The story I’m about to tell you has many layers for me. It’s painful, sad, honest, empowering, inspiring and even funny. Most of all it demonstrates the path many of us must walk on the road to self-development through meditation.
It was the second module of my most recent therapy training YATNA (YOGA AS THERAPY NORTH AMERICA). I am very proud to be a member of this group. A very important part of our tradition of yoga is personal daily practice and hopefully daily meditation. As part of our intensives, we often do group meditations led by one of our three main faculty members. These are usually done to be instructive and illustrative in how to use objects of meditation, mantra, asana, pranayama, and sequencing. Sometimes, the lessons can be much, much more personal!
Being a great yoga therapist is much more than just knowing a lot of information and knowing how to use it; it requires that you have internalized the teachings, digested them, and live them every day. So it’s more of “Do as I do and do as I say!”.
It was about halfway through the eight-day intensive, personalities had settled, egos were coming down, and a sort of routine was settling in. I was feeling pretty good because I was feeling smart (like I was at the top of the class). I was feeling good because I was making people laugh. I was feeling good because I was understanding the information being communicated. I was feeling good because I had made some new friends. I was feeling pretty good because I was coming off well.
So…..my teacher, Chase Bossart (Yoga Well Institute) was leading the meditation that day. No surprise, we did a little asana, we did some pranayama and then the meditation began.
Pick a moment or experience where you felt completely loved or supported.
This was the object of our meditation. I immediately begin to screen my memory for an experience that checks all these boxes. There was that time skiing with my mom….no but then she did this. What about my graduation….oh but dad was such an asshole. Grandma super loved me….why is nothing coming to mind. This went on for a while: I was getting desperate. I could almost make lots of moments almost work, and truthfully not a single one really did. WTF!!! Seriously, there isn’t a single moment in my 38 years of life where I have felt fully supported?!
And then I did something that I hate doing and I knew it was going to suck. I was patient. I allowed myself to not have a moment where I felt completely loved or supported. UGHHHHHHHH! My rational mind knew this wasn’t true and yet my heart was clear in its communication. I AM SO SAD!!!
So the meditation continued on with great elegance and skill, the way that Chase’s meditations usually do. You were supposed to take that experience and make it into a seed, then you used your breath to nurture your seed, and then you got to experience your seed grow and bloom. Beautiful right? NOT SO MUCH FOR ME!
What a nightmare! Here I am, someone who thinks of themselves as well liked, popular, centered etc. and I can’t make a stupid seed! I remember visualizing some sad ashy tar-like ball as the best I could come up with. When our breath was supposed to feed and nurture our seed, there was only isolation, sadness, a crying out, desperation, pain. When you were supposed to watch your seed grow into a plant and bloom, all I got were coiled vines with poisonous thorns.
This whole time I didn’t quit or leave. I just sat there and watched. What I was watching was fucking sad and it was really starting to hurt. The more I sat, the sadder I got, the sadder I got the more I had to observe. It was like watching a trainwreck: I couldn’t look away. I was literally watching myself go down in flames.
The meditation finally ends and it’s time for lunch. Deeply shaken by what had taken place, I bolt out the room and head to the dining hall of campus. I can’t bring myself to look anyone in the eye or make any conversation. I escape to my room for solace and solitude. The second we reconvene, I find my mentor (who is a faculty member at YATNA) and I say that I NEED to speak with her at the first possible opportunity. Ninety minutes of class go by in a daze and my downward spiral seems to have no end. It was like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic….shit was still going down!
The break finally arrives and I sit in a lounge to talk with Amy (my mentor). The tears begin, the snot ensues, the heaving gets momentum. WE HAVE MELTDOWN. She listens and validates my feelings, she provides empathy and holds space for my experience.Like a complete professional and loving mentor, Amy (Amywheeler.com), reassures me there millions of moments that I have been completely loved and supported. She asks me to stay with all these feelings: not that they were necessarily true but that they had an important intuition to provide. What could I discern and understand from all these feelings and from the meditation? She recommends that I stay with this for as long as it seems relevant and that communication is open. She suggests I be on my own with this.
During the meditation breakdown discussion, I was more horrified that almost everyone else had a super positive experience. It was like everyone else only saw rainbows and unicorns and I was vacationing at Auschwitz with Freddy Kruger.
It took several days to feel better! Days! I mean entire days that I sat with this turd of an experience. The insights that I got made all the pain and suffering worthwhile. It was like pulling back decades of thoughtless behavior and looking honestly at who I was. It’s hard to describe exactly how this works: I got flashes of understanding that I had never been aware of.
A ton of my behaviors were elucidated in the lens of this meditation. I am funny so people will love me, I’m smart so people will love me, I talk a lot so I will seem important and people will love me, I do a million unconscious things all to fill this need!! And to be clear, it’s not some intellectual understanding, it was visceral. I felt every one of these behaviors and a corresponding sensation in my body. It was like looking at myself through an emotional time machine.
In fact, I still refer to this moment with some regularity. This means that the residue of this experience has not been completely digested or processed. Every time I go back to this experience it is a touchstone. I am thankful that I am not as affected by it as I once was, and it still has enormous value to me. The pattern of my behaviors is incredibly deep and powerful and therefore I have not been capable of eradicating or changing it. And yet, now there is awareness: there is understanding: there is less over-identification.
What I mean to say is, that for more than 38 years I ran around doing all sorts of behaviors that made me, me! It was just who I thought I was moving through the world as best I could and then this insight was given to me that helped me better understand the why of what I was doing. Not an easy thing to process I might reinforce. So now, I often find myself going back to these deeply patterned behaviors and I can recognize that I am not those behaviors and I am not the need that drives them. I sometimes still feel like I have never been completely loved or supported and I know that that is not true; simultaneously my need to behave a certain way to pacify the effect of feeling unloved or unsupported diminishes. It’s so cool and interesting.
To some of you, this may seem too heady or intangible, but to those of you interested in personal development and improving the quality of your day to day existence, I hope this is deeply fascinating. The fact that there are tools that help us understand our needs with their corresponding behaviors is amazing, And, that yoga gives us the tools to create new patterns that producing concordant behaviors and emotional feedback cycles is miraculous.
What would your life, right now, look like if you could better comprehend why you do what you do? What would your life look like if you could better understand your deepest needs and could create new behaviors that would better serve you? I think this is mind blowing! Stop. Think about this for a moment.
In my experience, this is not easy work or for the feign of heart. It requires guidance from trusted sources, it requires a personal commitment to yourself and to be present, it requires being comfortable with being uncomfortable. In my experience, this work can change everything in your life in ways that you never imagined possible. IMAGINE.
Anyway, back to my emergency meltdown session with Amy; “Be by yourself so you can discern your feelings and understand what this is about,” she says to me. Deeply grateful to feel more held and contained I return to class with a bloated face that deeply resembles a cat’s anus. (I’m a super ugly crier!!). We have one more short break before the end of the day when I will finally be alone (gulp…..afterall who really wants to be alone with all these thoughts), and during this break, a woman named Robyn and I start talking.
I can’t remember who approached who, but I believe it was fate. I think it was something like two magnets that were pulled towards each other. Each of us had the residue of painful tears from the meditation and I think we were both truthfully afraid to sit with the enormity of what we experienced. “Do you want to grab some dinner after class?” I think I asked (knowing full well that my mentor had clearly suggested/instructed that I reflect alone). “Yes!” she gobbled out, unclear because she was overly polite or because she was shaken up.
Our 12 hour day finally ends, we drop our school stuff in our dorm rooms and we begin the short walk to Taco Mamacitas. Summer in Nashville is hot and muggy; we sit outside on the patio. The hipster tattooed waitress comes to take our order. I don’t think she had even finished saying “Hi there, my na…” before I blurted out….”Jack & Diet!” simultaneously followed by “Chardonnay!!” by Robyn. We start to laugh. “Rough day ya’ll?” the waitress comforts as she leaves.
“Only if never being loved is rough,” I say out loud. Robyn makes a face of deep satisfaction: like the one you make when you finally get to use the toilet after eating poisoned food! Seriously…….that was the expression on both our faces. We were not alone! We had both been unwittingly guided into an emotional mine field.
I think we stayed a couple of hours and chatted over two or three drinks. We may have even gotten business drunk, or as my friend, Amber would say “the polites”. We bonded instantly and have been the best of friends since that day. Perhaps it was the brutal and unignorable condition that we were both in that allowed us to be completely open with each other. That first time we connected we were literally a raw nerve, covered in need, crusted with self-loathing and the wreak of fear wafting from our very pores. It turns out, that is not a terrible place to start a brilliant friendship.
I know this story can be tough to read. It seems quite sad and painful. The truth is, it was. To this day Robyn and I love to talk about this day! Whenever we bring it up, the first thing we do is start to laugh like two stupid middle school cliquey girls. I think we laugh because it’s truly funny how much of a wreck we both were. I think we laugh because we both received so many incredible benefits from the experience. I think we laugh because we both cherish the awareness that we were given. I think we laugh because we now have greater clarity and I think we laugh because laughter is the most powerful reminder that we are both and have always been completely loved and supported.
For your musical enjoyment: Both Sides Now by Joni Mitchell
This entry was posted on Saturday, June 17th, 2017 at 9:45 am
Posted in: Yoga