surrender

Weighty Words

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I love words, I have always loved words, and I love words more and more with every passing day. I recall as a child how envious I felt watching my older sister learn to write new words, the visceral experience is still with me as I think of how she would create from letters that I did not understand, words to match images in her composition notebook. Of course I was learning with her then and when the day came that I was finally writing correlating words to images in my very own composition notebook the following year, rather than envy a new feeling emerged. The feeling of competition. This is the life of a younger sibling. Words fall together like puzzle pieces and the image they create tells the story of our lives. Without words and the stories they tell through their correlation of the images we conceptualize, understand, then relate about this experience, life itself would be, well, very different.

Being a lover of words I am also a lover of the dwelling places of words, stories, poems, plays, books, the library, and I also love to read. When asked what my favorite book is, I answer with mischievous snark, the Dictionary, as it is the home of all words and their meanings, from which, with skill in action, great writers produce literary works of genius that create a place for the reader to experience life from an altogether different tapestry of images, which may or may not change the way they see their own unique collage of life. I love words and the dictionary so much I have even studied the history of the dictionary and find the fact that it is a rather new to the scene of words fascinating, especially when considering the long-standing love affair between humans and words. However, in all my love for words I find myself still wanting. Perhaps I limit myself with my limited knowledge of language, yet I find some words just don’t cut it. Either they carry to much weight and therefor are misunderstood, misinterpreted, turn the listener or reader off, closing them to the vital grace of the gift of words, or they don’t carry enough, and in their simplicity a similar effect of no affect is reached.

Words like God and Love are two words that leave me in a state of great wanting. Short, single syllable simplicity that by no means covers the expanse of meaning attempted to be held in their basic form. Basic as they are, they also carry surprising weight, creating often times great aversion and misunderstanding, closing the proverbial door to that which they claim to open.

Earlier this year I was speaking with one of my cousins on the subject of love, and not just romantic love, but love in its most divine sense, the love that enhances all of this universe in pure desire for connection through expression and reflection. As I mused on the many aspects of the beauty of the diversity of divinity and divinities nature to be unconditional in its love for all expression and form, my cousin invited me to find a new word for my concept, expressing that in his experience he could not get around the conventional understanding of the word love. He found, like myself, its single syllable simplicity just wasn’t inviting him to perceive the concept I was trying to paint. I have yet to find another word that does my concept justice, other than ummm.

The easy out of this would be to call this concept God, and the word God, like the word love, has been used with such fervor to carry such incredibly strong belief systems over the history of humankind, that from my vantage point, it too does not serve.

Perhaps in other languages there are other words, more complex or even more simple words that cover these concepts with more clarity and less fragmentation, less possibility of loosing the attention of ones audience due to their aversion to an assortment of letters, syllables, and tones. I have yet to come across them.

As a teacher of yoga, a lover of philosophy, spirituality, and a broad concept of God and love, I return to this inner conflict with regularity. How do I talk about God, without talking about God? How do I talk about love without sounding like a new age, woo-woo, ungrounded, airy-fairy? How do I talk about spirituality without turning people off or sounding self-righteous? These are questions I ask myself daily.

Though I have been working at it for quite some time now, I relate I haven’t a simple answer for the answer changes with every circumstance. Being a lover of words has supported me along the journey enabling me to find a multitude of ways to convey my ideas of God and Love clearly and still ummm is not the most valuable substitute.

A few weeks back I went to a class where the teacher dropped the “G” bomb reading yoga sutra 2:45. I have been contemplating the significance of this event for me ever since. Today I conclude that sometimes the best way to handle these weighty words is to let go of the fear, hand over the concern, and let the feeling of the offering be carried beyond the words. This in essence is unconditioning the heart, excellent yoga, and the embodiment of the sutra that was offered in that poignant class.

Yoga Sutra 2:45

“By total surrender to God, Samadhi is attained.”

Samadhi Siddhir Isvarapranidhanat

By total surrender to what is, be it God, Love, or a weighty word, in all of its perfect diversity at this moment, without attachment to what has been or what is desired, spaciousness, ease and peace is attained.

Like learning from my sister as she learned to correlate pictures to words, I also learned from my teacher to hold fearless space for God and Love and that is surrender, and in the surrender dwells peace.

With Love, All Ways, For Giving, In Joy,

Genevieve

Knocking on the Door of What Serves

There are many common misconceptions of yoga, one is that yoga is just exercise, another is that just by practicing yoga you are becoming more spiritual. As a yoga teacher I find I spend a bit of time in my classes trying to clear up these misconceptions and more, as well as explain the value of a spiritual practice that uses the physical one as a vehicle. Just to be clear here, from my understanding and background there is no right way or wrong way, only what serves. What serves however, changes, and the practice of yoga is deep enough and spacious enough to make room for all changes in the search for what serves. From the place of yoga as exercise to yoga as spiritual practice and everything in between there is value to be gained. How deep any seeker goes is up to them. With all that being said, there is an essential focus to better oneself by knowing the trappings of ignorance and the value of awareness. In the wake of ignorance is often hurt and suffering, therefore the more one pursues awareness the more one may experience peace and contentment. Knowing the difference between powers generated from the energy within and power generated from a willingness to surrender to something greater is a point of awareness that can greatly serve and is the premiss of a spiritual practice. One of my yoga teachers once said, “this practice (hatha yoga) will make you more powerful, but it will not make you more spiritual.” The sentiment referred very specifically to the quality of hatha yoga that enhances the power of ones energy body by dropping restriction in the flow of energy creating more potency and energetic power through this process. With increased energetic power comes an increased responsibility of the practitioner to act with more mindful integrity, because the heightened power increases the risk of ones potential to go out into the world and abuse the world in a state of ignorance. The ignorance being the unknowing of the quality of ones great power and the effect such a powerful state can have on others.

I find it is common to come across people with great personal power who have not refined their awareness of it and therefore their boundaries around it. These people present themselves commonly in places of leadership and authority, and from their ignorance can flow hurtful words and actions, such as the art teacher who criticizes a piece of work without sensitivity to the artists expression and their vulnerability in expressing themselves.

Anyone who has practiced yoga for an extended period of time and in so doing has advanced their practice, has probably experienced a heightened sense of personal power, the ability to accomplish ones desires, to rise above adversity, to face ones challenges, to set goals and intentions and follow through, and so on. It is one of the many blessed gifts of the discipline. However, as my teacher said, all that power does not make you more spiritual. Perhaps the power is all you are seeking and the spiritual aspect of the practice brings up feelings of aversion in you. This perspective of the practice is fine, and it serves, until it doesn’t.

In my experience no matter how willful we become, how powerful, how capable, life hands us circumstances that can bring us to our knees. Sometimes experiences so extreme they bring us to our bellies lying prostrate upon the floor of absolute loss at the bottom of the well of deepest grief. Other times, life brings us to a confined space between a rock and hard place, the hard place appearing to look like the edge of a cliff, and perhaps is. Life pulls the rug out from under us leaving us shocked in the wake of deception and betrayal. The general expression in this state of loss is completely embodied and completely devastating, confirmed in an exasperated and hysterical statement of “I don’t know what to do.” When the level of severity of life happening reaches this breaking point, the throwing oneself over the edge point, is when all of that power has very little use in service to us, for in the confusion of no control there is no clear place to direct our energy except into the abyss.

This is where a spiritual practice can have great value. A spiritual practice that gives inward permission to believe in and pursue a relationship with a higher power than oneself. Simple as that. However, as there are many kinds of spiritual practices and many of them are also tied up in religious dogma and loaded words it is common in this day and age of science and extraordinarily accessible information to avoid spiritual practice, to see no purpose for it, to discount its value based on evidence of its use to disempower and not self empower and on and on. Truly the most valuable choices any of us can make are the ones that serve us. Using any discipline to know what serves each of us personally is of great help in making informed choices to do so. Speaking for myself and from the basis upon which I live my life, I am served by a practice of believing in a higher power. I am also served by the practice of believing that the essential nature of that higher power is benevolent without condition with love, and in that all things are allowed, all things are accepted, and all things are always moving in the direction of more beauty and more benevolence. The boundaries, the integrity by which I live are choices I get to make based on what serves me, and this, is as I see it, the essence of free will.  Though there is no fundamental scientific evidence of the greater power I believe in, I see evidence in everything. From the grand intelligence of the universe to the unconditional nature of gravity and the intelligence of my body to heal without mutating into some obscure unnamable creature. I don’t know how it all works, I cannot see any of it working, yet I trust and believe my feet will touch the ground tomorrow, the earth will continue to rotate on its axis, and the next time I get a cut on my knee it won’t grow back another finger. Believing in a higher power is very similar to this and does not have to include any rhetoric of good, bad, evil, and holy, unless that is what serves the person with the beliefs.

Spiritual teachings have existed for thousands of years for a reason. There is something to them. Sometimes they provide answers, more often they provide more questions. Not unlike hatha yoga a spiritual practice can generate great personal power and like all things of power, there is the potential for abuse of that power and the people who stand in its shining light.

One doesn’t ever have to take on the spiritual practices of yoga or any philosophical discipline to see their lives benefit from a concerted and disciplined effort over time, to measure the efficacy of their work, to have integrity and be accountable in value systems and personal actions. However, when life throws down, spiritual belief serves the individual who believes in a higher power to take the leap of faith trusting on the other side there will be a net, to swim in the well of grief knowing that all things in nature change and that love is never gone, and to be ok with not knowing the how’s and the when's, finding spaciousness in their awareness to be present in letting something greater then them self know the design, leading to a state of contentment and inner peace.

The practice of hatha yoga (the physical stuff) will make your more powerful, yet it won’t make you more spiritual, true spirituality takes a more concerted effort than that. If evidence it what would serve you to believe, know that eventually, if one goes looking hard enough, spirit reveals itself everywhere, however like anything we are not looking for, it’s hard to find, if you don’t believe you will.

In the end, the truth is that when we seek beyond our ignorance, beyond our misconceptions, beyond that which we are told are facts, whether it is a spiritual, physical, or scientific seeking, we are always serving ourselves. Expanding into the spaciousness of awareness is where we receive the invitation to contentment and peace, it's up to us however, to take it.

“Keep knocking, and the joy inside will eventually look out the window to see who’s there.” -Rumi

With Love, Always, in All Ways, For Giving,

Genevieve

Falling Into Grace

In the last year my life has changed remarkably, surprisingly, and mostly against my will. At the beginning of last July I unfortunately fell down a flight of six stairs. I had never fallen down stairs before and I only imagined how painful it would be. Being a kind of clumsy girl I found it fortunate for me that there aren’t’ a whole bunch of stairs to fall down in Taos as most buildings are one story and the front entryway is even with the earth. Though before last July I had yet to fall down stairs in my life, I wasn’t new to falling. I had more than once slipped on the ice, stumbled over after one to many beverages of the saucy kind, or just being my clumsy self tripped over something outside my range of vision. As a tall person, falling in general, isn’t’ much fun. I lament my height as I watch children fall and bounce right back up without much more than a whimper. Over my many years as an avid snowboarder I became more accustomed to falling. However, when playing in the snow one does their falling in the snow, which has a generosity in it’s reception of a body no matter it’s size. Falling into snow that has freshly fallen is as delightful as falling into bed when you’re exhausted, it’s a welcome surrender. Falling down stairs, not so inviting, and falling down stairs when you have placed your foot where you see the step to be, and you step with the confidence of someone who has managed to stand upright for more than three decades, is a far cry from a welcome surrender. After I tumbled down to the bottom of the flight of stairs, body facing up the direction I had come, in acute and shocking pain, feeling like something beyond the veil of my perception had pushed me I questioned, “How did I miss that step I was so obviously taking?” Since the fall everything has changed. As I said before, falling to the ground as a tall person usually does not lend itself to bouncing back. Before the fall I was experiencing more chronic pain in a long-term back injury than I wanted to admit, but after, I could no longer ignore it. I went to the doctor, which was marked for me, as I never go to the doctor. That doctor sent me to another doctor. I was ordered an MRI that catapulted me directly back to the trauma of the car accident that caused the back injury so many years before. In conjunction with the memory of the trauma my fear worsened as I relived an old reality that once I laid down in the MRI tube I may never stand up again. Recognizing this was a fear, an old story, before the test I rose to the opportunity to face it head on. Inside the MRI tube I choose to meditate on spacious landscapes as to not feel claustrophobic, and based on previous experience this time I knew better than to open my eyes. More importantly I was able to remind myself that no matter the pain I was going through and the possible outcome of the imaging, I would be walking away after the loud hum of the magnificent machine stopped.

I’m a stubborn person. I credit my stubborn nature with the reality that I can walk post car accident. Yet, it is also my stubborn nature that perpetuated me living my life without pause, as I was doing, in a state of chronic pain before the fall. The imaging results of the MRI were good, and I in perfect stride with my stubbornness took a minor two weeks off of my regular schedule for “rest”, which hardly included rest. Along with being stubborn I have a hard time slowing down, and though it was far from the truth at the end of my two-week “rest” I told myself I was better. I was not better, and this journey was really just gearing up. By the end of December a mere six months later I could barely walk.

Falling down stairs was not something I wanted to do, nor was falling out of my perceived ability to manage my life, which in turn meant constant managing of my lie. Telling myself as every day went by and the pain in my low back and hip and shoulder and neck got worse, I was ok. What compounded the necessity of the lie was another lie I was telling myself, I couldn’t, not work. I had to work. How would the bills get paid if I weren’t working? It’s not like I was making a whole bunch of money, but I had this story in my head that if I didn’t make money the financial fall, and a fall from self reliance, would be worse than the pain in my body, worse than relying on someone else, worse than anything I had lived through up until that point.

Keeping up the façade for six months was easy because I would smoke copious amounts of tobacco and pot and forget about it. I would get in bed daily after following through on my commitments and tell myself this new standard of living was ok because at least I made a bit of money that day, and now I could numb the feeling and rest. However, a few hours of rest some days, did not make up for the sometimes eight hours a day I was teaching most days at that point. And like the fall down the stairs in July, I fell in my driveway at the end of December coming home from the studio. My legs collapsed underneath me as I burst into tears.

Keeping in stride with my knack for holding a stubborn position, I looked around at my life and told myself I was totally screwed. I was screwed because I had built a life around using my body to make a living and now my body was saying no more. After spending so much time trying to maintain a semblance of control in my life, if not within my body at least within my bank account, I was now face to face with the reality that I truly had no control. In a disparaging state I realized the one thing I could do to feel better was quit smoking, and on the first of the year I did. This good feeling choice was followed swiftly with a ripple effect as every relationship I held close to me was pulled into a vortex of friction, discontent, discomfort, and conflict. From my husband, to my siblings, to my best friends, to my parents, all relationships were up for evaluation, and most especially, the one I was having with myself.

There I was in the dark of winter, having what I call an acute episode of life, as I was now truly falling into the well of the lies I had used to hold up a life they could no longer hold.

In retrospect I can say life is pretty amazing. Again months have passed and I am no longer in the cheese grater of life and I can look back on those painful days and weeks and know I am better for them. In the presence of the hardship I found myself supported in the most beautiful of ways. I found that there is always help. Sometimes we have to humble ourselves enough to ask for help and step outside of our limited ideas of how life is supposed to be long enough to receive it as it is, but I found that when I did, help arrived. Help arrived for me, just when I thought I would continue falling and never hit bottom. I think that when we are in the worst states of emotional and physical discomfort in our lives, when we are truly most vulnerable it is the hardest time to reveal our truths. I know for myself last winter was the most challenging emotional time I have lived through in my life up to this day. There were days when I contemplated carrying on, the value of this experience, and what a relief death might be. To reveal that kind of emotional experience in that state takes courage, but if we chose not to, if we continue to hold up a façade of a life of lies, we do eventually slip through the cracks like Robin Williams did last week, and so many of my friends did before him. I like to think I am not alone in this kind of experience, that anyone with a heart that hurts has contemplated crossing over, yet I do not know if that is true. What I do know to be true is that I was fortunate to have a net of help wrap itself around me, as I needed it. Help arrived then and help has continued to arrive, mostly, because I was able to ask for it.

The pain in my body before the fall, and after the fall, is mostly tied up in the real injury I sustained so many years ago in my back. It is also tied up in the layers and layers of story of my life stored in my cellular, emotional, and mental body. I am not ashamed to admit that since January I have been in therapy, revisiting the story of my life, the truth and the lies, while learning how to see it as a whole bunch of this one time, rather than, that’s always the story. My desire to experience less physical discomfort has gratefully lead me to make choices for my self that are loving and not rooted in the contracted state of fear I was experiencing last winter, nor the deluded state of smoke and lies. In the delightful heat of the summer and after months of deliberate care for this vehicle that houses my spirit, I spend more days with less pain than I have in years. I am feeling more optimistic than ever before that I will feel less and less pain as more time goes by, maybe even no pain someday, but that is going to require diligent awareness and honesty.

I haven’t smoked in months, I haven’t gotten high or told myself money was the most important tool I had, I haven’t done these things because I recognized that though they had worked as a band-aid in the past, that’s all they did was cover up the problems. I realized this week as I agonized a bit about the weight I have gained in the past few months that holding onto the concept of a good weight is akin to holding onto the fear of not having enough money, akin to choosing pain over health and well being, akin to being afraid of falling. It was in that realization that I recognized it doesn’t’ matter what the band-aid is because beneath any band-aid the need is always the same. The need is to surrender, to fall and to trust, to believe the net will appear. As I had this small epiphany I began to cry, the tears fell with ease, with joy, with sweetness, with grace from my eyes. To surrender to grace, I am continuously reminded, is the greatest gift I could ever give to myself, any of us could ever give to ourselves, no matter the circumstances.

Like falling into fresh snow, falling into grace is a generous invitation to fall into the authenticity of being alive, a welcome surrender into the divinity of being.

Though as I intended to step down that flight of stairs and I placed my foot where I could see the step to be, it clearly wasn’t the best next step for me. No matter how much control any of us wants in this life, the reality is, we aren’t really in control at all. Life is full of happenstance, circumstance, and experience and what we have control of is our response. Perhaps Robin’s response to the circumstances of his life was the correct one for him. Perhaps his fall back to grace just looks a little sloppy from here. Grace always catches us, this I know. I also know that my falling down the stairs was really more like leaping over a threshold of honesty into a life of authenticity, or being tossed by grace from a lackluster life of lies into a resplendent and honest future. Like raindrops falling from the sky, any time we fall we are making our way back to the source, back to the bigger body of water, the brilliant divinity from which all life was begot. Anytime we breakthrough the lies, the pain, the hardship and rise to the occasion of humble surrender, I truly believe, we are getting what we need.

With love, and many tears of laughter and sorrow for Robin and because of him, for all my friends gone, and the opportunity to continue to live,

Genevieve