Category Archives: yin yang

Walking Into Life’s Labyrinth — A Year of Walking With My Heart Open

Today is the one year anniversary of my arrival in St. Jean Pied de Port, France where I began Le Chemin de Saint Jacques, also known as El Camino de Santiago or the Way of Saint James–a Catholic pilgrimage across Northern Spain to the city of Santiago de Compostela. One year ago today, I stood at the entrance to the labyrinth that would guide me within myself and help me to balance my external and internal journeys. 

Huruki Murakami’s book, Kafka on the Shore, sheds some interesting light on the emergence and symbolism of labyrinths.

“The symbol of the labyrinth comes from the ancient Mesopotamians. They pulled out animal intestines–sometimes human intestines, I expect–and used the shape to predict the future, They admired the complex shape of intestines. So the prototype for labyrinths is, in a word, guts. Which means that the principle for the labyrinth is inside you.  And that correlates to the labyrinth outside.” 

The principle of reciprocity lies within the labyrinth. If you step into one outside of you, you are also stepping into the one within you.  

1380673_10200516284540554_1501746393_n

A natural labyrinth outside of Burgos, Spain along El Camino.

Before I walked my dear friend and fellow pilgrim, James, told me that we’re always walking el camino–the way. The voyage itself is just the physical manifestation of the path within. But the way within is typically a very challenging and risky trail to follow. But like a labyrinth, you slowly wind your way to the center, and then back out again. You release, receive and return, hopefully with some clarity of mind and openness of heart. 

El Camino de Santiago is a giant labyrinth that sets the stage for you to turn within. Marked by yellow arrows and scallop shells, Pilgrims wind their way over mountains, across valleys, through woods, over rivers, and into the center of their hearts. Everything along El Camino is a poignant metaphor for life’s labyrinth. 

El Camino itself, perhaps the most obvious, is the way. The journey of our lives. But it is heavily peppered with many other metaphors. The physical pain a pilgrim endures mark the traumas of our lives. The sunrises and sunsets familiarize pilgrims with the cyclical nature of the soul’s journey. One metaphor I found truly persuasive was the pack I carried on my back. Weighing in at 9 kilos when I started (approximately 18 pounds), my bag was full of the things that I thought I needed. Creams, guidebooks, clothing, food etc. My bag, though not the biggest on the trail, was certainly a burden for my unacquainted frame. Smart pilgrims learn fast, lose the weight or else you suffer. Ditch the things that don’t serve you and trust that your community will provide the things you don’t have when you are in need.

El camino always provides. 

The coming and going of pilgrims was another strong metaphor. You meet someone, you walk with them side by side for days on end, and then one day you realize you will eventually move forward or fall behind. Letting your fellow pilgrims walk their own way, and respecting that you too need to proceed the way you feel best, can be hard. Though you may have known them for two or three or fourteen days, they are your support system, your security blanket. Letting go of people is just as hard on the camino as it is in real life. But it was an important lesson for me to learn. I walk my way, you walk yours. If our paths cross and we exchange lessons, you will remain forever in my heart. I do not need to cling to anyone, because  I can take care of myself– I am whole. 

El Camino taught me lessons about resistance. It taught me to let go, to trust, and to go with the flow. The practice of identifying and then releasing myself from the inner-resistance has served me thoroughly in navigating through life’s challenges and my/society’s heavy-set expectations. 

El camino also taught me about magic. In it’s own special way, that trail makes magic. Whether it is the collective energy of the pilgrims who walk, or the sacred and beautiful land, or both! There is something truly remarkable and indescribable about the magic of El Camino. When I finished I thought the magic would go away. That I would only be able to tap into it if I were there, but really the magic was just with me and lying dormant all along. the labyrinth of El Camino opened up the channels for my good-witchery to flow freely. 

249082_10200591519221374_1740117919_n

A labyrinth in Queens, NY at the site of the former sacred 5Pointz graffiti mecca.

Arriving in Santiago was one of the most amazing days of my life. Blistered and swollen, my feet rocked 500 miles of terrain and earned themselves some serious street creds. But what I feared most upon arriving in Santiago was how to keep El Camino alive now that I would no longer be walking its sacred path. But again, like the labyrinth commands you must always return to the external realm. You can not stay forever within, you must emerge. But you’ve touched center and can once again be reassured that it is there. Your equilibrium has been rebalanced and you can go about living your human life until the next time you desire to return to that place. The center remains accessibly where it has always been and forever will be, seek it when you need it. 

El Camino has lived a very vibrant life within me since the day I finished walking the trail. There has not been one time where I have thought of my 33 days on the trail and not had a volcanic eruption of emotions explode from my heart. Happiness, pride, nostalgia, awe and gratitude frequently swirl within me when I think back on this experience. 

So I guess James was right, I was walking the way before, though perhaps with my eyes closed. When I made my pilgrimage to Santiago, I walked straight into the wild labyrinth. Through my journey I opened my soul wide and I touched center. I’ve returned frequently to that place to leave offerings of patience with myself and kindness for others, gratitude for life’s lessons and above all a big bouquet of love upon the altar of my soul. 

10592781_10202332753991155_4055452976456310265_n

A beautiful labyrinth on Long Island.

 

Advertisements

Falling or Flying? Uniting the Yin and Yang of Our Lives.

Sometimes when you fall, you fly. -Neil Gaiman

I was flying when I came home to the United States in mid-October, fresh off El Camino. I felt like I was moon-walking my way through my much anticipated transition home, and that there was absolutely nothing that could bring my feet back down to earth.

My 33 day trek across Northern Spain was like taking an extended yoga class. I had learned the 3 L’s — Living, loving and levitating.

Somebody rain on my parade, I dare you. I’ll just fly up past the clouds and wait for the storm to pass. NBD.

Well, something happened in my second week home that clipped my wings and knocked me to my knees. My present reality: No money. No job. No plans. Student loans payments. A long distance relationship(?!). Loss of independence.

A shit storm of struggles quickly grounded my feet to the earth, and then, laughing, pulled the rug out from underneath me. I found myself on my knees, hands pressed together in prayer.

So many thoughts whirling in my head. How had this happened? How can I get back to that place? How can I be that me again–that amazing, carefree, life-living, bad ass who had just walked across an entire country? Where were the attitudes of love and timelessness that I had just cultivated?

HOW had I let the fear, insecurity and uncertainty back in?

If this is reality, I thought, I prefer the opposite.

And there it was, that important word; the clue to the next piece of my puzzle. The opposing forces that hold us together, the yin and yang that allow us to fly, can ultimately break us down if we can’t find a way to unite and balance them.

Here are four new practices I have undertaken in order to unite the yin and yang and cultivate balance in my life:

1. Softening into discomfort: I have taken countless yoga classes where the teacher would  kick your ass through a series of asanas saying audacious things like, “Breathe into the discomfort” and “Are you clenching your jaw, gripping through your toes? Soften into the pose.” In those moments, I have usually wanted to round house kick the teacher in the head as sweat dripped from my furrowed brow and my arms and knees trembled. Holding chair pose for what feels like an eternity and a half sucksssss.

But the idea of softening into the discomfort is actually a practice that allows us to find our limits and then stretch them. Sometimes this stretch is just a second or two longer than our mind is telling us is currently possible. But over time, we can endure the discomfort for longer periods and build up strength.

If this practice can sculpt our buns and tone our arms, just think of the benefits it can provide to the most important muscle in our whole body–our kick drum heart!

All of the stress I have been experiencing recently had resulted in feelings of tightness and tension in my heart. I could physically feel a contraction in my chest and heart. I had to learn to cultivate awareness. When I start to notice this tension in me, I now take a deep tension releasing breath. Result? An immediate sense of relief. Usually the relief is fleeting, but as I gradually build and hone this practice, I am ultimately strengthening my heart muscle.

2. Shading my shadow: Having glimpsed a sliver of the perfect me, I was reluctant to admit to its opposite. Rather, I had hoped to dig my nails into perfection and hold on for dear life. In retrospect, I should have known that resisting this change was not going to end well…but hey, lesson learned, I’m only human and change is fucking scary.

So I began a quest to liberate myself.. from myself. I started by accepting the opposites and all that lies in between.

I began with the things that I don’t like about myself, and then I looked within to find the opposite. I began to see the contradictions. Oh yes, sooo many contradictions.

For example: I would give the world for someone I love, could also mean that I am capable of being selfish and self-preserving. But in between these extremes, there are 50 shades of grey (wink), and  I can be anywhere on the spectrum and it’s all me. It’s all gravy baby.

Tension relieving sigh….

3. Lightening and grounding:

This technique is awesome. It’s the alchemy of energy. It’s the transmutation of heaviness into lightness. Ultimately, we are capable of moving our heavy energy to places that need to be grounded, thus freeing space for lightness. By focusing on drawing the feelings of heaviness downwards to our feet, we are able to build a base that stabilizes and connects us to the earth allowing us to be light in our hearts.

Image I’ve started transforming my base metals into noble metals, boo yah!

4. Looking at the reflection in the mirror:

We are all mirrors of one another and we reflect our souls into the eyes of other beings.

Anytime you have a  negative judgement of another person, that same negative energy exists within you. Thus, we can practice releasing ourselves from the grips of judgement by committing to taking responsibility for ourselves. Whenever I feel an negative emotion as result of an interaction with someone else, I ask where its coming from within me and then try to peel back the layers and hopefully neutralize the negativity by uniting the two reflections.

Justin Timberlake nailed it:

You were right here all along
It’s like you’re my mirror
My mirror staring back at me
I couldn’t get any bigger
With anyone else beside of me
And now it’s clear as this promise
That we’re making two reflections into one

On this note too, we can also find kindness and love in each other. Start with yourself! Be kind to yourself, and then you can be kind to others. Love yourself, and you can love others. This will ultimately result in people being loving and kind to you. Sweet!

These techniques have helped me to cope with the fall. But in the end, we don’t have to be afraid to fall. Sometimes in those moments of utter confusion, chaos and shit we experience insight, enlightenment and love.

Image

So…

“Hang on to the wind and trust. You are eagle.”

Advertisements