Tuesday, July 17, 2018

More proof that the grief is lifting

For more than a year, this old mattress and rolled up rug were propped up against the wall in my garage—among the last vestiges of my old life. With the help of friends, we'd removed this mattress and built an IKEA platform bed. This event on a Saturday afternoon in April felt like another milestone. The mattress and platform bed were purchased with that year's tax return, so I didn't add to the present credit card debt balance.

A few days later the Casper mattress arrived, and I'd power lifted the box up my stairs by myself. I'd also removed the shrink wrap and managed to get the bed onto the platform.

My mettle had been tested, and I'd proved to myself again that I was up for the present challenge. It felt so good to sleep in a new bed free of the sadness and disappointment that the old mattress had come to symbolize. I also felt super adulty to finally have a proper bed—with head and foot board for the first time.

But that jolt of energy soon dissipated, and again, I felt overwhelmed. This is what grief does. It strikes one's energy like the insects who fly into a bug zapper. My garage is over-sized, and I only have one vehicle, so it wasn't really in my way.

What I know now after I dragged that mattress down the driveway on pick-up day is that there was more grieving to be done and sometimes a call to schedule a bulk waste pick-up feels too heavy, too much. In the midst of grief, one must learn to prioritize and conserve energy, and in doing so, only essentials get accomplished. Even then, sometimes the essentials get benched.

A week later with the garage cleared of the stock pile of items I deemed no longer needed, I feel so light. I feel a surge of energy. What I also realize is that that sense of overwhelm has been a life-long weight I've carried on my slim shoulders.

My divorce kicked up so much dust that wasn't directly related to my marriage. It was a catalyst for excavating and examining older artifacts from earlier periods of my life. By the time I felt energized to make the call to 'please come carry away that mattress' I was able to kick other things to the proverbial curb.

Besides being an energy zapper, if done with patience and grace, grief can also be a healer. There is no magic number, but the three years I have sat with my sadness, disappointment, frustration, disbelief, and exhaustion have healed me. With the power of a magnifying glass, I have examined the things that hurt and weighed me down. And with thorough analysis, I am ready to let go of them and move forward, to live a new and fuller life.

It is a remarkable feeling to feel so light, so capable of weathering the emotions that cross my path from day to day, and to not feel like I'm going to suffocate anymore. Nearly every corner of my home feels renewed. I own the space that used to be shared. As I have physically moved and removed my belongings, I have also rearranged the mental furniture. My thoughts and habits better reflect who I choose to be today and who I am working to become tomorrow. I no longer bump my shins into patterns that harm me or obstacles that keep me from my dreams and my goals.

It's remarkable what one sweaty trip down the driveway dragging a heavy, memory-laden mattress can do for one's outlook. I sleep so much better these days. Sweet dreams, indeed.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Yoga Teacher Training - Month Two Reflection

On the yoga mat, when the poses get difficult, one can return to downward dog to catch a breath and reset before resuming the practice. Off the mat, my reset button is my writing. This weekend of yoga teacher training necessitated some writing time.

Friday night was test night when we had to recite the first ten poses of the yogahour sequence to a student proctor. Over the course of the day, I developed heart burn and stomach upset. I was agitated and so upset. I knew that the preparation I had made was not enough. Life had set up obstacles throughout the month between weekend one and weekend two. This isn't an excuse, but a reality. Plus, I was freaked by the prospect of having to memorize so much. It's not my strong suit, so a little seed of doubt planted itself inside my brain and try as I might, I couldn't weed it from the mental garden.

I delivered my recitation to a kind student named Joe, who was encouraging and put me at ease. I honestly don't know if I recited enough of each pose to constitute passing the test. But, the relief I felt after the test was over was palpable, and I decided to move forward and not get stuck on my test performance and result.

A friend reminded me that yoga is about being calm and breathing. “Julie you are literally doing the opposite,” he said. I knew he was right. I even laughed as I read his words. My reaction was absolutely ridiculous and outsized, and yet, it took so much energy to rein that mess in.

What was powerful about my pre-test reaction, and why I am ultimately glad that it happened, is the awareness I had, even in the midst of my reaction, was that I was inflicting this on myself. I wasn't catching a bug. I had worked myself into such a frenzy that my body was reacting.

The takeaway for me was that in the past, these reactions were fairly common without my awareness of exactly how I was bringing them on myself. By suffering this dramatically, I was able to see how far I have come, and was motivated again to keep working to not self-sabotage as I have in the past.

Before this weekend, I called myself a recovering perfectionist. The label recognized that while I still had tendencies for high expectations for myself and wanted things to be perfect, I was no longer dominated by that impulse.

This test and the entire weekend of teaching the “memorized” poses to my classmates proved that there was more perfectionism guiding my behavior and thoughts than I cared to confront. This was a disappointing truth to sit with.

Since I am still getting to know this beautiful group of people I am learning with, I found myself saying repeatedly, tearing up is a stress response for me and I am really close to crying. Multiple times. Each time, the people I confessed this to encouraged me and reminded me that I could do what seems impossible.

I was frustrated and overwhelmed much of the weekend. There were a few points when I heard myself say, “Well, I am not quitting this training, but perhaps I won't teach after all. I don't think I have it in me. This is too hard.”

What meditation and leaning into discomfort have taught me is to separate these thoughts from my reality. Let them pass by me and then float away without changing anything or reacting to them. As I talked and confided in other students, I realized a number of them were feeling that same sense of overwhelm. So it wasn't just me. That thought was a comfort.

Friday night's Word of the Day was 'Next', and our teacher explained that when life gets too overwhelming the best and sometimes only thing to do is simply the next thing. To not worry about getting to the end of class, but to simply do the next pose and then the next. And off the mat, to consider not the steps toward a goal that are a month or a year away, but the very next thing. During training, that meant to test my memorization as I taught my training partners. Not to worry about the outcome, but to simply start and finish the exercise before us. I did the next thing, and then the next, and so on.

Now it's late Monday evening. I survived the training weekend. I have the new sequence to learn and I am armed with new strategies, new friends who will practice with me, and a quieter schedule on my side.

This training is presenting an advanced version of practicing how to stay in the moment and to extend myself grace. No matter what I do when the training is over, I know I will be stronger—metaphorically and physically.

My starting point

Ready for Yoga Teacher Training - Saturday

The beautiful studio where weekend 2 was hosted.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Time for a Rambling Post

I feel a rambly post coming on. I've watched two Super Soul conversations online. Oprah interviewed Stephen Colbert and then I watched her interview with Lin Manuel Miranda. I cried because creative people talking about their craft cracks something open in me every time.

I play a game with myself seasonally. I see how long I can go without air conditioning or heating. I turned the AC on in May and then we had a bout of cooler temperatures and I turned it off. I haven't turned it back on. I know, I know...it's insane. But here are my rationales:

  • We have an attic fan that keeps the air moving all the time.
  • I am gone so much of the day, and am freezing in my office everyday.
  • I've been bit by the gardening bug, and so even when I'm home I'm not inside much.
  • I bought a hammock that's in constant shade.
  • I was gone this past weekend and will be gone next weekend.
  • I'm from south central Kansas. One set of grandparents never had air conditioning and we visited them every weekend. Our summer visits were outside under shade trees.
  • Humans have dealt with extreme weather for eons.
  • I'm on my own more than half of the month during this summer. I'm the Woman of this House and I get to decide.

And now a storm is blowing in, and with the windows open, it feels amazing. I also want to see how much lower my bill is. Unless we have an unseasonably cool July, I can pretty much guarantee that I'll turn it on next month.

What is this blog post even about? I'm not sure myself. I'm writing my way to the answer.

I woke up around five a.m., which is quickly becoming my regular wake up time. I have no idea why, but I'm not resisting it. I've always been a morning person.

Things have felt a little stagnant in my day job world. I am grateful for my colleagues and the benefits the job grants me, so I've decided to not resist the stagnation—at least for the time being. In the interim, I have transformed the way I think of the hours I spend outside of my day job. I am working to make those hours so rich [do not read busier],fuller of the things that are important to me to put my work day hours in perspective.

So when I woke up at 5:00, I decided to get up and spend some time in my backyard working. It would be cooler and I have the most energy in the morning.

I dressed in jeans and a long sleeve shirt, grabbed my gloves and tools and worked for more than an hour. I set out to gather up the piles of yard waste that I had accumulated last summer and never done anything with. I wanted to take advantage of tomorrow's yard waste pick up. I accomplished my original goal in fifteen minutes and moved on to the next pile. I now have a clear path for how to proceed without being overwhelmed by the visual foliage clutter.

On a roll, I went inside, preheat the oven (because without AC it would be cooler in the morning than after work) and baked chicken and roasted veggies to have for lunches and dinner. By this point, I'm feeling like a domestic boss and it isn't even 8 a.m.

Here's where this post is going. I was so productive this weekend during my down hours from yoga teacher training. Having done my yard work this morning, and crossing my fingers that the rain will fall, so I can let Mother Nature do her work, I've got a little time on my hands.

Generally, I love time on my hands. I have a million ways to fill it, but tonight this is what I know I need to be doing and I don't want to: work on memorizing my first sequence for yoga training.

I signed up for this class and love it, so why don't I want to work on it? Because it requires memorization of a lot of words, and I am not strong in memorizing and I am scared.

There, I said it. I am scared that I will devote the next month to this assignment and I will still not make it. I have spent the past three days thinking about all the ways that I can meaningfully work on this memorization and get the words down.

I'm going to have flash cards. I'm going to create fill-in-the-blank worksheets, I'm going to have Mighty Girl and other friends who have offered, be my students as well as my proctors. I'm also going to do the poses and read them out loud as I do them. I believe that may be the most effective tool. I need to use muscle memory in this process.

Do you see what I've done?

See how I answered my own question? How am I going to do this big, scary thing?

I'm going to write to clear my head, pave a path forward, post this ramble, and get on my mat.

There, I did it. I gotta talk this stuff out. And if I'm solo, writing it out does the job. Thanks for reading and joining me on this wild ride.


Saturday, June 16, 2018

YTT - Reflection 2

I haven't been so excited to chronicle something since I celebrated the 40/40 list three years ago. Lucky for you, dear readers, my classes are only once a month—with a few exceptions—otherwise I might bore you with the details of this latest transformational life event.

Two things happened today that will be hard to convey in words. They were so unexpected and also so comforting that I must write about them even if words fail. I am up for the challenge.

Early in the morning session, before our two-and-a-half yoga workshop (I've never practiced for so long), I was seated on a bolster (a firm pillow-like prop). Against the wall, with my eyes closed and my hands resting on my knees, I was listening to my teacher guide us through a seated mediation. I repeated the mantra to myself 'so' on the inhales and 'hum' on the exhales. So hum is sanskrit for 'I am that' as, I am part of everything.

I knew that thoughts would come and go, but I was really pleased with my ability to stick with my breaths and keep the mantra top of mind. A few minutes into this, I was so still that I could feel a vibration course through my body. Like I was feeling the automatic functions doing their work, blood pumping and flowing, heart beating, etc. It was a strange sensation and for a moment it made me a little agitated, like I was uncomfortable with the sensation. I kept breathing, repeating the mantra, and then I felt overwhelming emotion. I'm a crier who has been on a hiatus for the past few years. I cry easiest if I'm surrounded by people like when I'm sitting quietly in church. And almost can never cry alone.

This morning the tears came and I welcomed them. I felt a sense of peace and joy and relief. I thought of Grandpa and the tears picked up their pace. I am still grieving him, but his loss doesn't feel so raw. Crying over missing him doesn't come easily. I also thought of a long-distance friend and felt gratitude for our friendship. It was a remarkable moment, and I thought, this is day one! I can't wait to see what is in store in the days ahead as I begin to incorporate seated meditation into my daily practice. 

This the hardest part to convey: As the tears leaked from my eyes, I recognized that the tears were not sadness, but a deep well of joy that needed a way of being expressed. I wasn't self-conscious or worried about whether I was the only student having this reaction. Yoga has become such a safe space for me. I also noted that I was helping to comfort myself. I wasn't looking for anyone else to take care of me. I am enough. In that moment, I was everything I needed. The mantra led me to that awareness.


Some time passed, and the next extraordinary thing occurred.

I have not been actively working on my book for almost two years, but it is never far from my thoughts. I've been busy writing other work, and I trust that when the time is right I will return to this labor of love and complete the novel.

When my character, Astrid, came to me, she came fully formed personality-wise, but her physical attributes were vague. I knew she had short, dark brown hair and that she wasn't petite, but she also wasn't tall. That's about all I knew of her physical description. Then one day as I contemplated what celebrities might play my characters in a movie, I realized that Astrid had taken on the resemblance of a younger Winona Ryder. That description worked for awhile until I realized that Astrid's features weren't quite as defined as Winona's and so Astrid went a little fuzzy again.

This morning, like a bolt of lightening, as I watched my brown-haired teacher address the class the most surprising thought came to me: Astrid's features favor Ellen's. Ellen is your model for Astrid. It was such a random, subconscious thought that it knocked me sideways for a few moments. I remembered that as with all parts of the novel-writing process for me, there has always been magic, serendipity, and mystical overtones attached to my experience. I continued to watch Ellen's beautiful, expressive face and the way she gestured, and I felt another strange sense of peace and rightness.

These two moments of inspiration remind me that everything is connected. All day I kept thinking, this training is the next step in my development. It's going to teach me that I have what it takes to accomplish all the things I want to achieve, even when they are hard and seem daunting or impossible.

I'm going to be able to finish this book when yoga teacher training is complete. The training is another step in this liminal space I have written about so often. It's the gateway between 'what was' and 'what will be.' I haven't been able to devote my focus and attention to my novel because I was still living the story, and most times you can't write about it when you're living it. I feel confident that this training will help bridge the two.

I am physically drained, but my emotional tank is full. It is a glorious feeling. I know I will sleep well tonight and wake up ready to take on the last day of weekend one. It's so exciting to consider what comes next.


Yoga Teacher Training - Reflection 1

Hi! Welcome to YogaHour. My name is Julie. The word of the day is healing.
We sat in a circle and stood to make our introduction when our turn came. I like speaking in front of people, but I get a little flummoxed when there's a script, so I was grateful for so many introductions to come before mine.
YogaHour is a sweaty kind of yoga. I was curious if I'd actually sweat because I normally do not. I did. And it was great. The class. The challenge. The knowing I'd signed up for six months of this.
After the public class ended, the yoga teacher training(YTT)students brought out journals, pens, more water and we settled into class. The first night was an overview of what could be expected as well as the criteria for certification.
I was delighted to learn that much of the training is journaling and sharing what we've written in small groups. I was daunted to learn that we'd have pages of script to memorize each month for half of the trainings in order to attain certification. I am keeping my head and heart open to this task. Memorization is not my strong suit, but I have time to prepare, and many friends have offered to help me as I make my way through the training.
Expectation creates tension...” this is part of a quote that was read last night and it reverberates still this morning. I can hear how it was meant in the context of first-night-of-class jitters, but it also frames some of the little heartbreaks I have weathered in the past few months and years. I set expectations that weren't reasonable for the circumstances. I am ready to practice letting go of expectations and allowing life to unfold before me. One teacher said something about being okay with not knowing or having the answers and I smiled. I've been saying that I'm comfortable with the unknown a lot lately.
I sat on my mat and thought, “This really was the best decision. I am exactly where I'm supposed to be tonight. And for the next six months.”
A while before Grandpa died, he told me he wanted me to find a hobby so that after he was gone I'd have something to keep me busy. To keep me company in his absence. I told him at the time that I had my writing, and that I'd be okay.
I had no idea at the time how much I'd wish I could tell him that I now also have my gardening and this training. They are filling my life, my time, and my heart in the most beautiful ways.
I have my cooler bag packed with snacks and drinks. I'm bringing a second journal because I'll fill journal #31 today. I had to wait for my computer to finish its updates, so I cleaned my room, read a few chapters of The Light We Lost, started a load of laundry, and planned the ways that I'll spend the post-class hours this afternoon and evening. And still was able to get this blog post written in advance of having to leave for class.
Life is good. Namaste.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

On the cusp

I sat in a circle on the floor of the yoga studio where I practiced. We weren't practicing yoga this particular evening. We had gathered for a goal-setting workshop.
I hadn't been practicing long, but I had already begun to feel the effect of how yoga can and will transform one's body, mind, and spirit. And so in that space, I began dreaming BIG: I was going to write a book and I was going to teach yoga. I may have also dreamed about being able to do the splits by the time I turned 40.
Those first dreams seemed impossible at the time, but in the spirit of yoga, anything is possible. I wrote them down. I went home and put the worksheet paper up on the wall where I could see it. At some point, I took down the paper, but I did stop thinking of those goals. Writing them down made them something real to work toward.
If memory serves, in five years I would take yoga teacher training and in ten years, I'd write a book. Life got a hold of me and did some things different. In under five years, I'd written a book-length manuscript.
Tomorrow, I start yoga teacher training.
I feel jittery. Like standing in line for a roller coaster that looks equal parts exhilarating and terrifying. I also feel ready. I know it's time to get a little rattled. I've been here before, but this time I know that when it's over I'll be wiser, calmer, and more grounded. I KNOW IT.
The jitters come from a place of knowing that I won't be the same person when these six months of intensive training are behind me. What will these practices, poses, and the new knowledge of how to use them create in me? How will I move differently in the world? How will I interact differently with people?
For once, I like not having the answers. I like being on the cusp of something good that will challenge me in ways I've not yet experienced.
It's going to be so good, and it's going to be so hard. I am getting so much more comfortable—comforted even—in this dichotomy. I am going to bend myself, physically and metaphorically, into new shapes, knowledge, and spaces.
This is proof that goal-setting works. I am making those words, on a paper I no longer have, come to life. It is going to be an amazing journey. 
I've also learned that we don't have to achieve all the goals we set. Like the splits. I decided I didn't need to accomplish that one. Yoga has taught me what I can let go of too.

Friday, June 8, 2018

On Progress, Neighbors, and Paying it Forward

The men's volley ball coach at the small Iowa college I attended was like an older brother to me. On occasion, we'd go out to dinner. I'd tell him all the things swirling in my early twenties head and heart. He'd tell me he trusted me and my decision making and to stay the course. Whatever course that was at the given time. He wouldn't let me pay. He always told me, “When you have an opportunity to help someone else, pay this meal forward.”
I've never forgotten those kindnesses, and I keep an eye out for ways I can pay him back by paying it forward.
The first summer I was divorced I felt like a terrible neighbor. I was generally the last one in the cul-de-sac to mow my lawn and sometimes I let it get TALL before I handled my business. I was so emotionally drained and physically exhausted. The idea of working all day and then coming home to more work felt daunting. I did what I could and extended an extra dose of grace to myself on the days I couldn't do anymore. I was in the thick of figuring out what solo homeownership looked like for me. At this point, things didn't look good.
A few times that summer I pulled into my driveway and realized that someone had done the job for me. I could have wept with relief and gratitude. I thanked my neighbor profusely (after I figured out which one had done the good deed.)
Tonight marks a new chapter. We had something to attend right after work and then I planned to come home and mow when it was cooler and still light out. I'd have one major responsibility done before the weekend kicked into high gear. Our event ended later than I'd expected. I came home and changed into my yard-dedicated overalls. Undeterred, I pulled out the mower and made a few swipes in my front yard. Suddenly, I pushed the mower into my neighbor's yard and decided this was an opportunity to help my neighbor.
She is a mama with three children and is newly separated. She's in the thick of mothering her children and figuring out what solo life looks and feels like for her.
I mowed about half of both of our yards when she came out and asked, “What are you doing?” I told her I was mowing while I had a little light. We talked for a few minutes, the light dimmed more, and then I resumed my task. She ran back out a few minutes later with plastic container of pasta.
My heart swelled. Ahh, we're taking care of each other. This is when life is at its best. I accepted her gift knowing what it feels like to accept help and want to exchange the kindness.
This is a big night for me. Not because I did something nice for someone else, but because I proved to myself that I am whole in a way I haven't been before and it feels so, so good. I am in a place that doesn't feel so depleted, confused, and endlessly long. I have the energy to help my neighbors in a way I wasn't capable of three years ago.
I really have the best neighbors, and I feel honored to have the opportunity to return the kindnesses they have extended. Being neighborly feels so good. It helps make sense of a world that most days feels senseless. Progress, indeed.