Samatha Yoga Union with Tranquility Mon, 08 Jan 2018 21:08:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Samatha Yoga 32 32 Generous Compassion Sun, 31 Dec 2017 15:52:48 +0000 Generosity is a practice that measurably improves our life. The act of generosity is usually portrayed as giving material goods or money. The winter season is full of year-end appeals for donations, this being an important time of year for these funding drives. Marketing at this time of year encourages us to give lavishly to others and to ourselves, worry about the debt later. While we can distract ourselves, numb ourselves with material wealth, it ultimately doesn’t create happiness.

The focus on generosity as an act of material giving leaves out a variety of opportunities to practice generosity. We can be generous with our time, from volunteering our time to taking a moment to listen to a friend who needs a kind ear. We can be generous when we choose to be compassionate and patient instead of giving into frustration when we deal with irritations we run into from day-to-day. We can choose to treat ourselves with kindness instead of listening to negative self-judgement.

This month, I’m particularly getting to practice with that last one as I address some long overdue dental work. I’ve had some pretty terrible experiences with dentists in the past, including being repeatedly shamed for having anxiety. I also have an intersection of childhood trauma and dental work that makes the having dental treatment tremendously difficult for me. At the beginning of the month I had the whole 3.5 hour experience of having full x-rays taken, major cleaning, and an exam. It was exhausting and my tender gums are still not wanting anything crunchy in my mouth.

After that, relatively endurable experience, and in order to really maximize the meager dental insurance benefit I have, I scheduled two crowns to be done the week before Christmas. That turned into a root canal, my first ever, followed by the crown later in the week. This means I’ve another crown, the dentist suspects a second root canal too, to plan in 2018. I also have a tooth with what look like an unusual, in that it is in a straight line, pattern of decay, that will be evaluated in mid-January by a specialist as it may well need removal and an implant. I’m trying to take this in stride and be both vocal, consistent, and transparent with my new oral care-providers; making sure they know exactly how I am doing with appointments, during and afterward, and just how severe my dental anxiety is, and why.

With this added load of anxiety this month I’ve been focusing on keeping my energy up so I can teach my classes and connect with people I love. While teaching is tiring, it helps me to feel grounded and balanced; connecting with my students and clients truly lifts my spirits as well. I’m continuing to practice telling people I’m grateful instead of apologizing for what I see as personal failings, something I wrote about last month. I’m using my mindfulness practice to catch when anxiety is steering me into the dangerous shoals of negative self-judgement and shame, instead finding what might soothe my energy in that moment. I’m taking anxiety medication without getting caught up on some idea that I should be better at all this already; accepting that not everything can be “yoga’d” away, yet.

On Christmas Eve a storm arrived in the morning and we spent the day watching ice form on the plants and roads. We hunkered down, made lasagna together, and enjoyed one another’s company. We’re starting to invite people over again, but also keeping things a little smaller and more simple. Our New Year’s Eve was spent having dinner together and trying to stay up until midnight. We danced with the dogs wth the music on loud, so as to drown out the fireworks people were setting off, then went to bed.

Looking forward to exploring more posts, more pictures of yoga, and podcasts in the coming year. I’ll personally be making more art and committing to the hard work to dismantle the shame I have around money and my body.


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Choose Gratitude Tue, 28 Nov 2017 21:08:00 +0000 I’d had a plan to write about the slippery slope of using comparison as your gratitude practice, how it robs you of the joy of being truly grateful. Then I saw some great advice about choosing gratitude over apologies. That lead me to a charming comic of this advice by artist Yao Xiao.

Sometimes an apology is right on. I forget to take care of something, that’s a good time to apologize with sincerity. However, sometimes we fall into the habit of apologizing for ourselves when we could be focusing on our gratitude for someone instead.

I seriously love this idea. First of all, it refocuses a situation on the positive, being grateful. Instead of jumping to apologize, focusing on perceived negative behavior, move towards gratitude. It also calls people into awareness of their own kind behavior, it creates a connection around gratitude. Someone might not even think they’re doing anything special by listening to you try to talk through a problem, but they are and it is so much better to thank them for their kind attention and perspecitve than to apologizing for “rambling”.

This resonates with me so much since I tend to jump to apologies for what I perceive as my “failing” somehow. This response was habituated through years of interactions with my abusive Mother, toxic family, and a couple of deeply dysfunctional relationships in my 20s and 30s. Getting into negative self-judgement goes hand-in-hand with the apologizing; I’m always looking for my faults. As a child I learned it was easier to call attention to myself, point out the negative judgement first, rather than be caught off guard by a family member. Having an unpredictable, abusive parent also meant that I often apologized even if I’d not done anything wrong, apologies soothed my Mother.

The whole idea of choosing not to apologize, and instead choose connecting with another person through gratitude, feels a little radical to me. My initial response is to wonder what the other person is going to think if I don’t call out my error? Are they going to think I don’t care if I don’t apologize?

On Monday morning I was given the perfect opportunity to test out this new approach. I was late to teach my morning class. I was moving slowly that morning and had a headache. There had also been a serious traffic incident that closed the interstate near my home, the way I go to teach. I made my circuitous way in to teach, feeling grateful that at least the room would be unlocked and the props out already.

It was a great plan, but it turned out the class before mine had been cancelled and everything was locked up. My students were all milling around in the lobby! I got the key, unlocked everything, and got the yoga props out. As I took the key back to the office, I called over my shoulder, “Thanks for waiting for me!”.

When we’d all sat down for our Yoga in Chairs class I thanked everyone for their patience and good humor on a morning that felt harried and off the track already! I received gracious reassurance that everyone was glad I’d arrived safely and it wasn’t that late!

What a shift that was! Instead of stewing in my own negative self-judgement for not leaving earlier and being late, I was basking in the compassion and generosity of my students.

I shared with them all what I’d read and challenged them to give it a try in their own lives; replacing apologies for gratitude. Some students shared that they appreciated having my gratitude, that it just felt better than the usual, “I’m sorry I’m late!” It felt like we made a connection.

Like all gratitude practices, we make a mindful choice to choose gratitude. We’re always looking for what we’re grateful for in each moment, there’s nearly always something. We’re choosing connection through gratitude instead of apologies rooted in negative self-judgement.

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Yes Sun, 19 Nov 2017 17:53:53 +0000 Yes
-by William Stafford

It could happen any time, tornado,
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.

It could, you know. That’s why we wake
and look out – no guarantees
in this life.

But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
like evening.

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Some Bonuses Tue, 14 Nov 2017 21:03:14 +0000 This month I’ve been sharing a short poem, “Yes“, by the late William Stafford, who taught at a college in the Portland area and was both the Poet Laureate of Oregon as well as the United States. Despite being a poetry-mad teen growing up in the Portland Metro area, I feel like I’ve come to Stafford’s work late, as an adult.

I love that this poem begins with a fairly familiar observation; we should be be grateful for what we have now because disaster could strike at any moment. I get that.

Many people who live with C-PTSD experience hypervigiliance, perpetually scanning the environment for danger and experiencing high arousal to stimuli like loud noises, crowds, etc. Folks with C-PTSD are also prone to catastrophizing, a cognitive distortion where we tend to dwell upon the worst possible outcomes for a scenario. I’m well familiar with these, having lived in this state for much of my earlier life.

The problem with living in perpetual readiness for disaster is that it is absolutely exhausting. Hypervigiliance is a state of constant alert and, as the name implies, it is not sustainable and ultimately is a state that will negatively impact health. Catastrophizing often goes along with hypervigiliance, the focus on the worst-possible outcome makes the constant alert seem perfectly reasonably. This is not paranoia, but a cognitive state that arises due to repeated trauma.

My yoga practices have helped me cultivate mindfulness skills that enable me to spot when I’m spinning through disaster scenarios in my head. I notice now when I go into high alert mode, staying with it as a signal that my body is trying to take care of me and then I can reassure my body and mind if I am safe, or if there is really something I need to pay attention too. I’m also getting a little better at asking for help when I’m feeling overwhelmed by stimuli. Yoga combined with several years of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy followed by years more of trauma therapy using EMDR. I’m grateful to say that now I don’t spend as much time in these distorted states where I’m sure the worst will happen and that any moment disaster really will strike, so I must be alert.

Gratitude is a part of my meditation and mindfulness practices each day. It helps keep me grounded in what’s really happening, which helps me to stay in the present moment. It helps me focus on connection, when I practice gratitude for the people in my life who love me. When I’m in the present moment, I’m also not missing out on a myriad of small delights, tiny gratitudes, and joy bursting out into the open. I find that seeing these bonuses in life gives me space to hold myself, my Whole Self, as precious and whole, complete, lacking nothing.

This is one of the things I especially love in Stafford’s poem, he closes with a reminder that in this world of disaster around the corner there are some bonuses. Another downside to hypervigilance and catastrophizing, aside from being too exhausted to appreciate or enjoy much of anything, is that the focus on readiness makes it easy to miss the small bonuses. Staying in the present moment, in my body and open to gratitude for the world, I catch those bonuses now.

It is these small bonuses that bring color, joy, and vitality to a very difficult world.

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Grateful Anyway Sat, 11 Nov 2017 23:38:09 +0000 Last week I talked with my classes and private clients about cultivating gratitude even when we don’t feel like it. Gratitude is a tool we can use to help lift us up when we’re feeling low. Studies on gratitude practice have shown it improves our sense of well-being, feeling of connection to others, and increases optimism. People in these studies also reported benefits like improved sleep and reduced pain symptoms.

I was feeling good about my plans for talking about gratitude practice this month, then along came a week that pulled the emotional rug out from beneath me. November kicks off several painful anniversaries, including my Mother’s death, coming up on 3 years ago, on November 24th. My biological Father died in 2001 on November 9th. My Dad, my step-father, died in early December 2000. Needless to say, this isn’t the easiest time of year for me. The darker, longer days and the autumn time change don’t help either, but these significant losses all crowded together have overshadowed winter for me for a a few years now.

My Mother’s death came as I was just beginning my training in Integrated Movement Therapy. This is really the first year I’ve not had the distraction of homework and meetings with my mentor to distract me from the grief and depression that comes up for me. At the very beginning of the month I’d felt like I was doing just fine, then I had an unsettling dream about my Mother and this week’s seen my energy level slide down low.

My yoga practice has helped me to be much more aware of the dramatic energy shifts that accompany my anxiety and my depression, both of which arise from CPTSD. I’ve been watching this week’s low and mindfully choosing self-kindness, which is challenging. When my energy sinks, either due to depression or having a physical illness, I tend to fall into harsh self-judgement. It takes effort to focus on what I’m doing well when my energy is low. These are exactly the times when gratitude practice really counts.

I have been establishing a regular, written gratitude practice. However, when my energy sinks I’m often left feeling unmotivated to write, really unmotivated to do much of anything, which is why this weekly post arrives at the end of the week. Despite my apathy about writing this week, I’ve taken time to create pages in my artist’s journal. I’ve also been including gratitude practice as part of my daily meditation, I pick one thing (person) I’m feeling grateful for and really focus on it for a few minutes, going over all the reasons I feel grateful. I’m also mindfully stopping myself throughout each day and just noting what I’m grateful for in any given moment.

As I’ve stuck with including gratitude practice in my daily life I’ve found really in every situation there’s something I can feel grateful for. Even in a situation where my anxiety is very high, something I experienced on Wednesday this week. Using gratitude I was still able to stay present despite my heart pounding and feeling deeply uncomfortable. I combined it with the suggestion from my therapist to notice what things help me feel safe; I’d take those things that helped me and then reflect upon my gratitude for them.

Gratitude practice can look like a lot of different things. I like to concentrate on a single thing I’m grateful for and really focus on all the details about why I’m grateful for that item or person. Dr. Robert Emmons, who has studied gratitude practices at the UC Davis, has noted that reflecting on details adds a lot of value. His studies also found we tend to get an even greater benefit from reflecting upon times we are surprised by something we’re grateful for.

A gratitude practice I like to use with students is to focus on a frustration, focus it on your hand and close up your fist up around this thing that is unsettling us. Then, one finger at a time, open your hand as you count off five things you feel grateful for. We release then tension of our hand through reflecting upon gratitude.

You might simply enough literally count your blessings by making a gratitude list on whatever paper comes to hand, or just make your list in your mind. I often begin my day reflecting upon all the blessings I have: I awake in a warm, comfortable bed, in a home with hot & cold running water, with food to break my fast. I sometimes find that on days when I wake up with low, depressed energy this simple pause to reflect on these blessings lifts my spirits and helps me get my day going.


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Loving-Kindness Practice: Healing Our Wounds Mon, 30 Oct 2017 15:53:23 +0000 Metta, from Pali: loving-kindness

Meaning: benevolence, friendliness, amity, kindness, good-will, and an active interest in the well-being of others.

Metta is considered one of the sublime attitudes of an enlightened being, the first of the Four Immeasurables, Brahmavihāras (Divine Abodes”), which also include: compassion (Karuṇā), empathetic joy (Muditā), and equanimity (Upekkhā). While Metta meditation practice is often associated in Buddhist communities, the first mention of practicing with kindness appears in the Chandogya Upanishad, one of the oldest of the Upanishads, found within the Samaveda.

Further, the Brahmavihāras also appear in The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali as a guide on relationships with others:

*1.33 In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil.

(maitri karuna mudita upekshanam sukha duhka punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatah chitta prasadanam)

Metta Meditation has been a part of my practice for many years. It helps me to settle anxiety, calm busy thoughts, and ease the times I find myself caught up in negative self-judgement. Metta is a perfect response when I feel helpless to help in a situation; when I cannot assist directly I can at least send loving-kindness to those suffering. When Chozen Bays, Roshi, was still my teacher she would say that Metta is the only tool you need in any situation.

Metta meditation practice is done as a set of phrases you repeat mentally or aloud, often with the breath. I was taught to repeat each phrase on an exhale.

The phrases are repeated in four rounds. The first round is to generate loving-kindness for the self. This is quite literally a meditation example of “putting on your own oxygen mask first”; you make sure you’re ready to offer Metta to others before proceeding.

Second, you offer loving-kindness to a person you are fond of. Third, you consider someone you feel neutral for; the cashier that helped you at the grocery store, for example. For the fourth round you focus loving-kindness on a person you have difficulty with; letting us practice offering goodwill despite having negative feelings about a person.

There are many different suggestions for scripts to use for the phrases. Some are more detailed, for example these from Jack Kornfield:

May all beings have happiness and the cause of happiness.
May they be free of suffering and the cause of suffering.
May they never be disassociated from the supreme happiness which is without suffering.
May they remain in the boundless equanimity, free from both attachment to close ones and rejection of others.

Another of my Zen teachers, Hogen Bays, would use only two phrases. It is this more simple approach I’ve continued to practice with over the years. The phrases I use in my practice now are:

May I be free from anxiety and fear.
May I be peaceful and happy.

That word “Happy” can catch people. Some days we don’t feel ready for happy or ready to wish some people happiness. Rather than judging ourselves harshly for struggling over a word, we can chose to use the word “Content” instead. As Chozen Bays noted during the loving-kindness retreat I attended, contentment really is happiness after all.

Through the process of deepening my own practice with Metta, I began thinking about how to incorporate this practice in healing myself. While having a practice that lets us open our heart to the world is deeply beneficial, this practice can be used as a way to reconnect with the body. I began incorporating it while teaching yoga movement to help students manage the negative self-judgement that arrises, to help heal the relationship with the body directly.

As I started to explore applying the phrases of Metta to my chronic pain, to the toxic messages I absorbed as a child, and to the abuse and sexual trauma I’d experienced across the early years of my life, I experienced a growing comfort with my body, my back pain, and with my trauma history. Turning Metta inward opened it up for me, offering me insight for my own healing and in my work with others.

Some of us live with a condition that causes chronic physical pain and creates limitations; we can offer loving-kindness for a body that works especially hard. Using the lens of Metta we look deeply at the physical pain the body experiences; offering tenderness instead of flinching away from discomfort.

Many of us were taught to judge our bodies or how we view the world harshly, we need a way to temper the voice of the Inner Critic or the felt sense of unease and unhappiness held in the body. Metta provides space to be curious about our bodies and our insight into the world, instead of critical.

For those of us who’ve experienced the violation of our bodily integrity through abuse, sexual trauma, or domestic violence, Metta can offer a way to befriend the body again. We can cultivate loving-kindness for the very anxiety, fear, and anger we still experience, held in our bodies.

In doing this work to befriend the body, I’ve changed the phrases I use. Instead of offering the energy outwards to others, the loving-kindness energy is sent inwards, directly to the body.

May I be free from the anxiety and fear I have about my body (I feel in my body).
May I feel peaceful and happy about my body.

It can be tough to offer yourself loving-kindness. When I first started this practice I found it so difficult to offer it to myself that I worked my way around to it, offering it to everyone else ahead of me as a kind of warm-up! Chozen would advise me to picture myself as a small child. Hogen even suggested visualizing myself as a tiny kitten, so in need of love.

During some meditation sessions, instead of offering myself Metta, I’d find myself disassociated from the present moment. My struggles with offering myself loving-kindness opened my eyes to the depth of trauma I’d experienced from my family of origin. This was part of the impetus to begin work with a therapist who specialized in trauma recovery and used EMDR, which really set me upon the path to healing.

I still struggle with shame. I’ve come to realize shame underlies most of my anxiety and all of my negative self-judgement. When I’m deep in a struggle with shame I am certain that I don’t deserve loving-kindness. Of course, that’s exactly when I need it most.

I’ve learned to respond to those shame messages as a signal to stop and do Metta meditation, as soon as I can. I’ve sat and meditated in all kinds of places, including a bathroom stall! I recognize that I need to turn down the toxic messages that can still bubble up from the past before they overwhelm me, so any place is a good place for Metta practice!

The more we befriend our body, treat it like a treasure and an ally, the more resources we have for healing ourselves and others. The more curiosity we can have for those things like fear, anger, and pain, the more spaciousness we will have around those experiences, rather than being overwhelmed by them. Metta practice is a valuable tool for this journey, may it help us all to find peace.

May our practice together be meaningful.
May our practice together bear fruit.
May the fruits of our practice benefit others.

Metta Prayer;
for Everyone Who’s Been Abused

May we be
Freed from
The misery
Of shame.

May we
Be released
From the thought
That somehow
It was our fault.

May we
Rest in the
Truth that we
Never did

May the too many
Who’ve experienced
Abuse in any way
Be free from
Anxiety and fear.

May we all
Be peaceful.

May we all
Be happy.

*Thanks to Swami J for the translation of the Yoga Sutras.

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#MeToo Tue, 24 Oct 2017 17:40:48 +0000 I last wrote about my experience of sexual trauma. Days later I began to see the first #MeToo posts, first on Facebook, then on Twitter and Instagram. Articles are showing up about the viral explosion of people talking about their experience with sexual trauma on social media.

A year ago it was #NotOK, although this year it seems an even greater number of people are responding. I am sad, but not terribly surprised to see the number of people coming forward to share what they’ve lived through. Tarana Burke, who created the #MeToo movement, noted on Twitter that 1.7 million people in 85 different countries have responded to this movement across social media.

If there are so many of us, then how do we begin to help one another heal? How do we begin to dismantle a system that not only enables rape culture, but at times seems to revel in it? A system that protects, sometimes rewards serial abusers, while calling those brave enough to speak of the trauma they experienced liars.

At times this task seems so monumental that it feels impossible to do anything more than offer comfort, sympathy, and warnings about which predatory men to avoid.

Discovering yoga in 2003 changed my life. I began practicing because it was the only thing that helped with the pain from degenerative disc disease in the bottom of my spine. I’d been diagnosed in 2000, with my three lowest lumbar vertebrae affected. By the time I tried yoga, even swimming was causing me pain.

Becoming a teacher in 2005 deepened my yoga practice enormously. Over the years yoga has changed from being the tool to help me manage chronic physical pain. It is still how I help manage my back pain, but now it also helps me manage the anxiety and depression that arise out of living with complex PTSD. My practice informs my daily living in ways I would have never expected when I anxiously went to my first class with lots of other people who’d made resolutions to move more in the New Year.

My practice is what sustains me as I continue to move into acknowledging the trauma I’ve experienced and finding the strength to not turn away from the truth. It is the tool that is helping me learn how to step outside of the shame I struggle with.

Now my yoga practice is what has lead me to join in the voices that say “Me too.”

I am here and ready to offer my knowledge and my heart to help others heal, to work together to find tools to soothe and restore us, and to dismantle the belief that we are broken by what we’ve experienced. Instead that wounding, I’ll share the knowledge that we’re all already whole and complete, just as we are.

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Inexplicable Value Tue, 10 Oct 2017 04:55:45 +0000 Content Warning: discussion of sexual trauma and abuse by parent (mother)


A year ago I responded on Twitter to a hashtag, #NotOK, created by author Kelly Oxford, and spoke publicly about the sexual trauma I’d experienced in the years before I turned 21. Although I’d started to share my experience privately, and in trauma therapy, I’d never revealed myself as one of the far too many people who’ve experienced sexual trauma. That moment became a turning point and I began sharing more often, publicly, about my journey with Complex PTSD, my history of sexual trauma and the abuse I experienced from my Mother throughout my life, into my mid-40s.

Last week, while on retreat, I had the pleasure of sitting down with my dear friend, artist Sarah Jane, to create my “portrait” for the participatory art project she created to honor those who have experienced sexual violence, Mere ObjectsI was honored to be part of some early discussions she began as she considered how to turn her ideas into an ever-growing art installation. I’m thrilled that this project will have it’s first exhibition in November 2017.

All of the portraits submitted to the project are anonymously given and nothing revealing is shared. Participants send objects to a post office box with a small note to introduce their portrait for the installation. Portrait objects are put into small glass bubbles which are hung using ball chain. People viewing the installation will be able to walk under these portraits. Sarah Jane strives to make sure that all participants will feel safe sharing their experience with sexual trauma.

I’m choosing to break my own anonymity so I can share this part of my healing journey. Sexual trauma is a big part of my story and is one of the dangerous undercurrents of shame that has shaped me. I first experienced sexual trauma at age 7. I experienced several more instances, a total of 4 different male abuses, all before my 21st birthday. All of these men were known to me. I trusted them. I was engaged to marry one of them until he raped me.

Most painfully, but also most necessary, has been naming the unease I felt throughout my adolescence, until I gained a significant amount of weight in my 20s, as coming from the sexual grooming that was part of my Mother’s abuse. My relationship with Sarah Jane as a friend, artist, and co-creator, and my participation in Mere Objects has helped me to name this abuse which has felt particularly shameful, so much so that I only have just spoke about it in the past two years of my 48 years.

It is deeply vulnerable to share this part of my story but, in my efforts to reduce the shame I’ve lived under for so long, I’m practicing courage. To quote Brené Brown, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

I lived under the family code, “Don’t air the family’s dirty laundry in public.”, code for the usual message in abusive families, “Don’t tell. Keep your mouth shut.” Through sharing my story I’m breaking the silence that helped keep me mired in shame. I’m letting my whole self, light and dark, be seen.

Making my portrait, with Sarah Jane’s coaching, felt like the right decision for so many reasons and I was glad I’d held off mailing my objects. It was deeply healing to help place all the items in a tiny bubble of glass.

I’d practiced folding my origami crane tightly in half, the soft dictionary paper allowing it to carefully slip it into the top of the bubble. I was thrilled when it popped back open quickly. We used toothpicks to help open up the wings of the tiny crane. Sarah Jane showed me how she uses tweezers to put tiny items into the bubble; I had silver and gold “treasure” for the crane to sit on. I was fascinated watching her cap the jar so it can be hung, setting everything, and polishing the glass back up before taking a series of photographs and video. Her photo is the one for this post.

I was delighted when Sarah Jane found the glass bubbles for the portraits; I still find great joy and peace in blowing bubbles. After she finished my bubble I had the opportunity to sit and hold portraits from other people who’d shared their story and objects with the project. I felt so much love for all these people, some of whom had never shared their experience before now. Holding their tiny portraits felt like such a precious gift, a deep honoring, I sent love outwards to all people who’ve experienced sexual trauma and offered to help hold the burden of silence they’ve carried.

If you would like to participate in Mere Objects, you can send your objects anonymously to the post office box for the project.

Portrait Objects:

  • An origami crane made from a piece of old dictionary paper with the definition of the word “complete.
    Origami cranes have been precious to me of many years. For me they symbolize love, liberation, and my hope for peace for all who’ve experienced sexual trauma. Dictionaries helped me understand language better as a child, I chose to use a piece of one with the definition for the word “complete”, a reminder that we’re all whole and complete, lacking nothing, worthy just as we are.
  • “Treasure” for the crane to nest on.
    I love the line in Mary Oliver’s poem “The Buddha’s Last Instruction” about “…turning into something of inexplicable value.”, it helps me to remember that my experiences of sexual trauma did not stain me, have not broken me, All beings are of inexplicable value in this world. I hit upon the idea of honoring my new journey as an artist and symbolizing that sense of value by using flecks of dry, silver & gold acrylic paint; treasure.
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Shame Corrodes Wed, 27 Sep 2017 23:33:40 +0000 I feel a little late to the party when it comes to the works of Dr. Brené Brown. Her TED talk, Listening to Shame, has been shared widely. Many friends and colleagues have given me positive raves about her books, particularly Daring Greatly and Rising Strong.

This summer I got to get acquainted with Brown’s work on shame and vulnerability, starting with the lecture she recorded for Sounds True, The Power of Vulnerability. I just finished her audio recording of her book, Rising Strong, and started the audio book of her most recent work, Braving the WildernessI’m really enjoying hearing her read her work and her speaking, so I’ve focused on the recordings she’s done herself.

As someone who struggles with shame and vulnerability, I’m finding Brown’s writing pretty potent stuff. Right now it is bringing me up close with the uncomfortable, ugly truth that shame drives me.

Over the past few years I’ve worked to reduce my anxiety, the feeling of constant apprehension and foreboding. Now that I’m not driven by fear, the shame that drove the dread is clearly visible. Underneath all of my major anxiety topics, shame drives my fear.

Anxiety about my body. Shame.

Anxiety about money. Shame.

Anxiety about my productivity. Shame.

Anxiety about relationships. Yes, shame.

Anxiety about being an abuse survivor. Still more shame.

Anxiety about experiencing sexual trauma. Loads of shame.

Anxiety about my anxiety. Yep, more shame.

Shame upon shame upon shame. Shame all the way down and I’m not sure where it began. It is an early part of me, I know it began at such a young age that my cognitive brain has a hard time getting at it.

Some days my layers and varieties of shame feel like the are the very fabric I’m made up of. I don’t really believe it, but I recognize that some days it feels that big.

What I recognize is just how much shame gets in my way. It stops me from believing in myself, trying things, and asking for help. It holds me back and leaves me constantly questioning my worthiness. It drives both my anxiety and my depression.

Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.” (Brené Brown, I Thought It Was Just Me).

Recognizing how limiting shame is has prompted me to start paying attention to it, start trying to learn if it is really pointing me to something useful or if it is just old patterns of behavior that no longer help me. Exposing the shame I feel to the light of day, so to speak, feels like an important next step in healing.

Yoga is the practice of letting the energy, the prana, of our system show us the path to our Essential Self. I can no longer avoid the fact that shame is currently blocking my energy, my connection to my True Self. It is what keeps me from shining brightly.

Dismantling this roadblock of shame is the path prana is pointing me now.

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Do More Wed, 20 Sep 2017 16:48:17 +0000 Last week I wrote about how hard it is for me to have an illness now, how impatient I am. As if to illustrate this point, I’m feeling pretty terrible again this week. Monday had to get a sub for the class I usually teach. Teaching my two morning classes yesterday left me out of breath and in need of a nap. I even thought I’d been resting, but then I jumped back into teaching for several days in a row and over did it.

Resting, really resting is hard for me. I’ve spent most of my life in a state of hyper-vigilance, a common response to developmental trauma, so my body doesn’t fully relax easily. I also fight the cognitive dissonance of knowing that rest is good and required, but feeling like I should be ashamed for my laziness.

Of the many toxic messages I absorbed from my abusive Mother is that I was careless and lazy. Chores were constantly needing to be redone to her exact specifications. When I didn’t do things “right” she would retaliate through physical abuse, when I was small, or restricting me to my room for periods of time, as a teen I’d spend a week or two “grounded” pretty regularly. The punishment always in addition to making me do the work over again.

It didn’t matter that she didn’t make the kinds of effort she expected from me, “Do as I say, not as I do.”, was a common saying. Do more around the house, do more to listen to her fears, do more to show her l loved her. Do more to take care of her. Stay up to play cards with her or go our for secret, late-night ice cream after my step-dad had gone to early bed after a couple of strong drinks.

When I did all I could to keep my Mother happy, things were easier for me. When she was in a happy mood there would be shopping trips, playing hooky from school to go to the beach, lunches out, and secret indulgences just for us. She would behave more like a friend than a parent during those times. When she wasn’t up, or when I didn’t live up to the constant demands to fix her, her depression and narcissistic rage would take over.

I wasn’t allowed personal autonomy until I left home. Not over my own body or my personal space. When she wanted me to clean my room she’d come in to inspect that my room was how she thought it would be, when it wasn’t she would go through throwing things around. She’d make a huge mess by clearing off surfaces onto the floor, emptying the closet onto my bed, once even leaving the drawers pulled out and on the bed. She’d then close the door on me in my destroyed room, telling me I wasn’t allowed to do anything else but to fix it, how she wanted it.

Add to all of that my Mother’s habit of embellishing every story to make it a little more dramatic, a little funnier. I would listen to her exaggerate my accomplishments feeling mortified, but unable to correct her out of concern for how she’d retaliate. Nothing ever seemed like it was good enough without some little touch to make a story, a place, an outfit, her own. Even as an adult I’d catch her embellishing a promotion I’d received, and when I’d correct her she’d just feign innocent ignorance, “Well, same difference. It doesn’t matter. Don’t make such a big deal out of it.”

Over and over I heard the message from my Mother, from my family, that the truth either needed embellishing or was irrelevant. Along with this were repeated reminders that I was too sensitive, couldn’t take a joke, and was constantly over-reacting. Time after time my family of origin demonstrated to me that I was on my own, no one in my family thought my Mother was doing anything wrong and agreed that it was my duty to care for her, even as a small child.

Decades of that and I am left with a nagging compulsion to do more, try harder, give more of my energy and myself. No amount of effort I make towards a project ever feels like enough. I’m always left feeling like I’m shirking responsibility or, even if I am trying really hard, it won’t be good enough. Trying to reflect upon my accomplishments is challenging for me because it often veers quickly from appreciation of what I’ve already done to an internal take-down by my Inner Critic over everything I didn’t get to in a timely manner.

In the technology industry and community there’s a tendency to celebrate being stressed out and pushed by deadlines. People make a show of comparing exhaustion. It isn’t unusual for people to work well in excess of 40 hours a week. A culture of community around technology means that socializing while hacking becomes the norm and you never really take a break from working. I was on call for every job I had in my 20 years in technology, often having my sleep, holidays, and vacations interrupted by “Mission Critical” work.

Working in technology was the perfect environment for me to get caught up in a culture that prizes exhaustion as a kind of status symbol. Having been raised to tie my sense of self-worth to how good I was at making my Mother happy, it was second nature to constantly go the extra mile, work the extra hour after dinner, to make a client happier. Regularly getting bonuses for going “above and beyond” went further to reinforce this behavior.

In 2013 a dear friend took his own life. His health had deteriorated due to overworking, hustling to prove his self worth through his productivity. He was never able to believe he was valued just for who he was, not for what he did for the technology community. When he felt unproductive, he felt worthless and ultimately felt it would be easier for everyone if he were gone. I’m sure it never occurred to him in the depths of that depression how terrible his loss would be and how it would continue to affect his friends.

Less than 8 months after my friend’s memorial service I found myself at a doctor’s appointment being told I was in a dangerous state, on the verge of hospitalization for exhaustion. I was told to leave my high stress, high paying, high tech career. I was told to move up my retirement plan of teaching yoga. I had reached the end of the line on being able to just push myself harder and harder and harder. My therapist and my mental health nurse practitioner all echoed my doctor’s sentiments. I’d spend the next several months alternating between sleeping and crying.

It will take a while to unlearn the habit of hustling for my worthiness (as Brené Brown would say), as I’m being reminded this week after jumping back in to teaching too quickly. I’m committed to doing this work and learning how to better rest, how to ask for help. Most of all, working on believing that I am worthy of help and rest.

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