There’s no running from yourself. If you have pain, it’s going to surface and if you try to stop it, deny it, numb it out or run from it you’re just going to make yourself sick. People do it every day, all day long. They keep themselves so busy, so scheduled down to the minute, there isn’t any time to feel anything. Others try to feed the beast of their pain with stuff. I’ll just keep consuming until that horrible emptiness goes away. Some people numb it with drugs, alcohol, food, dieting, sex, relationships, shopping, television or video games. And weeks go by, and those weeks turn into years, and a whole life can go by that way.
If you’re on the run, you’re not going to be able to stop and take in the scenery. If you’re in a fog, you’re going to miss some exquisitely gorgeous moments. If you’re in denial, you’re also denying yourself the opportunity to figure out who you are and what you need to be at peace. You can’t reject a huge reality about where you’re at and how you feel, and simultaneously know yourself well. Chances are, eventually you’ll wonder if this is all there is. Your pain does not have to own you, but it will if you don’t face it. We all have our stuff, our histories, those places where we’re raw or jagged, where those deep wounds have left their scars. Your pain might shape you, but it can shape you in a beautiful way so that you open and become more compassionate, more able to understand the suffering of others, and more equipped to lend a hand.
Knowing yourself is some of your most important work, otherwise how can you be accountable for the energy you’re spreading? For the ways you’re contributing to the world around you, and showing up for yourself, and all the people in your life? If you refuse to face down your dragons, they’re going to run your show, and they’re going to throw flames at anyone who gets close to you. You won’t mean for that to happen, you’ll probably feel terrible about it, and yourself, which simply compounds your pain. Now you have the old stuff, and the new stuff that springs up around you in your current life. Won’t it ever release its grip on you? You can keep playing it out, hoping for that happy ending, but you’re not going to get it until you become the hero of your own story. No one is coming to save the day. That’s your job.
The thing is, saving the day is not easy, but it’s a lot better than being on the run or being in a haze or feeling desperate for someone or something to make it better. You get to do that and you’re totally capable, no matter what you’ve been through. I say that with the full understanding that you may have suffered through intense grief, neglect or abuse. Being the hero might simply mean you find your way out of bed today and make an appointment with a good therapist. That would be heroic. Just acting on your own behalf would be something huge, because you may need someone to kindly hold up a mirror and say, “Of course you can.” (You’ll still have to do it yourself.) You might need someone to acknowledge that the old pain is real, and that it’s natural you’ve been carrying it with you for so long, but that maybe you can put it down now. Maybe you can unpack it and lay it all out and hold it up to the light so that you really absorb, as you are now, the full spectrum of your feelings. So that this stuff isn’t buried in your unconscious, outside of your awareness anymore, causing you to do things or say things you wish you hadn’t. Causing you to harm yourself, or hurt other people, or make choices that are inexplicable, even to you. Maybe you’re very aware of your pain, but it’s still overtaking your life. If you feel hopeless, that’s another indication that you might want to reach out and get some back-up. You examine your pain so you can integrate it and recognize it when it shows up. So you can be kind to yourself, and take care of yourself, and empower yourself.
There’s no reason your past has to dictate your future. Rage and blame won’t liberate you, but heading into the dead center of your darkest most painful places will. You don’t have to stay there forever, just long enough to know yourself. Then you can start a new chapter where you, the hero, lay the sh&t down. Where you decide where you’re going and what you’re doing and how you’re going to spend your time and energy. How you’re going to show up. Not the dragons. The dragons are small yappy dogs now. They bark sometimes, but all it takes is one look from you, and those dogs roll over and play dead. Directing your energy and strengthening your ability to choose one thought over another are two things you can work on through a consistent yoga practice. You can learn how to feed a loving voice if you’re in prison with an unforgiving internal dialogue. There are so many healing modalities available to help you find your power again. Better get busy if you need to, and if you need help with that, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Sending you love,
Hey there! If you zoom in you can see I’ve had this really awesome stye on my right eye for the last few days. Pretty, huh? I got sick last week and I guess this was the parting gift! A stye is not a big deal, but I’ll tell you, this one was painful and tender, and at its worst I looked like I’d been on the wrong end of a prizefight. It’s on its way out now, and I’ve been thinking about the gratitude you feel when pain starts to subside. I know a lot of you will relate.
I go through this with migraines when I get them, that relief and incredible gratitude I feel when the pain starts to lessen — the amazing absence of pain. So I was thinking about that over the last day and it occurred to me that painful relationships are like that, too. Sometimes we get caught up in an interaction and it’s insidious; maybe things start out sweetly enough and then little by little the dynamic starts to change and we just sort of keep accepting the changes until we’re part of an interaction that is so painful and unhealthy, we’re almost unrecognizable to ourselves. Ever dealt with that? That sums up most of my relationships as a young adult.
You know the parable about the frog? If you throw a frog in a pot of boiling water it will jump right out, but if you put it in a cool pot and slowly heat the water, it won’t realize it’s boiling until it’s too late. Ever been a burnt frog and somehow managed to claw your way out of that boiling pot even though frogs don’t have claws? Remember the relief when you woke up one morning and realized life was starting to feel good again and you were maybe catching a glimpse of someone you used to know, as in yourself? The gratitude and relief when the pain starts to subside.
Anyway, I’ve been in so many interactions like that with people over the years, and I’m about to launch an online course that’s all about how we stay centered and learn to care for our froggy selves without getting boiled! It’s a month-long course that begins March 12 and includes an unlimited 30-day subscription to the website if you don’t have one already, three live talks and one guided meditation per week, and journaling prompts Monday-Friday. I’ll be suggesting classes for each week that relate to the topic we’re diving into, and also meet your varying needs based on level and how much time you have. It’s $199 for the course, you can check here for more info and to register! Love you frogs.
The first time I saw a man masturbating, I was eight years old. I was in Central Park with my third grade class, and we were there to sketch. I’d wandered a little away from the group and found a perfect tree and I was busily trying to sketch onto my pad what I was seeing in front of me. I’d study the tree, then draw on my pad. The third or fourth time I looked up, there was a man under the tree with his pants down, furiously moving his hand up and down his penis while staring at me. I had no idea why he was doing this, but I felt scared and knew immediately it wasn’t something I should be seeing. I looked up at him and we made eye contact for a second, and I went running to my teacher, crying. By the time she came back to where I’d been sitting, he was gone. I have no idea if she told anyone at school, if my parents were informed, or if anything else came of it, I only remember the man, the tree, and the sketch I never finished.
When I was twelve, my best friend and I took my little brother and his friend sledding in Riverside Park. When we got back to my building, we were flushed both from the cold, and the exertion of pulling two little boys along on sleds. I picked up my brother and my friend picked up his little friend, and we hoisted them and the sleds into the exterior lobby of my building. As it happened, a man was just arriving, and he held the door open for us and then went to the building directory. I pulled out my keys and opened the door to the inner lobby, and although I noticed no one had buzzed him in, the man again held the door for us, and I thought it would be impolite to ask him who he was going to see. (Note: we teach our girls to be polite.) The same thing happened as he held the elevator door open and stepped in after us. I pushed the button for the second floor, he pushed the button for the third. No sooner had the doors closed, than he pulled down his pants and started masturbating in front of us. I shielded my brother’s little face by burying it in my shoulder, and my friend and I started screaming and crying. When the doors opened on the second floor, we tumbled out, sleds, toddlers and hysteria, and pounded on the front door of my mom’s house. The guy flew out of the elevator behind us and ran down the back stairs. My mother came running to the door in her socks and raced after him, and though she saw him leaving the lobby and running down the street, there was no way she could catch him without shoes.
The next year, as I was heading into my ballet class on Broadway and 83rd, a man entered ahead of me. I had a bad feeling, so I started running up the steep staircase to get ahead of him, but he grabbed me from behind, one hand between my legs, and the other over my mouth. “Just don’’t move, okay?” he asked me, and started unzipping his pants. I became all animal. I bit his hand and flailed my elbow into his side and managed to break free and turn myself around, so I was crawling backwards up the stairs facing him, once again screaming and crying. I do remember that he looked as terrified as I felt, his eyes wild before he turned and raced down the stairs and back into the city. By the time I got into the dance studio office and managed to blurt out what had happened between sobs, he was long gone.
It didn’t even occur to me to scream or cry or do anything a year later when a man went by in his car as I was crossing the street, cutting me off and driving slowly while masturbating. When I went to the park to sunbathe with my friends and a guy started playing with himself under a tree nearby, we just got up and moved. I’d learned that these things happened and no one did anything. I’d learned that a man can show you his penis if he feels like it, whether you want to see it or not. A man can use you as part of his sexual fantasy, whether you want to participate or not. When I was fifteen, my mother chastised me on the street one day for not wearing a bra. She said if my breasts bounced, men would get hard. She spat that at me like it was my fault and my responsibility, and I didn’t realize for years that her disgust was aimed at them and not me.
I won’t talk here about my worst and most confusing experience, that’s going in the memoir I’m currently writing, but I will share one last story. When I was about twenty, I went on a casting call for a spin-off of the Victoria’s Secret Catalog. This was supposed to be a line for athletic bodies, and although I wasn’t thrilled at the idea of being photographed in underwear, I was in a disastrous relationship with a man twenty years my senior, I had no money of my own, and this job meant six weeks in Italy and a $30,000 paycheck. I arrived at the call which was at an incredible duplex in Gramercy Park. There were about sixty women there, along with a female casting director, the guy who was one of the partners in the catalog spinoff, and a young guy who was running around making sure everyone had signed in properly. It was like a thousand other casting calls I’d been on. Later that day my agent called and said they wanted to see me the next day, and that it was down to ten of us. I was excited, mostly about the prospect of having a way to get myself out of an abusive relationship, and also, Italy. When I went back the second time, the partner in this catalog endeavor asked if I could lose ten pounds in a week. I didn’t have ten pounds to lose, but I said yes. The female casting director looked pained, but said nothing as she brought me into the next room where there was a scale waiting. She marked down my weight, and said they’d see me in a week. My agent called later that day to say that she really did not want me to starve myself, but it was down to six of us and they were picking four to go to Italy. I barely ate that week, and when the casting director called me the day before my scheduled call-back and asked me to come a couple hours earlier, I thought nothing of it.
When I arrived for my weigh-in, I found the partner alone at his Gramercy Park home. I wasn’t expecting that and found it uncomfortable, but he was officious and mentioned the casting agent had just run out for coffee. He said the weigh-in was a formality, anyway, and that I looked great. He asked me if I was excited about the job, if it was something I wanted to do, and being young, I shared that I was not only excited but relieved at the prospect, because I was in a bad relationship and needed a way out. He said the other girls were great, and we were going to share two hotel rooms and have a wonderful time, and that he was excited for us. Then he said he had a call he had to make, and we’d have to get this weigh-in going, he couldn’t wait anymore. He said he’d forgotten to bring the scale downstairs, and I should follow him. Up the stairs I went, feeling nervous but talking myself out of that feeling. He motioned to a room to the left, said the scale was through the room and in the bathroom, and that he was going to go postpone that call. He went hustling down the hallway and closed a door behind him, and I went into the room where he’d directed me, to discover that it was a bedroom.
I went into the bathroom and found the scale, and had this odd moment of wondering how this was going to work. Was it the honor system? Was I supposed to get on the scale and tell him what I weighed, or was he coming into the bathroom, or what, exactly, was I supposed to do? I didn’t have to wonder long, because there was a short knock on the door, and then he opened it, standing in an open robe and nothing else. I stared at him for what felt like days but might have been only a second, and he put his hands in the air and said, “This is what it is. Give me the best blow job of my life, and the gig is yours.” He said this unapologetically, with a glint in his eye. I felt a mixture of many things at once — revulsion, shock, shame, rage, and an intense desire to strangle him. I’d starved myself for a week. This man had the gall to stand there and tell me I could have the job and the money and the way out of a bad situation if I’d turn myself into a prostitute. I shoved past him, crying and cursing and went flying down the stairs. He called after me and said this is what it took, and they wouldn’t be calling me again. My last words to him were, “Go f&ck yourself.”
I haven’t thought about any of this for quite a long time. Every woman I know who’s been harassed, assaulted, and demeaned just puts those experiences in a file because up until now, no one has cared. No one has said or done a thing that makes any kind of difference. I hope the story is shifting. I hope like hell my daughter is inheriting a world where things like this just don’t happen anymore, because I can’t be in every park, on every field trip, on every corner she crosses, in every professor’s office, or yoga class where an “adjustment” goes wrong (yes, this happens in the yoga world, too, it happens everywhere). I can’t be there to block the catcalls, the idiots telling her to smile like she’s an object that exists on this earth for their gratification, even though in reality, she is a universe unto herself. I can’t be everywhere, all the time. It enrages me when there are films and television shows directed at children, and girls and women are described as “hot”, I want to scream at the writers. If you think it isn’t insidious, this objectification of girls and women, you aren’t paying attention. Waiters comment when my daughter cleans her plate, but not my son. People comment on her looks and his achievements. All I can do is teach them myself that a woman’s worth is not based on how she looks, but who she is. I talk to both of my children about this, because I want my daughter to grow into a woman who stands up for herself, and feels safe in this world, but I want her not just to feel safe, but to be safe. I want my son to be the kind of man who would never, in any way demean or objectify a woman, I want him to be the guy who celebrates, respects and sees a woman as a human being with a history all her own and gorgeous gifts to share. The thing is, I’m just one person. That’s how all women feel, we are just in this thing alone unless everyone starts to think about his or her own contribution.
I googled the catalog guy the other night. He goes by a few variations of his last name. He’s living in Boca Raton now. He’s a millionaire. He sold that apartment in Gramercy Park. There are other public complaints against him, he’s been doing that same scam for twenty years. I’m tired of keeping it in the file. For all the girls and women who have their own stories and haven’t known what to do with them, maybe now’s the time to let them out. There are so many great men in the world, and most of them have no idea how rampant this is. When you hear your idiot buddies making stupid f&cking jokes at the bar, shut it down. When you hear locker room talk, shut it down. When the guy running for the highest office in the land talks about “grabbing pussies” don’t f&cking vote for him. Don’t teach your sons to categorize women by numbers, like 10, or 8 or 4. It affects your mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, friends. It isn’t something anyone should have to accept or tolerate. It’s not just Hollywood, it’s everywhere. Feels good to open the file and light it on fire. None of us need your sympathy, we’ve all learned how to be tough. What we need is your support in changing things.
Much love to all the girls and women out there who have their own stories, and much gratitude to all the wonderful, kind, insightful men,
If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here.
Last week in a class I was teaching, I was talking about how the focal points or “drishtis” in the yoga practice are really the difference between having some power over how you respond to what’s happening around you, or not so much. If you have a physical yoga practice, then you already know that there’s a place where you direct your gaze in each pose. It might be over your front fingertips and toward the horizon, as you would in Warrior 2. It might be toward your extended fingertips in side angle pose. The idea is that you’re taking in a little less information from the world around you, so you can spend some time focusing on the world that exists within you, and hopefully practice in a way that creates more peace, steadiness, compassion, patience and awareness, so that when you leave your mat, that’s what you have to offer up.
When you train your mind the way you’d train any muscle, it strengthens. The ability to direct your gaze and thereby your energy and attention is the same skill you use when you have a meal with a close friend in a chaotic restaurant, but manage to focus on your friend, and not all the business happening around you. It’s the same ability you need when you sit down to work on your passion project, and are able to focus on that for a few hours instead of getting on social media. It’s also the tool you use when you actively choose one thought over another, which is like a superpower when it comes to living this life. We all know that change is the only thing we can count on, and yet we tend to resist it to varying degrees. The more we contract against the reality of constant flux, the more we suffer.
Sometimes the voice inside our heads sounds like Eeyore. Things are happening that we don’t like or didn’t want, and there he goes: “Life is hard and no one loves me, and other people get the breaks, but I don’t.” Tigger on the other hand, is full of enthusiasm, and he would say, “Sometimes life is hard, and sometimes people are confusing, but that’s okay! It’s just a tough moment, it isn’t a tough life, and I’ll bounce back from this! What’s for lunch?” In the class I was teaching, I was saying that having an inner Tigger is a lot easier than having an inner Eeyore, and part of shifting and creating a positive inner dialogue has to do with working the focal points on your mat (or during seated meditation). That way, when when your Eeyore pipes up, you notice, and you can say, “Simmer down Eeyore” before he sends you spiraling down an abyss that isn’t going to help you deal with whatever is at hand. The “noticing” is also a key element, because sometimes Eeyore is our default setting, and we don’t even realize we have the power to shift it. Outlook isn’t everything in life; certainly there are devastating and heartbreaking experiences we have, loss that feels incomprehensible, circumstances that would challenge the most optimistic among us, but there is no doubt that working on your general viewpoint so it’s more open and responsive, and less reactive and resistant, is a game-changer.
One of the people in that Eeyore/Tigger class showed up a few days later with a little gift bag, and one of the best cards I’ve ever received. When I opened the bag, this is the shirt I found, which she made for me. If you have a loud inner Eeyore, please allow me to tell you that you can change that (I had one for years!), and that life feels much better that way. If you want to work on it with me, I’m about to teach an online course that’s all about embracing change, you can find out more here: http://blog.yogisanonymous.com/embracing-change-bootcamp/
Sending you love, and a shot of Tigger,
Yoga is a process of getting real with yourself, so you can be at peace. If who you say you are is different than who you’re being in the world, then you know where you have work to do. Ideally, your hunger to deal with reality as it is outweighs your desire to deny, run, or numb out, to pretend things are different than they are, or to cling to a version of reality that exists only in your mind.
We all have our narratives about ourselves, about the situations in our lives, and about other people. The greater the difference between what we tell ourselves is happening and what is actually happening, the more lost we are. People boil themselves in pain and rage, and create stories that paint other people as villains, themselves as victims, other people as lost, while they’re enlightened, other people as weak while they’re strong. Few people have a story about how they’re fallible and have probably made as many or more mistakes than the person next to them, though that’s probably the most accurate story any of us could have about ourselves. We’re so quick to judge, to separate, to create an “us” and a “them”, when the truth is, we’re all dealing with difficult parameters, and we’re much more the same than we are different.
We’re on a tiny pale blue dot of a spinning planet in a vast universe, and we exist in one of at least five hundred known solar systems. We don’t know how long we have in the bodies we inhabit, and we don’t know how long anyone else has, even those we cherish and treasure and love beyond words and reason. We don’t know what happens after this. It’s understandable that we want to control things and create constructs and stories to make ourselves feel that we have some jurisdiction over how we feel and what happens to us, but the truth is, we never know what’s going to happen from day to day. Some people have an easier time taking their sticky hands off the steering wheel than others.
The more we can look openly, honestly, and with compassion at the places where we’re afraid, where we feel confronted or hopeless or angry or heartbroken, the more we can be accountable for the energy we’re spreading as we move through the world, and the more we can experience true freedom. If we’re here for a blink of time, it might as well be amazing, right? We may as well offer up every great thing within us, but it’s hard to do that if we’re not willing to look at ourselves clearly, and get to work bridging the gap between who we say we are, and who we’re being. Peace comes when there’s very little gap between the two.
The same holds true for a country. If who we say we are is different than who we’re being in the world, then we know where we have work to do. Instead of pointing fingers and blaming others, we look honestly at how we’re being, and we get to work. Today is a day for barbeques and fireworks and spending time with family if you’re here in the states, but hopefully we also think about why we have the day off. That way tomorrow, we get back to work. Happy 4th to those who celebrate!
Sending you love, and wishing you peace,
If the posts are helpful, you can find my books here <3
Your past does not have to define your future, but sometimes, in order to overcome it, you’re going to have to work like hell. It’s not a level playing field; some people have come out of abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Children growing up in an unsafe environment often become adults who find it hard to trust and to open. You can only know what you know, after all. If the people who were meant to love you, nurture you and protect you were not able to do that due to their own limitations or history of abuse, you’re going to have some serious healing to do.
The problem is, it’s very common to seek what we know, because it feels familiar, it feels like home. Frequently, people who’ve come out of abuse find themselves in relationships with people who abuse them, and this strengthens their ideas that they aren’t worthy of love, and that no one can be trusted. This must be love because it feels like home. I feel unsafe or unseen or unheard. I have to earn love by being perfect. I have to dance like a monkey to get approval. These are all learned ideas and behaviors, and if this was your experience during your formative years, you have a lot of unlearning to do. You have to crash your own hard drive and start over. It’s always harder to unlearn something than it is to have it explained to you correctly from the beginning.
Not everyone can explain love to you, though. You have to have received it to understand it. You have to have had at least one person whose face lit up when you toddled into a room. Someone who taught you about hugs that make you feel like nothing could ever be wrong. Someone who wanted nothing but for you to be happy. You need to have gotten at least a little of that from someone, anyone along the way to have a clue about what it is. People who grew up in violence don’t know a lot about those feelings. Survival becomes the thing. How do I maneuver around this situation and these people in order to be safe? How do I endure this abuse without hating them? A kid turns it inward. If my own mother or father can’t love me, it must be me. It’s not conceivable to a child that maybe their parents are limited in this way, that maybe they have their own healing to do and they simply don’t have the tools to love them well or protect them, let alone nurture them, cherish them, celebrate them. Trauma and abuse can be carried forward just like genes. I’m not saying it’s genetic. I’m saying this stuff gets carried forward in the heart, in the body, in the mind, and instead of breaking the cycle, a lot of people repeat it. They don’t mean to and they don’t want to, but they simply don’t know anything else. A feeling floods the nervous system and they act out; anyone in the way is going to suffer.
For children who were sometimes abused, and sometimes loved, it gets even more complicated, especially if there was no discernible pattern. A child who never knows what to expect, never knows if she’s going to be hugged and praised, or beaten and broken down, can never feel safe. Heading into young adulthood that way, which is challenging under the best of circumstances, sets the stage for romantic relationships that are unlikely to be healthy and loving, to say the least.
Anyway, I’m writing about all this because my inbox is flooded with messages from people who are trying to forge a new path, to find a new way; people who’ve been betrayed by those they thought they could trust. People who are afraid to open, even though they desperately want to, because what if they get hurt again? Or what if they’re loved for the first time? People who think maybe they should just give up and be alone. I think when you’re coming out of a history like this, you have to work it from the bottom up, and from the top down. You have to flood your system with new information. I’m talking about the combination of therapy and yoga, which I highly recommend if you’re coming out of abuse. You need someone you trust to help you deconstruct thoughts that weaken you, and may be so ingrained you don’t even realize you’re thinking them, and you need to get in your body and retrain your nervous system which is used to a perpetual state of fight or flight. How can you even know what peace feels like? Joy? Happiness? Rage? There’s no time to honor your own feelings in a war zone. You push that sh&t down so you can survive, so you can get through. You’re so on the lookout for other people’s feelings, for the feeling in the environment around you, it doesn’t occur to you to think about what you want, what you need, or how you feel. What language is that?
The thing is, there are tools. If you’re suffering and you want things to be different, you just start where you are. You get yourself some help. You take over the job of re-educating yourself. Human beings have an insanely awesome ability to heal, to forgive, and to love, they really do. If your heart is broken, there’s more room to let the light in. People who come out of abuse and heal, tend to be incredibly compassionate, and grateful for every good thing. Joy is like this unexpected gift that’s never taken for granted. If you need some help, try this or this 🙂
Sending you love,