Draft Series: Retreat

Original draft: January 3, 2016

(POST IN FEB)

STORY – december to feb.

The plan was always that at that point, I was going to retreat. January was always going to be the month of Whole30, and three weeks into the month I would be disappearing until March for teacher training, so the plan was always to step back. I saw it as a few introspective months alone, learning and studying, and planning for the rest of the year.

(Connect this back to retreating from a plan? e.g. have a set plan to disappear and retreat completely into myself until July, but then there was A [if he’s still around] and I had to reevaluate, etc. [reminder: don’t intro A unless it’s offish!!])

I’m retreating back from a lot of things lately, I think. But one of the most significant is I’m retreating from the stronghold I’ve built around myself in the past 12 months to test the waters of opening up, just a little.

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Quick Thoughts: Today (Pt. 2)

Remember the feeling when you were about to graduate high school? There was this nervous anticipation for the future but an easy knowledge that life was moving forward the way it was supposed to. College was this vast, unknown, wonderful world that promised everything from an extra fifteen pounds to some of the best memories of your life; you cried and told all your friends you’d keep in touch forever before walking across the stage to start a new chapter. It was scary and weird and different and new, but it was also right, and in that, it was wonderful.

Remember the feeling when you accepted your first job? There was this “holy crap” moment when they told you the salary and the hours, there was an even bigger “holy crap” moment when you thought about living on your own, new roommates, maybe I’ll get a new TV, maybe I’ll get a pet. The real world looms largely over your head through most of your adolescent life and with a single phone call or email, you’re now a part of it, you’re in it. You cried with your family from excitement and promised to stick it out, even if your whole job description involved coffee runs and catering to a crazy boss. It was scary and weird and different and new, but it was also right, and in that, it was wonderful.

Today. Today starts the last weekend in a journey where I was once again a student, and I graduate this weekend with the intent to make this a career. Today starts the beginning of the end of the most incredible six weeks of my life. I’ve laughed and cried and learned more about myself physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, than I even knew there was to learn. I’ve completely reshaped how I view the world and the people in it; I’ve completely reshaped my entire world and the people I want in it. My practice as a yogi has transformed so deeply that I’m terrified at the thought that I’m somehow qualified to do the same thing for other people, and yet I can’t wait to share every piece of this with anyone who wants to learn. This journey was scary and weird and different and new, but it was also so, so right, and in that, it has been wonderful.

I am not my ego, I am not a yogi, a New Yorker, a girlfriend, a friend or even LB. As I end one journey to begin another, I am only one thing:

I am.

Ready, Set

This weekend we had an interesting lecture in YTT about intuition and energy, and how to tap into intuition when logic and reason aren’t helping you with a conclusion. Oddly, just a few days before this lecture, I finally made a decision about something that’s been plaguing me for a few months based entirely on intuition. Anyway, we did this exercise where we had to tap into our intuitive energies to help our fellow yogis with problems, and I found I had a new problem to consider, something that came to a head recently despite my ignoring it for a very long time. I asked the question to my yogi partner – is it time? – and waited as she sat and talked through what she was feeling. I hoped so badly to hear things like “light,” “positivity,” and of course, “hope,” but instead she said this: “I just feel cold. My heart is racing, and my hands are clamming up, and I can feel this knot of anxiety in my stomach.” I sighed with a heady mix of sadness and relief at those words, because it pushed me into making a decision that I’ve been avoiding for way too long.

Am I ready? Is it time? These are questions that permeate so many aspects of my life these days, considering this past weekend was the penultimate for teacher training and my life as a fully-fledged yoga instructor starts soon, and considering some other recent developments as well. Existentially those are questions we all face on a daily basis, from things as little as when to eat your next meal to things as huge as changing your life’s plan. How do you truly know when you’re “ready” for something? I mean, I’ve been completely immersed in yoga alignment and teaching techniques, philosophy, meditation, pranayama, holistic theory and more for the past five weeks, and I still can’t imagine leading a class full of people in a yoga flow. Frankly I’ve been working in my same industry for the past five years and I still get anxiety when I have to lead client calls, even if it’s literally a quick check-in about a question.  Maybe we never know if we’re ready. Or maybe we only know when it’s finally time.

There are two things that I’ve been holding myself back from saying lately, on completely different ends of the emotional spectrum. The first is something I’ve written out over and over, and then deleted, written in a text and an email, then deleted, written in a script for a phone call and then deleted. Am I ready to say those words? I don’t think I ever will be. Is it time? It’s probably past time, by now. I think I used to be sad about the response to these words, but lately I don’t feel much of anything about them. I’m not happy about where they are but I’m not sad about them either. So maybe in that, I am ready to let them fade with time.

The other is something I’ve practiced not saying over and over, because every time I tell myself “no, not yet,” I have to close my lips so forcefully lest the words I’m dying to say burst out of my mouth. I’ve had to practice not saying them in texts, I’ve had to practice not saying them in person, and I’ve had to hold my lips closed with my teeth until I could run somewhere for two seconds just to say them out loud to myself. Am I ready to say those words? I think I have been for a while. Is it time for them to come out? It’s probably past time, by now. I think I used to be scared about the response to these words, but lately I don’t feel that fear at all. These words are the new beginning I couldn’t plan for and the one that I could be ready to follow. I suppose all of these answers will have to come with time.

I’ve Got Sunshine

Dude(s). This first quarter week has been absolutely insane.

Reminder: Earlier this week was the first quarter moon, the week between the new moon (new beginnings) and the full moon (realization of intentions), and this is the week where challenges present themselves. [Additional reminder: You’re reading a blog written by a hippie.] Somehow this week has presented me not only with my own challenges, but those of my friends and family as well. That’s not to complain at all, though it may seem that way. In fact, in most cases, I purposely inserted myself into people’s challenges, and not because I’m nosy or rude, but because despite my greatest efforts for so many years, I’m an eternal optimist, and the best and worst part of that is wanting to share that sunshine with everyone who needs it.

I always thought eternal optimists were those annoying AF smiley happy people who say things like “things will turn around!” or “everything happens for a reason!” when you’re fuming in the corner about everything and using all of your worldly restraint not to kick them in the smiling teeth. I branded myself a “realist” for many years, which in the way I interpreted it was a clever masking of total pessimism, always taking a situation at its worst without even considering the possibility of the best, because it’s easier to handle disappointment when you were prepared for it all along. My life followed that path for a really long time, always looking for the worst and therefore finding the worst, and so that’s what I assumed life was like. Life is pain, life is hard, life sucks; we’ve all said and thought these things, some more than others. I don’t know when the shift happened – honestly it’s probably the fault of yoga, as that’s the fault of many of the good things in my life – but I’ve realized in the past six months or so that to my semi-horror, I’ve become that happy person that most of us hate.

It’s so easy to hate something for the sunshine. It’s easy to call yourself a realist and shit on everything that hints at a glimmer of hope or a happy ending, it’s easy to put up that wall and pretend that the world is a terrible place and the idiots smiling through it will get theirs. I know it’s easy because I did it for a really long time. And then one day I made a small decision to hope, just a little. I made the choice to look on the very small bright side of situations, and that little decision felt like a big deal. I almost had anxiety trying to look on the bright side, because there were parts of me screaming that what happens when everything goes wrong. And in that tiny decision, what happened when I decided to look on the bright side?

Nothing. Nothing happened. That is, nothing changed in my world. Things kept happening as they were happening, and things kept moving forward the same way that they were moving forward. But in that tiny little nothing, everything shifted. Suddenly my world view became a different kind of realistic, the kind where you pick the tiny good moments to focus on instead of the tiny bad moments, the kind where you can appreciate a bad moment with a quiet sort of focus instead of an all-encompassing mess of consciousness. Whereas focusing on the bad moments in life and anticipating the worst colors every moment with that terrible haze of the “what if,” finding that tiny bit of optimism makes everything seem clearer, like you know things are going to come in waves and life is just riding them comfortably. This eternal optimism of mine isn’t something I try to force on anyone necessarily, but it does come in handy during weeks like this.

This week is one where I’ve had more than a few people reach out to me just to vent a little, and while I know my last post says negativity begets negativity, this wasn’t a case of negative energy. These were friends and family who just needed to vent a little about their bad days, and their days were really bad. Contrary to popular belief, my eternal optimism in this case didn’t lead me to say the nonsense things like “Things will get better!” and “when one door closes another opens!” because through eternal optimism you have to recognize and appreciate the rainy moments too. The best I could do for everyone and the only thing I wanted to do was to let them vent. Let the people I love unload their stress, their worry, their incredulity at how things unfold, let them unload all of that onto me without any expectation of advice or sunshine. I can take on their problems (most of the time) and I can take on that energy and hold it for them until they’re ready to let it go. And in the little moments when I’m taking on their problems I’ll send back just a little bit of my sunshine. So it’s been quite a crazy first quarter, filled with insane drama and bad moments. But it’s also been quite a first quarter, filled with just enough sunshine to keep us all going, or so the eternal optimist that I’ve become, hopes.

Good Vibrations

**I’m just going to go ahead and preface this post that we’re about to get real hippie up in this blog. Like, complete and total stereotypical yoga hippie. Please feel free to leave now and come back next weekend after I do something stupid while drunk. Don’t worry, I won’t be mad.

Last weekend in YTT, we had a really powerful moment towards the end of the Sunday, the official halfway mark of the program. We were all exhausted from around 8 hours of practice across two days (11 hours if you count Thursday and Friday… I hurt), and we’d spent a lot of the weekend discussing mantras and chanting; the day ended with the group in a circle singing the Maha Mantra and clapping along, while three yoga mats were never empty in the middle, each of us offering a small yoga flow, or our favorite pose, or just something to each other to commemorate the incredible bond we’re forming in such a short time, basking in how palpable the love and support was in that room. I left after having shed more than a few tears in the final meditation, just bursting with emotions and feeling like I was on top of the world. There’s a tangible feeling radiating from a person when you’ve experienced something like that – in yogic terms, it’s like operating on a different level of consciousness. In layman’s terms, I’m talkin’ about good vibrations.

Energy. In scientific terms, it’s the property of an object that can be transferred or changed but never destroyed. In real life, it’s that feeling when you walk into a room of laughing people and you immediately feel happier, or how one stressed out and cranky coworker can bring the whole team vibe down (what? I’ve never done that). Through our own practice in life, yogis learn to be more sensitive, more attuned to the energies within our own bodies and minds, and a side effect is you become infinitely more aware of the energy of people around you. It’s why you’ll hear a yogi refer to someone in terms like “she has such a beautiful energy” or “I couldn’t handle being around that negative energy much longer.” It starts to become palpable, tangible how strangers and friends are feeling, even when they don’t say a word.  I feel like my people-sensory skills have completely exploded in the last month of yoga training, so much so that it’s caused a massive shift in my mindset around my life in New York City, where it is, where it’s been, and where I thought it was headed, until recently.

These kind of vibrations, this elevated consciousness or whatever you want to believe it might be aren’t limited to the moment you’re standing next to someone, and they don’t require someone to look you in the face. It’s why people can’t interpret text messages sometimes, like when you start dating someone and you can’t tell if they’re flirting with you or brushing you off; the words say one thing but your intuition is telling you it’s something else, the words are real but the feelings are implied. At times even the most direct words have a subtle vibration of something deeper to them, so instead of cutting through you, causing anxiety or even inciting you to engage, your reaction is a sad smile and maybe even some sense of relief. Because the more attuned you are to all of these vibrations, the good and the bad and the in-between, you’re also sensitive to what energies you’ll allow in your life, knowing they have the power to affect you when you least expect and least need them to.

Something we practice in yoga is ahimsa, non-harming, compassion. There are a million ways to interpret ahimsa in modern life, but in this case I’m referring to one of the most basic: don’t harm yourself. Don’t think negative things about the body that sustains your life in this world, nourish it with good foods and self-care. And more importantly don’t bring negativity into your Self, into your consciousness. Like begets like- negativity breeds negativity, and if you choose to surround yourself and engage with negative energy, that negativity will come back to your own life. I spent so many years of my life breeding negative thoughts about my physical and mental self that I’m only now barely scratching the surface of what it really means to be happy. The first step in that is an easy one though: the first step is to remove myself from situations where I’m doused in negative energy and focus on the rest of the positive things that have come into my life in recent and not-so-recent days and weeks. Like begets like – and cultivating this positive energy around me is something I have a feeling I’ll need in the months ahead, where the Big Change I thought I wanted is changing right before my eyes.

Tick, Tick, Tick

Time is a funny thing, isn’t it? To some people, it’s completely linear and one-sided; time moves at the same speed always and nothing can stop the movement of time. To other people, its fluid or it doesn’t mean anything, just a silly concept to herd us all to meals and sleep at the same time. For most of my life I feel squarely into the first category, craving the rigidity of a schedule like a glass of rosé in a New York City summer, but I’ve found so far in 2016, I’ve shifted to somewhere in the middle of that spectrum. The loss of traditional weekends to YTT has meant that time has just sort of existed for me in the past three weeks; I wake up around the same time every day and move through a schedule until it’s time to sleep and do it all over again.

The weekends in particular are when I notice that time stops “existing” in favor of finding that perfect joy in a new day. We start our YTT days with 30 minutes of meditation, which if you’ve never meditated before, is a LONG freaking time to sit in stillness, but stopping and pausing and forgetting about the tick, tick, tick of the clock is a great way to center yourself ahead of 10 hours in the studio. It makes those long days feel like minutes. I’ve noticed since starting YTT even the work days don’t follow normal time, moving quickly and slowly and then not at all and then all at once; carrying that meditative stillness into the work week means my days don’t feel like slow honey down a cold spoon any longer, no more energy wasted willing the clock to race forward to 6pm.

Time has been on my mind a lot this week, to be sure, with a particular focus on the future. First its moving too quickly in all the stillness of the past three weeks; I’m already halfway done with YTT and big plans I thought I wanted feel like they’re running at me full speed. And then it stops moving altogether in this perfect stillness of meeting two little miracles that have completely captured my soul, their little beating hearts in either hand captivating every piece of me. It’s why I haven’t posted any entries here for a week, this strange movement of time, because somehow it seemed more important to ignore how many days had passed between posting in massive favor of living for however many days I needed to.

So why all the hippie speak about time? Because this week time slapped me hard in the face with a reality check that for all the dreamy moments where things move on these different waves, time is still a real thing that moves and grows and evolves the way the rest of us do. Six months ago I fell in love with an idea about six months from now; seeing how everything has changed makes me so confused about where things may end as time ticks on. Has this passage of time given me the change that I was craving enough to uproot everything I knew six months ago? Or do I have blinders on with all these changes around me now because part of me may still want to uproot and start over. This heady mix of the past and the present and the future are never far from my thoughts these days, and maybe the only release I have is losing myself in the minutes or days or hours or months where time stops existing and I’m able just to live.

To live is to understand that time is precious because it moves even when we stop. I need a few more days where time stops though; I need just a few more days to enjoy time moving the way it moves instead of torturing myself trying to slow it down so I can make a decision because I can’t delay that decision forever. Forever doesn’t have to mean never and it doesn’t have to mean now, though. Forever can mean whatever I need it to right now, in this impossibly quick and perfectly slow moment in time.

EMOTIONS.

Laying in final savasana (ed note: yogi nap) last night after a strenuous practice during YTT, I listened closely to my breath. You’re supposed to do that anyway, draw your attention to the breath cycle to help focus the mind away from its usual distractions, but this time I was listening as carefully as possible in the deep hope that no one could hear the ragged nature of each inhale, and the strained constraint of each exhale. I woke up yesterday feeling a million times better than Wednesday for no other reason that I can think of than I’d slept well and I had YTT to keep me distracted and occupied after an over-eventful week; but we’d worked on opening our hips in yoga that night and any good yogi knows the hips are where we store our negative emotions. Before we even got into the practical part of class last night, there I was like a total mush, shaking on each inhale and exhale as the wave of emotions I’d been living with and hiding from in the past 24 hours and 2 months coursed through me like wildfire, screaming for attention and trying to find some sense of release.

Emotions suck. Like, I’m sorry, but they suck. Yesterday while walking to YTT I gave Mama B a call to catch up on life since our conversation a full 6 hours prior; and while I was lamenting the choices I’ve made and will need to make in the coming days, she tried to give me some well-meaning mom advice: “Honey, you just have to let life happen.” “I KNOW THAT MOM,” I shot back at her, voice dripping with anger and sadness and confusion that I could feel releasing itself from the back of my throat, where it had settled in a long day of holding my tongue from screaming out loud. I felt awful within two seconds of snapping at her like that, she is probably the most incredible mother around and all she was trying to do was make me feel better. But when you’re tangled up in the rest of those emotions and you’re heading into a long weekend and there’s still another day in the office to go, things can bubble out of me and I’ll regret them immediately, sticking my mind into the past so I can relive the negativity until it makes me feel better, or numb. Which to be honest lately, are pretty much the same thing.

A principle of yoga is non-attachment, freeing the mind from anything that’s keeping you grounded to this world and the life that is distracting you from your true Self, your Purusha. Sometimes I think that sounds terrible: why would I want to detach myself from the lofty goals I’ve set for my life, going back as far as six months and looking ahead as far as eight? Why would I want to distance myself from the loving embrace of my family, the little reminders of friendship like a text from someone who could tell you were having a bad day, the way it feels when you settle into something emotionally like you’ve been waiting for it to find you for years? Yogis love; we spread love and we think love and we emote love, but we aren’t supposed to “love” things, whether physical possessions or people or the part of us that self-identifies on this earth, because once you understand that you’re loving temporary things, you’ll realize their non-permanence will eventually and inevitably bring you pain.

It’s weeks like this one that I’m glad part of me practices non-attachment. Because having a few hours each day and night to disconnect from the world outside, no phone, no social interaction outside the four walls of the studio helps me to disconnect from everything and just be. I’m disconnected from my emotions in that time because right now I can’t handle them, save for the wave that rushes through me and in me and around me once I’m lying in that final rest. But the rest of me is glad I’m not a full yogi on that level yet, because after a few months where everything felt like sunshine, I suppose I was overdue to feel and handle a little rain. I don’t know what’s going to happen next in the larger sense of these stupid fucking emotions that aren’t going away. But I do know what’s going to happen in the meantime: I’m going to focus on the good things, like a weekend ahead of yoga, the Nickname Posse Super Bowl and two days at home with my family. I’ll cling to the attachments I understand.

As for the rest of the emotions? I’ve got nothing. According to yogi-training, that’s the best I can hope for. Hoping for anything else at this point would be selfish. Except, perhaps, another perfectly emotional savasana after an evening in my happy place, distracted only by the present moment and a desire not to worry about the days ahead.

I feel like shit today.

My heart was pounding, pounding, pounding at my chest and I could feel sweat dripping down my back. My face was flushed despite the peppermint oil I’d been slathering on the back of my neck, and it was taking everything in me to focus on the work in front of me when all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball under my desk and hide from everything. Yesterday after an unfortunate series of events, I was forced to make a decision that I’ve been consciously avoiding for weeks, really months now. Because by mid-afternoon yesterday, I knew the time had come to have a conversation that I really didn’t want to have, because I also knew it was very likely going to take away the biggest reason I’ve been smiling so wide this year.

I woke up today after barely sleeping last night and surreptitiously wiped away the evidence of how I’d soothed myself to sleep with tears. I looked a mess: puffy, dead eyes trying to process that okay, things probably went as well as to be expected, but expectations fucking suck. I ambled about the apartment, staying distracted and busy and keeping my focus out of the previous 9 hours, trying not to feed into the raging desire to call out of work and crawl under my comforter in sweatpants, hiding from everything until everything stopped hurting. Instead, I put on my big girl pants and pulled it together enough to get to the office; now I’m hiding in a conference room choking back tears that have been on the edge of my eyes since last night. Or, if I’m being honest, tears that have been on my mind for the past eight weeks.

Through yoga and meditation, we’re taught to look at life in the present. The past can’t be changed; the future can’t be predicted. All that matters is the present moment. So worrying about the big meeting tomorrow, reliving the crippling anxiety from a moment in college where you did something stupid, even anticipating a reaction to a conversation you’ve been avoiding: all of those things don’t matter. Worrying about the future shouldn’t matter. Nothing but the present moment should matter and even that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But today, everything matters. The past five months, the past eight weeks and the past 24 hours all matter; the next 24 hours, the next week, the next two months and the next eight months really matter. I’m stuck in this limbo where I can’t get my head out of the past and I can’t get my mind out of the future, and it’s taking everything in me not to completely lose myself in this tangled mess that I’m calling the present.

So I feel like shit today. And I’m going to keep feeling like shit because I don’t know how to fix my life when the two things I want more than anything are mutually exclusive. I don’t know how to make a decision when both paths will make me supremely happy and then extremely depressed. I can’t live in the past and I can’t see the future and I can’t handle the present because my mind is bouncing between the planes like a pendulum, swinging up, down, highs, lows. I feel like shit today and I’m probably going to feel like shit for a while. I don’t know why I felt the need to share all this, because it didn’t make me feel better to get it out of my head. But maybe it’s just enough to acknowledge that today is a shitty fucking goddamn day and that’s the best I can do for right now.

The Mountain

Tadasana. It sounds like a fancy yoga pose, but in its barest essence, it’s just standing tall with your hands at your side. It’s the pose you come to between some of the more vigorous activities like sun salutations, and it’s a grounding pose to start and end practices; it’s meditative in its own way, standing tall. You’d think that pose would be the easiest one to “master” – it’s just standing, right? WRONG. So wrong. And I learned exactly how wrong it was to believe that in the last day of the first weekend of yoga teacher training, where our first experience in workshop-ing poses took over an hour and a half and was entirely focused on tadasana. That’s right: my first experience teaching other people how to do yoga lasted 90 minutes and all I learned was how to teach people to stand.

Why spend so much time on this one, seemingly simple pose? Because as I’ve learned and seen in the past two weeks: everything is tadasana.

There’s something about being so wholly immersed in yoga over the past two weekends that’s caused what feels like a cataclysmic shift in my entire life perspective. I’m not kidding or exaggerating there. I’m not saying that I’ve become an entirely new person, or that everything I’ve wanted or worked for isn’t relevant. I am saying that all of these little changes, from the way I carry myself to what I believe after the past 20 months of a steady asana practice has been validated, improved, solidified and then some in just eight days of study. Shifts I’ve noticed in my beliefs, my values, shifts I’ve noticed in my physical body and my once-anxious mind have become so pronounced that I look back two weeks and it’s as different as looking back at who I was two years ago. There’s something incredibly profound about having your life choices and decisions validated so completely in barely eight days. One could compare it to standing solidly on two feet.

Few of us really know how to stand up for ourselves. So few of us know how to ground into our heels, dig into our space in the ground and broaden throughout our shoulders, our chests; few of us know how to lift up through the top of our heads as if to declare loudly that this is my space in the world, this is who I am and how I live. I see it every day walking around the city, people hunching into themselves, dodging NYC foot traffic left and right, trying to be as small as possible while winding through the millions of other people doing the exact same thing. We cower into our torsos, hunched shoulders, hunched backs, protecting our heart and our breath, or in essence our life force, from any possible intrusion into someone else’s space. I would love to take credit for that analogy but I can’t – it was something our training mama said to us as we went into our second hour of learning how to stand properly. Because, she reminded us, if you can’t stand up and declare this is MY space, this is who I am, then you might as well hunch into all your crap until it’s time to deal with your karma in the next life.

I’m writing this entry from a plane ride after a quick 12-hour trip to Ohio, after a long weekend mentally and physically in the studio. We’re experiencing some turbulence but the seat next to me is empty, so it’s been a nice quiet plane ride, a view of the sunset over the horizon and the promise of those New York City lights as we descend into JFK. This type of routine disruption would normally have put me over the edge, the random flight on a Monday after 28 hours of yoga in four days and now this bouncing turbulence as we descend into a light rainstorm, but instead I’m trusting and open and happy and proud. We’ve since moved in training on from tadasana, getting into the more complicated nuances of teaching bodies that are used to crumbling in on themselves to open up. But at the core of everything we do, and in the crux of every piece of my life, I’ve learned that absolutely everything comes back to standing tall.