Several weeks ago, fortune found us hours away from Carnival in Barranquilla – site of the second largest Carnival in the world. Only Rio tops it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
And for those who were wondering, I will always be able to twerk until dawn. As if there was ever any doubt.