Tag Archives: Spirituality

A New Path: Thai Yoga Bodywork

For the last eight days I was in training to learn levels 1 and 2 of Thai Yoga Bodywork (there are six levels to get certified). It was difficult, and gratifying, and purposeful, and I learned so much more than just the curriculum! I felt for the first time in a very long time that I was going down a path that was worth pursuing. Even though it was hard, it felt right to me. I’m excited to share my experience, but first there are a couple things I would like to clear up! The main thing that friends and family have asked when they heard about this pursuit is:

What is Thai Yoga Bodywork?

Often referred to as Thai Massage or “Lazy Man’s Yoga,” it is officially called nuad boaran in the Thai language. It’s kind of difficult to explain until you experience it, but here is a pretty good explanation:

So what is Thai Massage? Well, for one thing, it’s not massage as we know it in the West. In fact, it is unfortunate that the term “Thai massage” has become so popular because that second word, massage, is misleading and inaccurate. Massage tables or oil aren’t used, there is no rubbing on the skin or kneading of the muscles, and the receiver remains clothed. The goal is not to work muscles , fascia, tendons, ligaments, organs and soft tissue, though these anatomical elements are positively affected by the work. Neither is its purpose to simply stretch and apply passive yoga to another person on a floor mat. At its essence, nuad boaran is a balanced blend of physical, energetic, and spiritual healing techniques and concepts. It is the skillful combination of applying both broad and targeted acupressure, finding and dissolving blockages, stimulating energy lines (sen), opening and toning the body with yoga-like stretches, and last but not least, allowing and encouraging the receiver to engage in a process of self healing, deep relaxation, and renewal.

Bob Haddad, Thai Massage & Thai Healing Arts: Practice, Culture and Spirituality

For a little more detail and some photos, check out this page at the Thai Healing Alliance International site.

What the heck made me decide to pursue this?!

Contrary to how it may appear on the surface, I’ve had a long-term interest in natural health and healing. I’ve also had a long-term interest in spirituality. I’ve done a TON of reading and thinking about both, but hadn’t really found a strong application for either interest. Well, I guess maybe it would be more appropriate to say that I hadn’t really applied myself to either interest. At any rate, a lot of this blog has been about me being stuck (it is sad, but true, that the blog is nearly 8 years old. Which means I have been feeling stuck for that long! Yikes! By the way – I deleted most of the old stuff because I’m wanting to refresh). I have just felt kind of dead inside most of the time. Not like I haven’t felt love or happiness at all, but more like I’m just existing: going to work day after day at a job that doesn’t excite me at all, so I can pay bills for things that don’t really mean very much to me, and spend my weekends drinking or watching TV or whatever to drown out the apathy and create a false sense of joy (some of the drinking was fun with friends! But you get the picture – not exactly a healthy hobby!). Life just didn’t seem to have much color.

Over the last seven years I have been making v e r y s l o w progress on getting myself unstuck. There have been many minor epiphanies that have created subtle changes in my thinking/worldview, but no big changes in my behavior. At some point back in February I had a huge babababaBANG kind of epiphany that made me decide to sign up for the Thai Bodywork training. Here is the epiphany: maybe I just don’t want to be a writer. And then: maybe I just really don’t care that much about art anymore. TaDa!

aha momentsI have thought that I wanted to be a writer for my whole life. Because I think I’m pretty good at it. I also thought I wanted to have some kind of path related to visual art. While I was growing up I produced a ton of writing and art, starting at an early age, because I really enjoyed both. But at some point during college I stopped doing both art and writing for the most part. I graduated from college in 2001, which means that I have spent 14 years (not to mention $40,000 on a master’s degree) trying to beat myself into pursuing dreams that had ceased to be dreams. I thought I had a giant fear complex. I thought I was just too insecure. I thought I was lazy and unfocused. I thought so many things that basically amounted to “I’m not good enough.” The truth is that I had built so much of my self-image around those dreams that it never once occurred to me that maybe I just wasn’t interested and didn’t want to do it anymore. You guys, this was completely mind-blowing!

It took me about a month to grieve my old dreams…then I started thinking seriously about what I really DO care about. I asked myself: what are the things that excite you? What are the articles that you actually read? What are the stories that you tune into? What are the conversations about that you most enjoy? They are about lives, spirituality, nature, natural health, environmentalism, and freedom. What do these things have in common? HEALING.

So combine the epiphany, my interests (including my love of yoga), and the business that my husband just started (bodywork), and Thai yoga bodywork seemed like a natural place to start in a new direction!

AND THEN, lo and behold…once I figured out that writing isn’t my Path (with a capital P), and am doing something that feels right for me, suddenly I feel like writing again! Go figure.

Homecoming

Living at my Grandma’s former home, where I spent so much time as a child, I have a lot of moments where I’ll be going about my business and suddenly be transported into memories of the past. I’ll be walking by the green pole barn and suddenly I’m 5 years old and helping grandma put the pets to bed there, or running around on the dusty, straw-smelling floor and climbing up on the farm equipment while dad works on one of the cars, or sitting on grandpa’s lap as he let me “drive” the tractor out of the big back door.

I will be down by the old wooden barn watering trees and suddenly be eight years old and watching my little brother attempt to scale the silo ladder (he fell, and got zapped pretty good by the electric fence). Walking by the big trees on either side of the walkway up to the house, and then I’m four and using the hose to make little pools in the bowls created by the giant old roots. Playing ball with the dog on the drain field, I’m often brought to the oddly silent fort provided by the long, thick branches of the willow tree that’s no longer there, nothing but my nine-year old self, the sound of cicadas and the concentration of weaving willow branches into crowns or bracelets. There are thousands of this type of mental snapshot here.

Me at age 2 standing in front of what is now my front door with my first dog, Tanya.

Me at age 2 standing in front of what is now my front door with my first dog, Tanya.

There are also a lot of moments of just being stricken by the weirdness of carrying out my daily adult life here. I’ll be laying on my couch watching TV and suddenly feel like it’s just too bizarre that I’m watching Family Guy in the same place where I used to watch the Mary Tyler Moore Show or the Golden Girls with grandma and grandpa. Sometimes while I’m cooking it will hit me that I’m walking the same floor, carrying out the same motions, that grandma did while making every meal for 50 years. The weirdest is having fires out in the pit that we made in the pasture, enjoying a couple of drinks, and thinking “what am I doing here, drinking beer and carrying on like the ghosts of my childhood aren’t hanging around?”

Grandma, me and my brother in the kitchen circa 1987.

Grandma, me and my brother in the kitchen circa 1987.

The feeling is a strange mix of deja-vu, amazement, and disorientation that bring to mind the Talking Heads song:

“And you may ask yourself
What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself
Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself
Am I right?…Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself
MY GOD!…WHAT HAVE I DONE?”

The snapshots of childhood remind me about wonder, freedom, and the joyful creativity of being a child left to herself in an expanse of nature.  I can remember exactly what I was feeling or thinking about in a lot of those snapshots. They are amazingly pure visions back into the essence of who I am when all the stress and pressure, failures and semi-mandated accomplishments of my adult life are peeled away.The moments of plain adult weirdness about the overlap of history and present are little shocks of “who am I and how did I get here? What the hell happened?”

Sometimes these moments will make me feel sad, mournful for the perfectly formed little person I was, and for how far she has been buried. Or sad because I feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the decisions about what to do with the gift of this place, and the fear of doing things wrong; especially with the knowledge about everything I’ve already done wrong in my life. Other times, and these are the ones I am really trying to focus on, I am inspired to tug that little girl back into the present and get to know her again. To use her joy and love and fearlessness as a guide for correcting all the things I’ve screwed up while making decisions out of fear. To know that the sudden feeling of elation that comes with that inspiration is what it feels like to do what’s right for my soul.

Even with such constant and intense reminders, it is hard to make the minute clicks in behavior towards more personal authenticity. Frequently I’m lonely and scared and running back towards approval-seeking and all of the other things I do to soothe the unsettling feeling of free-falling into the unknown that being authentic represents. But the moments of heart-bursting “rightness” are increasing, and they are inspiring many subtle shifts in how I interact with the world. I am still very, very tentative, but I am also deeply grateful for whatever currents brought me home to the farm where I can hear myself again after so much time spent thrashing around just  trying to stay afloat. 20140831_220347

Renewal

I have recently been feeling a big pull towards the concept of renewal. It makes sense. It’s spring time, and the winter sucked really hard this year. But I am feeling it in a way that is a little more intense than the norm. I think a lot of it comes from living on a farm, and just being more generally in touch with what nature is doing. Living here forces me to take a more active part in the cycles of the seasons. During the winter I had to learn to just sit with myself a little bit more than I’ve been used to. When big snowstorms came through it could be days before the roads were reasonable for driving into the city. There were several times where we had to cancel plans with friends because, even a couple of days after the storm, it would have taken us hours of stressful driving to connect with them. No plan, no matter how longstanding, is completely within my control out here. When nature has other plans, I simply need to relinquish my will to her.

Being forced to let go has changed me. I have a long-term habit of trying to control my environment in order to feel O.K. I have done this with my behavior and also with my thoughts and judgements. I know that most people do this; it’s what we call “ego.” This strange idea that simply having consciousness means that we also have control. Over and over again in my life I have made careful plans to try to control “my” world, and over and over again the real world has said “fuck you, chicky. This is not how I want it to go and I’m bigger than you.” The point of this blog was, as the name implies, to document my roadmap, my plan, to gain further control over my world. What I’ve learned is that I don’t, and can’t, have control. Trying to wrest control from the universe has actually been the biggest cause of distress and backwards movement.

I wish that I could say that over the long winter I took advantage of having so much unfettered time to myself (true to the story that I always told myself “I just don’t have time to write, exercise, meditate, etc.). What really happened was that, while having to sit with myself, I spent most of my time trying to escape myself. In the absence of my old city-living mode of escapism,hyper-socialization, I turned to higher levels of solo escapist activities: unhealthy and excessive eating, too much TV, too much drinking. Even reading novels can take on an obsessive quality for me. For a couple of months I was in the midst of the deepest depression I’ve had since I nearly lost it at the tail end of completing my master’s degree. I was dwelling a lot on everything that I have not accomplished in my life, and on how my life seemed to just be happening to me in ways in which I didn’t want to participate . I felt hopeless and dead inside, and as usual, couldn’t seem to conjure up the energy to do anything about it.

I’ve known for awhile that I am an escape artist. I can look back at my life and see a clear road to “anywhere else but here, with anyone else but myself,’ wildly zig-zagging and wrapping around and through the hard lines of control that I try to draw for myself. It is the counter-balance to the part of me that wants to control and be too perfect to ever really accomplish or create anything of value because life is messy. After being forced to hang out with myself more, I know more deeply than ever before that the escape-artist in me is there to keep me from seeing the things about myself and my life that I don’t want to see. In it’s most recent incarnation, it has been padding me from the whole idea that I have no control, when the truth is that taking one’s hands off the wheel isn’t the same as being a victim.

I started to come out of the depression in February, and have since been actively poking at the things in my life that scare me. I am still scared, but am coming round to the idea that in order to get past some things, I have to actually go through them. When your hands are off the wheel, your vehicle can go in any direction. It can go to places that scare you, or it can go to places that exceed all expectations of joy. Either way, if you jump out of a moving vehicle you are going to get hurt. The point is that I have to step into my various roles in life. That doesn’t just mean the parts that I “like” or feel safe in. Being able to observe myself a bit more closely than usual out in the country, I didn’t just see what I was doing via my escape-artist, I felt it. In the past I have beat myself up over returns to deep escapism. This time I have some compassion for the fearful parts of myself. However, I feel like the winter was a death-rattle of a lot of self-destructive parts of me. It was a final tantrum of the escape-artist. Now, little by little, I’ve been stepping back into my life. Even the scary parts. It feels like a revival, and even though I’m still uncomfortable, I’m grateful for it.

A Small Gift Amongst Many Big Ones

Holy Crap. This has been a strange week. It’s not often that a family patriarch passes away at the same time that you’re just beginning to pull yourself out of a three-week dead-eyed depression. But that is what has happened this week.

The man in question was my husband’s grandfather. He was truly a patriarch in the old-fashioned sense: He was an active Lutheran pastor for 70-some years. He had 5 children and 11 grandchildren, and he performed baptism and marriage ceremonies for almost all of them (including our wedding!). At age 94 he was still a fountain of support for his family, spiritually, emotionally, and physically, right up until he got sick less than a year ago. Even though he was quite elderly, he was the type of person that it was nearly impossible to imagine ever dying. My husband said “I just really have always felt like he was invincible.”

Grandpa (which everyone in the family calls him, regardless of whether or not he is your grandpa, specifically) lived simply in terms of material wealth, and was a very busy person. He was a master gardener, a key member of the senior cooperative he lived in, a family man, and continued as a substitute pastor and otherwise active church-member until the end of his life. He was passionately faithful, and he lived it out by being passionately giving and open to others. I knew him for nine years and never heard him utter anything remotely judgmental.  In other words, the man did not pull any punches. He was the real deal, a true model of what it means to “live a good life.” Because of all that, his passing, once his discomfort ended (he wasn’t in pain, but for some people, dying can be hard work. One of the last things he said was that he felt “dead tired;”and yes, that was meant to be a joke!), hasn’t been terribly mournful. Everyone is sad and grieving because they will miss him, but everyone knows that he was satisfied with his life here, and was ready to move on.

I am lucky to have known him, and to have had him as a little bit of a surrogate grandfather (both of mine passed away a long time ago). As for the depression, it is impossible to remain in a funk when contemplating such a well-lived life. He wasn’t super-famous, or accomplished in any superhuman ways, he just did a really good job at life. It’s a little gift that he didn’t even know he was giving: whatever you’re doing, don’t be bummed that you’re not doing something “better,” don’t think so hard about it. Just do a good job.

“O me! O life!…of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless — of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these O me, O life? Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.”
Walt Whitman

The Experience of Change

It seems like a lot of people that I know are currently going through big changes in their lives, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how change is experienced (well, and I’ve been experiencing my own changes, too!). Change, whether it is self-imposed or imposed by the universe, can feel very scary. I think change is scary because it feels lonely. Even if it’s a positive change. Even if you have a lot of support. Even if you feel cared-for. Even if you know that you are loved. The experience of change is very personal, and nobody can know how it feels to you. Depending on where you are at, or what the change is, your perception of the situation can make the responses of others feel very thoughtless and mean when they are actually quite innocent. Also, you know that nobody can really know how you feel, because they aren’t walking around in your head. So, even if people are trying to give you support, your mind can twist away from it, just because you know that they don’t really understand how it is for you. Finally, change is transformation. It is moving away from what your loved ones, and sometimes society in general, expect from you, and a lot of us have a very hard time tearing ourselves away from what other people want from us.

For me, the changes that I’m intensely trying to make in my life are imposed by me. They are only loosely dependent on my relationships. Nothing catastrophic or sad has happened to me. The process is, for the most part, under my control. I feel lucky for that: not only do I get to choose own perceptions about my results, but I am also the instigator of the change in the first place. However, it can be a little bit confusing sometimes. I get frustrated or sad because I feel isolated. But I’ve been isolating myself deliberately, so I can’t really go shaking my fist at the sky! I chose to take it easy on the social front because I needed some space to get into a new groove before putting myself in situations where I’d be likely to derail myself. When I look at it that way I am forced to acknowledge that feeling sorry for myself is silly and unhelpful and not a real problem but one I’m creating in my head. And then I feel like an asshole and immediately make myself feel better by laughing at what an asshole I am being. Problem solved!

Another side to the loneliness of change is that my default is still, though much less so than at other times in my life, to want to put the desires of others before my own needs. I struggle with guilt, and feel like I have been a terrible friend/daughter/granddaughter/sister/etc. But, as cheeseball as it sounds, I’ve grown to really believe that you can’t really love others fully if you don’t love yourself – kindness isn’t as kind as it could be if your acts of kindness are, deep-down, about self-validation. This concept is totally self-help 101; I’ve frequently heard it on The Biggest Loser, for god’s sake. But for some reason it’s a hard one for a lot of people to grasp.  Ultimately the thought that helps me get through those moments of guilt is that I want my relationships to be about mutual love and support and happiness. Not about validation or control on either end (I realize that there are some relationships that are dependent by nature – they have to be! But I am not a parent yet, so now is a good time for me to get a grip on these concepts!).

Are you experiencing a big change in your life? How are you feeling about it? Is it scary? Lonely? Exciting? Invigorating? All of the above?

A Time of Preparation

Although I frequently allude to spirituality here, it’s pretty rare for me to talk much about religion. Overall, I think it’s safe to say that I’m not big on organized religion at all. I’m not into dogma; though I believe religion can do very good things for people, I don’t think that any particular religion has the golden key to “salvation.”  That being said, I have no problem still self-identifying as what is perceived to be one of the most dogmatic faiths around: Catholic. There’s some further clarification in this post, if you care to know more about my perspective on the topic!

Anyhow, today is Ash Wednesday, which is the beginning of Lent. Lent is a 6 week time of preparation before Easter (the resurrection of Christ, and for a lot of Christians and our not-so-subtly-hidden pagan histories, the official start of spring). It is meant to be a time of contemplation, and a time of penitence. I am fine with contemplation part, but penitence (which essentially means deep remorse and shame for what a rotten person you are) doesn’t really jive with me so much. Personally I feel like Jesus would be more down with me spending this preparation time getting ready to be a better person than beating the crap out of myself. So, contemplation of where I’ve gone wrong and where I can improve is fine.  Self-punishment: not so much.

Since I’m not into penitence, I haven’t really given anything up for Lent since I moved out of my parents’ house.  Even when I did live at home, my parents weren’t that big on it either. We did not eat meat on Fridays during Lent, but that was about it. However, this year it has dawned on me, in relation to Lent, that giving things up doesn’t necessarily have to be self-punishment. It can be an exercise in contemplation and preparation as well. Duh. Fasting has been used in all sorts of spiritual practices for a billion years.

Accordingly, I have chosen this time to do an elimination diet. This means that I am giving up a lot of stuff. However, rather than punishing myself, I look at this as a a time to face some demons (physical addictions as well as emotional struggles) and come out with better clarity of mind and vitality of spirit. Seems like a perfect Lenten practice for me!

I will be posting about the diet, and lots of other wellness-related things, in more detail on my BRAND NEW health and wellness blog, The Cranky Hippie (more tomorrow about the decision to start a new blog on top of this one that I haven’t been consistent with)!

Finally, on top of the elimination diet and being a more consistent blogger, I might try to delve back into The Artist’s Way as a means to kind of jump-start my spirit/intellect a bit.The hubby and I have made a point of keeping our social calendars pretty clear during this time so we can rest and have down time to recharge our batteries for spring. But I will have to see how I’m feeling with the other changes.  Elimination diets (also somewhat of a “cleanse”) can be kind of difficult and draining at times, so I want to be sure to not press myself too hard. We’ll see how it goes!

Is “Ridiculous” kind of like “Crazy”?

Like, if you’re aware enough to know you’re ridiculous, you’re probably not that ridiculous? I hope so! Because:

Recently I gave everyone in a five block radius downtown a dirty look. Especially the ones that looked too cheerful. Maybe there’s no hope for me anymore. Maybe I will never be able to “bring back the love” again. Or, maybe I’m just a person who gets frustrated by the same things as everyone else, but just happens to have a bit of a dramatic flair when expressing displeasure! The jury is still out.

Things started out well that day: I got up and got to work early enough so I could make it to my favorite Yoga class at 4:00. The day was a pretty easy work day. I felt generally peaceful, and find that my mood has been greatly improved by my upgrade to a window cubicle at work (totally bragging! I get lots of sunshine now during the day and it has been SO AWESOME!). Anyhow, everything was going down according to plan. I left work on time, walked across downtown to catch my bus, and got to the bus stop right as my bus was pulling away.

I figured, “no big deal.” It’s a high-traffic bus, so I thought that there would be another one in about 5 minutes. I looked at the schedule and I was wrong. There wouldn’t be another one for 20 minutes. Having to wait for 20 minutes would be DISASTROUS! Not because I would miss class, but because I wouldn’t get there early enough to secure a spot in the back of the room, and avoid any possible judgements about my yoga form or less than tiny ass (yoga is supposed to be non-judgmental, but frankly, in Uptown, I have my doubts).

Rather than doing what any sensible public transit user knows to do, and just waiting for the next bus, I foolishly tried to take matters into my own hands and ran to try to catch a different bus. Ya know that quote from The Princess Bride, “never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line”? Well, this is like that, except something to the effect of: “Never go in against Metro Transit when timeliness is on the line.” Unlike Westley in The PB, you will never, EVER win. And thus, I fell into the dreaded “bus void.”

I spent the next twenty minutes running back and forth between bus stops trying to catch a bus, and missing them every time. The entire time I was cursing god in my head, because there was a strong and absolutely frigid wind that day: “Really? Really, god? I’m already mad, and stuck in some kind of transportation vortex, why don’t you go ahead and freeze my face off too!” Anyone that I saw who looked cheerful (why wouldn’t people look cheerful? It was Friday afternoon!) automatically got the look of death. I might as well have been shaking my fist at people. I’m sure I looked insane.

Obviously, I should have just waited for the original bus. At least I would have made it to Yoga. Instead, I was just shit outta luck all round. This is what happens when I try to grab too much control. The universe just kicks me in the teeth. So, having missed my class, and having already learned my yogic lesson for the day (let go!), and not wanting to subject my husband to the mood I was in, I did surrender. To the bar. Where I drank two Leinenkugels and wrote in my journal. I guess there’s more than one way to find your bliss!