Tidy Your Closet, Cry Your Eyes Out, Find Joy.

Tidy Your Closet, Cry Your Eyes Out, Find Joy.I spent Saturday morning tidying my closet and crying. I’ll explain the crying part later but I’ll start now with why I decided to tidy.

I made the decision to tidy my clothes after reading the book “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. She’s a Japanese master of tidying. Her goal for us all is to live in an uncluttered environment where we are surrounded by objects that spark joy in our hearts. Her theory is that when we become accustomed to living only around beautiful, joyful things, we can’t help but change our lives to match this high vibration. This means leaving the crappy job or the painful relationship or finally losing those 10 extra pounds. She says she’s often seen clients completely change their lives and that no one defaults back into clutter after a complete tidying. The identity shifts is too strong to ever go back.

If you want to achieve this state, Marie advises that you lay all of your items from a certain category (clothes, books, papers, mementos, etc) in one room. Once they’ve been assembled you hold each one in your hands and ask yourself if it brings you true joy. If it does it can stay, if it doesn’t you have to let it go. When you are letting something go, you can thank it for doing it’s job--sometimes the job is just teaching you more about what you do really want--and honor all the associated memories. Then you let go, again and again and again.

Obviously I was intrigued after reading about the magical results from this method. I am doing a light spring cleanse (no dairy, caffeine, booze, sugar with lots of plants and cooked grains) and I always enjoy a deep clean of the house when I’m doing the same thing in my body. Falling asleep on Friday night, I was excited to begin and see where the results would lead. As you all know, I love the practice of transformation and this method felt really different than anything I’d heard.

On Saturday I woke up nervous. I was nervous as I took all the clothes out of my closet and laid them out on the bed and the floor and even on Poncho’s bed. At this point Poncho got nervous too and hid out in the kitchen. I sat down to begin the sorting process and promptly burst into tears. A huge wave of fear washed over me. I was afraid of making the wrong choice and that I would have to give away something that I cared about or would keep something that didn’t really make me happy. I was afraid I would offend someone by giving away a gift. Mostly, I was afraid that I wouldn’t feel anything as I clutched my clothes to my chest.

Within the emotion, I knew I was experiencing resistance. From the work I’ve done transforming and helping other people to transform, I now know how to recognize resistance as fear. Resistance comes from the part of ourselves that would rather stay stuck and safe than to grow into awesome but unknown territory. Resistance looks like anger sometimes, excuses others, and definitely houses our compulsive, self-destructive habits. The greater the resistance, the more potential is present to launch you into real change. Now when I experience strong resistance, I get excited because I know there is something really good waiting for me on the other side of the emotion. This gives me the energy I need to push forward when most of me wants to turn back.

So through my tears, I began clutching my shirts to my chest. Right away, I felt things, something different with each item. My newly thrifted white sweater made me light up from the inside. I smiled huge as I held a plaid button-down with shiny snaps from my friend Justin. I sighed relief as I realized I still loved a long knit sweater from Anthropologie that I bought with my mom.

When I held other items, it felt like different. Sometimes ok but nothing close to joy. This difference in emotion told me that it was time to let go. Some things were easy to let go of, like the red flannel shirt from the North Carolina outlet mall that always felt too short. I thanked it for being part of my fun beach weekend with my best girlfriends and tossed it into the bag. There was also a navy sweater from my grandmother that I hadn’t worn once in two years. I felt her spirit say ok, no problem and I added it to the pile as I smiled to her memory.

I held the one of the two pairs of my dad’s flannel pajamas that I took from his hospital room on the night he died. I cried like a baby yet still felt joy in my heart. I held the other pair and felt nothing. Keeping one of them felt like a joyful choice within a sad memory. Discarding the other felt right too.

So it went like that. Through my resistance, I piled up five trash bags of clothes, shoes and accessories. The amount of emotion I felt as I did this really surprised me. After a while realized that I was not just letting go of objects, but I was letting go of a network of memories that held big pieces of my identity. All of those pieces were at one time important but only some of them held the energy I needed to move forward into my most powerful self. Holding onto the others was only holding me back.

It occurs to me that this process is so familiar because it’s my job. Instead of objects, I help people clear away outdated habits in a group coaching setting. We take 10 weeks and work through 10 habits to promote better digestion, better sleep, better care of our bodies. Along the way, a lot of resistance comes up. We look at resistance as a group and together find the strength we need to let go of what no longer serves us. Although the process is physical, it’s quickly becomes clear that it’s much more spiritual than anything. By letting go of our destructive habits on the physical level, we heal the deeply-rooted emotions that cause us to self-sabotage. Once we look down into the roots, it’s honestly not that hard to change and emerge as our most joyful and centered selves. It’s such a cool, effective process and I love it more than I can express in words.

By lunchtime on Saturday, the bags of clothes were all properly thanked and stored in my car. My closet now feels like a sanctuary filled with objects of beauty unique to my own soul. I keep peeking inside my drawers to admire my neat lines of folded t-shirts and leggings. I do feel more joyful and lighter from the inside, like a new level of some goodness has opened up for me. It feels great.

On Sunday I spent a nice day with someone I had been dating. It was good connection in many ways but something in my heart didn’t feel quite settled. In the past, I would have ignored this and hoped that time would make things better. Then it occurred to me that I could see for myself whether it was time to let go. Again the resistance came up and again I knew it would be powerful to take a good look from the inside. As we were saying goodbye, I hugged him, felt into my heart and realized the truth that our time together was not bringing me true joy. So I let go. It wasn’t graceful but it was right. As I drove home, I felt a such a confidence in life itself. Everything comes, stays and eventually serves its purpose. Understanding this brings me such a confidence in myself. It’s not that I can spare myself from the pain of letting go, but I now know that I have a solid system for deciding what to keep and what to release. More than that I know now that I can really trust the wisdom of my heart, the true wisdom of joy to guide me where I need to go.

Respect Your Digestion, Change Everything

Gracy 415Thank you all for replying to my blog post topic poll last week! It’s fun for me to hear from so many of you on what you’re thinking and feeling. The big winner was--ALL OF THEM! Well, there were a few more votes for topic #3 on Agni and sugar cravings so I am doing that one first. Look for topics #1 (how to disappoint someone with love) and #2 (what to do with your heart full of desire) in the coming weeks. So without further ado, let’s talk about Agni!

Let’s start with Easter dinner a couple of weeks ago. Let’s start by saying that I ate too much during said Easter dinner. It was particularly interesting scene because I ate too much during a 4pm Easter dinner in a Kurdish restaurant in an almost-suburb of Nashville, with my best friend from the Peace Corps seated across from me.

Over the past year we had both lost our parents in a timeline that felt too quick to be fair. The only way we could find to confront the inherent shittiness of certain parts of life was to spend Easter together. Between meals and cruising around and a decent outing on the downtown strip, little bits of conversation would pour forth in the space between us. We talked about the the things we regretted saying to our parents, honest conversations we still really wished for, and all those funny little memories that stick to the insides of your ears and eyelids. They were the kind of conversations that took a pressure-less weekend to unfold and where nothing at all got resolved. It just felt good to say it all out loud to a person who could understand.

During this weekend I was also preparing a presentation on the Ayurvedic concepts of digestion--called Agni in sanskrit--for my continuity program. According to Ayurveda, paying attention to your digestion is the single most important way to take care of your health. This is because in Ayurveda our physical, belly-centered digestion is completely linked to our mental, emotional and spiritual digestions. If we aren’t paying attention to what we are putting in our bellies, it’s probably going to show up as unexplained anxiety or a bad attitude or general stuckness in life.

You may wonder how you can respect your Agni more. Can you handle it if I give you the least sexy advice ever? The secret to great Agni is that you have to eat with awareness. More specifically you have to wait to eat until you are truly hungry, nourish yourself mindfully, and then stop when you are full. Extra bonus points if you can do this on a set schedule, not skip meals, and eat a lot of plants, good fats and healthy proteins.

I know this sounds so simple. It is and it isn’t. Every part of that brings up so much fear and resistance in me. I get anxious wondering if I am really hungry (tip--if you aren’t sure then you probably aren’t), think of my to-do list instead of being present while I eat, and then push those last few bites of food into my mouth even though I know I am full.

Which brings us back to Easter. I sat down the meal hungry and ready to be nourished. We split plates of grilled eggplant dip, juicy chicken kabobs and some of the best falafel I’ve had in a while. At a point my body let me know know I was totally full. Sitting with this knowledge, I made the decision to order rosewater saffron ice cream. I love this particular kind of ice cream but there was something deeper than that that made me order it. For me, there’s so much wrapped up in ice cream. It’s what my dad brought me when I was sick, what got served up to us after summertime play in my grandparents pool, what I ate to comfort myself after a hard day at school. For me, food is always way more than food.

I felt good to eat it and so I did. I ate until the bowl was gone and of course regretted it. I went from feeling clear and open to conversation to pretty checked out. There is such a unique fuzzy headspace that come when I numb out with food. It makes me want to crawl under my covers and hide from all that life shittiness. It was what I did when my parents got divorced when I was five and I felt alone and what I did when my college boyfriend and I broke up and my self-esteem plummeted. It’s a familiar pattern and increasingly ineffective. I missed my dad in that moment and the ice cream took the edge off.

My upset stomach and my fuzzy headspace went away eventually. Luckily what has stayed is my respect for my Agni. Looking back at my life, I see that every coherent period of work/life/social balance comes when I am not eating emotionally. It also comes when I am not using alcohol or relationships destructively and when I am journaling and doing yoga and making art and all the other things that make me feel like me.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve made the decision to stop eating when I am full and skip the dessert at the end of the meal. (I got really into desserts again when my dad passed--no big surprise). Honestly, it hasn’t been that hard. I’m craving a good relationship with my Agni way more than a bowl of ice cream. What has been hard is dealing with the sadness and loneliness that I’ve been tamping down with food. It’s a lot of sadness about my dad and probably a lot of other emotions that go back way longer than that. It’s uncomfortable but since I know how to practice, I practice being with it. I breath and journal and cry and watch it transform. I feel love for all of it and then it returns in another harsh wave and I practice again. I’m not sure if it’s a constant companion but I’m open to that. I feel alive and in touch with a vital pulse within my chest that isn’t there when I eat emotionally. I’ll take it because it feels real and clear.

You know what? I love that eat emotionally. I love it because I don’t think I was strong enough to deal with these feelings until that weekend in Nashville when I was so deeply bolstered by shared experience with my friend. All of those desserts this winter kept my feeling intensity at a level three. This helped me go through the motions of daily life and get through the first part of my grief. It’s so wise and interesting to me that a part of me knew how to do this.

I see compulsive behavior as covering up something deeper and being compulsive is like putting on the emotional breaks until we are strong enough to face that something. I don’t think we should use this as an excuse not to get stronger. We can and should get stronger because that is why we are here. But understanding this about ourselves can stop us from beating up on ourselves when we do eat the bowl of ice cream or drink too much or go back again to that relationship we know isn’t right.

When I was younger, even when I first started teaching yoga, I thought that self-improvement was a straight line. We could progress and build upon our progression and finally get to the top. I’m not sure what was supposed to happen there but it felt appealing. Now I see it all as wildness and shadows. Life doesn’t want a straight line. It wants our deepest emotions to smoulder and rise up in perfect formation so we can’t look away from them. It asks us to choose them. When we choose them then we get to let go for real. Choosing them, letting go isn’t a thought in our head. It’s a place of feeling in our bodies. It’s wrapped in silence down in the hollows. It sings with the truth that there is nothing about ourselves or this whole beautiful shitty world of life and death that isn’t fit for our love. I’ll take that over anything.

Five Tangible Ways to Move with Grief

In the almost two weeks since my father passed, I've been wondering a lot about how to grieve. I know that it's important to feel my feelings and allow it to be a process. I've heard the road is long but lined with grace. I think it will get really hard at points. But I feel like there should be some better everyday therapies around it all. There's word that's used a lot in Ayurveda called "sneha." It means oily or unctuous. It's also described as the feeling of love and is prescribed in a time of grief. Think about it, what do all of the dry and brittle parts of grief need? Love, love and more love. One Ayurvedic prescription for grief is giving yourself a massage with good oil. It's calming to the nervous system and helps promote deep sleep. Even giving yourself a little foot rub with sesame oil before bed can help ground your emotions.

Here are a few other ideas and practices that have helped:

Dress like someone who takes care of herself : I went to visit my dad in the hospital a lot over the past year. It starting as a standing weekend date--usually on Sundays after I took Poncho running. Closer to the end I went two to four times a week. For each visit I got dressed like I was going to church. I put on a cute skirt or dress, did my make-up and walked out of the house with a nice purse and my head held high. Even though I had to cover myself with a yellow gown + gloves when I went into my dad’s room, getting dressed up made me feel stable on the inside. Feeling together helped me to play the part of someone who could be strong in stressful times, which is what I wanted my dad to see. We were both probably pretending to be stronger and more cheerful than we actually were but we needed every bit of strength we had--forced or not.

Spend some time outside: For the past few years I’ve used my Friday mornings to sit with my meditation teachers. After a cup of chai with that community, I come home and take my dog Poncho for a walk at the Arboretum. The Friday that my dad passed away, I sat with Poncho on the banks of the Anacostia River in late morning. At that point, I knew my dad wasn’t going to make it and I needed to digest what that really meant. The air was sunny fall crisp and the water ran slow and murky to my side. Birds flew across the muddy banks and Poncho lifted his handsome head, attentive to every bit of it. “This is life,” I told myself. Apart from the harsh smells of the cancer wards and my fear of empty space within my family, nature was business as usual. Life and death have never phased her much. It’s pretty much her currency.

Let it be what it needs to be: I mentioned in my last blog post that I had been doing a gentle fall cleanse of whole foods and extra sleep the week before my dad died. I'd been up early each morning, whispering prayers for my dad. I was clean and light and felt spiritually present to the process of saying goodbye. But in the moment, the cleanse went out the window. Dizzy, I drank a ginger ale while I held my dad’s hand. Later, after it all had passed, I was suddenly very, very hungry. I almost never eat in the evenings but that night I ate piece after piece of cheesy pizza while sitting on my brother’s couch. I drank the strongest beer I’ve ever tasted and watched comedy central. Earlier in the week I would have thought to spend the night meditating. In the moment, pizza and beer with my brother seemed far more appropriate.

Recognize you've gone through something traumatic: Trauma is taxing. Trauma is dehydrating. I’ve been drinking so many cups of tea, giving myself oily foot massages and going to sleep very close to 9pm. I haven't dreamt anything prolific but I wake up rested in the dark morning. I use the silence--even Poncho is still asleep--and sit. I listen and breath and feel constriction in my body. My father is there with me in strange and comforting ways. All the reality/life/death/connection lines are blurred and I like it that way. I have no craving for normal right now.

Steal grieving techniques from cultures who aren’t afraid of death: I spent last Halloween photographing a wedding in Oaxaca, Mexico during their Dia de los Muertos festival. Each home and business had a colorfully decorated altar celebrating those who had passed in their families. The dead were honored by coronas stuffed with limes and plates of their favorite foods. People spent the nights around Halloween hanging out in graveyards, lighting candles and singing songs for their relations. The vibe was way more peaceful than morbid and I was touched by the displays. The day after his passing, I made an altar for my dad. On it, I put photographs of us together, the hat he wore during chemo and a tiny rosary made out of rope. Later in the week, I added a bottle of vodka--a gift from a friend. When I miss him, I light the candle and speak to him like I’m calling him on the phone,  just like I did for so many days when he was in the hospital. The ceremony of it all makes it sad by okay to hold him so close still.