Yoga! The thought of yoga makes me feel like a failure and the biggest loser that ever lived. I’ve run marathons and maintain a pretty healthy lifestyle so that at forty-six I look and feel pretty good. But for the most part, yoga has been beyond me; I just didn’t get it, and it pissed me off.
Two decades ago I was introduced to yoga by a good friend because I had decided to endeavor into a practice of spiritual and physical principals. Having been an athlete, or shall I say “athletic,” since I was young girl, yoga looked, well, easy. “How difficult could it be to stand on a mat and do poses?” I thought. Looking back I realized this was arrogance at its worse and ignorance at its purest. I had no idea what it meant to practice yoga, and because there was no finish line at the end of each class, I found it meaningless and I quit. I declared that I hated yoga and would never try it again. And then in 2012 a new studio opened around the corner from my house. It was offering an initial $40 unlimited attendance for the first month and a girlfriend invited me to join her. I resisted with rigor, but decided that I had grown emotionally in those twenty years and maybe it was time to try the mat again.
For two years I practiced yoga regularly, sometimes daily and at least four times per week. I became a devotee of the practice, to the best of my ability. It was on the mat that I discovered why I had declared my hatred for the practice. I saw in me a stern resistance to the discipline that yoga requires—to benefit from yoga you have to allow yourself to experience the slow, steady, subtle shifts that it brings. It doesn’t generally garner the results or the immediate gratification that I love. Personally I could never remember the Sanskrit names of poses and after two years I was still unable to touch my toes in a seated position. Running marathons, on the other hand, offers you something at the end of those 26.2 miles you can claim and boast about. I ran 26.2 miles! Yes, I almost died doing it. I cursed at a stranger and my toenails fell off, but I ran a marathon—three of them to be exact.
One day, while on my mat, I noticed my ability to breathe more deeply. It wasn’t something that anyone else would notice, but right there on my mat I inhaled for a longer period of time than I ever had before. The capacity of my lungs had expanded because the muscles around my ribs were more flexible and supple. In that moment, I was tremendously excited because I had spent years breathing poorly. Shallow breathing and even holding my breath was the norm. Years of meditation had taught me the value of breathing properly, including the ability to release stress and center ourselves. Breathing is basic, but it’s also a tool for healing and mindfulness.
I may never be good at yoga in the way my ego tells me I desire. But the ability to breathe more deeply feels really big to me. That one milestone was so tremendous I talked about it more than I did finishing a marathon. The best part is that yoga offers gifts I don’t know I need. It’s like coming home to flowers on the doorstep. So It’s to the mat I go, looking forward to the turtle-pace accomplishments that only I will experience or see at the finish line.
As I child, I spent endless time on the phone with my divorced parents, counseling them and listening to their disappointment with one another. My father made it his business to call me and bemoan how sad he was about his failed relationships and how he wished he’d done better. My mother spent the next several decades going from one man to the next trying to find love.
I always feared being a single mother in a very real way. This fear influenced my choice to have several abortions as a young woman and my choice in a husband. I was determined to marry a man who wanted children and who would not be able to live without having them in his life. I wanted a man who would be a present and dedicated father.
I was right in picking my son’s father. He is a super-dedicated dad. But when we divorced, my fear of becoming my parents compelled me to create a friendship with my son’s father. I didn’t want my son to experience what I’d endured as a child in a broken home. So I pushed for a fantasy relationship that included friendly conversations, holiday celebrations, even double dating. I’ve dreamt about some type of communal living. I was off to the races.
Over years I could see that my son’s father wasn’t really into this friendship thing, at least not in the way I was. For me friendship is akin to breathing and for him, not so much. I had spent years feeling like a jilted friend and blaming him for rejecting or abandon me for reason another. I resented that he didn’t do things like the way I did and assigned rejection to those experiences. When I tell myself the truth about our relationship, I’ve wanted him to be different. I’ve been waiting for him to embrace see things my way, without considering his needs and feeling or completely discounting them. Though I’ve never considered him a bad father, I have judged harshly as a man, ignoring how complicated and complex it can be to co-parent with someone you’ve once been romantic with.
One day I asked myself, “If we didn’t have a child together, would we be friends?” I started looking at the things we had in common today outside of our son and seeing just how different we really are. Yes we are both dedicated parents, available to our son, but the reasons and divisions that led to the split still exist, and I had been determined to ignore them. Aside from our love and caring for our child, we have very different value systems making maintaining a friendship difficult. And we are both good people doing our very best in difficult situation. I often forget this.
Currently I’m reconsidering my earlier position on friendship. I’m also accepting that I do not have to repeat the mistakes of my parents. Unlike my mother, my life isn’t centered on the need for a man. My life is very community focused and opens in ways my mother hadn’t conceived of. I can prioritize my needs and those of my son in a way that she never seemed to figure out. I’m not perfect, trust me—but I know that I’m both a loving mother and a woman who deserves to be happy, and that that happiness isn’t going to come from someone else.
My relationship with my son’s father and ex-husband continues to offer me jewels about life and love. And today it’s offering me an opportunity to be honest about our friendship, and whether our commitment to our son can be fostered in an even more genuine way.
All of this media coverage about Janay and Ray Rice just breaks my heart. It brings forward all the memories of watching my parents battle each other when I was a little girl. I’m reminded of how insidious and terminal a violent relationship can be. There was one particular occasion when I watched my father hit and kick my mother until she screamed and I screamed too. I went to thrust my 9 years old body between them, hoping to stop the beating but my father just tossed me aside as my mother continued to scream, stop Jessie. I joined her and created a harmony of tears, whales and shouts, the background to the sound of the thuds of his fist to her body. Later that night I could hear the sound of screams but these were screams of passion and moans of ecstasy. They had made up and I had a lesson in love.
The next morning I stood outside with my father on a warm sunny Los Angeles day as he shined his green Mercedes. “I beat her because I love her”, he said. “I not gonna ever let a man hit me the way you hit momma”, I spouted back. He shook his head to say, we’ll see, even though his lips said, “I hope not”.
Ten years later my dance of abuse begin. I loved boys like my father because they were all I could relate to. Their charm and slick ways made me feel normal, even though it was painful. I recognized them because I had seen them in my father. When I encountered a kind boy, who showed his affection with candy or by paying attention to me, I thought they were boring and too goody two shoes. I wanted the boys who lived on the edge and took me there with them.
Abuse is insidious in that it takes many forms. There is an energy and way of being with people who practice abuse. Abuse may take the form of withholding love, care and attention, or it can take the obvious form of battering and being battered. However it looks, abuse is linked to suffering of some sort, and what I’ve learned about myself is that I was committed to suffering regardless of who appeared to be the source of it. I didn’t need someone else to be involved in order for me to suffer. My thoughts were all focused on suffering, self-loathing and lack. My attitude was one of hopelessness and despair. The abuse resonated within me, and every man I had any in depth connection to, soon became the outward reflection of my inner world. That is unless he didn’t have the capacity within him to be an abuser; in that case our relationships would quickly dissolve.
I have experienced all types of abuse, from men who withhold sex for long periods of time to men who hit and punch. There have even been two experiences of date rape. In every case I never thought to leave but stayed with the hope of fixing and proving that they loved me. Hence, a power struggle.
After many years of therapy I decided to heal myself and begin undoing what I was creating with most men in my life. This led me to explore the relationship I had with my father and learn how he became the angry and abusive man I called daddy. His entire life was saturated in abuse of some sort; he was a raging boy that grew into a raging and out of control man, who abused.
The video with Ray and Janay Rice is unbearable to watch, but what is more unbearable and shocking is our cultural response to it. The absence of compassion and understanding in these types of situations is very dangerous. It’s dangerous for our culture and the two participants. These are two people who obviously are very ill emotionally. I know for sure that abuse in either position is an illness. I believe it is born out of the inability to handle and filter emotions appropriately and a deep sense of powerlessness. It’s as if they behave like children who can’t articulate their needs, feelings and ideas so they resort to fighting, wining, energetic pulling and extreme frustration and anger. Something within you shuts off and you sort of black out emotionally and lose the ability to reason. In that moment violence becomes the only tool you can access. However they are not children, they are adults who we assume can do better. Arrested development is its worse. We all know this experience in some way I’m sure. Maybe you had a parent who drank or checked out emotionally. Maybe you have a spouse who bullies you energetically, nullifies your feelings and ignores your needs. This is a human condition not an isolated TMZ video of two wild and out of control people.
How to heal abuse? Grow yourself up. Adults, healthy adults that is, know how to be with their emotions. They don’t function over them and project them onto others. They don’t take everything personally or feel the need to oppress other adults. The truth is that most of us are children in adult bodies doing adult things with the capacity of child. We haven’t discovered how to stop eating when we are full, not drink and drive, and say no when someone is doing something that doesn’t feel good to you. We live in a society run and created by abusive, power struggling, boundary ignoring, children in adult bodies.
Finally, to all the people who are asking, why Janay Rice stays? I say you are a part of the problem, because only children ask why. Adults know that it doesn’t matter why, what matters is a solution. Adults ask how can we fix this, heal this, and help these women and men change their destructive behavior, if they are willing.
Having lived with both abusers and the abused all of my childhood, I’ve learned that like all people, they need love, compassion, guidance, and a chance to change. They don’t know how to get their needs met. They don’t even know what they need in most cases. I didn’t. I see this event as an opportunity to take more responsibility for the ways I practice, create, and participate in abusive relationships. Self love is the solution ultimately, and its long threaded journey that doesn’t unravel quickly. Starting the journey is the first step toward growing ourselves up.
I have been actively and deliberately following my bliss, pursuing my dreams and tracking my deepest desires since the birth of my son in 2007. Something woke up inside of me when he was born and subsequently diagnosed with Down syndrome. Actually his birth confirmed a diagnosis that had come during my twentieth week of pregnancy. Having a child with special needs, scared me because I knew that being his parent would be all consuming and there might be no room from my dreams. Hoping to keep myself alive, while keeping him on track, I started writing my stories and my thoughts about all sorts of things from politics to pussies. I started questioning the way I moved in body and who I allowed or rather invited to touch me. I began speaking what was in my mind before I had analyzed it to death. I began asking lovers for what I wanted, without needing their approval. And within a few years I realized I was finally, happily and courageously being me. Something had integrated and the way that had I previously been fractured seemed to dissolve. And the result was self love. All of sudden I felt beautiful, smart, like a good friend and an authentic woman. I genuinely liked me.
Today something else is calling me. It feels like a death of some sort because the reality of being a single mother ( co-parent) to child with special needs demands community, money, resources and time beyond what I am able to provide while following my bliss, pursuing my dreams and tracking my deepest desires. Parenting is expensive and parenting a child with special needs seems to require fund raising for speech and occupational therapy. Everything cost more than my dreams can pay. And I’m tired and being tired ain’t sexy, beautiful and doesn’t feel all warm and authentic.
Something in me is dying and I fear it’s my dream. The main reason I started pursuing my dreams is that I wanted to be able to look my son in his eyes one day, if it was needed, and say “You can be what you desire”. I didn’t feel qualified to raise a child who would certainly encounter resistance from within himself and also from the world, if I couldn’t tell him to fight for his dreams, his genius and his purpose for living. I wanted to be able to tell him that if you give it all you’ve got, something will definitely be given back to you, even if the “somethings” given come from within. I wanted to be able to tell him you’re good enough to do what you dream of doing. However at the time of his birth I wasn’t qualified to inspire him in that way. I had been hiding behind the fear of being ugly, dumb and afraid to fail. When I imagined the day I would need to tell my son to try harder, I knew I was being a hypocrite because I had not tried harder.
Being a parent is not a dream in that child have needs that deserve to be met. So my dreams are dying somewhat today but not completely. I have not been able to make a living doing what I absolutely love which is talking. I love to a talk and write about what people are thinking and doing about nearly almost everything. I’ve been this way since I was three. Yes, I’ve always talked too damn much for my own good. And today, I’ve decided to get job that will allow me to fulfill a new dream, which is to pay for the services and education my son deserves. It’s a good dream and one where I can utilize all the new and reclaimed parts of myself that I had once discarded. I will acknowledge that like most deaths, I’m sad and a little sullen. The little girl in me who sang the Stephanie Mills version of Home in the big mirror down stairs in my auntie’s basement is moping.
All of this brings me to that little girl who dreamed but was too afraid to step out until my son was born. The years of singing, dancing, talking and deep thinking while hoping that I would one day be like Oprah with my own show hasn’t gone anywhere. She didn’t grow up because she had a child with special needs, she just dug in thinking, I better get a little bit of mine because this little boy is coming for his. I better stake my claim before everything is gone. I love her and I love him. And now I’m off to another great adventure. Maybe roads will cross and my bliss will marry my reality and ride off into the sunset together.