Obligation or Alignment?
Hello fellow yogis - Happy Autumn! Here at the Alexander abode we are fumbling our way through finding new back to school routines that work in addition to preparing for the launch of our home yoga center.
In the midst of so much to juggle, I’ve had a few holy breakdowns which are always an invitation to pause and wonder: how did I get here? and what needs shifting?
Fall invites me to shift from all the go-go-go-ing of summer into a new way of being and is the perfect time to practice svhadyaya (or self study): to follow the trees’ lead and consciously let go of what no longer feels useful in order to use my energy skillfully (brahmacharya).
Truthfully, I’m jealous of trees who don’t have to do the hard work of discerning what has to go and what gets to stay – I’m amazed by how they JUST KNOW and keep doing what feels natural to them without the mental exhaustion of over-analyzing.
Unlike other beings, God has given humans the great gift (and responsibility) of freewill: the ability to choose our thoughts, words and actions which - whether we like it or not - make a real impact on our lives and the lives of those around us.
There’s something both empowering and scary as hell about having this grown up realization that we actually do have choice - that life is actually a slushy gray mixture of both fate and freewill.
That’s probably why the Jewish people light a candle every sabbath asking God for both lovingkindness AND wise discernment. Maybe my daily prayer of dear God, please don’t let me eff things up is more universal than I once thought?
While I used to run from death and the letting go process, all spiritual traditions invite us to embrace it as a part of how the Soul evolves while in human form. Tibetan Buddhists, in fact, meditate on death daily as a way of keeping them alert, aware, and living in a state of presence and appreciation.
Accepting and embracing small deaths (e.g. my younger, firmer body, old career hats, friendships, and personality traits) seems to be preparing me for the ultimate and inevitable reality of death that awaits us all.
If you’re interested in living a yogic life, you might pause and recalibrate this season, taking time to ask yourself:
Making choices that serve and benefit your health is actually good for all of us. After all, the healthy, steady tree eventually bears the most fruit.
Life is actually quite simple when we slow down and pay attention and remember that we have choice (which is what the brain research suggests that yoga does for us).
When faced with decisions of what to do (or not to do), my practice these days is to pause and ask myself: is my *yes* coming from obligation or alignment? and go from there.
I hope you are finding some calm amidst the changing of seasons and can give yourself permission to continue to follow what feels alive for you.
With great respect and love,
The Path of Descent
As we walk through the Easter season I'm always humbled to see how the teachings of death, letting go and resurrection arise in what's happening both within and around me.
This time has been (and continues to be) a time of great undoing: all the things and people and choices that are not in alignment with love and respect for all are falling away left and right both individually and collectively.
Hafiz says that when this happens it's like God is shaking you upside down, cleaning out all your pockets, or as my teacher Chinnamasta Stiles would say, it's God's way of polishing you.
I used to think that when things weren't perfect or that something was "wrong", that God had abandoned me or I had done something terrible to "manifest" whatever was happening (an egoic and limited way of thinking about spirituality if you ask me).
But the ancient traditions point to challenges as part of our spiritual path and as the direct way that we continue to evolve and essentially get closer to God.
I have come to know, appreciate and respect the undoing process (or Lent as the Christians might define it) as I know that it creates in me a humble heart, one that doesn't have the strength to poster, wear masks, or try to be something I'm not.
Through learning how to be with the natural experiences of life and all they include (kid tantrums, a sunrise, a difficult conversation, the sweetness of small children) I am somehow more able to sit with others in their suffering with a kind and humble heart.
Before Jesus came to the scene, everyone was expecting a messiah who would be militant, domineering, and physically strong -- someone who would use his brute strength to bring order to the world.
But I love that the savior comes as a simple, poor, human being with an open heart who continues to let life happen to him -- a man with no real agenda other than to serve God, love others, speak the truth, and follow God’s path for him no matter how arduous or unnerving.
Through radical acceptance, he shows us a new kind of power: one that comes from within and is rooted in faith, service, honesty, and compassion for all.
Let me be clear that acceptance is not apathy: ignoring the suffering of the world, staying in an abusive situation, or losing our zest for ourselves or our lives.
Jesus, by no means, was a wallflower.
Rather, acceptance helps us to meet the moment as it is, trusting that the Divine Intelligence that brought us to it will show us the way through it.
God has often whispered in my ear that the changes we long to see in this world will happen from the bottom up, from kind, curious, open-hearted humans, and that the best way that change can happen is with us.
With great respect and love,
Sitting with Sorrow
This week I had what I like to call a holy breakdown – you know, when all the stress, pain and fear you’ve been stuffing with food, work, and social media just suddenly spew out in all directions and – while you’d like to blame everyone else – there’s no denying that the only common denominator in all of the drama is you.
This time the breakdown started with a really pissed off, super dramatic, door-slamming complaint about how Shawn does NOT help me pack lunches. In therapy the next day, after my nervous system had time to regulate, I got more curious about what that whole lunch-packing explosion was about which – Shawn and I both knew – was the tip of some underlying iceberg I was unwilling to look at.
The truth is I’d just been carrying so much and it all caught up with me; weary, weary, I’m just so weary, is what finally came out as the eyes of my compassionate therapist blinked back at me.
I’d been keeping the family treadmill running at full speed.
Making brave and scary strides with my work.
Revisiting grief (again).
Navigating incessant global anxiety.
And somehow striving to be supermom through it all.
But I have to admit that I’m grateful for my holy meltdowns as they always have a way of indicating what’s going on with me on a deeper level and point me in the direction of what my body and Soul are really needing (but my thinking brain is unwilling to look at).
Once I cleaned up all the mess from the meltdown I realized that I needed a day to be still, to sit with my sorrow. No driving. No phones. No working. No talking. No distractions.
A spiritual talk on grief.
A soothing bath.
And space for a much-needed cry.
I realized that what was driving all the go-go-going (if I’m honest) was the fear of slowing down and sitting with my sorrow.
Something sacred and sweet happens when I do, though.
All those tight places in my chest open up. My breath finds its way back into places it couldn’t access and I’m somehow slower, kinder and more tender with everyone I meet.
I’m freed from the constant itch to impress everyone and can find a soft, steady comfort within myself that feels really natural.
This is the gift of grief that comes when we learn how to sit with our sadness rather than run from it: when we face everything and rise rather than saying eff everything and run (as the 12 steppers like to say).
The other night my friend and I sat with tea processing the senseless violence in Russia and Ukraine, wondering what it must be like to be one of the mothers juggling her children while on the run, what it must be like to be the mother of a Russian soldier, wondering if she’ll ever see her child again.
My fellow griever told me that back in the day there were women whose job was simply to wail for those who were grieving because those enduring the pain were too shocked to do so themselves.
And so we quietly leaked tears together over our tea, considering all the pain in the world, and taking a moment to feel it for those who could not.
While I know lots of people who believe the spiritual path is all about love and light and positivity (said from one recovering spiritual bypasser to another ;)), the ancient traditions suggest that there is a way to know God that’s much wider and deeper than that: that it’s possible to see all the moments of life as sacred and experience all of our feelings while continue to keep our eyes on the God who is greater than them all.
Faith in an Intelligent Universe
The season of darkness is here: can you feel it? Pitch black mornings, early bedtimes, sleepy bodies and the invitation to be still and rest.
The paradigm of darkness is a part of the Universal rhythms that humans have witnessed since the beginning of time.
Looking out to the ether year after year they saw that there was a phenomenon happening:
Things would get
and then some miraculous force would bring the Earth back to life again.
And around and around it would go, year after year, season after season.
Surely humans had learned, with time and experience, that they could have faith in this pattern: that every year would be like this and that they could trust in this miraculous unfolding no matter what.
But you can imagine that in the times of darkness, disease, death, and food shortage, humans would need stories and traditions to support them: to hold them up, to remind them that the darkness was only one part of the human experience and that this part would not last forever.
That’s why the season of darkness and Light is discussed in nearly every spiritual tradition all over the world, reminding us that while darkness is inevitable it is never the end of the story: that the Light never leaves us and always continues to expand itself without our doing.
As a Christian by background, my mind always wanders to the Jesus story (which I actually think is the Mary story) this time of year.
Can you imagine getting told by an angel that a miraculous birth would happen through you, in a dark time and a dark world amidst dark people who would not truly understand it?
Unmarried, unsure, alone, and probably wondering if she was borderline insane, Mary’s faith in the angelic guidance she received allowed her to continue to follow the still small voice, through the most extreme of circumstances.
And let’s think for a moment about the RIDICULOUS devotion it must have taken for Joseph to believe her, to trust what she *heard*, to stand by her side and walk with her through the darkness, keeping his eyes on the Light for both of them.
I’ve been thinking a lot about faith lately as, truthfully, mine has suffered in the last several years.
I’ve wondered: is it callous and unfeeling to have faith in a greater good amidst racial injustice, sex scandals, climate change, political division, and so much fear?
Maybe faith is for the birds?
Is faith an essential ingredient in my embodied human experience?
Is it necessary to keep my mind focused on the inherent intelligence of the Universe,
the essential goodness of humanity (beneath fear-based behaviors),
and our God-given ability to keep learning, adapting and growing as a people amidst adversity?
Buddhist teacher, Sharon Salzberg, says faith does not have to be based in dogma or a difficult-to-understand deity, but that true faith can be found in our lived experience of witnessing darkness turn to light, difficulties somehow making *sense* in the long run.
Jesus attests to this saying time and time and time again that those who experienced his healing had done so because “their faith had saved them.”
Not his power.
Not the angels.
Not some magic herbal remedy.
Their faith had saved them.
Now let me me clear: FAITH is not spiritual bypass, ignoring the challenges and pretending they will just fix themselves.
Rather, it's BEING in them knowing that we have within us the power to move through and grow from whatever we are experiencing.
The yoga tradition teaches that the only three things we have control over in this universe are our thoughts, our actions and our words.
That while we cannot control what’s going on “out there” we can work to attend to what’s going on “in here” (which is why we practice) and that practicing love, peace, joy, and an inner experience of faith is how it is made manifest in the world.
They also say that this cannot be done alone (trust me, I’ve tried to keep my eyes on the Light by myself and damn it’s hard and kinda boring).
They say that we need a sangha (or a group) to hold us and remind us of the Light when we have difficulty finding it for ourselves: that collective healing energy is part of God’s Divine Design for humanity.
That’s what church, at its essence, is: a co-creative web of Grace that holds us in the ups and the downs of the human experience
If you need a place to go to find the Light and strengthen your faith in it this Holiday Season, Women’s Church is here for you.
Learn more at erinalexander.org.
With great respect and love, Erin
After nearly a year long sabbatical of deep self healing, growth, learning and expansion, I am ready (and excited!) to take the sacred seat of yoga teacher once again.
Wild Women’s Church is something that I’ve felt our society has been desperately NEEDING since I was a little girl.
So much of modern spirituality was designed by men and for men -- and while I love men and find incredible value in learning from a variety of world religions -- I ALSO see that what most women need goes much deeper than what’s been offered to us.
Wild Women’s Church is my answer to this prayer for something more.
The class is a trauma-informed movement and meditation practice designed to help you see yourself CLEARLY (as a lovable, Divine being).
to unearth your inner wisdom,
to build courage, confidence, and self-compassion,
to love, honor and inhabit your body, and
to feel like the belong exactly as you are.
This is not a place that you come to CHANGE yourself (although, from my experience, positive changes are inevitable), but rather a place you come to love, honor, and accept yourself, exactly as you are.
And while the term *wild* scared me when it first came to me, it seems absolutely appropriate for this class: to be wild means to be undomesticated: to be free of the cultural conditioning that tell us we have to be something other than what we already are in order to be holy, in order to be good.
You see, according to mystics, NOTHING needs to be added to make you holy.
You are considered HOLY from the start:
holy with your anger,
your half-shaven legs,
your big, round belly,
your tears, your laughter,
and your unprocessed grief,
Still holy. Always holy. Never not holy.
The practice is designed to help you remember that holiness and let go of whatever is holding you back from radiating it out to the world.
On Accepting Death
Last weekend I had the pleasure of pulling out dead things from my garden which has become a spiritual practice for me: slowly attuning to the land and discerning what wants to go and what wants to stay. It’s a little nerve-wrecking if I think about it too much: the lives of innocent plant-life resting in my fumbly hands.
But once I get going it’s life-giving: discerning what no longer has life force and consciously cutting it away. I (admittedly) get a high from piling up the dead things with my dirt-stained fingers and seeing all the space I’ve just created in the soil.
As a child, I liked thinking of God as an intelligent gardener, taking away what’s no longer serving me so She can make new things.
I used to just... sit around … waiting to be pruned, stuffing my truth and hoping (fingers crossed) that that maladaptive friendship would just fizzle or my unhealthy ex would just LEAVE already and I could scoot out the back door while no one was watching.
As I mature, I now realize that while God might be the gardener, I am Her apprentice holding a pair of human-sized shears in my own two hands.
Growing into an almost 40 year old woman has taught me that while death will find me on Her own accord no doubt, sometimes I am the one who must choose what will die:
having the courage to tell that uncomfortable truth
or walk away from a former commitment that doesn’t feel right
or say no to social media scrolling (even though it constantly sings its siren song).
I’m learning that I can reorient the trajectory of my life with every choice I make, according to what feels right for me.
This realization is hard when you have fumbly girl hands that are just learning how to hold pruning shears (that’s why Divine guidance is highly recommended ;)). But I’m learning that being in *Choice* is a necessary part of living a healthy, happy life that is in alignment with who I really am and what I really want.
Trust me, as a recovering addict, I LOVE to cling to things: comfort, people, adoration, old habits, thoughts and behaviors. But I’m learning that doing so is one of the most direct ways I cause myself harm.
And when I can just SURRENDER to the process of letting things go rather than resisting it, I’ve found that what looks like death initially is simply a part of a constantly unfolding process of transformation that my human mind may never fully understand.
God has surprised me multiple times by bringing an old friendship back in a new, more life-giving way, unearthing an old skill I thought I’d never need again, resurrecting my once rocky marriage into a more genuine one: new plants -- surprisingly -- growing in the compost pile.
Yoga is often called a practice that prepares us for the big-D death (which we all will face some day) assuring us that clinging to anything in this world is a one-way ticket to suffering. We are reminded that, while the ever-changing tapestry of life is meant to be experienced and enjoyed, God is the one stable source on which we can rely.
That’s why the practice is so profound: it connects us to the eternal Divine Self rather than encouraging us to look for stability in the shape-shifting world of form.
This week, I let go of three major things that were weighing me down -- taking up room in my schedule, draining me of time and money, and taking me away from my kids -- and while I was scared and shaky at first, I meditated, prayed, wound my fumbly fingers around the shears, and went for it.
And it feels incredible.
Fall is an excellent time to ask what is losing its life force for me? What feels heavy -- as if it’s too much to keep holding -- and what’s keeping me from letting it go? What if my freedom is on the other side of the boundaries that I am feeling called to set?
What I know for sure is that, as the Buddha says, you as much as anyone else in this Universe are worthy of your own love and attention. You have permission to keep pruning your life in a direction that’s in alignment with your deepest core values and brings you a deep sense of joy and purpose.
I wish you the courage to keep choosing what’s in alignment for you as we move into the season of death, deep renewal, and reset.
In love and sisterhood,
P.S. As I have alluded to in my past emails, my business (my marriage, my body, and my family life ;)) have all been in their own transformative death and resurrection process over the last year: you can read the story here.
Debunking the Myth of your "Badness"
This morning Maple asked me, with a furrowed brow, about what’s going to happen to all those “bad kids” come Xmas morning.
She’s worried because rumor has it that somewhere out there those poor bad kids are really in for it with ole Santy.
“Mom,” she pleaded, “Christmas is only 4 days away and I just feel like we need to help them.”
I have to admit that those “you’d better watch out” songs feel wrong to me as a mother intent on raising girls who can embrace their inevitable “badness” with compassion.
It made me realize that those sneaky subconscious tunes have wired me to fear my own “badness” since birth.
And, having spent most of my life as a closet addict, I’ve sort of always known, without a doubt, how “bad” I was.
You see when you’re hiding heavy things, your brain is sorta wired to constantly keep track of all the “bad things” you’ve done:
those extra sweets you sneak,
those drinks you drank,
the secret spending you did.
And although I hid them well, they lived on a secret spreadsheet deep in my subconscious.
I’ve spent the last twenty years of my life unwinding these knots, but everywhere I go in the modern world I am inundated with reminders of my badness: not rich enough, not fit enough, not fast enough, not famous enough -- acutely aware of those one or two or seventeen more things I need to finally reach the finish line.
When I skeptically found my way to a yoga mat twenty years ago, I was carrying that secret spreadsheet of my mistakes (which was not so secretly appearing as my exhaustion, tight hips, belly bulge, and heavy heart).
I was usually late for class and snuck into an open spot in the back, where I could silently sweat, stretch, (and cry) my way out of all the inner demons that were demolishing me.
And after each practice, to my complete surprise, I found myself falling into the arms of a wide and wordless Grace that had always been there, moment after moment, breath after breath, in my goodness and badness, with nothing but endless love for my scattered, self-conscious self.
While I had grown up hearing about God in my head, yoga gave me a place to feel Her endless love in my messy and slowly melting heart.
And that is how I healed.
What’s ironic to me is that the essence of the Christmas story is not a shameful one, although the Santa songs tell us otherwise; rather, it’s a message of utter goodness: God climbing down into the tiniest of bodies to show us that no matter how dirty or simple or poor a human might be: she is holy, she is Divine.
You see, humans USED to think of themselves as merely fleshy animals, full of faults: violent, selfish, greedy, proud.
But, NO, the Christmas story assures us: you, my love, are so much more than what you once believed yourself to be.
To me, this is the purpose of the practice, to awaken and strengthen my connection to that holy place within me where I can feel and know that despite all appearances, I am constantly cradled by compassion, fumbling my way through an eternal Divine Dance.
And so, in Maple terms, I tried to explain that we're all a little naughty and we are all a little nice.
That life is hard and we all do things we're not always proud of to cope with it.
And that life is also beautiful and deep down humans are innocent and good.
She pondered these things and with a knowing look said "I always knew the naughty list wasn't true, Mom."
With endless love,
Birthing a New Earth Together
How is everyone doing out there? I personally have been fluctuating through moments of high highs (where I see the incredible possibility embedded in these times) and low lows (days where I am exhausted, emotional, frustrated and lacking in strength and hope).
Many of us sensitive souls have always known, though, on a soul-level that the current culture we're swimming in -- based on fear, control and dominance over others, ourselves and the Earth -- is not sustainable.
That while it may feel predictable, just like that nightly beer or five, it's hurting and harming us individually and collectively.
I feel so grateful that many people are waking up to this truth: for we cannot get better until we admit that we are sick.
It reminds me of the moment when I realized that the co-dependent, toxic world I created with my long-time ex was going to kill me if I stayed. That the patterns that were unconsciously running us made us both miserable, sick and depressed.
As this truth became apparently clear one night at the bar with my girlfriends, I felt incredibly sad, scared and EXCITED.
Could there be a different way?
Could I create something NEW?
Could there possibly be LIFE after this unnerving death?
Miraculously meeting and marrying my soulmate Shawn, birthing two incredible children with him and successfully working my dream career are proof that YES, NEW life, in fact, IS POSSIBLE.
But before I could get here, I had to go through the grueling death process first, letting go of the comfortable yet lethal patterns that had been my "normal" for so long. As I walked through this personal crucifixion, I had to watch everything I once identified with fade: old friends, old habits, my old apartment, my free dry-cleaning service (a handy benefit of this partnership ;)), and my status as this man's partner.
While it was painful and sad and emotionally exhausting, from the other side, I can tell you, as my mother once assured me, that it was SO worth it.
Through it I became so clear on what I DID NOT want, so that I could start to awaken to WHAT I DID WANT which was partnership, honesty, respect, gentleness, courage, and connection.
I got SO SO clear on what this potential future partner would be like that I refused to settle for anything less than him. Bad date after bad date could not get me down because I knew, for certain, that a new partner was on his way. My mind was made up.
And so, God, in Her infinite creative wisdom said, "YEEEEEES! That's what I'm talking about" as She got to work on birthing him into Being and miraculously dropping him on my path.
What if this time we are in is the perfect opportunity BREAK UP with our past?
To move through all the big emotions that come with the break-up FIRST, helping us each get clear on all that we DO NOT WANT so that, together, we can get clear on what WE DO WANT?
What if, together, we are beginning to imagine that there could be a different way that we had originally considered possible?
That we're not POWERLESS, but POWERFUL midwives of this SOMETHING ELSE we've always wanted?
This is the power of the yoga practice: giving us the tools to calm, harness and connect with the creative power of our minds, bodies and Souls so that EACH of us become conscious co-creators of a new reality instead of being victims, bystanders, and haters just trying to scoot through life without ever really living.
Change from the Bottom Up
Content Warning: Miscarriage / Racial Injustice
Over the last few weeks, my mind has become obsessed with all of the "out there" problems that I cannot change, ruminating on everything that needs fixing, healing and growth here.
So much to do, so little time on Earth.
As a born helper it's easy for me to feel overwhelmed and ill-equipped to deal with these current times.
That's when, thankfully, I started listening to the incredible audiobook My Grandmother's Hands, written by Resmaa Menakem who is a body-based trauma specialist.
His work, based on years of clinical practice with people of all cultures and backgrounds in addition to solid research, affirms what I've felt so deeply about worldly healing: that lasting change starts within each of us, particularly through our bodies.
You see, in our cells, we each carry the instinctual memories, behaviors, patterns and wounds of our ancestors' lived experiences as humans. These wordless patterns that live in black-bodies and white-bodies of both thought and behavior are downloaded into our DNA prior even to birth. And so we literally carry behaviors of the great great great grandparents many of us have never even heard about.
When I was pregnant, I was CERTAIN that neither of my girls would live beyond the womb. It was the most ridiculous thought-pattern: every scan was healthy, every doctor visit normal.
But this was a VISCERAL feeling in my body.
During that time, I was studying yoga therapy and learning about this very concept when I realized that I was carrying my Grandmother's unhealed trauma from her horrifying stillbirth experience -- in my cells.
My body REMEMBERED that wordless story, just as she remembers many others: stories about how to survive: what is safe. what is not safe. what to do to get food, shelter, love and attention. And what NOT to do so as to avoid the unbearable loss of those things.
Most of these body-based behaviors and beliefs are unconscious: automatic, you could say.
That's probably why I've been in the pantry WAAAAY more than usual lately during this intense time: grabbing a chocolate here, there and everywhere. As much as my MIND might disagree with it, this coping strategy of self-soothing wth food LIVES in me as cellular, ancestral memory.
And when I look out to all of the things that upset me about "those people out there" (domination, violence, betrayal and "othering,") I can see that -- although it's extremely hard to do so -- many of those behaviors that created this world in which we live, LIVE in me, too.
I know you think that's crazy.
I'm a yogi. A do-gooder. A mindful mama.
I study spirituality and compassion for a living.
But I still think violent thoughts about my beloved body when I look at her in the mirror.
On a bad day, I dominate and shame my children for their innocent behaviors.
And yes, sadly, I have betrayed the people I love the most just to save my own ass.
Menakem confirms this: that the patterns that got us here, in this version of the America in which we live are INNER behaviors that are expressing themselves externally, creating the world that we are seeing "out there."
That's why these external events keep happening over and over and over again. NOT because we don't WANT change. Not because we don't KNOW better. But because our body-based nervous system reactions simply are stuck in old, unconscious patterns.
That's why Jesus begs us to STOP judging one another.
To forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.
I used to be embarrassed and ashamed of believing that my yoga practice was one of the most potent ways to be of service to the planet. Like thinking that way was some sort of new-age, woo-woo bullshit.
But now I see and understand how and why starting from within, before we take any form of external action, is the only way out of this mess.
Yes, of course we need top-down change, but MORE importantly I think we need bottom up change.
I believe DEEPLY in the change that starts from turning our violent, fearful, animalistic patterns into ones that are empathetic and compassionate towards ourselves and those around us. For I can ONLY give out to the world whatever I've cultivated within myself.
What if, together, we continued to tame the wild demons that keep us separate, scared and segregated?
What if we believed so viscerally that WE MATTER that together we agree to unwind the many ways we each unconsciously cause both others and ourselves harm?
Menakem assures that real healing and transformation starts in the BODY and in safe spaces where we feel held, heard and accepted just the way we are.
That's the power of what we do together, friends.
Using these profound tools, we transform the body, calm and quiet the negative mind and become compassionate bodies that begin to pour a new energy out into this hurting world (which is our karma yoga practice).
The Power of Listening
During my days as a high school English teacher, our department had four main goals for student learning: reading, writing, speaking and listening.
As a naïve 20-something newbie, I remember feeling intrigued and confused by the last one: LISTENING.
Did listening actually have to be taught?
If so, how?
And of all the skills to teach, how did this one make the top four?
But now, as a 37 yr old lonely, occasionally depressed stay-at-home mother, I long to be surrounded by real listeners, and I now get how rare they actually are.
Since the horrific death of George Floyd, my teachers are all talking about this mysterious skill – LISTENING. Many of them no longer posting their own perceptions of reality, but handing their mics over to BIPOC who are dying for us to have a listen to what things have been like from their side of the invisible wall that keeps us separate.
I have hope that many of us have been shaken enough to, at least for awhile, step over to the wall, open the window, and really listen to what’s going on over there.
Last week, ironically but not surprisingly, as I am considering this skill of listening, I found myself in an uncomfortable disagreement with a woman whom I’ve had tension with since we first met.
Truthfully, I am jealous.
She radiated confidence, inner resilience and self-assuredness at a time when I was weak, fatigued, insecure, and unable to make complete sentences. This jealousy causing me, embarrassingly, to be her #1 silent critic from afar.
Most recently, we had a text exchange that threw me over the freaking edge. I responded to her curtly with an “okay, no problem.”
You know, the perfect “I’m pissed but I’m not really going to say it” text.
To which she replied “Can we talk?”
This was the moment we’d all be waiting for.
I gave myself a few days to get my head straight, to really feel into WHAT it was that made me so upset about our interactions. And then, with shaky hands and a racing heart, I called her.
She was ready to listen.
And once I started talking, it all just fell out. All of the ways I felt her judging me, not accepting me for who I really am: the many ways that she made me feel on edge and insecure and as if I was not enough.
“Are you done?” she asked, listening intently.
“I thiiiink so,” I stammered anxiously.
To my great surprise, she started laughing.
“This is so funny,” she said. “Because I feel really judged by you, too.”
She went on to tell me her perceptions of me, from the other side of the invisible wall. How she felt me looking down upon the way that she went through the world and how shitty it felt to her, too.
As the truth came out, it became apparently clear that everything I couldn’t stand about her were traits that I had not made peace with about my own behaviors, habits, and inner gifts.
The unreal stories my mind was telling about her melted away as the REAL story of her experience poured out.
My heart opened.
My eyes cleared.
And I began to see her – the real her – for the first time.
All because of listening.
While this conversation was super uncomfortable, it allowed me to see MY blindspots and MY judgements instead of blaming and shaming the unreal "other" who is my friend.
The art of listening is not glamorous.
No one gets major credit or Facebook likes or publicity for being an observer, a witness, for remaining curious and non-judgmental. Well, except for the Dalia Lama or Jesus perhaps.
But my favorite people on this planet are the ones who listen, with curiosity, to what it’s like to be me. To wonder what it's like to live in this skin, with this past, these emotions and insecurities and passions.
This experience has inspired me to be a fervent listener during this time. To open my mind to podcasts, documentaries, books and people that I don’t normally listen to. To be curious. To question my thoughts. To better understand. To crawl into another’s skin and walk around in it as Atticus Finch suggested.
I have been humbled and inspired, saddened and hopeful.
I want to know who is on the other side of the wall of my white privilege. I want to know what it’s like to be them. This feels like the natural first step to seeing our oneness and to moving forward together.
While I know that there is no way I will ever be able to dismantle the centuries of pain that BIPOC experience, I am not giving up on doing my part. I believe that we change this universe one small act, relationship, conversation, and connection at a time.
In hopes that it might be of service, I’m sharing my most recent process (inspired by Rev. Michael Beckwith) below:
FEEL: let your initial big emotions move through you however they’d like. What’s working for me now is verbally processing with friends and mentors that I feel safe with, going on nature walks, journaling, and moving my body.
PRAY: if you feel deep in your bones that you want to be part of this movement toward healing racial wounds, ask to be shown how YOU personally can be of service. Let the Divine GUIDE you instead of your guilt and fear.
LISTEN: Keep your eyes, ears and heart open to the people, books, podcasts, groups, etc. that you intuitively feel drawn toward. Trust your inner guide to show you what is yours to do.
TRUST in your IMPACT no matter how small: what you say to your kids, how you treat BIPOC in front of them, what you’re talking about, listening to, supporting, etc. ALL create universal waves in the pool of our collective consciousness. You matter.
KEEP THE FAITH: As Jesus says, faith the size of a mustard seed can move a mountain. Notice the changes you are seeing. Notice people coming together. Imagine the future you are longing for and know that this, too, has a powerful impact on the whole.
Here are the resources that are helping me right now:
- Short, straight-forward series of 14 podcasts on Seeing White: https://www.sceneonradio.org/seeing-white/
- Woman run, year-long body-based book study on dismantling the inner realms of racism: https://www.rootedandembodied.com/somatic-abolitionism-12-month-study?fbclid=IwAR2T9Qr9mHtPoI3YXRCdbgkg32O7NKHvsX6DPVLF2PrdIuYpfTHvNm1_zVw
- 13th: A Netflix Documentary on understanding the history of black-based mass incarcerations: https://www.netflix.com/title/80091741
Tomorrow we join to practice making our minds stretchier through bodily movement so that we can practice inner listening, as yoga teaches that all changes start from within. Listening is one of the most powerful reasons to come to the mat. As we get to know ourselves better, we can better understand and empathize with those around us.
As always, I invite you into conversation with me as I navigate these unstable waters of speaking more clearly about tender issues and dismantling ourselves from the systems that are harming us individually and collectively. I know that I am not perfect and have plenty of blindspots. Feel free to reply to me personally if you are seeing any of them.
With love and humility,
Yoga Teacher and Student, Speaker, Writer, Mother, Wife, Friend, Daughter, Sister, Human