11 July 2014

Nica Reflections: Loving with Non-Attachment

In the spirit of being totally brave and unfiltered (practice makes perfect, right?)...

This post contains my second set of post-Nicaragua reflections (you can read my first post about Mental vs Physical Space here.) In addition to what I learned about bringing my new found superhero mindset into my everyday life, I also learned some pretty significant things about love on my trip. Not coincidentally (because are there really coincidences?), I started reading Paulo Coelho's By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept shortly after coming home, and my realizations about love have continued to unfold and take shape. I will share a few of my favorite excerpts from the book throughout this post, as they perfectly align with where my heart is presently.

On the beautifully welcoming, wide spans of sand in Nicaragua, the relationship between love and attachment came to me. After a rose quartz necklace that an ex-boyfriend gave me suddenly broke in two, I was called to retreat to the beach and reflect back on our chapter together. I thought that I had learned all that I could from it and that I was at peace with where we landed, but the spontaneous break in my heart chakra crystal told me otherwise. There was more to glean... more to let go of.

Instead of blaming or holding onto "what if's," as I had done in the past, I was called to consider how I had contributed to our struggle. What arose was the realization and acceptance that two half empty people don't make a whole. In an effort to try to salvage our confused love, riddled with holes because it lacked love of self, I tried to bottle it. I tried to contain my partner and to get so close that I could understand him and overwhelm him with love. I was hungry for connection and communication, and when it didn't come naturally, I felt that I must capture him - capture our love in a jar. Maybe then, existing in our own tiny ecosystem, it would make sense, be fulfilling, and satisfy us. How wrong I was. In the process of trying to confine our love, I stifled him and lost myself. Attaching to him didn't make it easier to love and accept him. In fact, it made it impossible. He felt the pressure, cramped in a tiny space of resentment and desperation, and he would power down and shut me out. And, in this state of hyper-focusing on how to connect with my partner, I didn't leave any room to deeply know, trust, and love myself. Lose-lose. 

This excerpt sums it up well:

Love is wild. It's curious. It wanders and takes us by surprise. Like the lovers themselves, love needs air to breathe and grow. It's not meant to be captured. It's not meant to be confined in efforts to understand it or control it. It's meant to be free. When we attach to it, infusing it with our worldly ideas about how it must serve us and what it should look like, we suck the life out of it. We deprive it of the air it requires to burn on and take us to new heights.

Think about attachment in general. Attachment creates pressure and expectation. And when you have an expectation, you judge based on a certain idea of what it will be like, what will happen, how long it will last, what it should be... Expectation (and the anticipated effect), specifically as it relates to positive outcomes, looks like this:

- I will get the job (and then I will be ok)
- We will get married (and then I will be happy)
- She will arrive on time (and then I will exhale)
- He will call me (and then I will be worthy)
- He will change (and then I will accept him)

Expectation is living in the future, projecting your limited knowledge of the past and present conditions onto how that might look at an inaccessible future point in time. It makes no sense. When you are expecting, you are not grounded in the present. Just the opposite, in fact. In an effort to control and cling to an all-knowing, hopeful concoction of what is to come, you sacrifice trust in the Universe and the ability to stay present to the current magic around you. How can you live in gratitude when you are fixated on what comes next? You can't. In setting a bar, a restricted idea of what should be, you ultimately impede your ability to accept whatever is

When you crouch in that place of expectancy with love, you don't allow enough space to let it be what it wants to, to drift where it pleases, to surprise you, and to evolve. You stagnate its growth and you cloud your own ability to sit in an honorable seat of observation, acceptance, and gratitude. This learning is what came into crystal clear focus (pun intended) on my trip. But the seed was planted weeks prior...

Before I left for Nicaragua, I connected with someone in a way I never had before. Cosmically, out of nowhere, I experienced a pure meeting of two souls. Immediate curiosity. An undeniable pull. Kismet attraction. An authentic connection. It felt like it was first time I really allowed myself to be seen and heard by a person of interest. From the moment we met, I completely surrendered any hesitations or judgments -- I really allowed myself to be vulnerable. And he held space for me. Although I was completely exposed, sharing my insecurities, opinions, and dreams with a near stranger, I actually felt completely held and safe. I felt deep inner peace and reassurance that it was okay to unforgivably be me and to share myself with this person. And in this place of total peace and self-love, I was able to see and hear him with the same level of acceptance and trust. I listened intently, without judgement, and I wanted to learn more, to get closer. It was one of the most invigorating, freeing experiences of my life. It simultaneously took my breath away and made way for deep, relaxed breathing. I didn't know that such a connection was possible on this planet. I felt like the Universe had shared a beautifully coveted secret with me... like I was among the few people given access to this incredible magic. Our time together before my trip was short, but it was perfect and complete.

While I was in Nicaragua, he would float in and out of my mind. Thoughts of him would warmly lap at my consciousness, but didn't hold me or consume me. Reflecting in my journal, I wrote:
"The more I remain in a place of non-judgement about it and take a seat of pure self-awareness, wherein I observe myself thinking of him and smiling to myself, the more I release the desire to become attached to him or desperate for him."
What a huge difference this was from my last relationship, where it felt impossible not to cling to my partner or to starve for connection and attention. This was something entirely different. It wasn't frantic or expectant or judgmental. It just was. Whether it was the place I was in mentally and spiritually the night we met, or how he gave me permission to be vulnerable through being open himself, or some exquisite combination of things, I felt closer to true love than I ever had. And while it blew my mind, shot a tingling sensation through my body, and expelled all the heaviness from my chest, I didn't feel the need to claim it or bottle it. I was perfectly content and felt such immense gratitude that I was experiencing it, in each individual moment. 

On the beaches of Popoyo, Nicaragua, I vowed to only allow for these kinds of relationships in my life moving forward. Any new ones I established, I would exercise this capacity to love without nets. I soon started to think about existing relationships in my life where there was opportunity to love more freely, without judgement or expectation. I promised to continue to practice love with complete non-attachment through surrendering any of my ideas about who they should be, what they should want, or how they should serve me. This would mean being unleashed and giving them permission to just be who they are, where they are. Because "judgement and surrender do not serve the same master" (Kindred Spirit: Fulfilling Love's Promise, by Matthew and Terces Engelhart).

So I vowed to continue to be this way with him, too. While I was away, I would feel my stomach go weak and let a smile creep onto my face at the thought of what we shared, but I continued to let go a little more each time he popped into my mind. In a moment of giddy happiness, I wrote:
"I'm excited to gauge our connection when I'm back in town. I would love for this feeling to be mutual. But I do have to honor that you can't force or forge connection. It's much better to leave it to the Universe... like we have been doing. I just have to keep letting go... of expectations and the need to create any kind of pressure or hype. It must bloom organically."

When I got home from my trip, I was completely unleashed. As I shared in my last post, I felt (feel) free, brave, and capable of anything. I was struggling to come down from the high I experienced in Nicaragua, but I was excited to extend my vacation through reflection and sharing with others. I wanted to share with him. And he had something to share with me too.

The Universe held me to my vow, to love with non-attachment. It decided to test my true ability to do so. He met someone else, he said. Before he spoke the words, I already knew. And even in my journaling from several days before, it was as if I was already feeling him slip away. But can someone slip away if you never held them? If you were never attached, does it feel like loss? 
“But love is always new. Regardless of whether we love once, twice, or a dozen times in our life, we always face a brand-new situation. Love can consign us to hell or to paradise, but it always takes us somewhere. We simply have to accept it, because it is what nourishes our existence. If we reject it, we die of hunger, because we lack the courage to stretch out a hand and pluck the fruit from the branches of the tree of life. We have to take love where we find it, even if that means hours, days, weeks of disappointment and sadness. 
The moment we begin to seek love, love begins to seek us. And to save us.” 
― Paulo Coelho, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept

Benjamin Francis Leftwich "Atlas Hands"

05 July 2014

Nica Reflections: Physical vs. Mental State

Whew! Mercury shook me like a toddler with a snow globe last week. But now that it is direct, I am grounding down again. As I watch the little white flakes drift and settle around me, I’m starting to recognize and honor the benefits of the shakeout. If you felt the uphill battle last week, challenge yourself to think about what you are walking away with. (Hindsight is 20/20, right?)

Today officially puts Nicaragua one week's distance in my rearview mirror. But it's still undeniably present in my daily experience. One thing that you probably noticed is that I didn't actively blog while on my trip, like I thought I would want to. It felt more natural to journal with pen and paper instead. Writing really put me on pause. It takes longer to get thoughts out on paper compared to typing, which both enables a more natural stream-of-consciousness reflection and a relaxed state of expression. There is something uniquely sacred about forming the words by hand. It allowed me time to really process what I was experiencing and what was showing up for me before I released it into the blogosphere. And it also gave me a safe place to share some more private thoughts.  

I have so much to say about my trip. I’m still processing some of those elements, but I am ready to share preliminary thoughts. I will continue to post about other learnings as they come into focus.

The processing began as soon as I got on the plane towards home. I started by revisiting the list of intentions I wrote out in my journal on the plane ride over to Nicaragua. I asked myself to:

Be open to...
  • What comes up mentally and emotionally
  • Trying new things and facing your fears
  • Connecting with new people
  • Surprises and unexpected turns of events
  • Going with the flow
  • Learning

  • Opportunities to get honest and real with yourself and others
  • Each day with gratitude and excitement
  • Any chance you get to confront blockages and inner boundaries
  • Opportunities to practice being unleashed – free of judgments, fears, expectations

  • Present. Keep the mind actively aware of its current surroundings and the people around you. No thinking about the future, whether tomorrow or life back in LA
  • In gratitude for this retreat – recognize the privilege and unique opportunity you are experiencing
  • Committed to growing and learning more – about yourself, yoga, traveling, in reading, surfing, etc.

Reflecting back on these initial intentions I had for my trip, I was (am) really proud of what I achieved. I allowed myself to be cracked wide open. I was truly brave. I shot down negative self-talk. I lifted others up. I connected with my group and others I met, deeply and authentically. I drank in the experience fully. I didn't judge myself. I let myself be seen. I didn't impose a rigid schedule on myself. I loved every minute - the people, the place, and the emotions that came up. I was adventurous. I surrendered - to the bugs, the ocean, and the energy around me. I was FREE. 

From my seat in first class (another 'first' I'm adding to the list), I journaled for hours straight, gushing with gratitude for the experience. I recounted how strong I felt and the huge realizations about love and inner peace that I was leaving with. And then, as the immense significance of the trip started to really take shape, my thoughts suddenly turned melancholy. I started to consider the work it would require to maintain the newfound mindset I had established for myself in that peaceful beach town. 

Here come the tears... I began to cry buckets. I got present to the fears I have post-Nica. The crux of the fear lies in the desire to bottle what I described above - the feeling of total unleashed freedom. I felt the panic set in almost immediately, and I got the urge to ask the pilot to turn the plane around. I couldn't leave! How could I go back to my apartment? My job? The bustle of the city? How could I go back to my life? I needed to stay in that lovely place, perched above the ocean, where the structures surrender to nature, food comes from local farms, life is simple, and people are kind and warm. But more alive than yearning for what the place offered materially, was the desperate desire to hold on to how it made me feel and the kind of person I was out there. I had to go back to Magnific Rock, where I felt centered, my mind was quiet, my body was strong, my heart was open, and my spirit was unleashed. 

I slipped into a residual state that felt a lot like mourning. As we made our way back towards Los Angeles, I struggled to hold onto the centered, aware, awake, inspired person I was in Nica. I felt like such a brave, badass human being out there. I transformed my negative self-talk. I became my own personal superhero. I didn't want to lose hold of that state of being. I started to feel like I would deflate and slowly float back into my "old" state of mind if I couldn't stay in Nicaragua. I feared that that part of me would die in LA.

I have shared my struggle with a few friends who have had meaningful vacations, and they all say that they can relate. They said things like, "It takes time to settle back in," "I always feel like I need a vacation after my vacation,"  and something to the effect of "Makes you want to sell everything and move to (insert amazing place), right?" But there is a very powerful, key learning about the post-vacation experience that has emerged as I recognize my struggle to hold on. I'm starting to understand that it's not about separation of vacation and "life." It's not about bottling my experience and putting it in a mason jar on my coffee table. It's not about running away from my day job and non-beach-front apartment to achieve nirvana. It is about harnessing the mindset I established and believing that I possess it, not allowing the place I visited to claim ownership over it. No matter what physical space I occupy, I have the power to tap into that strong, brave superhero. She doesn't live in Nica. She lives in me.

Have you ever felt like a certain place (whether a yoga room, a mountain top, or a coveted vacation spot) made you feel like you were the best version of yourself?  When you were out of your routine, in that special place, surrounded by different people or perhaps alone, and you surrendered expectations and judgement... what emerged? That mental state of being, sitting in the throne of consciousness, is something that you can take with you, no matter where you go. It's not only something that you can have on vacation, at a spiritual retreat, in the middle of the quiet dessert, or on the shores of a desolate beach. This beautiful state of being doesn't have to be fleeting or temporary. We can harness it, despite our location. I acknowledge that it will take work and active awareness. I understand that it won't be as easy as it was to maintain as when we didn't have to pick the kids up from school, rush to a meeting, or clean the litter box. But that is the extent of energy or attention I will give those factors. It is possible, and I am committed to bringing my newly found powers into my daily life, no matter where it takes me.

My ultimate goal: to redefine my comfort zone -- to completely flip it on its head, such that by leaning into discomfort and daily challenges and continuing to evolve, I get to a place where it feels strange and UNcomfortable to be stagnant or scared (instead of the other way around).

New single from Jason Mraz:

New single from Bon Iver, "Heavenly Father."