Here's how it happened for me. I spent a good portion of my life living in a tiny space, existing almost solely in the 7x7 inch box of my mind. It was cramped and sealed off. It was a chaotic din; crowded with the constant chatter of comparison, judgement, fear and insecurity. It felt completely unescapable, although I did what I could to escape. I was saved by creative outlets and books when I was younger. As I got older the tried and true refuge of alcohol and drugs helped stifle the noise and claustrophobia, although really I would chase ANYTHING to find some relief. Any little thing that brought peace and happiness; coming in the form of food, spending, relationships, social validation, professional validation, money, risk-taking, anything.
My body was there purely to facilitate this search for relief from the jail of my thoughts. I never had a friendly relationship with it. My mind was completely separate from it and most of the time was spent judging my body, feeling embarrassed or mortified by it, punishing it, or trying to ignore it. It wasn't until years later when I learned about vertical integration did I realize, oh yeah, I had none. Mind and body were separate entities, there was no elevator or embodiment connecting the two.
As you can imagine this way of living was not working well for me. Isolated in the chamber of my mind I watched my behavior and the repercussions with equal parts horror and fascination. I observed that my decision making was spiraling downward, I endured the ramifications, but I felt hopeless to stop. After all, how do you escape the prison of your own damn mind?
Then, like in many stories, an event occurred. An event that rocked me to the core, like literally to the core of my body. I am not going to describe it now, although I will share it one day because it was important, but I will say that I lost someone and as a result my entire life changed. My job was gone, my dominant relationship at the time was snuffed out, I was completely untethered, obliterated by grief, and I had zero healthy coping mechanisms. Though the event in itself was sudden and jarring, my recovery from it was long and slow. But there were three things that happened immediately, which I believe set the stage for a total evolution in my way of life.
Thing 1. Grief. True heart wrenching grief. The kind of grief where you cannot help but wail and wail, listening to your voice in amazement because it doesn't even sound like you and you are not controlling it anymore. The kind of grief that makes you raw to every little thing. Without warning a memory stabs you, you feel such beauty and gratitude and also total despair and sadness. The kind of grief THAT YOU FEEL IN EVERY CELL. This horrible searing pain of grief did at least one wonderful thing for me. It woke me up to the awareness of my body. Granted it was a completely painful awareness, but after the lightning strike of loss I couldn't go back to my old ways. It took so much more to feel nothing. It took too much. It was undeniable. I had to deal with it. And in the process, I had to deal with everything.
Thing 2. Therapy. I went because in my sorrow my thoughts were beginning to startle and scare me. I saw the awfulness of sudden death first hand, I saw the destruction, confusion and pain left in it's wake. I had to choose something different. I recognized that the path I was on was going to directly or indirectly lead me to this outcome. This was not the way. I got a therapist and I went every week. I voiced things that had been swirling around in their 7x7 inch chamber for years. I let them out. The sky did not fall. I was not less than. I actually felt relief. The things I'd been trying to avoid thinking, not only did I think them, I said them out-loud to another human. Therapy to me felt like a long process of slowly creating openings in the box my thoughts were kept in, letting air and light in, relieving the pressure of keeping them in there. You know in Harry Potter when they use the tip of a wand to extract the log silvery, glowing strand of a memory? That reminds me of therapy.
Thing 3. Yoga. Which leads me to why I'm even writing this. On my yoga website. Therapy was a relief, grief was a defibrillator to my awareness, but I credit yoga with my evolution as a person and my connection to self. I was gifted with a year long membership to It's Yoga in San Francisco and I went every damn day. There was something so soothing about the silence, the repetitive cueing in a language I didn't even know, the familiar sequence of the Ashtanga primary series (modified for beginners - I was not strong at all) day in and day out. I became connected to my breath, and after that, everything changed. I remember the first time I felt I was actually breathing into my entire body. I was actually paying attention to my body, without judgement or scorn, shame, or the urge to be elsewhere. I was just noticing it. And through this process of connecting; connecting my breath with my body, connecting my mind with my body, I began to expand.
Bit by bit I was outgrowing my 7x7 inch world. I was beginning to live in my mind AND my body. My chamber was now body sized. What amazing relief this was! What incredible wisdom was housed in my body. I began to KNOW THINGS, not to analyze or think things. With time I began to turn that same awareness, that noticing that I fostered in my yoga practice, outward into the world. I began hiking everyday. I began spending most of my time alone in nature instead of alone with people at a party. I began to live in my breath, and the air that my breath flowed into and out of, and the space and sights around me. I went from living only in my tiny stifling prison to living on the top of mountains, in the sound of music, among trees, soaring over the ocean, in the face of the people around me, in the international orange of the Golden Gate Bridge. I came home to the world, the real world, and all the possibility that it contained.
This period of evolution was exhilarating. I felt truly alive for maybe the first time. I had always had this lurking fear of opening up, of facing my shadows, of loss and grief, but what came from it was so expansive, empowering and beautiful. I don't know what I thought would happen if I let myself occupy the world. What did happen was beyond anything I could have imagined.
To be continued..