I'm thankful for the Thanksgiving Vinyasa this morning at Seva Yoga a few miles form my home. I'm thankful for all the scooting around we had to do to accommodate such a big group of grateful yogis. I'm thankful that instead of feeling intimidated, I felt blessed to be squeezed in between three instructors, one on each side of me and one in front of me. I'm thankful for this thought which came naturally, repeated like a mantra through the harmonium and chanting and the flowing from asana to asana: I'm surrounded by teachers.
And it's true. It was especially literal and obvious in that room, and it made me a better student. Without craning or straining, I could keep soft eyes on my neighbor in any direction. I was able to flow a little more than usual and think a little less. It felt great! What a lovely gift on Thanksgiving, to start my day with that reminder. And it wasn't just the instructors who were teachers around me in that room. It was also the man who settled very
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.