October Full Moon, Full Circle
They say the Full Moon is a good time to bring a project or experience to fruition or completion. I am not going to say my Healing Journey has been completed, but I will say that some aspect of it is ending. Tomorrow on the full moon I'll return to Pittsburgh, PA. It'll be my first time back in the US in just over a year. My adventure has taken me from Pittsburgh to California, Hawaii, in the US; Kerala, Karnataka, Dharamshala in India; Athens, Greece; Paris, Provence in France' and London, Dublin in UK in Europe.
It was last September when I left Pittsburgh. At that point I had been healing from the spinal cord injury for not quite a year yet. In that first year I had been healing and had some travels, but September 2016 was when I said out loud that I was going on a Healing Journey. I didn't know specifically what my Healing Journey would look like,but I needed travel and adventure to accompany the transformation happening in my inner landscape and physical body. I was looking for new experiences that would help me create clarity with my new way of being.
I felt a compulsion to leave the familiarity of my exterior world to match the absence of familiarity in my interior world. After all of this time, I still look for the words to help you understand what it was like for me to lose access to my physical body, and then ever so slowly regain capacity for basic human agency but without a sense of familiarity. In conversation people have likened what I say about my experience to that of having a new born child, and others have compared it to the grieving process. I haven't experienced either of those states fully in my life story thus far, so its hard for me to say how much my experience is like them.
What I can say today about my experience to date is that there is definitely a strong aspect of surreality to it all. It has been almost two years now. I have made an intentional effort to be fully present for each moment of this experience, still I find it hard to imagine the time when I couldn't move my body at all. I can recall it, but I often wonder, "Was that really me? Did I really need a power wheelchair for 5 weeks? Did someone really have to wipe my ass for a month? Did I really go to India when I could hardly walk?" So much that happened doesn't seem possible. And still I know it is possible, because I did experience it all.
I experienced it and a big part of me has accepted my circumstances as my new reality most of the time. But while an active part of me felt and played out a story of acceptance, hovering in the background is a sad, tired, and uncomfortable being just working toward "getting through this". While I say I accept my current condition, two years later and still challenged by stiff movement and a combination of numb and bizarre sensation. I also daily dream of the day that I can move and walk without effort. I am honestly just waiting and wishing for the day my body will stop buzzing and being numb. There is a big part of me that doesn't accept this at all. And she cries often.
So now here I am, just under two years after falling down the stairs and just over one year of adventurous travels. Here I am sitting in a pub in Dublin, Ireland, one ear listening to Irish brogues tell stories to each other over pints at 2:00 in the afternoon on a Tuesday, the other ear listening to my internal dialogue about the story I want to tell you today. I came to Dublin for a single day because it was the cheapest flight back to Pittsburgh.
Tomorrow I'll take a plane to my own personal ground zero. I'll go walk up and down those stairs I fell down and changed my life forever. I wasn't meant to be going back right now. Or rather I should say I didn't intend to return to the US just yet. I had considered it and decided against it. I had bought a ticket to Goa, India. I was going to the Bone and Body Clinic for 8 weeks of intensive healing. And then I got news that a friend died.
I was sitting at the dining room table of the friends I was visiting in Provence, France. I opened my email and got a message that said, "I'm sorry to tell you this over email but our friend died." I was shocked. I said "Fuck." my heart started to explode into 1000 pieces and I stopped it. I decided not to process the sadness and set it to the side and carried on with my visit. But while I sat with friends, it kept coming back into my head, "My friend is dead." A thread of the fabric in the eco-system of one of my closest circles of love had been ripped out. The hole was too big not to feel. That afternoon I knew I wouldn't be going to India, and that I would come back to the US to hug as many of the people I love as possible.
So that is the next stage of my Healing Journey - I just in this moment as I type decided to call it Lizandra's US Hugging Tour. It'll start in Pittsburgh and then I'll feel my way into the proper order of hugging visits. If you'd like to put in a special request for a hugging visit - please send me an email at lizandra311 at gmail.com. If I don't get to hug you in person - say hi by email and know that I love you exactly as you are with nothing to fix or make more lovable or capable.
23 months and still counting...
22 months, almost 2 years now. As always, I am befuddled by the elasticity of time passing. It feels like forever ago that I was in Pittsburgh unable to move my body other than head and shoulders. It also feels like it was just yesterday I was using a forearm walker to relearn how to make my legs take one step and then another. However confused my perception of how the time has passed, what is certain, is that I am more alive as a result of this spinal cord injury and my healing process.
As I sit here in a chair in my sweet room in France, forming my thoughts into words by tapping my two best working fingers on letters of my keyboard, I ask myself about the thread that carries through these 22 months. The loudest answer is 'effort'. Then I feel-hear 'acceptance'. When I keep listening patiently I hear other words like grace, support, celebration and gratitude. And if I am willing to stay a bit longer, to keep listening to the whispers of my interior landscape, then I also hear-feel grief, pain, sadness and shame as major players in the experience of this healing journey.
My spinal cord injury healing journey experience has been and continues to be broad and wide. It is filled by a veritable kaleidoscope of feelings and truths that flow and shift through my days. It feels true to say its base has been created and supported by an enormous amount of effort. In the beginning intense effort didn't feel like a choice. It was simply what I did, apply the best effort I could toward mobility each day.
At the beginning of my healing journey, there was so much clarity. There was a part of me that was relieved to feel like I had a clear purpose in life. My whole existence united to put in the effort required to regain mobility and agency in the world. My goal was clear and unquestioned, I wanted to move again. It was challenging of course. There was enormous frustration in trying to do basic life activities. There was plenty of bewilderment by the level of motor skills and strength required, and previously taken for granted, to do things like pick up objects, open containers, brush teeth, get dressed etc. But the frustration was nothing in comparison the sense of accomplishment when I was able to do something new. What a gift that was, to be able to celebrate the very smallest acts as huge wins in life.
In my early days of healing there was no internal dialogue other than gentle reassurance. I never once said to myself, "Ok girl you gotta try to walk again." or "You need to work to use your arms and hands." I just did it. There was no internal dialogue riddled with questions or analysis. I have no memory of ever thinking that I needed to try harder or do better. As I dip deeper into this reflection I recall that in those early days I never judged myself as not doing well enough or not trying hard enough. When I look back at myself in those early days of the injury, I am impressed. That is the version of myself I want to get to know better. I want her to continue to shine into this life more often, not just in a time of crisis.
As I reflect on the entirety of this experience, the earliest days are those I am the most proud of. They were somehow the most straightforward and simplest of this whole journey. Kind of like my perception of time, my perception of challenge feels elastic. Was it more or less challenging to receive the news that I was paralyzed or to feel almost 'normal' but not quite? Was it more or less challenging to learn to take those first steps or to try to fix my stride now? Was it more or less challenging to not be able to use my hands at all or to use them with uncertainty and trepidation? More or less, it all feels the same, and continues to require effort and acceptance.
I went for a hike in the hills of the Provence region of France today. As I was getting ready to leave the house the four-year old who lives here asked me, "Are you going to see Haiti?" My instinctive immediate response started out, "N..." but before I finished my word I remember her mom telling me that one day this precocious 4 year old said to her, "Momma, I can see the hills of Haiti, Sudan and France - they are all my home." So in this spirit, of knowing our home is everywhere, and my powerful mind can take me anywhere I dream to go, I told her I wasn't sure if I would see Haiti on my walk, but I'd let her know when I got back.
With my feet in the shoes that have in the past 6 months walked the dirt roads of southern India, the foothills of the Himalayas, and the gritty streets of Athens, I walked down the driveway to a recently discovered footpath through the nearby hills of the Provence region of France. I did a reconnaissance walk yesterday for the first on foot outing during my two weeks here. I gave my body some quality rest when I first arrived and it felt amazing to get moving outside again. My friends mother loaned me some hiking poles and they add a lovely level of comfort to longer hikes in unknown terrain.
Compared to my hikes in the Himalayan foothills todays walk was gentle and easy. Compared to those hikes and the walks in Athens, Greece today was incredibly serene. I walked about ten minutes down our long driveway and single lane paved road, then turned onto smaller road that took me to the footpath I had found yesterday. my favorite part of the early footpath are old stone walls tucked around the way of the path. With no historical type markers like I had for the ancient stones in Athens, Greece or the religious indicators of tucked away temples of India, still I could feel the deep history of the place through these stone walls. As I walked I could well imagine the people from centuries ago walking these paths to get to market and tilling the stone terraced land. The stones felt like they had a story to tell and I did my best to listen as I walked.
In my four hour outing, the only people I saw were three loud talking cyclists on a paved backroad that my footpath crossed. The moment I heard them was a funny one. I had just seen horse droppings, so I guessed I would see them come my way on horse. Then I looked ahead, and I saw a bathtub. Yes, in the middle of nowhere rural Provence, France, there was a white ceramic bathtub, that I happened to see at the same moment I heard a loud voice. So then I figured I was coming into their land or a campsite. As I walked a bit more, I saw them whizzing by on bicycles above me on a road, nothing to do with the bathtub. I said "Bonjour", they didn't acknowledge me or the bathtub. As I walked toward the bathtub, wondering what on earth it was doing there, I saw a baby snail perched high on a tall piece of grass. I slowly realized that in the area around this mystery bathtub, each of the tall grass blades had one to three little white shelled tiny snails perched on them. I haven't seen this before and felt like I was in a patch of the Twilight Zone.
As I left the Twilight Zone, I came to the road the cyclists had been on. I walked on the road for a bit, and was pleased to see another footpath so I could continue with what felt like more of a deep nature hike. The path was more narrow and rocky than it had been on the other side, I was happy for the lent trekking poles. The land smelled of arid Mediterranean earth in August, desert like dusty aliveness The cicadas were the loudest sound, as I tuned in, I could also hear the dry leaves of oak and olive trees rustling, whispering pine needles, birds chirping, and flies buzzing, As I walked slowly step by careful not-so-paralyzed-anymore-but-still-tentative step, my thoughts moved at a meteoric speed. They jumped between attending to the act of walking, observing my surroundings, feeling the stories of the stones and the trees, coming up with poem titles and first lines to a book, and of course drifting away into my stories from past and into the future.
Being an observer of my thoughts is one skill I am proud of being on the scent of mastering. My observer mind is getting stronger and stronger with practice. Today I felt it and enjoyed it. As I walked and thought, I observed how much I was thinking. As I spend more time alone on the Healing journey, talking less to others, I realize just how much I talk in my head about this, that, and the other thing. The Yoga Sutras say that true yoga is a "cessation of mind activity" in this pursuit I can often feel judgmental of how active my mind is and how challenging it is to quiet it any place other than a meditation cushion.
Sinking into the power of narrative, "the stories I tell myself create my world", I am now choosing to revel in my powerfully imaginative and busy mind instead of judging it. As I revel in it, observe and appreciate it - I can feel this befriending as an important step toward quieting it. Like a child who needs to be seen before she can be quiet. My mind longs to feel seen and appreciated instead of taken for granted or shamed. As I observed it today, and reflected on the question of my sweet little four year old friend, I felt gratitude for a mind that can take me anywhere I want to go.
I walked for about an hour, and then following the guidance of a butterfly, I made a little nest for myself at Noon. Yesterday, I was reminded that in Haiti they do voodoo rituals at Noon and midnight. It was (not) by happenstance that the butterfly guided me to sit down on a pine needle bed nestled among the trees just along the path just as Noon came. I sat down in a meditative seat. closed my eyes and let my mind wander wherever it wanted to go. Me, I just watched it dance through time and space, places and people, feelings and stories. After a while, I felt tired, so I lay down on my side. I felt so safe and secure tucked away in a little nest for rest among the pines. My mind it drifted softly here and there and my heart felt at complete peace.
It was a little cloudy and it felt like the clouds were there to help create a container for my sadness. Because even as I feel into being at peace and celebrate the joy of living in a dream existence of open time and space connecting in nature, when I look deep inside it is almost always a sense of sadness and discomfort that I find. Today I felt a genuine willingness to befriend these feelings. To accept them as welcome guests as Rumi has suggested.
by Mary Oliver
When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, "Stay awhile."
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, "It's simple," they say,
"and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine."
Healing in the Himalayan Foothills
I'm sitting at a cafe called Paul Patisserie in the Dubai airport. The air is cold and filled with sounds of tinny music, tapping metal construction and voices of travelers from around the world. Sitting in front of me are two Asian women wearing their face masks down on their chins as they eat a fruit cup from the cafe, look at their phones and discuss the new currency in their wallet with wonder and laughter. There is a little Indian girl sitting near us singing a sweet song. People of all colors, ages and sizes wander in front of me. Here I sit on my MacAir, a chamomile tea beside me, trying to stay off of Facebook to write this blog post.
Here I am in transit, again. Going from here to there, again. Why do I keep moving? Why is this Healing Journey so mobile? The reasons are many. Running away is not one of them. Of this I am certain. I am not running away from responsibility, community, intimacy, or anything I would experience if I 'settled down'. I am not running away from those things, and neither am I ready for them in the form they come with a more settled down lifestyle.
Waking my body up from paralysis takes movement. And it feels like the type of movement and newness I experience in travel is more effective movement in this process of waking up. The most beautiful aspect of this experience lies in how holistic it is. As I work doggedly to wake my body up, my entire being is along for this ride of 'waking up'. My heart has never been more open. My mind has never been so ready to listen and learn.
My current transition is from India to Greece. I just wrapped up six amazing and healing weeks in the Dharamshala region of northern India. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I decided to go. With no research about the place, I went. I went because I was hired to teach at a yoga teacher training. When I got out of my taxi on the first day six weeks ago, I was taken aback. A hillside village in the foothills of the Himalayas is a steep and rocky place to be - duh. I wanted to laugh at myself for not realizing it would be so steep and rocky, but in that moment I was too frightened and overwhelmed to laugh. My strength and balance had come far by that point, but I didn't feel at all certain I was ready for that level of challenge.
My first few days were some of the most challenging I've experienced on this Healing Journey. In addition to constant fear and uncertainty in basic daily getting around, the people who had hired me, unequivocally un-hired me when they saw my movement limitations that result from the spinal cord injury. I was in a state of imbalance and upheaval both emotionally and physically. I was hurt, frightened and alone.
Somehow, I met that state head on. I didn't run or hide, I stepped fully into it. It was an incredible realization of how far I have come over the past year and a half, of how much I have learned and grown. The spinal cord injury and subsequent Healing Journey has taught me that I can face anything and everything that happens in my life. Even an experience is unpleasant and uncomfortable, it is something to be experienced and lived through. It is something to be felt fully and learned from.
There I was, in a place where every step terrified me and had experienced my first feeling of disability discrimination. What to do? I was staying in a tiny room of a guesthouse in a hillside tourist village called Bhagsu. I could either hide in my room and cry, or I could go out and explore. I chose the latter.
Everyday, I expanded my circle of exploration. The first few days I would just walk out to one of the many nearby restaurants and cafes. Picking a cafe further up the hill each day. The tourist or traveler village of Bhagsu is a colorful conglomeration of restaurants, shops and guest houses run by local entrepreneurs and filled with travelers from all over the world, including other areas of India. So I would sit and enjoy eating creative continental fare designed to amuse foreigners taste buds, sip tea and watch the lively scene unfold. Each day I got more comfortable.
A few days of that and I was ready to go further. I walked 'all the way down the hill' to take an auto-rickshaw to the Dalai Lama's temple. An autorickshaw is a cross between a moped and a cab and is a great budget way to get around. The 15 minute ride to Mcleod Gang was bumpy and full of amazing views. The route between the tourist village and nearby town that is home to the exiled Tibetan community, allows for expansive views of the valleys and neighboring mountains. As we arrived in town I became a part of the boisterous and richly colorful street scene of bustling tourists, monks, Tibetans and Indians. I made my way to the temple and was filled with a sense of gratitude for sacred space and the opportunity to be in and experience it. It was that day that I knew, even though my trip to Dharamsala was not going to be what I expected, it was going to be perfect.
The next day I walked even further, This time I walked down one hill, through a valley and up another hill to get to the Himalayan School of Iyengar Yoga. I didn't yet have a walking stick and it was insanely difficult. At one point I nearly burst into tears when I had to ask a stranger for help because I was scared of a big step with some gravel. But I persevered and made it to the yoga center. The manager warmly welcomed me and offered chai as we sat on stone slab benches in the lovely garden area they created for the yoga center. We talked about how the style of yoga could be an interesting exploration for me, but there was uncertainty of making that hike everyday. Could I do that and then 3 hours of yoga? I really wasn't sure. That evening I bought a mop handle for a walking stick, and two days later walked back to pay for the following weeks morning yoga sessions.
That week I also learned of a month long Sanskrit intensive. Sanskrit is the ancient language used for most Yoga and Hindu texts and also many Buddhist texts. I have been chanting and studying some of these texts through transliteration and translation for a few years. I've been interested in learning the original script and language, and my opportunity finally arrived. It was an evening class in Mcleod Ganj which worked perfectly for me. And unfolded my dreamlike month long Healing Journey daily schedule.
Each morning I woke between 5-6am, depending on how tired I was. I did my morning meditation and chanting practice, dressed and walked to yoga. The first week of yoga it took me 40-45 minutes to do the walk that involved both a steep rocky road descent and a long mountainside stone stair ascent. By the end of the month I was doing it in under 30 minutes some days. The yoga practice was a very different practice. I have been practicing Ashtanga Yoga Mysore style for almost 4 years, and these classes were Iyengar style. The poses are far fewer and the focus is on using props and close attention to cultivate awareness and alignment as you hold them for extended time periods.. As the days progressed I knew this was not my new practice, rather just a short break for some research into finer points of alignment in asana. I missed my flowing movement and strength based practice, but it also felt right to take this short break of learning some nuance in my body. Especially because I was walking 5 kilometers (3 miles) of steep terrain a day.
After the three-hour yoga practice each day, I would go to a mountain side cafe for an extended brunch. During those brunches I ate amazing food, breathed fresh mountain air, talked to lovely people and studied Sanskrit. My early to mid-afternoon I walked a few kilometers, mostly downhill, to Mcleod Ganj where my Sanskrit class was held. Those classes met for two intense hours, five days a week. It was a steep learning curve for me, as the other five people in my class were monks and scholars with previous experience. I loved the new challenge. I have been working so hard with my body-mind connection, but I hadn't much stretched my pure brainpower muscles in a while. It was a welcome effort, that paid off. By the end of the class I can now speak, write and recognize all of the characters and am well on my way to being able to read and chant in the ancient language.
The first week I only walked a portion of the way home and took an auto-rickshaw the rest of the way. By week two my stamina had increased enough that I started walking all the way home. I would pretty much fall into bed exhausted with a huge smile on my face. I was completely satisfied with the adventure, effort and learning of each day. There were bumps for sure.
The Friday of the first or second week, I was so exhausted that I had a kind of major break down. I skipped Sanskrit class and stayed home to cry instead. Not realizing I was just tired. I was hit with a feeling of not wanting to be paralyzed anymore. Tired of making so much effort to live a meaningful life. I rested for two days and then I went on an epic long mountain hike that restored my faith in both my ability to endure and the worthiness of that effort.
Ok, while I have more to write about my magical hiking experiences in the foothills of the Himalayas, I am running out of writing steam. I will write a part two to this post soon. Thank you for being with me on this journey. I feel your love and support everyday from wherever you send it.
This post is about my biggest life lesson in India so far. It's about an experience that I could very easily be upset, bitter or angry about. Instead, I'm learning from it. I am accepting the situation as it is and moving on. I am writing this post as part of the practice of telling the story and then letting it go completely and moving on. So here is what happened.... it's kind of long for the internet, but it is the story as I need to tell it.
In mid-March, while I was in Pandeshwara at the traditional Yoga Guru Kula, I started considering the idea of a longer stay in India. I had a ticket to visit my mom in Florida for April 16 and had been planning to head to Pittsburgh, then Haiti, then back to Hawaii via Arizona. That was my plan. But as I was settling into the rich experience of deep traditional yoga studies, I felt the pull to stay longer to go deeper. As the idea of tossing my plan out the window began blossoming, I started looking for possible yoga teaching positions in India. My cash flow was getting low, a longer stay would require more income.
Within 3-4 days of looking, I was offered a month long yoga teaching job in Dharamshala. A popular spiritual tourist destination, and the home of the Dalai Llama, in the foothills of the Himalayas. It felt like divine provenance. I was clearly supposed to stay in India for a while. It was such a gift to be offered this position so easily and quickly. It let me release all questions of how long to stay at the Yoga Guru Kula and I could be fully present in the learning experience there. It also gave me a sense of security that I'd earn a bit of money this summer and get to stay in India at least through June. I felt great about not having any plans after that. I would get myself to Dharamshala, get settled in and let what was supposed to happen next be revealed to me. I had fully embraced living in the flow and it felt amazing.
Fast forward 6 weeks. on May 10, under a full moon, I took a night bus to Dharamshala from Delhi. I had a great week in Delhi, where I got to visit with a few good friends, and I was excited for the next stage of my healing journey - teaching at a yoga teacher training course in India. It was early morning when I arrived in the 'hill station' town of Dharamshala and took a shared taxi even higher up the mountain to a tiny town called called Upper Bhagsu.
I arrived without issue at the yoga school. I was excited about arriving but I was also tired as I had barely slept, and my legs were extra stiff and weak from sitting on a bumpy bus for 12 hours overnight. I was greeted by the man who had hired me based on my resume and our email exchanges. Our first in-person exchange was friendly and warm. He took my bags to put in an office and offered to show me the yoga school building.
This is when things started to go downhill. Literally.
I had no idea how intense the terrain of Dharamshala and Upper Bhagsu would be. The few streets there are, are narrow, rocky and steep - much of getting around is on unpaved footpaths. Everywhere there are staircases that are weathered, rocky, steep, irregular and don't have bannisters. There are a few of these rocky uneven steps outside the yoga school.
And this really happened....we had started walking to the door, and I was starting to say, "I didn't tell you about my physical condition because..." .and I tripped on one of the stairs and went sprawling onto the cement.
Until that moment, I hadn't fallen a single time in India. Actually, I've only fallen down from tripping 3-4 times in the 18 months of this healing journey. I like to say that I've developed ninja like balance from this injury. I trip often but 98% of the time I catch my step, but not this time. There clearly many conditions that led to this trip and fall. It was not a big fall. I wasn't hurt at all. But it felt pretty clear that it wasn't a good sign.
I tried to laugh it off. The guy kind of laughed, but not really. He also didn't seem overly concerned about my well-being, just confused. And as I started talking about how the injury didn't affect my ability to teach, I could feel my words landing on doubtful ears. We walked up three flights of stairs to see the different part of the residential yoga teacher training building. Did I mention I was already exhausted from the overnight bus? So my going was slow, and I could feel his doubts rising.
Then it was time to go look for a room for me to stay in. We walked out of the school, and started a steep ascent on the 'main road' of Upper Bhagsu. Basically it's a one lane series of cracked and crumbled cement slabs placed at a ridiculously steep angle. After not too far, we turned off onto a footpath. On that short walk, he was the first person to ever walk far ahead of me when going somewhere together. We were on a rocky pathway with plenty of stairs without bannisters and my going was slow, his was not. It was another semi-subtle sign that I would have to work to win him over into believing I would be a good yoga teacher for his students. Thankfully, we quickly found a place for me to stay. A cozy tiny room that fit my budget and was only kind of scary in the navigation it'd take me to get there. We walked the short distance back to the yoga school, and again he did not wait for me - but met me in front of the building.
I will note here that in my yoga resume it says that I have used yoga to recover from a serious spinal cord injury. And we had become friends on Facebook, where I am quite transparent about my injury and current physical state. But I had not disclosed directly my physical limitations because I knew it could cause doubts and I was sure I would be more convincing in person. I imagined when I met him he would sense my sincere commitment to the practice and trust my sincerity and integrity in my belief in my abilities as a strong yoga teacher. I was wrong.
As I reached him at the building, I told him that walking on uneven steep ground is challenging for me, and that my legs were extra stiff because of the bus ride. I went on to say that I could see he was concerned but that he could rest assured that I am totally comfortable in a room teaching yoga, where the floor is flat and my movements are known and easily navigated. I added that I would be happy to discuss ant concerns he had. As I write this, I wish I would have offered to teach a sample class! Anyway, from there he said a few things that didn't feel sincere and I was definitely on the alert, but unsure of what to do.
We parted ways and I didn't see him again until the next evening. I went to the yoga school for the graduation ceremony of the 200hr teacher training session they were just completing. He was standing at the balcony when I walked up and right after kind of greeting me he said, "Lizandra we need to talk. Not now, later." I knew immediately what he was planning to say, and I was surprisingly unreactive. I knew I had taken a chance in not sharing the full extent of my current physical state. I know it has only made me a better teacher, and I also know the current state of the yoga world might not be able to handle it. For sure, I was bummed that it might not work out. But I was still holding out hope that I could convince him.
We met late morning the next day. He was kind, but not apologetic. He said, "Lizandra, we cannot have you teach Ashtnaga Vinyasa to our students." He said he was concerned about his reputation and that the students would not appreciate being taught by someone who can't 'show them' how to do an asana. He had a fair bit else to say, none of which felt 'real' or 'valid' from my point of view - but I also saw it as 'truth' from his perspective. I saw and felt clearly there was no point to any argument - his mind was made. He couldn't see beyond my limitations and didn't trust the incoming students to either.
I listened with an open heart and with tears in my eyes told him I was very sorry he felt that way. I told him that I didn't agree with what he had said, but that I honored his decision as a business owner. We talked a little more, he told me some personal stories of difficulties in his life and some other what felt like totally unrelated stories of challenging students from past trainings. It was both awkward and somehow comforting to make small talk about yoga. Finally, I left.
I went across the street to a cafe and had a tea. I ruminated on the situation. My thoughts were all ver the place. It really hurt to be judged based on my 'disability'. I wondered if this is what racism feels like. I felt hurt, I felt sad and I felt disappointed. But I also felt thankful. I really did. I didn't have to reach too far inside to touch the feeling of gratitude for the circumstances. Aside from the blow to my ego, the loss of a growth opportunity in my yoga teaching, and a little bit of income - everything else was quite fabulous. Really.
As I sipped my tea, I saw I that had a choice. I could get bitter, angry, upset and stew in the unfairness of the situation - or I could just accept it simply wasn't meant to be and let it go at that.
I chose the latter and spent the day at the Dalia Llama's temple. It was the perfect healing energy I needed.
So now here I am in Dharamshala, in the foothills of the Himalayas -enjoying the beauty of my surroundings. Doing long morning yoga practices in my room, sitting in cafes reading spiritual books and going for longer and steeper walks every other day. I have some ideas of what I may do in the coming weeks, but nothing has solidified yet and I am enjoying the practice of living with this uncertainty and trusting that what needs to unfold will.
No doubt, Radical Acceptance is where it is at. I am thankful that I have again found myself showing up in difficulty with incredible grace. What a gift.
Thank you for letting me share this story. It feels good to write it out. I am sure I'll have a few more conversations about it, but my intention is to completely forgive and release any feelings of 'being wronged' because it just doesn't matter. What matters is that my life is on a path that feels good and right - even though I have little to no idea where this path is taking me.
Healing with Nature at Na Piko
I’ve been at Na Piko on the southeastern coast of the Big Island of Hawaii for a month now. A month that feels both like it happened in the blink of an eye and as if it has been an entire lifetime. I feel like I just got here while I feel like I don’t remember ever not being here. Living off the grid, in a cabin nestled among the trees of the jungle’s edge, has an incredible distortion effect on time and my conception of my reality. I am living to a brand new and ancient rhythm in a different world than I have ever inhabited. I love it thoroughly.
I sit with both the sunrise and the sunset almost everyday. I sit in the same spot on my meditation cushion in my cabin for an hour every morning and most evenings. I sit and I fall in love. I fall in love with being fully present for the intricacies of subtle transitions that happen as the world around me shifts from night to day and then day to night. It is a full sensory experience like no other. Just sitting with an open heart and mind; breathing, watching, listening and feeling. Experiencing the magic of the natural world unfolding its rhythms feels like the greatest gift a human being could ask for.
My cabin walls are all half screens, and I sit facing a screen door. So I feel both protected by the structure around me and as if I am sitting among the trees and plants of the jungle. When I first sit down in the mornings it is still dark or maybe lit in the silvery light of the moon. As each moment passes the light shifts ever so gradually and gracefully. It is so hard to see. It is hard to watch for the change. I look for cues to help me feel like I can understand how the light is shifting. I try to notice what I can see, and in how much detail. I have a set of favorite leaves that hang from the tree in front of my cabin. I can’t see then at all at first. Then at some point I realize I can see the clumped shape, but no detail. Then soon I’ll notice I can see each of the leaves, then their green color, and more and more details reveal themselves as the morning light awakes.
As the world is revealing itself visually, there is also an amazing auditory story being told. In the earliest moments I am awake I hear mostly the sound of the tree frogs. They are many and call loudly into the night air. Then slowly as the sunlight eases into our part of the world, the frogs begin to quiet and the birds begin to sing. It was quite possibly one of the sweetest moments of my life when I realized that I am learning the patterns and order of the birdcalls. I can identify by sound 5-6 different calls and am able to listen and hear them as they arise to greet the day. It is a way of knowing and learning I have never experienced. No trying, no effort, just stillness and presence and slowly I am coming to know so much more of the world in ways I never imagined.
The depth of this lesson in this is not lost on me. In fact, it could be one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in a while. This past year has been full of so much effort. It has taken tremendous effort to shift my body from paralysis to being able to walk 9 miles to a volcano in only a year. And while my efforts have served me well, so too is there learning and progress to be had by slowing down, diving in deeply to presence and awareness. To be an observer of nature and reality so I can absorb the wisdom both passively and passionately, it is a new way of being and I’m excited to practice it more during my time on the Big Island of Hawaii.
I'm getting to the end of my second week on the Big Island of Hawaii and I am loving it thoroughly. I love my impatient interactions with the millions of mosquitoes as much as I love eating the freshly fallen guavas and avocados I find by the side of the road. The turn to Hawaii came quickly and was completely unanticipated. It was clearly the right turn to take. I couldn't be happier with the decision. My nervous system already feels the effects of the loudest sound in the area coming from birds in the morning and tree frogs at night.
When I made the spontaneous decision to book my trip to Hawaii because I found a ridiculously good deal on the one-way flight, I had no idea where I would stay. I was in discussion with a friend about a volunteer stay at his developing retreat center and tree nursery in the Puna region, but we had not yet finalized the details. So I had a low-cost one-way ticket booked to Hawaii with no real plan.
I checked AirBnB and found some decent options but none were quite what I was looking for. I decided to look at Craig’s List on a whim, thinking I just may find a good short-term deal. And I did! The headline was, “Live in Simplicity & Peace” I hardly needed to read the details but when I did, I knew exactly where I’d be staying for the beginning of my Hawaii experience. We set it up through email and a phone call to “talkstory” as they say in Hawaii, and now here I am, happy as can be.
Akiko’s Buddhist B&B is 15 miles north of Hilo on the eastern Hamakua Coast of the Big Island of Hawaii. The Big Island is the southernmost, most-newly formed and largest of the Hawaiian Islands. It is also the least populated and least developed, with a huge dormant volcano in its center and an active one near the southeastern coast. The B&B is nestled in a small community of about 10 homes on a little side road between a main highway and the jungle. Every Tuesday people from the area come together just up the street for a Foodshare farmer's market. For $15 I was able to buy local fruits and veggies to get me through the week! Food in Hawaii can be expensive if you buy shipped in food - farmer's markets are the way to go.
In the 10 days I’ve been here I’ve created a routine that has me feeling light and content. I awake each morning at 4:45am to sit in Zazen Meditation with Akiko, the B&B owner, from 5:10-6:40am. After meditation and chanting sutras, I walk back to the guesthouse, make some tea and do my Ashtanga yoga asana practice. At 8:00am there is a community breakfast of local fruit, eggs, toast and muesli for all the guests at the B&B. The numbers of guests has varied between three and eight, the community breakfasts are always filled with lively conversation mostly about Hawaii and guests experiences. Yesterday I talked politics with a member of the Socialist movement. I surprised myself by passionately defending Hillary!
After breakfast I walk to explore the area. The jungle is verdant and alive, I feel it talking to me as I walk. There is a strong stream named Kaahakini not too far up the road. She is the most powerful stream I've ever seen. I would have called her a river - but she is classified as a stream. Standing on the bridge over the Kaahakini, watching the water flow furiously toward the ocean frees my mind in a way few experiences can. When I have the energy I walk another hilly mile to the end of the stream where it flows into the ocean. Kolekole is a little national park where two humungo streams end and flow into the ocean. It is a sweet spot to rest at the end of a long walk. I like to take my shoes off and sit on deadwood logs at the rock beach, watching the river run into the ocean and the ocean waves smash into the cliffs.
It is a mostly uphill walk back to the B&B so I rest, stretch and make myself a tasty lunch of local foods when I get back. The afternoons have been less routinized and more varied. A few days I’ve gone out with one of the other guests who has a car to buy groceries, do laundry and a little sightseeing. Most days I stay on the grounds and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere.
After a few days of being here I started doing some small work around the place. It started when I asked Akiko about a place I could do meditation, yoga and qi-gong practices during the afternoons. Her gorgeously lined 70 plus year Japanese-American-Hawaiian face lit up and said she had the perfect place. We walked through the large renovated garage that is an art gallery and common area out into the courtyard toward the back rock garden that houses a red miniature bridge and charming wooden gong wind chimes. She pointed to some dusty, creaky wooden stairs I hadn’t noticed and said this is our Dojo – lets go look.
I held on tightly to the railing as we made our way over leaf littered stairs and swatted through cobwebs. We slid off our shoes and stepped into a large white room with screened windows looking out into the lush jungle gardens. She said, this would be a great space for you to do afternoon practice, but it needs some sweeping and cleaning. And so began my Karate Kids like dojo training in Hawaii.
We went back down the stairs so Akiko could show me where the brooms, mops, buckets and rags were and said to use whatever I needed. I was uncertain how I would carry broom, mop, and bucket up and down the stairs –but knew I needed to try. That afternoon I carried the broom up the stairs, and made a second trip to carry the bucket and dustpan. As I swept I laughed at myself and at the situation. It was so much like Karate Kid. So I put myself into the Qi-Gong stance Akiko had taught me and swept left from my dantien and swept right from my dantien, and then laughed out loud from my dantien. Dantien is Chinese for our center that lives two inches below the navel and in toward the spine. It is a power house center physically, emotionally and spiritually. In Eastern Movement Arts all movement and awareness is supposed to be initiated from here. And so while I swept up the room I would use to practice, I started my practice.
The room is now pretty clean and I go up there most afternoons to do restorative yoga and qi-gong exercises. I’ve also been teaching yoga and relaxation for two of the other guests in the afternoons. It feels great. I’ve been doing individual sessions with them as they each have particular needs. They are both staying here on longer-term healing retreats recovering from cancer, thyroid issues, adrenal fatigue and a host of other issues. There is no question that sharing the healing power of yoga is my deepest passion and I am appreciative for this opportunity to share what I love and know best.
So that’s what I’ve been up to on the rainy side of Big Island of Hawaii for the past 10 days. Next Monday on October 3rd I’ll leave my little peaceful Buddhist haven and go to deeper into the jungle and some more unknown territory that is near an active volcano! You can be sure I’ll be writing more about that as I get settled in over there in Na’Piko near the small town of Pahoa. I'm even playing with the idea of recording it as a podcast - we'll see!
The marathon of the mundane.
Here I am, 7 months later, finally understanding what the neurosurgeon meant when he said that I had a marathon of recovery in front of me. He said it a few hours after he had performed emergency surgery to relieve the pressure from my spinal cord. At the time I was completely paralyzed from the neck down, and no one had any idea of what my recovery would look like. He didn't know what it would look like, but he knew it was going to be a long-haul journey. And indeed it is that.
It feels like each month is like a mile in the marathon. I am at mile 7 of 26.1. Still holding strong and feeling pretty fresh, full of energy and excitement for what lies ahead. Body and mind are getting just a little tired, the reality of what I'm in for is settling in. I am realizing I need to conserve my energy for the long haul, I have come far, but I still have a long road in front of me.
It is miraculous and the result of amazing love and support holding space for my tenacious effort, that I am doing as well as I am. I am pleased as punch that I can do darn near everything I need to manage in the world. I can walk up to 3-4 miles in a day. I walk up and down long flights of stairs with more diligent attention than fear. I can walk to a bus stop, stand and wait as long as is needed, get on the bus, swipe my card and get into a seat. I can both walk up to a door and open it. I can brush my teeth, step into the shower, get dressed, open packages, turn keys, cut my food and write with my dominant hand. So many seemingly simple and mundane tasks that I was unable to do and relearned the coordination and effort to do over the past 7 months.
This is where I find my greatest joys these days. And this is where I experience my most sorrowful moments. In the mundane. Because really, that is where most of life happens, in the mundane. Life is filled with brushing our teeth, getting dressed, cutting our food, walking to the corner. I used to just get through these things so that I could get to the part of life that really mattered. But then, for a little while, I lost the ability to do those mundane things. And damn was I quick to learn, those mundane tasks - those are what our lives are made up of.
Each mundane skill I have gotten back to doing over the past 7 months, I have celebrated. I have been the queen of celebrating the small things. Epic happy dances over getting my shoes on, pulling my shirt over my head, opening a water bottle, closing a padlock and so many more. And this is where the marathon attitude needs to settle in. As I hit my 7 month marker, I have started to lose sight of celebrating in the mundane. As I have gotten used to being able to do these things, frustration and disappointment in my awkwardness and slowness in doing them, has found a home more often.
I am writing this blog as a reminder to myself to celebrate and relish in the simple things. I am reminding myself that what is going to get me through this marathon is being fully in it and celebrating the experience of what is. Of course frustration and disappointment will happen. I am looking to experience the full range of my emotions in this recovery. And as I feel those feelings, may I remind myself of how far I have come and how beautiful the experience of life is. Life is hard for everyone. We all experience frustration and disappointment. And I am pretty lucky that I have been given this sweet opportunity to get back to the basics. To focus on what really matters. Experiencing life in all of its glory, that includes the good the bad and the ugly. All of it. Celebrate and experience all of it.
Shattered and Expanded
The glass slipped
to hard wood.
Held to fallen.
Treasured to broken.
Full with purpose
Released into empty.
A vessel no longer.
Laying in pieces.
Reflecting more light.
Expanded in dimension.
Lizandra Vidal is a poet, writer, and wellness expert. In 2015 she suffered a spinal cord injury and this blog is a space where she shares the story of her experience.