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“It takes courage...to endure the sharp pains of self discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.” Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love
In one of my earlier blog posts called “When Yoga Stops Working” I made reference to a powerful place in which we find ourselves in life. I call this place “The Gate”, and many others have called it many other things from a “Reckoning” to a “Come to Jesus” moment. The Gate is the place where we must come up against ourselves. It’s when as Pema Chodron says, “The game is up.” It’s when we get thrown headlong into the unfamiliar territory of our minds. And, it’s the place where we can profoundly, powerfully, and in a lasting way make extraordinary healing change in our lives.
Life, the universe, God, The Tao, spirit, the highest self, or whatever you want to call it is always talking to us. It communicates through many different channels and methods. This is the “little voice” inside us that is trying to guide us. It always starts as a little voice or a feeling, but if we don’t hear or we don’t listen, the voice gets more insistent.
I often describe it to clients like this:
First the universe starts with a whisper.
If we don’t hear the whisper, or we don’t listen to it, then the universe taps us on the shoulder.
If we don’t respond to that, the universe smacks us around a little.
If we don’t hear that, then the universe gets a garbage can and clonks us over the head.
But fear not, as painful as it can be, 'tis a loving clonk over the head. It’s the wake up clonk. It’s the clonk of recognition. The clonk is to help us see the right turn. Our avoidant habits are like arriving at an intersection and always turning left. In fact, they are like arriving at an intersection and not even noticing there is a right turn. The moment when everything in our lives changes is realizing there is a right turn where we always turn left. This place, my freinds, is The Gate. We may not turn right for some time, in fact out of habit we will most likely go left. But once we are conscious we have real choice. The clonk over the head is to get us conscious and help us to see the possibility of doing something different. Doing something different takes us through The Gate.
The right turn is not easy nor does it come naturally to us. One of the reasons that it usually takes a “garbage can clonk” moment to wake us up is that while the familiar left turn may not make us happy, it’s familiar and we know when we make the right turn we’re going to have to face ourselves and some serious discomfort. So it often takes exaggerated suffering to help us see that while scary and unfamiliar, the right turn may actually be the way out of the trap. We also realize that as much as we may not want to face ourselves, doing so is like pouring alcohol on the wound. While that stings, it cleans the wound and allows it to heal. We realize it’s far preferable to continually reopening the wound.
Let me offer an example from my own life. . .
A few years ago I found myself in a hurtful break-up that ended a short-lived relationship. My self-esteem was in tatters and I don’t think I had ever felt so badly about myself. My coping strategies varied from lying on the couch staring at the ceiling all day, to addictions, to disordered eating. In short, I was in such exaggerated emotional pain I knew that something was trying to wake me up. I knew there was something that I desperately needed to see. I knew for sure there was love in this pain. This was my “garbage can clonk” moment. The universe, god, spirit, maybe even just my own subconscious was trying to show me how to stop this cycle of suffering.
About a month later I was at the beach on the south coast of Massachusetts with some friends. While they were in the water I just layed on the sand and stared up at the sky. This moment was the first time I began to drop the “I’m a victim” storyline and see the patterns. For the first time I could see it was my thoughts and my choices that were continually landing me in the same painful situations. It wasn’t me excusing hurtful behavior of others, nor a “blaming the victim” attitude, but rather it was seeing that my choices mattered AND that I had choice. Out of the darkness appeared a very murky. . . .right turn.
So I stared at the sky and spontaneously this prayer came to me:
“God (God is my placeholder for whatever is bigger than us) I see what I’m doing but I don’t know how to stop. Please send me whatever I need to change this pattern and stop causing myself this suffering.”
This prayer was the way I entered The Gate. This was my right turn.
Then I forgot about it. But about two weeks later I found myself in the presence of a couple of incredible teachers who began to help me unravel the web. They were my guides as I went through my own gate. I didn’t even realize this until much later, but my prayer was answered. I began to heal, move through the pain, see the root causes of the suffering, and heal the imbalances. On the other side of the pain was relief. On the other side of the suffering was healing change. At the other end of the bridge was a new, more authentic, calmer, happier, easier, more peaceful life.
So for me, the gate was a breakup. For others it’s injury, loss, or an unexpected career change or life transition. Sometimes it's a vague dissatisfaction, a feeling of being unfulfilled, empty, or lost. It’s not a one-time deal. We go through gates all the time and in many different ways. We don’t always need a “garbage can” moment however. In fact once we have one (or two) we often get much better at listening to the universe’s whispers and shoulder taps. We can also separate out what we can and cannot control with greater ease. Not all our clonks are avoidable for life has a mysterious method all its own. The most important thing once we've been clonked is what we do with the moment. Do I keep going left, or do I go right? Do i react and act as I always have, or do I do something different?
So my friends, if you find yourself at The Gate, it’s ok. It is a great gift as much as it may feel like the opposite. You’ve discovered the exit and you are taking the right turn. Now the process will mostly guide itself. Make sure you take advantage of your support systems and seek guidance when you need it. I can tell you from experience, not only will it all be ok, it will be better than it ever was before.
A couple of suggestions if you find yourself at The Gate:
1. Have an experienced teacher or therapist for support. This is essential.
2. Immediately start a daily spiritual practice. Anything from meditation to yoga to mindful walking.
3. Repeat the Buddhist Metta Prayer as often as you can:
a. May I be well
b. May I be happy
c. May I be safe
d. May I be peaceful and at ease
4. Do one thing a day that you really love. It may be just humming a song you like or having a quiet moment to enjoy your coffee in the morning.
5. Try to do something creative as often as you can. Write, draw, paint, arrange flowers etc.