I’ve been known to talk about my “core” a lot – that part of the self that isn’t penetrated by outside experience, strong in a non-attached sort of way. I’m usually talking about yoga and making some joke about my physical core being all flabby, which makes me worry about the state of my aforementioned metaphysical core I’m sure it’s pretty annoying to anyone who has to listen, and for that, I offer my condolences.

If you’ve been fortunate enough to be spared that mini-Amanda-lecture-series a.) consider yourself lucky and b.) don’t tell those other people, but I may have been wrong.

I know you’re shocked.

We speak about a core Self as if there is some true person buried beneath the layers of self, as if enough digging will unearth a Truth long hidden, some deeper part of our personality that will once-and-for-all explain ourselves to ourselves. I suppose it’s the urge behind the whole “finding yourself” business everyone was supposed to figure out in their 20’s.

Well, I’m 38 (I almost typed 37 – that goes to show a certain slippage of self right there, don’t you think?) Any sort of core identity seems to be slipping further and further away as I get older, when I thought the reverse would happen.

The older I get the more I’m struck by a terrifying idea – I’m just making this crap up. And when I look around at everyone else it unsettles me even more – everyone else is obviously making it up too. Duh. Y’all aren’t even good fakers.

So now I’m having to rethink this whole idea of a core – it’s elusive. I’m going to go all spiritual here for a second, but this whole core-business seems to be the exact opposite of identifying with an idea of who you are and all about tapping into something that is much bigger than any of us – something that asks nothing, demands nothing, but encompasses us all. It’s like looking out at the night sky and realizing how tiny you actually are.

It’s not what I thought being a grown-up was all about. But it is liberating, in a jumping-off-a-cliff sort of way, so at least there’s that.

Now let me go anchor this rope to a tree before I creep over the edge.

I can’t wait to see what I find down there.

Namaste

Advertisements
personal growth, yoga

Jumping Off Cliffs and How “Grown-ups” Are All Big Fakers

Image
personal growth, yoga

Bangs and the Pursuit of Happiness

Last year I vowed to not make any New Year’s resolutions. It worked well and I managed to accomplish all sorts of things while resolving absolutely nothing. However, with the turning of another year (and the fact that I survived the prophesied end of the world…thanks Mayans,) I find myself reflecting on where my life’s path has taken me and where I’d like to journey next.

The only problem is that those kinds of reflections often send me into a spiral of “should haves” or white-knuckle-life-changing strategies that never seem to work out. I’ve discovered that when I focus on what I want instead of what I should want or don’t want, I take much bigger leaps forward in life, at least from a satisfaction and happiness perspective. Little hunches and whims have carried me far, from my job to yoga to writing a children’s book to most of my closest friends. Following supposed “flights of fancy” often takes my life in new directions I didn’t perceive at the outset, directions that often seem unrelated to the initial “purpose” or point of the activity. Inevitably, I find myself in situations that I would have chosen for myself in hindsight. but if I’d set out to arrive at my destination I never would have been able to plan the haphazard, jaunty path whimsy set before me as the quickest path to “happy”.

So this year, when I found myself trying to design some sort of new “project” for my life or to structure my growth towards a defined goal, a little voice inside resisted. Every idea I played around with didn’t seem right until this one: Do what makes me happy. In Joseph Campbell’s more eloquent words: Follow your bliss.

I find myself in the fortunate position of liking my job and the person I live with (two big criterions for happiness), and I have several good friends….so I’m starting out this little project ahead of the game, probably thanks to all those whims I’ve already followed over the last decade of my life. But now I give myself permission to pursue this sort of happiness path with gusto and enthusiasm. In the past the “shoulds” have stopped me, but no longer.

I’m no fool. I know there will be all sorts of things I have to do that might not be my preference in the moment. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about my free time, the people I associate with, the projects I devote myself to. I’m talking about filling my life with even more beauty and joy and playfulness than I’ve allowed in so far, and seeing where it takes me.

First stop? A new haircut on Saturday. When I told my daughter that I’ve wanted bangs for the longest time but haven’t gotten them she looked at me with total confusion. “Why wouldn’t you do something that you’ve wanted to do for so long?” I didn’t have a good answer for her and hopefully, I won’t be asking myself that question much longer.

Here’s to a year of pursuing passion and talking to owls (my term for trusting and listening to your inner voice.)

Namaste

Standard
personal growth, yoga

Why Falling On Your Face Is Good For You

This evening, I fell on my face. That isn’t a metaphor: I literally came crashing to earth. On. My. Face.

I consider myself lucky to still have front teeth, but it’s all good. Trust me.

How, you may ask, is falling on your face a good thing? And what was I doing to fall in the first place? Easy answer first: I was doing a handstand – sort of – not very well. That’s where the falling part came in. In my future-version-of-Amanda-awesomeness I look like this:

20121001-212255.jpg

And as much as I’d like “future Amanda” and “current Amanda” to be the same entity, they’re really quite different. Current Amanda has been practicing headstands for a year and tentatively creeping more weight into her arms in forward bends, stepping onto tippy-toes, leaning forward and hovering with her face above the ground for milliseconds at a time. It’s terrifying. It’s exhilarating. It’s not even close.

But there’s the rub. Maybe it is close. Maybe I’m closer than I know. The only way to find out was to lift my feet up and see what I could do.

I found out I can fall.

Even more importantly, I can fall and get back up. I can land on my face, a humility I haven’t experienced since childhood, and then turn around and laugh. Because you know what? It’s only scary until you do it. Once you fall or nail it or stumble or whatever…you’ve faced the fear and moved into new territory. Unfortunately, I’m not in the new territory of looking badass while doing a handstand. I’m still working on doing a handstand. But I’m working with a little more know-how than I had before. I’m a little braver than I was before I tried and that counts for a lot.

You see, I don’t think it really matters what you can do. Truly great things don’t happen by staying in your comfort zone. It’s scary to go for the things you want, but your mother and teachers and even Nike were right: Just Do It. Try. Practice. There’s no other way to the awesome. There’s no other way to find out exactly how powerful, creative, inspired or beautiful you can be without risk. If there was another, easier way, everyone would do it.

Look around. How many people are truly fulfilled, striving, following a dream? Enough, but not most. What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of life do you want to live?

Everyone has pain in their future. Everyone has bumps and bruises and scary things waiting to happen. Want to know a secret? You can’t avoid it. But you can choose the path you’ll be on when the inevitable growing pains and falls of life happen. You can set your compass.

That way, you’ll be your own definition of awesome when you reach the other side.

Namaste.

Standard
yoga

What I Didn’t Learn At Yoga Class (and Other Humiliations)

“It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinions;
it is easy in solitude to live after your own; 
but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd
keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I learned something in yoga today. Granted, I’m not exactly sure what it was, so perhaps learn-ed past tense is an inaccurate description. Let me start that sentence over. Yoga tried desperately to teach me something today that I haven’t quite figured out, yet. Emphasis on the yet.

I‘ve been feeling really pulled in different directions lately, like so many people want or need something from me, like I’m not exactly sure what they want but I am the one being asked to deliver. Personally. Professionally. Creatively. Many times over the last week I’ve wanted to go all preschooler on the world – stomp my feet, put my fingers in my ears and scream at the top of my lungs. Throw a temper tantrum. Or hide behind a tree.

I resisted the urge, tried to be pleasant. A urine soaked sheet slapped me across the face. Gross, but I tried to be positive and grateful my mouth was closed. I had to work all last weekend for a Very Important Inspection. Well, I thought, at least I had the weekend to prepare. See? Positive. Not running away. Staying with the discomfort and trying not to dwell in it. Many other things transpired this week, but these are the only examples I feel like sharing. It’s been a touchy sort of week. Emotionally sticky. Mentally draining.

So I decided to do a little hibernation. Pull back into myself. Get back to my core, my place of respite. And, above all, I decided to go to yoga class. Yoga is one of those things kicked to the back burner while I try to “accomplish” and “manage” so many other things in my life. But I need it. I crave it. I was excited for it and told my teacher as much when I rolled into the studio this afternoon.

I should have seen the lesson coming when my self-designated weekend of solitude landed me in the most packed class I’ve ever attended. Still, I managed to carve out a nice spot for myself right up close to the mirrors. Sometimes I set an intention before my practice and today it was: Focus on myself; don’t get distracted by the other students. You see, I brought the good energy.

Then a man who’s son I used to teach filled in on the row behind me. No problem, I thought. He’s a nice guy. No weird karma there. I’ll pretend I don’t know him for the duration of the class so I can really stay in this focused bubble. Om. Then I noticed the anorexic two mats over from him, exactly diagonal from me in the other direction. To look at her was painful, but I caught myself. You’re not going to be looking at her. You’re focusing on your practice, remember? Right. Om.

Class started. Relaxed. Deep breathing. I heard Shanna say “there are still spots, fill in,” and felt people set up next to me. Really close next to me. Not. A. Problem. Until the man fell into me. Twice. Then he started chastising his wife in Spanish and English, telling her she wasn’t doing the poses right. Um, hello jerk-off. I don’t really think you have room to talk the way you keep running into me and stepping on my mat. And what kind of a misogynist delinquent drags his wife to a class she repeatedly told him she didn’t want to attend and then tells her how badly she’s doing? Crap. I’m not focused again. Breathe. Om. This went on for a while. A long while. Let’s just say, skeleton-girl was the least of my worries. She could’ve had her heart attack and I wouldn’t have noticed.

See how awful I am? This is why I do yoga. My brain chatter is super-powerful. Even when I try to be open and loving and peaceful, I’m still saying really mean things in my head. On the flip side, that’s what I love about yoga. It hasn’t taken away the thoughts, but it’s made me more aware of them which is half the battle. Then I try to change the thoughts or at least decide whether I agree with them or not. Almost right away, I realized douche-bag and his wife presented me with a learning opportunity. I was being given a chance to go deep inside myself and block out distraction, find my solitude for reals, develop a strong inner resolve.

Then, he farted on me. 

We were doing wide-leg forward bend and he just let it rip. Right. In. My. Face.

I wanted to be rescued. I admit it. This strong, powerful, independent woman wanted to be rescued from the hell that the yoga class had become. Or, at the very least, I didn’t want to have to come back out of this pose and swish through the fart-filled air again. I’ll just take Savasana from here, thanks, Shanna. 

But I didn’t. I thanked the universe for my allergies which created a mild-barrier between myself and the odor. I told myself it would all be over, soon. I felt grateful I wasn’t this guy’s wife. Anything to make it better. And it did. A little. And even a little, counts.

The rest of my afternoon continued in the same ridiculous vein of The Universe Tries To Teach Amanda A Lesson. The “dad” talked to me for 30 minutes in the parking lot after class, asking my opinion on all sorts of work-related things. I went to the grocery store for a few items and ran into a bunch of people I know. We chatted. It was pleasant. My solitude bubble hid in the shadows, vowing never to come out again for fear it’ll just get popped. Again. And again. And again. And then someone will fart on it.

So I don’t know how this will end, but I will tell all of you that I’m going to persist in this search for solitude. My book is almost finished. It’s some of the most difficult work I’ve ever done and I realize I’m only about half-over. There is still a second draft to be hashed out, but I will cross that bridge when I come to it and after I take a break at the first draft’s completion. I’ll let you know when that happens. I’m sure I will celebrate in some fashion and appreciate the Congratulations.

But I need to be by myself right now, insomuch as that is possible. Which is, apparently, not so very much. This blog will slumber along with me and revive when I feel like posting and/or when I finish the book, whichever comes first.And I’ll keep you posted about what the lesson actually was of this week. I’d try a little harder to find it right now, but I’m tired. The big world is loud. It’s messy. And it farts a lot.

I‘m going to go read.

Namaste.

Standard
personal growth, yoga

Falling on Your Face, Crows, and Other Defensible Fears

“Always do what you’re afraid to do.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Whenever I get angry during yoga, I know something’s up. Usually, the anger creeps up like a cat in the dark. I’ll be going through a flow sequence, leaning a little deeper into a pose I’m comfortable with, feeling really calm and strong and balanced when….BAM! The teacher will teach a new pose and for some unpredictable reason, fury wells up inside of me so that I feel like I’ll catch fire. It’s unpredictable. It’s not like that with most new poses. But with some…wow. Stay back. Things are gonna’ get ugly.

I‘ve experienced the anger enough times to realize it usually means I’m resisting something and that there might be a breakthrough coming. In fact, one of the coolest things about yoga is how it seems to mirror my experiences in the “real” world. Lack of balance in Dancer Pose = Lack of balance in my work/personal life, etc. So when certain poses bring me up against walls I didn’t even know were there, it becomes my responsibility to tear them down, brick by brick, until I get to the other side.

I know insight, strength, and new abilities lie just over the yogic and personal wall. However, even with the knowledge that getting to the other side will be totally worth it, I still crumple at its base and throw a tantrum like a baby because it all seems too hard.

It’s also scary. Yoga introduces you to fear on such a regular basis, you might as well invite it in and make some tea. Seriously. If you think I’m joking, check out these poses.

I can’t do this one yet, but I’ve practiced the set up. Supporting yourself on your forearms like that, with your head so close to the ground, is terrifying the first 20 times. It might be terrifying the first 50 times but I haven’t done it enough to find out.

I can actually do this one. When I finally got it, the feeling was liberating. But every time I push up into a back bend, I have a hard time believing I’m really doing it. I stare down at the ground from this weird new angle and use the pose to remind myself that seemingly impossible things really are possible. But it didn’t start off that way.

Which brings me to crow pose — the current bane of my existence.

 Here’s yoga rock star Kathryn Budig nailing it.

I can’t do it……anymore.

 

If you check back to the top of this post, you may be confused because there’s a picture of me doing a sorta’ kinda’ crow pose. I was just goofing around at the park and my friend took a picture. It was months ago, before I knew how to do “real” Crow Pose. Now that I know the “right” way, head down, booty high in the air, perched, let’s say, like a crow….it scares the crap out of me.

 

Last week, my teacher Shanna set us up for Crow and I could see it coming a mile away. Then, I did a seemingly inexplicable thing. I made up my mind that I couldn’t do it. That’s right. I Made Up My Mind and then half-assed the practice so it looked like I was trying when I really wasn’t. Because I’d DECIDED not to try.

 

Before I started practicing yoga, I don’t think I would have noticed my decision. I probably would have consciously believed I was really trying, even though I was faking it. I am constantly amazed at how much people lie to themselves about their own motivations and abilities, myself included. The only difference now is that I’m more aware of my own participation in selling myself short. But that doesn’t make the experience of learning new things any less terrifying.

 

It does, however, make me more determined to move past the fear because I know it’s a creation of my own, self-limiting mind.
What if nothing is standing in your way except you? What if that thing you think is impossible, isn’t? What if you DO land on your face and get back up and try again? What if you don’t?

If you don’t try, you don’t grow. If you don’t fall, you don’t get back up. It really is that simple – in yoga as in life.

So the other day, when the substitute yoga teacher set us up for Crow, I tried. For reals. And I fell. Twice.

Then you know what I did? I tried again. And every day I have committed to practicing this most terrifying pose and opening myself up to what it wants to teach  me.

Because one of these days, probably sooner than I think, I’m going to fly.

And you can too.

Namaste.

Standard
personal growth, yoga

I Resolve Absolutely Nothing

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
~ Buddha
I tried something new this year and didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions. Not a one. It was difficult. The impulse was strong. And I’ll be the first to admit there are many, many ways in which Amanda 2.0 could be improved upon (943 ways, at last count….ha!)

But every time I came up with a halfway decent resolution, something I could look back on when 2013 rolls in and be really proud of, I realized resolving it would ruin the whole thing. You see, I’m really bad with orders (and dictates and ultimatums and a whole bunch of other things.) I’m bad with them even if they’re issued by me and happen to be fantastic ideas.

I didn’t understand why none of my resolutions worked until a couple months ago when I discovered the strangest paradox:Intentional growth only happens when you let go of the judgement that you should change yourself and, instead, accept yourself as you are right now.
 
“Yeah, yeah,” I hear myself argue from a year ago. “But how can I accept things that I don’t like about myself? Shouldn’t I try to change those things? Isn’t that the whole point of resolutions?”

You shouldn’t try to change, I now understand. You have to love yourself so you can change.

And you can start right now. Here are a few ideas to help you begin growing into the beautiful person you will be without beating up on the beautiful person you already are (hint, hint…they are one and the same.)

Step 1: Don’t hate. Meditate. (Thanks Becks for the fabulous shirt!)

Watch your thoughts. It can take a lifetime of practice to become proficient at this, but a little bit of practice is all you need for this exercise. Meditating is a great place to start. So is yoga. I’m sure there are lots of other fabulous ways, but those are the two that have worked best for me. The goal is to hear the voice in your head, not drown it out. You can work on quieting it down later, but for now, you want to know what it’s saying so you can counteract the message.

Step 2: Kill the messenger.
Once you become aware of the mind-chatter, watch for any mean things you’re saying to yourself. If you’re a woman, a good place to start is by looking in the mirror. Can you hear the voice yet? No? Impressive. Okay, strip down to your underwear (or go commando, if you dare.) There it is. Now tell that voice to shut up. Seriously. That’s all.

Step 3: Say something nice about yourself.
Not out loud, silly. To yourself. It doesn’t have to be big. But if the critical thought was about your body, think of a part of your body you do like and think the thought. It has to counteract the last message. If you’re frustrated with yourself for falling short on something, think I’m proud of myself for having the courage to try. Get creative. The time you spend thinking up a positive thought should shut down the negative pipeline for a few moments, at least. Unfortunately… 

Step 4: It’s not dead yet.
So sorry. I should have told you this at the beginning, but those negative little buggers are usually feisty and deeply ingrained. Once you’ve shot one down, another will pop up in it’s place. They’re like Gremlins. And now they’re angry because you told them to shut up and you’re trying to replace them. Alas.

Honestly, though, when you start to recognize the negative mind chatter and counteract it, you’ll often find yourself swamped in even more chatter. But that’s not really a bad thing because now you’ll be able to pinpoint the thoughts even more clearly and eliminate them that much quicker. You’ll also get better and better at finding the positives. It might not feel like it, but your brain is already changing (along with your potential for future growth and awesomeness).

Step 5: Repeat as needed.
It’s really as simple as that. However, like all things that appear simple, the process takes practice to become second-nature. But the process itself is so worth it. I’ll spare you the details from my own “battleground of negativity” (it was like Gettysburg in here!) except to say its been an exciting and rewarding adventure. 

Oh yeah. And when you get good at quieting the hurtful thoughts, loving ones move in to take their place. It feels fantastic. It’s so much quieter. And you can actually get some stuff done — without a resolution in sight. 

Namaste.

Standard
personal growth, yoga

The Jerry Springer Effect, Or How I Learned To Banish Fear In Five Simple Steps

It stands in your way. It shuts you down. It feels downright crappy. Here are five surefire methods to stop fear in its sinister, creeping tracks.

1. Breathe like Darth Vader. My yoga teacher reminds us to feel our breath and engage in ujjayi breathingas we drag the inhale and exhale powerfully across the back of our throats. In other words, super deep breathing. It sounds great. It feels great. It’ll mellow you out and connect you back to yourself. Sometimes, taking a breath and centering is all you need to face down fear. If that doesn’t work…

2. Imagine it’s happening to someone else. If your best friend was afraid to jump out of an airplane but you knew the adventure was totally aligned with her adventure-seekin’ self, you’d encourage her, right? What if she wanted to kick her loser boyfriend to the curb? You’d want her to dump the jerk. Well…step out of yourself. What would you say to “you” if you weren’t “you”? Okay. Do that.

 3. Apply the “Jerry Springer Effect.” Someone always has it worse than you. Recently, I had a filling in my molar randomly fall out. As much as I told it not to, my tongue fished around in the back of my mouth, feeling for the big ‘ol hole, freaking me the heck out. I tried yogic breathing (see #1), but I still couldn’t chill. Then I reminded myself that lots of people don’t have access to a dentist. I recalled that in the old days people had to get their teeth yanked out without painkillers. Then I felt a little bad about being such a sissy about my silly filling when my appointment the following day would fix me right up. Perspective usually helps.

4. Remember that you are going to die. It’s true. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but this is the only moment and life you can be sure of. As frightening as that may be, it is also liberating. What if you could put this “thing you are afraid of” in your eulogy? Would you rather be known as “the person who died trying” or “the person who gave up?” Yeah. I thought so.

5. Do it anyways. Whatever it is. If a thought or idea has taken up residence in your mind so that it nags and grows inside you, do it anyway. “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear—not absence of fear,” said Mark Twain. And he should know. If anyone stood down the aristocracy and generated a new voice for the rebellion, it was Twain. Own it. Close your eyes. Hold your breath. Then jump in the deep end and learn to swim.

Fear never stood a chance.

Standard