Has it been hitting the fan lately? For whatever reason, maybe the holiday bustle on the horizon, the turmoil in the global markets, or who knows, even the alignment of the stars, the past few weeks have thrown a couple curve balls my way as well as in the lives of many I know. Nothing insurmountable, but challenges that, let’s face it, get our attention in a very demanding way.
In the last month, all three of my children have had pneumonia. When my eldest was diagnosed with it, I figured it was that she burned the candle at both ends, and that rest and medicine would have her back on her feet in no time. A few days later, my middle daughter’s visit to the pediatrician revealed the same diagnosis and I came to a similar conclusion about our busy schedule. But, the following week, when the pediatrician said my third daughter also had pneumonia, I turned the finger toward myself. I began the rant – must be that I’m not feeding them right, not getting them to bed early enough, not disinfecting the house with strong enough chemicals. Maybe we don’t laugh enough (my fault too, somehow). As the mom, it seems a natural impulse to feel responsible for it all, to blame ourselves, to wind up wounding ourselves in the process of offering the best for our family. The fear that I caused my children’s suffering blended into other emotions, such as anger. Then, like two awkward teenagers, the twin forces of fear and anger began to dance: I indulged, bitched, screamed, overate, shopped for stuff I didn’t need or even want, and generally checked out. Slipping into these behaviors in the face of stress was like tumbling down a greased water slide. Easy, except that it didn’t feel good, the way a fun water slide might. I imagine that any of you who’ve been there would agree, these behaviors while initially relieving, actually exacerbate the stress by adding another layer of crap on top.
When the stress is at a lower level, I know all the techniques to soothe myself—breathe deeply, connect to Source, stay committed to the process and let go of attachment to the outcome. Sure, sure. When it’s hitting the fan, however, it is easy to forget these ideas and grab for a different energy. So, the question is, how can I reach for these life-supporting goodies first, and not only first, but consistently?
I think the answer has something to do with fully accepting the situation at hand, even if every fiber of my being wishes it were otherwise. Yes, I gave the kids antibiotics and had them rest, so I accepted it to the extent to which was helpful for their healing. My emotionally checking out though, was an attempt to protect myself from the full-force of the concern and worry. A significant part of the stress was that I was fighting against my life. The present situation didn’t fit with my idea of what a healthy family should experience, and I felt victimized by the germ factory of their school.
Thank goodness, the kids are now healthy and happy and engaged in their lives in a beautiful way (knock wood). And in a real way, I was given the chance to see how I run from the stress of my life by distracting myself. Relaxing into what is, that is much more challenging, but may hold a central piece of the answer to reducing the stressful energy around the stressors. Relaxing into what is can be the turn-key that stops the behaviors that ultimately degrade vibrant health and well-being. I only can breathe deeply, stay connected to Source, and let go of attachment once I release the fight against what is present. I guess that is why they call it practice!
Is Anybody Out There Breathing? Well, not me. Sure, I’m breathing on my mat. Like a banchee. Darth Vader’s sister couldn’t do a better job: smooth, loud, continuous. But, off the mat: as shallow as Paris Hilton. My breath just skims the surface, keeping me alive, but not really filling me with life force, chi, prana. Just gets me by. A friend recently pointed out that I don’t take in full breaths when I’m just hanging out. Guess I haven’t in years. This might be part of why yoga appealed to me all those years ago—someone telling me to breath, even for an hour or so. At least in the finite experience on the mat, I was breathing on purpose. But off the mat, it’s a different story.
Off the mat, my mind gets consumed with what might be, or what has already happened, not really what is in the present (at least not always). In all fairness, sometimes I’m supremely present to the moment, but so totally in my head about the experience, that I’m disconnected from my body. Caught up in life’s ups and downs, I miss the real thing. This is easy place to get lost in. It is almost dictated by our culture that we get lost in this quagmire of thinking. So, I offer up a challenge to myself and to anybody else out there who might be listening.
Consciously breath off the mat, that is when you’re not “doing” yoga. Let the breath come in your nostrils, fill your lower ribs, lift your upper ribs and then just relax, and let your breath release out of your body. Then, do it again. See what happens. Who knows what’ll turn up. I’m finding that when my breath is consciously with me, it is as if I’m walking through this life’s journey with a dear and nurturing friend by my side. When my breath is shallow, superficial, well my experience has a greater chance of being exactly that—not as deep as it could be. I become a prisoner in my own ribcage.
So, emphatically draw life in and then gently release that which you don’t need with your exhale. If you feel like it, write me about your experience, or tell me next time you see me. The deepening of our lives, the realization of our dreams, maybe it really is only one breath away. As Giovanni Papini says, breathing is the greatest pleasure in life. Are you up for it?
So, about an hour into our trip, I realize that my phone, my lifeline to the outer world, has been left behind, charging in my mother’s kitchen. My mother, who lives in NJ and here I am, speeding down the highway, away from my contact lists, my internet in my pocket, my calls, and of course, my texts, Massachusetts-bound.
This is going to be such a hassle. I NEED my phone!! What if I have an emergency?!! Not softened by the logic that “emergencies” are far and few between, I continue to flip out. Somehow my phone has taken center stage in my life. Maybe it had something to do with the ever-present wish to communicate and be communicated with. Maybe it ran deeper. But, all I knew is that I felt as vulnerable as a baby bird on the first day of spring.
After some time of this internal lament, something shifted: A wild, child-like feeling of freedom began to spread over me. I was enveloped in this magic of not being accessible. Not accessible, that is, except to those who I can see, touch, hear right in the flesh. All of a sudden, I’m old-school. After all, human beings have evolved connecting only to those who are right there in the moment, in the cottage, the community, the village. To some extent, we are wired to gravitate to those in our immediate company. On the other hand, the potential for the phone to ring, or text, or whatever, somehow insulates me, keeps me safe from deeper connections to those in my presence, safer from being hurt in some way. Like all good defense mechanisms, it staves off some pain in the moment, but the costs of using it in the long run is high. I think back, how many times have I been with my children, husband, friends, only to stop and check email, or respond to a text, rather than connecting to the beings that are right there in front of me? It is as if we are each, as psychologist Sherry Turkle says, “Alone Together.” I look past those I’m with and instead try to connect to the virtual other. Though I’d never wish for it, forgetting my phone that afternoon helped me locate something much deeper.
Now my phone is back in my possession, and I wouldn’t be keeping it real if I said I’ve stopped using it. But, my relationship to my electronic buddy is changed. It no longer feels like a “life line”. It’s back in its rightful place (at least for the moment) of being part of the support system, rather than anxiously tethered to my wrist, an electronic handcuff. Sometimes I even leave it at home (gasp!) Could it be that a narrower doorway of external accessibility actually leads to a deeper connection to self, to the moment-to-moment experience, to those whom I am in the physical presence of? Or….Oh, that’s my phone ringing! Sorry, gotta take that call!
A friend sent me a picture of a Bulletin board outside of a local church which read: “Will Whoever Keeps Praying For Snow, Please Stop!” This UNRELENTING SNOW is really too much. My New England expectation is that we get one, maybe even two, big snow storms a year, with plenty of space in between them. A smattering of snow every now and again, followed by a quick spring that eases into a warm summer. The amount of snow we’ve had, and the related disruption in our lives, including lost work and school, driving nightmares, and all the other stuff—well, I’m pretty annoyed. Based on my conversations with others, I know I’m not alone.
I want to see the earth, the soil, the grass. I want to teach my classes, see my children off to school, get back into the weekly rhythm of activities. I realized, however, that in all my mutterings, rejecting this weather pattern basically means rejecting the earth. And, if I reject the earth, then where do I belong? Where do I go if I don’t like where I am, but really can’t change it? Sometimes on the mat, I reject a part of my body or my experience. This creates greater separation, not only within myself, but between myself and others. By disconnecting from myself, from the earth, then darkness leads the way and the truth of light and love dims.
Perhaps part of this journey is to embrace the weather pattern as an opportunity to touch the connections underneath the snowfall: the connections between ourselves and all living creatures on this planet. Maybe against the backdrop of the mountains of white flakes, the deeper connections between us are more readily apparent. It is another chance to recognize, emphasize, and nurture our oneness. I’m not advocating denying the pain-in-the-neck stuff related to these storms—that would really be shoveling it. Instead, I’m suggesting the possibility of holding the truth of hard stuff, but also the truth of relating to a deeper knowledge. The knowledge that we are all connected to this snow experience, no matter what—connected to the human struggles and triumphs of winter 2011, and beyond. And in that connection, we have the chance to open to the expansiveness, the vibrancy, the dynamic nature of being alive. So, grab a shovel, here we go!
Woke up, looked at my to do list before the sun rose—another full day planned. Take kids to school, teach a client, meeting across town, skating lessons after school, and dinner at friends. Okay, deep breath, I feel the stress building but I know I can do this as long as I stay on schedule. As I begin to settle into my morning yoga practice, the phone ring cuts through the calm morning air like a sharpened blade. I hear those five words that will change the day and raise my stress level: “Schools cancelled due to storm”.
The problem isn’t the snow storm. Or even the cancellations due to the storm. But, when the storm on the outside creates an inner storm in our minds, then we really have the makings for the “perfect storm,” –an internal maelstrom where we are supremely challenged to find peace in this blanket of white. So, how do we keep it real and keep it calm during the inevitable upheaval of this day?
Keeping it real demands that we take a good look at all the expectations that were dashed due to the storm’s cancellations—from all the activities that are postponed or forgone, to the visceral feeling that the rhythm of our week is disrupted. When I acknowledge whatever the loss is, then I feel grounded in reality. And then I can see the possibility of finding the gift that might be lurking, right here, in between the dancing snowflakes.
To even consider that there might be a gift in this day of cancellations, I have to “let go”—let go of my expectations, let go of the fear that what I had planned to accomplish today isn’t going to happen. This is not easy for a Type A personality like me! So, I breathe in. I breathe out.
Letting go feels counterintuitive, and maybe even counterproductive. But, what prevents me from dropping into the present is our old buddy, Fear. Fear that it won’t get done, fear that things won’t work out for the best, fear that something is wrong with the situation, wrong with us. So, I feel the fear and all the resistance to the fear. Breathing in and breathing out, I become aware that avoiding fear is a habitual pattern—whether the fear is about the storm today, or about the next economic crisis, or about my kids getting sick. Avoiding and resisting the fear is like resisting life. The very life that is here for me now, the life with the sink full of dishes, laundry piled high, the children running wild on a hot- chocolate high. This same life is the one that has a vibrant pulse, one that offers me a moment to reflect and to appreciate what is present. And to find the gift of being available to this moment.
What will this day hold? Maybe the gift is to slow down, to organize the bedside table, to get out there and have a good old snow ball fight. The only way I’ll find out is to be available to this moment, to let it melt. Yes, the snow will melt. And if I can help the resistance to the fear melt, even just a little bit today, then it is a successful day. I might even learn how to pack a tight snow ball– Who knows? Better duck!