Archive for August, 2009

Letting Go: Part I – Forgiveness

A few weeks ago I sat down to write about forgiveness and ended up writing about being in the body in a way that allows for flow to happen – in an attitude of receiving. This is not so odd as it might seem. Forgiveness, in my view, is allowing yourself to be in the flow of Love. Judgement, anger, self-righteousness, malice, resentment, hatred are all resistance to that flow. Forgiveness is the letting go of resistance and allowing the flow to continue.

One of the biggest tricks of human emotion is the charge we get out of negative emotions (and positive ones too, but that’s for later). I’ve been known to have a temper, and I don’t know about you, but when I get really angry I can practically feel the steam rushing out of my eyes. A while ago I also noticed that I could feel my body constrict, especially in the area of my heart. I also noticed that after an outburst, the skin on my neck would crawl and I’d feel really, really low in energy – this after the big charge of energy that occurred while I was venting my self-righteous indignation at whomever had the misfortune of incurring my wrath. This big charge of energy is exhilarating, but it requires energy to maintain. It creates an internal black hole that sucks away energy from other “primary system.” Let’s not forget that since the event has already occurred, to maintain a connection to it one must essentially keep the past alive – no small task. Is it any wonder that my skin would crawl and that I’d feel spent? Who’s got that kind of energy? What would be the payoff?

Often we hold on to our anger because we’re determined to hurt the other person – to make them suffer like we’re suffering. So here I’d be, with my blood pressure raised, stress level high, immune system compromised, tired and with a headache from throwing a tantrum… Who was I trying to hurt again? Newsflash! The main person being hurt is you. And the net effect? More anger in the world.

The realization that my anger was more about me than it was about the other person came from A Course In Miracles (ACIM). One of the understandings I’ve gained from ACIM is that the world you see is the manifestation of your inner world. If something/someone is really getting to you then they represent that within you which needs to be released – i.e. forgiven. How do you do that? By letting it go so that you can free yourself from it. By releasing it in the outer world as if it never happened.

Many of us have learned to forgive by “being the better person” and acting as if everything is okay. But inside we still hold on to what was done to us, we keep it alive in a memory that is still emotionally charged. We make ourselves feel superior to the person we’ve “forgiven.” If one is to accept the premise of ACIM though, that person is actually the messenger of our own freedom, showing us vulnerable parts of ourselves which we would otherwise not be able to see, emotional blind spots, if you will. True forgiveness – letting it go as if it never happened – really allows us to forgive and free ourselves.

Driving is great forgiveness practice for me. I’ve incorporated a physical release into this practice. I feel myself harden inside as I become judgmental or angry (or hurt by someone else’s anger) and I gently instruct myself to “soften.” There is an internal feeling of quiet and a sense of coming back into my body, rather than a buildup of emotion and an outward projection of angry energy. Of course this might need to be done a few times depending on what happened – I never said it was easy to do, only necessary. Also, nowadays, when somebody really irritates me, it only takes a second to remember doing something equally inane myself. It’s easy to let go when you remember you’ve done the same thing. Thankfully, after practicing for a while, I’ve also learned to forgive myself. This is a hard lesson.

A few months ago I did something that was very hard for me to forgive: I forgot an appointment with a new client. It was a cold day and my phone was off, so they waited outside the studio for me and I came to my senses an hour later. Of course they had left in disgust. I was horrified, devastated, ashamed, and angry at myself all at the same time. I can be absent-minded at times, but this was a new level of inefficiency for me, perhaps fueled by some emotional issues I was dealing with at the time. I was scared that something was really wrong with me, but instead of being compassionate with myself, I began to berate myself in the car in front of my husband and kids. Nothing my husband said to console me was effective, but when we got home my son gently said to me: “Mommy, it’s okay, you’re not bad. You didn’t mean to do it.” That was the turning point on my journey of self-compassion. In that moment, something inside me softened toward my Self – seen through my child’s eyes. I let go. I let go of the anger and the fear and held myself in compassion. “You’re not bad.” And I got a smartphone with an alarm!

My story also brings up a key element that I think is a must when dealing with the anger that often prevents us from forgiving. I’ve learned that underneath anger, resentment, judgment, even annoyance, is fear. It is as if somehow we know that it is really about us and not about them, but it is easier to get indignant than it is to look below the surface at the real problem: our fear of facing ourselves. What if we looked deeper and found that we really felt not good enough? What if we uncovered some selfishness, neediness, fear of failure, fear of being found out for being a fraud – not a great parent or not as cultured or as brilliant as we appear? What if we uncovered a basic fear of not being able to do this life thing the right way? What if we realized we were just like the person we despise? Then what? If we couldn’t meet this realization with compassion, that would be a rough road. But if we could let go of our stories about ourselves, and other people, and acknowledge that we’re all basically doing the best we can with what we’ve got, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad.

In the end, no-one can hurt you unless you allow them to. So instead of saying that “So and so pissed me off,” we might do as so many teachers I’ve been reading recently recommend, and instead recognize: “I chose to be pissed off by So-and-so.” Then what’s to forgive? It becomes all about compassionately investigating why you allowed that to happen and uncovering your blind spot so it can’t happen again – or just letting it go.

August 19, 2009 at 1:16 am 5 comments

Becoming Strength

Several years into my yoga practice it occurred to me that I am strong. This was a revelation. At 5ft tall and 100lbs, I had always viewed myself as something of a whisp. Other people were strong, I was flexible maybe, but not strong. Later I realized that strength was more about letting go that it was about armoring. What caused my shift in perspective? Amazing teachers & my own willingness to look deeper.

Roger Eischens was an amazing teacher whose presence inspired confidence and whose work was as brilliant as it was challenging. His work was based on affecting the core through the periphery of the body, and I guess it worked for me.

Roger passed away before I realized the full effects of his work on my body and on my psyche. When I realized my upper body was strong, it was more than just a sense of physical strength. It was accompanied by a sense of power and possibility that I had never felt before in this diminutive body. People had said to me in the past: “You’re all muscle, aren’t you?” But I had never felt strong. This is when I realized that strength is much more than muscles that are well developed, but a sense of deep connection.

When I work in class on upper body strength, we work on feeling the strength of the arms from the press of the palms into the floor to the upper arm bones pressing back. This engages the lattissimus dorsi and the muscles across the shoulder blades and releases the tense activation of the trapezius muscles and the muscles of the neck. What I realized was that in my own practice I was also affecting my heart chakra with all this upper body work, and that the challenge was not to armor more, but to strengthen and support in order to open.

Sometimes we armor our bodies in ways we don’t realize when we don’t feel strong. This armoring translates into habits in the body that speak louder than our own perceptions of ourselves. A few months into this work, and feeling very confident about my strength and balance, I took a workshop with Kim Schwartz – another amazing teacher. Kim adjusted me in Half Moon. Saying “You’re going to feel as if you’re bowing” he adjusted my upper spine so that my lower ribs moved back and my shoulders forward. This simple adjustment took away that amazing feeling that I thought was strength, and brought with it a feeling of softness that was a little disturbing. Later Kim spoke of the thrusting forward of the lower ribs as indicative or arrogance, which was really was disturbing to me. Arrogance? Me? No way! I was not arrogant, I was actually shy – and here he was stripping me of the little confidence I had finally gained. He had to be wrong this time. Or maybe it was just the other people he’d adjusted who had that problem.

The magic of yoga is what the practice can reveal to you if you are willing to see. It is often the revelations that are most disturbing that contain the greatest wisdom. I couldn’t let go of that notion of arrogance, and when my resistance finally burned itself out, I had to admit to myself that he was right. I was very opinionated, and tended to become annoyed with people who didn’t hold the same opinions. And in many ways I was very pleased with myself at what I had ‘accomplished’ with my yoga practice. What also became clear was that this arrogance was the flip side of a deep sense of insecurity. The feeling of ‘bowing’ brought with it a feeling of being vulnerable.  My armor had been taken away, and I wasn’t sure if what was left was sufficient.  What was clear, however was that this place was much more open, much more receptive, and allowed more freedom than where I had been before.

In the body we thrust the lower ribs forward when there is a lack of strength across the lower thoracic spine – the third chakra/personal power area. This thrusting forward of the lower ribs is of accompanied by a lack of mobility in the side ribs, a closing in to protect the heart that also restricts the breath. When we can release the side ribs and allow the breath into the back body, the low ribs can settle into place and strength is accompanied by and inner sense of ease, a settling into the body, rather than a need to push forward. This, I believe, is true confidence – the ability to allow. I suspect this is also the place from which we develop the courage to truly see ourselves with compassion.

August 2, 2009 at 12:11 am 2 comments


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