July 20, 2011 § 14 Comments

A rare moment of stillness.

Scott and the boys were in the back of the house when I came home, in a funny little room where we stuck the TV. “Mommy, Mommy!” they called. “We’re watching the Tour de France.” They were giddy from staying up past their bedtime and excited about watching their father’s favorite sport. I am not a cyclist like Scott, but I like the Tour de France. The stages are a kind of yardstick by which I measure summer. I watch as the black route of the Tour winds through France and see how much time of my favorite season I have left. On the TV, it was at the end of a stage and the commentators were excited. “And you know,” I heard the announcer say in his lilting accent, “He’s just trying to hold onto that yellow jersey for one more day.”

“Stay and watch,” the boys said, so I did for a little while. But it had been a long day and I was tired. The boys were squirrely and I could tell they were 10 seconds away from bickering again. Scott told them it was almost time for bed, so I kissed them good night and made a run for it. I wanted to stay and watch. Or more accurately, I wanted to want to stay and watch. But I felt like the guy in the yellow jersey, like I had been holding on all day for the end of the day. Like some days I was holding on for just one more day.

In my last post, I wrote about letting myself off the hook. I wrote about lying on the floor in a yoga class while everyone else was trying to do a handstand. It was an apt metaphor, but as I tried to live it, I realized that letting myself off the hook by lying down was about as nuanced as assuming that the word “sit” means the same thing to a dog as it does to someone meditating.

Lindsey, of A Design so Vast wrote a comment on my last post that stopped me cold. “There is such a fine line for me,” she wrote, “when it is truly authentic to let myself off the hook, and when it is being “lazy” or not “trying” hard enough.”

That’s it, I thought after I read it. That’s why I can’t let myself off the hook either. It’s such a fine line for me too. At some point, doesn’t forgiving ourselves for our mistakes turn into excusing ourselves for poor behavior? When does letting myself off the hook for being a little tired or cranky turn into an all-access pass? This may be why I am a person of extremes. I am not comfortable with grey areas. I like the sure realms of black and white.

I also like the predictability of the outsides of things. I know how to dress the part, how to talk, and how to behave so that I appear to be the person I want to be. For the most part, during the day, I am patient. I try to be present and to pay attention to my sons’ stories and games and emotions. I know what it takes to raise children, and I try to conform to that standard. But some days, my insides belie this. Some days, after Gus’ epic two-year old tantrums, or a helacious car trip filled with bickering, I am screaming too, on the inside. I might be asking the boys if they want to read a book or get a drink of water in a calm voice, but in my head, I am out the front door like a shot and sprinting down the street into someone else’s life.

Sometimes, you get to learn things slowly, step by step. And sometimes you get your gums cut open and a tooth yanked out. Sometimes you get some words of wisdom to take home with you and sometimes you get some cute little ice packs and a bottle of horse-sized ibuprofen. The whole procedure to get my wisdom tooth out wasn’t that bad, to be honest. That day, I think I even said, “Piece of cake.” It was the next day that did me in, after a trip to the park and another to Target and another back home to make a batch of gazpacho soup. And then the day after that, when I could barely get out of bed, where I stayed put drinking watermelon cucumber juice and reading an ancient copy of The Cat Ate My Gymsuit.

I had come to a the proverbial wall. It was mile 22. It was that stage in the Tour de France where the hills appear as if someone wrinkled up the rug. I could no longer keep going. I was done. Kaput. Down for the count. I could barely hold on for an hour, much less a day. And I hate feeling helpless like nothing else. Usually, I just clench my jaw and keep going. Except I couldn’t clench my jaw. Instead, I just lay there with a steady tattoo of pain in my mouth and a feeling in my body as if I had been run over by a truck.

I suppose someone wise would call that surrender. I think I would call it an ambush. Whatever it was, it had the power to paralyze me until the dust could settle a bit. It packed enough of a wallop so that something inside me could peel open. It had enough oomph to remove a wrapper I hadn’t even known was there.

It enabled me to see what the world was like when I became still.

Last night, I was finally enough of myself to roll out my yoga mat again. I lit my battery operated candles and placed my seated Buddha in front of my mat. It had been almost a week since I practiced the script from my yoga teacher training, and I get nervous when I stay away from it too long. I am way more type A than the typical yoga teacher. I talk too quickly. I think too much. It’s apparent to me that I am not a natural at this and I will have to work harder than most of the other students will.

Pretty much, as soon as I began reading the script into my recorder, I wanted to quit. It’s just not happening today, I thought and stood back up. But during our last teacher training we talked about commitment. About why we have a yoga practice even though sometimes it’s inconvenient. Or not fun. I looked at all the candles in the room. I said I would do this, I thought.

So I sat back down and kept reading. I came to a line that reads, “Breathe into your softness. Breathe into your stillness.” I had read that line hundreds of times before, but this time, it seemed brand new. Breathe into my softness? Breathe into my stillness? Could that place I found when I was lying in bed with ice packs on my face really be inside me?

I wanted to leave again. I decided to stay. I played the recording of the script I just read and began to practice. I moved into child’s pose. I heard my own voice say, “Breathe into your softness. Breathe into your stillness.” As I began the endless repetitions of lifting my  leg high and stepping it forward, inhaling to a long spine and folding again, I wanted to stop. As I moved into Warrior II, my muscles were tight and tense again. Breathe into your softness. Breathe into your stillness.

Was there some way to do this without fighting it? Was there some other way of navigating my daily duties of peacemaking and sweeping crumbs and wiping faces that didn’t end with me waiting at the edge of the driveway for my husband to come home so I could peel off to yoga class? Was there some way to find ease, even if I am not an easy person?

It seemed as if I was in Warrior II for ages. My legs hurt. My mouth hurt. I thought of those cyclists, the way they climbed those hills all warm and loose as if their muscles were made of maple syrup. I used to know that place from my old running days, the place you found after you accepted the pain. Acknowledged it. And then kept going anyway.

Last week showed me that I have no idea how to let myself off the hook. I tried, but it turned out that the hook has me. So I am going to try this instead: I am going to try to find some cool, still place to retreat to when it gets too hairy. Supposedly, it’s always there, even when it’s crazy, even when there are tiny bare feet and broken glass and your kids are (once again) fighting over the fire truck. Instead of trying to ride the fine line where compassion ends and anarchy begins, I’m going to pull my bike over to the side of the road. I’m going to try to find some shade. I’m going to ditch the yellow jersey.


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§ 14 Responses to Still

  • Lindsey says:

    I wish I had some wisdom to offer, but there is only this: I know this feeling. Yes. I suspect we may be the same soul animate in two bodies. I write and talk and think and effort SO much towards stillness, towards inhabiting my life, and some days I think I’ve come so far, and I really do it, and then the next I’ve fallen back down the black hole of old habits and I’m screaming inside my head (or, worse, outside of it) and my whole body is vibrating with some kind of spiritual agitation whose source I know is internal. It’s like my head and my spirit go to war and my head, most of the time, wins. And that’s where all of my – all of OUR, I suspect – problems originate. Sorry to blabber. Thanks for getting it, and sharing it, so incredibly generously and articulately, over and over again. xox

  • “I wanted to *want* to stay…” Oh boy, that one hit home. Hard. I know my kids would love it if I’d stay to play one more game of CandyLand or stay and watch Scooby Doo, but I find myself needing to flee. One foot always out the door. I understand.

  • “So I kissed them good night and made a run for it….” bwa ha ha ha ha. (I do this. I thought it was my secret.)

    I think these trials are part of your yoga training. Everyone has these, and everyone wants to be able to breathe through it. You will have this experience to share, to use in teaching.

    Not much comes easily for my daughter – school, sports….etc. But she is always, always great at helping others and teaching. Her dance teacher told me she would be a great teacher – BECAUSE she has to work so hard at it.

    If yoga and breathing into it….etc came easily to you, then you might get frustrated with others and wonder why they just wont do it.

    Remember, notice the good things you do each day, not your shortcomings!

    (and send this back to me when I am down on myself and having a bad day : ) )

  • Nice to meet you and your blog, Pamela! I care very much about the connection of yoga to life, and I have not been consistent with yoga, so I feel off center. I love the idea of letting yourself off the hook. I can’t seem to let myself do that, either. And then, come to think of it, I don’t let others off the hook, either. It’s a bad practice. But the more I do yoga and turn inward, the more I am willing. That’s why it’s such an amazing thing, and I strongly believe that it is important to connect the mind and body. Finding the time is the tricky part.

  • “The predictability of the outsides of things.”

    I think that’s a great phrase, and I can so relate to that. There is comfort in our rhythms and presentable faces, and a certain “busyness” that allows us to feel as though we’re experiencing and productive – and at some level we are.

    But the outsides of things also keep us at a distance from those delicious and unpredictable insides which teach so much and grant so much.

    As for stillness – the elusive je ne sais quoi that we seem to seek more and more often when our lives involve the commotion of kids – and we even wish we could model it for our kids, I recall watching one of my own sons and the natural stillness he was able to find when a toddler. It was something remarkable in him. A quiet, an introspection without losing the appreciation for nature (in particular) around him. He could sit and watch a lady bug crawl up and down blades of grass. He could sit with the dog and allow her to lick his face, and be delighted. When he was a little older, he could draw – for hours (and still does).

    My other son is more like me in somehow resisting stillness by nature; and whatever calm he finds does not come in the standard ways that it might for others (yoga, running, other exercise, for example). It remains elusive, and surprises us – both of us – in an unplanned moment, often overseas, or in conversation.

    This is an intriguing topic, and at least as much so, the fact that so many feel compelled to seek some quiet in the storm that has become our contemporary culture.

  • As always, Pam, you express what so many of us feel. I do think that the struggle, this inner work, the challenge of living inside our bodies and inside our own heads, is all part of the path — learning compassion for ourselves we are, finally, able to truly offer it to one another. I hate pain. But it does always seem to have something to teach me. Be gentle with yourself, and please do keep sharing the hard stuff; it always helps to be reminded we’re not alone.

  • Wow you managed to incorporate the two of the things I love, the Tour de France and yoga into a post I can completely relate to. Your words are so eloquent and true. I have the same fine line in my life and seldom allow myself to rest…to ditch the yellow jersey. For those of us Type A personalities, it is a hard thing to do.

  • Kate says:

    goodness, goodness..

  • ayearoflivingwisely says:

    I too find it hard to be gray. In many ways I enjoy the black and white and often feel that gray leads to a lack of passion in my life. However, it’s only since I’ve lived more in the gray that I have opened myself up to more passions that I never believed were possible.
    No matter how much gray I have in my life, however, I still find myself being lazy. However, I don’t think it’s so much laziness, but more a frozen reaction to being overwhelmed with all that needs to be done in life and all that can be done.
    I commend you for all you manage to do of a day as a mother, wife and everything else. I think all those job descriptions give you some credit to be a little lazy. It’s definitely a tricky balance, but as long as you’re enjoying the moment or learning lessons from it then it really isn’t laziness 🙂
    Beautiful writing as always Pamela!

  • Kathy says:

    Is it part of our culture to be so hard on ourselves, or is it simply the type A personality? Why is it that we think we must be perfect or nearly so? Does it go back to our Puritan roots? I have no answers, but I offer you something I tell my students. At the beginning of each school year I tell them that I am not looking for perfection, but I am interested in excellence. I tell them that each of us is usually aware when we have done a job well or done it half-heartedly. They know…I think you will too. Perhaps this will help with those gray areas?

  • Yes, I get this too. And I get what Lindsey wrote. So much.

    I wonder, sometimes, if my whole life isn’t a tenuous balancing act between trying too hard and not trying hard enough. Are there people out there who don’t think so much about everything they’ve done all the while rushing headlong into what they’re about to do?

  • This post resonates with me so much, as the wife of a former pro cyclist, as a devoted and imperfect yogi, and as a mother.

    Several years ago, my favorite yoga teacher said “Breathing from that place inside you where all is still….” and I must have made a face because she said “Yes, Jenna, you have that place.” I hear her voice in my head all the time now and I almost believe it, or maybe it’s almost become my own.

  • Christine says:

    I’m sitting here thinking about this post, wishing I could pull all this wisdom out of my hat for you, wishing I could offer you more. If there is anything I’ve learned, and I’m still learning, every day, it’s that we really really need to learn to leave into our own softness and that that is the hardest thing to do. But as you find yourself there, you will see it. I promise. You just need to keep your eyes open and be willing to trust yourself. That’s the most important part.

    Goodness, how I know this, and I’m thinking of you lots.

  • Ditto. Ditto. Ditto. What you said. What Linds said. What Katrina, Kristen and everyone said.

    It’s hard for me, the not knowing. Not knowing whether I’m doing the good or lazy surrender. Which just shows me, once again, how much I think I can control that which I cannot. I just don’t know.

    You and your words are like a salve. I’m blessed to have found you. xo

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