According to my teacher, Adriene, the word "yoga" means "union." So I suppose I shouldn't have been so surprised today - after nearly a year studying with Adriene and many more years of interest and pursuit of yoga in its various forms - to discover that I didn't really know this! Worse, I realized I didn't really know - don't know - what that union feels like. Here, I am tempted to type "what that union should feel like" but adding the word should makes the whole situation feel worse, not better. What I'm left pondering is, what does union feel like for me? Or, as Adriene put it this morning, "what is the difference between doing and being?" What is the difference between doing yoga and being unified from the inside out and the outside in? I confess I am not completely sure. But I suspect it has something to do with the fact that Adriene and I practice together each day (thanks to the glories of YouTube) and she does the poses like an effortless yoga butterfly while I have had to add a second yoga mat to cushion my knees/elbows/booty from too-frequent falls. Some of those postures are - wow. Like, who knew the human body could (in theory anyway) do THAT?! I'm not sure how long Adriene has been practicing and teaching yoga, but I am sure it is quite a bit longer than me. So I try not to be too terribly hard on myself when she glides through yet another yoga session, finding time and breath between each impossible new pose to encourage me, issue instructions, pat her dog Benji, smile (smile!) at her camera crew and stay looking as fresh and unflustered as a spring daisy. I suppose it is a blessing she can't hear my parrot, Pearl, screeching his way through each and every session, which I suspect he thinks is his mom's pathetic daily attempt to learn to fly. But what I do know is that the first step towards learning anything new is becoming aware there is a lesson. Today, after many months of sessions and many years of other yogic pursuits, I finally realize I am "doing" yoga.
I've never been completely sure I know how to pray. Even when I say to myself, "I am going to pray" or "I need to pray" or "I am praying," I'm not ever convinced that what I'm doing is actually praying. I've tried many different recommended techniques over the years. I went through a period where I was praying formal prayers (an example might be the Lord's Prayer). In another phase, I practiced simply opening my inner space to the silence and asking it to teach me Rosaries (despite the fact I'm not Catholic) and rudraksha beads have also been periodic favorites, especially when I feel the need to pray while out walking, traveling or even while trapped in social situations I haven't yet figured out how to escape from. Whether tackling the proper prayer position, the recommended length for the prayer time or even dividing up how much of the time period should be spent talking (praying) versus not talking, it is all a particularly slippery slope in my world. For example, while my lightly Christian upbringing brought with it countless reminders that the "on your knees" prayer position is ideal, I can count on one hand the number of times I have ever prayed while kneeling - and most of those were in context with publicly kneeling on something comfy and padded during some type of religious service. Otherwise, my knees simply won't stand for it and the rest of me isn't enthused either. The line between meditation, contemplation and prayer feels particularly blurry. They sound like three separate things. So I have experienced some amount of consternation in regards to whether I have completed adequate amounts of each on a regular basis as well as which one of the three should be done first. Mostly these days, I have found myself gravitating towards meditation and contemplation rather than prayer, because I am not so plagued with worries about being too self-centered when I am doing these practices. I figure whatever comes up - or out - that is what was needed for me to grow, grieve, evolve, whatever. But then recently I was reading Martha Beck's memoir called "Leaving the Saints." In this memoir, she talks about her experiences with religion - and specifically Mormonism - growing up and then again in adulthood. While I've never been especially drawn to self-identify with a particular religious path (although there are times I have absolutely done in during attempts to fit in), I have found this book especially intriguing from the perspective that one particular branch of my family is devoutly Mormon. But that is not why I decided to read "Leaving the Saints." I decided to read it because, like Martha Beck, I experienced trauma and abuse at the hands of religious leaders and I wanted to learn more about how she healed from that in her own life. So far, reading her book has been so helpful! And one of the most helpful parts has also been one of the least anticipated.
"Hope is a muscle." When my yoga teacher, Adriene, first said this, I was in the midst of attempting to balance in a pose she calls "humble warrior" and I call "hanging off the edge of a cliff." With all muscles locked and loaded - not to mention keenly interested in anything that would keep us from landing nose-first on the hardwood floor - I processed this like, "Hope. Muscle. Uh huh. Got it." It wasn't until later that I realized there isn't a single muscle in my body named hope...or trust, or faith, for that matter. Adriene talks about this trio a lot in some of our lessons, and currently I have the words "Hope" and "Trust" along with "Reliance" (another form of faith Adriene mentioned recently) written on my dry erase boards just above my writing desk. It is necessary, so I won't forget. Unlike "hamstring" or "gluteus maximus," hope, faith, trust, reliance and their ilk feel strangely disembodied.
I won't beat around the bush. It is love. Love is the one thing that really helps ease grief. The thing is, people who are grieving don't want to wait for answers. We can't wait. We feel like if we wait for one more second - for insights, for "processing" (grrrr), for growth, for 20/20 hindsight - we will literally die....of grief. Grief doesn't really care if the someone or something you lost is dead, dying or still alive and well and now occupying space in a place separate and apart from your space. Grief is just grief. And for some reason, it takes awhile to work its way through your system - or at least it does if your grief is anything like my grief. I don't think I will ever understand grief with my mind. My mind says, "Hey, there's an easy way to fix this. Just fall in love with someone else. Just go volunteer to help someone less fortunate (this is a fun one - my mind can then productively occupy itself for hours trying to visualize another soul who could possibly be more clueless, hard-up, at the end of her rope, and thus less fortunate, than I am). Just live and be happy - that is what they (the dearly departed) would want you to do." My mind is all about resolving the grief by fixing the problem (whatever is causing the grief). My heart, meanwhile, opts for exactly the opposite approach. It wades right on in to the grief, swimming around inside, checking all those feelings out from every angle with the handy help of a snorkel mask and a pair of flippers.
Over on my parrot's blog, we regularly post a "his and hers" grateful list. Of course, this list tends to be rather brief on account of the epic battle that typically ensues for who gets to be master of the keyboard that day. This list is a little different. If you have been following along regularly or popping in and out here over the last 12 months, you know this year has presented some special challenges for our little flock. Hurricane Harvey flooded my folks' house and so we've spent the last year moving them here and there while trying to put their casa back in order. Around the time that process kicked off, I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism - a sufficiently severe case that my thyroid had apparently taken off on sabbatical without telling any of us. Then, not so long ago (just last month, in fact), my longtime love and I parted ways. Mornings, evenings and all other times are the hardest right now. But there is also an unmistakable underlying peace I personally only feel when I have done the hard, right, loving thing that needed to be done. All that aside, the one practice that has consistently bailed me out, sometimes hauled me out ankles-first, throughout this last chaotic, life-upending year has been gratitude. Finding something - anything - to be grateful for reminds me we really are all in this together. If I hurt, I hurt together. If I smile, I smile together. If I wonder if any of this will ever feel okay again, I wonder this together. Taking time to reflect over the last year probably isn't a particularly original tradition, but since my birthday and the holidays and the New Year all falls in the same month for me, and that month just happens to be the last month of every year, it has always seemed like pretty much of a no-brainer to do this life reflection now and not at some other time. So without further ado, here is what I am most grateful for this year!
So here we are. Here I am. Another year has raced (shuffled) by. Looking back might still feel premature....looking forward too vast, wide-open. So we look within. I look within. I feel like we are all born with certain "presets" - personality traits or bents or preferences. Some of us are more outgoing and extroverted, while others (such as yours truly) are more introverted and solitary. But then we also gather up the presets or preferences of others - our parents, teachers, peers, friends, frenemies - as we go through life. One person wants us to be more like this, while another person wishes we were more like that. We probably try our best to accommodate. How hard we try depends a lot on how much we want what only seems possible by conforming, or how afraid we are of the consequences of not conforming, such as losing the company of someone we feel we love or want or need in our life. But then there is us, ourselves, our own company. Maybe we are born loving the company we naturally keep. Maybe we start out that way (I truly believe we all do - whyever would we not?) and then gradually over time and with exposure to others we perhaps become disenchanted with ourselves. We wish we were different. We wish we looked different, acted different, spoke different, lived different. We strive to make these changes. We think - I think - "well I'm here now, I have this one life to live, why not go for what I want in life?" There is just one teensy, tiny issue.
This past month, after a long progression of breakups and makeups, I finally parted ways with my longtime love. And when I say "longtime," I don't just mean a few years. I mean a good third of my life to date. It is not like things were just rosy, rosy, rosy, then sucked. While I've never managed to climb a mountain (or even a really big hill), I have to imagine our connection has been somewhat like that process. In other words, all the planning in the world can't equip you for that one great obstacle: the daily and ever-changing unknown. You can study the guide books, bring along all the right gear, set a lofty goal, wear the right clothing....and then get to the trailhead and discover you have a mortal fear of heights. This actually happened to me, by the way. It was two years ago, and we were all set to hike straight up the tallest mountain in Texas. Ten minutes up the trail I was doubled over, heaving, sweating, hyperventilating. And that was that. That was a really painful failure. But it wasn't nearly so painful as this.
Not so long ago I blogged about one of my favorite ways to create protective boundaries in a hurry. It was called "How to 'Zip Up'." This post seemed to hit home for many of you and I was very happy to read your comments. :-) Personally, I continue to use this tactic whenever I realize nearly too late that I need a bit of extra reinforcement or insulation from the surrounding world and the people in it. I just visualize myself grabbing hold of a zipper pull that starts at my big toes. I pull it all the way up and over my head and all the way down my back until I get to my heels. Then I pull it down under my heels and across the soles of my feet until it meets the other end of the zipper back at my big toes again. After I do this, I can go on about my day, happy and feeling fully reinforced by a protective force field only I know is there. Lately I've been realizing that being out in the "real world" isn't the only place I need the protection of zipping up. More than occasionally of late I've hopped online with a wide open mind and heart, quite innocently opening up a browser window and popping in to check my email or social media accounts, only to encounter.....trolls.
Have you ever had one of those moments when you suddenly learn something new and shocking about yourself and this makes you think, "Do I even know myself at all?" I sure do. In fact, while I used to assume I would gradually get to know myself better and better as I got older and older, as I am actually getting older I am finding - oddly - the reverse seems more true. The older I get, the stranger I seem to myself. I will do something and then think, "Why did I just do that?" Or I will think something and then wonder, "Why on earth do I think that way?" Sometimes I lie in bed in the morning or evening and can't make heads or tails of myself or my life. There are days I think I'm washed up at (nearly) 48. Like, maybe this is it. This is me. This is my personality. This is my body. These are my genes. This is my life. It is set. I've tried to change and I just can't. And it all seems so mysterious, especially from the gal whose governing motto in life often appears to to be, "Well, how hard could it be? I'll just go ahead and try it and see." But this really only applies if that opportunity even knocks. Some opportunities - the same ones that frequently appear to come so readily into other people's lives - have never even passed by my door, let alone taken the time to walk all the way up the front walkway and knock! And I wonder about that, too. Am I doing something wrong? Am I being someone wrong, that this thing or experience or feeling I so want remains so elusive? I would have loved to title this blog post, "What to do when you don't know who you are." But I have no idea. So I can't write that blog post - at least not yet. All I know to do at this point is to keep asking the questions, ad nauseam if I have to, to keep reminding myself not to go outside into comparisons with others but to go inside into conversations with myself, to keep waking up and staying curious and open and interested in getting to know this being inside my skin, the one who is using my name, wearing my clothes and living my life with or without my permission or approval. For those of you who have been popping in here regularly over the years, you know Don Miguel Ruiz is one of my absolute favorite teachers and mentors. Recently and with great excitement I started reading his newest book. It is called "The Three Questions." So far I've only read the first chapter and I've already had the book for three weeks. This is because that first chapter is so profound I am stuck there, still reading and re-reading his words about how everything - absolutely EVERYTHING - in our life is a story. In that first chapter, he talks briefly yet at profound depth about how we get so good at crafting and then telling and re-telling the stories of our lives. We get so good at it that we get stuck there, like to the point we should put it on our resume as a marketable skill, because we have honed the stories we tell and how we tell them to a fine art.
I was seven years old when I first saw "Star Wars." And ever since then (so for 41 years and approximately 357 days), it has been my dearest wish to feel the Force and be a Jedi knight like Luke Skywalker. As a girl, I remember watching the movie over and over and over again, and every time it would end I would feel this incredible let-down....like why do all the best ideas have to be fiction - make-believe? Because if there was anything in life I knew I could really use, it was a healthy dose of the Force. For the past I don't know how many years, I have also been dreaming several recurring dreams. They come around again and again, unwelcome reruns with tense yet predictable cliffhanger endings that never resolve. In one of these dreams, I am driving and I can't see anything, because my eyes won't work. It is like I am looking out through them as usual trying to make out what is up ahead on the road, but my eyes are stuck on some image from the past and that is all they will show me. Time and again, night after night, for years now, I have experienced that sick, sinking sensation of racing too fast around hairpin curves on dangerous roads with no safety rails - and no way to see what is coming up ahead. I experience myself yanking the steering wheel this way and that, trying not to go careening off the edge of a cliff or freeway overpass, not knowing from one second to the next whether it will be my last. This morning, I woke up after another night of this same dream, frustrated beyond belief.