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turning of the canyon walls

I’ve been waiting to write in my blog about all the things I’ve felt as I move to Colorado after 32 years in Wyoming.  16 in Gillette and 16 in Laramie, half grown up in the belly of coal country, half deconstructed in the belly of precambrian granite and feldspar crystals.  Every part of the journey brought huge questioning and regret.  I said goodbye to my best friends—the few friends I had let in during the 16 years of trying to reinvent myself.  And now I reinvent myself in the San Luis Valley.

I moved here for many reasons which bring about all the reasons I had stayed in Laramie.  I’ve run into a few folks here and they always say the same type of stuff—oh it’s not for everyone here.  They say its isolated.  Nothing to do.  I’ve become the patriotic Wyomingite, talking about how Alamosa is Laramie moved south six hours.  Yes, Laramie was three times as big but I make my life very small.  I hear I may get bored in winter and I think of my writing, reading, or yoga—I know I won’t get bored just cold in the arid winters of the high desert.

I climbed part of Mount Blanca yesterday and am starting to realize what Colorado might mean.  Mountains are bigger.  Instead of my hour jaunt around Pole Mountain in the Medicine Bow National Forest, I now embark on hours long journeys I stop in the middle because it’s becoming clear I will not make these 18 miles.  Plans begin to be made—have I become the lusty adventurer going after 14’ers?  They are just where we all start—I want to become immersed in the microsystems as well. I want to find the desert parts of this place, to run in the greasewood and think about spiritual shit.

I think that’s why I came here—spiritual shit.  Not to seek the Ram Dass ashram just down the way in New Mexico or attend the Course in Miracles group I found in the local gazette—but to take a leap of faith.  To let go of the narrative that I’m a fifth generation Wyomingite, that my blood runs with the buffalo, that my soulmate is in the aspens of Happy Jack.   Turns out aspens are here, too. I’ve not felt that connection yet but I know the petals of my heart will peel and shake away as I uncross my hands from my heart and let the wind of the valley sweep things clean.

“Life is too short for grief. Or regret. Or bullshit.”

-Ed Abbey

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wal-mart yoga

I ran into a friend last night and a few folks knew me from my work teaching yoga. I was able to talk out loud a bit about how I see western yoga as cultural appropriation and perpetuating classism, racism, ableism, extroversion, hegemony, and all other sorts of atrocities that we silently ignore in the modern American caste system.

Let me clear this up before I dive into an opinion piece: I do teach yoga. I do teach meditation. I call myself the “Wal-Mart of Meditation” for a reason. Yeah Wal-Mart is messed up, but I don’t have the privilege NOT to shop there. Most folks I know don’t. I didn’t plan it this way, but I am very particular about where I teach, who I teach for, and how I teach. In the 4 years I’ve dived into this spiritual realm, I’ve learned a few things about myself and yoga.

The first is—I doubt I will ever teach at a boutique brick and mortar studio again. I’m not a business person, hardly a capitalist, and would not ask others to do what I cannot do myself. I cannot afford an $18 yoga class. In 2009 when I got out of jail after several DUI’s, I had nothing. Some fellah at the soup kitchen gave me $20. The last thing I was going to do with that money was walk over to a studio to be confused by Sanskrit, incense, and a person who is trying to tell me everything is love and light. Bullshit. I just got out of jail and have no home. Life will never be all love and light so we can all surrender that fantasy.

Secondly, I hope to always teach at a community college. In my years of teaching I have NEVER encountered a person of color in a brick and mortar studio outside of one instructor and one teacher in training—both privileged socioeconomically. In my classes at the community college, I’ve had men and women of color, non-english speaking folks, folks with disabilities, folks struggling with obesity, children, teenagers, deaf and hard of hearing folks, folks who I let in because they could not pay, felons, drug-users—you name the area of marginalization and I’ve been able to recruit at least one person to try it out.

Before I prepare my speech for social justice lady-face of the year, let me relate that I, too, am a part of the appropriation of yoga. I am in the space of privilege. I am the subject that relates to the object of yoga. I’ve bastardized the heck out of yoga (i.e. Walmart Meditation) I’ve copied elements from a minority culture and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressed, stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture.

I do not take communion in a Catholic church. I do not attend Mormon seminary. I do not pray with Muslims. Why do I think it’s okay to teach yoga when I know nothing of Hinduism? Because—it’s all I’ve got. I want to show folks that the light exists so they can choose their lamp. I know I do not know the right way to do anything because the only right way is the authentic way in one’s own skin. That will look different for everyone.

I can reduce the harm be being aware of the roots of the practice, and giving credit where credit is due. I can respect and honor the religion of Hindu and the Eight-Limbed Path by shutting the fuck up when I enter a sacred space. I can become more sensitive to myself and others through intentional practice. I will have to practice my whole life because it will not end with a headstand, heck, it won’t even end in this life. It is important we understand what yoga is and why it was created so we can honor the practice, others, and ourselves.

“Do your practice and all is coming.”

― Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

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cracks and stripes

Sitting in the plush couch across from Asian decorations staring at large red plates and sticks of bamboo creating geometrical patterns and shadows creating the backdrop as I relate the geometrical patterns of my life. I blandly tell my counselor how life is a dream, a projection, a fuzzy version of reality. A veil has dropped. Maybe it dropped a long time ago. I watch the plot, the characters, the scene, the story line with only mild interest. Mostly apathetic.

A familiar story for the thinkers, the depressed, the analyzers. Life a dream. Waves of light, color, emotion, people. A familiar story for those in trauma. Unable to fully open up to life undulating between numbness and extreme pain. I’ve told my story a hundred times and it’s really nothing special as folks die and individuals reinvent themselves over and over again, purifying in the fire. In each reinvention, the dreams, the disassociation becomes greater and greater and I go to matching lengths to ground down, to find the soil of my existence once again.

April 25th, 2014 a friend hung herself and I once again sank down, went deep, and struggled to decide on the appropriate response, the appropriate way to be with myself, to be with the world. And so I ran. I went into the physical body and the breath for stability, balance, to let the power of my thoughts dull in the burning light of my physical being. On Pole Mountain every day, moving slowly over rolling hills stopping to smell, take pictures, dance, stare at the sky, stare at the ground, and sit in the mud. I would bring friends, we would bring drink, I would bring drink alone. Playing with that point when the substance can enhance physical awareness and open up the senses to deep experiences while dulling the mind just enough to justify the tall bullets of barely pop.

I let go of expectations for myself. I walked away from the holistic practice of yoga doing only what felt good—run, lift, stretch, drink, sleep. I would push myself at times but found in the letting go of the practice of yoga I was able to truly practice yoga through direct experience, an opening up to the trails of life, the trails of my own veins. I felt like a crucible with ashes in my belly, appearing like clay but red hot on the inside. And so I buried myself in the cool ground to recalibrate what this all might mean and how to find my meaning.

On the trails, during the runs in forward motion and in the tiny catches of slowing down, I begin to see the patterns of nature. The times, ways, and slopes where the wildflowers grow. The ripple of the snow from the way the wind blows, the creak of the trees, the sound of thunder near and far. I begin to feel the sunrise and sunset and anticipate in some familiar way what to expect in this place and on these runs. The weather becomes a part of my system the breeze my own breath.

It becomes harder and harder to come back and to see the patterns in others’ behavior, the same patterns of nature. Only to know the patterns will not be seen. They are obstructed, fuzzy, blended with lies on the part of the person who has not yet accepted his or her own behaviors. They do not see what I see, and this is just perception, this is just human nature. They are not who they think they are. I am not who I think I am.

On the hikes of the human mind, I feel the wind of thoughts, the dark clouds of brooding, and the creak of the heart. Anticipating the seasons of the soul from unspoken words and intense observation I feel the sunset coming knowing that it may go unnoticed, go unfelt. It does not matter. All experience, good or bad is grist for the mill. Fuzzy, painful, manufactured, in nature, all a path to spiritual growth, a way to God.

“Sometimes I reason my life is a hideous illusion, and I dream of disappearing into the wilderness, leaving behind my past, my present, and all plans for my future, the hustle and bustle for a materialism I care little for, propaganda, politics, phonies, and all the patterns I’ve encountered from their words unspoken, that alert and alienate me to believe that this surely wasn’t meant to be my playground.”

-Unknown

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i close my eyes. i close them again.

I close my eyes. I close them again. Again. And again. Until the gaze is completely inward. There lies the work. There lies accountability. Instead of blaming the oppressive paradigm of society or of being misunderstood because of my education, I take accountability.

When I look inward I am able to face the demons of what I might not want to know about myself. I am controlling. I am pretentious. I am insecure. I stay after the class I teach at the local community college to answer questions about children and psychology. The parent always knows best. Each family situation is so different. I begin to realize with ruddy cheeks that I have not given this space in my own personal life. I thought I knew best. And now I know the value of of patience and acceptance.

I look inward and realize I still do not love myself enough to receive unconditional love from another. My value is still intermixed with other factors that are changeable and dynamic like my sense of self.  As long as I continue to rely on outside sources for a false sense of control I will be fragmented. And now I am alone and see that I co-create all of my experiences and until I create love and compassion for myself I will not create it for others. Instead of being so mystic about it all it boils down to folks likening to be around someone who has a sense of self that doesn’t require too much work on their part. A steady energetic presence.

I lie. I lie about how I self soothe and I lie to others to avoid always feeling so awkward. I tell my story to thousands of people.  The truth is not always wanted or needed, though, and I can’t seem to get the love and affection of one. Today instead of overanalyzing my actions in a freezing bathroom with singing malfunctioning pipes I ought just let some sleeping dogs lie.  Because I’ve beat this dead horse into the ground. 

“I close my eyes in order to see.” —Paul Gauguin

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song of survival

Exploring spirituality is such an intimate act and I find myself frustrated lately as I reflect on my childhood spent in Christianity.  I feel defensive because folks see it as a complete left turn when I wish I had lived with faith long enough that they thought the behaviors of the last ten years were a left turn.  But I get both sides.

Jen, you are a nerd.  Jen, you are a hustler. What are you doing exploring religion?  That’s not a thing in your life, is it?  Perhaps I have worn my cards too close to my heart and don’t want to risk being judged.  If I talk of God I become one of those crazy people at those awful meetings.  This is a safety mechanism and I act tough to be tough to survive.  Folks don’t cry in cowboy country.  Nothing is wrong.  Avoidance coping has its benefits. 

It’s hard to try to be nice all the time, to try to live by morals and codes that might not resonate with the larger universe.  Do we always speak the truth even with the knowledge the truth will seriously hurt someone?  I choose to do no harm.  I enjoy being the interpreter of moral code but see the danger in this as my compass lost its true north in the past, sometimes in the present.  We all disconnect sometimes. 

I have stories upon stories of the stuff I’ve done in the past, things that surprise even me and some of these things I speak of with a flat affect, no emotion, too much to engage.  But that’s it.  They are just stories.  Stories that have been told for ages.  Parables of life.  Sermons of the heart.  Songs of sorrow.  We all share the same underlying passions and fears. 

Each human heart a music box of life that plays a special tune.  Listen to the notes, hear them altogether and don’t get stuck on the b flat and don’t think your c sharp is somehow wrong. Sing your song, sing your life, live in a way that you stop worrying about what other folks think.  This is your song. Maybe only God can judge you, and maybe there is nothing to judge.

 

Do you know who I am?

I say “namaste” because I like what it means, not because I am Hindu.

A lot of people here think I am Christian because they think I talk about Christian values, but the truth is I am really talking about human values. 

I’ve been asked if I am a Buddhist, just because I have discovered inner peace. 

A lot of my friends are Pagans, and they think I am one, too, because I say that being in Nature is my idea of going to church.

Do you want to know what I really am?

I am awake.

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a prayer

Dear sky-father, mother-earth, source, divine, that which brings us together;

Complete gratitude.  Thanks over and over for this very moment and for my connection with You.  With Me.  With Our Infinite Power.

As I type this, as I think this, as I read this—my energy, my essence, my soul, my spirit—which really we all share—attains a higher vibration, a deeper blessing that fills my cup, fills my soul, my body, my mind, my emotions.

I am You, and You are Me and I am filled with love, energy, and it is Divine.

I feel the source, the spirit, growing within me, pure, strong, unstoppable.

Limitless, love builds and builds as I train for the race of life and get stronger and stronger in heart, radiating outward, knowing that time is an illusion, this race isn’t to be won.

All fatigue, all illness, washed away a divine storm, cleansed by lighting, framed by clouds, increased vibration giving my intention the vastness of the sky.

We lift ourselves up, we are gathered together, collective, conscious, unconscious.

United with You, WE are an unstoppable force of joy!

Quantum leap into love, healing, abundance, wisdom, peace followed by miracles, surprise, belief, acceptance.

We are held in Our arms, in Your arms, as we tolerate the anxiety for growth and we feel, we feel, as we grow and transition and see the forest for the trees, the world for what it really is.

We are blissful.  We are soothed. We are comforted.  We makes choices aligned with Love.

I am drawn to the mountains, I am drawn to the sea, and I am to that which strengthens my Divine Connection with You, my life is energized with new, exciting purpose.

I wake each day in joy and authentic dedication. I radiate joy through my smile, my life, through my being.

I vibrate at the level of love and Divine Power.

My mind is clear.

I love my life, and I have abundant energy to live it.

And so it is.
Amen.

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yoga and the wounded healer

Coming back to the subject I’ve thought about over and over. My falling outs, meltdowns, burning of bridges, loss of friends, passing the point of no return, crossing the Rubicon, nailing my colors to the mast. I’ve dealt with some shit. I’ve caused some shit. Acute conflict felt from the edges of my heart into the corners of my soul.  I caught myself in a moment with another when I began to talk about this stuff. Eyes glazed over and the gaze becomes distant like trying to talk to my father right after work, staring at the coal dust in his eyes know he might not hear me through his own clouds and questions.

I’ve sometimes heard that being a leader comes with people you love hating you a little more each day. No matter what decision is made, there will be an angry soul who is convinced the devil is running the show. Then I wonder if it’s not just my silly little ego to call myself a leader to protect me from the thought that people really don’t like me. That I’ve been banned from spaces, from hearts.  Big, universal, hurt.

I also know it takes two to tango. Yoga attracts wounded people. Every person I talk to in yoga has come to the practice because of abuse, a crappy family life as a child, their own or others’ mental illness, social isolation, family life as an adult, bereavement, life-threatening physical illness and a whole wide gambit of crap. These wounded healers, these who take issue with me, have their own wounding experiences and two wounds don’t make a healer.

I wonder, too, at the lack of integration in yoga and search for the old souls, the professionals, the ones who have spent years letting it all sink in. Then I get caught up in teach more, achieve more, get more students, buy more leggings. What if we all took a class, sat on it for a few days. See what happens. Or what if we fight, let it runs its course, and tolerate the anxiety of growing together. What if we stop being ashamed at the way we treat each other, acknowledge our wounds and evolve toward greater cohesion and solidarity.

Instead of wondering when my soul became less human or less beautiful, I can wonder how another’s wound has affected vision and perception. And through the vulnerability of suffering and universiality maybe we can self-reflect, look outward, and meltdown in a way that leave puddles of our own gorgeous human essence.

The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

T.S. Eliot “East Coker,” from *The Four Quartets*

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there is good, there is evil

I’ve been going through some stuff lately.   I feel junior high spring dance insecure—hunched in the shoulders, standing in the corner of the gym in my socks with my pants too short and my pointy bra creating uncomfortable tic tacs in my silk shirt.  I look at others hoping they will notice me for me, and stick around for the anxiety of growing with me. But, as in junior high, I don’t know who I am.

I’ve had the same situation occur twice now—I have walked away or was asked to walk away from yoga studios for reasons that won’t matter in time and that I can’t understand because the discourse, the vulnerability, the connection is gone. There is no space for reconciling, and it’s not for me to convince anyone of my worth. If I’m not seen with compassion, I am not seen. But, I can’t separate that it’s somehow me being asked to step away from yoga.

Of course I have mommy and daddy issues. We all do. Families are hard. But there is space in the family to mess up, to do crummy things, to make a mistake in earnest because the love is there. The non-judgment is par for the course. The daddy issues run deep. I miss my deceased father more than words could ever express because he really accepted me. Anger, idiot moves, and all. I miss my mother too for who she was and for her letting me grow.

It comes down to the only thing I know—my experience. I know more and more I don’t know much but I came to yoga because I was accepted. I was allowed to sweat buckets, to cry, to suck at poses, to show up a few minutes late. I don’t think everything is love and light. There is dark space in the universe, there is dark space in my heart.

To teach what I know is all I can do. And the lessons I impart in yoga aren’t how to wrench your spine in a backbend, wrench your neck in a headstand, or tear your ligaments in eagle. It’s how to sit with yourself (the self you might hate, if you are anything like me) for a few minutes without running away from your body or your breath. I can teach how to sit with the shadows, how to let emotions circulate through the system.

I am driven by ego. I am driven by compassion. I am neither compassion nor ego, I just am.

 

 

“I do a lot of crummy things, and I do a lot of beautiful things, and I am neither good nor evil, I just am. There is good, there is evil, and here I am.”

Ram Dass

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pathologically indiscreet

Never underestimate the value of a candid person. So much of our time is spent trying to figure out these unwritten rules like how firmly should I shake her hand or how many sentences of small talk before I delve into an emotional topic?

I was never very good at regular rules, much less unwritten rules, and brutal honesty can catch others off guard or it can open up a space of vulnerability. If I spent time trying to understand social conventions it might take a while. While I understand the power of acting couth, I appreciate the candidness of the raw, the unfiltered.

The types of people I appreciate most are ones who dance whether anyone is watching or not, who sing whether they know the words, who make love without worrying about fat or fur, who eat with appreciation. Secrets can last for years, secrets can change the paradigm.

Imagine if we started being ourselves, if we stopped holding back or letting out too much of what is inauthentic. Imagine if we let go of social conventions just for a day, how many would become comfortable, and how many would receive a gift? Take time today to receive those in your life exactly how they are and exactly who they need to be.

I’ve always been a pretty candid person. I’m not a very secretive person; I’m not a very discreet person. One of my best friends once described me as pathologically indiscreet.

Andrew Sullivan

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what i can and cannot do

Untitled

Truth is, I get intimated and down on myself every day. There is a good chance I will never do a respectable yogi push up or hold pigeon on my right side again. These are because of injuries trying to press bone onto bone for bending that my body was just not meant to do. Knee and elbow out of commission for a while. Even sitting cross legged is painful. That’s the thing about yoga—it’s not until years later that you realize asana is preparation for death—the ultimate life experience. No one dies in a handstand. But sometimes when we die we are lucky enough to know that our worth didn’t come from a handstand or peacock pose, and that holding the hand of the person next to us is the most challenging, rewarding, and soul satisfying pose of all. The king pose called #gratitude.

#yoga #selflove #love #loveyourself #mindfulness #beyourself #asana #Ustrasana #Gomukhasana #PinchaMayurasana #death #EkaPadaRajakapotasana #bodylove #practicenotperfect #iamenough #MeatlessMonday #pilates #contrology #infinitebalancelaramie