I finished The Great Work of Your Life by Stephen Cope about a month ago.

It was a long slow read because I savored every single word and to be honest, I was so inspired by it that I didn’t want to finish it. Since the book was so soul affirming and nourishing I have decided to read it again.

In the book Stephen asserts that in order to have a fulfthe great work bookcoverilling life you must discover the deep purpose hidden at the very core of yourself. In this book he describes the process of unlocking the unique possibility harbored within each soul.

He uses the 2,000-year-old Bhagavad Gita as the cornerstone to share his reflections and revelations on finding one’s purpose. In addition to this sacred and ancient text he highlights every day people as well as known luminaries such as Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Harriet Tubman, and Ghandi whose life path’s were pure and sometimes wild expressions of what is means for one to honor their calling, gifts, and paths.

There are many passages that stood out to me. So many that I feared I would highlight the whole book. Here is one about faith and the practice of acting from a place of trust that resonated with me. “One of the most difficult aspects of faith is the suspension of one’s own preconceived ideas about how to proceed. The willing suspension of preconceived plans and schemes is absolutely required, as Harriet Tubman discovered. These plans-our plans- are gradually replaced by a growing trust in moment-by-moment guidance.”

warrior at school

After 10 years of working in the field of education as a public school teacher or nonprofit director I am walking away from my desk and board.

But this is not a diatribe about the shortcomings or benefits of standardized testing, nor a monologue about the value or devaluation of teachers in our society, or about how I have seen some of the brightest lights in the classroom burn out or blaze so intensely that we all were struck by lightning when they exploded and burst into falling flames.

This is not a story about leaving.

It’s a about showing up. It’s about heeding a call even when there’s static around the edges. It’s about praying for freedom and being brought to my knees when it arrives raw, unwashed, and unkempt.  I thought it would be sexier. It’s about stepping out of the blinding trenches of “can’t” with muddy feet and clear eyes. It’s about coming home to find an old dream crumpled in the corner, ink fading, unfolding it, and pressing it to my heart.

This is about my heart.

Two years ago my mama survived a heart attack. A miracle. But I think her heart got so heavy from stories untold, tangled up love, and longings too wide to hold on to. So her heart attacked her. Thank God for second chances to live from the heart.

Last fall a friend of mine- young, beautiful, so much promise- made her heart stop.

The days before it happened she took to carrying big bulky yellow bags full of things that she didn’t know where else to put or didn’t trust anyone else to hold on to. Maybe she was hoping for a way to press pause, to put the bags down and sort them out. She ended up hitting “delete all.” Her heart stopped.

This is about starting. Starting a letter of resignation and it turning into a poem:

I will write. I will teach yoga. I will live. I will press my forehead to the ground so that I can see my way. I will lie out all of my journals and read them for clues. I will make a map and follow it sometimes. I will sweat. I will cry. I will laugh. I will remember who I was before fear convinced me that I had to “pick” a name and definition. But this is not about fear.

This is about knowing that “fear and faith cannot exist in the same place.”

It’s about planning for what you can…and praying for the strength, integrity, wisdom, and courage to navigate through what you can’t plan for. It’s about knowing my inner strength.

With this strength I have climbed mountains in literal and figurative deserts. Moved away from home as a teenager. Traveled across the Atlantic Ocean to West Africa and back. Fought my way out of the heavy clutches of strangers and “loved ones”. I have always found a way or made one.  This is about my inner strength, but it is also about my willingness to surrender to this process of starting, remembering, becoming, and birthing dreams to vision. Every birth requires the support of community.

This is about community. This is about Jemar staying up late nights to listen to me swear, cry, and laugh my way in to the courage it took to leave the classroom once I realized it was time to go. It’s about watching my mama wake up from surgery singing  “you’re the God of a second chance.” It’s about my sister saying she’s proud of me, even though I haven’t technically done anything-super fly yet. It’s about Meryl blazing a trail and stepping off the worn path a year and a half before. My yoga students telling me they can’t wait to see more of me.

It’s about Neda, Jocelyn, Rachel, and Julie asking with profound sincerity how they can support my process. About Chelsea counting on me. Bex telling me about the time she moved to the other side of the world so her soul could breath…and she only had $40 left in her account afterward. It’s about Isabelle’s  “Hell yeah!” Tabby’s, “Girl just wait…see what opens for you.” And Todd’s “sooo much fun to be had!” It’s about Debra reminding me of the virtues of patience in word and action. It’s about Jason’s “baby girl that took guts…it’s on now!” About Jesse and Stephanie talking goals and visions with me in the lulu store, on the sidewalk, or after a sweat.

It’s about telling Leah that I am “leaping and the net will appear”…and her saying “screw a net, you got wings baby.”

It’s about shaking myself awake one particularly rough evening and finding this message from Kira: “Yes, it gets very real when changing your life so dramatically. What’s helping me, when it- the shaking, the panic, the worry happens -is really slowing down and breathing through it. Also closing my eyes, and remembering all the reasons I walked away from security into the unknown. 
I have a quote by Alan Cohen that is posted to my home office wall. I read it several times a day.  It says ‘It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.’ ”

More than lettuce

May 15, 2013

salad picI think of spring and summer as fruit and vegetable season or to be more specific, I think of fresh raw juice and deep bowls of salad. These are my late spring and all summer mainstays. In my search for salad combinations that were a little more creative the standard lettuce and tomato, I came across a whole catalog of salad recipes here:

http://www.oprah.com/food/Best-Salad-Recipes-Green-Salad-Recipes/1.

One of my favorites is the chopped salad with bacon and fried chickpeas. In my house we substitute the pork bacon for turkey bacon, cut down on the feta, and add a hand full of lemony raw kale.

It’s more than delicious!

Here the direct link to my favorite recipe in the bunch: http://www.oprah.com/food/Chopped-Salad-with-Bacon-and-Fried-Garbanzo-Beans

Every Breath, A Victory

April 16, 2013

I recently received an email from one of my students that I worked with one-on-one as he battled his way through cancer. In it he said, “One thing you taught me has stuck with me and really helped me get through the most difficult months of my life – breathing. I used the breathing you taught me to get through all my anxiety, pain and discomfort. I was hooked up to a heart monitor before my major surgery and my mom was with me. She was freaking out some and I was cool as a cucumber. When thoughts of fear or weakness would enter my mind I’d start the breathing you taught me. My mom said she’d watch my heart rate go from over 100 to 60 in just a couple of breaths and I would have calm in my eyes. Seeing my calm gave her strength and calm. For that gift to her I must thank you.”

His message brought me back to a gem that I learned early on- if you let it, every breath can be a victorious one.

To honor this teaching, I have been starting my classes by simply asking students to make an honest attempt to watch their breath without controlling it. This is challenging. How often do we notice something and then immediately start to analyze and deconstruct it? Or notice something and without our fully being with it, start to plot a course to change or shift it.

After a few minutes of sitting quietly and watching their breath, faces soften. Lips stop twitching, spines lengthen up and tailbones anchor down. All of this usually from just bringing awareness to the sacred and steady river that is the breath.

Next we drop questions into that stream: how deep can it be? How sweet can it be? How far inside can it reach? Can it span beyond the boundaries of skin, beyond our mats? Then we lean into the ever-present truth that “our breath can touch us in places that nothing or no one else can.” From this steady, yet soft place of wonder and curiosity we begin our Ujjayi breathing- ocean wave like or victorious breathes.

We fill the room with the sweet music of our breath- the symphony of inhale-pause- exhale-pause- repeat. The cosmic dance begins: maybe cat/cow, upward plank to a seated forward fold. We salute the sun, rounds and rounds of bowing and rising in our bodies to the sound of the great sequencer, the great conductor, our breath.

We build a tempo and flow for class with the breath first, then I add other music.

When I am feeling clever I rock a playlist that includes songs with the word prana or breath. Right now, these are some of my favorites breathe themed vibes:

Breathing Prana by Chinmaya Dunster, Don’t Forget to Breathe by Bitter: Sweet, Breath Me by Sia and, Breath by The Floacist

When we are at the peak of our breath groove, I press pause on the external music. Press pause on my instructions, step to one side of the room- watch- lean in close- listen- feel.

Watching my students “free up” space within by moving with the breath inspires me.

Brings me back to the truth that as long as we can breath, there is possibility, there is hope.

No matter how small or big we are, how agitated or tired we may be, how stiff or limber our bodies and minds. We have breath. We have life. That is victorious.

Remember to Breathe

 

Breath Break:
Find a comfortable seat. Lengthen through your spine. Soften through your knees and inner thighs. Close your eyes. Bring your hands to your knees with your palms facing up.

Sit for a few breaths just noticing the rise and fall of your breath. What moves in you when your breath moves? What else do you notice?

After sitting for a few moments begin to consciously deepen your breath. After 3-5 deep breaths begin to squeeze your hands (make fists) as you inhale. There’s a natural pause in the breath, notice it and wait for the exhale. When the exhale arrives greet it by opening your palms and softening. Repeat 3-5 times. Then turn your palms downward on your knees. Sit quietly for a few more breaths. Slowly open your eyes. Ahhhhhhhhh…

Octavia Raheem is a life partner, student, teacher, writer, and sometimes vegan cookie making, raw juice drinking kind of woman. She loves movement, sweat, yoga, listening to others’ true and imagined stories, real food, real people, and real deep hugs. You can connect with her at facebook.com/octaviaraheem or on the mat at Atlanta Hot Yoga and Decatur Yoga and Pilates.

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