My Inner Mystic

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

Category Archives: compassion

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

Beware the Angry Beast

The first couple of days in the presence of my older sister, our first time interacting in a decade, I did a lot of listening.  I listened to a lot of surface chatter.  No emotional content.  Nothing about feelings.  She talked often about things from our childhood, memories of my dad’s bizarre behavior.  I continued to hear a lot of talk about my dad.  On one of these occasions I asked her, “how did you feel when dad died?”

That question was all it took.  The heavy and closed gate around my sister’s heart opened up.  She said, “I thought when he finally died I wouldn’t be angry anymore.  I thought the anger would go away, but it didn’t.”  All these years my sister had been feeding the angry beast.  In her anger she had become emotionally detached and closed off, disconnecting from the family.  As I listened to my sister, I heard how much she’d been struggling with her anger, how much suffering she had brought into her life by feeding the angry beast.

When my dad died, my sister had very little to say.  She did not attend my dad’s memorial service.  I wasn’t surprised, but at the same time, it seemed very cold hearted and cast a light on her emotional detachment.  As my sister talked and I listened on this recent visit, she told me that she didn’t want to attend his service and chose not to come.  Why celebrate the life of a man who caused people so much pain and suffering, especially his family?  To her, not attending the service was an act of rebellion, one last chance to stick it to him and say, “you were a horrible rotten father and I hate you.”

The sad thing is that in choosing not to attend my dad’s service, my sister brought even more suffering into her life.  Attending the service might have been an opportunity to start healing wounds, to face the angry beast inside of her, and finally begin to put the beast to rest.  As I described the service to her and told her that in fact we were quite honest about the way my dad was and did not shy away from talking about the pain and suffering he brought into our lives, I could hear sadness and remorse in her voice.  She didn’t say it, but I could feel her regret that she didn’t come and that she missed out.

I get anger.  I have been there.  I have also felt anger and hatred toward my dad.  Anger is how I survived my childhood.  The irony is that my dad was an incredibly angry man. He acted out in anger and did and said so many hurtful and damaging things.  His angry beast corrupted the purity of his heart.  Anger can serve us, it can help us to survive great suffering, but it can also hurt us, especially when it turns into a beast inside of us and we feed it long after it served us.  That kind of anger will eat us from the inside out.  Listening to my sister, I heard how this had been happening within her.  Her angry beast was getting out of control.

Fortunately for me, I put my angry beast to rest a long time ago.  A spark of it lives on inside me and always will, but I don’t feed it and so it doesn’t stir and eat at me.  Instead of disconnecting from my family like my sister did, I stayed connected and involved.  I was there during a lot of very difficult family transitions, especially as my dad’s health and mental state declined.  By staying involved, I learned a lot about what things had been like for my mom as a wife and a mother.  I developed a lot of compassion toward my mom.  We reflected back on my dad’s decline and really began to understand how his mental illness made him a monster.  Seeing my dad’s decline also helped me to forgive him, to understand that even though he seemed rotten to the core, that it was the disease and the rage of the angry beast inside of him.  Somewhere within my dad, under the layers of anger and illness, existed his true self, a self of goodness and love.

Showing up as a member of the family afforded me many opportunities for healing.  My heart hurt to see my dad, who had once been so physically strong become so weak, losing strength in his body, losing control of himself and his mind.  Underneath all my anger, I felt a genuine love for my dad.  Rotten as he was, this was my dad who provided for me and took me camping and fishing and taught me how to ride my bike and made me and my siblings weed the giant family garden and pick and snap green beans.  This was my father who I wanted so desperately to be proud of me, to hear him say something positive about my achievements and successes, to receive some kind of praise.  Though my dad wasn’t able to say it to me, he was proud, bursting at the seams proud.  A young man my dad had worked with came up to me at my dad’s service and said, “so you’re Bobbi Jean.  Your dad couldn’t stop talking about you and all that you were doing in your life.”  What an amazingly healing gift I was given, the gift of my dad’s love and pride.

I am sad that my sister missed out the healing opportunities that had been available to her if she had come to my dad’s service, but her heart wasn’t ready.  Thankfully, she is now on the path of healing and getting the help she needs to put her angry beast to rest.  I am grateful for all that my sister shared.  I am immensely grateful that she *finally* opened up and spoke from her heart.  I learned so much from listening and gained so much insight into her pain and suffering and saw what has been going on within her all these years – an epic battle with the angry beast.  I alluded to her detachment and the many years that had passed between us.  I told her, “I haven’t been angry.”  In the moment I wasn’t angry, in the moment I forgave, but as I reflected back I realized I have been angry.  I haven’t been feeding the anger I once had toward my dad, but I have been feeding anger toward my sister.  Beware! the beast can have more than one head!!

May my story, and especially my sister’s story, serve to inspire each of you to look inward.  If there is an angry beast within you, I encourage you to be courageous, to look the beast in the eye, and finally put your beast to rest.  There will likely be much pain to face and challenges to work through, but if you stick with it, you can prevail, and where anger once stirred and raged in your heart, you will instead begin to feel the seeds of peace and love, gratitude and compassion, grow and blossom in your heart.

From the depths of my heart, I support you in your efforts to find peace and feel love.

Be The Yoga

I recently returned from a family trip to Utah and I practiced yoga, a lot of yoga.  Not the outer yoga, the shapes we make with our bodies, but the inner yoga.

For those of us who are practicing yogis and yoginis or have witnessed a friend or loved one who practices yoga, we know that yoga is more than just the physical practice, the asana.  Yoga is about cultivating an inner strength, an inner quiet and stillness, peace and equanimity, balancing our emotional state by finding equilibrium, and so much more.

When we face life’s challenging moments, we tap into and harness the inner strength and balance we cultivate on the mat.  We remain steady.  We use our yoga as we face life’s struggles, hardships, challenges, conflicts, and storms.  Our yoga gets us through, we remain calm and still, and we come out on the other side just as we entered:  at peace, tranquil.

In the weeks and months that led up to this family trip, I was filled with a sense of dread.  I knew this would be the “ultimate challenge.”  This trip would be the first time in over eight years, other than a few brief moments three years ago, that I would be interacting and spending time with my older sister.  This would be the first time in the presence of my sister and now 14 year old nephew since the “ka-boom,” of which I received no acknowledgement or support from my sister.  I carried that awareness with me to Utah like a heavy weight on my heart.

Why had so many years passed?  Why did I regard this as the “ultimate challenge”?  I struggled with my sister’s selfishness and self-focus as well as her obsessive nature.  I found it incredibly uncomfortable to be around her husband whose hardened exterior and fragmented interpersonal skills made it difficult to interact with him and be in his company.  Because of this, I stopped making the effort and stopped reaching out.

Over the expanse of eight years my sister became extremely emotionally detached and disconnected.  From where I sat, she seemed numb.  When my mom told my sister that my relationship had ended, my sister said “oh” and that was it.  Silence when she found out my dad died.  Absence from my dad’s memorial service.  Absence when my mom re-married.  My sister’s absence and detachment from the family, as well as her numbness, left me feeling increasingly embittered, angered, and abandoned.

Why did I even go considering all the heart-ache I carried and what I knew would likely be more discomfort and lack of acknowledge around the painful end of my relationship?  I did it for my nephew, whom I love and cherish.  I missed out on too many years of his life and I really wanted an opportunity to have time together, to create memories.  I also wanted to share with him what had happened in my life, to give him insight and understanding around the devastating loss of “my person.”  And I did it because my sister reached out and I wanted to honor that effort.

Though I knew this visit would be the “ultimate challenge,” I also knew I was strong enough to do it.  I knew I had the inner strength and a whole new set of tools and skills to draw from.  I knew I had the capacity and ability to stay present in body, mind, and spirit, to stay present in the experience, whatever it may be.  Indeed it was a challenge.  Like I said, I practiced a lot of yoga, sans mat.

What did my yoga practice look like??  In moments of discomfort, I steadied myself, I remained grounded.  In moments of stress, I breathed peace throughout the depths of my body.  When I encountered selfishness and stubbornness, I practiced flexibility.  When I witnessed obsession, I was patient.  In the face of conflict and strife, I remained serene.  When I was met with coolness, I poured out warmth.  When I came up against hardness, I embodied softness.  When I treaded near and into differing views, opinions, and beliefs, I stayed open and I embraced the spirit of harmony, which to me means to “accept and respect” differences.  When I faced resistance and dominance, I remained graceful and countered with a strength rooted in thoughtfulness and compassion.  When I was not met emotionally, I bridged the gap.  When expressions of love were absent, I presented the gift of love freely.

“Be the yoga” was one of my survival phrases.  I said this to myself often.  Being the yoga was hard work, a very challenging practice.  I cried more than once, exhausted from my efforts.  It took a lot of strength and presence of mind and heart to be the duck when faced with the stubborn, selfish bull.  I could have fought back like a bull.  I know how to behave like a bull (my family culture was one of selfishness after all), but that’s not who I am anymore, that is not how I chose to live my life.  My “new” heart cannot sustain an ugly fight with the bull.

I’m still learning how to be the duck, to stand sure footed and strong, with grace, in the face of the stubborn, selfish bull.  What I learned in the few moments of conflict and strife with my sister is that it’s challenging to be soft when encountering something hard, that it takes a lot of inner strength to remain grounded in our hearts.  And yet we stay soft so we can remain open hearted and let our hearts fill with and pour out love.  If we stay with the practice of being open in our hearts, of letting love fill our essence and our being, we can be the love that melts away the hardness, we can create a shift in the coolness and draw out the warmth.

My duck analogy might seem kind of random, but there is a story here which I’ll share.  On one of our family hikes in Utah, I was standing on a large rock along an alpine lake shore.  My nephew and brother-in-law were nearby.  My nephew was “making friends” with the ducks.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a female Mallard extend one of her bright orange legs and webbed feet backwards, whilst standing and balancing on one leg.  To my nephew and brother-in-law I said, “did you see that?”  What they likely saw was a duck standing on one leg.  What I saw was grace and elegance, steadiness and balance, equanimity.  My nephew’s duck friend was teaching us something important, modeling for us the life affirming qualities we can embrace, if we so choose.

Like the duck who modeled for us an affirming way of being, I too carried out my intention for this trip of modeling for my sister and nephew and brother-in-law a life affirming way of being:  flexible, grounded, patient, thoughtful, gracious, harmonious, peaceful, compassionate.  I modeled the life affirming, heart expansive qualities that I cultivate in my yoga practice.  I was the yoga.  I am the yoga.