Archive for May, 2009

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What Yoga Means To Me -or- Writing The Letter N

May 29, 2009

My parents laugh when they recount tales of my sobbing exclamations, “I’ll never be able to do it!! I’ll never be able to do it!!” but I have a more emotional reaction to the memories of my early attempts at penning the 14th letter of the alphabet.  See, I had L and Y down pat, and even E came after a while, but that damn N just wouldn’t come.  And I was cursed with TWO of them in my name! That diagonal line, the ups and downs – it was an incredible challenge.  I can still remember sitting at the dining room table, tears streaming down my little face, utterly convinced at my ineptitude at such a young age.

It was this particular memory that arose in therapy recently, as I sobbed at my inability to read fast enough to ingest all of the lecture preparation for this intense, yogic month of my life (it should be noted, classes had not yet even begun).  My supremely overdeveloped superego picked that little girl up from the dining room and set her wailing in the body of a 28 year old – entirely sure that this person I have become was, too, entirely unable to succeed.  And the greatest irony of it all?  This behavior illustrates precisely the opposite of what yoga has meant to me.

The eastern conception of “faith,” as I understand it from my studies of Buddhism, is a very different thing than in theistic spiritual modalities; faith is turned inward, rather than a belief in something external, it is instead the belief one holds in the self.  The answers lie within, and to have faith is to live in trusting the self to know its own truth and perfection.  Yoga, to me, means faith, both ideally and in action.

As an ideal, yoga – specifically what I know of the Tantric lineage – purports that we are all perfect already.  Though it is hard to live this belief at all times – especially in the midst of a western culture constantly telling us we’re too fat, too short, too brunette, or too old – the theoretical principle of basic perfection aids in the cultivation of faith.  Additionally, with its emphasis on presence and full experience of the current moment, yoga means that everything about right now is absolutely ok; even if it doesn’t feel that way, where you are is precisely where you are supposed to be, and you can rest in the knowledge that everything that’s lead up to this moment, is also just right.

In action, watching the dynamism and evolution my practice has undergone in the two-and-a-half years of its life is a pillar of strength in my belief in my body’s abilities.  Before coming to yoga, the thought of me, previously The Funny Fat Girl, standing on my head, supporting my entire bodyweight on my arms, or excelling at anything physical was positively unimaginable.  But hell now I’m training to teach others how to do this crazy stuff.  As a constantly advancing self-science, yoga regularly pushes my edges and has me ever looking forward in continued confidence that with time comes growth.  I will never forget the first time I teetered in Bakhasana and heard my quietest inner voice say “you can do this” and I achieved a couple seconds of balance.  That inner belief is the absolute meaning of yoga to me.

The good thing about this particular emotional memory from my childhood was that the story didn’t end there: it turns out I can, in fact, write Ns now, though some who have seen my handwriting might argue otherwise.  I am not inept, I do possess all the tools I need within me, and I will do exactly how I’m supposed to do at my first training, and that is perfect.  I will write all the Ns I need to write in due time.

And some day I’ll learn to believe all of that.

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The President Precedent

May 23, 2009

My greatest discomfort before attending a meeting of Al-Anon or AA, was “the god part.”  I could deal with the emotional stories, I could deal with the stigma of telling friends where I was going, I could deal with all the unknowns associated with a new experience, but “the god part” was a huge hindrance.

I should note, I am not an Atheist.  Somewhere between western science, Agnosticism, Humanism and a few eastern spiritual modalities lies my own personal religion, which can basically be summed up by the expression, “Beats the shit out of me!”  I do pray, but in that charming non-Theistic way we Buddhists have, and admit to being generally uncomfortable with the word “prayer.”

Luckily, I have a friend (or, as I more accurately think of him, my own personal Buddha) who has been going to meetings for years, and talked me through why “the god part” shouldn’t be an impedance.  By the time I went to my first AA meeting (last week) and my first Al-Anon meeting (last night) I was well prepped for what I heard.

However, I still felt myself wince a little whenever I heard the words ‘god’ or ‘higher power.’  Even though I consider myself a spiritual person, my body has a physical reaction to these words that I have a hard time controlling.  I mean, it’s subtle – I’m not flailing my arms or twitching in my seat – but I can feel myself react, despite attempts in my head to substitute a just-something-bigger-than-myself-out-of-my-control lower-case ‘g’ in place of the white-guy-long-beard-sitting-on-a-cloud capital ‘G’.

It occured to me after watching this happen in my body a couple times, that this is the same way I currently react to the word, “President.”  Whenever someone refers to “The President” my body still has that clenching, “man, that guy’s a douchebag” reaction, because for 8 years, that is all my body knew.   It always takes a second for me to go “oh no! That word means really smart guy now!  That word means guy you voted for now!!  That word means hope and thoughtfulness and a potentially bright future for your country now!”

And physically conditioned precedents are really hard to overcome.  I have a complicated past with religion.  The “god” I came to know as a child (ask me some time about how I used to think god looked like Ronald McDonald; then ask me about my fear of clowns) through my young brain’s synthesis of what I learned in the Catholic Church was a mental formation of judgment, unattainable perfection, and a set of eyes and ears constantly on me, in whose perception I was born a “sinner” and to whom I had to “confess”.

I don’t place unmitigated blame on the religion itself – though I admit I have a a healthy dose of anger toward the church.  But a confluence of factors in my developing mind contributed to a warping of this conception.  After leaving the church at 15, I went through a decade of life getting defensive at the mention of god and shirking away from anything that smelled of spirituality.  It was only once I began studying Buddhism and practicing yoga that I found I could let a little slip back in. It is thanks to this basis of re-spiritualizing that I am able to reap the benefits of a recovery program like AA or Al-Anon.

Ultimately, now, my job is to keep hearing the words President and god, and simply noting how my body reacts, until eventually new patterns can form and new reckoning can take over.  The nice thing about this path to recovery beginning at the same time my yoga practice is actively deepening, is I’m basically spending the next month of my life doing little other than noting what’s happening in my body.

It does make me curious if there are other words or concepts to which I have a physical reaction and of which I am not even mindful yet. But luckily, thanks to my President, I believe in change.

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A brief note about my discussions of AA and Al-Anon

May 23, 2009

Anonymity, of course, is of dire importance to the success of these groups.  Therefore, I will only ever speak of general sentiments and shared commonalities of the participants, and will never recount individual stories or specifics from a meeting, unless they are my own and only my own.

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In case you missed it.

May 21, 2009

It occurred to me that the “about me” section, which I’ve entitled My Path, is a little missable with this set up.  So here’s what the deal is with this blog:

My Path

In May of 2009, I did two things: put a colossal sum of money on my credit card for an intensive month of yoga teacher-training, and began attending AA and Al-Anon meetings.

As all blogs are fundamentally narcissistic, I had the nerve to think maybe an account of my struggles and anecdotes on this path might be interesting and/or helpful to others – other yogis, others who have quit drinking, others who want to teach, others who pay colossal sums of money to quit working for a month, others who hate that feeling of otherness, whatever.

I intend to blog in article form, not necessarily in short snippets, so don’t come looking for awesome pictures or funny links.  Instead, if you care to read it, I hope in this blog you find a humorous and occasionally intelligent exploration of the suffering we all face, no matter what the path.

Namaste and happy trails.

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On The Road Again

May 21, 2009

So here I go again. For the third time in my life, I’ve quit drinking. Just like last time I hope it’s for good… but then again there was a Last Time.

Many have questioned why I have to give it up completely, why I can’t place my aim on a less ascetic goal. But the problem with drinking even just a little, is that alcohol is inextricably linked to sex for me. Even when it isn’t – when it’s just sharing a glass with my mother or a pint with a friend – that one drink sends my mind into that spiral of longing which I’ve found ultimately leads to more drinking.

It certainly makes sense. Where, to date, my sex life has almost exclusively happened in the context of alcohol, alcohol, then, always makes me think of sex: of how long it’s been since I’ve had it and of where it might come from next. And then, as the night gets darker, or perhaps upon the hang over in the morning, the thoughts further sour to how my sex life till the present has been loveless, to how I’ve only once had sex sober, to the irrational but overwhelming fear that it will never happen again, and in general to that desperate longing for something more.

Ok, well the fact is I kind of have all those thoughts all the time; alcohol just makes it about a thousand times worse. Unfortunately, the soul-sucking effect sobriety has had on my already arid romantic life just makes things worse. They don’t call it “drying out” for nothin’… It feels like the social life of a single 20-something is staunchly predicated on bars and booze, and even if I’m comfortable toting my water bottle around a party, I can sense the discomfort of the drinkers around me with my abstinence. People just don’t like being around the chick who isn’t drinking. I get the sense I make them nervous, angry, self-aware; perhaps that’s projection, but after spending a couple occasions standing around alone at parties, my suspicions have been buoyed if not exactly confirmed.

Furthermore, guys don’t hit on The Sober Girl. Not that I’m all that good at recognizing when I’m being hit on at all, but I can certainly spot when there is a complete void of attention. I mean, shouldn’t I be text-book low hanging fruit: the bored girl sitting by herself watching the world go by? Isn’t that every creep’s dream? But I think they can smell a clear head a mile away, and I can imagine what I’m projecting – misery and loneliness as I watch my friends become more confusing and less intelligently capable – isn’t exactly an aphrodisiac.

Ultimately, the problem is I’m outgrowing this boozing culture, without knowing what to grow into. It’s hard to find new friends who don’t drink, I don’t know what you do on a Friday night instead of belly up to a bar, and I don’t have a Central Perk at which to plunk down and know my witty friend Chandler and wacky friend Phoebe will eventually arrive for a Saturday night latte. What’s most disconcerting is I’m scared I don’t really know what “I had such a great time last night” means when it doesn’t involve alcohol. I have to redefine completely for myself what “fun” is.

So, I’m calling in the big guns – I’m going to AA. Believe me, there’s almost nothing that feels more ridiculous than the idea of raising my hand and saying “Hi, my name is Lynne, and I’m not an alcoholic, but…” but I’ve been assured by friends who have traveled this path that I wouldn’t be the first. My only hope for the third time really being the Last Time is if I find a community with whom to share the struggles that come with choosing this road in this world. Even if I one day decide to have the occasional single drink (I really, really love wine), not returning to multiple drinks on multiple nights will take a significant change in my social sphere.

Of course, I’d be lying if I denied an ulterior motive: if alcohol offered sex with a lack of love, then maybe a lack of alcohol could offer sex with love…hell you can’t get less than the none I have now so at least I have nothing to lose. So yeah, I admit, I’m hoping to meet a man at AA. Or at least I’m hoping to meet a man in some connection to AA – whether that be specifically in a meeting, or in discussions about the subject, say, at a tea tasting or yoga class.

To this effect, I’ve made a funny little deal with myself: I’ve decided I will not have that single glass of wine I think I can handle, until I find myself in a relationship which I believe has forward momentum, for at least a month. That could be a loooong time from now; the way things have gone to date I may be waiting till my 40th birthday. Or, it could happen within the year and I’ll decide to skip the glass anyway, content in my abstinence.  I must say, having begun AA, there’s a lot of motivation never to drink again.  But… I mean. Wine is such a great art….

All I know is my next partner has to arrive in my life independent of any sort of intoxication, and I have to figure out attraction, confidence and sexuality outside of the bottle. If my life is just a huge map of First Times and Last Times, I’m hoping drinking is I-84, and healthy love life is the Pike.

Yeah. I don’t know either.