I received mail from myself. Really. Several months ago, I took a meditation course. One Friday afternoon, we wrote ourselves a letter. It was a reflection on what we have learned so far and to remind ourselves of the power of being present. Emily, our teacher said that she would mail them to us. I had completely forgotten about it.
When I opened the mailbox and saw the chicken scratch a huge smile came across my face. I sat in the lobby of my building and read the letter. I’d never felt so intimate with my thoughts. It’s one thing to have a journal. It’s another to get them via the US Mail.
The last line read-
You have been living more authentically than you have in your life. Don’t stop. I love you.
I placed the letter on my meditation altar. Sometimes we are our own best teachers.
I used to snicker at the Self-Improvement section when I first worked in the book world. Snobby, I know. But over the years I would find myself sneaking over there, browsing shelves and buying things pretending they were for ‘a friend’. When I had to do a lot of driving between stores I could listen to audiobooks fearlessly. Wayne Dyer’s the Power of Intention had a profound impact. I hadn’t yet made the decision to make some radical life changes- but a seed was planted. I also loved watching his special on PBS when fundraising was in full effect.
It took a few years after the seed was planted but I changed the way that I looked at things. Things changed.
Last night I spent the evening at Radical Wellness, my neighborhood wellness store that is drenched with warmth. The Essential Oils Club meets monthly and yesterday was the Pride Edition since Jersey City celebrates Pride tomorrow. Rashena is a wealth of knowledge and paired oils with the chakras. She talked a lot about grounding and self-love. I was honored to lead off the discussion with a guided meditation that centered around self-love, acceptance and intuition. Whether you are coming out to the world as LGBT or coming out as yourself, there’s a need to step into that with a sense of strength rather than fear. Transitions are scary. Not everyone will agree with you. Some will abandon you.
That’s the big pill to swallow. But you have to trust that your people are out there and it starts with a tribe of one.
So go ahead. Astound yourself. And let’s high-five on the other side.
“Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.” ― Pema Chödrön
After teaching in one of the sentenced women’s dorms I made my way to the dorm that held three teens who aren’t living with the rest of the teen population for various reasons. They were still in school so I waited until they got back. Things are always changing. ‘Tasha’ had been moved to another house (I think she’s back with the teen girls) and ‘Shakira’(not her real name) who was with the teen girls the week before was back in the ‘isolated’ (my word, not Rikers) section. Shakira lit up when she saw me. The CO in the bubble had let them know that I stopped by but I don’t think they realized that I’d be coming back. Shakira grabbed the only other girl in the dorm and told her to try yoga that it would be fun. ‘Andrea’ eyed me dubiously. I hoped that she would warm up as we began to practice but she didn’t and left class a few minutes in. Shakira unruffled asked if we could practice handstand. Andrea wandered back to see why we were on our hands and stayed for a few more minutes and then left again. Shakira asked about practicing crow and hurdler AND headstand. Who am I to get in the way such enthusiasm? As we were winding down practice I asked Shakira what was her favorite thing to do in yoga. She replied, ‘Meditation.’
‘A five-minute meditation?’ I suggested?
‘Can we do longer?’ she wanted to know.
I was all cool on the outside. ‘Um, sure we can sit and do a 15 minute guided med-,’
‘I don’t really need guided if that’s okay. I can focus on my breathing.’
‘Yeah okay- let’s do a 15 minute sit. ‘ But inside I’m like:
My head had been pounding all morning so a seated meditation without support did not seem like a great idea. I let Shakira know I’d be moving my bolster to the wall for back support. She said, ‘We can do that? That’s cool because sometimes my back hurts sitting up.’
So we sat. I don’t drop into a deep meditation but it was hard not to chill out because the dorm is silent. I did think about Shakira’s desire and willingness to be still for 15 minutes. Not an easy task for an adult in this distracted world, even more challenging as a teenager. If you add the element of detention and stress of Rikers Island, it’s almost an impossible task. And yet, when I glance over at her just to see that she’s okay, her face is smooth and her breathing natural. This is no BS she’s in meditation.
Pema Chödrön talks about folks who really take meditation seriously because they have to. She says (and I’m paraphrasing here) those that haven’t had lots of serious trauma or addiction enjoy meditation and can treat it more like a trend. However, if you are a card carrying member of the shit hitting the fan club you get real serious real quick about meditation. Life can be pretty grisly where there aren’t any options left for a decent life. If meditation shows up an an answer, most take it. Because once you can look at your naked truth and not run, you can do just about anything. (Can I get an amen for Pema?) Sorry, I digress.
I thought my class with the teens would be about jumping around and laughing. And sometimes it is. But other times it’s about being quiet. This is what trauma informed teaching is about – listening and honoring the students. It’s not about my personality, my goals for a class or my wants and desires for students. It’s about my big ole mouth being shut , my hands and heart open, saying what can I give to you. How can I serve where you are in this moment.
I will not ignore people who are locked away. I will continue to speak up and out about the need to END mass incarceration. I will continue to plead for the need for more volunteers to visit people in prison as we work to end the system. I will continue to encourage people to volunteer and give assistance to those who are out of jail and need support, love and encouragement. I will not ignore those I can’t see. I will not be silent. This is my mantra and my meditation.
I learn the most when things get dicey. On days when my balance is wobbly, schmobbly my body is telling me something. So I may bend my knee a bit, leaning in as if trying to hear it whisper a secret… It’s challenging because I want to stand tall and proud. But if I can’t hear what I’m standing tall and proud for the pose losing meaning. So I try to love the wobble. Namaste y’all.
Sometimes it feels like the more I work at something the more it crumbles in my hands. Yoga has taught me that grasping doesn’t work, but breathing does. Now I can watch something crumble and see that the pieces on the ground may be showing me something else.