The inspiration you are seeking is already within you. Be silent and listen. ~Rumi
One of my core teachings, on and off the mat, has always been that our life experiences have the opportunity to crack our hearts open to the beauty and grace life offers or shut us down to the countless opportunities to connect, stretch and grow. I have been fortunate enough to have had several life experiences (might not have felt that way at the time;) that have helped me challenge the labels and beliefs I was conditioned to accept throughout my childhood.
Through these life experiences, I have learned how to turn inward for guidance, and ultimately create a more authentic life filled with intention, connection and adventure.
My Year Living With Communist AtheistsIn between high school and college, I set off to live abroad in Italy. Unbeknownst to me, or more importantly my parents, I was placed in one of the only communist atheist host families in all of Italy. When we think Italy, we think good pasta… we think pope… we think good solid stable Catholic roots… roots that I grew up in. Nope. Why would this type of environment be potentially threatening to a young 17 year old girl who was taught to never question, to obey and listen to the “parent/authority figure,” to please everyone else around you? Oh no reason… perhaps because she was very impressionable, yes? Yes.
Let me be the first to tell you that a year living with communist atheists will challenge your ultra conservative Republican upbringing. It will question your relationship with God. It will strip you of everything you think you know. According to my religion, this family was going to hell because they didn’t believe in my God. A God who I had been taught was all forgiving and loved unconditionally. I could not wrap my head around this. My God would forgive their ignorance. My God would extend tremendous compassion and understand their human limitations. When I think my God, I think Mother Teresa, I think Gandhi.
The family I lived with were some of the most Christian like people I had ever met. They were the most gentle, kind, in-the-moment, generous, give-the-shirt-off-their-back people I had the honor of living with. This experience shook my faith to the core. I became angry with God and stopped seeking his wisdom among church pews and the stations of the cross. Our family creed was if you piss me off, you get cut off. Why should God be any different? This experience taught me that sometimes we outgrow our familial traditions and beliefs… and that is okay!
Lesson learned: Life is not always as it appears to be
Rehab at 22When people tell me they would never have pegged me for drug & alcohol rehab, I wonder what that means. I am assuming it is that many of us conjure up the stereotypical expression of a drug addict: no teeth, willing to do anything to get that quick fix, skinny, strung out… It is easy to distance ourselves from this person, isn’t it? How could we relate to someone or something so far removed from society, someone hell bent on self-destruction?
What if I told you that there is a stronger link between childhood trauma and addiction (thank you Steve for sharing that video!) than there is between obesity and diabetes? What if I told you there is so much shame, disgust, hatred and toxicity entrenched in addiction? What if I told you these are precious human beings in tremendous pain?
In my own experience, I had touched the rock at the bottom. By the time I sought help, I had been hearing voices for months, drinking and smoking pot first thing in the morning seemed normal and I was constantly hitting my sources to score the latest hit of acid or mescaline. My personal wake up call came when I truly wanted death more than life. This pivotal point became a turning point with my relationship to Source (God). In these moments, time stands still. You remember where you were, what you were wearing, the smell of fear as it clenches your heart shut. You can still touch the feeling of desperation, teetering on the edge, the brink, the abyss, the point that once crossed shreds any hope or possibility of return. It was here, that I begged Source to remember me, to help me. It was here that I realized I truly could not go it alone. From that point on, my connection to Source has been the foundation of my sobriety. It has been my guiding principle for the last 21 years. This experience taught me the importance of faith.
Lesson learned: We are spiritual beings having human experiences, not human beings having spiritual experiences
Having My Son Before MarriageMy rebellious spirit first showed up at 15. I constantly challenged my fathers old fashioned beliefs that the rules should be different for the girls versus the boys. Should I throw in here that I tried to outrun the cops at 16 to truly paint the picture for you? One of the suggestions (rules as I would translate them) in AA is not to date for the first year of sobriety to stay focused and uncomplicated. That was like a double dog dare you for me. Don’t date? I’ll one up you. How about I get pregnant too?
Yep, not only did I meet Chris within the first year of my sobriety, a short seven months later we found ourselves pregnant… Now, I’m not expecting you to believe it was the second coming of the virgin Mary or anything, I just wasn’t expecting to shed all of the labels so quickly.
Here’s the thing. At this point, I had begun to believe that there are no coincidences. I still believe that to this day. I didn’t know what the lesson was at that point but I knew it was worth walking through the shame, disappointment and fear of being an unwed mother. It also makes for a slightly humorous story years later. When I shared the news with my dad, I was soooooo nervous that I shouted out, “dad I have some news that’s going to make you shit your pants.” And in the next breath I would try and come across mature enough to tell him he was going to be a grandfather.
I am grateful to say that Chris and I are still together 20 years later. Our lives have been one big adventure and Drew has been the greatest gift for both of us. This experience taught me to forge my own path. This is the heart of the message of The Bhagavad Gita, “it is better to live your own destiny with imperfection than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.”
Lesson learned: Listen to your heart and trust your gut
There Is More To Madonna Than Her ArmsOne of the stories that makes me chuckle is recounting introductions during my second yoga teacher training. We were going around the circle sharing how we got into yoga. Some were introduced to yoga at nine by their nona while others overcame tremendous back pain and healing with the gift of yoga. When it came to my turn, I gulped, and squeaked, “I wanted Madonna arms.” Yep, it was my vanity that got me into yoga folks. Ego was at the head of the wheel.
I quickly learned, after my first class, that yoga was so much more. My mind felt more focused, my heart felt more expansive and there was a richer connection to those around me. Yoga has remained at the core of everything I do professionally and personally. It has become a way of life. It has been one of the key instruments along my own path towards authenticity, vulnerability, truth and intention. It is one of the greatest gifts I bring to my students on and off the mat as they seek their own connection to their intrinsic worth and place of innate perfection.
This experience taught me that there are many entry points into yoga and if we practice, consistently for a long time, we will eventually seek the deeper meanings and lessons of yoga.
Lesson learned: yoga is a way of life
Moving Cross Country With A Five Year Old & No JobsOver New Year’s of 2001, Chris, Drew and I were visiting my mom down in Ohio. Over a 24 hour period, 2 feet of snow fell. Driving back to Michigan along I 75 was one of the most unnerving experiences I’ve ever had. Cars were snowed in in the center lanes. We drove back at 10 miles an hour. Needless to say, it was a long drive and a catalyst for our desire to move. We took a week’s vacation to come out to Arizona in March to explore. Not only had we never been here, we put a deposit down on a house to be built, put our house on the market in Michigan and were out in Arizona by early June.
Chris and I did not have jobs. At this point, my faith and believing things happen for a reason, even when I couldn’t see the big picture, were a couple of the core guiding principles in my life. I knew that, somehow, we would be okay. This experience taught me that life is a daring adventure, which to this day is still one of my core values. This experience taught me that we don’t have to settle into the status quo. It is okay to dream big.
Lesson learned: In the words of Helen Keller, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.”
Losing My GodsonMy heart breaks each time I go back to the moment of the call. I was returning home from work, driving down the 60 East. We had moved out to Arizona six months prior and we were still adjusting. The mind is truly an amazing instrument and the steps it will take to protect itself are truly remarkable. I received the call from Bonnie’s mother-in-law but my mind couldn’t accept it. It was as if she was speaking a foreign language. She had to repeat herself a couple of times. My godson had died in a freak drowning accident.
When we go through a catastrophic loss or are faced with a horrific illness that makes us face our own impermanence, we can never go back to what was. It is one of the most earth shattering experiences to realize that in the midst of crisis, life continues around you. You want to stand in the middle of a busy road and shout to passerbys- What are you doing? Don’t you understand? And yet, I’m not even sure what they are supposed to understand because I don’t myself.
There are so many parts about this story that are so bizarre and wild that it truly was a freak accident. This experience made me realize how easy it is for me to judge others without bearing witness to the whole story. Many of us do it. Over the years, it has been painful to observe others reactions to Bonnie- the judgment, the disgust. She lost her son. Isn’t that enough? For most of us loss and death hits to close to home. It is easier for us to distance ourselves through judgment. Through this experience, I have learned to hold sacred space for amazing souls, without judgment, so they can learn to touch those places hidden in the shadows.
Lesson learned: Unless you have walked in someone’s shoes, don’t judge
Walking Away From a $70,000 Investment
It is not always easy to walk away. The more we are invested, financially and emotionally, the more difficult it is to walk away. Our ego spins countless stories to stay invested. In 2005, with the backing of the SBA, my mom and I became business partners at Inside The Bungalow. Our investment included the property as well as the business because as far as risk goes, “you can’t go wrong with real estate.” The first year, I doubled our projected income. With 2006, came the crash of the economy. While we would stay afloat and continue to grow the business each year, we never made enough money to bring home a paycheck. The mortgage was an atrocity and I was working 17 hour days to be able to cover just our bills.
It wasn’t until I almost lost my marriage that I was able to question my intention. Was this ego wanting to succeed? If my family was truly at the heart of my intention and I was about to lose my family, why did I want to stay? Was it the fear of failure? Was it the confirmation that I’m not good enough? Was it the avoidance of feeling loss and disappointment? This experience taught me what was truly valuable to my within the core of my heart and that my nucleus (Chris & Drew) was worth stepping through the pain of loss, disappointment and shame to stay together.
Lesson learned: Know when to walk away and find the courage to do so
These core life lessons have taught me that we don’t have a choice as to how our life unravels and to be human is to suffer. However, we always have a choice in how we respond to our life experiences. Each time I choose to allow my life experiences to crack my heart open instead of shutting down, I am rewarded with incredible insights, growth, grace, love and wisdom.
How about you? How have your life experienced shaped your warrior heart? What insights have you gained by allowing your life experiences to crack your heart open?
Are you willing to disappoint those around you to be true to yourself? Are you ready to stop hiding and step into the light? Are you willing to let yourself fail so you can pick yourself up again and again? Are you ready to walk away from the perfect marriage because your soul is slowly suffocating? Are you willing to surrender the need to play the perpetual victim, the need to blame everyone else around you for your unhappiness? Are you willing to pen your truth to paper even if that means facing the fear of criticism, rejection and lost subscribers? Are you ready to surrender the damaged places buried deep within to breathe your heart’s longing into the world?
“Every time you are willing to say “Yes” to everything on your path, you express the hero inside of you.” ~ Maria Nemeth
Do you match your worth to your performance or bank account number? Do you match your worth to how perfect your children’s performance is? Do you match your worth to your zip code? Do you match your worth to how many degrees, certifications or trainings you have? Do you match your worth to the size on your clothing label?
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~Maya Angelou
Living life on our terms is essential to our health and well-being. It is the difference between looking back on our life with gratitude or regret. This may be easier said than done as many of us are programmed from the time of childhood on what is and isn’t acceptable to present to the world. We learn to compartmentalize and in many cases bury the very gifts and talents that we bring with us to share. By the time we reach adulthood, the techniques that once served to protect and help us now become barriers to living an authentic life with intention. We end up feeling disconnected, lost and in some cases filled with anxiety and depression. Still others of us experience this disconnect physically through various aches and pains in the body.
The whole yoga path is an extensive process of purification~ Sri Swami Satchidananda
I have a tendency to live in my head. I learned from childhood trauma, like so many of us, to disconnect from my body and play out endless fantasies and scenarios in my mind. It is a default setting for me to escape into my thoughts. One of the greatest challenges with this approach to living is that we tend to create a false sense of reality based on our own individual past experiences. It is my perspective, my idiosyncrasies, fears and judgments that get played out repeatedly in my mind and then spill over into my many interactions.