Communities or Relationships

You may be thinking: “Wait, what does that mean? No romance, no butterflies, finally finding true love? That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of fun!” You may be right and I get you. But let’s step back for a moment..

These days the headlines could really have you concerned: political unrest, international provocations, and still no globally binding commitment to limit CO2 emissions. Every day, there seem to be reports of extreme climates, terrorist attacks, refugee crises. It’s scary out there and what could possibly be better than having a strong partner by our side to hug us when we feel scared and warm us on a lonely night? Well, actually, there may be something…

Think about it: finding a great romantic relationship can create a lot of pressure (dare I say, fire!). These days we’ll try all sorts of apps, venues, events, just to meet somebody (not to mention the even crazier stuff we do to make it last!). Apart from the fact that we are going extreme distances to find proximity, why are we putting all our eggs in one person’s basket? Not only is it unfair to the other person to project all of our expectations onto them. It’s also a little bit, um, I want to say insane.

We don’t apply to just one college. We don’t have just one friend (hopefully). We don’t read the same author over and over again. Yet here we are, pledging lifelong allegiance to just one person. He or she will make all our pain go away, our troubles seem small and all our fears disappear. That seems like risky business to me. Actually, speaking from my personal life, it has been risky business. The rebuilding that had to take place after my two major relationships failed was so painful, I didn’t think I could reside in this body for much longer. My grief seemed so plastic and permanent that I thought it had taken on a body of its own-inside mine. With the loss of my respective partners, I had lost my one true confidant, my lover, business advisor, my family, in one case the father of my child, future dreams and hopes, comfort, shared vacations, my home, my identity in some ways. Besides having to overcome pain, deceit, anger and fear, my whole life had been turned upside down. Whom do you turn to, when all these people–rolled into one partner–are gone? If you have one, you guessed it: your tribe.

During these times of self-loathing, lack of confidence and the complete inability to imagine a life without my partner, my friendships deepened and grew more meaningful than at any other time in my life. I no longer just spent an hour in-between with them, I spent 3, or 5, or more. We had meals together, worked alongside each other in coffee shops, shared the books we read, called each other late at night or just stayed over all together. The bond between my friends and I became so strong that I couldn’t imagine how I had voluntarily lived any other way for so long. Suddenly, I realized, I had treated my friends and my family like auxiliaries to my relationship! Someone you meet when you’ve got time in between or when your spouse is out of town. Here was this whole community of people united in their love for me and I had all but ignored it. Once I became aware of it and steeped in their love and care, I started to think of communities in a larger way. Communities unified by a political or social cause, religious or secular, a shared identity, national, global,…There are literally no limits.

What if we all thought of ourselves, not only as individuals but as human beings who–when we examine our true nature– are willing, able and highly capable of making connections among each other. I want to go further and say we need these connections, physically, spiritually and cognitively. Here we all are, swiping left and right, mangling ourselves through first dates and wondering where on earth this soulmate is hiding, when actually there are all these friends, causes and groups we may very well connect with sans the whole dating dance.

Why did advertising and the digital universe catch on years ago and start re-purposing the word community? Because it is heartwarming? Yes, very likely. But also, because it is a way to organize our lives, to create synergies, find jobs, create a sense of belonging and safety, home and purpose-all with a personal touch. Communities last long after some of our partners have come and gone, after our children have moved out, our parents have passed on. They can become a network of lifelines when life delivers the unexpected pain and joy!

In the field of neuroplasticity it has now become known that we rebuild and rewire our brains well into adulthood and old age. We are absolutely able to continue learning and reinventing ourselves. I believe the same is true for our relationships. If we keep using our natural ability to bond, the bonding keeps happening. There are bonds that break, of course but when we have a community of people, there is strength in numbers, much more than there is in the number two that makes a couple.

In Berlin, where I live, I have been hearing a lot about polymorphous relationships, where the couple as such is also “coupling” with others. Personally, I’m not sure I can imagine it (I’m a little lazy about the logistics, I’m guessing!). There are also now several models, where different generations of neighbors arrange to live in the same house with each other, thereby, creating an extended family you actually want to spend Thanksgiving with! Whichever model we choose, there are countless roads to building sustainable relationships outside the box of the romantic two.

And you know what the funny thing is? Those trusted communities might be the best place to find romantic love when you’re not even looking (or swiping). After all, who knows you better than your tribe and so, can introduce you! Added bonus: there’s also been research stating that couples who cultivate friendships outside their immediate relationship last longer-less pressure for the relationship to provide all the answers maybe. Of course, none of this is historically new. This is how we used to live and thrive. So, perhaps it’s time to return to our tribes…now that I think about it, it might make for less scary headlines too. Just a thought. Let me know yours in the comments below!




Yoga and Heartbreak

Like everything else in life, yoga is easiest when we’re happy, right? We feel fluid, our heart opens effortlessly and even if things, let them be asanas, aren’t working out that great, we can handle that. Who cares? Life is great and so am I!

But what if we’re not doing so well. And what if it isn’t the „small stuff“ we’re sweating? What if we’ve been really hurt, we’ve lost somebody or a relationship ends? What can we do when our hearts have been broken open and seem to have poured out for everybody to see? How do we handle all this vulnerability and rawness and still dare to “look within” and stay connected? There are no quick fixes, to be sure, but maybe there are some strategies. Here are 5 that just very recently, I myself incorporated. I may not be healed yet but these tools continue to work for me:

1. Writing Meditation
During the very first few days of this rough patch, I tried to meditate. I would sit down for my usual time and begin my silent practice. Several silent mantras came to mind, left again. I couldn’t settle on a single one, started fiddling, my seat became unbearably uncomfortable and the sadness I felt, was overwhelming. It was then I realized, it wasn’t going to be the usual spiel. After all, something big had happened and it required more dedication, or “digging in”.
I’ve always felt writing to be therapeutic. So, I got out my journal and started jotting everything down that came to mind-and heart. It took on a feverish action and I just kept going and going and when 8 or so pages were filled, I dropped my fountain pen and felt I could face my situation just a little better, less fearful because now I had everything “on paper”, so to speak. Whatever we write, is ripe to leave our system. It has been released into the universe. Don’t worry about grammar, poetry, sentence structure, just keep writing as if your life depended on it. Maybe it does in a way.

2. Mantras
As mentioned, my silent short mantras (a.k.a. Japa Mantras) weren’t providing the comfort I’d hoped for. I literally would forget which one I was on and none of them seemed fitting. I dug through my mental library of Sanskrit Mantras but came up empty-literally. I sat there, a little desperate for a moment, until suddenly I was saying the words “I am strong”. Granted, this won’t be the “deepest” mantra, I’ll ever have practiced, neither is it particularly filled with the light that our beloved Sanskrit Mantras are known for. BUT: it was what I felt. I felt I could be strong and saying these basic words, spoken in my own language was suddenly the only way forward. And so it was for the entire 15 minutes that I sat. I am strong, I am strong… For you, it might be I am brave, or I am full of love, whatever bubbles up first is probably right! If you, like me, need comfort more than anything else in this moment, keep it simple. Say what your heart dictates. It knows what it needs.

3. Your Tribe
This one might seem so simple, you’ll laugh at me but if it hadn’t been for my girlfriends literally feeding me, I don’t know now how I would have kept from falling down. Most of them, at the time, didn’t even know what was going on. I wasn’t ready to talk about it and I wasn’t ready for the multiplying effect it would have if they, too, were sad for me. By some weird coincidence, however, they made time to cook for me in the middle of the week, invited me to lunch or bought me smoothies. It was just so obvious that my heart and body required their company because they kept giving me the right things at the right time, without possibly being able to know what was going on. I felt safe and cared for. So I’m here to ask you not to stay alone with your pain. Find those women in your life who have been through it all before and be nourished by their love and wisdom.

4. Keeping your heart open
OK, this one was really tough for me. Everything inside me wanted to shut down, to not feel what I was feeling but my heart wouldn’t have it. Years of conditioning it to keep the walls up had been undone by years of yoga and meditation. I realized I couldn’t go back to the unhealthy days of blind anger, self-doubt and fear, followed by a bunch of shortsighted decisions. So when the sh… hit the fan, I remained open. I cried, when the tears invaded and let the pain move in when it needed to, even if it meant my stomach would turn into knots and I found it hard to breathe.
The odd result was, I met some extremely kind people during this period. I don’t fully understand how it happened but even these strangers would either strike up a conversation (not very common in the city of Berlin, by the way), or just smile when I asked a simple question, offer help in some sort of a way. By keeping this schizophrenic heart–broken but willing– I understood that I wasn’t alone with this. There were other people in this world and there is a way to move beyond the fear of spending the rest of your life heartbroken and alone.

5. Find your favorite Yoga

Maybe you have a favorite teacher or a studio that makes you truly comfortable. Either of these aspects of trust, I found, were key when I felt brave enough to continue my practice during these times. For a few days, I practiced at home because I didn’t feel like falling apart with tons of strangers around me. But when I did go to my studio, I took my favorite Kundalini teacher’s class. The inevitable happened and I did shed a few quiet tears. “Oh, well”, I thought, “I’m at the back of the class, I’ll be fine”, and I was. If it is financially possible, maybe even consider taking a private class. Whichever environment you choose, go easy on yourself and if you decide not to practice, maybe refer to some of the other strategies here or simply do what heals you. There are no rules for heartache, after all.
I hope one or all of these work for you and until then, let us, as women (and men!), be brave with and for each other.