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Reflections (Two Months) Into 2024



Dear friends and fellow humans,


I wrote my first draft of this on January 2nd of this year, and then hesitated to share it for a myriad of reasons. But the theme of this year, for me, seems to be “be scared and then do the thing anyway”, so here we are.


Happy Gregorian New Year, if you’re into that sort of thing.


2024 is a special year for me; it marks the third decade I have spent in this current corporeal form. Unlike many people my age, I’m excited to turn thirty in six months. This past decade has been one of deep soul searching and messy, difficult healing work. Frankly, I’m exhausted and ready to move onto the next phase of my life, and hopefully much more able to leave behind what is no longer serving me. A huge portion of the yoga practice is learning how to work with time (which takes form in the goddess Kali); we yogis talk a lot about aging and death. In fact, clinging to bodily life (fear of aging or death), is one of the five kleshas, or root causes of suffering. Am I saying I’m completely unafraid of death and aging? Of course not. But I am learning to recognize and even respect the impermanence of my body. In yoga we recognize that everything material (prakriti or maya)*, has an ending, and that pure divine consciousness (Purusha or Brahman or Atman)* is the one true constant. This understanding of impermanence, that all things end, is a call to practice non-attachment (which is not indifference), and even gratitude for the things with which we have a limited time to spend. That includes our bodies.


The last couple years in this decade of my life have been spent in pursuit of bodily liberation. Specifically in the form of freedom from disordered eating and body dysmorphia, but that includes, of course, liberating myself from the constant bombardment of external messages and pressures regarding my body (and food). These messages are ones we’ve all heard, and of course are extended most aggressively towards women. We’re told we only have value if we shrink ourselves, that eating “unhealthy” or “junk” food is morally reprehensible, that in a world where there’s fascists, extremists, murderers, and dictators, the worst thing one can possibly be is fat. 


Now imagine that these messages are instilled in you from childhood, as is true for many of us; it would seem almost impossible to traverse life without internalizing them. I sure did. And the process of recovering from it’s done to my body and unlearning what has truly become muscle memory has been…..brutal. Absolutely brutal. No point in sugar-coating it. You’ve got to open the wound and really dig in there to clean it out; it’s messy, it’s ugly, it’s painful, and it’s scary. But so is the alternative! The only difference is that the choice to heal guarantees that it won’t stay messy, ugly, painful, and scary. 


So how do I learn to treat my body with unconditional love, respect, and reverence? Here’s where the impermanence part comes in. I know I have a limited time in this vessel–so limited, that I don’t even know exactly how much I’m gonna get! None of us know! And in meditating on the concept of time, I’ve come to experience a wonderful paradox: life is indeed short, as we often express, and it is also long (hopefully). In the grand scheme of things, and especially if you believe in reincarnation, one lifetime seems like absolutely nothing. But in this body, even if time goes by quickly (every new year we all act surprised that this is happening again), it’s still a long time. A decade is a long time. Two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine decades is a lot of time. We often say that life is short, and that’s why we should make the most of it, but I think the same thing can be said the other way around. Life is long, and we could spend all that time being utterly miserable and uncomfortable in our bodies, OR we could spend all that time being free. I’ve chosen the latter, even though I know it’s going to take me a long time, and a very non-linear path, to return home to that sense of freedom. (Note how I didn’t say “get there”--I said “return”.)


I’d like to recommend a podcast to you, dear reader. It was released at the beginning of last year, 2023, from the We Can Do Hard Things podcast, hosted by Glennon Doyle, Amanda Doyle, & Abby Wambach. It is their conversation with poet, activist, author, prophet Sonya Renee Taylor, who wrote New York Times bestseller The Body Is Not An Apology. I listened to this for the first time back in March and had a visceral reaction in my body akin to the feeling of coming home. And this is what Sonya Renee Taylor offers us; that our inherent state of being is one of “radical self-love”, and that the process of shedding the harmful messaging we’ve learned about our bodies being anything other than perfectly, divinely created is the process of coming home to who we truly are. 


This is also the purpose of yoga, according to the actual scriptures! Yoga in Sanskrit means union; and there are many forms of connection, but we’ve come to understand that the purpose of yoga is union with the divine Self (purusha). It’s the recognition that the truest, purest, simplest form of divine consciousness is the constant, permanent presence in everything that is material, impermanent. We, and everything around us, are all made of the same stuff. We all share the same origin. To love and respect the beauty of everything in creation, including ourselves, is to love and respect that divine universal consciousness. So, according to both yoga and Sonya Renee Taylor our worthiness of unconditional love is inherent; it does not need to be earned, and especially not by restricting the food we eat, overexercising, or shrinking ourselves. When I tell people that yoga saved my life, it is because it gave me the powerful gift of this understanding through embodied experience (and still continues to do so).


Now, is this all easier said than done? Of course! Like I said earlier, I’m exhausted! It takes a lot of time, energy, and strength to remember our inherent divinity when we’re constantly bombarded by messaging–external and internal, inadvertent and on purpose, from the media, friends, family, strangers, ourselves–telling us otherwise. I have to make the conscious choice, time and time again, to live in a reality with radical love as its foundation. At times, it’s lonely. It also means having to bravely face the lie I (all of us) have been sold & bought that our worth hinges on external factors. Choosing to see the divine source in everything is not the same as ignoring what appears to us as ugly, dark, scary, uncomfortable, difficult, etc. It is not a spiritual bypassing of strife and struggle and suffering; spiritual bypassing is a form of ignorance (another klesha, or root of suffering), and ignorance is easy. The path of truly seeing, truly knowing, is not. I came to a new understanding of what peace might actually look like after witnessing the brutal, merciless attacks on human rights and life happening in the Middle East, and the way that those of us who don't live there or experience it first-hand are talking about it. True peace is the ability to see the humanity–and even the divine Source–in everyone, even the “worst” of us, or those we do not understand. The people who I am looking to as peace leaders, truly dedicated to a solution that is sustainable for all, are the people who are not shying away from bringing people together from different walks of life, having uncomfortable conversations, and practicing humility, critical thinking, and unconditional compassion.


This may involve recognizing that the capacity to hate & destroy is a very human capacity. And no, awareness of this is not the same as excusing actions of hatred and destruction. I believe very deeply in accountability–and I believe that when we’re talking about collective liberation, that’s gotta include all of us. All of us. Peace arises from recognizing that capacity of light and dark, the multitudes we contain, holding loving, accepting, non-judgmental space for that within us, and then choosing love. Even when it’s hard. Love is another deeply human thing we get to do in these bodies, and there’s no limit to it. 


Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the world’s greatest examples of leading with peace and love, articulates this understanding better than I ever could, in his poem, “Please Call Me By My True Names”, included below. Please note: content in this poem mentions war, murder/weapons, suicide, & rape. Read at your discretion.


Please Call Me By My True Names

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow

because even today I still arrive.


Look deeply: I arrive in every second

to be a bud on a spring branch,

to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,

learning to sing in my new nest,

to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,

to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.


I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,

in order to fear and to hope.The rhythm of my heart is the birth and

death of all that are alive.


I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,

and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time

to eat the mayfly.


I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,

and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,

feeds itself on the frog.


I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,

my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,

and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.


I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,

who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,

and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.


I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,

and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to, my people,

dying slowly in a forced labor camp.


My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.

My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.


Please call me by my true names,

so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,

so I can see that my joy and pain are one.


Please call me by my true names,

so I can wake up,

and so the door of my heart can be left open,

the door of compassion.


Another way we look at permanence and impermanence in yoga is as the Seer and the seen. The Seer (purusha), is the pure divine consciousness that created the seen (prakriti) so that it could have an experience of itself. The seen, time and time again, gives us the opportunity to remember who we truly are. My understanding of enlightenment is really just remembering, and never again forgetting. Living through our joys and sorrows from the loving seat of the Seer, the Witness, seems like a much more sustainable avenue than the identity crisis that is aligning who we are in something constantly changing, shifting, ever impermanent. This seems a lot more like freedom to me.


In another of his works, The Heart of Understanding, Thich Nhat Hanh expounds on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra: Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha!


His English translation: Gone, gone, gone all the way over, everyone gone to the other shore. Enlightenment!


In this new year, in this continued passage of Time, that is my wish for all of us. That we remember who we truly are–Divine, beautiful, pure, worthy of love–and never, ever forget. That someday we all come to know and experience the true freedom that is enlightenment. 


Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu (May all beings everywhere be happy and free)


AUM Shanti (Peace),


Cami




*Note: Many Vedic scriptures and traditions spend much time and meditation differentiating between the various forms of the material (prakriti, maya, etc.) and the various forms of divine consciousness (purusha, brahman, atman, etc.). While they can be understood and experienced in different ways, each individual’s understanding of these concepts is their own, and is no less Truth than another’s. I, myself, am still learning the nuances and varying iterations of God (or Source, or whatever you wanna call it)--and part of that learning has involved letting go of getting it “right”. That said, please feel free to enlighten me if you have a different understanding!

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