When We Feel Like Shutting Down Is When We Are Meant To Open Up

Every day, life presents us with opportunities to be free.

A lot of the time, though, we use these opportunities to lock ourselves up tighter.

We all experience signals from our bodies. We know the pain in our stomachs that tell us we need to eat. When we need to drink water, our mouths feel dry and maybe we get a headache. If we’ve stayed awake too long, our body tells us we need to sleep by slowing down, and maybe with nausea and eye twitches.

These signals are not pleasant. Our body gets our attention with discomfort and pain so that we will do what is good for us, what will ensure we maintain our health and carry on living.

But what about other signals?

What about when you feel a tight knot in the pit of your stomach when someone says something that triggers a painful memory?

What about when you feel a grip on your heart when you’re anticipating a difficult conversation with a loved one?

What about the lump in your throat when you have something to say?

What about the wall in your mind that won’t let you accept the validity of someone else’s opinion?

Like hunger, thirst, and exhaustion, these feelings signal a need. Yet we are often unwilling to fulfill these needs.

Instead, we label these feeling our issues or our baggage, and we shut down. To protect ourselves, we crawl inside ourselves and try to hide from the pain.

It never works though. Sooner or later, something triggers our issues and we get that signal again.

Life is constantly giving us opportunities to be free of our suffering. That’s what those signals really are.

We are meant to be healthy and carry on with our lives. When we say “No no no no no” to the lessons our body’s signals have to offer us, we put ourselves in a cage; we get stuck and we will continue spinning our wheels until we fulfill our need and move on.

The real issue isn’t our issues. We all know that everyone has their baggage. There’s only a problem when we believe that we aren’t meant to have our baggage.

Everything we have is ours for a reason. Our relationships and families, our faiths and cultures, our strengths and weaknesses, and even our issues and baggage.

It’s all part of our stories, our unique experiences of being a human. All of it is meant to push us on our individual paths. None of it is meant to shut us down. We do that of our own accord.

If we shut down when we experience that tightness in our gut, heart, throat, or mind, it is because we fear what will happen if we do what we need to do. We fear we will be rejected or abandoned. We fear we will fail. We fear we cannot handle what comes next.

We can’t control life. We can’t control other people’s responses. That’s not the point.


The point is, in life, we can either shut down or we can open up.

We can spin our wheels in a cage of our own making, or we can participate fully in life.

With every moment, life goes on. And we are meant to move on along with it.

Why We’ve Got It So Wrong About Giving and Receiving

Give to receive.

This is a beatitude, some would say a platitude. It is a Universal Law. It is common sense.

Reciprocity. The Circle of Life. I scratch your back, you scratch mine. Water a plant and watch it grow.

We may say we believe this, that we know it to be true; yet, as we go through our lives, we often see the opposite in practice. Some willfully choose not to practice reciprocity, but I believe most of us don’t understand it in the first place.

Discussions on this wisdom tend to focus on the giving aspect. Don’t be selfish–give. If you want to be blessed in your life, give. Give give give give give.

What about receiving?

Well, giving is the active principle here, right? Receiving is passive, right? So if we give, the receiving will just happen…? Nope.

The way in which we discuss this simple truth reveals the reason why we aren’t experiencing it in our lives.

We don’t know how to receive.

And honestly, we don’t know how to give either.

Looking at human history from the perspective of spiritual development, we can see that, as a species, we were moving through the third chakra–the personal power chakra. In other words, we have been concerned with understanding our power and learning how to use it on our environment. The monotheistic revolution, the scientific revolution, the industrial revolution, the technological revolution…

During this stage, we have prioritized our masculine energies and suppressed our feminine energies. We wanted to see how much power we can have, how much we can achieve. We’ve achieved a lot, to be sure, but at the same time, we’ve caused a lot of damage because we ignored the universal law of reciprocity.

In the pursuit of power, we have given. We have given our bodies, our time, our minds. But how many of us have given authentically? How many of us have given our true gifts?

The saying goes, “As you give, so shall you receive.”

If we give who we truly are, we will receive the blessings that are meant for us.

If, however, we give from a place of inauthenticity, we will receive likewise.

Also, because we have collectively devalued our feminine energies, we have forgotten how to receive. Actually, we have closed ourselves off from receiving.

What we have done on the collective level, we have also done on the individual level. We have divided our whole selves into superior and inferior aspects. Because we are so interested in exercising our personal power, we fabricate identities and lives that match a preferred image.

Yet we’ve found that this doesn’t really work. We try to control what cannot be controlled. We have broken from our true selves, and the result is illness–physical, mental, spiritual.

When we mistake this broken fabrication for our true selves, we give from this state of falseness and thus cannot receive the gifts that are meant for our true selves.

If we are living a lie, we push away what we are meant to receive because it scares this false self. If we are open to receive our truth, then the false self will be destroyed. We will necessarily see that we’ve been living wrongly and hurting ourselves–and by extension, the world.

They say, “It’s better to give than to receive,” but the truth is that both happen at the same time.

Receiving is a lot scarier than giving, because receiving requires us to acknowledge that our power isn’t everything. Receiving is surrendering control, which is also exactly how we need to give.

We give and receive by being our true selves.

When we give of ourselves, what it is in us to give, by doing what we are naturally designed to do…then we receive what we need to continue giving and doing.

This is the basis of faith and trust.

It’s not a promise of a comfortable life in which we always have the answers, but it is the path of a meaningful life.

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In the last several decades, we have begun moving collectively into a new developmental stage–the heart chakra. We are seeing a return of value to feminine energies. The desire for wholeness and health are pulling us up.

The time is ripe for stepping into our authentic paths. As each of us does so, we make the world a better place for all of us.

It’s time to stop trying to control everything. We only end up making messes we can’t clean up.

It’s time to be ourselves authentically, give ourselves completely, and receive ourselves gratefully.

It’s time to live from the heart. It’s time to love.

Happy Problem-Solving!

We are always going to have problems. That’s just part of the package of life.

Truthfully, though, a lot of us have far fewer problems than we think we do. Illness, death, starvation, war, abuse… These are problems. And I don’t pretend to have answers.

No, I admit, the majority (but not all by any means) of the problems I encounter in my life or through other peoples’ are #firstworldproblems. As in, we wouldn’t have these problems if we weren’t lucky enough to live a comfortable lifestyle.

I just spent three days with someone who could speak without complaining. It made me very sad because it was readily apparent that everything that frustrated her was also created by her. Call it playing the victim, call it ingratitude or attitude… Beneath it all, that kind of behavior is a form of masochism, which is why it’s so repellent.

I’ve met many people like this. I remember being one of them.

This person doesn’t want to be happy, at least not right now. This person wants to suffer, but why?

From what I’ve seen, I believe this masochistic negativity is triggered by heartbreak and trauma and sustained out of fear. Negativity in the form of complaining and resentment functions as a security blanket.  By complaining, we protect ourselves; we place the blame for our pain outside of ourselves because we are afraid of it being our fault. 

When we cling to our negativity, we are afraid that letting go of it means we are saying that whatever was done to us was okay or that we somehow caused it just by being who we are.

But blame is not really the point.

Taking responsibility for our well-being is not the same thing as taking responsibility for what was done to us. Nothing will take away the events of the past or the scars they gave us, but our hope for happiness lies with our choice to have it.

Happiness is not a perfect state of eternal and constant bliss. As before, we will always have problems. You can tell, though, the people who are generally happy, who maintain a sense of positivity and are able to bounce back after life gives them a knock. Sure, sometimes this is a result of privilege, but it is something that is accessible to everyone who truly wants it…and is willing to do the work for it.

The right work. Becoming a more positive person is not a matter of whether someone is hardworking or lazy. It’s a matter of bravery.

When we truly want to be happy, we make it happen.

The first step is committing, from this moment forward, to be responsible for our own happiness.

The second step is making that commitment again and again and again and again.

We have to let go of our unhappiness in order to be happy. It’s just common sense. We have to let go of our hold on the past to move forward. Yet this is not a one time purchase.

Life will poke at our negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. That’s not something that will ever stop. In fact, when we start on the path of happiness, we’ll notice the poking even more. Our default patterns will want to take over, and we must over and over choose to be positive.

This is very tiring work. Sometimes we will fail. We will choose poorly. We will default because it’s easier. But we will also succeed, choose well, and change. And it gets easier because it’s what we truly want. Over time, we change our default setting.

We first change our behaviors, until we’ve changed our overall energy. We go from making positive choices to being a positive person.

When we become positive people, we don’t stop having problems, but we can solve them. Maybe not always as in “solve for x,” but we can figure out how to handle our problems. It’s true that sometimes to solve a problem, what’s needed is a fresh set of eyes.


By choosing happiness, we give ourselves a fresh set of eyes. We take on a new perspective, so we see our problems differently. We see everything differently.

It’s possible. It happens. Happiness and positivity are ours for the taking when we really want them.

It’s a huge change, and change is scary. But it is absolutely a change worth making.

After all, it’s only the rest of your life.

 

So the next time you feel the urge to complain or someone complains at you, take a moment to discover a positive choice to handle the situation. You’ll know what to do, then do it. Each small step adds up to miles.

Your Breath Is Your Teacher

I’ve been thinking about breathing lately, which is not something I usually do. Even though breathing is the most necessary thing for staying alive, we tend not to give it our attention. Luckily, our bodies breathe involuntarily. What a thankless job. We should appreciate our breath. It has a lot to teach us.

I started thinking about breath recently when I found myself stressed beyond my normal level. When I had to step away from the situation, I closed my eyes and inhaled as deeply as I could. As I released the breath, I felt the space it had made in my mind.

While before I could not see beyond my stress, the breath made room for understanding and compassion for the person who caused the stress. I was taken aback, actually, by the calmness that came over me after. I replayed some of the things this person had said and done, and I found the possible sadness and pain in them, rather than just the annoyance they evoked in me. Then I realized I’ll never know why they were that way that drove me up the wall, but I knew they wouldn’t affect me so if they weren’t poking at an issue of my own. 

Our breath is powerful, the most powerful thing about us. It is more powerful than our minds and our bodies, and our breath is us as much as our minds and bodies are. We are our breath.

Expanding and contracting. Taking in and giving out. Ever ebbing and flowing as part of the whole process of being.

That’s a bit mind-blowing. And that’s good. We should blow our own minds, because we are not just our thinking minds or our acting bodies. If there is any part of the human being with which we should identify, it is our breathing breath.

Notice your breath throughout the day. At any given moment, pay attention to how you are breathing. Then observe your emotions, your physical sensations, your thoughts. Do any of these change after you inhale deeply and exhale completely three or four times? 

When I first started doing yoga, I was intrigued by the concept of “sending breath” to a specific part of the body. Surely breath only goes one place, into the lungs, right? How could I possibly make my breath go to my quads or hips or side body?

But I found it easier than I thought. All it takes, is focusing on the area where you feel tight and breathing deeply. You will feel what it means to send your breath. The life force will go where you direct it. For example, in Warrior 2, the thighs begin to burn and the hip joints reach a limit. Yet, when I “send my breath” to my hips, they open up, relax, and let me sink a little deeper into the stretch.

The truth is your body wants to stretch and grow. Your mind wants to stretch and grow. You want to grow! That’s why you find yourself in challenging situations. You want to be there. Because you want to learn the lessons you can learn only through difficulty. 

So the next time you find yourself feeling like you’re at the end of your rope, breathe and then listen. Be open to what your breath has to teach you. This is the only way forward. No doubt you’ll find you’re more flexible than you thought. 

To Grow You Must Take Root

If asked a year or two ago, what do I think of when I hear the word “foundation,” I would have said make up. Now, I would say yoga and chakras. It seems like a pretty big leap, but these associations are actually closely linked in terms of coming out and spiritual development.

When I was acting as straight, I wore foundation on my face, along with a dozen other products. I associated make up with heterosexuality and I wanted to pass within that sphere. My layer of foundation was covering up my actual foundation.

I wanted to cover up my true face because I had not developed sufficiently in my root chakra. At the base of the spine, the root chakra is where the energy of one’s security flows. This chakra is the foundation for the other principal energies–relationship, power, love, expression, wisdom, and faith–that develop in the course of a lifetime. Everything that makes a person an individual flows up from the root chakra to the rest and back down through it.

Security is established by a child’s experience of her tribe. If a child’s identity reveals itself to be in opposition to the tribal values, for example a sexual minority in a conservative religious culture, insecurity is a natural course of development.

 


In all things, a solid foundation is necessary for growth. In yoga, we begin by learning the basic poses that we build upon and return to as we develop our practice. Child’s pose, Mountain pose, Warrior 1, Downward-facing dog… These poses are the gateway to all the gravity-defying, pretzel-looking yoga poses.

And yet every yogin always returns to down dog. We never grow out of it. In fact, I’ve noticed that the more adept I become at yoga, the more difficult the foundational poses can be. As I grow, I become more aware of my body and breath in the poses. Then I discover that I still have work to do in them, more expansion to find in each stretch.

Foundation isn’t easy. To know and to be your authentic self is never easy. But it’s why we’re here.

The way we best contribute to the world is by doing the work that is authentically ours to do. Each of us has a design, and our design reveals our destiny.

In order to live our happiest, most fulfilling life, we must always be in touch with our foundation. If we are not, life will tell us. If we are in a job, relationship, environment, lifestyle that does not nurture our design, we feel it. The only way out is to “get back to basics.”

It sounds simple, but it’s not easy.

It’s not easy to admit that we already have all the answers we seek. It’s not easy to admit that we have always known what we truly want. It’s not easy to be who we are and live up to our potential.

It is easy to act like we’re lost and need something else to guide us. It’s easy to throw our hands up and say “I don’t know.” It’s easy to conform to the mold that’s more convenient for everyone else and keep ourselves small.

Each and every one of us has something special to offer the world. We have so much love to give, so much talent to share… We owe it to ourselves and to the world to let our foundation show.

When we’re living authentically, we feel secure. We know we are building our lives on solid foundation. Even though challenges will never stop, we know we can handle them. And when blessings come our way, we can happily accept them, because we know they are meant for us. We feel confident experiencing the fullness of life and giving all of ourselves to the world.

We are not meant to cover ourselves up.

We are meant to grow from our roots.