Wednesday, July 18, 2018


Today was an ordinary Wednesday morning.

I woke up just after five o'clock intending to read only a chapter or two of the book on my nightstand, but got on such a roll, I couldn't stop, and finished it with time to still clean out my purse, water my flowers, shower, and make oatmeal for the road.

Not long after, the day began turning extraordinary.

A couple miles from work I took a detour. “Are you up for a hug? I'm in your driveway.” This was the text I sent to a friend who's hurting. I sat in the driveway hoping I was giving her enough time to respond before I had to head on to work. “Yes!” came her reply.

I left my car running and walked up her front sidewalk to her door. She opened the door smiling. I enveloped her in a hug and held her for a long time. I told her I loved her and that I was hurting for her. There isn't anything I can do to fix her woes, but to remind her she's not alone. We both got choked up and kept hugging.

As I drove away, I thought about all the times a friend had swooped in and through kind words and actions had helped me feel less alone and capable of weathering the present storm. I felt gratitude for the end of that season, for the lessons it taught me, and for the presence of mind to follow this morning's impulse where it led.

That would have been the highlight of my day, but there was more to come. I had a spontaneous and non-small-talk conversation with a colleague from a different department when we ran into each other in the cafeteria. Our conversation took us to a variety of places: raising resilient only daughters, finding work-life-creative balance, how we believe that our Christian faiths are best lived out through our actions rather than our words, a book recommendation, and plans to go to lunch when her big deadline passes. You know, standard water cooler fare.

We parted, and I headed outside to eat my now-cold hot lunch and to take a quick walk. I took off the denim blouse I wore over a sleeveless top in my freezing office and tied it around my waist as I hit the pavement. 

I welcomed the sunshine that warmed my bare arms and noted a lovely breeze and low humidity—so uncommon for St. Louis Julys. The conversation with my colleague had filled most of my lunch hour, so I planned on a truncated walk. I'd take the public path that cut through the neighborhood rather than going all the way to the park and sitting on my bench.

A few blocks into the walk, woman got out of her parked car next to the curb. We exchanged hellos as I passed. She commented on how cool I looked, a testament to the shade, the cooler temperatures, and the breeze. 

I am my father's daughter. I don't know a stranger, and so I didn't keep moving. I learned in about eight minutes that I was speaking to Margaret Ann, who had just returned from getting her hair trimmed at Great Clips. This seemed a big outing for her given that she was struggling with some sort of respiratory something. We discussed my walking route, where I worked and lived, why it's important that we fund raise for the university I work at. She told me she'd discuss their giving to the university with her alumni husband after she heard my explanation. She confessed that her husband, who had retired nine months ago, was driving her crazy and that she wanted him to find a job, to find something that he'd lost—a sense of importance or purpose. 

“I'm keeping you,” she repeated a few times. I stood firmly on the sidewalk. I get a sense from people sometimes. She needed this conversation. I did too. We exchanged names and wished each other well, and I resumed my walk.

Because I love people so much, this day kept filling me up. It helped to take the edge off the low-grade anxiety I feel about all the studying I have for my next yoga test.

I cannot bear to pass up a lemonade stand when I see one. A few weeks ago, I had just pulled out of the parking garage when I saw a lemonade stand across the street from a construction site. I pulled over and asked for a cup. An industrious entrepreneur and his little brother had set up shop wisely to catch the construction workers on their way home from the job site. I was impressed with the older boy's ability to speak to adults and the way he mentored his little brother in the transaction.

Today, I saw this same boy solo on the opposite corner this time selling snow cones. I'm not a fan of snow cones, but I didn't pass up the chance to help his business.

I drove home reflecting on all of this and how grateful I am that I have become proficient at being a human who pays attention, who stops and pauses, and makes moments out of seemingly nothing. This is as much a creative act as is my writing. It nourishes me as does my writing.

When I pulled into my driveway, I noticed a box on my front porch. Yes! I was pretty sure I knew who it was from and I was right! Inside I found: a beautiful technicolor dream-scarf for me to wear in my freezing office, a frog statue in a yoga pose to put in my garden, a sachet, a pencil bag for my daughter, a yoga memoir, and a card with this sentiment:

The one thing all famous authors, world class athletes, business tycoons, singers, actors, and celebrated achievers in any field have in common is that they all began their journeys when they were none of these things.” – Mike Dooley

This soul sister knows me and the gifts she chooses for me prove it. There's nothing sweeter than when one's actions match their words.

Now I sit at my writing spot watching the sunlight change the sky's colors. Soon I'll have to turn on a lamp. I have a few things on my to-do list that I've been putting off. They don't feel so pesky now after this good day. Not every day will feel this extraordinary, but no day will if I live it with my eyes and heart closed.

Here's to open eyes and open hearts.

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.