In one of my favorite Pearl Jam songs, "Thumbing My Way," Eddie Vedder writes...
There's no wrong or right, but I'm sure there's good and bad. The questions linger overhead. No matter how cold the winter, there's a spring time ahead... I smile, but who am I kidding?
Taking on this principle, that I think of as everything is shades of gray, I have found a freedom from the heaviness placed upon my spirit by a society that values labeling everything so that constructs of conformity can be created to judge oneself, their social position, their righteousness, and their ability to succeed over the likelihood of failure. In other words, a view of people and situations, being defined as "positive" or "negative" in nature by the stories and principles which precede them, and therefore the experience you have of them following suit. So much of our lives are labeled along this dual spectrum before we even have the opportunity to fully experience it ourselves. It equates to us being told what to experience, how to react to it, and what we should feel about it. It can so muddy the way we access life, that many of us become dull or unsure of what we actually feel or enjoy. How do we know, if everything comes to us prepackaged, label applied?
To experience things labeled as "negative" has become so unacceptable in our culture that a space to process our feelings around those experiences, we inevitably have, is hard to find. To express feelings that are considered "negative" has become taboo. Frustration, under these conditions, if expressed, can result in our own label as a "negative" person. Our grief process suddenly has an arbitrary time limit, and it too is labeled "negative" as we're accused of dwelling and being unable to "just let go." Yet, in this human experience, to deny the importance of the entire gamut is to drown the possibility of anything to have significant meaning -- for us to better understand ourselves or others. How is a fullness to be experienced without access to the complete range of the spectrum?
There is no doubt that tragic life events mark us at times in irrevocable ways. Not all of them can be said to be advantageous to our own well being or even, perhaps, to those our wounded self encounters. For myself, multiple childhood traumas left me with reactionary patterns, physical and sexual shame, and social anxiety in particular situations that I've had to work very hard to accept or transform into something that gives me the space to have my fullest expression as an adult woman. These traumas were reinforced, changed, or exacerbated by several additional traumas I have experienced as an adult. Without going on about the details of those traumas, I want to express that to varying degrees, I understand trauma to be a universal experience. How we process the trauma, while following certain tendencies identified by science, is largely individual. What seems a minor occurrence to one individual may send another to the brink and vice versa. Neither individual is wrong in their experience of the occurrence. Many variables are at work, and it is unhelpful for us to classify another's reactions based upon our own or our analysis of what they should be, as we are outside players.
I am writing this during a pandemic where we have been asked to shelter in place, practicing physical distancing from non-household members as much as possible. Those in positions and careers deemed non-essential have been restricted from work and providing for their families with no tangible timeline for a return to anything resembling normalcy. Children are home from school and separated from friends. Some parents are juggling attempts to earn income from home while also helping their children complete school work there. This assumes every family has a laptop or other device that can be used and that there is enough time in the day for everyone to do their tasks on that device if there are not multiple of them. Essential workers and healthcare professionals feel more at risk for contracting and spreading the virus so much so that some are choosing to house themselves away from their families, causing further isolation and financial burden. Unemployment has been expanded to the self employed and small business owners, but computer systems have not caught up to the demand or new parameters, and some are being denied. Again, no real timeline. No idea of what we'll return to, and many unsure if the job they worked so hard to create for themselves will exist in our future.
I'm writing this at the hardest moment I've experienced in all this. A tornado like storm has taken out power for thousands of people in my area. Mine has been out for 3 days now. (It was out 5 total.) It's maybe 40 degrees Fahrenheit in my house. I'm sitting on my couch in my winter coat, under quilts, my hand is almost too cold to move my pen across the paper. I was once building my local yoga and movement clientele, living in a two income household - jobs which were built from the ground up so we could remain in our community where we were raised and contribute to creating whatever could be mustered in our economically struggling area. My philosophy had always been not to sell my soul to money and a rat race when I was free to build some version of a dream and come home from my work more fulfilled.
Now, no one in my household is allowed to work outside of the home. Our work, as it was known, may not exist for some time. The task is, now, to try to obtain unemployment, and create income that's possible from home, trying to sale online classes, artwork, editing services... something. Sales of anything in such an economically dire time is a shot in the dark.
In the last month, I have found myself needing to accept donations of food and money, worrying if I will need to relocate during a pandemic, concerned about the future for my children, distrusting information from most sources, playing out scenarios to earn money, unable to do anything aside from hours of yoga and physical movement, and now, being reminded of times when I was younger and entire days were spent trying to stay warm and find food.
There have been countless opinions written in the last weeks about how we should be spending this time. People telling us how we should be feeling. Most seem to be saying that we should be taking this time to replenish, reassess, and reevaluate. Recommendations are given to get creative, play, explore new hobbies, and enjoy time with the family. All of these things are worthy endeavors and may be accessible to some, but for others of us getting to a state where those things are mentally possible can feel rather impossible. For many of us, including myself, this time is the ultimate test of our resiliency and the tools we have worked so hard to obtain for our personal wholeness and growth. This is a trauma. A collective trauma, and with everything we have we are battling reverting to old ways of coping, of simply hoping to survive while discarding the goal of thriving for the time being. Keeping afloat is overwhelming enough.
It's April. This morning, the temperature is cold for this far into spring. I'm wearing a flight jacket with Navy patches that belonged to my Papaw Hansel who served in the Korean War as a frogman, which he explained to me was a precursor to the Navy Seals. He once told me a story of standing on the deck of his ship in open ocean. Enemy planes had been circling overhead for hours and they were sitting vulnerable. He said that tension got so high many were locking themselves away below deck puking in fear. He chose to be there, on deck, watching the enemy and flipping them the bird. He told me sometimes they'd fly low enough that he could see the whites of their eyes and he smiled. All they could take from him at that point was his life, and he wanted them to see his smiling face. They eventually abandoned the intimidation tactics and flew away. Papaw died of bone cancer an octogenarian. No too long ago, but long enough.
Sometimes, though, smiling in the face of threat is not possible. Perhaps a greater good is to be considered and no one can agree on an approach despite working toward the same goal. My dad is a huge fan of the Webber and Rice rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar. I grew up with it as a regular lullaby. He can sing every word to every song from beginning to end. Judas Iscariot opens the story and as much as it is the story of Jesus the Christ, I always felt more drawn to Judas. The empath in me felt his worry and his desperate attempts to preserve his friends and their ideas when the world seemed to be falling apart. What do you choose to save under those circumstances? What do you trust? Judas opens, "My mind is clearer now. At last, all too well, I can see where we all soon will be." He goes on to implore Jesus to listen, to remember they are the weaker underdog. That if they make too much noise, they'll be crushed, and that he is a man and will die, perhaps taking out the rest of them too. Judas asks his friend to remember his loyalty, saying, "Please remember that I want us to live, but its sad to see our chances weakening with every hour..." Judas did not want to betray Jesus. He wanted to live. He wanted the principles they were teaching to live. In his duress, the only way he saw to do this was to sale out his friend. "Our ideals die around us all because of you. And now, the saddest cut of all -- someone has to turn you in like a common criminal, like a wounded animal..." I cannot help but see this very scenario playing out with everyone spouting the results of their fears on social media.
My maternal grandmother, who I called Mimi, told me the story of the Judas Tree. The Judas Tree is another name for the redbud tree common in the eastern Kentucky hills. It blooms in early spring, right before the dogwood, heralding the coming relief of a break in the weather. Mimi said that when Judas decided to end his own life after ushering in the death of his friend, he chose to hang himself from a sturdy, tall tree with white blooms. The tree took the shame of Judas as he died, shriveling and gnarling. Its blooms shrank and blushed with the guilt and embarrassment. It became our beloved redbud tree. It grows in our hills alongside the dogwood who's blooms are known to tell the story of Christ. Judas still the dark harbinger of beauty and light. I always found it hauntingly comforting that the leaves of the redbud are heart shaped.
In Hermetic philosophy, the Principle of Polarity/Duality, is stated as follows: Everything is dual; everything has poles; everything has a pair of opposites; like and unalike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet, all truths are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled." Everything existing on this plane that is experienced through individual perception is a spectrum, a double sided coin, no matter how seemingly concrete. Our existence is multifaceted, double jointed, layered, and told back to us in stories. In the bittersweet story of Judas and Jesus, the idea of duality is clearly illustrated. Even in the sequencing of the blooming trees that carry their tale, it is clear. Without Judas, Jesus is not possible. Their story plays out in a full spectrum of continuous love.
During the last argument between Jesus and Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar, Judas delivers the lines -- "To think I admired you, for now I despise you!" Jesus answers, calling him a liar. Judas understands that Jesus realizes the necessity. Judas asks him what if he didn't betray his whereabouts, stayed, and ruined his ambitions. Jesus screams at him to go. Love and hate are the same in nature, only varying in degree. One can quickly appear to be the other, as the energy applied toward the feeling of it shifts.
It seems then, that on this plane of existence, that duality is necessary for us to make sense of ourselves and the lives we are living. Otherwise, would we even know we are alive? Would it matter? Have we become so adverse to the range of human experience that we are paralyzing ourselves to life until death stares us in the face and we have to pay attention? Are we so appalled by and fearful of death, we forget to live? How often does hardship become the impetus for the most beautiful growth?
I know, sometimes, within our awareness, nothing good comes of tragedy, especially that which we perceive as preventable. One of the things that happened to me repeatedly over the course of a few years when I was a small girl can be described as nothing but atrocious. I didn't ask for it. I was powerless. I didn't deserve it. I still wear its physical and mental scars. I cannot see anything good for me that has come of it. Yet, because of the experience, I feel I am more open to being present for the story of others. It has led me to a portion of my work, and perhaps, even the ability to write this piece. I wouldn't be the me that I am without it, the wounded animal that I am. Is that good? Bad? Does it matter? That event continues to impact me and those I encounter. When I listen to another's story without judgement, is the thing that happened to me made new and good?
I know this current experience is marking me. I know it is changing the story for all of us. We didn't get the trigger warning, and here we are. Dust made of many of our plans. All we have is now and the opportunity to interpret the conditions we are actually in, and decide to do one of three things -- accept them, change them, or wait for more information. The alternative is to wallow in the mire. But, the time to hesitate is through. Try now. We can only lose, and our love become a funeral pyre. Regardless, I am lighting my fire.
I went bad and became a thrill-seeking, pleasure-hungry sensualist...
This is one understanding of disorders like PTSD and CPTSD (complex post-traumatic stress disorder). It will not matter if that individual can reason and they know, for example, that losing their keys and being late for work won't kill them, the body and the primal functions of the brain will respond to that occurrence in a way that resembles being chased by a hungry predator. The brain is wired to this response indefinitely. It can be rewired, but it takes very focused and personal inner work to do so, as well as a conscious understanding of your behavior patterns, from where they come, and how their origins differ from the experiences you have now. It also takes consistency in whatever method you choose and a long period of time to see those changes.
I don't really talk about the specifics of my personal mental health struggles in terms of diagnosis and the medical treatment of them. I have made this choice in the past because of stigma and in my line of work - teaching, writing, and physical/personal health and wellness through yoga and movement instruction, I was afraid that the fact that I had been diagnosed and have received medical treatment for mental health issues would cost me opportunities. I'm not afraid anymore. I have, among a few other things, been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and CPTSD. I have been medicated off and on since my early 20s for these struggles. For the last 2 years, I have chosen to not be medicated and to work primarily with trauma informed movement, yoga, weightlifting, and mindfulness practices as my discipline and medicine. In August 2018, I was diagnosed with a heart condition called POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome). It is a dysautonomia and has been correlated with the experience of trauma. I am taking two heart medications for that issue. I feel like I am actually dealing with the results of the trauma that I have experienced in tangible ways that have altered the way I live my life for the better. This does not mean I won't need medication in the future or that I have ever regretted being medicated in the past. I am, however, feeling that the changes I am seeing in my response to stress are more permanent, making the possibility of needing medication in the future less.
But... during a pandemic where everything about my day and ability to earn income has changed without a timeline of when it will end, it has never been more clear to me how important it is to be with my body. These past three weeks have seen me become more of a sensualist, as Bourdain mentions in the opening quote. It has become imperative in order to stay on top of processing how my brain and body are communicating this stress with each other. How do I effectively become the middle man, if I rely on one over the other? Older and easier coping patterns will take over. On some days I feel them creeping closer than on others.
Bourdain is so right. The body is an amusement park. Five plus senses guide us through life. We have emotions and the feelings felt and unfelt that create them. We have the need for the body to be in homeostasis. It is a smorgasbord of sensation. The body is perfectly ok with this. It is our brain that sometimes muddies the situation. We interpret and experience the sensation of the body through the language we use to define it. In other words, the stories we tell ourselves about what it means to experience what we are experiencing and why. Sometimes the opinions, morals, societal norms or religious doctrine of other individuals cause us to experience shame and guilt in regard to the experiences of our body and the consequent emotions or states of being they create for us that we otherwise would not have, if the only story that dictated our experience was our own. Those same things cause us to try to limit "the flesh" and label the sensations it gives us as faulty. The body is not capable of giving us "bad" information. Its function is to provide us with an initial signal and subsequent feedback loop based upon our brain's interpretation of the initial signal. Think two people about to bungee jump. The first is psyched and ready to suit up and go. They describe the sensation in their stomach as excitement. The second is horrified. They feel forced to take the risk by peer pressure, or fear of looking cowardly. They begin to cry. They describe the feeling in their stomach as a seizing of horror.
These pictures of my face illustrate the spectrum of any given day and the experience of the body. The tiredness we may feel. The peace. The weariness of heart and soul. The hope we may or may not have. If you take the time to look at someone's face, or more importantly, your own, you can see subtleties that you may not be otherwise aware of. The ones that you train yourself to ignore because we've been taught to hide feelings. Who knew selfies could have a therapeutic use?
My body has been lit on all fronts since life as I knew it stopped. All the memes suggesting we should take this time to enjoy family, clean, start creative projects, meditate, are all reliant upon one's ability to separate from the trauma response brought about by an uncertain, high stress situation. Perhaps, for some, their particular configuration of personal privileges (which we all have) provide for them the space where their stress is lesser and they can access the places of the brain that allow them to do these things. For me, all I want to do is move and process through movement the sensations of my body. Otherwise, the sensations would overwhelm me into feeling dangers I am not presently in. Through movement, I am able to slow down and find connection to things that I can control, such as my breath and how I direct the energy of the sensations I feel. The butterflies only become tension if I deny the feelings and hang on to them in some mental compartment which then stores the energy in my body as a knot in my trapezius. My heart palpitations only become an emergency if I don't breathe through them and take a moment to hear their message.
I'm covered in scrapes and bruises. I've been so diligently in my body, experiencing limits and new space I have created, that the effects are beyond average for me. These effects are not abuse, but a learning. Where can I go and how do I utilize the understandings of where I have been? I'm going here willing. Gratefully. For, without this discipline (it is nothing about motivation), I would be utterly lost in this time. My focus for writing is not there. This is the first time I've been able to write a longer piece of anything in a long time. Those higher functions stifled by stress. Yet, that stress is energy. Energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed. Through movement, I am learning the language of my body and learning to speak back. I am learning to alchemize the energy of my feelings into greater understanding of my experience and capabilities. I am learning to drop the shame and guilt associated with sensual experience and instead approaching it with consciousness open to the fullness it brings to being human.
So, am I ok? I am. I'm not spiraling into the abyss. The changes that may or may not be coming to the way I have to live my life are concerning, but I am not yet laying down to the uncertainty. I may not have a spotless house, a perfectly organized writing space, a book written, tons of craft projects complete with my daughters, the read-alouds I volunteered to record for their school, or even a daily schedule to keep us on track, but I am here and fully present in my body. I'm not storing away the stress. I am not overreacting. I'm forgiving myself. Giving myself the space to breathe and feel what I am feeling. I'm feeding myself and my daughters as well as I can. I am opening to new experiences and new ways of seeing myself through how the truth of it feels in my body.
In two aspects, I contest Bourdain's quote above. The body is a temple where we come to worship at the feet of being human. It is where we experience our own divinity and that of others. I also believe that being a sensualist should not be merely labeled as "bad", but what motivates the sensualism should be understood. Seeking thrills and being hungry for pleasure can be the catalyst for being fully alive, depending upon the approach and from where the desire is led. Perhaps I am understanding myself as a spiritual humanist and sensualist. I believe in a Source and Higher Purpose, but I duly believe we are here derived from Source to experience the spectrum of Truth. The body experience. The human experience as divine.
Which brings me to the questions of duality, but that will have to be another blog post.
So save your predictions
I couldn't breathe. I wanted the 60-something gray haired men sitting across from me in the waiting room to shut up. I wanted the women with them to stop shaking their heads. I wanted the one woman who spoke to get her head out of the sand, stop agreeing, and to speak to what I knew she knows.
"She should've said something then," one of the men said. "If she were my daughter, she'd have spoken up about that then, if it really happened. That's just teenage behavior."
At that point, I wanted to get out of my seat, throw furniture at him, and bash his head in the wall behind him. I wanted to show him what it feels like to hold in a secret for decades because of people like him and their opinions on what young people should do when sexually assaulted. Their opinion of what should be tolerated, thought as normal. and what is "just asking for it." I wanted him to know what it felt like to not express and be ashamed of your sexuality for the whole of your life memory because of people like him.
I was in the cardiologist waiting room. It was the day that the brave Christine Blassey Ford testified in front of congress about the experience she had with then Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Fortunately, my name was called and my panic attack was caught on EKG and the whole thing helped my doctor get me on the right medication for my heart condition. Things have a way of working out. I had a nervous breakdown that day, holding in my emotion, and it took me a few months to recover.
This is what I wear when I practice because I don't keep my house super cool in the summer. I sweat when I practice. I worried about people wondering about my intentions with posting because of the way my clothes fit. I wanted to share my practice because I am immensely grateful for it. I'm grateful for my body supporting my practice even with my health struggles. I feel like sharing my practice could encourage others to begin or keep going with their movement practice because I too am inspired by others that way.
I don't think twice about what people are wearing or not wearing when I scroll and see yoga practices shared on social media. I am amazed by the human body and the way it works. I see it a beautiful creation in its variety of form and expression. It is art to me. I was a bit disturbed that I paused and worried before sharing my pictures.
Sexual repression is not the only possible or base cause for sexual violence, misogyny, or the objectification of women. We can also include in this the "traditional" presumptions of how each gender should conduct themselves in our society. Ideas of: Who has and should be in control? Who can "handle" power? Who cries and who punches things? Who talks about feelings and who holds them in, and their association with being of weak mind? What does it mean to be a "real" man or a "real" woman? Boys will be boys. Who is a "loose" woman? We can all tell a story of making a decision to hide an aspect of ourselves because it didn't fit in to these boxes built by our culture about who we should be and how we should behave.
As someone who has experienced deep shame for it simply being possible that someone could find me attractive and that becoming uncomfortable for anyone else - them, me, or other to the point that I didn't try to express myself physically in appearance or through movement, growing beyond this in a culture that still blames and shames everyone involved has been a struggle. It does take deciding not to care about where someone might be on this path in regards to their own comfort with the human form and our instinctual biological responses to it. There is such an imbalance in this being shown as a problem only for male identifying genders that's it's ridiculous and has resulted in very dramatic and stifling rules for the way female identifying people must be in their bodies in this world. It's as if a woman cannot have a visceral response to seeing a man's bare chest or rump in his swimsuit just as much as a man can to seeing a woman. Funny how that can be seen as sweet, complimentary, or humorous, and it not be for a man to have the same reaction. Acting as if that biological reaction is something to be ashamed of causes feelings of guilt or rebellion, neither of which are good for our society.
The most appalling result of this Puritanical response to physicality and sexuality is the toll it is taking on our children. I don't and have not publicly spoken about my personal experience as a young girl who was a survivor of such things (not at the hand of family or anyone close to the family). I sometimes find the courage to mention it vaguely (as now), but never have directly. I don't know if I ever will, or that the details matter. There are so many people quick to comment as if they know anything about what that experience was for you. It is so atrocious that I think people have to find a way to explain it and those explanations fall way short of the reality, and at worst, exacerbate our problems.
Thinking is difficult. That's why most people judge.
In a culture filled with physical repression and shame, we create the environment where the Jeffrey Epstein's of the world can operate and spill their illness over onto others who are ill or suffering their own shame and violate the innocence of children while being looked over by those who are supposed to protect us. The issues at the border. The many issues in our communities that are not discussed. It's all a byproduct of this demonized way of looking at ourselves and our bodies, along with the marriage to obtaining or keeping power. It's dangerous.
I realize that some may take offense at this meme. I, personally, find it funny, and relevant to many things - not just religion. Any ideology that you operate under in order to find your way in this world is right for you when you decide that it is - politics, faith, eating habits, etc. Doesn't mean it is right for me, will always be right for you, or that anyone else should be forced to live under it. When we repress our basic expression we enliven scenarios where people are sending pictures of their genitalia to people on social media before they even get a name or a face. It becomes slippery to approach anyone with compliments on their physical beauty or to even ask for a date in such a charged climate. I feel for people trying to navigate it. It is ok for someone to respectfully find you attractive physically and to express this out loud. I've seen women bite a man's head off because he told her she was a walking goddess. People are walking on edge. It causes people to get their penis out and wave it in everyone's face.
In my pictures, I am not showing anymore than anyone wearing a swimsuit shows. I'm showing my real life and my personal yoga practice. I show it out of gratitude for what it does for me and that it may encourage someone else. I have gained some strength and stability in my backside and that is a great thing too. My SI joint was in terrible shape and causing me a lot of pain. Yesterday, I decided to recommit to not being ashamed of my body and the way it appears. Honestly, I'm all for normalizing the body in the birthday suit. We are walking, breathing, living wonders.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
I love this verse. Part of my commitment to finding and growing into myself as an individual is celebrating the reality of this verse and holding space for others to do the same. Today, see your own beauty in just how you are, and compliment someone else's in a sincere way. Let's make it normal for our bodies and their primal functions to be ok. Let's heal this.
When was the last time you asked your body how you were feeling? I don't mean doing a physical scan to notice aches and pains or other maladies, though that is good information. I mean asking your body how you are feeling. Feelings, those things that precede emotions and become emotions if they are not felt in totality. Would you know your body's answer if you asked? Do you still speak your body's language?
Some holding patterns become do deeply ingrained that you are no longer conscious of them. It takes intense focus to notice they are there. Sometimes it takes someone else's touch or eyes to see them and guide you to feel them again. I noticed that I was holding a very heightened energy around my heart center. A tight and anxious energy. When I deepened my breath and I asked it to relax, I experienced the feeling of fear. My ego did not want to feel the feeling of that release. This told me it was a protective mechanism. My body was storing a wound there and to release it would create a vulnerability.
Since injuring my SI joint and having to take a new approach to my yoga practice, I have been learning how most of us, including myself, walk around outside of our bodies as if we are a big giant brain. Even those of us with physical practices do it. Our bodies become a side note to our goals, an afterthought to our obligations, or at worst, that thing in our way.
This relationship to our bodies is reinforced by our western culture. Yes, people are praised for having a certain type of physique, but are we really allowed to celebrate any body? Are we really allowed to experience the body as art? If I wanted to make a video of me spiraling my hips and ribs to my favorite song while standing in goddess pose, could you celebrate movement with me? Could I let go enough to make such a video? Our bodies often times are either shamed, characterized, made into a commodity (in regards to athleticism or physical disciplines), or over sexualized. You're not this or that enough, therefore you must be ___. "Ooooh, I saw some side boob. Damn, she might want some." (I'm not saying that having a biological physical response to someone's body is a bad thing if that person is an adult. I could write a whole post on this topic alone, and I may someday. It's how you process those sensations that matters.) These aspects of our culture leave most of us unsure of how to safely inhabit our bodies. Then, the microaggressions we meet on the day to day in regards to our bodies can cause us to begin to disassociate so that we are not so sensitive and raw all the time. That person didn't mean anything by that after all. (ex. "Gosh, you're so skinny.") Add to that the acute experiences of trauma that some of us will experience, and there is a whole other level of needing to leave our bodies to survive.
This pattern allowed me to continue to be functional despite a lot of daily physical pain. It was useful in that sense. Yet, when I began to place certain types of aspirations over the effects it was having on my body, I entered dangerous territory. It resulted in my injury.
We often wonder things about our bodies like - Why doesn't sex feel as good to me as everyone else acts like it is? Why do I want to eat the whole box of Little Debbie cakes and not just one? Why in the world does my back hurt like this? Why do I feel overwhelmed every time I am out in public? Most of the time, we can't answer these questions. Even our doctors, often, cannot answer them. But, our bodies can, if we can learn to trust them again and listen.
As I laid there in savasana, I kept trying to get that stuck feeling energy to move out of my heart space. I could feel it engulfing the entire area. The tightness crept into my neck and shoulders. My abdomen felt fluttery. Every time I told myself it was ok to let go and I felt an inkling of release, my ego jumped in and said - NO! When I asked myself why I couldn't let it go, ego told me that I didn't want to feel lonely. What would my identity be if I actually allowed myself to experience the loneliness my body feels? Could I continue along this beautiful path of discovery I am on undaunted? Could I continue my work? Or, would I be paralyzed with the emotion of it? It was that I do not want to be interrupted by whatever it would mean to feel that feeling. I will be doing the work around this topic in my life on my mat and through my means of sharing. It is more uncomfortable and difficult to process the dis-ease that develops in our bodies when we ignore their cues.
In July, I will have completed a certification program in Embodied Healing as credits for my Yoga Alliance certification. I am continuously fascinated by what I am learning and that it was an injury that began to close the door on the body abuse I was inflicting upon myself and provided me with the tools, through what appeared to be a lost practice, to find a depth of practice I had never experienced. My plans are to write, develop workshops, and possibly to begin podcasting and doing videos. If you are interested in seeing some of these things from me, I'd love to know as I am feeling things out.
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.
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.
“We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” ~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (Jesuit Priest, philosopher, and paleontologist)
Our culture is all about changing, subduing, or avoiding our physical bodies. Extreme diets, pharmaceuticals, plastic surgery, consumer culture, social media, obsessions, and even our spiritual practices contribute. What would happen though if we focused on radically being in our body instead of changing, subduing, or avoiding them? What would it mean to live the language of our body?
There are signs all over the place that a great many people aren’t truly inhabiting this human form we’ve been given. Unconscious behavior runs rampant. The abuse of food, drugs, alcohol, sex, and one another both emotionally and physically are just some of the ways this is true. It’s true on the level of faith too. In spiritual communities all over the globe, there’s a lot of encouragement to “transcend the body,” as it is imagined the Buddha and Jesus Christ did, either through meditation, other spiritual practices, or self-sacrifice. Escapism is not the answer to the human struggle. It is the cause.
We find ourselves in the midst of struggle and instead of addressing it on the tangible, human level we choose to escape. At different times of our lives we all are guilty of trying to experience something outside of our human form in various degrees. Sometimes, this trying is a conscious effort. Other times, it is completely unconscious. It isn’t always a bad thing. Everyone needs a vacation from time to time. However, considering death is the only real way to escape the human form, if we don’t allow ourselves to consciously inhabit our bodies we are spending our entire lives avoiding living.
Whether we’re experiencing this active escapism as a result of mental, emotional, or physical trauma doesn’t matter. What matters is that we make ourselves conscious to it so that we can address it. Are you really letting yourself be in your body? Are you opening yourself up to a fully impactful human experience?
Here’s some signs you might be in avoidance mode.
1. You don’t recognize yourself when you look in the mirror.
Every time you look in the mirror you feel like shit. Even when you try to be positive about your physical appearance, you find yourself smoothing wrinkles in your shirt over your midsection. So, you’ve started avoiding mirrors. Now, if you happen to catch a glimpse of yourself you’re shocked that what you see is you. It doesn’t look like you. It doesn’t look like what you imagine when you’re feeling good about who you are and what you’re doing in life.
Our reflection in the looking glass and our reaction to it is a good gauge for whether or not we’re allowing our body to be our home. Feeling alienated by your own body is not conducive to experiencing your personal power, focus, and will – your magick. We gotta own these bodies.
Try some self-care to learn to connect with your body on a deeper level. Ask your body some simple questions and trust the answers that your gut gives you:
2. You overthink everything.
You find it hard to trust your gut. What is intuition anyway? Isn’t part of being human our ability to approach things through logic, problem solving, and complex forms of expression? What if that gut feeling is wrong?
Part of becoming disconnected from the body is that we lose the trust of the feedback it gives us. We unlearn the language it uses to speak to us. As babies and young children, we are very good at communicating with our bodies. Our bodies are how we learn to get around in the world and to obtain all that we need for survival. Add to those basic instincts the ability to reason and discern, and we’re pure force!
Our bodies communicate in the form of sensations. From emotions, to experiencing hot or cold our bodies provide us with endless data to inform our action. What if we began with this feedback, then applied logic, and then assessed whether or not that fits with what we “thought” was true at first – intuition? This is a step by step utilized Break Method, also developed by Bizzie Gold. Using our body and mind for decision making is a game changer. It can save all kinds of anxiety and time second guessing yourself.
3. You ignore physical sensation or overindulge in sensation making activity to feel alive.
You’ve found yourself saying – I feel dead inside. Everything is dull, mundane… unexciting. Even down to knowing when you’re hungry or not. You look up from your computer screen and it’s two hours passed lunchtime and you suddenly realize your ravenous. You couldn’t cry at your grandmother’s funeral even though you were very close. During sex, you find yourself checking out and making to-do lists for the next day, or debating whether or not the giants mentioned in the Old Testament bible were actually aliens. Orgasm is overrated.
In this case, you’ve disconnected so completely from your body, if you don’t recover the connection, it will be a life altering event that finally provides you the impetus to get back in there... if it doesn’t kill you. Your body can make life exciting. What’s in there that you are avoiding? How might you address those things in order to find your way back in?
Or, perhaps you feel alive by being the life of the party. You take all the risks. Excess is your middle name. Indulging makes you feel alive. The hangover after is what feels like death. Moderation feels too boring. Day to day living is not enough to make you feel alive, and it’s only by taking your body to extremes that you get enough sensation to feel present in life. Otherwise, there’s a numbness to it all. A feeling of waiting that is nearly unbearable.
You too are disconnected from the body. Even in exploring the limits of the body you are disconnected and ignoring it. There’s not a balance. It is not sustainable. Therefore, you aren’t getting the totality of experience. You are not present for life, but constantly trying to alter it. How can you impact something for the positive if you aren’t aware of all that it currently is? What too are you avoiding? How might you address those things in order to find your way back in?
5. Your spiritual practice focuses on transcending the body.
Has escapism become a dogma for you under a spiritual guise? Flesh as weakness. Every major religion and most traditional spiritual practices have some form of this thought when taken out of context or to the extreme. Is all your chakra work in the upper triangle? Is your biggest struggle in meditation to ignore the physical sensations in your body? Do you spend hours praying your way out of struggles? Are you honing astral projection, but ignoring the stomach pains after you eat?
The truth is, looking at the chakra system and other psychological schools of thought, that most of our inner work should be around our connection to home/tribe, interpersonal relationships, and our expression of ourselves as an individual. The lower triangle of chakras, if you are familiar with that system. The things that illustrate our human experience. Without roots a tree cannot reach the heavens. Without the ability to ground into our bodies, how do we even know what we are transcending? Maybe the lesson is to – be here now.
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.
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.