Thursday, March 31, 2016

Throwing Gratitude

Yoga teachers have a bad habit of telling everyone to be grateful for every moment, in every moment, like it is the secret to happiness or something.

(It is, but that's not important).

The nugget often lands off-target, particularly if someone is experiencing grief or suffering or anxiety. And if they aren't experiencing deep despair or sadness, if they're having an up day, they just sing right along – yup – gratitude.

Preach it, sister.

Until they experience grief or suffering. Then the lost relationship, the illness, the expense – it catches up and overtakes. It is hardest to hear and hardest to remember in these moments, which punctuate life and give it spice and meaning.

Or at least, make it worth writing about.

A few years ago my friend gave me a polished rock with the word “gratitude” carved into it. I put it on my meditation altar, carried it in my pocket, took it out and rolled it around every once and awhile. It was there to be that reminder, that port in the storm, that piece of solid matter or fact that could literally be held.

About the 18th or 19th time I tried to get pregnant, and failed, I threw it off the back porch. I was standing outside, in a staring contest with the sunset, miserable and full of anger, jealousy, pain.


I f*cking threw gratitude down the hill.

It marked the beginning of a dark period. I would like to capitalize all of those words, ala The Blue Period of my Picasso, my brotha from anotha motha, but I cannot. Capitalizing it makes it seem like an epoch that came before, indicating that it has ended.

I slogged through life, overtaken by spontaneous naps, overwhelmed by the good news of others. I held zero gratitude for the little things, like the sunrise and the fact that my body was working.

Well, some of my body was working.

I'm certain that anti-gratitude isn't a thing, except that it is. It is the Scrooge and the Eeyore, the dark cloud that does not permit access to the healing rays of the sun. And in this dark place, it is particularly hard to find gratitude, to determine which way is up or out. You bounce – I bounced – between taking one step in each direction, then backtracking to the neutral zone, where it was safe, deep in the heart of my own suffering. Yoga teachers kept telling me to Be Grateful. To recognize the things that were going according to plan. To play. To adventure. To rest.

It never managed to permeate my bubble of sadness.

And one day, when nothing was particularly remarkable, I decided to walk down the hill. It is rough and scraggly down there, with scrub oak and cactus and a myriad of non-human footprints. It is a sacred and timeless space – yet untapped by the internet and the footsteps of those who walk on two legs. The grasses are very tall, and the slope is untamed, rocky and precarious. It requires full attention and focus when you're on the move, because every step has the potential to be a misstep, to take you to your knees, to drop you into the canyon.

It was a misstep that landed me squarely on the smooth stone, whose message was as clear as ever.



This is life. And this is the practice of gratitude. I think Forrest Gump got it right, that sometimes you have to throw it. And having thrown it, you have to throw it more. And eventually you stop, because you learn that sometimes, there just aren't enough rocks.

You can carry gratitude with you, look at it on your altar, remind yourself continuously to be grateful. And you don't have to. You can chuck it down the hill and into the hinterlands when your wounds are still seeping and you need a little time. Gratitude isn't something that someone can give you – it must be found, again, every day. Instead of remembering to be grateful, perhaps we as Yoga Teachers should remind you to look for gratitude. To find the smallest thing that is going right and to give thanks to God or the Universe – or simply to yourself.

If you are breathing, something is going right.

If you are seeking gratitude, if you have thrown it out or smashed it to pieces, remember that you carry the secret of gratitude in the grace of each breath.

The capacity to seek it.

So throw gratitude. And then find it again. Maybe sooner next time, maybe without as much wallowing and weeping. Maybe not. No one promised you happiness, not life, not the Founding Fathers. But the promise of gratitude is available in every breath, and gratitude is the seed of happiness.

Help it grow.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Equinox Paradox

I can tell you my life's story like a leap frog – how I've hopped from seeking one person's affection to another, to another.

(You do this too, I'll bet. At least to some degree.)

But recently, I've realized how significantly this pattern of behavior has influenced the path I've taken. How eager I have been to conceed, negotiate, bend, fold, or twist into the shape that seemed most appealing at the time, to keep those in my life happiest.

As though their happiness were my sole responsibility.

Or the reason I came here this life.

This is a seed that sprouted early in my life. I'm not certain where it came from – I cannot seem to see farther back into the distance than this incident. But it the shadow it has cast upon my path has served as an unwanted guide that has steered me so far from what I'm here to do.

My family jokes about how wise I was as a child – my violin teacher remarked that I aged backwards – which may explain why I feel as though I'm mired in an additional adolescence. I'm five years older than my brother, and when he was born, I'm reported as expressing dramatic relief that if no one else would marry me, at least I now had a backup plan.

Kids say the darndest things.

(This is troubling for many reasons).

The summer before was my first year in summer school. I was four and a half on the outside, which must have made me 74 on the inside? I'm not sure. Regardless, the troup of my elementary school classmates was headed to the park to run through the sprinklers. The teacher, at the head of the pack, helping the kiddos cross the rickety bridge, one of the “senior” students (probably 12 years old?) held up the rear.

I tripped, and skinned my knee. The 74 year old in me was mortified. The four year old cried.

In an effort to delegate, the teacher yelled to the back of the pack, to M.H., to pick me up and carry me the rest of the way to the park.

Save me from my pain, my shame.

Distract me from the Work I am here to do.

Every step I have taken since has been in an effort to recreate this feeling – the rescue.

In my romantic life, I've sought the rescuer.

Everywhere else, I rescue.

I've thought – felt – desired – to be That for another human. I've forced that idea of motherhood and waited for a baby to choose me. To Be The One. To rescue. To rescue me.
But that's not why I'm here, either.

I'm headed into retreat for the next ten days to do some deep soul-searching for myself, by myself, which means I will not get back to you. But it is ok; you will be ok. I've always thought you would need me, paid close attention to how that might look, how I might rescue you from the middle of the ocean or the nightmare of your life. Or maybe in your case, I've considered how you might rescue me, if I did and said exactly the right thing at precisely the right moment.

But now, at 35, on this Vernal Equinox, I meet myself in the middle. The day and night the same. My body and mind the same age for a fleeting instant.

To rescue myself, from myself.

See you in April.


Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Just Relax - and other unhelpful suggestions

Just Relax

...and other unhelpful suggestions.

As you know by now, I sometimes work as a doula. This year, I had a realization while sitting at a kitchen table with a couple of clients. I always ask how women think they wanted to be supported in labor, and if there are things they don't want me to say. Like most of my clients, she knew little about what she wanted.

And exactly what she didn't want.

"You always tell me to relax." She said to her husband. "DON'T TELL ME TO RELAX!"

(I may have done the same thing a few thousand times myself).

Her husband shot back that sometimes that was what she needed. They volleyed back and forth for a little while and some little nugget of realization came to me, so I shot it out there. I think I interrupted.

"What do you want him to say?" I blurted.

"I don't know, just don't say relax."

THIS IS THE AMAZING THING THAT CAME THROUGH ME LIKE I WAS SPEAKING IN TONGUES ---> So when he says relax, what he is saying is, "I have no idea what to say right now, since you don't know what you want me to say, so until then I'm going to keep saying the word 'relax' which means [space filler for the right thing]."

This experience changed my life.

First, I have realized that all annoying things ever are simply the annoying person trying to do their best in the absence of clear direction. If you don't state your expectations or needs or desires, how can anyone ever (ever) hope to meet them?

Second, instead of saying "relax" or "I'm sorry to hear that" or fill-in-the-blank, I now say, "let's pretend I'm saying the exact right thing in this moment, because I have no idea what that exact right thing is. If you know, tell me and I'll say it. Otherwise, please hear my intention, which is to be for you whatever it is you need in this moment."

(It's a little longer than 'relax').