Dear reader, it is my hope that this writing will assist you in finding a greater sense of inner peace and ease. May these concepts from yoga and Ayurveda help you enjoy being in your body and connecting to your loved ones more fully on this celebration of Thanksgiving and everyday.
We are in the wake of a highly emotional presidential election cycle; today, as I write there are endless questions being asked about the future of our governing as a nation. I am witnessing more opposition by “we the people” than I have in my life time. I’m incredibly moved and curious about the protests at Standing Rock, it speaks to me deeply; with first Thanksgiving being an American story about the beginning of the relationship between European settlers and the Indigenous people I’ve been investigating my unrest in an effort to see what’s at the bottom of it. What is my personal truth that’s causing both the confusion and the anger that I feel?
“The Great Mystery” was introduced to me by my yoga teacher, Ana Forrest; Ana has woven the teachings of Indigenous cultures into her yoga practice and teaching for many years now; she’s had a number of elders invite her to use and share the medicine of their ways. At it’s roots the word “yoga” is a verb meaning “to join”, to move towards union. The Great Mystery describes that which is present in everything, it is eternal. I have used both of these concepts, “yoga” and “The Great Mystery” as tools to avoid wallowing for too long in the dark places of despair, frustration and self-absorption.
In yoga my work is to weave threads of truth together to create something useful and beautiful.
The Great Mystery is unfathomably bigger than my understanding can ever be; it spans time for eternity, always moving in the direction of order. Even though my mind wants to make sense of the current unrest and chaos in this country as well as this planet, I can not, it’s simply beyond my range; only the Great Mystery can hold the eternal big picture.
My job is to surrender my struggle, to clean up my own little planet body; only then can I offer up the best of myself.
How to Digest
In Ayurveda we say “you are what you digest”; this is in regards to your ability to digest the food you consume AND it also refers to your ability to digest the thoughts and emotions that arise within you. If we digest and assimilate optimally we become stronger, more vibrant, we align with thrive: thrive in our own body but also thrive as part of the environment(s) that we belong to.
In order for your body to thrive it must be able to digest and assimilate nourishment while simultaneously releasing the waste that weakens the system.
Your human body is it’s own small planet; it’s like a mini ecosystem. In it’s very nature, your body orients towards and seeks a thriving balance. The earth and the cosmos seek this thriving balance too, they move towards rejuvenation when there is degradation; they seek order where there is chaos. The earth and the cosmos orient towards THRIVE. Adaptation begins every moment in response to what is occurring; nature has it’s own wisdom.
Constantly there is impact on the system that is your body. Daily you are bombarded with physical, mental and emotional chaos that disrupt your ability to function optimally. Additionally you are challenged because your mind is often in masking or overriding both the chaos and the wisdom of nature.
When it comes to digesting food we have built in hardware, from mouth to anus, that is all about performing the job of digestion without you having to think about it. When it comes to digesting thoughts and emotions, there is no hardware, it becomes more of a software issue.
Yoga asana, meditation, breathing exercises, self-oil massage and mindfulness practices can all be likened to software downloads that aid in the digestion of thoughts and emotions.
You are not hardwired to process mental/emotional stress; instead you must perform intentional actions in order to reduce your inner chaos. When you reduce stress hormones and inner turmoil, in a sense, you’ll be getting out of your own way.
In addition to performing mind body practices, shifting your awareness to the The Great Mystery may offer you solace along the road of mitigating your stress. Try this mindfulness exercise: expand your awareness out beyond your body, into the room you’re in, beyond the building, into the nature that surrounds you, span out across the continent, span the globe, keep panning your awareness out into space, imagine the ever expanding cosmos. Take a breath into your belly and remember that life and existence is so much bigger than you.
Utilizing this “in the moment meditation” feels like a subtle letting go around my heart; it’s a release of struggle. Letting go of struggle doesn’t mean giving up the quest for understanding or becoming apathetic; it means continuing the quest with as little internal struggle as possible; from that place you can be the most efficient helper that you can be.
How to NOT Eat Your Feelings
You can’t eat your feelings, or starve them out. You can’t drink or smoke your feelings or away.
When I was growing up my mama valued dinner time; she protected it fiercely as a time for the family to be together, to share a meal, to hear each other’s stories of the day. Eating was an easy way for me to give myself attention and pleasure however, this became a double edged sword.
As a kiddo I didn’t learn how to be aware of my inner turmoil and chaos and simply give it space to be. Somehow, along the way of navigating the inner turmoil I learned that I could soothe my inner chaos with the sensual pleasure of food; in the moment food helps me connect to my body. So began the subconscious pattern of attempting to process (digest) my emotions with food and eating.
I’ve been aware of my emotional eating patterns, and consciously attempting to reprogram them, for years now. Yoga is a lot about noticing personal habits and patterns that don’t serve your highest good and changing them. The name for these habits and patterns is samskara. Samskaras are like sub conscious addictions of our mind.
Human nature orients towards thrive but our samskaras get in our way.
Again and again in these past two weeks my system has been bombarded with low grade stress – the world around me appears to be in chaos, I can’t make sense of it, there’s an underlying propensity to panic – which equates to physiological responses in my body, AKA stress hormones.
Along with these stress hormones, I’ve had visions of chocolate cake, scones, fresh baked sourdough bread with Kalamata olives and chocolate chip cookies; really the fantasy didn’t end there but I think you get the picture. Now, waiting until I’m hungry and eating some of these comforting foods might not be a big problem but eating when I’m not hungry, solely for the purpose of comfort is.
One of the many problems that have occurred in my body as a result of my emotional eating patterns is an overwhelmed, bogged down digestive system that doesn’t function optimally; when the digestive system is functioning poorly additional health complications soon follow. In the past I would have given into those cravings for the delicious baked goods I mentioned above additionally I may have stayed oblivious to the root of my stress.
These days I’m committed to not bog down and overwhelm my system as a result of stress. External stress is not going away; the only thing I can really control is how I handle stress. My practice is to stay aware of my internal chaos as it’s occurring. My practice is to NOT shift the blame and responsibility for my feelings outside of myself. My practice is to stay present with what is happening inside and outside of myself and to then act in ways that create more solutions and ease rather than exacerbate or amplify chaos.
Yoga, on and off the mat, provides us with a map for self discovery and awareness. Yoga is all about self-study and self-care which leads towards freedom from struggle. We can’t simply “think” our way out of our self destructive patterns. We can’t simply feel our way out either. We can’t simply pray ourselves or relax ourselves out either. But combining all four is powerful stuff; shit starts to loosen on and our truer self emerges.
If you struggle with patterns of emotional discourse and/or addictions, habits with yoga and self-care can help.
Digest what we experience; this is the personal challenge we face. Conscious self-care is the easiest method I’ve discovered for helping my mind and body to digest and assimilate my experience. Both yoga and Ayurveda recommended conscious self-care as preventative and curative methods for creating optimal well being.
Facing Heartbreak With Gratitude and Hope
In addition to the current events that are stirring up my stress hormones, on a more comforting note, my mind has also been dancing with the truly nourishing aspects of food, family and the tradition of Thanksgiving. Food: it’s something each one of us needs, it can be prepared and shared with love.
Food builds connection. If we choose to be truly aware of our food we can use it as a way to connect with our local ecosystem. We can learn whether the foods we’re eating grow in the same region we live in or across the planet. We can imagine the lives of, or literally know, the farmers who produce the foods we eat. We can indulge in creativity, care for others and self-care as we prepare our food bring it to the plate.
The native people of this land we call the US had a strong sense of togetherness; they didn’t think in terms of “I” they thought in terms of “we”. Their “we” included their great brothers the buffalo; their identity as people was thoroughly enmeshed with the health of the land and all of it’s creatures. The native people understood that the many generations that would be born after themselves would also depend on the land for survival.
Today at the Standing Rock Native American Reservation many of our country’s native people are participating in an on going prayerful protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline; the people are standing up for what they’ve always believed, that their lives and the lives of future generations depend on the land along with the food and water sources that it provides.
American Thanksgiving is a holiday that, as I’ve been told, honors the first harvest of the original English settlers to this country. As the story goes, this was a celebration alongside the Wampanoag Natives who resided in the area that would later be named Plymouth, Massachusetts.
When I dug into my unrest about the Standing Rock protests it led me to exploring my conflicting beliefs around the Thanksgiving holiday; underneath the unrest I found the emotions of sadness and shame. White settlers came to this land we now call the United States; as they colonized the land they desecrated the lives of the Indigenous people, they annihilated their brother’s the great buffalo, and for hundreds of years now the white man’s ways have disregarded and destroyed so much in their quest for power and riches – these are the beliefs at the bottom of my shame and sadness.
On this Thanksgiving day I’m making space for my sadness and shame but at the same time I’m making space for hope and expectancy. Living in the US today means living alongside many different people with just as many different view points. I choose to be grateful as I live this abundantly privileged life where my stress doesn’t come from oppression, extreme poverty or living with daily physical harm.
From this privileged place I can train myself to continually ask: how can I be most useful today? I can take the time to digest my emotions. I can teach my children how to digest life; this is my job as a mother. I can lead with my heart, offering care to those in need; this is my job as a community member.
I don’t know what’s going to happen with the civil and governmental unrest in this country nor do I know if I’ll ever be able to fully retrain my habits of self soothing with food; for now it’s best that I leave those questions unanswered yet I’ll hold them gently as I span out to get a look at the bigger picture. I’m not in control but The Great Mystery is at work, orienting towards thrive. I can ask myself each day are my actions supporting nature’s propensity to move towards order or are my actions assisting chaos? Am I supporting thrive or dampening it?
Home and hearth is the feminine energy, like weaving threads to make cloth, when we gather around the fire to sip and sup we build the tissues of body and fabric of the soul.
May your food today be the sustenance that brings balance to your body. May your social companionship bring order to any chaos that’s swimming in your head and heart. May we all trust that our truth and passion opens us to our purpose. May we strive to line up with the fire of our passion driven purpose; this is exactly what the world and humanity needs at this time.
Imbibe the life cycle of the foods you eat. Imbibe the connection you have with your loved ones. Everyday is an opportunity to embody gratitude while imagining the potential for the whole world to thrive.