It felt a little bit like a regression to dig out the poster putty
and start sticking beautiful things to every surface
in sight, sort of frantically, really. I thought I might be judged
for the uneven edges, lack of frame or mat board, the oily spots
on the corners, the husks of magazines, discarded
without having spent their well meant tips.
But first up anyway, a baby’s giant face, mauve lips
shiny sweet with bubbly spit, eyes wide, Oh my god!
I’m here! This is truly remarkable! Then brussel sprouts, tumbling
rebels off their stalk, herds of them stampeding, make a way!
and so I will. Here. Take some space; make it green.
Next, the mahogany hive of a full-bloom dahlia, surprising
its slender stem. One wooden bird; all the blue in the world.
A woman’s back, the back of a kayak at dusk,
half a paddle lifted, half a paddle dipped.
This is a beginning, too, she tells me. Believe it.
Such a glutton am I for inspiration that I make blossoms, buds,
babies and endings loosen their glue and say things I can capture
with a little poster putty and some childishness, and by childishness
I mean reverence. Stay. Stay beautiful for me.
Today I just want to look at beautiful things. It started with a steaming cup of coffee and a crunchy bowl of Kashi. Then there was morning Vinyasa with its constellation of different sized and shaped people. Then a spinach smoothie flecked with raspberries, a patty melt dripping with caramelized onions, my mom's pretty face. I don't even want to write. I just want to stare at beautiful things and read lovely things and let them inspire me. There's a should here, but I'm choosing to ignore it. That's all I've got today.
“How would your life be different if you decided to give freely, love fully, and play feverously? Let today be the day you free yourself from the conditioned rules that limit your happiness and dilute the beautiful life experience. Have fun. Give - Love - Play!” --Steve Maraboli
I really wish now that I would've enjoyed the hell out of every cigarette I smoked before I quit. I know. Weird thing to say in a yoga blog. But it's true. And it's just one example of a very generalizable sentiment. I loved smoking, I did. I loved the ritual of it--the lighting, the inhale, the exhale, tapping the ash, flicking the butt into the ash tray, the whole bit. And I loved the social aspect--the interesting characters I met on the sidewalk outside the bar or on the porch at a party, the communion of shared craving and satisfaction.
I say that now, looking back, but I never actually fully enjoyed it. I was too busy worrying about who would see me puffing away, who might smell my bad habit on my breath, and whether I'd ever gather the resolve to quit for good. When Courtney got cancer, quitting was a no-brainer. I'll say it even though it's unbelievable: it was effortless. Shaming and berating myself and worrying up a storm had absolutely nothing to do with ultimately obtaining my desired outcome. It was simply a waste of time.
So okay, you could probably argue that fully enjoying a cigarette is not a useful goal, what with the obvious health risks and all. But I'm gonna go ahead and take a risk here and disagree. Each moment is all that's guaranteed, and with a ten-year long pack-a-day habit, I wasted a lot of moments worrying and hiding and being mean to myself.
Don't worry. Trusting the natural flow of things is a lesson I didn't master on the first try. So the gracious Universe has handed me many more opportunities to practice, loads of examples that may be more compelling than my regret over the lack of presence I brought to my nicotine addiction.
Take today, for example. Today is day seven, decision day: to purchase or not to purchase the expensive yoga package. When I committed to 30 days of yoga, I had six classes left in my series. Part of the challenge I created for myself was to trust that the rest of the 24 classes would be accessible to me somehow, with a full-time job, on a social worker's salary, with a pile of debt and a stack of monthly bills. The worry thoughts crept in from time to time--It's December! Can I really justify spending $110 on myself this month for a membership? And what about my slippery old mat… If I'm really going to do this, I'm going to need an upgrade or I may be risking major head trauma. Do I spring for the $40 towel, or go for the gusto and buy the $70 grippy mat? But when I noticed these thoughts coming around from time to time, I called them silly in a friendly voice and they eased up quickly, having nothing to feed on or push against.
And Source, the Universe, God--whatever you want to call that benevolent force--responded by giving me everything I hoped for and more. Shuffling through a drawer full of coupons on an unrelated mission, I happened upon an unused groupon from over a year ago for a yoga series at Seva, the wonderful studio where I've been practicing lately with a new groupon. The promotional value of the first groupon had expired because I didn't use it, but the amount I paid for it remained, essentially turning it into a $35 gift certificate. Serendipity!
And it gets even better! I arrived early for Happy Hour Vinyasa to purchase my 30 day unlimited package, a $110 value brought to me by my miraculous coupon drawer for only $75. But wait! Order now, groupon yogis, and receive your first unlimited month at our introductory price of only $50! I'm not kidding! That was the deal that was already in place without any effort or stress on my part, though I didn't know it until I stood at the counter with some faith and my debit card. So of course, I also bought the fancy mat--the exact one I'd been researching, recommended for sweaty palmed people like me. It was the last one in the shop--another gift!--a sure-fire way for me to guiltlessly side-step any purchase procrastination.
It's sort of little, in the grand scheme of things, this smooth unfolding of events. But it felt pretty big to me. And while the practical parts of the miracle were really cool and helpful, there's another aspect that feels even more significant. I remember buying that first groupon to Seva last year and feeling anxiety and guilt almost every day I let pass without cashing it in. I watched the expiration date come and go, lecturing myself all the while about the waste and laziness. It turns out, the real waste was the time I spent being unkind to myself and worrying about all the shoulda coulda woulda's. Not using the groupon when I "should have" has given me the opportunity to invest fully in my practice now, when I'm really ready for it.
When I bought my second, recent groupon, I continued to miss this lesson initially. Over the first 54 days of the 60 day groupon, I'd only managed to make it to four classes, which left me with six classes to burn through in six days. Despite the fact that I typically chose to ride the mountain bike trails while the weather was nice or spend time with Courtney instead of doing yoga--both really healthy and meaningful activities--I still managed to give myself regular guilt trips about not making it to yoga class. In retrospect, thank heaven I didn't! I thought there was a "right way" to space out the classes--two per week or something, I guess. But if I had done that instead of leaving them all to the end, I wouldn't have had the inspiration of a six-class, six-day stretch and I may never have embarked on this journey--and what a shame that would've been!
Trusting that my thirty day path would be revealed and watching this lesson unfold in the present feels like a positive step, after noticing it so many times in retrospect. Internalizing this lesson is my metaphorical sticky mat, a dependable foundation to grow from. I can trust that my feet and palms will stay planted, even when I'm sweaty from exertion. I can find deeper rest and stillness in the poses I'm comfortable with, rather than constantly straining and adjusting so as not to slip. I can be braver, sink deeper, open more fully. On my new mat during Black Friday's Happy Hour Vinyasa, pushing myself solidly back into downward dog, I'm more free than I've ever been to relax and focus all of my attention on each moment, to give myself fully to only the movement that's called for as I breathe each breath.
First Photo Credit: Sun Gazing
regally into consistently modified poses, and the thirteen year old girl who was brave enough to walk up to the live musician when invited and push down on the organ key to create a harmony.
This was the perfect lesson to learn again, heading into Thanksgiving dinner with my family and all my old patterns and preconceived notions. Walking into my dad's home, milling about the kitchen, sitting down at his table, I'm surrounded by teachers. It was exactly the right release. It really took the pressure off. All I had to do was look ahead with soft eyes, no matter which direction I was facing. Flow more, think less, feel grateful. It made me better.
I'm unusually lucky when it comes to my family. Our baggage and neuroses are fairly benign and underneath it all, we really love each other. Also, I've had a few pretty great runs of therapy. But there's something about being around family that can bring out the insecure kid in me. To compensate, and also out of habit, I go deep into straight-A, type-A, people pleaser mode. That's always been my role in the family, and of course it's generalized over time to other contexts as well. It's a familiar role, but that doesn't make it any less strenuous to maintain. It's hard to keep it up, but that doesn't make it any easier to let go. It's an exhausting dichotomy.
Today, sitting around a table full of my history and ancestry, I'm grateful to be surrounded by teachers. To my left, my dad, a man who taught me that "mistakes" can have perfect outcomes--two happy marriages, for example, instead of one sad one. He's also a damn fine turkey chef. To my right, my brother, who is at baseline not as afraid as I am to be authentic. I'm so proud of his ability to be himself (read: imperfect) in front of other people, and of his humor through it all. In front of me, my grandparents--my grandma who is content to hum and ferret out an antique end table and my grandpa who says things like, we need another end table like I need a second asshole. Their legacy is beautiful, eclectic and hilarious, like them. Behind me, making a masterpiece of the kitchen, my step-mom. She teaches me to love my political opposite, and to set a spectacular place at the table for anyone who shows up.
It's the most uncomfortable situations that I'm most grateful for when I look backward. It's the worst relationships that taught me the most about what I deserve, the toughest professors who challenged me to reach beyond myself, the sorest muscles that taught me how to stretch. It's the sobbing and the rage that taught me how to open the tight fist I'd made around whatever I thought I wanted or needed, and let go. It's been the letting go that has led to the lesson learned and the next adventure.
After college, during a particularly ambivalent, stagnant time in my life, I latched on to an intense romantic relationship that became abusive before I left it. It was abusive in a textbook way that first separated me from my circle of friends and my family, and next sweet-talked me into full engagement with the roller coaster dynamic of extreme highs and lows. I ended up living with this man, and he ended up using IV heroin in the home we shared. It was an unbelievable mess. I felt ashamed, isolated and absolutely terrified. There were times when I was afraid to go home to him, but just as afraid to go anywhere else--how could I explain this to my family in the suburbs? How could my friends at their house parties possibly help or relate? I'd drive around for hours and hours, alone, bawling.
I'm so grateful now for that painful time in my life, for the exact amount of pain I needed to push me out of the college town I was stuck in and into the next chapters, entitled Higher Education and Finding Vocation, subtitle for each: Becoming More. Five years ago or so, I traveled back to that town for a holiday party with the group of friends I'd grown distant from when I became absorbed in that devastating, launching-pad relationship. I entered the party very nervous, on my own, acutely aware of the choices I'd made and the experiences I'd lived through before I moved across the state and moved on. I left feeling deeply grateful and sure that I was even more whole, more like myself. I wrote this poem soon after.
And suddenly I’m giving thanks. In a little kitchen
with a drunk friend and a turkey carcass, at a holiday party he’s thrown
to-get-us-all-back-together, he asks, so what ever happened with that, tipping his head
toward the past. I’ll offer here a hymn of praise for the sharp edges, for the lessons
I didn’t ask for but managed to keep, for the answer: exactly the right thing.
I sing praise for the rugs pulled out from under me, for the rain’s sharp
needles and for lightening rods. Praise for pain staying and hope leaving.
Praise for what’s tossed down the drain pipe, for being run out of town
by tinfoil and tar, for a fist driven into a stud, three broken hand bones
and moving trucks. Let me take only what I need and leave the rest:
may I never stop sipping the cheapest red wine
like good bourbon. When in doubt, may I always go in for the hug.
May I guard jealously my love of indie rock, and keep it casual
with the occasional top forty hit. May I say yes more often than I say no.
I get it now. It had to happen this way. I had to take my time
but I had to leave, too. I will make a joyful noise, for the best
really does mean good. It’s time for the clamor of every instrument, it’s time
for dessert. We swing our glasses together across space and linoleum, cheers
to reunions: to staying apart long enough to meet again.
Hallelujah for packing up, after the rain, after his fist
missed my face. For deciding on different and leaving it at that. Now here,
older in this old warm kitchen, it turns out the magic worked. Now I know
that gratitude and growth start the same way, they’re the places
carved out of us. We’re lucky; we’re filled back up.
In my Thanksgiving yoga class, around the abundant Thanksgiving table with its rich history, on my darkest days driving in circles, in joy and in despair, I'm so grateful to be surrounded by teachers.
Photo credits: Me. Please use responsibly :)
This is generally how my days have gone since I committed to yoga:
1. Wake Up.
2. Say thank you and plant my feet on the floor.
3. Do my day. Work. Try to stay present. Succeed sometimes. Fail often. Spend a lot of time daydreaming about my new boyfriend, Yoga and his cute friend Blog.
6. Meditate with Oprah. (chopracentermeditation.com)
This is an immersion program. I'm psyched. I'm enamored. Okay, I admit it. I'm attached. As is often the case with new love, I find myself turning down other dates, neglecting my friends, eating cereal and string cheese for dinner so I can spend more time with the object of my affection. But tonight is Thanksgiving Eve, also known as The Biggest Bar Night of the Year, and Courtney is determined to put on An Outfit and Go Out. Infatuated as I am, I'd been considering a second yoga practice today, an evening class in addition to the Wednesday lunchtime class I've been doing lately at work. I feel drawn to my evening routine, and I feel vaguely freaked out to let it go tonight. This yoga stuff, all of it--the meditation and the practice, the reflection and the formulating--it seems to be doing me good. What if the good doesn't stick once I've had a couple cocktails in a crowd? It feels new; I feel vulnerable.
I'm reminded of an article I read several years ago in an issue of Shambala Sun that was given to me by my favorite undergrad English professor Marti. The article was a profile on Buddhist psychologist Jack Kornfield, who's known for teaching a pretty practical form of mindfulness which combines Eastern spirituality and Western psychology. What stuck with me about the article was the idea of synthesizing, rather than separating, spiritual practice and everyday life. The title of one of his books says it cleverly: After the Ecstasy, the Laundry. I love his position that the laundry is the spiritual practice, not a removal from it. Maybe it's a tiny stretch, but if sorting the lights from the darks is a spiritual act, I'm thinking maybe a little bar hop could be too. So I ready myself with some mascara, some boots and a strong resolve to appreciate everything. It's funny that fear shows up this way tonight. It's unexpected.
Around the same time that I read the Jack Kornfield article, I learned a strategy for meditating where I imagined myself under water and visualized my thoughts as boats passing overhead. The goal was to passively notice the "boats" without jumping up onto one and riding it too far away. A form of detachment. The Kornfield article, the meditation tool and the fear of leaving my cozy yoga comfort zone are all facets of the same challenge, something I often wrestle with, the Biblical idea of being "in the world but not of it." How do I engage fully with my life--its wonderfully weird characters, old habits, random funky vibes, unavoidable gossip, all of that--while moving ever deeper into stillness and centeredness? It's a question I've thought about and wrote about for a while. I wrote this poem about it a few years ago after reading the Kornfield article. Little side note here: putting this poem into cyberspace is absolutely the scariest thing I've done all week. Scarier than Anjaneyasana to Warrior III. Boom. Posted. Fear tackled with the help of a new mantra: only three people read this blog. Here goes.
Detachment: Kornfield’s Blues
Were we supposed to break the surface
with our water logged limbs, heave our tired bodies
onto the hull and then make something of it, or were we to stay
in the deep and learn how to breathe under water?
In stillness, watching thoughts float by unmanned overhead,
everything’s ok even when it’s not, but when it’s not,
who’s up there with the punch line? This is grief; come aboard.
This is something rare and special. This is a color you’ve never seen
in a sky, and also the feeling that comes with it. This is just
like being fully alive: the ache and tenderness of bearing
witness to some unbelievable shifting shade, here right now
but leaving. This is the struggle of trying to find words for it.
You should’ve been there.
He said to his teacher, “This is a piece of cake: suspended outside
of metaphor, between surface and floor, watching the boats,
simply boats, that keep passing over head.”
And his teacher replied, “Now try to breathe.
You’ll need someone to show you how
to turn your lungs to gills and my dear, all hands are on deck.
Even with a home down here, you’ll need lessons in living fully.
Even here, you’ll be better with age.
There’s plenty of time and there’s no time at all,
so hop on up there and learn something
about sunsets, about taking the oxygen out of the sea.”
Tonight, the synthesis of yoga stillness and life's routine chaos comes easily. It's simple. It's laughter. Two beers, two friends--Courtney and her husband Nate. We make a whole night out of laughter, our persistent link to the present moment. It's ujjayi laughter, belly laughter, down into the diaphragm, with an occasional snort through the nose. We walk way down memory lane, back to high school where we all met and then to the weekend in July when we threw ourselves into a series of adventures to distract our scared brains and kill time while we waited for biopsy results. We project ourselves months into the future by planning a "survivor's trip" this spring, pulling up plane tickets and National Parks on our smartphones. Even looking forward or looking back, the "you are here" vantage point is clear and it's as unassuming as a yoga mat: it's a high top table in a busy bar on the north side of town. That's where we are, quite fully, laughing so hard we can't catch our breath.
Photo Credits: Me. Please use responsibly :)
here] Oh wow, wasn't that interesting. Huh. It reminds me of that thing I heard in my Oprah meditation last night. And I bet there's some connection I could make between this situation and my sore left ankle. I wonder if there's a quote on pinterest that could sum this up. I should jot it down. If I could just get back to my desk for a pen and some paper. I wish I didn't have that late meeting today so I could go home and put these pieces together in a post…
I'm sure you caught that. I sucked myself straight out of some interesting moment and into my lonely, needy brain. And then I promptly wished myself right out of gratitude, right out of living my life. Now I wish I didn't do that; it really pisses me off. Which brings me to the macro issue, the thing I do that perpetuates the problem: I call the problem a problem and I get all pissy about it. That's what I do. And then I'm stuck. I'm tense, I'm annoyed, I'm stuck. I reprimand myself and develop a plan for penance. Be here now, dammit! Do some deep breathing, feel the aliveness in your hands, notice the sky or something! Sometimes it works for a bit, but it's really just trading one fear for another. I move from fear of presence (which could read fear of forgetting, fear of losing control, fear of being fully available, whatever) to fear of being imperfect--my foundational fear.
Enter Yin Yoga, tonight's practice, a series of asanas (that's yoga for poses) held for three to five minutes at a time. It's a quiet, gentle practice that works deep into tissue. It's called Yin Yoga because it's supposed to compliment the more common, muscle-building "yang" practices by working deep into the bones and ligaments. Tonight, it's candlelit. The music is peaceful and soothing, the room is warm and full. Not metaphorically full. Really, really full, and I am only just barely on time. Which means I must make a third row of mats all by myself, front and center. It's a recipe for sharp, unhelpful mind chatter in the midst of so much softness.
We start by focusing on our breath. Or I should say, I'm sure that everyone else in the room easily starts by focusing on their breath. I, on the other hand, start by having a serious talk with myself. Self, I say, shut the hell up. None of this "I'm so stressed out, I'm in the front row by myself" nonsense. None of this, "There's not even supposed to be a third row! Should I have scooted into the second row somehow? Oh dear, literally every single person in this room can see me." I was very stern and serious. Focus on your breath! Right now! Do it!
That didn't work. Of course not. I stayed stuck in that tension between fears for a few poses. And then the instructor said something magical, said the perfect thing: Sometimes resisting the surrender feels more uncomfortable than the surrender. YES! And okay, I won't lie, I had to quickly resist the urge to hop right out of frog pose and jot that down. But instead of attaching to the words and panicking that they might leave me, I just simply lived them. My frog posed shins slid apart an inch or so. Ahhhh. And what's more, I befriended again my silly, neurotic brain, my well-intentioned, sweet little self. Of course you feel nervous, self! That's completely understandable. I still love you and I'm proud of you here in frog pose, sinking down another quarter inch. Surrender. Ahhhh.
stuck in quicksand, the more you struggle, the more you sink. The way to move out of quicksand is to stretch out on it, to actually increase the amount of surface-area contact your body has with it in order to flow to the edge and roll out. This was a controversial concept among my colleagues in grad school, some of whom felt that only effort could create change, and that suggesting acceptance as a strategy would promote laziness. If you're familiar at all with my Behavioral Psychology colleagues, you can predict that they had the data to back up their opposition to the idea that surrender could lead to change. I was in the small camp that agreed with the concept, not necessarily because of the research, mostly just because it felt true.
Here I submit into evidence Day Four Savasana. For it is today, after a practice full of surrendering over and over to a series of distracting thoughts, in a front row all by myself, that I fell for the first time deeply, thoughtlessly asleep.
Photo Credits: Me. Please use responsibly :)
I'm astounded by my feet. I think that means I'm learning. I have this very human habit of wanting to be 3 miles, 3 hours, 3 days down the road from where I am--some destination which promises joy and success. At work, I want to fast forward through small talk and get down to the juicy stuff. When I'm traveling, I want to arrive. When I date someone new, I want to know right away if we're compatible and if not, I'm looking for the check and the door.
In my yoga practice, I want to do that twisty thing where my legs shoot out magically from my hips, parallel to the ground and two feet off of it. I want to wear the gear and join the club. Which is why I sort of accidentally bypassed the hatha yoga beginner's class. Tonight, that happens to be the class that works with my schedule so I decide to give it a shot.
We start at the foundation. The feet. We start by jamming our fingers in between our toes and wiggling our feet around, curled up and bow legged like babies. It's amazing how difficult it is to get a finger between my toes. Apparently, this is something I'm supposed to be able to do. I trust I'll understand that lesson some other time. In the meantime, after spreading our toes and rolling our joints, we stand, mountain pose. Two feet on the earth. Listening to the instructor talk about big toe mound, little toe mound, inner heel, outer heel, I started to feel like I maybe dropped a little acid.
It could've been the sage she smudged in the room before class with a turkey feather, or the cadence of her sing song hippie voice, but it felt like maybe I was on a little something hallucinogenic. That's how much I loved my feet. The instructor asked us to close our eyes and lean forward and I felt my toes bend to catch my weight. I leaned backward and sideways, feeling pressure and flection conspire in my heels and arches. This is always happening! Where have I been? I felt a ridiculous amount of gratitude toward my cute little feet, having carried me around for thirty years without much complaining at all, bending and flexing, bearing my weight. Sometimes in stilettos! What a gift. By ridiculous amount of gratitude, I think I actually mean an appropriate amount of gratitude. Yes. What a gift!
And it doesn't stop there. Above my feet there are legs, and then there's a torso and arms, a neck and a head. You might have already guessed that part. But stick with me. Shifting from pose to pose stepwise, we land at parivrtta trikonasana, revolved triangle pose. Feet again produce their magic of standing, this time a meter or so apart. Hips shift forward, align. Spine stretches, arm reaches, back bends forward. Each step is a new muscle firing, requiring my focus. I bend and bend and plant my fingertips on a spot on the ground that would've been impossible to reach if I weren't on this magical, mindful acid trip. I stretch my heart open and reach for the sky.
It's a challenging asana, one I haven't tried before. It feels great to find some balance and stability in the pose, and to hold it until the instructor tell us to release. I probably could've gotten into this position a quicker way, without as many steps or the attention to detail. But it's likely my brain would've gotten in the way at some point, telling me stories about being new to this pose or about gravity and the likelihood of a face-plant. But instead, because I was so focused on each step--grounding the four corners of my foot on the mat, scissoring my hips forward, stretching my spine straight, planting my fingertips, shifting my shoulder blade--I didn't have space for the brain business, the distraction from the process, the focus on the result. I love that about yoga! And then poof! I was a revolved triangle! Just what I wanted to be!
Of course, the chatter in my mind on my drive home--the blog posts I constructed and general yoga strategies I tried to nail down--are a testament to the fact that this is a lesson I'm not good at learning. But I'll get there. Right here, right now, I'm working on finding my footing, setting up a strong foundation one day at a time, one paragraph at a time, one practice at a time, one pose at a time. Today, I am deliriously happy to have such capable feet.
Photo Credits: all me except the Jim Elliot quote from Mindful Productivity
Today was a day for miracles. Also, I started drinking pretty early. As part of my commitment to 30 days of yoga, I'm trying to get scared and get over it off the mat as well. That's my intention. Which makes me crazy, probably. I can see the smirk on the face of whatever force I pray to and plead with--as I ask, so shall I receive.
So it was no surprise when my smart and lovely friend Liz invited me to Girl Brunch with twelve of her most awesome girlfriends and their babies. Oh. And mimosas. Babies and mimosas are obvious draws, but the idea of making small talk with a group of Married Women with Children is my social headstand. It's a pose I'd rather not attempt yet, certainly not in public, because if I did I know I would look foolish and I would also likely crush a vertebrae or two. I'm thirty. I'm single and straight and childless. I know nothing of cloth vs disposable, and I haven't been preschool shopping recently. On a good day, I love this about myself. On a bad day and some mediocre days, I compose snarky internal soliloquies in answer to the question I either hear or perceive on the regular: Why are you still single???" On awful days, I sad, sad, sing-song it to myself: Why oh why am I still single? What oh what's the matter with me? So the smirking Universe opened it's giant closed fist and handed me this opportunity to feel really freaked out and unsteady.
I smirked back and said Thank You and Yes, because that's what I'm here for. I spent the hours leading up to brunch with my favorite meditation: baking. I wore a soft sweater so that I could snuggle babies. I arrived, chit-chatted sometimes, assumed benevolence and opened myself up to the conversations about pack-n-plays and how long it's appropriate to breastfeed. I didn't feel bitter at all! I mean that sincerely! Not once! I felt my voice and face soften, my shoulder blades slide down my back to open my heart. I left when I felt ready, not when I felt ready to cry.
And here's the best part: when I walked out the door I was still me with my life, which is generally pretty stinking great. I'd missed a text from my soul sister Keri that said, When I woke up today, everything felt different. Another miracle! The miracle of some mending, a morning of peace during a stressful, messy breakup. Clearly, this needed to be celebrated. And like I said, I started drinking early. The two mimosas I had under my belt before 2pm assured me that a gathering was in order. So I called Courtney too, and we packed all of our miracles into my living room and drank coffee and ate donut holes and overwhelmed ourselves with talk of all these blessings.
Courtney's miracle left her radiant with joy, tearful with it! Her surgeon told her during her chemo check-in this week that she's CANCER FREE! Cancer free. A line in the sand. There was cancer, and then there was no cancer. And something in her relaxed around that and opened up. The muscle she's been bending and stretching--here's hope, here's fear, here's strength, here's fatigue--found its balance, it's still point. She breathed into it. She's bald, she's one-boobed for the moment, she's been through five rounds of chemo with one more to go, she's scheduled for five weeks of radiation, reconstructive surgery and tattoos. And she's completely sincere when she says, I am so grateful for my cancer. I don't know if I was ever truly alive before.
After all that, I was pretty sure my evening yoga practice would be nothing but good juju and smooth sailing. I ate a salad first, to make up for the donut holes. I couldn't stop smiling! But apparently good juju does not take the place of basic strength, balance and practice. For the first half of class, I was convinced that the amazingly strong and bendy instructor Dean had made it his personal goal to suggest poses I had never heard of before. I was clumsy and shaky and frustrated. And I know what you're probably thinking right now, but I disagree. Those mimosas were mostly orange juice, anyway.
Thank heaven for pigeon pose half way through class. Something I'd hear of, something I'd done, something I felt like I was pretty okay at. That is, until I plopped down into it and Mr. Super Strong and Bendy singled me out, presumably sensing my one moment of confidence, to adjust me. My first thought was, Seriously? I can't even do pigeon right? But then he pressed down with the weight of his hand and his body, gradual and heavy on my left thigh and my right lower back, and my hips rocked open in a new way, uncomfortable at first and then wonderful! My thoughts dropped away and I could hear that I was breathing down into my pelvis, my sternum touching my mat now with each inhale. I'd like to say the poses came easier after that, but they didn't. I still fumbled and faltered and stared sort of creepily at my neighbors to understand what my body was supposed to be doing. But I was easier on myself after that, and instead of feeling graceless I felt grateful. How cool to try something new! How exciting that there's so much to learn! How magnificent to work a new muscle and lighten up.
It's all the same fear, I think. The fear of opening--to a new pose or going deeper into an old one, to failure, to judgement, to imperfection, to heartache, to loss, to cancer even. How many times will I learn this? All you have to do is keep breathing. Accept the weight, bend with it and open up.
It turns out, the biggest challenge I faced today was not my maiden voyage into fast-flow vinyasa. It wasn’t chaturanga fifty million times in a row, two-legged, one-legged, two legged, shaky-shouldered. It wasn’t that three legged dog that I flipped or flopped or whatever it was that I did without falling. Nope. It wasn’t even holding down dog for ten breaths on a slippery mat with sweaty palms.
The biggest challenge of this day, day one, wasn’t my snowy bike ride, though I would have sworn it was at the time, with tight thighs, cold fingers and toes, achey lungs. I was so nervous riding out that I almost turned around at my last opportunity, but I didn’t. I rode on, feeling the scarf around my face turn icy from the condensation of my breath. Midway through the six mile ride, my muscles were warmer but my tires lost traction, packed smooth with snow. I would’ve thought at the time that keeping balance and focus on the slick berms and steep slopes would be my biggest challenge of the day. It was certainly a contender for the riskiest ride of the season.
But I was wrong. It turns out, the biggest challenge I’ve faced today is this moment, its mole hill, the mountain I’ve made of it in my mind. Drum roll please. It’s a ban saw. And an album I can only assume is entitled “nothing but bass.”
Let me explain. I came up with the idea for a thirty-day commitment to yoga this morning, during a lively inner dialogue that was effectively distracting me from sinking deep and sleepy into a post-flow savasana. Which is par for the course, really, but more on that later perhaps. Today is the first day this season that the ground has been cold enough to collect snow. Just a light, pretty dusting of powdery flakes. It was sunny this morning, I woke early, drank coffee, and felt rested and restless enough to talk myself into yoga clothes and out the door to yoga class. Not just any class. The most difficult class on the docket, from what I could see. And a Saturday class, to boot. Read: full of people, likely more confident people than I when it comes to fast-flowing in public. Scary.
But necessary. The snow was lovely this morning with the sunshine, but I’m no dummy, I’m a Michigan native. The snow is also a premonition. It’s the feeling of putting on socks for the first time in months: coziness and grief, both at once. Settle in. It’s gonna be a while. After thirty Michigan winters, it has been my experience that the novelty wears off by January, and then depression sets in. This year, I’m taking my fish oil and vitamin D and I’m getting my ass to yoga.
Also, my groupon's about to expire.
So. As I was saying. Internal savasana dialogue went something like this:
Wow, self. You sort of kicked butt in class today. It was a pretty tough class and you didn’t fall down. You even took the bind a couple times, despite the fact that you had never heard the phrase “take the bind” before in your life. Very impressive work, really. Maybe yoga should be your new thing. You should probably make good on that groupon, at the very least. Let’s see... It was a10 class package and this is your fourth class. The promotion expires in six days. You’d have to go every day for the next six days to get your money’s worth. Huh. Every day. That sounds kind of cool. Sounds like a challenge. But why stop there? Why not two weeks, or a month even? If I committed to thirty days, I could totally justify buying that expensive lululemon mat I’ve been eyeing... Yeah. That sounds good. I think I’ll do that. Good idea. And while I’m at it, I should probably start a blog. That seems like a thing. A thirty day yoga blog. Yup. Perfect. Okay. Now where was I? Om... Om….
Which is about the time the instructor rang the singing bell and told me to start wiggling my fingers and toes, ostensibly to bring myself back from the deep yoga trance I was in. And so it was settled. I drove home visualizing myself sitting serenely in front of my laptop, waxing digitally poetic re: Zen and the Art of Doing Yoga for Thirty Days in a Row. And when I swapped my yoga pants for thermal leggings and loaded up my bike this afternoon for what’s likely to be the last ride of the season, there were all sorts of transitional metaphors dancing through my head. Lots of mountain bikey lessons reiterated through yoga, all the growth and challenge, the falling down and getting back up.
But now all of that has gone to shit. And it was this easy: I came home frozen solid from my bike ride, thawed out in a steamy shower, did my daily Oprah meditation, put a load of laundry in the washer, lit a candle and did a sun salutation for good measure. I opened my laptop and googled “how to start a blog,” which was, interestingly, the second “how to start” that popped up in autofill. No sweat. I read the wiki instructions and followed the links and voila! ...Nada! Empty page, some text boxes... I have no idea what I’m doing. But that’s not even the thing.
The thing is this. It’s the sound of a ban saw coming through my window and music coming through the vents as my handy neighbor Don cuts pieces of laminate flooring in our shared driveway and then pieces them together downstairs. You see, this is not what I planned. I had a whole “Namaste” playlist loaded up and ready to go. I was almost positive that I'd successfully tapped into my creativity and my spunky, catchy blog voice during meditation as I chanted Om Bhavam Namah: I am absolute existence. I am a field of endless possibility.
Apparently, not so much. All it takes is a ban saw and some power ballads to knock me off my game and into crazyville. My shoulders creep at least three inches closer to my ears as I sit at my lap top and wrack my distracted brain, start and stop, delete, grunt, growl. I lecture myself about the futility of my annoyance. I turn up my namaste playlist to compete. I am determined to write something really profound about my inaugural yoga practice and my season-ending bike ride, dammit! But it isn’t meant to be. There aren’t any interesting thoughts in my head worth writing and remembering. There's just the sound of my own not-so-centered voice shouting NOOOOOOOOOO (mostly internally and occasionally out loud)--as screechy and abrasive as a ban saw.
And that's perfect. I mean it; that’s exactly how this needs to go! As I embark on a thirty day yoga voyage, this is precisely the right place to start: the NO I’ve been screaming, mostly internally and sometimes out loud, for thirty years now. The NO I’ve screamed with all of my brain cells and all of my muscles and all of my creative energy--every day, sometimes all day, sometimes at myself, sometimes at traffic, or my boss, my patients, my boyfriends, illnesses, attitudes, aches, pains, minor inconveniences, whatever. Doesn’t matter. You get the point. Day after day, moment after moment, I've routinely decided I don’t want things to be the way they are, for whatever reason--I label reality too noisy, too soon, too late, too unpredictable--and I use all of my energy to scream NO. Today my NO leaves me at my laptop, wearing my shoulders for earrings, clenching my jaw, at a total loss for words.
So. After the sweaty yoga class, after the snowy bike ride, this ends up being my deepest practice of the day: releasing the NO. I sigh and delete the bitter, preoccupied blog starts and stops and close the laptop. I walk into the kitchen and my feet feel the bass on the floorboards. I dump some leftover mongolian beef and rice into a skillet and watch it bubble. I crack open a beer. I carry the greasy food and the hoppy beer into the living room and chew and sip and chew and chug and breathe, and breathe and breathe. That’s all. That’s the kind of yogi I am today. I choose stillness with a side of salty beef and a microbrew. There’s a part of me, I admit it, that thinks there might be a reward for this act of acceptance--the miracle of a power outage, perhaps. But instead, I’m handed an even greater gift. In my own silence, without my competing sitar and sanskrit dirges, I can hear each note of the song below me as the music begins, frantically, to skip. I’m not kidding. The sporadic staccato of the music, ripped to shreds occasionally by a piece of flooring shrieking through a saw blade, is nothing short of absurd. If silence has an opposite, this must be it. I keep chewing, keep sipping, keep breathing; nothing has changed. Here, cross-legged on the couch, balancing a steamy plate and an icy bottle, still breathing, the tiny seed of acceptance cracks wide open, cracks me open, cracks me up. For this moment, the only one I have, the loudest sound I can hear is my own laughter.
Hi! My name's Jenny. I'm a clinical social worker, newbie mountain biker, novice yogi, wanderer, wonderer, seeker. I turned thirty this year and my best friend got cancer. Life is unpredictable, it changes every day, and every moment truly is a gift. I want to practice gratitude by being as fearless and fully alive as I possibly can.