My father died on Valentine's Day, 2011. He was one of my greatest teachers and one of my most challenging relationships.
Throughout my childhood and 20's I learned to endure his need for complete control. I bore his incessant irritability and shielded myself from his frequent bursts of anger. And, even while enduring him, I craved his approval and attention. I longed to feel more ease and love with him and around him, and of course within myself. In fact, it was this profound desire for peace and connection that fueled my journey deeper and deeper into the path of yoga.
Fast forward: now at 48 years of age and after almost 25 years of practice, I am thick in the throes of working on my first book. I am finding that as I try to bring to the surface the stories about my relationship with my father, which would illuminate some of yoga's most potent teachings, I can no longer evoke the pain I once wore like a badge of honor. The potency of those feelings—the sharpness, bitterness, and sadness that I know I filled my journals for years—are just nowhere to be found. Where's the anger when you need it?
In fact, today when I bring my dad to mind I experience very different things. I feel great warmth and love as well as humor and acceptance. I am able to see clearly that while I may have felt that my father didn't love me, it wasn't true. That was a real experience for me, but it wasn't true. Through my years of practice, I came to understand, empathize with and even experience my dad differently. I learned that he did love me, the best he was able to. Connection didn't come easily to my father. He was a man who lived with personal angst, physical and mental tension, childhood pain, and serious illness. He had a difficult time feeling good in his body, mind, and life. My practice opened me up to this clarity and truth. Eventually, I understood the ways in which he was reaching out to me. I was able to experience and receive his love. And I am so grateful for this because I was able to spend several years with my father in a more caring relationship before he passed away on Valentine's Day, 2011.
Now, again, as I try to write about the feelings that pushed me to practice meditation and yoga—I can recall the story... but I can't recreate the pain.
NO MORE STING
It's like the making of a 'Salty Solution'. If you took a tablespoon of salt and put it in a shot glass, you would get a certain salty solution. If you tried to drink that it would be unbearable. If you took the same tablespoon of salt and put it in a mug, it would be a different salty solution. If you put it in a bucket, a bath tub, a lake, the salt would get more and more diluted, less salty. It would still be part of the makeup of the water, but it would not have the connection, the sting.
We all have our own "salt". Maybe it is a relationship, an illness, a loss. It's something that consumes our attention, provokes a hardening and initiates an ongoing state of self-defense, limiting our experience of space and love. With time and practice, we make more and more space to allow these difficult experiences to get diluted or digested. Then, our relationship to the salt changes. We don't get rid of the salt—but it no longer runs our life, keeps us stuck in our story, or prevents our evolution. It doesn't minimize our wellness or our ability to give and receive love.
While this has been my life's work, it's not a quick process. But I can share with strong confidence and great joy that this path works! We can dissolve the limitations and the barriers to our experience of love and wellbeing.
In Yoga and Ayurveda we believe that digestion is the cornerstone of good health; everything that is taken in must be chewed and broken down. This applies not only to food—but to all our emotions, thoughts, life experiences and relationships. We must be able to assimilate that which will contribute to our wellbeing and release that which would become toxic if built up. Deep relaxation practices set up conditions for the nervous system to shift into the state of rest and digest—literally creating an environment where things can be processed.
When we practice relaxation and Metta Meditation we learn how to stay relaxed in our bodies and our minds with difficult feelings. This opens an opportunity to stop repeating limiting story lines. It makes room for more healing and nourishing feelings and perspectives. In fact, research shows that these practices produce a chemistry in our body-mind that further promotes "tend and befriend"; our ability to connect and be more intimate with ourselves and others (Kok et al - 2013).
Metta Meditation, Conscious Relaxation, and yoga have helped me to transform my life—helping me to locate and dissolve the barriers that limited my experience of love. This is at the heart of all my teachings. So this issue of Yogalicious and in each weekly blog this month, I'll share inspiration, tools, and practices to help you create space, dilute some 'saltiness', and expand love in your life.