Remaining Vulnerable Through Adversity

My boyfriend paid me an unexpected compliment the other day saying "You seem to do really well against adversity." I appreciate that people are able to see me in a graceful light even when I feel like I'm struggling. More and more I'm realizing that the way I get through the toughest situations is somewhat counter-intuitive. When I want to curl up into the fetal position and cry or grit my teeth, instead, I seek to open my heart up an be even more vulnerable. 

For many years this was not my approach. Born into a somewhat tumultuous family situation I developed a hard demeanor and protective emotional barriers as early as the third grade. You can see the transition in my school pictures. My third grade picture is the last school-picture where my smile reaches my eyes. Every year-book picture thereafter there are shadows where the twinkling of innocence and joy should have been for one so young. Even now some of this is evident in my posture. I constantly have to remind myself to open my heart, relax my shoulders and let my smile radiate to my eyes. These are things that for me, take practice, as it would turn out. 



At 23-years-old I had substantially repaired my relationships with my mother and sisters and we had all done much healing from the toxic relationships of our past. I lived by myself and had plenty of time alone to begin the journey into myself that led me to recognize the coping mechanisms I had established as a reaction against my environment. I began to sort out the parts of my personality that were the true expression of myself.

Until this point, I had been walking around with an emotional-social range that ran from "tough/punk bitch" to "cold-hard-facts scientist" to "goofball one-of-the-dudes." I neither loved myself nor allowed myself to be loved. I am so grateful for the circumstances that allowed me the time and space to be contemplative and to sort this out and learn to respond to hard situations instead of react.

Circa 2007 - I still wore make-up and clearly had a 'tude.

 The most important and foundational realization that I had was that I wanted to be happy and to love and be loved in return. The second realization that allowed me to begin to be happy and to love was to own the fact that I am very sensitive. I am very aware of my own short-comings and quirks and I started to be aware of how social interactions resonated with me. I decreased the amount of time I spent socializing and increased the amount of time I spent reflecting on how the interactions impacted me. Did they energize or drain me? Did they hurt my feelings or make me feel awkward? Did they make me feel loved and secure with my quirks and flaws? I had lived fast and furious as a late teen, early 20-something and had left myself zero time for such questions. But around 23-years-old I had the "mid-life crisis" that is not atypical for an INTJ/Aquarian, sensitive, self aware, universally-minded human.

I started to let my guard down. I started to experiment with dating here and there. As it would turn out I was still a little too guarded and a little too green with my emotions so I stepped that back for a while and started to re-examine my environment and career. I realized, for the first time, that I valued my various skills enough to consider switching careers entirely. I was content in my environment but that was the contentment of a person who was not fully actualized. I made the decision to leave. Faced with the challenge of personal growth, instead of being cautious and guarded I decided to be vulnerable. I packed up my 700 sq. ft house entirely by myself, and left to move to Austin, Tx from Athens, Ga with only my dog for company. 

One of my earliest attempts at self-expression. I had just purchased my first macbook and spent a long time editing this picture to reflect the sense of other-worldliness I was experiencing as I began my journey inward. Somewhere around 2009.



My adventures and misadventures continued and eventually brought me full-circle, back to Lynchburg, Va. I continued, throughout, to challenge how far I could take expressing love to those around me. I finally came to a place where I felt comfortable being in a relationship. That came to an end and was yet another challenge. How was I to stay open and express love in the wake of love ending? Living alone, again, with plenty of time for introspection, I realized that there was so much room for error when interacting with people socially. I decided, for a time that I was going to pare down my socialization time, yet again. In my free time I studied for and attained my Crossfit L1. Then I started to re-engage with my community via personal training in the hopes that I would be able to be open and vulnerable in the new endeavor of teaching but always be reminded of how special all relationships are via the same construct. In a way I was practicing yoga - offering up each class as my best effort at loving individuals and my community.

That was the jump-off point for the real yoga to begin - the asana practice, the pranayama and meditation and finally the teacher training - almost a year ago, now. Recent times are no more or less challenging than my past has been - just different. I'm once again working on vulnerability and love in the context of a relationship, I've re-established some semblance of a social-life and strive to be loving, compassionate and open there, too. I've also started my own yoga business, as you know since you're reading my blog. This is one of the biggest challenges I have yet faced. It is very easy to judge myself and others from a business-perspective unless I am 100% open to possibility and steadfast in compassion. When I find myself shrinking into myself at this point I am well-enough practiced to know full-well that what I need to do is to open up instead. Its just not a natural response for me - but I had a thought today:  How much could I really congratulate myself on being open to the world if cash was raining in and within one year I was jet-setting all over the world to teach. I am just getting past the beginner stages of openness. To some people loving and being vulnerable comes naturally. Its refreshing and encouraging for me to interact with people like that to show me just how far I have to go. But for now, all adversity is an opportunity to practice openness beyond the beginner level. I accept that and am grateful for it.

My sisters and me - adults and happy. Those are real smiles. Photocred: Foster&Asher // August 2014

Here's a video of me from yesterday's practice. It features me doing a lot of heart openers. I have a long way to go. Before I even wrote this post, about a week ago, I decided to dedicate the month of October to getting my back more flexible. This video has some great back bends in it and hopefully in a month the progress will be obvious, physically. Knowing full-well there is a link between the physical and spiritual bodies I am curious to see what other changes occur as a result. Ah, the grand experiment with life and the self...