Cat From The Mat

Sacred Solitude

“Solitude stands in the doorway
And I'm struck once again by her black silhouette
By her long cool stare and her silence
I suddenly remember each time we've met
And she turns to me with her hand extended
Her palm is split with a flower with a flame”
~ Suzanne Vega

From January through March 2020, I was fortunate enough to complete a teaching residency in Japan.  Living in a new environment had its challenges, especially when my Japanese (Nihongo) was not up to snuff.  I love their cuisine, culture, and customs, but I do not look Japanese.  In fact, with blue and white hair, I might resemble an Anime character.

As much as I connected with local friends and colleagues across the country, I spent lots of time alone, while teaching throughout hospitable Nihon.  At times, I felt isolated, ranging in degrees of discomfort.  Right as the US was closing its borders, I completed my work commitments and returned to NYC, the then epicenter of Covid, from the frying pan into the fire.  My initial two-week quarantine expanded into months on end.  It’s now September, and my isolation continues.

I used to consider myself an extrovert, but I have learned that I also really do like my own company. Spending so much time alone, without making it problematic, has been a practice.   I am actually quite an ambivert, equally introverted and extroverted.  And yet, I am yearning for that parallel balance around me.  I miss the energetic presence of others.  I want a hug.  We humans need touch and social community.

What is the distinction between loneliness and being alone?  I know what it’s like to feel lonely in a marriage or in a crowd.  When I have that lonely feeling, it’s perhaps because I am not embracing ALL parts of myself, especially those which are unfamiliar or unpleasant.  But being alone is something different.  One of my wise Japanese yoga friends suggested to consider solitude to be a sacred practice.   

Loneliness is often considered an undesirable state, marked by a sense of separation.  However, solitude is an experience of being alone without feeling lonely. It is a constructive state of engagement with oneself. Solitude is a desirable state of being alone while providing sufficient company.  It takes awareness to shift the current mundane into the sacred.

The word solitude has its roots in Latin, from solus “alone.”  It can mean seclusion, remoteness, retirement, and even peace of mind.  Solitude is also defined as wilderness, unspoiled area, or emptiness.  

In some eastern thought, emptiness is not considered a cavity, but rather space held for expansive potential.  It’s a container for creativity, a pregnant void.  The question then is how am I to participate with this great empty pause we are in?  Am I being more creative by slowing down, seeing more, and doing less?  Can this be a much needed reset?

Many of us are spending time alone and need to connect with others.  Some of us are in spaces filled with too many people/roles/duties, that we wish to escape and be quietly solo.  The key is to embrace these polar parts of ourselves without labeling them as right or wrong. They wish to be acknowledged just as they are.

I have many parts that cohabitate inside.  There’s the relieved part of me that appreciates the lack of triggering of my FOMO (fear of missing out) during the shutdown.  There’s the depleted part of me that is getting rest after being kicked off the gerbil wheel of decades of busyness.  And there’s the anxious freelance part that is worried about paying bills or failing to maximize this timeout.  My petulant teenager inside finally has the chance to be inefficient and just have fun.  The angry, shocked, and devastated part of me cannot believe the divisive state of my country.  Yet,  I return to my familiar self full of gratitude, for the immeasurable abundance within.  It's as if  I am anything but alone!

Are you tired of the hustle of doing and want to enjoy the fruits of your labor?  Are you slowing down enough the identify what truly matters?  Whether you are home alone or busting at the seams to get space, I encourage you to find what brings gracious self-connection, while making room for all of your parts. With breathing room,  self-compassion and clarity can arise.  From this place, skillful action is possible. This is the invitation of yoga, off the mat and into the world.

Happy Labor Day and "Quarantigue" (quarantine fatigue)!  Change is the constant, so let’s band together and shift our internal and external communities.  We can all be alone together…solidarity in solitude!

Cat From the Mat blog

September 2020

Our Global Immune System

In light of the corona virus and its unknown impact, there is a lot of fear in the air.  Besides washing your hands and keeping your sneezes/coughs self-contained, your best line of defense is to keep your immunity strong.   However, repressed feelings have a direct correlation to a suppressed immune system.  

Dr. Gabor Maté’s book “When the Body Says No” explores the link between stress and chronic illness.  His argument is that certain adaptive coping mechanisms learned as children set up traits in us that over time can become pathological. For example, people pleasers, who take care of others at the expense of themselves, can develop autoimmune disorders.  Those who don’t have healthy outlets to express accrued anger, sadness, or pain will store them in their bodies until they finally get attention via physical illness, like cancer.  On a cellular level there is confusion between what is helpful and hostile, familiar and foreign, self and other.  Could this also be happening on a macro level?   

Maté explains, “In auto-immune disease, the body’s defenses turn against the self.  In the life of society- the body politic- such behavior would be denounced as treason.  Within the individual organism, physical mutiny results from an immunological confusion that perfectly mirrors the unconscious psychological confusion of self and non-self.  In this disarray of boundaries, the immune cells attack the body as if the latter were a foreign substance, just as the physic self is attacked by inward-directed reproaches and anger.”  

This physical “treason” is something we begin to accept as normal, until that is, dis-ease catches up with us.  The immune system is a sensory organ, so it’s first task is to recognize self from non-self.  It must also have a strong memory of learned dangers as we grow.  Finally, the immune system is a floating brain that is always scoping out and eliminating threats to cellular health. 

Hyper vigilance though can get out of balance. Projecting blame on to others is an easy way out, not to mention perpetuates victimhood.  When not being accountable for your own reactions, you give away your power to another.  You also wear down your nervous system, which is on constant high alert.  In addition to lacking a sense of self and agency, this behavior stresses one’s health.  Therefore, self-centeredness can also be indicative of lacking boundaries between self and other.

In the wake of my own breast cancer diagnosis and my mother’s recent death from cancer, I find this argument compelling.  When our psychological capacity to identify self from other is absent, then our tissues, cells and body organs mirror this blurring of boundaries.  This can disable defensiveness, leading to chronic illness.  Understanding this cannot change the past, but it can help me see how not to replicate a physical, mental, and emotion environment hospitable for further malignancies. Stress is a part of life, so how I respond to it can determine the effectiveness of my immune system.

As a human species, we seem to be at odds with one another, rather than looking within.   If you don’t know who you truly are, then you might have confusion about emotional boundaries of where you end and another person begins.  You might also have a disabled inner detector of who and what you receive through your most inner and outer membranes.   At the same time, fear of others is a chronic stress that wears down your sharp defenses when needed for acute threats. However, the insecurity of not feeling “acceptable” or  “good enough,” is damaging, since its presence is silent.  Recognizing your true value measured by your mere existence builds up inner strength.

As we adapt to life post-COVID-19, I urge you to be accountable for your actions (as they impact others), to respond rather than react, and act out of abundance rather than from scarcity.  We are all in this together and need to maintain connection as this threat wears down our global immunity.  Stay open and aware with healthy boundaries, both inside and out.  This is the best defense that benefits us all!

Stay healthy and adaptable,

Cat

 

Cat From The Mat blog

March 2020

Wear Your Scars

 scar |skär|   noun

• a mark left on the skin or within body tissue where a wound, burn, or sore has not healed completely and fibrous connective tissue has developed
• a lasting effect of grief, fear, or other emotion left on a person's character by a traumatic experience

Scars are souvenirs of having lived life.  I have scars from camp days, from jamming my shin into the wooden cabin steps or tripping over tree roots barefoot.  Or there was the bike accident I had when I was thrown over the handlebars landing on my helmet-less head, resulting in a severe concussion.  My mental memories were somehow washed away upon impact.  The marks on my body and face however are remnants to prove what happened.  My mental memories were somehow washed away upon impact.  And now in breast cancer recovery, I have visible scars from my surgeries, as well as invisible ones from the concurrent trauma of my diagnosis amidst my mother’s untimely death.

When we have physical traumas, our body becomes a map of the war wounds of life.  But what about our mental and emotional scars? How is it we can be aware of those wounds when they are not so measurable?

The human physical makeup has complex interwoven systems.  Our fascia is like a body-sac, made up of an organized connective tissue that helps create relationship within the whole body.  Scars mark locations of disorganized connective tissue, where there is damage to repair.   This break in the pattern along the tapestry of tissue is not unlike a glitch in the matrix.  

As the fascia reknits the fabric of your skin to heal any incisions or punctures, the bonded area becomes stronger than the two parts to which is it connecting.  When we break a bone, the healed area is also stronger than the two ends of each broken parts.  Could this mean that reorganization is needed for healing to happen?

Over the past five years, I have had a lot of loss, from divorce to cancer to death.  My heart has felt wounded.  It has been an opportunity to reorganize my inner workings, from my embodied habits to my belief systems.  It’s easy to consider each painful wound as something to protect.  But what if I could look at each emotional scar as an indication of healing, so that my heart gets stronger each time?  I am learning to reframe my lacerations as mementos of learning and growth.

Hindsight is 20/20.  I consider this New Year as a time of clarity, direction, and moving into the year as an upgraded version of myself.  I cannot change the events of the past, but I can treat them as mile markers of progress along my narrative of existence.  Adaptability, resilience, and perspective are crucial things that my practice of yoga and NVC (Non-Violent Communication) help me cultivate. I continue to be the author of my chosen journey.

Can you wear your scars with pride, knowing you have had a history in your body, mind, and heart? Life invites us to transmute challenges into lessons, vulnerability into strength, crap into fertilizing manure.  This takes courage in the face of pain or grief.  

Having been in survival mode, I am ready to live life fully and thrive.  I am jumping into 2020 with more vim and vigor, putting my scared self even more out there with my healing heart.  The worst thing that can happen is that I open myself up and risk getting hurt again.  This offers the opportunity to restore myself with even more powerful scars, embarking upon a new decade of empowered embodiment! 

Happy New Year! 

Cat From The Mat

January 2020