Going deep

Delving into the intricacies of one’s relationships, spirituality, and personal interpretations of the world can be complicated territory as a writer and someone who blogs.  I’ve often struggled with how to use my blog to interpret and delicately communicate these issues to my audience without sharing too much of myself or appearing to be gossipy.  I believe that our relationships past and present are crucial components in making us the people we are, and I’d like to talk about mine in greater depth.  But it’s a struggle that often ends in me writing about the schedules and events of my life over the feelings and emotions that color my personal perspective. I hate that.  I think that privatizing and shielding our experiences and reactions – the joys, sorrows, and lessons – is denying ourselves.  Not everyone agrees with me that our feelings and experiences deserve so much time and space.  But, if I am honest with myself, I truly believe that our feelings, joys, and struggles are what makes life the adventure it is, and I want to document that.

Life has been tumultuous of late.  Rare is the moment of calm in my current storm.  Between home renovations in Denver, having family in town for weeks, traveling to visit other family, interviewing at a blistering pace across the west, moving cross-country without knowing whether it’s temporary or permanent, and beginning to consider longer term plans for home ownership, etc. – there has been a lot to think about!

So, we’ve been busy.

Add to this the unexpected and extremely unlikely scenario of running into my estranged ex-boyfriend and his wife few weeks ago at a hot springs in Montana (where I was interviewing for a job) and a whole extraneous existential element is thrown into the fray. I haven’t really talked about this since it happened, because the whole thing broadsided me so completely.  But, I guess I feel far enough away from it now that I can address my feelings about the exchange.  Plus, it feels inauthentic not to discuss the incident since this blog is devoted to examining life and love through my own personal lens.

I was with my friend Meg in the hot springs on a Sunday night.  We’d been lounging for a few hours after an afternoon of backcountry skiing.  We were preparing to leave when I looked up and saw my ex and his wife walk in.  I knew that during the weekend I was in Bozeman I risked running into them, but by the time Sunday night rolled around, I felt confident that the chances of a run-in before my early Monday flight had narrowed to nearly non-existent. The hot spring was small, so once in the pool they were mere feet away from me. But, it was dark so assuming they hadn’t  noticed me, I continued to soak while I strategized with Meg as to how best to approach the situation over the last of our beers.  I was pretty shaken up by seeing them for a few reasons.  First, I hadn’t spoken to my ex in about 2 years at his urging, with the exception of a brief interaction just days before my wedding where he reached out to me with a long email.  I, therefore, knew that though we hadn’t spoken in a long time, he still cared about my, missed me, and wished there was a way we could still share in each other’s lives some way.  Then, there was his wife, who in her last exchange with me had promised that if I ever saw them again, the situation would not be pretty.  So, I was at once terrified and confused and felt as though the universe had definitely thrown me a curve ball.

But, curve ball as it was, the universe had placed me in the same hot spring as them.  And, I felt compelled to acknowledge it.  Not to her, but to him.  To just make my existence in that space known.  After all, if I was going to have my stomach drop and my heart racing, he should share in my terror too.  Why should I suffer alone?  Rick and I had developed a bit of a strategy for me, in case I did run into them:  acknowledge the situation, say I couldn’t really talk, but say hello, and make my exit.  So, when I saw him get out of the pool to buy a beer, I exited the pool, walked over to him and said his name.  He looked sidelong at me (through an enormous beard), recognized me, and then his face grayed with a wave of what appeared to be terror.  He looked down, his eyes darting back over me again and again.  I said, “I really can’t talk to you, and I know you can’t talk to me.  But, I saw you walk in and thought I’d say hello to you before I left.  I’m just heading out now.”  He looked into his beer and mumbled that he couldn’t talk to me.  Out of my peripheral vision, I saw his wife quickly approaching, nostrils flared.  Seeing his fear and her obvious defensiveness, and feeling like a criminal for that measly conversation, I turned and walked into the dressing room.  From there, I heard Meg jovially say to them, “Bozeman’s a small town, eh?”  as she walked in to join me. And though I was still shaken up, her lightheartedness reassured me that the awkwardness of the exchange was, after all, short-lived.

It’s hard to talk about the situation that exists there.  Nobody is thrilled with the outcome. He was my best friend and my partner for many years. I still deeply respect him and care about his well-being. I know he feels similarly.  I don’t hate him or have lingering negative feelings toward him.  But, we don’t speak anymore.  It was not my choice. He said it was what was needed for him to move forward. Though, it probably is for the best.

Right before my wedding he reached out to me. I was very touched by what he had to say.  It appeared to have been a long time in the making – as such things tend to be, I suppose.  But, I was bothered by his timing.  It felt malicious to contact me and disrupt my happiness just a few days before my wedding. I called him, and told him that.  I told him we had to maintain our non-communication for the sake of our own sanity and our partner’s.  Then I put it out of my mind and went on with my life for a few months. It’s hard to lose a kindred soul, but it is harder to attempt to maintain an extremely complicated friendship.

When I ran into them in the hot spring and had the world’s most weird exchange, it stirred up old feelings about the how and why the situation came to be.  It seemed such an unlikely scenario that after years of deliberately not talking and being on different continents that there in the hot spring we were standing just a few feet apart. To me, the fact of our meeting seemed meaningful in some way, and I did and do continue to wonder what that meaning might be.

Though it ended horribly, that relationship catalyzed such immense pain, growth, and change in my life that I feel it deserves a lot of credit for making me who I am today.  In many ways it taught me how to be a better partner – because I did a lot wrong the first time around.  It eventually led me to better understanding and compassion for others, better delineation of my goals and life plans.  It helped me to become a stronger, healthier, wiser, and more loving person.  Its demise also catalyzed many discussions and learnings that helped Rick and I grow closer and learn to be open and honest in our relationship together.  It helped me understand and to fully be present in our relationship.  I think I never would have been ready for Rick had I not been through what I went through with my first serious relationship.  So, obviously, the run in in the hot spring touched some nerves for me.  In my inspiration to share the feelings that came out of this run in, I am guided by a beautiful quote by Ernest Hemingway: “Write hard and clear about what hurts.”

Later in the week following the hot springs incident, my mom asked me to clean out my boxes from the basement as I prepared to move west.  In doing so I unearthed about 30 letters from the same guy.  In the letters, as compared to our encounter in the hot springs, he was anything but terrified of me. The contrast was startling.  

As I re-read some of those letters, I couldn’t help but think about the several happy years together, followed by several years of turmoil and drama while attempting to remain a part of each other’s lives.  Our interaction at the hot spring – benign as a passing conversation – was all that remained of my first love and one of my best friends.  All that could survive the fallout.  It was a poignant reminder of the ephemeral nature of our lives and relationships.   It forced me to confront the impermanence of even those bonds that seem to be the most lasting in the moment.

Sure, I guess we all know that life is short, nothing is constant, change is inevitable.  We are meant to be present and enjoy the journey.  And, certainly, I do agree with that.  But, I think it is human to long for something that defies that entropic nature of life – something eternal and unchanging. It made me a bit sad that our brief exchange was all that was left of a bond that had felt so strong at one time.  It reminded me of his words in the letter he had written to me just before my wedding – “I have only the sweaters and boxes and letters to show that you are even real.”  And it is true.  There is nothing more.  And that eats at me in more of an esoteric fashion than a personal one – why do our connections fade away?  What is the purpose of our suffering in life?

Yoga, through hinduism, tells us that the reason for this experience of life is that the universal spirit, or supreme being, seeks embodiment for pure entertainment. Shiva danced the world into creation, and in doing so created the mayas, or veils, within which we perceive reality. To have the omniscient, and omnipotent power of the supreme consciousness masked behind these veils of chronological time, embodiment, and attachment hides the transcendent nature of ourselves.  The universal spirit seeks entertainment in experiencing life behind these veils, so we live with the understanding that time constantly progresses forward, our bodies define our beings, and that our feelings and attachments delineate real barriers and challenges in our life.  But, the masks, the chronology, the bodies that contain us are illusory.  To pierce the veil of these mayas is to recognize our true universal and eternal nature.

I try to remember this as I struggle with these sorts of day-to-day challenges life presents, where you’re confronted with real hurt and lingering sadness that seems hard to shake.  I try to recall this when I get a bit down about lost friendships and the fleetingness of life.  I try to reason that my attachments and perceptions are illusory.  Or, as my friend Katie once said “This shit ain’t real.”

Perhaps this confrontation with my past was simply a challenge to my understanding of the way the world operates.  It was perhaps a test of how much I have internalized the learnings I’ve gathered over the past few years about life, love, compassion, and detachment. Perhaps, it was there to confront whether I really accept life as an adventure of spirit.

But, here I am, mayas notwithstanding, a spirit making its way through this journey, and riding the waves as they come.  That incident presented me with some important questions to answer for myself. But, when I look around me at Rick and the life we’re building, I know I’m on the right path. I smile and feel grateful for the road that brought me here, challenges included.

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Bogota and Teacher Training!

I’m wiped out.  I just finished five days of yoga teacher training with BJ Galvan here in Bogota. My body aches, I’m sort of grumpy (backbends and hip openers – oh dear!), I need some scrumptious food, but above all I’m feeling a deep sense of peace and appreciation.

I had been looking for an opportunity to complete the teacher training that I wasn’t able to finish in Australia, and in scouring the Internet I found that BJ was conducting training in Bogota.  In Brisbane I had done a challenging workshop with her so it seemed like a great fit.

Rick and I arranged our travels to make sure I could participate.  Here, I need pause to offer so much gratitude to Rick.  First off, he encouraged me to do the training, which I probably would have otherwise delayed so as not to hijack our travel plans.  He also occupied himself in the city for the last 5 days while I have worked my butt off in the studio. He fed me, listened to me whine about my aches, and wax poetic about alignment principles.  He weathered my tired grumpiness as I stayed up late doing homework.  He lovingly woke me up in the mornings with a backrub and got me breakfast every day as I prepared for class.  Every day he has told me how proud he is of me, and nothing makes me happier.  Gratitude is a concept that the yoga world loves to come back to, and I am no exception – I couldn’t be more thankful and in love with my amazing husband.

With my mushy declarations and acknowledgments now out of the way, I’ll delve into what my experience of Bogota and teacher training has been.  I love Bogota, but that may be a consequence of the fact that I spent the last five days with a fascinating and warm community of very advanced yoga students.  The city is huge, cosmopolitan, and very international.  Also, it’s hard to believe this kind of metropolis exists at 8500’ feet in these wild mountains.  It’s such a cool setting!  The people I have met here are all incredibly kind and welcoming.  During our time in Cartagena, I was led to believe that residents of Bogota were sort of stuck up and overly formal – that has not been my experience at all.  Everyone I’ve met has been helpful, kind, and enjoyable.  I have felt so welcomed by everyone from the people in the yoga studio, to our hostel owners, to the clerks in the shops I’ve been to a few times.  I have had waitresses who served me once say hi again to me on the street several days later.  This town is the antithesis of cold.

Beyond that, the level of yoga in Bogota blows me away!  My studio in Australia was incredible and I loved every minute I spent there, but from my experience in Bogota the level of asana is definitely more advanced generally and the students are more fearless in trying out new and aggressive poses.  It’s been a refreshing reminder not to become complacent in my practice.  While my practice in Australia was very focused on alignment principles, this teacher training took my level of asana to new places.  As always, I have to focus on cultivating softness in my practice to counter my natural tendency to gravitate towards strong poses like hand balances and inversions – I was able to do that, while also pushing myself into new poses that I’ve never before tried.

It was a challenging weekend. My practice over the last few months has been inconsistent and, more often than not, a personal practice which I’ve made time and space for in the narrow channel next to a bed in a hotel room or under an air conditioner in Cartagena – or not at all while road-tripping around the country.  It hasn’t been all that I’d want it to be, and I felt it over the last few days.  I’m so sore!  That, and the other side effects of long-term travel like gastro issues and general fatigue and lack of consistency left me without the full strength and energy I try to bring to my practice.  I had to accept where I was physically versus where I would love to be.  More than that, I had to try to get my brain around yoga in Spanish, and the challenges of sequencing and teaching classes.  It was demanding and tiring but above all it was enriching.  The people in my training were all wonderful, BJ Galvan was dynamic and full of neat astrological/biological insights, and being in a new studio and learning yoga in another language was so exciting! I can’t wait to do more of it, and I’m already encouraging Rick to start a yoga cross-training routine as he looks to run his next race so I can practice teaching on him.

In the lead up to this training, I got word from two potential employers that they wanted to conduct in-person interviews back in the States.  Needless to say, with me being tied up with yoga teacher training and quite far away I had to work with them to do some video interviewing – which is a challenge under any circumstances but more so in a hostel with noises, unreliable internet connections, and a general inability to control your space.  Thankfully, my hostel owners were understanding and set me up in a quiet back room with some natural light so that I could at least mitigate SOME of the issues in my interviews.  With two interviews in the five days I was in teacher training, I have to say I was stressed out and probably not in the best frame of mind, but now that it’s all over I finally got a good, long night’s sleep and feel like a human again.

Today we are off to finally explore some of the sights in and around Bogota. Though we have met several friends of friends here and managed to see a few really cool parts of the city as a result, we haven’t had much opportunity to check out some of the sights.  So today we are off! It’s hard to believe that we come back home tomorrow (my Dad’s birthday!!).

Manizales, El Jardin Secreto, and… Montana?

As I write this, there are two puppies curled up on the floor near me, Rick is sitting in hammock a few feet from me, and I’m overlooking a lush, green mountainside that falls away into a valley punctuated by a muddy, boulder-strewn river.  Just setting the scene here.  I almost hate to write this knowing that many of my friends and family are hiding out from the cold weather.  We, on the other hand, are taking a little break from the afternoon heat.

We are about twenty minutes from the city of Manizales, near the coffee-growing zone, at a hostel called the Jardin Secreto.  Unlike most of our previous places, this is actually not owned by locals.  That part is unfortunate.  We practice our Spanish a bit less here than when we stayed in the city of Manizales with the adorable Maria Teresa of the Palogrande hostel – she and I sat and chatted over coffee for a few hours, which was so wonderful for my Spanish and great fun to learn about the city from a local!  But, there are trade-offs, the couple that owns this place is American (from Portland) the woman is a yoga teacher in the Anusara tradition, and she’s into Ayurveda – so I’ve found my little happy place.  Needless to say we have been here a night and already extended our stay for several more.  There is something about the lushness, the cool nights, the pungent smells of dirt and manure, and the myriad flowers in every shape and size – it’s a just a hard place to leave.

Today we toured a sustainable coffee farm, which was great.  Lots and lots of good coffee, and some great food too.  Tomorrow we’ll head up to the mountains to trek to Los Nevados – hopefully approaching something like 15,800 feet of elevation!  The day after we will check out some thermal springs, before heading to Bogota where I’ll be beginning my yoga teacher training with BJ Galvan.  I’m really excited! The fact that I’m able to continue my training with a teacher who I have worked with in Australia is wonderful.  And, the fact that we could combine our travel here and my teacher training (after having to drop out of the training I had planned to do in Australia so that we could move home and get married) is a huge blessing.  I can’t wait!  I’m also thrilled at the opportunity to do some of it in Spanish.  What fun!

I have to say that this trip has strengthened my confidence in my speaking immensely. I have always been able understand Spanish fairly well (having taken it from age four through high school certainly helped with that), but my speaking has really come back to me with two weeks of Spanish school.  It’s wonderful and fun to feel relatively sure of myself as I speak, and to be very sure of what I’m hearing.  It’s been nearly 13 years since I last spoke Spanish regularly – it’s incredible what the brain keeps hidden away. 🙂

Anyway, in case you’re wondering how Manizales, the Jardin Secreto, and Montana are at all related, I guess I can fill in a few details. As we have been traveling, Rick and I have been dedicating a fair amount of time to job applications and figuring out some of the details of our future.  While there are challenges to doing this abroad (namely horrendous Internet in Cartagena, and the fact that we are often on the move) it’s actually been pretty effective.  Up until we left for Medellin I was cranking out a few applications a day – mostly to locations throughout Montana and Colorado. Rick has been doing much of the same, though his path is a bit more reliant on where I go so I’ve been leading the charge.

Having completed our tour of the US cities we were considering calling home just over a month ago now, we determined that we loved the sunshine and ruggedness of the Rockies and probably wanted to make those mountains our home.  Though we have both spent lots of time in Denver, and though Rick owns a house there, we are both drawn to a rural lifestyle.  Montana has been calling to us both now for a long time, and it might just end up being our final destination for several reasons.  I’ve always wanted to live there, and have taken every chance I’ve had to visit.  Rick too has felt the draw to Montana.  He was a ski bum at Big Sky and has spent quite a bit of time in and around Bozeman.  And, just a few summers ago Rick and I biked from Missoula to Seattle, seeing some of the best of the west along the way.  That part of the country holds a chunk of both of our hearts and I think we’d like to try making a go of settling down there and bringing up a family – with the majority of our time spent out in the woods.

There is something about the idea of a more rural life that I love.  I am a social person and I love and feed off the energy I get from other people.  Unfortunately, sometimes I feel as though it takes me away from my own priorities and goals.  I found that to a certain extent, the relative isolation of our lives in Australia (in the sense that we didn’t have a huge social network) allowed us to grow individually and together in some really special ways.  I felt like it allowed me to spend time focusing on things I enjoy and want to do more of – like yoga, art, and writing.  Rick, though in very different ways, sees the appeal of a rural lifestyle.  We both want to improve our ability to live self-sufficiently and be close to nature.  Rick loves the idea of being able to leave the house to go trail running, a luxury that might even draw me back into the runners fold. We also both love that in Montana we can have mountains, water, and sunshine.  I guess I’m greedy, but I just want it all – and I’m willing to give up living in a larger city to have it.  Plus, we both love the winters and the potential of amazing backcountry skiing, great resorts, and opportunities to Nordic ski too.

We have a few irons in the fire for jobs in Montana, but we are more and more convinced that even if we don’t have a specific job to walk into, we might make our way to Montana anyway. We aren’t ruling out other parts of the West.  I certainly love the idea of being close to our friends in Colorado, or somehow finding work we love in Jackson Hole or Boise, but when we consider all the options, we still end up with Montana at the top of our lists.  No final decisions have been made yet, but so far this is where are hearts are leading us.

Roaring Twenties revisit

I’m so sore.  From about the bottom of my rib cage to the top of my quads, I feel wrecked.  Absolutely demolished. Hip openers tend to be a bit rough, but this was a whole new level of “ouch.”  Perhaps, it’s the fact that finally, after nearly a year of consistent yoga practice, I’m actually able to lay claim to having pretty open hips.  This weekend’s hip openers, however, may have introduced me to the next threshold in opening those suckers up, and in doing so they unleashed my inner tyrant.

I’ll back up and introduce this a bit.  I have been challenging myself to a personal 30 day challenge with yoga through September- so I’m practicing EVERY day for 30 days.  It’s not THAT far from my norm, but it’s the days when you really don’t have the motivation and HAVE to do it anyway that make the 30-day challenge worth pursuing – so pursue I will! I did the same thing this time last year, and it was a great way to energize and ramp up into spring!  So, about a week into it, feeling good and really happy,  I signed up for a hip and lower chakra workshop with Duncan Peak, the founder of Power Living Yoga, based in Sydney, to challenge myself a bit more and learn more about the chakras (spoiler alert: that last part didn’t happen).

If I’m going to be honest (and I am) I was perhaps a bit motivated to sign up by his poster:

Image

He’s not the worst person to fixate on for three hours on a Saturday. In fact, I will do extremely long holds of low lunges at his bidding.  I will sit in double pigeon for many minutes.  I will work my lower back and glutes until I can barely walk.  Yes, Duncan, I will.  What’s next?  I am an eager pupil.

But, in all seriousness, despite my recognition that he is well-respected in the yoga community, I definitely prejudged him a bit.  I do that sometimes, with very good-looking men.  I assume they lack substance.  But, as is often the case, I was wrong.  The man has an extensive knowledge of the kinesiology and anatomy that makes or breaks many poses for people.  And he explained it clearly, and with humour!  So, despite the raging ache in my hips and back all day today and the feeling that I might actually or metaphorically tear Rick’s head off if he said the wrong thing (hip-openers arouse latent rage inside me…) I think it was one of the best workshops I’ve been too!  It makes me more excited than I have been in a long time to continue with my teacher training!

I have to admit that in riding the wave of rage/emotion that comes with deep hip openers I found myself wondering at the level of junk we store in our bodies.  It felt to me like over the last few years, my yoga work unpacked emotional stuff relating to my last major relationship – some sad emotions.  But, that had really plateaued as of several months ago.  I was feeling a bit stagnant in my practice.  Breakthroughs were happening with less regularity.

Yesterday’s hip openers, however, took me on a new and different adventure, farther back, possibly into more deeply buried gunk.  I spent the whole day today feeling like I did all through college and in the years immediately following: constrained; wanting to break free; generally annoyed with the requirements of life;  rebellious; hormonal.  There was no apparent cause for this in my life today, so after some reflection I attributed it to the previous day’s hip openers and I decided that rather than risk blowing up at Rick without cause, I’d go take a long walk in the West End. As I was walking with my headphones on I noticed a group of guys at a restaurant kind of looking over at me and smiling.  Now, I have not spent a lot of time on my own in the last few years, and I certainly haven’t been hit on much by other guys – so I have to admit I was kinda digging being the object of their desire for a moment.  It occurred to me that I had better appreciate the moment with my wedding coming up in less than two months, and I flipped the stone of my engagement ring around my finger as I walked, considering the symbol on my hand with a mixture of excitement and trepidation.  What happens if one day I want to be free?  Will I always love Rick as I do today?

Now, I know that I want to marry Rick.  I have no doubt about that. Since meeting him I have had a sense that he was the one for me.  But, it was interesting recalling that the feelings I felt today were reminiscent of much of my life throughout my twenties.  It’s like my hip opening session uncovered a deeper store of pent up emotions from a formative period in my life – my freedom-seeking, angst-ridden, flirtatious, ridiculous twenties.  Ah, how fun they were, and how glad we all are that they’ve passed away into oblivion, only to be recalled in oblique references by my friends in wedding speeches and more obvious references whenever my sisters feel like reminding me of what a colossal pain-in-the-ass I can be.  I fear their reemergence, particularly now.

Perhaps I’m misallocating the cause of my angst.  It could be a biproduct of my overall uncertainty over the course of my life as of about two months from now.  Or it could be a hangover from the book I just finished – The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green.  (If you want to spend several hours crying, reliving the major loves and losses in your life, and reflecting on your general smallness in the larger picture, it’s a great book!  Have plenty of rehydrating fluids handy though.)

All I can say is, something happened to me over the last week (or yesterday) and I got really grouchy today.  I revisited a rebellious, moody, angsty Kat that I haven’t embodied in several years.  There were some moments it was a bit amusing, but mostly as I tried to observe the emotions that were coming out I felt grateful to be in a different, more stable, more happy place in my life.  As I often do, I reflected on that person I was then, back in my mid-twenties.  I recognized how passionately I resisted being pinned to one version of myself, one path forward, or one single person as a partner.  Hell, it was my twenties and that’s exactly what they’re for, but in hindsight I realize that I was a bit of a wrecking ball at times.

I guess I’m glad to be where I am, and I am now definitely a bit reluctant to delve too deeply into the meat of my hips in the near future.  🙂

Do your dharma.

Today I was sitting at work thinking about completely non-work-related things like the fact that I need to move out of my house in the next month, leave for a trip home to the U.S., come back and wrap up all ties to Australia over the next month and a half and then move back to the U.S. and get married.  It should be a relaxing few months, eh?  And then I started thinking, “Hmm, Kat, what should you do for a living when you get home?”,  and “When will you get home after your several months of intended bike-touring honeymoon?”, and “Where will home be when you return?”, and then finally, “Do you actually qualify as an adult?”

This isn’t an unusual train of thoughts.  In fact, I think about it most days. And, it’s slowly driving me mad.

Truly.

Meanwhile, I am nearly done with my yoga immersions.  In a few weeks I will complete the last of them, which means I will have all the hours behind me to move forward into teacher training.  It also means that I’ve re-read the Bhagavad Gita and dabbled in the Yoga Sutras.  I’ve begun to more seriously meditate and I’m feeling pretty excited and energized by all of this.  I had a new break-through in opening up my psoas.  It was life-changing. Only serious yoga-types can say stuff like that unironically, which means – I’m in.

But with all these pieces of my life swirling around me, I still wonder what direction I should move in on the larger plane.  I’m still stewing over whether the current course of my life is what I’d like and what I’ve envisioned for myself.  It’s kind of funny that I was mulling over this today, because in an unrelated search of my gmail account, the following conversation, which took place several years ago, came up.  It felt symbolic and a bit sad.  Names have been changed to protect this innocent:

me: i just remembered talking to you last night

Mystery person: well i remembered it at the time

me: haha, i was asleep!

Mystery person: sorry it was so late, but you go to bed early

me: it was like 12:20

Mystery person: well, that’s when i worry the most about you

me: oh mystery person.  just calling to check in? making sure i’m safe in my bed?

Mystery person: no that’s not why i called if you remember

me: i don’t

Mystery person: because i was thinking about how different you would be if you lost your idealism, and that maybe being a teacher would help you with that because you wouldn’t be corrupted by monetary success

me: do you think i am very easily corrupted?

Mystery person: no i don’t think you are easily corrupted, but given enough time, I think you could get worn down

me: hmmm

Mystery person: and then one day you would just become part of the system
me: never!

Mystery person: ok, i was just worrying that’s all

I read this conversation, looked up from my computer and found myself in the office of a major oil and gas company, developing on of the largest coal seam gas to liquefied natural gas projects in the world.  I wondered if perhaps the mystery conversant was perhaps a bit clairvoyant.  I got a little squeamish in my seat.

So, I thought some more about it.  And yes, I work for a gigantic multi-national oil and gas company of the variety that I regularly skewered in papers and presentations throughout college and beyond.  But, on the other side of that,  I am part of a small and dedicated environmental team, working to ensure the project complies with all environmental laws and permits applicable to it.   That is a good thing right?  I actually care about this.  I don’t want to see this go pear-shaped.   I subscribe to the credo that you can’t say damn the man unless you can turn around and go off the grid tomorrow.  Until you’re there, you need to work with the man and get what you want through the proper channels.  And, I truly think that some of the best change comes from within.  So, am I doing what the idealist within me believes is right? Yes.

Should I continue on this track?  That’s a tougher question.

You see, I’ve learned in my yoga training about a concept called dharma, which was previously unknown to me. Dharma is the idea of doing what upholds the good and right in the world, and which an individual is uniquely suited to do.  It is what fits, feels right, and works in your life. For example, if your dharma is to be a garbage man, you’d go out and be the best you can be at it because that’s the right spot for you in the greater scheme.  Some people actually believe that when you do your dharma, the road opens up before you and what felt stuck suddenly begins to flow.

In that sense,  there is a part of me that feels I have always been in line with my dharma career-wise because I have been unusually lucky in my life. Doors have opened for me over and over again at just the right moment.  People have walked into my life and touched it perfectly, and then moved on.  But yet, I have a constant sense of being not fully committed to my plan.  So, is it my dharma?  Does it fulfill me and make me feel whole?  I’m not sure whether it does at the moment.  I know that I enjoy my job.  I feel like I have a path forward, an appropriate level of influence, and I am surrounded by extremely knowledgeable people to gain experience from.  I get to work in environmental law on a daily basis, I have ample opportunities to write (which makes me happy), and I communicate and work with all aspects of the project which makes me feel aware and engaged on so many levels.  So, why do I question my choices?  Does my sense of turmoil over working in oil and gas stem from anything inherent to it, or does it come from a place of internal judgement that I should be in a more creative, cutting-edge role?  That’s where I need to focus my analysis.

So, as I consider where to move when we go home and what my next steps will be (and the pressure is all on me here, as Rick is changing course completely and is totally flexible) I have to consider what is my dharma?  What makes me feel whole and right in the world? What inspires me and makes me passionate?  I have to also consider these questions without too much regard to monetary reward – which is hard for someone like me who often uses external metrics like grades, salary, and position as indicators of my own progress in lieu of more subtle things that are less easily measured.  I need also to, on the flip side, consider whether I am particularly judgemental about my personal career choices (despite being quite happy in my role) because of external influences such as my college experience, my liberal bias, and my own internal pressure to do something more selfless

I sometimes wonder why I impose these periods of deep reflection on my life in what appears to be two-year increments.  It’s insanely stressful, especially when you add a wedding and a transoceanic move into the mix, but I do feel most alive in these periods of massive change.  I do love the process of really stopping to consider what I want and how I want to achieve my goals.  I do like waking up in the morning with the knowledge that I’m walking away from what I know and rebuilding, again.  There is something cathartic and beautiful in the process of creation and destruction that goes with these moments.

As much as I want to settle a bit in my life, I feel most awake in a state of flux.  Is that my dharma?

Breathe

crow pose

Crow pose

Breathe.   I keep telling myself that.  A few months ago, it came easily, but since I’ve gotten engaged everything has changed.

It wasn’t getting engaged that changed everything per se, it was the cascading life changes and decisions that resulted from it that are now adding up.  That, and my Grandma’s passing which, in watching my grandfather cope, has shone a spotlight on what a marriage should be and what it means to love the evolution of someone else – to evolve with them and change in harmonious ways as you both grow with time.

We’re moving home in October when we come back for our wedding.  That’s wild.  It will have been two years abroad for us, and we said that’s what we planned to do.  But, sadly, the thought of leaving challenges me a lot.  I really enjoy my job, my progression in yoga, my nearly car-free existence, and the friends we’ve made here in Brisbane.  I have finally begun to feel like this foreign land is home to me (at least in small ways), and now we are uprooting ourselves once more.  It fills my heart with a mixture of emotions.

But two weeks ago when I jumped on a plane to see my Grandmother and arrived 26 hours later in my hometown just in time to see her before she left us, I realized that the distance from Australia to Wisconsin is massive.  And, lives pass quickly in the spaces and distances that I’ve allowed to grow.  Since I got back on the plane and left my wounded grandfather at home, I’ve felt every inch of that distance acutely.  My heart aches for him constantly.

So, rather than dwell on the hurt of being so far from one I love so much during this painful time, I have thrown myself into work, wedding planning, and coordinating our move home and the subsequent settling (after some months of honeymooning) that we’ll need to do (where that is remains unclear).  But all this planning is only to cover a rawness that sits just below the surface.  The littlest things have set me off all week; whether it was Rick’s tone of voice, work stress (I’m slammed), or being the eternal subject of twitter jabs from my old boyfriend’s fiancée  (an ongoing saga). Things that normally roll off my back or make me chuckle, simply don’t. Try as I may to observe my moods and ride out the waves, I find myself prickly.  I’m edgy and sad.  I keep waking from dreams of my Grandma, and I realize now that in attempting to be strong for my Grandpa I have bottled up a lot of my own grief.  I’m back to crying on the yoga mat.

I’ve been reminding myself to breathe deeply, do yoga, slow down, and come back to my core in order to look outward.  I’m hoping this three-day weekend will be just the enforced-pause I need to do that.

Yoga Bitch

I’m in the middle of my yoga immersions. On my bedside table is a workshop manual covering all the stuff we discuss in class, my notebook for notes, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, and what I’ve heard to be the most easily-readable translation of the Bhagavad-Gita. Heavy stuff. So, when I was buying these, I allowed myself a fluff book too: Yoga Bitch.

I have to admit that when I got my shipment of books, Yoga Bitch was the first one I opened. I have seen it in circulation amongst my yoga teachers, and from the moment I saw the name I knew the book was for me. Its premise is exactly what I have struggled with as I have walked this yoga path – how to reconcile a wry, sardonic persona with the authenticity and vulnerability that yoga demands.

I’m not yogic on so many levels.

From a young age my mom referred to me by one of two names: Grace, and the Princess.    I was called grace due to my lack thereof.  No bandying around that one.  Though I have managed to cultivate bit more physical grace with age, I can’t really hang my hat on a graceful physicality, or nature in general.  Strike one against Kat the yogi.  I was also known as both “the Princess” and, even better, “the Adorable Child.”  These were both tongue-in-cheek references to my ability to play the role of a sweet daughter while actually bossing my sisters around and manipulating them like puppets.  Cute stuff. So, there’s a testament to my authentic nature.

I note these because they underscore the fact that, hell, I am no yogi.  From childhood to now I lay no claim to being sweet and sincere. I like to drink beer, enjoy the occasional cigarette, get a little wild, and have been known to exhibit a bit of temper.  I’m sarcastic and occasionally snarky and judgmental.  I struggle to cultivate inner peace – and I’m not always sure I want to.  That’s the rub.  That’s why I love Yoga Bitch. I get this chick. She’s like me.

From her musings on her inner conflicts regarding her need for freedom in her first serious relationship, to her ambivalence about becoming someone who “drinks the kool-aid” (or her own urine, as the case may be), I relate to this author wholeheartedly.  She embodies my personal dilemma with yoga in so many ways.  How do you embrace yogic principles without giving up the identity that you have created for yourself? (Answer: release your attachment to that identity.) But why?  And by what proof do we know that this path leads to the enlightenment we seek?  Are we just drinking the kool-aid like we would from any other organized religion (that my inner cynic (and Marx) tells me is simply the “sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions… the opium of the people?”

Ay.  This is too much thinking for me right now and I haven’t finished the book. Perhaps she addresses these questions further in.

Anyway, I think her memoir works because so many people come to yoga from a place of inner conflict and/or confusion.  So many people find that yoga’s integration of the body and mind in the quest for enlightenment simply…works.  It works better than a lot of other things.

Last weekend I got a massage; a Valentine’s gift from Rick.  It was probably the best massage I’ve ever received and I know this because I started crying in the middle of it – which as I’ve learned from yoga means they dug up something juicy deep in the flesh around my kidneys and lower back.  I could tell you more about the juicy bits, but let’s just say it’s awkward crying through the hole in a massage table and leave it at that.  It was a snotty experience.

I bring it up because the author of Yoga Bitch, and I, share the common experience of finding that yoga answered (or helped to answer) something existential that our souls sought.   It’s a tool that has helped fill a bit of a void in my comprehension of myself as a relational being amongst a world full of ’em.  It’s a path that has brought me to a new understanding of myself, my pain, my past, and even more so, my present.  My massage last weekend reminded me of where I was with yoga just a couple of years ago – crying on the mat and feeling every hip opening take me a little deeper into a dark place that I, frankly, did not want to explore.  It reminded me of what yoga has done to make a wry and sardonic creature like myself into a bit more of a well-rounded, authentic person in just a few years.

Yoga Bitch, in closing, is a book that I have not finished, but that I’d already recommend.  It’s good stuff.