So there's a chance my 30 day yoga journey hasn't turned me into a completely enlightened sage.
This is how day 31 has gone so far: woke up about three snoozes too late, slammed my finger in the freezer somehow and made it bleed, spilled coffee, cleaned up spilled coffee, chipped a centimeter of solid ice off my car without much gratitude for the car or the atmosphere that produced this crazy, indecisive weather. Felt pissed at the cars going too fast because clearly they were trying to kill me and pissed at the cars going too slow, obviously a personal affront to me and my desire for timeliness.
Spent the workday regulating my mood and affect so as not to add to my patients' overwhelming distress. Felt pretty overwhelmed by my own distress and its lack of apparent source. Felt my heart break for an 18 year old girl who was taught by her home life how to survive by being hateful.
Stopped at three galleries on the way home hoping to buy a few special gifts for coworkers without any luck. Came home, opened mail, found out I accidentally cancelled my phone service 27 days before the end of my contract and so owe some extra mula. Cried. Cried cried cried about my phone bill.
So there's a chance I'm still Human, not just Being, and I may have a teensy tendency to stuff my inconvenient emotions until they spill out all over a phone bill. I don't really know why I was actually crying. But the crying felt closer to the truth than the irritability and pissy-ness I'd worn like a back brace all day to keep me from bending far enough to surrender to whatever I'm going through. Who has time for going through stuff when it's messy and snotty and it's thirty minutes before yoga and you don't want to get all puffy and blotchy…?
It's snowing like nobody's business outside. There are still a million tears behind my eyes. I'm going to put a fresh bandaid on my thumb wound, roll up my mat and head to yoga to see what miracle I can find there...
The miracle I found was not the one I was hoping for. I thought I'd leave class all peppy and energized and able to really relish, maybe even photograph, the ice on the trees and the way it sparkles in the streetlight. Not so much. There will be another time for that, maybe. Today is a day for burning through old sadness.
When I used to facilitate couples' counseling, it was common to encourage the couple to "reach for a softer emotion." In heated angry moments, couples could connect and understand one another in a really meaningful way if they were willing to soften and acknowledge the more vulnerable emotions that often motivated their anger--fear, hurt insecurity, etc. It was usually an uncomfortable stretch at first, but it could become a very natural movement over time, with practice.
Yoga has introduced me to a new intimacy with myself--a significant relationship, a romance even. Today's vinyasa was couples' therapy. All day I have been my own nagging spouse--nit-picking, critiquing, berating myself for the chores left undone and the missed appointments. And when I kept being bitchy and didn't find my zen, I punished myself with the cold shoulder: Quit your phone bill bawling, suck it up and go to class.
I'm glad I did, of course, even though I was wobbly and distracted and gave myself plenty more reasons to be critical. My teacher and my mat asked me in their way to reach for a softer emotion. And there were plenty of soft emotions waiting to be found under my anger. There's the part of me, like lots of people, who feels vaguely unsettled and anxious each time the holidays roll around. There's the part of me that feels self-conscious and defensive showing up to another holiday gathering alone; a section of my brain is already apologetically fielding the questions I anticipate about my romantic life. There's another part of me--dare I say it?-- that feels pretty lonely about flying solo through this season of yuletide couples. Add to that the anxiety of a new job hanging in limbo, and the anticipatory grief I'm feeling about leaving my current one. And of course there's the also the vague, baseline grief we all experience this time of year when we celebrate and congregate and there are people missing who used to be there.
I'd like to be past all of this, able to balance myself out and move beyond it all by doing a headstand or meditation or something. But I'm not. So that's what this moment brings to me. All the irritability and complaining of my day, and all the pain it was protecting. Instead of replaying my old pattern of feeling freaked out by the discomfort of feeling freaked out, and then closing up by fixing or distracting or talking myself out of this funk, I'm going to try to open up, Michael Singer style.
In it, among other priceless epiphanies, Springer points out the human tendency to close up when pain comes around in an effort to protect ourselves from it, rather than opening to pain and letting it move through us. He says we build emotional walls to protect ourselves from feeling what we're afraid to feel, to protect old injured places and vulnerable spots, and we inadvertently reinforce within ourselves the idea that we ARE injured, vulnerable and unsafe and that life is a scary opponent. Operating from that premise of fear, we keep repeating old stuff that's stuck in us, doing the dance that feels safe and familiar, closing around the pain again and again and giving it more and more power. The other option, he says, is to open up when we feel like closing, to experience the pain and injury, and to watch as we live through it, let it move through us and burn a little bit of old junk away.
This feels true to me. I'm not an absolutely huge fan of it being true, because it means the solution is to feel the pain instead of finding new and improved strategies for avoiding it. I'm generally more a fan of finding new and improved strategies. I've got a collection of textbooks on the subject, in fact. But I've watched myself play out old patterns over and over, despite all my coping skills and good intentions, and I'm sick of it. I'm tired of feeling so angry about traffic when I know it doesn't really matter. I'm really, really over the tight feeling behind my eyes and in my throat when I start my day with a coffee spill and get myself into the kind of tense tizzy that leads to a bloody thumb. I would love to open up when a relative asks, with good intentions, if I've met any nice young men, instead of closing defensively around my own fear of what they think of me. I'd be living closer to my truth if I could let that be their fear instead of mine.
So these little tensions are gifts. They're ugly, but they're gifts. Little opportunities to open up. One of the most valuable things I've learned in yoga is what it means to open up. There's a perceptible, palpable shift in my emotional self that happens when I change my physical posture to open my heart--roll my shoulders back, stretch my collar bones, slide my shoulder blades down my back and lift the crown of my head. I really do feel more open to life and my circumstances, even annoying ones, when I'm conscious of having an open heart. I also feel more balanced and solid, ready to let some old stuff in its new disguise move into me and do its burning business. Which is not to say I look forward to the fire. Maybe someday I'll be that enlightened. But tonight, as I apparently continue to attract silly little calamities--really, burnt veggie burger? and how could I possibly be out of tea lights??--I'm sitting up straight and rolling my shoulders back to see what happens.
Photo credits: Me :) Please use responsibly.