On Friday, along with around 500 others, I attended the funeral celebrations of an old friend. Although we hadn’t been really close, over fifteen years we had woven in and out of each others’ lives between Melbourne and Alice Springs, shared dance floors and good food, campfires and stories, theatre performances and communities of friends and loved ones. Trish was one of the most vivacious, loving and brave women I knew. She lit up hearts, dance floors, and a deep love of life in each person she touched. What I didn’t know was that she had been suffering a deep depression, and in the end it overwhelmed her. Despite being surrounded by love. Despite reaching out to close friends and family.
Over the last week, I’ve had many conversations about suicide, loss, and the challenges of mental illness. Working especially with asylum seekers and victims of family violence, it’s hard to comprehend such deep suffering in someone whose outer life seemed so wonderful, rich, free and full of love. But it’s more common than we think. Dark periods can come like a mystery – and they may or may not be triggered by external circumstances. Some of us seem just to be sensitive souls who feel things too keenly, who search deeply for the meaning of this unfathomable life, and who sometimes become overrun by the tyranny of a wild mind. It may be biology, chemistry, spirit or soul, I don’t really know… but death, darkness and suffering are some of the mysteries that are as inherent a part of life as creation, beauty and delight.
I consider myself fortunate to have known a few of these dark periods.
They taught me deep humility and compassion, and they guided me towards a deeper search for meaning, strength and wholeness. I feel even more fortunate to have made it through.
In my early twenties, following a period of intense meditation and Tibetan practices, I had an immense ‘breakdown’ – a complete crisis of meaning that took me years to recover from. Though deep down, I knew also it was a spiritual breakthrough. Had I sought ‘professional’ help, though so necessary for some, I’m quite sure I would have ended up with a ‘diagnosis’ that I might have attached myself to for a lifetime. What I had instead was a wise friend with a kind ear, an overwhelming lack of judgement, and a soothing pot of vanilla green tea whenever I arrived at his door. It was his unerring support that initially got me through.
At the time, I punished myself so severely for not being able to live up to the spiritual ideals in my head, all the Buddhist teachings of righteousness and equanimity, that I completely shattered. Until finally I had to realise that whilst my mind might be lightning quick and so clever, and my moral high horse so high, my emotions and my heart needed time to catch up. They needed to be heard, they needed to be accepted, and they needed to be loved. I needed to become human – in all of its mess, its beauty, its confusing paradoxes, and its pain. I discovered that ‘spirituality’ isn’t a set of ideals and practices to be followed. It’s the process of becoming fully human. And it’s a journey that is unique to each of us.
It was in this first years-long recovery period that I discovered yoga. It was the practice I needed to get me out of my head and into my body. It was the practice I needed to strengthen my sensitive nervous system and to find ground. I was also fortunate for extended periods of vipassana meditation, that gave me the mental strength and insight to let go. To trust that I could let go of a thought rather than clinging onto it and riding it like a wild horse in a frenzy for days. And when I did that, I discovered nothing bad would happen. And even better, it would eventually pass. Letting go was actually the sweetest blessing. A challenging practice at first, but with the practice of coming back to the moment, to the breath, to simply observing and accepting what was happening within my body, I eventually found a freedom and a strength that I would not have believed possible.
When later breakthroughs (read: ‘breakdowns’) happened, I could knowingly sit in the immensity of pain, grief and inner torment, and surrender to the destructive force of life that clears the way for new growth and beauty. With patience and practice, it can come. Yet even in the trust and surrender, it was terrifying and exquisite at the same time.
It’s a terrible thing to be so sensitive, to be so inquisitive about life and so questioning of the ‘reality’ and the measures of ‘success’ that are presented to us. But it can also be a gift. Through our lack of satisfaction, through our darkness, and through the tender experience of our own deep suffering, we can learn great compassion and we can shine great light. We can plumb the depths of what it is to be human, and hopefully rise again to the surface with jewels that shine a brilliant light for others to follow.
For those who have done this, we must reach out to those who are still struggling in the depths, with love, compassion and the tools that might begin to weave a web of wholeness again. And hope that this is enough.
But ultimately, life is a mystery. Without judging, accept. Even in the midst of the deepest pain, seek grace. Go sweetly in the not-knowing, with love and with compassion. And as my beautiful friend Trish would say, be kind to others, for you don’t know what pain they may be suffering.
Being ‘inspired’ is probably one of the moment’s biggest buzz words. For us free-living modern folk, life is all about ‘getting inspired, discovering your purpose, and living your passion.’
It gets bandied about so often and in so many circles, almost as a given, that we seldom stop to really ask what it means. Or worse, I’ve heard people say how much it makes them feel like a failure for not being inspired, not knowing their purpose or their passion. I get it. We don’t feel inspired all the time. Some would probably even say that we can’t feel inspired all the time. And there are necessary periods of life in which we fall apart, lose direction, and seem to flail aimlessly (probably whilst the next wonderful thing is brewing…). These are all part of life and our growing.
But inspiration is important. And what’s more, it is beautiful.
Inspiration is that mysterious awakening that makes our cells tingle and become vibrant with excitement and joy. It is that brilliant stirring force that tugs on the strings that connect us to a sense of something larger than our individual selves, and to that something larger within ourselves.
The word comes from the Latin root ‘spirare’ – spirit, or breathe. Inspirare means ‘to breathe into’, and in Middle English inspiration was synonymous with divine guidance. Inspiration is that sublime feeling that arises when we are in direct connection to spirit. It is our direct connection to the essence of life – to breath – that gives us energy and sustains us. In my experience, you can’t possibly get enough of it. And if you care about living a joyful and meaningful life, it’s vital that you get it.
And it is the creative essence of evolution. It is what makes us human and what continues to unfold us towards greater beauty, love and creativity. Without inspiration, we are merely fighting for survival. What’s more, inspiration is unique for each one of us – what may be dull to one person may completely fire up another’s inspiration, and lead them to the next amazing discovery, project or creation. Inspiration is not just what makes the world go round, but what keeps it evolving. It is the creative force of life itself, bursting forth with astonishing beauty. And it is contagious.
So ‘getting inspired’ is as important as every single breath you take. And it keeps getting better – the more you have, the more you give, and as Joseph Campbell says about love: the more you give, the more you have. Everyone reaps the benefits.
Many people think that getting inspired is something that happens randomly, an accident of fate. But it’s not like that. Just as you can cultivate the breath through pranayama, you can cultivate inspiration – simply by seeking it out.
Seek out things that give you that tingling feeling of excitement. You know when you feel it, it’s fundamental. Read inspiring stories, watch movies and documentaries that move you, visit incredible architecture or wild valleys, seek out great art and music – whatever gets your creative juices flowing.
And if you’re not sure where to start, don’t waste your time wondering about it – start somewhere and just keep looking until you find it. Because you will. It’s as fundamental as your breath and the revolving of the planets around the sun, you just have to cultivate your awareness to know it for yourself. And when you find it, relish it. Roll around in it. Let it tickle your taste buds and draw you onto the next greatest thing. And know that it’s a never-ending spring. There is always more.
Let inspiration be the force that unfolds your life – into beauty and greatness.
Because it’s your own innate creative essence. It’s your birthright.
Happy new year beautiful people!
After an inspiring 12 days assisting Tara Judelle on the second Embodied Flow™ 200hr yoga teacher training in beautiful Bali, I’m so excited to bring all that inspiration and love home and give you my first offering for 2016. Compassion. Love. Yoga. You got it.
Mei Lai xo
Cultivating Compassion – an Embodied Flow™ Yoga workshop
Saturday 16 January 2016, 12-2.30pm
Gertrude Street Yoga Studio, 202 Gertrude St, Fitzroy
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive. If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” – Dalai Lama XIV
This 2.5 hour Embodied Flow™ workshop offers a rich exploration of the heart of compassion through science, philosophy, meditation, backbends and arm balances.Unlock your curiosity. Discover your own magnificent heart. Understand the difference between compassion, empathy and sympathy. Learn essential tools for the practice of compassion on and off the mat – for your own peace and support, and for the love of all.
The essential way to begin a new year… with love and compassion.
$35 (20% discount for Gertrude Street Yoga Studio members)
Please go to www.gertrudestreetyoga.com.au to book your place
About Embodied Flow™ Yoga
Combining hatha yoga, tantric philosophy and somatic movement exploration, the practice of Embodied Flow™ shines the light of awareness into the layers of our being, providing a deep sense of ease, strength and connectivity in the human form. This in turn, empowers you, the practitioner, to be your own greatest teacher as you expand, integrate and facilitate awareness in your entire body-mind.
Fire burn and light up this wild, precious life
passion in my heart
desire in my soul
I know to stoke your unforgiving flames
so you will shine as a constant light
when things would
Burn away the debris
of what I no longer need –
and never needed.
I know it is you
that stirs forth creation
from beginning to end and beginning
so that I rise up renewed
as pure essence
refined like the purest gold
in your searing furnace
nothing less and nothing more
I offer to you my strength and my weakness
my purity, my defilements
the beauty and the ugliness
of my light and my shadow
your brilliance of not discriminating
is the gift of your flame. Take it all.
Sun of my heart
may you turn my offerings to ash
and ash into gold
as phoenix wings rise iridescent
Burn in my heart as fierce, soft love
Yoga takes us into the essence of life, the essence of self, the essence of creation. Like the sun, fire is at the source – it is the force that transforms, energises, cleanses, ignites, inspires and keeps us going. It is the source of our desire, our will, our determination and dedication, our undying, eternal, essential love. This is tapas.
Genuine tapas makes us shine like the sun. Then we can be a source of warmth, comfort and strength for others. – Georg Feuerstein
Hungry for more?
Here are a few more F-words to add to your yoga lexicon. Let these words take you down the rabbit hole of your own research, exploration, contemplation and experimentation!
Freedom, focus, foundation, faith (shraddha)
It’s been a big few weeks since returning home of new life schedules, becoming even busier with study and work as I have commenced a counselling placement with asylum seekers and victims of family violence, and most recently navigating the passing of a family member. Yes, life has been feeling quite full…
But the gift of it all has been realising the need to spend dedicated time in reflection, in dreaming, in reconnecting with what is most meaningful to me, and with what I really want to create in this one precious life.
As I sat in reflection over this weekend, I remembered that it is fundamentally connection – helping people to connect and find support with one another, inspiration – inspiring people to celebrate life and live it to the fullest potential, and love – generating genuine love and compassion, and sharing that with as many as possible.
And that I want to create an offering from my pure desire to share these things into the world, that is a simple exchange of energy and connection and enjoyment, and nothing to do with anything you have to pay for (hallelujah!). So I am starting with a free community kirtan – an opportunity to come together for the pure love of it, to sing, to chant, to use the healing power of sound to connect, inspire and create love.
I would love you to join me in building our inspired community in the incredible acoustic space at Good Vibes Yoga Studio next Sunday 25th October:
Free Community Kirtan – Chant, Sing, Connect, Celebrate
Good Vibes Yoga Studio, Northcote, Sunday 25th October, 7.15-8.30pm.
Bring an open heart, mind, and voice – and it’s free!
FB Event link here <3
Since I was a teenager, I have found myself coaching friends to follow their dreams, their heart, their joy, their inspiration. To trust and believe in themselves and to just go for it. And of course what I have seen, is that what holds people back is fear. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of breaking out of the mold, fear of instability or a lack of security, fear of ‘not getting it right’. I have also been one of these people.
But the reality is, we come into this life not knowing what it is, or what it is for. Although ‘society’ might tell us that it’s about money or success or security or power or family or joy or whatever million other things humans find to create meaning out of, thousands and thousands of years of ‘seeking’ and looking for the meaning of life has still not really brought a definitive answer.
So my answer to the fear that paralyses us is this: Life is one giant experiment. Whatever you want to do, dive into it head first knowing that it is just an experiment. If you ‘fail’, well that’s what experiments are for. Brush yourself off, and move onto the next great experiment. Or try again.
And here’s a tip: set yourself a timeframe. Want to dive into the music career or business venture you’ve been dreaming of for so long, but have been too terrified to start? Give yourself six months, give it everything you’ve got, and then decide on your next step from there.
It is a simple attitude, but unbelievably powerful. And why? Because it gives you permission. Permission to follow your dreams, permission to get creative, permission to get dirty, permission to not know, permission to fall over – and to gracefully pick yourself up again. Because it was just an experiment.
But the beautiful thing about it is, that more often than not it leads to success. Why? Because it liberates us to follow what we love most, even if it is what we are most afraid of. And when we follow what we love, it lights us up, and that light becomes like a beacon that draws to us whatever we need to take the next step…
As Brene Brown asks, “What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?”
You won’t know until you try.
Hungry for more?
Check out Brene Brown’s book “Daring Greatly”…
And here are a few more E-words to add to your yoga lexicon. Let these words take you down the rabbit hole of your own research, exploration, contemplation and experimentation!
E is for: embodiment, enlightenment, eka pada koundinyasana, evolution, experience, empathy, expression