I love the phrase "good company." Hearing or saying or even thinking these two words immediately brings up a vision of me, surrounded by the best beings I know. Only, I don't always actually know - as in a "hi good to see you" kind of know - these beings. Some are alive in spirit form only. Some are alive in body and spirit but we've never met face to face. Some are homo sapiens like me and others are bodies of water, areas of land, or beings with feathers or shells or fur. These beings give me wings to fly and flippers to dive inside and scales to shake it off when the need arises. They are my inspiration, my mentors, my teachers and best friends and soulmates and life partners. If you have a minute, open your browser and type in "you become like the people closest to you." See what pops up (pages and pages no doubt). Everyone has their theory on why we become like those we keep company with. When I first heard this hypothesis, it was under the umbrella of my studies (at that time) into social connectivity - how the various degrees of connection that loosely knit us all together can unsubtly or even unconsciously influence the choices we make. Back then, this concept was electrifying to me. It felt like one of those "manual of life" mysteries from that very same manual everyone else had already gotten and I was still looking for.
It is hard for me sometimes to realize that I have nearly half a century of living under my belt and I still have so many doubts. Oh, and fears. And also so many worries. I should have done this. I could have done that. Am I doing it right? According to my yoga teacher, Adriene, by the way, the answer to that last question is YES. Of course, here she is talking about a mat maneuver called "cat/cow" and not about whether I should have attempted to spray paint my car without reading the instructions first, or whether it was a good idea to spend all of last night reading my stack of tiny house library books rather than writing to earn rent money. So I suppose it is all relative. Still, this morning when I heard Adriene say, "If you are wondering if you are doing it right, the answer is YES," it felt really GOOD. I felt so reassured! For just a moment, the tiniest instant of instants, the merest flash of flashes, all seemed right with my world. I am doing it RIGHT. Oh. thank. goodness. And yet it seems somehow, well, wrong that doing things wrong has gotten such a bad rap.
Sometimes I think I will never learn to love myself, and most especially the part of me that I reside in, my body. Although I think perhaps I knew how to do this during the first decade of my life. Early pictures of me show a girl who seemed quite comfortable taking up space, letting it all hang out, employing creativity to accent my person (oh such creativity!), asking for what I needed and just generally living fully as me. But around age 10, something big shifted - specifically, my hormones. I was an "early bloomer" and as I bloomed physically, the way those around me related to me changed. Oh how they changed! Suddenly it was all about boobs and butts and boys and girls and rules and dress codes and shame and secrecy. I remember one day in elementary school the teachers showed this video - yup, it was "that" video. Boys and girls were segregated to watch it separately. We were warned never to talk about it after we'd seen it - especially not with the boys. After the video, which was made quite a bit scarier by how the adults all seemed to be tiptoeing around it, we all filed by each other, boys in one line and girls in the other. All afternoon, we watched each other to see who would be first to step across that silent line and just say it - MAN. That was WEIRD. I grew up and out in all the ways a tween begins to do about a year earlier than everyone else in my class, both boys and girls. To say that got me noticed, especially in the wake of the school-wide viewing of "the film," was an understatement. I might as well have painted a target right over my heart. Even the teachers got in on the bullying, whether by joining in or simply not saying a word. The adults in my life at that point were good at silence. I got good at it too. I got so good at silence I didn't really talk to anyone about much of anything for years. It would be another decade before I opened up to anyone again. By that time, as I attempted with all my might to disentangle myself from a mind gripped with an endless feedback loop of thoughts about eating-not-eating-weight-calories-size-shape-body-body-body, I was really out of practice with forming friendships. So I didn't really have any of those for awhile.
When I heard my yoga teacher, Adriene, say this in our class this morning, I thought, "Well, that certainly explains it!" It was like I was hearing this for the very first time. And I can guarantee you that in 47 and nearly three-quarters years to date, this definitely isn't the first time I've heard it. But perhaps it is the first time I've really listened. Adriene likened this to how the whole body, lungs, ribcage, chest expands when we draw breath in, and then as naturally contracts as we let our breath go out again. Expansion, contraction. Expansion, contraction. Expansion, contraction. As I pondered this more, I began to suspect something in my perception is off....very off. If every expansion is naturally followed by a contraction, then every contraction should be naturally followed by an expansion. Yet it doesn't feel like this, often or hardly ever in my life. If I had to describe how an average day feels to me, it would go something like this: Expansion, contraction, contraction, contraction. Expansion, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction. Expansion, contraction. Expansion, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction, contraction. You get the picture. So what's up? Is my perception just off? Or am I the exception to natural biochemical law? Am I just doing something way bad and wrong that is causing all these extra (alleged) contractions? Do I maybe not know enough to recognize expansion in a contracting disguise, so I am mis-labeling the two?
As many of you already know, I am the proud mama of one set of feathers and two shells. Pearl, Malti & Bruce are my world. One dear friend has nicknamed them "my inner flock" and I couldn't agree more! What does this have to do with eat or be eaten, you might be wondering? Well, Malti & Bruce, my red footed tortoise and 3-toed box turtle, both enjoy eating live prey. This hasn't always been easy for me to, well, stomach. I personally have never eaten live prey, and I stopped eating not-live prey (except for fish, occasionally) when I was 16. This is relevant because guess who has to feed Malti and Bruce their live prey? Yup. Me. Earthworms are a favorite treat. So are snails and slugs. And Bruce is especially partial to mealworms. All species put up quite a fight when offered and I will say my shells are not always the most humane hunters. This is especially true for Malti, who is still figuring out exactly what to do with that live delicious thing that has much faster reflexes than she does. So the other day I decided to do some research in hopes of helping me feel less guilty when I offer up one live being to be consumed by another live being.
Are you ordinary extraordinary? I know that I am. Of course, you might be thinking right now, "No, I'm not ordinary extraordinary. I'm extraordinary extraordinary." Which is awesome, of course. The truth is, there are lots of flat-out extraordinary beings on this planet. They are doing unbelievable, unrepeatable things, like figuring out how to colonize Mars or make gasoline out of cheeseburgers or clean all that plastic out of our oceans. But I am not in this group. I, personally, am in the group that has her hands plenty full just trying to get through the average day. And I don't ever seem to have any time left over from these oh-so-ordinary activities to tackle the tougher stuff like curing cancer or getting Pluto its "big planet" status back. Sometimes this makes me feel very ordinary indeed. And yet I know I am not ordinary....or not just ordinary. I am also extraordinary. I say this with full humility and for only one totally fact-based reason: I am the only me there is. I am also the only me who ever has been and the only me who ever will be. If that isn't a clear bid for extraordinary, I don't know what is.
Normally I am not a big fan of posts like "4 ways to....", mostly because I often find myself nodding sagely all the way through them, only to emerge out the other side still as befuddled as I was before I read them. I now suspect this is because (as one of my favorite new mentors, life coach and author Martha Beck, often says) you can't just read about the suggested changes in order to feel their effect. For this, you actually have to TRY them. Whoops. My bad. So here I am now, fresh from trying so many of Martha Beck's suggested exercises (as well as many others from different favorite mentors you are about to read about), writing my own "4 ways to...." post. Why? Basically, because sometimes you just don't have time to go read a whole book and practice 25 or 200 new techniques before you can figure out how to shove things around in your life and create some much-needed space. Sometimes you need to create space in a hurry - like, NOW. So here goes....4 tips to create space "right away no waiting" which is how my impatient parrot, Pearl, insists on having everything he wants. 1. Create space in the BODY.
How often in the average day do you feel at home in your own life? In your own skin, even? Once a day? Once in the morning and once at night? Once an hour? Ever? I spent many, many years feeling like a visitor to my own life. Like, I had been handed this time. I had been given this body, this mind, this face, this awareness. But I just couldn't figure out what I was supposed to do with it. So I would "drop in" on my life from time to time, moving in and out of commitment, in and out of connection, in and out of alignment with my identity as "me." When I would do this, I would notice all over again how some of it I liked, but some of it I didn't like, and my efforts to change what I didn't like rarely bore fruit, and ultimately I would end up feeling, yet again, like I just wasn't really sure I wanted to live here, in this skin, in this life, as me. By the way, all this began really early in life for me - this feeling of groundlessness, rootlessness, the awareness of the choice to stay or go, own or abdicate ownership of the entity called "me." For awhile I did whatever felt most expeditious or simply safest. If I was in trouble or felt uncomfortable, I was out of there (in mental health circles I think this would be called "dissociation.") When the coast looked clear, I might tiptoe back out of hiding...and into my life and skin again....hoping against hope as I did so that I wouldn't be noticed. Later, as I learned the fine art of comparison with others, I attempted to make bargains with my life and myself - if I could be nicer, thinner, smarter, more successful, well, then I'd be okay to stay, to live in this life for now and maybe even stick around for awhile. Not surprisingly, this proved to be an equally erratic - untrustworthy - unsuccessful approach. I went through a period of suffering. To label my feelings during this time as "righteous indignation" wouldn't be far off the mark. I felt like the collection of traits, attributes, even body parts I'd been assigned hadn't been assembled for optimal life experience and I wanted to know where to go to complain.
My love affair with yoga has been off and on since I was in my mid-twenties (think "it's complicated" and you'll get the right idea). I have moved - on every level - through what I am now coming to think of as the "many phases of yoga" - discovering first its near-miraculous ability to help me and my body stop openly hating each other, next its powerful detoxifying properties (those were the hot yoga years) and now, its transformative impact on my beleaguered and exhausted thyroid. But in choosing to embrace yoga for a third time thus far in life, I am also getting SO much more than even all of that. For this, I credit my YouTube yoga teacher, internet celeb and actress Adriene Mischler of #yogawithadriene, whose teaching motto is "find what feels good." Yay! Adriene has a unique strategy for slipping each essential lesson into my psyche. She waits until I am wobbling about so desperately, just flailing for balance, sure I'm about to crash land on my own hardwoods, and then casually says something like "Create space by opening through the chest." Hah. Sure. I'll get right on that as soon as I'm done performing Swan Lake over here. But then I notice it. Space. Where before there was that sickening tight pulling sensation in my shoulders and neck area, there is more....ease. Breath. Relief. Release.
"Notice what it feels like to be alive today." My online yoga teacher, Adriene, often encourages us to "take a moment and notice how it feels to be alive today," But since she usually says this right after she has led us in through yet another mind-bending sequence of poses my body clearly hadn't planned on doing that day, I actually have never heard - I mean truly heard and comprehended - her saying this until this morning. So I decided to try it. Lying there in shavasana (does it seem a little more than coincidence that the finishing pose for most yoga classes is called "corpse pose?"), I try to tune in and notice what it feels like to be alive today. What does it feel like? Just to be ALIVE? The first thing I notice is phlegm. Ew. I clear my throat and decide that was just a warm-up. I try again. Notice what it feels like to be alive today. I feel my heart beat. In my THROAT. Okay, weird. Slightly creepy. Maybe it is just because I am lying down and that makes my heart beat higher or something. Another test-run. I try again. Notice what it feels like to be alive today. And that is when I feel it.