is lonely, a loner, but never without work. Crow has magic. People come to us in private to hear their secrets. It's kind of like what I imagine a priest in the confessional to feel, except we don't absolve or give penance. We acknowledge, accept, and help the processing begin as best we can while still being what we are.
I had a dream this week. A woman with a clipboard met me at a convention and said, "You've been idealized." I got so mad at her I could have hit her. I turned around and went back to the room I had just left instead of entering the convention. I've been worried about what she means. I hope that isn't true of me, and yet, when I receive anonymous gifts, or am told I inspire. It is hard to swallow. I'm struggling with my inner light. I'm just living life as best I can right now. Nothing I'm doing is special or beyond what any other human is capable of. I've been called by some younger women a "hero." That makes me very uncomfortable. I don't understand where it comes from, or what I'm supposed to do with that fact. It's hard.
This week though, Universe told me I have a job. My job as the holder of crow medicine will include these things and it will include them whether I am experiencing the light or the deepest darkness. I hear the crows cawing as I'm writing this now. I can't not accept it. It's what I am. My heart won't let me say, no, as long as I am living. It's just that I don't feel that character in me. That sage hermit woman in the woods who holds the secret the adventurer hopes to find. I've not gotten the ability to fully stand in my own light. Maybe I never will. How can I be anything to others? How can I do what I'm asked while at the same time feeling I have no outlet for it myself? Words though powerful are never enough and that is all I have. Typed or written words.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, weightlifter, yoga and movement instructor, chakra reader, and Reiki practitioner.