A Heart That Feels is a Heart That Knows: The Truth About Living With Arms Wide Open and Ways to Ease the Pain

“The older I grow the more I become certain that it makes no difference what words we use to tell the same truths.”
― Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Mists of Avalon

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There was once a time when we all knew the tides of the oceans– we were in touch with the ebb and flow of this earth. It was necessary to cry when the moon was full and the waves were big. It was essential to laugh when the skies were clear and the stars were bright. We knew when to throw our heads back, arms wide open, in complete acceptance of life being anything but ordinary and everything magical. We knew that to dance was just as vital for our living bodies as the breath. We understood that the only way to come back to ourselves was through the eyes of another, through all others, in our tribe. And with each rise and fall of the chest, we knew that to connect with the beings around us, whether human or wolf or bird, was the only way to truly be home.

We are living in a time where our very own world is out of touch with authentic connection. For those of us that are sensitive to our own beating hearts, we often feel that there is a constant void to fill that can never be truly full. Perhaps the basin of our souls gets replenished from time to time, but not quite all the way– why?

“It’s not that I can’t fall in love. It’s really that I can’t help falling in love with too many things all at once. So, you must understand why I can’t distinguish between what’s platonic and what isn’t, because it’s all too much and not enough at the same time.”

― Jack Kerouac

 

Whether we know it or not, we all crave a connection that is deeper than words can articulate. We all long to feel a sense of wholeness that allows us to brave life, with all its darkness and all its beauty. I know  we make the mistake of constantly searching outside of ourselves for this connection. All the while, not truly connecting with those in our circle. Let’s call it a tribe from now on, shall we? We are in this together and using the word tribe embodies this. If your heart beats and your lungs breathe, we are in this together. If you are a living entity, we are in this together.

The truth is this– It is painful to live with arms wide open. Once you’ve questioned what it all means when this life as we know it slips away, you will never be normal. You will never be able to feel blindly again. All of life suddenly becomes vulnerable and it never stops. You know what it’s like to live with the sudden fear of maybe, kind of, sort of, its all for nothing and simultaneously, all for everything. The most simple round of laughter becomes an act that shakes you down to your core, and tears feel like they can kill you. And somehow, still, you know that it’s fucking beautiful. It is all completely and utterly necessary– heartache, death, birth, confusion, loneliness, beauty, dance, pain– it’s all the same song. We live, we die, we keep going. We will never know why, but we trust that maybe, one day, it will all make sense.

When we live with our arms wide open, we need to take conscious steps in order to care of our own hearts (which in turns takes care of every other heart). Ways to ease the pain:

  • Round up the tribe. Exactly what it says. Find your community. Find your people. Find human beings that allow the space for you to feel safe. Find a tribe that plays in a way where you’re all feeding each others soul.
  • Feet on the ground. Everyday. When the weather permits, take off shoes, remove socks, be completely barefoot. Get back to knowing that the easiest way to connect to the earth is to feel  her. You weren’t born needing shoes.
  • Eye contact. Get comfortable actually seeing those around you. Stop fearing what they will think when they see your soul. After all, they are your tribe.
  • Touch. Everywhere. Yes, even there. Get to know your body. Be really there  when someone that thinks you’re marvelous touches you. Let their words sink deep and touch you everywhere.
  • Be naked. Without clothes and while clothed. Be naked with your word and with your feelings. Let them be free. Let the identity go. Be raw.
  • Love. Every. Thing. No explanation needed.

 

When you live with arms wide open, you have nothing left to lose. You may never be the same, but you know damn well how to embrace the magic of life. You have an innate wisdom that knows what to do at all times. You know on a deep level that you can trust this human experience. You know what you need to do. Do it.

Keep coming back.

xx

Juls

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
― C.S. Lewis

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Hereditary Angioedema and Mindfulness

mindfulnessThese last few months have been rough for me. Despite being in an overall great place mentally, I have encountered a lot of stress between moving states, starting a new job, one hospitalization, road trips to see my family, etc. These things might not be that stressful on my mind-state, but my increase in HAE attacks shows that I am being affected, even if it’s on a level that I cannot notice any other way. For those that do not know, Hereditary Angioedema is a rare and life threatening genetic blood disease affecting about 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 50,000 people worldwide. Here’s an explanation from the HAE Association:

HAE patients have a defect in the gene that controls a blood protein called C1 Inhibitor. The genetic defect results in production of either inadequate or non-functioning C1-Inhibitor protein. Normal C1-Inhibitor helps to regulate the complex biochemical interactions of blood-based systems involved in disease fighting, inflammatory response and coagulation. Because defective C1-Inhibitor does not adequately perform its regulatory function, a biochemical imbalance can occur and produce unwanted peptides that induce the capillaries to release fluids into surrounding tissue, thereby causing edema.

People that suffer with hereditary angioedema often experience many health traumas and major hospitalizations early on in life. Considering this, the potential for generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD are very high. This is an area where there is very little dialogue (at least so far) happening in the medical field. So many of us are used to just having to deal with this disease, even encountering doctors that often misdiagnose us or question what we are feeling. We are used to becoming very strong individuals (I like to think of ourselves as warriors 😉 ) and come up with our own ways of handling the stress, anxiety, and trauma. A whole other can of worms is the tendency for HAE patients to develop a codependency addiction, but I will save that one for another time.

My goal here today is to explore what we can do to survive and heal these moments of intensity in our lives. I have been making the conclusion over and over again, that besides my yoga practice, what keeps me sane is the practice of mindfulness meditation. Psychology Today has a great article on mindfulness meditation and how to practice it. The best and most simple explanation that I have found on the method is from Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. He says:

The exercise is simply to identify the in-breath as in-breath and the out-breath as the out-breath. When you breathe in, you know that this is your in-breath. When you breathe out, you are mindful that this is your out-breath.

Just recognize: this is an in-breath, this is an out-breath. Very simple, very easy. In order to recognize your in-breath as in-breath, you have to bring your mind home to yourself. What is recognizing your in-breath is your mind, and the object of your mind—the object of your mindfulness—is the in-breath…

So the object of your mindfulness is your breath, and you just focus your attention on it. Breathing in, this is my in-breath. Breathing out, this is my out-breath. When you do that, the mental discourse will stop. You don’t think anymore. You don’t have to make an effort to stop your thinking; you bring your attention to your in-breath and the mental discourse just stops. That is the miracle of the practice. You don’t think of the past anymore. You don’t think of the future. You don’t think of your projects, because you are focusing your attention, your mindfulness, on your breath.

img_1289It is that simple. The beauty of this simplicity is that there is no excuse not to cultivate it. The breath is always there so this practice is always available to us. We don’t need some elaborate alter, a fancy meditation cushion, or a zen gong alarm clock. All we need is the breath and the intention to become aware of it. I firmly believe that this is a practice everyone can benefit from, not just people suffering with HAE or any other trauma. When we cultivate more inner peace, we are contributing to the overall peace of the world. And who doesn’t think we could all benefit from that?

Now, for my fellow swell buddies– When do we meditate? Ideally we create a consistent practice for the same time each day, preferably right in the morning. But there are many other times too.

  • Those moments when you’re experiencing airway paranoia. You know the times– “What’s that tickle in my throat?” “Is my airway closing?” “Is this just a sore throat?” “AHHHH Intubation!” I know many people can relate to this, even if some have never had an airway swell. Unless your airway is actually closing, we can all take five minutes to sit and breathe. Another amazing thing about this practice is that we can all experience heightened awareness  and can better determine if this is an actual attack, or if we are just freaking out.
  • The ER. Oh yes. We are all veryyyyyyy familiar with these! Sometimes they are places where we find a true sense of peace, more often than not though, they are really intense and stressful places. Finding the right doctor. Knowing more about your disease than the people who are sticking needles in you. Hearing other people crying or wailing or vomiting. The florescent lights. The constant beeping. Even here we can take the time to pause and connect with our breath.
  • When the insecure thought tangents start. “Will this person accept me when they find out I have this disease?” “Will I pass this on to my kids?” “Am I wrong for passing this on to my kids?” “Am I bipolar because I’m freaking the F out?” “Is it wrong to feel scared?” “Does anyone understand?” Unfortunately this inner dialogue is a side-effect of trauma and a process most of us have to work through. When we take the moment to pause and breathe, we can allow ourselves to detach  from the negative thought stream. We can at least look at them as if they are not us, but just a thought we are having. They will pass.

There are many other times when we can use this practice to our benefit, but we all need to learn to be our own judge of that. I am not perfect. I am not in a place of perfect peace about Hereditary Angioedema. In fact, this blog is coming out of a very long night of an emotional breakdown. I was completely and utterly exhausted and yet, I could not fall asleep. Which starts the very vicious cycle of emotional distress. All the negative thought patterns start arising, the anxiety kicks in, I become upset and cry. Which makes me only fear swelling more to point where I eventually do start to swell. My point in being honest is that these difficult moments will come. Again and again. Breakdowns and pain will happen. ER visits are likely. Wanting to give up will happen. But through mindfulness and learning how to be with ourselves, we can be happier. We can be healthy in many other ways. We can be secure in who we are, and we can cultivate a sense of inner peace.

Living with Hereditary Angioedema is not easy and sometimes we are not always capable of being these amazing and strong warriors. We need to allow ourselves to be supported. We need to take partners that love us and are willing to put up with the antics. We need to take care of our bodies. We need to look at the food we eat as medicine. We need to exercise and stretch carefully. We need to live this life to the fullest. We need to give back an help others. We need to be grateful. And we need our breath.

Dare to Be

When a new day begins, dare to smile gratefully.

When there is darkness, dare to be the first to shine a light.

When there is injustice, dare to be the first to condemn it.

When something seems difficult, dare to do it anyway.

When life seems to beat you down, dare to fight back.

When there seems to be no hope, dare to find some.

When you’re feeling tired, dare to keep going.

When times are tough, dare to be tougher.

When love hurts you, dare to love again.

When someone is hurting, dare to help them heal.

When another is lost, dare to help them find the way.

When a friend falls, dare to be the first to extend a hand.

When you cross paths with another, dare to make them smile.

When you feel great, dare to help someone else feel great too.

When the day has ended, dare to feel as you’ve done your best.

Dare to be the best you can –

At all times, Dare to be!
― Steve Maraboli

 

 

For more information on Hereditary Angioedema and how you can help, please visit the HAEA webiste.

Finding Peace in the ER

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In times of great sadness, I write. In times of immense happiness, I write. When a huge wave of fear comes over me, again, I write. It is times when life is clear and easy that I fail to feel motivated to take the words out of my neurotic mind and document them.

I know the emergency room at Mt. Sinai like the back of my hand. It’s a zoo in here as usual. There’s a man in the room next to me, letting out cries of pain every two minutes or so. There have been three women pass by me in labor. There’s a juvenile guy handcuffed to the stretcher directly across from me. This place oozes trauma from its very core. With its fluorescent lighting and alcohol scented countertops, I think most people would be repulsed by the less than ideal ambiance of the Mt. Sinai emergency room… But not me.

When you live with Hereditary Angioedema, the ER is a safe haven. It’s a place where all the mental chatter surrounding an HAE attack can finally take a little break because you know you’re in good hands. It might not be the ideal setting for one to obtain samadhi, but hey, it works for me.

I need to call a friend. No ones answering. I need to call my mom. I don’t want to wake her up with this. Pause. A few intense waves of extreme mental panic. I need to infuse. But my hands are shaking so bad. Will I even be able to stick myself right now? I have to. Pause. Calm. Set up medical supplies. Infuse plasma. Is my airway clear? Voice box is restricted. Pause. Major panic ensues. Get it together Julia. I need to call a cab. Cab doesn’t answer. Should I call an ambulance? Don’t be silly, you don’t do that. Get into passing cab. I need to go Mt. Sinai hospital, please. Being alone in your head here sucks. Is my airway clear? Am I wheezing? I’m okay. Calm. I’m alone. That’s depressing. Will I always be alone? Who will want to put up with this? No one. I will be a crazy cat lady forever. Snap out of it Julia. Just breathe. Calm. But my hands are still shaking. Kids are not in the cards for me. I can’t bring another human being into this life and risk them experiencing this. Tears. This isn’t the time to think about this. But how can I not? I wonder what being normal is like….

This is the clearest breakdown of the mental thought streams that I experienced tonight. As I lay here in the ER, I find peace not only in the knowledge that I am in good hands but in.. Pause. “Code blue room 16” oh, that means someone needs to be resuscitated. I’ve learned that before. Back to what I was saying. The peace doesn’t only stem from being in good hands, but also from ‘being around the block’ so to say. I’ve stared death in the face multiple times in my short life. I’ve been forced to address the most basic human truths- that nothing is permanent and death is the only guarantee. Just in that statement, I find peace. As I let that truth spill into my consciousness, I am humbled. I find myself wanting to hug the people I love, wanting to serve others, wanting to connect more. Every time I’m faced with these insane demons, a wall that I’ve worked so hard to build up inside of me begins to break down. And hey, I might still be a neurotic fuck in my mind most of the time, but under all of that is love. And an insatiable urge to share it at that. And whether writing this is considered crass or courageous, At least I feel clarity. All is love.

Our fears are like dragons guarding our most precious treasures. -Rainer Maria Rilke

On Death and David But Mostly Love.

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Today has been… One of those days. A day where all you want to do is look up to the sky, throw your head back and ask “why??”. Today I attended the memorial service, burial, and shiva of a long time childhood friend, David Dubrow. David died in a house fire while away in Connecticut. It’s one of those life events that leaves you overcome with emotion… unable to clearly grasp how you feel. Am I shocked? Sad? Angry? Scared? Damn, life really isn’t fair…

The memorial was completely surreal. There we all are, sitting in the same temple that we all graduated elementary school in together. The last time I was in here, I was so happy, I thought to myself. There’s that eerie sensation in the air where you can feel everyone silently weeping to themselves…life is bizarre… The casket where David’s lifeless body was held. The rabbi singing songs on death and life and sending his soul on right. I began to look around and see faces from the past. I saw the faces of people who have been so dear to my heart over the course of my short life, completely overcome with grief and sadness. It broke my heart.

There were many moments where I felt like I couldn’t bare to feel it anymore- like when David’s father spoke. How can a parent live on after this? How is this okay? But in that moment I caught the eye of a distant face, a parent of a longtime friend, who pretty much helped raise me and who I will always credit much of my ability to make “wise decisions” for myself. It was in that moment that I felt okay to truly embrace these hard feelings. I felt that it was okay. Not a certainty or contentment with David’s death, but a small sliver of peace that experiencing this darkness was an opportunity for growth and an opportunity for light. Clenching on to my best friends arm as we cried together, our hearts were opened.

There’s this Rumi quote, “The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”

As the service closed, the rabbi called on “everyone who is David’s friend” to come up and walk behind his casket as it exited the temple. It was then that I could see just how many people had showed up for support. People that I haven’t seen in over 10 years. People from all over the world. Everyone is here. Our hearts were broken. But they were open. And all was love.

Sitting here, on my bed, in the middle of the night, my cat close by. I look over and see my two best friends, peacefully sleeping. I’m so thankful for these guys. My heart is so full of love for the people that surround me. Sometimes it feels like it may burst. How is it possible for such a teeny tiny organ, to contain this much… feeling? I lean over and plant a kiss on Eddy’s head.

This is why we live. I believe we are alive to love. To come back to the realization that our true essence is love and nothing less. Although I wish it didn’t, sometimes it takes the death of someone so loving, so great, to take us to that earth shattering, heart wrenching, empty place, where we can truly feel that raw, open, pure, love.

We all found out in the service that David was able to successfully donate his heart to someone who needed it at that moment of his death. What an incredible last act of love… As I bring this entry to a close, my thoughts are no longer wrapped up in the pain of what today was, but in the love that now is. Although the process for so many is far from over, I know in my heart that so many are making it through based purely on the overwhelming amounts of love that was David and the act of everyone coming together for him. Being blessed with people who are able to be so freely loving keeps the colors in the world. It makes the sun shine brighter, and the wind feel softer. David is that love.

“At the end of your life, when you say one final ‘what have I done?’ Let your answer be ‘I have done love'”.

When Something Clicks

The body has the incredible ability to reveal truth and accuracy… if you know how to catch it. I am extremely sensitive when it comes to feeling emotions. I really feel them. When I hear a statement that resonates with me on a deep level, I immediately have physical affects: I get tingles down my spine, the hairs on my arms stand up, and often my eyes will get watery. When this happens I know that something has rang true for my whole being; subconscious, waking, intellectual, emotional, the whole nine. If I catch this happening I know I need to jot down what I heard and save it. God knows I’ll dissect the hell out of it later.

I believe that it is easy to confuse agreeing with something and experiencing the phenomenon of true resonance. Similar to  when you hear good music; a Led Zeppelin masterpiece, David Bowie and Queen’s Under Pressure, whatever that is for you, something happens within our being that is beyond thought. It is more than just thinking “I love this song!” or “I really like what she just said”. It’s a remarkable sensation that very clearly says this is right. Something clicked. I believe it is in these moments that we can discover our creative potential, make the clearest decisions, and discover our truth.

I had the privilege (I’ve sure been using that word a lot lately!) to participate in a two hour segment of an Ashtanga yoga workshop with Greg Nardi last night. Greg is one of the original cofounders of my favorite yoga studio and my proud place of employment, Miami Life Center. I first practiced with him when I was fifteen and only did so for less than a year. It was within that short period of time that I was deeply touched by his humble teachings and intuitive insight.

During last nights session, I continuously had the aha! moments where something clicked.  I would sit up a little straighter, the goosebumps would start, and I’d take a deep breath. All those actions happen without instructing thoughts, at least on a conscious level. They just are. If I catch this experience I then know in my mind that this is something that needs my further intention… there’s still work that can be done.

One thing in particular that profoundly clicked for me last night was Greg’s definition of yoga. “Yoga is learning to see things as they really are”. He said it with such love and honesty and allowed for a long pause. Goosebumps. Even writing it makes me experience the same sensations. My whole being is saying YES! to this statement. So not only am I choosing to jot it down, but I am writing an entire thought-scattered blog about it.

Yoga is learning to see things as they really are. The bending is nice. The acquired strength is great. Improved health and state of being is fantastic. But really it’s not about that. It isn’t about the physical plane, at least that is my humble opinion. It is about our own individual and personal journey through self discovery, for lack of a better term. It is with long dedication and perhaps a bit of quietness that we can embark on the road to clarity, to rediscovering our true selves, to seeing things  as they really are.

When something clicks, it’s important to catch it, to pay attention to it…to dive just a little bit deeper into it. You never know what truth you’ll discover.

Good luck dissecting my arbitrary thoughts, I promise I had goosebumps the entire time! 😛 Visit Greg’s website for more information and to keep up with him and his husbands travels through India and Southeast Asia. For more information on upcoming workshops with world renowned teachers, check out Miami Life Center.

Yoga Through The Teenage Years

 Oh the teenage years. It’s a time for fun, learning, and getting to know yourself… and perhaps a little awkwardness. Just writing that puts a smile on my face. For most people, thinking of being sixteen sends us to a lovely and nostalgic place; first loves, first screw-ups, first road-trips… a lot of firsts. It can also be a time of immense difficulty. Anyone who says it wasn’t hard being a teenager, surely had it easy. Your hormones are raging, there’s never enough sleep, and school sucks (but hey, don’t you miss it now 😉 ?).

I guess you can say that I didn’t have a very normal teenage life. When I was fourteen, I left school because of increasing anxiety; I just couldn’t handle it anymore. No one was themselves, I had no idea who was and it was driving me mad. Every morning before class would start, I literally had the sensation that I was suffocating. Being raised by a hippie, yoga teaching, buddhist-ish mother, who was already pretty against the public education system, getting out of school was not an issue.

Within two months of a lot of rest and a lot of learning, I enrolled in my very first yoga teacher training course. This was definitely the most significant experience of my life up to that point. Everyone was older than me by at least a decade but I still managed to develop strong bonds with almost all of them. They became a part my family, something that was so valuable for me at that time. My body went though crazy changes. I began to build strength and flexibility that I never imagined was possible. I also had a new sense of self-esteem and awareness. However, the challenges of being a teenager didn’t just disappear. I still struggled with school-work, getting enough sleep, and being organized but since I did have a positive self image, the challenges became less of a big deal and more of a lesson.

By the time I was fifteen, I was teaching four classes a week, and had traveled Europe with money I had saved from teaching and baby sitting. I went to high school only for my junior year. Through out this entire time of many life challenges and experiences, I always had my mat to run to. Like I wrote in my previous post, your mat becomes a haven. A place that you can turn to no matter what the outward circumstances are. In Ashtanga yoga, it is said that one of the reasons why we do the same poses everyday is to see the ways in which we are different. This is something that is extremely valuable in our ever-changing, random teenage years.

Since yoga is now a fad, you don’t need to worry about being made fun of for doing it! Many public schools and local gyms now offer yoga and usually offer  discounts to teenagers or students. So if you want a better life, more strength and flexibility, and an overall smoother high school experience, get on the mat now!

Happy growing 😉

Check out my very first Ashtanga teacher that I practiced with when I was fifteen!

The Darkest Versions of Ourselves

I have a saying that somehow always sobers me up from the most stressful situations. It goes: “We are all capable of being the darkest versions of ourselves”. This isn’t intended to be a self-indulgent or depressing statement; it is a rational fact. Each day situations arise where we are faced to make decisions about how or what we FEEL. Because after all, we are the ones that get to choose our emotions. Choose our emotions? Sounds crazy, right? If you look at any given situation from one angle, it can be a horrible, damaging, and even traumatizing event. But if you switch your perspective, it can be a lesson, an opportunity, or even a humorous phenomenon.

Everyday there is an opportunity to allow stress, whether it be one particular matter or a snowballing accumulation of things, to get the better of us. One little trigger and we are set off into a deep and dark place that can take tremendous effort to climb out of. For those of us that are lucky, we can catch it before we go too far and we can sort of hop out of it and brush ourselves off. It is always that one specific moment where we are hooked; where the downward spiral begins. The tibetan word for this is shenpa. The usual translation for shenpa is “attachment” but it is much easier for me to understand it as “being hooked”.

When I’m in the midst of anger, trying desperately to validate MY aggressive emotions, I hear “…the darkest versions of ourselves,” and somehow these emotions that I was trying so hard to cling to, begin to dissipate. This is because once you recognize the fact that are hooked, it is much harder for shenpa to have power over you. I can step back and look at how just the sensation of being hooked can cascade into the most grisly place, making me the darkest version of myself. 

For me, just remembering this saying can help. However, there are times when it takes much more effort. Pema Chödrön is one of the most well known American tibetan buddhist teachers out there. I find that her practices are really some of the few that genuinely work for me during intense times of stress. From her book, Taking The Leap, she suggests the following steps for working with shenpa:

  1. Acknowledge you’re hooked (with humor, if possible).
  2. Pause, take three conscious breaths, and lean in to the energy (with kindness, if possible).
  3. Relax and move on.

Read more about shenpa and Pema Chödrön’s view on getting unhooked here:

http://shambhalasun.com/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1610&Itemid=0

The ups and downs of stress and emotions are apart of life. My point in writing this blog was mostly for my own personal healing. Genuinely admitting that we can all go to that place, the darkest place; that I go to that place… it’s part of what makes us human. But with work and dedication, we can instead become the best versions of ourselves.

Happy unhooking 😉