Tag Archives: trauma

Use Your Words, My Love

This is not a time in history to fuck up in the public forum. Across the world, and even more specifically, south of the Canadian border in the country that tenuously holds onto the “land of the free and the home of the brave” title, a wave of intolerance has been gaining momentum over the past few years. A few months ago I watched the CNN series “The Sixties” and was somewhat educated on how politically unstable that decade was, and how volatile the fight for human rights made the 1960’s. I was pretty shocked to see that regardless of how far we think we have come since then, many of the issues people in the US were giving their lives for to see colour barriers come down and have all humans treated equally seem to be as present today as they were then.

With the current administration in America doing its best to divide people and their opinions, and in an age where those opinions have countless platforms through which they can be expressed, it is no surprise that the US is splintered and fragmented. Those whose history is made up of overcoming hate, genocide, slaughter, slavery, discrimination and dehumanization have every right to be on guard right now, as they do for the rest of time. There are those, goaded on by the president’s apparent refusal to out-rightly condemn hate and intolerance, who take to social media outlets with the sole purpose of instigating conflict. There are organizations with social media bots whose sole purpose is to do the same, resulting in human beings with the best of intentions ending up in Twitter wars with bots designed to amplify the conflict until emotional reaction erupts. We have every right to staunchly stay on guard and be as vocal as the troublemakers so that we continue to fight the good fight and ensure the freedom and happiness of all people.

Late last month, one of my childhood heroines, Roseanne Barr, posted a tweet that read, “Muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj” to her Twitter account, referring to Valerie Jarrett, who, among other accomplishments, was a senior advisor to the Obama administration. Rightfully so, within days, Roseanne’s career was over, and within weeks the show she had created and which was in a successful reboot was rebooted once again, this time without its namesake having anything to do with its new incarnation. I decided to boycott anything to do with her, and chalked it all up to her being one more casualty of this period of carte-blanche xenophobia that emboldens even celebrities to spew hate.

Today I listened to an interview she gave to her spiritual advisor, Rabbi Shmuley, in which she talked, among other topics, about her spirituality, how inexcusable that tweet was, how she didn’t know Valerie Jarrett was African-American when she wrote the tweet, and how sorry she is about making herself the poster person for hate, or, in her own words, “A hate magnet”. And as inexcusable and horrific as her tweet was, I found myself contemplating the concepts of forgiveness, right speech (written and spoken), the literalist global society that social media has fostered, and these hypersensitive times in which we must be vigilant to hate and intolerance, and in which, for the first time in my lifetime, we need to censor ourselves for any nuance, sarcasm or double-entendre that might get lost in how our words are received.

A few days ago Madonna posted a doctored photo to her Instagram account of a still image from Beyonce & Jay-Z’s new video, Apeshit. The image, taken from the inside of the Louvre where the power couple were looking at a wall of paintings from some of the masters throughout time, had album covers from Madonna’s body of work replacing the works of art, and the caption below written by Madonna was, “learning from the Master…lol”. Fans of Beyonce and Jay Z immediately took to social media to accuse Madonna of being racist by using the word “master”, alluding to its roots in slavery. Madonna removed the word from the post when the backlash began.

Now, anyone who knows anything about Madonna knows that she is anything but racist. But in this moment in time where we are all super sensitive and dealing with the free-floating anxiety of a US administration using its influence to set human rights back to where they were in the 1960’s, it is only normal that we hold each other to stauncher standards in how we communicate. It is only normal that we ensure that our celebrities be held accountable for how their words may be misconstrued or damaging to the communities and cultures who have suffered intolerable mistreatment and are now afraid that history seems to be on the verge, if not the cusp, of repeating itself.

Let me make something crystal clear for anyone who has the intention of taking my words and misconstruing them: I am not defending Madonna or Roseanne Barr. If anything, their examples exist so that we learn from them, so that we understand that we need to adhere to right speech, using words that successfully convey their intention. To not do that, in today’s social climate, is to invite in a tsunami of rage and indignance, understanding that whether or not we applaud or condemn it, this is where we are in time today, this is where we find ourselves.

Do I think that we tend to overreact to judgement these days? Absolutely. Do I think it’s sad? Yes and no. If I were African-American in today’s social climate, you better believe I would be alllllll over that shit, looking for the slightest bandwagon that the troublemakers could jump on to then use a celebrity’s name and influence to jump onto. I get it, and I think it’s an occupational hazard of all this turmoil that has risen to the surface of our collective consciousness. However, yes, I think it is sad that our ability to receive and appreciate sarcasm and deeper meaning is dormant. Yes, I think that it is sad that we are quicker to sling hate towards those who have transgressed instead of realizing that by doing so, we end up contributing to the energy that we object to so indignantly. Yes, I think that it is sad that forgiveness seems to be a concept of the past. Yes, I think that it is sad that we conveniently forget how timely the, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” passage from the bible is. Every single one of us has fucked up. Every single one of us has said things we immediately regret. None of us are faultless. Yet we attack other people from this high horse of superiority when they have a weak, human moment. I remind myself constantly that when I judge others unfairly, I open up the spiritual channel for others to do the same to me.

So what can we learn from all of this? I think that what we are meant to learn is to take greater responsibility for the words and energy we launch into the world, especially through social media channels. We need to mean what we say and say what we mean, and we need to consider how our words have the power to traumatize. We need to speak and write with right action, not emotional reaction. The same way sending that drunken text at 3am is a bad idea, so it is to express ourselves in the forum of public scrutiny irresponsibly, with no regard to how we may be negatively impacting others and making their load harder to bear.

Years ago, as I watched my sister-in-law deal with one of her young children who was being unruly by kneeling down to his level and saying to him, “Use your words, my love”, I made a mental note to do my best to do the same. It looks like we may all need to take a page out of that book.

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What’s Happening…

Shit happens. How many times have you heard that? Better yet, how many times have you said it? That used to be my answer to all the conflicts that would pop up in my life, and it was also the advice I would pass onto friends. As far as advice goes, I thought it was pretty concise…bad things happen, and we have to accept that they happen and move on without letting ourselves get caught up in it all. Good advice, no? Well, as I’m blessed to still be living and learning, I’ve recently expanded onto that to not only my friends and students, but to myself as well!

To a very large extent, I see the events of our lives as pre-existing, and in keeping with that, I can honestly say that I believe that events don’t happen, they already are. They may not have made themselves apparent to us yet, but when they do it’s more of a reveal than it is an occurrence. And so when they reveal themselves, if we know that life is a series of said reveals, then we don’t find ourselves immediately and unconsciously resistant to whatever it is that has made itself apparent. I’ve said before that if we want to change the way we live, then we have to change the way we think. This is a perfect example of that. Re-establishing how we see the events of our lives and the relevance we choose to attribute to them makes all the difference in how we are affected by them. If we can get through the dramas with less shock and stress to our bodies and minds, why not give it a go and see how it works for us?

The best way to infuse this concept with a little light and understanding is to look at every stressful or demanding event that we have experienced. Look at all the sadness, disappointment, resistance and dread that immediately welled up when we were faced with it, and then the subsequent waning of those emotions as we dealt with and lived through whatever was going on. Those initial reactions are no longer with us because they were the products of our approach to life, not the products of the events themselves. Things are. The way we see those things, the way we react to those things, that’s where our attention needs to be. If we knew when the stressful events initially appeared that our negative responses to them would be fleeting and that our initial feeling of apprehension would pass, then we can clearly see that we had the opportunity to move through the suffering from a place of neutrality and equanimity. What this approach allow us to do is to identify adversity as fleeting, which in turn conditions us to not “rise to the bait”…when we see the bait as having less significance then we had previously attributed to it, then we can gain comfort in knowing our reactions and responses to it won’t drum up as much suffering as we had experienced in the past.

So with all that being said, I think that my old expression “Shit happens” has morphed into a new piece of über-advice – “Shit is”….when it is, and how it is remains to be seen…but it is…the key is looking at how we approach it and react to it…

The Yoga of Letting Go

I have spoken in many of my classes about the body’s tendency to react to the events that we encounter in our daily lives…the seizing up of the shoulders towards the ears in moments of stress, the habit of rounding the shoulders to unconsciously protect the heart center when feeling like we’re the target of an emotional onslaught, the tightening up of the hips and groins when dealing with breakups and relationship woes. The physical asana practice is already known to lengthen and tone the body’s muscles, as well as to open and create space in the joints of the body, allowing toxins that have stored themselves there to be released with each fresh rush of blood to the area. On a much more subtle level, however, the physical yoga practice also allows us to shed what the body stores, and after reading Alanna Kaivalya & Arjuna van der Kooij’s book,  Myths of the Asanas, the way we behave as humans dealing with the events of our lives has been intelligently and refreshingly put into perspective.

Based on what they have written in this amazing collection of mythological tales of the Hindu gods and goddesses (that inform & define the asanas), I find my belief system towards how humans deal with trauma and shock reinforced by some very simple words. When we look at the names of the yoga postures, we find many that refer back to animals, as well as to the earth and to all other beings. We take the forms of all these other beings to be able to put ourselves in their situations and embody their existences and realities, all in the aim of strengthening the connection we have to all other things that make up our reality on this earth. When we take the form of the tree, we establish the connection to the earth through our standing leg while allowing for the body to sway, as if being blown in the wind with our branches outstretched.  When we take the form of the cat, the dog, the cow, the locust, the snake, the eagle, and all the other animal-embodying poses, we assume their identities, forms and realities to gain insight into conditions other than our own. All in the hope that we can move toward a place of compassion for all things because we all co-exist and it is through that unifying fact that we understand how to hurt one being is to hurt all beings and to cherish and preserve all beings is to cherish and preserve ourselves.

In keeping with this notion of our commonality, when animals are hunted and escape, or suffer trauma and do not succumb to it, they don’t spend years afterwards discussing it and seeking out advice on how to deal with it. As I’ve seen with my longtime companion Oliver, the most animated of Jack Russell Terriers, despite his having lost both his sight and hearing, if he takes a wrong step and crashes into something, he takes a step backwards, shakes his entire body as if shaking off the event from wherever his body may have felt or stored it, and then continues on obliviously, never looking back on the event as something that scarred him. Now I’m not saying that when we fall victim to trauma or find ourselves the target of a crime, we can just shake it off and pretend nothing happened. I believe that everything that happens in our lives serves as the container of a lesson that we are meant to learn, and we have the capability of rational and analytical thought at our disposal so that we can assess what happened and learn from it, regardless of how severe the event may have been. What I am saying is that occasionally we allow these events to become THE defining moments in our lives, relegating us to a place of fear and alienation where our social and interpersonal skills become stunted and sometimes atrophied as a result of the fear that has settled in as we have spent our time analyzing what happened.

And so yoga, once again, allows us to step back from our behaviours and see them for exactly that – something we do, but by which we do not define ourselves. For those of us who feel like we’ve given enough time and energy to something that has happened in the past and which we cannot change, let’s try infusing our yoga practice with the intention of embodying the earthlings that are able to escape harm, shake it off, and continue to barrel forwards with strength and certainty, confident in their roles and duties. As the authors of Myths of the Asanas state, “Fear lives in us as tension, and asana postures are designed to release tension from our bodies. The absence of tension is the absence of fear. And the absence of fear signifies the presence of joy, love, and open-heartedness.” Let’s dedicate ourselves to moving away from fear, towards a place of peace and certainty in who we are and our roles here in this life, on this planet. Let’s allow our pattern of chasing the temporary to slowly whirl down to a full stop, so that we can begin to live in the permanence of our connection to each other and to the soul that exists in every single one of us, so that we can start reminding ourselves what we already know but have at some point lost sight of. That is Yoga. That is the meaning of life. That is letting go.

Addendum: I’m so happy to announce that I’ve been added to a list of yogis from around the world who will post 3 or more blogs per week (with an ultimate goal of one each day) about some aspect of yoga throughout the month of April.  Blogs may be about asana, meditation, philosophy, experiences, yoga types, yoga history, Sanskrit scholarship, etc. and can focus on any type or style of yoga.  The goal is to share yoga with one another and with others, to illuminate the full range of yoga possibilities that go far beyond the stereotyped “yoga butt” seeking gym enthusiast to a process of  creating peace, unity, and oneness through the practice.  Each post will contain the YIOM (Yogis Inspiring Oneness Month) logo and will link back to the original source and creator of the project, TheVeganAsana, where a full list of participants is found. So consider this post my first for the month, and stay tuned for the ones to come!!!!

The Road More or Less Travelled

I came back yesterday afternoon from the greatest weekend retreat I could have hoped for – we went to Spa Eastman, a fantastic place to unwind and reconnect with yourself and the peace in and all around you. Our group was 22 people strong, some of whom were not students of Luna Yoga but had heard about the retreat and couldn’t pass up the opportunity to practice in such a pampering environment. We were there for less than 48 hours, and when it came time to leave, every one of us felt completely recharged and in disbelief that what had felt like 7 days was only a matter of hours.

The day we got there we had an evening class with a soft practice and we each got the opportunity to introduce ourselves and share why we were attending the retreat, indirectly setting our intention for the weekend. Most of us had come to take care of ourselves, especially those who spent their time taking care of others in their daily lives. Some people were there to indulge in all the spa treatments that we offered, and others were there to experience their first retreat, to find out what it was all about.

As we were working the introductions person-by-person, I noticed that many of us mentioned how long we had been practicing yoga, and usually added “off and on” to the end of their sentence. It immediately resonated with me, as I’ve been practicing for 10 years now, “off-and-on”, and I had somewhat of an epiphany when I kept hearing people use that expression.

My early history with yoga saw me attending classes for a couple of sessions, then veering away from it for a couple more. I’d always find myself back in class within months, and I remember discussing it with my first yoga teacher, Joan Ruvinsky. She told me that the path of yoga is a winding one, and that I’d always come back to that path, regardless of the events that were going on in my life that drew my focus away from my practice. And what events they ended up being and continue to be! My pattern used to involve being pulled away from yoga when stressful and traumatic events unraveled around me. It first happened in 2001 when my friend Chantal Vincelli died in the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11. It happened when my grandmother passed away. It happened when my partner’s apartment building burned down, as well as when I had to euthanize one of my dogs. As these events occurred, I would find myself calling Joan to explain why I wasn’t in class, and after years of this pattern repeating itself, Joan had the compassion and tact to suggest that it was perhaps in these moments that I needed my practice the most. I’ve never forgotten those words. And they’ve since saved me the anguish and anxiety that I was used to letting in during moments of shock and loss. And it was these exact words that have kept me “on” ever since (it also struck me how the term “off-and-on” could apply to “on-and-off the mat”, which was exactly what we were all referring to in our introductions this weekend).

Very few of us can truthfully say that we’ve been doing any one thing consistently for years without small interruptions or small tears in our realities. We are so complex as individuals, and even more so as a collective group of individuals, and so it is inevitable that our paths end up following a (hopefully) long, winding road. We are never only one thing. We may wear many hats and play many roles, but even the sum total of those roles don’t even begin to encompass our complexity, and they certainly don’t define who we are (they barely define what we do). As you know, I’m a big fan of giving the best I can on any given day, and at the risk of sounding repetitive, my best will always change, from minute to minute, day to day. Only through applying what Joan had suggested to me did I find that I was indeed a calmer, more rational person when things seemed to go haywire around me. Only then did my pattern change. I now find myself “off” the mat less frequently, especially given the turn my path has taken, which isn’t to say that what used to lead me astray won’t do so in the future. It simply means I’m more aware of it and have the tools to help myself see those events as happening in my environment, but not necessarily to me. To see the events as temporary fluctuations, however real and horrible they may be. To keep my focus on the unwavering permanence that we are all derived from and that we all share. So if we come and go on our yogic paths, we’re nonetheless

Perfection
Perfection

still on our paths, where we should be and we shouldn’t worry about it or reprimand ourselves for not being disciplined enough. After all, practicing yoga isn’t only about being “on the mat”.

Let me know what you think 🙂