Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Book of Gratitudes

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that this holiday has resisted commercialization but also that it gently reminds me, every year, to think about all that I have to be thankful for. 

Once I get started taking a mental inventory of all that I am grateful for, my list of gratitudes almost seems to write itself: I am grateful for my kids and my husband; my family, friends and neighbors; the blessing of plentiful food; a roof over my head and reliable heat and clean water; and on and on and on. I am truly blessed.

But, if I were ever to get stuck, and forget to think of all I have to be thankful for (and those moments DO come, when I am hurting or resentful or disappointed) I have a handy reference to turn to: my Book of Gratitudes.

This is a photo of my Book. It's actually a photo of "Volume 2," since I filled up "Volume 1" about three years ago. Both books contain short hand-written entries, started in 1997, for a reason I no longer remember. The entries are easy to compose: I simply write down what I feel especially grateful for on the day I feel moved to pick up the book and do so.

I don't write these Gratitudes every day, and sometimes the entries are spaced far apart. They are not always about specific people or things, and sometimes the thing I am most grateful for is quite small. The entry for Dec. 7, 1997 is typical: "I am grateful for the candles on my altar that remind me of the light within so that I can continue to say, 'Not my will, but thine.'"

And, then, there's this one, from Oct. 16, 2000, a few weeks after my youngest child went off to college: "Today is the first day of the 'rest of my life' - a newly empty nest, ready for more wonderful things to grow in it - and, for that, I am very grateful."

My Book of Gratitudes holds plenty of reminders that sometimes even those things that I wish were not true or had not happened, can be the things I am most grateful for. Here is the entry from Sept. 17, 2001, six days after 9/11: "I am grateful to be alive and that my family and friends are all safe. I am grateful for the deep caring exhibited by so many people in the last few days. I am grateful that God is with us."

And, then, there's this entry, written three months after a serious accident in which I nearly severed the index finger from my left hand. Feb. 8, 2006: "I am grateful for the ability to write and to have at least partial use of my hand again. I am grateful for the clarity this injury has provided, and the knowledge that I am, first and foremost, a writer -- and now I will begin to live that way."

I have much to be grateful for, most especially that this "Day for Giving Thanks" comes around every year, to remind me of just how much I have to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving! 

And Namaste.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Opening the Reluctant Heart

Maya Angelou once said, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." And she should know what it is like to not tell one's story. Angelou spent five years of her young life mute, not speaking a word between the ages of eight and thirteen, bearing a heart-wrenching untold story inside herself.

When Angelou was eight years old, she was sexually abused by her stepfather. After she told her brother about it, the man was arrested and briefly jailed, but later was found beaten to death, probably by her uncles. She stopped speaking, and later explained: "I thought I had killed him. I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again because my voice would kill anyone."

I know the type of pain she refers to, and it is not just mental or emotional pain. There are things about my life I have chosen not to talk about publicly, and holding these inside of myself has created pain and real, physical illness. People have often said I seem "reserved," but the truth is I fear that speaking my truth might have dangerous consequences. When I look at Angelou's life story, I see that my fears might not be so far-fetched.

So, although I have chosen not to speak, to protect others from my truth, the words have stayed inside my body, causing pain and suffering and illness. Yoga has been the only way I have found to release this pain, but I think Angelou is right. The untold story will continue to create agony, as long as it remains untold. 

This week, our yoga teacher training has begun to work with Chakra Four, the heart center. This chakra is primarily involved with relationships and love, both the love we give, but also the love we receive. This is the first chakra that I was physically aware of, and have been able to feel it actually opening and closing as I open and close my heart to people in my life. It is a wonderful thing when my heart is open, but I have lived much of my life with it closed, protecting both myself and others, sometimes from those truths I hold inside, the ones that have caused me pain and agony.

T.K.V. Desikachar in his wonderful book "The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice," says that we need only to look to our relationships with other people to see whether we are actually understanding ourselves better. His is a very wise point, very wise indeed...but so very hard to put into practice.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Will Power

Last week in our yoga in-depth studies class, we began an exploration of the third chakra. This energy center, which is physically located in the belly at the position of the solar plexus, has always seemed rather murky and mysterious to me. I've understood the basic idea behind this chakra--that it's associated with fiery energy as well as with our sense of personal power--but, beyond that, it all seemed rather vague.

This week I think I've finally begun to "get" this chakra, thanks to Anodea Judith's excellent book, "Eastern Body, Western Mind: Psychology and the Chakra System as a Path to the Self." I've had this book for a couple of years and have been re-reading the sections as we've come to them in class, and this week I had one of those "aha!" moments when I came upon this sentence:

 "Many people do not awaken this chakra at all, and spend their whole lives following the path of least resistance, giving their power to others, and defining themselves in terms of what is expected." 

I suspect a lot of people would not think that a sentence like the above applies to me, but it really hit home and explained why I have found this whole idea of "personal power" to be rather vague. Judith explains that this chakra's function is to take the basic life energy coming up from chakras one and two and turn it into purpose. Here is where we develop a will. Without a functioning or open third chakra, we sometimes look to others for our purpose, thereby never determining what our true purpose might be.

So, it's been a rather tumultuous week as I've tried to come to grips with this idea, all the while feeling the energy surging upward with a great deal of power. It's all been rather confusing, but one thing is clear: I'm a whole lot more in touch with my belly than I have been in a long time. And that has got to be a good thing.