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.
My online yoga teacher, #yogawithadriene, says this all the time. "Give your thinking mind a break." Every time I hear her say this, I breathe a sigh of relief. "Oh, that. Yes, that is just what I need." There is only one problem. My thinking mind doesn't WANT a break. My mind likes to think. Even when what it is thinking makes the rest of us miserable, it is blissfully happy, churning out thought after thought after thought. It makes no difference to my mind whether it is thinking thoughts of doom and gloom ("you are going to be alone forever," "you have no friends," "you have no cash") or glee and glory ("just wait til Friday when you win the lottery!"). It is utterly fulfilled, doing what it was born to do, thinking and thinking and thinking. It feels on top of the world, even as it shovels thought upon thought upon thought to bury us all alive. I have to consciously work with my mind, talk to it, send it more thoughts, to get it to buy in to the idea that taking a "thought break" is actually a really good idea. "You can rest," I tell it. "But I'm not tired," my mind replies. "Think about silence," I suggest. "Okay, I did that. Now what?" says my mind. "Just breathe." I wait. "Ummmm...." It takes my mind a minute, but it is up and thinking again in no time. Even thoughts about breathing are better than no thoughts.
Recently, I have begun to notice something quite odd going on inside my head. I suspect it has been happening for many years - perhaps all my years - but I never really noticed it until now. I have author and life coach Martha Beck to thank for this, by the way. I am now working my way through book number four in her (thankfully) large library, each of which tackles the topic of living our "one wild and precious life" from a unique and related angle. This is a good thing, since while I am otherwise occupied reading about one angle, I can already feel my queasy and discombobulated brain attempting to maneuver to slip out through another angle and go back to its comfortable old ways once more. Its ways, I am finding, include lots of thinking. In fact, it would seem I have a presence I'm starting to call the "inner narrator" who thinks I need a verbal blow-by-blow of every. single. tortuous. moment. of. every. single. day. in order to grasp what is unfolding. Here is an example. Let's say my nose begins to itch, and then to drip. My inner narrator says to me, "Hey your nose is itching. Now it is dripping." Just as I'm starting to reach for the tissue box beside my computer, my inner narrator advises, "You should go get a tissue and blow your nose." While I'm blowing, the inner narrator updates me with, "Blowing nose. Check." Then I am advised to toss or keep the tissue, depending on flow strength and viscosity. Each twitch of a muscle, every possible potential next step, is detailed in excruciating verbal detail. The effect is less like listening to a heavily personalized audio book and more like getting flattened when a mack truck full of words backs right over you. Only I never even knew it was happening until Martha Beck entered my life.
Ever since I can remember, I have delighted in rearranging things. My first memories of this are joyous solitary hours immersed in color-coordinating and categorizing every item in my closet. Red shirts, blue shirts, red pants, blue pants....you get the idea. Then came the epic colored glass collection, stored in a handy fishing lure box, with each little dazzling bit in its little compartment along with its green or yellow or orange companions. To this day, if I happen to miss the (many, blaring, glaring) signs that big or small change is heading in my direction yet again, I can always catch a clue when I catch myself rearranging the furniture, my sock drawer, the tortoise habitats. The other day, my weekly yoga letter arrived (courtesy of one of my favorite new mentors, #YogawithAdriene). Apparently the online community is studying a book called "The Untethered Soul: A Journey Beyond Yourself." Adriene included this quote from the book: You have to break the habit of thinking that the solution to your problems is to rearrange things outside. The only permanent solution to your problems is to go inside and let go of the part of you that seems to have so many problems with reality. It probably won't surprise you to hear I rushed to my online library account to reserve the book. But what has surprised me is how mixed my feelings actually are about this quote!
Is there such a thing as too much love? I'll be honest - I used to think so. Looking back now, I think this is because I didn't think much of my capacity to love. I thought I couldn't love well if I had lots of beings I needed to love. This is kind of harder to explain than I thought it would be. But basically I have never had many close people or pets in my life at one time. I've always been the type of person who has had one or a few close friends and one pet at a time. Mostly, my dating relationships have been short-term, except for this last one, which is a topic for a whole separate blog post (or book or encyclopedia series). I come from a small family - two parents, one brother, one dog. Our relatives never lived close by. We saw the grandparents once a year or so. Everyone was all spread out all over the country with paths that rarely intersected. So "more" has always been a rather big concern of mine. I didn't want to get overloaded in case I couldn't handle it. Perhaps this speaks well of my desire to live well, do well, love well, or maybe it mostly points the finger at the perfectionistic streak that has long attempted to convince me that anything I can't do perfectly isn't worth doing. I don't really know. Maybe it is a bit of both. The reason I am even attempting to articulate this whole issue is because of my three pets. Pearl, Malti and Bruce were each surprises in my life, each in their own way. Pearl came to me at a time in my life when I absolutely, positively and completely didn't want to have another pet parrot....ever. I had just lost my precious three-year-old cockatiel, Jacob, from congenital kidney failure, a long and painful process ending in me howling with grief while burying his tiny bird body behind the fence at my parents' home. My parents decided I needed another bird and went scouting at local pet stores to find a cockatiel. They called me up one day and insisted I swing by the local Petsmart on my lunch hour. I really didn't want to....but I went....and the rest is history. Pearl and I locked eyes - me a desperate, still grief-crazed ex-cockatiel mommy and him a downy grey ball of henpecked fluff covered in baby bird formula desperately in need of rescuing. We rescued each other. My heart expanded in a way I thought it never could after Jacob's passing. Fast forward a few years and I'm in the middle of a very painful separation.
Even as I was typing out my thoughts here, Malti (my young tortoise) and Pearl (my parrot) were having the most interesting "what if" simulation, with Malti gazing at Pearl and Pearl gazing at me and my brain/mind thinking it had no idea how to simulate in advance how this interaction might
Saving money. Healing the body. Healing the mind. Falling in love. Grieving a loss. Getting in shape. Forgiving a hurt....
Saving money. Healing the body. Healing the mind. Falling in love. Grieving a loss. Getting in shape. Forgiving a hurt....
My 18-year-old parrot (cockatiel), Pearl, is my world. He is my soul bird. When I look at him, I see my whole life - our life together - flash before my eyes. I see strength, and resilience. I see weakness and fear. I see dependence and interdependence and independence all wrapped into one messy love-soaked, snot-nosed package that represents every day before we knew one another and every day after he (one day) passes before me. I often look at Pearl and tell him, "Your job is to be immortal." Some days I really think that if I believe hard enough that this is possible, he will live forever, because that is what I need him to do. (For the record, to date the oldest living cockatiel is 34....so for starters we are aiming to beat that goal and then we'll take it from there.) But what blows me away isn't any of this, believe it or not. Because I have other beings in my life - my family, my friends, my shells (Malti and Bruce), my mentor. I have other beings I can turn to, lean on, count on. Pearl has me. And me. He has ONLY me. And here is what REALLY blows me away.
In my last post here, I shared about the devastating grief I have been working through over the last month to date. If you are just reading this blog as a first-timer, you may not know a thing about me, and you really don't need to know anything other than that I can recite the five stages of grief by heart. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression/Sadness. Acceptance. See? This sounds a lot worse than it is, but honestly I am a grief process veteran. Or junkie. Or whatever you would call someone who likes to work through her grief by naming each stage (out loud if necessary) so I don't just think I'm having another cosmic meltdown right out in public. If I can pinpoint the feeling I'm having, like "oh that's ANGER," it helps me remember that I'm grieving (sometimes, believe it or not, I forget and just think I woke up on the wrong side of the bed or something) and gives me a structure and a timeline of sorts so I don't think it will just last forever. Although it might. Grieving offers no guarantees. But I prefer to name the stages and tell myself if I just stay patient and open, it will process itself out and I will emerge healed and whole and ready for new adventures. So here I am sitting in the midst of wild grief, sobbing on the phone to my dear friend, telling her I am just so SCARED. And that is when it hits me. Where is "SCARED" in the 5-stage process of grief? It is nowhere! Fear is such a strong part of every deep grief experience I've ever had, from recovering from anorexia and bulimia to recovering from depression and panic to losing human loved ones to ending relationships to mourning pets who pass....and yet it is NOWHERE in the official grief process. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Sadness/Depression. Acceptance. See? No fear. Literally.
Last month my heart got broken into little itty bitty tiny bits. Like, the kind or heartbreak where the glass has been so shattered on impact that all you see the next day when you walk by are teensy glitters peering up at you from the asphalt. I cried like all hope was lost, because to me it was. Or it felt like it was, anyway. After walking a path that has consumed a full third of my life to date, I had arrived, only discover I had turned the wrong way at the fork all those many years ago. That evening, returning home, I remembered the library book I had picked up just before leaving town one week prior. The book was called "Steering by Starlight." I was so exhausted I didn't think I would be able to comprehend a single word, but I was also afraid my grief would wake me up in the middle of the night and I wouldn't be able to soothe myself and go back to sleep, which I desperately needed. I needed something - anything - that could help me make it through the long night ahead. So I cracked the cover, skipped the introduction altogether and dove into Chapter one, which was called (perfectly for my situation), "The End." I found my lifeline. And I haven't let go since. The author, Martha Beck, was a new name to me, but as it turned out she is connected to so many other mentors well known and beloved to me, including Elizabeth Gilbert and Byron Katie, which made it easy to open my heart and let her words and her wisdom in. The chapter "The End" started by describing an employer who was trying to decide which of two employees to hire.