Well, we got hit by another hurricane, this time Irascible Irma. Many people from our little seaside town chose to evacuate, but many of us stayed. As it turned out, the storm, as cyclones tend to do, kept changing course. So instead of getting hit directly as the TV weather station maniacally predicted, my smartphone’s app (iHurricane) told me exactly where that bitch Irma was, at all times. And I knew how she’d changed her mind and was heading for … exactly where many people had originally evacuated for, the opposite side of our state.
My hurricane-smart consort Carter and I boarded up for Irma, as we got somewhere around 70 mph winds. We will keep our big glass window-doors boarded up till the end of this hurricane season, at the end of November. We know how it goes. Some years, global warming or not, are real bitches, when it comes to storms. This has been happening for as long as I’ve chosen to live in warmer areas. Back in the 70s when I lived in the Caribbean, it was the same story, back-to-back killer-hurricanes, that wiped out both islands I happened to be living on and working from, Dominica (which got wiped out this year as well, with Maria) and the Dominican Republic.
Which brings me to … the subject of my post today … staying calm in the worst situation imaginable, the subject of my literary nonfiction book … “in the I … easing through life-storms” … whose publication date is imminent!
My nonfiction book is soon available for the public! Stay tuned for more info. I’m looking for advanced readers (willing to post an Amazon review within a certain time period). If you’re a fan of LordFlea and would like to help spread the word of this GREAT READ, the true story of me teaching yoga and meditation to distressed juvies in lockup — please contact me. firstname.lastname@example.org thanks.
Here’s a quickie peek at what my soon-published nonfiction narrative reads like. I’ll post more excerpts in the weeks to come. (I have plenty of other subjects to share about, but am busy with the pre-publication marketing, PR stuff, so I’ll keep my subject to this for now.
The girls shuffle into the dimly lit classroom. Only those who’ve been here before have anticipation inscribed on their faces. The others wear downturned mouths, furrowed brows, fear-filled eyes. They push and shove each other like toddlers.
I am their volunteer yoga teacher, and they are teenage girls who’ve been sentenced to jail terms varying from nine to eighteen months, for crimes I never ask about. Sometimes they want to share about it in our opening circle.
“Here, we’re all equal,” I say and look around to the twelve who’d signed up for class that Thursday, the day I drive each week two hours back and forth from my central Florida home to their facility, deep in the heart of rolling green cattle country.
“You keep saying that, Miss, but I don’t believe you,” Alex says, her jet coal eyes sparkling with the same curiosity that keeps her coming back. Months earlier Alex shared that she used to be a cutter, as a lot of other girls are in state-run juvie detention. Alex is one of the regulars. I’m hopeful for her new life on the Outs, because she’s soon to be released.
“Believe it,” I say. “I used to be a bad-girl just like you guys. But then—I decided to change. I had to get sober first. That’s why I’m here today, to show you how I did it. Learning to still my monkey-mind, like doing a yoga pose teaches us, is the highest high I’ve ever known. I once wanted to die, like you all did, too. Why else did we do the stupid stuff we did?”
The rumbles around the circle tell me they get it. They know.
“That’s why I’m here. I come to show you how I’ve changed, so you can. Otherwise, you might keep doing the dumb things that got you here in the slammer.”
Heads nod all around me.
Each week I arrive at the triple-locked, high-security youth prison that houses fifty-two repeat offenders, adjudicated by the courts. Some have been my yoga-girls since they started serving their sentences. Whenever there’s a new girl, like Alice is today, I give the same spiel. The more seasoned yoga-girls never grow tired of hearing it.
“I’m just like you,” I say. “Only I didn’t get caught as young as you guys are. I was an addict and a criminal too. I spent time in prison, like you. Only mine was worse: it was a snake pit dungeon on a third world Caribbean island.”
I notice the girls sitting up straighter. Their cross-legged postures appear electrified after hearing that the regular-looking, middle-aged lady in front of them—a mother of two, a contributing member of society—admit to being … just like them.
“I was hell bent on dying, like you were. My family was troubled, like a lot of yours are.”
“My mom’s a pill head,” Lashonda sadly admits.
“My mom’s never home, and I never met my dad,” Beth murmurs.
“My dad’s serving time,” LouAnn says.
“I’m sorry, girls. We all get the hand we’re dealt for a reason. But trust me—just as lousy as you feel the hand you got is, if you want, just like that! (here I snap my fingers)—you can change it!”
Ursula, the director of the Academy of Bowling Green (ABG) greeted me the year before when I first arrived, with a big hug, saying, “I knew you’d come. I’ve prayed you up myself.”
I’d come to a point in my life where I felt compelled to call the Girl Scouts of America and tell them, “I want to help the baddest, the worse-off, most forgotten girls. The ones everybody else has given up on.” The Girl Scouts sponsored me and I chose ABG, where the most aggressive, heavily tattooed gang girls in the state were sent.
Ursula had told me, “We’ll call your yoga and meditation class, Self-Empowerment for state-funding purposes.”
As soon as the girls arrive who’d signed up that week for class, we start our deep breathing exercise, and instantaneously their inner-awfulness dissipates. Then, we briefly talk in a sharing circle about whatever bothers them. Only then we do the poses, some easy, some challenging. We always end with a guided meditation, the girls’ favorite. By now, the regular yoga-girls are practically teaching the class without my guidance.
Today’s class is different.
A major storm is on its way. The weather bureau says Hurricane Charlie will strike Cuba tonight, and hit the Gulf of Mexico coast early Friday morning. Everyone in the state is in high alert of what tomorrow might bring.
I ask the girls to listen carefully. “We’re expecting something that might terrify some of you. Going through a hurricane, especially if you happen to be close to its center, its eye, is like going through any other major challenge in real life. So tomorrow, instead of feeling scared, you can choose to do like we practice here—follow your breath and go inside your inner being, inside your true self. There, you’ll always feel safe.
“Just like we do in class, starting with our focused breathing. And how we concentrate our energies on maintaining a steady pose. And—your favorite—trusting that still place we go to, inside your own quieted-down mind.”
Shanda asked, “You mean going through the storm tomorrow will be like doing yoga, Miss?”
I nod my head. “There’s nothing to worry about, girls. Miss Ursula herself oversaw the work when this building was remodeled. She knows it’s as hurricane-proof as Fort Knox. Once you know your shelter is safe, all that’s necessary to go through a major storm, like tomorrow’s is shaping up to be—is to stay centered within yourself. Inside your calm, peaceful self. Like we practice in class.
“The power might go off. August in Florida is hot enough, so you guys might be really uncomfortable, I’m not going to lie. But being prepared—knowing what’s coming—is better than being surprised. The wind will howl like an army of witches outside. But if you’re prepared, you can easily accept anything that comes.”
For the rest of the class as we bend and twist, I keep reminding them:
“Think of your own body as if it were this brick and mortar facility you’re in. Your body is just like this trustworthy place. It’s a good place to feel safe inside of. Trust that you’re strong enough to take whatever comes, any day.”
As we do the poses, Alex is quiet, as usual. Her dark eyes follow me while I walk around the room, making adjustments. Later, when she’s in the exiting line with the rest of the girls, she hangs back a bit.
“Miss, I’m scared to go home. It’s just two weeks away. At home, my mom still uses, and my brothers beat on me. And sometimes they try other things. You know, bad things. I’m afraid to leave ABG. It’s been my home for so long. What should I do, Miss? I want to be free! Especially since I’ve got the high of meditation and yoga instead of drugs and bad choices to start my new life with. But what can I do to not be so afraid?”
I take a deep breath. “Alex, I know how you feel. I’ve been there myself. You’re lucky, because you’ve already got a lot of sobriety under your belt. You’ll go to lots of recovery meetings, won’t you?”
She nods her head adamantly.
“Let me talk to Miss Ursula. Maybe she knows of a halfway house you can live in, until you feel more capable. Would you like that?”
“Oh yes, Miss!” Alex’s eyes sparkle like black diamonds. “I wouldn’t be so worried then, about what might happen at home.”
The next day the monster storm crept closer to ABG. I could hardly believe what I saw, sitting with my family watching the TV screen, as Charlie’s deadly eye roared right toward the girls! I imagined them huddling all together in the safest area of their strong facility. The announcer said the hurricane’s very center would directly—and imminently!—hit ABG’s miniscule pinpoint of a one stoplight-town. The impossible … was happening! All I could do was send everyone at ABG my comforting thoughts, surround them with my love, for protection. Just like I did with the tall oaks that stood like twin sentries around my home.
Before every tropical storm, a frequent occurrence in this part of the country, I go outside to silently stand in front of my sturdy tall trees. I extend my arms and send energy to my arboreal friends, requesting they stay erect, supple, and not topple over in the crushing wind that soon will test their mettle.
That Friday, when Charlie’s eye tore its destructive path across the middle of Florida, I’d find out later, the girls at ABG did more than expected. They were cooperative, even-tempered, uncharacteristically accepting. Not a single girl went into hysterics. No one had to have a take-down, a many-person procedure used to calm a berserk individual in detention, before hysteria can spread.
I was happy to hear that my yoga-girls were among the most peaceful of ABG’s huddled bunch of inmates and guards. While marauding troops of wind-demons screeched outside, everyone clung to each other. Big trees crashed and roofs flew off all around them—but ABG remained untouched. Just as Miss Ursula said it would.
When I arrived the next Thursday, Alex greeted me with exciting news.
“Miss Ursula found a half-way house for me to stay in for as long as I need to, when I’m released next week, Miss!”
My chest pounded, for so many reasons.
Many had helped me find my way to an honest, fresh-start after I’d crashed and burned. Now it was my turn to help guide girls like Alex, to morph into being useful citizens. I looked into Alex’s midnight eyes. Helping at-risk youth like her made me feel a better person, helped me love myself a bit more, too. Sharing with such beautiful souls like she and Lakeesha, Katie, TraySea, Sha’Ron, Tiffany, Jessica—even the non yoga-girls too shy or close-minded to try a class—helped heal the bruise still aching inside me, from having done harm to myself so long before.
However a person learns to do it, being empowered helped the girls accept that the outer imprisonment of their circumstances can never stop them from feeling real peace, inside.