Right now I have many close friends who are climbing big mountains: friends who are facing those Big Challenges that shake us up and down and around in all directions. They are those Big Words that bring up Big Emotions just through the mere mention of them: Cancer, Divorce, Loss of a Parent, etc. Big, big stuff. So when I sat down to prepare my Thanksgiving yoga class for this week, I felt called to reflect on gratitude in a big way - not just the "I'm so grateful for everything that's gone well for me" because, lately, that doesn't feel like enough. In fact, something even feels fearful about that: let me cling so tightly to what's "good" because I might lose it so I'd better appreciate it as much as I can right now in this big bad world. This type of gratitude is not the kind that will move us forward as a human race, nor is it the kind that will help us climb the big mountains, which, sorry if this is upsetting to you, we will all face some day, in one form or another.
So, I'm done with cut out turkeys, smiling Pilgrims and "Indians" (I'll save my commentary on that for another day ;)), and happy-go-lucky but clouded statements of inauthentic gratitude. I want the real stuff. The kind that allowed me to wipe my tears in the middle of a hurricane and opened my heart to what was "good" about those Big Challenges I've faced in the past: the loss of my Grandmother, the miscarriage of my first child, the emotional aftermath of civil war in Uganda. So how can we do this? Lord knows that I'm not perfect at it, nor am I an expert, but in those few moments when I could feel that fleeting sense of purpose behind my pain, the gentle voice whispering to me through the tears "I know this is hard, but just keep going; it will all make sense one day; fear not" I know that there is more to being grateful than just a plasticky saccharine sweet sense of being happy when things are "good."
So this week's Tuesday Night Gratitude class at Greendale Community Church will be all about softening our hearts, cracking the resistant icebergs of the heart while staying strong in our bodies so that we have the strength to show up for the journey - no matter what Big Challenges it may include - and be grateful for it. This Thanksgiving week, join me on the mat for a real, wide-open, brave and fearless sense of opening to Life, so that we can "let the journey be enough" and enter a true sense of gratitude.
I had another one of those weeks where my mind took over and consumed me with a case of the "shoulds" as my sister likes to call them. I "should" (not) eat gluten, I "should" be getting to the gym more regularly, I "should" be modeling perfect behavior for my budding three month old, I "should" spend less money at Kohl's (don't ask), I "should" drink less wine... and the list goes on. My thoughts were all wound up, tightening every cell in my brain -- the tension then trickling all the way down into my body -- when I met my good friend for dinner on Thursday. "How are you?" she asked, looking into my soul, as she always does. And I spilled all the built up mental constructs I'd been playing with in the isolation of my head, the lump in my throat building as I spat out each one. Holding space for me to be my messy self, my wise friend replied "Erin, sometimes you just have to let yourself be human." And just like that, she gave me permission to take a deep breath, relax and let loose - so loose that I allowed myself to sing, yes SING, at the top of my lungs on the car ride home.
The next day, I met with my new Mom's Group at Saints Peter and Paul Church where we are discussing a little book called Searching for and Maintaining Peace by Fr. Jacques Phillpe, and discussed this very same thing (this is where the giant gong in my head started going off). Many of us discussed how we can relate to these judgmental demons that keep us from actually showing up for the miracle of our kids and families and, you know, ability to breathe on a daily basis. But Phillipe reassures us that "however many imperfections we may have, rather than lament them and try to rid ourselves of them at any price, they could be splendid opportunities to make progress" (44). Ahhhh, yes. There was that sweet little Truth nugget biting me in the heart once again. So I realized that, while striving to be better is a wonderful thing, too much striving is suffocating. And that underneath all of my foibles, God is still working to make me better - maybe even VIA said foibles. WHHHHAT?! So I guess we can all relax a bit, have a laugh, and (dare I say), a glass of wine sometimes, too.
And so, in this airy time of autumn when many of us are living in our heads more than our bodies, all of our practices this week will be all about getting out of our heads, loosening the toxic chains of thought that bind us, and coming back into our bodies, into the precious now, but being all loosey, goosey humany about it, instead of crazy-intense holier-than-thou. We will use some of Lauren Walker's Energy Medicine Yoga principals, spend some time getting to know the lower chakras, and end with a beautiful opening of the upper chakras to release any built up energy that is keeping us from singing in the car and/or dancing in the street.
See you on the mat!
This week the amped up, anxiety-ridden, windy-as-the-opening-scene-in-the-Wizard-of-Oz autumn season erupted in my face, or shall I say my thoughts, yet again. I won’t go into too much detail, but last night, I started to do what my husband and I like to call “tell stories.” Yep. This is where we do that all-too-human thing of fabricating an elaborate story in our minds that is totally based on absolutely NOTHING (or one small event that hits the play button on an elaborate made-up movie of the mind). This story was based on the trillions of little assumptions and the connecting of millions of fabricated dots which then caused me to get all bent out of shape, wired up, and entirely cray-cray, literally throwing my body into full-on fight or flight, holy sh*t the mammoth is coming for me mode. All because of a story. Not even a real one, mind you. It sounds so ridiculous when I can objectively explain this behavior, doesn’t it?!? However, so many of us operate on these made-up assumptions so frequently that they’re all we know -- a life of made-up stories of the mind, instead of a life that’s lived in the very real now moments.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this ability to make assumptions is a wonderful thing that has allowed us humans to survive this long. For example, “the leaves are turning colors; last time the leaves turned colors, it got really cold afterward; I probably should start to hunt and gather to prepare for winter so that I don’t die if and when it gets cold again, which it probably will based on what happened last year…” right? Can’t argue with that beautiful part of our evolutionary phenomenon. However, when our whole reality becomes a mental construct, it keeps us from dancing through life in the present now, and we totally lose the ability to see and think straight. It makes us insane.
Ekhart Tolle so eloquently explains this through his metaphor of the duck with the human mind. The Sparknotes version goes something like this: when two ducks fight, they fight and when the fight is over, the ducks move on. Now, if they were humans, post-fight, one of the ducks would keep carrying on with the fight in his thoughts, like this: "I can't believe what [that other duck] just did... He thinks he owns this pond. I'll never trust him again. I know he's already plotting something else to annoy me with." While the two ducks will probably never meet again, the “fight is still continuing, and the [negative] energy his body generates in response to the imaginary fight is emotion” which impacts the entire physical body, mind and spirit. Kinda ridiculous, right? But we all do it!
And what I realized most clearly, after this all went down, and my amazing sister, aka my life coach Mary, talked me off of the ledge, is that the second we start to do this to ourselves and others, we completely step OUT of the now and subsequently, step out of our POWER; seriously, how can we be the strong, calm, balanced Spirit Warrior we are if we are totally removed from reality? So, with ALL that being said, this week’s yoga practices will work to balance the airy season of autumn with lower chakra work, strengthening the legs, the lower spine, and the core, followed by asana and pranayama that will balance the upper chakras to keep those monkeys of the mind (who just love to steal the keys to the motherboard this time of year) in check.
All I can say is thank GOD for my yoga practice and how it has been able to bring me back to center today; otherwise y’all would have to come and visit me in the nuthouse this week. :)
See you on the mat! Namaste, beautiful souls.
Yoga Therapist, Teacher, Speaker, Writer, Mother