Recently



Read the newest articles by email or RSS.

RSS Feed RSS - Posts

© Sylvia Benito, 2014
15th of May

Get UnRich


IMG_0600
One of my favorite quotes from the bible is, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25)

“Rich” has come to mean more and more to me over the years that I have meditated on the meaning of this teaching. Rich is not just about material goods, nor is it just about money. Rich is the texture of our entire lives. It is how many things we hold onto and refuse to let go. It is not just how simple your life may seem on the surface. It is how clear, clean, and open your energy is on all the levels of your being.

How rich are you?

I have come to see, slowly, through a life filled with trial and error, that one of the primary ways I stash all kinds of hidden energy away in the pockets of my being is through self betrayal.

It is very easy to self betray. It is infinitely more difficult to find the courage to stop the pattern of self betrayal. Self betrayal is comfortable; it is the ultimate sleeping pill.

It is particularly difficult to not self betray in relationships, especially intimate ones. I think back on a love story of mine, to a most beautiful man. He was very deeply awake, spiritually alive, intelligent. I never tired of talking to him. Our conversations were profound and often tumbled into deep laughter. His friends felt immediately like they were my friends, too. He had a wonderful family. I loved him very much.

And yet, one day, actually during a yoga practice, it hit me, as clear as day. He was not in love with me. He was not even attracted to me. I had sensed this in him, times when he would take a long call or work on his computer to avoid a moment that could have otherwise been spent kissing. But I was a spacious girlfriend, eager to accommodate his needs and “go with the flow”.

When I saw this I had no choice but to tell him what I knew in my gut to be true.

Well, let me rewind. We all have a choice to tell the truth, or not. I had a lot invested in the relationship at this stage. I loved him deeply. Everything else was great between us, so why not let a sleeping dog lie? I wanted to keep him. I wanted to keep the long bike rides on Sunday afternoons. I wanted to keep the dinners we cooked together. I wanted to keep the long, juicy, open conversations.

But once you see, you can never unsee. So I told him what I had seen, and to his credit, he immediately admitted it was true. I felt my heart break, and watched the entire backbone of an intimate relationship incinerate in a second of time.

Then I had a second choice. He asked me to stay with him. He told me that he thought maybe the energy could change, maybe he would find attraction for me. Like someday in the future.

I could not see my way clearly through that choice at first. To peel back to the truth, sometimes it is important to just hold the door open and see what comes through.

What began to come through the door was the part of me that was unclear. I saw the lower feminine walk through the door. At first I saw parts of myself that were just damn mad that it had to be this way, a million strategies to try to fix it. Did I have bad breath? Was it my fault? Could I make it better with breath mints?

I let that go.

Right underneath, I saw the immense need of the lower feminine. The parts of myself that were suffocatingly needy, that wanted to be taken care of, that wanted to be loved, that wanted to be met. Well, hello there dark side. Let me tell you, that part of me wanted to stay. I wanted to give him a hug and say, “Of course I will stay with you, we can figure this out.”

Could I stay with a man who did not even welcome my kiss, without entering into some serious self betrayal?

And that is how we find the truth- by telling the deeper and deeper truths to ourselves moment to moment to moment. It’s the constant practice of a lifetime.

Radical self honesty will strip you. It will take you to places you most certainly did not anticipate. It is likely that your life will not look anything at all like what you expected because expectations are the art work of the ego and have nothing to do with the flow of the divine. If you begin to tell the truth, one radical moment at a time, your life begins to follow grace. Your life begins to unfold as service to love, not as the prisoner of your plans.

But it takes some guts. It takes some guts to let go.

I won’t tell you what ultimately happened between this man and I, that is a story for another time and another day. But I will tell you that it took me looking into how “rich” I was. I had to be honest about all the places fear wanted me to hold on, all the places I wanted to be safe and held and loved and kept and protected. I had to let it all go, all of it, really every single attachment. I had to Unrich myself.

Only then was I tiny enough to slip through the eye of the needle and surrender to the divine. Turns out the dinner plans of the divine were far more delicious than any I could have cooked up on my own.

There are 0 comments on this post
Categories:  Uncategorized
8th of May

The Divine Feminine


IMG_1365Today is Mother’s Day, which for me is the celebration of gratitude to my mother, but it is also the celebration of the divine feminine. The divine feminine is present in both women and men, in both parents and those who have no children at all. The divine feminine is nearly invisible in our culture. She lives and breathes in the cracks of our society, in the little spaces left in a world that is mainly driven by the values of the masculine. 

She is messy, circular, contradictory, and comfortable with imperfection. She has been one of my greatest teachers, persistently breaking the tidy and linear organization of my life with chaos.

She pulls the corners of my heart open to love.

Left to my own devices, I tend towards the masculine. In other words, I tend towards control. Even writing this post is difficult for me because I need to move against my own primary programming to write these words. I have built so much of my life around the drive for perfection; being the perfect child, friend, mother, yogi, devotee, lover, etc. I am great at perfection.

But perfection is an addiction that stands directly in the path of true love. The pursuit of perfection is everywhere in our culture. It’s highly rewarded and rarely questioned.
IMG_1993
When I first became a mother, it was the primary teaching that came most intensely in those first milk stained and exhausted days. I could see that perfection was not available to me in the realm of mothering. Mothering pushed me past my limits of patience, into places that I felt incompetent and inadequate. Still, to this day, eight years into motherhood, it is the most vulnerable place in my life, the place that is most resistant to my drive to be perfect.

I believe that this is the divine feminine at play. She has let me have some semblance of perfection in all sorts of realms; I have been able to assume the mantle of perfection everywhere else, but not in her primary domain. She has never let me have it in the act of mothering. Mothering floors me in vulnerability and inadequacy.

And I give thanks for that.

But recently the divine feminine has been knocking at my door insistently, asking to be let in absolutely everywhere. She has hunted me down a few times before; in fact, on all of my deep spiritual journeys she shows up. All of my awakening experiences have been infused by the fragrance of the divine mother and all of her bloody, messy, bewildering organicity.

She is back again, in voce alto. She is asking me to take down the constructs of perfection in their entirety. This time, she wants it all. She is showing me, with the sweetest of graces, how these strategies of perfection remove my heart from the ultimate intimacy of knowing myself. Perfection stands in direct opposition to love.

I am at the beginning of this invitation, but the invitation could not be more clear. I know, without a doubt, that I no longer need to use strategies of perfection for a sense of safety in the world.

So, I would like to invite you to look with me into your own strategies of control that shift you away from the beauty of love.

I cannot take full credit for the writing that is about to follow. These ideas of the masculine and feminine are not all mine, they are sourced from a friend and a teacher to whom I owe much debt of gratitude for illuminating the feminine in my life.

As you look into your own life, whether you are male or female, begin to explore the grace and transformational quality of the divine feminine in you.

IMG_1190

For example, ask yourself if you frequently engage in the energy of comparison. Do you feel yourself caught in cycles of feeling superior to others and alternately inferior? There, in that endless cycle of worthy/unworthy, is the invitation of the divine feminine, of the mother, to move into compassion. Do you feel the need to be uber competent? Assertive? Do you look at the world in black and white, as good and bad? Do you blame? Are you judgmental? Are you caught in a paradigm of victimhood or complaining? Are you afraid to fail? Do you use seduction as a way of getting what you want in the world?

Can you see how these are forces that separate us from the divine? Can you see how these are energies that separate us from the deepest love we can discover within, the intimacy of the self?

On this Mother’s Day, I invite you to turn within and see what strategies keep you separate from the divine. Allow the feminine principle to seep into your heart and melt you. The divine mother is saturated with the energy of compassion, forgiveness, and tenderness. She is able to hold multiple realities in her hands all at once, even if they seem to be contradictory. She loves your imperfection, loves your not knowing, loves it when you slow down and simply hold the door open to see what might unfold next.

I am holding the door open more widely than I ever have, more widely than I had ever imagined possible. There are moments when it is scary. I sometimes have a feeling of vertigo, as if I am standing at the edge of a cliff as I invite the divine feminine to wedge her tenderness into the places I have so persistently insisted on holding control. And yet my door remains open, open to the grace of the Mother, open to the grace of her love.
IMG_1095

There are 0 comments on this post
Categories:  Uncategorized
12th of April

Male Vulnerability


IMG_0884I am the mother of two young boys. I feel a great responsibility in helping them to grow into open hearted men. Luca, at eight years old, is just exiting the amorphous stage of early childhood, and is fully exploring what it means to be a boy. Some of this has required surrender on my part, allowing him to have toy guns and more recently, to even have video games, as a way of recognizing the culture he lives in and the reality of how, collectively, boys play.

I have begun to see the very beginning of the split between the masculine and the feminine taking shape in his mind. He identifies strongly with the typical male attributes of society. He is interested in money and in war. He is stoic and occasionally prone to anger, especially when he feels injustice. More recently, he has begun to tell me that he is “not spiritual”, and when I remind him that I, myself, am very spiritual, he tries to tell me that I am not.

What does spiritual mean to Luca, and why does he feel the need to reject the qualities he thinks it represents?

One of the aspects that has begun to fascinate me most in my inquiry around sexual identity is male vulnerability. I believe we are phobic as a culture around deep male vulnerability. Many of my female friends want more emotional intimacy in their partnerships. They want their men to access their feelings more deeply, to express more tenderness, to be more emotionally honest and raw. Yet those same friends still want their men to be “manly”.

What does “manly” mean? We expect our men to be strong. We want them to be confident, to work, to provide, to protect, be sexually capable (“good in bed”). One of the most interesting taboos that I have seen in the dating world is that we still, somehow, and for some reason, expect men to always pay the check. Why?

It is amazing to me how prevalent this taboo still is in the heterosexual dating world. Why do we hold onto the idea that a “real man” pays the bill at dinner? This act, which happens at the very onset of meeting, sets a dynamic at play that I believe we do not realize has long tentacles into the eventual relationship between a woman and a man. It sets the stage for the entire male/female polarity, one in which the male protects and provides, and the female pleases and nurtures. It can set the stage for the dynamic that often shows up in bed, where the male is the primary driver of sex and the woman responds. We are incredibly conditioned as women to respond to the outer signs of male “strength”. Why do you think that the wealthier a man is, the less important it is that he be handsome or even young to find a beautiful woman who will surrender her life to his?

And yet, if we fast forward past the stage of romance, the stage in which it perhaps feels amazing to be taken care of, and look into the long term stage of relationship- many women end up feeling “unmet” and emotionally lonely. So I have begun to ask myself what it means to unravel those expectations at the very onset of love. Am I myself ready to let go of my conditioning, of needing a man to appear “manly”, capable, care taking, providing, wealthy, strong, etc? Am I myself ready to meet male vulnerability?

I am.
IMG_0028
I think that men are waiting for us to invite them to drop these masks of masculinity. These archetypal roles that we play are inhibitors to honest and raw interplay between hearts.

Look, I am not here to provide social commentary on the whole Bruce/Caitlin Jenner phenomena, but I do believe that he is a marker of a shift that is ripe in our culture to unfold. In that shift, we will begin to see masculine and feminine as a spectrum, a continuum in which we all naturally gravitate into differing degrees of identification. Some men fall into the feminine, some women fall closer to the masculine, some women love men, some men love men, some love both, and onward. It’s a fine and infinite spectrum. I think that one day, when we are describing a man who is comfortable with vulnerability and tenderness, we will no longer accuse him of being “gay” but will instead call him brave.

That shift starts with us. If, at the onset of love, we expect men to take on these ancient roles, how can we also expect them to drop those roles when we want more emotional intimacy? It hardly seems fair. Do we not hold the key to unlocking the door to intimacy in those very first days that we meet? If we are willing to drop the projections and see the man as he is, what is possible then?

As a mother, I have serious motivation to figure this stuff out. I pray that Luca be able to grow into a man who is comfortable with his vulnerability and emotional honesty, because that, after all, is what spirituality truly is. He can play with the male archetypes as freely as his heart desires and I will not stand in his way- he can try on all the faces of the masculine in his play….. including guns and video games and all the rest- as long as he continues to know deep down inside that none of those aspects of the masculine are the totality or essence of who he is.
IMG_0564
The key is in our hands. We can’t ask men to step into deep emotional intimacy without also allowing them to step away from the archetypal roles they are burdened with. If we unlock that burden, if we drop our expectations, if we stop asking them to be “men”, I think that the doorway will open more deeply to the heart. It is, at the very least, an experiment I am willing to try.

IMG_0577

There is 1 comment on this post
Categories:  Uncategorized
27th of March

Easter


IMG_0665I once knew an elderly man who suffered advanced dementia.

He kept asking me over and over again, each time I saw him, “Can you take me home?”

Even though he was actually home, living in a beautiful house where he was tended to by a loving family.

Home.

Today is Easter, the day that Jesus resurrects, the day we celebrate the return of spring, the rush of fertility to earth. It is the day that the sun wakes us from our slumber of the winters eve.
IMG_1456
Today I stand in gratitude at my own heart’s ability to resurrect. During the winter solstice I wrote to you about healing, and today, at the spring equinox, I am here to write about being home.

The cycle of healing begins with a split; that split can seem like it is between two people but in reality the split is always within your own self. Places where you have engaged in self betrayal, places where you don’t tell the truth because you think or believe there is too much to lose if you were to say what must be said- those places, all of them, sooner or later, must split.
IMG_1343
Those splits, those self betrayals, if you are lucky, begin to fracture, to create wide gaps and foundational faults. The cycle of healing takes you to the absolute crumbling of the foundation. If you are even luckier, you don’t rush to build something back up. You take a look around you at the landscape, empty and barren and burnt of rushes and woods.

You spend some time in those fallow fields, in that place of absolute solitude and dark.

I do not know any road map to home that does not go through the dark side.

When I would see that man who kept asking me to take him home, over and over again, what I often thought was that I was looking at a man who had never found home inside of himself, ever, not ever in his long life, and now that dementia had erased his ability to edit what he said out loud, he was saying what he had been asking inside himself for a very long time.

“Can you take me home?”

Are you brave enough to take yourself home, regardless of what might have to be lost along the way?

It’s a good practice to lose things in life, big things, little things, all things really because the truth is that we will lose everything sooner or later. The self betrayal we engage in is due to our fear of losing the things we believe keep us safe. Think of all the subtle and not so subtle ways that people self betray in order to stay inside of relationships that clearly do not work.
IMG_0890 (3)
If you are willing to lose whatever is not true, if you are willing to not self betray, no matter what the consequences are, no matter what the cost, then you will know true home.


Home is within yourself. It is the absolute intimacy of spirit, of self knowledge. Home is juicy, powerful, and stable. If you are lucky enough to have walked all the way home within yourself, then you will know that you have fulfilled your destiny. Your destiny is to know who you truly are.

And then the field begins to grow again. Those burnt and fallow grasses sprout, and the field blooms. Seeds tempered by heat grow into sequoias. This is the way of nature, of the great force of life that surrounds us.

This is the secret story inside the resurrection of Christ. This is the meaning of Easter, the invitation of spring. Only by the fire can the most tender of green emerge.

IMG_1467

There are 0 comments on this post
Categories:  Uncategorized
10th of March

Off the Wall


ramana_wideOne of my favorite teaching stories was told by a devotee of Ramana Maharshi, a man named Annamalai Swami. Ramana, also known as the “Sage of Arunachala” was widely considered one of the most spiritually evolved gurus in India until his death in the 1950’s. His presence, or “darshan” was sought after by many thousands over his lifetime. They even say that Gandhi was eager to meet him, but his aides prevented the meeting from ever happening because they were afraid that Gandhi might enter such a state of exalted spirituality after the meeting that he would not return to complete the important political tasks that were his destiny to fulfill.

Annamalai Swami met Ramana when he was very young and spent decades by his side. He helped build many of the structures that came to form the main temples and dining hall of the ashram, and received direct spiritual guidance from Ramana on a daily basis.

And yet, one day, when he walked into the meditation hall where Ramana was seated, Ramana covered his face with a towel and refused to talk to him. For several consecutive days this same scene repeated. Out of the blue, Ramana stopped teaching his student. In fact, he kicked him out of the ashram. He finally told him, “What you had to give, you have given. What I had to give I have given. Why are you still coming to me?”

He knew that in order to bring his student to full self realization, he had to take the guru away. Annamalai Swami continued to live very close to the ashram but never returned, even when his beloved guru was on his deathbed. He took fully to heart the invitation to find the guru within. He attained a very high state of realization in his old age; over time he himself became a teacher to many students.

annamalai-swami.2

Today, I was on my mat with one of my beloved teachers, Kym Brigman Klein. She knows me pretty well and keeps an eye on my practice, always inviting me to step a little deeper into the unknown. We were all moving into forearm stands this morning, and while I love an inversion as much as anyone, I always do them…shhhh… close to the wall.

I just like knowing that the wall is there to catch me.
IMG_0365 2
But I have become so reliant on knowing that the wall is there that I never even try to get away from it. I pull my mat way up to the wall every class.

Kym called me out on it today, I mean just laid it out there. She pulled into dolphin on her own mat and then showed us how she moved with grace into forearm stand without using momentum and without… using the wall.

There was something about the grace, the language of her body as she showed us the sequence. It was soft and confident, stable and fluid. When she came down, she looked me right in the eye and passed the invitation to me.

So I backed off the wall. Knowing that there was no wall to catch me, I summoned all of my own strength and grace and behold, I rose up into a sweet inversion.

When is the last time you backed off a wall? How often do we lean on something for so long that we forget that we have our own walls within?

As I lowered down into child’s pose, I felt a rush of fluttering joy. That’s just the way the universe works, isn’t it? We think that freedom comes from no walls, but in reality there are amazing waterfalls of freedom to be found when we have built the right channels within.

Today I was reminded that I don’t need the wall to keep me from falling….because guess what? I’ve got a big strong one right inside. Most of us in this day and age will never get to spend decades studying at the side of a guru, a guru who will send us away to finish our realization on our own when the time is ripe.

But we all have many teachers around us, people who encourage us to step away from the wall and feel how strong we really are.

IMG_0370

There are 0 comments on this post
Categories:  Uncategorized
7th of March

Marcelo


IMG_0357

When I was in college, I met and fell in love with a man named Marcelo. Today, the sixth of March, 2016, marks the tenth anniversary of his untimely death. Marcelo was one of my first and greatest teachers in life. He was an extraordinarily rare man, devoted to truth. He left a successful career as a professor of mathematics at the Naval Postgraduate Academy in Monterrey to follow his calling to become a healer and eventually, a mentor on the spiritual path to many. When I met him, I had never been exposed to anyone quite like him before.

During the first conversation that I had with Marcelo he stopped me mid sentence and said, “Sylvia, you have a lot of unacknowledged shadow around you.” He then looked at me deeply, inquisitively, with love. I felt embarrassed. I didn’t even quite know what he was talking about. Shadow?

FullSizeRender

Marcelo would spend the next six years of my early life teaching me about the shadow. Without his influence, I am almost certain my early spiritual practice would have been mainly about repressing the shadow. I would have sought to transcend my humanity with meditation or other spiritual practices. But Marcelo taught me the complete opposite of transcendence. He taught me to meet the shadow, square in the eye and without blinking. He taught me that the clearest, brightest, purest light comes from fully embracing the dark.

IMG_0355

Like any pioneer, Marcelo suffered two steps ahead of what he taught to those around him. He struggled mightily with the shadow in his own life. He had vices that pulled him into places of shame and occasionally, hiding. A few years into our relationship, he had become a teacher to many students in his native country of Argentina, where we lived. He felt the burden of his shadow mightily. He did not want to lead anyone astray or cause suffering. And yet. He had a destiny, just like the rest of us, that was human and imperfect. He taught from that imperfection. He was tender and vulnerable in a way that I have since come to see is exceedingly rare. He taught me to become comfortable with my own vulnerability.

IMG_0354

Marcelo became ill with cancer a few years after I left Argentina. We had parted friends, but I was not by his side when he passed away. I know, from those who were with him during that time, that he continued his spiritual work until his very last breath. One of the last things he spoke of was that he knew that in order to fully complete his journey of healing, of full integration of the shadow, he had to die. That dying was, in fact, his final step to becoming whole.

I think of this teaching often. The last transmission of Marcelo’s life was only complete with his final breath. It continues to ripple and resonate and touch not just me, but many others, to this very day.

I owe him a debt of gratitude.

Marcelo, wherever your spirit walks today, know that a piece of your spirit still walks with me.

There are 0 comments on this post
Categories:  Uncategorized
25th of February

Stick to the Mat


IMG_0096
If you have a regular practice of yoga, you will know what I mean when I say, “Stick to your mat.”

What does it mean to stay steady with something in life, regardless of hard that something gets?

What does it mean to have a sticky heart?

I met my teacher, Gangaji, twenty four years ago, and have remained her student ever since. Over time, I have spent many days in retreats with her, or in retreat in India; maybe around 140 days over my lifetime in silence.

Wait, that’s half a year of my entire life spent in silence.

Yoga? 25 years of practice, or approximately 7000 hours.

A year of my life spent on the mat?

IMG_0455
Writing? I can’t even estimate how many hours of my life I have spent writing because it’s too many to count. Here’s a hint: Writers write. and write. and write. and write.

Completing my Chartered Financial Analyst program? Oh wait, that took forever and it was hell with a calculator. I don’t recommend sticking to THAT mat.

And yet in all of those areas of my life, I am still a student. My spiritual teacher is far deeper into awakening, my yoga teachers have stronger practices, there are way smarter people in finance, and there are such better writers it’s a miracle that I don’t just grab a bottle of whisky and give up right now.

Though I am not the best yogi or the best writer or best anything, I stay steady in the practice of the things I love. What has guided this steadfastness all these years is a question Gangaji once asked me; the same one she asks all her students,

“What is it that you truly want? And what will that give you?”

That inquiry has held me fast in many moments when I was tempted to walk away.

Last week I went to my yoga studio for practice even though I felt like hell. As I unrolled my mat onto the wooden floor, I told Molly Weintraub, the Yoga Joint teacher extraordinaire who was about to lead us in practice, that I felt like I needed “a restorative class”.

And then, Molly laughed.
IMG_1724

I swore that I felt nauseous. I edged my mat away from other yogis because, you know, I might be getting sick. Don’t want to spread germs. It was one of the hardest practices I have had in a long time. But Molly’s voice kept hitting all the right spots, as if she knew exactly what was going on. She kept telling me to stop being a baby just stick to the mat. That I didn’t need to fidget, didn’t need to collapse, didn’t need to leave the room. I stayed on the mat for the entire 75 minutes, though I began to drop into a few child’s poses towards the end. All of that “getting sick” feeling shifted and I realized I wasn’t under the weather. I was sad. Seeing the sadness for what it was, plainly, like a cloud in the sky, was like blowing the cloud away with consciousness. I saw it, and then, it was gone.

Stick to the mat.

Where this has been a trickier edge of learning is in the realm of relationships. If I love someone, friend or coworker or mate, I gather you into my heart, like forever. I just never, ever ever let anybody go. Because when I ask myself “What do I really want?” The answer is always love. Every time.

Even if I haven’t talked to someone for a spell, they are still in my heart. Sometimes I wonder how I am going to squeeze everyone in because I keep meeting so many damn people I care about.

It is as if all the beloveds in my heart are threads that I am pulling into a needle, darning a big quilt. I have so many threads running through my hands. Glimmering white strands of sisters who have been my friend for years. Big strong threads, my parents and siblings and uncles and aunts. Fragile tiny threads, the threads I am protect with my every breath- my sons. Multicolored threads, the community that surrounds me. Deep scarlet embroidery thread; the men who have given me their love.

Every so often, a thread comes along that does not make sense, a relationship that for one reason or another falters. Broken threads. I never let them go; no matter how damaged the yarn is or how frayed the silk has become, I will circle back to that thread a million times to try to get it right and add it back to the quilt.

I am not entirely sure if this is a weakness of mine, or a strength.

It’s funny how often our strength is also our greatest weakness.

IMG_1095

When I stick to the mat in yoga, the magic never fails to transform. I’d like to think that the same is true for relationships, but I know that’s probably not true. Some relationships merit a goodbye. Some relationships perhaps cannot mend. Sometimes magic is not enough.

But even in those moments, I still pick up that thread, broken as it is, twist and bind it with a thin bit of gossamer silk and a prayer, weave it straight through my heart, and work hard at silently getting it back into that big old giant quilt of love.

There are 0 comments on this post
Categories:  Uncategorized
13th of February

Down With Valentines


264471_10150315690031873_7537736_n
Eight years ago, I sat in front of my OB, pregnant, and told him that I was going to change doctors.

He was a seasoned practitioner, aiming to enter into the Guinness Book of World Records for the most deliveries by a single man. He had a shock of white hair, glasses, always wore a bow tie, and often smelled a bit like picked onions.

“I’ve decided that I want a natural birth. This is my birth plan. I think it would be better if I switched to a birthing center where my wishes would be respected by the staff.”

“Can I take a look at your birth plan?” he asked. He was smiling, his eyes crinkling on either side of his face.

I put the birth plan on the desk between us.
He read it quickly, and passed it back to me.
“You can give birth standing on your head if that is what your heart desires. You just tell them when you are in delivery that they have to respect your birth plan and if they don’t, give me a call.”

I prepared for my first birth diligently, like a good student readying for exams. My suitcase was packed weeks in advance. I had recordings of dolphin music and essential oils. I even bought a special outfit for giving birth to avoid having to wear the “scratchy and ugly” hospital gowns.

God was laughing.

Because the day of the birth, that suitcase never even made it out of the car. In fact, I barely made it out of the car. The birth plan, the planning, the need to control- was gone with that first contraction. Luca’s birth was fast; so fast that the question of a birth plan became a profoundly absurd one. There wasn’t time to turn on all the lights in the delivery room; never mind time to ask me if I wanted an epidural.

When I first held Luca in my arms I was flooded with a breathless joy, my heart fluttering with abandon. Our gazes locked and I fell into the infinite that was this child, this boy whose very name, Luca, means light.

Chaos, Contraction, Birth.
316033_10150441802641873_1434512988_n
We all live through a series of births. Each birth is faster than the one that came before it, each one requires a deeper measure of surrender, and each one leaves us touched by brighter and brighter light.

And then finally, one day, you have been squeezed by life enough times that you touch permanent light.

And light… light… is love.

All along, love has been your ultimate teacher. Love. You begin to realize that love is a wild stallion, a wind horse rider. Love is absolutely, in every way, outside of your control. You cannot choose whom you love and you cannot keep someone from breaking your heart.

Ultimately love is not even about loving “another” but simply loving yourself.
IMG_2289
Which is why I hate Valentine’s day. I cannot abide by the capture of love inside of the imagery of red hearts and roses. I cannot accept Valentine Day’s insistence on love being only about the “other”. I avoid the trollop of romantic images bombarding me even in Whole Foods which was overflowing with long stemmed roses and chocolate boxes and cards when I popped in earlier today.

IMG_0629

Really? One day we will all realize that by trapping love we dull love. Love is not tidy, it is not a progression of behaviors leading to consumption of some ultimate prize.

You know what kind of Valentine’s day I could get behind? One where we sat around and shared stories of how love has surprised us, schooled us, knocked us down, humbled us, taken us down paths that we would never have dreamt of or considered.

I could tell you a lot of stories; I mean good, juicy, live wire love stories. I have loved hard on this planet, thrown my heart up against the rocks a thousand times.

But the last story I will tell you today is from the last year of my twenties, right before I turned thirty and wanted to “settle down”. I fell in love with a wild son, a real rock star rebel man.

He was frigging amazing.

And then he broke my heart. I mean, he really broke it. I think I stopped breathing for an entire week after we said goodbye.

Heartbreak is medicine from God, a direct transmission whose purpose is to rescue some part of our self betrayal and bring it back home. But I didn’t know that then. All I knew was that my heart hurt like hell.

That heartbreak felt like the crushing of a thousand Russel Stover chocolate hearts, I mean layers and layers of conditioning and junk, breaking and breaking away. It sucked, it hurt, and yet inside of that heartbreak was the seed of self love.

IMG_1785

Heartbreak was the first moment I tasted what it means to love myself. Loving myself was the caramel inside the bittersweet dark shell. It was ricissimo, and it never went away. We get so conditioned up by our culture around love. We expect things, we want people to complete us or fill us or fix us. We want big chocolate hearts on Valentine’s day.

Love is too big for your plans and too big for your desires. If you think you are going to control love, think again. The birth plan will not make it out of the car. The perfect lover will walk away. You won’t get that chocolate heart.

And it will be awesome.

There are 0 comments on this post
Categories:  Uncategorized
31st of January

Radical Love


IMG_0241
When I was in Costa Rica last December, in retreat with Shiva Rea, one of the things that struck me most about her as a teacher was her level of embodied compassion. Shiva Rea radiates kindness. I remember once when we were all in the middle of our morning session, a student walked in late. Mind you, the class had nearly one hundred yogis and the practice was a deeply meditative one. This student was clearly the black sheep of the group. She walked in noisily and began to cross the yoga room to find a spot to practice. As she walked, you could sense the shame that she carried in her body at being the one single student who didn’t have their shit together enough to get to class on time.

Shiva Rea stopped teaching. The entire class stood still and watched her get off of her yoga mat where she was, as she likes to say, “perched”. She walked towards her student.

“Welcome sister,” she said to her. “You are not late. You are absolutely perfect in every way. We welcome you here.”

And then she hugged her in the most tender of embraces, and walked with her to where there was a small open space in between the mats.

“Let’s make a space for our sister to practice here,” she said.

Kindness.
Wow.

I’m working on it, Shiva Rea.

I’ve got a suspicion that deep kindness finds its source at the wellspring of forgiveness.
IMG_0230
I had an opportunity to explore forgiveness this very weekend at my “Dacherlorette” party. My girlfriends gathered together in Miami to mark the milestone of my divorce; not to celebrate, per se, but to gather and witness the milestone.

Not all of my girlfriends were present- but a good many of my dearest sisters came. When I counted how many years I have known each of them, and added it together, there were 142 years of friendship by my side, all at the same time.

The weekend was a gift I will never forget. To be witnessed, deeply, to be seen, deeply, is perhaps one of the purest and most important forms of love.

I got super loved up.
FullSizeRender 7
Inside the love bubble of girl talk and endless saunas and steams and cocktails and hammocks and sun….. I kept returning inside of my own inquiry to the theme of forgiveness. I always pay a lot of attention when something keeps popping up in my mind. It’s a sign that there is some work to be done, a treasure to be found.
FullSizeRender 6

Had I forgiven? Was I ready to bridge from the old into the new? But more importantly, had I forgiven myself? Forgiveness is one of those big meta concepts that can hover superficially on the edges of your heart for decades. What does it mean to make it real, to give forgiveness flesh and blood and bones?

Have I asked for forgiveness from those I have wronged?

I burrowed down into my heart and prayed.

Self inquiry is real work. It’s like knitting new neural pathways in your brain. It’s real. Studies show that meditation changes the brain. We are just so pathetically unaccustomed to the amount of stillness and steadfastness it takes to get down deep enough in there.

After a day of big love infusions from all the sisters around me, I had a moment to be still in the hammam, lying down on big heated slabs of marble. In that still place, I meditated like an old lady with a spool of wool knitting a new heart. I sent prayers to those I have forsaken and asked for forgiveness. But surprisingly it was much harder to give that forgiveness to myself.

I was really out of practice.

When I finally found it, when that sweet spill of pure radiant heart energy came out of my prayer and shot through my soul….. I got it.
FullSizeRender 5
I got the secret to profound, embodied kindness. It’s right there, in self forgiveness. Because we all fuck up. We all make messes. If you think you don’t need to forgive yourself, there is a book on narcissism you probably need to read.

But when you say sorry? When you admit that you make messes and own them and clean them and then circle back to yourself and FORGIVE yourself for your humanity? Wow, that’s the wellspring of kindness. Then you, too, can greet a total stranger, or a person walking in late to your yoga class and in a fraction of a second- not judge- not condemn- not protect- but say:

Why, hello there messy. I’m messy too. Lovely, so lovely to share in the mess together.

Try on your radical love. It can’t be fake. You can’t paste on a smile and greet a stranger with a “Hello Sister.” Nope. You can only get it the hard way- by facing your own human self.

Maybe, just maybe, through this door of forgiveness and kindness I will learn to be better at holding a partner in my arms.
FullSizeRender 2
My friends surprised me this weekend by giving me a book. It is filled with love letters, reminders of who I am just in case I forget as I begin to explore the brave new world of men again. They also told me that they are officially my “boots on the ground” and that they would personally come and kick the ass of any guy who doesn’t treat me like a queen. Ahem.

You stand warned, men of the world.
FullSizeRender 4
I am opening the book to you, dear reader, and pulling a few of their quotes because their words are too delicious not to share.

“I’m trying very hard to accept that it is not ours to save each other from tumbles, but to love each other through them.”

“You are the ultimate Bride married to amazement.”

“Love the people who treat you right. Forget about those who don’t.”’

“I love. That’s just what the fuck I do.”

“I am awed by your courage to let things fall apart.”

“No one anywhere can keep us from carrying the Beloved wherever we go.”

And finally, one friend shared this poem from Rumi, which is a perfect way to close this piece on the power of forgiveness as we move towards deeper love.

“Be thirsty heart,
seek forever without rest.
Let this soundless longing hidden deep inside you
be the source of every word you say.”

RUMI

There are 0 comments on this post
Categories:  Uncategorized
23rd of January

Expectations and Disappointment


Unknown

This weekend, I am attending a yoga workshop hosted by my home studio, The Yoga Joint, led by a teacher that I used to regularly practice with years ago. His name is Rolf Gates, author of Meditations from the Mat and the recently released Meditations on Intention and Being.

He is a phenomenal yoga master.

I remember trudging through the snow to the tiny studio where he used to lead a group of devoted students through a strong, sweaty vinyasa practice. We were all younger then, and all these various forms of power yoga were just emerging.

It was beautiful to practice with Rolf again, some fifteen years later. His practice is much the same on the outside; after all, an asana is an asana- a physical form. A downward facing dog will always be a downward facing dog. Even so, Rolf’s deepening as a teacher and a human being was plainly evident to me as I spent hour after hour on the mat. He brought such stillness and silence into the practice. Even though there were some fifty yogis moving in the room, you could hear a pin drop. The silence was rich.

IMG_1305

As I deepened into the practice, my own inner stillness amplified like an undulating ocean.

I began to reflect on expectations- and disappointment. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, all the ways in which we as a society project expectations on one another that can only- by their very nature- end in disappointment. Whether it is a newly elected politician, a new employee, or a new lover- more often than not, we are let down by the very same person who seemed to hold the promise of something special and something true.

My reflection began to move in closer to my heart as we moved through a series of sun salutations. I felt my heart twist as I remembered just earlier that evening an interaction I had with my eldest son. I had given him my old phone- an iPhone, mind you- as a way to be able to call me when I travel for work. He was thrilled when I told him I was giving him the phone, but as soon as he realized it was “old”, he expressed disappointment.

I chastised him. I did what most parents do- I gave him a good lesson in appreciation and gratitude. In doing that, I realized I had overlooked a much more important teaching that was ripe for him to learn. If only I had received his disappointment fully, and let him express it….. I could have then helped him to see for himself how all expectations hold within them the seed of disappointment. And in meeting that disappointment fully- we can find freedom.
IMG_3165
After the first hour of practice, my mind was increasingly clear and still as a pond without a ripple.

The teaching moved even closer in. To my own projections of expectations on others. In particular, my mind zoned in on one specific person who has seemingly continually let me down. I love this person- a lot- but for some reason that I myself cannot understand (karma?!), this same person is unable to meet my expectations.

This person did not even think to call me last month on my birthday.

I began to play with this two sided coin of expectations and disappointments in my heart. I find that when a tough, sticky pickle shows up in life, sometimes it helps to play with it a little before trying to take it apart. And so I breathed a little into expectation and puffed a little into disappointment until they were ever so slightly buoyant and had a touch of energetic fluff.

The yoga class was really rolling now, and you could feel how everyone was deeply concentrated on their mats. I let expectation and disappointment go, like little white doves releasing over the ocean of my practice. I watched them fly, dozens of white birds, dozens of stories of disappointment.

Sometimes those stories of disappointment are so thick and inculcated that we cannot even see the actual person in front of us anymore because we have lost the present moment and can only cling to the past and what “they did to us”.

Like not calling on my birthday.

I let those birds fly. There were so many that wanted to be free.
IMG_0976
And when the story of expectation and disappointment had been released, just underneath that- just under- one breath further- was grief.

Oh, no, not grief. I swear that any time I write in the public sphere about grief people freak out. God forbid anyone talk about grief. And yet, grief is here all the time, woven into every bit of our souls.

Don’t be afraid of grief.

It’s beautiful.

I let it wash over me. I felt the human impulse to push it away but I invited it back in with my next breath. Sweet grief.

And you know what was right underneath that? Just one more breath down?

Love.

How did you know?

The irony of it all? The ultimate reason why we expect, what we really want from someone, what all disappointment really is about- is the hunger for love.

There must be some divine sense of humor that as long as you lay heavy your expectations on a friend, lover, or child….. you will be stuck outside of love.

The moment you let those little birds go, like balloons in a blue sky…. well there she is.

There is the love you’ve been waiting for.

IMG_1552

There are 0 comments on this post
Categories:  Uncategorized
© Sylvia Benito, 2014