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.
My baby sister stood in a glass box the size of a long gone, street side phone booth. She was seven years old. We were visiting the mall in the city where my grandparents had relocated - Spartanburg, South Carolina. She had been chosen from a crowd of people that had gathered around the booth in curiosity. I don't know if they thought they were being clever choosing a young kid for the show. If they did, they had never encountered a kid like my sister.
She wore a mix of fear and excitement on her face. They closed and sealed the door to the box. As soon as it was secured, they turned on a blower that shot a high force of air up from the bottom of the box. Her hair blew. Then, they released the cash. A combination of bills, mostly ones, blew all around her. The timer began. She had thirty seconds to grab all she could hold and stuff into her clothes. If she was lucky, she'd snag the hundred dollar bill.
She reached and grabbed faster than I had ever seen her little, chunky kid body move. Most of the bills flew out of her reach, but she didn't focus on what she couldn't get. She kept all the effort close. She clutched and snatched the money like all our lives depended on it. I can't remember how much she had when she left the box. I just remember how impressed everyone was with the amount. They said, "She might as well have grabbed that Benjamin!"
Everything that required and effort or attempt from me received 100%. 100% of frantic, desperate, overly zealous, hurried, raging fire me until I burned out. I felt the need to seize every opportunity that I felt confident I could use to achieve. It didn't matter what I was achieving, as long as people would think it was good. I'd give it my best regardless of whether or not it spoke to my heart or fed my soul. I'd do it simply because I could.
Dylan isn't the only teacher offering classes on the app, and soon I was saw another instructor, Melini Jesuadson, who offered specific handstand conditioning and training. She was trained in the Cirque du Soleil tradition, and made it look so doable. I picked up that program a month ago. I train strength and mobility with Dylan and a few others. Proprioception, approach and form is covered in Melini's program. I continue with my regular asana, pranayama, and meditation practice.
In the class of the series Melini calls Handstands with Wall, she talks a lot about fear. What creates it and how to work passed fear. She suggests that a handstand practice can tell you a lot about your personality and your approach to life, especially challenges. Seeing handstanding as unattainable for so long gave me the impression that there wasn't much more that I could learn about myself and my body from its practice that I couldn't learn from doing foundational asanas like Warrior II. From the first time I worked through that class, I decided to use the practice as a tool to help me pin down patterns of behavior, my inner voice, and ways in which I react to challenges that I cannot readily meet. The practice of handstand would be the alchemical process for understanding these aspects of myself and transforming them into something more useful. It's been amazing.
That brings me back to the story about my sister. My quest and self imposed obligation to take on every opportunity to earn money or credentials, like my sister's money grabbing adventure, is indicative of a scarcity experience creating a scarcity mindset. Growing up knowing that there was no and never was going to be a nest egg drew out the drive to grapple for those opportunities. It's common among people where I come from. It's basic sense of survival. Leah and I were taught that our mind was our best asset for providing a good life for ourselves. It was a combination of education and achievement that would secure a comfortable life. Our mother hoped too, that we could make ourselves attractive enough to possibly marry up.
In 2012, according to a health issues poll conducted by the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, eastern Kentuckians believed that their children would be worse off financially as adults than they are by a rate of 61%. I know that fear was real for my family growing up in the 80s and 90s. We were always encouraged to do well in school, go to college, and leave the mountains. Based on some comments female adult family members made to me and teasing in school, I decided early on that my looks could get me nowhere. I had to rely on brains. I had to use every available space to prove myself worthy of being chosen. Being from eastern Kentucky, I better never turn down a good opportunity to earn my keep whether or not it would be through a means I was passionate about and felt drawn towards. Another good, or better opportunity may never come. The grass is never greener. Accept the blessings you're given and be content. I've never been content in traditional roles, in the rat race, or selling my soul to the machine.
the outside world who could make it happen for her? After many rejection letters for my short stories, I had to give my time more to making a real living and raising kids.
To land yourself in handstand there are variables that must have your attention. If any one component is off or unrecognized, you find yourself using a lot of energy without ever holding your body upside down. At worst, you'll fall feet over head on your ass. Every time I had randomly attempted handstand, I did so wishing that my brute strength would see me through and something would click. Like training wheels on a bike, I was too ornery to use a wall. I've fallen many times flat on my back, even the side of my face. It was as if in every approach I was setting out to prove myself right. Handstands were not possible for me, therefore I could justify it as not being part of my practice no matter how far I advanced my physical abilities. It was like my dream of being a writer. I was unlikely to score through serendipity. My effort needed to be toward achievable goals.
It turns out that handstanding can be learned through a variety of clear methods. Step by step. Body awareness. Fun daily practice. I'm learning to be an upside down tree. Rooting into the ability to trust and believe in the unseen. Proprioception. Tangibly dreaming that in my middle age, I too will float and fly.
Everything I've done, I've relied on my intellect and a force of effort to see me achieve. Because of that, I have kept goals smaller than the dreams of my heart, focusing on the obstacles and practicalities of life instead of potential for finding my purpose. We're now living in an era where it could be easier than ever before to find yourself making a livable wage as a writer and speaker on topics of personal growth and spiritual awakening. Many times I tried, taking the risk only when I was sure I could recoup from the pain of the fall. Taking the similar more pragmatic offers, always getting me close, but never the cigar. There is a way. A plan. A means to see my dreams alive under my hands and in the sound of my voice speaking to curious hearts.
I stand feet together, hands shoulder width apart on my mat, and wrists in one line. I draw my navel in and up, lift my pelvic floor, and tuck in my lower ribs. I lock out my elbows and lift through my chest. From flat feet, I bend both knees, and spring with control off both feet. I push the ground away with my hand. I tuck up and find my big toes against the wall. I point my toes, press my ankles together, and squeeze my butt. I check core engagement. Arms straight. Eyes focused on the mat between my thumbs. All this I have practiced also laying down. One step at a time. Daily practice until I am practicing in the center of the room.
This post is difficult to share. My yoga practice and healthcare journey are a significant part of my heart and soul. As much as I hear that my yoga/physical/dietary/spiritual practice is an inspiration and motivation for others (for which I am immensely grateful), I hear comments in the negative. I am often told I am too skinny. That I need to be more lenient with my diet. That I go too hard or do too much. Those comments wouldn't bother me if it didn't give me pause to consider if there is truth there. However, the fact that I will question myself and re-examine my approach to these things doesn't mean that the path I am on is the wrong one and that the comments about my body or my discipline are warranted without there being compassion attached to them. And, honestly, unless you want to confront me about my weight because you're concerned I am not healthy and you want to offer me help or hear me out, you have no business commenting on the size of my body. Unless you are willing to hear about why I am so disciplined and what I see in my patterns in regards to my physical practice, including the risks I'm willing to take to achieve certain goals (including why those are goals I want to reach), there's no need for you to comment there either. So, I do welcome compassionate observation, relaying of experiences, advice, and research sharing in regards to this post. However, comments about my body or practice without compassion and only judgment are not necessary.
My current and slower, more deliberate practice. I'm finally feeling stronger again. I am working on not repeating old patterns in different ways.
I was going all out. I was going to push to the point of dripping sweat, shaking muscles, the feeling of my entire body turning to jello. That, in and of itself can be a great workout goal, but for me, it was a way to punish the anxiety beast. It didn't matter that I was already tired. I hadn't slept well for days. Waking up nightly with adrenaline rushes was common. It didn't matter that my body ached or that I was sore from my Buti Yoga practice the day before. Chronic polyarthropathy means my body always hurts to some degree. To find my capacity for strength and endurance in middle age would obviously be to do the work regardless. I had even asked about fatigue and working with shaking muscles and was advised that both were goals to achieve when strength building from both yoga teachers, trainers, and online yoga groups. They weren't wrong. Pushing was not giving in or up. It was refusing to let my rebellious body get beyond my ability to control.
I rolled out my mat. I was already out of breath. My heart was pounding. I had the cliche overwhelming sense of dread that those of us who live with anxiety either choose to give in to or actively ignore. I was practicing a familiar sequence. I was practicing in my living room. What the hell was wrong with me? I was having a panic attack. It felt like I was turning inside out. I didn't understand. Yoga is my passion. It saves my life. I tell my yoga clients all the time that if they are not with the breath that they are not doing yoga. It was hard to breathe. I ignored my own advice and went on with it anyway. Yoga couldn't be the trigger. Yoga was the tool.
I decided that what I was feeling was related to something I wasn't conscious of and I just needed to move. I completed the practice. My legs didn't want to lift, but I made them go. Every time I felt I was about to reach my limit, I pushed harder. Mind over matter. If I didn't land a movement on beat or my balance was off on one side, I fought the urge to go back and repeat. I tell my yoga classes that our bodies are different every time we get on our mats. I took this advice, working on meeting myself there. Except was I?
but it didn't burn off the fog in my brain (another symptom I have grown accustomed to with Hashimoto's). My muscles ached more and I couldn't initiate movements without wincing and stiffness. Normal aging? I had been told. I looked forward to bedtime. I was glad to know I had worked hard.
If you follow me on social media, I've recently posted about being injured and having to come to terms with changing my practice from high intensity intervals mixed with yoga to a more "traditional" vinyasa practice that is little to no impact. My injury was with my SI joint and piriformis, but has been nagging as many muscles around them began to spasm to compensate for moving through the pain without pause. I don't know if I'll be able to return to the strenuous schedule of training I kept before, or if I will desire it. With functional strength movement, pelvic floor and core training, and bodyweight movements, I am adding the slower is stronger approach to my practice. Floating and flying. What I am doing now is equally as challenging, but in a different and more grounded way.
I've learned a lot since the original injury this past August about the ungrounded and unconscious patterns that brought me to injury. About a month ago, I realized that those panic attacks I had started having before my sacred practice was my body's way of resisting the abuse I was inflicting upon it. I have been angry at my body. I sometimes still am. Self love is not known to me. As glorious, cherished, and sacred as my yoga practice is, I had begun to use it as a way to work against my body instead of with it. I was a bully. A dictator. I had allowed self loathing to masquerade as self care.
I gave in to fears that I conjured to sidestep the real work that I needed to be doing which was embodiment and learning to love myself. I had begun to fear gaining weight because I had developed an association between that and my thyroid hormones being sup par. I was angry that I can't sleep at night without pain, so I sleep propped on a loveseat where my cats and street lights keep me awake. I was/am scared that one day I'll wake up and this body that I currently have... this strong and useful body... will be gone and I'll once again feel like I inhabit an alien body that looks nothing like the me inside of it. I've worked hard to bring my body to represent the temple in its physical expression. Always more work to do. I have vowed to be as healthy as I can. This, I often feel is akin to holding water in cupped hands.
In this fear, I held myself to standards that were not sustainable. Rest has become lazy and unproductive. I used the fact that I had a lower income to criticize myself for all the things I've failed to accomplish because of this mission I've had to heal myself and help anyone who asks. I let fear of rejection keep me small. The unknown controlled by my experiences of lack. I hated chronic illness. I hated my self sabotage. I am ashamed. I am embarrassed. As long as I could "succeed" at reaching my yoga goals, I could feel ok about something. There was no compassion in this scenario - only loathing.
I have trained myself to override intuition and bodily cues in favor of a prescribed plan that I didn't develop for myself, but adopted from another's idea of fitness and health. A rigid formula, an overly analyzed schematic. I took literally the instructor's cues to "push, push," "dig deep," and "keep up." I had become a slave to the idea that I cannot trust myself or my body. That where I am is not enough. In ignoring my body's signals and in my own self disgust, I have gained another opportunity to learn. I'm not a quitter when I am passionate. I want to break these harmful cycles/patterns. I want true healing, or at least contentment rather than an identity as someone on the healing path. I am being diligent to opening my eyes to the shadow side of me, and to use it to transform to truth. To acknowledge that I created this scenario for myself in order that I remove my own blinders. My basketball coach always said, "You have to make Hansel mad to get her to play ball." Do I step forward in freedom? I am stepping back to yoga.
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.
If you want to master anything, you cannot be afraid of effort. ~Dylan Werner (yoga instructor, veteran, world traveler, musician)
Very recently, I have had to come to terms with a part of my shadow that was creating suffering in all its attempts at feeling virtuous. Have you ever taken a step back and asked yourself to what degree are you responsible for your own suffering? It isn't an easy question to ask. It causes our ego to become defensive. We begin to justify our actions and our operating beliefs. However, one of the most powerful things we can do for ourselves is to bring into consciousness the patterns that may have at one time preserved us, but in our current configuration are no longer necessary and therefore have become part of our suffering. In doing so, you're highly likely to experience some resistance if not an all out refusal of the mind to let go. It's pretty damn uncomfortable.
In August 2018, while doing my normal Buti Yoga workout (a form that combines strong vinyasa, pliometrics, HIIT, tribal dance, primal movements, and spiral structure technique), I felt what I thought was a pulled muscle. It hurt like all hell, but I let the pain release just enough that I could push on through my workout and finish. By the time I finished my practice, I felt like I must have just strained it and everything would be fine. After analyzing what happened and what I was doing when I felt the pain, I came to the conclusion that a tight piriformis was giving me trouble. The next morning, I woke up unable to move without pain, and I have been in some degree of pain since.
For two years, my normal yoga practice has consisted primarily of Buti Yoga with all of its add-on elements - SCULPT, BANDS, HotCore, and DEEP. I did the recommended schedule of 3 days of practice followed by one day of rest. I adored this practice. I certified in Buti. I audited another certification weekend. I believed, and still believe in its transformative possibilities. After my injury, I tried to push through the pain to keep up my schedule. Initially, there was some improvement, but by early December, sometimes I would give my best effort at lifting my legs and they would barely rise off the ground. I found I was having to clinch in odd places in order to perform the movements because the pain was so intense. This was causing more pain. It was then that I made the hard decision to back off of my chosen yoga form, that I had grown to love so much over the last two years, and do only the restorative version DEEP, and add in the more "traditional" yoga styles that led me to yoga 17 years ago. Even though I am a 200RYT (200 hour registered yoga teacher through Yoga Alliance) and certified in Hatha and Kundalini yogas along with Buti, it was hard for me to accept that I hadn't somehow failed myself. I had only practiced Buti for 2 of the 17 years I have practiced, but it has enriched me in all ways beyond description and made advanced yoga asanas more accessible to me.
It's been a struggle to let go of the blaze it took to keep up that level of commitment to a form of yoga that at times is very high intensity. It gives new meaning to the term "ride the lightning," which normally means being put to death by the electric chair. Instead, this is the scenario where you harness the lightning and use it to become what you thought was an impossibility. I have been an athlete my whole life. I played girls basketball, volleyball, and ran cross country. I have always been active regardless of my weight. Buti helped me reach plains of being that even as a high school student, I would never have dreamed I could access. It was beautiful and addictive.
This all came about during a time (the last five years) when my spiritual and personal path has taken a radical turn. Everything I thought I knew about myself is in question. Upheaval of the belief systems that have kept me afloat since childhood. It was no coincidence that at the same time, I became terrible at asanas (yoga poses) that required any form of balance. I was ungrounded. The driven fixer in me didn't understand why I seemed to be going backward in this area, and began to push for more strength, playing limits, and striving. When I found and experienced the magic of Buti, I trusted that eventually I'd find my feet under me again.
I have not yet. In fact, the only improvement that I have seen in that area has been since I pulled back my practice. This past Sunday, I took a mystic yoga class that was geared toward the root chakra. The teacher created one of the most intriguing sequences I have ever experienced for the muladhara (Sanskrit name of the root chakra). There on my mat, my still small voice from within asked, "Are you all in or does your effort reflect only the trying? It always appears you are in the process, but you are afraid to arrive. What do you fear?" I used my breath to not cry. I decided instead to forgive myself and be with what my body wanted then. In those moments, I understood what had really been happening in my practice. Afterward, the teacher gifted me the beautiful smoky quartz you see me holding in the picture above. Another woman in the class looked at me and told me she had watched me practice and it inspired her. There in my weakness, my strength was recognized. I have been refusing to accept my strength for the pursuit of a body and mind that I think I should have. And yet, I'm too afraid to become the thing I think I have the potential to be because it is completely different than any state of being I have ever known.
I had allowed maximum efforting to become my comfort zone. In the guise of self improvement, I was loathing myself into extreme fatigue and injury. I wasn't giving myself time to celebrate my gains, but constantly pushing. During these last two months of backing off of Buti, I am finally able to actually feel how strong I am! I was keeping myself so weak from overdoing that I couldn't recognize where I was physically. I was ignoring my body's cues in order to make it submit. I was stagnant in the familiar places of pain, discomfort, illness, shame, and anxiety while to the outside it appeared I was doing great things for myself. I didn't fully believe I could ever have another experience of life aside of that list of descriptive words because I had never known it before. As they say, "Seeing is believing." Therefore, it was true that discomfort and dis-ease had become my comfort zone. I had taken it on to heal, but instead of nurturing myself there, I was browbeating myself into submission. I had wondered why I sometimes felt states of panic when I rolled out my mat for practice. I loved my yoga. It made no sense. I had made myself blind by hiding self destruction behind the mask of self care.
Yoga is a journey to the self through the self. ~Bhagavad Gita
All yoga is about coming to know who and what you are, unifying all parts of your being through the breath and practices. It is about coming in to santosha (yoga niyama meaning contentment. It is about fullness right where you are as you also see beyond your limiting beliefs. Even Buti Yoga has as one of its main mantras - Total body love. Today, see yourself where you are and think about what it means to love yourself there.
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.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, spiritual explorer, avid yogi, reiki practitioner, and is living life with chronic illness. Connect with her @ Kelli Hansel - Writer & Spiritual/Yoga/Self Transformation Guide
What Clients Are Saying
Kelli's authenticity in the work was paramount in me feeling safe and comfortable in facing some challenges in my life. The practice has been helpful in me finding focus, strength, and over health and well-being. Kelli is a beautiful person and that shines through all her work.