“Is this it?” The beginning of my path to healing

About twenty years ago, after the birth of our third child, a daughter, I remember thinking to myself…”is this it?”   I was thrilled to be a mom, had a great husband, a house, and really cool job but still I felt a deep sense of loneliness, and a sense that this was too good to be true and, like most things I had experienced, it would be short lived.

I had been a keeper of lists.   And as I added things to the list, I was convinced that as I achieved that next item on the list, I would finally be happy. After the birth of my daughter, there really wasn’t anything left to add. And if I’m being honest, I felt guilty that I had this beautiful life but still, deep down, I was not happy not to mention not thriving. I wondered many times what was wrong with me even though most people wouldn’t notice because I was, and still am, as some would say, high functioning.

Shortly after my daughter’s birth, I had what I would call an interruption. A triggering event occurred and it sent me reeling into a downward spiral. I had experienced other triggering incidents before and had been able to get over them, or actually suppress them, and move on. This was different. It could have been that my body had simply had enough of the suppression and that the stressors and traumas in my body had reached capacity. Or it could have been that with three young children under the age of 5, that I was simply exhausted and did have the energy to fight it. Whatever the reason for this breakdown, it was a gift.

I went into therapy for the first time and was diagnosed with PTSD from childhood trauma and anxiety disorder. The diagnosis came as a relief. But the solutions and eventual healing seemed inaccessible, if not overwhelming. The therapy offered to me, was seen as an intervention by my insurance company, meaning I could go for six visits and then after the six visits (so really six hours), in their minds I would be healed. What?? I had a choice after my six visits, which was to go on meds or look to other forms of healing and that is when I found meditation and it was the beginning of my exploration with holistic and alternative modalities. What I discovered isn’t anything profound. And what I found was that the more I connected to my body through stillness (and eventually movement), the better I felt and the more aware I was of my reactions (which there still so were many of) but also I noticed my moments of peace.

My first meditation course was at my local gym, an upscale establishment in an upscale town. I had no idea where to search for such classes so when this one caught my attention, I immediately signed up. “Watch the thoughts like you are watching a movie”, the man presenting the workshop suggested. I had a really hard time with that idea. Then the man suggested using a mantra, which is a word or saying one repeats over and over silently to themselves and can be offered as a prayer or intention, and offered the suggestion, “I am peace”.  This idea I could get my head around. I kept silently repeating it using the breath….. “I am” on the inhale, and “peace” on the exhale.

And I knew right then, that this was the beginning of something beautiful.

Sitting with our emotions….

Over the last week, it’s been necessary to fall back on my Buddhist psychology tools. One of the ideas of Buddhist psychology is to give ourselves permission to feel whatever we are feeling at the moment and meeting that moment and those feelings with complete and total compassion. If you’ve been in my classes lately, you’ve heard me reference Jill Bolte-Taylor, a neuroscientist who had a stroke at a young age and wrote about her experience in her book “A Stroke of Insight “ (as well as spoke about it in a very well received TED talk). In her book, she talks about how our brains only recognize an emotion for 90 seconds. N-I-N-E-T-Y seconds. What allows the emotion to continue is that a story takes root, which continues to validate and reinforce the emotion. And then we suffer. This idea of meeting ourselves exactly where we can be extremely effective and allow us to cope in a way that serves our overall well being. We see the thought/emotion, we recognize and acknowledge it and we move on.

One of my main coping tools over the years has been anger. If I’m being completely honest, I’d say it was an addiction. The adrenaline rush and the wanting to “fight” (albeit somewhat subconsciously which is very common with people who have PTSD) was very stimulating but exhausting emotionally and physically, not to mention depleting to my heart and soul, and often ended up with someone I care about getting hurt and always ended up with me hurting myself as I’d sit with deep regret afterwards. Of course I’m human and I still do get angry but not nearly to the degree that I used to. By meeting myself exactly where I am has allowed me the ability to meet everyone in my life where they are. If I’m doing this right, and it is absolutely a practice, more often than not, I’m doing my best to meet them with love and compassion regardless of whether or not I agree with them. Because the truth is, everyone is entitled to their experience. Being confrontational, judgmental, and self-righteous is a hard samskara to break….trust me as I know this all too well. What would happen if we allowed everyone to have their own experience and not try to convince them to see it our way? That doesn’t mean we condone supporting things that we don’t believe in but we use emotions, feelings, and beliefs to thrust us into action in a way that serves us, our conscious, and inspires others. If we tell people they need to feel a certain way, speak a certain way, or process a certain way….we lose them as well as an opportunity for dialogue…..not convincing them (which something I’m still working on too) but dialogue.

Join me today for restorative at 4:15 and Core Release and Restore at 7:30. We will practice sitting with our emotions and then we’ll just see what happens. As I learned in the silent retreat a couple of weeks ago…the physical practice brings ease into the body but the sitting brings clarity. We will be doing some metta again today as I think it’s necessary and can be extremely helpful in shifting our frame of mind. I hope to see you.

In the meantime, be kind, loving and compassionate to yourself and others. Peace on Earth.

Veterans Day

“The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war.” – Douglas MacArthur

A couple of weeks ago while teaching at the VA, I ran into a vet who had attended my yoga classes at the in-patient building. From time to time, I run into men and women who attended my classes on the “outside” but it usually takes me a second to recognize them, as they usually appear very different to me, because when I see them in the hospital, they are in crisis mode so they don’t look like themselves. I initially didn’t recognize him because the last time I saw him, he had just made his third attempt at suicide. So I was delighted to see such a big smile on his face. He looked so grounded, happy, excited, as well as proud (a funny word to used here but that is the word that comes to mind). He said, “do you remember me? I went to your yoga class!”. And I said, “of course I do, it’s so good to see you. How are you?”. And he told me that after some very dark times, he was doing much, much better. And it showed. I couldn’t help but notice that he was wearing a VA hospital employee badge so I asked him if he was working at the VA. He told me that he was indeed working at the VA now, and that he was hoping to do peer counseling at some point. I couldn’t help but smile at him as it was so humbling to witness how far he had come. I told him how incredibly courageous he was to be able to face his wounds, trauma, and fears and now be able to come out on the other side so that he can help his fellow vets. He agreed. I ended with, “I’m so glad you are here, by the grace of God”. And he nodded and said, “yes, me too”.

I want to mention how fortunate I am to work at the VA hospital where they do an amazing job trying to provide support for our vets when they return. I have to give a special shout out the to WRIISC program who embrace alternative modalities like yoga and meditation and put a great amount of effort into providing these (even though is often really isn’t a part of their job). But they believe in this movement (not sure what else to call it).

Happy Veterans Day to all of our courageous vets, who work on the front lines and then come home and try to put their lives back together. Thank you for your service and sacrifices. Sending you thoughts of love, peace, and healing today and every day.