Wednesday, January 21, 2015

I was a servant girl.

It started with the dimes.  I began finding dimes about nine months ago.  I’d find them in the craziest of places.  One rested on my car’s bumper outside a dim sum restaurant in Broomfield.  I found another while walking my usual three-mile loop with a dear friend.  I found several propped up on the lint collector of the dryer.  After an employee of a yogurt shop found three in an alleyway, he approached my table, said, “Are these yours?” and slapped them down in front of me.  I found a few on the sidewalk in front of my house and one on the street by my car.  People close to me began finding them, too.  I started a collection in my shadow box, a stack of little silver coins.  At some point during this time of dime acquirement, I remembered a story I had heard about a pregnant woman who lost her grandfather just before her due date.  She was devastated, for her baby would be the grandfather’s first great-grandchild.  In the hospital room, during the birth, family members kept finding dimes all over the place.  Lining the doorway, on the bedside table, at the foot of her bed.  The family learned that finding dimes is a sign that a spirit from the other side is present, offering support, encouragement, and love.  After a quick jaunt with Google, I found many other stories of deceased loved ones sending messages this way.  I shook my head toward the sky and wondered why my dad was so adamant that I needed to hear this message over and over again.  This message that I heard as his voice saying, “Everything will be okay.  You’ll figure it out.”

For the past four years I had identified strongly with the role of provider, nurturer, mother.  I had felt fairly grounded in this role and would have said I lived very presently.  But suddenly, even though I was entirely settled with closing my nursing journey with Kyle, I felt like something had been ripped away without my consent.  I found myself utterly lost.  I began to feel like a completely different person and wondered who it was in those framed pregnancy photos glowing, who it was tattooed with henna to commemorate breastfeeding.  In every area of my life, I was finding new meaning.  My relationships motivated me to look inward.  I shined light on dark corners by examining old patterns and pushing myself past the boundaries of familiarity.  I could not name a single catalyst for what came next.

Launch: “to throw something forward in a forceful way" 

The vessel that is my body, mind, and heart launched into a spiritual crisis, into what I’ve been calling my dark night of the soul.  I began to question everything.  It was a very intense experience to find myself in a storm of thoughts that extended even into my dreams.  I tore open all that I believed I knew about my life and stepped inside to wade through it all.  Uncomfortable doesn’t even begin to describe it.  It was downright terrifying.  I thought about my path in this life, and fearfully asked, What if I am absent of true self?  What if I am just a product of something else?  I wrote about these things and opened like never before.  In therapy, I talked about my journey as a soul, my true purpose, and worried that the way I was living my life was not reflective of this.  My friends and family noticed my struggle because in many ways, I was not present.  My mind was busy sorting, wondering, fearing, and I didn’t have much room for anything else. 

During this time of turmoil, I participated in a past life regression, a practice that uses a state close to hypnosis to help people retrieve memories from past lives.  I am not sure whether I believe in reincarnation and didn’t know if I’d actually be able to experience a past life, but I hoped for a meaningful experience that would help illuminate my true purpose.  To say I was nervous would be putting it mildly.  With sweaty palms and a fluttery chest, I laid on a sofa in the comfortable home office of a psychologist and regression therapist.  She led me into the experience calmly, and soon I was opening a door into a supposed past life.  As I fluidly told the stories of a young servant living during pioneer times, themes of love and loss began to unfold that tied to my life today.  While that was indeed amazing, what really blew me away was that the story couldn’t have come from anyone but me.  I don’t know if I actually visited a past life, but what spilled out of me in the moment and how it did so without hesitation was like a little connector to something much greater.  At best, I can name it as a deep trust in the presence of an authentic and unique self.  It felt so good to know nothing and then suddenly know something, but in many areas of my life I still felt so afraid.  Fear seemed to be the antithesis of true self as it swept me up again and again into its storm and out of the present moment. 

And that’s when I “remembered” yoga.  It had always been there, a mostly physical practice that allowed me to access something I couldn’t quite name, but in the midst of my crisis, it was one thing that connected me spiritually to self.  I felt a strong calling to deepen my practice and searched for ways to do this.  My weekly physical practice created shifts in me that felt positive, shifts that kept me present and non-judgmental about my fear, but I longed for more.  I found a 200-hour yoga teacher training after expressing an interest in kirtan (call-and-response chanting) and connecting with one of the instructors of the program.  At first, I pushed it aside.  Teaching yoga was not something I ever imagined doing.  I taught middle-schoolers how to read and write.  Yoga?  For real?  I kept the page bookmarked on my laptop and kept revisiting it.  I cyber-stalked the instructors and watched the video from last year’s training at least twenty-five times.  I went to an informational meeting and experienced my first official “kirtan high.”  Finally, on a weekend away in the mountains with an unsettled heart longing for the answer, I registered for the training.  When I clicked “submit” on the application, my chest pulsated with nervous energy but with the contented feeling that something important would come from this training, perhaps even something wonderful.

The weeks prior to the first training day, I revisited my decision to register several times.  I doubted my choice after a flaring-up of an old shoulder injury occurred, as fate would have it, after a yoga class.  I allowed guilt to seep in at the idea of being away from my kids one weekend a month for six months not to mention asking Angus to single parent during those times.  I felt, in moments, that this was just another kind of grasping cloaked in the veil of wellness and spirituality.  But ultimately on the morning of our first day, I ripped the tags off a Lululemon tank my mom got me for Christmas, threw my stained mat in the back seat amidst cracker crumbs and ratty toys, hoisted an unnecessarily heavy fucking backpack onto my sore shoulders, and I showed up.

Yoga: "to join; to unite"

This first weekend of yoga teacher training was sort of like the feeling of sinking into a hot bath with chamomile and lavender salts, the kind of bath that soothes but causes the sweat to pour after a long soak.  Wrapped up in the weekend was an unmistakable feeling of being “home” combined with new challenges in many realms – mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual.  In the presence of other human beings on a journey different from yet very similar to my own, I engaged in three days of chanting, yoga history and philosophy, physical practice and alignment study, breathing, discussions, and meditation.  We spent time digging through the teachings of yoga (the sutras) and discussing real life application.  As we grappled with these ideas, I saw how love and fear drive each one of us and are in constant flux with each other.  I could see my life before me and recognize true self existed when I was in a space of love – the selfless, kind, compassionate love that has no expectations, special requirements, or attachments.  I could also see my false self and how it thrived on ego-based emotions like fear, anger, and jealousy.  One of our teachers suggested approaching fear as a call for love.  He said that we are all capable of extending this kind of love into a broken world by practicing kindness.  How powerful.  How…obvious?  How extraordinarily difficult.
Through the weekend, I didn’t find my self.  I rediscovered it.  Over the course of this lifetime, I have and will constantly rejoin with my true self.  What I started to process extended beyond the understanding of self and moved into appreciation for the journey.  I saw how everything, the entire mishmash of true and false self, brought me to right here.  Right now. The very moment I was in at the very second I was in it.  Releasing an “Om” from somewhere deep and intentional, feeling my body sink into child’s pose, looking into the dark eyes of one of my peers as she spoke, going home and embracing my 4-year-old who said, “I missed you, Mommy!”

The final day of the first weekend I was filling up my mug with water, and I had this moment of noting that the jug of water was just constantly full.  That two of the women helping with the training kept this thing full for us, and I had just now consciously noticed it.  I made a mental note to thank them for their work as I lifted up the jug.  I almost dropped the entire thing on the floor as my heart leapt and my eyes landed on a single dime that had been trapped under the container.  I definitely did not fill up my cup or thank the lovely women mostly because I was in a state of shock.  I actually looked around the room expecting to see my dad joking with one of my peers or looking at me with those smiling blue eyes of his.  With a shaking hand, I picked up the dime and tucked it into the pocket of my gray hoodie, and trembling in my words, I somehow managed to tell a new friend the short version of my story.  At the end of the evening, I came home and placed the dime in my shadow box at the top of the stack.

Maybe it did all start with the dimes.  Maybe it started with the death of my father.  Or maybe it began as soon as I emerged from my mother’s body and took my first breath.  Maybe it begins with life.  Maybe this journey to join, to unite back with the whole from which we are all a part of, begins with the first breath of life.  All I know is that I am nowhere close to living vulnerable, authentic to true self, all of the time or even most of the time.  It’s ever-evolving.  It’s a practiced awareness, a lifelong journey that can seem daunting, confusing, and at times impossible, but it is one I would like to sign up for.  I would like to commit to love.  Will you join with me?

photo by Katie Olson, on the day I clicked "submit"

I have always found comfort from the sound of a breeze moving through leaves, and this morning’s soundtrack draws my breaths to an even and steady place.  As I weave through trunks, stepping over bulbous roots wound together like tangled yarn, the sun reaches through the branches of tall pines sending its orange rays parallel to the earth creating a beautiful blanket of speckled light.  A thin wisp rises up from a dying fire, and the smells of amber and smoke are subtle, but hang in the cool air providing a kind of warmth that wraps me up and invites me to grow still, my feet planted on the earth below.  I am in a small clearing, under a great oak tree, one with a wide trunk that splits in two thick branches at the middle, shooting clusters of green leaves to touch the sky and neighboring trees.  I hear water nearby, water that comes from somewhere and goes elsewhere, and I imagine it as a torrent cascading down black rocks to flow smoothly into a large pool that eventually narrows into a trickling creek.

I close my eyes and feel into the surface below my body allowing it to support my aching muscles and stiff joints. I consider that my two hands turn into arms and then shoulders secured into a chest that contains my pumping heart.  Breath fills my body, and my ribs spread allowing my heart to open.  Now, I am home, in my sanctuary.  As I move with breath, I experience a kind of knowing and acceptance with all that is, as it exists in this very moment.  My mind, the part that so often threatens to break me, finally quiets.  It is here where I find comfort, truth, safety.  It is here where I can be exactly as I am in this moment, in this life.  Where I don’t have to be something else for anyone.  Where I can honor but not attach to the suffering and joy of others and myself.  It is where I go to bring forth the kind of inward stillness that allows new life to enter the world.  In this letting go, I am able to see my soul’s truth through a clearer lens.  To recognize that the journey, in many ways, is the destiny.  That I am a part of a never-ending cycle of existence where I can hear the stories held in every plant, tree, animal, and human being.  These things, before visiting them in this space, were just an audience for my own narrative, but I can now see how we are all wildly intertwined.

I open my eyes, and it is nighttime.  The wings of dragonflies, moving toward water, glisten under the curve of pale moonlight.  My feet move from this space, but I carry the quiet with me out into a life I can claim more as my own.

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