Category Archives: fear

It’s easy to have faith when everything is going my way

Thomas Prior‘s heart-racing photographs from the National Pyrotechnic Festival in Tultepec. — Click image to check out more fireworks photos on wired.com

I’ve noticed that when things are going well, then I have no problem having faith in the order of the universe or believing that the direction of life is guided by a higher power. I can embrace the principle of Īśvara-pranidhana: we aren’t in control of everything that happens and yet we are held. The tapestry is bigger than the small part I’m seeing. I may not understand how things will work out, but they will. This is all very comforting during times in which I’m already quite comfortable.

When things aren’t working out the way I think they should, or something ‘bad’ is happening, then a very different mode kicks in. I become afraid. I start fretting and worrying. I read, read, read and think, think, think about whatever it is as if knowing more about the situation will change what’s happening. Then I begin to spin my wheels about what I am going to do about it. It reminds me of a time I was in Mexico and happened upon a saint’s festival in the town’s plaza. When it got dark, these young men put on what looked like back-packs made of twigs and then took a match to them. There were fireworks on these backpacks and once lit, they shot out blasts of sparkling white lights, causing parts of the backpack to spin furiously and for a few seconds, they lit up the whole plaza. The young men ran around, and we all screamed and cheered because it was exciting but also because we were afraid that they’d light themselves, or us, on fire. These were a glorious, emotional few seconds and then the fireworks were all used up and the show was over. That’s how it feels with me.

There’s no śraddhā or faith here. I forget all about universal goodness and comfort and the support I feel the rest of the time. I forget all about the bigger tapestry and I narrow in on the little part that doesn’t and can’t possibly fit in with anything else. I’m not plugged in to an infinite energy source, I’m burning through something limited and small. This shift makes hard times worse because even if I read and think and act out with every second of my day, some things aren’t within my power to change. Trying to change these things causes more grief and further extinguishes śraddhā.

Śraddhā and Īśvara-pranidhana, a sense of faith and trust, are comforting in the good and easy times. In order to connect with them during difficult times, I have to be willing to let go of this mode where I flail-around attempting to control things that are beyond me. There are certainly things I can do, but changing the outcome of an election, or curing someone’s cancer, or putting an end to a Syrian tragedy aren’t within my power. I have to be willing to accept that I’m not in control. But there’s more.  There’s also remembering that the power that is at work in the good and joyful moments is also working in the difficult ones as well. I’m finding that this takes a lot of trust to loosen my grip and find the feeling of faith in the order of the universe or believing that the direction of life is guided by a higher power even when things are difficult and scary.  It’s a different than something that burns fast and then burns out. It’s like moving into the flow of something that keeps offering light in a steady enduring way. Love. Faith. Trust.

We passed through the darkest night of the year and now welcome the growing light of the season. May we all bask in the enduring light.

Lots of love to each of you,

Amanda

Fear effects our thinking, actions and relationships

fullsizerender

There are times when we must endure life-threatening situaitons and fear is a part of our mechanism for survival. There are also times when something in our life feels threatened, and this, too, can arouse fear and the host of symptoms that go along with it. When fear is operating at the lower levels of the spectrum and the symptoms are more subtle, we may not even be aware of the effect it is having on our thinking, actions, and relationships. But it is. Fear is powerful.

There was the time when my manager thought we should change my class schedule and drop one class. I freaked out. I couldn’t even consider the proposal. I started to worry that I was less popular than the other teachers and no one would come to class ever again and how would I make up the income… I put all my energy into fighting to keep things the way they were. I couldn’t see it any other way.

Since the election, the same thing’s been happening. I’m freaked out, and I keep feeding this fear with news, news, conversations about the news, and more news. It has been obsessive and I’ve been distracted by it. I must also be uncharacteristically short tempered because last week my girls both asked me if I was mad at them. This made me stop and think about my tone of voice and my lack of patience. I pulled them in close and apologized and told them a little bit about what was going on (none of it is their fault). Then I turned off my NYTimes alerts on my phone and started to wean myself off of talk radio.

The yoga sūtras give us a list of five ways that we can incorrectly perceive something, the kleśas (YS II.3-8). Patañjali says there is a general misperceiving, avidyā, we mis-identify, asmitā, we let our likes or preferences decide for us, raga, or we let our dislikes to determine what we do or don’t do, dveṣa. The last one in the list is abhiniveśā, or fear. Patañjali describes this version of misperceiving by saying that when we experience it, it’s like it mounts us and tells us where to go. The rider is directing our action and behavior. The rider is fear and our body, system, mind, responses… those are the horse. (YS II.9)

And that’s totally how it is. That’s what this obsessive behavior feels like. Part of me is watching while I read another alarming article and it’s like the watcher has almost no power to stop the doer from doing it. Something else is in charge. The fear.

So what do we do about it? Patañjali offers two very useful suggestions:

  1. If you see a kleśa, take action! Do something to oppose the symptoms when they are small and make some effort to come back into balance (II.11). This might be yoga practice, taking a walk in nature, disconnecting from devices and connecting to a person you love, or taking care of something – your garden, your pet, your house, someone in need.
  1. Meditate on something that is appropriate (II.12). When you give your full attention to something, as with meditation, your whole system benefits. The appropriate thing might be something that helps you feel connected, safe, or loved. It might be something that gives you hope. If you have a prayer practice or a connection to higher power, this can be very helpful.

I’ve finally had some breakthroughs with my most recent fear. I’m starting to notice a cycle and a process that I go through when something seems new and threatening and that cycle takes time. Neither of the solutions above are instant fixes. They are ongoing and helpful practices. As I start to feel a little less afraid, the concerns haven’t gone away, but the fear-based responses have less of a grip. I imagine they aren’t gone for good, but I find it so helpful to remember and connect with these teachings from the sūtras. I hope you do, too.

Signs and symptoms of shock vary…yoga offers a path of recovery

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I thought these lists of symptoms might be helpful as you try and make sense of what you’ve been going through.

Signs and symptoms of shock vary depending on circumstances and may include:

  • Cool, clammy skin
  • Pale or ashen skin
  • Rapid pulse
  • Rapid breathing
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Changes in mental status or behavior, such as anxiousness or agitation

http://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-shock/basics/art-20056620

Emotional Symptoms of Grieving

A person who is dealing with grief will most likely display some of the emotional symptoms associated with grieving. The Mayo Clinic lists the emotional symptoms found with prolonged, or complicated, grief. These can include:

  • Increased irritability
  • Numbness
  • Bitterness
  • Detachment
  • Preoccupation with loss
  • Inability to show or experience joy

While these emotional symptoms are normal in the days and weeks after a traumatic event, they can be indicators of a more serious disorder if they do not fade over time.

Physical Symptoms of Grieving

It may come as a surprise that grief is not entirely emotional. There are very real effects that grief can have on the body. Some of the physical symptoms of grieving, according to the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, are:

  • Digestive problems
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Chest pain
  • Sore muscles

Though these symptoms are normal during the grieving process, you should remember to contact your doctor if you experience any severe physical symptoms.

http://www.psychguides.com/guides/grief-symptoms-causes-and-effects/

I’ve felt a lot of the above symptoms in the last 24-hours. In addition, I only want to eat toast. I’ve had moments when I believed my legs were going to buckle out from under me. I’ve felt myself dissociate—floating out of my body while I fixed my gaze on this tiny red decoration in my kitchen. And I’ve had eight to twelve seriously messy cries.

In the midst of all this, I’ve also felt something else: A need to take care of myself.

You know those people who have a fine-tuned moral compass? The ones who can identify and support the things that align with their values and call out the things that are not? The ones who have a clear sense of right and wrong and are able to move and act on that inner guidance with clarity and courage? The people who stand up for others and for themselves and don’t miss a beat? The ones who can lead? The ones who can follow a great leader? The ones who dedicate themselves to a cause worth fighting for? I want to be well resourced so I can be one of those people. I want that for you, too.

To do any of this, we have to prepare. It occurs to me that maybe the last eighteen years of yoga practice have been preparing me. Maybe you’ve been preparing, too. We aren’t done. We need to care for ourselves and continue to practice. With this, our ability to pay attention and stay focused will improve. Dhāraṇā —dhyāna — samādhi[1] describe the progression of deepening focus.

Attention is important for several reasons. One good reason? It comes with a side of praśānta[2]peace. Yoga describes peace as a symptom of attention. Peace doesn’t mean that everything around us is perfect. It’s a feeling that we can have on the inside even when the outside looks bleak or threatening. Nirodha — a deep state of attention and the flowing peace that comes with it are felt everywhere in us –in our body, breath, mind, and emotions. This is important because attention with peace can give us equanimity. When we can hold the binoculars steady and bring the little bird in the nearby tree into focus, we have a chance at seeing it clearly.  Attention, like binoculars, is a tool that can help us to see something we couldn’t see without.

Patanjali defines three aspects of a yogic path: tapas – effort, svādhyāya- self-reflection, and Īśvara-pranidhana –acceptance[3]. Do some work. Think about what motivates your actions. Know that you won’t always get everything right, and that’s okay. This is ongoing, moment-by-moment kind of practice. It involves Abhyasa and vairagyam[4]making efforts and relinquishing what gets in the way of those efforts. And you know what helps a lot with this? Śraddhā – a conviction, abiding faith, or something you can believe in. Patañjali says when we know and can feel this deep faith, it is a sign that we are very near our goal.[5]

Acceptance doesn’t mean going along with everything is happening. It does mean that we allow ourselves to see our current situation clearly and accurately. Prāmaṇa[6] is clear and accurate understanding. If we can see and understand a situation, then we can address what’s actually going on. If it’s not a good situation, we can go inside ourselves and listen for the guidance that helps us to know what we can do about it. We need viveka – discernment, to do this work and to make sense of the many things that go on in our inner world and the world around us. There’s a lot going on all of the time and viveka is helpful when we need to discern between the stuff we should witness compassionately or even dispassionately and the call to stand up and act.

Let us really take care of ourselves during these next 4 years and beyond so that we are nourished, resourced, clear, perceptive, and strong. May our efforts and practice continue, re-invigorated by our circumstances. Yoga, or whatever practice you cultivate, is going to be as important as ever in helping us all to be the kind of humans and the nation that we want to be.

[1] YS III.1-3

[2] YS III.9

[3] YS II.1 – kriya yoga

[4] YS I.12

[5] YS I.20

[6] YS I.7

Awareness is good. Tools to do something about it is life changing.

Sylvia Colle, 1954 oil-on-canvas.  Balthus (French 1908-2001), collection of the St. Louis Art Museum

Balthus (French 1908-2001). “Sylvia Colle”, 1954 oil-on-canvas. , collection of the St. Louis Art Museum 

Differentiation: The ability to be in emotional contact with others yet still autonomous in one’s emotional functioning.*

I wish that when I was a kid—a ‘sensitive, moody, emotional’ kid, someone had talked to me about this idea of differentiation. I think it would have been so helpful to know that some people can be especially affected by the moods and energy of other people and that sensitive people can learn healthy ways to hold onto themselves during those interactions.

Having the language to describe something like this along with the awareness of what happens is usfeul. Having practices that help to establish one’s emotional autonomy is life changing. It’s empowering. Practice is where we develop tools to use in all sorts of challenging moments that help regognize when we are getting pulled in a difficult direction and can do something about it. Regular practice can also influence and change what we believe to be our relationship to ourself and to others. We can go from distrust or fear in these relationships to something more secure and even joyful. This pursuit has been central to the work I’ve been doing through yoga.

When I began, I participated in group yoga classes. These experiences laid the groundwork for this work. The biggest change came with individualized practice and a relationship with my yoga mentor. Regular individual practice, with the guide of a yoga teacher, provides the method and the support for personal growth. The practices and philosophy of yoga can take us a very long way toward becoming the kind of person each of us wants to be.

If you’d like to know more, contact me. I offer a 20-min call to anyone who has questions about individual vs. group yoga or wonders if it’s the right time to begin a guided personal practice.

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*I came across this definition in the book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Mate. It’s an excellent book, though it’s not an easy one. There are stories of people who have suffered terrible tragedy and trauma and whose addictions have cost them greatly. Reading this has also provided plenty of opportunities to look at my own addictive behaviors (not easy either). Mate paints a very thorough picture of the different biological and psychosocial aspects of addiction and gives us hope for those who want to recover and heal. The book has stirred a lot in me. I highly recommend it.

 

Pants on Fire

lady gaga telephoneI caught myself fibbing the other day. Hazel wasn’t feeling well and I called her friend’s mom to cancel plans. Totally reasonable, right? Certainly every mom of a 12-year old has had to cancel plans for a sick kid. Never-the-less, in that moment ‘reasonable’ didn’t matter because while we were on the phone I detected disappointment in the mom’s voice. The disappointment triggered my old insecurities and these insecurities took control of my thoughts and my communication. Is she judging me? Oh, she’s totally mad at me. What if I’ve messed this up and our kids don’t get to hang out again for a super-long time. Five seconds in and I was spiraling. It was from this needy, nervous, and not rational place that all these could-be truths started to spew from my mouth. “I’m going to pick Hazel up from school” (though hadn’t made arrangements to actually do that) …”And we’ll go see the doctor” (possible, but not a plan). “And we’ll get a strep test and if it isn’t serious, maybe we can get the girls together tomorrow instead” (maybe, maybe not). “Yeah. She’s that sick.” (I wasn’t actually so sure how sick she was.) I was fishing for some reassurance that I was still okay in this other mom’s eyes. That this was normal. That she understood. I wanted to feel better about myself and lying was the way I attempted to get the sympathy and acknowledgment that I needed in that moment. I hated what I was doing, but it just kept playing itself out until finally, I got off the phone.

Satyam, truthfulness or right communication, is one of the yamas or ethical principles that Patañjali lays out for us in the second chapter of the yoga sūtras. (II.30) This chapter teaches about the obstacles we face and the path and practices to diminish them. The ability to communicate thoughtfully, truthfully, and with sensitivity is one of these practices. Who can argue with that? When we lie, we create problems or obstacles for ourselves down the line. We worry about getting found out. We miss out on intimacy. Dignity diminishes. This resonates with me and even seems kind of obvious. Honesty is the best policy.

There’s another aspect to this truthfulness conversation and it comes later in the chapter. Sūtra II.31 says that if the five yamas aren’t interrupted by circumstances including one’s occupation, jāti, place, deśa, or time, kāla, AND they are sustained at all levels (action, speech, and thought) then it is as if the person is upholding a great vow, mahā-vratam. Start talking about upholding a vow, and this shit gets real. Why we practice honesty isn’t just policy, it is something sacred. Efforts we make to be truthful are in line with a holy promise or a hallowed act. When I think of this sūtra, I shudder. Mahā-vratam. Truthfulness as a great vow.

YS II.36 describes what happens when a person demonstrates a very high-level of satya. ”If you only tell the truth, then what you say will come true.*” Satya pratiṣṭhātāṁ kkriyāphala āśrayatvam. I have a friend that totally follows through on what he says he’ll do. He also is very sincere and thoughtful about what he says, everything he says. He’s straightforward and honest and i admire and appreciate him so much because of it. For example, if Mark says, “let’s get together for dinner next week on Saturday,” I know that he is going to make it happen. I’ll receive a text or a call with a time, a place, and a plan and I’m happy to go. He comes through every time. I know I can count on him so when I say yes, I’m more likely to follow suit. What he says comes true.

Satya, or truthfulness, hasn’t come easily to me. For a long time, I lied for convenience, to avoid awkward moments, to avoid getting into trouble, or so that I can have the little hit of dopamine that comes when I let someone believe I’m going to give them what they want, even if I have no intention of following through. I’ve been working on these saṁskāras or patterns of mine for a while now and I’m happy to report that the self-awareness and the self-assurance that comes from my regular yoga practice is gaining ground. I’m getting better at being truthful. I still hope to be able to slow down when I’m talking and to better notice what I’m about to say and where it’s coming from. Is this insecurity talking? Is what I’m about ot say truthful? I working toward good habits around communication so that honesty is my go-to. I may not uphold a sacred vow of truthfulness when it comes to breaking plans and feeling like I’m disappointing people, but I’d like to keep working my way there.

*from Yoga Sutras lecture by Chase Bossart on 12.5.2014

 

Early Bird discount ends May 15th

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AUGUST 31ST TO SEPT. 5TH, 2016

This 5-day retreat is specially designed to teach you the art of unlearning and letting go of old patterns that have long since lost their usefulness while also providing precious leisure time which allows these new skills and understandings to become more rooted in your daily life.

We teach YogaAyurveda and the Alexander Technique in a practical and meaningful way so that when you return home you will have useful tools to keep this new, balanced relationship going—not only within yourself but with everyone around you.

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Skepticism really isn’t that fun

Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra 1.25 tatra niratiśayaṁ sarvajña bījam

Here's a pic of my sister and my mom not buying whatever my cousin is selling on the other side of the table.

Here’s a pic of my sister and my mom not buying whatever my cousin is selling on the other side of the table.

For most of my life, I’ve been a bit of a skeptic. This peaked between the ages of 12 and 27. In my teenage years, I was afraid of looking dumb or seeming gullible so I wasn’t willing to accept most of what I was told. The stronger position seemed to be “Well, I don’t think so. That sounds crazy. That person might not be a reliable source,” or other vague arguments that allowed me to feel protected from the dubious world of misinformation. I didn’t want to be swept up into any trends or crazes and then have to be embarrassed when the social-jury deemed it ‘lame,’ and I didn’t want to feel duped when the new-fangled idea of the day was proven wrong. So, I just didn’t go along with much.

I remember getting into an argument about cutting boards with a friend who had spent two semesters in culinary school. We were at my grandmother’s house washing dishes after a really nice meal together and as we dried my grandma’s cracked and slightly moldy wooden cutting board, I said something like, “This cutting board is gross. My mom always uses plastic ones so she can put them in the dishwasher.” And my friend said something like, “Wooden ones are better. That’s what we use at school.” My defenses fired and instead of asking more or deferring to his experience I dug my heels in about the merits and clear superiority of plastic over wood. I argued about it for a long time. He said knives didn’t dull as quickly on wood. Wood had natural anti-germ properties. Yes, they require a little more care and attention, but it’s a natural material. I just kept insisting I was right and they were gross. The conversation ended and I left feeling like I won the argument but I also felt like a jerk. I didn’t even really believe plastic was better. I knew I was being annoying and not very nice but I couldn’t help myself. I was a dedicated skeptic.  (I’m still embarrassed as I think about this conversation, so thank you for letting me confess it here. Maybe now I can let this 20+ year issue lay to rest.)

I bring all of this up because I’ve come a long way. And I actually think that this piece of letting myself take in stuff without being afraid of getting duped or with so much skepticism is a big part of my personal growth and enjoyment of my life. Yesterday morning, I was sitting with my yoga sūtras notes imagining all the ways that YS 1.25 could feel true. Tatra there, referring to īśvara, the subject of the previous sutra niratiśaya – unlimited; without limits, sarvajña – all understanding bījam – seed. Instead of finding holes in the argument, I wondered what insight might come as I considered this very broad idea of Īśvara, a higher power. I looked for ways that I felt that power in my life. I wondered about the usefulness of allowing for the possibility that there is something bigger than myself and perhaps even a plan for me and my life. What does it feel like to consider something without limits? What’s the closest experience I’ve had to that? If there’s really an unlimited source of all understanding, do I have an experience of what the seed of that feels like?

These kinds of questions and this very personal exploration is an approach that feels so much better than arguing against stuff all of the time. It’s better, but it can also feel vulnerable to withhold judgment and stay open. There are times when asking questions and staying open is too hard and I go back to that old ‘strong and safe’ stance that goes along with judging, deciding, and dismissing, but life is definitely more interesting when I can stay open. It feels softer. I learn more. And, no doubt, it is much more pleasant to wash dishes with me.

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Registration now open!

Ojai Women’s RETREAT

Real Life. Real Tools.

August 31st to Sept. 5th, 2016

This 5-day retreat is specially designed to teach you the art of unlearning and letting go of old patterns that have long since lost their usefulness while also providing precious leisure time which allows these new skills and understandings to become more rooted in your daily life.

We teach YogaAyurveda and the Alexander Technique in a practical and meaningful way so that when you return home you will have useful tools to keep this new, balanced relationship going—not only within yourself but with everyone around you.

Carol P. Prentice ~ Amanda Green ~ Sydney Laurel Harris

AGY readers receive a $200 discount on or before May 15th!  Enter the code *RENEW2016* in your registration form under questions and comments. (*cannot be combined with any other discounts)

Learn more at http://handson-retreats.com or contact me with any questions you may have.

Feeling nervous isn’t glamorous

This is "Rascal." The photo comes from ODEE's article on ugly dogs.

This is “Rascal.” The photo comes from ODEE’s article on ugly dogs.

I was about to get into my car on the way to an interview this week and I was excited and nervous. I didn’t want to be. I wanted to be calm and collected. I aspired to radiate peace, clear communication, and just the right amount of confidence. Even though I may experience some version of this at other times, it wasn’t happening in this crucial moment and I couldn’t will it to be so. I knew this because there was an uncontrollable quivering that originated from deep inside my body. I was trembling. When this happens I feel like one of those little shivering dogs with too little fur or a nervous constitution.

I left my coat on, cranked up the heat in my car and then did my best to drive more slowly than I wanted to. I attempted to breathe in a relaxed way. I went over the reasons that I looked forward to the meeting and how I’d like it to go down. After the twenty minutes it took to arrive, the shivering had mostly subsided and my level of ease improved. I decided to ignore the sweat rings in the armpits of my blouse.

Aṅgamejayatva describes one of the five symptoms that help us to recognize when we are out of balance (YS I.31).   And get this… aṅga = parts, and mejayatva = “are trembling.” I’ve heard aṅgamejayatva described as an inability to be comfortable in a posture or being ill at ease in the body, but then I had this literal trembling thing happen and once again, I had to nod to our sage, Patañjali, for nailing it. Yes, I was experiencing emotional distress, duḥkha, there may have been some negative thinking, daurmanasya, breathing was agitated, śvāsa praśvāsā, my body trembled, and I experienced some agitation and lack of focus, vikṣepasahabhuvaḥ. Patanjali’s symptoms of distress? Check. Check checkity. Check. Luckily the sutras also offer ways to manage these symptoms.  I’m glad I’ve practiced ways to take care of myself when these are present.

The interview went well. It was actually pretty fun and I think really good things will come of it. I don’t know that I’ll ever totally outgrow the nervous-excitement trembling condition I have, but maybe I’ll get to the point where I can come back to balance and without sweating so profusely in the process.

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Women’s RETREAT: August 31st to Sept 5th, 2016

Join me for 5 days in beautiful Ojai, CA, where you can replenish and reset with three master teachers as your guides.  You’ll have time to steep in the wisdom of yoga, ayurveda and well-being while enjoying the beautiful accommodations and the surrounding Ojai valley.

More info to come!

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