December 29, 2010 § 4 Comments
We are staying at Scott’s parents for almost two weeks this holiday. They live in Oregon, up in the mountains. It’s such a welcome break from DC. There are wide, snow-covered fields where cattle and horses nonchalantly snuff at the ground, the air is dry and still, and some days, all I can hear is the wind in the pine trees and the snow as it falls from the branches. I have been running almost every day even though at almost 5000 feet, I am out of breath almost as soon as I start.
In some ways the trip has been stressful for me. I am much like my oldest son. I love routines and out of my own cozy nest, I feel a bit not myself. I realize how tied I am to place, how quick I am to put down roots, to fill my refrigerator with familiar food and hang pictures on the walls, to get to know the running routes. And yet, being away has been good too. If it has gotten me out of my comfort zone, it has also gotten me out of my own head and out of my own way.
The other day, a bird – a dove – was trapped behind the chicken wire that was protecting a young tree from deer in my father-in-law’s yard. My husband went out to rescue it, but none of us thought the bird would come to him. Three minutes later, he walked into the house with a dove in his hands. Oh jeez, I thought, as 23-m0nth old Gus rushed to Scott and the bird. “Dat a bird daddy?” Gus asked leaping up to see what Scott was holding. “Dat a bird?” That bird is going to have a heart attack, I thought. My husband is going to get his hand pecked off. “Don’t let that bird go in the house,” my father-in-law said, “Or we’re really going to be in trouble.”
To my surprise, my husband bent down and let Gus pet the bird. Five-year old Oliver lifted his head briefly and went back to his Legos. But Gus was mesmerized. He stroked the bird’s feathers and his eyes were wide with wonder. “Want to hold the bird daddy,” Gus said.
“We have to let him go Gus. He has to go home,” Scott told him.
I watched the bird who was so calm in my husband’s hands. I would have been freaking out if I was the dove, but there he was, the very symbol of peace, a spot of irridescent purple under his eye.
“Want to hold the bird daddy,” Gus kept saying and skipped next to my husband even as he walked out onto the snow-covered deck into the cold morning air. Gus doesn’t like the cold, but there he was, waiting for my husband to place the bird in his hands. Although a lot of things happened this Christmas, the memory of that morning is tops for me. Gus stood with his feet wide apart in his red footie pajamas, his eyes on the sky and the bird clutched close to his chest as if it had been just been within his own heart, inside his own cage of bone rather than trapped behind a fence of wire. And then, without warning, Gus opened his hands and stepped back as the dove beat its wings, scrambling for purchase on Gus’ fingers and creating momentum. There was a moment of furious wing beats and then silence. The bird took flight and we all watched it go.
Gus danced into the house, his own arms outflung like the dove’s. “I held the bird? I let it go? Bird go home! Bird fly!” He danced into the living room spinning. He saw a calendar hanging on a wall with a photo of a bald eagle. “Like that bird,” he said, pointing to the photo. “My bird fly like that bird.”
This metaphor was not lost on me, how tightly I hold onto my boys and how I need to let them go. Oliver is now five and craving independence. For the first time, he is in a school that does not welcome parents in the classroom. I feel powerless most days, not knowing what is happening for the three hours when he is out of my care. When I ask about school: about the golden walnuts or the crown of yarn or the games he plays, he tells me that it’s a secret. For a while I wanted to take him out of school. It seemed too unstructured, too rough sometimes. My son needed to feel safe. He needed to be with me for just one more year.But while I was struggling with what to do and with making a decision, Oliver figured things out for himself. He made friends. He made bread and was proud to help knead it. He learned to fold the pillowcases and later to stuff them with pillows for rest time. He told me that he liked his school. While I struggled and worried, Oliver got on with the business of living his own life.
Lately, I have been reading some great posts about parenting from Bruce at Privilege of Parenting and Kristen at Motherese. They both talk about true attachment parenting and about how “attachment” does not mean “clinging.” Bruce wrote a wonderful peace about how we must know our children and keep our own issues separate from theirs, how we need to raise them as they ask to be raised by teaching them what they need to know and by honoring their unique gifts. Kristen wrote about several books that are out now. One spoke about our common fantasy of creating perfect environments for our children. How our generation of mothers share a belief that if we eliminate impurities from our kids’ diets and close their eyes and ears off to violence and buy just the right toys, our children will be perfect. And we in turn will look like perfect parents.
That rang so true to me. I have read dozens of parenting books. I have the entire Dr. Sears library on my bookshelves. I want to create a bubble for my boys and prevent anyone hurtful from entering. I don’t want them to hear a mean word or be on the receiving end of a cruel act. This in itself is not bad of course. Of course it makes sense to keep media to a minimum and to shield children from as much evil as we can. But it’s a short distance from doing our best to trying to control our children. It’s a fine line between keeping our children safe while they are in the nest, to hindering their flight. It’s a very slippery slope from trying to be a good parent to trying to look like a good parent. I am a good candidate for a helicopter parent. I love to hover. I believe that if I worry about something enough, it won’t happen. I subscribe to a cheap religion of bargaining instead of praying, of tithing anxiety in exchange for best outcomes.
This of course does not lead to happy children or secure children or peaceful children. This dove today taught me that. Gus taught me that. He showed me that I need to hold my little birds close when they need me, to snuggle their softness and revel in the way their hearts beat like crazy to get out. But I need to let go too. I need to let them fly, in small doses now, but in increasingly longer intervals. After all, that is my job. I am only here to prepare them for their own journey home, for their own precarious flights.
December 20, 2010 § 4 Comments
A dear friend of mine from college just contacted me recently. I adore her, much more than I have ever told her. In college she was the wisest friend I had. She embodies the very definition of steady. I never knew when she was upset because she was never ruffled. Unfortunately I have been terrible at keeping in touch and in her recent email she shared things I hadn’t known about her. She said she was trying lately to be more kind to herself. All I could think of was Oh. Oh, if only you could see yourself as I do, my brave, kind, beautiful, wise friend, you would be so very very kind to yourself.
For days I have been thinking of kindness and sweet it is and yet, how rare. I have been doing yoga regularly for five years now, and only this year have I started to become aware of my thoughts. I told Rolf Gates that I hated to meditate because my thoughts scared me so much. “It’s not just you,” he told me. “The mind is basically just a tape of greed, hatred, and delusion. That’s why we need to be compassionate with ourselves.” That one conversation opened a doorway up for me. Some days I listen to the way I talk to myself. The whole tape is one of punishment: You’re doing it wrong, why do you always mess things up, how could you have done that. Blah, blah, blah. But here’s what happens when I think like that: I harden up. I carve myself into a smooth, shear blade in order to navigate the thick barrage of words I hurl at myself constantly. And when I am hard like this I am hard to others as well. When I am overwhelmed or stressed I make myself into steel in order to survive my own life and in turn I am neither warm not receptive to others. During these times, I barely stop to breathe. “Listen,” Mary Oliver writes, “Are you breathing just a little and calling it a life?”
I remember the kindnesses bestowed upon me like riches and there have been many. I have another dear friend, Karen who I have lost in touch with because of an argument we had over a decade ago. Only Karen is like one of those slobbering Newfoundland dogs that won’t stop following you. She insisted on being my friend when I was not very kind or even very responsive. She is abundant in her kindness, in her forgiveness of me. “Oh Pam,” she says, “You are just so silly.”
When people aren’t kind to me, I don’t think they are silly. I think they are mean. I think they should fall off the face of the earth and have terrible things happen to them. (You now see why I don’t like to meditate.) Today someone was unkind to me in a way that affected my son and I was furious. Hurt. Befuddled why someone would act in such a way. Luckily, when it happened I was on my way to yoga, and it’s very difficult to retaliate when you know you are going to be on a mat soon, in a room filled with extraordinarily kind people who are doing their best so that you can too. I thought of myself saying “Om” and I suddenly got that yoga wasn’t about handstands or flexibility. Once, years ago when I was trying to reconcile my new life as a stay at home mom, my yoga teacher, Bhava Ram, told me that I was doing more yoga while cleaning the toilet than doing a standing split on a yoga mat.We do yoga so that in life we can be yoga.
In my life, I have usually been the recipient of kindness and forgiveness. This is probably some geographic form of bias, but I think that people on the west coast are more forgiving than the east, or at least DC. Car horns are rarely used in southern California (it is deemed rude there) and if you are flaky or forget something, people easily forgive you. “No worries,” they say, “I’ll catch you on the flip side.” My heart melts when I think of how my friends there forgave my east coast abrasiveness when I first moved there, my defensiveness and my immediate instinct to attack before I was attacked. Or to cut myself off, to tell myself, I’m just done with them, if someone hurt me.
Today I was on the other end. I was in the place to forgive, to not close myself off. I was the one with an opportunity to lavish someone with abundance, to smile and to forgive. I didn’t do it perfectly. I apologized for things I didn’t do, which never helps. I was scared and played a little bit too small because I was intimidated. But instead of beating myself up afterwards, I tried to be kind to my own cracked heart. I tried my best, even though my best was a little shaky and wobbly. I tried to remember that the times when I am mean and sharp to others is often because I am being mean and sharp to myself.
In yoga this afternoon, we worked on heart-opening poses and also on our core strength. “If you are going to walk around this world with an open heart,” our instructor said, “You can be damn sure you’re going to need a strong core.” This is much easier on the mat than in real life. We also did a chant that was based on St. Francis’ prayer. It went something like this:
Make me an instrument for Thy will
Not mine, but Thine be done
Free me from anger, jealousy and fear
Fill my heart with compassion
Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
I wrote a few days ago about trying to cultivate Ishvara Pranidhana, or a faith in something larger than oneself. I try to remember that light beneath the clouds, but forget 5 minutes after I think about it. I don’t think that I yet believe that everything happens for a reason, but I do think I can learn from everything that happens. Like Carrie Bradshaw says in the Sex and the City Movie, “The 30’s are for learning the lessons.” Right on, sister.
I don’t feel tonight like I did something good today in not getting angry in the face of anger. Instead I feel a bit wrecked. I feel like I did something new, and that I didn’t do it very well. I cried. I felt lousy and didn’t get the satisfaction of getting even.
But here’s the thing I did learn: We have to start on ourselves first with this kindness business. Somewhere along the line I thought that if I beat myself up enough, I would turn into a kind and loving person, but that’s not he way it works. It starts with softening our own heart towards our own heart. It starts with telling that mean old voice in our head to step out for a martini. It starts with being gentle to ourselves despite our great ragged flaws and gaping holes. It starts with polishing up our tarnished parts. It starts with comfort and joy and peace. In this season of giving, sometimes it’s our own bruised selves who need it the most.
December 14, 2010 § 3 Comments
This year I have been big on the solstice. December 21st. I think the solstice for our generation is what Thanksgiving used to be before Martha Stewart infused it with the essence of perfection. (Brined turkeys! Roasted chestnut and dried cranberry stuffing! Pomegranate cocktails!) There is something about the light in the middle of all this darkness that offers a refuge of sorts, a comfort. Darkness has always frightened me, both in the literal and figurative sense. Emotionally, it feels like an abyss. Literally, I worry about raccoons jumping out at me, muggers with knives around the corner. I worry about tripping and falling.
A few days ago I wrote about how hard it is for me to stay present lately. In the past ten weeks I have taken three classes, planned three birthday parties, and prepared for three holidays. There were travel arrangements to make, cakes to bake, presents to buy. Right now I am staring down a stack of Christmas cards and I haven’t even finished thank-you notes from October yet … There have been articles to write and playdates to keep and parent meetings at school. There has been too much motion and too many to-dos. Yesterday, I went for a run just after four pm and was struck by the fact that I was running into the sunset. When did this happen? When did the days become so truncated? By the time I came home, my face numb and my breath steaming in front of me, night was falling hard and fast. Something inside me that has been circling for months was falling hard and fast too. Okay, I thought. I give up. I surrender. I was glad for the night, for the early dark. All I wanted to do was to stay inside our cozy house and eat the tortilla soup I made that afternoon. I wanted to sleep for a long, long time.
All of a sudden, the darkness seemed good. I welcomed it. There have been so many thoughts that I haven’t been able to address in these busy days, so many things that have come up that I have brushed off like raindrops. But instead of leaving, they have circled like a back of vultures, incessantly calling to me, waiting for me to finally slow down. As I walked up the hill to my house after my run, I realized that I was ready. I was ready to turn inward, to attend to what needed mending. Nothing bad has happened to me. Instead, I marvel at how lucky I am to have avoided tragedy so far in my life. I am so very lucky. But sometimes, even for the lucky ones, a bit of healing needs to happen.
I thought of all that happens in the darkness. The stars come out and the moon shines brightly. Bread rises. Our cells regenerate. We dream. Children grow. The planet completes its revolution. Bears hibernate. We whisper secrets we would never have the courage to share in the daylight. When I lived in San Diego, the light there was often too much for me. I felt overexposed like a photograph. Now, with these short days, I can hide and regenerate like a starfish. I can roast vegetables and sit by the warm oven, building Lego machines while roots soften and sweeten. There is time now to be still.
After my run I thought about how I crave the light. How I celebrate it. What if, I thought, I celebrate the darkness this year instead of the light. What if this year, I welcomed the night. After all, without it, the candles aren’t even visible. And then I pushed that thought back out. Nah. I feel about the darkness the way Lucy feels about Snoopy’s kisses. BLEEECCCHHH.
Today I saw a comment posted by Katrina Kenison. “And how lovely the darkness is,” she wrote, “when we surrender ourselves to it.” Surrender. The magic word. Sharon Gannon writes that “Magic is a change in perception.” My magic is a change from motion to stillness, from fear to love, from craving the light to embracing the darkness. I was just listening to George Winston’s December. It reminds me of college, of studying in the Willard Straight Music Library. It is beautiful because of its darkness, because of its minor notes. And what is darkness if not the minor notes, the transition between yoga poses, the stillness between the motion, the dreaming to the doing. I’m still looking forward to the solstice this year. Only this time, I’ll be looking behind the light. I’ll be giving thanks to what makes the candles shine so brightly.
December 11, 2010 § 3 Comments
The word “present” is on my mind these days. It’s the season of course of giving and receiving them, but I am thinking of the other meaning, of being present, mostly because I am having such a hard time doing so. “Never underestimate the inclination to bolt,” writes Pema Chodron, and that phrase runs through my mind all day. I am always bolting, always looking for a distraction lately. Maybe because it is Christmas and there is so much to do. Or maybe it’s because Christmastime is always a bit fraught for me and I am not entirely sure why.
This year is no exception. It is strange to celebrate Christmas in a cold climate after so many years in California. There, we went to the beach during December and forgot for a while that we were supposed to be shopping. It didn’t seem like the extended play version that is the holiday season on the east coast, the kind that starts in October and ends on January first.
Additionally, my children are challenging me, which makes me feel like a crap mother. Gus is going to be two in a few weeks and is starting in on some temper tantrums. The other day, we were riding the Metro back from the city at 5:00 pm and Gus wanted to get off. “All done,” he said, trying to get down from his seat. “Finished,” he added in case I didn’t hear. “GET OFF NOW!” he shouted, and when I held him he started to scream. “More nursing,” he said, trying something new. I have nursed this kid in just about every corner of DC except for maybe the Oval Office, but I was not about to nurse him on a Metro during rush hour. Instead, I told him stories about playing soccer and riding bicycles. I thought if I appeared unruffled, the other passengers would relax and maybe not call security on me. It worked and Gus stopped screaming somewhere between the Pentagon and Braddock Road. But still, by the time I got home, I thought I might have a touch of post-traumatic-stress-syndrome. Within minutes of walking through the door, I yelled at my husband.
Oliver has started hitting again, which bothers me like nothing else. Since he was a 15 months, he has displayed displeasure by hitting and kicking and biting. I am not sure how much is his nature and how much is my fault. That is always the question in my head as a mother. And I can’t stay unemotional about it. His outbursts trigger my own anger and it scares me. The other day, he was really having a meltdown – something that hasn’t happened in a while – and I tried to hold him like I did when he was three. I suppose he is too old for that now, and to show me, he threw back his head towards my face. To my horror, I reached up and yanked on a piece of his hair to stop him. I am still ashamed of that. “It was just instinct,” my mother said, when I confessed of my sins to her, “you were protecting yourself.” But if those are my instincts, how can I trust them? “You’re a good mother,” Scott tells me, and all I can think of to reply is: “A good mother, does not pull her son’s hair.”
This summer, mothering came so much more easily to me. We spent long, slow afternoons outside.We got lemonade and ice cream and went swimming. We didn’t know a single person and it was just the boys and I, safe in our little nest. From May until September there was no school, no play dates, no one else. Nothing was rushed. There were no coats or mittens or hats to struggle into. Every day was an adventure and it was easy to be a good mother. It was easy to stay present with so much space and sunlight.
These inside days are more trying for me. The sun rises too late and sets too early. All of the monsters in my head that were dissolved with the summer sun are dancing around in my head all day. Do I love my children well enough, I wonder a zillion times a day. Am I teaching them the right lessons? Am I preparing them for this world and teaching them kindness? Am I slowing down enough to appreciate the daily miracles? Am I ever going to have a friend in this strange new city? I am lonely and homesick and can’t seem to settle into DC, as wonderful and beautiful as it is. These are all thoughts that are begging for time on the meditation mat, or time on a long walk. Instead, I am afraid to feel what I am really feeling. I am afraid that I will be crushed by the weight of my thoughts, of my doubts about myself and uncertainty about the future. So instead of being still, I eat another Christmas cookie and try to push my fears away. As a result, I am living on the surface of my own life, ice skating on top of all that deepness below, the holy mystery that I know will reveal itself to me if only I surrender to it, if only I can stop running long enough to be gotten.
Today I finally put on the brakes. The laundry was in the machine and the dishwasher was running. The floor needed to be swept and dinner needed to be made, but Gus just woke up from his nap and Oliver wanted to play with his cars. So I sat quietly on the floor while Oliver vroomed Matchboxes on the carpet and told me stories about them while Gus hopped into my lap, making car noises like his brother. For an hour we were still and I was present and it was good. I even lived through it.
Maybe the secret is that we don’t have to let everything in at once. Maybe when there are small children to attend to, we just take little dips into our psyche, coffee breaks with our own chaos, a bit of horse whispering with our inner demons. All I know is that there is a great unraveling ahead of me. There are thoughts to be unspun, fears knotted up like fine chains that must be gently unkinked, doubts as wild as ponies begging to be soothed. Perhaps it’s good that it’s dark and cold. Maybe I need this season of going inward to finally explore what it is I have been given this lifetime to discover.
December 9, 2010 § 1 Comment
A few weeks ago as we were driving to preschool, Oliver commented that a car that passed us (a Volvo wagon) was the same shape as his friend’s car (also a Volvo wagon.) This in itself was no big deal. Oliver notices everything and knows more about trucks, cars, and construction vehicles than just about anyone I have ever met. Then he said, “Mommy, do you know that some shapes have no names?”
“Like cars?” I asked.
“Yes,” he said. “And like leaves.” At the time he said this, there were red and gold leaves everywhere, some twice as big as my palm. This fall, I spent all day looking up at trees and leaves and sky, because after 15 years in California, you don’t take an east coast autumn for granted anymore. And yet, I have never thought about their shape. I loved that Oliver said that, that he is beginning to have his own observations of the world. He also reminded me also of the prologue of the English Patient – one of my favorite books – when Hana walks in the darkness among shapes which have lost their names.
But there was the darker side of all that too. There is the shape without a name that is always a little too close to me, like a cold shadow on a spring day. I am not even sure what the shape is or what it means. I only know that it feels like being too close to the edge of a dark canyon, like wanting more when you know you have already had enough. It is fear and loneliness and sadness. It is missing the things that are already long gone and it is being afraid of what will be taken away. And it is tiresome too, a chattering on about responsibility and the boring boring boring things that one has to do as a grownup.
Even though it’s Christmas, and even though we have had a wonderful holiday with the boys, that shape has been close on my tail. This weekend my parents visited and we played Christmas music and decorated the tree, and the boys – ages 5 and 2 – were mesmerized by the lights and the beauty. Oliver remembered Christmas this year of course and it was so great to see him go through boxes and pick out special ornaments. For Gus, it was all new and he followed his brother around, delighting us with his joyful amazement that all of this could actually be happening to him. Yesterday the boys and I made cookies and then went to the library. It was dark when we left, so we drove through the neighborhood looking at all of the Christmas lights and decorations. We picked up Scott after he got off the bus and drove to a neighborhood pizzeria where I snuggled in a booth with my 3 boys,a glass of red wine, and a Richard Scarry book to read while we waited for our pizza.
And yet. In yoga class the other night, Brittanie – a petite masochist of a teacher – put us through every pose that I find difficult and then made us focus on the breath. Don’t be lazy, she called as we spent another minute in lizard pose. Use this to learn about yourself, to learn about your mind. I didn’t really want to learn about my mind. I already had an idea that I am a bit of an ungrateful jerk. I didn’t want to stay present. I wanted a glass of wine and a box of chocolate. I wanted to start a diet. I wanted to go for a long run. I wanted to climb into bed and watch an episode of Parenthood. I really hated yoga. What was the point of all this anyway? Oh jeez, I thought, here I am again, in this shape of suffering, in a pose that I can’t seem to get out of. And I have to breathe on top of it? I have to stay present? My shape has no name but if it did it would be wanting to leave where I am. And isn’t that the very definition of hell?
The worst part of it is that I have everything I want. I am writing more than ever. I have a great yoga studio. I have two healthy boys and a husband who is proof that I am an over-achiever. We have an income and heat in our home, food on the table, presents for under the tree. And thanks to trying to stop using food for comfort (and a bout with the stomach flu), I can wear jeans that I wore before I was married. In the past, there is always something more that I wanted, there was always some goal that allowed me to say: “I’ll be happy ____(when)”. Now, I can’t say that. I have everything I asked for.
I think my problem is that I have no faith. “Oh ye of little faith,” my mother often says to me when yet again, something works out better than I thought it would. But she is right. I am all about faith and higher powers when the children are happy and the sun is shining. But as soon as the darkness comes or the wind is too cold, as soon as my son starts yelling or hitting, as soon as the hot water heater breaks or someone speaks to me crossly, I become a Nihilist. I am convinced that nothing good will come of anything, that I am flailing here alone in a universe that has gone dark.
Today was one of those days. I woke up with my shape that has no name. I was tired. And I seemed to have misplaced my parenting mojo. My son yelled at me and instead of keeping calm and unemotional, I yelled back. In one of my favorite parenting books, “Mitten Strings for God,” Katrina Kenison writes that in order to discipline, we need to be disciplined ourselves. Usually I am pretty good about this. In fact, the reason I go to yoga so often is so that I don’t yell at my children, so that I have a reserve of good will and patience. Unfortunately, today was not such a day. Today was a day that I wondered on what planet I was allowed to become a mother.
Then I picked up my copy of December’s Yoga Journal. Inside, there was a beautiful photo of a tree in a snow covered field at sunrise. The article was about Ishvara pranidhana, or total surrender to a higher power. Blah, blah, blah I thought, I knew all about that. This article though made me see Ishvara in an entirely different light. Instead of talking about God, Kate Halcombe made Ishvara seem more like a state of being unruffled. She wrote:
In the simplest most neutral terms, Ishvara can be thought of as a timeless symbol of the highest understanding, of the clarity represented by the light that illuminates the darkness – just as the sun continues to rise each day, dispelling the darkness of night and bringing new life and new growth … when things don’t go as you had hoped, you trust that there is an order beyond your knowing or understanding. You can move forward with the peace that comes from accepting that the outcome is out of your hands.
I love the way she writes about Ishvara being both internal and external, as a state of the sun always shining, even if there are clouds. I like the idea that I could be a superhero in my own life, slashing at my shape with no name with some saber of light, melting it like the Wicked Witch of the East. But even more I finally latched onto the idea of surrender, of letting go. One of my biggest complaints about being a grown-up is that I don’t have a boss. Seriously, I think sometimes? I’m in charge here?
It would be nice to not be be the boss of everything for a change, to not have to worry about the cold or the darkness or whether gravity will still work tomorrow. It would be nice to not have to work so hard to keep our planet in orbit. It would be nice to know that some things are out of my hands. What’s that you say? They already are? What a relief.
December 7, 2010 § 3 Comments
It’s been a month since I last posted and it is good to be back. I left because for a change, I had people paying me to write. And then I paid people to teach me how to write better. I had deadlines!! (Such a glamorous word to me, because I have always wanted to be a writer. And deadlines is such a writer’s word.) This fall I took 3 writing classes through UCLA Extension Writing Program and was paid to write two articles on local food and farmers. I knew the articles would be work, but I thought the classes would be easy. I mean, it’s extension, right?
All 3 classes were outstanding and I learned a great deal about the craft of writing. Additionally, I was able to workshop the first 40 pages of a novel I am finally putting on paper. This was probably the first time I have been out in the world like this (even though it was all online) since my oldest son was born 5 years ago. It felt good to do something for me, to learn something a little more tangible than how to mother, how to care, and how to love well.
It’s also been the first time in as many years that I had to do a bit of balancing, or maybe juggling? The first three weeks of class, I tried to do it all, and then stopped going to yoga in order to spend more time writing. The result was not so good. For the remaining six weeks, I tried to balance a bit better. I drank more tea and more green smoothies. I kept going to yoga but decided to stop my blog for a while. I stayed up really, really late most Monday nights. The result was better but not perfect.
I used to think that balance was about doing everything perfectly and just not letting anyone know how hard it was. Now I see that balance is sometimes about doing a little bit of everything, and sometimes it’s about making choices. And sometimes it’s just about trying to laugh as you fall down yet again.
My last post was about locking myself out of the house. For some reason – maybe the $236 price tag to get back in – that day has stuck with me. I have thought a lot about being locked out. Locked out of opportunities, locked out of youth, locked out of my own heart. That last one is a place familiar to me, or at least it used to be. I used to live there, a good distance away from myself, too busy trying to get everything right and make everyone happy.
It’s really my children who have let me back in. They gave me the keys home. In the last five years I have lived closer to the ground. Instead of circling around myself and running away from anything I didn’t want to face or acknowledge, I have had to sit still through the murky bogs of discomfort. With two babies in the house, where is there to go? And yet, when I don’t go – when I can finally stop running and just stay – the world cracks open. Who I thought I was cracked open. A few years ago when I was just starting out, when I was just realizing that I could listen to my own small tune instead of the steady thrum of the world, my yoga teacher stopped me outside of class. “I just want you to know,” he told me, “that I see who you really are.” And then he gave me a huge smile. I was stunned by this comment, and then I burst into tears.
I still don’t know who I really am. I am still learning. And there is usually a point every day when I look for an escape route. Each day I am reminded of what Pema Chodron says: “Never underestimate the inclination to bolt.” I am still learning how to be still, how to be brave, how to mold my own life into what I want it to be. But now, I can say that I am here, somewhere under my skin, swimming slowly towards the center of myself. So I have missed this blog, because it’s all part of the navigation system. And it feels as indulgent as a box of truffles. What is it about telling the story of ourselves that gives us permission to live the story out loud?
A few days ago I picked up Mary Karr’s memoir, “Lit.” The first part of the book is a letter to her son, and the first line of the letter is, “Any way I tell this story is a lie.” I loved that. That my life is not the only one with more than a little fiction in it. But I love more how she ends the letter: “Maybe by telling you my story, you can better tell yours, which is the only way to get home.”