Thursday, August 18, 2011

Part 3: Love, Sweat, Slackline and Tears: Reflections of Wanderlust, Squaw Valley

I arrived Saturday morning at the slacklines before most of the Slackers had rolled out of bed.  I liked the lines early in the morning -- it was quiet, it was still cool, the heat of the sun had not yet escalated.  I found the only chair in the area and sat down.  I was surprised to see my friend, C.M., up so early, but he was there, and he found me.  We talked about last night's concert at first, but it wasn't long before tears swelled my eyes and I admitted the pain I was in.  C.M. knows a bit about pain, but more than pain, he understands how frustrating it is when your body keeps you out of the fun.  Immediately, he pulled a huge phone from his pocket (how it fits in there is beyond me) and started texting.  "I have a friend here who can help you," he said.  But it's a festival, I told him, what if he doesn't want to work on me?  "I'll make sure he does," said C.M., and gave me a hug.

I am used to pain.  I am used to having my body take me out of the action before my mind is ready to leave.  I'm used to sitting on the sidelines, waiting patiently for everyone to finish with their fun so we can do something together, like eat ice cream or drink chocolate milk martinis.  But just because I'm used to to pain keeping me out of the physical fun doesn't mean I like it, and I admit a did my fair share of moping that morning.  Knowing that I couldn't teach slacklining with the right enthusiasm, and not knowing if C.M.'s friend would have time to see me, I went over the the body work tents and started looking for an appointment.  I couldn't afford it, not really.  But I was desperate.  I spoke to the man making appointments and told him who I was interested in seeing, but they were booked the whole day. So I left.  Next, I went to the Manduka tent where they were offering free henna tatoos.  I already had one, and I was hoping the woman would just start a sleeve down my arm  -- I figured I had all day.  She gave me a nice design, I thanked her and then I walked away.

Truth be told, the pain I can handle.  What's more difficult are the psychological games that pain has with the mind.  First in my mind was "What caused this?" And even after all I've learned, and all that I've written in this blog, part of me still wants to think, "I must have just over-done it physically."  But really, it's never as simple as that when it comes to my body.  Instead, I know I must also turn my attention to what's been happening emotionally and spiritually in my life.  Well, "Duh," I thought.  "A lot".  I've been going through mountains of emotional upheaval.  "Okay, tight muscles, fair enough," I thought.  Second on my mind was "What can I learn from this?"  This question was trickier because I've realized that you have to tease out the analytical mind and learn to listen with your third eye to what the body has to say.  I can do it, but it's not the easiest thing to do, especially with thousands of other people around.  The third thing on my mind was, "Now that I'm injured, what good am I to the Slackers? What can I possibly do to be useful?  Will they still love me?"  Which is absurd, and even as I write the words, I understand how absurd they sound.  Nonetheless, they were still on my mind.

I found my way back to the slacklines and to the other Slackers, who were doing more teaching than slacking at the time.  I sighed, rolled out my yoga mat, and tried to do some of my stretches.  Ouch.  Immediately, I noticed that this was something different than I was used to; the game had changed, so to speak.  Usually, my muscles spasm in a specific pattern that I can untangle using a system of stretching and visualization, but not today.  Today was different.  So instead, I moved my mat into the miniscule bit of shade near the lines, pulled the YogaSlackers Teacher Training manual out my backpack, and began editing.  At least that was one job I had for the Slackers that I could do lying down, so I still felt useful.  I was also told that I could help out in the Prana tent as well, selling clothes.

Around noon, C.M's friend, Healer, came to see me and offer me some body work.  He immediately got down to business, asking me what was going on with my back, then jumping right into my physical history, injury history, and what I've been doing to heal myself.  We found a quiet place inside to set up some mats for body work, and I watched as Healer set the space and prepared himself for work.  I laid down on my belly, and Healer started working on my lower back muscles.  They were almost completely locked up, he said, in complete spasm.  As he dug into the muscles that were holding on so tight, he said, "So, back injuries are usually due to feeling unsupported.  Tell me how you've been feeling unsupported.  What's going on?"

I didn't hold back.  I told this new friend everything that I'd been going through the past few months, the past couple years.  How circumstances had come together that had left me feeling unsupported -- not only from my partner, but also from myself.  I told him how I felt that I'd been flailing like a fish out of water, desperately trying to align my heart with Truth and feeling isolated in the process and scared of what Truth would mean for me.  Healer was so kind.  When I acknowledged a weakness, he filled my ears with affirmation.  When I admitted despair, he gave me words of hope.  When I admitted feeling isolated, he said, "I can't tell you how many women I've treated who are in your same predicament, and how their bodies were requiring that they make scary changes.  You CAN do what your body and your soul need.  You are strong enough."  And when I acknowledged my deepest fear, that I wouldn't in fact ever get better, he looked me in the eye and said, "Of course you will.  I've seen people far worse than you, with half the intuition that you have, and they've recovered perfectly.  You will heal."  All the while, Healer gently coaxed my muscles to unlock and relax.

When we were finished, he would take nothing more from me than a hug and a thank you, and I am eternally grateful for the physical and emotional aid he gifted me.  I had gained another piece to the puzzle, found another ally in my spiritual revolution.  And while my back didn't relax immediately, it healed very quickly, a product no doubt of Healer's amazing abilities coupled with my body's love for massage and a space held for true mind/body healing.

I rejoined my friends at the slacklines, careful to not try and keep up physically with them, but taking Healer's words to heart.  "You are supported," he had said.  "You have people here who love you, regardless of what your body can do."  I smiled to myself as I edited away and guided new students to the lines with someone else to give instruction.

Wanderlust finished on a bittersweet note for me.  I learned so much about myself in such a short period of time that it was disorienting, except that I had such great friends to hold me firmly to the earth.  I was sad to leave the festival, afraid of what growth would come next when I wasn't around so many healers.  But I was also happy to have had the experience of feeling loved, connected, learning more about myself in a heart-centered environment.  I just hope that my spiritual saga is less dramatic, urgent, and painful next year, when I return for mountains and forests again for the sweet nectar of Wanderlust.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Part 2: Love, Sweat, Slackline and Tears: Reflections of Wanderlust, Squaw Valley

As our traveling trio arrived Wednesday at Wanderlust, the welcoming by our Slacker family was nothing less than I expected -- hugs filled with so much excitement and love that they were almost violent, knocking us into an instant Slacker Stack (aka: dog pile).  The fun and love that radiated from the little grassy knoll, filled with slacklines, was almost hypnotic as it drew us into the folds.  Ah, we were home.

We got to work immediately, spelling those who had been teaching in the hot sun for the past several days without rest.  The "work" was so fun that it was hard to call it work.  Our energy drew people in as we played and experimented on the line, cheering each other on, marveling at how our skills had increased.  As the lines filled with interested beginners, we found there were enough of us to teach now that some of us could sit in the shade until the next rotation.  Sitting there in the shade with my friend, TigerEye, we dug into each others personal life in a conversation so deep and urgent that it was almost as if we had agreed to meet there, in the shade of a ski-ticket building, to have an important meeting.  The rest of the festival faded into the background for me as we connected over similarities and differences in our separate-yet-so-similar internal processes over the past few months.

Now, for those of you who know me, you know that I in no way resemble the energy of a butterfly -- a person who can flit about from different groups of friends, touching lots of lives lightly and having connections with lots and lots of people.  I don't do it well, and to be honest, I'm just not interested in living that way.  My personality requires deep connections with others, and so, naturally, I don't have as many friends, but those I do have know me and vice versa.  It's taken me a while to realize how intense I must feel to others.  I recently asked three of my friends if they find me intense.  Two of them laughed, as if they were amazed I hadn't yet realized it, and the other said, "Yes, but that's okay.  I'm used to it now."

So it was nice that TigerEye didn't seem to have a problem relating on this level.  To be honest, I felt that if I didn't keep talking, keep processing, keep working with all these things coming up for me, I might internally combust.  On the forefront of my mind were: do I have let go of my relationship completely in order to heal my body, or can I just let go of the parts that aren't working anymore; what are the logistical ramifications of the former; I've heard what my back is saying, but does my heart have to say?

Thursday on the mountain was hot and sunny, and we started getting people on the lines as early as eight in the morning.  Again, I just can't iterate enough how amazing it felt to be surrounded by such happy, healthy people who had their hearts open to love (thank you, Anusara) -- both the students who tried the line, and again, my Slacker family.  I realized that another great yogini friend of mine, Calm, was also at the event, working a separate booth, and I was looking forward to reconnect with her.  As fate would have it, we both showed up to take Sean Corn's "Detox Flow" class Thursday afternoon, and practiced together.

I hadn't yet had the opportunity to work with Sean Corn, and I'm so glad that I chose her class that afternoon.  I went into it with the intention of uncovering more my own answers, specifically what it was my heart wanted.  Sean's class was focused around detoxing the body from all the toxins we are exposed to everyday, taking root in our tissues when we don't take the time or care to cleanse our bodies and minds.  The environmental message of her class resonated strongly with me (M.S. Environmental Science; past life at the University of Montana), but the message that went along side of it was what coaxed information out of my heart.  Sean spoke without apology about Truth: that we spirits having a human experience, and that we are are children of Spirit, whatever Spirit means to you (God, Goddess, Nature, etc).  She said that when we don't align our spirits with Truth, or God, or the Universe, then we're creating more toxins in our bodies by denying our soul the only thing it craves -- connection with Spirit.

According to Ayurveda, all disease occurs because we forget this truth.  Disease occurs because we forget that our true nature is spirit, and that our spirit is connected to higher Spirit.  When we forget this truth, we are subject to the dramas that our senses create for us.  The spirit is vital, and it will always crave connection, but if we only listening to the needs of our senses, then they will find something else in which to fill the void -- things like sugar, alcohol, sex, drugs, violence, habits or even over-exercising.  These things may not seem bad at first, and they do their job -- filling the void and numbing the cry of the soul.  The problem is that they can start to drown out the cry of the soul altogether as we become stuck in patterns, lifestyles or relationships that draw us further from our Truth, until one day we wake up with a master's degree in environmental science and say, "Why am I still unhappy after all that I've 'achieved'?"  Simple.  Because that wasn't what my soul wanted.  It's what my rational brain told me I should have.

So as we sweated and twisted ourselves clean in Sean's class (me modifying poses too advanced for my sensitive back), she asked us to look inside at our Truth -- at what our spirit needed, and to look at where we might be stuck in achieving that.  I immediately noticed a stuck energy between my third and fourth chakras, where I was currently processing my relationship and what to do about it.  Sean then said something like, "Can you be brave enough to live in Truth and let fall away those things that don't support it, because those things will act as toxins in your body."  This relationship energy lit up inside me like a torch, and I immediately started crying.  It was clear that my heart also felt the need to let go of some part of my relationship, but I wasn't sure how large that part was, and I was afraid to look any deeper.

After the practice, Calm looked over at me and said, "I wanted so badly to put my hand on your back!" as she had noticed the energy moving there.  Later, when we talked more deeply about the internal connections, she admitted to having channeled my relationship info while practicing next to me.  What a beautiful and evolved spirit she is!

Friday was more of the same: being loved, sharing love, slacklining, sun bathing, meeting new friends and spending time with TigerEye.  Michael Franti played that night, and a group of us went to the concert together.  I love Franti, and as he sang "Hey World (Don't Give Up Version)," I was sure he was singing to me.  I was tired from the long day, from my emotional processes, and hadn't payed much attention to my back throughout the day.  Near the end of the concert, I started to realize that my back muscles were becoming very tight.  Too tight.  As I got in the car to drive home, I could barely sit for the pain.  I eased myself into my tent and onto my very bumpy outdoor bed, and curled my knees toward my chest.  My back muscles spasmed with every movement.  Each time I moved in the night, the pain woke me up.  Saturday morning, still in pain, I thought, "No, no, no, no, no, no, no.  I just got healed enough to enjoy being in my physical body again.  This can't happy now!"  And then, more gently, "I'm sorry body, I'm sorry for not listening.  I'll fix this, I promise."

So I prepared for Saturday like any other day at the Festival.  Although I knew, and so did my body, that it would be different.  Somehow, I didn't find any comfort in that thought.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Part 1: Love, Sweat, Slackline and Tears: A Reflection of Wanderlust, Squaw Valley

For the last week of July, I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Wanderlust Festival in Squaw Valley, California, as part of the teaching crew for YogaSlackers.  I was excited to reconnect with my YogaSlacker family, attend yoga classes taught by world renown teachers, spread the joy of slacklining to others, and be away from hustle and bustle of southern California and back into the soul-feeding mountains and forests.

Let me preface this story with some background information on where I'm currently at emotionally, physically, and spiritually so that what follows forms a complete picture (or as close as is possible or now).  For the last couple years, and more urgently in the past few months, I've been really working to re-define my values, my actions, and if my actions are in line with my values.  I've also been working internally to try to understand a back injury that has kept me away from many physical activities for the past year.  I've recently felt an urgency to take another look at all my major commitments and relationships, and to evaluate whether or not they are helping or hindering my spiritual path.

Three years ago, I was interested in my spiritual development, but not to the extent where I would talk openly with others about it, or share it with my significant other, or make decisions based on it.  During the same time period, I've been coaxed to slow down, to look inside, to work on my spirit as much as my body.  Unfortunately, I was addicted to the physical world in a way that gave me no patience for the slow, sometimes slogging and turmultuous path of spiritual soul-seeking or healing.  Luckily for me, my spirit is smarter than my concious mind, and in April 2010, after many attempts too subtle to be effective, it created an injury in my physical body severe enough to force me to slow down and take a good look at my life -- including who I am and what I need to live a life of sustained joy.

The core group of YogaSlackers, who have been my dear friends for years now, are most well known for their practice of yoga on a slackline, a practice full of both grace and power -- a true balance of strength and softness.  It's often the "shock and awe" of watching these amazing beings on a slackline that draws the onlooker forward to the line themselves.  For this brave soul, the reward is not just learning the practice of the line, but spending time with the people who make up the YogaSlackers.  Here is where real change can happen. What the YogaSlackers are less known for is often more profound and has a longer lasting effect: they have the uncanny and possibly unconcious ability to encourage you to question your life -- both the decisions that you've made as well as the assumptions behind those decisions.  The result is often a shift in the very value system, the foundation, for your entire life.  The first day, and nearly every encounter since, that I met the two men who eventually founded the YogaSlackers, I've felt the need to question what I value, how that's made me who I am, and how that affects my spirit and my relationships with others.  

So it's not surprising that after the YogaSlackers inagural teacher training in May, where I spent 10 days with these inspiring folks, that the internal, soul-searching work that I was already doing became more urgent and huge shifts started happening in my life.  Just a few of things that happened between the training and Wanderlust were: giving over half of my closet to charity; bringing my spiritual life and beliefs "out of the closet" and into the forefront of my life, without apology; asking for what I really need in my relationships with others; questioning my marriage; and asking myself honestly what I need in order to fulfill my spiritual dharma on earth.  What I didn't realize was how the teacher training acted as a catalyst of change for many of my friends as well.  Here I was, feeling isolated and alone in the spiritual growth and turmoil I felt, when many of my new close friends were experiencing similar change in their life.

I was very excited to be a part of the YogaSlacker teachers who were representing at Wanderlust, partly because I love to teach slacklining and I love the energy of big yoga festivals, and partly to see my Slacker family and feel the comfort of being accepted for exactly who I am and loved as part of a group. I rode from San Diego to Long Beach with a lovely friend (we'll call him Panther) who I hadn't connected with in a long time.  We spent the night at our other friend's house (let's call him Giver), then awoke on Tuesday morning, fueled up with fresh veggies from the garden, and drove up the 395 on the eastern side of the Sierras until we reached South Lake Tahoe.  The drive was fun; full of rest-stop-handstands and arm balances.  The energy of excitement was palpable and radiated from each of us, feeding each other, as we took pictures of our feats of gravity at each rest stop and posted them on Facebook saying, "Here we come!  We can't wait to see you!"

We spent the night with Giver's sister, just south of the lake.  In the morning, Panther and I had the time to lake a leisurely stroll next to the river, to talk and connect.  We were blessed by a tiny green frog, a mother duck with about ten tiny ducklings, and rainbow trout swimming upstream.  As we eased into our heartfelt conversation, Panther helped me make the connection between my back injury and the need for my spirit to move forward.  As I mentioned above, I used to connect to the planet with physical exercise -- trail running, mountain biking, climbing, etc. -- which are all worthy connections, however, they weren't the type of connections my spirit was craving.  I would marvel at nature's miracles as a sped by on my machine made of aluminum and rubber, and the forest would scream, "Slow down!  You're missing it!" And I would always reply, "Next time, another day," never truly stopping.  At this time, I attracted a partner who found connection in a similar way, and we connected to each other through these physical, heart pumping and endorphin releasing activities.  As healthy as they are, they were like drugs to us -- drugs to make us feel better, faster, stronger and under the influence of this natural high, we fell in love.

When injury overtook me, and forced me to slow, I was no longer able to have the same level endorphins that had pumped so regularly through my system.  I wasn't able to speed through the forest, and my aluminum and rubber machine sat lonely in the garage.  Most of all, I wasn't able to connect to my love anymore.  In the beginning, I was resistant to this change, because during the times when I would have be out riding or running and connecting to my partner, I was forced to sit with myself, and as I did, I began to listen and pay attention to what I'd been too busy to notice before.  Not only was the forest eager for me to slow down, my spirit was craving for me to pay attention.  "This is IMPORTANT!" it said.  And it took me a long time to realize that.  But as I've worked with my spirit's guidance, I've realized that I can connect to nature, to Spirit, to others, in a way that's different and deeper than ever before.  Unfortunately, my partner is still satisfied to connect through physical means, as he hasn't had the opportunity or desire for the type of internal growth I've done.  Through my injury, he's offered little in the way of support for the internal work I've done, because he's not sure how to connect to me on that level, and in fact, I'm not sure he understood the connection between the emotional/spiritual and the physical.  He kept asking me to heal my back so that "we could go back to the way things were."  But I fear that I simply can't go back -- those old ways of connecting hold no power over me anymore and I realize how they detracted from the deeper connection I feel now.

So that morning, at the river, Panther listened to my story and offered, "Maybe your back stays injured because, if it were to heal completely, you'd have no excuse to move forward spiritually; no excuse for NOT going back to the way things were.  Maybe your back stays injured to remind you that you MUST move forward." And as the words fell on my ears, it was as if my spirit said turned to Panther and hugged him with vigor, because it had been trying to tell me the same thing, unsuccessfully, for months.

I knew, at that moment, that Wanderlust wasn't going to be all handstands and unicorns for me.  It would also include more of the deep, internal work that my spirit craves yet that throws my emotional and physical bodies into turmoil.  I think I heard my body sigh, "Here we go again. . ."