Our Actions Never Die

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Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking a lot about an old friend of mine. His name is Lenny*. Lenny’s daughter and my son used to be in a play group together. Lenny was a stay at home dad at the time, and a group of parents from my neighborhood would get together once a week for playdates. Our kids shared toys, germs, and many ‘firsts’ (walking, stomach flu, you name it ;)).

Our children started kindergarten last week. A milestone for both kiddos and parents. As I have the privilege of being next to my son (literally) as he steps into this new phase of his life, Lenny does not. Lenny was shot and killed two years ago in a road rage incident. A fearful young woman took his life after a minor fender bender one February morning.

Before I go on, I should say that this post is not about gun violence or the second amendment. I do not intend to spark more fire into those already heated debates. Instead, this post is about taking action fueled by fear. The consequences of such actions and the ever lasting ripple effect.

Somewhere, years ago, a gun was made. It made it’s way to sale and was purchased. How it ended up in the hands of the young woman who killed my friend, I don’t know, but I have a gut feeling that she owned this gun out of fear. Somewhere along the story of her life, she convinced herself (or experienced such events that lead her to believe) she was in danger. She believed she needed a weapon to keep herself safe. Somewhere along the story of her life her heart closed so much that she started making choices based on fear. The outcome of which ended the life of an innocent father and left her with a prison sentence of more than 20 years.

I’m lucky. The fear based decisions I’ve made in life have not claimed the life of another person. But I have made them. I’ve said rotten things to other people and I’ve made decisions that have brought pain unto another person. I’ve spent a lot of time cleaning up messes I’ve made (or attempting to) all because I too have allowed fear to color my actions. My fear based actions were 100% a result of closing off my heart space to another person. Of isolating. Of deeming my livelihood as more important than theirs. In some cases I knew exactly what I was doing and wanted to bring ‘pain’ to another person (it’s awful, but true). In other cases, my actions were indirect but hurtful all the same.

I could give you countless reasons ‘why’ I chose fear based actions- (so and so did this to me, I witnessed ______, my feelings were hurt by_____)- but the ‘why’ of it all is absolutely irrelevant. I made choices, plain and simple. I decided I was more important than someone else. And the messes began.

In the last decade of my life I have devoted immeasurable time and energy to self study. Through this work I have come to realize two very important things: 1.) my best choices are made when my heart space is clear. 2.) my actions are never ending.

If I make a decision or take action with a closed/angry/fearful heart I am undoubtedly going to have a mess to clean up. An apology to make. A relationship to mend. In contrast, if my heart space is open and willing then I know I am operating at my best and giving that to everyone in my life.

The actions I make are never over. What I say, think, do, and react to will ripple and affect life forever. Think back to Lenny. Somewhere a gun was made (action 1), purchased (action 2), used in a fearful capacity (action 3), a life was taken (action 4), a daughter is left without a father, a mother without a son, friends without their friend….. it keeps going. In the same way, perhaps an apology can be made, a forgiveness can be given, hope can be restored, and clear heart space can be the foundation for making better and better actions.

This example is extreme, I get that. We’re not all running around taking lives. But I would also suggest that maybe we’re taking parts of them. I know I’ve done it. When our actions come from fear, anger, or a closed heart we isolate ourselves, we deem ourselves more important than another, and the mess begins all over again.

So I leave you with this, a call to action of sorts. Can you watch fear move into you? Can you feel for those moments when your heart races, and your body begins to heat up? And in those moments can you pause and soften and allow for your heart space to get clearer? It might not happen immediately, and if it doesn’t, DO NO HARM. Just wait to react rather than move forward. Then, once your body calms and your heart space begins to clear, choose the action that will promote life rather than take it. Choose the action you want to ripple on and on as part of your legacy.

*Names have been changed out of respect for the family and nature of the topic.

 

After The Halt

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halt [hawlt]
verb
to stop; cease moving, operating, etc., either permanently or temporarily.

My life has been in a state of halt for nearly seven months. This lines up exactly with the birth of my second son. While I have been functioning and keeping up with my numerous daily responsibilities, I have only been doing that – functioning. I have not been thriving. In fact, the things I thrive on have halted. My writing. Music. Meaningful connections with friends and family. Time in nature. Time alone. I’m not pointing a finger at my child(ren), nor am I trying to complain. I’ve simply not done a good job of keeping up my end of life’s bargain. I’ve too easily sacrificed my need for wholeness and connection for the sake of keeping up the appearance of a life that is moving forward smoothly.

Recently, I opened up to a friend about this halt in my life. I shared how most days I cry. How I haven’t had an hour alone with my husband in 7months. How I have irrational fears. How lonely I feel. After letting me go on and on, she finally asked, “Why haven’t you called me?” There was a long pause. I didn’t have a good answer. Why hadn’t I called her? Why hadn’t I called anyone? Finally, it came to me, I just didn’t want anyone to know how inadequately I had been keeping up. For fear of judgment, I kept all these feelings to myself. In doing so, I created an inner environment full of rattle. You know the rattle don’t you? The constant noise of, “do this… go there…fix that…the dishes aren’t done…she said what…there isn’t enough time…I’m so tired…leave me alone…I’m not good enough”

After this conversation, I realized yet one more thing about my recent life – rarely do I fill it with meaningful conversation. Often, my interactions with others are quick, functional, and consisting of niceties (or complaints). Without meaningful human connection and conversation I had created an isolated environment where it became all too easy to get further and further down the rabbit hole. The rattle became deafening.

Since opening up to my friend, I’ve been able to share with other friends too. None of their responses have been of judgement. To the contrary they have been of support, of empathy, and of deliberate action to create meaningful connection. Also, since sharing my vulnerabilities and identifying the areas of my life that were halted, the light is shining back in again. A reader of my blog reached out to ask where I’ve gone, she misses my writing. Opportunities to sing are coming my way again. I’ve connected with some of my dearest friends, whose curiosity of the world matches my own, and we’re deliberately seeking knowledge together. Snowmageddon and the polar vortex (I live in the Midwest where winter has just plain sucked) have stopped long enough for me to get out into the woods! No more halt. I’m moving forward again. Thriving. It’s almost as if God was just waiting for me to crack so that she could fill me back up again (good one, God).

What I’ve learned from this experience is that if you ever find yourself in a state of halt you have to declare it. You have to find someone you trust and say it all out loud. Not as complaints, but as pure unfiltered vulnerability. The kind of openness that leaves you feeling lighter once you’ve shared. You might not get answers or a fix, but you will get space. The kind of space that then allows for the good stuff to come back in.

 

Let’s talk.
What brings a surge of energy to your heart?
What makes your eyes glint with tears of wonder?
What makes your soul beat?
Tell me about these things.
Tell me like a child would.
Deliver your message with passion
don’t worry about making sense.
I will be able to feel the sense of it – if it comes from your heart.
Tell me what you’re terrified of.
If it helps, I’m terrified too.
You can cry.
Crying alone is a release.
Crying together, we heal.
You’ve worked too hard to hold the trappings of your perfect life together.
It’s exhausting
flailing about at the whipping ends.
Trying to gather them up
in hopes no one will notice.
Instead, I want to notice.
Because your tattered life mirrors mine.
Your tattered life is of the best you could do.
Show me that the best I could do is ok too.
Then, I can stop trying so hard.
Then, I can visit once again with what brings a surge to my heart.
A glint to my eyes.
A beat to my soul.

~A. Kilpatrick

Namaste.

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There is a word I have said nearly every day for the last six years of my life. A word I often say without considering its full meaning or intent. That word is Namaste. As a teacher and student, Namaste is the custom closing to a yoga class. To look up its meaning, you’ll find any number of ways to basically say, “I honor you. We are one.” Recently, I came to the eye opening realization that I’ve been doing a sufficiently crummy job of living up to this word.

As part of a six week meditation course I participated in, we were asked to consider a person in our lives we felt stuck around. A person where our flow of love was blocked (This is an exercise I was first introduced to by Baron Baptiste at my Level One training more than two years ago. Since then I haven’t revisited it.). Without thinking too much I wrote down, MOM. The exercise continued with our listing reasons why we’re stuck around this person (i.e. what’s wrong with them), what the other person should do to fix the situation (i.e. fix yourself so we can have a better relationship) and finally, what we’re missing out on by holding these stuck feelings. As I wrote my responses I became more and more ashamed of myself. As my page filled up I saw the point – I was the problem.

As long as I can remember I have held very strong opinions of my mother. Opinions about what she should and should not be doing with herself and her life. I was right. She was wrong. In just about every situation you can imagine (clothes, vocabulary, lifestyle, health, career…). By choosing to live this way, I have never seen my mother for who she really is. I have not honored her. And I certainly haven’t regarded us as ONE. Any ‘stuckness’ that I felt between us was put there by me and me alone.

With this new found clarity I had to do just one thing. Apologize.

The next time I saw my mother was when she came to babysit. As I sat next to her while she held my youngest son I simply said, “Mom, I am so sorry for always assuming I know what is best for you. All my life I have held such strong opinions about your choices and I have no right to do this. I am sorry.” Then, in true mom fashion, she simply smiled. She told me she loved me and that everything was OK. Then, she went on to tell me about all the great things happening in her life – her health, her relationship with my dad (which is stronger than ever in 30+ yrs of marriage), her exercise regimen (which includes YOGA) and her absolute love and devotion for my boys. She lit up and I finally allowed myself to see her shine.

Because of my Ego, my assuming, and my expectations I had been missing out on my mom. My vision was clouded. My own insecurities and self-judgments (because if I’m being honest, the things that bothered me about my mom are the EXACT things I need to check myself about) kept me from enjoying her.

Now, I honestly have new eyes. My heart and soul feel light. And I am looking forward to getting to know the woman I’ve known my entire life.

I love you, mom. Namaste.

Where Do Grandpas Go When They Die?

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Have you ever had the honor of watching someone die? Not violently, but slow, steady, and relatively peacefully. Surrounded by loved ones.

Nearly three weeks ago I got to watch as my Grandpa left this body for the great mystery of afterlife. He had suffered a stroke on a Thursday. Began to dwindle on Friday. And by Saturday, was gone.

I was fortunate enough to spend time with him the week before his stroke, the day of, and the day after. Even that first night in the hospital, he was still full of his boisterous nature and tenaciousness. He couldn’t talk and his right side was almost completely immobile, but ‘He’ was still there. By the time I got to his bedside on Saturday he had already slipped away. I didn’t arrive much after his official time of death, but already he was no longer ‘Grandpa.’ His body was present, but all that was ‘Grandpa’ was gone. I was amazed at how quickly his body went from alive to empty. His color drained. His animation was gone. And it all happened in an instant…with his final exhale.

My yoga practice has placed me ever more in touch with the power of my breath. Breath is my way through a challenging pose, through struggles in my life, and through an overactive mind. My breath awareness can offer me an instant or an hour of respite, ease, and peace. It is my go-to meditation. When I bring awareness to my breath I instantly begin the process of becoming softer, lighter, and more relaxed. But more important than all of this, my breath is my life. I believe it contains my spirit, my soul, my connection to God, and my connection to all of you.

Thousands of years of religious, spiritual, and cultural practices have in some way honored the importance and magic of breath. To name a few, the Bible speaks of ‘The Breath of God’, In Judaism the name Yahweh is literally the sound of breath, and many Native American prayers reference a Great Spirit whose voice is heard on the wind and whose breath gives life to the world. In a society where we demand answers and are hungry for more and more information I can understand why experiencing God as breath may not seem like enough. Yet, I am convinced God really is that accessible. Why wouldn’t she be? Linking us all together, one breath in and one breath out at a time.

I grieve the loss of my Grandpa, but I believe with all my heart that he is still around me. More now perhaps, than ever. I can call upon a memory of him, take a deep breath, and feel instant connection. Not because I’m a weird newager, but because of the faith I have in the mysterious power of breath. It is a Godforce (my word), uniting us in life and surrounding us when life ends. While I may not know the exact location of where Grandpas go when they die, I’m convinced they are really only a breath away.

*{If the title of my post has the song, Lake of Fire, by Nirvana stuck in your head you’re not alone. I’ve been singing this title to that tune for weeks now. I’ve also had Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer caught in my head. My Grandpa’s name was Rudolph :) }*

Family

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A special place in my heart lights up when students (of my generation) bring their mother or father to one of my classes for the first time. I like to imagine the son/daughter has been talking so much about their yoga practice and it’s benefits that the mother/father just had to come see what it’s all about. This week I saw many of these child/parent pairings and was moved by each one. Especially a mother, daughter duo attending my Wednesday afternoon Slow Flow class.

Daughter is a regular. Mom is fighting cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. We chatted before class about the importance of taking it easy, resting when necessary, staying hydrated, etc… During class I watched as Daughter helped Mom to get more comfortable, showed her modifications, and encouraged her to take child’s pose. When it was time for Savasana the two held hands. I was choked up as I saw them laying together and was immediately reminded of a quote I once read from TKV Desikachar; “Yoga isn’t about bending your body like a pretzel, it’s about how well you treat your family.” The truth of this statement right there in front of me, holding hands, united.

I think a majority of us come to yoga as a physical practice and are pleasantly (or kicking and screaming) surprised by the depth yoga has to offer. If you’re a regular practitioner, have you noticed how doing well for your body ripples into other areas of your life too? When I first began my practice I wanted to get in shape, then I started eating better, then I started meditating, then I started to become more and more aware of my words, thoughts and actions, then I started to like myself more, then I forgave myself for lots of yucky things, then I forgave other people for lots of yucky things, then I began to love more openly, react less, accept more, and now my family reaps these benefits. Granted, this is over a course of many years, but the truth remains that the physical work I began on my mat wasn’t even the point. Getting into wheel, or headstand, or forearm balance, or whatever the hell was never the point. Instead, it was a tool. A gateway. To begin my practice of watchfulness. Of caring about myself. Of loving myself. Of loving others.

When class ended on Wednesday I approached Mom and Daughter to check in with how they were doing (something I do for all my new students). Mom was in tears. Daughter was smiling. Mom said she felt raw, she had released a lot. We hugged. As we hugged I felt her breathe, I felt her heartbeat, and I loved her. Just one more milestone on my yoga path – realizing that ‘family’ doesn’t only mean sharing common ancestry.

How Bad Do You Want It?

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You may remember my post from last September, Carried Away. Writing that post was cathartic for me and allowed me to begin talking openly about the trauma and loss I had experienced. It also began a more intimate look at how I was living and loving my life. Writing that post brought awareness which helped me to get further along on my process of grief. But, months later, I was still afraid. Afraid of trying for another baby, afraid of getting pregnant and having complications, afraid I was ‘ruined’. Simply. AFRAID. I didn’t share this fear with anyone. I kept quiet. Hoping that no one would ask if we were going to ‘try’ again. Hoping that my husband could read my mind and he would just continue to give me space. Then, in Nov at a routine OB/GYN appointment my doctor asked if we were going to try again. I couldn’t hold back the tears. I explained as best I could why we weren’t trying again. She let me finish and then in a rare moment of woman to woman instead of Dr to patient she said to me, ‘You can’t let the fear of something keep you from what you want.”

I sat with her words running through my head for days. I talked with my spiritual director about it too. And after expressing more fears and more tears with my husband, the fear went away. Somehow, by giving a voice to the scary things I only wanted to keep hidden, the scary things went away. Almost like walking into the room when a little kid is doing something naughty – they see that you see them and they stop. The naughty little scary thoughts gave up as soon as I was willing to shed light on them.

This was three months ago. Today, I am thrilled to announce that I am 12 weeks pregnant!

Is there something in your life you are afraid of? Are you holding back out of fear? Is there a relationship you could mend, but are afraid of making that first call? Is there a goal you want to achieve, but the path toward it requires discipline and commitment? Are there parts of you you are avoiding because you’re afraid of what you will see? If you can relate to any of these questions, or simply fear in general, I’m here to tell you that if you give it a voice, if you share it, and if you decide you want it more than you are afraid of it – it will be so.

When We Pay Attention

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Watch another person breathing. Really watch. See as their body responds to an inhale. To an exhale. See the subtleties. Ribs expanding. Belly lifting. The flow and exchange of life right before your eyes. The most abundant of elements keeping this person (and you) alive.

Step outside. Feel your body surrounded abundantly by air, wind, breath. See how this invisible current moves the environment around you. Trees, leaves, grass, birds on the wind, clouds through the sky. Appreciate, even if just for a moment, how the same flowing energy which sustains your life, creates a melody for all of nature to dance to.

Breath is just one of many invisible threads weaving a divine and mysterious connection through our life and the lives around us. And when we pay attention to it, “it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” { Henry Thomas}

One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, tells us in her poem, Instructions for Living Life, to: Pay attention, be astonished, tell about it.

This poem came to me the other day while teaching. The room was powerfully breathing in unison. Standing in eagle. There was no doubt the students were experiencing the power and unity of breath in the room, but everyone was looking intently on whatever non-moving object they could find to hold their balance. I asked the class instead to look at a body in front of them (at the risk of falling over), to see the exchange of breath in, breath out. Life, happening right there, inside the person in front of them. As they watched the flow of life energy in another body, during this ‘paying attention’ to another being, I asked them to consider (if even for a nanosecond) their connection to the other person and to all that is living through breath. (I should note this was met with lots of smiles and NO ONE fell out of their pose!)

Life energy passes through many different orders of form (animal, plant, human,), but nonetheless, it is required for all things to live and thrive. Regardless of the container in which it passes through, we all need this invisible force, this breath, this energy, to BE. A realization that becomes more palpable as we pay attention and open ourselves to the miraculous nature of all living things.

To further your connection with this concept, try on this exercise I’ve adapted from Mark Nepo’s, Book of Awakening:

Sit with someone you care about (even your pet) and watch them breathe.
See how your breath syncs to theirs.
As you breathe in unison, can you begin to appreciate the connection of this invisible thread weaving through your bodies?
Can you recognize this life force as an essential part of his/her life, as much as it is yours?
Can you be astonished by the beauty of this simple and yet mysterious life force?

Here’s to paying attention, friends!  I hope you enjoy getting your socks knocked off by it as much as I do ;)