Human beings are strange creatures, often waiting until we are forced to change rather than choosing to change before we "hit the wall." We see signs--irregular sleep, discord with others, regular illness, excessive drama, acting outside of our values--but we ignore them. We don’t act or we don't act consistently. Each time we ignore a sign we place a brick in the wall we eventually hit when all those signs add up to crisis. Sine qua non is Latin for indispensable element or condition. I call it "readiness." This blog seeks to connect those who are searching for or have found the sine qua non of change. What makes you or keeps you from taking off? What keeps you from flying or helps you soar? What do you know about change that can help others?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Sweat and then rest

I try to avoid the ashtanga or vinyasa type of yoga when choosing from the neighborhood offerings. Vinyasa is the “flow” yoga, which is a euphemism for “kick-your-butt-in-75-minutes-or-less.” I would have to admit being intimidated by a class whose nickname is “power yoga.” Picture awkward body positions, and then envision them laced together one after another in a kind of frenetic dance.

Knowing this about me, it’s difficult to believe I failed to read the course description and showed up for the Saturday morning class at the neighborhood studio, figuring anything on a Saturday had to be mellow. I tried not to bolt when the trim, muscular instructor started out by softening the blow of the impending routine, meant to open our tight hips, with the guarantee we would go really slow on the first two repetitions and only speed it up when we could configure ourselves in and out of a pretzel position (whose name I can’t remember) she demonstrated with ease. Much to my dismay I had landed in a power class. “It’s okay,” I said to myself, “you can opt out at any time,” knowing full well that because I landed in the front row two arms lengths from the instructor there would be no way for me to find the courage to exit.

It started out okay with a warm up and I was encouraged because I followed with ease. But that’s the thing with power yoga, positions are added and you return again and again to repeat what you didn’t do so well the first time around, and it creeps up faster and faster until you are on a yoga-go-round you can’t escape, flailing wildly, unable to strike the poses the ultra-fit instructor demonstrates with ease.

By the third repetition of the second set I was done, legs wobbly in protest. I couldn’t bring myself to leave even though I knew I would be sore on Sunday and probably Monday. The instructor’s voice broke through the whizzing in my head with a reminder that the momentary pause on a front bend or a downward dog that are part of the flow were perfect points for us to quickly gather ourselves and rest. I held back a breathless chuckle.

As with most things that make me sweat, I figured this yoga class was meant to teach me something. It's funny what desperation can reveal. One thing about the crazy momentum I sometimes struggle to contain is that I don’t always take advantage of the down time to rest and breathe so I can prepare to deal with the next challenge. I have allowed myself to be at the beckon call of anyone who has my number. I often fail to give myself the breather I need between the contortions required of my life. No wonder I can go over the edge when I am forced to deal with relentless exertion. 

As a demonstration of my understanding I found respite in the next forward bend, breathed some relief into my aching back and rear-end in my next downward dog. And today in the midst of some tough stuff I left the cell phone on the kitchen counter, headed to the local farm and picked berries. I practiced breathing in the fragrant berries and letting everything else go.

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The Journey

by Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

I mourn for you

I cry because someone important once degraded you, carved a mark on your soul that colors your lens, distorts your thinking. I ache because your head has built a wall around your heart that protects you from people you long to know. I grieve because you serve others, settle for less than you want, sit with that lump in your throat and ache in your heart that leaks tears when you speak. I mourn for the signs you saw and ignored, parasites sucking you dry of money and emotions, of goodwill and compassion until you cannot put a sentence together any more than you can repair your life because you are clueless about where to start.

Awareness before change

Awareness November 2008

“I was hoping to come back and join you in bed,” my sweetie said clearly disappointed as he walked past me on his way to the bedroom after spending the night in the guest room where his back finds respite. “Too late,” I retorted, fully clothed, brewing a cup of coffee and unfolding my buttermilk pancake recipe. He continued to our bed, surely hoping I would change my mind. Standing my ground meant we missed out on the irreplaceable morning “spoon”—a defiance way beyond the occasion and very much out of character.

I had nothing to say on this Pancake Sunday--a ritual we started to bring the family back to the fold once a week, even after Mom arrived; even when my sweetie tried to get me to leave my post at the grill to come see the critters converged on the deck enjoying the morning’s banquet of seeds and suet. I ignored him. “I’ve got pancakes to turn,” I growled under my breath.

I could feel myself slipping over the edge as Mom poured syrup and detailed the lives of her neighbors and their little girl whom she cannot forgive for going without underpants, and the impending birth of twins, and the small house they live in, and the Mom’s favorite coffee and their latest conversation encased in a “Then I said,” and “Then she said,” recalling every word. “I don’t care,” I thought, through my blank stare.

That was the first time I realized my heart hurt. Not the “I’m-having-a-heart-attack” kind of hurt, but an ache in the anterior. I breathed deep into the pain and sighed.

Luckily only Mom had joined us on this Sunday after Thanksgiving. Instead of the usual group of friends and optimistic chit-chat, we ate with an uncomfortable quiet. It didn’t take long for her to pack up and go home after breakfast, leaving me alone to dwell on the status of my relationship, the recent and untimely death of a friend, my floundering career. My heart hurt. I breathed deep and sighed and relieved it for a moment more.

Awareness October 2009

Darkness had not yet dissolved on the Saturday morning I awoke anxious and sad and inconsolable. The contrast was stark to the usual song in my head. The frenzy prevented me from turning and breathing and willing myself back to sleep. What? I wondered.

The channels flipped on my internal tube, exposing trailers of unfinished business, the chasm I feared growing between me and my daughter, the class the previous day that produced two negative evaluations, conversation with the neighbors at dinner the night before where we talked about elders and our turn, Thanksgiving plans upended again in a phone call.

I paused and hit replay. Decades of chaotic Thanksgiving scenes montaged through; my Dad’s death on the holiday when I was 5, yelling and swats with the hair brush over dresses and curls, a major riff in the family where half split off to celebrate elsewhere, Mom insisting on celebrating one place or another creating the necessity to “pick sides,” my daughter throwing up to avoid choosing, the ache in my heart the year before. Years of chaos and drama created by ancient sadness and suffering disguised itself as current reality and visited me there in my bed to me to remind me to move on.