Cat From The Mat

Fahgetaboutit!


I seem to be losing all sorts of things these days…my mother, body parts, words, patience, and belongings.  About ten years ago, I bought a Prana black denim jacket.  I loved wearing it when biking.  It had the perfect inside pockets for my keys and phone.   However, recently I misplaced it. This is unusual and rather unlike me, as I still have souvenirs from childhood and clothing from high school. It’s a bummer to have lost this item of clothing.  But things come and go.  What's more upsetting is the reality that I have the capacity to mislay something, mumbles the recovering perfectionist under her breath.

As I acclimate to my new normal of life with estrogen and progesterone positive breast cancer, I am under the treatment of hormone blocking systemic therapy.  Thus, I have been propelled into menopause at age 50.   This means that I now have constant fluctuations of hot flashes, irritability, and if I can find the right word...forgetfulness.

Unlike my mum who could recollect everything with specificity, I never have had a great memory, as far as recalling the past.  I once asked my philosophy teacher Dr. Douglas Brooks about this topic.  He said that as we age, we have so much in our memory bank that we cannot possibly retrieve it all at once.  I like his perspective on forgetting, since it offers self-compassion and appreciation for the vast breadth and depth of being chronologically-gifted.   I attribute this loss of memory to also having the ability to process things and move on, so that the past no longer overshadows the present.  

In 2005, I was back in my hometown of New Orleans, helping out with the post-Katrina efforts.  When riding my bike one December day in the park (sans helmet…yes, I have since learned my lesson), I collided with another cyclist.  I was thrown from my bike, landed on my head, and incurred a concussion.  I woke up in the trauma bay, with no memory of the accident.  There were bystanders who later filled me on the details, and to this day, I still do not remember a thing.  

I was told later that during my concussion, I did not know my age or the present year.  But somewhere in the depths of my mind, I could recite my childhood home’s telephone number without hesitation.  I find this intriguing.  Could it be that the inability to remember is a built-in mechanism of self-protection from a physical trauma?

Earlier this year, I was again under general anesthesia as a follow-up surgery to my double mastectomy.   Being “put under” is an intentional choice of not experiencing such an invasive operation. And yet, in not knowing what is occurring for several hours, does this help or hinder the grieving process of losing a part of myself?  Some things might be best forgotten.  But does our body truly forget if the mind is not involved?

I have just returned from teaching empathy trainings and yoga workshops in Japan.  It had been a while since I was been back in the country.  Over my past two visits, I learned just enough Japanese to get around and to be polite.  But without the constant practice, I was having to learn the language all over again.

Each morning, I would wake up with words or phrases in my head, which I had forgotten that I already knew.  For example, I awoke saying “Itadakimasu” which is Japanese for “let’s eat” or “bon appétit.”  Where was it hiding in my brain?  At what point did that memory decide to reveal itself?  How much information do I have stored in my body that I cannot retrieve…as of yet?

In Hindu mythology, the Ananda Tandava is known as Nataraja’s Dance of Bliss. Representing steadiness and movement, Nataraja dances upon the character Apasmara, whose name means “ignorance” or “forgetfulness.”  According to the story, we forget so that we can enjoy in the delight of remembering.  This play of concealment and revelation makes me wonder about my capacity to forget something as experience embodiment.  Yoga invites is to learn to playfully dance through life.

The next time you forget, please remember this: enjoy the game of hide and seek.    Or if memory doesn't serve, then just fahgetaboutit!  And I do hope that my jacket has found a new appreciative home.

Matane, (Japanese for “see you later”)

Cat 

Cat From the Mat
October 2018 blog

Belonging: An Inside Job


“The need to belong is who we are in our DNA.”

- Brené Brown 


The concept of belonging is a universal human experience. We are neurologically wired to belong, since it means survival. I remember feeling the peer pressure to “fit in” at school. Those moments fluctuated though, because it was dependent on what others thought of me, rather than on what I thought of myself. The school climate can be challenging, but what if you don’t feel like you belong at home?

Researcher and author Brené Brown explores this topic. She has interviewed kids about how tough it is to feel alienated among classmates. However, they all agreed that not being accepted by your family is a far more painful reality.

As babies, you are dependent on others to help meet your many needs, one of which is belonging. You want others around you to not only mirror who you are but to appreciate your contributing presence. It helps build a sense of self, which is why children must be self-centered as they develop. However, if this self-knowledge does not get established, it can lead to a pattern of people-pleasing or constant insecurity, both of which require external circumstances to dictate whether or not you are “acceptable.”

Brené makes the point that you cannot negotiate belonging outside of yourself. If you look externally for validation, then you become dependent on others to determine your self-worth. Belonging is truly an inside job.  

So how does one measure belonging within?  Is it the quality of self-trust?  Is it the ability to be authentic, regardless of circumstances?  Or is it a practice of knowing your essence with cultivated compassion to delve deeper into the unknown parts of self?

The world at the moment is full of people who are shouting, hoping to be heard. We seem to be splintered into factions unable to agree on what is a shared reality, which can breed metastasized fear. However, common enemy intimacy is not true belonging. It’s a false sense of connection. Sharing an ideological bunker is a superficial attempt to bond.

It takes courage to be vulnerable with someone with whom you disagree. Authenticity is the need to stand alone in your beliefs even if it means jeopardizing your connection with others. When you belong, you feel at ease, safe, and supported. This helps the nervous system stay in a healthy stress range. Feeling at home in your own skin, no matter where you go, is a self-generated process.

As we celebrate independence this month, I invite you to notice if and how you belong...to your community, your family, and most importantly to yourself. If you believe in yourself, then you can begin to identify with your relatives, friends, coworkers, and even angry strangers.  Perhaps freedom is that ability to be you, regardless of extrinsic pressures. Liberate your reliance on others first so that you can stay self-anchored, from which you might become more curious about understanding the outer world.

Happy Self-Belonging!

 

Cat From the Mat

July blog 2018

Mourning Has Broken

And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive.  And you may not even be sure, whether the storm is really over.  But one thing is certain.  When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm is all about.

- Haruki Murakami

My past nine months have been tumultuous.  As the shock of the stormy year begins to wear off, I am left with humble gratitude along with the stirrings of acceptance.  I share this personal information out of my appreciation for my yoga and empathy skills.  When the rubber needs to meet the road, my long-standing  on/off the mat practice has proven to be effective in finding ease.  

In August of 2017, my mother Tish was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a type of lung cancer. It came out of left field, as she was an unlikely candidate.  However, it did explain why she was feeling exhausted for most of the year, not to mention the ten pounds of liquid stored in right her lung, making breathing quite arduous.  After hospital visits, specialist research, and a couple of hurricanes, she had surgery in September to remove the lining of her lung.  

Soon after in October, I was then diagnosed with breast cancer.  While still in disbelief, I had a rapid learning curve to understand my options for treatment.  In receiving guidance from all sorts of women who had already been down this path, I was inducted into a not-so-secret society of strong cancer-surviving women. I had a double mastectomy in November, which was to be followed by months of convalescence.  However, two weeks after my first operation, my mother found out that her cancer had spread and unfortunately went into hospice.  I flew down to my hometown New Orleans (NOLA) to spend time with Tish as we all were trying to wrap our minds around the unbelievable concept of her dying.

The holidays with home hospice were bittersweet.  Normally, we celebrate a clustering of birthdays, my folk’s anniversary, and Christmas, days in a row.  And this year, these normally joyous events were overshadowed by a grim reality.  We luckily had time to discuss funeral plans as well as the chance to truly say goodbye.  After a quick fight with cancer, Tish slipped away on Dec 28, 2017 with her hand in mine.  What a gift to bear witness to such vulnerability.  I had the intimate honor to be present with my mum’s last breath, as she was there for my first at birth. 

Somehow I had the calm capacity to take this emotional rollercoaster ride, amidst the physical limitations of my many new normals. I found a strength and presence to support my mother while processing these unfolding events surprisingly well.  By taking time off from work and rescheduling teachings gigs, I was able to slow down and find that desired balance between self-care and care for others.

In January, we arranged Tish’s memorial service in NOLA, which was a celebration of her love of music, British humor, and her gift of gab.  My second surgery followed in February, after which I finally had some down time to focus on my own recovery.  It’s odd to physically lack sensation in my chest while my aching heart is anything but numb.  

At end of March, we flew to London to memorialize Tish’s life with our UK relatives.  In April, I slowly returned back to work.  In between European gigs and domestic trainings, I found the emotional time and space to clear out my mother’s closet and art studio.  With teary fortitude, I found some peace in the catharsis.  

I share this experience as a fellow human, yoga educator, empathy coach, because my twenty-five years of awareness training prepared me for this particular storm as well as ongoing inclement weather. To hold the space for my dying mother as she struggled to surrender was devastating, profound, and beautiful.  There isn’t a day that goes by when I do not think of Tish or when I do not appreciate my own health.  Asana integrates a strong body, open heart, and flexible mind.  Embodiment might begin to break down, but one’s spirit is the fuel that keeps going.

I am starting to pick up the pieces of my disintegrated foundation and am transforming daily into the latest version of myself.  As I continue to go through the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), I am reminded of the need to mourn.  What if mourning is the ability to appreciate what you value in its absence? If so, then the people and pets that we love may go away, but the loving relationship remains. 

Yoga is a practice of relationship and adaptability to change, from which you may learn and grow.  Whether a loss of a loved one, a marriage, a body part, or closing a chapter in your life, death is not easy.   However, endings mark beginnings.   How you choose to participate with loss might determine how you embark upon your next journey.  I am not the same person I was nine months ago, and yet my essence is more powerful and clearer than ever before, with a new Catitude.  As you weather your own storms, I encourage you to not only survive but to thrive. 

Happy Mother's Day month!


Cheers,

Cat From The Mat

May 2018