(written Nov 22, 2020)
Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt.
Groggily I lean over and hit snooze on my cell phone. Seriously, it can’t be 5am already. And why in the world did I set an alarm when I could sleep in?
Five minutes later. Bzzt. Bzzt. Bzzt.
My inner child starts to resent the adult who crawls out of bed to use the bathroom and brush his teeth. The kid in me starts to argue.
“Come on. Go back to bed. We’ve got two hours.” A slight pause as we look at the clock and calculate when we need to be in the lobby to catch the van to the airport. “Wait,” he whines, “we actually have three hours.” The voice in my head gets louder. “There’s NO reason to be up in the middle of the night.”
“It’s not night, it’s morning,” my adult calmly clarifies.
“It’s dark out!” my inner child screams. “Darkness means bedtime.”
“It’s our last night in Hawaii. We’re going to watch the sunrise while doing yoga by the beach.” My adult has spoken. There is no negotiation.
We spit in the sink and rinse our mouth.
My inner child will not relent. The argument increases to a full debate. “First off, there’s a mountain on the east side of the island. We won’t even get to see a sunrise.” There’s venom in his voice when I hear him emphasize the words sunrise. “Secondly, we did yoga less than ten hours ago watching the sunset. Why do we have to do both? We were up late playing Dungeons and Dragons online with our friends. It’s not like we won’t be back to Hawaii in a few days anyway.” My inner child finishes with a cantankerous wail in my head that emotionally feels like fingernails on a chalkboard. “Go back to bed!!”
The debate is one-sided. My adult holds a boundary and does not engage with my inner child as we tie our shoes. Finally, after a long pause he replies, “Trust me.”
I walk out my hotel room, down five levels of stairs, around the pool, and toward the path that parallels the ocean. It’s unnervingly silent, the tiki lights creating an eerie ambiance encircling the empty pool. Deserted. Everyone asleep in their rooms.
Or maybe not.
Could be similar to what happened at the end of Avenger’s: Infinity War where everyone just disintegrates and disappears. Poof. I’m the only one left.
The only one alive.
Alone and in the dark.
At times, in the midst of separation and divorce, that’s how I felt. Alone. In the dark. I felt like a lost soul endlessly trying to find his way back into the light.
I follow the path to the spot I did yoga the night before.
Last night was such a riveting experience. To watch the sun slowly, ever so slowly, dip below the horizon. To feel energy flowing through my body, muscles straining, while at the same time to be in this incredibly calm, meditative state.
People passed back and forth the previous evening, and while I was technically not alone, I was at peace within myself. Even the sprinklers going off in the middle of my set causing me to move to another spot didn’t irritate me as they probably would have seven months ago. Instead, I surrendered easily, let go, made alternate plans, and chuckled at the situation.
I reach my spot, away from the lights of the resort and sit down on the grass in easy pose, my legs crossed as I take in where I’m at.
The only light I see is off to my right from the tiki lights around the pool and the lights illuminating the five floors and many outdoor hallways of the resort. Shadows cast in my direction end in an inky blackness about twenty feet away. To the front, left and behind me is a black hole.
Except above me.
The sky is murky, with patches of blurred stars that are obscured by thin layers of gently floating clouds. A few radiate and sparkle a few seconds as a cloud opens her curtain to display the beauty of the heavens, followed by a distortion and fuzziness when the curtain drops, indicated the end of the show.
A deathly stillness adds to a supernatural feeling of a perceived two-dimensional darkness that’s broken by the sound of waves rhythmically creating a beat on the lava rock below me while thousands of crickets chirp in stereo creating a haunting harmony that makes my spine tingle.
I sit motionless, hands palm up on my knees, my thumbs touching my fore fingers. I focus on my breath.
I slowly breath in, feeling the air filter in through my nose, my belly rising, filling up the bottom lungs, then expanding my chest as I fill both lungs to capacity. Consciously, I hold my breath and count to eight, then slowly release the air I was holding, consciously squeezing my diaphragm as my stomach concaves, pushing out every last droplet of air.
I do this for five breaths, deep in concentration to ensure my awareness is focused only on my breathing.
My usual morning routine consists of a 30 to 45 minute Sadhana, which includes breath work while holding different postures and a variety of spinal stretches, followed by sitting in stillness and meditating, then journaling about my experience. I try to add another hour or so of yoga, either Kundulini, Power Yoga, or Yin Yoga sometime during the day to supplement my daily morning practice. Many times, I start my hour yoga immediately after I journal.
This daily habit allows me to move energy through my body unblocking anything that’s stuck.
Yes, I know. This sounds like voodoo magic! Seven months ago, that’s exactly how I viewed yoga; some hippie voodoo craziness.
I used to judge people who did yoga. Not in a bad way. More like, that’s not for me and while it might be good exercise, the talk about chakras, energy, mindfulness, etc… kept me from wanting to experience what yoga could do for me.
When it came to my return on investment, I saw yoga as too much time to invest in an exercise that does not burn enough calories. Give me cardio. Give me weights.
Slow me down to the snail pace of yoga? No way, Jose. Not worth an ounce of my time!
How wrong I was.
I lay my phone against my Bose portable speaker. It falls over. I grab one of my shoes and place it behind the speaker and try again so I can follow along watching the recorded video practice.
Covid taught me I don’t need to be present in a class in order to do yoga. I can get the full benefit wherever I have WiFi or cell reception.
Even on a beach in Hawaii.
I hit play.
This morning, after twenty minutes of holding various poses where my arms are kept above my head, I feel my muscles straining more than usual. The temptation to release the posture becomes overpowering.
I’ve done this routine before. I’ve been able to continue through the resistance. Yet today, I want to give in to my mind that’s trying to convince me to quit.
I consciously focus on my breath, breathing deeper. I dig in. My breath becomes more labored.
My instructor speaks, cutting through the melody of crashing waves and musical night crawlers.
“This is one of the most powerful things you can do for your well-being. To work out the lungs in this way and to work with the mind by creating a meditative mind and to create that spaciousness you can step into. Thirty seconds left.”
~ Tommy Rosen
A groan escapes my lips.
I’ve got this.
Then, as quick as the mind wanted to resign, the posture is over and I’m doing something less strenuous. I slow my breath, returning to the quiet, meditative state I was previously in.
When the session ends, I once again sit in easy pose, this time in stillness for 15 minutes.
How I’m now able to sit motionlessness, without feeling the anxiety I used to feel after only two minutes, I have no idea. Somehow, I have the ability to calm my mind bringing my awareness inward and outward all at once.
Eyes closed, I sit, my mind silent. I focus on the sounds around me. The collapsing waves upon the rock becomes louder. The rubbing of wings signaling the mating call from male crickets increases in volume.
It’s interesting to note how when I focused on holding my pose and on my breathing, the cadence of ocean and insects seemed to fade away into the background, muted as if my ears were plugged. Yet now, as I concentrate on the sounds around me, the noise intensifies like an uproar of the spectators when their home team makes a touchdown.
I peek open my eyes, curious to see if the sun has risen. The clouds have obscured all evidence of stars and I’m still cloaked in darkness. However, behind me, over my shoulders, in the distance, I sense a faint lightening of the sky that signifies daytime is almost near.
I grab my journal, lie on my stomach, and start to write. I write about my morning experience. I write about how the sunset the night before was like the movie City of Angels where angels silently assemble on the beach watching the sun dip below the horizon. I write about the power of yoga and what meditation has had on my life.
When I finish, it’s time to start my next routine.
An Hour of Power Yoga
My hour exercise usually consists of following a yoga instructor whose emphasis is on power, strength, and flexibility. These yoga sessions make the morning Sadhana look like kindergarten; a warmup to something more intense. I feel a tinge of fear. I was struggling earlier. I worry how this session is going to go.
As I start my flow, I realize that both my body being warmed up and the 15 minutes of stillness has transported me to another place. I’m rapidly back in the zone, loose and flexible, and quickly able to shut out the world around me as I once again become more mindful of my breath and focused on the postures the yoga instructor commands.
These stances are more difficult. I find myself challenged again and again, needing to use my breath more than I was previously. I don’t have the desire to break the pose as I had before, however, these positions really test my strength.
“Like a steam locomotive rolling down the tracks, we roll our way through yoga practice. But instead of releasing steam, we release stress and tension.”
~ Travis Eliot
As I flow, I’m amazed at how flexible I’ve become. My body feels strong. Not the muscle bulging sensation one gets in the biceps and triceps that stretches the skin when lifting heavier weights.
It’s the vigor I feel in every single muscle, ligament, and tendon of my body.
It’s the power of the mind that stays grounded and calm during hard times.
It’s the strength in concentration, a mental force and stamina that I don’t experience during weight training or running.
The only comparison I can come up with is when one lifts weights, they do so until the muscle fatigues and needs a rest before starting the next set. With yoga, one pushes themselves just to the edge, holds it, and instead of becoming breathless and needing a break, one switches immediately to the opposite or different muscle group with the same relaxed and controlled breathing.
It’s steady, consistent, and constantly challenging.
“The degree of your success has a lot to do with the degree of your surrender. The more you let go, the deeper you go. The deeper you go, the deeper you heal. The deeper you heal, the better you’re gonna feel.”
~ Travis Eliot
I notice that not only do I feel stronger and more flexible, I can balance better, easily shifting my body to remain upright. I can also control the depth, tempo, and length of my breath. My mind is calm.
I feel alive.
This one-hour flies by and I soon find myself lying on my back, hands at my side, eyes closed, relishing a well-deserved shavasana.
I bring my attention to the aura around me. I feel this tingling sensation radiating around my body, a forcefield that has been energized. Every cell in my body feels alive. Almost as if I’m floating slightly above the ground.
I can feel and hear my heartbeat, the blood flowing through my fingertips, my toes. My body is warm. A thin layer of sweat coats my skin like dew on a foggy day.
Then I recognize that this sensation is different to what I used to experience prior to doing yoga. Months ago, I felt this electrical shock that radiated down my arms peppering my fingertips with continual painful jolts. It was a physical pain that I attributed to my childhood trauma and abandonment issues.
I notice my breath. Slow, still. Barely audible. I have reached a state of calm that I only dreamed of seven months earlier. A transition into such a peaceful state. I’m grateful for this experience. This experience I have every day when I finish my yoga sets.
I once again bring my attention to the sounds that surround me. This is where my awareness kicks into full gear. It changed!
I no longer hear crickets. I don’t really hear the waves. The pounding surf which had become a consistent background beat to my morning routine, was now muted. It seemed quieter.
That’s not accurate. The sound of the surf was drowned out by a musical cacophony of birds.
When did the world wake up?
I lie still, listening to different melodies, an angelic choir of chirps, tweets, and twitters that envelope me. The world had come alive. A world that seemed dead a couple of hours earlier was now teaming with life.
I try to distinguish between the various songs, the variety of pitches of the different species all talking at the same time, like sitting in the middle of a United Nations meeting trying to separate all the dialects from one another.
Then there’s a high-pitched buzz deep in my ear. Something tickles my face. I brush bugs away, noticing their annoyance, yet a different type of irritation compared to the buzzing of my alarm clock earlier.
What dies will be reborn.
I imagine Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park say, “Life will find a way.”
I can no longer keep my eyes closed. I want to visually experience what had just occurred audibly.
I open my eyes and rapidly shut them closed. Too bright.
When had the sun brightened the sky? We buried the sun yesterday in the grave at the edge of the horizon, only now to be born-again to celebrate a new awakening.
Clouds covered the island and the Pacific Ocean, casting a dull gray over everything, speckled with some light pinks and purples.
This two-dimensional world was now multi-dimensional.
Visually, everything my eyes saw had depth. Audibly, it was as if I was sitting in the center of an orchestra, every instrument playing together in harmony.
Energetically, from the blood flowing through my body, the aura I felt surrounding me, and the nocturnal, almost lifeless energy of night which now shifted to a dynamic vitality, I was reminded of what it feels like to be reborn.
I was in the middle of a rebirth the planet experiences every day.
I rolled over on my side and watched a sow bug struggling to climb and descend a blade of grass. On the path I’d walked earlier I see a red centipede rushing to get to the other side. It acted as if it had a deep purpose on the route it had chosen, and I imagine the surprise it will feel when it realizes it’s heading to a rocky, black lava beach.
I see movement over my right shoulder and notice two beady eyes looking at me through the bushes. Were they the eyes of one of the many mongooses I saw the day before? The shrubs burst open as a feral cat leaps after a bird, then darts back into the bushes when I move too quickly.
That’s when I notice the birds.
Deep, red-headed birds with black wings and snow-white chests. They flutter from limb to limb. They dive and land on the grass, hop around, then leap back into the air dancing and singing with one another. They fly free, uninhibited, in a world, that for some reason, tends to keep most people stuck on the ground, wings clipped.
And that’s when it hits me.
It hits me HARD!
Today would have been 17 years. My ex and I would have chalked up another anniversary celebrating connection and success. This is the first year on the date we tied the knot that I’m no longer married.
Instead, with a divorce that was finalized ten months prior, this date no longer symbolizes the joining of two, but now represents struggle, failure, and what I believed, a depth of agony beyond repair.
The birds reminded me that today was that day.
I had forgotten.
My ex loved “her” red winged black birds that always appeared early March symbolizing winter was winding down and spring had come. She always celebrated the first bird she saw, the excitement of the revival of life sparkling in her eyes.
That’s what I’d been dreaming of for years. To be reborn.
To let go of the pain of a failed marriage. A pain that not only was emotional, but physical. A pain where I could have filled a lake with the tears I shed over a period of ten years. In my suffering, there were days I wondered if I could even go on; if I even wanted to go on.
It was a continuous, throbbing discomfort that I’d reach out to my friends and beg them to help me find a way to “get this ache out of my body.” I was plagued with rejection, abandonment, denial and pain.
I willed those emotions away.
I prayed them away.
I even tried to sing them away by belting Let It Go from Frozen in my hotel rooms on the road.
The physical and mental ailments always found a way back into my body and my thoughts. I could not find peace, no matter how hard I tried.
And in this depth of despair, I always knew it was me. It was all my fault.
I had caused the riff in our marriage. I had caused the pain my ex struggled with. It was because of me that she was unable to heal from my past actions. And that rip in our marriage caused us to heap a ton of trauma onto our daughters.
There was nothing I could do to reconcile the pain I caused our family.
It was this ingrained belief that as a child, I caused my mother and father to divorce.
It was the conviction I was unworthy since my biological father disappeared from my life.
It was the childhood shaming my grandmother dished out to our family, always pointing the finger that it was everyone else’s fault she was not appreciated.
And it was the knowledge that no matter how hard I tried, I would never, ever please my stepfather.
Every negative belief of who I was became recreated in my marriage and my divorce proved to me that those beliefs were true.
No matter how much recovery I did, books I read, podcasts I listened to, I would never be able to change who I was and what I had done.
This was the energy that was “stuck” in my body.
This is what I didn’t understand.
I didn’t comprehend that yoga was the voodoo magic I needed to move that energy through and out of me.
I used to picture stuck energy as not having the stamina to run a race or the strength to lift a weight. I can hear my track and cross-country coach lecture, “Just push through. There’s nothing on the other side.”
That’s how I lived my life. Pushing through everything I did. Perseverance, determination, and never yielding. To slow down is to give up. To give up means you’re stuck. To be stuck means you’ve failed.
The stuck energy I lived with for years not only included my childhood trauma, but also the trauma of losing so many of my direct family members to death in a short period of time, the trauma of my addiction and the guilt and shame I carried because of it, and the trauma to find that my fears of being abandoned by the one I loved not only came true because of divorce, but was a constant cyclic pattern in our marriage for 16 years.
Those emotions were “stuck” in my body and I spent years trying to “fix me” to get them out.
I didn’t realize that cognitively thinking about fixing oneself does not release the pent-up negative energy that is lodged inside the cells of the body.
Yoga opened up the pathways that allowed me to release what was trapped inside.
I released my anger. I released my guilt. I released my shame. And I released not only the grief of a failed marriage, but the denial that a friendship I believed we had, was really more one-sided during the final years. I finally released the belief that it was all my fault, my actions that had ultimately pushed her away.
The chatter in my brain had stopped. The physical pain in my body was freed. And the negative beliefs of who I thought I was were finally discharged.
I found a sense of peace and serenity I had not thought I would ever achieve.
And through that, I learned how to accept myself and all my flaws. I learned how to be more aware of my thoughts and how to allow my emotions to flow through me, acknowledging them instead of judging them.
I learned that my heart did have the capacity to heal. I learned how to love myself and in doing so, my heart has opened up again to love another.
Yoga helped me to still my mind, find acceptance, resist the temptation to believe faulty thoughts, and to move my body so I can physically let go of what no longer serves me. Yoga has allowed me to finally trust the process.
Yoga helped me transition from the deadness within myself to an awakening.
Life does find a way.
Through pain there’s growth.
We can find a way. We can grow. We can heal. We can become reborn from the pain of our past.
Just like the sun dies each night and is reborn. Just like Christ was resurrected. Just as a Phoenix burns up in preparation to be born-again, or a caterpillar becomes a chrysalis to assist the transformation into a butterfly, or a larva breaks free from the surface tension of water to become a dragonfly, we too can revive from the depth of our pain.
I reflect again on the end of the movie City of Angels and the conversation between Cassiel and Seth. Cassiel asks Seth about giving up his angelic wings to be mortal then later having the woman he loves perish, “If you knew what was going to happen, would you still have done it? Was it worth it?”
Seth responds, “I would rather have had one breath of her hair, one kiss from her mouth, one touch of her hand, then eternity without it. One.”
Was my divorce worth it?
Without my divorce, I would never have learned that transition is necessary in life. That you can’t have the light without experiencing the dark; the yin without the yang.
Without my divorce, I would never have learned that my return on investment in yoga is not calorie consumption, but voodoo magic, the medium that allows me to release the tension and stress in my body.
It’s my opportunity to snap my fingers like Thanos and disintegrate the negative energy that is trapped inside.
Yoga’s return on investment is restorative, a daily practice I do on the mat so I learn how to automatically return to my breath in difficult times, healing from the daily challenges life throws at me.
Yoga allows me to daily rise from the ashes, enlightened and serene.
We will struggle. We will have our dark days. We have a choice. We can be reborn.
Every morning I let go of what was and open myself to a new day. I do this through yoga.
And every day, will be a new awakening.
My inner child and my adult gather up our things. Integrated and connected, my little one sighs and says, “That was pretty awesome! Thank you.”
My adult knows not to respond as he used to, making a point he was right. He grabs his inner son’s hand and gently replies, “You’re welcome Little Phoenix.”
Linked together, the two of us head back to our room to shower and get ready for the day.
Together We Can Heal.