7 life lessons from back pain

I was all set to write another post on blogging a couple of weeks ago, when I threw my back out. Not for the first time…but this was unlike any other episode. Excruciating spasms. Unable to stand up on my own. Putting on socks? Forget it.

I’ve been thinking about a good friend who was in near-constant back pain for months. Most health care practitioners were unable to help, and she eventually had surgery. I remember meeting with her while she was struggling with pain. I see now that I was unable to be truly present with her. I wanted there to be a solution: I wanted her to discover the emotional root of her issue, the ‘why’ of it.

Artist: Maxine Noel

And now, as I write these words, I realize I don’t know the ‘why’ of my own pain, and how presumptuous it was to think I could know it for anyone else. But I have come to some insights about what this experience is teaching me personally.

Listening to my body’s warning signals: as mentioned, it’s not the first time I’ve thrown my back out. I’d had warning signs for years, and knew what I needed to do to prevent future pain from happening. But I always put it off. This time, my body made sure I was paying attention.

I am vulnerable: I never knew just how much I need my lower back. Now I need help with so much. I’ve had to reach out to friends and loved ones for assistance with the most simple of tasks. I’m not used to this, and it is humbling.

Which brings me to Gratitude: I am blessed that I have people in my life to help me, and who ask nothing in return. This is no small thing, and it’s probably the biggest gift of all.

Compassion: I think of all those who don’t have caring support. I see where I’ve missed opportunities to be compassionate and helpful. When we’re feeling good and healthy, it can be hard to understand what it’s like to be in pain, especially chronic pain. I wanted to fix my friend’s problem by helping her discover the emotional root, but that wasn’t what she needed. She needed to feel validated and understood for what she was feeling in that moment.

Meds can be a good thing: Is there an emotional root to my pain? Probably. Low back pain is suggested to indicate a lack of support. And I have felt that, for many years. But it’s interesting that the pain is also revealing to me the support I do have. Beyond the mind/body connection and my holistic practices, I’m grateful for the medication that’s reducing my pain. This is noteworthy, as I’ve always been somewhat anti-medication – you wouldn’t even find an Advil in my home – and had a bit of an ego about that.

I am not in control. I can play my part in my healing, but my body is on its own timeline and will recover at its own pace. This has required patience and surrender that I’m not accustomed to. Forcing anything is only going to set me back.

Self-care is a priority: I’ve never missed so much work, or relied on others to take care of me. I notice how guilty I feel about it. Thoughts that I’m a burden on others, that I’m taking ‘too long’ to get better, surface repeatedly. No one has given me this message. It’s been eye-opening to realize just how hard it is to take care of myself first.

This entire experience has been very humbling, and I’m learning to trust that my body knows what it’s doing, even when my mind objects. I’m thankful that I’ve had no choice but to slow down and listen.

solstice, samskara, surrender

As we enter the winter solstice, I’m in awe of nature’s rhythms. Last week, my city was struck with back-to-back severe windstorms and heavy rains. It was evident that Gaia was doing some serious clearing and cleansing.

The dramatic weather perfectly mirrored my internal state as my frustrations, irritations, and limitations thrashed about. I felt uncomfortable and angry, like a caged bird. A prisoner in my own home, and in my own mind.

It took all my might to tune into a quiet, still voice from within. Is this how you want it to be? Do you realize you can let some of this go, once and for all?

A beautiful solstice labyrinth created by my friend G.

A beautiful solstice labyrinth created by my friend G.

The comments from my last post got me thinking about attachment to our emotions, particularly our pain. To me there’s no question that to become whole, essential beings, we must feel all our feelings – the light and the shadow, the joy and the sorrow.

But some of us get so comfortable processing the darkness that it becomes our identity. We don’t know when or how to give ourselves permission to stop. We drown in our samskaras, our karmic patterns and habitual tendencies. We can’t tell if we’re healing or wallowing.

Even though we want to feel lighter, brighter, and more carefree, we’re more at home in melancholia. Heaviness feels real, because we’ve practiced it for so long. The ‘light’ feels unknown, an empty space. For some of us, this emptiness evokes annihilation.

We don’t want to shun the darkness, but we would like some relief.

Obviously it’s a personal journey and one that demands radical self-honesty. Only we can know for ourselves when we’re avoiding painful emotions, when they’ve become a crutch or habit, and when we can let them go. This knowing happens in the heart and not the mind. It has many subtle layers.

For me it’s required a higher level of trust in something beyond ‘me’. It’s required humility in acknowledging that I can’t navigate the journey alone. It’s required the acceptance that I am not in control, I don’t know why things happen the way they do, and that I’m totally Spirit-dependent. It means having to let go of who I thought I was, and be willing to start anew. My ego hates all of that.

View from my apartment window

View from my apartment window

The thing about the howling wind and pouring rain…there was no question that it would pass. It had to. The real question was, would I allow the light that was sure to follow? Am I going to take myself out of my present hermitage and isolation, and embrace the love that’s all around? The love I once judged as ‘not good enough’, because I myself felt ‘not good enough’? Am I going to trust that grace exists?

I recently completed a 40-day meditation as part of my Kundalini Yoga homework. My samskaras – chronic anger, frustration, and reactivity – rose to the surface in a big way. As did the realization that it is totally in my power to release them, if that’s what I want. It may take time, discipline, and commitment…but it can happen.

I feel blessed to have lived on this island for the past few months. There aren’t words to describe what has opened for me. It was here that, fifteen years ago, I first discovered I was an angry woman. I’ve come full circle, and I’m ready to move forward.

It’s time to unburden ourselves from the weight we no longer need to carry. We’re allowed to surrender it to the light…the light of the solstice, the light of the Divine, and the light of the collective consciousness. We can trust that what’s ready for release will be transformed for the highest good. Once and For All.

india is awakening within

Adjusting to ‘normal’ life after completing the first module of my Kundalini Yoga teacher training program has been…well, there are no words. And there are so many words. My whole being feels very full of insights, knowledge, understanding, and gratitude.

Being sequestered for five days in a house full of yogis, with daily meditations starting at 4am, physically challenging classes, and yes, a snoring roommate, put me out of my comfort zone in a big way. I embraced it all as gracefully as I could – though there were definitely a couple of clunky moments!

Me in India, in 2010

Me in India, in 2010

My Kundalini adventure is just beginning. I have three more modules to complete, plus daily homework of yoga, reading, and meditation till the program finishes in May 2016.

I’m seeing why it took the amount of time it did for me to get here. The seeds of this journey were planted over ten years ago, when I took my first Kundalini Yoga class and knew there was something very special about the technology. Even then I knew that this path couldn’t be pursued halfheartedly; it requires a level of commitment and discipline that I wasn’t prepared for until now. Actually, I still feel unprepared – but that’s a story of limitation I’m ready to break through.

I understand why I’ve spent so many years alone, exploring different teachings, and delving into my shadow and dark feelings. It’s all been preparation for a new way of being.

‘Surrender’ and ‘trust’ are recurring themes in the blogs I read. If humanity is indeed evolving in consciousness, we must let go of the idea that God/Universe/Source is out to get us. That is an old paradigm. We’re moving into the deep knowing that we are fundamentally good and not fundamentally flawed (as many traditional religions would have us believe). We’re much more than the duality we live in.

To surrender and trust means giving up the need to control every facet of our lives (or rather, releasing the illusion that that’s even possible). During our morning mediations, I felt so much tension in my face…clenched jaw, scrunched up eyes…the stress of thinking, worrying, and holding on. My body is so ready to let that all go.

Our beautiful teacher training room

Our beautiful teacher training room

We don’t need to try so hard; the universe remembers connections we’ve made and seeds we’ve planted. Last month I received an unexpected email from a former employer, asking if I’d be interested in writing a blog post for her spiritual travel company. For a time I’d worked as the company’s social media coordinator, and blogging was my favourite aspect of that role. I was very happy to have that opportunity arise once again.

I found myself writing about India. She is playing a very big role in my life right now, as I study the yogic teachings and feel the presence of my ancestors all around me. I’m discovering a part of myself that I buried a long time ago. India is awakening within.

Nothing is ever lost, if it’s in alignment with who we really are and what we love to do. Things are always cycling back to us in newer, more refined forms as we experience, learn, and clarify. It’s about shifting the power from the mind to the heart.

Time to head to my local Kundalini Yoga class – today’s homework! 🙂

Until next time,
Aleya

Here’s my guest post for Sacred Earth Journeys: http://www.sacredearthjourneys.ca/blog/indias-cosmic-winks-a-story-from-a-past-participant/.

10 life lessons from mandala painting

Last weekend I stepped out of my comfort zone and into one of the most profound experiences of my life: a 3-day mandala painting course.

It’s hard to put such a deeply healing and transformative experience into words; I’m still basking in the afterglow of it all. It’s not an understatement to say it changed my life. Here’s just some of what I’m very thankful to have learned.

This is Shakti

This is Shakti

1. Everything I need is within. I was the last to pick a canvas. I didn’t rush to get my paints. I was feeling anxious, and had made the conscious decision to be patient and kind with myself. Somehow I knew that whatever was within me would come forth, no matter what external resources I had.

2. I can no longer say ‘I’m not an artist’. This process unlocked the artist in everyone who participated. Many of us were beginners, and each person created their own unique masterpiece. Everyone can do this. We just need the support and tools to draw out our inner creative fire.

3. Mandalas are a portal. We can access deep realms of consciousness when creating or contemplating a mandala. I don’t quite know how it works…but that’s the point. Our logical mind is not in control; we’re perceiving and interpreting from the heart. The process is mystical and ineffable.

4. Art opens people like lotus flowers. It was amazing to watch, and experience in myself, the joy that unfolded over the weekend. I was able to bring forth something that had been waiting for the right moment to express. Everyone was discovering this hidden place within themselves. There was a sense of wonder in the air. New life was being birthed.

5. I created it…but I didn’t. My experience flowed more easily when I let go of thinking of ‘my’ painting, ‘my’ possession – when I dropped the ego. Yes, it emerged from within me…but I like to think of it as a co-creation with a greater essence that is both me and not-me. I couldn’t grip it too tightly.

6. This is life. I felt an overwhelming sense that life could be so much more than mass consciousness programming would have us believe. Being in the zone of creativity and stimulating conversation, free from iPhones and Facebook, was such an immense, life-affirming contrast to the 9-5 matrix I’d become so accustomed to in the past.

7. Mandala painting is therapy. I’m convinced that the act of mixing colours, putting brush to canvas, being in a supportive group, and creating a personal, sacred work of beauty would heal in a weekend what might take years in traditional therapy. The mandala gave me a vision into my own soul.

8. Self-expression is a shared process. Self-expression is not a solitary act. It requires a community to receive it. Creating art with others helped me let go and trust in the group. The group’s presence impacted what I created, whether or not anything was verbally expressed. Communication transpired on an unseen level.

9. Surrender. I became anxious when I thought too far down the line, e.g., the next colour I’d choose and whether it would ‘look good’. There was a fear of screwing things up…anticipating what could go wrong instead of trusting that each layer would be reveal itself in the perfect sequence. I relaxed when I surrendered to what was right in front of me.

10. The Divine Feminine is awakening. She is here. At the beginning of the weekend, we each gave ourselves a name – a symbol for our journey at this point in time. I picked ‘Shakti’. I’d been very much feeling the presence of the Feminine, seeing coral-red colours in my recent meditations. These colours materialized in the mandala without forced effort. Magic!

I am looking forward to painting more…the portal has been opened!