(Re)Treat Yourself

“Your attention is the most precious thing you have. The purpose of the retreat is to cultivate attention. This time is precious and rare,” Reverend angel Kyodo williams.

6 years ago I went on my first silent meditation retreat. It was a powerful weekend focused on lovingkindness, which prompted me to commit to a year of daily lovingkindness practice. It was a transformative experience, and since that retreat I go on at least one silent retreat a year.

This year I took myself (and Buddy, my dog) on retreat and spent 3 days in an Air BnB doing my practice, listening to the wisdom of Reverend angel Kyodo williams and Lama Rod Owens and nourishing myself with food, spiritual texts and writing. (Side note save the dates! Rev. angel Kyodo williams is coming to Seattle December 14-16, 2018 and Lama Rod is coming March 1-3, 2019!)

I want to share what a self-guided retreat can look like if you are interested in trying it out. You can do this at home, which can make a retreat more accessible, and when possible I appreciate the opportunity to get away from all my to do lists and daily routines in order to immerse myself in being. The idea of retreat means I offer myself the space to leave the daily grind in order to restore, practice, deepen into myself and recommit to where and how I want to move in the world. It is a time for devotion, tuning out of the external to tune into the internal and to grieve and process some of the things stored in my body I am unconscious of. 

Here is a possible schedule for a one-day retreat. You can cut this in half for a 1/2 day retreat or you can extend it into a 2 or 3 day retreat. This is just one option inspired by retreats I taught and attended through the years, and definitely not the only option. Listen to your intuition and see where it guides you, but also beware of distraction and noticing when that is pulling you out of retreat-mode. I find structure gives me something I can surrender into, which is why I created this before I left, but I it also changed as my intuition guided me. 

5am: Wake up
5:30-7: Sitting, lying or standing meditation
6-7: Yoga
7-8:30: Breakfast (I used this recipe)
8:30-9:30: Dharma Talk (here is one on Prayer, Grief and Activism from Lama Rod Owens)
8:30-9:30: Sitting, lying or standing meditation
9:30-10: Walking meditation
10-10:30: Sitting, lying or standing meditation
10:30-11: Walking meditation
11-11:30: Sitting, lying or standing meditation
11:30-1:30: Lunch and rest (kitchari recipe I used) 
1:30-2:30: Dharma Talk (here is one Love and Rage from Lama Rod Owens)
2:30-3:30: Sitting, lying or standing meditation
3:30-4: Mindful movement 
4-4:30: Sitting, lying or standing meditation
4:30-5: Walking meditation
5-5:30: Sitting, lying or standing meditation
5:30-7: Dinner
7-8: Dharma Talk (here is one on Home, Love and the Idea of Ancestry with Lama Rod Owens)
8-8:30: Meditation
9: Sleep

In one of the talks, Lama Rod asked, “What are you doing to liberate yourself in this moment?” He went on to share showing up completely can be a liberatory practice. Going on retreat and getting real with myself helps me to show up more completely in my daily life. When I speed through life I canbypass my completeness and wholeness in order to get things done. Slowing down and retreating disrupts my tendencies and helps me go back to my daily life just a little bit shifted, a little more present and a little more whole. 

What does retreat do for you?

Love,
Laura

Surrender and Self-agency

When I arrived in India last month I noticed a feeling of surrender. It was unanticipated feeling because I was nervous before leaving the States, but as soon as I got to Delhi and found Hari Om, my driver for the next 3 days, I settled into my back body. 

It wasn’t an intentional surrendering, it just happened. I felt slower (even in the fast paced city of New Delhi) and open to whatever came my way. My first 3 days were a whirlwind tourist adventure of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and then off to a yoga and meditation immersion with a teacher whose books I love but never studied with personally.

When I arrived to campus it was different than the first 3 days. I heard birds instead of car horns, I saw bluer sky instead of hazy smog, and I felt space around me instead of crowds. 

I tried to move with my back body throughout the time on retreat, which felt slower, more intentional, had more peripheral vision and less goals to achieve. This came easily on my daily walks to gaze at birds, cows, nilgais, goats and monkeys, when I drank my morning chai before and after meditation, walking to and from the guesthouse saying hello to the spotted owls, and eating dinner watching those same owls hunt. Nature was an important spiritual teacher for me during this retreat.

Human beings were more challenging, and I had some intense front body moments.

Yoga has a long history of sexual abuse, and the lineage I was studying with is not immune. To be honest none of the lineages I have studied with are immune from sexual abuse. Yet, I was taken aback to see the picture of Swami Rama, a teacher accused of sexual abuse, hanging in the temple and 4 hours of his videos on the schedule. He was not the teacher I went to study with, and he died over 20 years ago. Questions started to flood in. Why were we watching these videos? Why is his picture in the shrine? Why aren’t we learning from the living teacher instead of this man’s videos? Then my questions turned to the institution. How did this organization navigate this trauma? What happened to the women? What did justice look like? What did forgiveness look like? How did and do they reconcile what this teacher offered the community with the traumas he also caused? My front body took over for a couple days while I wondered, pondered, created stories and hoped this organization may have created or used a model for restorative justice.

I asked 2 of the teachers about addressing Swami Rama’s abuse of power, and I got a clear message this is not something talked about. Silencing is one of the tools of abuse, and it seemed fully in tact. 

I decided to approach another senior faculty member about how the organization navigated and continue to navigate these traumas. In our brief conversation she told me I needed to look at a bigger reality and asked me if I felt better. I said no, and I wanted to continue our conversation. This never happened. 

Although none of the answers I received were satisfying, they did help me get clear. This was not a community that felt safe or open to me, and this was not a teacher I wanted to invest my energy into.

When I got clear I could surrender again. I utilized my time to focus on my personal meditation practice, connect with the land, the animals, and my new dear friend who happened to be my roommate. I contemplated leaving but chose to stay to practice sitting in my clarity as well as the complexity. 

The ability to surrender into the clarity and complexity felt like a new gift. I find that when complexity arises I want to find a definitive answer that clears up the complexity, instead of allowing the complexity to become clear. I had moments of clarity and complexity that I could hold with spaciousness even when parts of me and parts of the experience felt at odds with each other.

A week after I returned from India I listened to a webinar with Reverend angel Kyodo williams, Jasmine Syedullah and Lama Rod Owens on #metoo and radical dharma. I felt myself settle back into my back body with teachers who can hold complexity, refrain from using spiritual language to bypass power dynamics and violence, see the humanity of both survivor and perpetrator, ask hard questions and be asked hard questions with hearts wide open. 

Reverend angel talked about self-agency and surrender and asked us how we know the difference. I felt surrender when I arrived in India, and when something did not feel right my self-agency poked me in the stomach like a dagger. My self-agency would not and could not rest until I said something, and when I was unsatisfied with the responses I was able to surrender again. I was able to surrender into what I wanted to bring with me from this experience and what I wanted to leave behind, which felt new. I tend to be all in or all out and being able to accept and hold the complexity without pushing any of it away felt like an opportunity for spiritual growth. 

My intention moving forward is to use my back body to support holding clarity and complexity, surrender and self-agency, love and fierceness.

Choice and conditioning

These past few days some beloved friends asked me some hard questions, questions I did not like the answers to, questions I could not answer yet, and questions with rapidly changing answers.

As I sat with one particular question i shared with my friend I did not like the answer I heard, and I really wanted a different answer. My body revolted against the answer I wanted. I could feel my body move away energetically, shrink and and tighten. When I answered the question truthfully I felt tight as well, resistance, but also a moving forward energy and my body grow taller. 

I thought I had the answer even though I did not like it, but there was more. This was not the end of the story.

I went to bed and had dreams that were in alignment with the answer I wanted. I sat down to meditate in the morning and listened to the moving away, shrinking and tightening energy in my body. It was fear. Fear pushed me towards the answer that was more comfortable, predictable and certain. 

Once fear was identified my experience was different when I asked myself the question again. As I thought of the answer I wanted fear was still there, but there was also an opening, an newer honesty, and I felt more alignment with what my body and mind ultimately want. 

As I keep going back to the list of questions ignited in me during our time Reverend angel Kyodo williams last month I am confronted with the question, when am I in choice and when am I in conditioning? 

Conditioning (of whiteness, capitalism, gender, sexuality, etc.) would tell me to stay safe. Choice, at least as I am interpreting it in this moment, is telling me to find alignment even when there is discomfort and fear. Many times I will not know whether I am in choice or conditioning, and I imagine most times it will be a combination of both. I do not think this is an either/or question for myself, and if there is a continuum of pure conditioning on one side and pure choice on the other how can I keep moving along the continuum towards more choice?

This is where my yoga and meditation practice can be so useful as it teaches me to stay with the inquiry, to stay with the discomfort to see what comes next. What is underneath the first answer, the second, third, fourth or fifth? I do not necessarily feel resolved in my current answer and I look forward to continuing to inquire how I can be in choice around the ways I want to show up in the world even if those ways are outside of my comfort zone.

How do you know the difference between choice and conditioning? What gives you that information? How do you move towards choice?

We are Hiring!

With a fairly full private practice and a yoga therapy school in the works I need help. At this time I am hiring for a small 4 hour/week position with potential to grow. 

Skills/needs looking for:
-phone calls to local businesses (must be comfortable making cold calls)
-car in order to make supply runs
-marketing
-Microsoft Word/Excel/Google Docs experience and knowledge
-Canva experience and knowledge
-Wordpress knowledge and website maintenance
-commitment of a minimum 1 year
-independent worker
-editing 
-Mail Chimp experience and knowledge
-Social media knowledge
-occasional need for last minute editing projects

In exchange:
-$17/hour
-all yoga classes at Rainier Beach Yoga
-mileage reimbursement

I will be accepting resumes and cover letters until December 31 and doing interviews the first week of January. Please send cover letters and resumes to laura@satmato.com. People of color and trans folks especially encouraged to apply.

#metoo

I want to start this newsletter by saying, #metoo. I also want to start by naming the Black woman, Tarana Burke, who started this movement more than a decade ago even as it gains momentum now with so many survivor’s stories being heard. 

I have noticed a lot happening inside me as I hear and witness stories of sexual violence.

I notice I am excited. I am excited people are talking and people are listening. I am excited people are heard and silence is broken. This excitement leads to grief and anger. I grieve for myself and everyone who has experienced violence. I am enraged as I remember feeling powerless and seeing how patriarchal power continues to try to shut voices down. I grieve the times that I was not heard and the times I did not hear. I grieve for all who are not being heard right now and who may never be heard. I am angry that virtually every woman I know has a #metoo story.

As memories come back I am reminded of the layers of grief and anger that can lie dormant in my body.  When we are exposed to other people’s traumas it can bring our own back to the surface. Speaking our traumas can be both liberating, powerful and healing as well as re-traumatizing, painful and triggering.

If you have also experienced sexual violence and are feeling a lot right now please know.
1. Your feelings are normal.
2. Rage is normal.
3. Grief is normal.
4. Confusion is normal.
5. Heartbreak is normal.
6. Excitement that silence is being broken is normal.
7. You can take breaks from the media.
8. You can keep yourself immersed in media.
9. You can talk to friends you trust or a therapist about what is coming up for you.
10. You can not talk to anyone about what is coming up for you.

I am finding connection to my body powerful right now as well. I notice nauseous, numbness or waves of heat when I listen to or read accounts of sexual violence. I have started to try to move with those feelings. This does not mean trying to move through or move those feelings out of me, but allowing the nausea, the numbness or the rage to move me. I am attempting to allow my body to express what it is still holding onto. 

If you have all the support you need right now I am so grateful for that. For those of you reading this wanting more you can go here to sign up for a free 20 minute yoga therapy phone consultation. We can’t heal on our own and sometimes we all need a little or a lot of extra support on our healing journeys.

May you be free from danger now and always.
May you befriend and honor all your emotions.
May your body be healthy, healed and whole.
May you be at peace.

May all beings be free from danger now and always.
May all beings befriend and honor all their emotions.
May all bodies be healthy, healed and whole.
May all beings be at peace.

The continuum of skillful and unskillful action

I got back a few days ago from a week long retreat with one of my teachers, Richard Miller. Many people have asked me if the retreat was good, and good is one word of many. It was good, bad, powerful, irritating, profound, annoying, sweet, vulnerable, sad, sleepy, enraging, connecting and so many other words.

I asked Richard about the difference between “right action” and conditioning. The more I delve into anti-oppression work the more I seem unable to tell the difference. I wonder if my actions are due to the ways I was conditioned or due to my intuitive discrimination for what feels right in the moment. Maybe sometimes it is both, and other times it is one or the other.

Richard shared with me the same conclusion I have come to: that when my actions are based on conditioning (conditioning of dominant culture, whiteness, able-bodiedness, straightness, etc.) I can take responsibility for that (attend to the impact) and refine my actions from messing up. Essentially, through wrong actions I can move more and more towards right action.

I was hoping for a different answer. I was hoping I could find the magic meditation that would cut through all the conditioning and I would never make another mistake or harm another being and I could transcend this body and mind. As I sat with this desire I realized this too was part of conditioning and wrong action. Wanting to get away from the messiness of life is wrong action because it isn’t possible. Wanting to not affect someone in a harmful way ever again is wrong action because I will impact someone negatively again (and most likely very soon).

In this moment wrong action and right action feel very intertwined, and I am even hesitant to continue to use those two words to describe what I am talking about. More accurately what I am meaning is skillful action and unskillful action, and they are both necessary. In yoga therapy there is a lot of focus on welcoming and accepting (and maybe even loving) all the parts of ourselves, even the parts we don’t like. As Richard would say, “they are all messengers.” The unskillful actions I have taken have helped me refine my actions with myself, my relationships and the world, and through that refinement I have found more skillful actions. Maybe, like most things in life, this is a continuum rather than an either/or. How can our unskillful actions become more and more skillful as we continue to learn, refine and be honest with ourselves and each other? How do you work with right or wrong action or skillful or unskillful action?

Using All the Gears

In the last month or so I have been practicing #reactionaryselfcare. Reactionary self care is going from one extreme to the other and than back again. When white supremacists took over Charlottesville I dove into social media and the news to find out what was happening and the responses to the violence. I could feel my body start to go into overdrive, and I would become jittery. Once that happened I shut off my phone and computer and would do something to settle myself. I swam. I meditated. I hung out with my dog. Once my nervous system came back down I would dive in again, and within a period of time I would be jittery again. The jitters were my cue to react and do something different.

I talked with my therapist about this, and she brought in the concept of gears. I was going from 5th gear to 1st without much fluctuation in the middle gears. This pendulation from high intensity to low intensity is a familiar feeling, and yet I am also familiar with the burnout that comes with this pattern.

In the last few weeks I have attempted to practice 2nd, 3rd and 4th gears, which has been difficult. I have trained my nervous system to know 5th gear and speed up. I notice when I walk in the woods I speed up and challenge myself to walk at a 3rd gear pace. I notice when I move from my home to the studio I do it in a fast pace, and I try to slow down, have a brief conversation with the chickens and move to the studio with intention rather than rush. When I move through my day in a 2nd-4th gear I don’t need reactionary self care as much. When I am primarily in 5th and 6th gear I do not sleep as well, my stomach hurts, I am frazzled, forgetful and lose capacity to tolerate discomfort. 1st gear eventually becomes a necessity rather than a choice, due to sickness, injury or emotional overwhelm.

I also notice the discomfort of 2nd-4th gear. I feel I “should” be doing more, being more “productive.” There is a feeling of guilt in these gears that I do not have in 5th gear. There is something powerful and strong about 5th gear that I am attached to, even addicted to. I also believe there is conditioning of capitalism and whiteness that is showing up inside myself that makes overdrive feel normal or even positive. Both of these systems of injustice and dehumanization condition people to work harder, faster and your value is associated with your work and your wealth instead of your inherent value as a human being. So I am learning to sit with discomfort in new ways. Instead of emotional overwhelm and a jittery nervous system I am feeling the discomfort of slowing down. When I am willing to allow myself to feel this discomfort it shifts, unlike the discomfort of 5th gear. Reactionary self care becomes a necessity in 5th gear overdrive. A few moments of mindfulness can shift my feelings of guilt in 2nd-4th gears, and I can move through the world with more groundedness, stability and sustainability.

Are you addicted to 5th gear? Have you found ways to move through the world with intentionality rather than reactivity? How do you practice #intentionalselfcare over #reactionaryselfcare?

Joy as an act of insurrection

Warrior 3 in the Redwoods

I had the joy and pleasure of going down to the redwoods to visit some amazing trees. This picture was my favorite and made me teary being in its presence. 

While we were driving through the forest I was reflecting on joy. Joy is not something I typically strive for in my daily life. I strive to get things done, to be of service, to be a strong and compassionate container for people in the depths of pain and trauma and to work on myself so I can be more aware, more awake and more kind. My life is more geared towards work and compassion than joy.

 

Yet a lack of joy can lead me to burnout, depression and anxiety. I love this quote from Rebecca Solnit, “Joy doesn’t betray but sustains activism. And when you face a politics that aspires to make you fearful, alienated and isolated, joy is a fine initial act of insurrection.” 

As I have spent a couple years now focused connecting to my own anger and the injustices in the world I have also paid less attention to the beauty, the resilience and the joy that also surrounds me. My therapist told me recently that she works to post about justice on her Facebook page instead of only injustice. There is so much injustice in the world, but there is also justice. 

In thinking about my own experiences and witnessing of injustice in my private practice, community, country and world I am reminded that our brains are wired toward negativity. This negativity bias “overestimates threats, underestimates opportunities, and underestimates resources,” Rick Hansen says is this article. This is not a bad thing. In fact, this is how we survive. As a species it is more important to be aware of what will kill you than what is beautiful or joyful. We need this negativity bias, especially when there is so much injustice every single day that is literally killing people.

I also believe we can intentionally start to train our brains to look for the beauty, the magical, the awe inspiring that happens. Not as a way of discounting or ignoring threats and injustice, but as a way of noticing what else is happening at the same time. I talk in classes and with clients about “both/and.” If we only focus on one part we miss what else is happening in the world. When we focus only on the trauma of life we can become exhausted, overwhelmed and heartbroken. We need breaks, and again, not as a way of bypassing or denying truth. I believe when we can feel our joy or smell the sweetness of the flower or delight in a child playing when we return to the fight for justice we have more reserve in our tank and support to lean on.

What has made you smile today? What has brought you joy? 

If you want to explore the topic of joy I will be doing a daylong retreat on Sunday, September 10. I would love to see you there! 

38 Birthday Requests!

My birthday is coming next week, and in true Leo style I am shouting it out to the world. I have a birthday tradition thanks to a dear friend, V, who did this several years ago. For my 38th birthday here are 38 things I would love for you to do in the world. If you do any of them let me know how they go!

1. Write down 3 things that went well today.
2. Vote! Nikkita Oliver has my vote for mayor.
3.  Take a nap.
4. Smell a blooming flower that you walk by.
5. Swim in the lake.
6. Learn about the areas in your life where you hold privilege (i.e. being white, temporarily able-bodied, male, cisgender, etc.) and how that privilege plays out in your life. If you are white, CARW and European Dissent are 2 great local organizations and Witnessing Whiteness by Shelly Tochluk is one of my favorite books. 
7. Write down 3 things you love about yourself.
8. Tell someone else 3 things you love about them.
9. Go on a social media fast (1 hour, 1 day, 1 week or 1 month).
10. Meditate (Want support? Join me for a 30 day Lovingkindness Challenge starting August 1.)
11. Go screen free for 24 hours.
12. Do something that scares you.
13. Ask a friend for support around that thing that scares you.
14. Do whatever your pet wants to do for an hour.
15. Donate to a cause you are passionate about. Here are some of my favorites: Seattle Peoples Party, Missing Pet Partnership and Refugee Women’s Alliance.
16. Set a timer for 10 minutes and do absolutely nothing.
17. Learn what helps you stay grounded when in discomfort. Practice this daily.
18. Write yourself a love letter and mail it to yourself.
19. Write someone else a love letter and mail it to them.
20. Take a walk around a park without looking at your phone.
21. Buy flowers for yourself or someone else.
22. Write down what you are grateful everyday for a week.
23. What is your way of standing up against injustice and oppression? Find out how others stand up.
24. Read Radical Dharma, The Way of Tenderness and/or Living in the Tension. (If you choose Radical Dharma check out Genevieve and my facilitated group exploration in September)
25. Come to class at Rainier Beach Yoga on Tuesday, July 25 at 6:30pm to practice 38 Sun Salutations!
26. Go to bed early.
27. Go hiking and listen to the wisdom of nature.
28. Make someone a meal.
29. Give to a person experiencing houselessness.
30. Donate food, clothing or money to your nearest Nickelsville. You can learn more here.
31. Read about some aspect of history you don’t know much about. I am currently learning about the Great Migration through reading The Warmth of Other Suns.
32. Paint your toes.
33. Take yourself on a date.
34. Practice eating away from screens and work for a day.
35. Eat a meal in silence and enjoy all the sensations of the food.
36. Listen to or read anything by Sharon Salzberg.
37. Lie on the ground and feel the earth underneath you.
38. Do something creative (i.e. dance, paint, write, draw, sing, etc.)

Let me know how it goes! The best part is hearing from you!

Wholeness is no trifling matter.

Radical Dharma by Rev. angel Kyodo williams is a powerful book on race, love and liberation within spiritual (specifically Buddhist) communities, and this quote by Toni Cade Bambara jumped out at me:

“Are you sure, sweetheart, that you want to be well?…Just so’s you’re sure, sweetheart, and ready to be healed, cause wholeness is no trifling matter. A lot of weight when you’re well.”

Yoga and yoga therapy are not meant to bring ease and comfort and relaxation. Sure, that may happen, but that is not the ultimate goal of the practice. According the to the Yoga Sutras, yoga is the stopping of the fluctuations of the mind, and once that happens we rest in our true essence. But getting there is a whole other story. 

I love the metaphor of a lotus flower, which are blooming right now in Seward Park. The lotus is a beautiful flower, yet it comes from the murky dark water and mud. Through the mud it finds its way to the amazing expression at the surface.

We too are born through struggle. Every birth story I have heard shares elements of pain, beauty, agony and tenderness.

As I think about a healing journey I think of it as an intentional birthing through the mud and the murkiness to find our whole Self through the pain, the hardship and the growing up process. 

When I work with yoga therapy clients I say, “I am going to sound like a therapist right now,” and I share common therapisty sayings like: “the only way out is through” or “it gets worse before it gets better.” I believe these things are generally true, but it does not make it easier to move through the healing process. 

I generally want to bypass pain to get to a healed state. I have very successfully bypassed much of my pain for many years, but there were consequences to the bypass. I did not know who I really was. I had to shut down and shut out parts of myself that were too painful to look at. Looking back, I felt as if I only had access to some of me instead of all of me. I was unintegrated. I am sure I am still bypassing now and will continue to go through the mud throughout my life.

I believe that we are constantly birthing ourselves through whatever mud we are currently working with, and when we can actually be in the mud, get to know it, accept it as part of the process and even love it we can find our way to wellness. 

The quote above mentions the weight of wellness. Have you gone through a birthing process? What has been the weight on it for you? For me, that weight has included losing friends, relationships shifting out of conditioned patterns, experiencing more anger, sadness and fear, setting more boundaries, being more vulnerable, having vulnerability hangovers and looking at myself more honestly (which is not always pleasant). These weights are all amazing because they have brought me closer to my more authentic Self, but there was, and is, a lot of pain, turmoil and agony to go through.

Wellness, healing and wholeness are “no trifling matter.” But, in my opinion, it is worth the mud. It is worth coming home to yourself, to wake up, to see more clearly, and the more mud we go through the easier it becomes to get back in and do it again. You gain practice and skills to help with the birthing process. The only way the lotus makes it to the surface of the water is through the mud. It will probably get worse before it gets better. What helps you stay in the process to move towards wholeness? What supports you to do healing work even when it is painful?