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

How do you accept something when you wish it never happened?

Last week while teaching class on lovingkindness we heard the chickens in the backyard getting louder and louder. When I finally looked out the window I saw a raccoon eating one of the chickens. I yelled and ran out of the room as the students were lying in legs up the wall.

We had spent some time at the beginning of class talking about our feelings about Orlando, and I was teaching to calm the nervous system. We were focusing on breathing in, “May I be well.” Breathing out, “May you be well.”

When I got back inside after corralling the other chickens to safety in their coop I still was holding space for students, but I was obviously rattled. Someone asked if there was anything they could do. I was grateful for the gesture, and I said I would take care of myself at 7:45, when class finished.

When we got to meditation I was able to spend a little time crying, which felt vulnerable and honest. I felt the need to apologize, even though I did not cause what happened. I tried my best to finish leading the movement portion of class, but I was distracted and worried. I was worried about the chickens. I was worried about the students. I was worried about myself. I chanted through tears at the end of class.

As I reflect on this challenge I am grateful for many things. I am grateful for the part of myself that can compartmentalize emotions and experiences so I can stay somewhat present. I am grateful for the incredible students who show up with honesty, resiliency, care and compassion. I am grateful for my anger that can motivate me to move forward and act. I am grateful for my nervous system that can make my muscles act quickly and my fight and flight response that can be put to good use. I appreciate my vulnerability and ability to show my softness and strength. I am grateful for my meditation practice which allows me to feel all my feelings with compassion and empathy.

Trauma is usually unexpected and not a welcomed experience, and it happens to all of us at some point and on some level. Our yoga practice of awareness, compassion and being with what is can help us navigate the traumas that we meet in our lives.

I wish this experience did not happen. I wish the students did not have to witness it. But the experience did happen, and students did witness it. The more I can accept that reality the more I can hold myself and the vulnerability, grief, anger, fear, worry and gratitude that are also realities.

With love and compassion,
Laura

Equanimity

I have been contemplating equanimity lately. I used to think of this idea as a container that can hold all of me. These days I have found that my ability to feel in both pleasant and unpleasant ways is growing, which means my container has to grow as well. As life has felt simultaneously more traumatic, more beautiful, more heart-wrenching and more joyful in the last year, I keep wondering how to hold it all.

Two years ago I probably would have told you that I knew what equanimity was, and I probably would have believed that I had access to it. Maybe I did, but I also think my equanimity was, in part, a form of denial. It was a conditional equanimity that shielded myself from hardship and struggle as much as possible.

Certain experiences happened that brought hardship and struggle that I did not have control over. Other experiences I chose to stay with instead of turning away from. Through these chosen and unchosen moments I am learning a new layer of what equanimity means.

I like to go to the dictionary when there is a word I want to understand better. Equanimity, according to dictionary.com, is “mental or emotional stability or composure, especially under tension or strain; calmness; equilibrium.” Next I went to Facebook and asked friends to offer their words for equanimity. Some words used were: The Force, “so it goes,” standing in the middle of all things, balance, flow, both/and, curiosity and love, and openness. Finally, I went to Sharon Salzburg, one of my favorite teachers on lovingkindness, to listen to her podcast on equanimity and faith. One of the things that stood out to me was when she went to sit with the Dalai Lama after things became much worse in Tibet. When she saw the Dalai Lama he said something to the effect that his mind was full of disturbed thoughts but his heart was steady.

That struck a cord with me as I was able to access equanimity in a somatic, body-based way. When I am overwhelmed or scared I can feel the buzzing in my head, racing thoughts or tension in my jaw and neck. In those moments I am typically out of my heart. When I imagine dropping into my heart I can feel the tightness in my chest, but behind that I also feel a spaciousness that can hold the grieving heart, the wild mind, the contracted body.

I do not think that equanimity means to turn away or avoid. Rather, by not turning away or avoiding, the potential to feel more fully becomes a reality. Equanimity can be the ground we can rest on in times of overwhelm. I also think the practice of lovingkindness can cultivate equanimity, as the practice can infuse our experience with gentleness and friendliness, which can be missing in times of trauma or pain.

How do you experience equanimity? I would love to hear!

Yoga Therapy for Anxiety

I consistently see people in my yoga therapy practice who feel more anxiety by talking about anxiety.

When we give anxiety voice it can go, and go and go and go. It can spin stories and worst case scenarios. It can cause folks to get lost in the details and the what if…scenarios.

I have spent time in this space. I have come up with some impressive worst case scenarios (which usually end up with me dying or losing everything I hold dear). Once the stories start they can grow and grow into an unbearable mountain of panic.

Yoga has taught me to use more than my mind to help when anxiety arises because my mind sometimes cannot get through the anxiety on its own. Last night I was on a plane heading to Florida and realized my mind was spinning some tales. I dropped the stories (which is a hard thing to do once anxiety is in full swing) and felt my feet. I wiggled my toes to bring more sensation and attention to them. For a moment I was not in my anxiety. Once I was out of the anxious thoughts I was able to offer my mind a tool, the phrases of lovingkindness: May I be safe. May my mind be at ease. May my body be healthy. May I be well. Soon enough I fell asleep and woke up a few hours later.

Does talking exacerbate anxiety for you? Does getting into your body help ease the anxious mind? On Friday, May 6 I am looking forward to offering the next monthly 2-hour workshop on yoga therapy for a particular challenge. This month’s focus will beanxiety.

Go here to learn more and register for the Friday, May 6 workshop, and if the workshop does not work for your schedule or you want support for your individual and unique experience contact me for a complimentary 20-minute phone consultation to see if yoga therapy may be a good fit for you.