Living the Tower Card: Watching My Life Crumble Around Me

There’s a card in the Tarot known as the Tower.  It’s usually the sixteenth card in the Major Arcana.  The classic imagery is of a, well, tower, that has been struck by lightning to its total destruction.  There are sometimes images of people falling from the tower to their demise, too.  It’s a pretty intense card.

ab6663c0b242fd23d51f9650d05b4b7a
image courtesy of pinterest

Here’s what Aeclectic.net has to say about the Tower card:

In a moment, it is over. The Tower is rubble, only rocks remaining. Stunned and shaken to the core, the Fool experiences profound fear and disbelief. But also, a strange clarity of vision, as if his inner eye has finally opened. He tore down his resistance to change and sacrifice (Hanged man), then came to terms with Death (Death); he learned about moderation and synthesis (Temperance) and about power (The Devil). But here and now, he has done what was hardest: he destroyed the lies of his life. What’s left are the foundations of truth. On this he can rebuild himself.

Many people read the Tower card as negative, and fear it’s presence in a spread.  I, however, almost always see it as a good thing.  For most of my readings, the Tower card tells about a complete breaking down of the foundational beliefs and perceived truths upon which we once built our lives, making space for the rebuilding of new truths and ideas that more accurately reflect the evolved person we have become.  It’s sort of like the old Etch-A-Sketch toys that erase everything previously drawn when you shake them up a bit.

I bring this up here, because I am currently living the Tower card.  Fair warning:  This post is going to be raw and real.  There will be no sugar-coating here.  If you have no interest in reading about the intimate details of the lives of others, you may want to click over to a site featuring kitten memes, or whatever you’re into.

I am not exactly sure when the lightning bolt actually struck my tower.  Well, that’s not entirely true, if I really think about it.  Perhaps it would be best to say that my tower has been sustaining some pretty potent damage over the past couple years.

My time at Kanekiki Farm on the Big Island of Hawaii was definitely instrumental in creating some cracks in the foundations.  I experienced an entirely different way of being in the world while I was there.  I was fully submersed in a supportive, cooperative community.  I was encouraged to, and given the resources to, take a long, hard look at how I was living my life, how I was connecting with others, and how I was sharing myself with the world.  On the farm, our foods were raw, our emotions were raw, and our interactions were raw.  It was simultaneously glorious and heartbreaking, terrifying and exciting.  And my experiences there really ignited a spark of new awareness deep within me.

After Kanekiki, I spent the rest of the year traveling the globe, sometimes with a companion, but mostly solo.  With every new country visited, I felt new shifts in my foundations, new cracks in my walls.  I found myself hastily patching rents where I could, but my heart wasn’t really in it.  This was simply the reflexive response to the fear brought on by the drafts from these chinks in my shelter.

Instead of feeling the freedom I was craving, I found myself feeling more and more trapped.  I was living in the most stunning exotic locations, and all I could focus on was how miserable I was feeling.  I would be surrounded by new people, new opportunities, new experiences, and instead of reveling in it, as I had expected to, I found myself shrinking in a mindset of lack, of loneliness, of fear.

Oh, the shame of it all!  Shame of feeling these dark and heavy feelings in these light and beautiful places weighed down on me.  It was so heavy and so brutish that it began to shake the walls of my tower of identity, leaving me with real concerns about whether or not I could sustain it all.

There was a brief reprieve when my sister joined me in Greece for her birthday.  But soon that came to an end, and, with it, my time of wandering the world.  Things just got shakier after that.

I returned to the States with no real plan, no money, and no idea what to do.  I knew I had changed so profoundly since leaving my home for Hawaii all those months ago, but I hadn’t really had time to process who I had become or, rather, who I was still becoming.  I was lost, but I took refuge in my tower.  It might not be as sturdy as it once was, but it was familiar, and that felt safe.

After several months of questioning, wallowing, and job-hunting, I finally decided to start my new life in Austin.  I arrived with a job, but no place to live, and still no money.  But I was feeling determined to make it work.  I spent three months living in my compact sedan.  I kept telling myself that it was an awesome adventure, but when I got really honest with myself, I was met with embarrassment, discomfort, a strong sense of failure, and yet more shame.  I didn’t choose to live like this.  I was living in my car because I couldn’t afford to live anywhere else.

How could I be living like this at my age?  What’s wrong with me?  I have no house, no partner, no kids, no community, and no clue.  Why can’t I get my life together?

This, I believe, was the final lightning strike that collapsed my already shaky tower.  It kindled that inner spark born at Kanekiki, and the whole thing went up in flames and came down in a tumble of stones and bones.

Knee-deep in rubble, I realized that I have been living my life half asleep for a very long time.  I have been operating from a place of knowing what I didn’t want, but having no idea what I did want.  I will never be able to cultivate a life that makes me happy until I understand what it is that will make me happy.  Out of the debris of all the challenging experiences during my journey, I was able to start piecing together a new picture of what I want my life to look and feel like.  I began to have a clearer understanding of what I want.  And in that moment, I began the slow and steady process of rebuilding my tower.

I’ve made some progress, but, as with any construction gig, there have been setbacks.  And I really have no clear idea when my completion date will actually be.  I’m still undergoing some pretty intense moments of destruction, too.   It’s like I’m now in the dance of one step forward, two steps back.

Once in Austin, work was slow to start, but with just a little time, I built a strong base of wonderful and loyal clients.  (Add a new layer of bricks and mortar!)  This allowed me to find a better living situation.  I still didn’t have a ton of money, and Austin is a crazy expensive city, but I was lucky enough to find a room for rent in a home in one of my favorite neighborhoods.  It was in walking distance to a grocery store, to my job, to downtown, and to a free public natural springs swimming pool.  It was unbelievably cheap, too.  (Yes!  Add a brick, please!)  I would be living with two other folks around my age – an artist and a yoga instructor/musician.  (Awesome!  Another brick!)  It sounded amazing.  I was so grateful to be out of the car, and into a proper house.  But I soon realized that, while the price and location were perfect, the living situation was not.  One housemate was great, but the other, the one who was there all the time, was very, let’s just say, difficult.  I was doing my best to hold space for him, to send him love as a fellow human being who was doing his best in this world.  But, I was sitting in a pile of rubble, man!  I just didn’t have the internal resources to manage that crap.  So, my fledging foundation took another hit.

Then I decided to move to Asheville, to be close to my sister and her new baby.  Meeting my niece for the first time really filled me with love and provided some unexpected clarity.  Moving here, and seeing her nearly everyday, continues to do so.  More bricks in the walls!  Hooray!  

But, my new job, which seemed so bright and shiny before I moved, is starting much slower than I’d hoped.  And no one working there is ever as busy as I was at my job in Austin.  This concerns me.  Potential damage could come of this, though I’m trying my darnedest to stay positive.

Another wrecking ball came to tear down some of the new building when my car, Gertie, finally gave up the ghost.  So, now I have no car, a job that has yet to convince me it will pay my bills, and no second job – as my second job was as a delivery driver … which kinda requires a car.  (More rubble.)

Luckily, my sister has offered to share her car with me, so all is not lost.  (And … add a few more bricks, thank you!)

But, still, here I sit in a construction site of a life that looks like it’s being overseen by Animal from the Muppets.  My life is a mess.  Nothing is certain.  I can’t read my blueprints because I’ve been crying.  A lot.

But this is what happens when we are letting go of old limiting beliefs, old structures of identity and old paradigms of perceived truth.  Those old thoughts and behaviors fight back.  We have to struggle with them a bit in order to get them to release.  Sometimes it might seem like they are winning, and this is when the tower begins to falter.  But other times we can subdue them and make some real progress in the reconstruction of this new tower, this new life, this new identity.

It’s like Jen Sincero writes in her book, You Are A Badass:

[Your Ego, aka. your old limiting belief system] will do everything it can to stop you from changing and growing, especially since you’re attempting to obliterate the very identity that you and everyone else has come to know as “you”.  Growth ain’t for weenies, but it’s nowhere near as painful as living the life you’re living right now if you’re not really going for it. 

I’m determined to stay with this rebuild as long as it takes, but I sure do hope there’s more progress than regress from here on out.  I’m using my Summer of Reinvention to experiment with new practices and routines that will help me to be more productive, more actively engaged, and more blissful (of course!) in my life.  I’m feeling really hopeful.  And I am feeling some momentum.  And that feels good.

Have you ever had an experience in which everything you held to be fundamentally true about your self/life completely fell apart?  If so, please feel welcomed to share your experience, and/or what tools you used in your rebuild.  I’d love to hear from you and connect over this shared experience!

Thanks for taking the time to make it all the way to the end of this long and confessional post.  I am so grateful for you!

Wishing the most blissful of experimenting,

melanie

Advertisements

Ashes to Ashes … Dust to Dust

 

(This post originally appeared on my professional website:  www.experiments-in-bliss.com.  Find additional information for living the blissful life of your dreams there.)

Transformation has long been a recurring theme in my life.  I feel like we are all always transforming, always evolving, growing, changing in some way or another.  Some of us do this with awareness and intention, others with complete obliviousness.  Still, change is constant.  However, sometimes change gets upgraded to CHANGE.  There are moments in some lives that herald intensely profound, fundamental, life-shifting transformation.  In Shamanic traditions, these profound shifts are often called dismemberments.

This is just as it sounds:  It is a total dismembering of the Self and Soul in which we tear apart the life and self-image we’ve spent a lifetime building to create space for the re-creation of a new life that more closely aligns with our soul’s true purpose.  It is sometimes light, easy, and enjoyable.  But, for many, it can be a heavy and confusing string of gut-wrenching challenges that can drag on indefinitely.  This puts me in mind of the Blondie lyrics:  “She’s so dull … come on, rip her to shreds!”

According to Tim at Alchemists Journal, “there are likely many degrees to which we experience a dismemberment reflected in our daily lives.  I’m sure it is often not even noticeable, just a graceful shift in course.  Sometimes, however, much greater transformation seems to be required, one in which every aspect of our lives is offered up for possible demolition.”  Either way, the outcome is a shiny new life of purpose and contribution and, presumably, bliss.  Tim continues:  “That’s … the reason we ultimately surrender to it:  Our soul is already awakened to the potential we are in the process of fulfilling.  As we are laid bare, reduced to the most fundamental aspects of ourselves, our soul’s calling can be much more easily heard.”

According to Nancy Sherwood of Traveller’s Joy, “dismantling anything takes time, and the ego does not like this loss.  But the Spirit can be strong, and can transform apparent death into rebirth.”  I liken this experience to the Tower card in the tarot.  It’s about totally leveling the foundational structures we’ve built for ourselves.  Everything we know to be true is challenged, questioned, scrutinized, and either validated, or deemed no longer relevant and discarded to make space for something better suited for the current environment.  Many people view the Tower card with fear and disappointment when it appears in a spread.  But I have always revered it as a great harbinger of Hope.  It’s an opportunity for refinement which, if taken, can lead to beautiful new experiences and greater ease on life’s journey.  Keeping this attitude during a period of dismemberment can be decidedly helpful.

Sherwood also makes an interesting point here:

“Space is defined as a feminine aspect in Buddhism, and form a masculine one. The dance between the two is what takes place here on earth, where form has been given such a major role that it is dismembering the earth itself.”

I understand her to be observing the imbalance created in our ‘civilized’ modern lives.  Where once we had much more balance between the feminine and masculine aspects of energy in our world, we now offer much more weight and power to the masculine – form over space, action over reception, external over internal, and, accordingly, extrospection over introspection.  Under this paradigm we are not only faced with the challenges inherent in a lack of natural balance, but our resources for how to process information and experience on an interpersonal level is diminished.

From a macrocosmic perspective, there seems to be some dismemberment work taking place in the world of late.  The #metoo movement, #blacklivesmatter, natural disasters, and upheavals in the political arenas are clear evidence of this.

On a personal, microcosmic level, I have been experiencing a very profound dismemberment adventure.  Upon my relocation to Austin, I joined a Shamanic women’s group in an effort to meet people, and reconnect with the spiritual community in the city and the spiritual community within myself.  Our group meets regularly for Shamanic Journeying as well as Goddess Culture exploration and celebration of the Divine Feminine.  It’s been very powerful and healing for me to be a part of this circle of women exploring our relationships to Spirit.  The journey work we do is very similar to the Internal Family Systems work I was doing just before I left Durham.  I’ve missed doing that IFS work, and am grateful to be exploring this kind of self-guided, but guide-supported internal work again.

During the past two journeying sessions I have had experiences of my physical body being completely dissolved into ash and crystal glitter dust, respectively.  Neither experiences were frightening for me. In fact, they were liberating and beautiful.  I felt safe and loved and protected the entire time.  When I shared my experiences with the group, one of my mentors told me about dismemberment journeys within the Shamanic school of thought.  This was the first time I had heard this particular phrase; though, of course, the idea of death and rebirth are shared by many of the world’s religions, myths, and cultures, and was very familiar to me.  Having this new lens through which to view my experience has been very enlightening.  I already was aware of the fact that I am in the midst of a long and drawn out transformation of some kind, but I, in my Ego-driven mind, assumed it was because I was actively making choices to create change.  And, while, to a certain degree, this true, it’s also hubristic.

When I look back over the past couple years, noticing the plans I’ve had and the way those plans were (or were not) made manifest, it is clear to me that I am not the primary driver here.  Every day I become more aware of new opportunities to come more fully into what I can only describe as my True Self.  And while it’s very hopeful and exciting, I also notice myself dipping into my bag of tried and true modes of avoidance.  These behaviors that I’ve picked up along the way to distract me from the discomfort of deep and powerful Change always show up when my Ego is feeling challenged for control of my life.  I am grateful for the awareness of it.  And I am hopeful for the strength to dismember those disruptive patterns, too.  I know my Soul is fierce and strong.  I also know she has the courage and fortitude to be soft if I can only let her.  (It’s this that seems to be most challenging for me.)  So, these visions in which I am being reduced to nothing but tiny bits of earth, and rebuilt as a more complete, updated version of myself provide me with invaluable encouragement that I am on the right path and I am equipped to succeed through this part of my journey.  I have a spiritual community available and willing to act as my support system.  I have a physical community available and willing to act as my support system.  And I can do this.

Should you find yourself in the midst of a dismemberment journey, whether gentle or brutal, you may find the following tools to be helpful.  Either way, I wish you love and strength and softness on your path!

TOOLS FOR NAVIGATING POWERFUL LIFE TRANSFORMATIONS:

  • Seek out a professional guide.  This could be a Shamanic Healer, a mental health professional, a certified counselor, a religious teacher/advisor, or a group experienced with navigating big life changes.  Having this kind of trained guidance can not only provide comfort and structure to your transition, but it can make the experience much safer, too.
  • Find some personal person support.  Tell a friend or family member what you are doing, and enlist their help when things are feeling challenging or during those times when you need to establish new routines and new ways of integrating with others.
  • Practice some form of meditative strategy.  This can be Shamanic Journeying, or any other kind of meditative practice that resonates for you.  Since these kind of life-altering transformational shifts are often initiated by the Soul, it is helpful to have a vehicle in which you can regularly converse with your Soul in its own language.  Any ‘meta’ practice will do as long as you feel a connection to the spirit realm, or soul level, when you practice it.
  • Document your experiences with Spirit.  I really enjoy journaling post-journey to document my experience.  I gain added insights when I go back and read, and re-read, those entries.  Some people like to paint, compose music, or choreograph dance.  The possibilities are endless.  Choose a form of documentation that feels powerful to you and that allows you to express your experience in a way that gives you access to it again and again.
  • Pay Attention!  Start to notice your life more fully.  Be aware of new opportunities opening up for you.  Notice people, relationships, experiences coming into or leaving your life.  Be mindful about any learned habitual responses to the discomfort you may be experiencing.  And even search for signs of discomfort that you might be trying to bury in shadow.  This is a time of Change, and watching it all unfold with focused awareness can make for an incredibly rich and informative experience.
  • Get out of the way.  It can be tempting to try to control everything that’s happening during these times of intense transition.  And it’s perfectly fine to be an active participant in your life.  But there’s a fine line between active participant and steamroller.  If you find your attempts at directing energy in a particular way are being thwarted at every turn, then maybe recognize that there may be a better direction for that energy.  Get out of the way and let Spirit guide you toward what that new direction is.
  • Keep calm and carry on.  It may sound trite, but, really, the best thing you can do during this time, in my humble opinion, is to relax into it.  Try to keep a positive outlook, remembering that your Soul is guiding you to greater heights.  You are never asked to do anything more than what you are capable of doing.  And it really is going to be fine.  Sometimes when we stop struggling, we realize it was the struggle, not the situation, that was making things so unpleasant.  So, shift your gaze to the positive.  Become your own Pollyanna.  And enjoy the ride.

Once More With Feelings …

I’m feeling some deep, heavy feelings.  This moment feels choked with them, almost as much as my throat and my thought bubbles are.  I was wondering if it is a result of all this tension at Kanekiki, but when I sat with that thought, I discovered that those experiences are merely flavoring the soup … they aren’t the stock.

I have decided the best way for me to work through this emotional experience is just to dive into it and swim about and see what greets me.  This is never easy for me.  In fact, I think the fact that it isn’t easy is a huge component of what makes it so powerful and so necessary.  I feel Pele is working on me again.  It’s like she’s giving me one more big, beautiful, painful gift before I leave Her island.

And while I’m thinking about the fact that I’m leaving this place, I am recognizing that I have so much sadness and apprehension around this leaving.  I feel an umbilical attachment to this place that keeps telling me I haven’t finished feeding yet.

I feel a strong attachment to the idea of coming back here … sooner than later.  And coming back to Hilo, not Kanekiki.  While I appreciate so many of the charms of the farm and of Puna, it is not where my heart feels most full.  And it is only when I remove myself from it that I am able to fully recognize this.  I feel sadness for the sadness that this news might elicit from some of the people at the farm.  I feel a strong surge of gratitude for the relationships with which I’ve been gifted during my time there.

One thing I am feeling pretty strongly right now is a growing sorrow and anguish surrounding my relationship with one particular friend.  I’m feeling joy and love, too, though.  It’s become very clear to me how much I honor and appreciate this friendship.  Recently my friend set off to explore some new opportunities.  These explorations appear to be leading to a new path for my friend, one that is less concurrent with mine.  I am facing some strong feelings of personal irrelevance, separation anxiety, and even heartbreak.  I’m delighted that my friend is being embraced by a community that is supportive in so many new and wonderful ways.  I must be honest and confess that I also feel jealousy that I am not finding this for myself so easily.  And I feel some pretty unexpectedly powerful sadness at the idea that do not seem to have as prominent a place in my friend’s life now.

I recognize that this is part of the ebb and flow of life.  I recognize that sometimes we are aligned with certain people during certain experiences to share and gain certain gifts, and that once those gifts have been processed and those experiences navigated, it is sometimes time to move on to whatever comes next.  It is not definitive that this relationship is complete at this time.  But, either way, I am learning the importance of taking time to mourn when I have needs that do not get met, or do not get met in my preferred way(s).  It’s up to me to seek out other strategies for meeting my needs.  It is not for anyone else to meet my needs.  It is not for anyone else to provide for my fulfillment.  That is my job, and my job alone.  Others might willingly contribute to my joy as they are walking their paths alongside me, but, ultimately, only I can make sure I am making choices that bring me joy.

I’m in Hilo this Sunday morning.  On my own after two nights with some other friends here in town.  Tonight I stay in the hostel.  I’m having a second breakfast at a local cafe.  I’m writing my feelings and eating my meal amid the din and kinetic energy of the Sunday morning crowd.  I’m recognizing just how much soul nourishment I get from being here … being a part of the flow of the moment.  I feel more connected, right here, right now, to the world community and the flow of life than I have in all my time at the farm.  What a strange and unexpected awareness.  What a welcomed clue to help me make the decisions soon awaiting me.

This is becoming clear:  I don’t want to invest in Kanekiki.  I don’t want to commit to one particular way of life or way of being.  I don’t want to root down in any one particular place.  (How many times must I learn this lesson?)  I want to experience so much more.  I want to make my decisions in the moment, as options arise and as my feelings and needs dictate.  

I am choosing to eat a cooked [vegan] breakfast this morning without shame or guilt or fear, because it sounds good right now.  And I will let it nourish me in the ways that only this meal can.  It might not be the optimum choice for my physical nourishment, but it provides a less tangible form of nourishment for me:  It feeds a part of my soul that is needing this particular kind of sustenance in this particular moment.

I had a wave of awareness wash over me as I was walking to town this morning.  I became aware, in a very powerful and specific way, that I want money in my life.  I want abundance.  I am ready to be a magnet for money, and I am retraining my thoughts and patterns toward abundance and away from the scarcity mentality that I’ve been carrying like an albatross for most of my life previous.  (Another recurring lesson!)

I recognize that I am coming to many of the same understandings that my friend has come to this same weekend.  We are receiving similar messages from different sources.  She is getting hers from a group of new friends and new adventures, and I am getting mine from a room full of strangers and a few stolen moments with my Self.

I’m feeling inspired to create a life of wealth and passion and joy.  I am feeling inspired to rediscover my passions.  I am feeling inspired to define my life by what makes me feel most alive.  And to redefine it moment by moment as I grow and evolve and transform.  As with most of the influential experiences in my life, my time in Hawaii is proving to be a chrysalis for some very potent and transformative growth.

I am so grateful.  I am grateful to Pele.  I am grateful to Hawaii and her inhabitants.  I am grateful to the ocean.  I am grateful to Kanekiki and everyone who has touched my life there.  I am grateful to my family and friends who continue to support and love me no matter how strange my thoughts, words, and actions might seem to them.  I am grateful to my Self for being able to navigate these experiences, and for being open enough to go through this learning process and to allow this growth.  I am grateful for being brave enough to be with my discomfort and my fear and to nurture these feelings and appreciate them and give them voice to share their stories with me.  I am grateful for this moment.  I am grateful for this life.

The Art of Letting Go

Aloha!  I was cleaning out my computer today (a process that will no doubt take longer than today), and I stumbled upon a blog entry I wrote back in July of this year.  It seems that I wrote the post with the intention of sharing it, but I failed to post it.  So, with a toast to the Better Late Than Never crowd, here it is.  I hope you enjoy it!

lettinggo
Banksy’s Letting Go

Today I want to talk with you about the art of letting go.  I have been doing a great deal of letting go in the past month.  And while I am no expert, I have managed to learn a few things while navigating the waters of this often difficult challenge.

For starters, I’ve been letting go of a lot of material belongings.  I am getting ready to travel for several months, and it just made sense to use this as a catalyst toward a more minimalist existence.   I’ve done this purging before, mind you, but, somehow, in the meantime, I managed to amass more stuff.  (The powers of consumerism are alive and well.)  This has been my chance to lighten the load again … significantly.  I’ve sold, donated or dumped almost all of my earthly possessions.  I’m now down to a mattress, a mirror, a TV and a bookshelf.  And at the end of next month, all those items, save the mattress, will be happily at home with family members who will be able to enjoy them in my absence.  The mattress will be stored at a friend’s house.  I will be living out of a 19L backpack and a lightweight tote bag for at least the next four months.  Letting go of a lot of this stuff was easy, but there were several bits and bobs that had strong sentimental attachments.  These items were most difficult to set free.  When faced with these items, I just reminded myself that the object wasn’t the memory.  The memory I carry inside me.  The object is just a reminder of it.  So, if it was a really strong attachment, I would photograph the object.  Then I could still look to it to spark that memory anytime I wanted without needing to hold on to the object itself.

Another way I’ve been letting go is a bit more personal.  I’ve been reading through all my old journals.  I’ve been writing in journals – off and on – since high school.  (Well, I did have a diary when I was even younger, but it’s secrets have long been lost.)  It’s been a very sobering lesson in self-awareness and a fascinating experience in tracking my growth.  The goal was to read through all of them and then ceremoniously destroy them by burning the pages, thus releasing all the angst of my younger days from my present life.  As I’ve been reading, I’ve noticed my Self attaching to some of them, while others are having no hold over me whatsoever.  (In fact, there are more than a few that I am delighted to have removed from the world.)  A part of me is really ready to release these old stories into the Universe to rid my connection to them and allow for new change and new growth and new stories.  Yet, another part of me wants to continue to hold them so that I can read them again later and remind my Self how far I’ve come on this journey of Life.  Alas, I suppose I will make that final decision when I’m finished reading them all.  The important thing for me is not to get rid of everything, necessarily.  It’s to let go of the things that do not bring me daily joy.  It’s about releasing those things that might be holding me back from living a life that truly excites and fulfills me.

Last week, I had to say goodbye to my beloved bunny companion, Anisette.  That was the hardest challenge of them all.  But, in my heart, I know that it was the best thing for both of us.  She was very, very old and her quality of life had begun to really deteriorate.  I couldn’t allow myself to prolong her suffering out of my own selfish desire to keep her around for my needs.  We got to spend some good quality time together in the days leading up to her death.  I tried to focus on how lucky we were to have shared our life paths for so long.  And in my grief over her absence I am trying to focus on the love that we created together in our little family of two.  That love will always live with me, and will make my heart stronger so that I might share more love with others I meet.

While letting go can be a super difficult process, it is also a great teachable moment.  It is only in letting go of those things whose time has passed, that we can open up enough space for new opportunities and connections to arrive.  This is growth.  Just like plants need to be pruned occasionally to encourage new and fuller foliage, so do we need to periodically cut away the ballast to encourage new adventures and experiences.

What are your experiences with letting go?  How have you handled them?  Please feel encouraged to share your stories in the comments below.

Much love!

Melanie

Let’s Learn About Yoga! (Part 1)

Being that this is a blog about my experiments for cultivating more bliss in my life, I feel like it’s high time I do some posting about one of the experiments that has been consistently paying off for me:  Yoga!

B0027P 0053

I plan to cover this very broad topic in a series of posts, so be sure to check back often for more yoga talk.  For now, we’ll begin with some basics …

Yoga, as many people will already know, translates to union.  To practice Yoga is to practice the unification of body, mind and spirit.  We practice asanas (postures) to tonify the body.  We practice meditation to clarify the mind.  And we practice pranayama (breathwork) to purify the spirit.  This all leads us toward samadhi or enlightened connection with the divine.

Yoga, itself, has become a pretty vulgarized philosophy these days.  We westerners have picked at it, like the culture vultures we are, and pieced it together to suit our own modern needs.  And just to be clear, I think that’s okay.  That works for some people.  It works for me, sometimes.  But I also think it can be helpful to at least have a basic working knowledge of a thing before it gets restructured into something else entirely.

So, today’s blog post is about sharing a basic understanding of the foundations of Yoga.

I’m going to keep this pretty simple since this is a blog post, not an encyclopedia entry.  However, the philosophy of Yoga is vast and, in my opinion, worth exploring if you get a little free time in your days.

Let’s begin with the 8 LIMBS OF YOGA.  These 8 limbs consist of practical steps for working toward enlightenment.

8 LIMBS OF YOGA:

  1. Yamas
  2. Niyamas
  3. Asana
  4. Pranayama
  5. Pratyahara
  6. Dharana
  7. Dhyana
  8. Samadhi

Let’s learn what each of these lovely sanskrit words actually mean, shall we?

  1. Yamas – These are universal ethical recommendations.  They are designed to make us better contributing members to the World Community.  The more people who practice these moral recommendations, the healthier and happier the World Community becomes.  There are 5 Yamas:
  1. Ahimsa – Ahimsa literally means an absence of violence toward others.  This can be expanded to include not just a lack of physical and/or verbal violence, but also a general compassion and kindness towards all sentient beings including one’s own self.  This concept also means adopting an attitude of thoughtfulness about how one’s words and actions affect others.
  2. Satya – Satya means truthfulness.  It is the idea that it is best to express one’s Self authentically in all interactions.  The one caveat is that speaking your truth should never inhibit your ability to practice ahimsa.  If speaking your truth is likely to cause great pain to another, then it might be best to abstain from speaking altogether.  More simply stated, sometimes if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say anything at all.
  3. Asteya – Asteya is the Yogic equivalent of “thou shalt not steal.”  This includes, of course, material items, but also applies to ideas (intellectual property), proprietary information (secrets), and even others’ attention (the old ‘bait and switch’ schemes).  Aside from the notion of taking from others, asteya also urges us against using the property of others in ways other than their intended purpose, or beyond the expected time of use.
  4. Brahmacharya – This yama is most commonly associated with sexual abstinence, but that is a limited interpretation.  Brahmacharya teaches us that it is best to be conscious about how we utilize our personal energies.  To throw away our energy freely and recklessly, either through meaningless sexual encounters or through over-committing to too many projects, is to further segregate ourselves from the divine.  It is best to be impeccable with how we offer our energies to the world.
  5. Aparigraha – The lessons of aparigraha are two-fold.  First of all, this yama is an advocate of minimalism.  We are cautioned against hoarding and greed with both material items and situations.  Aparigraha teaches us that if we burden ourselves with too many things, we leave no opportunity for the Universe to provide for us, and, therefore, implies a lack of faith in divine providence.  The second piece of this yama is the notion of only taking that which has been earned.  We are cautioned here, too, of the inappropriateness of taking advantage of that which has been produced by others.

2. Niyamas – Where the yamas provide a universal ethical code, the niyamas offer us a personal code of conduct.  These basically make up a how-to for living a happy, healthy, productive life.  There are 5 Niyamas:

  1. Sauca – Sauca is about purity.  Purifying our external environment means cleaning our living space, getting organized and decluttering.  The same can be applied to our internal environment, as well.  Cleaning up our bodies with proper diet, hydration, sleep, exercise and other practices that increase optimal physical functioning is always advisable.  (Using practices like asana and pranayama can help here.)  Likewise cultivating purity of mind and spirit can bring us great benefit. Speaking in positives rather than negatives, utilizing affirmations, practicing meditation, and so forth are invaluable tools when putting sauca into practice.
  2. Santosa – Contentment is the gist of santosa.  This niyama encourages us to cultivate equanimity even in the face of challenge.  Doing so reminds us that the Universe is always conspiring to bring us to our Highest Good, and even our challenges are part of that process.  Everything happens for a reason.  The Yogis refer to this concept as karma.  This doesn’t mean that we lie down when we’re being kicked, but rather that we take what actions we can, and accept with gratitude what remains, trusting that all will unfold to our greatest good.
  3. Tapas – The lesson tapas teaches us is how to cultivate and control our internal fires.  These fires are both physiological – the digestive fires, the kundalini energy – and mental/spiritual – namely, our passions.  Tapas relays the importance of stoking and directing these fires with self-discipline.  The ultimate goal is a transcendence of suffering as we align ourselves with our highest purpose and passion.
  4. Svadhyaya – Svadhyaya translates to self-study.  If we regularly redirect our attentions to ourselves, we are given the opportunity to learn about, and to address, recurring patterns and limitations.  This is the way we grow.
  5. Isvarapranidhana – This niyama can be summed up quite nicely by quoting George Michael:  “You gotta have faith!”  Isvarapranidhana is the acceptance of and reverence for a higher power or creative force.  It could mean a belief in a monotheistic god, polytheistic pantheon, the Natural Order, or even Science.  It is the recognition that that force is present in all of creation – that we are all one, and the notion that it is important to pay homage to that legacy on a regular basis.

3.  Asana – This is the Yoga most of know and love (or don’t …).  Asana is the physical practice of postures.  It is through regular asana practice that we cultivate tone and flexibility in our bodies.  The resulting suppleness allows us to sit for extended periods of time while practicing the remaining 5 Limbs.

4.  Pranayama – Pranayama is the practice of measured breathing.  There are many individual exercises for doing this, but they are all geared toward improving respiratory function and control.  When we have trained our lungs to optimum performance, we are better able to foster a sense of connection between the mundane and the divine.  The breath is, essentially, the intermediary between the two, and the more we develop its capabilities, the stronger that connection, and, therefore, the greater our ease of existence.

5.  Pratyahara – The word pratyahara means to retreat from that which feeds the senses.  Basically, this Limb is the practice of restraining our focus.  It’s about keeping our inner magpie in check so that we can maintain focus on living a spiritually grounded life, rather than getting distracted by every sparkly object or idea that is presented to us.  The way to do this is to practice always returning our awareness to the present moment, getting in touch with how we feel in our inner environment about what’s happening in our external environment, and choosing our responses accordingly from that place of authentic awareness.  It is also a useful practice which teaches us to sever the connection between our minds and our senses.  In doing so, we are preparing ourselves for the Limbs that follow.

6.  Dharana – With pratyahara we practiced the restraint of our senses.  With dharana, we are practicing the controlled focus of the mind.  When we are able to free ourselves of the stimulation of external distractions we are able to then start training the mind to disconnect from internal distractions.  This is what we often refer to as quieting the monkey mind.

7.  Dhyana – Dhyana is, essentially, meditation.  But it is really more than that:  It is devotional meditation, or meditation with the pursuit of discovering the inherent truth of that upon which one is meditating.  The idea is that intensely meditating on an object gives one an intimate understanding of that object, ergo, intensely meditating on the divine gives one an intimate understanding of divinity.  And since Yogis believe that we are all containers of Divine Spirit, then it goes to reason that meditating on the divine gives us a more intimate understanding of ourselves and each other, too.

8.  Samadhi – It is in the attainment of samadhi that we are finally and fully merged with the divine.  We cease to exist as separate, and experience ourselves as the energy of all that is.  We truly embody oneness, which is a bit of an ironic choice of phrasing since we are really transcending the physical experience altogether.

There you have it:  The 8 Limbs Of Yoga broken down into what is, hopefully, an easy-to-understand bite-sized chunk.  Stay tuned for more fundamentals of yoga philosophy to come!

Namaste, y’all!

(above photo by Steve Clarke)

6 Key Ingredients To A Truly Magnificent Inner Sanctuary

I’m feeling like I’m an incubation tank for Feelings that haven’t fully formed yet.  They’ve made it through the most significant stages of gestation, but, for whatever reasons, they just aren’t quite yet ready to be sent out into the wide world.

This leaves me feeling contemplative and craving Silence.  I feel a sacredness in this state – like I want to be very precious in my duty to make safe space for these Feelings.  I want to treat them – and my Self, as container – very gingerly and tenderly.

That’s not always an easy feat when living in a bustling community of more than twenty people.  It’s not always so easy to create a silent sacred inner landscape for oneself when one does not have a silent sacred outer landscape to which one can retreat.

Still, I suppose, this lack of personal space is yet another lesson I’ve been brought here to learn.  Perhaps it’s time I spent an equal amount of energy cultivating my silent sacred inner temple as I’ve often spent working on my external surroundings.

For as long as I can remember, I have been a super spatially sensitive person.  I have rearranged and fengshui-ed and smudged with sage practically every living space I’ve ever called home – and multiple times, too.

But, I’ve never really allowed the same efforts toward my internal house.  I mean, sure, I’ve made a few attempts over the years at meditation and I’m certainly no stranger to spiritual study and yoga asana practice.  I’ve even sought the services of a professional inner house cleaner – commonly referred to as a licensed psychologist.

These were all fine and good practices, and were helpful, too, but I never put them all together for any extended period of time with the express intention of healing the psycho-spiritual parts of my Self.  And I’m really starting to (finally!) understand how important that is, and what the key ingredients for creating a truly magnificent inner sanctuary are.

To make a truly magnificent inner sanctuary takes the following:

  • Time – It doesn’t happen overnight.  Just as the physical Self needs ample Time to heal dis-ease, so does the psychospiritual Self.
  • Commitment – It takes an active dedication and Commitment to the process to continue doing the necessary work when things start getting really real.
  • Forgiveness – It’s going to get hard if true healing is allowed to unfold.  The ability to Forgive is paramount for continuing to delve into the darker, more neglected areas inside – Forgiveness of old transgressions (committed by Self and by Others), and Forgiveness of the Self for wanting to find distraction when the Work becomes difficult.
  • Silence – Sometimes it takes getting really quiet to hear our inner truths – especially the ones that we might not be so comfortable hearing.
  • Permission & Priority – This is a big one for me.  I am someone who tends to focus on the needs of Others and to place a higher value on them than on my own.  But, in order to really dig in and sort my internal affairs, I must first give my Self Permission to do so, and then place the highest Priority on that task.  I must relinquish my hold on the desire to help others on their journeys and instead put most of my energies and resources on meeting my own Needs.
  • Love – Pain is what blocks us from flowing fully and freely in the Waves of Pranic Bliss that is all around us.  Untended Pain is what most of us have buried deep within ourselves, until such a time comes when we feel strong enough to tend to it.  Love provides that strength.  Love allows us to tend to those old wounds.  Love is the only sure tonic for Pain.

This is the lesson I’ve been dancing with most closely these past couple weeks:  Only I am responsible for meeting my Needs, and I am NOT responsible for meeting anyone else’s needs.  I might ask for assistance from others, but they are under no obligation to give it, nor are they obligated to give assistance in the way I am asking them to do.

And since my Feelings are generated as a direct reflection of whether or not my Needs are being met, then my power to meet my Needs also translates into my power to determine my emotional state.  This is huge!  No one else can make me happy.  No one else can make me unhappy.  No one else can bring me out of a swoon and into a foul mood.  Only I can do that.  And I can also undo it … by getting clear on what my Needs are and finding alternative paths to meeting them.  I have the power!  I am in control!  I’m driving this train!

While it may seem as if I’m getting a little tangential here, there is relevance in this inelegantly jumbled mass of words and thoughts.

And that is to say that I am feeling ready – even called – to start some committed conscious work on my psychospiritual Self.  I’m committed to spending some time and energy on my Self so that I might get clearer on what’s cooking in my soup pot of Feelings and Needs.  And then it is my hopeful intention to find joyous ways to meet my Needs and authentic ways to express my Feelings.  I have a sneaking suspicion that once I am successful I will have found the magical elixir which will transform the barbed tongues of Blame and Shame and Guilt into the sweet honeyed tongue of Love.

And Love, after all, is all we need.

Thank you for continuing to let me share my journey with you.  I am so grateful for you.

 

Getting Naked In Hawaii

I know that there are more popular topics in the world right now .. like, say, the election of the office of President of the United States, the continuation of war and strife across the planet, the atrocities human beings can inflict upon other sentient beings and even their (our) own habitat thanks to their (our) pesky lack of foresight, the upcoming holiday season … but right now, my focus lies elsewhere.  Right now my focus is on my own present experience.  And my own present experience finds me getting naked in Hawaii.

This nakedness I speak of is both of a literal (read: physical) nature and of a metaphorical type.

Let me begin by stating that I am currently living in the Puna region of the big island of Hawaii.  This is probably the most … let’s say … bohemian region of the island state.  Most of us living here are off-grid, meaning that we use alternative forms of power, usually solar, and we are very conservative with what power and water we use.  It’s quite normal for the residents here to rise and set with the sun, to use composting toilets (or the land, itself) to eliminate our physical wastes, and to frolic in as naked a state as we comfortably can.  Suffice it to say, this is a spectacular place to shed one’s unnecessary layers.

Secondly, let me add that I am living in an intentional community here in Puna.  This community, known as Kanekiki, is one focused around a raw foods diet and Non-Violent Communication.

For those of you who have never pursued a raw foods diet, it should be clarified that raw foods lead to raw emotions.  When one eats nothing but fruits and vegetables in their natural state (with some few nuts and seeds), then one begins to come face to face with one’s own emotions in their natural state.  There is no dulling uncomfortable or challenging feelings with a tub of ice cream, a vat of chocolate sauce or a fifth of tequila.  We have no way of stuffing those feelings back down into the nether regions of our Selves, instead we must just *gasp!* feel those feelings, and do our best to navigate them as gracefully and/or authentically as possible.  It gets pretty intense, that, sometimes.  No more covering up these expressions and feelings … I’m stripping them naked and letting them run around flying their freak flags until they have been so fully expressed that they dissolve into absolute healing bliss.

I wrote a bit about Non-Violent Communication in my last post.  (Check it out here.)  And since that writing I have had, if I’m not mistaken, a total of at least eight NVC exchanges with people in my community.  Some of them have been mildly challenging, but overall pleasant discussions, and others have been deeply emotional, gut-wrenching, tear-jerking, exhausting, heart-breaking clashes.  And I am grateful for each and every one.  I am learning so much about my Self, my Needs and my Feelings and how to better communicate with each and every instance of discord.  With each exchange I am given the opportunity to remove yet another layer of my defense mechanisms.  I am getting more and more naked with each opportunity to practice this new language, and it is liberating.

With all of this emotional unveiling happening, my body has expressed an interest in getting in on that action, too.  And its prayers have been answered in the form of one of Hawaii’s greatest treasures:  the clothing optional beach.  Kehena is a black sand beach not too far from the farm where one can simultaneously shimmy out of one’s swimsuit and one’s inhibitions.  And because people have been getting naked here for time immemorial, there’s no stigma to it, no spectacle.  It’s totally Natural, and no one really turns an eye to the extra few inches of flesh being exposed.  Sure, it can make navigating the rocky entrance to and exit from the oft turbulent sea a bit trickier, but the freedom of feeling the sun, salt and surf against my naked skin is so very worth it.  And every time I shed my clothes I feel my connection with Nature deepening.  I feel like every naked romp gets me closer to being my most Authentic Self.  And that makes me want to get naked even more often.

And so it goes, and my defenses begin to fall away, slowly and steadily, and I begin to get to know my Self even better than I ever dreamed I could, and I begin to see the Divine Light inside of me growing more brilliant with each breath.  And I feel beautiful in all this nakedness.  Mahalo, Hawaii.  Mahalo, Pele.  Mahalo, brave Self.

Big Love, everyone!

xoxo,

Melanie