I will not die an unlived life.
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow my living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.
I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on to fruit.
Last month, I went to a yoga workshop taught by a renowned yoga teacher, Saul David Raye. He practices and teaches a style of yoga called “Bahkti” – the yoga of love and devotion. I’ve had the good fortune of taking his workshops a few other times over the years in St. Louis. Sometimes, he moved me to tears, other times, he frustrated and confused me with his message of “Love is all you need.” Looking back, I see that was only because I was stuck in a rut of seeing myself as a victim of love and heartache. His message wasn’t the issue, my mind was.
This time around, I felt a strong connection to him as a person. He spoke of the beauty of nature, of love of another person, of the connection of heart and mind as a way to feel fulfilled and wonderful about life’s mysteries. I understood that the mind is a wild and beautiful thing of its own, but it can spin out of control if not synched up with a loving, open heart to balance and nurture it. Under his guidance that day, I allowed my mind to follow my feeling heart and express my love through the live music and the yoga poses. More importantly, I realized that my inner light burns the brightest when I am feeling fully present in my body, in my observing, wonder-filled mind, and loving heart center as opposed to allowing the wild, chattering side of my mind to wander off into the future to create untold disasters and hopeless scenarios in my tiny spot on Earth.
Fears, real and imagined (mostly imagined), have ruled my life for decades. Monsters in my dreams. Sounds that go bump in the night. Harsh, critical words and actions of ex-boyfriends. The memory of my bipolar, schizophrenic aunt standing in our kitchen in full camo-gear complete with machete in hand. Images of my grandmother’s scratchy hand-written letter to me in college describing her observations and sadness of her fast-growing, tumor that eventually split her brain in half.
As I came into my late thirties, I began to experience my daily life from a place of fear. I could feel every muscle twitch in my body and imagined I was beginning the sufferings of Multiple Sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease. I would sit in my recliner, alone at home, having a series of panic attacks because my shoulder was so tight that I could feel muscles twitching. I could not breathe and choked on my food once and coughed so hard that spit rolled out of my mouth. I thought then and there it was a sign that something neurological was going on, so I got on the internet and researched everything I thought could possibly be wrong with me. Every symptom was vague enough and so close to one another that I was sure I had that particular disorder. This belief would send blood rushing to my head, sweat to my armpits. My hands would become clammy and I paced around my house, crying and panicking while my dog circled around me, confused.
I worried that my Wi-Fi and cellphone were causing a horrible brain tumor like my grandmother’s, and I began overanalyzing my food choices and focused so much on what I put into my body so as to heal myself or protect myself from any type of disease, that I didn’t realize I was already suffering the painful, slow, suffering death I so feared by not living a life where I felt part of the world and part of nature. Love was not in my vocabulary. I could have love and give love as soon as I fixed all of these terrible, horrible, no good things that were going on in my body and mind. On the outside, I could laugh with my friends, practice yoga moves in classes or in my home, walk my dog, pay my bills, teach my students, drive my car, live a seemingly normal life, while on the inside I was fanning the flames of Hell.
I realized that I am a functioning neurotic.
What is different now, is that I can admit to that fact. I now see the neuroses for what they are: techniques I have developed over the years to keep me “safe” and “small” instead of risking my significance to bring out my talents and gifts of creativity, writing, and teaching. When I am brave, I become vulnerable and open to love. I can match my heart force to my soul force and share that with others so they can do the same.
The bravery comes from not turning away from my fears, but walking directly towards them, facing them head on. Regardless of the outcome.
In my time out in Colorado, I learned this about myself. A particular solo hike focused on finding a place and sitting with some part of ourselves that act as an Escapist from reality. Before we all went our separate ways, I had joked with another group member about searching for a place off trail where I could pee freely like a deer. (I had gulped a lot of water during our circle time.) We both laughed and I walked away with the mantra “Pee like a deer,” in my mind. I was all smiles and didn’t worry too much that I hadn’t found a spot nearby to go and meditate. Fifteen minutes, a far way up the trail, and a good pee later, I saw an overhanging of rocks that sloped down into an area riddled with fallen timbers and dead or dying pine trees. In a small clearing, rested a boulder. I shuddered because I knew I had to go and sit on that boulder. Alone.
I marked my spot, took a picture of the overhang so I knew what to look for when I came back, and I slowly climbed down the rocks. The sky became overcast the closer I got to the boulder. I climbed over fallen trees, untangled my pants and backpack from dry grass, thorns, and small, dry sticks. I scrambled on top of the boulder and sat there thinking, “Now what?”
My mind was full of chatter and was working hard to take me out of this situation I had just put myself in. I was nervous and kept waiting for some “A-ha” moment so I could grab my pack and leave. But, I just sat there, feeling the coolness of the boulder seep through my pants to my legs. It was soothing to be on top of something so solid. I started breathing and thinking, “This is where my sweet deer live,” and I hoped that I might see one like I did the day before in the meadow. I started to deepen my breath and relax into my surroundings. Just then, I heard creaking and cracking noises. At first I thought it was some animal, but a breeze blew through the trees and I realized it was the sound of the dying trees around me being moved by the wind.
Part of me wanted to flee, the other part of me wanted to see what would happen next. As if on cue, the sky became gray and a stronger wind picked up. The trees began to make a low whistling sound almost like a far off freight train. I looked around and realized there were very few living trees in this area I was sitting. In fact, I remembered a part of the trail I had traveled the day before was clear and today I had to climb over two fallen trees to get to where I was. My breath became shorter. I began seeing which tree would fall on me first, and what direction I could move to get out of the way. Luckily I had put my whistle around my neck and my hand instinctively went to it. Immediately my sacrum became electric and my hamstrings tensed up, which caused my back, shoulder, neck and jaw to tighten as well. My muscles began to twitch. I wanted to bolt, but some wise voice inside of me said, “Breathe. Stay with the fear and just breathe.”
I took a few more breaths and started thinking about my imaginary deer I had hoped to see. What would she do right now if she was foraging for food? She would become alert, look around, evaluate her surroundings, and probably go back to eating. She lives with the possibility of death and destruction every day. I could die here as well. A tree could fall on me and kill me instantly, or I could be knocked unconscious and die a slower death. Why didn’t I make a run for it then? I wanted to leave, but something anchored me there. And without warning, a wave of grief rushed over me and I began to cry so hard that I was shaking. I wanted my mother. I wanted peace of mind. I wanted to be able to live a full life and not become so trapped by my fears and illusions of fear.
The tears began to wash away my fears and in my mind’s eye I saw my doe in the meadow looking at me. A warmth spread from my heart and went to every part of my body. I breathed fully, deeply, richly, and safely. True, I could die right here, right now. But, I could also die from any number of things at any time. And the fact of the matter was: wasn’t I dying every day that I fed my neurotic fears so much that I allowed them to hijack my mind and body and paralyze me, causing me to suffer, and die a painful, agonizing death of spirit? At least here, if I truly died on this boulder, I would have been alive to my emotions, my body, and have witnessed with all of my senses the beauty and power of nature. And another thought came to me: my one physical death would simply be a fade into more beauty and mystery. Spiritual death, on the other hand, brings rot, disease, control issues, neuroses, pain and suffering among other things.
Once I had this breakthrough, another wind blew through the area, and I realized now was the time to leave. I didn’t need to be so brave that I became stupid. I picked up my pack and walked quickly to the overhang and back onto the trail. I looked out at the boulder, brought my hands to prayer and bowed my head in gratitude and reminded myself that love got me through a dark moment and love will do that for me time and time again.
And so I have been working with this lesson for a few months now. After the workshop, I went up to Saul and re-introduced myself and asked him if I could use his name and picture in a possible blog post about love and fear. He smiled with such warmth and told me that not only did he want to contribute to that post in some small way, but that it was important to share this type of writing with others. “There are two paths that intertwine: one of Wisdom and one of Love,” he had said during practice. “The path of Love leads to Wisdom. And the path to Wisdom leads to Love. Feel with your heart. Love is all you need.” He then asked me if I would be in the picture with him. He gave my camera to someone nearby and he held up his hand in the gesture of fearlessness. Uncertain at first but in a moment of bravery, I put up my hand as well.