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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2013: A Year of Lessons

Image2013 has been a beautiful roller coaster of life lessons: ups, downs, broken hearts, open hearts, adventures, tears, love, death, and transition. I wouldn’t classify this year as easy, but worth it? Yes. I would repeat it a thousand times over if I knew I would gain as much wisdom as I have in the past 365 days.

I’ve learned that broken hearts become open hearts if you don’t let yourself get bitter. It truly takes getting everything you’ve ever wanted and then losing it, to know what true freedom is.

I’ve seen my strength and have been surprised, yet again, by my ability to stand strong. It’s only fair that I honor myself here, right? I’ve been through loss, heartache, numerous hospital stays, and I am still going.

Thanks to Carina, I learned that it’s also okay to cry, Imageto say that I am scared sometimes, to feel defeated, and to ask for help, and in doing so, I become stronger than I was before. She also showed me what it means to have someones back and what it means to love selflessly. I swear I fall in love with her more and more everyday. Thank you, bug.

I’ve learned that family really is magic. Whether they are blood or not, these life long connections teach your soul lessons that are eternally priceless– Cherish them.

I’ve learned that I fall in love with my friends more each time I hear them laugh. With every giggle, tear, cuddle puddle, secret sharing hug, I’ve learned that my capacity to love them grows everyday.

“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.” ― Jane Austen

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Even though my best friends are scattered throughout Miami, New York, California, and Australia (to name a few) there is no distance that can lessen that connection.

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I’ve learned that lovers can become best friends, labels don’t mean much, and loving freely makes me feel alive.

I’ve learned that I always want more out of life and the more I ask for it, the more I see. I view this lifetime as a vast playground complete with laughter, scrapes, hiding places, and adventure. I refuse to stop playing!

This year has shown me that nature shares secrets– whether it be the wisdom of the ocean, the whispers of trees, or the stillness of the mountains.

I’ve learned yet again, that humanity breaks my heart and that the darkness of the world isn’t fair, but still, you must choose to see the good. Because of all the turmoil and tragedy, we must love harder, dream bigger, and be softer.

I’ve learned that death never stops being bizarre, or weird, or crazy, or heartbreaking, or sad, but also that it is perfect and inevitable and if you let it, it can make you grow. Thank you, David.

Lastly, I’ve learned to embrace change, that the best is yet to come, heartbreak is unavoidable, laughter is the best medicine (so are hugs), kids are the shit, travel feeds your soul, so does cooking with friends, walks outside can cure anxiety, trusting the universe strengthens your connection to yourself, missing someone is painful but loving them makes it okay, forgiveness is freeing, animals can teach us how to love and falling in love should happen often, surrounding yourself with beauty is essential, and freedom lies within your heart.

Thank you, 2013, for your abundance of lessons. I am forever grateful.

“I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

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.

I Pledge Allegiance to the Flag

When I hear the word “family” I experience a flash of warm feelings. Gratitude, acceptance, love, and open-mindedness are all qualities that my biological and extended family possess. Considering that the majority of my family resides in North Carolina where the words republican, homophobia, and religious are thrown around with pride, I’d say that I’m pretty darn lucky. Unfortunately this is not the case for many homosexual (we all have to label things nowadays, don’t we?) people living in conservative places throughout our country and all over the world.

I got a phone call from my father who lives in a small town mountain city in Arkansas yesterday evening while I was driving. “Do you have a second to talk?” my dad asked. He seemed emotional. I immediately was overcome with worry. It sounded serious. Someone died, I thought. “Of course dad, what’s up?” I asked. “When I was in my senior year of high school, living in Seoul, South Korea on the American military base…” I already knew where this was going. I had heard this story countless times before. You see, my dad is someone who will enthusiastically tell the same story over and over. I never stop him because no matter how many times I have heard them, they never fail to captivate me. “…we used to have to have to recite the pledge of allegiance every morning. My two friends and I did not stand up. They called all of our parents. No one could understand why we didn’t stand up! And when we explained that it was because of the last line of the Pledge Allegiance ‘freedom and justice for all’, they still didn’t get it. ‘Our best friend is black, and we wouldn’t stand up because he doesn’t have the same rights as us’ they didn’t know what to do.”

The whole time that I am hearing him express this story with as much earnestness as if it happened yesterday, I have a smile on my face. These defiant, humanitarian, activist qualities were all traits that passed on to me. It has gotten me in a lot of trouble, especially in school, but it is something that I am most proud of.

“I want you to know that if I had to rise and say the Pledge of Allegiance today, I wouldn’t stand because of you.” My eyes got watery. I know that my dad is accepting of my “homosexual” relationship. I quote homosexual because even though I am in a relationship with a woman (a very amazing one at that!) I don’t like using labels. I like to say that I am just attracted to awesomeness is people 😉 . It makes me emotional not only to hear once again that I am supported for just being me, but also for all of those that aren’t as fortunate as I am.

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. Studies show that LGBT youth who are rejected by their families are 8.4 times more likely to attempt suicide; however, all it takes is one ally to dissuade high-risk youth from attempting such a horrendous act.

Please support your local gay-straight alliance and the young members that are struggling in your community. Visit the GSA Network website to discover how you can get involved. You never know whose life you could be saving.

Writing about LGBT activism is something that always comes easily for me, but never without intense emotions. I am so incredibly thankful to have such a loving, accepting, and inspirational family. I recognize that sometimes I can take it for granted, nonetheless, I am forever grateful.

Happy coming together 😉

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

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!

Getting On The Mat

What makes up who we are? Is it learned qualities that stick with us after a period of time? Or is it predestined traits that have stuck with us through lifetimes? I was sitting in my therapists office on Lincoln Road. After expressing to her that I was having ongoing issues with commitment to my yoga practice, she asked me “Where do you feel this ‘issue’ with your practice stems from?” Without hesitation, I began to go in to my “story”. You know, the one we’ve all invented for ourselves to justify our actions or make us feel safe? “Well, I’m a very lazy person and,” “Who?” I didn’t expect to be cut off…”Who what?” I asked. “Who says that you’re a very lazy person?”

That simple question really struck a chord with me. It’s a very realistic question- Who says I am a very lazy person? do. It hit me like a smack in the face. I mean, I’m all about self examination, constantly questioning things, always staying challenged. But somehow such a simple phrase “I’m lazy” became wired into my programming over my life’s journey without me realizing it.

It is so easy to find an excuse to keep you from doing your practice, whatever your practice may be. I choose to make my practice yoga; which is why the statement “getting on the mat” works for me. When I hear the mental chatter come up about all the reasons why I don’t want to practice, I choose to just “get on the mat”. Learning this dedication begins to make your yoga practice a sacred journey. Your yoga mat, that little, rubber, rectangular, space becomes a haven that you can come to at any time. It’s a place to feel safe, a place to feel challenged, and a place to grow.

Part of realizing the way this works is falling off the path. Forgetting your practice, avoiding it, finding things that are “more important” and then realizing once again that answers come when you just get on the mat. You just choose to go there anyway.

I want to inspire anyone who reads this to create a practice for themselves. Whether it be yoga, walking, dancing, or swimming, just do it. 

From the video Everybody’s Free To Wear Sunscreen: “Do one thing everyday that scares you”… happy adventuring 😉

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 😉