The Weight (Wait) of Being This Woman
When I was a kid, I remember coming downstairs for breakfast more than one morning to find only crumbs left in the cereal box. Being the youngest of 5, I was often the last in line for distribution of resources. What I didn’t realize was the depth and density with which these experiences would shape my thinking into adulthood. Despite being lucky, getting and keeping jobs easily, and always having all of my needs met and then some, the fear of not getting my needs met has haunted me.
Both my parents worked full time and neither was paid much. They barely made ends meet for their family of 7 humans plus pets. But I didn’t think of this at the time, while sitting on the veranda of a restaurant looking up at a nest of 5 baby birds. They all perched right on the edge of the nest, filling it completely. There wasn’t even room left for the parents, who kept flying up intermittently amongst great commotion to spit some food into the first mouth that opened, then flying off again to go and fetch more.
“Imagine all the waiting,” she said. I looked at her, my love, my spiritual partner, and smiled. She’s always nudging me toward more expansion. The words were meant to remind me of the theme of the week for me, which was to wait.
We spent the week on a barren, desert mountaintop in New Mexico with no cell reception or internet, no sounds of traffic, no power lines, and finite resources to go around to the approximate 80 women sharing the space with us. Yoga camp, I called it: International Women’s Camp succeeding the Summer Solstice Celebration of the global kundalini yoga community. On the first day, I drew from a box my folded piece of paper that contained what my Seva (service) would be: Meal serving, dinner. I went to the meeting for the meal serving team and listened to the instructions: show up early, serve the meal to all the women, then help clean up. I felt that familiar anxiety rise along with my hand. “When do we eat?” I asked. “After everyone else has gotten their fill,” she said. At the time, it was about an hour until dinner and I was already starving, having done several hours of yoga that day. The woman next to me shared my anxiety and we looked at each other with utter fear.
On the second day, I started an argument with my girlfriend. It was a familiar argument we had had before, but this time there was a new sharpness to it and it was cutting us both. The crux was my fear of not having my needs met. More specifically: my fear of not being seen. And more specifically still: my fear of not being loved. (Although, I didn’t see all this at the time.) I separated from her and went for a run. At the beginning, I spoke aloud an urgent prayer for help in seeing what is true and knowing what action to take. After a meandering while, I found myself on a dirt path that formed a very large spiral. It was the labyrinth, used by the natives who settled the land as a peace and healing walk. While running, I became aware of my well-worn pattern of reaching and wanting to the point of craving. I’ve been sober from alcohol and drugs for 16 years now, but this habit of desire-run-rampant still rules my life most of the time. It has served me well. My friends tell me what a great “manifester” I am. I experience success, or, the attainment of whatever it is I want, regularly. But there’s a dark side to the wanting. There’s a quality of dissatisfaction to a greater or lesser degree in so many otherwise exalted moments in my life.
I ran on with this new clarity and an action popped into my head: Wait. Relax and wait instead of making it happen, which is how I usually get everything I need and want. That was my idea? Surely not. But there it was, planted in my mind and already growing so fiercely that it made me angry and brought tears to my eyes. I looked up at the sky as I ran, doubting my idea, and there she was: clouds forming the shape of an enormous angel with a wing span covering the entire mountain range.
I ran on, still doubting, still angry, then stopped and took a photo of her with my phone. (I knew I would later need photographic proof that this horrible idea came from her, and so I needed to trust it.)
Throughout the rest of my run and over the course of that day, I softened into the idea. I realized that it wasn’t just about waiting, at least not for the sake of deprivation or suffering. It was a potent and mindful act of restraint—one that requires bright attention and sustained effort. Like any meditation, holding it would take strength and discipline.
Sat Siri is the second kundalini yoga teacher to facilitate a breakthrough for me. (The first happened about six years ago [I wrote about it here] in the class my now girlfriend was teaching. After a while, she became a friend. Then, my best friend. And finally, four years later, my beloved.) Sat Siri, the teacher, is a shining and slender woman with an Australian accent and an intense presence that can be felt before being seen. In her workshop, we did a kria that included dancing. For several minutes, I danced briskly with all the women, catching their collective joy and abandon. Toward the end though, I started throwing punches.
At first, I imagined I was punching the faces of the worst specimens of male I’d ever met. Then, it was a caricature embodying the most harmful, sordid aspects of humanity and warped distortions of desire you can imagine. And finally, it was these same dark energies inside me, my inner predator that I was punching. I punched and punched with all my strength, throwing the full weight of my body into each thrust of my fist, leaping into it, wild with rage.
“Inhale!” The teacher called out. The music was silenced and my body stilled. Standing there, panting and sweating, the anger subsided and something inside broke open. Without warning, a hot volcano of grief and sadness rushed up from the center of the earth, through my body, and out. I sobbed and shook. Soon, I couldn’t stand any longer and I collapsed to the floor. I worried what other people would think. I worried it might never stop. And I wept.
Eventually, I rolled over onto my back for the relaxation. I felt as though I’d processed all the anger and sorrow of not just my lifetime, but that of all my ancestors: the grief of my mother when I was in her womb and her father committed suicide, the anger of her mother when she was in her womb (already containing the egg that would one day create my body), and back, and back.
So, I was tired. I lacked the energy to move, much less raise my arms and legs to 90 degrees, which is what Sat Siri asked. No, I thought. No chance.
But I was in a large tent with lots of other women. And the teacher’s voice was encouraging me to rise to a challenge, so I gathered my one ounce of strength and raised my limbs skyward. My legs began shaking immediately and I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold them up for long. But seconds and then a minute and another minute went by and there was no sign of stopping. I groaned and strained, my abdomen clenched and my limbs trembled. I could barely breathe. Minutes passed. Nausea swept through me and I said, “I’m going to throw up.”
“Ask for help,” said my girlfriend, who was right beside me with her limbs sticking straight up. I closed my eyes and sent a fervent, desperate prayer for help. And just like that, help rushed in. My body relaxed, my breathing slowed, my face fell calm. My legs and arms remained straight up as if of their own will. There was a rock in my abdomen and it was painful, but I wasn’t making it happen. It was just there, holding my legs up.
And I thought, already?
In the end, I had held my legs and arms up for 11 full minutes. At least the last 6 of those were effortless thanks to my “help.”
My girlfriend had told me stories of similar phenomena happening to her when she suddenly possessed great and unending strength after approaching the breaking point. I had listened warmly, appreciating her flare for drama. Never did I believe that it could have been unembellished truth. Now, I know.
After the class, I thanked Sat Siri for the experience and hugged her. I asked her if I could have a photo with her so that I might never forget what happened that day.
Later, sitting in a circle of women gathered around Sat Siri, I heard her speak with some of the women about relationships and commitment. She shared about her recent divorce and asserted, “sometimes, commitment can be harmful.” Her meaning, that one can be so blindly committed to the point of self-abandonment, seemed to be the opposite of my problem.
“What about the other side of the coin?” I asked. “I’ve been in 9 long term relationships in my adult life and I’ve tried everything but can’t seem to stay committed. I doubt that long-term relationships are even possible for me. I can’t seem to see that path.” She pierced me with her gaze and responded, “Do you have the courage to be willing to forge your own path?”
Later, I read this in One Breath at A Time, a book by Kevin Griffin: “With too much wisdom, the hindrance of doubt comes to dominate the mind… it has the effect of narrowing possibility to that which has already been known or understood. There is no room for imagination or discovery.”
It was through this and more that I came to answer Sat Siri’s invitation with a full yes. Too much transpired on that mountain for me to write about, including carrying a goddess, meditating in challenging postures for 62 minutes, burning ancestral karma as a deep ocean jellyfish, fighting against the patriarchy, walking under a sky glutted with stars like I’d never seen, meeting magical and wise women, claiming a new mantra (I have perfect timing), and twice walking the healing peace walk the way the natives did—once at sunrise and again at sunset. During the walk, there are three altars at which to leave the past, claim the present, and set an intention for the future. At the altar to the past, I left fear and doubt in my relationship. At the altar to the present, I claimed self-love. And for the future, I vowed to forge my own path with beautiful courage.
Each evening, I served dinner to all the women and basked in the gift of being able to look them in the eye, smile, and give them what they wanted. I felt camaraderie with my fellow servers and found that we easily and naturally covered for each other, making sure each one of us was able to take a break and eat. Had I had only myself and them, I would have gotten my needs met. But I also had my beloved, who brought our dishes through the line and collected food for the both of us, then waited for me to have a break so I could sit and eat with her. She made me feel more than cared for, which she often does. She showed me that I am never alone. I am not an I. I am half of a we. And we take care of each other. Not only do I get my needs met, I get to share in that bounty with a bright and beautiful person to whom I’ve committed my love and fidelity. With whom I get to forge a new path.
There is nothing required of me but to actively, with trust and reverence, wait. In this way, I keep opening to the mystery, where all the help I need can enter.