I believe that in general I am a pretty open and honest person. I do not pretend to be anything other than a little to a lot neurotic depending on the day. I preface with that because the initial paragraphs of this writing start with some yoga-speak and I don’t want that to distract from the reality of what I am sharing. Yoga is just the lens that I choose to live my life through and therefore it colors my every perception and influences my use of language.
I can only draw from my own experience of the past year and what my friends have shared with me about their own. But suffice to say 2018 was a year that demanded a lot: patience, persistence, humility and above all transformation. And I’ve realized that after 13 years of teaching yoga and 15+ of practice I really have never taken stock of what the practice of re-union with truth, conscious, and bliss, or sat chit ananda, required of me. I also feel like mental health awareness is becoming more prominent and yet we have so far to go in learning how to express what any of us have been through or struggle with and how to ask for help. So that’s what got me to put fingertips to keyboard.
Truth, consciousness and bliss. It sounds so lovely, right? I think, probably on purpose, my sub-conscious often mutes what I know is needed to awaken to this promised space of causeless peace and truth. Because if I was aware of what was needed for that to occur all the time I might have a mental breakdown…we’ll get to that! In order to “return there” I must see ALL the places where I have created separation within myself. I have to patiently feel, and not always but often, name the unconscious habits and beliefs that act on and animate me most of the time. To notice that deep down (and I don’t think this is unique to me at all) there is a belief/fear that who or what I am is not enough. That deep down there is something bad, or mis-guided or ugly that forms the foundation of my person.
And so, as many of us do, I create all kinds of structures to shield myself from those parts and tried to hide them from other people (I have learned, of course the hard way, this never works, there is always someone or several someone’s who see your shadow. Sometimes they are graceful about it and sometimes they support the shame you’re already feeling through their judgement. I know this because I’ve done it to other people!). I create a personality that is suitable for everyday interaction. I behave in a way that will keep people loving me. Or so I choose to believe. There’s a funny thing about belief. It’s counterpoint that it cannot live without is doubt. To believe in something within the mind usually means unconsciously there’s also a little, or a lot, of doubt.
There is an image that is often projected onto someone who labels themselves a yogi. Peaceful, joyful, kind, generous, nonjudgmental ( this is also not unique, there is an idealized caricature for being a good mother, a good partner, a good dog walker!). And after 13 years of teaching in several different communities with and to people from all over the world it comes as no surprise that this caricature is not truly attainable or sustainable for most of us. I have also experienced in the last few years within the yoga community an awareness of this useless image and more acceptance around us all just trying to do our best. But I think we could do better. I could do better. In clarifying again and again for myself and my community that the path to Self-love is messy. And not messy like a movie where there’s a straight narrative. Not the kind of messy you can sum up with a picture of you in a fancy-pants yoga pose on Instagram with words of struggle quoted from someone else (done this!). Messy like 10,000 toddler’s still not potty trained left in a white house with open paint cans messy.
“Forgive yourself for your messy healing process.”
I saw this quote recently from Ana Forrest and it is, I understand now, imperative. Because when you tell they universe or goddess or whatever that unifying field is that healing or wholeness is your intention, it believes you! I know that God is Love. I don’t know it in my head, I know it in my whole being. So with love, (though it may not FEEL like it at the time) the universe then shows you all the ways you hide from love. How you have not loved your awkwardness or your intuitiveness or your fears. By bringing them up to the surface usually in our relationships. So fun and exciting!!! Or confusing and awful!!!!
We all have those karmic cycles where the same set of circumstances show up in different places with different people again and again. Believe me I know. I moved to THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PLANET …TWICE!!! to try and run from those lessons. I wouldn’t change that at all. But it also proves how fucking hard headed and attached I was to wanting things to be a certain way, wanting to be known and seen a certain way when the only way to be was…the way I was. Which I didn’t like very much! EVEN after 15 years of very dedicated practice and teaching! What a major bummer!
For those of you who don’t know me well, suffice to say I am a dedicated yoga practitioner and teacher. I meditate (almost:) everyday. I’ve done, I don’t know exactly, maybe around 2,000 hours of training with some of the most authentic, wonderful yoga teachers around. I’ve taught yoga in the townships of South Africa. I hiked to Babaji’s cave in India amongst other magical, mystical moments there (most of which I can’t even remember!) I’ve led or co-led something like 30 yoga teacher trainings. I’ve sat for hours chanting to many different versions of God/dess. In fact I have my own harmonium! And several sets of mala beads! I’ve even been vegan and vegetarian for stretches of time! What I’m trying to say is… well I really tried (and a part of me feels like I deserve SOMETHING for all that effort?!?!?!just kidding!!!not at all!! yes I know what spiritual materialism is!!!)
And thank goodness. Because a few months ago I was in a depression/anxiety cycle so deep I truly thought I was going to end up killing myself. UM, what? Yeah I know, hard turn. This wasn’t totally new though. I’ve been through cycles of depression and anxiety since I was a teenager many times. And I’ve always been able to get through it without letting on to most anyone else what was happening til it was over or near over. And I had been through having suicidal thoughts/desires, but again always a layer of inner knowing that I wouldn’t REALLY do it. Well turns out each time you cycle through depression it gets worse and your resilience diminishes.
What started it? A lot of little things that grew into a big, amorphous, overwhelming thing. What did it look like? To the outside probably not much different than any other day. I taught my classes, I spent time with friends, I maintained something close to “normal”. But what I didn’t share was driving to/from the studio hysterically crying for what reason, I couldn’t tell you, driving to watch Game of Thrones with my friends and having to fight with myself to not step on the gas and drive my car into a tree because something in me really wanted to. Laying in bed at night for hours wired with anxiety at everything that I had done wrong that day, week, lifetime. Or just laying there thinking about how I was going to die, did other people realize this, we are all going to die and and and… it was endless, exhausting and I didn’t know how to get out of it, in the past it would lift after a month or so…this time it didn’t.
And then for the first time ever I felt something in my brain switch. My brain really believed that I would be better off dead. I felt like Tom Cruise in that movie Vanilla Sky . When Cameron Diaz persuades him to get in the car with her and she quickly turns into a total irrational, crazed, unhinged nightmare. And drives herself and Tom off a bridge presumably to their death. I was watching my brain tell my body WE’VE GOT TO GET OUT OF HERE and the only way out, my body-mind had come to wholly believe,was to die. There are no words or enough time for me to describe how terrifying it is to realize you have turned on yourself in this way. And this is where I am so glad for my yoga. Because I REALLY thought that my depression was going to win. BUT most of the time there was this other energy. The witness.
If you’re not familiar with the witness take a moment and first look at all your surroundings including your own body. Now close your eyes and notice how it feels to breathe in and breathe out. Now notice how you feel: tired, awake, grounded, anxious. Now… watch your thoughts. Notice what your are thinking. Now ..notice the thing that notices. So…which one are you. If you are able to observe something, how can it be you? Are you not the entity that notices? There is way more to it than that, and a point at which there is no duality, but for now I’m just focusing on the “muscle” of the witness. 15 years of yoga practice had made that muscle pretty strong it turned out.
And at a mini-moment when my mind shut-up and my soul saw the opening I called my doctor. To say she was concerned is an understatement. I was a mess. I had lost a ton of weight, I was crying, I couldn’t really make coherent sentences. And she knows me as someone who..teaches yoga! I’m suppose to be serene and at one with my true nature! WHAT THE FUUUUUCK!!! I finally stopped trying to fight on my own and surrendered to help. I started taking an anti-anxiety/depression/insomnia med that…is pretty hard core. I have always resisted medication. ESPECIALLY being in the yoga/wellness community, such a no-no! Your depression is a sign you are not at one with your higher self, duh: meditate more, pray more, do some more chatturangas but god forbid you head down the path of big pharma you big phony!
And yet… here we are 2 months later. I feel not only more centered and myself, but I’ve also come to the place where I can finally see all the gifts that came out of this period. An appreciation for life that I think is hard to gather without facing death. And in that appreciation a natural release of some, certainly not all, of the once unconscious habits and beliefs that I thought I needed, which at one time were necessary and through the churning of practice turn to poison. A poison that brought the great gift of gratitude for just being alive! I had one friend who I mentioned going on medication to ask me if it messed with “my energy, or being able to feel other people’s energy.” I know this came from a good place, however, if you are not a psychiatrist/psychologist PLEASE do not push your limited understanding of anyone else’s situation into the box of what is acceptable mental health care you have created for yourself. And just so you know, no it did not mess with my intuitive or empathic abilities. In fact I am much more grounded now and it has enhanced those capabilities
I’ve also learned a new level of discernment. When you pass through these times as I mentioned all the work shows up in relationships. I see what I brought to the table that was rooted in agenda instead of truth. I also see more clearly who comes to me with agenda and who shares with me their truth. And there’s no judgement there is just seeing (like a good 75%of the time at least). I’ve had a few instances recently where Marley even 6 months ago would have held on to feeling betrayed or hurt. And in this new place I didn’t even have to work to forgive, IT JUST STARTED TO HAPPEN NATURALLY! Because I KNOW now from my own times acting out poorly towards other people, it only comes from fear of some kind. One of my great blessings this lifetime is really strong female friendships, and I always seem to have a few around who have a bit more time on the planet than I have, and with that more wisdom. And I have felt the grace of their forgiveness when I have knowingly or unknowingly fucked up. Forgiving feels good, and it makes it possible for those you offer it to to extend it with more ease when it’s their turn.
Finally, if you are going through something similar you must talk to people about it. You must. You need to find people who you know can handle that kind of intense vulnerability and mirror back to you your worth and that you are loved. And it also gives other people permission to talk about what they are going through honestly. In the time that I’ve opened up to several of my friends so many of them have responded by saying they were going through some dark days too, some not so far off from my experience (in fact I originally wrote this to myself but with how many people I love going through something similar it felt necessary to put it out there).
And also know that some people..won’t know how to hold space for you. For whatever reason. I had one friend who I love dearly during this time tell me that I “wasn’t strong” and another who made a similar sentiment about how she was strong and if she was going through something similar would know to ask for help. I…didn’t really have a response, however, weak is not a word I would use to describe myself. This is just to offer an example, there may be people you love who love you but they are not educated enough or sensitive enough to mindfully respond to you. So keep them as your friends while being honest with yourself about how appropriate it is for you to rely on them for mental health support.
And please do not be afraid to ask for medical help. Friends and family just don’t have the same resources nor should they be ultimately responsible for your well-being. I was worried I was going to get put into a psychiatric ward or something. Turns out that rarely happens. You can find a doctor or therapist you trust. You can. And what your protocol entails could look like more meditation no medication, who knows? But find a team you trust to help discover that and DO NOT listen to people who mean well….but don’t know what the fuck they are talking about. I know that what is working for me right now is going to evolve and along with my doctor and therapist I also have a guy who talks to angels and clears self-limiting believes and girl who reads energy as a shaman, utilizes tarot cards and astrology all to help bring more clarity to the symbolic side of life. So I’m using pharmaceutical drugs but I’m also staying plenty woo-woo.
And take a bit of solace in the fact that people who go through mental health trials or live with mental health illness have so much to offer the world. Your ability to connect with someone who has been in the trenches is only available…because you’ve been there! You GET it. You have the capability to share your story and make someone who might be too scared or ashamed to share their own see a glimmer of hope or even courage!
Part of my pledge to myself this year is to talk very openly about this. We have to make talking about mental health a given. Our nervous systems are just not designed to process everything that is going on in this world and the way it is exploited in traditional and social media. We have to work together and communicate because isolation only accelerates depression and suicidal tendencies. So check on your people. Just because someone seems like they always have it together…doesn’t necessary mean they are having that experience themselves internally. Particularly the together poeple in fact, noone asks them! Because they’ve got it together! So if you notice even a subtle shift that seems…like something, better to nudge and ask. You will not regret it.
Another movie reference, this one with aliens (my favorite). In the movie Arrival several pods of aliens end up floating above 11? different countries. In the end (spoiler alert!) the aliens turn out to be good and had chosen to divide their gift of information across those 11 pods so that the leaders of the world would HAVE to work together to understand the gift the aliens were offering (note to aliens: if you are thinking of heading down this road, kindly wait til 2020 at bare minimum). Maybe…just maybe this seeming explosion of mental health problems is for a reason.. And if not we can gift it one. So that we find ways to come together, see want binds us to each other and our humanity, and realize that we cannot do this life thing alone. We need other people, animals, plants, Earth, all of it and the search to find what it is that connects us all is the reason. The more we focus on what supports hatred, resistance and division the more we as a world experience things like depression and anxiety. So to connect is the over-simplified but necessary answer.
I feel like words are wonderful and also as I re-read this very limited. At times it’s too yoga speaky. And i might have said some things not quite right but I really don’t know any other way to express it. And I need to express it.
OK 2019, I’m too wise now to say I’m ready. But at least I’m here.
Oh Mars, you sweet, silly little pancake. If only! I wrote this right around December 31st. Thinking, next year surely will have more simplicity. Well expectations and hopes rarely are met by reality. Sometimes reality is even better. And sometimes it’s not.
And now with the remnants of feeling betrayed in a way I could not see coming, now without a studio to call home or a steady teaching job, now moving from my favorite home I’ve ever lived in (and after a very serious bought of Tidying Up!). Now…stepping towards the feelings of loss. I am reminded how much heavier challenges feel when you are carrying the weight of anxiety and depression into it. For me it is quite a physical experience; terrible insomnia (yes with meds and all), my heartbeats so fast in my chest I think it will explode, every unknown sounds triggers a jump, and I also feel so exhausted, my body has no impulse to move. This is not something that just presents in the mind/ behavior, that is for sure.
It doesn’t matter how hard you’ve worked to create stability, how many resources you are privileged to have, it is still wildly overwhelming to put one breath in front of the other at times.
I refuse to bypass this and I also think about what will happen when really big loss occurs? If I can just barely keep it going with this set of circumstances. I don’t know but I am going to do my best to be here and find out. And then I think about people who don’t have access to the kind of resources I do. I have so many wonderful people in my life, a spiritual practice that is as good as any therapist, and so much ease in my day to day. Thinking about this and how to address it. Sending endless love and support to all of you who in your own unique way are traveling a similar road. Bowing mindfulness into the breath space, into the heart space, and into the space that unites all being, Namaste.