Forget Your Perfect Offering

There they are, glaring at me as if to rub in my face that the self-deprecating thoughts around my ‘2015 Writing Dought’ are well-founded.

Little graphics of calendar pages…”May…June…July…August…September…” all blank.

As far as this little statistics widget on my blog is concerned, I’ve done nothing, created nothing, experienced nothing, captured nothing, and shared nothing, when in fact, my silence speaks louder than any words I could articulate. There are stories to share, and despite my own resistance, I know full-well that our “Truth-Stories” need to be given wings, not tethers, if they are to serve their purpose. When they land in the right ears and hearts, they can build bridges, create bonds, and remind us that, though we may seem worlds and experiences apart from each other, there is a very vulnerable, human part of us that is longing to be seen for the beautiful, complex and fascinating creatures that we are.

One such example came across my path yesterday.

I spent the day teaching Yoga in a high school — four classes of grades 10-12 who take this particular course to enhance their athletic performance. The thought of me being the person to teach them (let alone challenge!) these highly physical teenagers was almost laughable, in my mind. (You may understand my hesitation a bit better by reading this post here…)

The early morning hours before the alarm went off found me wide awake, thoughts racing. My fear of not being able to give them what I would assume they were expecting (a workout) was high, but my knowing of what they most likely needed (relaxation) was deep. Even so, I succumbed to doubt, to the useless dialogue of “who am I to do this,” put my pajama-clad self in child’s pose on our bed and cried, all nerves as to how I could serve this group to the best of my ability.

When my tears subsided, I reached for a book on my nightstand that my Mum recently gave me, opened it to a page — any page — to see if any wisdom would surface to reassure me.

There they were — four lines from Leonard Cohen‘s song “Anthem” that reminded me what, all this time, I had been forgetting:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

The part about the crack in everything letting the light in always gets the fanfare, but all I saw was that second line:

Forget your perfect offering.

Four hours later, nearly thirty Grade 10 boys who, upon arrival in the room, had been whacking each other with yoga mats, were now sitting in peaceful stillness so deep I was trying to figure out how to make it clearer that the class was over and the time had come for them to pack up, get changed, and move along to their next class. As they began to filter out of the gym, a quiet boy approached me.

“I just wanted to say thank you for the class…I don’t know if you’re familiar with the 12 Steps at all…anyway, whatever we just did made me feel really centered. I haven’t felt this centered in a long time, actually. I really needed that.”

In daring to give me a truthful micro-glimpse of his own imperfectness, what this young man unknowingly offered me in exchange for some simple, strong poses and a quiet relaxation were deeper lessons than he probably realized.

Perfection — in who we are, what we do and how we do it — is overrated. Offer whatever it is you have to share, from whatever experience it is you have to share it from, no matter how deeply you doubt or fear your inadequacy, or the likelihood that you may meet rejection or failure. Turn to your truth; offer it, if you can. Silence and inaction, though safe for a while, only keep us stuck and alone.

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Showing Up

It is far earlier in the morning than I would care to be awake, the second morning within the bookends of this week that I have found myself wondering, “Really?! Now?! Can’t I just sleep?!”

I immediately think of my friends with babies. This is their norm, except the bonus is that when they wake up, they have the eyes of a sweet, innocent little soul to look into; I am sure I could promptly get the comeback that this early-rising of mine doesn’t involve someone needing something of me, or the cacophony that ‘needing’ creates, and at least I am waking to relative quiet, to my own thoughts…

True enough, I guess…

I am falling into that place of recognition and gratitude for the moments of ‘freedom’ where I will, one day, have the needs of my children at the forefront of my mind. I know the frustration of restless slumber (and early rising when there is no clear desire to do so) is strikingly similar across the board whether we have children or not, and being the baby-lover and wannabe mother that I am, I still haven’t heard a single one of my new parent friends say they look into the faces of their young early birds and wish that little smile wasn’t there to greet them in the wee hours. Like any other, parent or non-parent, I’d prefer to have some good sleep so l can live fully in the world and in the lightness of my own being. Until parenthood becomes my reality, what I am waking up to when I am called out of bed at what would be referred to as ‘ungodly hours’ (others would say this is some of the most ‘godly’ time of all) is far less tangible…and let’s face it, waking to the hamster wheel of ‘my own thoughts’ is not always what could be deemed a relaxing experience.

It may not be a baby crying out for me, but something else is.

In previous incarnations of this scenario, I would resist. I would lie in bed, my mind processing scraps of thoughts and seemingly unrelated emotions, tinged by an overarching shade of exasperation at the fact that I’m not sawing logs like the darling man in bed beside me.

Very recently, I’ve stopped resisting.

There must be a reason for this. Go with it.

Show up.

I have really come to appreciate that Yoga is labeled as a ‘practice’ – a commitment to coming to a mat with whatever you’ve got, over and over and over. As a student said to me yesterday, “there is comfort in consistency.” The container of the practice can look very much the same in some contexts, but the more I release expectation and surrender, the more I learn. It’s bigger than just learning, though. It’s experiencing something in present moment time, exactly as it is meant to unfold, with all its kinks, smudges, and glimmers of light.

When I come to my mat, I almost ritualistically ease back into child’s pose with a sigh (the comfort in the consistency), gather the steadiness of my breath, then start to move instinctively, with no real knowing of what might arise.

What if I do this in Life? What if I silently answer “Present” right off the top, open up… and trust?

I wish I could say when I began to see the truth-telling mirror of Life and Practice, but I can certainly attest that, in the lead up to our wedding, there was a distinct acknowledgement of how futile it is to micro-manage and control — how we can set the foundation, the main plot points, but what unfolds from there is all up to the moment, that we need to be OK with that, and for extra brownie points, see that as being the magic. I used to be one of those people who tried to fit life into a box because it was a thing that we humans had to do. Doing so created an anxious need to know more, to know what’s next, and to be assured of all the details so I could feel at ease. Before I went to Bali, I remember pestering my teacher for as many details as I could as to how the whole week of training would go, what material we would cover, who I would be rooming with, blah blah blah. She gently called me out on my need-to-know-ness and did something really great that has radically changed my perception of how things can or should be:

She gave me enough to reinforce a strong, positive feeling in my gut, enough to get me from Point A to Point B safely and on schedule, and not nearly enough to cause my own expectations to ruin the experience.

Show up. Trust. Allow.

The result? Mindblowing. Changed my life. For real.

I’m not only seeing this yielding to uncertainty through glass-half-full, rose-coloured glasses, though I can attest that showing up with peace in my heart and nearly-zero expectations has yielded to some of the most beautiful, most connected and honest moments of my life to date. Just as truthfully, there have been seemingly normal, happy days that have been game-changers in more shocking ways than I could have ever expected. Regardless of their ‘tone,’ these events have shaped my life, each carrying their own lessons, wisdom and experience. I don’t regret them existing for a single second. They are my teachers.

Showing up, however, becomes much harder when things don’t go the way you planned, or when you feel like things aren’t going your way. Within the last few days, I have faced unexpected obstacles and that heave-ho of resistance, which, in the past, would have had me turning away from the horizon and feeling all my efforts were in vain; or contrarily, feeling I need to put on a brave face and just get to the other side, to a place that feels “better” than whatever is being felt in the Now.

These methods don’t seem to work so well for me anymore. As Robert Frost said, “The best way out is always through.” Before you see the other side of the forest, you need to face the trees…and sometimes those trees are knotted, scary, have crazy faces and sing creepy songs.

On Sunday morning, reluctant to get out of my PJs and greet the world, I took solace in Elizabeth Gilbert’s recent interview with Oprah. It was like the internet heavens opened up and, in the form of a Liz (some of my favourite people on this planet are Lizzes), what I needed to hear was dropped into my blanket-covered lap.  In their discussion around Joseph Campbell’s concept of “The Hero’s Journey,” Liz brought in the idea of “The Call” — that this “Call” may very likely come at an inopportune time, and when called, you are faced with a choice: refuse the call, or answer.

Refuse? Go ahead, but expect nothing to change.

Answer? Well…buckle up.

Back when I chose the path of Yoga practice as an anchor in a time of uncertainty and tumult, I was naive to the fact that I was committing to answering a call that would ring not just once…but over and over and over again. The physical postures still teach me and humble me to no end, but it is through the quiet, meditative practice of Yoga Nidra (and in particular, in the past year of working through my limiting beliefs in the space of that practice) that has required digging to untouched and sometimes murky depths. Each belief, each day, each scenario, each interaction, offers me the opportunity to either put up the blinders and stay stuck and safe, or to recognize the faces of my limitations and conquer them heart on, to clear space amidst the weeds, sow seeds of positive intention and be totally open to how they will blossom.

Now, I see with more clarity the nuance of what needs to Be and what needs to fall away for something better, what needs to be ‘slept on’ and what needs to be faced. I have also had to reconcile myself with the fact that, no matter what we may be working through, there is a time for being alone and processing your emotions without the filters, risk of judgement or lofty expectations from anyone around you. There is also, however, an immense strength and courage in being present in your community, in your tribe, simply as you are.

On Monday morning, once again awake before the crack of dawn and still not quite on the other side of my cloud, I felt a habitual pull to stay in my pajamas, to conquer my to-do list from the comfort of home and avoid human contact for one more day. Only 24 hours before this, this cocooning was my most potent form of medicine, but on this particular day, something was calling me from the other side of the haze. I gathered the bits of me I felt were intact, cobbled them together and promptly took them out the door for a long walk to the yoga studio to practice. When I walked through the door, I saw beautiful, familiar faces of those who, whether I knew it or not, were all fighting their own battles that day. I knew in an instant that I had made the right choice. We all rolled out our mats and showed up to what was.

Messy and true, “what was” was the gift.

“What was” was the doorway, and no matter what I may find on the other side, I chose to answer the call. I choose to answer. I choose to listen.

It’s Wednesday, October 8th, 2014. It’s 4:30 AM. Your eyes are wide open. Why sleep? Why not just be what you are: Awake.

Show up. Allow. See what unfolds.

What unfolds is THIS. What unfolds is here.

How will you show up today?

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Why Shiny People Should Lose Their #@*%

Dear Jeff Brown,

You are the hero of the day. Did you write this (below) knowing that SO many people would feel like it was written specifically for them?

“I know we often want it all happy and positive, but that’s just not where much of humanity is. Many of us are overwhelmed with pain, undigested sadness, unexpressed anger, unseen truths. This is where we are at, as a collective. So we have two choices. We can continue to pretend it’s not there, shame and shun it in ourselves and others, distract and detach whenever possible. Or we can face it heart-on, own it within ourselves, look for it in others with compassion, create a culture that is focused on authenticity and healthy emotional release. If we continue to push it all down, we are both creating illness and delaying our collective expansion. But if we can just own the shadow, express it, release it, love each other through it, we can finally graduate from the School of Heart Knocks and begin to enjoy this magnificent life as we were intended. Pretending the pain isn’t there just embeds it further. Let’s illuminate it instead.”

~ JEFF BROWN 

When I read these words on Jeff Brown’s Facebook page today, they hit me hard. Everything in me wanted to share it.

Maybe it sounds geeky and hippity-dippity, but I have ‘rules’ for my Facebook ‘shares.’ I ask myself:

– Will this somehow make the world/someone’s life better?

– Will this help to forge deeper connections within the self and/or with others?

– Will this make people laugh (for all the right reasons)?

– Will this inspire people to be more honestly connected to their own humanity and the humanity of others?

If the answer is ‘YES’ to any of those questions, I’ll share the nugget.

When I witness what I did today — an instant surge of online connectivity simply through identifying with a powerfully worded & universally shared sentiment, an outpouring of honesty that says ‘I GET this’ — I know that “The General We” have touched on something huge and human.

Moments like that just can’t be swept under the rug and traded in for the newest funny cat video (oooh, I love those too…)

Let’s be honest: we’re not ones to share much less than our ‘best selves’ on social media. We have all done this, and we will continue to do it because, if you think about it, it has a really stunning way of showing us the overarching highlights of our life — the things that we’ll remember (and will want to remember) at the end of the day. Plus, it makes us look like we have perma-happy lives or are full of really unique ideas, which, for some reason, is really important to us. 😉

We do this in real life too. How many of you have been asked that all too common question “How are you?” and have answered with, “I’m a lost, god-forsaken, blubbering piece of mess and I have no clue how to get untangled.”

Yeeeeeah, probably not many, and if you did, the person who expected you to reply with sunshine and rainbows oozing out of your pores was most likely flabbergasted.

How many of you have said you’re “good!” “fine!” “great!” and the perennial favourite, “really busy!”??

(Remember, I say this, because I am guilty of ALL of this.)

In a recent friendship-as-mutual-therapy conversation with a dear friend, I saw how those of us who strive to show our ‘shiniest selves’ as much as possible have a very hard time when we fall short of our own expectations of being, well, shiny. Even worse, when we fail to show anything less than that shiny side to others, we feel like we’ve let everyone down.

What happens when the ‘shiny, happy, steady people’ feel tarnished? Worn out? Confused?

 

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‘WAIT’ by Vancouver artist Kelly Clarke.

In sharing our less-than-perfect moments, opening up our own vulnerabilities and truly hearing the vulnerabilities of others, something amazing happens:

BOOM. Connection.

The inspiring Brené Brown has devoted years of her life studying vulnerability, but it never ceases to amaze me how real this idea is until I see it come to life right in front of me.

When we share our imperfections, what we perceive as our ‘failures’ or ‘shortcomings,’ we create the space for the most honest form of human connection.

Now, I’ll admit I’m pretty new to the process of living compared to, say, a centenarian who went through world wars. At the end of the day, my life could be touted as being fairly uncomplicated and not nearly as riddled with past deviance as the guy smoking the joint at the bus stop admitted to me today. (Such a nice guy! That’s another story for another time.)

The thing is, I’ve felt old since I was a kid. My 8 or 9 year old self was VERY much looking forward to being in the vicinity of my current age one day, and in this particular phase of life.

Case in point, my childhood best friend and I (we are still friends to this day, which is a true gift) didn’t play ‘House…’

We played ‘Mothers.’

Yup, two 10 year old girls pretending to be happily married to our respective ‘husbands,’ then spontaneously pregnant and contentedly rubbing our bellies, then giving birth to our plastic dolls, and once that was done, having ‘coffee’ together as we rocked our respective babies in our hand-me-down Snuglis (once inhabited by us as infants) or child-sized doll carriages.

At age 8 or 9, with our childhood games of being a wife and a potential mother aside, I wouldn’t have anticipated that my vulnerable, ’emotional’ moments at age 31 would feel not too far off from that of, oh, a 9-year old.

This weekend, my husband and I went over to my in-laws’ place for dinner. On the way over, I acknowledged that I was feeling a healthy combination of tired, borderline anti-social, mellow and just not quite up to snuff. (I love people to bits but I’ve gotta start owning my Introversion!) We had barely been in the front door not more than 60 seconds when I broke down, and let’s face it, there’s no graceful way of breaking down…

Why the insta-tears?

Well, it was because my mother-in-law eagerly suggested that we should pop across the cul-de-sac to meet the sweet little 3-year old girls that live across the way.

In the most polite way I could muster, I lost it. The way I dissolved was as if I had been asked to take care of newborn sextuplets with explosive diarreah on the eve of the apocalypse. And you know what I said? (Here’s the kicker.)

“Sometimes, I just need to not meet new people.”

Great, I thought, so now on top of coming a bit unglued, I am being unfriendly AND unwilling to meet new people…who are 3 YEARS OLD. We used to play MOTHERS!! I LOVE KIDS!

I may have felt for a split-second that I was showing ‘weakness,’ but I knew in my heart that I was 100% being true to EXACTLY where I was in THAT particular moment. Not everyone is comfortable with breaking down in front of their family — this wasn’t a cushy moment, and this wasn’t even the first time I’d ever cried in front of my in-laws! I took myself for a long walk and reminded myself to detach from the mental process of why I was feeling the way I felt. Instead, I shifted my focus to all the messy, vivid sensations of how utterly uncomfortable and undeniably right it had felt to ‘come apart’ the way I had — not the story of “Why” 20 minutes ago or 5 years in the future, but the realness of what was running through me NOW. In reality, I knew that I hadn’t come apart. I was claiming my honest feelings in order to become more whole. Who I was in that moment may have looked less than shiny, but I had been, and was being, totally and utterly true to myself, tears and all.

What I am grateful for now, 3 days later, is that instead of being flabbergasted at this unexpected unravelling, my mother-in-law hugged me, followed by my father-in-law… then my husband hugged me and kissed me on the forehead. They all met my feelings with compassion and promptly scooted me out the door for nature therapy.

No one made me go meet the 3 year olds that day, even though I am sure they are adorable beyond measure. Instead, I sat and stared at the subtle shifts of the clouds that hovered in the bright, blue Sunday sky, and felt the sun wash over me.

They say ‘in every life a little rain must fall.’ Sometimes, it’s a deluge, and not even a sunny day is immune to a downpour.

Where I live, we like to talk about the weather. So in meteorological terms, here it is:

Even the shiniest of people need these clouds. We need these clouds to break wide open to even begin the process of getting a piece of our sunshine back. No cloud ever withholds the rain. And if those you love can see YOU clearly through all forms of weather, then, by golly, it’s your lucky day.

Shine on.