What You Think You Want Versus What You are Given

My yoga teacher always said that you must “digest your experience!” By this she means that it is essential to take time to fully digest the events and feelings of our days. Process. Integrate. Digest. And then, let go and move forward. In a culture that sways towards a fast-forward pace, this is good advice. So much happens in a day (or over weeks or months) such that undigested experiences can accumulate and form repositories of stress, tension, angst, anger or sadness – left  untended in our bodies, hearts and minds. If we don’t return to sift through what lingers, the flow of our energies and emotions can be thwarted. For me, writing helps with this important digestion – and not only to sort through difficulties but also to clarify lessons learned as well as to revisit what has been beautiful, significant. As Anais Nin says, “we write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.”

In my own retrospective process, I have been through one hell of a month. There was the flood. There was selling our home and all the surrounding logistics. There was packing. There were home repairs. There was new house searching. There were long late night conversations with my husband about our life vision and what is next. There was the ever-present wall of financial limitation. There was finding a rental along with the thousands of displaced flood victims. There was moving into the first rental we could find. There was a trip to Nashville for work and giving a presentation at a conference. There were tantrums. There were fevers and illnesses. There were cavities to be filled. There was a contract signed on a new home. My husband turned 40. We found out we are having another son!

All of this adds up to a very condensed experience of life – with major life events and transitions all culminating in one short span of time. There were emotional breakdowns amidst holding so many moving parts together. And finally, we are settling again. And now: true digestion where insights can emerge.

Amidst all of the on the surface descriptors of life’s changes and happenings, there are also the undercurrents of life doing its work on me in deeper ways. While flying back from my work trip I randomly sat next to a former co-worker I hadn’t seen or spoken to in over five years. At the end of a three hour flight he told me he’d been reading Sri Aurobindo and asked something along the lines of how I rectify what is seemingly predetermined versus what we can control in our lives; how I make sense of the mysterious forces at work in the world versus what our will can effect. At first I laughed and said “I have no idea!” I was exhausted. I didn’t feel up for dissecting Sri Aurobindo. And then I slowly felt into my answer. Thanks to his question I was able to relate the seeming conundrum to my own life and clarify an insight I might otherwise have missed. I shared that actually he was pointing to what I was ultimately grappling with on deeper levels with my huge life transitions underway: the impending birth of my third son, and the impending move into my next home. I said I was used to feeling empowered by moving towards what I want in this lifetime with willfulness and clear intention, but that with the revelation that I am having a third son I was profoundly humbled in the face of what I ultimately can’t control. I had been desiring a daughter. I always thought I would have a daughter – and yet, here I am: life dishing up my third precious boy. I had been wanting a home with outdoor space to garden, have chickens, create magical playscapes for my children. And yet, again and again we were confronted with financial or distance conundrums that made fully realizing what I thought was my deepest vision elusive. Instead, life was handing me a different plate. A home full of sons. The opportunity to take the leap and buy a new home that looked very different from what I had been imagining and ‘wanting.’

Then I said, “I don’t look at it as an either/or situation. There is both will and mystery. I experience it as swimming in a sea of conversation with the Divine. I can move towards what I think I want, and when I don’t get it, I can relax into what is being given to me. There is nothing to be done. There is nothing to do. I can be humbled in the face of what is ultimately beyond my understanding or control. And then, the next layer after relaxing into what simply is: to really love it, despite reality looking different than what I was expecting or desiring…”

I realized that the major lesson of this time is to rectify moving towards my desires with intention while also being humbled again and again by those numerous moments when reality is utterly out of my control. There is nothing to be done about anything – just be in a conversation with what feels Divine in this Life. No moving towards anything graspingly, but rather relaxing into reality and embracing what is. Then loving what is. Right now life is serving up this lesson: the key is to let go of attachments to what I think “should” be any particular way – and instead embrace (again and again) what is arising in the form of presented opportunities. Relax! Settle into a new place and form! And then, find and feel the perfection in what is. Find fresh eyes that know how to live outside of previous attachments.

IMG_1523It reminds me of forward bends in my yoga practice. There is the willful gesture of reaching towards where you want to go, while also surrendering into exactly where you are. There is the gesture of letting yoga do you rather than you doing it. There is the interplay between being and doing. First be, then do. There is the energy of reaching while also simultaneously surrendering. And what needs to be the greater force at work? Surrender. (*Angst arises when our resistance to reality attempts to override the capacity to surrender…)

During transitions of any kind we can practice surrendering into accepting the blessings of what is being given to us. We can exercise the power of our capacity to choose our perspective: how we place our attention dictates what our experience becomes. We can count our blessings or we can pile up the complaints. We can make friends with the new places we find ourselves in (both literally and figuratively). Life is full of surprises and it serves us to befriend new, unexpected surroundings. In this, we can slowly find ourselves freer to relax fully into letting go of what we think we want, or how we think things ‘should’ be, versus unabashedly embracing what is being given to us.

Pushing vs. Opening – And Shining a Light on Our Habits Through Practice

To open your body through a sacred and intentional spiritual practice is a precious thing. So simple, such an encounter with Self. Spiritual practice can hold up the mirror and shed light on where we haven’t been true to ourselves and where we obstruct free, open, loving flow of energy and attention through habit or via blind spots we have yet to see into. For me, the practice is Hatha yoga, where after a too-long spell of neglect I finally rediscover my legs, my hands and feet – and re-learn the essential practice of just feeling: just feeling full bodily into the vast mystery of life.

I’m reminded that to maintain a practice of opening the body in an intentional way is especially essential for those of us immersed in the radical shifts required of a woman’s body throughout pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood. If we don’t attend to our bodies we become stiff, habituated in often imbalancing physical patterns, and generally less intentional with how we place ourselves in space as we shuffle between critical tasks. The practice not only becomes a critical means for maintaining a structure of physical and emotional well-being as we juggle life’s requirements, but it also becomes the vehicle through which we can open ourselves to fresh revelations about ourselves and our lives in an ongoing way.

We can choose to dip into a practice where we can literally plug ourselves into currents of light always available and at work in the body; Plugging into lines of light is ultimately freeing your energy and attention such that there is open, clear, free, loving flow between and within all parts, as well as extending outwards from this place of freedom and openness. It translates into a radiance of experience that permeates and embraces. It also translates into a shedding of light on and within our own experiences that illumines the interior world in all its vast mysteries and complexities. My yoga teacher Sofia always says the feeling of light is actually Love – and it is that experience of Love that is available too in our bodies when we dare to cross the threshold of depth and move beyond conditioning, habit and avoidance of discomfort. As we make ourselves available to the opening of new pathways in our bodies, we can shed light with our attention on the whole of our experience. In this way we bring our full selves further and further into the light of self- understanding and ultimately into embodying the full gift of a beautiful, loving self-expression in the world.

Certain yoga poses have the capacity to usher us down the rabbit hole into the realm of sustained transformation through a simple abiding with sensation – “difficult” as well as pleasant or even blissful. Yoga can take us to the gates of our own personal hell realms of self-avoidance and untruth – where we might tell ourselves lies to protect ourselves from pain and unwanted discomforts of growth. It is at this such gate that I recently realize the simple truth that many moments of my motherhood growing journey have been rooted in pushing, rather than opening. It happens often in a deep physical practice: the impulse to muscularly will, physically push yourself to the “other side” – you know a great opening is possible and in moments when you are taken to your knees with feelings of weakness, craziness or incapacity – you push through, rather than surrender and open – and then perhaps even dare to call it “strength.” Many of us do this kind of pushing not even for the sake of a great opening – but simply for the sake of “getting things done” or “getting to the next place.” It strikes me like a light bulb turned on in place I’ve never been; I catch a glimpse into a blind spot I’ve been living in.

And here is the next great opportunity of a spiritual practice that requires you to pay attention to the subtleties of your own experience: if you can stay with the complexity, a jewel of realization may emerge. It hits me that there is no strength in whittling away open currents of life force into exhausted collapse. I see so many women journeying this path and I hadn’t realized I’d joined the ranks. Surrendering into exhaustion can also entail a subtle (or not so subtle) shirk of profound responsibility. I am struck that a profound growing force in my life can also become the same means to fabricating an excuse to not further grow (think on this one: have any of you experienced this?). Said another way: for me, exhaustion coupled with the responsibility of motherhood has brought me to my knees in a way that crash coursed me into letting go of lifetimes of habits that don’t serve me while also gifting me with an impeccable opportunity to surrender into what is without resistance, and in the spirit of love – even when it doesn’t feel “good” and even when I feel as if I’ll fall apart. At the same time this growing edge I’ve been riding for two years can also stagnate me into shirking a responsibility for opening my body and my heart through consistent practice and self-care; (Why am I physically weaker than before? “I’m so tired.” Why won’t I practice today? “I’m so tired”). Yet with fewer inner resources and without an established structure of sustained openness through practicing, I end up further tiring myself from pushing from less authentic places. Reserves are thin and the undercurrent of awareness of participation in and with the Divine allows me to ride the waves of life with some amount of Grace, BUT, the subtle truth is that I’ve slowly been falling into the habit of “pushing through” rather than opening into Grace.

Why is this self-revelation important enough to share here? Because opening into Grace is a profound resource for all of us to relax into. Because these are times when too many of us are pushing too hard in our lives and losing connection to vital threads of practice rooted in paying close attention to detail and subtlety. Because to live as our best selves does not mean moving randomly through space and time and it certainly doesn’t mean sloughing off personal responsibility to succumb to the mass patterning of “I’m so tired and busy I can’t even deal with anything that is fundamentally important to myself anymore.” We can instead exchange a different kind of energy in the world. We can take care of ourselves by  surrendering into acknowledgement of what breathes us. We aren’t doing breath. Breath is doing each of us. Something greater than yourself is at work on you and will ultimately dissolve you in the end. Opening to this insight is profoundly liberating, albeit potentially unnerving at first. Opening into what is arising in any given moment means making oneself consistently available to wisdom, insight, being moved, stretched, worked on, yanked open, uncurled, unfurled…All we have to do is make ourselves available to transformation and grace. All we have to do is make ourselves available to mystery. And the doorway to this is through our own felt experience. This is opening rather than pushing. This is moving through our lives with a sense of flow and grace rather than resistance.

To live steeped in this awareness is a different kind of strength, and ultimately a feminine sort of strength, rooted more in the heart realm and less in the will and intellect realm. These are times where many of us are pushing rather than resting in a surrendered nourishment that does not hide or collapse, but gives outward from a place of relaxed understanding. These are times when shit has to get done and someone’s got to do it – and the key is to live each breath of the doing as if you weren’t doing it but as if it is doing you – whatever ‘it’ is for you. In this way we not only find a new kind of rest into what just is – we open ourselves to our interconnections with all life and light and we live more as our true nature, ever becoming clearer and less fettered – and more capable of the profound Love that the divine feminine force entails.