Thursday, April 10, 2014

Goddess of Compromise


A Yoga retreat can open your eyes in many ways: A sunrise that inspires you to forgive, realizing Lululemon's embarrassingly 'curvy' girl fit, the wonders of avocado, and just how many women are out there, in mixed company, referring to themselves as Goddesses.

I met several on my last retreat, many of whom are making tidy incomes in the Goddess trade. They hold gatherings and conferences with titles like  'How to Get Everything You Want From Your Relationship' which promise to deliver the goods if you might just want to feel your "...rich, sexy, sensual, free, beautiful, wise self...come unleash your power!!"

I want those things. I've been sitting on the sofa in fat girl yoga pants for a few days and feel none the sexier or the wiser. Who is my Goddess? Must I name her and create some sort of alter to her Goddess-ness? Is she who I truly am and by not acknowledging and honoring her power, have I sentenced myself to a life of shitty jobs, failed relationships and small dreams? What a bitch!

I consider myself a Feminist so is that sort of like being a practical, vintage Goddess? If I attend a day long workshop and pay 1/4 of my rent to sit amongst other Goddesses-in-Training to hear wisdom from in the flesh, fully realized Goddesses, will that transform my life into an episode of Sex & the City? Sign me up!

If only it were that easy.

As much as Landmark, Tony Robbins, Life Coaches and all the other Gypsy's will tell you, the way to greatness lies just beyond the green curtain (made of the cash in their bank accounts). Sadly, the reality is that the idea of greatness exists because not everyone can achieve it. These subjective experiences appeal to our need to be special & unique and then brilliantly package their snake oil so, if the next day you are in fact still on the sofa in Yoga pants, its because you didn't try hard enough.

I really like the women I met on that Retreat, I'm not trying to rain all over their henna tattoos. One could argue that any effort that promotes women in a world where we are still dealing with sexism, unequal pay, the majority of household work and weirdo's snapping photos of us scarfing down a surreptitious snack on the London Underground is a positive.

I suppose what I take issue with is the premise that we can have everything we want. ESPECIALLY in a relationship with another person. Having just consciously uncoupled from an actual man with whom I had a marriage, I can tell you one of two things: 1. Either I wasn't honoring my Goddess or 2. Compromise = Relationships.

When I ask or hear from people who have managed to sustain their relationships, or are reflecting on the carnage, they all describe a variation on the eventual realization that "we wanted different things" "we grew apart" or "I made his needs matter more" "we took turns getting what we wanted."

What I found so interesting about all the Goddesses I met on that Retreat was that all were single and, when asked what they wanted to manifest (a very Goddessy word) they all said, without exception, "a relationship" (with an actual person- in their cases- men). Perhaps therein lies the rub: you can't buy in and profit from courses promising that, once completed, you will be able to get everything you want (from a relationship) and actually be in a relationship. At some point, the math just won't work.

 “Suffering ceases to be suffering once it finds a meaning,” wrote Viktor Frankl in Man’s Search For Meaning. “Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone, other than oneself—be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself—by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to love—the more human he is.”

I'm certainly not an expert on relationships. I've been married twice; once to a gay guy for fun and then to a man whom I still love and can't seem to figure out why. What I do know is this: When we can strike that ephemeral balance between ourselves and another, without being unrealistic, needy, codependent, bossy, or pathetic- well, it's just magic. I bet that's how a Goddess feels.



Thursday, February 13, 2014

(New) Rules for Western Yoga

 
I don't know about you but I haven't been getting much satisfaction from Yoga lately. I find myself getting annoyed, angry even, while I struggle to practice in expensive classes, held in boutique studios, taught by Pilates instructors who say "Namaste."

It has been a while since I studied my first two limbs of Raja Yoga so I make no claim to being close to the source but I believe the do's and don'ts offered by Patanjali are more necessary than ever, they just need some updating.  So as an offering of love, to Yoga and Yoginis everywhere, here is my list of suggested Yamas and Niyamas for our weird and wonderful world of Western Yoga.

Yamas:

1. Non-Violence: Yoga Teachers- Please start every class by seriously addressing injuries. Pay attention to students and offer valid alternatives. We all get so excited by the fullest expression of a pose but forget about the rest of the class pushing through pain to impress you/others. Stop practicing and start teaching/assisting/correcting again.

2. Benevolent Truth: Yoga Students- Shut up. Seriously, shhhh! A Yoga Studio is a sacred space. If a casual conversation needs to be had, step off the mat and out of the room. When did Studios and Teachers stop enforcing this?

3. Non- Stealing: Yoga Studios- Class prices are ridiculous! Between the Retreats and Teacher Trainings, Yoga has become the activity of the 1%. If studios are not offering at least two donation classes a day (in a full schedule) they are not doing it right. Pay Teachers fairly- a set rate no matter how many students, based on experience- and offer opportunities for the community to trade time/services/goods for classes.

4. Education and Training: Yoga Studios- What happens after Teacher Training? Are there continuing education classes offered to graduates? What about people curious about more than just Asanas? Open up to suggestions from the community (about what they are looking for or can offer). Workshops and lectures are a great way to create a space that isn't just about breaking a sweat but breaking the mold.

5. Absence of Avarice: We all get greedy with our practice. Our Egos are fighting for space on the mat in every moment.  The joy and heartache that each pose brings is the beauty of Yoga and a metaphor for life itself. Celebrate the practice, don't worry about the 22 year old with a perfect 'Dancer.' She is fighting a struggle we know nothing about, or she will eventually. Yoga Studios are not meant to be Country Clubs, if yours is-- find a new one.

Niyamas:

1. Cleanliness: Deodorant is not a sin, neither is an antibacterial cleaner on those mats and floors.

2. Happy Satisfaction: Yoga Teachers- When did we decide it was okay to rush through Savasana? Is that not the best part?! Don’t run late trying to cram in 4 postures you are determined to get into your set list. I have places to go after class. Leave at least 10 minutes for relaxation and a proper meditative ending, and at least 5 minutes at the start to bring us into the practice correctly. This isn't Jazzercise- it's a serious spiritual practice. We can leave out the ab crunches if time is running short.

3. Spiritual Effort: Doing Yoga does not make someone a good person. If you move your mat over 5 inches so a latecomer can squeeze in it will tell me far more about your character than your 'Crow' or Vegan bumper sticker ever will.

4. Self- Study: Explore Yoga. Thanks to its popularity in the West, there are countless versions to choose from. Change it up. Try a class in a hot room, on the beach, with live DJ's. Find a class that teaches how to mediate or just allows space for meditation. Yoga is practiced in every moment, not just the 75 minutes in class, so taking those moments of clarity and peace and bringing them into the office, our homes, and traffic is actually why we practice.

 5. Surrender: Declare yourself defeated. Yoga postures will never be mastered because our bodies are constantly changing and we are all decomposing. As sobering as that is, it takes the pressure off; the only purpose of Asana is being able to sit in mediation for extended periods of time without discomfort. That's it. A nice ass was never part of the equation, just a pleasant residual.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

It's Complicated


Oh London, you big, beautiful city of idiosyncrasy, what has become of you?

I have held you in my heart for five years; you were always the focus, the promised land I was working hard to return to. While I still see all the things that made me fall in love with you, I don't think you have much interest in me anymore. The past two months have felt like a bad date. You won't call me back, answer my emails or recognize how freakin' awesome I am. Was it something I said?

Maybe the better question is who have I become since we parted? I feel like a house cat who doesn't have the skills to survive out on the street. I've spent several years feeling aimless and London, like most major cities where money, talent and determination flock, is not a good place to flounder. You have to know what you want and clearly I don't.

When I was getting my hair washed recently the hairdresser said "If it's too hot or cold do let me know, I don't want you to suffer in silence" to which I replied "Oh honey, I'm American. There's no chance of that happening."

There was so much I had conveniently forgotten about you, too: the mess, how the rain soaks in the misery, Nigerian women who have no apparent need for private conversations on the bus, and the housing market.

New York City suffers from the same fate: a victim of it's own success. People are paying 75% of their wages and living off Credit to live in a cupboard with toxic water running through the pipes; gritting their teeth while they try to convince themselves that they (heart) NYC.  Admitting defeat is far worse than scabies and toxemia.

Surely, there comes a point where living your life can stop being a fight club. It's a place- it doesn't make you less cool to get value for your money. I'm not trying to start something but, you know, just saying, you're far from perfect.

When British people ask me where I'm from and I reply "Florida" I invariably get the perplexed response "Why are you here?!" I used to wax lyrically about how I didn't mind the weather and loved the city but now I just say "Why are you?" If you aren't in love with your city- piss off- it's too crowded as it is. There are plenty of us struggling to make our lives here because this is where we really want to be. If you dream of a life in the sun, by all means have at it-- and where exactly do you live? Are there good transport links? I suggest you move on (and out). Miami is lovely this time of year.

 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Chutes and (Property) Ladders

I stepped away from London in early 2009. Fast forward five years and I now find the city like a Pie&Mash that has turned into a Gin Lounge. It is not news that London property prices have soared but I was shocked to find that areas once seen as the fringe of Nowhereham are now being filled to the brim with median income workers. Going by my budget of what a shared house cost in 2008 (£600 per month), I am lucky to get a call back before a single room in Zone 3 is taken today.

Thanks to the hipsterfication of areas such as Clapton, Walthamstow, and Dalston, neighborhoods that were once affordable and accessible (read: high crime, minorities and more fried chicken shops than grocery stores), are now out of my price range. I resent this- I'll be straight up about my seething rage, not mask it in cultural criticism: I want a nice house, too! I'm really mad that, at 39, I'm trolling Gumtree like an Australian Backpacker and considering moving to the home counties, or worse, back to Florida!

Having said that, I am growing weary of Hipster bashing. If my anecdotal evidence is anything to go by, I suspect Hipsters are getting a little old in the tooth. A new crop is encroaching; seemingly influenced by the hair of "reality" based television. Preppy guys are sporting some sort of pony tail/chignon and chicks are wearing makeup en extremis with something resembling a meringue on top of their heads. I can't be sure what these kids are called yet but they would appear to be a hybrid of Made in Chelsea and The Only Way is Essex so might I suggest 'Twunters'?

I digress. Here's what I'm wondering: What now property owners? You've made an area cool, so what happens when you make a bit of dosh, pop out a kid and find yourself needing just a little bit more space as ...a garden would be soooo lovely for Persephone and Putney. 


Here's what I think you'll do: you'll move. Privilege and good timing will allow for that. You'll sell your flat for a huge profit to a wanker banker or a Malaysian conglomerate (whose local agent acts on their behalf), cash in for a 3/2 in Surrey, and leave your urban life behind. Reluctantly entering into middle class/middle age with street cred and an excellent portfolio. Meanwhile, the area you once lived in is no longer affordable to the people you once were.

I don't denounce the lifestyle, trust me. If I had made different choices I'd be right there with you, jostling for space in an East End café that barely tolerates my pram, but what happens to that urban area you once called home? What did you leave behind other than a refurbished flat?

Growing up, starting a family and making smart investments aren't wrong choices, the culprit is greed and inequality which the property market is part of creating. Unlike stocks and bonds, a home is about more than profit or loss and with the right of home ownership comes a responsibility to your neighbors and community. A thriving area must include schools, city councils, street markets and social services, not just gastropubs.

A home and the community you live in are not the equivalent of a hairstyle you once embraced but grew out of (shaving one side of your head has yet to cross over to middle management). If you buy a home, live in it for a bit, then rent it out or sell for a huge profit and move on to start your real life, what you leave behind are the very people from whom you profited.

I've been into the local schools of Bethnal Green, Hoxton and Shoreditch and I don't see the offspring of the people who own the properties in these areas. If local school rosters were indicative of an areas populous, one would assume that East London is 75% Non-White and 85% free school dinners* (hence the family would be receiving housing benefit from the Government). That's simply not true though- not according to the rental market- most property agents in these areas won't even speak to someone without a permanent job, good credit and 2 months deposit.
*statistics I pulled out of my ass based on anecdotal observation

If London is going to continue to be the city that Benjamin Disraeli once called "...a roost for every bird" it cannot just be the home of pigeons and parrots. Blame the policies of Thatcher, Blair, Cameron and Clegg all you want but the responsibility to the city we call home ultimately lies with the individual's choice between profit or progress.

No one wants to fall on their sword at the expense of their children's future or deny themselves the pleasures of a comfortable life. Nevertheless, without the continued investment of time, energy, activism, as well as property, affordable homes will be gone forever and London a victim of it's own success; full of tourists and bankers, and no one thinks they're cool.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Therapist, Cure Thyself

 
It was while I was living in London (the first time) that I decided to pursue a degree in Mental Health. At the time I was teaching special needs children, as I had in America, and it was starting to make my hair grey and the fat in my midsection harden. My friend asked me the most basic of therapeutic questions: "If you could do anything, what would you do?" I surprised myself with my assured reply “I would be a Therapist.” 

I had been in Therapy during difficult times since the age of 21 so felt comfortable with the idea of exploring the profession and myself within it. I applied for a Certificate Course in Counseling Psychology at a London University and began the ambitious fumble towards a new profession.

I went from that course where I ultimately felt like I had wasted time and money, to a Diploma course that was far more instructive albeit less academic. As is still the training protocol in the UK, I found myself amongst a group of trainees with little Psychology education, much less any education, as a Bachelors degree is not a requirement. Although that seems to be changing I struggled at the time to reconcile my American definition of a "Professional" with the myriad expensive pieces of paper that would be accrued after years of training on a Saturday, once a month, in the UK.

I eventually weighed my options of certificates, Advanced Diplomas, Super Duper Diplomas and a Masters Degree from an accredited American University and I chose Graduate School. $60,000 and three years later I emerged with a Masters in Mental Health Counseling which was rigorous and hard won.

I studied under some excellent professionals at leading clinical settings and got the 'proper' training I was after; it wasn't perfect but it had purpose. Studying in the UK had often felt more like dysfunctional Group Therapy. The process certainly pointed me towards my "stuff" which was invaluable, but I never actually saw how anyone got a job out of any of it.

As with Yoga Teacher Training, I also learned that not everyone who is or desires to become a Mental Health Professional has the best intentions or has even considered the state of their own mental health. I came across more Axis II Personality Disorders in my studies (both in the UK and US) than in any other area of my life. Although I was probably more sensitive to the symptomology, it's pretty difficult not to notice a Narcissist when he's your Professor.

It was a long process and with my own marriage in crisis, I spent over a year trying to find my feet after graduating. I found work in the Substance Abuse field; a business built on the suffering (and inevitable relapse cycle) of people pushed through the types of Recovery Centers and Sober Housing that plague the South Florida area like Skin Cancer.

Even after going through three years of training and unpaid internships there are still two years of working in the field before you are even eligible to be a Licensed Professional in your State. If you move, you endure yet another Licensure Board's criteria, as there is little comportability in the United States. Are Therapists not allowed to relocate? Once we graduate must we lock into a life that can never be amended? That seems unlikely in an increasingly mobile society.

 
Without clearly defined, universal definitions of who we are and what we do, I fear access to Mental Health services will also remain stuck in the territory they remain now, in both the UK and much of the USA: the domain of overworked and underpaid practitioners (often unpaid trainees) to treat the very poor who have overwhelming needs. Or overqualified and over paid listeners to the leisure class who have the luxury to ponder indefinitely "Yes, but what do you really want?"

While insurance companies dictate how much and who is deemed worthy of treatment to the majority of people in the United States, the National Insurance of the UK seems to do much the same, although in a far more fair system. What the Government does not ration, the stoicism of the British character keeps at arms length; Psychotherapists still seem to be grouped somewhere between Astrologers and Witches.

I am back in the UK now and there are days I wonder what the hell that Master's degree was for. Apparently not much, as I'm not having much success finding work. I must lack a certificate.  I sometimes think about what my life would be like if were a Hairdresser: movable work, always a need- no stigma attached to a haircut- requires good listening skills and discretion. Hard on the feet but I certainly wouldn't be staring at 25 years of student loan repayment and endless conversations that start: "So what exactly do you do?"

Unlike other professions whose training can usually prevent tax debt or engine trouble, not so with Psychotherapists. We cannot foresee our own heartbreak, loss, or existential crises. We may have insight into the situation but ultimately can't control the hearts and choices of those we love and trust. We are not exempt from the developmental milestones that tear many of us down nor immune from the pain of life; our blood runs red just the same as our clients. However; much like an Accountant or Mechanic, whom I am sure appreciate their profession when things go wrong, the past few weeks have also made me value my chosen profession dearly.

The only thing I've wanted to hear since divorce, job loss, relocation, and general suckiness have entered my life is "This must be very hard for you, your feelings are valid, so what are you going to do about them?" Friends and family, no matter how much they love you and want to turn your frown upside down, simply cannot tolerate their own, much less your, unhappiness/dissatisfaction/general suck without seeing it as weakness, uncomfortable, or catching, like a Flu.

 
I can sit with other people's pain, reflect what I hear, make observations and connections that resonate deep into the heart of the matter like it's my job. This isn't Life Coach nonsense- this is life and it can often require a Professional. There's a time for cheerleading and strategies but not without the messy bit; the sitting with the discomfort of life and being truly heard by another person.

When I think about what all the training has given me- all the clients who helped me get to this point- what I would want right now is a Therapist just like me.

Where in all this confusion can a Therapist find her way to the people who need help and to a colleague she can trust with her own mess? It's time to get to work.
 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

In Defense of Hipsters

We know who they are. We all know the signs: Ironic sunglasses and meticulous facial hair. Look! There's one now, riding a fixed gear bike while eating a vegan cookie.

 
What was spawned out of the enclaves of Brooklyn and Montreal has reached across the globe, from Austin to Sydney. Hipsters are everywhere and, as with anything that signals change, despising them is not making it go away.

I have sneered at their bespeckled presence in bars and cafes, too. I've sardonically snarled "hipsters" when I get the brunt of their bad service or when a group of them beat my team on Trivia Night at the pub. But who am I to judge, really? Is it their music and cool cardigans I mistrust or could it be their youth?

Teddy Boys, Mods, Rockers, Beatniks, Hippies, Punks, Yuppies, Gen X'ers...what are Hipsters if not the next evolution of a cycle that brings with it a counter culture; questioning how every generation before them got too comfortable?

I'll confess. I'm 39 and for the past week I've tried on several occasions to wear a shirt with a huge tiger on it, and felt like a total twat every time, until a young woman stopped me on the way out of a restroom and remarked "Cool shirt." Well, if that wasn't the nicest thing that had happened all week. I think if those of us stuck somewhere between Grunge and Electronica were honest with ourselves, we would admit to feeling our age these days. Kids, careers, long-term relationships, biology- they do a fucking number on you. The truth is, I don't know who I am at this stage of my life and rather envy the cute, dewy, lads and ladies creating an identity that references 50's pin-ups, punk politics, hippie idealism and post modern gadgets.

The Hipster is about more than just a look. Their ideals fuse the rejection of the traditional while embracing the future of technology. Their politics are liberal and lifestyles downright socialist: urban farming, communal living, non corporate allegiances; these aren't new ideas, they're repurposed and recycled. Ooh, I forgot about recycling! They bloody love to separate their plastics and do wonders with a Mid-Century chair.

The reality is a Hipster in your neighborhood is a beacon of hope, almost as fortuitous as the magic of a homosexual couple looking to invest in a fixer-upper or a Trader Joe's announcing new store openings. What are Hipsters if not the next generation finding their feet and moving us all forward? We may not understand the way they can throw together what's left in the wardrobe on laundry day and still look fantastic, their music, or even how they download it but our disdain is not an indictment of their taste, it's a painful reminder of our age.

 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

London

 
London is a roost for every bird.
-Benjamin Disraeli

Starting over again after 4 years in America and 5 years of marriage. The marriage ended and my choice was to leave the South Florida area, where my heart was broken, and return to the city I never stopped loving.

When I would tell people of my plans they would enquire anxiously about what kind of work, living arrangements, support system, and plans would be in place upon arrival. I dismissed their concerns from a place of nihilism. I only had a few weeks mapped out, no job in place and no idea as to what would happen. This kind of behavior is not like me though. I usually have everything mapped out.

Perhaps I have it all wrong. I should let dinner plans be spontaneous and housing be organized. I can't seem to get it right. After a week here, it is harder than I thought it would be. The perfunctory stuff: opening a new bank account, getting a phone, finding work, it all requires that herculean effort that only large, global cities make you endure. You have to work for the right to wear the badge of Citizen. I still have none of the basics acquired. The past week has been about long walks, crying jags and a steady intake of British media and chocolate.

I met my ex husband here so every corner reminds me of happier times. Before I arrived I feared being that lady on the bus: the unexpected trigger which ignites the feelings which brings on the embarrassing tears, while uncomfortable Londoners inch away and hold their kids close. That hasn't happened yet, I seem to be racking the moments up like a punch card and wait until a friend asks casually "You alright?" before cashing it in for a cry.

It's terrifying being a single woman in the world again. I feel aimless and untethered. I don't want to hear that things will work out and that everything will fall into place, I just want to have a bit of help doing it all.  It's not an easy choice, picking up and leaving your family at 39. Trying to collage an identity out of scraps of a life you once had. I understand why people stay in their failing relationships and uninspiring hometowns. I now understand the anxiety on the faces of those who asked me about my plans and hope they understood the reason for my effusive replies.

This isn't the easy choice. It might not even be a smart one. Certainly, in this moment it just feels painful and vulnerable. Yet an entire city beckons outside. A city that never left me, cheated on me, got predictable.

Frustrating? Oh yes. Difficult? Seems to be in one of those moods. High maintenance? My bank account would agree. Boring, uninspiring, unromantic? Never.

That's why I chose you, London. I knew it wouldn't be easy but I love you, baby. It's just you and me right now, let's make it work.