adventures of a fearless (mostly) globe trotting seeker...
wondering, wandering, barefoot, nomadess

Sunday, July 28, 2013

We must learn to be hard without losing our tenderness

Downtown Los Angeles
Saturday July 6

"One has to grow hard but without ever losing tenderness", Esa looks down at his gnarled hands, his arms covered in rough tattoos. He is an older Mexican man in the rehabilitation house where i have come to teach yoga today. "That is what Che Guavara said. But I don't know how to trust anyone. I spent more years in jail than out. That's what they call being institutionalized. I feel more comfortable in prison than outside. I know how things work in there. But now I am finding out that whole way of life is bullshit. I want something different but I am older now. I got more years behind me than ahead of me. You come here talking about unconditional love. Well, I don't trust that. The only one who gave me unconditional love was my mother, she loved me no matter what. Even if I killed someone. So you see, I don't trust so good. The gang I was in, they taught us to say things like, "We don't care if the sun don't shine". Life is hard and you have to be harder. The way I lived was that I might have to kill my best friend. Nothing personal, but if the orders came down that's what I would have to do. So I couldn't get close to anyone." I nod my head, I feel in my own gut how I have a hard time trusting people too. When is it safe to be vulnerable? I may not have had to kill anyone or gone to prison, but I have deep places in my of wounding from childhood abuse and abuse I did to myself when I was angry and rebellious at everyone, including God. In many ways, my story is not so different than these men. Don't we all just ache to be loved and accepted? Don't we long for a safe place to put our guards down and be vulnerable, the warrior wants to rest and to finally surrender on the battlefield of life? I am here with two other women to teach the class. It's a bit comical, the juxtapose between the three of us attractive women and these big, tough men. We joked walking into to the run down house that serves as the rehabilitation center that we were like Charlie's Angels, a blond and two brunettes.

"I trust you more because you are women", Esa says. The other men nod their heads in agreement. I look around the room, we are sitting on plastic chairs in a circle. Many of these men have spent more of their lives in jail than out- that is what Esa meant about being "institutionalized".  The odds are against these men that they will find a way out of the prison system and cycle of drug abuse. I raise my hand to speak, "When I started yoga, people told me I would never fully revover from the drugs I had done. But I didn't believe them. Because when I did yoga, when I moved my body and breathed, I felt this connection to God, to my higher power, whatever you want to call it- and I knew that was the most powerful source in the world. I knew if I kept my dicipline and kept moving towards that God energy, I would not only recover and be healed, but be more powerful than before I ever did any drugs. And it has been true for me". I look around the room and catch Esa's sharp eyes watching me. I want to share the hope, power and peace of mind yoga has given me with these men, show them there is a way out of the boxes in our minds that we have been locked inside by the conditioning of our families, societies- all the bullshit we were taught to think we are not worthy of happiness. I want to tell them, YOU ARE WORTHY - AND THERE IS A WAY. They have value, they deserev to feel loved, like we all do.

"I need another fire"
 "I came up trained to be hard. We got tattoos for killing people. Now I go out on the street sometimes and I see an old gangster with tattoos on his face and neck from killing people, but he is pushing a shopping cart", he shook his head and everyone in the room laughed. "I don't want to be like that. i got lots of free time now. My psych tells me to go feed the ducks now with my free time. Feed the ducks!" Everyone laughs again trying to imagine this tough as leather aging gangster sitting on a park bench throwing bread crumbs to the ducks. "I came from a place of a lot of excitement. I came from a fire. I can't go feed ducks. I need another fire". After class he came to me to ask about the breath work i had shown them. I told him that i had come from fire too. Now I help other people go through their fires and that is an exciting, meaningful purpose for me. I told him, "Me too, I need a fire, but one that burns for good. Maybe you will teach this to other people and that will be your next fire". He nodded and had a light in his eyes.

Turn your shitty, sad, disempowering stories into fertilizer -for growth and change. Life will give you unending challenges, that is why it is so important to have a practice like yoga and meditation that floods your system with the happiness drug -Seratonin- and keeps you fit to face the challenges. Life is challenging, so stay positive, those are not just empty word, it is about your choices to fall into victimhood or rise to meet the road and integrate the joys and sorrows into one BIG beautiful story of you.


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