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.

milestone: teaching my first yoga class

My Kundalini Yoga practicum – teaching a ‘real’ class at our studio – took place last week. All trainees in my program taught over a 3-day Yoga-thon, me being placed in what I considered the least desirable spot – late Sunday afternoon. As someone who likes to get things over with, it was somewhat agonizing to wait around all weekend for my class to begin!

On one level, I wasn’t at all nervous about teaching. There was nothing to fear; I’d done all I could to prepare and I knew I’d be in a supportive environment. I didn’t have to be perfect. I’d never done this before!

But on another level, there was everything to fear. I could sense my ego kicking into overdrive, anticipating all that could go wrong. I knew the havoc this could wreak, so I took advantage of my extra time that Sunday morning and let myself fully feel all my nerves and anxiety. As if I had an internal dial, I turned all the uncomfortable sensations up to ‘Intense’.

Yup, I look pretty happy up there!

Yup, I look pretty happy up there!

The usual suspects turned up. Humiliation. What if I panicked on the spot, forgetting everything I’d memorized, and getting my notes all mixed up? Pride. I was afraid of losing face. I feared the pity of others – or their secret satisfaction – if I failed. (That’s a fun one to admit!) Shame. I feared being exposed as a fraud, an imposter. The list goes on. Ultimately, I feared failing God.

I knew this wasn’t just about the yoga class. These fears are deeply embedded in the human psyche. In such states we can’t access the knowing that we are eternal and infinite, fundamentally unaffected by whatever ego construes as danger. I prayed for humility, trust, self-compassion…and to have fun!

In true Mercury Retrograde fashion, there was an element of ‘expect the unexpected’. The trainee scheduled before me had become ill, and I was asked to teach her class as well. Two classes in a row?! I did not see that coming. I swear I could hear Yogi Bhajan chuckling in the ethers. Surrender.

And – things went well. It was a wee bit distracting to have my lead trainer evaluating me in the back of the room, taking copious notes throughout both classes…but the time flew by and I was provided wonderful feedback that bolstered my confidence and helped me see where I can improve. To be honest, once I got up there, things felt quite un-dramatic! I don’t recall my heart pounding as furiously as it had during my practice sessions. Yes, there were nerves – but it mostly felt comfortable and natural.

That’s not say it wasn’t a big deal. I’d accomplished a goal I’d dreamed about for years. This was a huge step!

Some passions are so obvious that we’re certain of them from a young age. Others, like my yoga journey, are more subtle and reveal themselves over time. Those dreams often take years of cultivation before they germinate. Even if feels like ‘nothing’s happening’, on some level, we know exactly what we’re doing. The dream itself wants to ensure we’re ready to receive and take good care of it. It deserves the best ‘us’ we can bring to it. And so, we have to prepare.

I’m not quite finished my training – I still have a final exam and another training session to complete – but regardless of what my Kundalini future brings, in my book, I’ve already succeeded.

***

On another note, I LOVE that this is my 108th post! 108 is a sacred number in yogic tradition, and this seems like a fitting opportunity to thank everyone who reads, follows, and comments on this blog. It is such a blessing to connect with, and learn from, you all. Thank you!

Sat Nam. Truth is my identity.

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/.

a hot shadowy summer

I didn’t intend to take such a long hiatus from blogging, but it’s been that kind of summer. In my part of the world, it’s been unseasonably hot…forest fires are raging and we’ve had water restrictions for the first time since I can remember.

The weather patterns reflect what’s going on in the lives of many people I know. Powerful change – wanted or not – seems to be happening all around. What no longer works is burning right out of our experience. Personally, I feel like a completely different person since my last post, but it’s hard to explain just how. A new reality is opening up, but I don’t know what it looks like.

I am learning what it means to surrender, not just as a concept, but a practice. The theme of this summer has been: Do I really believe? Do I believe that Spirit (the Universe, God, whatever you want to call it) knows who I am, is supporting me, and actually wants me to be happy? I am seeing that I have never really trusted this to be true. And I am at a crossroads, where I can continue to doubt and attempt total control in my life, or go deeper into my relationship with Source.

Enjoying high tea, London-style. I forgot to stick my pinkie finger out!

Enjoying high tea, London-style. I forgot to stick my pinkie finger out!

I write these words from London, England. I’m travelling with my mother for a couple of weeks, visiting her side of the family, most of whom I’ve never met. I feel the seeds of this journey were planted several months ago, when I began to consciously explore my relationship with my ancestors, particularly my grandmother (my mother’s mother, who died when I was quite young). In just a few days, I’ve learned so much about family history and family members I didn’t know existed, much less felt a connection with.

Days after I arrive home from the UK, I will be moving to a nearby city and starting a new job. This was a relatively unexpected move, the logistics of which came together so swiftly that the universe must’ve conspired to ensure I couldn’t overthink it. Part of me questions my eternal restlessness, but I’m also intrigued at what lies ahead.

Several powerful experiences this summer include my Ayahuasca journey in June, attending a Teal Swan workshop in July and meeting some wonderfully kindred souls there, and reviving my dormant Kundalini Yoga practice. Kundalini Yoga always creates major change in my life when I start it up again! I can’t explain how it works (yet), only that it really, really does.

But by far the greatest transformation has come from continuing my own shadow work, sinking deeper into the memories, feelings, and judgments in my psyche and, as best I can, bringing understanding to those buried places. The summer heat has helped with this process, driving my irritation and frustration levels way up, making me uncomfortable…forcing me to face what’s underneath.

And a beautiful thing is happening. More and more I’m discovering my inner child, the joyful, exuberant little me who is feeling safer to come out of her shell (or maybe ‘prison’ is a better word). Being able to feel a growing love and compassion for her has been the greatest gift of this summer.

What’s next on the horizon? I’m envisioning a more relaxed pace of life in my new city, which hopefully includes beginning my Kundalini Yoga teacher training in the Fall. My vision is to incorporate the incredible healing powers of this ancient form of yoga into sacred circles, bringing women together in creating a new paradigm that embraces the Divine Feminine and Masculine on planet Earth. I feel ready to take this step, so we’ll see what transpires in the next few months!

I hope my WordPress friends have been navigating the changes of this intense summer with hope and trust. I know that it has been a very challenging year for many.

Happy Leo New Moon from the UK!

Aleya

 

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!