Sunday, November 11, 2012

This is the training ground...

Ok, yeah, so I haven't written a blog since I was in India.  I figure I should at least say hi and let y'all know I'm alive and well in Austin.  Ahhhh, to update you in a nutshell on the last several months... My rib injury healed and my practice has been going well.  It took me about two months to be able to catch the bind on my own in Marichyasana D after the injury. Now that I'm back to full steam, things have been progressing nicely overall.  I've been pushing the edges of my strength and am growing stronger and leaner every week.  I've also been sweating like crazy during practice, it feels like I'm condensating more than sweating.  Beads of water just drip drip drip off me out of every pore.  It was a long summer in Texas, and now slowly turning into fall, and I'm working hard in practice, so the sweat feels good.  It ushers in that post-practice lightness and clarity, like cleaning the soot off an oil lamp.  In the last month or so, I've moved into second series, so my practice is quite long now.... all of primary and second up to laghu vajrasana.  Kapotasana coming soon! 

Coming home from India was a tougher transition than I expected.  I came home all filled up with this amazing experience that words cannot adequately express, and I felt like a lot of people just didn't care or have interest or know how to relate to me.  I got asked questions like, "How was your vacation?" as if I'd been sitting on a beach drinking fancy drinks out of pineapples without a care in the world.  I quickly slipped back into my reclusive tendencies and rhythms of life, for better and worse, here in Austin.  I'm very comfortable here, too comfortable in many ways.  There is little sense of urgency, and I find I become too complacent with life if I'm not careful.  I started fantasizing about selling my house, buying a little airstream, packing up my dog and cats, a few essential things, and hitting the road indefinitely.  I daydreamed about all the places I would go, being free as the wind, spending months in places I love, finally going places I've always wanted to see.  I was escaping my present reality and getting lost in a fantasy.  And then... 

A month after I got home, my beloved dog, Amallah, died suddenly and so very unexpectedly.  I loved that dog more than I've loved any human.  The heartbreak of her death and the big gaping hole she left in my heart and my home have been a daily struggle and tremendous source of sorrow.  I slipped into what was probably the worst depression of my life.  Most days it was all I could do to show up to practice.  And I decided that if all I do is my yoga practice, then that's enough.  Everything else falls away as irrelevant and arbitrary.  Practice is an anchor, a lifeline, and I truly believe it's kept me alive during some of the darkest times of my life.  Some days, tears come with the very first ekam inhale; some days not until savasana.  Some days, something resembling joy seeps back in, and all I know is that I need this practice like I need the very next breath.  It is perhaps the greatest act of love and devotion that I know, and this becomes especially apparent when there is nothing but darkness, like a fever you can't shake, all around and inside you.

The Uses of Sorrow

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.

~Mary Oliver 

One of my dearest friends helped me tremendously through that very tough time after my dog died.  I don't think I have ever known heartbreak like that.  My friend kept saying, "Use this pain, let it galvanize you!  Let it transform you!  It is a gift."  Of course the instinct is to close yourself off to that kind of pain, to turn away from it.  It is overwhelming, to say the least.  And it takes a kind of deep, sustained courage I did not know I even possessed.  But if you make the choice to stay, tap into your deepest well of courage and lean into the pain, let it burn down all the defenses you've built against it, let it move through you, let it come in and uproot the darkest places within yourself, sweep out the debris, it will change you in the profoundest of ways.  Shantideva tells us, we are like a blind man who finds a jewel in a heap of garbage.  Right there in all that you'd rather throw away is your treasure.  If you throw away the garbage, you throw away the treasure too.  Instead of running away & thereby reinforcing old patterns of suffering, be loyal to this experience irregardless of good/bad, pleasure/pain.  Staying, no matter how uncomfortable, is where the treasure is.  In fact, the harder it is to stay, the bigger the treasure.  When it hurts like hell and pushes at all your edges and you're full of doubt and fear and every impulse in your heart and mind tells you to run, that's how you know you're onto something wholly worthwhile.  As an ayurvedic healer in India told me, laughing, "Pain is noooo problem.  Pain is very good sign, indeed.  Pain means happiness coming soon."  Oh, how those words have rooted themselves in me and make me laugh at my own suffering, no matter the cause.  Those simple words continue to ring true in the deepest of ways, so very, very true...

Showing up to practice is one thing; showing up to life can be a whole other battle.  If you practice even when distracted/distressed/hurt/upset/in pain, then you are training well.  This is the training ground, afterall.  So let us train wholeheartedly.  It's easy to show up to practice, to work, to relationships, to life, when things are flowing effortlessly.  But how do we respond to our pain, our fear, our hurt, our anger, our distress, our wounds?  How do we respond to others who are battling their own darkness?  Do we run, do we close ourselves off, shut people out, fortify our defenses, harden our heart, become apathetic, numb, uncaring?  Or do we stay present even though it hurts like hell and scares the holy shit out of us?  Do we stay open even though it makes us vulnerable, even though others can see our darkness, our doubt, our fear?  Do we take a sledgehammer to our hardened defenses and open up our view to greater possibilities?  Are we able to sink deeper into the sources of love, compassion, and equanimity?  It is this place - between the running and the staying, the closing and the opening, the hardening and the softening - where we see precisely what we're made of.  This is where we can initiate meaningful and substantial change within ourselves.  This is where we become better people, more integrated, more open, more loving, more clear.  No one is exempt from fighting this battle within him or herself.  The only real choice you have is which side you fight for.  It is the choice you make - between the fear and the love - that becomes the story of your life.  Which side are you fighting for?  What story do you choose to tell?

If you bring forth what is within you, 

what you bring forth will save you. 

If you do not bring forth what is within you, 

what you do not bring forth will destroy you. 

~Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas

The last few months, I've had a lot more sunshine and clarity seep in.  I'm working hard, staying just the right amount of busy, enjoying my relationships - even the difficult ones, and I'm excited about the projects I'm working on in all areas of my life.  I recently launched a new line of wearable art called Soul Azul, much of it directly inspired by my trip to India and the photos I took there.  I'm also working on some spoken word film projects that have been a long time in the making, so stay tuned for those in the coming weeks.  I love this time of year, the fall always feels like spring bursting forth in my own creative cycle.  So much comes flooding in all at once.  The days are shortening, the leaves are turning, the wind is stirring up delightfully unexpected little treasures, the weather in Austin is divine.  A breath of fresh air.  And I've been having epic adventures in my dreams... realizations about how much India felt like a home coming... and learning how to come home to myself no matter where I am or what the circumstances of my life may look like... And seeing so clearly how, in each others' light, we become better people... and how much work there still is to be done... and how far we've already come...

Read On friendship, this is the training ground part 2...

P.S.  I am so very grateful to everyone who reads my posts here, takes interest, comments and emails... I am really so very humbled and blown away at the response from people all over the world who can relate to my experiences (and are trying my recipes!)  It means a lot.  I am energized by your remarks and your willingness to share your experiences, too.  While I juggle many projects, I feel this is one of the most worthwhile ones, and although I may come and go at odd intervals, I do intend to keep up with things more regularly here... so check back every so often, and please do stay in touch... I love hearing from y'all!  Om shanti...


  1. Sooooo glad you are back blogging!

  2. What a heartfelt post thank you. So much we can all grow from

  3. This girl is the real deal, y'all. Love you big, Laura Lea!