My Inner Mystic

reflections and insight into my healing, transformation, and journey of the heart <3

Category Archives: awareness

Yoga & NVC: An Interview

How can we practice yoga off the mat?  One way is by cultivating and practicing compassionate or non-violent communication, toward ourselves and toward others.  Does practicing yoga in our communication sound like a stretch?

As I learned from my teacher, Karl, non-violent communication (NVC) has its roots in ancient yoga philosophy.  Marshall Rosenberg drew inspiration from the The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali when he crafted non-violent communication.  Ahiṁsā, or non-violence, is the first of the five yamas and the yamas are the first of the eight limbs of yoga (see sutra II.30).

I was recently interviewed by one of my yoga teachers and peers, Erin Goldman of Awakened Heart Yoga, about my studies in NVC and the relationship between yoga and NVC.  I invite you to listen to my interview with Erin as I share how practicing NVC is an extension of my yoga practice.  I speak of the idea that learning and practicing NVC is “stretching on the inside” and the importance of cultivating deeper listening to ourselves and others.

I was struck, in listening to myself speak, how much knowledge and wisdom I’ve absorbed and integrated from my teachers of yoga and non-violent communication.  I can hear their voices in my voice!

To read Erin’s introduction and listen, click here: interview

To only listen, click here: interview

“Compassionate action is a practice, one of the most advanced.  There’s nothing more advanced than communication—compassionate communication.”~ Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart

“Since in order to speak,
one must first listen,
learn to speak by listening.”

~ Rumi

Love: An Inquiry

What does love look like, taste like, feel like?

This is the question I asked myself *after* I heard this question in my mind: “do I even know how to love?”  I was so taken aback by this question that I paused right in the tracks of the neural pathway from which this question arose.

I do not have a love relationship in my life and have not been in a committed relationship since the “ka-boom.”  The question “do I even know how to love?” came from a place of longing for love as well as a much darker place.  Somewhere deep in my psyche a belief exists that I am incapable of pure, authentic love, that I am somehow flawed, and this is the reason I do not have a love relationship in my life.

From that dark place in my psyche, I was blaming myself for not attracting new love into my life.  Because of my self-awareness I could see what my mind was up to.  I wasn’t going to play along.  I paused myself in the tracks of that darkened neural pathway and instead I chose to redirect myself with the question, “what does love look like, taste like, feel like?”  This moment of self redirect was me choosing not to fall into habitual thought patterns, choosing not to fall into the trap set by my mind.  I could have so easily started to feel sad and depressed around the absence of love in my life. Instead I chose to begin an inquiry of love.

I have spent weeks ruminating on love, trying to answer for myself “what does love look like, taste like, feel like?”  In my inquiry of love, I have made an effort to understand and discover anew the true nature of love; I have found myself considering the deeper essence of love.  From my rumination and contemplation on love, I have come up with a draft, very much a work in progress, of some essential ingredients of what I will call “mindful” loving.

Working Title:  “The look, taste, and feel of mindful loving.”

Giving.  Love is a gift that we give to others.  In love, we give of ourselves.  We give our time, we give our attention, we give our affection, we give our devotion.  We give support.  We become a pillar for the one we love to lean on.  In love there is no selfish motivation for personal gain.  Love is a gift that we give freely and from the heart.

Receiving.  We receive the gift of love.  We embrace the gift.  We cherish the gift, we treasure the gift and hold it dear.  We celebrate the gift.  And then we give back.  Love is fluid, flowing back and forth, back and forth.  In love we give and receive, give and receive. This giving and receiving, this relationship, is the balance of love.

Understanding.  To love is to understand.  To be loved is to be understood.  To understand deeply, we must inhabit the heart space of the one we love.  We must understand their joys and their sorrows, what lifts them up, what pulls them down.  We must be able to see the world through their eyes, to understand what it feels like to be in their mind, their body, their heart.  We must understand their inner workings.  How do we come to understand?  We learn the history of the one we love, how their mind and heart has been shaped by that history.  We come to understand through deep listening, through empathy.

Transparency.  For love to flourish, there must be openness and honesty.  We cannot hide ourselves or parts of ourselves behind those walls we built up around our hearts when we were wounded or hide behind the shields we are accustomed to holding in front of our hearts when we are not trusting of others.  In love there are no walls, no shields.  We do not hold back.  In love the window to our heart glistens.  In love we shine and can be seen.

Vulnerability.   We arrive at true intimacy, the depths of love, through vulnerability.  Vulnerability requires trust in ourselves, trust in the other.  To be vulnerable, we must feel safe.  To be vulnerable means to open our hearts and let another in, to allow that person to see our fears, our weakness, our flaws, our insecurities, our wounds, our struggles.  We spend so much of our waking lives trying to hold ourselves together. When we are vulnerable, we allow ourselves to fall apart before another, we surrender.  And we can do this because we are safe in love and we are held.

Presence.  To love means to stay.  We stay no matter how scared we are.  We stay no matter what has been triggered within us.  We remain present with whatever comes up in love, in life.  We stay with the turbulence.  We stay with the unexpected bumps.  We stay during the unforeseen catastrophes.  We remain present with ourselves, with another, with life.  We stay with love.

“The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”                                                                 ~ Thich Nhat Hanh

From my heart to yours. Thank you for reading, for staying, and for celebrating LOVE with me.

LOVE

A Change in Perspective

Before I moved to Seattle nine years ago, I lived in Montana for a year.  I came out to Seattle for a visit on a gorgeous and summery weekend in early June.  Some good friends of mine took me out sailing on their boat in Elliot Bay and I remember looking back on the city and feeling overwhelmed by the size of it, by the expanse of buildings.  All I saw were buildings and houses from one end of the horizon to the other.  The city looked so dense and it felt dense as I rode the bus through the urban neighborhoods of northwest Seattle, the same area of the city I live today.

After a year in Montana, where the sky is big, the landscapes wild, where every resident lives face to face with the wilderness even in the middle of a “city,” I was experiencing a bit of culture shock.  I knew that most likely I was going to be moving to Seattle.  My heart felt a bit squeezed by it.  How would I fare here after living in a place surrounded by wilderness, by beauty and nature, a place I felt so at home?  How would I fare among all the buildings, the urban sprawl, after all those afternoons and evenings spent wandering and exploring the trails in and around my Montana town looking for new vegetation, discovering new wildflowers?

Today I rode my bike across I-5, the interstate that runs from Canada to Mexico through Washington, Oregon, and California.  I-5 runs like an artery through Seattle, but instead of blood, it pumps cars.  As I rode over the pulsation of cars pumping through the city, I took in this place I live – the beautiful skyline of downtown Seattle, nicely contained at a “safe” distance from my northwest neighborhood; the green treetops that fill and color the slopes of Eastlake, one of Seattle’s urban neighborhoods; the expansive and radiant blue sky, brushed and billowing with clouds; farther south I saw the beautiful snow topped Mt. Rainier rising from the blue horizon, standing large and tall.  Sure I saw the buildings and was aware of the traffic beneath me, but what struck me most was an awareness of how majestic and utterly full of nature is this city, this place I call home.

Seattle is truly a dynamic city – we have water, lots of water, both fresh and salty; to the east and to the west we have the rugged mountain ranges of the Cascades and the Olympics; and we have birds, lots of birds, yellow birds, birds that sing beautiful songs, birds with giant wingspans and big white heads, birds that peck wood, birds that look like that image of a stork carrying a baby, known in these parts as a Great Blue Heron (one of these guys called out to me tonight as it stroked over my back yard, so low to the ground that I ducked as I heard and felt it pass over me), and of course, my little friend, the hummingbird.

As I took in the city, I thought of someone dear to my heart, someone who has left this city, maybe temporarily, maybe indefinitely, and I thought, “Seattle misses you.”  But then I paused myself and instead let myself feel and more fully absorb what I was seeing, what I was taking in.  Staying in the present moment. . . it’s not about them, it’s about us; it’s about our moment.  It’s about squeezing every last drop out of each moment life gives us and savoring it, for ourselves.  Staying present, this is how one fosters contentment and gratitude.

Not too long after this shift in my internal dialogue and perception, I drove to yoga class on the very same freeway, the artery I had just ridden over on my bike.  I was approaching the city, taking it in again.  I remembered that moment nine years ago of looking back on the city and seeing nothing but buildings and feeling squeezed by it.  Today it’s a very different feeling when I look out on and navigate through the city, a complete shift and change in perspective.  I felt a little proud of myself for having this moment of insight, for making this connection between then and now, and for recognizing that just like my view and perspective of this city has changed, I had a moment of awareness and was able to successfully, on the spot, in the moment, shift my perception and change my perspective.

Storms

Fog.  Light mist.  Partly sunny.  Partly cloudy.  Sprinkles.  Grey skies.  Showers.  Sun.  Strong winds.  Dark clouds. Rain.  Lightning flash, boom of thunder.  Heavy downpour.  Sun break through the clouds and rain, a rainbow graces the sky.  Clear blue sky.  Bright sunshine.

Weather events.  Storms.  Human emotions.  Emotional storms.

We each exist in an emotional climate all our own.  Each one of us is an island unto ourselves, an island with its own climate and its own weather patterns.  Our emotional climate is affected by our history, our stories, and by stressors and triggers.  Our triggers are connected to our histories, the blue prints of our lives.  Triggers emerge from soreness, pain, emotional wounds, and emotional traumas.  We experience our emotions as storms – this is our emotional weather.

If we see a heart up close, much like we see a canyon wall or the face of a mountain when we are out in the wilderness, we will see how the heart has been formed by years of emotional weathering.  If we have a discerning and knowing eye, we will recognize the topography of the heart – grief, trauma, loss, devastation, abandonment, shattered sense of self, and so on.  If we remain present, we will begin to discover in this emotional landscape of the heart, the traces and remnants of past storms.  Here I do not speak of emotional storms, the shifting clouds or the wind and rain, but of much bigger storms, catastrophic storms, storms that have the power to completely alter an emotional landscape.

I have experienced a storm of this magnitude in my own life.  For me, this storm was the “ka-boom,” the end of the biggest and most important relationship in my life.  The explosion I would liken to a tornado – sudden and instantly devastating, completely uprooting and leveling everything in its path.  The days and weeks and months after the explosion I would liken to a hurricane – forceful winds, heavy, unrelenting rain, crashing and pounding waves.  Though my shattered heart has healed around the ravaged landscape and new life has come to exist out of the devastation, many dynamic topographical features were created by the catastrophic storm.  I continue to discover the altered and dynamic topography of my “new” heart.

Catastrophic, life altering storms are rare.  Emotional storms, however, are part of our every day, week to week existence.  We experience emotional storms as a result of stressors and triggers.  Stressors are the crappy, negative, or unexpected.  Not enough sleep.  A fight with a loved one.  The jerky boss.  An injury.  An unexpected bill in the mail.  Stressors usually do not grow out of our emotional climate.  Triggers on the other hand, do.

Triggers are the remnants of our history, our story.  Triggers emerge from our emotional landscape, the dynamic topography of our hearts.  We see or hear or smell something that brings to the surface a memory of an event or a feeling from the past, happy or sad, and we are triggered.  Something is said in conversation that relates to a sensitive or a sore place in our story, a wound that is still raw, and we are triggered.  We encounter someone from our past, or we see someone that reminds us of a person from our past, and we are triggered.  We feel a storm about to come – the winds start to blow in our hearts, the clouds come together, and precipitation forms in our eyes.  We cry.

Sometimes there is nothing external that triggers us and the trigger is internal.  We are triggered by the stories playing in our minds, not a fact based story of our sad and tragic history, though this certainly could be a trigger, but the stories, the imagined scenarios and alternate realities that are constantly forming in our minds.  These stories are not truth, but an alternate and possibly sad version of the truth that grow out of fear or worry or anxiety or a deep wound or an unresolved hurt or feeling stuck in emotional limbo . . . these stories often take on a darker mood and are clouded and colored by the emotional climate in our hearts.  The stories of our mind have the power to trigger us and when they do, an emotional weather event ensues – tears, crying, sobbing, anger, what have you.  The intensity of the storm depends on how tightly the story takes hold of you, by how much you allow yourself to be in and feel the colored and skewed reality.

I discovered that our stories can trigger us internally one day while I was brushing my teeth.  Memories started to play in my mind.  My memories started to take twists and turns into an alternate reality; imagined conversations and assumptions played out in my head.  I started to feel sad, tears started to form in my eyes, I was a little weepy.  I had a moment of awareness, a mindful moment, and I paused.  To myself I was like, “Wow.  That was interesting.  I just created my own sadness.  I just created my own little storm.”

I became aware that these “self-created” storms grew right out of the emotional climate in my heart.  I started to pay attention to my tendency to create my own storms.  I saw that when I allowed the stories of my mind to carry me away, I could very easily end up in a sad place and experience a little shower, a brief moment of cloudiness and precipitation.  Other times I saw that I experienced a longer period of rain.  Sometimes I even experienced a heavy rain from a much darker cloud.  I had one of these intense storms just the other night.  I was triggered both externally and internally.  Up and out came the well of sadness from my heart, a sadness that drenched the surrounding fields.

So what do I do with this awareness and insight into my own emotional weather?  I pay attention.  I observe.  I investigate.  I start to look at the patterning of my thoughts and the stories that grow of them.  I look at the weather patterns that ensue.  Which stories produce the most sadness? Why do I, again and again, end up in the sad place and experience a storm?  What pattern of thinking continues to take me to that place?  Is there something about the story that allows me to access a feeling?  What purpose does this feeing serve?  Is this feeling enabling me to move forward or is it keeping me stuck in the sad place?

I am aware that these stories travel along the neural pathways of my mind, the hard wiring of my brain.  These neural pathways have deep, deep roots and it takes a lot of effort – persistent, mindful, and intentional effort – to change one’s root system, to form new neural pathways.

Poet Jane Hirshfield made a statement in the documentary, The Buddha.  She said, “a tree lives on its roots; if you change the root, you change the tree.”

At the time, her words spoke to me of our ability to transform our lives and become a new tree, to live a life very different from the one lived before.  Today her words reveal to me that in order to change the patterning of one’s mind, it is vital that one must change the roots.  So if you find me sitting under a tree in Seattle or anywhere my travels may take me, I might very well be attempting to absorb the essence of that tree to enable a new root system to grow in my mind and heart and to create a shift in my emotional landscape.

Clouds shift.  Clouds change.  Clouds grow together and expand.  Clouds release.          Clouds let go.  Clouds dissipate.  Clouds blow away. 

Storms pass.