Finding Roots

The cabin sits along the shores of Western Bay, looking out onto Mount Desert Island where 1500 ft mountains dot the horizon with dollops of deep green and strokes of grey.

A simple, single story structure, the wooden home is tucked away from the Atlantic’s cold waters. From its deck a sprawling lawn leads down to the shorefront where pine, birch and ocean rose bushes stand guard.

Atlantic view

It’s late summer on the coast of Maine. A place and time where the light blue of sky weaves into the green blue of ocean on the horizon, and the waves’ silver tips mirror the white cones of clouds. A place where breezes are cool, and smell of salt, seaweed and changing tides. A time when otherwise seldom seen neighbors- the herons, loons and geese, fox, deer and seals–make regular and noteworthy appearances.   

Today is one of those perfect summer days. The sun is high, the sky clear and the water  calm. Small ripples make their way to the shore where the salty brew drapes itself with easy abandon over a carpet of pebbles, shells and granite boulders.

Rugged and humble, the cabin’s magnificence lies in its simplicity, its richness in the stories it carries and its magic seen through the eyes of those who call it home. A refuge to generations of family, it holds within its walls, walkways and its land tales of love and loss, of hardship and celebration, of tears and belly laughs; stories of life in all of its sacred messiness. 

I could walk through this house and along this land my eyes closed, and do so without so much as a scratch. This place is etched into my mind, mapped into my being. It is the default button in my brain, the “rebooting” program in my system.

As far as I have traveled, as far away as I live, I always come back to this corner of the world. A place that held my family long before I was born into it, it is one root of my tangled and mixed ancestry. And every time– for however long or short I am here– this place welcomes me with open arms and with presence. And every time, it is as though it has been waiting, patiently and calmly for my visit, whispering to me as I approach: “Ah, my little one…there you are. Settle in. Settle down. Come and rest.”

And so here I am again.

It has been 145 days since the earthquake hit my home in Nepal. 145 days since everything changed– for the country, for its people, for those who call it home, and for those who are deeply connected to the small Himalayan nation. From where I sit now, on the coast of Maine, halfway across the world, the recent earthquake feels like a lifetime ago, and just yesterday, all at once.

For days, weeks and months after the earthquake, I lived like a lady-in-waiting. Waiting for my Queen, the Earth, to rumble, flutter and shift into a quiet slumber. Attentive to her every move– every aftershock, every new quake– I lived on the edge, ready to run or duck. Ready. Always ready. Half in my body, half out of it– a state which, with time,  became exhausting.

Even so, I was one of the lucky ones. One of those who survived the quake unharmed, with loved ones also spared. One of the lucky ones with a home in the Kathmandu valley that is safe. The scope of the devastation, the large death toll and the suffering of those who lost so much, is at times too much for my mind to fully grasp. At other times it slams into me so hard that it knocks the wind out of my chest. I catch my breath and remember that I am one of the lucky ones. I am one of the many survivors who have been left to forge out a path of healing and recovery for myself and for my community.

This road to healing has brought me to another place that I call home. A place far away from moving fault lines. Here, on the coast of Maine, the earth is still. Thousands of years of ice, snow, rain, sun and footsteps have weathered its mountain tops into rounded mounds of hard, solid ground.

As does so much else here, this land calls me.

And so I heed its call: I walk. 

And walk.

And walk.

Every day, I walk. Sometimes for hours at a time. Whether on back roads, wide carriage pathways, narrow mountain trails, or boulder routes that hang high over deep bays. Whether alone or in the company of a chosen few. I walk, clamber, and crawl over it. I wade into its shockingly cold ocean waters and lay on its sun kissed rock beaches. I step into the pathway of its gusting ocean winds or rest in the shelter of canopies of balsam forests.

I walk and learn to trust my feet again. I learn to watch the natural world around me– not for signs of possible danger, but for the sheer joy of observing, being present and finding communion with it.

This land moves, drums, splashes, and wakes me back into my body. Back into life.

Back to the Earth. An earth that I understand now to be solid and not-so-solid at the same time. An earth that once brought me to my knees and has now built me up again–more humble, more attentive, more awake.

It is as though, through all of this, I have been called to attention. As though the Earth has shaken me awake to take notice, to watch and learn: the way she follows her own rhythms unapologetically–not sparing a soul, nor taking one unnecessarily. The way she surrenders and yet stands her ground at the same time. The way she is ever wild, ever gracious, and ever bare and true. Ever wise. She just is. Shaking whatever needs shaking, shifting whatever needs moving, turning whatever needs turning, quieting whatever needs stilling. She whispers to me: Watch and learn. Learn to flow and to be fluid in your stance; know that it’s necessary to give out and give in when the pressure is too strong; know that falling apart and breaking are necessary in order to begin anew; know that death and birth are equal parts of the continuum of life, one unseen the other seen, both mysterious and blessed. Know that you all come here to shine your light, to serve me and all living beings that I house: to serve and uplift each other.

Today is a late summer’s day on the coast of Maine. I bask hungrily in the last warm rays of the season and indulge in its last harvest of peaches and blueberries. I linger a few seconds longer in the embraces of my family here–my parents, sister, and endless gaggle of aunts, uncles, cousins and old friends. I take it all in– all of the love and support that is as solid as the ground beneath and as pervasive as the winds and water that swirl and rock around me.

Restored and still restoring, filled and still filling, grounded and still grounding, I am ready to go back to my home in Nepal with Rumi’s words in my heart– There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the Earth.

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Life Lessons in a Snip

A few days ago I got my hair cut shorter than I have, ever (if you don’t count the time I shaved my head). I had been contemplating a short style for quite some time, inching my way closer and closer with tentatives every few months; cuts which took me from shoulder- to neck-length. Cautious would be one term to qualify these attempts. But to me these “snip-ettes” felt bold. As bold as did the changes I was making in my life at the time. I’d had long-ish hair for awhile. The style had accompanied me through a marriage, raising children, a separation, a divorce, seeing my children grow and leave the nest, a new relationship… and its recent end. Each haircut marked a shift in my relationships, and a letting go of an identity. One hairstyle at a time.

So when I arrived in Switzerland for a family holiday soon after the long-time-coming finalization of my divorce, change was fresh in the air, fresh in my psyche and in my cells. It was time. Time to let go. Time for a new cut.

I will not lie. I was nervous. Well, excited and nervous. I reached out to those closest to me and asked my mama to come along for the ride. She did so, enthusiastically. Her enjoyment was only multiplied by the complimentary espresso, French gossip-magazines and repeated requests for her input about the style, cut and color by Maria, the hairdresser/artist/counselor extraordinaire.

Neither my mother nor I were prepared for the transformation that took place. The process, which took most of one whole afternoon (!), had whispers of the magical in it. As Maria aptly put it, the butterfly was emerging from her cocoon.

And what a surprise. The form, colors and magic of a new look, and a new life.

Midwife to this metamorphosis, Maria was full of encouragement, wisdom and humor. I couldn’t have asked for a more skilled and insightful attendant.  In our conversations that flowed intermittently between the snips, hair flips, coloring, plastic wrap, brushing, washes and clouds of vaporized hair products, something gelled (Yes, yes. Pun intended).

One after the other insights and understandings came into focus. Clear as the cut, as bright as my new highlights. Bam, bam, wham. Was it the fumes of the non-organic, non-anything-natural- beauty products getting to my brain? Or was it just one of those moments in life when things click into place, like the pieces of a puzzle do? Who knows. Whatever it was, here they are:

  1. Dare to change. Here’s the deal.  I’ve always had my part on the same side, on the left. It’s the easiest and laziest way to go. Maria’s first move was to change that. One flip of the comb and “poof”, the look was completely different. Maria very matter-of-factly told me that habits need to be broken, otherwise we fall asleep to ourselves. I dared to go with her suggestion and am so happy I did. It was a reminder that when the opportunity to change an old habit arises, it is wise to go with it. So, my friends, shake things up, live it up and flip your part! You will be amazed by what you uncover.
  2. Do something you have never done before. I’ve never had bangs (willingly), or something crossing my forehead. Nor have I ever indulged in a far-out-hair-dresser-doo-wop-day. Other than simply dropping a habit, it’s incredibly liberating and revealing to try something new, to venture into foreign territory. There is nothing more powerful to breathe some new life into yourself.
  3. Be clear, state what you want and the Universe will meet you there. Going in I knew I wanted to look gorgeous, feminine and “me”. I also knew I wanted something short. All of these factors were so alive in my focus that they fell into place. Bam! Stop over-thinking, stop  dragging your feet. Take your time, get quiet, get clear and go for it.
  4. Admit what is present and alive in you. I told Maria, straight up, that I was nervous about this procedure. She met me right where I was and tuned in. Reassuring, without being overly so, she sensed when I was ready to take a leap, and guided me to the edge.
  5. Dare to be drop-dead beautiful. Beauty is pure you-ness, truth and love. Claim all of that and radiate it. This is life calling itself.
  6. Focus on what is beautiful, positive and unique about you. Spend so much time doing so that you have no time left to criticize others. You’ll have so much more to share with the world when you do.
  7. Live life in full color. For the hair make-over we added highlights, streaks of blond (my natural color before some grey and heavy metal city water toned it down). I considered the fact that there were most-likely some funky toxic materials in the white goop Maria was streaking through my hair. After contemplating the potential side effects for all of 5 seconds, I decided I could live with it. Pick your battles. Have fun. And let the color shine through.
  8. No one knows how to take care of you, better than you. Asked if I wanted the massage chair turned on while I had my hair washed, masked (yes, that happens!), and god knows what else, I said “yes” to the offer. All smiles, Maria affirmed: “Il faut savoir se gater, ma belle. Personne d’autre le fera aussi bien” (One has to know how to spoil oneself. No one else will do it as well as you).
  9. Life is too short to settle for less than your heart’s calling. We’ve heard it said before, and I will state it again, do not waste your time being miserable, praying for the other to change, wishing your life were different than it is. Change yourself, switch your perspective, do everything to take care of yourself, to open your mind, your heart, one baby step at a time. Believe in yourself and know you have the strength and courage to transform yourself. Dance to your Soul’s tune; it is part of the Universe’s symphony. Do this, and watch how those around you will join in, dancing themselves alive.

Toxic fumes and flashes of insight aside, here is what I know for certain today: We are Spirit manifest, made of star dust, made of the Universe itself. And just as the stars shine, the sun rises and sets, the oceans sway in tides, just as all elements of the manifest world do their thing, we are here to do just that…to be exactly who we are, as we are, beautifully imperfect and messy. Absolutely, unapologetically, outrageously, radiantly, gorgeous. For today and for all times, dance your dance, sing your song. You are invaluable. You are Life. Shine… shine…shine.

Preparing for Winter

The cold is settling in. Fog lingers until the late hours of the morning, whilst the sun retires earlier and earlier. Winter is creeping up on us. In the beginning this comes as a relief. After the hectic schedule of summer and autumn, winter’s hibernation feels like a breath of fresh air. In the cold I go out less. My daytime activities, other than working, are centered around finding a spot of sun in which to sit quietly and drink in its warmth. The cold invites me to withdraw, to quiet and slow down.

Winter is a time of turning in–physically, mentally and spiritually. It is a time of quieting and learning to make friends with stillness and darkness. For many of us this comes, at first, as an experience of rest. After the outward activity of the earlier months, winter’s hibernation offers rest and a space to slow down. However, for many, after some time, stillness becomes uncomfortable. The slow pace goes against our mindsets to keep “doing”.  In the quiet we come face to face with ourselves and the harvest of earlier months. Do we like what we have sown and gathered? Does it support us during the dark and quiet of winter? This harvest is as much material as it is emotional and spiritual. What feeds us when we are in the dark? How comfortable are we with ourselves, as we are, when there is nothing to distract us from ourselves? Who are we without creating something or having something to show for?

Winter is a time of simplicity. There is little outward production. This simplicity, this lack of outward manifestation, is part of the cycle of life. It is essential to creation. Rest and retreat allow for us to gather strength, to learn to pace ourselves, and to reassess. In the act of not-doing, we create the space for the new to come. Without an end, there is no beginning. In the Christian faith the birth of Christ, the Lord of Light, is celebrated in the Winter months and coincides with the Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year. It is only when we reach the darkest point of the year that the tables turn and the Sun begins his return. After the Winter Solstice days become longer, and we know that Spring, the promise of new life, is on its way.

It is in the dark that we need to be reminded of the light. It is in the dark that faith–the light of our heart–is born. It is at the most difficult times of our lives when we are initiated into our strength and recognize the need of support and of community. Darkness is a gift. So are stillness and quiet. May we learn to embrace them. And may we allow them to dance us back to our own inner light and to find the light of love in community, family and friends.

In preparation for winter, Isha is offering the following Yoga Retreat at the beautiful Chandra Ban Eco Resort. Details are as follow. We look forward to seeing you there!

Winter Weekend Yoga RetreatMain house
November 21-23, 2014

As the darkest time of the year nears, the temperature drops and the natural world around us retreats into herself. Just as Nature draws inward, so do we follow her calling to rest, store and prepare. The colder, darker months are a time to ground, internalize and find our ease and place in the stillness around- and in us.

Join us for a restorative and informative weekend retreat. Learn the practical tools that keep our body healthy and our mind and heart balanced during times of winter hibernation.

This weekend retreat includes:

-daily asana and pranayama practice for stoking the internal fire and encouraging suppleness

-daily meditation: yoga nidra (deep relaxation) and mindfulness tehcniques

-introduction to simple dietary and daily guidelines that, according to yoga and ayurveda, nourish and support our systems in the colder season.

-discussion/meditations to uncover how to bring these holistic tools into our daily life

-nature walks

-delicious vegetarian meals

-quiet time for reflection & rest

-good company!

Level: All welcome. No previous experience in yoga or meditation required.

Location: Chandra Ban Eco-Resort, Kathmandu

Information & Registration: Please contact Amrit at 98510-73559 or amritthapa108@gmail.com

Oh, India…

It has been 5 days since I returned from India. Now, comfortably settled in the familiarity of home, work and routine in Kathmandu, the “high” of travel, and more precisely, the “high” of travel in India, is beginning to wear off.

For those of you who have been to India, you most likely are nodding your head (or bobbing it side to side, Indian-style) understanding without further explanation what this high, what India, what travel in India, are all about. Is it love or hate? Is it trauma or euphoria? Or a blend of both?

When I made my way onto the short flight from Kathmandu to Calcutta I was still talking myself into believing this trip was a good idea. Only a few hours earlier had my plans been finalized. Up until then tickets had yet to be confirmed and, more importantly, my stay at Rikhia Peeth ashram had yet to be cleared. Life in last minute-ness. This is a way that I am well used to, living in Asia, and being a last-minute-gal by nature. This time around, however, it was something that didn’t settle well with me. And so I left for India, and for the ashram, half heartedly.

Any, and every, time I head to India, something happens. By “something” I mean an experience that catches me by surprise. It is normally an event that was not planned, and that had no way– by any stretch of the imagination or logic– to happen. But it does, in India. The unthinkable, the unforeseeable, the unexpected happens. And it happens no matter how diligently I plan.

Whenever I head to India, knowing that I am going to the encounter of the Great Unknown, I do a little ritual. Wherever I am (in a plane, train, jeep, rickshaw, horse-drawn cart) I close my eyes, quiet my half-panicked/ half-exhilarated mind, place my hands over my heart and pray. I give my word to surrender to the flow of life, to follow the stream of the experience no matter what happens. In the same breath I ask for protection and clear guidance. I jump into Life and, like a child to her mother, trust that in doing so I will be held in Her Grace.

It’s funny how perceived experiences of potential danger and the prospect of the unknown can bring us lickety-split into a state of presence and surrender. It’s ironic that we (I) forget to do this more often. Because, in fact, we are on the precipice of the unknown at every moment of our lives. With each breath, with each step, we walk the edge between life and death. In each moment we die and are reborn again.

So, there I was, on the flight to Kolkata, uncertain, praying, and hopeful. As ready for the unexpected as I could be. A smooth and comfortable flight landed us in the West Bengal capital. The air is heavy with heat and humidity. As I step off the plane onto the tarmac my clothes cling to my skin as though I just took a shower, fully clothed. Hot stuff. The discomfort is quickly relieved by the air conditioning in the impressive new airport. I don’t recognize a thing. The airport has been completely renovated since I was last here a few years ago. Dazzled by the modernity I am also taken off guard. Surprised at how quickly and drastically things can change.

In this new labyrinth of hallways and terminals I resort to following signs, and the flow of fellow passengers. Immigration and luggage pick up are smooth sailing. Lifted by the ease of the experience I head through customs into the arrivals lounge to make my way to the Pre Paid taxi counter, confident and relaxed. I need to get to my guest house, about a half hour ride away. I had decided to spend a night in the city and take a day train the following day, rather than rush from the airport onto a night train to my next destination. Whether it was good thinking, travellers luck or divine grace, it was a good decision. The PrePaid taxi counter is deserted. There’s a taxi strike. Until when, no one knows.

With the rest of the stranded travellers I line up in front of the private taxi counter. After what feels like forever I get to the front of the line only to be told there are no more taxis left. “You’ll have to wait an hour Ma’am.” And it is going to cost me four times the price I had budgeted for. Here’s the thing: an hour in India could be anything. It could be the actual 60 minutes it is said to be; it could also be 15 minutes or 2 hours, or 24. So, we’ve got the time factor. And we’ve got a money factor to deal with. I am low on Indian Currency. With the holiday season and money forgery business thriving, it was impossible to get any Indian Currency in Nepal before leaving. And Nepali currency is non convertible. But I am prepared! I have an ATM card and some dollars cash, on me.

Prepared. The ATM machine is empty and the money exchange counter, all sparkling new, is closed. No kidding. India, I love you. Wake me up, shake me up, you do.

Breathe. I can either fight this and take it as an affront to my plans. Or I can go with the flow and trust that all of this is actually in my best interest. Before heading out of the airport doors into the Kolkata night to find some means of transportation, I find my way to the departure level, talk the army guard into letting me through to use an ATM machine (it is working!) and collect some much needed cash. Note to self: Think outside the box. Ask for help when necessary.

Crossing the threshold of the fancy sliding doors, I finally emerge into the Kolkata night air. It is still humid and heavy. It’s intoxicating. Across the way is a taxi stand. Making my way through the sparse traffic, I step onto the pavement and come face to face with a gentle looking older man with heavy grey dreadlocks that fall below his waist. “Taxi, ma’am?”. Yes please. The blue-suit clad baba directs me to the counter where I enter negotiations (well, where the taxi-walla humors my attempts at negotiations) and leave with a signed receipt and a promise for a ride. Proud to be paying only double–not quadruple– what I normally would, I am directed towards an old white Ambassador. I opted for the classic, non-AC, ride.

It turns out the dreadlocked baba is my driver. He ushers me into the car. The big, springy back seat meets the weight of my bag and body with a whoosh of welcome. My eyes accustom to the dark and make out a makeshift shrine to Kali Maa on the dashboard. I exhale deeply. Finally safe. The baba makes his way to the driver’s seat, turns the key in the ignition and mumbles when nothing happens. With practiced movements he grabs a metal tool and goes to take a look at the engine. Apparently the trick to fixing the problem is five taps on something in the engine guts. Hit five times. Try the ignition. This chorus repeats itself a several times. I realize that as he is carrying through this ritual he is getting directions from another driver for the address I have given him. Watching all of this, I start to laugh. The car is not starting and I am not sure the driver knows where we are going. But I am not worried at all. I know I will get where I am going. And in good hands.

The motor finally roars to life, dreadlock baba hops into his seat and we are off into the city night. We chat in broken english and hindi about Navaratri, the festival of the goddess which starts in two days. I ask him about his Kali shrine and his face and voice light up. “My home, Kali temple”. Yep, I thought so.

I journey through the dark night, with Kali lighting the way, and a gentle baba driving me safely to my living quarters. Bumping along through the darkness, in great company, with joy and trust in my heart. The rest of my time in India is an extension of these first few encounters. Unexpected, blessed and inspired. Thrust out of the known of daily ritual, I wake up to the colors, the happenings, to the grace all around and within me. Stay vigilant, Yogatara, a voice tells me. Stay awake. Trust yourself, ask for help and go with the flow that is offering itself to you at every moment.

Oh, India. Pranam.

Bad Days

You know those days when everything seems to go “wrong” from the moment you wake up? You stub your toe, bump into the wall, the dogs chew on your favorite shoes or get into the garbage and decide to play with it in the living room. A day of bumper to bumper traffic when you’re late;  of coffee spilled on your clothes before an important meeting.

Yes. Those days. 

I’ve had a few of those days lately.

Let me preface my tirade with the acknowledgement that this struggle is not life threatening. There are places and people in the world, as I write, that are in the throws of extreme turmoil, where the threat to life is real and constant. As I rant I am aware of the scale of my “bad days” as minuscule in comparison.

My current daily struggle is rather puny. And so it is for many of us. Even so, the low grade, chronic irritation that is born from a pile up of small or medium scale trials is not inconsequential. Much of our “stress” comes from bite size triggers that are repetitive and continuous, gnawing on us till we bleed. The relentless irritation can drive us to drastic and impulsive behavior.

Last week felt like walking in a minefield. No matter how aware, how present I practiced being, I seemed to walk into one booby trap after another. Some were small; some were splat-in-your-face-in-public painful. After the third or fourth time I walked into the wall (literally and figuratively) I stopped. I just stopped in my tracks. The usual onslaught of frustration and ‘poor-me’ was playing loudly and clearly in my head. The tears were on tap and ready to flow. But in the time it took me to pause, to stop and simply breathe, the ridiculousness of the situation became crystal clear. I plopped down where I was and instead of tears came laughter.

“This is completely insane”, I thought to myself.

And it was. What was insane was not just the events that were happening. What was more insane than them was my reaction to them. Insane was my insistence to continue pushing myself to do things in the same way I had been doing them. It finally occurred to me that if I was running up against walls wherever I turned, then perhaps I might want to consider doing things differently and use a new approach.

When I stopped for a moment, I could rest. I could look around me and within.  What was I feeling at the moment? What sensations was my body experiencing? Pain, ease, tightness, ache? Just by the act of paying attention, of checking in, my entire system relaxed.

Yoga understands that wherever our attention goes prana, or life force, goes. Being present and alive with what was happening within in that moment brought the life flow back into the space of what was taking place. Present, I could then enquire and ask myself what I needed at that moment. Rest? Water? Food? Crying? A hug? Quiet? Activity? A walk? Writing? Playing with the dogs? For the next few hours I followed only this directive: find out what needs tending to and tend to it with full presence. 

I went for a long walk. A walk in the same neighborhood, with the same shops as always. It was my same body walking.  It was the same day I had been struggling through. But this time I took my time. This time I looked upwards. The sky was gorgeous. Right before sunset, yellows, oranges and purples mixed into the huge billowing white monsoon clouds against a light blue sky. This time I looked around me. People walking, trees standing, street dogs and butterflies going about their business. Each one of us doing “our thing”. A thousand, a million activities happening simultaneously; synchronized, and orchestrated by the same forces that made the clouds big and the sky so colorful. The same forces against which I had been pushing earlier. As I popped by the Durga temple and went in, I bowed my head, asking for Her Grace and Her strength to cut through the clouds of my ignorance and self pity. Fixed in stone, Her idol didn’t budge. But She was moving mountains, gently pulling away the veils from my eyes of in-sight. 

It is not that the clouds of confusion nor that any challenging emotion are bad. It is not that having a bad day makes us any less than who we are. It is that those “bad” feelings and their accompanying states of mind alienate us from the beauty and connectivity around us, that are up for the taking all of the time. At times we are called to reach out to that raw magic through action. At other times it is through quiet, stillness and non-doing that we align with that very majesty. Moment to moment, we are invited to gauge, watch, and notice what is offering itself to us. A world of abundant auspicious-ness and beauty.

Non Violence & the Pursuit of Love

I recently joined a NVC group here in Kathmandu. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the acronym, NVC stands for Non Violent Communication, a practice that is also known as Compassionate Communication. Created by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, a psychotherapist and conflict mediator, NVC has gained world-wide recognition as an effective means of addressing conflict, whether it be in personal relationships, between communities or warring nations. My novice understanding of this practice leads me to believe that more than just avoiding conflict, NVC cultivates constructive and empathic dialogue to navigate through the rough waters of hostility and/or discord. NVC assumes that, at our core, we are compassionate beings; we share the same basic human needs and our behavior is a strategy to have those needs met.

Even with a limited knowledge and practice of NVC, the changes it has fostered in my relationships and work have been powerfully positive. I am hooked. I like it. I love it. That being said, if truth be told, I haven’t always been so keen, nor am I always ready to be non-violent. Yep, that’s right. There are times when I don’t want to be grown-up, or constructive about things. It’s not exactly that I don’t want to be nice; it’s that I want to, at times, hide behind the smothering veil of vengeful feelings. I want to let myself be intoxicated by anger or pain. I want to be carried away by the raw power of the emotion. I long for the feelings of aliveness that it injects into my body, literally–my blood, bones, muscles, nerves, brain and heart temporarily hijacked by adrenaline. I long for that experience of my thought process being arrested. Flatlined.

The high doesn’t last very long. In fact it disintegrates into heaviness, chaos and confusion pretty quickly. The down after the high. Unpleasant and draining, anger, when left wildly unleashed, leads more often than not to feelings of regret and/or guilt. The mess after the storm may be material or physical; it is always emotional and mental.

This addiction to certain alienating, life-severing, emotions is not as uncommon as you might think. I see it in myself, and I see it all the time in my work with others. As much as a situation, a habit, a resentment, might be unpleasant, it is familiar and strangely comforting. Shocked? I’ll address this in more detail in another post. My point being: alienating emotions, termed “poisons” in yogic psychology (guilt, greed, jealousy, anger, laziness etc) can be addictive and a hard habit to kick. Hence the need to be clear, real and armed with some concrete tools when working with them.

Are there times when anger can be appropriate and helpful? Certainly. Are there times when violence is appropriate? Never. The most pressing issue is how to deal with the anger in the moment it arises, in other words how to channel the charge of the feeling. NVC is one mechanism. Yogic practices offer a wealth of tools to do the same. In fact, there are a plethora of techniques to channel the subtle dimensions of thought and feeling in constructive, uplifting ways. Some use physical movement and breathing, others use mindfulness, language or energy work.

A few years ago I started taking classes in Aikido, a Japanese martial art that adheres to non-violent principles and offers a means to protect oneself and the aggressor from injury. When face to face with an attack–a punch, hit or hold– one uses the very energy of that move to deflect it back to the aggressor. In Aikido we become transformers of energy. Alchemists. Aikido’s movements are graceful, flowing and exact. The practitioner remains centered, focused and faces the aggression rather than running, freezing or firing back. Aikido invites us to dance with the assault. Without using one’s own energy the force received is offered back without causing injury to either party.

Aikido appealed to me because of its qualities of non-violence and protection. But again, just as with NVC, I found that initially I didn’t really want to be non-violent. I wanted to kick some butt. And I didn’t want to wait for a guy to make a move. I wanted to do it before it happened. Just in case. This reaction was certainly an outcome of a traumatic experience that had happened months earlier. Returning home in the early evening from a dinner gathering, I was violently attacked as I walked along the alley near my house. Two young men, masked, approached me from behind and began to beat me relentlessly with a large glass bottle. The blows came non-stop for what felt like a very long time. My head first, and then when I got it out of the way, the rest of my body. They took nothing from me, nor did they touch me in any way. Just the bottle bashing. My reaction was instinctive: blood curdling, visceral screaming. My brain and body pumping with adrenaline, I was on auto-pilot: Survive. Get them away from your head. Stay conscious. I did not strike back. Instead I ducked and tried to move away from the hits. What ultimately saved me, I think, was my voice…and Grace. People came running out, and the men sped off on their motorbike. For the two people that acted in violence, there were 20 who came to tend to me, holding me until my shaking body calmed itself, wiping the blood from my face and calling the police.

Looking back, the two emotions that were most apparent during the attack were fear and anger. What I can now see, two years later, is another feeling that surpassed the other two in its force: Love. A love for life, a cry of Spirit to continue to dwell in the physical body that is mine. This Love is fierce, protective, unapologetic and unstoppable. Words do it little justice. It is Life itself.

In that moment of life-threatening danger, anger saved me. It threw open to doors of my heart to a Life force I hadn’t recognized or felt for some time.  Did I want to strike them back? Not really. More than anything I wanted to protect my Life. In the direct aftermath, replaying the events over and over, I day dreamt that I might have done things differently, even hurting the men so they would go away, and so they might feel the intensity of fear that I had felt. There was a small part of me that wanted an eye for an eye. There was greater part of me that knew that would leave all of us blind, as Gandhi so wisely said. Now, a few years later, I do not wish them harm. Instead I wish myself more goodness, more self care and Love. I have vowed to be smarter about taking care of myself and honoring the Life force that flows in and through me. I equip myself with tools–physical, verbal, mental–that will allow me to navigate through situations where violence is present. I also equip myself with a daily sadhana (spiritual practice) that tenderly and patiently coaxes my heart to trust and to grow.

When we feel in danger, whether it be physical or psychological, our knee-jerk reaction tends to be one of a few options: to close up and freeze, to run or to lash back. What both Aikido and NVC teach us is to attend to our wellbeing by preserving our most fundamental need for connection with ourselves and others, for safety and honoring all life. They teach us to do so by transmuting the blows of aggression into a language and a movement of graceful compassion that are reflected back to the other without creating harm. Anger and pain stand no chance in the face of Compassion. It is the most powerful force in this dimension that we know.

To hone this powerful energy of love and to learn how to use it takes willingness, practice…and more practice. It also takes great courage and faith. Courage to move through the fear of being hurt, of being excluded (disconnected), the fear of not being enough. Courage to not give into the alienating language and actions of anger. Courage to accept ourselves fully, without rejection, for all of our weaknesses and strengths. Faith that we can move into our hearts of compassion and share them with others, without danger. Faith in the very power and intelligence of Love.

Here is to our hearts of compassion. How is yours beating?

For more on NVC:

NVC Academy

Center for Non Violent Communication

What’s in a name?

In Nepal when a child is born into a Hindu family it remains nameless for the first 10 to 12 days of its life. Bestowing a name on an unborn being seems strange and, for some, unthinkable.

A child receives his or her “title” during Namakaranam, the name giving ceremony. In this ritual, in the presence of the parents and close relatives, the priest whispers the child’s name into his or her ear for the first time, initiating the small being into its nada, or sound vibration, and the energy it carries. This ceremony is the fourth the child has already been part of (rituals accompany conception, pregnancy and birth) and one of the possible 16 rituals that will see it through the various stages of its life, including death.

Namakaranam marks the arrival of the child into its family and the beginning of its dharma, or life calling. The child’s name is chosen according to its Vedic birth chart, or horoscope, in which the Moon’s constellation- each endowed with a syllable- denotes the sound by which the name should start. Once this information is given, the family–more often than not the parents as well as the elders of the clan–pick the name that they feel is appropriate for their little one. Having observed the child for the first few days and throughout the pregnancy, the family will often choose a title that best suits his/her character.

Whether we are born into a culture in which such rituals exist, or come from a background of fewer customs, there is nothing haphazard about a name. Parents, family members, or guardians ponder with great care what epithet to give a new being, understanding that this calling will accompany the child throughout the rest of its life.

Name is sound, shabda shakti. It is an energetic vibration that carries within it a certain quality of consciousness. A name grounds us. Like the coordinates on the map of life, name denotes a space and place for us in the immensity of the Universe.

Name imparts a primordial sense of identity. Before we are old enough to collect experiences, degrees or titles and before we have anything to call our own, we have our name. And that name is a designation for all that I perceive that I am, up until that point: a body, a member of a family, an array of traits, a personality, a Spirit.

So, what happens when we change our name? Our identity shifts. Our path takes on a new meaning and direction.

Some of us will change our name when we marry, adopting the last name of our partner, thereby outwardly marking the merging of families or clans. Others of us will choose to change our first name at a point in life. This is common occurrence in spiritual rites and initiations, whether in formally recognized religions or in lesser known or unorganized wisdom traditions. For some this name remains only used in the circle of the spiritual community; for others it replaces their birth name.

A change of name is a rite of passage that marks the beginning of a new path; one that comes with a commitment. This may be a commitment to a marriage and its implications, personal and social. This may be a commitment to a spiritual path, with certain precepts and values to observe or nurture.

When I took initiation and asked my spiritual teacher for a name, I did so as a commitment to my spiritual path. I yearned for direction and clarity on my life course. I yearned to know my dharma; how best to apply myself with qualities I knew I had and the qualities within me that I had yet to uncover. I did not ask for a spiritual name to become a yoga teacher with some funky Sanskrit name. Teaching Yoga was actually low on my list of possible “professional” pursuits at the time. Asking for a spiritual name was no small thing, no cute little ritual to tick off of my “cool and different things to do” list. Quite to the contrary. It was a baptism. The beginning of my marriage to Self and Spirit, as my spiritual name would symbolize the energy or consciousness I was here to awaken and embody.

Truth be told I was hoping for a very subtle name; one that would slip off of the tongue easily and not be too noticeable. For, you see, I thought I was subtle. In fact, I thought many things of myself. Least of all did I ever think of myself as what my spiritual name signified. When I received my new appellation as YogaTara I was not only surprised but rather horrified. YogaTara. What? A name that begins with “yoga”? Are you kidding me? Good God. A name that means the Star, Shakti (divine feminine form) or Buddha of Yoga. The light in the darkness. The initial excitement of receiving my name was quickly smoked out by feelings of embarrassment and trepidation.

YogaTara is not a name that slips off the tongue easily. Nor is it subtle. It has taken me time to accept my name. Learning to carry it, to accept its energy, is part of my personal growth. My name is part of my sadhana, or spiritual practice, and brings me great focus. It is a constant reminder, to remain mindful, to align myself with Spirit and my path. More and more I use my spiritual name not only in my line of work, but also in the other circles of my life.  It seems fitting. For as I walk upon my path, there is less and less separation between the spiritual and material, the mystical and the mundane. It is merging, dancing into one-ness.

My name is YogaTara. Thank you for calling me so, for every time you do you join the choir that sings my spirit back to itself.