And as we Wind on Down the Road

I almost accepted a job a few months back that on the surface seemed like a good opportunity but as I de-coded the fine print I realized it was not. I would be managing a well regarded small business, which happens to be owned by a famous actor. I know, I know. Sounds exciting. And I was excited. I was also honored to be considered for the somewhat prestigious position, but I didn’t want to lose sight of my needs, so I attempted to gather more information to ensure the job made sense for me practically and financially. Read: I am not a twenty-something or even a young thirty-something that can gamble with time, and I am already behind the game if you gauge by tangible measurements. I will note that I may be ‘ahead of the game’ in other more subtle ways, like developing a solid internal foundation and moving through issues that were holding me back, however I definitely did not want to take another wrong turn: I have had my fill of lessons learned from missteps, if you catch my drift.

So I asked for more information and in turn I was given vague promises and fluffy encouragements (“yes, yes, plenty of room for growth!”) that felt good for a minute until I realized I had received a whole lot of nothing in the way of information (i.e., no details). What did this elusive growth look like? I would be working for a small business so a career path was not obvious, especially because I would be filling in for the current Manager who was going on maternity leave. Would she be returning? And, if so, what would my role look like when she did? Would I be assisting her? In what capacity? It was a mystery. The side of my personality that likes to please others and not be “too much of  a bother” accepted, albeit uneasily, the non-specific answers. Hm, as I write this I am reminded of our friend, The Donald: fluff with no specifics. I digress.

So I was feeling increasingly unsettled about the idea of changing my schedule (e.g., dropping classes I teach, leaving a well paying part-time office job) for an “Interim Manager” position (the contract was for 4 months) that, although more aligned with my career path, was, basically, a big question mark. In addition to the uncertainty, I would need to work a 6-day/week for a fairy low hourly rate (definitely not, in my estimation, a Manager rate in an affluent area for an experienced worker and, from what I hear, what Mcdonalds now pays). I would also be on call in this position, meaning I would need to check emails from home and be on top of things when I wasn’t working, since I would be the main and only point person (apparently the part-time staff had all left). On top of that, I discovered that I would not be paid for teaching classes and private sessions, which would be a requirement and was a major factor in my acceptance of the job (I thought it balanced out the lower hourly rate and would offer me the opportunity to consolidate my classes). AND (rant almost over) I would not even be paid for classes/privates if I taught them outside of my allotted work hours. I have to stop here (if anyone is actually still reading and following) to say WHAT?

This revolting development obviously sealed the deal; it had come up in a round- about way through a question I asked about managing payroll and at this point I was 3 or 4 weeks away from the start date. That same day, I noted that someone who had worked there part-time as a desk-person/receptionist was making more than my “manager” rate. Sure, the person had probably been there for a couple of years and received raises but, still, this did not sit right with me. The Managerial position entails a lot of responsibility while the desk-role entails a fraction of that (essentially greeting and checking in students).

So what is my point? Why bother to write about this? To answer my own question (don’t mind if I do) I think I felt compelled to flesh this out because in the past I have said “yes” to situations that were not supportive of me; and to be frank, some that were wildly inappropriate, but that’s another story. I have compromised my values and needs at times to please others or try to make something work that is entirely unworkable. Saying “no” to this position wasn’t easy because I felt I was letting someone down and I knew I’d be cutting ties with this person by doing so. But say no I did and I said it boldly. I will admit that I may have written, ahem, a somewhat rambling email that could have benefited from a bit more editing but it was also honest and real. And after the initial distress/drama of turning the position down — I had already trained for a few days (no pay offered for training days, by the way)– I felt stronger because I had turned away from something that was clearly not right for me, i.e., not worthy of my experience, background and the level of dedication I would have brought to the position. And it wasn’t that old, familiar feeling of escaping something I didn’t want to do, a way out rather than a way though (a hard learned lesson); instead, it was a deep, knowing that I had taken care of myself, something that does not come all that naturally to me (my fellow Vatas will understand). So, yes, it was kind of messy and I wished I had given less wiggle room (i.e., benefit of the doubt in response to vague answers), saving us both time and energy, but we learn from each experience (well, that’s the idea anyway; sometimes it takes several of the same experiences). I’ll try to be more aware next time I am offered a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Truth-Day Tuesday

I am not trying to be all scrooge-y … well, a little I am … but I was thinking that along with Facebook’s ubiquitous “Throwback Thursday,” or TBT, we should begin a Truth-day Tuesday revolution: a day of sharing what’s really happening in your life, i.e., “I just had a hideous argument with my significant other”, or “I am declaring bankruptcy”, or “my husband slept with the nanny.”

Ok, Ok, I don’t really mean that. I don’t think we want people unloading their dirty laundry on social media sites — now I am conjuring up an image of my SNL friend, Debbie Downer (fine line, I guess)– but I do think that the social media culture has engendered the need to project one’s self in a certain light (i.e., a pristine, flawless one).

The flower we planted in our garden may bloom and that is special. Or we get all gussied up before a party. I’m not saying these aren’t snapshot worthy moments or moments worth reveling in, and I think it’s natural to want to share them. The point is that these moments are there but that they are fleeting. The flower dies. We get food on our blouse or have to unbutton our pants because we ate too many cookies (that might just be me). The day to day details, rather than the rewards, are what we most often are dealing with. The act of holding up an unrealistic image of everything in bloom all the time is not only untrue but isolating.

I think all we humans beings want, truly, is connection. When we connect on a deeper level (beyond the niceties and small talk) it can be healing. Small talk is necessary, no doubt, and hard to avoid and I am no good at it. I am in awe of people who actually excel at it, but that’s another story. My point is that ‘small talk’ can be isolating. “How are you?” “Great!” Meanwhile you want to crawl under your blanket and cry. That schism between expression and emotions (when there is no outlet for real or raw expression) is, I think, what leads to deep unhappiness, depression even.

Connection is the crux of 12 step programs and why they are considered spiritual: the simple act of sharing what is real for you in that moment and having others listen, truly listen with no agenda, is healing for many people. When people share stories with similar themes people begin to feel a sense of connection because they realize they are not alone with feelings that may have been overwhelmingly painful.

Sooooo … maybe just for one day (Tuesdays!) instead of those perfect, happy images (please note: I am not exempting myself by any means) we will share a more realistic/truthful depiction of ourselves: a grumpy, pre-coffee photo, a few lines about why life sucks. Kidding. Sort of. I’ve noticed that when friends who are mothers post something more truthful about the challenges (as well as joys) of parenting that other mothers really appreciate it. We don’t have to pretend that everything is amazing all the time. How about “So cursed” instead of “So blessed.” Again, kidding! Debbie Downer is sneaking out again (she and I used to be a little too close but not to worry, I have created stronger boundaries).  All kidding aside, let’s break the illusion together one Tuesday at a time. Truth-day Tuesday, here we come — or is that TMI?!

Here is my first attempt at a TDT post (we can pretend today is Tuesday): Last night I ate an obscene amount of cookies.

Greek cookies

On the Inside

Lately, I’ve been pondering speech patterns we develop over time (analyzer that I am) and what they reflect about our inner workings, specifically my mother’s relationship with the word “inside” (I’m sure she’d be thrilled). For example, in response to a question about where something is located, like “Where is the cat?” my mother might respond, “He’s inside.” She means he’s not in the room she currently resides in but in another part of the apartment (just to be clear, he is not an outdoor cat so she is not referring to the literal meaning of the word). In  essence, wherever she is, inside is not. It occurs to me that she, from this perspective, is always on the outside. This is interesting to me because I have felt like an outsider for most of my life. I don’t doubt that this pattern emerged long ago, a family relic, something she picked up from her mother, and which her mother, my Grammy, picked up from her mother (Yiayia). I naturally also picked up on these familial speech patterns, carrying these words from one generation to the next. Several years ago, I was a nanny for two children, ages 7 and 9. We were in the kitchen one day and one of them asked where something was–their backpack, I think. “It’s inside,” I responded, meaning it was in the dining or living room. They began to giggle and one of them acknowledged, “We are inside!” It hit me in that moment that the statement didn’t make much sense. I laughed too.  Although, I have to say, a part of me still believes this sentence makes perfect sense.

For the past several months, I’ve been doing core work. Physically speaking, I am doing the work that will strengthen my abdominal muscles enabling my transitions from one yoga posture to another to be more fluid, graceful, easeful. Metaphysically speaking, I am connecting to my center, the unwavering space inside free of worries and concerns and the opinions of others. My center is where I can access my sense of power and grace.

Toddler photos of me reveal a cute, protruding belly; it seemed to be one of my signature features. My aunt once told me that my mom was a little concerned: “Will she grow out of this?” To answer her question, at the ripe age of 37 I may finally be ‘growing out’ of or transcending my belly issues. In my teenage and young adult years, I hid my stomach. It was usually dissented and I was embarrassed. My stomach expands easily; sometimes, when I drink water or eat fruit my stomach grows into what looks like a pregnant belly or an inflated balloon. I’m thin and it’s easy to hide but it’s uncomfortable; you can’t breathe well when you are sucking in your stomach.

It occurs to me that I have been hiding my power center for most of my life.

I had a dream several years ago that I had the ability to move objects by the sheer power of my will. Similarly to the little girl in the movie Fire Starter (remember that movie? It was a favorite of mine), I could set my gaze on an object and rather than set it on fire, I could send it flying across the room like it had acquired wings. It was one of the most vivid dreams I’ve ever had and I remember becoming aware in the dream of this inner power I’d possessed my entire life. Of course, I thought to myself in the dream, of course I have always been able to do this. It was a little frightening–these super powers I held–but at same time made perfect sense to me. When I awoke it took me a little while to understand that it was ‘only a dream,’ that I could not move objects by gazing at them. I even tried.

If I were to have a most-used-words contest “might” and “maybe” and “hopefully” would be contenders. Tentative words. Uncertain words. Maybe this. Might that. Hope this or that. I watch them fall from my mouth, pause and, if I am feeling grounded/present, change my word choice to something more certain, confident. My body posture, pre-yoga, also reflected this tentative nature, this unsure heart of mine: when I began practicing yoga and bringing attention to my body, I realized that I stood on the edges of my feet. A bizarre balancing act, I called it in one of my essays about how yoga has enabled me to shift unsupportive patterns in my life. As I allowed my feet to feel the ground beneath them, I realized I had never stood fully, comfortably on my own two feet. I had never felt supported and like I was “inside”, connected to myself and others and my environment, a part of something bigger. I felt, as the songs goes, that I was “always on the outside, looking in on other’s lives.”

The opposite of those wishy-washy maybe’s and might’s is will: I will do this.

The Manipura chakra or the third chakra, located in the solar plexus, means “lustrous gem” or “city of jewels” and is the seat of our willpower. To take a step back, the chakras are likened to energy wheels or vortexes that live along the spine, from the base to the crown of the head, and reflect the metaphysical or ‘subtle body’ underpinnings of that area of the body. It is represented by the color yellow (the color of the sun) and is connected to our willpower/inner power, our confidence, our truth. Interestingly, yellow had always been one of my least favorite colors and now I am drawn to it. The manipura chakra represents our power source; just as we cannot live without the sun’s energy, we cannot thrive with a weak power center. I am not speaking about the type of power that is manipulative or forceful (in fact, that type of power use likely indicates an imbalance in this area of the body) but a purity that comes from knowing yourself and what you need, and the ability to meet those needs, and to express yourself honestly with both strength and kindness. A few days ago, at the close of my yoga class, a student came up to me to tell me that she loved the way I taught because my voice was “commanding and clear” and that I moved at a pace she could follow. This was the best compliment I could have received because my voice, my self expression, is one of my greatest struggles (it is why I write: to make sense of what I feel). The student’s comment reminds me that my core is beginning to shine through, even if some days I don’t feel that way (i.e., it is a, let’s say, work in progress). Even on those days that I feel weak again, I do know this: I am less fearful these days of being seen and heard and of being rejected, which I believe is the culprit behind my weak core and hidden power. Not good enough said the little voice that plagued me every time I attempted something new, put myself out there, so to speak. It might as well have said Boo Hiss, you suck, rotten tomatoes. I listened to that crabby, little voice for a long time, was beholden to it.

I believe my bloated abdomen is due to my sensitive system (I try to avoid foods that seem to cause bloating) and, on a metaphysical level, my inability, for a long time, to absorb and process what nourishes me. Maybe I didn’t feel good enough about myself to accept nourishment, support. That has slowly been changing over the years, each time I step onto my yoga mat and reconnect to my body. Building, strengthening my abdominal muscles is part of the process and, even more importantly, I think, is the commitment to a practice each day; for many years I’ve practiced yoga but never, if I’m honest, consistently (until more recently). That, I believe, is how the willpower is developed and sustained. Step by consistent step or one step at a time, as the saying goes.

You may have heard yoga teachers invite you to “Find your center.” The center is the essence of who we are beyond all the stuff that covers up our truth and beauty (not perfection beauty: beauty beauty) and brightness. When I am feeling centered, I notice that I am not as easily swayed/affected by other’s opinions and responses (whether positive or negative). I can carry on strongly and gracefully whether or not I feel “liked” or “accepted” by others because I have accepted myself; I can rely on my own center to support and sustain me. When I am in that zone I feel nothing (relatively, speaking) can knock me off my course. It occurs to me that I don’t want to live on the periphery of life anymore. I have begun my journey inward but I have a lot of work to do still. I want to feel my emotions and I need to be able to breathe freely in order to do this (emotions begin in the body), so I can face them, process them (digest them) and risk being rejected and hurt (the elusive culprit of my fear), so I can truly live on the “inside” of life and, from that centered place, reveal and share my light.

 

 

From Shopaholic to Yogaholic: How Consistent Practice Curbed My Unhealthy Habits

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I listened to my mom grumble as she begrudgingly put on her jacket. “I can’t stand this jacket anymore.” In her defense, this was during an unseasonal spring snowstorm, and after a long winter; we were all tired of our jackets. But mom’s coat complaint did make me think about the way I sometimes feel when I wear an old item of clothing that I no longer like or feel good in—that tired, “this-thing-again” feeling. And the opposite sensation that arises when I wear something new: that elusive promise of a fresh identity, a clean slate.

Maybe it’s not the old, worn-out winter coat we wish to replace, but our perspective.

Shopping is a form of searching/seeking. When we shop, we’re searching for something much deeper than the items we buy. We believe, on some level, that material things can fill us up or satisfy us, and since they cannot (not for long, anyway), we shop for more things. Pema Chödrön, an American Buddhist, reminds us that shopping is a way of “always trying to find security, always trying to feel good about yourself.” Maybe it’s not the old, worn-out winter coat we wish to replace, but our perspective.

This is where the yoga comes in. Over the past several years, as my practice has become more consistent, my incessant desires to shop, obsessively highlight my hair, and engage in other various unfavorable behaviors (like dating unavailable men) have dwindled. I’m not saying I’ve been forever cured, but I am getting there (although I’m still working on my sweet tooth—last night I polished off so many cookies that I lost count).

It’s difficult to tackle unhealthy behaviors at a purely cognitive level because these habits are embedded too deeply in the psyche. Real change needs to happen at a cellular level first. Yoga does this first by changing the way we carry ourselves, improving our posture and our body alignment. The practice draws attention to habitual physical tendencies that may not be supporting us, and to the places where the body is holding stress. Looking at what lies beneath these habits and physical patterns is the first step. When I first started practicing yoga, I was constantly asked to plant my feet firmly on the ground. I’d think “why does the teacher keep harping on this?” and then realized that I never stood solidly on my feet during the day. My pattern was to balance awkwardly on the edges of my feet, and I finally recognized that it didn’t feel good. It hurt!

Our bodies reflect what we feel inside. I stood on the edges of my feet, a tentative posture and a bizarre balancing act, because that’s how I felt inside: ungrounded, like I was balancing on the edge of life and unsure of where to place my feet. The yoga practice brought my attention to this unconscious tendency that was certainly not supporting me (our feet support our entire body) and I worked each day to adjust it. It felt good to feel the ground under my feet!

Yoga is about more than pretty poses: it’s a deep way of working with yourself.

Changing deeply seated habits is a gradual process. It happens silently and over time. It is often unglamorous, and even uncomfortable. Yoga is about more than pretty poses: it’s a deep way of working with yourself. People sometimes worry about the cost of yoga (understandably so), but if your yoga practice helps you cut down on mindless shopping, it may actually be saving you money. I still have moments of desiring shiny new things (and sometimes that’s just what the doctor ordered). But on the whole, that impulsive need to fill a void by purchasing a new item or, as I mentioned earlier, sacrificing my hair (my hair once wound up fire-engine red; it was an interesting look) is gone. My yoga practice has filled that ubiquitous void because it enables me, through the mind-body connection, to leave the thinking mind (or, at least, to make more space between thoughts) and to move into the present moment of life where all the true newness and shininess exists.

Original Article Date: July 14, 2015

Play Date

Yesterday Evening: Too drained to climb the stairs up to my apartment, I am about to board the old-fashion elevator but in the moment I pause to glance at my cell phone the elevator floats upward with it’s accompanying ding. I sigh. A few moments later, after the elevator lands, a little girl with blonde hair and bright eyes bops out. She looks to be about 5 or 6 years old. A pretty woman, whom I imagine to be her mother, is walking behind her. I recognize them: we rode the elevator together a few weeks back. We exchange a neighborly greeting and begin to go our separate ways when the little girl swings around and calls to me: “What is your name?”

“Nicole,” I tell her. “What’s your?” Her mother and I smile at each other.

“Isabella,” she says softly, suddenly shy.

Isabella. That’s right,” I say. “I remember now.” And she perks up, a smile forming.

“Do you have a kid?” Isabella questions, brow furrowing as she tries to place me. Her mother winces at her personal inquiry and I laugh at her brash innocence, her sweet boldness, and her use of the word “kid.”

“No, but I have a kitty cat,” I offer. Isabella studies me for a moment, then requests my cat’s name and I tell her, “Jespa.”

“Jessica?” she asks, uncertainly. I repeat the name and spell it for her, pointing out that it’s an unusual name. She smiles grandly and announces that she will come visit me and the kitty cat. I tell her that sounds great. She asks if my cat is friendly and I explain that he can be a little shy with strangers but once he gets comfortable he usually comes out of his shell. I wonder if she understands “comes out of his shell,” but she seems pleased to hear this.

“Let’s make a play date!” she exclaims.

I am amused that I have been deemed a suitable playmate. But this does not completely surprise me since, as I have noted in past posts, I just may be aging backward–emotionally speaking that is. I am more in touch now with the child-like qualities of playfulness, creativity and spontaneity than I was when I was a child.

“Sure!” I say, trying to match her enthusiasm, and add which floor I live on. She reports that Fridays are good for her (her mom explains that they are only here on weekends) and I say that’s perfect.

As I get into the elevator, I hear: “Have a great day!” And she has, most certainly, made my day.

Namaste, Saint James

I was recently mesmerized by the charming voice of prison inmate, Saint James Harris Wood in a series of letters he wrote, over a 10-year period, to The Sun Manuscript Editor, Colleen Donfield. The letters were published in the February 2015 issue of The Sun, entitled Your Wretched Correspondent. Wood, Donfield relays, is serving a twenty-two-year sentence in California for second-degree robbery; he apparently robbed banks and other venues with a toy gun to support his drug habit.

In the shower the other morning, I was considering what it would be like to live in prison (where you are not even guaranteed a shower after a 7-hour stint of dishwashing in a gnarly prison kitchen) as I was staring out the window to a springtime blue sky and green trees from a bright, clean bathroom. My soul seems somehow to understand the feeling of being trapped and I shuddered to think of the prison walls, the shared showers and the overall wretched environment. I imagined how an inmate might feel standing in a private shower across from an open window, a soft breeze and sunlight streaming through; and the ecstasy of other simple events like waking up each morning in a bed of one’s own (something that my non-morning-person self does not currently delight in), placing your bare feet on a clean floor, choosing your breakfast, and on and on and on (I can only imagine).

Wood writes, “One of the most jarring parts of being in prison is waking up. Every morning it comes crashing down: the smells, the walls, the noise, the irrefutable fact of being trapped, and the memory of the events that led me here” (p. 38). He doesn’t seem to feel sorry for himself though (well, maybe sometimes he does; who wouldn’t?); instead, he accepts full responsibility for his current predicament and I think this sense of unexpected grace coupled with a raw sense of humor and willingness to look at himself are among the qualities of his writing voice that I am drawn to. Wood Writes, “The first ten years behind bars didn’t change me as much as they might have a normal person. Even though my life is in ruins, a complete catastrophe, a profound debacle (get out your thesaurus, look up ‘fucked up,’ and add to this sentence), right from the start I figured I could use the time to write and maybe regain my foolish soul (p.45).

I am reminded of the beauty and blessings in my life. I need to pause here to say that I am not a big fan of this word blessings because of the way it is sometimes used, as in “I am so blessed!” to have such and such (insert: brand new jeep for my 25th birthday … one of the more obnoxious “so blessed” offenses I have come across), as if those of us who don’t have such things are not blessed? Cursed? I refer to blessings here in a more ‘everyday’ sense (“ordinary blessings,” in Joan Didion’s words). Blue sky. Green trees. Song birds outside my window. I digress.

That morning in the shower, before I glanced through the bathroom window and noticed the beauty around me, I had been fretting over things that now seem like luxuries. How much of our lives are wasted by stressing over things that might be considered a luxury, a blessing, to someone else, or worrying about things that are out of our control (I am a big culprit of this one) while we ignore the beauty that is all around and within us? Believe me, I know it’s not all roses but I also know that we can create our own private prisons even in the most physically appealing environments and, by the same token, inmates (or those who are physically trapped) can create freedom, space, for themselves by transcending the ‘little’ mind (the part of the mind that keeps constant tabs on what is wrong; that keeps us feeling separate and disconnected from the source). Saint James Harris Wood is an inspiration to me because he is creating art, beauty, inside prison walls. If he can do that, I think we (i.e., those of us who are not in prison) can find our way too. Namaste, Saint James.

The Art of Growing up

An excerpt from an essay in The Sun Magazine (I love this magazine with all my heart): “Looking back, I don’t know how I got through the anxiety and shame of early recovery. Sometimes the pain was so great it felt physical, and I sat twisting and moaning as if cloven feet were stamping through the chambers of my heart. But as the tiny pieces of my detonated life slowly drifted back to earth, I began working as a home-health aide, helping the elderly and caring for kids on occasion. A peaceful, sane existence began to take shape. The only problem was, I could no longer write. Somehow in sobriety I just didn’t have the juice to pump out pages and judge them as good or bad. Forced to acknowledge that I was a failure as a writer, I learned to live with my dashed dreams. That’s when it occurred to me that I didn’t have to write to prove to the world that I was a worthwhile human being or that all my pain and turmoil had a purpose. I wasn’t special – or, no more so that anyone else. It was time, finally, to grow up.” -Sybil Smith

I like these last lines very much. They feel wise and earned in a very real way. I have also thought that if I publish a book or attain some worldly success that all the “pain and turmoil” will then finally make sense, will as Smith writes have a purpose. But it seems that when we let go of the need to transform pain and turmoil into something that looks good from the outside, then the real healing, the real work can begin. I checked out Sybil Smith’s author website and saw that she in fact has numerous publications, and so it seems that by releasing her desire to prove something she did in fact reach her initial goals. I imagine in that “peaceful, sane existence” she discovered in life after addiction, that her work became deeper, more authentic and carefree (maybe she stopped caring so much about what other people thought) and that that shift, that “growing up,” enabled her to enjoy the success she had been chasing in her earlier life. I never liked the term “grow up,” because it tends to connote judgment, as in “grow up, already.” Maybe that’s because I did not want to grow up myself, to take on the responsibilities of adult life. As a child, I was acutely in tune to my parents’ pain and turmoil. Growing up did not seem fun.

J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, certainly did not value the idea of growing up. His preoccupation with youth stemmed, it seems, from a very sad, tragic past, and he did not seem to have the ability to “grow up” due to deep childhood wounds (and, interestingly, did not physically grow past the height a child). I am realizing that we are privileged if we get to “grow up,” to experience (or earn) the sweetness of a “peaceful, sane existence.” Pixie dust is pretty and all but, in the end, it’s just an illusion.

Yassas

Yesterday afternoon I walked in Rockefeller State Park. Blue sky. Soft breeze. Birds singing. Sun shining. It felt like the first official day of Spring … but my thoughts were not cooperating: they were spinning self-defeating little webs.

No matter what I did (yoga practice, walking in nature) I could not find the off switch for that pesky little cluster of cells that, as Jill Bolte Taylor relays in My Stroke of Insight, lives in the left-brain hemisphere and is responsible for our maniacal thought streams. Round and round they go. Once the thoughts gain momentum they seem to have a life of their own and yesterday, despite my efforts, I could not detach from what they were telling me (that I have not reached the milestones that I should have by now, that maybe I should give up on everything I’ve worked for because I am obviously not making any progress). As if that wasn’t enough doom and gloom, every bad memory (from the most minute to the more disturbing ones) seemed to be bubbling their way up into my consciousness.

I felt heavy, like it was a giant effort to place one foot in front of the other. A moderate hill that I usually enjoy walking up felt like Mount Everest. I was frustrated with myself because I knew I was wasting a beautiful day distracted by dark thoughts, and the more annoyed I became by my inability to ‘snap out of it’ the worse I felt.

Some days are just like this.

It feels impossible to detach from our thoughts and the best we can do is to put one heavy foot in front of the other. I couldn’t even write my thoughts out yesterday because I felt so low and depleted. I stared at the computer screen for a few minutes and then promptly shut it down, poured a glass of wine and made dinner. The wine made me sleepy and I went to bed early, but it did not feel like what I needed.

Some nights I drink wine or eat cookies to stuff my emotions inside me and on other nights, I do a restorative yoga practice or a meditation or take a bath and read a book. It can be hard to do the thing that truly nourishes us when we want to reach for the cookies or the glass of wine (the quick fix) and, essentially, get numb. Knowing what’s behind the cookie or wine party can gradually shift the behavior. It is a process. But we must be kind to ourselves because when we beat ourselves up we wind up turning to the wrong things for comfort (at least the cookies doesn’t talk back). And, by the way, sometimes a glass of wine or sweet treat, in moderation, is just what the doctor ordered (if, of course, it is not a serious addiction). It just depends on what the motivation is, but being too strict with ourselves doesn’t tend to produce balance in our lives either.

I remember Eckhart Tolle (author of The Power of Now & A New Earth) revealing, in a live web class/discussion with Oprah (back in 2008), that people are often surprised to learn that he enjoys a cup of coffee or glass of wine. He added that it’s rare he will want a second cup/glass; I suppose because he is simply, mindfully, enjoying his drink and there is no need for more; there is no attachment to it. For us non-enlightened folks it may prove a tad more difficult to refrain from that second cup o’ joe, to reach this level of detachment, yet we can all bring more mindfulness into our days by slowing down and accepting what is happening in that particular moment, even and especially if it is a bad mood or a lot of self-defeating thoughts. The bad mood or thoughts tend to shift once we make some space for them.

And, so, this concludes my 30-day writing challenge. It wasn’t perfect but I reached my goal (this is more consecutive writing than I have done since I was in my MFA program) and I think, ultimately, that’s what counts. To that, I say Cheers or Yassas, as they say in the old country.

 

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Innocence

Tonight, I picked one of my Osho Zen Tarot cards for inspiration. I chose Innocence. Here is what Osho has to say: “The old IMG_1667man in this card radiates a childlike delight in the world. There is a sense of grace surrounding him, as if he is at home with himself and with what life has brought. He seems to be having a playful communication with the praying mantis on his finger, as if the two of them are the greatest friends. The pink flowers cascading around him represent a time of letting go, relaxation and sweetness. They are a response to his presence, a reflection of his own qualities. The innocence that comes from a deep experience of life is childlike, but not childish. The innocence of children is beautiful, but ignorant. It will be replaced by mistrust and doubt as the child grows and learns that the world can be a dangerous and threatening place. But the innocence of a life lived fully has a quality of wisdom and acceptance of the ever-changing wonder of life.”

An astrologer once told me that I was aging backward. Because I am a Capricorn, he clarified, I become more youthful with age. “You are old when you’re young and young when you’re old,” were his exact words. Sounds about right, I thought. I was a cautious and shy child. My parents both worked full-time when I was young, and I missed my mother with urgency and desperation; in fact, I cried every morning when I remembered that she had already left for the train. My sweet grandmother, my Yiayia, soothed me and braided (and re-braided until I approved) my hair and made me breakfast and tea with milk and honey just how I liked it. I associate my warmest childhood memories with Yiayia and Papou. I was deeply loved. But nothing compared to having my mom around and I pined for her during those years. My dad was absent so often (he worked in the restaurant business) that I was accustomed to it, but it was a treat when he was around; we always did something fun, like searching for the Banshees, the magical, little creatures who lived in the woods, or going on a drive to Sleepy Hollow to catch a peak of the Headless Horseman (sometimes, he let me sit on his lap in the car and help steer) or even shopping (I once, around the age of 5, randomly requested a maroon colored woman’s purse; I still remember the scent of the leather.).

But as a young girl, I had, in true Capricorn form, the metaphoric weight of the world on my shoulders. Intuitively, I knew that something was very wrong in my parents’ lives and I carried that with me, a heavy backpack full of fear. I questioned my mother at a young age about the man in the moon. I could see the round, luminous globe in the sky and had spotted the outline of a figure inside it. He was an evil entity who would prey on us, a force threatening our safety and security. I wasn’t satisfied by my mother’s flippant response: “The man in the moon? Who told you that?” she laughed. She didn’t seem to understand the weight and urgency of the subject. “So he won’t hurt us?” I repeated.

When you live in a fearful state, the world is dangerous. The moon is not bright: it’s ominous.

As I age, that backpack lightens and I begin to see again, as if through a child’s eyes, the wonder around me. I have taken to placing my hands on trees when I pass them just to feel their tree-ness, looking up at the sky as often as possible, connecting with children and animals. I have no problem barking like a dog when I’m teaching a children’s yoga class; something you would have never caught me doing several years ago; I would have felt too embarrassed, too self-conscious. I’m letting go of old, outworn items in my backpack. They were never my items to begin with. Pretty soon, I might even lose the backpack all together and, just possibly, replace it with wings. Wheeeee.

Here is the second card I picked:

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Home’s Not so Far Away … (Published originally in Yoga International)

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In my mid-twenties, I departed the East Coast for romantic San Francisco. I had been dreaming about moving to the West Coast since I was a teenager and carted most of my stuff out there, imagining this would be a permanent move.

But things didn’t go as planned, and after nearly three years of living in San Francisco, I made the decision (more out of necessity than choice) to move back home to New York. I began the lonely process of unwinding my life, sorting through everything, donating and selling my belongings. I shipped the things I couldn’t part with to my aunt, who had offered to store them until I got settled—which meant that my aunt had about ten large boxes coming her way.

I began the lonely process of unwinding my life, sorting through everything, donating and selling my belongings.

Home shit home, I thought to myself as the plane touched down at JFK.

I was sad to be back. I felt defeated and lost. I had failed yet again. But this time I was thirty, so the shame and the failed expectations felt heavier, more monumental. I had departed, or more accurately fled, New York with the vision of a brand new sparkly life in California. In California, I’d have many friends, a loving, romantic relationship, a stimulating and fulfilling work environment. Everything that had ever eluded me would find its way to me in San Francisco.

Big fat surprise: I didn’t find what I was looking for. As our wise friend Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us: Wherever You Go, There You Are. You can’t run away from yourself, or from your issues. They tag along for the ride.

A friend of mine in a 12-step program told me that it was a well-known behavior in that circle—this fleeing business—and that a guy in her program announced one day that he had “done a location,” meaning that he had moved to a new city with the idea that his new surroundings would magically change his life, rather than doing the inner work necessary to actually change. In that same sense, I too had done a location. I had “locationed” myself right back to the drawing board. No money. No career. No significant other. No home. Bupkis.

I moved into my cousin’s apartment temporarily. She and her boyfriend were living abroad for a period of time, so her apartment was empty. It was also empty of heat. There was a problem with the radiator and the super did not make it his priority to restore it. I was cold and lonely in that apartment. I brought very few clothes and personal items with me to my cousin’s home. I rotated the same two pairs of jeans more than I should admit.

My possessions were now scattered among three locations and I felt the same way. Scattered. Fragmented. Incomplete.

I drove to my aunt’s house, where I had shipped my boxes, several times throughout this period to organize and transfer some of the items to my mother’s home. My possessions were now scattered between three locations and I felt the same way. Scattered. Fragmented. Incomplete. During my first, cold week at my cousin’s, I remember sitting on the couch alone, eating take-out and feeling like Bridget Jones. I cracked opened my fortune cookie, which read: “It doesn’t get better until you get better.”

I had no idea what my next step was or how to get better.

It turned out that my next step was a daily yoga practice—just moving my body and breathing and tuning in. I began, unbeknownst to me at the time, the process of slowly unwinding old patterns and stuck emotions in my body.

After about a year of yoga, meandering, eating ice cream out of the container, and, I’ll admit, reading my Zen tarot cards, I picked up the remainder of my stored belongings from my aunt’s house and proceeded to get rid of nearly everything. With each bag full of stuff I dropped off at the Salvation Army, I felt lighter, freer.

I had thought that skydiving, which I tried in San Francisco (among other misguided adventures), would be exhilarating, but the feeling of suffocating to death during the 90-second free fall put a damper on the experience. I couldn’t fly with the emotional baggage I was carting around. In my physical reality, I’d been moving my possessions with me from place to place for years. I’d been attached to my stuff, and, though I hadn’t realized it, it’d been suffocating me. But what I found even more exhilarating and freeing than skydiving was shedding what I’d been dragging around from place to place for years.

I was realizing, through my hour or two each day on my yoga mat, that I didn’t need much more than myself and my mat to be happy, to feel whole. When we slow down and bring awareness to the body, we can change unhealthy habits and patterns. The body is a reflection of the mind.

Possessions were becoming less important. I was less desirous of stuff or beauty procedures, like highlighting my hair (not that there is anything wrong with that, but my hair was in need of a break after a period of obsessive salon visits). Some of my armor was melting away.

Pema Chödrön, in The Wisdom of No Escape, discusses this idea of ridding ourselves of the armor we think is protecting us. “That’s what we’re doing here… removing armor,” she states, “removing our protections, undoing all the stuff that covers over our wisdom and our gentleness and our awake quality.” (Chödrön, 69).

Around this time I had a dream. I was with an old friend, standing outside of her new home. It was a beautiful place I’d never seen before overlooking a clear, flowing expanse of water. “I didn’t know that you live here,” I said to my friend as I stared at my surroundings in awe. She said, “Yes, I live here.” And I felt perfectly serene and peaceful, like I was the flowing, clear water. I awoke knowing that I already resided in the place I’d been searching for. Then I remembered Chödrön’s teachings on maitri in another of her books, The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness.

“When people start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they’re going to improve, which is a sort of subtle aggression against who they really are. But loving kindness—maitri—toward ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything…. Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That’s the ground, that’s what we study, that’s what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest.” (Chödrön, 1-2).

So, you might say that my friend in my dream was just representing an aspect of me. And that the penetrating awe and peace that I felt was really a reflection of me accepting me, and that’s why I woke up feeling that I arrived a long time ago in the place I’d been searching for.

Because, you know, wherever you go, there you are.

Original Article Date: April 10, 2015

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