Let it R.A.I.N.

In reaction to my post from yesterday, a dear friend asked me how I came to the decision to return to the States in March. Not Why. But How.

Well, for the last two months I’ve been glued to Tara Brach’s True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart. This is one of the first books I’ve read that addresses a concept I’ve become all too familiar with in Izmir: false refuges.

False refuges are behaviors, many times addictive, that we instinctively use to cope with conflict, trauma, loss, etc. In the wake of adversary, rather than creating practical, tangible strategies which cultivate loving presence and awareness, false refugees serve as temporary outlets for satisfaction and relief. My false refugees are a myriad of over-eating, obsessive thinking, sexual escapades, physical activity, materialism, anger, etc. While these conditioned behaviors and activities alleviate my discomfort in the short-term, they intensify my suffering in the long-term, leaving me feeling more isolated and troubled than before.

I have sought false refuge in everything ranging from minor issues – stress at work, a disagreement with a loved one, body image issues; to major sources of sorrow – health concerns, death, threatening financial matters.  This beautiful book has illuminated what I actually need to manage hardship, heal, and cultivate genuine happiness. Rather than being found externally, it’s all inside of me. All that we need is everything we are.

One of the mindfulness tools – the how- I’ve found particularly useful when dealing with difficulties, is a four-step process developed by Buddhist teachers and adapted by Brach. Represented by the acronym RAIN, I’ve used this system in everything from complications with my Turkish visa, to car accidents, to concerns of serious illness. It’s described below:

R – Recognize what is happening.
A – Allow life to be just as it is.
I – Investigate inner experience with kindness.
N – Non-identification.

R – Recognizing what’s happening appears far more of a simple task than it actually is. Honest recognition is seeing what is true in your inner life. If you have a disagreement with a friend, rather than recognizing the anger or frustration that results, become aware of the individual sensations that compose these overarching emotional themes.

Emotions and behaviors are subjective; that is, my definition of anger and frustration may be different than yours. When you experience anger, what is happening inside of you? What is your “felt sense” of the situation? Anger for me signifies erratic thoughts. It creates tension in my chest, causes my feet to sweat, and my shoulders to rise. It’s important to notice these individual sensations and thoughts rather than blanketing them with one word that seeks to simplify our dynamic experience as “anger.”

A – Allowing life to be is accepting the individual sensations and thoughts we experience rather than pushing them away. Notice what’s true within you and rather than becoming preoccupied with judgement or the need to control, accept what is. We cannot escape our troubles, but we can free ourselves from them.

If you’re a young professional like me, then you likely make “rookie mistakes” at work all the time. When I’m overwhelmingly embarrassed because I didn’t know a particular EU agreement, or shamed because I hardly understood an important policy paper, I find it incredibly helpful to visualize clouds floating away in order to let go of feelings of incompetency and self-doubt.

There was also a time when being in a state of love made me feel intensely nervous, vulnerable, and out-of-control. I gave little attention to my positive experiences and allowed vulnerability and fears of inadequacy to lead me away from a major source of happiness. Now, reciting “I surrender” has been particularly successful in giving in to these emotions rather than pulling myself away in unease.

I – Once you’ve recognized and accepted what you’re experiencing, call on Intimate Attention to Investigate your Inner Experience. When done in kindness, a natural curiosity about our inner life will illuminate where our experiences are most pronounced. What about your experience most wants your attention? Your acceptance? Your doubt?

This past week I was exhausted after returning to Izmir from two weeks of holiday. While I blanketed my exhaustion as “jet-lag,” I knew there were much deeper issues underlying my behaviors. I recognized that I had been irritable, short-tempered, and unmotivated, which was combined with the aroused physical sensations of headaches and persistent lower back pain. While it took several days for me to accept what I was experiencing and kindly begin investigating it, I eventually unlocked the reasoning for my state of being.

I asked myself, What do you believe? and it became evident that my irritability and short-temper were in response to the hollowness that resulted from being in Izmir. I believed that I was unable to advance spiritually, that I would become disconnected from the things I love, that I would lose my yoga practice, and that I would fail as a daughter and a friend. Upon investigation, I also discovered that the persistent lower back pain was what I interpreted to be my first chakra, the Root Chakra, calling out. The Root Chakra, located at the base of our spine, represents our feelings of being grounded, our foundation. My recent uproot from the U.S. and the people I love had deeply aggravated this chakra

Through intimate, kind meditation, the answers to my next set of questions: What do you want from me? What do you need from me? became clear. The answers not only formed the basis for my decision to return to D.C., but also provided incredible insight into how I can use the rest of my time in Turkey to benefit myself and those around me.

And finally,

N – Non-identification has allowed me to find comfort in the natural awareness that results from the emotions and sensations, decisions and answers discovered throughout this process. I feel liberated in new spaces of honesty and mindfulness and grateful to myself for being receptive to a profound cycle of mindful awareness.

The following excerpt from the Indian Mystic Sahara, delightfully describes the how – All that we need is everything we are.

Here in this body are the sacred rivers:
Here are the sun and moon, as well as the pilgrimage places.
I have not encountered another temple as blissful as my own body.

Hep Beraber,
All Together,
C.

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It’s Time.

Its been nearly three months since my last post and while nothing has actually changed, everything is different. It’s amazing how once your perspective and intentions shift, everything around you follows in unison. Relocation does not require physical movement; it’s asking yourself to see your familiar space as new.

Last Sunday I came back to Izmir after spending the winter holidays in New Orleans and Austin. I would love to exclaim that Christmas was filled with joy and yuletide and New Years was consumed by Auld Lang Syne, but unfortunately that’s far from the truth. Despite being in the company of the people closest to me, I felt exhausted, frustrated, and unable to communicate simple desires and complex thoughts. I suppose subconsciously I had an expectation that irrespective of being just over three months sober and deep in the process of self-reconstruction, that familiar relationships would fall back into place without effort, as they had always done, and that I would easily reconnect with those who “knew me.”

But this wasn’t the case.

This wasn’t the case because even I don’t “know me” anymore.

This wasn’t the case because the long-held faith I held in the idea that sober me was just alcoholic me without alcohol was a fallacy.

Because I am a completely different person that I was in September 2014.

No longer are my experiences with alcoholism those of my mother and father; I now have my own relationship with sobriety.

 

Sobriety requires starting from the beginning – it’s creating new morals, beliefs and embodying them as gospel for how I live my life. Sobriety means accepting the person that I actually am because my deep-rooted issues – binge eating, remorse and guilt, body image, anger, etc – are no longer temporarily concealable through the consumption of alcohol nor through the never-ending distraction of social engagements centered on “the drink.” Sobriety means not only acknowledging my areas for improvement, but making concrete and tangible efforts to develop exercises and strategies which properly address them.

And since the beginning of this journey, these past three months have stung with isolation. The fact that bars, clubs, and shisha cafes are Izmir’s primary socializing space, combined with the lack of available alternatives – yoga studios, outdoor activities, community gardens, libraries, etc. – has left me with an overwhelming feeling of loneliness. On countless occasions this loneliness has forced me to question whether I’ve made the “right decision” in becoming sober. Because in the short-term it would be so much easier to go out drinking and dancing with friends than it is to repeatedly explain why I don’t drink. Because even once I do explain why I don’t, my alcoholism is disregarded and laughed away; I’m told it’s not a “real problem” because I’m too “young, pretty, and smart” to be an alcoholic.

This is not at all a reflection of Turkish culture, nor the city of Izmir, as these comments and interactions would occur anywhere. I love Turkey and it’s beautiful people. Having lived here before, I was also aware of the sacrifices (yoga, my family) and the opportunities (beautiful markets, adventures) that result when living here.

But I never anticipated that I’d be in the vulnerable position I’m currently in during my time in Izmir. A position that, for now, absolutely requires yoga, spiritual guidance, cycling, gardening, running, etc. in order to facilitate my honest and true recovery. In order to once again embody the characteristics that my friends and family know and love. In order to love myself again, with all the amendments and changes. And in order to learn how to fully love those around me.

And so, I’m coming home.

I’m declining an incredible offer to extend my current, dream job – working for NATO in Turkey – and will be returning to Washington, D.C. on 4 March – broke and unemployed.

This decision is one which honors myself and my soul, my family and loved ones. It’s a decision that will (hopefully) offer me the internal and external support I need to continue creating the foundation I’ve begun building over the last few months. I’m leaving certainty for uncertainty, and it’s never felt more right.

I’ve been asked countless times “what I’ll do” when I get back to D.C.

Well, I have no idea. And I think that’s the greatest gift that could be offered to me.

The only point of certainty I have is a Yoga Activist training to serve trauma survivors I’m taking the weekend I get back. As an “Alchi Yogi,” I hope to start creating a community in D.C. that recognizes the power of yoga and meditation as a method to aid recovery and sustain sobriety.

I’m going to Turkey’s national Camel Wrestling Festival in two weeks, but until then, I’ll leave you with some meaningful snaps from the end of 2014. – Peace and blessings for a beautiful beginning to the New Year.

Hep Beraber,

C.

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These Aegean Beauties.
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Republic Day Sunset With Amazing Souls.
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The Yoga Retreat and Byzantine Hike That Changed Us All.
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Had a Hell of a 10-Day Trek Though Turkey With This Dear Friend.
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Checked-off a Bucket List Item – Sunrise in Cappadocia.
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The Time Destroyer – Overnight Bus To New Orleans.
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Shared Light With This Beauty in NOLA.
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Slept Under The Stars in Austin.
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Bid Farewell to this Boi Far Too Soon.


 

Lucky Thirteen: 13 Taking Points on Detachment, False Dilemmas, Potential, and Paralysis.

If you read my post from last week, /10/12/six-weeks-24-nations-one-life-long-decision/ then perhaps you recall that today marks the eve of my third week of sobriety. Despite an incredibly busy, overwhelming, and humbling week full of meetings with US Ambassadors and conference sessions with NATO’s incredible Political Advisors, I’ve prioritized self-reflection and have been reading heaps on soul mates, compromise, and how to find peace in times of turbulence, regret, and confusion.

Below are my “Lucky Thirteen:” thirteen points inspired by my readings on everything ranging from the difference in compulsion and spontaneity, to isolation and infinite opportunity. Why 13? It’s Dad’s date of birth and therefore has always brought me comfort.

Do any of these apply to you? If so, which ones resonate with you the most?

Happy reading!

1. Detachment does not imply carelessness. 

When we separate ourselves from the situation at hand it can be inferred that we “don’t care.” But many times, it’s exactly the opposite. By taking a step back, we’re able to maintain perspective and clarity of what’s in front of us- like when you look at a bee through a magnifying glass. Sure, you can see the contours and ripples of his wings, but you become unaware of the intimate relationship between the wings, the abdomen, the thorax. Sometimes being too close can distort your view.

2. Don’t get caught in the fallacy of false dilemma. I tend to act under the notion “if not this, then that.” But neither this, nor that, are the only options. The fallacy is that our options are limited when, in fact, our options are infinite. Be confident and comfortable in rejecting “false alternatives,” and allow yourself to see the bigger picture.

Glitter or rhinestones is  the only false dilemma I'll ever believe in.
Glitter or rhinestones is the only false dilemma I’ll ever believe in – Summer Market, Berlin, 2014.

3. Crisis is an opportunity to awaken an unrealized dream. Rather than asking why something didn’t work, ask yourself what your new possibilities are. What new possibilities have presented themselves that would have been previously unavailable, inaccessible, to you?

4. Our power to make a difference in our world must evolve from developing our own character. For so long I fell into the trap that if I “externalized good,” I would, in turn, become better myself. But it is exactly the opposite. Our capacity to “do good” must stem from being true to ourselves and developing our potential from within, not just “within our context.”

5. To know we do not know is the first step to living authentically. This has been my mantra at NATO: From not being familiar with military structure, to the organizational structure of NATO, to Ukraine and Russia relations, and everything in between, I have never felt more, well, ignorant than I have lately.

Normally my main line of defense is to pretend like I know, when in fact, I have no idea. While this behavior may satisfy my initial discomfort, it does nothing but do me a dissatisfaction. By being dishonest with myself and others, I limit my opportunities for new knowledge and personal growth, and others’ opportunities to share their knowledge with the world.

Honesty removes the strain of defensive ego and prevents inner conflict. Be vulnerable. Open yourself up to opportunities to grow.

6. To acknowledge our weakness is to become stronger. This works directly with the point above: we cannot become better if we do not admit where we’re limited.

7. There is a great distinction between compulsion and spontaneity.  This, for me, this has been one of my greatest processing points. I have always affiliated myself with spontaneity; of being lost in the moment, of living life momentarily with no fear of retribution or care for consequence.

But in these beautiful moments of “carelessness,” I have often times sacrificed self because acting instantaneously was the easier option. I never understood that there was a difference between being spontaneous and being compulsive. It has taken a lot of effort for me to understand this distinction and to honor myself in instances where I could easily abandon self and act compulsively.

8. Other’s judgement does not bother us when we know who we are. Amen. When people are judgmental, see it as an opportunity to help them better understand themselves by virtue of you. Perhaps their judgement stems from jealously or misunderstanding. How can we interpret judgement not as an attack on ourselves, but as an opportunity to redefine relationships?

"Lavender sweet lavender-Peace to all mankind-Tranquility, purity"
“Lavender sweet lavender – Peace to all mankind – Tranquility, purity” – Berlin, 2014.

9. To be pessimistic is to be morally paralyzed.  There is light in every situation.

10. Our infinite potential exists in our current state of life –> We are infinite opportunity.

Our potential does not begin when we have the “right resources.” As an aspiring full-time yogi, I have struggled with how to continue my practice when classes, instructors and a yoga community are currently unavailable to me.

In my first few weeks in Izmir, I blamed my situation for not allowing me the opportunity to continue developing my potential: my flat is too small to practice handstands, how can I grow if I don’t have someone to readjust me? But now I see these limitations not as such, but as opportunities for newfound growth. Perhaps I may not master a handstand, but I can utilize this time to practice a variety of floor poses and stretches that I don’t tend to focus on when I have the access to space and a studio.

Every interaction, every instance is an opportunity for newly awakened potential; become aware of your situation and move forward in a way that will serve you.

You mean I have to practice, here?! - Bornova, Izmir, 2014.
You mean I have to practice, here?! – Bornova, Izmir, 2014.

11. Life, above all, does not occur in isolation: We are interdependent energy, intangible patterns. Living in a country where I cannot communicate fluidly has wedged a natural disconnect between myself and the community I live in. Despite not being able to fully express myself verbally, I have used this shortcoming as an opportunity to recognize the interconnectedness of humanity.

Regardless of nationality or language, we are all humans interdependent on one another to live a satisfying life of service. We feel: we cry, we laugh, we fall, we are happy and angry. We are reliant on one another even when we think we’re independent; none of our experience as humans exists in isolation.

This interconnectedness must also be recognized between us and Mother Earth. We must live cooperatively, peacefully within our host: recognize the subtle vibrations in the ground, the hymn in the air, the composition of a pomegranate, in order to appreciate the inextricable energy and interconnectedness around, between, and within us.

Untitled mural by Vero Rivera. Art Walk, Miami, 2014.
Untitled mural by Vero Rivera.  Art Walk, Miami, 2014.

12. Life, therefore, is a composition of complementary action:

  • Spring –> Winter
  • Day –> Night
  • Pitch –> Tone
  • Stasis –> Fluidity
  • Passive –> Active
  • Mountains –> Valleys
  • Yin –> Yang

And Finally,

13. To conquer impatience is to work within the cycles of life. I am chronically impatient. I believe I have the capacity to change the world instantaneously. But now, I see my capability to impact my life and the world in the way that a farmer tends to his crops: We must respect seasonality, we must honor conditions for growth. What can we cultivate? What processes do we need to respect? What is worth waiting for?

Hep Beraber,

C.

Six weeks. 24 Nations. One Life-Long Decision.

Yesterday was International Day at NATO LANDCOM’S HQ. Of NATO’s twenty-eight member countries, our HQ represents 24 of them. From Albania to Czech Republic, France to Hungary, Poland to Turkey, this is certainly the most multicultural environment I’ve ever found myself in; even more so than Erasmus in Istanbul.

Flag Ceremony during LANDCOM International Day.
Flag Ceremony during LANDCOM International Day.

In the six weeks since I’ve been with NATO, I’ve attempted to dissect an incredibly dynamic and complex organizational structure, understand how my individual position plays a collective role within LANDCOM and within NATO, and learn how to operate within a context in which 24 extremely different working styles overlap.

It’s common knowledge that if you can’t find an Italian, he’s likely sharing an espresso in the kitchen. If a Turk is nowhere to be found, they’re bound to be on the terrace drinking a cay. If you need something done immediately, pray there’s a German on the other end of it.

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Can always count on these Turkish beauties to be enjoying coffee and cay.

Add to that, the stark differences in working with civilians and military personnel, 24 national military structures and the unofficial rules of military-civilian and inter/intra military personal and professional interactions, and you begin to understand how overwhelming and challenging this experience has been.

Amidst the difficulties and uncertainties, it can be easy to forget my mission; to lose sight of how my individual and our collective work contributes to the security of my colleagues, their families, their countries, their neighbor countries, and ultimately, our world at large. My individual work is so much more expansive than I tend to realize.

Be noble for you are made of Earth. Be humble for you are made of Stars.
Be noble for you are made of Earth. Be humble for you are made of Stars. – Sunset in Izmir.

Yesterday, International Day, was the first time in six weeks that I’ve felt emotionally attached to our collective mission. Inspired. Humbled. Honored.

Intertwined with the stark emotional moments were laughs and lovely times shared with colleagues and friends over food and drinks from around the world. It was the beauty in our table being spread with paella, French wine, Hungarian stew, Canadian moose milk, German beer and Polish sweets, while hearing Turkey’s Aegean military band in the background, that affirmed our individual and collective commitment to what we do.

Portugese and German love like never before.
Portugese and German love like never before.
Play me a Turkish tune and let's dance the night away.
Play me a Turkish tune and let’s dance the night away.
Hep Beraber.
Hep Beraber.

The International Day culinary spread was immaculate and as a culturalitarian – I’ll try anything from any culture (at least) once – I was wonderfully surprised by my desire to happily honor a decision that I made two weeks ago; one which will guide the duration of this Earth life and hopefully lead me on a journey that will fulfill my ultimate potential.

Two weeks ago I decided to quit drinking, yes, permanently: to become sober – to cleanse, to detox, to embark on this life-long journey, to inhale spirituality and reality and to exhale the unnecessary burdens and negativity that I evoke and provoke when I drink.

I’ve repeatedly received the same response when this decision has come up:

“WHAT?! You’re not an alcoholic!”

“I never knew you had a problem – are you OK?”

“How can you give up cold beer and delicious wine and you mean we won’t dance until dawn anymore?”

I don’t know if I’m an alcoholic and I probably never will.

But what I’m certain of is that alcohol has stunted my ability to fulfill my potential, therefore disabling me from giving all that I can to those that I love, those that I’m surrounded by, and everyone in our world.

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I mean, really, who does’t want this chick to be the best she can be?

The most pervasive response I received yesterday when respectfully declining Portugesse port or American Mai-Tais was “how can you live without alcohol?”

When I made this decision two weeks ago I also repeatedly asked myself this same question. I wondered how I’d sit in a Turkish meyhane and not drink raki. What would I toast at my wedding? Does October Fest have a non-alcoholic beer option?

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When International Day turned into International Night over mezes and calamari.

I kept dwelling on the things I would never try which in turn made me believe I would never have the experiences I’m still yearning for: rooftop serenades with friends, a gondola ride in Italy, romantic sunsets in Greece, exploration through Albania.

But the more I process, the more I make peace with this decision and it’s implications, the more I realize that this decision is not one of limitations but one which affords infinite opportunities. I now have the opportunity to lead every day of my life in a way that honors me; to maintain the holy trinity of mind, body, and soul; to truly reflect on who I am and who I want to become and to actively develop strategies and behaviors that will strive to achieve this. Without hurdles. Without setbacks. Without hesitation.

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Love those around you with all that you are, with all that you have.

It’s one day at a time.

It’s the seemingly minor daily decisions resulting in major behavior change which is a prevailing source of strength.

In these two weeks, I’ve felt more reflective and at peace with myself than I ever have. I can’t even begin to imagine where this beautiful and difficult journey of self-discovery will see me in two months, two years.

Thank you to those who have already supported this decision, indirectly and directly, and love in advance to those who will walk beside me along the way.

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And for those who were wondering, I will always be able to twerk until dawn. As if there was ever any doubt.

C.

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All | Bizzarre | Roads Lead to The / Pazar

Sunday (Pazar) –  A day to drive recklessly, sit next to the sea, invite yourself into people’s homes, and take notice of the explosive miracles in nature.

I spent several hours today meandering through the Üçkuyular Pazaryeri, one of Izmir’s most bountiful and authentic Sunday markets, taking in the organic beauty.

From color to composition, this weekly wonderland exemplifies the seasonality and vulnerability of our Earth’s offerings and the Aegean region’s current deliverance.

Everything from the tomatoes that bled the influence of the Mediterranean sun, to the dozens of varieties of pink and green and orange olives, to the flowering zucchinis and striped eggplants, made me overwhelmingly appreciative to live in a place dependent on organic seasonality; one that doesn’t distinguish between chemical and organic because that distinction simply doesn’t exist.

I’m incredibly inspired to take advantage of this accessibility and I promise that a Turkish recipe collection is in the works.

For now, here are some snaps of what contributed to this absolutely blissful Seasonal Sunday.

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An invite to run through rows of flowers.

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Yeşıl + Pembe / Beans Abound
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All-Of You Are Coming Home With Me
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Izmir is to Figs what Bordeaux is to Wine


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Egg crates proved highly practical
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Izmir’s take on an agricultural sea cucumber
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The chickpea roaster – One of Turkey’s most distinctive images

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For less than $20 USD, I brought home a dozen eggs, 300 grams of the most beautiful beyaz peynir – white cheese – half a kilo of three varieties of olives, bread baked in a local village, pomegranates, eggplants, plums, tomatoes, cashews, and so on .. Needless to say, dinner parties at mine every day this week.

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