The same old series of poses in a class can provide you with a different set of challenges each practice depending on where you are coming from in your day, your week, your month, your year and the cycles of the moon, the seasons, the sea and all that jazz. The poses get better, you get stronger and the perspective you get when conquering and flowing in and out of a pose depends on how you approached it the last time and the time before. If you approach a pose with frustration, tentativeness, fear, hurriedness or anger, it will never be achieved fully until you come from a place of clarity, pacing and taking the steps, one at a time to achieve the full expression of a posture.
The same old series of challenges in life can surface and resurface and depending on the set of tools and experiences you’ve gathered in your ‘practice’ of life will depend on the lessons you’ve learned, if you learned them fully, in order to deal with them, make progress and achieve success.
We all have them. They will keep coming back to challenge you until you exercise a practice of strength, clarity and calm to get through it.
After you breakthrough the barrier of one pose, challenge or pattern, you will be given more. It’s like building muscle. The process to build and hold it, never ends; it always grows, gets stronger and requires energy to sustain.
Once you understand that all of life is a series of challenges, it becomes a lot easier to approach. It’s like standing at the foot of the sea. One wave crashes at your ankles and shocks you, even though you see it coming. Another one comes along and tests your balance. You fall. Maybe you laugh a little and hope no one saw. You pick yourself up again and wait for the next one, maybe bracing yourself and tensing your muscles. You fall again. Now you are soaking wet and don’t give a crap if someone saw you. You get up again, but this time, you soften. You don’t wait for the wave to approach you. You approach the wave and you do it with ease. You know what you’ve been through and you can stand tall and feel the salt and the sand beneath you, the sun on your skin. Your perspective changes and it’s no longer about preparing yourself for challenges, but taking them as they come, taking in the whole experience, not just the blow. You take it in just as you would take in a breath, eat a meal or enjoy a conversation with a friend.
Recently, I was without a computer, between homes, family was not close by and my cell phone was dead but charging. I had no distractions, no web surfing or facebook, no craigslist or Westside rentals, no organizing of things as they were all packed away, no calls or blogging, just pen and paper.
I felt like I was in my own little countryside, even though I was sitting on the floor with no furniture and the echo of everything outside reverberating within the walls emphasizing it’s emptiness - perhaps, my emptiness. I took in a big breath and there it was. The earth beneath me shook. We were having another earthquake. It wasn’t a big one. In fact, a lot of people I know didn’t feel it at all. When we had one over the summer, I remember hyperventilating in fear. I have lived in LA for so long but had always been away for earthquakes. I felt this one. I freaked for a moment then realized I didn’t have to. I know what to do to feel safe. I’ve felt this before. I can feel afraid or move with it until it passes. Although I did pick up my charging phone to call my mom, I was relieved because I wasn’t nearly as afraid as I was the last time when I was alone, in fear of the unknown. The rest of my life had just changed dramatically so the earthquake was just the straw that broke the camels back. I hate clichés, but there you go.
When the earth shifted this time, I was still, right on top of it, sitting tall with my pen and paper.
Life is little earthquakes, every single day.
I felt alone, but not lonely, excited but not anxious, quiet but not calm.
I let go of ‘control’ as there was nothing left to try and figure out in my exact current circumstance. It was all ahead of me. The stress of moving, leaving my family while my dad was still ill, living in a place I questioned if I could afford in an economy that may or may not question my ‘job’ in life. I had to let go. There was nothing left to do.
Instead of agonizing over what ifs, I just let go. Even as a yogi, and a teacher, it is still my recurring pattern of a challenge to
Like being reminded to breathe. I always laugh a little when a student tells me they are glad I remind them to breathe because I often have to remind myself of the same thing.
It happens automatically in our systems in order to survive. However, breathing deeply in order to open up space and soothe our systems is altogether different. It’s something very conscious. It is a practice and it begs to be reminded on and off the yoga mat.
Over the last few months I’ve gone through Chrysalis. It’s one of my favorite words. I’m not saying I’m a bug or a perfect butterfly, but I’ve torn down and rebuilt my life going through some ugly f-ing stages that only look a lot better now that I’m through it. You can bore yourself with the details in other blogs.
As a country, we are about to do the same, with a new leader taking office tomorrow. In uncertain times, it will be a sweltering time before things cool off, our questions get answered and our fears allayed. The excitement is overwhelming, almost scary. But let’s be honest, the last eight years have been rather repulsive. We, as a country, can only look up and beyond, hopefully and joyfully.
As a family, we are doing the same.
My mother who was living fearfully as we all were, when we found out my dad had stage 4 metastasized lung cancer, had cried and freaked it all out of her system. I now talk to her and I see and hear that the same strength and clarity she had previously with the challenges of her job and daily life, she now has with the overwhelming challenge of caring for her sick husband. It’s like she’s put a system into play and she knows what to do. It’s like she is being lead. She is leading.
She says that she feels like a new mother again, checking to see if he’s breathing, washing him, feeding him, waking up in the middle of the night and not so much taking care of herself. And yet, she sounds better than she has in a long time.
She says it’s an honor and a privilege to take care of someone. She was chosen for that honor and she has accepted it as part of her fate. She is handling everything, beautifully and I admire her so much for that.
Taking care of myself has gone out the window!! She’ll say.
My dad says he could never repay her for all that she has given to him. He even says that he isn’t quite sure if he would do the same for her.
The snow has made things even more challenging. My dad, not working now, has cabin fever and has tried to escape and run mindless errands, but my mom’s silent alarm wakes her from sleep or her other duties and she reigns him back to reality, back to the living room or bedroom or den, where he watches HGTV, plays Scrabble with my mom or dozes off.
I don’t think there are any words left, my mom will say. On to gin rummy, they go.
I suggested Twister. Then I reneged that idea. Too much flexibility involved.
I try to bring him joy and have joy in my life. My mom says.
If my mom only knew, she is joy. She doesn’t have to try at all. It’s her gift.
My mom, who would normally dress in PJ’s all day if she had a choice, don’s jeans and a tee shirt, her new uniform as she cleans, prepares food, and makes her calls and emails for her job as a realtor. She’s upgraded but is looking forward to putting on makeup and some earrings to go and get her hair cut on inauguration day. She might even file and paint her nails. How she indulges!!
This is her new normal. We all look at Michelle Obama now like she’s the new Jackie O. My mom isn’t nearly as famous but ten times more fabulous.
She’s lost weight. She says it’s the new ‘Cancer’ diet. Everyone who knows someone with Cancer is on it. It’s all the rage.
How can she be so f-ing funny with all that is going on? She’s my mom!
I had a conversation with a dear friend the other day who works tirelessly and passionately, yet feels alone. I told him that work, however rewarding it might be, is not the same as loving and being there for others. My mom is my example. I see how that has changed how I look at my life, work, errands and the endless to dos.
Love, support, trust, it’s everything we need to be happy. Of course, an infinite supply of cash and unlimited health care would also be a bonus, but hey, I’m talkin’ reality here.
We’re not my mother. We’re not all dealing with caring for someone who is sick.
But, if I can use my mother as an example, if we put as much effort into loving each other, giving someone a free pass on the freeway for cutting you off, smiling at someone on the street or giving someone a compliment, getting our nails done so we feel better about ourselves and can walk taller, doing crow pose or headstand away from the wall in the yoga room, telling someone we know that we care about them, love them, or are just thinking about them. That’s really all that really matters at the end of the day.
Need, not want. It’s necessary. It’s part of life’s plan. It’s the test, challenge, accomplishment we are here for.
It’s the greatest gift and the greatest service.
We are the sum of our actions.
It’s not worth nothing.
Our challenges make us stronger so we can take on more.
We don’t ask for more. It’s just inevitable.
Our practice in yoga and in life tests us so that we can approach life in the fullest, clearest manner, so that the light within us can shine and reflect greatness on everything we encounter. We can assist people. We can help people. We can serve people. We can take all of our challenges, individual and collective and use our strength together to get through.
Today I went for a run on the beach. My beach. Your beach.
I watched the sun set again, like I do almost every day, with gratitude and with hundreds of others lining the California incline.
The days are getting longer. Each day, each minute, the sun gives us a little more of its time.
I watched it go down. I was alone, with hundreds of others.
The sun went down.
That was a day, I said to myself.
I saw the dolphins dive up and down reflecting off the beautiful red and purple in the sky.
My dad doesn’t miss work. He doesn’t miss getting up at 4AM and fighting traffic in the cold snowy streets of Manhattan. But he also has Cancer, pain in his back and weakness as he walks.
I come home and put on HGTV. I know he’s watching it and it makes me feel closer to him.
I call my mom.
It’s snowing again.
Karin, my sister, brought in fresh dry wood from the cold outside. She hates talking on the phone, but I feel closer to her.
My mom tells me she just lit a roaring fire in the fireplace.
I feel closer to her.
I tell her about the sunset and she tells me about dad.
We share the challenges of our days but we revel in the fact that we had the sunset, the snow, a roaring fire and each other, close by and far away.
And at the end of the day, that’s all we needed to get through.