Archive for March, 2017

Karm’ Again?

As of this week I’ve made 36 trips around the sun in this lifetime. Sometime last year a friend said that when you turn 36, you’ve been raising yourself as long as your parents did, so you can’t blame them anymore. Although I had a pretty great childhood, this statement still resonated and has been on my mind in the months leading up to this birthday. Besides parents, karma tends to be the second most popular thing to blame for undesirable circumstances. If I plan to take responsibility for my life, I also need to address my karma and what I can learn from it.

I spent many years looking to external factors to determine my happiness. I looked to other people to validate my worth. I depended on my accomplishments to feel successful. In high school I was valedictorian and voted “most likely to succeed.” I called it the kiss of death and joked that I was sure to end up in a gutter somewhere. Admittedly it boosted my ego to be thought well of by my peers, although secretly I wished I had been voted onto homecoming court instead. And despite not literally ending up in a gutter, there were times when it felt like I had been cursed. Even though I would call my life successful now, in a way I was right about not living up to the expectations of my youth. My life now is nothing like the picture of success I imagined back then. And for that I’m eternally grateful.

According to tradition karma accumulates over the course of many lives. But even considering only what we know for sure within this lifetime, we can still see the workings of karma in our own bodies and minds. Prarabdha karma is what we come into this life with. I could say that my DNA, bone structure, family of origin and country of birth are this type of karma. These can’t really be changed. Sure I could get plastic surgery or move, but the impact those things had on me is still there, and they’re largely fixed. I simply have to accept the reality of the situation. Sanchita karma is what we’ve created from the moment of birth up to the present. All of the choices I’ve made throughout my life have affected how it has turned out. Everything from the way I’ve treated my body, to the people I’ve developed relationships with, to the work I’ve chosen to do have shaped what my life looks like now. I can’t go back and change the past, so in this way it’s similar to prarabdha karma. However since this karma has been shaped by my conscious choices in this life, I can change how it continues to unfold. Which leads to agami karma, which is what we’re creating in this very moment.  The choices I am making now are affecting what happens in my future. I can’t control all the people and circumstances around me, but I can control my own words, thoughts, and actions.

Karma isn’t about right and wrong, just choice and consequences. Being my father’s daughter is prarabdha karma. He had been a runner for a long time and I looked up to that as a kid. Every year when we went on vacation with some family friends he and the other dads and their sons would do a 5 mile run to the Florida/Alabama state line and the moms and daughters would drive to pick them up at the finish. Ever the defiant spirit, I decided that I wanted to be the first girl to join them on the run, which kicked off my own love of running that continued through high school and college. When I started my yoga teacher training I was running long distances, intending to train for a marathon. My teacher said that yoga is great for running, but running isn’t great for yoga. He meant that running would tighten up some areas of my body that would make it more challenging to do certain yoga poses. However if running was important to me, yoga would be great for my body while I was training. He didn’t tell me not to run, instead to recognize the impact that running made on me and decide what my priority was. I didn’t have to judge it, just acknowledge that every decision has a different result. Cause and effect, action and reaction, choice and consequences. In the process of training I injured my foot, a combination of not replacing my shoes soon enough and building up mileage too quickly. The injury has sidelined me from running for a couple years, but it has also helped me to deepen my yoga and meditation practice. I realized that running had been a form of meditation for me and I needed something to replace it. Eventually I developed my own daily seated practice. Just recently I have been getting the urge to run again, and I’ve been looking into doctors and options. All of those decisions, from the one to begin running, to joining the high school cross country team, to deciding not to get new shoes quite yet, to seeking out a doctor who can help me heal, those have all brought me to this point. They represent my sanchita karma. Although I would rather not have been hurt, instead of wallowing in “why me,” I can see the ways in which karma has weaved its lessons throughout this experience and learn from it. I don’t think “everything happens for a reason,” so much as I can make meaning out of everything that happens. That’s agami karma, what I choose to do with the current reality that is presenting itself in this moment.

Karma may be a bitch sometimes, but she sure has a good sense of humor, albeit sometimes a dark one. Laughing along with her can help take the edge off of otherwise depressing situations. When I got married for the first time, I remember being so excited to go to my ten year high school reunion. I had everything right on paper: a husband, mortgage, dog, cat, and a “real” job. Things are not always as they appear however, and despite looking successful from the outside, I was miserable inside. My first divorce happened in the midst of my mental breakdown and subsequent recovery after my mom’s death. I had moved to a healing farm in North Carolina for intense therapy and my husband was left alone in the condo we had bought together. When it became clear that our marriage was over, we decided to sell it. He wanted to get it over with, which I understand, but because I wasn’t ready to come home yet he was stuck with the task of packing up all our stuff. Mine went into storage and he took the essentials and started a new life in  New York. Fast forward about a decade and once again I’m in the process of ending a marriage. This time my wife was the one struggling with mental health issues. Upon realizing that our marriage was over, she decided to move to Oregon. She packed what she could fit in her car and left the majority of her furniture and household items in the apartment that we had moved into together. I didn’t miss the bitter irony of this fact as I took on the task of packing all her stuff so it could be shipped to her in her new residence. Instead of getting bitter myself though, I chose to be grateful for the opportunity to absolve my own past karma and to cultivate more compassion for my first spouse and what he went through. The icing on the karmic cake is that I’ve been drawn to minimalism for a while, and with my ex’s stuff gone I’m well on my way to a tiny house someday. File that under be careful what you wish for, cross referenced with the universe works in mysterious ways.

Looking at karma as a useful teacher and guide helps me to change my perspective when faced with challenges and suffering. It encourages me to get clear on what I want, to be the change I wish to see in the world, to keep my side of the street clean, and take responsibility for myself. It empowers me to create what I want in my life, not by controlling other people or events around me, but by fully owning the energy I bring. My parents raised me for 18 years, my ego for 18. Let’s see what happens when I let my soul take the reins.


Let’s Get Physic-al

I’ve often joked that not only do I not understand physics, I don’t even know what physics is. I attended an academically rigorous Catholic high school, and I was in the honors program.  The honors physics teacher had a reputation for being tough and fun, and as I remember she was also progressive and outspoken. In previous years her students had created elaborate Rube Goldberg machines, constructed bridges out of toothpicks that held up under a person’s weight, and conducted egg drop experiments from the roof of the convent. I was a little nervous about the difficulty level, but also excited to face the challenge. The summer before my senior year there was a sudden and mysterious change in the teaching staff. The former teacher “left” the school for reasons not explained to us. Conspiracy theories abounded, at least in my head. She was replaced at the last minute by a very sweet woman who had been teaching basic science at a smaller public school. She tried but, as we say in the South, bless her heart, she was seriously unprepared. My friends and I spent most of the semester playing Tetris on our graphing calculators and “borrowing” links from the math department to have competitions. We were such rebels. Fast forward to adulthood and I’m great at packing for a move but clueless when it comes to the workings of the universe. I tried to read Stephen Hawking’s “The Universe in a Nutshell” several times, but never successfully cracked it. I set it all aside for a few years until a recent conversation with a friend made me realize I really don’t know how gravity works, aside from a vague notion about objects exerting force on other objects related somehow to their mass. While perusing my shelf of yet-to-be-read books, I happened upon “The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene. Published in 2003, which also happens to be the year I finished college, it starts with the work of Newton and Einstein as a foundation, then moves into string theory. I took it as a sign, decided to give my physics self-study another go, and pulled it down for some light bedtime reading.

It didn’t take long to confirm my suspicion that this is an area of knowledge in which I’m severely lacking. The good news is that the writing style is very approachable and it’s helping to fill in the gaps in my understanding. And it’s totally mind blowing. If you, like me, had a tentative grasp on the force that’s keeping us all from floating off into space, then read on for a simplified explanation. You’ll soon find, as I did, that gravity isn’t so much a force as it is a shape. As objects with mass float in the sea of space, space actually bends around the object. The substance in which everything exists is more accurately described as “spacetime” but for ease of communication I’ll stick with just focusing on space in this discussion. The fabric of space is warped by the presence of an object with mass. The analogy commonly given is that of the bowling ball on a rubber membrane. Imagine a rubber sheet suspended horizontally. What happens when you place a bowling ball in the center? The sheet stretches, curving around the mass of the ball. Greene acknowledges in his book that this is an imperfect analogy, since space is three dimensional. I like to think of space as a giant tub of pudding, but that would cost a lot more than $240. It’s very hard for our minds to imagine the qualities of space as there isn’t a perfect comparison in everyday life, so the rubber sheet will have to do for now. Back to the bowling ball suspended on the curved sheet. Picture a much smaller object, say a golf ball, being dropped onto the same sheet. If it is far enough away from the bowling ball, where the sheet is still flat, the ball would roll along its own path undisturbed by the presence of the bowling ball. But if the golf ball landed close enough to the place where the curvature begins, it could start to roll towards the bowling ball. It could potentially begin circling around the curved lip of the depression and spiral into “orbit” around the bowling ball like the earth orbits the sun. Another possibility is that it could “fall” straight in towards the bowling ball and land on the surface, sticking there the way objects stick to the earth. Gravity then is not a force that exerts itself onto objects, but rather the distortion of the medium through which objects move.

In yoga philosophy there are two main polarities that work together to make up the universe: Shiva and Shakti. Shakti is the active energy of creation, Shiva the pure consciousness that contains the life force energy. Shakti is often described as feminine energy, and Shiva masculine. However it is important to note that all people, regardless of gender identity, possess both Shiva and Shakti energy within themselves. The goal of yoga, which means union, is to join these two different qualities in a balanced way. When I read physicist John Wheeler’s famous quote, “Mass grips space by telling it how to curve, space grips mass by telling it how to move,” I immediately thought of Shiva and Shakti. We know from Einstein’s famous formula E=mc^2 that mass can be transformed into energy and vice versa; they are two different forms of the same substance. Yogis also say that matter and energy are made of the same stuff vibrating at different frequencies to manifest everything we know as reality. Playing with Wheeler’s couplet, we arrive at, “Shakti connects with Shiva by telling him what shape to make, Shiva connects with Shakti by telling her how to move within that shape.” Shakti dictates the shape of the container by virtue of her mass, or energy, causing him to bend around her. Shiva dictates the movement of Shakti by virtue of his space, shaping the path through which she travels. The universe once existed as a densely packed unit containing everything in a single point, which then explosively spread apart. To this day, space and time continue to stretch as matter and energy move farther away from one another. Putting this into yogic terms, Shakti energy caused Shiva space to grow exponentially, creating planets, stars, and everything else in the universe along the way. This phenomenon is aptly known as the Big Bang, though I’m not sure if the yogic pun was intended.

Some people think that science and spirituality are incompatible, or at the very least dissimilar. The more I learn about both topics however, the more overlap I see. The yogis who received these teachings interpreted them through the lens of what they knew about the natural world around them, without the benefit of telescopes and space ships. When Mother Earth hugs us to her breast, Father Sky is the gentle hand that curls around our backs, holding us in place. Shakti creates worlds and Shiva choreographs their cosmic dance. Despite not having the advantage of modern technology, the ancient sages came to many of the same conclusions that our modern scientists do, even if they spoke in different languages.


Heart Broken Record

Every word I said that pierced someone’s heart

Plays on repeat in my head.

Sometimes quietly, sometimes

It fills the room and I can barely hear my own heart beating.

Occasionally it skips and scratches,

“you HURT me . . .  HURT me   . . .  HURT me.”

Perhaps it’s a penance or punishment.

“Someday I’ll break that fucking record,”

I say as a hand shakily reaches out and places the needle

Back at the beginning.

Who’s Your BAE?

It’s been almost a year since I separated from my ex. I’m hesitant to dive into anything too soon, that’s my typical MO and I’m intent on creating a new pattern. A pace somewhere between sloth and snail feels appropriate for my dating life right now. So, I don’t want to speak too soon, or jinx it, but there’s sort of something developing. We’ve known each other forever, in fact I can’t remember a time when we weren’t acquainted. I owe everything to them, they’ve been with me through it all. I just never really looked at them this way before. There were even times when I tried to end it, to be done with our rocky relationship forever. Until I woke up and realized its value, that it was worth saving. I realized the bad times coincided with times I wasn’t taking care of myself, and that the way I viewed our connection had more to do with my perspective than with the actual circumstances. They say you get out what you put in, and this relationship is no different. I’ve started appreciating the little things and remembering to be grateful for the small moments instead of expecting grand gestures or waiting around for a miraculous sign. I’m making an effort to spend more quality time without the ever present distractions of modern life. I pay attention, smile more, give compliments freely, accept the little flaws, and laugh at the funny things they do every day, things I used to ignore or even get irritated by. And it’s working. I’ve noticed more little winks lately, and I’ve been finding lots of lucky pennies. I’ve gotten more in touch with myself, my sensuality and what I need. I’ve been more vocal about asking for things and making my intentions clear. I’m learning to balance effort and ease. Relationships take work, but they also can’t take themselves too seriously. That wisdom definitely applies here. I’m focusing on having fun, doing what needs to be done, trusting that the rest will all work out, taking it slow and appreciating every moment I have to spend with my newest/oldest love. So if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to flirting with my biggest crush, my ride or die, my BAE for all time–my life!

Erin Marie Yoga



Helping people who are ready for better