The Boss said it.
When the hope you've gathered's drifted to the wind
It's you and I now, friend.
Let me show you what love can do.
My friend Jen proves it over and over again.
If you've been reading here for a longish time you'll know Jen. We met on one of my flying visits from Afghanistan to the US. Jen brought her daughter up to Manhattan to meet me. We toured the UN headquarters and talked about courage, and compassion and the power of love.
She told me about her friend Odette from Rwanda whose daughters were still in Rwanda and how she just knew she had to do something to help bring these girls to their mother.
Talking to Jen, I knew I had met an unconventional woman.
A conventional woman would see the struggle and pain of this Rwandan mother and think "Wow, that reminds me to be grateful for my own family, for the fact that we are all together."
A conventional woman would leave it at that, convincing herself that there was nothing she could do about it.
Jen decided that she needed to act. Two years ago she traveled to Rwanda and met Odette's daughters for the first time. She's been back three times since then. Most recently, in late March, she left her own children in the US and traveled again to the girls. This time she had told Odette that she wouldn't come back until she could bring them with her.
After weeks of exhausting effort, she's ready to bring the girls to their mother.
That's what love can do.
And, because her generosity knows no bounds, she's even giving the rest of us a chance to be part of this extraordinary journey of love.
If you'd like to remember what love can do, then read Jen's latest update. If you'd like to be part of this incredible homecoming (because a daughter returning to her mother is always a homecoming, even if she's coming far from her traditional home) then you can make a contribution.
But even if you don't make a contribution, you can give something back to Jen. Because if you read this story and remember the power of your own love, Jen will be thrilled. I just know she will.
Here's the thing: Yoga doesn't get you a pass on life.
It's been a little bit frantic around here lately (I guess that can happen when you light a fire under your ass) and it hasn't always been easy to find time to ground myself
and connect to who, what and where I am right now.
Yoga is usually how I ground myself, it's how I meet myself wherever I am.
But lately I've been skipping time for these grounding practices in favour of getting one more thing ticked off my to do list.
It's not that I'm grindingly busy. I'm excited and motivated and energised by what I've got going on. When you doing what you love you get less tired, I'm sure of that.
But the nervous system needs downtime even from enthusiasm and when I don't make time to get real with myself on my mat, it shows up in my life off the mat.
There are compelling reasons why I spent my entire Saturday on
the computer instead of outside in the sun helping my boyfriend dig out our old fence and prepare the posts for the new
fence. They have mostly to do with a new website that I was planning to launch this week, which will now be launched next week.
I was certainly compelled by it at the time. In retrospect, it all seems a little less compelling. But that's what a little perspective will do for you, I guess.
So I sat at my desk all day, cursing at my abortive attempts to rewrite
code that I don't even understand. I looked out the window at my boyfriend
working in the garden and I envied him.
I also felt guilty for not helping him and my guilt made me exaggerate my displeasure at the work I was doing on my website. Whenever my boyfriend came in to check on me I felt the need to make sure he understood I wasn't having fun in there while he was out working. So I complained more about the cursed code and the endless links that I had to fix.
I didn't take a break.
I didn't go for a walk.
I didn't even go and sit in the sun for ten minutes breathing in those last beautiful rays of autumn sun.
By the end of the day I was a wreck. I was emotionally, mentally and physically spent.
I picked a fight with my boyfriend. I burst into tears. I had a little meltdown.
It wasn't pretty.
Fortunately, thanks largely the last few years of regular yoga and meditation practice, I was also able to see myself with a
So I gave myself a pass on one bad day, read some beautiful poetry and sent myself off to bed.
When I shared this story with the 30 days of yoga participants one person said that she appreciated my honesty. She said that she had somehow imagined that as a yoga teacher I would be above this kind of frustration. So I wanted to talk a little bit about the idea that yoga is about transcending life's challenges.
As I understand yoga, it is the practice of meeting ourselves wherever we are. That means meeting ourselves, with courage and compassion, even when we are in a place of fear or anger or sadness. Rather than transcending our fears, it means meeting them. It means going through, rather than around, our fears and it means being able to look at ourselves, just as we are, with acceptance and love.
The vast array of practices that make up the path of yoga are all designed to increase our well-being and restore us to our original, unified, state. This state is called samadhi and although it is sometimes translated as bliss, I don't believe that it means the kind of trance-like bliss that involves avoiding all discomfort. Discomfort, like change, is a condition of our lives in these bodies.
My understanding of samadhi is being able to remain fully aware, fully awake, under all conditions - even conditions that might evoke in us discomfort or fear.
The longer I practice yoga the more I notice a
certain awareness that remains with me even as I allow my thoughts and
feelings to lead me down a path of suffering. This awareness is always there and, if
I make the time to connect with it through yoga, it always offers me a place of
refuge amongst the maelstrom of my own dramas and stories.
Some people call that place of refuge God. I think of it as an awareness and presence which is always with me because it is my own essential nature. I can always rest back into that place of spaciousness and compassion because it is actually my own best self.
Ultimately, this is what yoga is about for me. Yes, yoga has given me the ass of a woman ten years younger. Yes, it has strengthened my abs, fixed my dicky back and healed my gammy hip. Yoga has done all those things for me and, if you practice regularly, it will probably do those things for you too. But I practice yoga primarily because it is a path back to my original nature.
On days like Saturday when my life off the mat reveals the results of neglecting my
life on the mat for a few days, I remember why I practice yoga.
Yoga is not
going to get me a pass on life. I'm still going to have to deal with new
websites that don't work the way I want them to. I'm still going to lose
my perspective some days. I'm probably even going to keep picking fights
with my boyfriend at the worst possible moment.
But I will have a path back to that place of refuge, a way to recognise my true self in the midst of the drama and, if I choose to, to come home to myself.
Over the last few months I've had various friends tell me that I seem to be "on fire" at the moment.
Between finishing the book, signing with an agent, launching the new 30 days of yoga course, piloting the Off the Mat: Yoga in Action course in New Zealand, growing my regular yoga classes and running a series of restorative yoga workshops here in Wellington, I also have a few really exciting human rights contracts on the boil. One of them could see me traveling to Indonesia to talk to police about human rights. Sounds like my kind of contract. I love me some human rights and policing.
So yeah, I reckon my friends are right.
Right now, I am on fire.
This isn't exactly an overnight phenomenon. I've been laying the groundwork for all of these things for years. But, I have no doubt that the spark that lit my particular fire was a conversation with Danielle LaPorte.
In January this year I booked myself in for a Fire Starter Session with Danielle. Ever since, I've been recommending a session with Danielle to anyone who is a conscious, spirit-fueled entrepreneur.
If you are anything like me, and I know many of you are, then you might have some discomfort around words like "marketing" or "brand". I'm even a little queazy about the idea of money, even though I recognise that I need some of it to do the things I want to do with my life.
As someone who was stepping away from the comfort (and constraints) of a decade of salaried roles in the not-for-profit sector and into the exciting and scary new space of running my own business, I knew that I needed to learn about money, marketing and - yes - even brand.
I also knew that I needed to learn about those things from someone who understood my values, who was mindful and soulful and - most importantly of all - who was impeccably bullshit-free. Danielle was that person.
Here's what Danielle says about the sessions:
I’m going to help you see what’s possible ... and laser in on the wisest course of action. Wisdom = meaningfulness and efficiency; doing what brings you joy and considering what the market will respond to. Jam sessions could generate a new product or service, your next book plot, insight into repeating lessons, a decision about what you need to stop doing, a better tagline, or a gazillion dollar idea. We may deepen your connection to your truest vocation, overhaul your website, or rev up your mojo to take action.
She certainly lit a fire under me. She showed me the places where I had everything I needed to take the next step and encouraged me to move in the direction of my enthusiasm and joy with both grace and ease. While there was no marketing bullshit in sight, she did challenge me to look at my own discomfort with the idea of making money and promoting myself.
Danielle called me out on the fact that this website, at the time, had buttons and banners linking to products from a wonderful list of seriously good people BUT no button for my own 30 day yoga course. That sad fact continues to be true. But I promise to rectify it on my new website, launching soon.
It's not hard to see why I would be recommending a Fire Starter Session to everyone I know who has or is in the process of launching a creative or soulful business. But Danielle can only do so many one-on-one sessions, and the price (although worth every penny) isn't right for everyone.
So I am even more thrilled to be able to share with you Danielle's latest offering - the Fire Starter Sessions digital book! Please, watch Danielle tell you about her book, in only two minutes.
For only $150 we can all have access to Danielle's razor-sharp insight and generous truth. Pre-order your copy by clicking through the link in the banner below.
(NB: This is an affiliate link. That means I get a share of any sales Danielle makes through this link. It's my first foray into the world of being an
affiliate and there is a very good reason why I chose Danielle's book
as the first product I would endorse. Because it aligns with a Zen Peacekeeper view of the world and values, and because it is that good.)
If you missed them, you can read the previous posts:
This week I promised to address some specific questions from you guys. I think I've got at least one more Twitter post in me, so if you have any questions that I haven't addressed yet, do let me know.
Many of your questions all boiled down to one thing, how to manage Twitter without being totally overwhelmed. I'm not sure I've mastered that challenge, but I have a system and it works for me so I'm going to share it here.
Q: How do you keep with all the people you follow? I feel like if I follow that many people I will barely keep up with the information they are posting.
There are two parts to my answer. The first is a way of thinking about Twitter and the second is a Twitter tool that I rely on to keep the chaos at bay.
Firstly, here's how I look at Twitter: Twitter is my tearoom. I can't be in the tearoom all the time and there are bound to be fantastic conversations taking place while I'm away. I'm going to miss them. I'm okay with that.
When I do drop in, I'll find who is there and join the conversation. What I've missed is what I've missed and I don't spend time trawling back through the Twitter stream to 'catch-up' any more than I'd request transcripts of conversations that took place in the tearoom while I was away.
Sometimes I stumble into the tail-end of a great conversation and I will backtrack a little so that I have some idea what everyone is talking about before I join in. That's one way in which Twitter is an improvement on tearoom conversation. I don't have to ask people to recap or repeat what had been said just before I walked in!
So that's my first secret. I don't try to keep up with everything everyone posts. I check in periodically (more or less frequently depending what I'm doing with my day) and let the rest go.
My second secret is Twitter lists. In my post on 10 Easy Steps to Get Started on Twitter I wrote about lists. Anyone on Twitter can create their own lists. I use lists to group together the people I follow who fall into similar categories. For example, I have a yoga list, a Buddhist list, a writing list, an Afghanistan list, a list of people who are changing the world, and something I call my 'kindred-spirits' list, which is people who may or may not fit into any of the previous categories but with whom I feel a strong common ground.
Then, I use something called TweetDeck to manage my interface with Twitter. I know there are other options, including HootSuite, but I've only tried TweetDeck so I can't tell you much about the others. If you want to know more, there are others who have done the comparisons.
For now, TweetDeck works for me. One of the things it allows me to do is to have multiple columns for me Twitter stream. I have a column for each of my Twitter lists, plus a column for mentions/replies and one for direct messages. This helps ensure that I don't miss any Tweets that are directed at or talking about me!
It also helps me keep track of the 800 people I follow without being completely overwhelmed. Each of my lists has no more than 150 people in it, so it's not too hard to see who's online and what they are talking about at a glance.
After my post about the fabulously audacious questions children asked me about Afghanistan last week, I came across this TED talk today and knew I needed to share it with you.
Child prodigy Adora Svitak says the world needs "childish" thinking: bold ideas, wild creativity and especially optimism. Kids' big dreams deserve high expectations, she says, starting with grownups' willingness to learn from children as much as to teach.
I've just arrived home after a week on the road, visiting twelve primary schools in and near my old hometown.
I grew up in Tokoroa. I think my favorite quote about Tokoroa is this one, from Wikipedia:
Famous for Maori and Pacific Islander Races and a Multicultural melting pot as all races and creeds attracted by seasonal employment at the mill.
I don't really think I need to add much to that eloquent testimony to the multicultural nature of my home town. The town is famous for its Races. Not the kind involving horses.
More recently, unfortunately, my hometown has been more famous for its crime rates. A teacher at one of the primary schools I visited this week was stabbed to death in her own classroom.
Any sense of hope or possibility that existed when I was at school there seems to have gone the way of the shops in the main street, which now lie empty.
So when I was asked to do another round of motivational talks at low-income primary schools for the Duffy Books in Homes charity, I agreed on the condition that I could go home to Tokoroa.
If I was going to spend a week giving children a sense of hope that they too, despite their limited economic resources and ill-reputed hometown, can make a positive difference in the world, then I wanted it to be children in Tokoroa.
The idea is that I visit each school and talk to a full assembly about my work in Afghanistan. The official name of these assemblies are "Role Model Assemblies", but some schools call them "Hero Assembly". I'm often introduced as "Marianne Elliott, our Duffy hero". Those feel like big shoes to fill.
To give you an idea of the kind of heroes that these children might be used to hearing from, take a look at the list of notable residents in that Wikipedia entry. Out of forty seven notable residents, thirty six are athletes. Of those thirty six, twenty two play rugby.
But my point is that when a local 'hero' turns up at a Tokoroa primary school, nine times out of ten they are going to be a sports person. I was not, to put it mildly, what these kids were accustomed to in a Duffy hero.
But at school after school I encountered a deep and engaged curiosity about the lives of children in Afghanistan. Even during the late afternoon assemblies in those final, restless days before the Easter school holidays the children were all engaged and interested.
They had dozens of questions for me. Some of them were questions I'd like to see put to the people who make the decisions that control the lives of so many Afghan children.
"If the soldiers have airplanes to fly in, why do the children have to walk so far to school? Why can't they use the planes?"
"Why did the war start in the first place?"
"How can the children grow if they only have bread to eat?"
"If they cut down all the trees, how will the children have clean air to breathe?"
"If you had a bunker at your office, what about the people in the town who didn't have bunkers? What happened to them when there were rockets?"*
My favorite part of every talk was when I asked the children to tell me what they think every child everywhere needs. Most schools get started with the basics - food, water, shelter - but there wasn't a school where the children didn't move on pretty quickly to the essentials - every child needs to be protected, cared for and loved.
These children had no problem understanding that children in Afghanistan needed all the same things that they needed themselves.
I wondered whether it was possible that children, so often maligned for their cruelty, could be more compassionate than most adults. Is it possible that children are more able to recognise themselves in the lives, suffering and needs of others.
Maybe it's simply that children are (as child development texts tell us) egotistical, so they instinctively related everything I was saying to themselves and their own lives.
But I was left with the impression that these children might be closer to their original compassionate nature. Their natural empathy hadn't been perverted by notions of blame or racist stereotypes. They didn't get caught up in the 'story' of who was causing the suffering, they simply responded to the fact of it.
Their curiosity and their compassion gave me hope for our beleagured planet. So did the passion and patience of their teachers, but that's another post.*I feel the need to point out that some of these questions were from the older groups I spoke with, Year 7 and 8 students who were 11 and 12 years old. I wasn't talking to the juniors about rocket attacks and bunkers!
I had so many interesting comments and responses to my post last week about shame and yoga that I found myself with more questions on the whole topic of yoga and shame.
In particular, my friend Nick suggested that there was a difference between a teacher "creating" shame, on the one hand, and "triggering old shame" on the other. He wondered whether there was any difference between triggering old shame and triggering any other kind of emotional release through yoga, an experience which I freely admit is a part of my experience of yoga and something which I accept and even embrace as an important and positive part of how yoga brings me home to my authentic self.
I believe that the yogic path is the path through, rather than around, our shadows. So I can see Nick's point. If this teacher's style, tone, words or action reconnected me to old body-shame that I've been carrying around, then he created a powerful learning opportunity for me. There is no doubt that through this experience I've become more aware of the shame I still carry in my body, despite the powerful and positive shifts that yoga has brought me.
As I said in an email to a friend about this experience:
"It seems despite seeking out compassionate yoga teachers, I still carry the hard taskmaster, the shrill critic, within me.
I don't think that this teacher shamed me, he just triggered my own internal critic, who does a very good job of making me feel 'not good enough' - which is pretty much my definition of shame.
That internal critic gets a lot less airtime these days than in the past, so it caught me off-guard - very much off guard! But it was a useful learning experience. "
So, if I was carrying this old shame within me, and if it needed to be released or at least recognised, then didn't the teacher last week do what all yoga teachers aspire to do - i.e. create an opportunity for me to learn and grow and deepen in my yoga and my life?
I think he did. But shame is a very powerful emotion. It has the capacity to paralyze us. It certainly has the potential to send an otherwise curious new yoga student away from a class with no intention of ever returning.
I have no problem with the idea that I am not the teacher for every yoga student. If I was we would all be in trouble. So, if after one class you decide that I'm not the teacher for you and never return I won't be upset at all.
But if in your first class, or one of your early experiences of yoga, you feel so shamed that you decided never to try another yoga class, then I would be very sorry.
Shame is a much more powerful emotion than many of the others that arise in our yoga practices. Many of us will experience frustration as we begin (and, for that matter, as we continue) to practice yoga. Some of us will feel waves of almost inexplicable sadness as we release layers of grief that we may have been storing in our bodies. These feelings may be very frightening for some people, but research indicates that none of them have the almost universal ability to paralyze us that shame has.
It is for this reason that I am especially mindful, as a yoga teacher and as a human-being, of the most common shame triggers. Sadly, our bodies are one of the most common sites of shame.
I agree with Nick that once a teacher comes to know a student well, and once that student knows and trusts the teacher, there is a powerful space in which a teacher may gently encourage a student to extend themselves beyond their comfort zone. A wise and intuitive teacher will know what each student is capable of doing, which is often more than that student suspects.
I've certainly have yoga teachers encourage me to try poses or go to places in my poses that I believed to be beyond me. When I trust those teachers enough I'll go even where I believe I cannot go. That is the beauty of a trusting teacher student relationship.
In this case, it may be that the teacher has such strong intuition that he saw that I not only carried 'shame' baggage but that I had the strength and the self-awareness to be able to process that shame. He may even have knowingly poked into my weak spot to show me what was lying beneath the surface. If he did, he certainly created a profound learning opportunity for me.
It takes careful judgement to know when a student has the support and tools to process a stored emotion as strong as shame without creating new shame.
I'm happy to admit that I will generally do what I can to avoid triggering shame in my classes, but I also accept that at the end of the day I cannot control what arises in people as they practice with me. I'm quite sure that there are people who have been in my classes who could tell us all a story about how my choice of words or adjustment triggered their own feelings of shame.
Shame is such a widely shared experience and can leave such deep wounds that all yoga teachers and yoga students are likely to need to face it at some point. I only hope that I can create a safe and supportive environment in which for my students to experience whatever may arise as they practice yoga.
If you missed them, you can read the previous posts:
These Twitter posts will pop up once a week and although I have some ideas about the topics they'll cover, please feel free to leave a comment with any of your burning questions about Twitter.
Last week I talked about retweeting, and this week I promised to talk about hashtag and chatting. I've had some specific questions from some of you which I'm going to answer in next week's Twitter post. So if you have any questions that I haven't addressed yet, do let me know.
So - what is a hashtag? It's nothing fancier that adding the # sign to the front of a word. Certain words or combinations of words (it only works as a searchable hashtag if it looks like one word, so you have to join multiple words together without spaces in a hashtag) are used by certain groups or communities to keep track of each other.
One of the first hashtags I discovered was #amwriting - this one is used by hundreds of writers as a way of sharing encouragement, motivation and commiseration about the act of writing.
Another hashtag I've used is the #askagent tag, this one is used by agents like Colleen Lindsay and others to host regular chats where anyone can ask them questions. To participate you simply as a question and tag it with #askagent. The agents taking part will see it and then they will reply directly to you. It's fantastic. I've found it really useful.
I've been using a hashtag for the 30 days of yoga as well, any time I post about the 30 days I add #30dayyoga to the tweet. Other people taking part do the same. Then, anyone who wants to keep track of tweets about the 30 days can enter #30dayyoga into the search box on Twitter and they'll see them all. Just like this:
Sometimes hashtags are used to host real-time chats, like the #askagent chat, and for those I recommend using a service called 'TweetChat'. On TweetChat you can sign into to a chat using any given hashtag and for the duration of the chat you'll only see tweets using that tag. The service also automatically adds that hashtag to all your tweets so they are fed into the chat stream.
This is what it looks like when I'm signed in via TweetChat to the #amwriting chat:
I'll be using TweetChat for our #30dayyoga chats and I recommend that you do too. You can sign into TweetChat using your existing Twitter account and then just enter the hashtag that you want to follow. Easy peasy.
I've got a new series of great interviews lined up with people who have a strong sense of purpose and who, in my humble opinion, have found authentic and mindful ways to be of service in the world. Each interview is made up of only five question.
Welcome, Ronna Detrick!
I'm writing a book about my experiences as a human rights worker in Gaza and Afghanistan, something along the lines of 'Eat, Pray, Love' meets 'Emergency Sex and other Desperate Measures'