Communion with God

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The evolution of a belief system is a funny thing to watch.  For some, it shifts in details.  For others, it’s completely upended.  And who knows, really, what makes one person’s beliefs the way they are — or what makes one person’s convictions steadfast and, for another, a fluid concept.

I think about my early years.  Sunday mornings, the ritual of getting ready for church.  Jazz music playing from my dad’s truck and the smell of cold leather seats as we drove down the street.  Sunday best, with bows and ribbons, bells and whistles.  My little brother’s hair reluctantly combed to one side.  A gentle & tender father-figure of a minister, someone I’d eventually approach in tears during my teenage years when attempting to make sense of an unfathomable tragedy.  Being a Sunday School student before eventually becoming one of the teachers herself.  Prayers every single night, and that silent understanding of a force greater than myself.

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Then I think about my college years.  About waking up one morning, sometime after my 20th birthday, and realizing that my belief system had fallen away from me.  Like it was something that had been dislodged from my pocket and dropped along the road, without my knowledge, and I only became aware of it when it was far too late to retrieve it.

The bewildering shock of believing in nothing.  Nada.  Nada y nada y pues nada.  Knowing it wasn’t as simple as retracing my steps, finding my trusted belief system under the shrubs or at the edge of a sidewalk.  Knowing it wasn’t ever going to be that simple ever again.

And then I think about the years that followed, how belief returned back in piecemeal format.  Slowly but surely, in its own time, on its own terms.  Like the prodigal son, only returning back now with souvenirs from his travels.  Bits and pieces gleaned and taken in to eventually make what now felt right in my heart look nothing like what I had when I was 6.

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And then I finally think about the last year and a half.  I’ve been hinting for that last year and half just how much of a mess my life had become.  How much had unraveled and blown up.  How many certainties were stripped away, or dislodged & lost alongside the road, unaware that they were gone in the first place until it was far too late.  How sometimes it feels like I’m chained down to the past, with each individual fear of a different, potential future grabbing hold of a limb, slowly pulling me to shreds.

It would be easy to pin this unraveling on the passing of my father.  And I want to.  There’s a huge part of me that does.  The death of a parent is clean.  No one is going to argue the personal hell of a young woman who loses her dad.  Especially a young woman who had as complicated of a relationship with her father as I did.

But life is messy.  Undeniably messy.  And the reality is that his death is one piece in something that is far bigger, broader, and more complex — resulting in an exhausting set of crossroads.  A frightening level of uncertainty.  The fears and the chains and being pulled limb from limb.

And I think about what I did as things blew up and unraveled. Dropping tasks by the wayside as anxiety hit, just to go on a walk or dance to a song. Turning up the volume when the right song came on the radio and getting irretrievably lost in the lyrics. Finding a comedian or funny video and laughing just a little too hard & for a little too long.

I think about how I’d take in the present moment as a sharp and vivid tableau.  Moments when I’d look up to the moon and just stare until whatever ache or fear or anxiety or dread passed.  Moments when I took in a slow, deep, beautiful breath as if it were the only possession I had in the world.

And then I think about something Chuck Lorre — the creator of Big Bang Theory & practically every comedy ever on CBS — once wrote, about comedy and communion with God.  How, when we’re laughing, we have no choice but to be in the present moment.  You can’t truly laugh and scan through your to-do list. You can’t laugh and make note of what annoys you.  You can only laugh and be with what is making you laugh.  And how, through making people laugh, Lorre is helping people be closer to God.  Because, in short, what is God but the present moment.  Yahweh – “I Am”.

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And I think about what my definition of God is these days.  The gentle and undeniable feeling that the unfathomably omnipresent & omniscient entity we understand as God comes into our lives through whatever avenues are going to work.  Through whatever forms and formats can meld in this corporeal, three-dimensional, time-as-a-linear-construct world.  The idea that we are spiritual beings bound by chemical makeup and societal limitations and psychological schemas and time.  The idea that it’s all predestined and planned and perfect in the grand scheme of it all and that there are few things that will guide a ship quite like those deep-seated beliefs.

The belief that the entity we call God transcends pronouns, definitions, labels, any earthly understanding.  The belief that God comes in mainstream religion, in New Age mumbo-jumbo, in quiet moments of reflection that make us go, “There’s a force higher than ourselves.”  That God comes in the form of doubt and scientific fact and the realization that we’ve been clinging to the wrong fairy tales.  That God comes in the form of that breath that is taken away when you’re at the base of a mountain, the edge of a waterfall, in the light of a full moon on a clear day.

The belief that God comes in the form of not believing in Him at all, and therefore believing that all we have is the here & now.  The belief that, even with arms filled with theological texts and a heart filled with ironclad beliefs, we feel closest to whatever it is we believe in when the rest of life is dropped and we’re in that present moment, the here & now.  That uncontrollable laughter.  That uncontrollable crying.  That moment when we take in that breath like it’s the only thing we have and temporarily sigh everything away.

And then I come back to me.  I think about those walks, those song lyrics, dancing in my kitchen until I bump into something, going on runs that force me to care about only this current step & nothing more.  Creating tableaus in lieu of an anxiety attack.  The moments I shift stress into a vivid accounting of what is around me.

These beautiful, precious, sometimes painful, present moments.

These beautiful, precious, sometimes painful, communions with God.

Yahweh.

Soham.

I am.

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And then I think about what this means in my ever-evolving contact with this unfathomable entity.  What I sometimes call God, other times the Universe, other times no name at all.  I’ve long abandoned prayer as a way to communicate.  But in those high intensity moments, in those moments where all I want to do is get away or obliterate, what I do next is nothing more than an intricate and precious call to that higher up.

And it’s not a cry for help, or an angry decree.  It’s not me begging for things to change or for me to be able to predict the future, even though my ego is asking for both.

It just is.

As I am.

Who would’ve thought I would’ve evolved to this type of prayer.  That, through the trials and tribulations, I would not be escaping so much as I was entering.  A moment within the moment.  To laugh, to observe, to sink in.  A chance to be.

That, through experiencing my own hell on earth, I’d be closer to God than I ever had before.

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You Gotta Smile

This was originally posted on my Facebook Page Abby Rose Yoga, which you should totally check out.  All long pieces of text are also posted on my yoga blog, which you can find here.  Best you be checking both out.  Just sayin’.

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Let’s set the scene: Weekday afternoon. I’ve just rounded out my classes for the day, which always leaves me a little drained and a little energized — and A LOT emotionally raw (wahoo, yoga!). I’m in a long, long line at the post office, wanting to ship something out before I can finally call it a day and tend to the multitude of other things on my to-do list.

I’m not used to long lines anymore. Living in a small town with a small town USPS will spoil you rotten. I check my phone, space out, return an email via my phone, space out some more. I look at the pretty stamps and follow lines along the walls and space out again.

The line moves at a snail’s pace. For every person helped, two more join the line. Eventually I find myself at the front. At one register, a man is attempting to mail out 10 different packages — some domestic, some international. On the other register, a man is attempting a money order. The second register is losing its mind as it attempts to process the money order, jamming paper and giving weird messages on the screen. These are two patrons who waited in line forever like me, and are now waiting forever to just get the job done.

And as the second postal worker gets the manager about the jammed money order, I hear the first postal worker go, “Oh God, I just voided the whole thing.”

There’s an audible groan from the customer. There’s a wave of energy in the line that you can only feel when everyone gets exasperated at the very same time. The frazzled postal lady looks over at me, the next one in line.

And I’m smiling.

I’m not smiling in any sadistic, masochistic, or oblivious way. It’s the knowing smile of someone who gets it — who gets how wrong a day can go. I’m smiling to commiserate. I’m smiling to hopefully offset the wave of negative energy.

I’m smiling because sometimes you just have to smile.

I say, “You gotta laugh,” a lot. A *lot*. Because – even more so than yoga and tai chi and meditation – learning to just say, “You gotta laugh,” has done wonders for shifting me away from a ball of nerves who collapses in on herself when things go wrong. The person I used to be and have no intentions of ever going back to being.

So sometimes that means making a joke out of the situation. Sometimes that means laughing at how absurd it all is. And sometimes it means laughing because the alternative is crying.
And usually those laughs eventually ease out the tears that needed to happen in the first place.

In a similar vein: sometimes you gotta smile. Smile because someone is having a real shitty day and maybe that smile can tip the scales a bit. Smile because you gotta remind yourself of the good, the vibrant, the reasons TO smile.

Sometimes you gotta smile because the world seems stuck on the alternative: frown, complain. Groan audibly and make a show of how annoyed you are.

I eventually get the second postal worker. I’m overly sing-songy. And I know I’m toeing in on old habits: this overly-accommodating, whatever-it-takes-to-keep-the-peace behavior that has never really done me any favors other than delay whatever anger was gonna come my way anyway.

Again, echoes of a former version of me that I have no intention of ever returning to.

But I toe that line as I keep things light. Joke about my bulky package (and now, looking back, I realized I missed out on a TERRIBLE and yet HILARIOUS genitalia joke). I continue to smile.

“Just one of those days,” I remark. And maybe that’s what is needed right now more than smiles and jokes and overly-accommodating behavior: that neutral recognition that sometimes days suck.

Because they do sometimes. Some days are gonna be a wash. Some days, everything is going to go wrong. Some days are going to test you in a way that almost guarantees failure. Some days are gonna make you question everything, make you wonder if you actually got it in you to keep moving forward and not stall out.

And that’s when you gotta laugh. You gotta smile. You gotta recognize without judging and then smile/laugh for whatever reason you need to. If only because the alternative is unacceptable.

Tableaus: A Love Affair Between Anxiety and Beauty Told in 17 Snippets

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Prologue: A Brief History in Anxiety

Redirect.

Redirect and direct it towards something that works in your favor.

Redirect and direct it towards something productive.

It’s the main fighting philosophy behind tai chi and aikido.  It’s the primary behavioral guidance philosophy in the early education world:

Don’t meet the obstacle head-on.  Don’t attempt to overpower it and bulldoze through.

Redirect.  Redirect what’s coming at you and see if you can – using its own forward momentum – steer it towards something that works in your favor.

I spent the last decade enmeshed in some version of that philosophy.  In some ways, I can’t believe it took me this long to use it towards something like fighting anxiety.

I know all the little tricks to stop or fight against a potential anxiety attack.  All the little breathing techniques, like I could literally blow away the encroaching storm.  The use of yoga and exercise and crafts and the great outdoors for taming the returning beast.

The tricks that always showed the most potential involved grounding in some way: label what you see, note what you hear, list off what you can touch, what you smell, what you can taste…  But in the end, I still see them as fights against an impending attack.  Sentries at the gate, attempting to ward off what’s coming with shields in hand, hoping the iron is strong enough.

The problem is, a coping device should not feel like a fighting off of what is encroaching.  To curb and stop and deal – it’s exhausting.  It’s unsustainable.  There’s a reason why boxing matches only go for twelve rounds, MMA for three.  There’s only so much fight you can offer before you simply want to tap.  Call in the ref.  Call it a day.

So, redirect.

Do not fight the oncoming energy.  Redirect it to your advantage.  Redirect it in ways that play off your strengths.

The same way it took a while to find the connection between philosophies, it took a while before I recognized the connection between these grounding techniques and the art world.

Label the things you see, the things you hear – categorize the world around you.  Illustrate a scene.  Make a snapshot.

In essence, create a tableau.

Redirect.  Redirect the grounding techniques away from sentries at the gate towards a portrait of scene and scenery.  Make it beautiful.  Stop treating it like a fight and start treating it like art. Let it just be – this awe-inspiring framework of the present moment, weightless and beautiful and surreal.  Let the weight of the past and the future slip away, even for just a moment.

Let it be.

Redirect.  Redirect what can be seen as suffering and make it art.  That’s been the philosophy behind all varieties of art since time immemorial.  The poets and the painters and the playwrights and the sculptors: take the dark and create a masterpiece from it.

Don’t fight the anxiety by attempting to find ground.  Make a tableau out of the grounding.

Redirect. Continue reading