On Staying Mad

photo: Oscar Keys

photo: Oscar Keys

I’m mad. 

I’ve been mad for a while. 

And I’m staying mad.

Actually, mad doesn’t quite cover it sometimes. 

Furious, flaming, holy rage in the pit of my belly, “hell hath no fury” kind of deal though… that sounds more like it. 

To put an overarching title on this lets say the “state of the world” has my head and heart wound up in knots of grief and disbelief and my belly on fire with anger a lot of the time these days. The list of what has been bringing all of this up is long, friends. But this week in particular it’s regressive anti-choice laws, violence against trans and gender non conforming folks and environmental destruction. So yeah, I’m mad about it and choosing to be attendant to that anger for the time being. 

We tend to vilify this emotion and splash the water of ‘nice-ness’ all over it as an antidote to the discomfort we experience with it or are told to feel about it. It can leave us feeling so helpless when we are mired in anger or despair, but here’s the rad thing about anger, when met with permission to be felt and then channeled into right action it becomes fuel. That fire in our belly when well processed, understood and utilized becomes the fire of transformation, motivates us to participate more fully in life as it is happening right in front of us and gives us greater capacity to actually see life, blinders and rose-coloured glasses off. Your anger is as sacred as your joy or your love.

While I haven’t been a card carrying member in the ‘love and light’ spiritual camp for many years now, this light-washing of spirituality seems more and more irresponsible to me the more I tend to my anger over the state of the world we live in. Even offering spiritual practice that invites us to be present to the whole of our experience, to dance with light and shadow equally, to trust and attend to both equally, still seems inadequate without active participation in critical conversations around the real and tangible expressions of imbalance and injustice in our world.   I cannot stand here and prostrate on ways to love ourselves more fully and tend to our emotional and spiritual wellness without advocating for the very real collective barriers and challenges that impact these things. I feel that I cannot responsibly offer practices and art for your self care and spiritual growth without addressing the fact that I’m doing so on a dying planet riddled with injustice and systemic oppression that desperately needs our attention and profound global policy change because all of our spiritual, emotional, mental and physical well being is both dependent on this planet’s well being and utterly irrelevant if we destroy it and don’t stop harming each other.

However, well rounded spiritual practice has the potential to inform the way we become good advocates and compassionate leaders in the world. It has the ability to help us wake up to our privilege, move through the grief and other complex emotions involved in that and start to wield it to dismantle the systems of oppression that conferred that unearned privilege on us in the first place. In its highest expression, spiritual practice supports our engagement with direct action to create a world that actually expresses as a reflection of the principles we aspire to such as love, non violence and oneness. 

As an asterisk to this I’ll add that “love and light” served a purpose in my life at a time where I needed to begin one toe at a time, to start in skimming the surface in order to give myself room to breathe as I began the first waves of waking up and learning to love myself. So if this is where you are, no judgement. But on the other side of that first layer is the inevitable propulsion into our own and the outer world’s depths. This is when we need to mitigate bypassing with practices that welcome and integrate wholeness and polarity. 

In our haste to bypass emotions, like anger, that cause discomfort we miss a vital understanding of where that anger comes from. We miss the chance, by skirting it and repressing it, to follow it to its roots and uncover its source. Are we heartbroken? Are we hurting? Are we fearful? Are we furious over injustices we witness or experience? In its exploration we name and claim our right to feel our whole and very natural human responses. 

Giving belonging to our emotions in lieu of repressing and shaming them gives space to them, room to develop language and articulation around them. We set up the conditions to integrate and incorporate the totality of our experience that all of these emotions reflect. 

Your anger belongs.

Your grief belongs.

Your sorrow belongs.

Your confusion belongs.

Your rage belongs.

Your frustration belongs.

Your heartbreak belongs.

I’m not suggesting we wallow or permanently inhabit these states or drag our feet staying over long in story or hold on to blame. I am saying that we do ourselves a disservice by suppressing, repressing and shaming these emotions out of their valid place in our emotional landscape. We push them out of conscious awareness too quickly and force them to hide out and fester, to involute and make us sick. Bypassing will only have us running in circles until we must ultimately return to seek out the residues of bygone emotions and their well worn grooves. 

This is practice and not perfect, a process of consciously choosing to both revisit our stores of moments past and to invest in practices that allow us to have more presence with ourselves going forward. None of us can solve the world in a blog post. However, we all need a little help from our friends to get through so I’ll leave you with the following to help you/us begin.

A few practices you can play with as you revisit, reclaim or meet newly, your discomfort:

  • Consciously breathe low into your belly, or the landmark most riled with emotion in your body, watch the edges of the emotional wave and track its progression as pure emotion, dropping any story that comes up as you feel. As it dissipates, loosen your grip on it and allow it to recede at its own pace. 

  • Forgive the version of you who was not equipped to process in the moment, or is struggling to do so now. Visualize that version of you (and trust whatever image comes up) and have a conversation with that self that needs your tender loving kindness and forgiveness for the way they did their very best at the time. 

  • Write it out. Pen and paper or on your phone or computer get to mapping out the experience for yourself - how you felt, what it meant to you, what the experience is hinting to you about your own room to grow and what action you can take to support change (particularly when confronted with the discomfort of feeling helpless or angry in relationship to injustice). You can do this freehand, or if you prefer a more structured approach the worksheets for The Work by Byron Katie is available on their website to use. 

More than anything, loves, I hope you can carve out some time to be present with whatever is tugging at your heartstrings most these days and allow, as much as you can, for it to gather your attention and invite you to be present to it, to feel it fully and choose to be moved by it so it can move freely through you and let you go on the other side. I hope you let that free movement of emotion be the fuel for your inspired action, however big or small it may seem.

Indelible Impressions - On the Ways Nursing Has Raised Me

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Over eleven years ago I had my first ever patient interactions as a nursing student and nearly eight years ago I graduated my degree in nursing and started work in a profession that has been immeasurably formative for me. Being engaged in the process of transitioning my career focus into full time teaching has provoked frequent unpacking of stories, limiting beliefs and equally reflection on what these last eleven years have meant and how they have moulded me as a caregiver, a teacher and as a human being. 

The hospital is a place where reality and experience is often acute, up close and always incredibly personal. It holds us rapt and present and demands a full bodied attention from us. We are privy to the most anomalous, but deeply human, moments in other people’s lives. Though the day to day challenge can sometimes break the connection to this, at my core I have a tremendous amount of respect for what a rare privilege that is. 

Acute crisis is a very unique experience. It places a specific kind of demand on the nervous system. It invokes a kind of high level presence to the microcosm unfolding in the moment, and drops us very precisely into its centre - all systems engaged, all faculties of awareness right here and now. Where attention seems to become super sensory enabling a very refined attunement to the subtle cues and moving parts within a moment.  We move to meet the very real demands of the physical body in the moment of crisis in a way that is a marriage of pure instinct and rigorously developed intellect and knowledge base. In the same moment we are still presented with the reality of the human element, the emotional impact and the vast depths of vulnerability as well as the myriad ways this expresses itself. We arrive, just as much, to be the grounding chord to the energy that is moving in a moment that is too much for another human to transmute alone. We adopt the role of space holder and pillar for others in order to enfold them back into the knowing that they are seen and held. 

We meet others at momentous intersections of life. We know the look, feeling and tone of edges. We have been there, walked there willingly, stood steady and rooted there, held hands and weeping hearts there. We have chosen to know it, to have an intimate understanding of it. We have attempted to develop a relative comfort at the precipice in order to bear the experience and share the weight of it. We have been initiated and shaped irrevocably by it. Because of this we get to know the province of grace and the most profound intricacies of humanity. Because of this we also get the opportunity to know and bear witness to a level of joy, gratitude, relief and celebration that is absolutely unparalleled. 

Here is what I continue to learn from it:

  • The world is a very real place. Real does not mean logical or understandable. Real, in this way, means acute, close and chock full of polarity. 
     
  • Right and wrong, good and bad – these things don’t intersect or directly relate. Goodness is not a determinant of outcome or of the degree of challenge we will meet. 
     
  • The human spirit is more indomitable than any other force of nature. 
     
  • There is an immense wellspring of strength in mamas and papas (and human beings in general) they could scarcely have guessed existed until they are forced to draw upon it. 
     
  • Working with children will teach you to melt and keep your edges soft so that you can stay immersed in the moment. These are big souls in tiny bodies and when the edges stay soft you can fall in love a thousand times over. 
     
  • Hardiness and emotional endurance will come, not always as a natural inclination, but out of sheer necessity it is honed. 
     
  • There are things that simply do not make sense, things that come up short on finding a balancing edge and that you may never wrap your mind around. The only available solution is to understand that this is the case. Real tragedies do happen and it won’t make sense, it doesn’t have to and perhaps it’s not always supposed to. 
     
  • Meaning is highly subjective and each person’s individual perception does have a degree of validity to it.
     
  • Most times you will love, laugh and exude tenderness.
     
  • Sometimes you will ache, cry, grieve and rage. These, too, are precious and edifying states. 
     
  • What sometimes seems like lunacy and beyond our capacity to cope or keep up with rarely is. There is always a way through, even when the trajectory defies expectations or hoped-for outcomes. 
     
  • It is important for our wellbeing to return to the residues of challenging moments, to source out their landmarks in body and mind, in order to finish living them out before the storage becomes more complex and creates stagnancy or hardening in our system.
     
  • All things can be alchemized into love. We can let it break us apart or choose to have it break us down into our raw material such that we can become more whole and integrated because of it. 
     
  • Miracles are real. Truly. There are outcomes that defy what logic and science and statistics can mathematically define. And miracles exist even more so in the minutia, the tiny moments that may not normally overwhelm us but amount to something profound.
     
  • Hope and prayer is powerful. 
     
  • Asking for help is transformative, both in mundane and monumental circumstances. 
     
  • You are always in good company should you find yourself surrounded by nurses. They are nothing if not fierce, passionate and profoundly loving human beings. They exceed all definitions of camaraderie in the way they show up for one another. There is a very seamless rhythm of cooperation and united focus on not only preserving, but truly improving life for the populations they serve. When challenge comes it never ceases to amaze me how much immediacy there is to the way this crew comes together to simply move in the right direction. 

Truly, I am only one, singular, nurse which renders this a highly personal account of the time I have spent doing this work and the impressions it has made and is still making on me. This list of lessons is far from complete or all encompassing, nor is it presented in order of degree of impact or importance. Though these impressions and lessons arrived in large part from nursing and are directly applicable there, I have found them to carry over and be readily applicable to the broader human experience. 

I am profoundly grateful that this has been a part of my journey and has shaped so much of my worldview and the way I move within it. It has been, and continues to be, a real honour and privilege to walk alongside the patients, families and colleagues it has introduced me to. I am also incredibly grateful for how much necessity it created around my practices and how much it directed me to go on the hunt for that sustenance and anchor through yoga and meditation. It raised me and turned me in the direction I am heading. However the timeline plays out, this experience and these humans have a part of my heart and soul irrevocably. 

 

Awake in the Dark

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I am alive in the dark.
Sublimated.
Illuminated.

Heart thumps,
Nerve sparks,
Breath wakes.

With each revolution,
I am becoming, belonging, more,
To myself.

The more I dance in my own destruction,
Revel in the dissolution down to the raw material of beingness,
The more matter I have to create with.

Creature, creator.
Dancing with the richness of the growing edge.
Storehouse of a memory, marrow deep,
that the shadow is the landmark that proves the existence of the light.

Less becoming, more remembering.

A sleeping She, stirring and rising.

She,
lover of the shadow,
of the liminal and imaginal,
marvelling at the mystery.
Curious explorer of the raucous and the luminous.

She,
Compressing, dismantling, transmuting,
Tugging at the seams of the Self to provoke the excavation of what remains unseen.

She,
Alive. Awake.
With roots, womb deep, that hold as much reverence for the dimension of the shadow as for the brilliance of the light.

This, She.

Made and alive in the dark.

Whole, awake & rising. 

Home

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Perhaps we have forgotten our weaving, lost ties in the fraying of connection, but our undoing could spark our revolution. It could bring us home. Home that is known in fullness, a completeness that saturates us to the marrow of our bones. 

If every step is a return, a giving back of what has been lent in the ephemeral passing of our time here, how would we grace the land? Would we make every step a prayer, a grateful dance across the surface, attentive in the manner that we lay each one down?

If we felt how much she needed us to return, how she longs to feel the kneading of our heels, to be awakened by the heartbeat knocking in the soles of our feet, would we turn the journey into an offering?

If we remember we are wild things constructed of matter and beautiful dreaming, built up into substance by the elemental wonderland we live in, then how would we see?

We would recognize ourselves in the moss that binds breath to the trees, in the spidering tunnels of roots, in the weeping way she is coming undone in the glaciers falling to the seas. We would ache to feel the fracture of how lost we became, how estranged from home.

Then, when the sheer brilliance reaches the tether lines to soul and grips at the corners of our vision it pulls perspective into focus and begins the braiding together of heartstrings, of all the lost and vagrant threads of self coming home to binding. We would remember our affinity with the earth, that this mother is our lineage. This is her offering in turn. Her patient waiting for us to remember and return, to receive us and love us back to life when we do.

We are of her, built and drawn up from her, inextricable from the source that weaves us together. The antiquated notion of ‘dominance over’ is overdue to be wrung out and replaced with ‘reverence for’. 

Press the backside of your heart to the ground and let your beating, thrumming, drumbeat sing a love song down. Feel it giving back the rhythm, in harmony, that the pulse of the earth taught it from the beginning. Feel the breath in synchronous tides. Suspend your illusions of separation in favour of feeling. Feel everything. Every subtle turn in a blade of grass, every roiling shift in the atmosphere above. Feel the impressions you are leaving in your wake and make an art of them, a loving embrace for the whole web of life to which you belong.

This is how we weave our way – a revolution of our sight, of our walking, a homecoming in our way of human beingness.

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This Is Not Yoga

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This is not yoga. 

The postures in isolation, no matter what beautiful backdrop they are given, are not yoga. Neither is a series of postures strung together in sequence. 

This is not yoga. And yet, in the same breath, it can be.   

It’s all yoga, the cohesiveness and the contradiction. It’s all a play of dancing into and out of unity, finding a path to connection and deeper, more purposeful living. It’s all a way of having a human experience and an attempt to navigate it with more grace and intention. We know yoga when we remember this, that nothing is exempt. There is no ownership over a practice that is rooted in an ancient lineage of seekers combing through the depths of their lived experiences, intuiting and adhering to practices and then transcribing the wisdom they uncovered there to be shared and passed down as a blueprint for beginning. There it is, the grace of a path that is always unfolding, that has amassed so many variations and intersections that all hail from an origin point in the human soul that wonders what it is to live a life, to find meaning and purpose, to live artfully and intelligently and to make the most of that life. 

Yoga and all of its various intersecting practices, faiths, wisdom traditions and new age additions, originated as and continues to be a path of seekers. In my own contemplation I feel that we are most balanced when we pay homage to that sacred lineage by learning its history, studying its roots and upholding its classic teachings while also remaining true to its essence and aligning with the Seeker within ourselves. The Seeker is born in connection to the ancient wisdom that has paved the path and in mapping our own internal journeying, following our own renegade hearts in exploration and bearing witness to the unfolding. In this way we are bringing new relevance to the practice while remembering to be the vessel for it rather than trying to possess it in any way, shape or form. 

There is in this, an honest recognition of the beautiful imperfectness of the individual process, the pitfalls and trips, while also acknowledging dedication and steadfast commitment to a perennial learning and devotion to this practice. While we exist in a space of identities and roles, the words we utilize to paint pictures of them create their essence and solidify their expression but ultimately it is this – something communal and continuous that is untethered from the need to assign titles and allows for a collective homecoming to transpire which is what our internal navigation is set to guide for. 

Yoga being all encompassing, ultimately defies any limiting description we might attempt to use to create a framework for it. Word is a way of expressing in our current reality but cannot completely contain something that exists beyond it. With that in mind I will say this as a way to confer my own experiences: this practice is both an art and a science of cultivating a life with more purpose and fulfillment. It is a path of remembering our wholeness, learning to remain connected to the heart of our matter and to live more steadily from that place.  And above all else it is an embracing of the human experience, a way of celebrating what it means to live this life and to ride the waves of this experience with grace and appreciation for the medicine and magic of every moment.