As the airplane was taking off the runway from Heathrow airport, I put my hand on his leg, and he asked me if I was afraid of flying. “No”, I responded, “Because I know I will have died happy.” I turned my head to look out the window. He asked no follow-up questions to that statement, and I did not elaborate. Why, then, did I put my hand on his leg? A damsel in distress wanting the comfort of a super-hero? No. I held onto his leg simply to share that moment of adventure. I am used to traveling alone, and by the time of lift-off I am actually usually asleep, or as an introvert, reading to avoid strangers talking to me. As someone who lives a life of self-imposed isolation, it was quite nice to have a lover as a travel companion, by my side during the moment of take off and I simply wanted to physically touch, to share with another human being, that feeling of exhilaration. Instead of being so isolated, I wanted to feel a connection at that moment. I find myself at this time of life opening more to the idea of becoming less isolated. As I said in the article “Touch of Your Own Skin”, I am feeling more porous. I am ready to be vulnerable and open to true connection. Real intimacy. A gesture as simple as placing a hand on a lover’s leg – someday I hope that’s not read not as a symbol of fear, but of openness – of sharing.
How can I be so secure in the knowledge that I would die happy if a plane I was on were to crash? Because it would mean, I was either coming or going to some sort of adventure, a learning experience, a growth of sorts – that I am in a state of transformation. It would mean I was not in a state of inertia. I would be on the move, having just learned something or experienced something awe-inspiring. In this case I had done just that – I had connected with my beloved yoga teachers in Spain, saw a West End show I just HAD to see in London, experienced new sexual heights – all things I do not get where I live.
The first time I realized this state of “at least I’ll die happy” was on my first solo-flight to Panama back in 1996. Having been raised in the States, by parents from the States, I had always had a longing to return to the country of my birth – Panama. I was sitting in the back of a “puddle jumper” airplane, and the red emergency lights were going off, and alarms, and the pilot was just like “no problema”, and I wasn’t afraid. I was soaring over verdant jungle, pristine rainforest of the most ecologically diverse place on the planet. If I were to crash into it, I would be coming home, where I belong. Now having lived on a small Caribbean island of Bocas Del Toro, Panama for past nine years, I still have Wanderlust, and the desire for adventure, to be constantly learning and experiencing the wonderful world out there, and for me that is continuing my education in yoga and being exposed to the highest of the performing arts. Both of those things are subjective for everyone. It is for each of us to figure out what is life-enhancing for us and to seek it out at all costs.
Today I celebrate two years of sobriety – being alcohol free. People often ask me how I picked this very eccentric place to live in. I still ask myself that same question. As George Harrison wrote when he knew he was dying of cancer, one can only “Run So Far”. Indeed I was running, from myself, from my past, from my neurosis. That shit catches up with you no matter how far you run. Turns out living on a tropical island is quite different than taking a vacation to one – it’s a small town where drinking is not just a way of life, it’s a sport. A sport I allowed myself to get caught up in, because there isn’t really much to do other than that. There are outdoor adventures to be had, but one needs a boat or a car for that, neither of which I own. Only on special occasions, such as when my mom comes to visit will I hire a private boat, where it is ensured not to turn into a “booze cruise” as is the norm here, not to mention the plethora of inexpensive, high-quality cocaine here which is widely accepted among all ages – I tried it, didn’t like it. Even when I was in the throws of alcoholism, I was still quite functional – still owned a business, still worked, still took care of my rescued animals….until the day I died. Today marks the second anniversary of my drowning. If it was not for the fluke of someone happening upon my naked body, faced-down, sunken at the bottom of a swimming pool I would not be here typing this. There was a lack of oxygen to the brain for an undetermined amount of time, and I sustained a concussion in the ambulance, of all places (which is pure Bocas Del Toro logic GOLD, one can only laugh at). I had to learn language all over again – learn to type, to speak in coherent sentences, and well, I still am grappling with simple mathematics and spatial awareness. Nothing can exemplify this more than looking back at my past post “Ophelia”. I had gotten the date wrong! For the longest time I thought 09 July was the date I was brought back from death. Looking back on calendars, it is clearly the 12th. I can tell, because the 12th was a Friday and I had the weekend off, so let myself run a little too wild. Either way, I am here. As Oliver Sacks recently so exquisitely explained in his last book, “The act of writing is an integral part of my mental life; ideas emerge, are shaped, in the act of writing…a special, indefensible form of talking to myself.” and it also helps me to look back and see how my recovery has come. The act of writing is therapeutic for the injury to the brain – I notice I’m no longer dyslexic when I write, so I have seen an improvement (I have never experienced any type of dyslexia before, so this was very startling for me to grapple with suddenly). On looking back on the “Ophelia” article, I can see I was in a state of denial, actually. I was in denial, perhaps to myself, perhaps as a mechanism of PR-control, that I downplayed my “accident”. Turns out I was dead, I was resuscitated. Turns out I was in a coma for a while. I woke up. I put myself back to work FAR too early. I wanted to do what I’ve done my whole life, what I was taught to do by my parents, actually, pretend like nothing is wrong, get up for appearances sake and carry on like nothing happened. Obviously I have carried on, but I will not be silent about my struggle anymore, simply because I know there are others out there who can relate, and my dearest hope is that my writing in some way helps them to feel less alone. No matter how isolated you feel, you are not alone. You are alive. You are a survivor.
After my recent trip to Europe, which by no means was financially responsible, but I am literally living in a constant state of “life is short” mentality, there was the inevitable depressive episode, of which I am actually still in as I write this. To those out there who have called me bi-polar as some sort of throwing an insult at me, I will give you pleasure by admitting it. Yes, I am to some degree. I recognize that, and every day is a new learning experience on how to manage it. The European trip was such a wonderful manic ride! It was absolutely amazing on all levels – I reached new heights in my yoga practice, saw a breath-taking live flamenco show in Madrid, I connected with a lover physically on an immense new level, to seeing live musical theatre on the West End, at it’s finest, written by my favorite author. For two weeks I got to live life to the fullest. For a couple of days after my trip, I noticed my mental acuity had increased. I could type faster, I could spell better, I could form sentences faster, my vocabulary was back up (these are all things I had exceeded at my whole life, so for them to be suddenly a struggle is, wow, humbling to say the least). Then the inevitable depression. After such a trip, it’s only natural to have a feeling of anti-climax upon return as the daily routine sets back in.
Dealing with a brain injury, that is precisely what I need to rehabilitate – daily routine is comforting, but it also dulls the mind. To get out there, to travel, to learn, to have adventure is so stimulating for the brain. Now that I am back on the slow paced island, where my life is very simple, I must keep myself stimulated somehow. This is why I create the art you see here. The nude photos and videos you see here take quite a lot of time, effort and mind-boggling amount of logistics to create! That is why I have to charge, because the logistics of getting to these locations is costly. I live right in noisy, crowded, littered shanty town. The outcome in the photos looks effortless, but the actual creation is quite effortful, which is good for me and not cheap in the age of “selfies”. It keeps me creative and the mind/body working. My lungs are also still recovering so to push myself so strong, especially in the videos, is also quite a challenge. Again, I have to charge because I hire a video editor. I wish I had video editing skills. I have mastered the art of photography – I feel that’s all I can handle at this point. Video is a new, fun exciting more intimate realm for me, but it does require hiring an editor, and thank goodness I have a dear one that is a friend of mine back in the States, who knows exactly how to capture me.
To come back to my Bocas Yoga Studio and teach Sridaiva yoga to select clients, is the most rewarding for me. I say select, because this type of yoga is SO transformational it is not really made for drop-in classes. I teach drop-in classes to tourists from all over the world. Many are first-time practitioners. Most are European, and English is their second language. So, I typically teach a traditional class that available to everyone, but if I do not teach what I just learned in Spain with my teachers, I will forget it, as short-term memory loss is one of the many frustrating, hard to relate to others, outcomes of brain injury. So, if I feel the class can handle, it I will teach an all Sridaiva class, and that is where I THRIVE. This type of yoga is so unconventional – it takes an open mind to embrace, yet when my students see how amazing it feels, with eyes wide open and smiles even bigger, and they are standing taller, more confident, they say, “Wow, that’s a lot harder”. I say, “We don’t say harder, we say this takes a hell of a lot more effort and the rewards are all that much greater”. They agree, as they almost bounce with lightness out of my studio! Pretty much anything in life can be said the same for – the more effort the greater the reward. Sobriety – being alcohol free in a NOTORIOUS party-town is one hell of an effort – the reward is LIFE-SAVING, at least for me.
During the Sridaiva Yoga workshop recently in Marbella, Spain, with about seventy people in attendance, it was the second day of the intensive workshop, and teacher, John Friend was demonstrating on co-teacher, Desi Springer, as she lay on her stomach, the power centers of her muscular back. Most of us in attendance were teachers ourselves and/or studio owners. What John and Desi teach now is SO transformative, so complex, yet so simple at the same time once you break it down. As John was demonstrating Desi’s powerful back muscles, the power-points we are trying to tap into and make stronger, I had to ask a question. This may surprise you, seeing as public speaking is now my job, but I have had a LIFE-LONG fear of public speaking. I had to take it three times in college before I could pass (I dropped out of it twice). I would never have the nerve to ask a question during any schooling in class, from high-school, to college, to all my multitude of yoga teacher trainings, but on this day, I had to. My pulse did not even quicken, it was natural. I had the courage to raise my hand and speak up, and the audacity to take up precious time of my globe-trotting teachers, I asked (speaking in Spanish, which for some reason since my accident has IMPROVED), “Do these power points in the back muscles and the area of the spine was are trying to access in any way associate with the lungs?” John, said, yes, of course. I can’t remember his exact words, but in essence YES. Then I, fighting-back-tears, told the group of seventy students the reason I ask – that at one point my lungs were simply not functioning. There was a long time when I was not breathing. The life-force gone from me, so to learn from this new type of yoga how to access the most powerful part of your body, including precious lungs was so revelatory for me, I can not describe the feeling of liberation I felt upon learning, and feeling, this. It’s not a coincidence that later this day, after this revelation, and combined with all the pelvic-floor opening that is also a major-part of this type of yoga/lifestyle I had my first vaginal orgasm (you can read about here).
I have never publicly addressed any “scandal” surrounding my teachers, as I really do not take sides of the fence. I am still on friendly terms with my former Anusara Yoga teachers, who have separated from Mr. Friend. I do not gossip (what George Harrison refers to as the “Devil’s Radio”). We all find our own path. What I can attest to, is that my teacher had been burned to the ground, humbled and publicly humiliated, and rose from the ashes better than ever. THIS is the exact type of energy I need to be around. This is the type of reinventing-your-life energy, that I in turn, rub off on my own yoga clients. I am very much a skeptical inquirer. I make no secret of my atheism. During the Sridavia workshop a Carl Sagan quote kept coming to my mind, “”There is no other species on the Earth that does science. It is, so far, entirely a human invention, evolved by natural selection in the cerebral cortex for one simple reason: it works. It is not perfect. It can be misused. It is only a tool. But it is by far the best tool we have, self-correcting, ongoing, applicable to everything. It has two rules. First: there are no sacred truths; all assumptions must be critically examined; arguments from authority are worthless. Second: whatever is inconsistent with the facts must be discarded or revised. We must understand the Cosmos as it is and not confuse how it is with how we wish it to be.” This applies to yoga as well. It does NOT have to be this traditional, strict style that was invented by men in caves of the Himalayas 5,000 years ago.
With what we have learned in science about the body and nature, about learning to work WITH the curves of the spine, rather than against them, TRUE revelations are made, and this is the third year in a row I’ve studied with this particular type of yoga, and each year there are refinements – things from last year excluded, and new things added. It’s like figuring out how to make the perfect recipe and I can attest, every year that recipe is more and more delicious.
You don’t have to be a yoga practitioner to apply this – you can apply it to anything. Do no be afraid to let go of an old paradigm. Have courage to step outside the norm and you just may find that amazing results can occur – physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually, professionally, etc. Yes, as Galileo was, you may be mocked, but guess what? Galileo taught us some enlightening shit. If it wasn’t for the explorers of the unknown where would we be? In the dark ages. Let us look for the light, even on days when we feel we are surrounded by dark. My teacher, John Friend, is now being described as a Phoenix Rising, and he is just that. I have been his student since 2009 – in the height of his glory/fame/fortune/ego, saw him humbled, and out of the ashes he, along with Desi, have created something that was even better than before.
We have to be willing to let go of old ways of thinking to embrace moving forward – toward true transformation and healing. The only path to healing is that of accountability for one’s owns actions, self-reflection, forgiveness, acceptance, compassion and love – not just towards others, but more importantly towards oneself. That is yoga – unite with yourself and love what you find there. Easier said than done when we have all suffered some sort of traumas in our lives – that is why it is called PRACTICE – every day we get a little bit deeper into the realm of unlimited possibilities.
When my travel companion on this last trip, who happens to be a pilot and lives on a separate continent than I do, asked me if I had a fear of flying, I felt quite puzzled, as we had flown on so many flights together. I figured he would have known me better by now. All over South America together, and now Europe. South America, in fact, was with his Buddhist teacher, for the intensive Phowa (Fearless Dying) Meditation Course. I went into that course, as a skeptical inquirer yet I admit, something happened. It did enhance a feeling of fearlessness of death. Nine hours of meditation a day for 4 days, it DID lead to some expansion of the consciousness on some level, and I had read many of his teachers’ books which mainly focus on fearless dying. The difference though, is I steadfastly do NOT believe in an afterlife or reincarnation.
I have a fearlessness, because I have been there. I have died. Every day I see as a new chance. Yes, as a 46-year-old woman who lives alone, and is child-free by choice, there is a concern of dying alone, or growing old alone. I’d rather die on an adventure, pursuing passion, than live a ripe-old age of boredom and mediocrity. As someone who has battled self-harm and suicidal tendencies her whole life, it was only until my near-death that those tendencies have disappeared and I truly embrace life. Let this be a lesson learned – don’t push yourself to the point of self-destruction to learn the art of gratitude for this precious life on this pale blue dot called Earth, in our known Universe. Again, allow me to quote Carl Sagan, “The world is so exquisite with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there’s little good evidence. Far better it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.”
Be fearless. Be the Phoenix Rising. We all return to ash anyway, let us burn brightly while we can, then let our ashes nurture new growth. Take my ashes to the jungle please, where I can provide nutrients to a growing seedling, that will provide life for many species still yet to be discovered. We might as well enjoy the ride while we have it. To enjoy it one must attain true independence. Freedom of thought, freedom of expression, freedom to be different in a world that embraces conformity and rules. Is it “hard”? No, but it does take effort…all the more the reward – just like I tell my yoga students.
I was told the other day how courageous I must be for being my own boss since 2001 and an ex-pat since 2006. My response was, “courageous or bat-shit crazy”. I do believe it is a combination of both. If you do have that “crazy” side (which can easily turn self destructive) the trick is to channel it into creativity and make something beautiful. Beauty is a subjective term – figure out what it means to you and pursue that. Freedom of expression is something that seems like everyone loves to expouse, but it does take courage to actually LIVE it. Follow your true nature, your authentic self – be that OPENLY. Come out of the wardrobe.
Just the other day, someone reported one of my photos as “offensive” to facebook – that gives me all the more incentive to get the word out that our bodies, our lives, our sexuality, our identities, our state of mental-health, our ideas, are not meant to be hidden in shame and lived in fear of what others think. The more we talk about it, the less stigma there is surrounding these issues. That is one of the reasons I created this website. In response to the website dedicated to “exposing” my teacher, which led to his down-fall, here I am exposing myself, to take away anyone else’s power to do so. I am not only the captain of this vessel, I am the owner and the only one accountable. If you do suffer from depression, by all means seek help. I am not afraid to say openly that I am on a mild anti-depressant. I take care of myself as much as I can – 10 hours of yoga/week, vegan diet, lots of sleep, etc. but I am not weak because I have inherited a certain brain chemistry prone to depression – I can clearly trace the lineage in my family history, and instead of ignore it – pretend it doesn’t exist – I treat it, and it is a life saver.
You are to be celebrated. Be an individual, be eccentric, be true to yourself, yet courageous enough to be vulnerable to others to share this beautiful life. That is what the hand on the leg was about, sharing, not fear. The question now, is will it go further than the leg? Can the sharing-instead-of-fear extend to the heart? It has to be mutual – it can not be a one-way street. I am open. Is the super hero, man of steel? We shall see. It can not be forced. Yet, time waits for no man…or woman. As a proud butterfly with a short life-span, making that journey of migration, know that YOU are made of star-stuff, so by all means, damn-it, give yourself permission to SHINE as you FLY, even if your wings are wet – you are not damaged.