Here's the truth: I am a closet people pleaser. Like, the worst.
I think I burst out of the womb with an invisible, full body "PLEASE LOVE ME" tattoo.
"I'll do anything, okay?" I begged. "Dress how you want. Talk how you want. Be who you want. Just please, please love me. Please don't leave me."
And so, like a pavlovian dog, I was trained to be exactly who society expected: rewarded when I fit their "good" girl mold, and banished when I did not.
I learned, one reward and punishment at a time, who to be in order to get the love I longed for, and most importantly, what parts of me would never, ever, ever be acceptable here.
You know, like the loud part. The angry part. The chubby part. The emotional part. The intuitive part. The honest part. The sensitive part. The slow part. The insecure part.
And, you guys, I CRUSHED it: pushing my deplorable parts down and down and down with food, fake friends, and the fantasy world of television.
No wonder I barely remember high school.
No wonder I felt half alive.
And although I had many gifts that still managed to peek out of my weighty costume, math was not one of them. Especially geometry.
But since my older sister was a genius and I wanted nothing more than to be exactly like her, I decided to try pretending I was smart, too. Yep, sign me for alllll the smart kids classes... that one there... Honors Geometry?!? SUUUUURE, I can do that, no problemo.
Well, the truth is that I am the rightiest, right brain there ever was. The truth is I had no business being in that room. But the truth was not safe.
And so I spent every 5th period with a smile plastered on my face, pretending to take notes, pretending to understand. Pretending... pretending... pretending, while slowly dying inside.
But, as karma would have it, my first test came back with nothing but the truth: 52% with Please See Me scribbled on top. I had never scored so low in my entire life. Wrapped in shame, I told my parents. Wrapped in shame, I dragged myself into Mr. Engebretsen's room after school one dismal day.
Something about the warmth of his smile, the kindness in his eyes and his occasional laughter told me that maybe, just maybe he was safe. That maybe, just maybe, I could slowly unzip my costume. That maybe, just maybe, I could tell him the truth.
And after he proved himself worthy of this treasure, I did. My dirty little secret bursting like a bullet when I was ready to release it. "Errr, Mr. Engebretsen, ummmm, you see, the REAL problem is that I totally and completely suck at math."
And do you know what he said?
Not, you disgust me.
Not, get out of here you unworthy heathen.
Not even, get your deplorable self down to regular math.
No, do you know what that angel man said?! "No problem. Let's get to work. I specialize in teaching kids how not to suck at math."
I think right there, in that moment, I instantly lost ten pounds. More breath found its way in. My relieved body relaxed. THIS, my friends, is the power of truth-telling.
And so every day, I came to Mr. Engebretsen's room, probably longing for the feeling of safety he exuded even more than his brilliant, relatable instruction.
Protected by his love and support and belief in me, things started to change. I actually, can you believe it, started LIKING math... you know, GETTING it... and SUCCEEDING at it. Fast forward three months and lo and behold I got my first 99%. We were both so incredibly proud of me.
And while Mr. Engebretsen is no longer in his Earthly body, my Soul will forever remember the lesson that he came to teach me: that the truth will set you free, love.
That truth-telling is the impetus of healing.
That magic nearly explodes into the world right along with it.
But in a white-washed world where the prerequisite to the "cool club" is posturing, pedicures, and people pleasing, NO WONDER we hide and vanish and mask our true selves: having fake conversations with fake people while wearing fake costumes and fake faces, secretly, silently soothing ourselves with screens, shopping and sugar.
But I have a dream, that one day this fake world will end.
That one day, every man and woman can embrace their full humanity, their imperfect bodies, and all of their big, beautiful human feelings.
I have a dream that one day we can weep and laugh and truth tell and rest together, without apology.
That we will see and be seen for who we really are, receiving both ourselves and each other with the same tenderness and compassion that Mr. Engebretsen gave my masked and manipulated self.
I have a dream that somewhere out there, a world exists where the innate worth of every single human is nonnegotiable: untouchable by suffocating, superficial measuring sticks.
And on a quiet day, I see this world being birthed into being. Right now, in fact.
On a good day, when I come up for air, I see Her in my weary neighbors walking my streets with no where to go, no masks to wear, and nothing to hide from each other.
This Sunday, I am honored to teach you about the power of truth-telling (or satya) and the practices that have supported me in getting comfortable and clear with my inconvenient truths.
Together, we will attend to your holy human self just as you are, tending to your tender body, opening your neck and shoulders and gently encouraging the throat to release whatever it may be keeping in in order to keep you safe.
I see and honor your journey, however and where ever you are.
This time away from everyday life has made me soooo acutely aware of myself and my imperfections (... anyone else?).
There are parts of that has been really nice, and also parts that are extremely difficult.
All those shadowy behaviors that I easily ignore when I'm busy -- saying things I don't really mean, zoning out on social media, sneaky snaking sweets, snapping at my kids and then beating myself up for it -- are all here for me to look at.
There's no where to run.
Nothing to distract me from myself.
And in a way, I know that this is part of the healing that's being asked of us collectively: the opportunity to see what's really here so that we can choose differently for the future.
But, daaang, it can be a lot to look at at once.
And every time I bring my frazzled, disoriented self to my mat, and finally sit still, what I hear is: "It's okay, beloved, I'm right here. It's okay beloved, try again."
God an eternally patient Mother, right here with me, never judging or doubting my progress or abilities.
Like babies trying to walk in a brand new world, we are ALL navigating new territory and that can be both overwhelming and, as psychologists know very well, can trigger the old coping strategies that we thought we once mastered to rise to the surface yet again.
Listen, I've tried the breathing techniques.
The magic yoga postures.
I've journaled and walked in nature and called friends.
And while all of those coping skills are extremely helpful in their own ways, nothing has helped me more than the sacred practice of forgiving myself (or rather, resting in the ocean of compassion that lies beyond my thinking mind).
This weekend, I'm excited to share some of the transformative tools I've learned for softening and healing the heart: mindfulness, self-compassion, heart-opening practices, and deep deep stillness.
I share my imperfections with you only to mirror the messy process we are all in as we join together in this journey of becoming new. To let you know that if you, too, are looking your imperfections straight in the eye, you're not alone.
Looking back, I can see now that everything I've been through has been preparing me for this time: gifting me with the tools that have brought me back to the Love that's always here -- even and ESPECIALLY when I am a hot mess. It is an honor to now share them with you, too, as we brave the wilderness together.
With love and deep compassion,
The ancient yogis saw clearly that we are not separate from God.
That within each of us, there lis a Divine Spark where all the answers lie, waiting there like a buried treasure, to guide and support us through each season of our lives.
The technology of yoga is an ancient system DESIGNED to strengthen that connection by detoxifying challenging emotions, quieting racing thoughts and calming body tension so that the deeper answers can be revealed to us.
In a world of disappointing politics, hierarchical religions, and self-serving leaders, I am continually reminded that trying to find the answers from thousands of unstable external sources is complete madness: that the most reliable place to go for guidance is within the soul.
Not to the news.
Not to my husband (although I do appreciate his perspective -- occasionally ;)).
Not to Facebook.
But within the depths of my inner-most being.
What if each of us had a Divine role to play in these times?
And what if we ALREADY have everything we need inside of us to fulfill it?
And what if this collective challenge is the perfect opportunity to lean more deeply into our inner-most wisdom, together?
I hope you can feel my love and support wherever and however you are. We will get through this, one breath at a time, and will no doubt come out of stronger and wiser and closer than before.
Last night, I cried myself to sleep. I'm grieving, I realized.
Grieving the trips that have been cancelled.
The support that embraced me at school drop-off, Sunday church service, our weekly yoga class.
I'm just not sure when they will come back.
And that makes me really really sad.
Yes, we are collectively grieving. The loss of our financial security, the loss of community connection, and the possible losses that might be on their way.
When grief used to appear at my door, I'd do anything to numb the sound of her knocking: stuffing myself with food, wine, shopping, screens, sex -- anything to numb the pain I didn't know how to feel.
Through my healing process, I've learned that it's TOTALLY normal to be a feeling creature. That, in fact, that's part of the design of this Divine / human experience: to fully feel the pain, joy, sadness, and the incredible love and beauty scattered among all of it.
To me, this is what Jesus came to show us: that being human, in its fullest sense, is quite possibly the most sacred path of all.
This week, I plan to share the techniques that have helped me give space for my feelings to move through me, allowing them all to be here without taking me under (although they still do some times).
Come with your journal, your jammies, your coffee, and anything that comforts you.
What I know for sure is that, when it comes to emotions, the only way out is through and through and through and that now, more than ever, we need safe spaces (and smart practices) to support us in our experience of being whole humans.
I love you and give you so much permission to feel what you're feeling. This too shall pass, and we will get through it together.
Hello, my loves.
I know this is hard. I know this is scary. I know it's ... weird.
But I also deeply know that it's sacred and somehow has a place in the story of humanity. That there's something we are learning here amidst this dark, womby place, that could not be learned otherwise.
And that's why I'm going to keep showing up, every Sunday morning, to walk with you through your process, exactly as it is unfolding for you.
When I was grieving a few years back, I found my way into a Yoga for Grief class with my incredible mentor, Jemma Skye Champeau. At that time I was in deep misery, feeling sorry for myself and overwhelmed by so much loss and change coming at me all at once.
That's when Jemma shared her unbelievable story of grief which involved the sudden, tragic loss of her young husband at a young age.
I watched her in awe as she shared how the experience, although seemingly unbearable, broke her open, calling her into leadership, deep service, and activating a Soul strength she never knew she had.
From the other side of the tomb, she was alive, standing, clear, calm, confident, and -- to my utter shock -- grateful for her experience.
That day, and through our year of work together, she invited me, too, to trust my grief. To allow all of my feelings to flow through me. To let go into what was happening to me, and to find the deeper place that would come out of it more alive, calm and courageous than it was before.
And through her permission, I was made new.
Lost and then found.
Nearly dead, and then somehow more alive than ever before.
In this very masculine culture in which we live, we are told that surrender makes us weak. That it means we are somehow giving up the fight. However, I know nothing that takes more courage than to continue to say *yes* to what Life is asking of us amidst the moments when we want to run.
From my experience, it's through turning toward the challenge and processing it fully that we find out who we really are: not our finances. Not our hair color. Not our social status. Not even our bodies. But something much deeper and more powerful than we could ever have imagined.
If you need a safe place to come and be loved, seen, heard and honored as you are, I will be here for you, sharing the tools that gave me the permission to relax, let go, and surrender into my own process of transformation.
Sending my love and support wherever and however you are.
You don't have to sing the right songs, read the right books, or do the right practice to be Holy.
You don't have to take the class, do the training, or get the certification to be Enough.
You don't have to wear the clothes, get the tattoo, or put on the mask to be Beautiful.
You don't have to be Paleo or Vegan, Dairy Free or Gluten Free.
You can just wake up and decide that today, as you are, you are Enough.
You're so damn holy and messy and shiny.
You can decide that Today.
You, with your pain and anger, your hairy legs and your self-doubt.
You can just say "f*ck it: I am holy. I am perfectly imperfect.
Someone is choosing me, today, just as I am to change the world.
To share my story. To be myself. To shine my light.
To free the slave who still believes that she *has to* in order to be free."
Lovelies - many of you know that I am in a difficult season: the tears, pain and angst that come from major life change presenting themselves to me at random.
And I haven't been sharing them with you for your pity or attention but rather to demystify the false belief that following a spiritual path exempts us, somehow, from the natural human emotions of sadness, loneliness and grief.
Lately, my practice has asked me to keep being REAL with MYSELF during this difficult time: giving myself the permission to be messy and to deeply listen for what I need (which cyclically varies from a yoga practice, to a meditation, to a bath, to a cry, to a bestie chat, to some pizza / wine / ice cream / Netflix).
It's not easy, though, in a world that pulls me all in a million directions and tells me to put myself last.
Last weekend, I was gifted time alone on the beach by myself (which seems to be where Spirit speaks most clearly). I was immediately drawn to the gorgeous shells lying on the shoreline I really wanted to find a *perfect* one to bring back to Maple, but... I couldn't! They were all broken: one in half, another in the corner, another in the middle. Where are the PERFECT ONES?!? I shouted.
A question to which I, almost immediately, threw up my hands, looked to the sky, and laughed at God. Oooooh, riiiiiiight. They are all broken. I forgot.
So, I sat with one for awhile and let her speak. I fingered her delicate groves and intricate design contemplating how this beautiful creation just popped out of nowhere to supply a creature with a home for a short while.
Can you see that, while I'm broken, I'm beautiful, too, she asked? Yes, see my wound, but also see my beauty, okay? Please pay attention to both. And so I did, looking into the most perfect mirror for me in that moment, taking in its medicine.
After the message was received, I began to head back to the car when I came upon a small crowd. What could they be looking at I nosily wondered as I nudged my way through to see the action.
In the midst of the circle lay a gorgeous ocean bird with broken legs, sweetly sitting with her eyes closed, patiently waiting for death to come. We stood there almost ceremoniously, our silent prayers woven around her body like an ethereal wreath.
I couldn't help but notice how this beautiful, broken one was so attractive to us, surrounded by so much unconditional love in her time of need. With eyes closed she couldn't see it, but I know that she felt it and maybe that was what mattered the most.
And on my meditation seat, when I take a moment to pause in the midst of my suffering, I can sense that while I feel so alone these days, I'm not. That amidst the pain, "there is an immense tenderness that is endlessly giving itself to me in all situations" (Fr. Richard Rohr).
That this loving and gentle One is still holding, rocking and comforting me during this cruxifixction; if I stop and pay attention, I find Her right here with me at all times, circumstances and places, reminding me that "while pain is inevitable, suffering is optional" (Buddha).
And just like the attractive yet broken bird, I can sense that in my darkest moments I am a magnet for angels, loving ancestors and guides who are, no doubt, all circled up around me, praying quietly, offering comfort, just waiting to help if I give them permission.
This belief that my brokenness makes me unlovable is one I'm trying to heal, one moment at a time, remembering that, as my guru Brene Brown says, it's in our brokenness that we make the deepest possible connections to one another and to life.
The real medicine, though, comes when I personally keep showing up for myself in these dark moments, just as the God(dess) does, offering myself the same unconditional love, compassion, and tenderness that this Loving Presence so effortlessly gives me.
I am over the moon to be able to share the gifts and teachings and tools that are helping me through this difficult season with my Milwaukee yogis this winter, when powerhouse singing bowl goddess Kathryn Rambo and I will team up to teach a research-based workshop on how to love yourself in the midst of your own dark season, whether that's simply through the winter months or your own spiritual journey from darkness to light.
I hope you can join us (read more about the workshop here and contact me to register), and remember to take a moment to find both the cracks and the beauty that is you the next time you pause to sit with this one right here.
So much love to you always.
The Woman's Prayer
by Erin Alexander
There is a Soul so deep within
who's radiant and wise.
She's gentle, wild, intuitive
and knows the Truth from lies.
Feeling is the way She speaks,
so listen closely dear.
For when you talk, and think, and move
Her voice you cannot hear.
So settle in, my sweet one
and attune to Her wise song.
She is the answer that you seek;
Her Truth is never wrong.
Yogis - I have been so absent from you because I am so absent from everything.
We are fully unpacked, unloaded and settled here in Cali, and I feel so empty.
I haven’t been able to muster up the strength to make a post or ponder anything spiritual these days let alone verbalize what’s happening with me.
Every few days, I come up for air, but then grief and depression hit me like a tidal wave — more powerful, sometimes, than my weak little Earth girl legs can handle. I scramble for God, but oftentimes come up empty-handed even though I am surrounded by wildly gorgeous natural beauty and a near perfect little family. As Mark Nepo says, everything is beautiful and I am so sad.
I know all the adages, this too shall pass, what doesn’t kill me, ya-da, ya-da, ya-da and I want to give them all a big obnoxious eye roll right now.
What HAS helped has been the kind eyes of humans, strangers or friends, a shared yoga practice, touching the ground, permission to be sad, staying away from my phone (hence my hiatus 😉), crying with a tree, calling my best friend and being 110% honest.
My teacher Shauna once told me that everything I learn from this will be a gift to whomever I serve, and I know that’s true: that somehow because of this I’ll be better able to hold and love others in their painful moments. But for now I’m in this contraction, deeply focused on my breath, letting the tears come and go as I allow this birthing to have its way with me (with the help of a good therapist and many incredible friends ❤️).
The emptiness has shown me how much love has been cultivated through every conversation and hug and smile and tear that I’ve shared. God has appeared to me as the hundreds (thousands?!) of people I’ve loved and that is a gift that will always stay with me even when it’s hard.
I love you, my people, and I am so, so grateful for those shared moments. Everything is beautiful and I am so sad.
Maybe you’ve noticed that recently God’s been asking me to “come out” more truthfully about my faith: no longer giving me the option to hide and disguise myself, but asking me to boldly speak and write about it more honestly than ever before. This has meant major changes in where I feel comfortable teaching yoga prayer, who I pray with, and how I define myself spiritually. And the truth is that this Erin is the Erin I’ve always been, hiding quietly underneath the layers of fear that are rapidly falling away, whether I like it or not.
Over the last year, I’ve started to sneakily call God a S/he, hoping you won’t notice all that much, unfollow me, stop coming to class, or hang me as a witch. ;)
Last year, after witnessing firsthand the dis-ease of sexual abuse within the church I was raised, I began leaning on spiritual teachers like Anne Lamott, Rebecca Campbell, Glennon Doyle Melton and Rev. Sheila Graves. I’ve watched as they practice radical authenticity about themselves and their faith, witnessing how their bold, albeit counter-cultural, perspectives of God are changing the world. I know deeply that, just like them, God made me this way for a reason even if it doesn't neatly fit into any particular religious box. And, Jesus, it's liberating to be honest about myself (although, to my inner unhealed teenager who prefers popularity and acceptance over radical ANYTHING, it’s shame-inducing as hell).
But with a burgeoning womb and my favorite mystical season upon us, all I can see and feel is the Feminine Face of God and thought it was high time to start honestly explaining why.
As many of you know, I spent my first 20-some years of life at war with my body: an audio-tape of self-hatred and disgust running through my head and plunging me into endless, depressive patterns of yo-yo dieting, obsessive exercising, binge / purge patterns, and beyond. I walked through life half-alive, held in a mental prison of my own creation, rarely getting a break, save for some fleeting moments in nature or kneeling in church.
It was on the yoga mat in my late twenties, though, that I began to see my Body for what She really was: my divine home, my compass, my partner, my teacher who was lovingly carrying me through this lifetime, intelligently beating my heart, fighting bacteria, breathing my breath, keeping me alive.
In both the movement and the stillness, I found out so much about her -- like, She’s pretty freaking strong and intelligent and capable and amazing. And not because I made her to be -- but because that’s how She was “knit in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 137).
After years of verbally abusing Her, she was still here, keeping me alive, giving me Life, a little sad about my abuse, sure, but not impacted enough to stop working in my favor.
As I began to see Her for the amazing Being that She was, I began to feel that God was not only around Her but within Her -- that She was a divine specimen, “no less than the trees and the stars" (Ehrmann). Without her, I was just a mind floating around aimlessly, but with her I was a Spirit experiencing Earth (sunsets, chocolate bars, hot baths, a good cry, a late-night snuggle, a best friend) in all of her glory.
Ancient spiritual traditions have always honored the Goddess, the Earth, the Mother as this “down-here” primordial intelligence of the God-Light running through our veins. Native Americans, yogis, and the original Christian Mystics like St. Francis and Claire, taught about embodied spirituality, focusing more on the Divine-light in all things than the angry God in the sky. Even the Bible has a name for this presence, the Holy or Indwelling Spirit, naming her as Woman -- Sophia; however, in a world dominated by male leadership, She has gotten lost along the way.
As I continue to deepen my studies and meditation, I can no longer deny that God appears as both a He and a She (and, of course, sometimes genderless). That sometimes God gently cooes and coddles me, offering unconditional love and nurturing the same way that my own blessed mother once did. And yet, sometimes God feels like my Father, guiding and directing and organizing things from the sky. And what I’ve realized is that I need both a Mom and a Dad, both a gentle, patient, intuitive Mama and a bold, brave, “we’ve got this” Papa in order to be my best Self.
This new way of thinking, along with a steady devotional practice, has allowed me to see my Self in a whole new way: God not just a far away presence, but the still, small voice within me, every human, tree, and molecule.
If we are to study the Christmas story from a mystical perspective, then, Mary brings God down from the pedestal and into her womb: she shows us that, as my beloved Teresa of Avila says, God has no hands but our hands, no voice but our voice, no eyes but our eyes. That it’s THROUGH ME that God intends to bring Light into the world: using my unique gifts, my unique voice, my unique perspective and body and life-force, to do something important here.
And knowing that changes everything. When I am kind to the elderly stranger in line at Target, I am birthing the Christ-Light. When I patiently help my daughter digest a bad day, I am birthing the Christ-Light. When I cook a healthy meal for my family, I am birthing the Christ-Light. When I teach from my heart, I am birthing the Christ-Light.
Suddenly, everything I do has meaning, importance -- suddenly, I am no accident. My body goes from enemy to temple: the place where God intends to deliver Her Divine Plan for the world. All feelings of depression and isolation melt away and I am healed of the selfish, narcissistic behaviors that have become our way of life as Americans.
So there it is. This is why yoga and prayer have become my altar, my healing space: with each breath and movement, I awaken the Inner Light, finding it first in myself, then in my husband, my children, and every damn human I meet, even and especially, my “enemy.” And this is what Jesus’s essential teachings have always been about.
Wherever you find yourself on your Spiritual Path this holiday, I encourage you to play with the idea that you are not an accident: that nothing about you is -- that it’s “through you that the Whole intends to do something,” giving birth to something that only you can deliver (Ohso). For when we begin to believe this completely, it is then that we will change the world.
Yoga Teacher and Student, Speaker, Writer, Mother, Wife, Friend, Daughter, Sister, Human