Joy as an act of insurrection

Warrior 3 in the Redwoods

I had the joy and pleasure of going down to the redwoods to visit some amazing trees. This picture was my favorite and made me teary being in its presence. 

While we were driving through the forest I was reflecting on joy. Joy is not something I typically strive for in my daily life. I strive to get things done, to be of service, to be a strong and compassionate container for people in the depths of pain and trauma and to work on myself so I can be more aware, more awake and more kind. My life is more geared towards work and compassion than joy.

 

Yet a lack of joy can lead me to burnout, depression and anxiety. I love this quote from Rebecca Solnit, “Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.” 

As I have spent a couple years now focused connecting to my own anger and the injustices in the world I have also paid less attention to the beauty, the resilience and the joy that also surrounds me. My therapist told me recently that she works to post about justice on her Facebook page instead of only injustice. There is so much injustice in the world, but there is also justice. 

In thinking about my own experiences and witnessing of injustice in my private practice, community, country and world I am reminded that our brains are wired toward negativity. This negativity bias “overestimates threats, underestimates opportunities, and underestimates resources,” Rick Hansen says is this article. This is not a bad thing. In fact, this is how we survive. As a species it is more important to be aware of what will kill you than what is beautiful or joyful. We need this negativity bias, especially when there is so much injustice every single day that is literally killing people.

I also believe we can intentionally start to train our brains to look for the beauty, the magical, the awe inspiring that happens. Not as a way of discounting or ignoring threats and injustice, but as a way of noticing what else is happening at the same time. I talk in classes and with clients about “both/and.” If we only focus on one part we miss what else is happening in the world. When we focus only on the trauma of life we can become exhausted, overwhelmed and heartbroken. We need breaks, and again, not as a way of bypassing or denying truth. I believe when we can feel our joy or smell the sweetness of the flower or delight in a child playing when we return to the fight for justice we have more reserve in our tank and support to lean on.

What has made you smile today? What has brought you joy? 

If you want to explore the topic of joy I will be doing a daylong retreat on Sunday, September 10. I would love to see you there! 

38 Birthday Requests!

My birthday is coming next week, and in true Leo style I am shouting it out to the world. I have a birthday tradition thanks to a dear friend, V, who did this several years ago. For my 38th birthday here are 38 things I would love for you to do in the world. If you do any of them let me know how they go!

1. Write down 3 things that went well today.
2. Vote! Nikkita Oliver has my vote for mayor.
3.  Take a nap.
4. Smell a blooming flower that you walk by.
5. Swim in the lake.
6. Learn about the areas in your life where you hold privilege (i.e. being white, temporarily able-bodied, male, cisgender, etc.) and how that privilege plays out in your life. If you are white, CARW and European Dissent are 2 great local organizations and Witnessing Whiteness by Shelly Tochluk is one of my favorite books. 
7. Write down 3 things you love about yourself.
8. Tell someone else 3 things you love about them.
9. Go on a social media fast (1 hour, 1 day, 1 week or 1 month).
10. Meditate (Want support? Join me for a 30 day Lovingkindness Challenge starting August 1.)
11. Go screen free for 24 hours.
12. Do something that scares you.
13. Ask a friend for support around that thing that scares you.
14. Do whatever your pet wants to do for an hour.
15. Donate to a cause you are passionate about. Here are some of my favorites: Seattle Peoples Party, Missing Pet Partnership and Refugee Women’s Alliance.
16. Set a timer for 10 minutes and do absolutely nothing.
17. Learn what helps you stay grounded when in discomfort. Practice this daily.
18. Write yourself a love letter and mail it to yourself.
19. Write someone else a love letter and mail it to them.
20. Take a walk around a park without looking at your phone.
21. Buy flowers for yourself or someone else.
22. Write down what you are grateful everyday for a week.
23. What is your way of standing up against injustice and oppression? Find out how others stand up.
24. Read Radical Dharma, The Way of Tenderness and/or Living in the Tension. (If you choose Radical Dharma check out Genevieve and my facilitated group exploration in September)
25. Come to class at Rainier Beach Yoga on Tuesday, July 25 at 6:30pm to practice 38 Sun Salutations!
26. Go to bed early.
27. Go hiking and listen to the wisdom of nature.
28. Make someone a meal.
29. Give to a person experiencing houselessness.
30. Donate food, clothing or money to your nearest Nickelsville. You can learn more here.
31. Read about some aspect of history you don’t know much about. I am currently learning about the Great Migration through reading The Warmth of Other Suns.
32. Paint your toes.
33. Take yourself on a date.
34. Practice eating away from screens and work for a day.
35. Eat a meal in silence and enjoy all the sensations of the food.
36. Listen to or read anything by Sharon Salzberg.
37. Lie on the ground and feel the earth underneath you.
38. Do something creative (i.e. dance, paint, write, draw, sing, etc.)

Let me know how it goes! The best part is hearing from you!

Wholeness is no trifling matter.

Radical Dharma by Rev. angel Kyodo williams is a powerful book on race, love and liberation within spiritual (specifically Buddhist) communities, and this quote by Toni Cade Bambara jumped out at me:

“Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?…Just so’s you’re sure, sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you’re well.”

Yoga and yoga therapy are not meant to bring ease and comfort and relaxation. Sure, that may happen, but that is not the ultimate goal of the practice. According the to the Yoga Sutras, yoga is the stopping of the fluctuations of the mind, and once that happens we rest in our true essence. But getting there is a whole other story. 

I love the metaphor of a lotus flower, which are blooming right now in Seward Park. The lotus is a beautiful flower, yet it comes from the murky dark water and mud. Through the mud it finds its way to the amazing expression at the surface.

We too are born through struggle. Every birth story I have heard shares elements of pain, beauty, agony and tenderness.

As I think about a healing journey I think of it as an intentional birthing through the mud and the murkiness to find our whole Self through the pain, the hardship and the growing up process. 

When I work with yoga therapy clients I say, “I am going to sound like a therapist right now,” and I share common therapisty sayings like: “the only way out is through” or “it gets worse before it gets better.” I believe these things are generally true, but it does not make it easier to move through the healing process. 

I generally want to bypass pain to get to a healed state. I have very successfully bypassed much of my pain for many years, but there were consequences to the bypass. I did not know who I really was. I had to shut down and shut out parts of myself that were too painful to look at. Looking back, I felt as if I only had access to some of me instead of all of me. I was unintegrated. I am sure I am still bypassing now and will continue to go through the mud throughout my life.

I believe that we are constantly birthing ourselves through whatever mud we are currently working with, and when we can actually be in the mud, get to know it, accept it as part of the process and even love it we can find our way to wellness. 

The quote above mentions the weight of wellness. Have you gone through a birthing process? What has been the weight on it for you? For me, that weight has included losing friends, relationships shifting out of conditioned patterns, experiencing more anger, sadness and fear, setting more boundaries, being more vulnerable, having vulnerability hangovers and looking at myself more honestly (which is not always pleasant). These weights are all amazing because they have brought me closer to my more authentic Self, but there was, and is, a lot of pain, turmoil and agony to go through.

Wellness, healing and wholeness are “no trifling matter.” But, in my opinion, it is worth the mud. It is worth coming home to yourself, to wake up, to see more clearly, and the more mud we go through the easier it becomes to get back in and do it again. You gain practice and skills to help with the birthing process. The only way the lotus makes it to the surface of the water is through the mud. It will probably get worse before it gets better. What helps you stay in the process to move towards wholeness? What supports you to do healing work even when it is painful?

Verified vs. Unverified Compassion and Anger

I hope this newsletter finds you well in your world. I am in the midst of a “sandwich retreat,” which is bringing the experience of retreat into daily life. I attended a daylong retreat last weekend, I returned to retreat Monday-Friday in the early morning and again in the evening, and tomorrow I end our time together with another daylong retreat. I have never done anything like this. I usually check out of daily life and responsibilities to attend a retreat, and it has been a fascinating experience to both be on retreat and to live my daily life at the same time.

One of the things I experience on retreat is a deep connectedness to others. My compassion grows exponentially, and I have a tendency to fall in love with the people I encounter and hold those who do harm with tenderness and compassion for the struggle that is at the root of their acting out. I even found myself having compassion for Sean Spicer this week, a remarkable shift, after struggling to locate compassion for any of the current political administration. In all honesty, I had an aversion to the compassion and connection I was feeling though.

In the last two years I have woken up to the ways that my compassion has not served me. Compassion kept me silent when I could have used my voice to disrupt harm. Compassion allowed me to let people off the hook because, “they are suffering” or “they are just on their journey” or “I should focus on what I agree with,” etc. Compassion made me turn away from suffering because it was too painful to look at. I am coming to think of this deluded form of compassion as ‘unverified compassion’. One concept we talked about on retreat this week was faith. The teachers distinguished between ‘blind faith’ and ‘verified faith.’ I don’t love using the term blind though, as it serves as an ableist way of describing an unconscious process, so I will use the term unverified instead. Unverified faith is believing in something without understanding why, and this kind of faith can be unquestioning. Verified faith is when we examine, question and challenge the teachings so we know them personally and intimately. We know we have faith in something not because someone told us we should but because we have struggled and grappled with it ourselves. 

The last two years have also been about reclaiming anger, and just as I became attached to compassion I also became very attached to anger. Anger served me by giving me the energy to speak up, to have a more critical analysis of the world around me, and to use this energy to turn towards the pain of the world. But I knew it wasn’t ‘verified’. Many times my experience with anger helped to reassure me that I was ‘right’ and ‘they’ were wrong. Other times I stopped listening to the people in front of me because anger flooded my system and I could no longer process what was happening around me. Some nights my body was so activated by my anger that I could not sleep. 

Even though there are many ways that my anger does not serve me, when I felt a strong pull of compassion start to return to me, I freaked out. I wanted to push it away. In the past my unverified compassion kept me unconscious about the harm I was doing in the world with the privileges I have. I was afraid I was going to lose my anger and return to the dismissive narrative of ‘it’s all good’. 

I know intellectually this fear is not true. I can not go back to who I was three years ago. I want to be compassionate, and I also want to be active. I want to integrate the two, and I believe the integration of anger and compassion can be a powerful force in the world. 

As compassion started to return I noticed myself grasping for the comfort of my anger and my righteousness. A dear friend asked me what my wise self had to say about this conflict between compassion and anger. Once I stopped to pay attention, my wise self told me I had to strengthen my anger muscle for the last couple years because it was so undeveloped. My anger  is important because it helps me access my passion and the fire for compassionate, fierce action. My compassion muscle is strong, and it needed to take a back seat for a season so it could learn to be in partnership with other parts of me. My anger and my compassion are in the early stages of dialogue. I am attempting to have faith in the process as these two parts of myself learn from each other and hopefully, become a little more verified.

Navigating uncertainty

I am in a percolating state of creation. I have a lot of ideas and am currently unsure of how to bring them to fruition. Although I am not ready to share the specifics of my dreams publicly I am interested in sharing with you the uncertainty of a the process of creation. When clients begin addressing the anxiety of a big transition in their lives, I get excited. I love supporting people going through changes, following their dreams, and living into the questions that don’t have answers yet. Yet when I find myself in the midst of transition, I am not excited. I am nervous. I can’t see the clear path ahead. To be in the midst of uncertainty makes me crave clear steps, mile markers, and clarity. At the same time another part of me also yearns for exploration, creativity and surprise.

What do we do with uncertainty, transition, and the unknown? In reality, we are always in a state of not knowing. I am on a plane heading to Chicago to surprise my best friend for his 40th birthday. I have a plan in my mind of how I imagine my time with him will be, but in reality I have no idea what is going to happen. 

When I think about creating something new, the superficial certainty that keeps me feeling safe fades away. Yesterday I shared that when I am in a moment of overwhelm or uncertainty I get a strong sensation in my head of a fast movement going back and forth. I have learned to recognize this as a hopeful sign. It means I am processing something I don’t yet understand, and that there is something shifting in my brain to attempt to integrate new information. I’ve actually grown to love this feeling even though it is uncomfortable because I’ve come to recognize that it means something is coming into focus.

With this new project nothing is in focus yet. I am mostly in a constant state of these fast moving head sensations interwoven with loud voices in my head that tell me, ‘I can’t do this,’ and ‘Who do I think I am to attempt this?’

One of the folks I confided in told me that she is excited for me. It was meaningful to me that someone in my life can hold my dream when I not sure. I needed someone else to hold belief in me while I struggle to believe in myself.

When I work with folks who are in a big transition or are dreaming of the next big journey I often ask them, ‘What is one small step you can make towards that dream?’ This is where I am currently finding solace. When I can see a tiny stepping stone to focus on, I can find enough support to keep me moving forward on this journey. As Lao Tzu wrote, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

My dear friend, RW Alves, often talks about the concept of comfort, overwhelm, and growth. Comfort can be helpful sometimes, but honesty I find too much comfort boring and stagnant. Overwhelm is unsustainable, stressful, and I can’t get much done because I am too flooded to think clearly. Growth can be uncomfortable, but also incredibly rewarding and fulfilling. As I sit in this uncertainty I vacillate between growing (i.e. finding that one small step I can take), overwhelm (i.e. this is all too much, and I can’t do it anyway) and comfort (i.e. deciding the dream isn’t worth it and I should stick with what I know and what I’m good at). Comfort comes with competence, and I love that I have many areas in my life and work where I do feel capable. I can rest in these places of comfort when the overwhelm sweeps into my body and mind. The growth is the exciting part where I can keep finding and meeting my next edge.

Yoga and meditation have challenged me in so many ways in the last fourteen years. The practice has asked me to grow and grow and grow. It has highlighted where I need to go even when I didn’t want to. My practice and intuition are asking me to grow again, and I’m facing the ambivalence of both desiring and dreading the discomfort of this next step.

When you are in a place of uncertainty or growth what helps you navigate the journey? 

Spiritual bypass and the more I learn, the less I know.

Albert Einstein said, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.”

This statement feels appropriate to the way I walk through the world right now. I am reading the book, Spiritual Bypassing, by Robert Augustus Masters (I highly recommend it!) and I am coming to terms with how frequently I attempt to bypass my body and mind using spiritual ideas.

I remember going through a traumatic experience and constantly looking for the lesson in it rather than simply going through the pain of it. I was waiting to see what the experience meant, or what I was going to learn or how going through this trauma was going to make me a better person and teacher. I used my spiritual and meditation practice to move away from the pain to the treasure that awaited after the pain was gone. This bypassed the very real pain I was in though in order to focus on the time after the pain.

I share with students when I teach lovingkindness that I used this practice for years to dissociate from my anger. I could do this meditation practice while angry and repeat the phrases, “May I be safe. May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be at peace.” Soon enough I was not angry anymore, and for years I believed this was a good thing. I do not believe this anymore because anger can be a force for good, for resistance, for motivation and for creating change. Yes, it can also be destructive, abusive and oppressive, but anger does not have to be those things. 

This weekend I had a wonderful massage, and near the end of our time our conversation turned to Trump. The kind and compassionate therapist shared he believed we needed to love Trump. He shared that Trump was providing us with an opportunity to look into our individual and collective shadows. The commonly heard spiritual message of “Love trumps hate,” feels like a bypass to me. I shared I needed to do the opposite right now. I needed to own and claim my anger because I have used love, compassion and spirituality to move away from it, away from action and away from looking at pain and trauma in my individual life as well as the collective world.

Yoga is about wholeness. The root of the word comes from yoke, and union is another common translation. When we are whole we are not just love and light and healing and happiness. If we are to truly hold all the parts of ourselves it means holding our anger, rage, divisiveness, fear and hatred just as we hold the parts of ourselves that we enjoy and we want to project into the world.

This book is both inspiring and frustrating as it shows me ways I continue to use my practice to leave myself instead of come towards myself more fully. The frustration comes from spiritual bypass itself because I should be above and beyond spiritual bypass. The inspiration comes from the honesty that I can look at myself and see there are more layers to peel back, and there always will be. From that inspiration comes gratitude for the teachers, books, students, friends and family who help me grow my consciousness, awareness and capacity to look with clear seeing (as clearly as I can) at myself. I do not know if this gratitude is another way of wiggling out of discomfort into bypassing, and I will attempt to be open to comes next.

If you are curious about the intersections of spirituality, spiritual bypass and social and racial justice check out the new on-line book club, Moving with Balance Towards Racial Justice, Genevieve Hicks and I are co-facilitating starting Thursday, March 30.

Retreat from the world or into the world?

A couple of weekends ago I had the opportunity to lead 7 souls on a retreat focused on lovingkindness. It was a beautiful weekend of connection and solitude, soothing and challenging ourselves, being immersed in beauty and nourished by amazing food.

One person said, “Thank you for holding this exceptionally enlightening and powerful retreat. You gave me something powerful, and I am so much stronger and healthier emotionally and physically because of it.”

I adore leading retreats, and I have been feeling pulled in another direction. This year is my 10th anniversary for the Embracing Balance Retreat, and it was my very first retreat I led after only 2 years of teaching. I loved retreats so much that at certain points in the last 10 years I wanted to run a retreat center. When I dive into something I dive in all the way!

A couple months ago I reached out to the over 100 people who came on the Embracing Balance Retreat to let them know this was going to be the last year. I felt called to do something else, but I was not sure what. Honestly, I am still not entirely sure, and I am excited to live into what emerges.

After this past lovely and inspiring retreat I am ready to take a complete break from leading residential retreats. The last year and half has been intense, and I am learning to listen to what that intensity to trying to teach me. Right now it is telling me to stay in the world. Work with folks in town, do workshops and retreats that keep us engaged in our daily lives rather than taking us away from our lives.

This is not to discount the power of removing ourselves for our world for a period of time. In fact, the retreats I lead often fund my own personal retreats. So thank you for coming on retreat and supporting my time for restoration, awareness and re-filling my bucket so I can come back even more engaged!
Most likely, I will feel pulled to lead retreats again. I am interested in listening to these internal forces that are talking to me, and to see where they lead me.

For now I am honored and excited to see you for the last residential retreat, Embracing Balance, May 19-21, and I look forward to the first daylong retreat on March 18, focusing on Equanimity.

If you have never been on retreat, I encourage you give yourself this gift (whether residential or daylong). Retreats offer us time to slow down, unplug from the external to tune into the internal, restore and rejuvenate our systems and take the time to tune into how we want to be in the world and where we want to direct our unique gifts.

30-day meditation challenge! Ready, set, go!

Happy Solstice!

6 years ago in December I began a daily meditation practice, and I went strong for 6 years. Until the election. I found myself sleeping in instead of practicing, tuning into the social media instead of practicing, turning on Netflix instead of practicing. The list of things I could do instead of meditating became long.

Meditation has been a refuge for me, and even now when I do sit I find myself grateful for the time to simply be, to see how I am actually feeling, to tend to myself. 

I have sat primarily by myself for the past 6 years, with yearly retreats and occasional group sits. I know the benefit of community because a 30-day challenge got me started meditating daily. This is why I am challenging myself (and you!) to a 30-day meditation challenge, and I am looking forward to being in a community of compassion and accountability with you!

Will you join me January 1?

Ready Option:
1. A private FB group to connect with others around questions, struggles, celebrations and inspiration.
2. Guided meditations for you to use.
3. 2 Q&A calls and group meditations (via on-line platform)
Cost: FREE!

Set, Go! Option:
1. A 30 minute session with me anytime during the month (on-line or in person) to answer questions and get feedback.
2. 4 Q&A calls and group meditation (1x/week)
3. A private FB group to connect with others around questions, struggles, celebrations and inspiration.
4. Guided meditations for you to use
BONUS: The first 5 people to join will get a 50% off ticket ($74 savings!) to the Resilient Heart Yoga: A Daylong Immersion Saturday, January 28 from 10:30-5:30 at Rainier Beach Yoga (a perfect way to end your 30 days)
BONUS: An additional 30-minute session with me for anyone who signs up before 12/26!

Cost: $99

I look forward to supporting you starting or re-starting your meditation practice! I look forward to being in a community of encouragement and growth with you. 

You can go here for more details and registration. 

The Election of Donald Trump: Anger, Divisiveness, Compassion and Healing

Since the election of Donald Trump I vacillate between anger, shut down, action and sadness. 

The day after the election I went in action mode and taught a post-election yoga nidra class that helped me get back into my body. Here is the recording if you would like to check it out. If you feel inclined to donate all proceeds raised go to Standing Rock. Plus for the month of December I will be collecting donations to send to camp. Here are the current needs:
Milk of Magnesia
Wool socks
Wool blankets
Space blankets
Hand warmers
Trauma kits (portable)
Suturing kits
Straw bales
Donations for legal defense

In the last year or so I experienced a lot of anger and divisiveness within my family, friends and community, and the election of Donald Trump magnified some of that divisiveness. I have fought hard for what I believe to be “right,” and my rightness has caused strain in my relationships and vulnerability hangovers within myself.

I sat with one of my teachers, Richard Miller, last week and he asked me to notice where I feel the fight in me. I got the image of my right arm holding a hammer and hitting people over the head with it. It was a violent image.

As I sat with the image my heart started to ache. I have been meeting hatred and injustice with aggression. Yet, I am also learning to allow my anger to be a part of me. In the last year I have come to love my anger. Anger does not equate aggression and violence though, and I am working towards integrating my anger with love and compassion. Sometimes anger and compassion feel at odds, but I believe and have seen them be amazing partners. 

I recently listened to a brilliant woman, Sandra Kim, from Compassionate Activism talk about one of the ways that toxic whiteness hurts white people is by white folks dehumanizing other white people. When I saw that 53% of white women and 63% of white men I was angry at white people. Anger does not fix the problems of white supremacy though, and it does not build bridges. Anger DOES mobilize and impassion people, and it has mobilized and impassioned me. 

Integration and healing are long, complicated and slow processes, and as I continue to commit to waking up, fighting for justice, loving everyone and allowing my anger to push me forward. I am moving towards loving the part of me that wants to aggressively change the challenges of our country because that aggression is driven from love and desire for justice. I also challenge myself to hold that aggression with love, but to act from a place of compassion for myself and for others. I know that I will fail and stumble along this path, and I also challenge myself to hold myself kindly when I act in an aggressive way, when I say something unskillfully and when I do not do it perfectly.

In the Rainier Beach Yoga newletter I created a list of self-care and community-care resources. Feel free to check it out here

The root of anger

Last month I went on my first 10-day silent meditation course. The word I use when people ask me about it is intense.

I am still integrating this experience, which entailed over 10 hours of sitting meditation/day, the cutest baby deer and rabbits, views of Mt. Rainier, losing my appetite for 4 days and so much more.

At the end, one of people whom I drove with asked me, “Did you have any breakthroughs?” In that moment I thought not really, I was just really scared for 4 days straight.

I have experienced several traumas in the last 2 years, and the last 9 months or so I have been angry. This has been a part of my healing process because I am conditioned and socialized to not feel or to ignore anger, and befriending my anger was a part of accessing the wholeness of me. In the mental health world anger is sometimes called a secondary emotion. Here is a description from Conflict Resolution Education: “Anger is often called a secondary emotion because we tend to resort to anger in order to protect ourselves from or cover up other vulnerable feelings. A primary feeling is what is felt immediately before we feel anger. We almost always feel something else first before we get angry.”

When we experience trauma anger can protect us, and I am grateful for my anger. In my time on the course I realized how much fear was underneath the anger. It took 7 days for this fear to emerge, but when it did the intensity was difficult to bear.

When I got home I still felt the fear, and it lives in the left side of my belly. It is still here now, only much quieter. Now, almost a month after being back in my daily life I reflect on that question asked of me, “Did you have any breakthroughs?” Yes, I found my fear under my anger. It was here the whole time, but I did not have conscious access to it until I was quiet and still for 7 days. Now I know it is here, and now I can tend to it. That is a huge breakthrough.

Love,
Laura