Eckhart Tolle says Life will give your whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. That quote is framed on my living room wall, so it's not like I didn't know it when I asked Life to teach me the art of the fall. I asked for it. I mean that without irony or bitterness. I asked for this and I accept it as it's intended: a gift, some growth, and release with the levity it leaves. Tonight I found, through a combination of effort and ease, full expression of Face Plant Asana.
Here's my version of events: I asked to be asked to present at PechaKucha when I was feeling pretty yoga-high and confident. Day 14 or something, infatuation phase. And then I said yes somewhere around day 170 because I'm committed to saying yes to stuff that scares me.
The PechaKucha formula is simple but specific: 20 slides, 20 seconds per slide. The slides auto-advance. To capture my
Last night, three hours before the big event, I realized I'd muscled myself into an impossible position, and the only way out was to fall. So that became plan b: let it happen. The ease. Release. I wrote a new script for myself and knew it was what I'd meant to say all along. It was even better than what I'd so studiously prepared. It's not what ended up coming out of my mouth last night--I'll get to that--but here it is, what I would've said if my words were working:
Hi. My name's Jenny. As of today, I've been doing yoga for 194 days in a row and I've been blogging about it. I spent a lot of time and sacrificed a lot of sleep creating this visually pleasing slideshow full of lovely quotes and clever bits of wisdom.
Somewhere around 5pm this evening, I realized I'd seriously overshot. Each one of these slides is a six-minute forty-second presentation by itself and brevity, conciseness is not my strong suit. I love adjectives and modifiers and metaphors. And I digress.
So please allow these slides to serve as pretty backgrounds for the real story, which is this:
Last year, I turned thirty and my best friend, aka my social life and support system, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Life changed. It got unsteady and limbo-y and confusing. I turned first to various vices to cope--alcohol, bad TV, junk food, all that-- and then I learned to mountain bike. Mountain biking was actually my introduction to finding fearlessness through fear, and it worked pretty well until it started snowing.
Enter day one, 11/23/2013. Enter serendipitous yoga groupon. I had six classes left of a 10 class package and six days left to use them up. So I started with that--six classes in six days--and then committed to thirty days, because that seemed like a thing, and I started blogging about it because that did too.
Now here we are at day 194 and I've yoga-ed all over West and Northern Michigan. Last month I took my yoga mat to California and yoga-ed up the coast, LA to San Francisco. A trip of a lifetime. I'm hooked.
Over the past 6 months, yoga has changed me. My body has changed in ways that I like--I'm stronger, slimmer and more bendy--but the real changes have been internal. I was planning on telling you all about those internal, less visible transformations but I screwed up and made an impossible presentation. Which is perfect. Because that means I get to show you instead.
At 5:00 today, I was practicing and panicking because I knew I couldn't summarize enough or talk fast enough to deliver the presentation I created. That's when the real yoga started. If you can't keep breathing, if you can't catch your breath, it's time to back out of the pose. So from Hyperverbal Manic Asana, I moved into I Have No Effing Clue what I'm Doing Asana. In that pose, I could feel the stretch and the fatigue and I wanted to give up and run away and hide but I could breathe still, and so instead I stayed there like my slides said to do, just breathing and feeling and paying attention. I reminded myself that "I can't" is just a story.
I opened my heart instead of closing it. This is one of my all-time favorite yoga lessons. The instinct is to close emotionally and physically when we feel fear. I wanted to cancel. Seriously. I wondered if it would really be lying if I called in sick, considering all the nervous-peeing I was doing. But that's not yoga. That's just fear. We think that closing will protect us when we feel exposed, but the truth is that closing just guards the unhelpful, dysfunctional ideas that got us all worked up in the first place. We close around the old scared stories, keep them, feed them with our avoidance and belief, and we don't give life a chance to rewrite them or add nuance.
Public speaking scares the crap out of me. The only panic attack I've ever had happened when I was giving a presentation in college, and I've kept that memory protected more times than I've given it room to grow. Standing here now in front of you is akin to some specialized surgical tool cracking open my rib cage. This is open heart surgery. It's sort of severe, but it's necessary and it's working and it may be lifesaving. Life energy at least. Prana.
And here's maybe the most awesome thing: my failure, it turns out, IS perfection. Face Plant Asana was precisely the posture that I needed to practice tonight. Falling down and then standing here now, telling this story, THIS is the yoga. THIS is the gift: living the poses, or in this case the visually pleasing slides full of useful tidbits, instead of just perfecting their form. This is the vital yoga.
And I mean that literally. This is the yoga that lives. Last week I learned that a former patient of mine committed suicide. She was young and smart and capable and pretty, and she was in so much pain that she chose death over one more minute of it. No one expected it, not then. And I think that has something to do with her fear of falling. She believed that face plants made her unloveable instead of what's true, the opposite: that face plants are what we all do, they're the thread. They're the real opportunity for connection. We're all just peering up from the ground sometimes, stunned, speechless, feeling like morons. No. Feeling like the only moron.
She couldn't ask for help because she didn't think she deserved it, and because she thought she was unique in her pain and fear and messiness. She said that the last time we met, in a very rare moment of vulnerability, about a month before she took her own life. She said, "I know what I need to do, what I'm supposed to do. I've been in therapy most of my life. But I hate myself so much sometimes that I just don't see the point. Everyone else seems to just be able to do what they have to and live a normal life but I can't. There's something wrong with me."
That's why I'm standing here tonight instead of claiming a weird nervous bladder illness: because I'm smart and young and capable and I fall down and I want everyone to know it. Because it's not my success that makes me fit for or worthy of life, it's just my humanity, and that's true for you too. I don't get another shot at convincing my patient she's precious and worthy, and I missed my opportunity to tell her that I feel like the last living fuck-up some days too. But I've got the stage tonight for 400 seconds and I've got the spectacle of my own imperfection to share, so like Brene Brown says, I'm gonna lean in and feel it all. This is the human shape of being. If you lean in too, we might meet in the middle. THIS truly is the yoga.
With an open heart and with gratitude, the light where yoga resides in me bows to and honors the light where yoga resides in you. Namaste.
Not too shabby, right? A phoenix of a speech, rising out of the ashes of a failed first attempt. Once I wrote it, I felt peace. I knew that I was finally saying what I really meant. And I assumed that since I wrote it from my heart, I would remember it by heart and deliver it with heart, to a tidal wave of applause and the flash of paparazzi cameras. Okay. Not really that. But I did sincerely anticipate taking the stage with a clear focus and a steady voice. I was completely sure that this was the story Life wanted me to tell--and when I have that feeling of flow, I know I can relax and let something bigger than me take it from there. I was right about that part, but quite wrong about how it would play out.
I can't pinpoint the exact moment when my confidence evaporated into thin air, but it did. My dear friend David Kempston said afterward, You rode your vulnerability like a surf board, and I completely agree. Only minus the surf board, on a very windy day. There were moments when I felt myself surface and gasp and sputter some words I wanted to say, and then there were moments I felt sucked out to sea by the undertow of my fear. My voice was so shaky, my brain completely water-logged. I unlearned how to read. I literally could not decipher the notes I'd written, in plain English, just a few short hours before. Thinking about it now, I can't help but cringe at the distance between the graceful words I wanted to say and the clumsy ones I said instead.
But that's perfect too, I know it. It's even better. The words were just the pose, the asana, and it's never the asana that matters. The body is just a container for the yoga. This is not about perfecting the form, it's yoga beyond the mat. And on that stage, falling out of the pose onto my face, I got to live the yoga. I'd hoped to say clearly that it's completely okay to be imperfectly human, to show up even when you feel afraid, to love yourself through it no matter the outcome and to be present enough to discover the perfect gift you've been given: whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. I think I may have managed to spit some of that out. Maybe. I can't really remember because I was suffering some sort of temporary anoxic brain injury or something. But I can tell you this: When it comes to being fearfully and imperfectly human in public, I freaking nailed it. And, miraculously--one of the many gifts buried in this mess--instead of feeling embarrassed, I feel pretty proud of myself.
My step-dad Bill said afterward, That was so punk rock, and I completely agree. Only minus the CBGBs mosh pit and plus two tables full of the most accepting and supportive kindred-spirit friends and family a girl could ever ask for. Thank you guys so much for showing up for me, and for Getting It. Mwah all over your face!