Friday, March 28, 2014

Child's Pose

This past month, I've been doing a quiet challenge with myself: 20 yoga classes in 4 weeks. Some weeks it's been six classes and some weeks it's been four. But, regardless, I hit my mark of 20 and its been so wonderful that I am going to keep it up.

This partly resulted from needing some serious stand-in 30-Before-30 goals to make up for the things I could no longer do because of geography, money, or the fact that, well, I just didn't want to do them anymore. It was also a product of a harsh winter, out of desperation for something that would warm me up, physically and emotionally. We've also had a health challenge going on at work. And, well, I hate the treadmill.

Then, I found a studio that offers all classes for $5... where some of the instructors play rap during classes. They had me at TI.

I've done yoga off and on since college, but this disciplined practice has given me a new appreciation for its benefits. I am getting noticeably stronger and more flexible every day. My back has never felt better. The moment I walk out of the studio is the best and most calm moment of my day. I am more tolerable of others (in general; this particular week has been rough in that department) and more accepting of myself. I've made friends. And, having pushed myself to take as many as 8 days of class in a row, I have a brand new appreciation for child's pose.

Child's pose is a resting pose. It's meant to be your home base, where you begin your practice and start to notice your breathing while, as one instructor says, "letting anything beyond the four corners of your mat go." But it's also a pose you can retreat to if you need a moment to withdraw at any time during class. A pause, a safe place. A haven while you prepare to face larger challenges.

I realized last night that I've been doing this, metaphorically, since New Year's. Retreating. Resetting. Reevaluating. Looking for respite and finding relief in quiet moments by myself.

In the past, I've looked at that as a character flaw, as myself running away or pushing others away when the world gets to be too much. Sometimes people understand, and sometimes they do not: "You hold so much inside sometimes." "It's like the sun goes away."

But I've come to look at child's pose--the retreat--as a perfectly healthy and necessary thing. For me, it's what prevents overflow or taking things out on others. It's absolutely crucial to my well-being, and therefore it's no longer something I'm trying to change. I can work on vulnerability, sure, but my strength and my ability to rebound will always largely come from within.

Speaking of, let me set the record straight about introversion.  Introversion and extroversion are labels we use about how we fill our buckets--not our cups, mind you, but the place that holds our energy. Introverts spend energy on interactions with other people and gain energy from being alone--and vice versa for extroverts. Introverts can be outgoing, assertive, dynamic people. They just need to recharge in solitude. (This may be my favorite line on Wikipedia ever: Some popular writers have characterized introverts as people whose energy tends to expand through reflection and dwindle during interaction. I might as well pop that on a nametag and wear it to brunch.)

Turns out child's pose is not so childish after all--in fact, it's the most mature thing that I do for myself on a regular basis. Huh. How about that.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Quoteworthy: Sufficiency

I write a lot about struggles here, about my insecurities and things I'm working to change about myself.

In fact, here's a confession: I pretty much spent the last year thinking about my shortcomings, my flaws, the baggage that I bring to relationships, the ways that I fail other people--trying to figure out how to unload some of it or improve.

Which means I've pretty much spent a year of my life thinking about deficiencies. Thinking about my glass as half empty.

Dating after years of shutting out intimacy will do this to you. I basically ripped open a part of myself I had sewn shut and was shocked by what I found: Old (oldoldold, really really old) wounds, an embarrassing track-record of accepting far less than I should have (about half if I had to estimate), and a nagging feeling as though what I had to offer wasn't on par.

Which, after a while, is a seriously sucky headspace to be in. 'Exhausting' is one word that comes to mind. 'Totally fucking depressing' are three others.

So I've been thinking about ways to get more in the headspace of sufficiency, which is a totally beautiful word I just learned.

Sufficiency: (adj) the condition of being adequate
Adequate: (adj) fully suitable

Synonyms: abundance, fullness, competency, enough, satisfactory
There is a family story that I like to tell people in which my grandpa requested My Cup Runneth
Over on the radio. When it played, he stood in the kitchen with my grandma and hugged her while she cried. It's become a special song to my family, and now, it's the anthem of how I think about love:

Sometimes in the morning, when shadows are deep
I lie here beside you, just watching you sleep
And sometimes I whisper, what I'm thinking of
My cup runneth over with love

Sometimes in the evening, when you do not see
I study the small things, you do constantly
I memorize moments that I'm fondest of
My cup runneth over with love

In only a moment, we both will be old
We won't even notice the world turning cold
And so in this moment with sunlight above
My cup runneth over with love

With love
 --Ed Ames, My Cup Runneth Over

What I have learned from a year of thinking about deficiencies is that what counts in life is effort. What counts in love is being present. Being open. Being vulnerable. Being your whole self. Baring your flaws for others to see. Studying love. Taking risks. Fostering a foundation of happiness that sustains all else.

What I have learned from a year of thinking about deficiencies is that my cup has never been empty--or even half full. It has always been full, and always will be--and one day, when the universe works its magic, it will run over. But for now, full is sufficient. And sufficiency is beautiful.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

What Having a Brother Taught Me

Last May I met my family in Green Bay for a weekend trip. My mom, brother, aunts and cousins convened to see Styx and REO Speedwagon (take it on the run, baaaaaaby, if that's the way you want it, baaaaby) and enjoy some time together.

The second night we went to a distant family members' bar in the middle of nowhere. Drinks were downed, darts were thrown, laughs were had. Somewhere in the middle of it all, my brother and I realized we had the exact same favorite band.

You guys, this was some serious news. It made me deliriously happy to learn that.

You see, my brother and I are like oranges and apples--always have been. That's not to say that we aren't close or have absolutely nothing in common--it's just to say that we are very, very different from one another, and if it weren't for the fact that we were both undeniably offsprung and raised by the same people (Exhibit A: the hair. Exhibit B: the temper), you would be hard-pressed to find many similarities between us.

He catches fish for fun; I order them raw in sushi.

Herein lies the monumentality in discovering we have the same jam band in common.

This post is about to get sentimental, and then super-sentimental.

I bought my brother tickets to see Slightly Stoopid for his birthday, and he came to spend St. Patty's weekend in Chicago. I realized over the weekend that my brother and I, now both certifiable adults, are actually quite similar.

I mean, we're obviously blessed with great genes.

While in some ways we wear our hearts on our sleeves, I can guarantee that at any given moment, we're both probably thinking things through more than you think we are. We'd give you the shirts off our backs if you needed them. We can overlook a lot of bullshit, but I'd suggest you get out of our way if we're really pissed.

Our first reaction is to trust. Our second is to give the benefit of the doubt. And when we fall, we commit to it, no safety net, geronimo, baby!

And, just like Slightly Stoopid, you'll struggle to define us, because we're probably going to change your mind at some point.

Here's a few lessons I've learned from being Jakerman's sister:
  • Swirlies are mean. Really, really mean. They only become funny 10+ years later, and only with the permission of the swirled.
  • People who love you will forgive you a lot of stupid shit. (See also: Swirlies.) 
  • You can hate someone's guts and tell them all the most terrible things about themselves, and the next morning, they're just like, "Hey. Sup. Love you. Pass the syrup." 
  • Vice versa is true as well: It always hurts the most coming from your sibling, but it's also the most quickly digested coming that way.
  • You're not the center of the universe, Little Miss Marie. And it's better off that way.
  • Blood is thicker than water.
  • Being an older sibling will always sort of feel like too big of a job to fill. 
  • Conversely, having a younger sibling makes you feel like you're the employee of the month, every month. 
  • A human's capacity to grow and change is astounding. But so is the way they always, in certain ways, stay the same person they were from birth. 
  • Knowing someone for their entire life is so beautiful.
  • Having someone who knows your entire history is really comforting. Not needing to explain yourself is a gift, and it's one that only family can give you.
  • Even though I hope he'll never have to, having zero doubt that someone would absolutely bury anyone who mistreats you is a very nice feeling. This is my brother, Jake. He has fourteen guns, a big truck, and a camp with a lot of land.   
  • "Loyalty is everything." And he's got the tat to prove it. 
Happy Birthday, Jakerdoodle. You're the funniest, most loyal person I know. You're the absolute best a sister could ask for.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Epiphanies, Volume IV

  • The kind of people that need to talk immediately after a yoga class are not my kind of people.

  • As I get older, "my kind of people" are alarmingly fewer and fewer.

  • "Project management" is basically a delicate balance between making decisions based on your best guess and telling other people what to do based on your best guess. That last part is a shame, because ordinarily I like telling people what to do.

  • They're called deadlines because they make you want to die. Fact.

  • Spring, people. It's actually going to happen. I'd completely lost faith, but it's... actually going to happen.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Tree Pose

The other night, my yoga instructor asked everyone to get into tree pose--balanced on one foot, with the sole of the other foot propped up on your grounded leg, in a sort of triangle, like so:


We were practicing balance, spending several minutes on each leg. "Notice when you shift," she said. "And you will shift. Being grounded takes practice."

She told us to pick a spot in the room to help us focus. A white room with mirrors doesn't give you a lot of options, so I chose a word on the shirt of a girl in front of me. The girl was a rock star, firmly planted on her right leg. I cringed with unwelcome jealousy, as the weakness in my right quad from my back injury had me swaying back and forth.

"Switch slowly to your left," the instructor said. "It will feel different on each leg, and that's normal. The goal here is not perfection, but to learn to trust yourselves for longer periods of time."

I shifted my weight onto my left leg, and focused on the same spot on the girl's shirt. This time, the girl faltered every so often, her right foot falling to the ground over and over. Every time she moved, I moved. Finally, I moved my gaze from the girl's shirt to my face in the mirror. I gave myself my best "I'm being serious because I'm in yoga class face" and, miraculously, remained steady for the rest of the pose.
The tree pose is a balance pose incorporating three lines of energy, emitting from the centre outwards. One line proceeds down the straight leg, one line extends up the spine and out the fingertips, and the third moves outward through the bent knee.
Sometimes I forget that roots are not external. They are not a place. They are not other people. They are not even necessarily memories or beliefs or traditions.

They are the anchors deep inside of you that help you stand tall and afford you balance, that help you weather the external storms. The voice that endures any and all criticism or opinion, the parts that remain when your leaves are blown away. You may need water and sunlight to grow branches, but with practice you can also strengthen the part of you that sustains, no matter what.