“This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet.” ~ Rumi
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” ~ Melody Beattie
“Beauty without Grace, is the hook without the bait. ” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
“The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” ~ Ernest Hemingway
“Forgiveness is not always easy. At times, it feels more painful than the wound we suffered, to forgive the one that inflicted it. And yet, there is no peace without forgiveness.” ~ Marianne Williamson
Please note my new yoga teaching schedule changes:
* 6 a.m. 1 HR Hot Yoga, Beyond Bikram Hermosa Beach
* 4:15 p.m. Yin/Yang (part restorative, part balance/ Iyengar, non-heated, all levels, seniors encouraged. Malaga Cove, Rancho Palos Verdes (dm me if interested)
* 6:15 p.m. Pre-natal Torrance Memorial Medical Center, near ER. (dm me if interested, recurring 8 week series, however, drop-in upon request.)
It’s nearly impossible to find the light, any light, when lost and in pain. Any platitude will ring untrue, like a well-intentioned stranger who says, “It’s God’s plan, dear,” or “Let Go & Let God.” Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is really mis-understood. What a person ‘intellectually’ and ‘spiritually’ understands, is not felt within the body of someone who has been traumatized. Ask any veteran. Ask any survivor of horrific abuse. It leaves a water mark that I believe melts into our muscles and settles into the deep subconscious within our bones that whispers in another language—but one that triggers our insecurity, our doubt, our sense of not belonging, our sense of not being enough. One yoga class, one therapy session, one confession, one psychic healer isn’t going to fix it. Post traumatic stress is something triggered by the body, from something buried deep within. And sometimes, we aren’t even cognizant of what that is, if it’s been blocked out.
Think of the person who ducks every time she hears a car backfire because she was a young child in a war-torn area where her parents were shot. Her heart is racing, palms sweating, and she might manically race to get away from the noise—to the point of running into the line of cars. She isn’t conscious of why she is fleeing, but the noise has triggered a buried memory that she never processed fully and her body is forcing her to feel the fear, feel the anxiety, feel the terror. The problem with PTSD is that, if not treated, this flight or fight mechanism repeats over and over until a sane person is no longer sane. The woman who has been attacked, for instance, may try to shake it off. Years later, she may have a full-blown panic attack in a parking garage when her car door won’t open. Her body, reliving a time when someone grabbed her, will start an internal revolt until she is bent over, throwing up, or passes out. This same woman may begin to suddenly leave restaurants or night clubs if her friends don’t return from the bathrooms on time because her heart is racing and she can’t look other men in the eyes. Her body is forcing her to feel—but it isn’t from a healthy sense of intuition. It’s from blocked pain that has nothing to do with the reality of the present moment.
No one likes to feel pain, or relive pain. Some people may have even disassociated with what they were going through, like a child who was abused, in order to survive. Years later, she may not understand why she won’t allow men to touch her. Again, it’s the body’s memory. It’s the body echoing out through our senses to force us to feel, in order to heal. But feeling sudden panic and reactivity, spurs insanity.
That person becomes paranoid, makes bad decisions, is untrusting and desperately seeks a way to end the torture—which can make alcohol, or any escape, alluring. When trying to kick the escape habits, that person can start to isolate, become severely depressed or even suicidal.
When we can grow compassion for someone suffering from PTSD, then we can foster forgiveness for whatever escapes that person sought out—even those that caused our own suffering. Because it isn’t personal. He or she was in severe pain they couldn’t endure anymore. Period. End of story. It wasn’t about you or me. And they didn’t mean to hurt us.
For 5 months I’ve lived every day wondering if my sister was still alive. It’s been excruciating. We both lost our mother last May and one of the last things I remember her saying at our mother’s funeral is how mom always reminded her: “there’s someone for everyone dear.” The someone my sister found hurt her badly, beyond comprehension. And she just got lost in the trauma. I won’t go into the details.
Two weeks ago I was convinced my sister had died. I grieved the loss. I cried so hard. But I also remembered her light. It’s so bright. It shines all over my house in every room with some bizarre trinket, picture or perfect gift, (usually an exotic frog of some sort, long story) that she has given me over the years. I recalled the way she played piano and sang. How rebellious and creative and genius she was. How compassionate she was: always rescuing animals and strays of any kind, lol. After two days of grieving, I found out she was alive! And I spoke with her for the first time in nearly 5 months too. She’s now getting the treatment she desperately needs.
She may think that she’s lost everything, but she hasn’t. Her eternal light is burning so bright. Her future can actually be strengthened from this, if she lets it. As a therapist, she’ll be able to help even more people, especially those going through PTSD, because she’s been there. And it’s nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing.
Those who blame, shame, or ridicule anyone who has lost their way, due to PTSD, are heartless bullies. Compassion requires that we all take a moment to think about what someone else has gone through—to imagine their pain, their anxiety, their stress—and to think about ways to extend a hand, lighten their load, lessen their pain. Once we do this, even if it is a prayer we say, a candle we light, or a note we send saying we are thinking of that person, we return to love.
Compassion always returns me back to the amazing power of love. I can no longer stay mad at you, if I love you. If I love you, and realize that nothing you did was intentional to hurt me, than I can forgive you and fill my heart with love and acknowledge your light. Whenever we are back in that space of love, that space of light, there is no room for the ego or blaming or shaming or criticizing or ridiculing. And in that light, we are one, we are equal.
This experience, like others when I’ve lost loved ones or friends from sudden tragedies, reminds me of how fragile we all are. Even so, we all have an eternal light with lifetimes of knowledge and grace within us. If we allow ourselves to feel the pain, bless it, acknowledge it, enter stillness, and risk asking for help when we need it, we can actually feel our light as bright as the sun.
May we all find our way to loving each other, as the sun loves the Earth, without asking for anything in return, except for the blossoming of our potential, like wild flowers on a hillside.
I read this quote today from The Buried Life: “Don’t be afraid to let things fall in or out of place.”
Simple, yet profound, especially for those of us who struggle to make things happen, or to control our lives. This I know for sure: it takes strength to not push, to not force, to trust in something bigger than ourselves, to wait, to listen, and to see what evolves. This type of advice used to make me cringe. It seemed so passive, as if telling a person to sit around and not DO anything to manifest their dreams.
But I now see that’s not what this message implies. 2014 was a year of hard and beautiful lessons for me. What I know now is that the biggest accomplishment, the highest goal to attain to, is to follow my inner voice, my boundaries, my dreams, my intuition, and my journey home to myself. So that takes courage to continue walking towards dreams. It takes energy. But then it requires that I release heated expectations, or nagging thoughts filled with worry, or any mental struggle that can come from wanting something to emerge, or to develop, in a specific way. It requires being still in moving waters. Trusting the flow is going to take me where I’m meant to go.
Louise Hay said it perfectly: “We must place our order in the cosmic kitchen, and then let it go. Don’t follow the waiter to the kitchen and hover and make sure he places your order correctly and that the chef is cooking it per your specifications. Make up your mind, place your order and then trust that it is being filled.”
For me, this is about trust and surrendering to the process, in all my relationships, my goals, my dreams. And if I do nothing to make these dreams come true, than likely they won’t. But if I take babysteps each day, put in a little effort, and then trust the process and let it go—who knows what could happen? I have to let that cosmic waiter take my order to the Universal kitchen. And then surrender. Surrender to the process. Surrender to the possibility that the results may fall within my expectations, or outside of them.
Like the splashes from a water fall, I have to wait to see where the pool forms, where the waters converge and divide. Perhaps my dreams, our dreams, will manifest in exactly the way we want? But maybe, just maybe, if we open ourselves up to the possibility that they can manifest into something far more beautiful, far more unexpected, we might just float into a pool that is wilder, more tangled, more rooted in the unknown—until it rings the truth of something meant to be. … But only if we let go, with excitement, with gratitude.
So, friends, here’s to a 2015 filled with joy, excitement, gratitude, anticipation— without rigid expectations, fear or worry.
Don’t you just love that line? I used to hear it from customers when I was a hostess at a 4 star restaurant in Manhattan. While in grad school, I worked four nights a week at a famous restaurant in New York—where some customers would become absolutely irate if they didn’t get their regular table by the window, or if they had to wait a few minutes, or God forbid their favorite dish was no longer on the menu. I remember that time in my life like it was yesterday— as I’m fairly shy and love to people watch. I was soaking up my city experience as I wrote my first novel. The bartender, a Russian actor and co-people watcher, and I would compare notes at the end of the evening over a glass of Sambuca. We swore we’d write a screen play someday—especially after members of the Russian mafia started meeting in the back room to gamble. (But that’s for another post.) Day in and day out there were so many compelling stories. Like the Eastern European couple who came in every night. They never spoke to one other, but the husband would periodically bang the table, to which his wife would respond by cutting her husband’s food or pouring his wine. Every week we’d get a Wall Street businessman on a hot date who would show up and yell and scream and insist he had a reservation—which, of course, he didn’t. (But his ranting and raving always garnered two free drinks at the bar.) Then there was the man who brought his mistress every week on a Wed and would give me an extra $100, so I wouldn’t mention it when he brought his wife every Saturday. (I split his tip with the wait staff.) You get the idea. Manhattan restaurants are the perfect fishbowl, or cesspool, to watch human nature in action. Most of what I witnessed each week was a huge dose of ego mixed with the illusion of control.
And it is an illusion. In Manhattan especially, money—or the image of wealth—can buy you a table by the window, or a kiss on the cheek by the owner of a restaurant. It may even “buy” you a hot date with someone wrapped up in creating, or having that image. But it is hardly authentic power. Even the most powerful, (and by that, I mean the commonly accepted definition of accumulating wealth or being a decision maker in business or government) can be brought to their knees. Think about it. So much of our lives is completely and utterly out of our control. We are humbled again and again by the sheer force of nature—by earth quakes, hurricanes and floods. Every day disease, accidents and addictions tear apart lives and families. There is no control over when or if these types of events will strike us.
This is widely accepted. What is not typically accepted, however, is our lack of control over one another. I see it everyday—even in laid back Southern California. This I know for sure: we are all powerless over what people may do or say. Yet, why is it that so many of us still strive to ‘help’ our loved ones, or change them, or expect them to be or do things differently? Why can’t we accept each other for who we are—no more and no less? Why is acceptance so hard?
My best guess is that it’s hard to accept that someone you love, say a child or a sibling or a lover, is making toxic choices or doing things to harm themselves or others. Or, maybe it’s just hard to see someone change or grow in ways that make it hard for you two to still be close. Maybe once acceptance settles in and there’s no attempt to change, there’s nothing left but to drift away or detach with love. I think that’s the fear. It’s hard to let go.
So instead of letting go, so many of us cling on and hold tighter and just get dragged away from our center, or let others control us. In relationships, especially when I was much younger, I allowed others to try to change me or wield control over me. I have no idea why. Have you experienced that too? The family member or boyfriend or girlfriend who constantly criticizes or nags or belittles in order to get you to change something about yourself. Maybe it’s about a career choice, or what is eaten (or not eaten), or about spiritual beliefs, or liberal views, or what is worn, (or how little is worn) or any other habits someone disapproves of, etc. It all comes from a need to control. It comes from one person thinking they know best. Or it comes from someone else’s jealously and a need to keep another reigned in. Maybe it comes from insecurity? Fear? Or selfishness? Or perhaps it comes from a person who expects to get what they want, even if it’s at another soul’s expense. I don’t know.
But maybe it isn’t always so cruel. I’m not completely innocent, but my attempts to ‘help’ others likely stems from a bit of naivete, or the hopeless romantic in me. I know I’ve tried to help others who are hurting from addictions or who say they are desperately trying to change and ask for help—even when doing so hurts myself. Slipping into co-dependency is easy to do, especially when love is involved. And it can become a type of control, even if misguided and well-intentioned.
Even so, I feel sympathy for those in relationships with subtle, or not so subtle, attempts to control one another. You know, the ones who constantly nag, cajole, manipulate, guilt, demean, belittle, demand, shame, blame, complain, etc. in order to get what they want. Some even resort to yelling or threatening—all to get someone to do something—stop doing something—or be someone else.
I thought of all these type of relationships as I struggled to think of something meaningful to say last week when I taught the first yoga class in a 12 step yoga workshop I’m participating in. If you’re a member of one of the 12 step groups, than I don’t need to tell you that the first step is admitting to being powerless over alcohol and that your life has become unmanageable. Well, that’s a bitter pill for some to swallow and for others, especially those who are not alcoholic, it may feel just wrong. I get that. I’m not an alcoholic, but have family members and loved ones who are. I know how powerless it can be to live with those who are out of control. But when you think about it, we are all powerless over so many things. If you just take out the word alcohol, and input the words “over others” the first step is for everyone. Your life will become unmanageable if you’re still trying to control others.
And for those who have grown up with alcoholics, married one, or dated one, or ‘helped’ friends or siblings with the addiction, I don’t need to tell you how hard it is ‘to let go’. When life is always unpredictable, one strives to find stability, to help, and to control—often at the expense of personal goals, the ability to be spontaneous, to feel joy, to trust, to let go, and especially to ‘go with the flow.’
That last line, which I hear often in yoga classes—”to go with the flow”—is a goal of mine. With that in mind, I decided to talk about my Outward Bound experience in last week’s yoga workshop on powerlessness. By 21 years of age, I had experienced WAY too much violence in my life—against me, against friends. I had lost some very special people in my life. I was also a crime reporter in college covering murders and rapes and began to feel overwhelmed by fear and a sense of powerlessness. At the same time, I struggled to help take care of my mother who was slipping into depression after my father left.
It was a hard time for me, to say the least. With that in mind, I dropped out of school, worked full time for six months to pay for and go on a hard core Outward Bound. I wanted to wrestle my fears and gain confidence. Boy did I ever. And it happened while navigating class 4 rapids on the Chattooga River in Georgia. For three days all of us had to navigate this river in order to get to our next destination. For many in our group, comprised of many male athletes, this was the most challenging part of our experience. I guess because my life had been so insanely out of control for so long, learning how to navigate rapids came naturally. And, it seemed easier. There was a method to this madness. I learned my C and J strokes to control exactly where I wanted to go. I learned how to read the river: shallow areas were to be avoided. Dark areas were the currents that would carry my canoe through the sweet spot of the rapid. I came to enjoy it. It was invigorating to struggle, navigate, and then to ride the current of the rapid. This was one challenge that my 100 pound self could do! It felt great.
Others didn’t have the same experience. The basketball player from New England, for instance, kept freaking out, standing in his canoe and tipping it over. And, to add insult to injury, he kept standing up in the river. You can NEVER stand up in a class 4 rapid river. I kept screaming to him to float, lift his feet. He wouldn’t listen. By the time I, or someone else steered toward him, his legs were bloody. He never listened and let his fear overcome him. By the third day, his legs were so mangled that medical assistance had to be called and he wasn’t able to play any games for the first two weeks back. Likely, he was used to calling the shots, making them, and being in control. His need to stand and stop the river was real.
I, on the other hand, was used to living in a completely out of control world where nothing I did mattered. I couldn’t stop a crazed shooter. I couldn’t stop a boyfriend who tried to kill me or himself. I couldn’t stop a rapist from almost killing a friend. I couldn’t stop a family member from drinking and making bad decisions. I couldn’t change the fact that a semi hit two friends head on. Nope. None of it could be changed by one single thing that I did, or didn’t do. Navigating the River, on the other hand, was like being given directions, or a map. That, I could handle.
Funnily, on the last day, my canoe partner, a large football player, jumped up when a big spider fell into our boat. He literally catapulted me out of the canoe. It was like a cartoon character of Olive Oil flying into the air, then crashing into a rock. I had a shiner for 3 weeks that turned from black to purple to this really groovy color of yellow and green all around my left eye. Again, so much is out of our control, isn’t it? But, hey, for three days, I had navigated that river and steered us through insane rapids and smiled crazy-ass smiles as wind blew through my hair and the current carried us down stream. I loved every minute.
After four more days of navigating mountains with only a topo map, I returned home, went back to school, took an internship in London, and began working at a newspaper with a renewed sense of just what I could accomplish. Basically, I was learning the serenity prayer: “God, grant me the courage to accept the things I can not change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
We can all learn our J and C strokes and the signs of the river in order to navigate our own canoes to take us where we want to go. It’s my metaphor for living out of fear and paying attention to what we can control: ourselves. We can control what we think, what we say, how we treat others, how peacefully we live, what we eat, how we take care of our bodies, etc. And we can take baby steps to follow our dreams. These things are in our control. They pave the path to authentic power.
There will always be things that we are powerless over. Maybe there will be those in our river flow who are careless—who fall out of their canoes and stand up in rapids, or who just don’t pay attention to the rapids they are being pulled in to. We can warn them and try to help—but if we pay too much attention to saving them, we may neglect our own currents, our own destinies, and drift way off course. If we become obsessed with someone else’s welfare, we’re likely to get stuck in the mud bank, or dragged into rapids, or worse, crash. Conversely, there may be those who suddenly catapult us out of our canoes. But you know what? We have the choice and the ability to learn to float, to lift our feet, and to trust that the river will carry us safely until we can get back up and back into our canoes to begin to navigate again.
I know I write the way I talk—I meander and tell a long yarn, as many southerners do. If you read to the end, you should earn an award for patience! My final thought is this: here’s to navigating to the sweet spots of all of our rapids—to the ones that propel us through the chaos and to the soft currents that allow us to float, breathe deeply and enjoy the wind in our hair.
AloneTogether: Single Moms Support Group (This is a closed group, please say you found their site from me, Laura Roe Stevens, when requesting to join.)
The UCLA Family Commons: http://www.uclacommons.com/
Single Parent Housing: www.SPAOA.org
Pell Grants For Mothers: PellGrants.ClassesAndCareers.com