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The miracle is this: the more we share the more we have (Leonard Nimoy)
The miracle is this: the more we share the more we have (Leonard Nimoy)
“Surrender, Surrender, Surrender…” I return to my favourite yoga class week after week for the chime of this word, for the serenity it brings. A word that rolls off the tongue, offering kindness and compassion, yet whose very definition portrays an image of weakness and powerlessness.
According to Merriam-Webster, there are three definitions for the word Surrender: 1) to agree to stop fighting, hiding, resisting, etc., because you know that you will not win or succeed, 2) to give the control or use of (something) to someone else, and 3) to allow something (such as a habit or desire) to influence or control you.
By these definitions, Surrendering represents a loss of power, of strength and of control. We envision a victim of war, with two hands held up high by nothing but fear, a face stricken with terror, a heart beating for survival. We picture a boxer who fights with proud fists, surrendering only when his collapsed body offers no chance for resurrection.
An imagery of defeat.
Our society encourages a fighting epidemic where we are taught to seek solutions, to push through, to value showing a face of courage over a vulnerable heart. We pride ourselves in hearing, “You are so strong,” as if it reflects our ability to outwit our emotional challenges. We are honoured to feel powerful, to put forth an embodiment of strength, a protection of armour, a warrior within.
For our ancestors, the very idea of surrendering would have meant letting go of the fight or flight response, greatly increasing the potential of being conquered by predators. In our present day, we have legitimized stress, offering ourselves anxiety and fear as a means to keep us alert. These have become our built-in alarm clock constantly buzzing to ensure we try harder, work harder, and stay strong.
Through strength, we feel safe.
I think of the Warrior series, a string of asanas (poses) that were created for the very purpose of building strength. I think of Tadasana, the traditional standing pose, where we are encouraged to find the tallest, strongest version of ourselves. When asked to find Sukkha – or ease – in these poses, it can feel like we are told to take off our armour, and leave ourselves vulnerable to being not strong enough.
It is no wonder, through the glorification of this fighting epidemic, that we are afraid to relinquish control. Surrendering would mean letting go of the fight, of our built in stress response, leaving us without armour to survive in this unpredictable world around us. We would be left with our fear of the unknown, without the safety of preparing ourselves for the anticipated battle ahead.
We are tired warriors, weighted down by our need for safety and control. We are anxiously holding our Warrior poses, our Tadasanas, even the heaviness we feel in our Savasanas is often loaded with armour of protection. The stress response we once deemed to be our ally has become yet another thing that controls us instead of offering us serenity, requiring more effort with each tiring step.
We are fighting an imaginary war.
So each week, I come back to class to hear “Surrender, Surrender, Surrender” with a deeper understanding each time for what this word truly means. It invites me to be here, to understand that this war I am fighting is not my own, that my practice is to accept what is, as is, right now. I notice that by lifting the armour, I feel lighter, I stand naturally a little taller, and come to rest with less resistance.
I don’t have control, and I don’t need it.
Achievement is a glorified term, as it is identified with strength, perseverance, intelligence, and success. We think of the triathlete who crosses the finish line, the successful entrepreneur, the advanced yogi who can handstand, the accomplished scholar. We imagine the finish line, the closing curtains during a standing ovation, the goal attained.
In this light, Achievement is beautiful.
However, the notion of achievement, rooted in the belief that we can measure success by how much we accomplish, contradicts many fundamental principles of mindfulness and yoga philosophy: Acceptance, Non-judgement, Presence, and Non-harm. It is a socially accepted means by which to measure our worth, often living in the past by shaming ourselves for wasted time, and propelling ourselves into the future through goal setting. In the process, we often lose sight of this moment.
The need for achievement too often stems from a fear of failure. We – the triathlete, the entrepreneur, the yogi, the scholar – are too often driven to achieve out of a fear of what will happen if we are just as we are right now. In our need to seek validation from others, and to justify offering validation to ourselves, we learn to “do”. We set the bar high, and if we manage to reach that bar, we set it even higher.
In this light, Achievement is loaded.
When I think of the word “achievement”, I see a society that ingrains within us that we are what we do, that glorifies struggle as a means to success, that dictates, “don’t rest, you’re not there yet.” I envision an arm reaching away from me, pulling me forward with a sense of force, silently reminding me that where I am right now is not satisfactory. It gestures intensely, “This is not enough”.
When I think of the word “achievement”, I hear the internal voice that reasons, “If this is not enough, then I am not enough”. I sense the shame and guilt emanating from my psychotherapy clients as they express their lack of accomplishments, their dissatisfaction with their lives, their beliefs that they are lesser than. I visualize the slight- and sometimes not so slight- frustration on my yoga students’ faces when they judge themselves to have erred in their yoga practice, followed by their short Savasana that invites them to say, “Tomorrow, I’ll do better”.
When I think of the word “achievement”, I imagine myself letting go of the hand pulling me forward, reminding myself that I am here. I hear the voices of my teachers telling me that everything in life is an unpredictable and immeasurable process. I see that only through an acceptance of ourselves and of others without judgment, and through consistent work toward being present in this moment, can we find true meaning in who we are, and what we do. I envision the triathlete hearing his/her shoes hitting the concrete, the entrepreneur feeling the passion for the work, the yogi sensing the grounding in handstand, the scholar feeling intrigue in learning something new.
In a world that teaches us to do better, to be better, I am reminded that “achievement” is a beautiful ideal, but one that takes us away from this moment, that encourages us to do, to judge, to shame, to measure. I look to yoga to find myself here, and that’s the greatest achievement I could ask for.
Equilibrium is defined as a state of physical balance, a state that we spend the majority of our lives fighting to obtain. All cultures, sciences, psychologies, and religions have established guidelines to define and measure this balance.
However, I ask: What is equilibrium in essence?
From the moment we are born, we are sponges to our surroundings, accumulating helpful and unhelpful methods to perceive ourselves and the world around us. Ideally, we hope to develop healthy levels of self-worth, a sense of grounding, and connection through meaningful relationships. However, this ideal is rare, and more often we develop deep core beliefs – such as fears of failure, abandonment, and rejection – that create a constant source of internal chaos.
This internal chaos can take many different forms; for some, it is a silent buzzing, for others a screaming force. For all, it is a form of internal drama, which can be understood in terms of fear, anxiety, depressed mood, dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, and anger. We tend to try to balance this internal drama through creating external drama, which most often takes shape in the form of conflict, the projection of our fears onto others, overexertion of our bodies, and overachievement through perfectionism.
It is understandable, then, that we become overly driven, overly harsh on our bodies, and that we project our fears and insecurities onto those around us. We are simply trying to feel more balanced. Through matching our internal chaos with external drama, we feel a false sense of equilibrium.
We have ideals of wanting to enjoy simplicity, peace and calm; however, how often is it that we find ourselves feeling more unsettled when we are not overly exerting ourselves, physically, mentally and/or emotionally? A simple example can be seen in our yoga practice, where we are often drawn to the yang/physical exertion of the practice, yet feel overwhelmed in the more yin/restful aspects of the practice. The energetic vigor, the push, feels good, yet sitting with ourselves throughout the practice is often challenging.
Our practice of yoga can be a useful tool in observing this false sense of equilibrium we have developed as a coping strategy. Through the practice of acceptance, compassion, and observation, we learn that there is no shame or blame required for the patterns we observe within ourselves. Yoga can teach us to address our deep core beliefs- these fears of failure, rejection and abandonment- that are at the root of our need for external drama.
Each day is an opportunity to use our mats as a place as a place of self-exploration, whereby we can observe our core beliefs, our internal dialogue, our emotions and our physical tensions. It is an opportunity for us to work on ourselves, to sit with ourselves, even –and most importantly – when we want to run. Over time, this self-development allows us to feel more comfortable in our own bodies, and more connected to our own selves. Gradually, we open up to the possibility of being less dependent on the need for the external buzz. We slowly observe that our tendencies toward conflict, drama, overexertion, and overachievement aren’t as necessary as they once were. We can seek solace, and sit more comfortably in it.
This is equilibrium.
(To all Women who have ever doubted Themselves or their Bodies)
I open my eyes, and stare into the mirror. I stare so long that my eyes blur, and my feet get tired from standing. I stare until I can no longer make sense of all the curves, and shapes, and lines that define my body.
I observe in myself that I am triggered by my own body.
I observe in myself that I am triggered by my inability to control my body, its functioning, its shapes, its value.
A constant source by which to measure my worth lies in my curves, or rather the lack there of.
So, I stare…I stare harder to make sense of it all, to find meaning in it, to understand how it is so.
I observe within myself the expectations that lie beneath the surface. Expectations of success, happiness and love that I assume can be attained by having curves bless my body.
I stare longer, to find peace with it, to find grounding, to find solace within myself.
I see that we are all striving to find an external source of proof that we are worthy. I see that our personalities, intentions and efforts cannot be measured, so we look instead to our bodies to define our worth.
I stare…and I see my body, for it is mine, and mine to protect.
I see a body that has been blessed with love, yet cursed with illness.
A body that knows how to love, yet struggles to function.
A body that loves food, yet cannot digest it.
A body that longs to move freely, yet hurts to do so.
I stare to relinquish control, serenity now. I see that until we learn to accept what is, as is, right now, we cannot move forward, a prisoner in shackles.
I see that these conditions which we face are not shackles confining our freedom, but indeed keys to release ourselves from our imprisonment.
I stare longer, and harder, and stronger…And I see that my smaller frame does not denote a lesser me, a lesser worth.
I stare… I stare… I stare…
I see a fighter, I see strength, I see wisdom.
I see a woman who is willing to face herself because she knows she’s worth it.
I stare endlessly, and somewhere in there, I start to see me.
I open my eyes.
And, you know what? I like what I see.
What is Sobriety?
There is one definition that many of us are all too familiar with: The abstinence from alcohol, drugs and any mood-altering substances. Thus, the term “sobriety” is often thought of as the opposite of being “under the influence” of some form of mood and mind-altering substance.
I would like to talk about another definition of this term. Wikipedia offers one definition of “sobriety” as “the natural state of a human being given at birth”. From this perspective, true sobriety exists only when we are not “under the influence” of the world around us. True sobriety lives through the eyes of an individual who can remain untouched by life’s stresses, traumas, and struggles.
We are all born with a sense of purity, untouched, unharmed. We all breathe, move, cry, laugh, crawl, walk… If we are lucky enough, we are loved, we hear hands clapping when we succeed, we get treats for learning new tasks, we are held without having to ask. This is the beauty of childhood, or one would hope.
As time passes, we are often faced with a rude awakening. We learn that we can’t always have our way, that we can’t please everyone, that we won’t always have people clap their hands and cheer us on for all that we do. Life as we knew it had changed.
It is not surprising that so many of us learn very quickly that there are coping strategies, albeit very unhealthy coping strategies for the long-term. Nonetheless, the focus is on getting through now.
We learn that there are so many ways to escape our reality, be it through the traditional substances like alcohol, drugs and pain killers, or through dissociation, anger outbursts, sex, food, etc… We feel damaged, as we can never return to the natural state of purity we were once born with. We feel saddened by the harsh nature of the world. We feel poisoned by our inability to cope with life’s challenges. We feel sensitive, vulnerable, overwhelmed…
How is it possible, then, to return to that natural state of being, after experiencing the imperfections of our world?
We step onto our mats. We attempt to come into our own. We allow ourselves to laugh, to cry, to see the world through sober eyes – eyes that are not influenced by hurt, anger or fear. A difficult task, of course, but it is a work in progress, and we are accepting of that.
What would the world look like if we could walk through it with the sobriety of a newborn child?
We might be able to see ourselves for who we are: vulnerable, sensitive and beautiful.
We might be able to see others for who they are: vulnerable, sensitive and beautiful.
As a result, we live, we breathe, we practice yoga, in our efforts to regain that feeling, that state of being… that freedom…
True sobriety is freedom…
2013 has been a year of energetic shifts, universal upheaval and personal growth. After all, the Mayan calendar predicted that the world would end on the Winter Solstice of 2012. Obviously that didn’t happen, but here is what did happen:
The beginning of 2013 was accompanied by loss and emotional discomfort, where the grounding beneath us often felt unsafe and unsteady. On an energetic level, the world experienced a shift with the end of the Mayan Era and the beginning of the Era we are now experiencing.
This year, for me, has perhaps been the most challenging – yet the most beautiful – year of my life. I’ve experienced illness, loss, fear, injury, uncertainty, and doubt. However, it is through all of this upheaval that I have also learned to love myself truly and completely for who I am and for my enduring strength.
We live in a world where we are taught to carefully predict the most beneficial outcome for ourselves, and all of our actions reflect this. We save our money, we save our hearts, we save our dignity, we save our pride, we save others. Yet, the question I dare to ask is, “Is all this saving really working for you?”
So, I invite all women to experience a New Year starting now: This is the Year of Empowerment. This is the year where we surround ourselves with love and support, where we allow ourselves the opportunity to relish the simple joys, to experience the more expensive tastes of life, and to treat ourselves with the love and respect we deserve.
What would the world look like if all women could experience the Year of Empowerment, I wonder? Would we be able to seek the true empowerment we deserve? Would we change the way we experience our lives, how we perceive ourselves and how we are treated by others?
The Empowered Woman…
…Knows her worth and understands that she must first treat herself with respect in order to receive the respect of others
…Loves herself despite her limitations and offers herself the same compassion she would her best friend
…Speaks her truth and expresses her needs freely, opening herself up to receiving whole-heartedly
…Acknowledges her strength, and rewards herself through self-empowerment
…Holds her own hand, caresses her own back, and pushes herself to overcome her fears
…Understands that she deserves to treat herself, and to be treated, for all that she is, and not for all she is not
To all the women out there, this is the Year of Empowerment…and it starts now.
Its valves pumping blood and vitality to my entirety, filling me,
Filling me with faith that Love is Patient, Love is Kind.
I cannot see my heart, but I can feel it, I can sense its vigor,
Its unconditional power and strength, its will to open up, to love,
To love and to let love in.
The thirty some-odd thousand of them trickling through me daily, filling me,
Filling me with definitions of my self, my life, the world around me.
I cannot see my thoughts, but I can listen, hearing their whispers in my ear,
Their whispers, some more hopeful, some less kind, as I filter through them
To connect to a deeper understanding of who I am.
Their bright blue hue with deep contours, filling me,
Filling with me with images, with memories, with new perceptions of my reality.
I look into the mirror to see my eyes, to see my essence, but then my eyes start to wander,
To wander to the reflection of my nose, my scars, my fine lines, judging, always judging,
But I stare, I stare harder, I look beyond the judgments and see my beauty.
With sun-kissed lips, and once-braced teeth, filling me,
Filling me with an ability to convey, to communicate, to connect.
As I look at you, I can feel my lips move, they try to explain, to articulate,
Sometimes the words emerge freely, sometimes wearingly,
But I try to speak my truth, always my truth.
Decorated with painted toe nails yet rugged edges, filling me,
Filling me with a sense of grounding, a connection to my roots.
I stand on my two feet, and without looking down, I sense all ten toes lift,
Lift and then gracefully replace themselves on the earth, firm and strong,
Firm, and strong, and determined.
With the idea of being loved
Comforted in knowing that I would be loved forever and ever, unconditionally
That I’d be loved despite my limitations, despite my fear, despite my insecurities,
Despite my wanting to be anyone but me.
I fell in love
With the notion of safety and stability
Assured that I’d be blanketed in love, be held with support, be lightened with kindness
That I would never have to be alone, on my own, with my thoughts
With my thoughts that whispered in my ear, declaring I am undeserving, undesirable, undone.
I fell in love
With the idea of being heard
Thankful that I would have my innermost thoughts acknowledged, my experiences known
That I could whisper my deepest, darkest secrets to you, and you would listen, you would process,
Reflecting back that you are grateful to know me one ounce more.
I fell in love
With the sense of belonging
Belonging to you, and you to me, to belonging together
To forever holding hands, and growing, experiencing our journey as one
Growing old in your arms, and you in mine.
I fell in love
With the desire to be in love
Ignoring the signs, the gestures, the void that told me otherwise
That told me I had crafted a beautiful imagery of a life I didn’t have, that wasn’t mine, that wouldn’t be
That screamed before I love you, I must love me.
I was a dancer, a swimmer, a weight lifter, a yogini. I thought this meant I was connected to my body. It was strong. I could see its power.
We spend most of our lives disconnected from our bodies – Essentially, disconnected from our Selves. It is easy to move through life mechanically, living purely in our minds. Yet, more often than not, our minds offer us a distorted perception of our reality.
Our minds make sense of the world through judgment – experiencing life through the dichotomies of right and wrong, good and bad, like and dislike.
My body – your body – does not speak this language. It understands only sensation. It feels. It knows.
Our bodies know the truth. If we’re quiet and listen, our bodies speak to us. They tell us what we need, what we don’t, and who we are.
When I am intuitive enough to silence my mind and listen to my body, I understand myself – my true Self. My body teaches me. It tells me where I store emotions, how I can support myself, when I need to hold on, when I need to let go.
My Body, My Self – This is my Yoga.
The hard truth is this: To move forward, we have to first ACCEPT what is, as is, right now.
So what the heck does that mean, you ask? Sitting with our racing minds, overwhelming emotions and pain-infused bodies is one of the most challenging things we can do. If you are anything like me, then you want them gone, and you want them gone NOW. Interestingly enough, they won’t go away until we acknowledge them, accept them, and make peace with them.
John Kabat-Zinn, an expert in Mindfulness Meditation, explains that Self-Observation, Acceptance and Non-Judgment are the proponents to self-growth and development.
Wise words from a wise man, yet a difficult challenge. We often face strong resistance to moving forward. This is accompanied by deep self-blaming tendencies and shame for not being able to move on. This is the vicious cycle that keeps us stagnant.
At many junctures in my life, I have been stuck. The more I stumbled in my efforts to move forward, the more I shamed myself for my resistance. The more I shamed myself, the more trapped I became.
So what would happen if the next time you were really overwhelmed with emotion, you ACCEPTED yourself for your emotions? What would happen if you did not blame yourself when you were resistant to “letting go” and “moving on”? What would happen if you were to treat yourself with the same compassion you would your best friend – assuring yourself that it is ok to be overwhelmed, to be resistant, to be stuck.
My psychotherapy clients often ask me, “Yeah great, Chantal…but HOW??!!”
They want the magic bullet. I want the magic bullet. I don’t have it.
My response is both simple and complicated: “Get Curious”.
Over the years, I realized that I was really good at “talking the talk” but had to learn to “walk the walk”. As a social worker, I’d always been really interested in human behavior and experience. I was really interested in “Others”. Now, I had to get curious about my Self.
So the work is this: Get curious about your Self. Note. Observe. Connect.
The more Curious we get, the less room there is for Self-Judgment. The less Self-Judgment, the more Acceptance. The more Acceptance, the closer we are to moving forward. It is a process.
I am on my journey- A challenging one, but truly insightful.