"Move like you love yourself." My YouTube yoga teacher, Adriene, has been saying this for the last year, which is the exact amount of time I've been taking her online yoga courses. But it really just registered with me today. All of a sudden, as I attempted to un-pretzel myself from the stiff, chilly, cross-legged posture I had adopted out on my porch, these words popped into my mind. "Move like you love yourself." My first thought in response was, "huh?" My mind - very understandably, I think - wanted to know what this would look like. How would it know I was moving like I loved myself and not in some other way. I didn't know what to tell it. Because truthfully, I don't really know.
I have known for decades that the word "yoga," loosely translated, means "union." But I have to say it didn't really sunk in until just recently. Perhaps this is because I was winning spelling bees when I was in elementary school. In my world, learning new words and memorizing their definitions is just what I do. But taking that newly-learned word and its definition one essential step further into personal meaning and application - well, either I slept through that lesson in school or the topic never came up. Either way, it has been somewhat of a revelation of late to realize I haven't really grasped that something is getting unified when I practice yoga, let alone what that something might be or why it matters so much. Luckily, I have found the best yoga mentor, teacher, guide, inspiration, on the planet to help me sort all this out - my YouTube teacher Adriene Mischler. She has truly revolutionized not just how I understand the purpose and benefit of yoga practice - as in the poses she performs with such effortless fluidity each morning while I take tumble after tumble down onto my (now sensibly double-padded) yoga mat. What I find so interesting is that Adriene doesn't even really focus on the poses, actually. This in spite of the fact that her instructions on how to do them and her suggestions for small adjustments to improve are so intuitive I think she may be secretly staring at me through my little laptop webcam. But otherwise, she mostly focuses on the breath. She constantly reminds us to marry the movement with the breath, to inhale and exhale in specific ways at precise moments to support ourselves through each posture. I will be honest. With some (all) of the postures, I need all the support I can get. And yet even though taking regular deep, focused, precise breaths in and out offers me extra support both on and off my yoga mat, instead I often discover I am holding my breath! For example, I hold my breath when a pose gets difficult. I hold my breath when life gets difficult. I hold my breath when my mind gets distracted and wanders off to think by itself while my poor beleaguered body is trying yet again to master a yoga pose or clean the bath tub or tie my shoelaces. In other words, I am definitely not unified. I try to muscle my way through pain, grief, challenge, even opportunity. I look back over my life and my work to date and see so much muscling. I see myself doing things the hard way again and again, which I suppose is better than not doing them at all, but certainly still leaves much to be desired. So these days, and especially in the aftermath of being diagnosed with thyroid disease a year ago last November, every morning like clockwork I make it a point to open up YouTube and find Adriene and do another yoga session so I can remember to breathe, to marry my movement with my breath, to try again to unify me with me. I recently completed Adriene's new series "Dedicate," a 30-day journey which includes a daily email. One day, the email included this gem of a poem, which I find myself returning to again and again to ponder its instructions.
Grief arrives with us into this world, or at least that is my working theory. After all, anyone older than nine months has already experienced grief at least once, with that first big wrenching transition from inside-Mom to outside-Mom. Maybe we liked it better inside and maybe we like it better outside, but either way, we didn't expect it. We weren't ready. We didn't have any say in the matter. Ouch. Fast forward 48 more years, and grief is a rather regular visitor in my life, but not always in ways I instantly recognize or respect. Sure, there is what I've come to call "big grief." I had that kind last November when my longtime love and I separated. I still have it, just to clarify. That kind of grief is big and bold. It likes to make an entrance. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's 5 Stages of Grief model sums up the high points: denial, anger, bargaining, sadness, acceptance. Personally, when in the throws of big grief, I tend to flop around a bit between the stages, waking up in denial one day, feeling angry the next, crying my eyes out a few days later after another round of bargaining with my ex, then finally finding the softness of acceptance for a moment or two....before it starts all over again,for more information. But recently I discovered that big grief isn't the only kind of grief. There is also a type I've come to call "little griefs."
I like to make up my own definitions to words. Sometimes I do this because the definitions in the dictionary don't seem to fit. Sometimes I do this because I don't understand what the dictionary is talking about. Sometimes I do this because when I read the definition, I feel it is giving me the end result - what the word's outcome will be, but there is no detail about the steps to get there. And sometimes I do this because definitions in general often seem very theoretical, and I typically do a lot better with practical application. So not, "how can I use this word in a sentence?," but rather, "How can I use this word in my daily life?" The word "intimacy" is a great example in all these areas. According to a vast variety of dictionary definitions for this word, intimacy means each of the following. Closeness. Clearly a result of intimacy - what intimacy can provide. But how can I get there? An intimate act. Really? Okay, I know what they're talking about. But don't use the actual word I'm trying to understand in the definition for that word....grrr. Knowledge of a subject. See #1 here. An intimate remark. See #2 here. The one and only definition I found online that I feel any resonance comes from a fellow Psych Central blogger, who writes "intimacy means deeply knowing another person and being deeply known." But still, there are steps missing - for me at least. And here, you have to understand that while I always got all As in observation, I routinely get all Fs in application, at least when it comes to intimate relationships. As proof, I present this fact:
According to one of my all-time favorite mentors, Don Miguel Ruiz, there are three simple questions that can start a revolution inside of us. While "revolution" might not sound like a particularly good or safe thing - and probably not a convenient one either - Ruiz says that revolution is how we decide what kind of leader we will be to ourselves. Ruiz's three questions sound just a bit different than mine, but I suspect the underlying spirit is the same. He asks, "Who are you? What is real? What is love?" For so many years in my meditation tradition, I have been taught to ask myself, "Who am I? Why am I here? What gives my life meaning?" So - not so very different, I think. Recently a sweet heart-friend sent me a fabulous article about dealing with loneliness. This is timely because, for the first time in my life, I have been attempting to actually deal with my feelings of loneliness.
For many years - decades, really - I have been striving towards a state I call not-wanting. As many of you know, my initial aspirations were wildly misguided as I focused on not wanting food, calories, weight...the exact sort of not-wanting that can transform a reasonably healthy tween into a totally unhealthy anorexic teen. Later, as I got better at this sort of not-wanting and my efforts made a sharp turn away from unhealthy and towards deadly, I decided to focus more specifically on not-wanting to die. Happily, this eventually resulted in recovery and a much healthier and more functional me. Along the way, I discovered meditation. This led me once again to not-wanting, this time as a lifestyle choice in preparation for what many yogis and meditation masters call a "good death." After all, I reasoned, if I am going to die anyway and only get one shot at it, I want to make sure it's a good one. Why am I telling you all this? Basically, it is because I only just now realized that all the well-intentioned not-wanting in the world will never block out the pure and potent wanting that stretches down into the deepest fibers of my being. I have also learned that this perpetual state of wanting is programmed right into our most fundamental hardwiring. For example, we all want food, water, shelter, to not get eaten. We all want connection. We all want to find our place in this world, whether it is our place in the pack or around the conference table. And we all want to fully be who we are - to fulfill our potential. But only homo sapiens (us) have that large and pesky pre-frontal cortex to interfere with our deep knowledge and acceptance of what we want. Here, I mean what we REALLY want, not what our mind says we "should" want or what is reasonable to want or what we believe we are allowed to want or can want and actually get. By the way, the difference between us and all other species in this area is HUGE.
I don't like grief. I don't like grief in almost the same way I don't like death - because I don't understand it. And when I don't understand something, it makes me angry and then it scares me and then I just walk around feeling pissed off and jumpy. This morning I wrote in my journal (a relatively rare occurrence these days that I reserve for really important stuff that absolutely needs to be written down), How can I know I am grieving? In this question were so many other questions I didn't write down..... What is grief supposed to feel like and how will I know when I am feeling it? Will there be a time when I am "done" grieving? What if I'm not really grieving even though I think I am and this means I will never be done? Why am I not crying? Shouldn't I be crying if I'm grieving? And so on and so forth. I wrote this in my journal right after having a meditation that exposed me to something totally new I have never felt before now. The best way I can describe it is "cellular grief." It felt like my cells - each one of them - were crying. The tears were so deep they weren't likely to ever reach my surface and come pouring out my eyes like usual. But they were tears all right. They were tiny little cell tears, as all 37.2 trillion of my cells poured out their hearts deep within the privacy of my skin. This explained why my grief process this time around has felt so different from grieving days gone by. Part of this might be because the particular trigger for this round of grief - my former partner - has been a popular headliner on my personal grief circuit in years past. It would be fair to say I am an "experienced griever" when it comes to us. Every single other time we've parted ways, it has been the kind of grief I recognize and am used to. Crying, sobbing, losing your mind, wearing out your friends and your mentors and total strangers with stories of how it all went south (this time) and how painful and exhausting it all is.....this is the stuff grief memories are made of. But this time - this time it is all so different. No crying, no incessant chatter, no desperate SOS texts to anyone who might care, not even much wine - there is really none of that going on right now. Inside me all is relatively quiet. Any actual grieving gets done late and night and early in the morning during my private hours to meditate, dream, read and sleep. At first, I just thought I was basking in the glow of being right in choosing to separate.
I just finished reading the most fabulous book. The guy who wrote it is way younger than me and vastly more distinguished. And this is a very good thing, given what his book is about and how controversial the topic has been over the past decades in scientific circles. But not anymore. His name is Dr. Stephen Brusatte and his book is about - wait for it - how birds are modern dinosaurs! The book is called "The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs," but it could just as easily be called "mini dinosaurs - they're everywhere!" To prove it, I have one in my living room right now, even while I'm typing these words. His name is Pearl, and he is a 19-year-old cockatiel (parrot). Pearl has a beak, and claws, and - most importantly to earn true modern mini-dinosaur status - feathers. According to Dr. Brusatte, some of the earliest dinos on our planet also had feathers. Of course, their feathers initially looked more like hairs - think "ostrich" rather than "peacock" and you'll be on the right track. But what is most interesting about all this is not even that extinct dinosaurs had feathers or that over time, those early skinny hair-like feathers evolved to the point where they became the aerodynamic masterpieces that inspired the Wright Brothers to make metal ones, attach it to a metal body, add a tail and call it an "airplane." What is most interesting is that these early feathers apparently didn't evolve for the purposes of flight.
I am newly turned 48 years old this year. I have lived on this round blue planet for nearly half a century. This (to my mind at least) is a not insignificant amount of time. I have had lots of years to make mistakes, learn from those mistakes, try again, make more mistakes, learn from those mistakes, try again. I have watched myself go from a literal human-doing, someone who ruled herself with the iron fist of lengthy to-do lists - and when I say "lengthy" I mean 20, 40, 50 items on a daily to-do list - to more of a human-being, who can let her gut make the daily to-do list and even change it up in the moment if that feels right. But I haven't yet been able to let the to-do lists go. I haven't yet been able to relinquish the doing in favor of simply being. Perhaps part of the reason for this is because I am more than a little afraid I am going to like "being" so much I stop "doing" entirely! Someone has to earn the rent money around here, and it certainly isn't going to be the rest of my feathered and shelled flock doing it! And part of the reason, I suspect, is because I still don't know how.
Falling in love with words at a young age has taken me to some very interesting places. One of the most interesting - and least comfortable - of these places were the years I spent as a traveling motivational speaker. In theory, I was attempting to motivate others - particularly college students who struggled with eating or other issues the way I had done when I was in college myself. But in reality, looking back now, I have to admit I was mostly hoping to motivate myself. Every time I would speak to a group of students and instructors, I would learn something new about my own journey. Most importantly, I would discover again and again how very important, vital, essential, my mentors have been in keeping me alive and helping me heal, one small aha moment at a time. I'm pretty sure the only reason any institution ever hired me to speak was because they wanted to hear the eating disorder basics from the horse's mouth, so to speak - warning signs, triggers, symptoms, how to help a loved one, that sort of thing. And these were all very important topics that I wanted to cover. But they weren't nearly so important as the one topic I absolutely planned to cover during my talks. That topic was mentoring. I say this because, in over two decades' worth of fighting to heal from anorexia and bulimia, I learned one single thing that literally saved my life, and I wanted each person in the audience to learn about it too. What I learned is that I have a choice who I listen to in this life. I have a choice who I look to for guidance, inspiration, support, help. I have a choice who I surround myself with. Even more importantly, I learned that if I don't make this choice for myself, the world will make it for me. This world we live in is literally chock-full of mentors. We have so many mentors it would be impossible to count them up. This world's mentors are busy each and every day creating new content to slow down our internet connections and boggle our brains. These mentors clog up our freeways with billboards and bulk up our magazines with ads. They interrupt our television programs to tell us about new products and services and programs we can buy to make ourselves better, stronger, bigger or smaller, depending on who is talking and who is listening and what the day's self-betterment goals may be. But what these mentors - the world's mentors - will never ever say, what we will never EVER hear from them, is this: