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.
Buti (Marathi Indian) – the cure to something hidden or kept secret
After a few times seeing clips of Bizzie Gold and the Dynamic Flow DVD, I was intrigued. I recognized elements from my vinyasa and kundalini practice, but there was an undogmatic freedom and power I had yet to experience. I wanted to know what it was that I was witnessing as I watched Bizzie move. So, on March 19, 2017, I did the 30-minute Dynamic Flow practice in my bedroom. It kicked my ass and I fell in love. I had found the missing elixir to aid my healing.
Despite being what I had thought was pretty fit, as I continued to practice, I found Buti a challenge. My joints would swell. My doctor told me that my body just didn’t like the intensity, and if I were to continue, I should do so mindfully. He, knowing me and my determination, said, “I’ll see you back when you have an injury.” I love a good challenge, especially when my success is up to me and only me. I knew my body should be and would be capable if I listened and supported my effort properly. I kept up, mindfully. My joints stopped swelling.
Within a few months, I had all the DVDs available. I live in a very rural community with poor internet access, so I waited to subscribe to the Tones. The closest, in person, class was over two hours away. No one in my town was doing Buti. Buti, alone, was motivating me to keep up. Before too long, I was following the three days on and one day off schedule recommended by the DVD inserts.
The change was subtle at first. I didn’t know if I’d stay enthusiastic. I had no clue that I was committing to the practice that would lift me out of the dark pit. Oh, but I had. I connected with the tribe of butisattvas on Facebook and was floored by the beauty and loving kindness there. No cat fights. No body shaming. Personal answers to questions from Bizzie herself and all the other master trainers. This practice was not created to leave you in the deep waters to sink or swim. It was created as a tool for thriving. Never before had I been in a group of women that actually felt like a genuine sisterhood.
Soon, I stopped getting on the scale every week. I stopped using the tape measure I bought to measure inches to avoid weighing on the scale. I no longer felt the need to monitor my intake of macros. I just kept up with my autoimmune protocol paleo diet and started supplementing collagen and turmeric. Then, I found Golden Ratio Nutrition and used the protein powder to support my new level of activity in a way that brought vitality.
By July 2017, my community had crowd funded my Buti certification in Nashville, TN with Talen Lane. Experiencing the Buti sisterhood in person gave me a new level of understanding in my practice and friendships that are still ongoing. While I haven’t had the opportunity to teach Buti much in my community (my Buti class will start at Evolation Yoga Kentucky in just a few short weeks), I already use the principles I was taught to enhance the beginning vinyasa classes I do teach. I know that one day I will share Buti with a tribe of Appalachian Kentucky butisattvas, and we’ll be badass.
The most important thing in all this is the fact that I’m ok with my body for the first time in my life. I appreciate its strength and its intrinsic healing powers. I see beauty in its flaws. Even those, like my stretched tummy, that still gives me pause when looking in the mirror. I’m in the best physical shape, at age 39, of my entire active life. I’ve taken my yoga practice to places I could not have without the aid of Buti. I know what it feels like to stand in my worth and know I work hard. I trust that I am strong enough to make it now. I questioned that before.
Yoga means – “union” or “to yoke.” It is the connection of mind, body, and spirit through breath. It is learning to be fully in the body in order to spiritually transcend its limitations. I have practiced yoga for fifteen years now. I taught yoga before Buti, but Buti taught me yoga. This year has brought me away from a daily desire to not exist. I’ve reached a degree of healing that I had given up on finding. I’m pursuing dreams, taking risks, finding inner confidence, learning to be grounded, and showing my daughters what it means to live life out loud. There’s still so much room for growth that I get scared sometimes. How much more wondrously real can it get? What I know now, because I found Buti, is that I have what I need to move forward with grace, supportive sisterhood does exist, and my body is not to be a shamed object. I know that I am fierce. I am strong. I am awakened. I am Buti.
I can’t help but share my story when I hear the struggles of others. The year I became a mother, I learned the hard lesson that ignorance is not bliss. More of us, especially women, should be sharing the truth of our stories. We need to share it all, even the hard parts – the parts we’ve yet to fix or grow into, included. It’s how we learn from our own mistakes and from one another. It’s how we can prevent a little heartache and some aimless wandering. You may be thinking, I don’t want people to think I’m a negative person. Or, on the opposite end, I don’t want anyone to think I’m bragging. I understand. Totally.
My story of healing sounds nearly impossible if I tell it in its entirety. Pieces of it are scattered throughout this blog and my other writings. I share bits of it on social media. A lot of it isn’t easy to hear, but I try not to be shy about sharing those parts too. I’m a warrior. I battle depression, anxiety, Hashimotos Thyroiditis, polyarthropathy (chronic non-specific joint pain), chronic migraines, and chronic gastritis and colitis. I have a little bit of stuff that likes to slap me in the face every morning. But… I’ve lost over 100 pounds, and I have weaned myself off of all prescription medications aside from my daily thyroid hormone.
I could say that the main factor in getting this far for me was consistent positivity, but that would be a HUGE lie. It would not only be a lie, but it could even set others up for failures in their own journey if they think positivity alone can get them where they want to be. Try remaining positive when in constant pain, worrying that something you said days ago was taken the wrong way, and all the while you don't want to exist anymore. In that state of being, nothing is as simple as a positive attitude. Worse than that is if that positivity is a distraction from the things we’re truly feeling, because it will keep coming up and asking for our attention. For those of us born into a state of fairy like bliss, positivity may come naturally. For others of us, life coupled with brain chemistry wired us differently.
I don’t mean to sound derogatory toward people who naturally tend toward positivity. In fact, there are aspects of that tendency that I can become envious of if I’m not careful. Yet, we must point out, in the age of incessant out of context quoting and the popularity of memes, that positive thinking, as it is portrayed by that mostly online culture, is not accessible to many people who desire to make positive life changes. At worst, those types of attitudes can bring shame, guilt, and alienation to those who feel like they must always keep a positive outward appearance to not seem like an ungrateful, sour person.
There have been times when I personally have felt demeaned for sharing aspects of my story that others perceived as negative. Other times, I’ve taken a deep personal look at this idea that a “change of attitude” is what it takes to bring happiness. I saw a meme once that brought such a sick felt heartache to me that it shocked me to feel it. It said:
The person who posted the meme said they had no room for negative people in their life. It felt as though because I was in a state of unhappiness, I was being accused of being ungrateful. I am immensely grateful for my life and always have been. I do go through periods of intense unhappiness without losing that gratitude. Secondly, I felt rejected by this person for any possibility of friendship or working together because I openly share my struggles with depression and anxiety. Our society sees these things as negative, therefore, did they perceive me as one of the negative people they were referring to in their posting?
I took a long time to explore this idea for myself. Was there something I was missing? Is it really as simple as saying – hating my pain is negative, I need to stop whining and just accept my pain as a permanent part of my life. Be positive. It isn’t that simple. For me to make positive changes in my life, I could not wait for myself to feel that positive attitude, I had to harness the energy of the emotions seen as negative to create my forward momentum. I had to transform "negative" emotions into positive motion.
A fair number of people reach out to me who are also feeling sadness, depression, or intense struggle. Often, these feelings are coupled with health problems, financial issues, or loneliness. None of them want to remain in this state. They want it to end or at the very least believe in the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. It is naïve to expect that someone (even yourself) can just choose not to feel the emotions our society have deemed “negative.” To transform these emotions into forward, or healing momentum takes time, goals with a plan to reach them, and a willingness to be more flexible in your thinking. Consistency in those three things is key. Some things will be worked at hard with no results. Some will make you feel worse before you get better. Others will ask you to confront some really hard truths about yourself and your life. The process will demand you use your intuition to guide your way forward.
A lot of language I hear from people as they share their story is self-limiting, such as: I have no motivation. I can’t. I won’t. Others use blame shifting like: There’s no time. The kids won’t let me. I can’t afford it. I have no support.
I’m not going to call those “just excuses.” They’re not. Many of these things are very real obstacles. I am, however, going to call it “stagnant” or “stiff” thinking. While some obstacles will be ever present, those things do not have to block us in other areas. If a person I’m talking with doesn’t respond to my suggestions, or seems resistant, I know what I am offering isn’t something they are ready for at the present time.
For example, diet can be pretty difficult to change, but you want to make yourself physically healthier overall. Don’t start with diet. Start with exercise. You can exercise at any time. You can exercise for free. Research shows that exercise lifts the overall mood. Exercise can look a lot of different ways. Begin by setting a goal. I will exercise 3-4 days a week. Then, make a plan. I will wake up 30 minutes early and do chair yoga. I will always use the stairs at work. After dinner the kids and I will walk the dog. With that, you’ve begun. As you reach goals, you’ll become motivated to create more. You may begin see some of your obstacles differently, turning them into opportunities.
If you’re wanting to begin a healing journey, but find yourself “stuck”, ask:
For those who carry some heaviness of heart or circumstances, it can sometimes be the things meant to guide us toward the light that add to our darkness. No one sharing these memes or ideas means harm. The most important thing to remember is that everything exists in shades of gray. Nothing is completely black or white. No one will be happy all the time. You don’t have to accept your darkest days as a state of permanence.
According to the Buddha, there is suffering. Suffering is common to all. Everyone experiences the tears of birth, sickness, old age, and death. Buddha said,
“There is happiness in life, happiness in friendship, happiness of family, happiness in a healthy body and mind, but when one loses them, there is suffering.” ~from the Dhammapada
When A Community Attacks Itself: The Dysfunction that Leads to Community Collapse in the Name of Activism
In our most recent months, with the election of Donald Trump, scandals involving local professionals, violence in our region’s jails, and the publication of the book Hillbilly Elegy, there was created a vibe of high tension. Because Whitesburg (my hometown) is the location of the well- known and nationally respected arts and media non-profit – Appalshop, national media highlights my hometown in anything dealing with coal, Appalachia, rural poverty, working class, etc… because there’s easy access here. They can find people who both understand the community and the role that media plays in our society. National outlets ask these people to be liaisons between them and a world that outsiders cannot understand in the few days they spend on these stories.
There are opportunities for those of us in the community to show this region for what it actually is by advocating when being interviewed by national media, and by creating media of our own. We can tack on the words “coalfields” and “Appalachia” to our jam, and get a whole different kind of attention for what we’re doing. If we’re smart, we can use this, well deservedly, to our advantage and benefit the community in much needed ways. However, as often, if not more often, the misuse of this two-sided coin can foster an ugly stink that divides and defeats the efforts of all community members and brings us to the point of a dysfunctional mess.
What is a small town’s place in national movements like the ones I listed above? How do we recognize our shortcomings and work to better ourselves? Right now, in many ways, we are squandering opportunity when it comes to uniting the middle and younger generations of artists, musicians, and creative professionals to best serve this community. With all the knowing we have of one another, you’d hope that there would be communication that allows for mediation when conflict arises. That there would be benefit of the doubt. Efforts to lovingly teach one another when we have a bit of information or a way of looking at the world that hasn’t quite caught on here, but would be beneficial. Yet, the same knowing that would and should allow for such things also enables the environment for labeling, egos to be swollen and bruised, and for people to walk away without consequences for actions they should have to stand up and answer for. Sometimes, in such small towns, people choose not to look each other in the eye and talk a thing out, but instead to talk behind backs while smiling at faces and if not that ignoring and avoiding one another so that a conflict becomes abscessed and irreparable.
What is our identity in the larger national conversation? How do we acknowledge the uniqueness of the place we live through the way we approach these conversations? What does our activism look like? What will our impact be on this national conversation, but more importantly, what will the impact of our actions be on our community?
It’s often said that when something is experienced outside of here whether it be a trend in fashion, a new technology, or a change in the overall accepted collective mindset, that it takes a decade for it to become a thing in southeastern Kentucky. We’re 10 years behind “the times”. Yet, with increased access to the internet and smart phones, we seemed to have sped things up a bit. I still think we are a people very attached to principles and habits. Overall, we still like to hold our grudges and blame every judgment on “what the Lord said” rather than our own inability to bend our thoughts and make an effort to understand. The fact remains that we are a people slow to change. We like familiar things. Stepping into the unknown is hard, especially if you’ve seen little of the world outside of these hills without the filter of a TV screen. We like what has worked for our people for generations. We don’t like to get “above our raising”. God forbid our education make us appear that we feel we’re better than our neighbor who was educated differently. We’re not a people that will be forced into anything. You try to force us and we will resist if not outright fight you.
So, how do we make change? A little at a time. How do we do it in a way that our community will embrace and support? We find advocates who have been and are deeply embedded in the community. They are the people the old folks can place with a few questions. They are the kids that grew up in the holler whose neighbor pissed in the creek and shit in the woods. The kids who avoided the toilet paper covered piles when they went traipsing up the hill. They are the people who are raising families here. The people whose brother is an addict, whose mother is losing a leg to diabetic ulcers, whose father is a displaced miner too indebted to retire, but too old to change careers. They are the people who go to church on Sunday for the hugs. They are the people with the emotional connection to the bulk population of the community. What else should these people possess though? The ability to process information. They make the effort to understand the information they receive and translate it to make it applicable in the community where they are. They don’t take the approach of “the movement” because they know it isn’t going to be effective in towns like mine. In fact, it will most likely slow down the progress. They are the people with the ability to see that all things exist in shades of gray and who in turn can love their neighbor enough to tactfully not make their bigotry worse, but to warm their neighbor to the ability to listen and learn better. That’s where change comes from, realize that we are first a community. Without you being a compassionate community member, change will not come. Every member has something to contribute, and every member that can evolve with the community is an asset.
We have to meet each other where we are, otherwise we are reinforcing the fear of the unknown. If the unknown, or those who label themselves as the unknown or unfamiliar are unbending, impatient, or at worst verbally or physically violent about their cause, they’re just alienating the same people they’re trying to educate. You begin with labels like “us” and “them” and you are already dividing the community in ways that are hard to repair. For example, I still have a hard time trusting the type of person that in school labeled me a “freak” and “ugly” and made every day at school difficult. I see those same people in the community or those whose appearance cause me to label them as a person we referred to as “popular,” and I have to consciously remember to breathe, to be kind and not automatically defensive, to drop the labels, to recognize that not every person who appears that way and will maybe even turn their nose up at me at first, will do so if they are given the opportunity to know me. If they cannot be patient, I must be patient enough for us both.
It breaks my heart and makes me burn with anger. Because not only are these people and institutions shooting their selves in the foot, but they are making it hard for others to make any headway in important conversations that economically and socially struggling communities should be having, creating more labels to overcome. Seeing members of my community consider leaving simply because there is no effective mediation of conflict and because of the competitive mindset of the arts and culture segment of the community (as if there isn’t room for all of us) pushing them into a feeling of not belonging, I’m left wondering where I fit in as well.
When I start feeling this way, I come back to the example that the yoga classes currently being held and grown in the community offer. I teach some of them. There is a neutral space where the community comes together through the goal of well-being. Not religion or politics. Not competition or who’s who. Not grant funding, spinning, or administering. Not this label or that. Not competing for this business or money. Not gossip or drama. Just humans looking for a moment of peace and well-being - together. I know I fit in there and I see magic happen there.
I firmly believe we have the resources within our communities to heal, to make change, to evolve and grow. I believe we can create our own opportunities. I believe we can find that neutral ground where magic happens. I believe there isn’t a need for competition that is not healthy competition. We definitely don’t need the toxicity created by the drama amongst our cultural work projects. I personally would trade the national outlet for the ability to not have to overcome the labels this drama has brought upon our community every time we try to integrate new ideas that have become associated with them. At the end of the day, I’m in my community. Before anything else, I’m from Letcher County, Kentucky. I have to live here. My work is here. The future of my children is being built here. The multiple outsiders that find their way here to make their impact for the better or worse are always tentative and fleeting unless they actually embed themselves in the community. The most effective and caring of them do. We should not bend to the outside influence, but we should learn from it. Learn and adapt to something we can use. Make it our own. Make it work for us. Make it community driven and resourced. We cannot be defined by what an outsider thinks we should be, nor the labels they create for their efforts and bring upon us. We have to stop the foolishness and the egotism if we want to survive effectively.
I found yoga much by accident. Maybe, it's more accurate to say that it found me because I wasn't looking for it, and even after trying it the first time I wouldn't say that I knew right away that yoga would become as important to me as it is today. I was 21 and living in a trailer park in Morehead, Kentucky called lovingly by the locals and college kids - The Blue Zoo. It's kind of a wonder yoga and I found each other at all, me being an Appalachian mountain woman and yoga at that time being still very much an urban centered activity. It was the new millennia. It was 2000. We survived Y2K and the end of the world, but I found myself newly married, overweight, depressed, and exercising like a mad woman.
I had just been told by my doctor that my scoliosis would prevent me from my daily running from then on out and I had switched to aerobics and living off of canned sweet peas and York peppermint patties in hopes that I could find out why I was feeling so terrible and gaining weight. As every good exerciser who came into the fitness world in the 90s, I absolutely loved Jane Fonda's workout videos. I exercised with Jane (who my mother resembles a great deal) and her co-teacher Laurel Sue (who reminded me of my aerobics instructor stepmother), nearly every day. I had the routines down pat. Then, one day, Jane came out with a new VHS
I didn't come back to yoga again for four years. When I finally picked it up again, it was because I was pregnant with my first baby and I wanted to have a natural, unmedicated birth. I read in my What to Expect book that yoga was a really good prenatal exercise. So, since I already new a little, I did that. I picked up Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa's prenatal DVD. From there, I practiced yoga off and on, but fairly consistently through three pregnancies. I used yoga to lose 100 pounds after my second baby. During that period, I went to my first yoga class and had the teacher tell me that my thighs were so big that my sit bones would never touch my heels in child's pose. (They touch my heels today, and I'm still thick thighed.) It became even more of a challenge to use yoga to prove that teacher wrong. I quickly found different styles of yoga and tried a good many of them. At this point I have practiced restorative, yin, vinyasa, power, Hot, kundalini, prenatal, Barkan, and BUTI Yoga. I began collecting gads of DVDs because I couldn't afford regular studio classes while living in Louisville and then after moving back to the mountains there were no yoga classes to be found. I taught myself from those DVDs. Trial and error, again and again, listening more deeply each time to find the "real" pose.
Before too long, I understood the spiritual nature of yoga and came to know it as not only a workout, but as a tool for spiritual practice. It was a way to move the energy of anxiety and frustration through my body and transform it into something that fed my body and made it healthy. In 2009, I was diagnosed with Hashimotos Thyroiditis, and yoga along with the autoimmune protocol paleo diet, has helped me be as healthy as is possible for me at this time. I was also working as a childbirth educator and it was only natural that my first yoga certification was yoga for pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum. In 2010, I went with my then yoga teacher and friend, Heather Bates, who had gotten training and along with another friend Jonathan Hootman, had opened my hometown of Whitesburg's first yoga classes. Jane Anne Tager was our teacher for that certification and we took the classes at the great Asheville Yoga Center.
It was after that when I started substitute teaching for Heather and Jonathan at North Fork Yoga. My home practice had, by this time, grown to 5-6 days a week for an hour each time. Then, in 2012 when my doctor told me no more high impact exercise, I switched strictly to yoga as my form of fitness. By 2014, I wanted to start offering yoga to my community on my own as Heather and Jonathan had each moved on from teaching yoga in Whitesburg. Because I had small children and no way to come up with $2,000 and travel every other weekend several hours away for a year to receive an in person certification, I enrolled in Anmol Mehta's Yoga Teacher Training. I completed the over 600 page book and passed the 20 question handwritten essay test and began teaching both kundalini and hatha yoga in my community. While an online program wasn't ideal, I chose it because I knew my community needed yoga, and I wanted to share a practice that I know and love with them. Ideally, I will find the money and a program that works for me soon as my daughters are older now. I am fundraising for my 200-RYT currently.
Over the years, I've become about as passionate about yoga as I have been about anything in my life. I say it saves my life every single day as I battle thyroid disease, polyarthropathy, and mental illness. It has given me life more times than not, and it has made it possible for me, finally at 38, to feel at home in my body.
I've collected and read numerous books about yoga to continue my studies, and I have taught classes in Pikeville, Whitesburg, Norton, Hindman, and Isom. I've taught in yoga studios a library, hillsides, a settlement school, and in gyms to groups of 30 and parties of 1. I have fallen down on my mat crying ugly tears in the middle of a studio class, but also smiled so hard my face hurt. I have taken studio classes in various places every opportunity I have. Yoga has taken me to the limits of my body and mind and back again.
I I have held myself accountable for the yoga I teach, as I have had to out of necessity. I didn't have an in person teacher, so I found the answers in books, DVDs, online, and asking yoga teachers on Facebook. I could not share yoga in my community without being a dedicated practitioner of yoga or without caring enough about my students to be able to keep them safe and share proper alignment and modifications. While my yoga education is not the highest certification available, coming to yoga first as the student and second as a sharer has kept me in constant practice and growth within my personal practice. I share with those in my class from experience. I have a head full of cues and adjustments that make yoga accessible to most who walks through the door of a class I am responsible for. I have all the precautions in place and a heart for sharing a practice that has changed my life. My community cared enough about my continued education that they crowd-funded my newest yoga certification for the practice that has changed me so much in the last six months - BUTI Yoga. I will forever be grateful. I certified this past July with Talen Lane in Nashville, TN.
Whether or not I am the most credentialed teacher, doesn't matter. What matters is that my students and those who hire me to teach trust me. What matters with yoga is one's dedication to practicing and being a student. Am I willing to read all I can? Am I willing to practice 1-2 hours six days a week? Am I willing to say, "I don't know, but let me find out for you," if a students asks me a question I don't have the answer for? Am I willing to continue my education formally as opportunities present themselves? Am I willing to invest monetarily in my yoga classes and education. Those things matter. Do I love my community more than my ego? Am I willing to be open and sincere? Yoga asks us all the hard questions. To truly practice, we have to start to lose the competition we're always in with ourselves and meet ourselves right where we are, wherever that may be.
In the 16 years since I started with Jane Fonda's yoga, my yoga practice has become an expression of my faith. It gives me my fullest life. It is a gift from Universe even on the very tough days. It demands that I don't stop, but I come to the mat just as I am. It asks me to listen to my body, to the world around me, to the voices of all the members of my community. It requires of me compassion and mindfulness. It fosters in me and attitude of service. It has helped me embrace my womanhood, sexuality, and Divine Feminine. Buti Yoga has given me a tribe of truly supportive women who call ourselves - butisattvas, to encourage and uplift me. Yoga has become a friend, a tool, and a medicine. It would be wrong of me not to share what I have learned so those I care for can know this journey too.
In 2012, I decided to stop being a doula and childbirth educator. After an exhilarating birth experience with my youngest daughter, a friend of mine suffered a tremendous tragedy in relation to serving at another woman's birth. My friend went through a loss of her whole present and future dreams. She went through 10 months of being locked away in a county jail without a trial, and without seeing the light of day. Ultimately, the original charges against her were dropped. She never faced trial.
Watching the sisterhood within my friend's community become so divided, and at the same time witnessing the rallying of sisterhood that was shown to support her innocence, I realized that in order to empower women to stand fully in their strength - fearless and bold, it was the feminine power of the sisterhood that needed healing. Being a woman is not easy. Despite all the work our mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers have done to make the experience of being female in this world easier for us, there is still so much work to be done and most of that work is inner work.
I didn't know what my place was in regards to reaching out to women. Healing THE sisterhood is a huge undertaking and no one person can affect enough change to accomplish that task. One person, plugged in to the right things, and in the right time and place however, can "be the change we wish to see in the world." Mahatma Gandhi didn't say those words exactly, but he did say this:
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”
It was in the shower one morning that I came to the decision to quit my job as a radio journalist. In a matter of minutes, I concluded to leave behind steady $15 an hour pay and full benefits to once again venture out on my own to chase a calling I've had since I can remember as someone who shares information with others. I'd teach yoga. That was the only thing for certain. But, over the last few months, more work has presented itself to me as well as more education. To be a "teacher" you must forever be a "student".
This week, I'm going to Nashville, TN to become certified to teach BUTI Yoga. BUTI is a style of yoga that combines primal movement, dance, power yoga, and kundalini activation. BUTI is geared toward self-love and sisterhood. Founder Bizzie Gold says the following:
"The beauty of the experience is that we don't have to be exactly like each other to BE sisters."
Another way I've stepped out of my comfort zone is that I have become a Younique presenter. Younique is a direct sales cosmetics company that offers a top quality product with the mission to - Uplift. Empower. Validate. women. Women are coming together around the art of self expression through beauty, forming teams, and working with each other to create businesses that fit our individual lifestyles. Younique also has an active role in fighting sexual abuse through the Younique Foundation and the Defend Innocence campaign. I never dreamed I'd want to be involved in direct sales or with makeup at that, but I was inspired by the mission and when I tried the product, I found I really didn't want to use any other brands, so why not be a presenter. Now, I'm working with an amazing team of women called - Graceful Beauties. Our team is led by a nineteen year old woman! She's a rock star. And, I'm inspired daily by the women on the team, including Carrie Campbell a long time friend of mine who is my sponsor.
What I know for certain is that in supporting one another in being holistically healthy and feeling free to express our inner self outwardly, we will learn empowerment. Empowerment will come naturally. We will know there is room for all of us. Bizzie Gold says, "Our vibe attracts our tribe." If we are putting out there our authentic selves, those sisters who roll with a similar energy as we do, will come out to tribe with us.
Sure, it's a risk. There are other yoga teachers and makeup reps. It isn't about competition. It's about creating space for all of us to thrive. We succeed when we uplift the good work of one another. When we acknowledge our individual gifts, and come together to support those gifts being made available in our communities. I'm willing to be brave with my life. Happiness is a choice they say. In some ways, I agree. We can choose to see the positive in everything. I try to understand that to everything there is a season. Happiness doesn't come with steady money. Happiness can come with being of service. In the end though, it's one step at a time, without judgement, and with a willingness to see that we all have a story and a gift to share.
The look pictured above was created with these Younique products:
~Moodstruck Minerals Concealer in Fabulous
~Touch Minerals Pressed Powder Foundation in Velour
~Moodstruck Minerals Pressed Blusher in Seductive
~Moodstruck Addiction Shadow Palette #1
~Moodstruck Precision Pencil Eyeliner in Perfect
~Moodstruck 3D Fiber Lashes
~Moodstruck Precision Brow Liner in Medium
~Moodstruck Precision Pencil Lip Liner in Pouty
~Moodstruck Splash! Liquid Lipstick in Stately
To shop my Younique website visit www.truly-express.com or connect with me on Facebook.
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.