Building a House and Finding a Home

Angie Habitat Nicaragua 2015“You are enough.” As a yoga teacher I must have said those words a dozens if not hundreds of times. And yet I was clueless as to the meaning until my Habitat for Humanity trip to Nicaragua.

I came for what I thought was helping a family in need build a house. Yet, what I was building the whole week was my own heart: a new ability to let love in despite my fears, to take in gratitude when it is given, to accept hugs when my being aches for them.

This was a tiring week of carrying blocks, carting gravel, sifting sand, and mixing mortar and concrete. I was waking up with sore muscles that I didn’t previously know existed. But the physical exhaustion pulled me out of the trap of my own mind. I was too tired to plan, do busy work, and keep myself occupied: behaviors which I learned I use to mask my feelings of vulnerability.  And it was so vulnerable connecting with complete strangers in such an intense and personal way.

My week started with goals and targets: build goals, step goals, calorie goals. I was running first thing in the morning, and walking on the beach after the build, making sure I was meeting my step goals. By the end of the week I was walking on the beach to find calm and stillness, to make space for the emotions that were coming up, and to allow myself the opportunity to reflect. And I had fully embraced the wonders of fried plantains.

I started taking more breaks at the build site. Sometimes to hydrate. Sometimes just because the kids wanted to play. What I learned in this one week was to give my presence fully. I may not have understood what the kids were saying to me, and they may not have understood me, but when we spun and giggled and danced nothing else existed. My mind was not rushing off to the next task, but present, delighting, filled with the resonating laughter of the children.

This week I collapsed on my bed every day after the build, feeling physically and House Habitat Nicaragua 2015emotionally raw. And as I lay there, trying to parse through the emotions that were surfacing, I learned that the love that budded within me towards the people I was connecting with could only be cultivated if I loved and accepted myself. The love would grow only if I gave them my most vulnerable, authentic, and imperfect self, rather than the image of the “best I can be” that I typically try to achieve in my daily life.  I was nothing like “cool” or “perfect”: I was sweaty, dirty, and felt that I could have been doing so much more.  In the face of the apparent need and poverty it was easy to feel “less than”.

And yet, the family that I was building for, the children I was playing with, they didn’t care about my weight, the size of my waist or my paycheck, my pace per mile, or my alignment in some fanciful yoga pose. I was there, giving them my effort, my time, my presence, and my love, and they loved all of me for just that!

And this unconditional love on their end made me realize that I am worthy of love and acceptance just as I am.  I am enough.

I belonged.  There was a home for my heart in the house I had been building.

Practice Your Gratitude!

Nari Yogini Recently I made a pact with myself that I would try to go a weekend without complaining, and each time that a negative thought threatened the pact I would think of something I was grateful for. This weekend reminded me just how much I had to be thankful for but just how much I had been taking for granted…

Growing up after the breakup of Soviet Union, when things like electricity, running water, and a square meal were luxuries, gratitude was in abundance. We were thankful for neighbors willing to share their milk and eggs, or that none of the kids got the flu this winter. When I sat with a candle reading yet another Alexander Dumas book, I was grateful for the candlelight that gave me the ability to read and also transformed my world into the shadowy world of the 18th century France, where secrets were whispered in palace hallways by very similar candlelight. I was too busy being happy to give the situation about why it was I needed the candle a second thought.

But the mind craves constant stimulation: anything that isn’t new and exciting (however good it may be) does not register. We take things for granted, and with time we find ourselves completely out of practice of gratitude. Our minds wind up stuck in problem solving mode, too busy or tired to notice much else. But there is a reason we call gratitude a practice: just as with asana practice, the more we come back to it, the easier it becomes. So too, the more we train our minds to tune into things, large and small, that deserve gratitude, the more gratitude and joy there is filling our lives.

We may find it easy to be grateful when things are going well, but can we cultivate gratitude when things aren’t necessarily going our way? Making gratitude dependent on outside factors we rob our lives of joy and happiness, and blackmail the universe to give us what we want, or else… True gratitude is not the denial of life’s difficulties, since these are a fact of life. But rather it allows us to find a new perspective and embrace each moment exactly as it is, without placing demands upon the world and upon ourselves.

So this holiday season spend some time sitting down with your reality and see if you can generate some gratitude for people in your life that make you smile, the things that you have, the passions that drive you, and the inspirations that help you pursue these passions. See if you can be grateful for the challenges too, as these are the best teachers we have in life. And be grateful to yourself and for yourself and everything that you are. You are enough and you are amazing.

Come back to gratitude practice the way you would to your physical practice of yoga. Don’t be afraid to work at it: abundance comes to grateful hearts!