Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dharma, Desire and the Death of a Dream


A little over a year ago in August 2012 I had blogged about the economic circumstances here at Lothlorien (Body Soul Bliss May Be Closing). At that time I even briefly questioned whether or not it was really my destiny, my dharma, to teach yoga. It was certainly my dream, and all my life I've been told "If you can dream it, you can be it," "Follow your Bliss," "You can accomplish anything if you put your mind to it," etc. Admittedly, after decades of education in the School of Hard Knocks I have become rather skeptical about New Age optimism. But this was not some fanciful "pie in the sky" sort of dream. It actually was quite reasonable, because yoga is what I know best. I've been practicing since 1976 and teaching off and on, primarily one-on-one and mostly for free, since the early 1980s. Yoga has been my life. I was studying with gurus and meditating in a monastery while other people my age were establishing serious careers, buying homes, marrying and having children, when the current crop of 500-hour RYT teachers were still in diapers.

Since yoga at that time was not generally regarded as a practical career choice, I had eventually settled on medical transcription to make a living, although over the years I have become extremely disillusioned with mainstream medicine, especially oncology. When the work began to peter out in 2009 I decided it was time to do something that I love, something I am good at, a service which would benefit people and help them improve their health and hopefully avoid becoming victims of the medical industry. I had every expectation of success.

The success of my yoga teaching and holistic wellness counseling, however, faced 2 major obstacles:

1. Our location out here in a double-wide trailer in the boondocks, a 45-minute drive from civilization. I was getting lots of calls from potential students at the [relatively] more progressive and affluent beach area who were excited to come to Lothlorien for yoga until they learned that the Arnold Road where we are located is NOT the Arnold Road at the beach, but rather, out in the country north of Panama City. At that time there was only 1 studio at the beach, although there were several in town.

2. The economy. Everybody in town was broke and couldn't afford to pay $10 for a yoga class and the gas to drive here, although some of those people could afford to go out drinking and partying on the weekends and buying expensive shoes. I meanwhile was falling deeper into debt and having trouble paying the mortgage. I had taken on a third job, reading Tarot cards on psychic lines, which was enjoyable and somewhat relevant to my Jungian psychology training, but paid very little. My husband Hawk was spending hundreds of $$ on gas commuting to his job at the beach.

After giving the situation some careful thought, analysis and prayer, I decided it would make sense to sell the farm and move to the beach, where I would open my new studio to meet the needs of all the potential students there.

Just to make sure that this project had my full commitment and no hesitation, I went back and studied "manifesting"/ "The Law of Attraction" again. I had believed and practiced this wholeheartedly in my youth but never got any real-world results, and eventually discovered that life went more smoothly using the "go with the Flow and be ok with whatever happens" approach. However, given the grave financial circumstances and the enormity of the project, I figured it might be worth investigating again. Since my entire reality had shifted in 2011, silencing the monkey-mind and dissolving all my doubts and fears, it did not seem unreasonable to suppose that the LOA might work now.

I put aside my skepticism and took the "Abundant Yogi" course from Kris Ward, the person through whom I had met my teacher Mark Whitwell. Her life-coaching course helped me specifically design and visualize, from both a practical and spiritual standpoint, the manner in which I would actualize my goals. I had total clarity and absolute confidence. I saw it as already having happened: the studio on the beach, the students coming in the door. I felt the breeze on my face and smelled the ocean as the door opened. I had already found the building that I intended to buy and renovate and it was very affordable and in a perfect location. I saw the cute perky blonde teacher there, who was quite popular but did not yet have her own studio, and hopefully would work with me. It was all perfect.

However, despite having my property on the market for over a year, I got zero offers even when I dropped the price well below what it was worth. My tenant wanted to buy the beautiful house that Hawk and I had built, but she could not get a loan despite having a great job as a firefighter/paramedic and being a military veteran. The County decided to revoke my homestead and raised the property taxes by 43%. As a result, I could no longer afford to rent out the home because the rental income was not enough to cover the mortgage, income tax, property tax and insurance, and without the homestead, on the verge of bankruptcy, we would be left with only the aging trailer.

The trailer, meanwhile, due to a series of events including roof and plumbing leaks, rats, fire, flood and black mold, became unsuitable for yoga students after January 2013. It was awkward enough inviting strangers over to our humble mobile home prior to this. I felt ok with the few regular students who were close friends, but I really wanted a larger studio that was separate from our living quarters. Spacious, airy and peaceful, with rainbows dancing from the skylights, Lothlorien House would be an ideal yoga studio and retreat center! Although still located out in the boondocks, at least it wasn't a trailer and might be worth the drive.

With regard to the depressed local economy and my past ambivalence about charging money for a spiritual practice, I discussed this at some length with friends and fellow teachers, especially Justin Kaye, and ultimately decided to teach yoga on a non-profit donation basis at Lothlorien House, to share the gift of Yoga with everyone regardless of their ability to pay. I felt really good about this decision.

Of course, then the problem remained as to how I would pay the mortgage. When my step-mom died as a result of her chemotherapy "treatments" at the end of October 2012, I decided that I could no longer in good conscience continue to participate in the oncology industry and I quit my medical job. I continued to offer a comprehensive holistic wellness/personal training program including yoga, pilates, nutrition and lifestyle modification for a fee, but I only had a couple of clients. It soon became apparent that the people who most needed my holistic counseling service could least afford it. They were often unemployed and struggling with medical bills while seeking to recover from the toxic side effects of mainstream medicine.

We tried various other business ventures, such as putting the horses to work with Our Equestrian Program at Lothlorien, and Clean & Green by Design, which was a fabulous idea - cleaning toilets for a living so I could teach yoga for free! but unfortunately got no business despite extensive advertising. I put in more and more hours on the psychic line but could only make about $20 a day at best.

In the spring of 2013 I became very ill as a result of exposure to the black mold in the trailer, a powerful immunosuppressant, and I had a relapse of CFIDS (Chronic Fatigue Immune Dysfunction Syndrome), a diagnosis which mainstream doctors had assured me was "incurable" back in 1994 in California. They said, "You will never work again" and put me on Disability, but my SSDI was turned down when I moved to Florida. At that time I embarked on a serious study of holistic medicine which put my disease into remission, much to the surprise of the doctors, and I had believed it was totally "cured" until the relapse. It was humbling to be struck down like that.

The renovations proceeded very slowly and the Grand Opening, originally planned for the Solstice, was delayed several times. When I was able I cleaned, painted and decorated lovingly, chanting japa and picturing my student's happy faces as they would enjoy Lothlorien House in the future. At some point I re-injured my "wonky" shoulder and had to take a break for a couple of weeks. I did get a few calls for the cleaning & design business when I was too sick to work and/or in the midst of renovations here. I had just begun to regain my strength by July, when I caught strep throat from a child who was an [allegedly "noncontagious"] asymptomatic carrier, an indication of the fragile status of my immune system and a reminder that my employment options were quite limited.

Some days I was too tired to even do asana and didn't have the verbal skills or presence of mind to be able to read the Tarot on the psychic lines. I was using credit cards to pay the mortgage, property taxes and groceries, falling ever deeper into debt. Nevertheless, as I lay in my waterbed, my body wracked with pain, weak as a kitten, I was in a blissful meditative state, embraced by Divine Love, with total confidence that everything was unfolding as it should. I was not upset. I was not worried. I knew that my body would heal, as it had in the past, and I would soon be teaching yoga at Lothlorien House. Everything would be ok. The cleaning and design business would pick up, or the psychic line would become busier.

By the end of July I had managed to finish the renovations on the studio, although the guest suite still was not done. A potential student had called the previous week and I decided to go ahead and open up for students. I called to tell her we were now open and she did not respond. I posted photos of the beautiful new studio and engaged in vigorous promotion, with zero results. Even the people who had seemed the most excited about yoga at Lothlorien House had lost interest by the time we opened. This was not at all what I had expected. I also emailed all my previous students and, to my surprise, nobody was interested. Apparently they had all moved on, every last freaking one of them. But, they don't need me - I'd already taught them the basic technology of the yoga practice that they can do at home, which was after all the whole point.

I continued to feel that everything was fine and that God would send the students who were supposed to come here. I also applied for a position with an online counseling agency from India which did not require U.S. licensing, and was thrilled when they accepted me! Finally I had a job in my field as a Master's level psychologist. This was an answered prayer. Surely now things were looking up. However, my new counseling job failed to generate any income in the first few weeks, and I realized that I would not be able to pay the mortgage in September.

So, then I did what I swore I would never do: I went crawling back to beg for my old medical job which was dharmically and emotionally inappropriate for me, as well as financially inadequate - but I had completely run out of other options. As it so happened, my former boss was thrilled to hear from me, and in fact had been trying to find my email address earlier that day to get in touch because she needed my help! I was simultaneously relieved to have a job, any job, and heartbroken that it had to be this one. I couldn't believe that I was once again working for the oncology industry that I despised. I rationalized that I wasn't personally lying to the patients and their families, giving them false hope, burning them and injecting poison into their bodies while bankrupting them; I was only doing the paperwork, but... I cried all night.

One of my fellow Heart of Yoga teachers had posted on Facebook, "If you take care of the Dharma, the Dharma will take care of you." I argued with the Lord. "Really?!" I said. "I have done my part. I have followed my dharma to the best of my ability. I have given 110% when I had nothing left to give, with absolute faith. Now I must compromise my integrity by taking this job and it won't even pay the bills! How is the Dharma taking care of me?!"

I was quite upset but still, at that point, I continued to believe that everything would work out. I told myself that I could endure working in oncology, as well as my other jobs - the psychic line, the counseling service and whatever cleaning work I could get - if it would pay the mortgage so that I could keep Lothlorien House open for yoga students. Which, of course, there were none as of yet, but surely they would come. Everyone including Hawk assured me, "If you build it, they will come."

The first day back on my medical job I was still kind of in shock or denial, and extremely tired. I had not yet realized the full implications of what was happening. At the end of the next workday it suddenly dawned on me: Wait - how am I going to teach yoga when I am trying to juggle 4 other jobs?! The reality of the situation and my new work schedule hit me like a ton of bricks. I became angry. I had given my full trust and felt utterly betrayed! I was perfectly willing to do anything. I would have been happy to clean toilets for a living, in order to fulfill my dharma of teaching yoga. What more did the universe expect from me?!

Then I second-guessed myself. Maybe I hadn't visualized it clearly enough, or my intent wasn't sufficiently pure? Maybe I was too negative or my faith wasn't strong enough? Should I have kept the house on the market longer, lowered the price even more, or gone with a different realtor? If only I had stayed in California. If only I hadn't moved to Panama City, Florida. etc.

The next wave of emotion was a deep aching sorrow to the core of my being that my one remaining desire in this life - to teach yoga, the thing I know and love best, the thing that I most want to share with the world, the gift I have to offer to people - was not going to happen. Instead I was being forced to take a job that went against my dharma and made me feel dirty and which, adding insult to injury, wouldn't even pay enough to keep a roof over my head.

But, then I had to ask myself: Is this one desire worth coming back here? Assuming reincarnation is true (and who knows, really, because there is no empirical way to determine what actually happens after we die) - would I allow this seed of unfulfilled desire to bring me back into the rat race when I have already tasted Freedom? As a Christian I've been taught that I have a one-way paid ticket Home and the Gita also hints at that, salvation by Divine Grace. But what if it's wrong? What if, in fact, an earthly desire - however noble - can generate karma to keep the whole damn thing going?

Even more importantly, though, this unfulfilled desire was causing resentment which was damaging to my relationship with the Lord here and now - the relationship which is the whole point of my yoga practice, indeed my life! I had to let it all go. Ishvarapranidhana. "I lay it all at Your feet. I give up. Please, don't let this or anything else come between us!" I proceeded to do my evening practice.

As I inhaled, coming up from a deep forward bend, I felt something break loose from muladhara and heard a familiar roar like being in the tube of a wave, along with bell-like ringing, the Music of the Spheres, that I had not experienced in ages. All of my kundalini "phenomena" had happened many years ago, in my 20s. In recent years there had been mostly just deep silence, Love and ecstatic bliss. I felt the powerful vibration surge up my spine and out the top of my head and when it was over I realized with absolute clarity: The "manifesting" had, in fact, worked! It had worked really well.

In the first few months after I had stated my intention to sell the property and open the new studio on the beach to take care of all the students who were calling, 3 new studios had opened up there, one of which belonged to the perky blonde teacher, just a few doors down from the building I had wanted to buy. As of today there are 7 yoga studios on Panama City beach, and 10 on this part of the coast. There was no deficiency of focus, impurity of intent, unclarity of vision or lack of qualification on my part. I simply lacked the monetary capital which the project required and which other people were able to invest. The "manifestation" was never about me, it was about the students. Their need has been met. The students now have plenty of yoga teachers at the beach.

Granted, it is not Heart of Yoga - Real Yoga from the Source, the seamless blend of asana, pranayama, bandha and meditation, hatha, tantra, bhakti, even advaita, everything all woven together in one deceptively simple yet extremely powerful system; asana as moving meditation, whole-body prayer. Nobody else is teaching this. Hawk and I are the only Heart of Yoga teachers in Florida now that Justin has moved back up north. But maybe the students don't want HOY. Maybe they just want a good workout for $5 at a studio in a nice, convenient location that has childcare. Maybe they want to be taught by a younger teacher who can look pretty with her foot behind her head, a teacher who will push them to do more difficult poses resulting in a sense of accomplishment and pride, who will assure them, "You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it!"

"If you can dream it, you can be it." Well yes, I can be it; I AM it. And if I can dream it, I can also die to it.

I'm not confused about my dharma. I'm not waiting for some guru or angel or voice from the sky to tell me what the hell I am supposed to be doing in this life. I know that I did not incarnate to type oncology reports. I have absolutely no doubt that it is in fact my dharma to teach yoga as whole-body prayer. But, I now realize that doesn't mean the economy will support me in doing it.

People here in this little redneck town in the Bible Belt probably question whether "body" and "prayer" even belong in the same sentence, because the flesh is evil, after all. In any case they aren't willing to drive 45 minutes out into the boondocks to learn more about it. Although I have a big following of students from India, apparently nobody here in Panama City is interested. And that's ok. The dream has died. It is not my burden to carry anymore. I'm free again. I will enjoy my private practice, and everybody else can piss off.

Lothlorien House is our peaceful sanctuary. It is a romantic tantric retreat for Hawk and me. And yoga is our refuge in the midst of chaos, our ecstatic relationship with each other and with the Divine, which as long as we can breathe, will still be ours even if we become homeless. As we continue our real-world efforts to prevent that from happening, if anybody seriously wants to learn Heart of Yoga we will do our best to make time for them. But I'm not holding my breath.

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