Thursday, April 30, 2015

Surrendering to Love

I was reading Bambi the other day to my kids and Thumper the bunny was explaining that in springtime (which it finally feels like, halleluia!) all the animals become "twitterpated". So, love is in the air! When I contemplate love many things come to mind but I had a defining experience a few years ago I wanted to share.  

It happened almost 4 years ago, a week after moving to NJ from the Chicago area.  I was miserable, heartbroken over leaving close friends, despairing over renting a house, my beloved grandmother had passed away the week before and I had to miss her funeral because it was the day we moved, my kids were having a hard time - suffice it to say that I was in a very low place.  In search of some healing I went to a yoga class (it wasn't at Shree). The opposite of what I was searching for happened - I hated the class, hated the teacher, hated every word he said, hated every pose we did.  (Of course he was a perfectly fine teacher - it was just my experience.)

At the end of class I felt stripped-down-to-the-bone raw.  As we laid down in savasana the words that came into my head were "I surrender".   What I thought I was surrendering to was grief, fear, and misery, just letting myself plunge down into the black hole I had sunk into in times past and was trying so desperately to avoid. But it didn't happen. What came with the tears in that moment was overwhelming love.  There was a presence with me; surrounding me, holding me, and filling me up, and, although I was crying they were tears of relief, because in that moment I knew everything was ok, and that everything would always be ok.  That this presence was always with me, but I had to open to it.

I had spent weeks fighting what was coming to me and actively resisting everything I felt.  Tell me if this inner dialogue sounds familiar: "I'm a yogi, I practice equanimity and breathing and santosha, I know how to handle things so I don't go down the black hole of despair. I'm fine."   Or "I can't feel all this, my kids need to see strong mommy, not falling apart mommy." That was some of the commentary in my mind all those weeks trying to avoid what hurt.   I put up all these barriers to pain, these walls to keep suffering out, when what I really needed to do was just let myself mourn and be sad and be okay with it. My friend Silvia Mordini says "The Universe is always speaking to you - sometimes she whispers and sometimes she throws a brick at your head." So here came Kali, brick in hand, knocking down every wall I had put up because love comes in many forms and sometimes it hurts.  She knew it but I didn't, and this is how I had to learn it.  Everything shifted from that moment forward because I was willing to let the armor down, to not be fine. And when the armor came down, all that was left was love. What an absolute relief. Learning this truth first hand was a transformational moment for me, nothing was the same afterwards.  

I didn't know Kali so well back then, but I think on some unconscious level I summoned her to be with me.  What I know now is that she is the power of elimination which can be destructive, but ultimately she brings us to love.  Kali energy is a massive love force - she has to be to break through the armor we put up.  Here's the thing though, we have to be willing to participate with her to let her open us up. We have to be willing to let our barriers down, to be vulnerable, to feel even if it hurts.  She comes when we are at our lowest not to break us down, but to force us to break down the barriers that keep us from happiness and love...which might feel like a breaking down but I am here to tell you it isn't. It's like the Leonard Cohen song says "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in."  Kali is the hammer wedged into that crack. 

So whatever you might be facing or feeling, invite Kali energy to be with you.  I am reminded again of the Rumi quote we've read so many times: "Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it." Be brave and call on her - she will break you down but I promise you what will come is love, and it will heal you and open you and change your life in any way you allow it to.

Off the Mat:
Be aware this week of the ways that you protect your heart. Boundaries are important and necessary, but often we put them up where they aren't necessarily needed simply because it's become a habit, or because we've needed to do it in the past in some situation or another. It doesn't mean that it always has to happen, and we don't always need the armor up to face the world. Where are the places you can let yours down (safely)?

On the Mat:
I've been seeing a lot of photos of myself lately and I've noticed my shoulders dipping forward, spine slightly rounded.  My posture is reflective of my heart being a little closed down, which is something I've been  working on in my relationships.  Now don't get me wrong, I know plenty of people with bad posture and huge generous hearts so it’s not like we improve our posture and magically become more loving and intimate with those around us.  But many of us do face the world this way - our posture reflecting a kind of protectiveness.  When we can open up the vulnerable parts of our bodies with confidence and grace it becomes easier to receive love, others feel more willing to offer it, and we find it easier to offer it back.  And that does open us up in a way.  

For the Anusara Junkies:
Open to Grace: Open yourself up to the places in yourself capable of great love, and with each breath expand the love you have to offer.
Open yourself up with compassion to the places in you that push love away, and let the breath soften those boundaries.

Muscular Energy: We have to be strong to open ourselves up, it’s not like we just flop ourselves open and say here I am for the taking – we participate with that opening up, like every muscle of the body participates in the pose.
Fire up your muscles with the fierce love you have for those that are most dear to you.
Draw (from periphery to focal point) all the love the Universe (Kali) has to offer to you.

Shoulder Loop: Imagine the bottom tips of the shoulder blades like the two hands of Kali, pressing forward and piercing through the tough armor around your heart and into the love at the center.
Move the bottom tips of the shoulder blades forward, feeling them gently nudge the back of the heart, waking it up to receive the love of the Universe (of Kali).
Move the tops of the shoulders (head of the arm bones) and the throat back, opening up the guarded vulnerable heart to love.

Organic Energy: From the core of your being spread all the love you are capable of.
Let love shine from any crack in the facade of your being.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Fierce Grace of Kali

A few weeks ago we talked about the goddess Durga and her epic battle with the evil brothers (for that story click here).  During that battle, Durga calls for help and it comes in many forms, the fiercest being Kali.  Kali manifests to defeat the demon-god Raktabija, whose drops of blood fall to the earth and instantly become new demon warriors.  Kali follows him around the battlefield drinking up the drops before they hit the ground, preventing new demons from forming.

The iconography and imagery of Kali is violent and scary: she is depicted as bloody, often blue or black in color, usually holding a severed head and bloody sword, with a garland of skulls around her neck.  It is intense to look at and can be hard to see beyond.  But as Tantrikas we look beyond the surface to see the shree (beauty, auspiciousness) even in what is not pretty:  “The skull in her hands, which her sword has just lopped off, is the ego that separates us from her. Kali’s nakedness shows that she has cast away illusion; in her, the entire truth about life and death is revealed. Even her color is esoteric; Kali’s dark colors stand for the ultimate void state, where all differences dissolve into the absolute beyond all form. Her sword is the force that slices through delusion, ignorance, false hope, and lies.” (Sally Kempton, Awakening Shakti)

Kali opens us up to the side of ourselves that the "good girl" or "good boy" we show to the world wants to suppress.  She represents the raw, open (maybe even bloody), exposed parts of ourselves that we feel we have to hide to “fit in” with our culture, the parts of ourselves that are uncomfortable to reveal.  She represents the naked truth of who we are if we are willing to be really honest about it, the part that would hurt the most if, when revealed, it was rejected.  Perhaps this side of ourselves does need to be somewhat tempered, but it is a necessary part of life and one that I think most of us keep locked away in service of fitting inside the box society creates for “good” behavior.  Becoming comfortable with our Kali side means facing our shadow side, our built in contraction and narcissistic tendencies.  Even as I write this I am slightly cringing on the inside, but allowing her in means getting comfortable with your discomfort.  There is nothing subtle or soft about it – if you’re opening up to Kali energy, you open completely, you step into your life in all its beauty and terror and don’t look back.

And yet she is also the great protector.  During the battle she swallows up all the potential demons in order to protect the world, as fierce as a mother protecting her young. Sally Kempton says it like this: “Kali challenges us by daring us to look her in the face and find the love behind the pain of life. The way we see Kali at any given moment has everything to do with where we are in our own journey. Whether Kali seems terrifying, fascinating, or loving depends on our state of consciousness and our level of both emotional and spiritual development…. But she always invites us to a radical form of ego-transcendence.”   Kali invites you to be fierce in your life in all the ways it serves you and those around you, whether it’s in love or in battle.  

Because Kali is a destructive force in the universe, she shows us what is truly indestructible.  The beauty is that in doing this she shows us exactly what cannot be destroyed.  She asks us: what are your non-negotiables? What are you willing to give up, sacrifice in service of living an authentic, meaningful life? What is most important?  Once we are clear on what that is, she inspires us to be ferocious in going after it, fierce in our love or passion or desire for the deepest connection we can make in this realm of existence. 

In all my years of teaching yoga I have never taught Kali until this week.  It was too uncomfortable for me to embrace that side of myself so I avoided her altogether.  As is usually the case, we try to evade that which we need to face, and as I've been getting more acquainted with her through study and practice and contemplation I realized she is exactly who I need to invite into my life.  What she represents for me is looking at my life with stark, brutal honesty, and instead of cowering in the corner and hiding from the demons that threaten to eat me alive, running at them head down, horns out, saying I will literally swallow you up before you can get to me. It means allowing myself to be really vulnerable, baring my soul for all to see no matter how scary that feels, and speaking my truth no matter how unpopular or different that might be from the world I find myself living in.

As I've embraced and opened to my own Kali side this week, for only the second time in my life I lost my voice.  I’ve taught classes channeling the wild Kali-esque beauty of Stevie Nicks and Janis Joplin, and instead of feeling limited and restricted by my raspy, raw vocals I felt liberated by it - it was like Kali was speaking through me, that my altered voice was actually hers and I felt like a conduit for her fierce grace.   It gave me a confidence I didn’t know I had and in spite of being sick it’s been a glorious week. 

That grace and glory is waiting for you, it comes as soon as you open the door and allow Kali into your heart. 

Off the Mat:
Short and simple guys – speak your truth.
A friend sent me this quote this week, by Rob Brezsney, the author of the book Pronoia:

I invite you to say this, or something like this: "I pledge to wake myself up, never hold back, have nothing to lose, go all the way, kiss the stormy sky, be the hero of my own story, ask for everything I need and give everything I have, take myself to the river when it's time to go to the river, and take myself to the mountaintop when it's time to go to the mountaintop."

On the Mat:
In my classes this week we worked on ferocious poses – like Uttkatasana (fierce pose), done with our tongues sticking out and a hissing or roaring exhale. It’s hard to be meek or timid with your tongue sticking out!   We  did a lot of core work, connecting us to our “non-negotiables”.   

Getting fierce on the mat means making no excuses - we invoked our Kali-power to lap them up before they could get in the way of our practice, which brought us to a level of deep focus and intention.  We worked on Kali pose, which is a deep wide squat, reminiscent of the pose women used to birth babies in (and some still do).  The goddesses are all related to creation, and this pose reminds us that we need to be fierce in order to transform - like in childbirth, you have to surrender to what’s happening no matter how much it hurts, if you try to fight it you suffer.  

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