Saturday, May 24, 2014

The most frightening lesson I've ever not wanted to learn. Part 1.

Last night, I was more frightened than I have almost ever been in my life. This morning, I was so scared that I went into total avoidance and denial.

There have certainly been times when things outside of my control have scared me, and those kinds of fears are different.

But this one, this was one of those fears, like standing on the top of something huge you have climbed up and looking down and saying, okay, ski this ridiculously steep thing. Or looking at a cliff face covered in powder and saying, okay, jump off of that.

Last night, I stared at this moment and thought, oh shit. I do not think this is one I can overcome. I may have finally met my match. This is not worth it. Not worth facing, not worth trying, not worth experiencing. Every single person in the room is expected to do it, and I, just thinking about it, want to cry and hide, lie, say I did it, leave, unworthy. I am terrified, and we haven't even begun. I am afraid of a plastic bottle that is capable of holding exactly 1.2 liters of salt water.

Fear, embodied.

Even now, writing this, the bottle is sitting in the small refrigerator next to me, and I can hear it, naming my fear, right through the door.

I expected when I came to Teacher Training in Koh Samui, Thailand, that I would find my lesson.  So far, the one consistent thing about life seems to be that lessons show up. Over the years, I've stop chasing the lessons (as in, I am going on a retreat to FIND myself, to BE TRANSFORMED) and started just following my path, knowing that at some point, the lesson will show up. Like Doby the House Elf, POP! Suddenly and unexpectedly there, right next to me, tugging on my shirt, trying to get me to bend down and listen while he whispers something very important in my ear.

Because of this perspective, traveling to new places and trying new things has become a bit of an interesting adventure of a different kind. Seeing something new and unusual became feeling something new and unusual became finding the experience that made me see something in a way I hand't before, which became seeing myself in a way I hadn't before, which became an arrow pointing at some sort of possibility for change.

The arrow points to a door, inside that door, should you choose to open it, is a chamber, hidden, in which sits one small folded piece of paper, on which is written a riddle, usually a simple one. Unfold that paper, look at that riddle and, most of the time say, "Duh. I know that." But of course, you don't. You don't really know anything.

But if you forget about Duh, and have some curiosity about this little koan on a piece of paper, if you sit down inside yourself, devoid of other distractions, and wonder why that particular riddle was given to you, or why it kept showing up, its meaning might change. Your understanding might change.

Once that happens, the words transforming themselves from what you thought you knew into what you see you must understand differently, you can put the paper down, and practice in that room, you can walk up onto the ceiling and look from that perspective, you can have a lie down on the wall and look at it from that perspective, you can sit in the corner, you can rest, you can bang on the wall and want to be let out, you can meditate, weep, laugh, wrap yourself into a pretzel, lie and take rest, pull your mind out of your head and turn it over into your hands, throw the contents of your body into the flowing water by the wall, watch them go down the drain, pace, levitate, fly, and vibrate.

The room inside of me. A slow stream of water runs along the back wall. In my mind, the room is all the color of the floor. It is not an unfriendly place. There are no electrical outlets in my room, but this image is pretty close.
And once you let go of all of that, and it's just the words, and whatever of you is left, raw and receptive and ready to learn, you can mere, assimilate whatever part of it you are capable of assimilating. And then when some small portion of understanding has shifted, entered you, merged with you, the door on the other side will open, and out you can walk, into the sunshine, and continue on your way.

While that process can be frustrating, and frightening, the sensation of emerging, changed, and more grounded is so freeing, that I eventually began to diligently have my ear to the ground, hoping for a sign, maybe THIS is the lesson, or THAT is the lesson. Perhaps I should dive deep into everything that seems like a sign.

Over the years, I found that this kind of behavior, addiction to growth, this hyper vigilance, an over willingness, a chasing of bliss through self flagellation with the truth in a continuous unrelenting path was exhausting. There was no time for reflection and no ability to see myself as a whole, I was too ready to mutate. Perhaps because I was very broken as a person, the disparate elements of myself scattered far, the pieces confusing to fit back together. I realized as I grew that this stemmed from a lack of my own compass, a strong yearning for that internal compass, a sense of self that was based on truth and not striving to be the me that someone else wanted me to be. It led to a tendency toward fracturing of my attention, myself, rather than a deepening.

This, ironically, became the lesson for a while... requiring a teacher (who showed up, of course, unexpectedly...) It required patience, and grace toward who I was, and the process of who I was becoming. That process began around when I started writing this blog.

Aubrey Wallace, you transformed my transformational process, making a knotty path curvy. Thank you.
Now, eight years later... I'm headed to Teacher Training for yoga. I know that immersion brings fatigue, and fatigue, mental, emotional or spiritual, exposes weaknesses in the fabric of self (where ego seems to bridge, like a band-aid, the holes in the fabric of our true selves), and, with willingness, the work can begin. I signed up for this, knowing it could be a possibility, but not with the purpose of scratching off the scab. If Teacher Training could be accomplished with lessons learned, buy maybe "Lesson Lite" internally right now, I would welcome the break. It's been a good year, but a year with its challenges.

Last Monday, my forever friend and adventure partner Kurt and I climbed up to the top of Mace peak and skied in deep powder for what felt like miles and miles. That climb had its own set of lessons, tacks along the mindfulness path, deepening questions in the vein of risk as I balanced precariously on hard packed snow in the middle of an intense snow storm on a ridge line, consequence in the extreme dropping away from me on the right, and on the left.

This is Geissler peak a few years ago... It was snowing too hard for photos on Monday!
On Tuesday, I held my boys close and smelled their hair and listened to their laughter and knew I would miss them so intensely, I folded my clothes and put my yoga mat in a backpack, went to an evening practice, and wondered how bad the long flight to Bangkok would be. This day had its own set of challenges, why do I leave them to follow my needs, what will this do to them in the long run, am I there enough, should I not go without them, should I only go if I can bring them, am I as balanced as I feel about this, is it selfish to want to take them out of school so they can experience the world with me, or am I only indulging my own needs and making excuses for why that's okay to do? I'm not sure I'll have answers to these questions along the way, I let go of needing to know if its right or wrong, and do the best I can for all of us, trying to find balance.

On Wednesday, I got up early, and Tom and Bodhi drove Kurt and I to the airport, and off we went. I put my injured, healing, heavy, happy body on the plane, and did not feel anxious or nervous about the road ahead. My only expectation was that I would go through a training, emerging at the end if successful, with the ability to teach a basic class, and with a deeper understanding of the yogic practices in general. My other expectation was that at some point during that month long immersion, Doby the House Elf would... POP! Show up next to me, tugging on my shirt, because he had something important I needed to learn.

"Sir, Sir?" "Not NOW, Doby!"
I think that the trick in noticing when Doby is there may be to listen. Sometimes, my kids will come and stand next to me, and say "Mom, mom, mom..." and sometimes, I don't listen right away. I think that's because kids don't have the ability to differentiate between important things to tell you and unimportant things to tell you. Because everything is given equal importance, I often don't differentiate in what I'm hearing, waiting to turn my attention to them until I'm ready to turn my attention to them. I assume it's probably not important, because I don't hear urgency. Or if I do hear urgency, it is as often followed with "Watch this!" as "Bodhi fell through the ice into the pond again!"

I think I had some idea that my lesson would likely come in the form of looking at grief as my body became strong, but tired during this intensive. It has been a tough year, so many people have died. My friends and family, through illness, suicide, drug overdose and avalanche, and friends of those close to me through BASE jumping accidents, avalanche, cancer and person-meets-tree impact. It has been another year riddled with sudden stops. So much so that there is a numbness associated now with death, that it is a part of life, that it happens. The grief and grieving seems to be short circuited almost.

I arrived in Koh Samui on a Saturday, after avoiding Wat Po and the Royal palace in Bangkok due to political unrest. The reclining Buddha is becoming elusive to me, Bodhi and I tried to see him last summer and were also unable to gaze on his beautiful feet due to full trains and poor planning. Instead we took a motorcycle taxi through the clogged and dangerous Bangkok traffic to a Thai massage spa, and had two tiny Thai women wring the 36 hours of travel out of our bodies. Heading back through the smoggy heat, we ate congee for 30 bhat at a food stall outside the train station and spent the night rocking gently, rolling south through the jungle, past limestone cliffs and candle-lit lean-tos full of hanging laundry and squatting people to the ferry port, where we would catch the boat to Koh Samui.

Boarding the train to Koh Samui
I stood in the door of the train, wondering in a loose way about what Samahita retreat would look like, how authentic it would feel, would it seem like Thailand or just like rich white people complaining about needing to be better at Assana, and was I one of those people or could I trust my practice, each aspect of it, to have some sort of importance that could possibly bridge the gap between light skinned privilege and the realities of the people who live in the land where I was going to learn.

I watched the palms roll by in the night and thought of Bodhi, of our grand adventure last year, and missed him with a deep longing, which felt like grief. I thought of Ethan, and how this was meant to be our summer together, our time to grow close and tight, I thought of my selfish desire to watch how he would travel, what his lessons would be, what he would love, and want and try, and feel. I know he made a good choice to go to Space Camp this summer, he has wanted to be there since he was four. And I know we will travel together one day. But I miss the potential of what we almost had.

Fresh off the train from Patna to Bangalore, Bodhi and I in India last fall.
There are families here, children, brown like nuts, playing in the pool and walking in the sand with a snorkel in their mouth even out of the water, the novelty of breathing through a tube too fascinating to let go of even as the sun dries the water on their sticky legs. I miss my boys, I miss my boys, I miss my boys.

We rented a scooter straight off the ferry, and I was myself again, but again, there was Bodhi, not on the back of the bike, as we went ripping along the roads toward Samahita, Kurt in the taxi with the backpacks ahead of us, me, almost free, missing the chickens, ducks, and dogs of Bali, but so happy to feel the familiar heat and humidity soak through me again.

The training has started slowly, masterfully. Ellone, the senior teacher, has a consistency of person, gently, like flowing water that neither rises nor falls, just runs along the river bank at a pace just fast enough. She is inviting because of that. Occasionally, she laughs and lets us in a little further, this reminds me of moments in Montana, paddling the canoe, gliding and coming under the huge canopy of trees and seeing all the sunlight filter through, some leaves you can see through, the sunlight playing games across your face and arms feels surprisingly silly, catches you off guard, lightens you. Ellone has a melodious voice when she chants in sanskrit, it is a surprise to hear this sound emerge from her consistent, diligent, disciplined person. Her lightness is a relief in the intensity of her gentle, but insistent consistency, a small gift. If my goofiness when I'm teaching is a big Hershy bar, Ellone is a small bite out of a carefully crafted truffle. Just the right mix of crack and sweet, the flavor unexpected, savored, and then gone.

Ellone teaching Asana Study class in the afternoon at Samahita Retreat.
When we arrived at Samahita, I felt a bit like my body was here, but all my stuff, my emotional body, as it were, was lagging behind. I felt dispassionate, but also disconnected. I wasn't nervous, or excited, I was just going to the next thing at the appointed time. This was concerning a bit to me, I wanted to feel like I was diving in, looking forward to the training. I felt, kind of, nothing.

This had become a theme this winter, beginning to feel nothing as things became more intense. What could it mean? Our first practice was gentle. Our reading was light. The next day, practice was a bit more intense, anatomy class began, Asana Study began, but still, we were moving slowly, and I was glad for it. I saw Tracy, one of the wellness practitioners here, and spent an hour laying under her skillful hands. I found my grief floating above me, saw it, recognized it, but didn't reach for it. I have finally learned not to grab and stuff, but to observe and acknowledge. This piece will integrate on its own. I don't know what will bring it closer. I'm not in a hurry to find out. Just knowing that made me feel more present and connected, like a thin, tenuous golden string from inside of me to my grief, floating above, like an ashy balloon.

On the third day, I woke up early, before the sun, and went out to the water. I swam out slowly, mindful of my shoulder, out past the reef break and floated on my back in the salty water and watched the sun come up.

I thought, as I floated there, feeling a gentle burn in my shoulder, that perhaps my lesson was again going to be about healing an injury, patience with injury, or something along those lines. But I'm not really that bothered about being injured.

Dawn floating meditation.
I'm modifying my practice, I'm still learning a lot, my twists are where my physical discipline is going right now rather than my upper body integrity, because this is not the time to work on that. I tore my biceps tendon skiing in Utah, and it's just not done healing, and that's fine.

There are plenty of other places to work. I thought, as I laid there, that this might be a boring lesson to learn if this is the lesson. I thought, perhaps I'll have a relatively uneventful trip, like a rest day, a break from facing fears and lessons and I'll just get to look at asana and pranayama and read, and sit, and learn with out having to actually crack the egg open this time.

Oh my god was I wrong.

There are some other kids standing around pulling on my shirt, and one of those kids is my shoulder. It's young, and easily soothed, I know to listen to it when it talks, and I pacify it, but try to wean it at the same time.

My old broken ribs are also talking that Thai massage in Bangkok, and something about the way the woman worked misaligned me again, and since then I've been having trouble twisting on that side and breathing. And, like my shoulder, it requires some patience, and some listening. Moving makes it better, I saw a fellow teacher training student who is a chiropractor, and that made it better. It's healing, I'm letting it. So I don't think that's my Doby.

Thai massage, like having yoga done to you. 
Sitting all day on the floor for hours and hours, a rite of passage through which all yogis in training go through, is proving, with this rib, to be challenging. After six hours of sitting cross-legged on the hard floor, the pain waiving through my back makes me nauseous, my nerves begin to tingle all over my body. By the end of the fourth day, my nervous system was beginning to freak out. Moving feels good, practicing feels very very good, sweating feels good, sitting still is making me feel nauseous, nervy, and, actually, almost exactly like I used to feel when I was having a particularly bad attack of Fibromyalgia.

What is this? It's not the practice, when I move, I feel relieved of the symptoms. Is this my lesson, is this Doby, or just another distracting kid, pulling at my shirt? I turn my attention to it, turn it over in my hands. How do I address this without being victim of it, how do I make sure I balance without running over it, bull headed enough to keep working even though I'm in pain. I reach for a compassionate balance, laying down when I need to, sitting up and coaxing my hips open when I'm not laying down.

I feel fluish, feverish almost, my fascia is throbbing through my body, waves of nausea are crashing over me while I work to keep my spine straight and my hips opening. Finally I give in, put a bolster on the floor, and listen to the lecture with my spine draped and cracking over this little pillow. I worry about being disrespectful, learning lying down, I know I should sit up and work through the pain, but the pain is so great that I can not listen, which is also not the point.

I struggle for balance between teaching my back to be strong enough to sit, teaching my hips to be open enough to sit, and giving my body the rest it needs. My nerves want to crawl out of my body and slink off across the beach and float on their back in the deep ocean and watch the sun come up. I am afraid to tell the teachers about this condition, I am afraid they will tell me it is the asana and I am overloading my nervous system and to back off. But I think that is a misunderstanding. Moving makes it go away. I don't feel like I'm over working, or over "training". I am intimately familiar with that feeling. This one echoes that one, but it is brought on by inaction. Sitting makes it worse. It is like a fire that spreads the longer I sit, and I am trying, through all of these practices, to learn to sit.
Anatomy class. Asana Study class. Pranayama class. Sitting class. 
Pita out of balance, Prem would say.

I think about food, maybe there is something more, or else, that I can do? Maybe I am in the lesson and I don't know? I feel comfortable trying to solve this problem, I've dealt with fibro before, but the cause was clear. Whiplash. I don't want to complain, or draw the teacher's attention, or make this training all about me when there are 38 other people also going through their own growth, pain and issue. I don't feel drama around the pain, it is a problem to be solved, and I'll work through it as intelligently as I can, from body intelligence to mind intelligence, to mindful intelligence. The support for working through things is certainly here, this place is so much more than it seems when you walk through the front door.

I get a massage, I quadruple my fluids, I offer to be the model whenever we have the opportunity and no one is taking it so that I can move when we are sitting. I move to the back of the room and try not to be distracting as I fold forward and traction my spine, instant relief. I look with longing at the screw in the ceiling, if we could hang the swing up, I'd get in there and hang upside down for the whole entire lecture.

I know that the problem is showing up when I'm sitting still, but I'm not sure that's the cause. I know that moving is good, and that moving through this will allow me to sit still. I haven't eaten sugar in a week, and I don't miss it, so that's not it. I'm not hungry, I feel light (because colon hydrotherapy is a yogis favorite pastime and I have drunk the kook-aid and agreed to do what we are asked to do, and therefore I've been scrubbed inside as well as out.) And yes, it works, I feel better, lighter, cleaner, my food is moving through me correctly.

The food here is vegetarian, lots of raw and roughage. I'm less hungry and more energized. So I'm on the path of some sort to solving this problem. Rest. Today is a rest day, and I know that's helpful, too. But I won't spend it sitting down, I'll go for easy walks to move the fascia and hopefully that will help healing whatever is going on.

My lesson has showed up. I don't want to learn it so badly that every single other thing in my body is talking as loud as possible to help me avoid it.

Until last night. When I was suddenly, fully confronted with the most terrifying thing that I could possibly face. It is a practice called Vamana Kria. A kria is a cleansing practice. We are meant to do this one every day for the next five days. Then every other day for a week, and then once a week, and then as needed.

Here, for the uninitiated, is an explanation:

Kunjal (Vamana) Kriya - Stomach Washing

Yogi Shakti Das

This practice is used in the cleansing of the oesophagus and stomach.
Start by quickly drinking approximately one litre of isotonic salt water, performing nauli kriya(optional), then forcefully evacuating the stomach utilizing a vomiting reflex (apply uddiyana bandha after having taken a big inhalation followed by a complete exhalation and external kumbhaka). If the vomiting reflex is not triggered naturally through this process, use a finger to tickle the upper part of the throat, as far back as is necessary to induce vomiting. To be effective, the vomiting wave action should be very forceful moving from the bottom of the stomach upward so that all the contents including any old solid matter at the bottom of the stomach are pushed up and out. Don't worry if not all the liquid is evacuated, it will pass later naturally through the stool and urine.
Kunjal kriya is best done at dawn or first thing in the morning, after evacuating the bladder and bowels. With a little practice the entire litre will come out in a forceful stream, one or two waves, taking with it any old mucous or debris. However, most of us will require a series of three or more wavelike contractions to eliminate.

Today, I started by filling the container with regular water, and staring at it. I then put it back in the fridge and went to breakfast.

Part of this practice is meant to disassociate the strong connections we have in the mind with illness, eating disorders, feeling sick, and so on.

I have an extreme aversion to throwing up. I know most of us don't like throwing up in general. When I throw up, I often pass out. I, as we all do, have an extreme neurological reaction to throwing up, and this morning, as I was placing my still full bottle of water back in the fridge, could hear my more valorous building mates wrenching the contents of their salty stomachaches into the shower drain and then "taking shavassana" on the floor.

I walked to breakfast wondering if I can chose to go through this process or not, knowing that facing my fear will show me what I am afraid of. I have met my match. Today, a 1.2 liter bottle of water is the victor, and, my tailbone tucked between my legs, I'm drinking coffee and enjoying my day off.

When I finish my first cup, I find my friend Mark, who has twisted his mustache into two small handlebars, reminding me of my beloved teacher, Dylan. He smiles at me, and asks how things are going with the Neti (which we are supposed to do by flossing a plastic tube through our nose and then dumping a pot of water through on both sides in three directions), and the Vamana.

I smile. "I'm doing research. I wanted to hear a bit how it was going for you guys first." I've had a brief conversation with a teacher already, Paul, this morning, who assured me that I have plenty of time to "man up" and give it a go. I talked with Sharon, she is also checking out how others feel about it before taking the plunge. Or the purge. Or whatever.

While I chat with Mark, he explains what it felt like to throw up 1.2 liters of salt water on purpose. He tells me that he cried, his nose was running, and then he stood under the water and felt clean, better, light. I ask him if he had that horrible flush that comes right before you vomit, and I begin to describe, and hear the words I am saying, "You know that feeling you have, when you are sick and you are going to vomit, where you know that you are going to die if the feeling intensifies? And your whole body gets hot, and you black out, and your whole body violently contracts? Did you feel that?" I realize that I have begun to tear up as I ask him this.

I will jump out of a plane before I will do this. I will have a child without drugs before I will do this.  I will tell a man that I love him when I know he can not love me back before I will do this. I will speak the truth to someone who does not want to hear it before I will do this. I will confess my mistakes to the ones I admire the most, I will stand in front of a million people and tell my past, forgive my abusers, embrace my enemies before I will sit in my shower and drink salt water.

But I have three weeks to think about it. 


Lora said...

This seems as though it has been a very cathartic experience overall for you. Just know that: “No matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow.”
― Maya Angelou

mfleischhaker said...

I freaking love you :)

Kate Howe said...

Thanks for reading guys. I love you, too! :D