On Starting Over

Over the last few days I’ve been really ruminating on the idea of newness. Beginning again. Starting over. Learning. Observing. Trying to approach things I’ve experienced before as if I’m doing so for the first time. Currently that’s come in the shape of me taking yoga classes that I’ve either never been to before or haven’t been to in years, and seeing what comes up. Fear, unease, apprehension, anxiety. It’s been a practice in releasing the urge to control, or the need to know What’s Coming Next. And of course, it’s been hard. I didn’t recognize how comfortable I had gotten in my routine, knowing that each yoga class I attended would be “different” but I’d still kinnnnnnda know what to expect—even down to being able to successfully guess about how long I’d have to hold each pose. There was enough variation to make me feel good about myself without actually disturbing my comfort zone.

But this…. This has been different. Nothing says “getting out of your comfort zone” like going into a yoga class blind. Not only did I grossly underestimate my need to know what’s coming next, but I also did not realize how judgy I’d gotten about other classes. I was writing off lower level, or slower paced sessions because I thought my practice was “too advanced” for them. Or that if I didn’t feel completely physically spent after a yoga class, it was a waste of time. I know— so rude, not at all what yoga is about, and that level of pride looks good on no one. But it has been good and humbling to go back to the beginning and observe. To let the slower pace of a class give me the opportunity to really listen and pay attention to the movement of my body. And not only that, but to bring up emotions that maybe would not have had space to arise in more “advanced” classes.

Off the mat, the intention has been the same. I’m trying to enter 2017 with a gentle, open handed, and observant posture. Even with things that are more familiar to me than yoga, like my faith. What would happen if I let everything I thought I knew about God fall away, and I let him tell me his story again? What if I released my own ideas of where I would be by now, or who I would be by now, and I observed What Is without judgment?

I think every once in a while it’s helpful to remind ourselves that we don’t know everything. Or maybe even anything. And remember to approach even the things and people we think we know like the backs of our hands with reverence and curiosity. I swear you can learn any thing from any one at any time. And literally every year, every day, every moment gives us a chance to start over.

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It Doesn’t Have to be A Dream

Last night our yoga teacher asked us to raise our hands if we were currently working at our dream job. About five people out of the thirty-person class raised their hands— I wasn’t one of them. Her follow-up question was: “If you aren’t doing your dream job, what’s something you could do every day to get you closer to it?” Cue full on panic-attack, and me drenched in sweat before we’d even started moving. It was like a large, heated spotlight had been pointed directly at my face. “Well?!” Femi said to herself like a schoolmarm to a child who hadn’t done her homework. “What are you doing???”

…What the fuck am I doing?

Is anyone else scared? I feel like I’m terrified, and I’ve been working to name that fear. I know what my dream job is. I have a date by when I want to be doing my dream job. But what do I do between now and then? How do I get from here to there? And the worry that I’m wasting my days is a constant presence. I’m sitting in this yoga class, fully aflame, because the teacher is right – our dream doesn’t have to stay a dream. We can do it! Or get close. But suddenly there comes all this pressure, and weight, and worry, and fear. What if I can’t do it? What if I’m not good at it? What if I keep spending all my free time watching Netflix and my life stays the same and I never get out of this job that I kind of hate? I think about those people who are like “This job was supposed to be a two year gig!” at their 20th anniversary office potluck. The last thing I want is to wake up one day and feel like my life flew right by me, and I never used it to do something that made me feel alive.

The funny thing I’m realizing about dreams is that they’re scary either way. I feel scared to do it, and I also feel scared not to. But fear is paralyzing and I think that’s how people end up spending decades in places they only intended to spend months. “What’s one thing you can do every day to bring you closer to working your dream job?” I feel like another way to ask that is how do we focus on a manageable task in front of us to help us release all that fear?

My initial reaction was “HEY GET OFF MY BACK ALRIGHT?!” which I wasn’t entirely expecting. Not directed at my teacher of course, this is a conversation concerning only me and Me. But “Me” noticed that the inflammatory response is fear-based. Because that little question pokes a hole in my “safe” bubble and I want to close it up. It makes me look to see what steps I could take out of my box, and even just looking outside feels frightening.  But if we can get past the inflammatory reaction, past the fear mongering we love doing, can we answer it?
What’s one thing you can do every day to work towards your dream job?

At this juncture I’d also like to point out that we’ll need grace. We’ll need to ask ourselves this question with grace, and we’ll need grace for ourselves on the days when we don’t do anything to work towards our dream job. Those days have to be okay too. I just want to encourage you, and encourage myself. And hopefully also calm myself TF down. We can do it, right? I think we can make our lives what we want them to be.

I don’t know what your dream job is, but at the end of class our teacher encouraged us to share it with each other so I’ll tell you mine: I want to be a blogger (lol surprise). And I’d like to be making most if not all of my income from it in 5 years. There it is, out in the Universe and on the Internet forever. Honestly it felt really vulnerable to put out there, but also exhilarating! Give it a shot –maybe not the Internet part, you can just tell a friend. Or you could make it your Facebook status— whatever feels right. And then let’s get to work, let’s share and connect and support and bolster each other in our quests. We can do this.

To Be Seen

A few months ago at the start of yoga class, our teacher offered a quote intended to inspire our meditation. I don’t remember the quote, and when I asked her last night she didn’t either, so I will do my best to paraphrase: “The most joyful meditation is the contemplation of one’s own existence.” In other words, the mere thought that you exist brings the most joy during meditation. In reflecting on that, I was like if that is true, then perhaps the most distressing thing must be to feel like you do not exist. That you cannot be seen, heard, or felt – that you have no impact. It feels abstract, but as I’ve observed my own process through therapy and through sustained observation of human behavior, I’ve noted that we all desire to be seen. Especially through infancy and childhood, we need to know that we are heard, that we can be felt, that our existence is consequential.

And I wondered, is this why we hate getting cut off on the freeway? I know this seems like a silly image to use in illustration of a serious concept, but bear with me. I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed in myself that when I get cut off on the freeway, rage swells in me unlike any other experience.  All of a sudden I feel hot— my heart is pounding the righteous drums of indignation. And since I don’t believe in “overreactions”, and in the grand scheme of life being cut off on the freeway seems such a miniscule event, I ask myself, what am I reacting to? What basic plea is being violated? My best guess is that being cut off is infuriating because it is another person operating as though I do not take up space. I’ll often hear myself go HELLOOOOO?! I’M RIGHT FUCKING HERE!!! Is that what we’re all screaming? At parents who abandoned us, literally or figuratively; who carelessly played favorites among siblings? At romantic interests who keep looking us over for someone else— Hello, I’m right here! Why can’t you see me?

This drive to be acknowledged is universal. We intuitively recognize its presence in archetypes and old stories that cross cultures, religions, socioeconomic backgrounds, races, gender… We all know about the younger sister who always felt like she lived in her older sister’s shadow (remember when Ashlee Simpson actually released a song called “Shadow”? Perhaps a better question might be: does anyone remember Ashlee Simpson? Anyway, we can move on.) We all know about the poor kid’s disappointment when he scores a point at his basketball game and he looks over to see his dad on the phone with his back turned, completely disengaged. How many of us have heard a toddler go “Watch me! Watch me!” when he/she is no doubt about to do something utterly mediocre but is seeking acknowledgement and recognition from an audience? I mean, hell, if we want to get biblical about it, Cain killed his goddamn brother because he felt like he wasn’t getting as much attention from God as he deserved. #Drama. We have a desperate need to be seen. I think this is also why the cry of the marginalized is so great, and why representation in media is so important. We need to see ourselves reflected to know that we exist to our society.

I’ve believed for a long time that the thing that keeps us running is love. It motivates all growth, inspiration, benevolence, trust, goodness, life, compassion, honesty, faith, kindness, you get it. Obviously food, water, and shelter are necessary as well but if we are to connect with our humanity, to feel ourselves and to be ourselves—even to properly inhabit our physical bodies— we need to be loved in some capacity by someone. I believed that love was the most fundamental thing, but you can’t be loved until you are seen. You can’t be loved until you are acknowledged, received, and experienced, hence being seen usurps—or perhaps joins—love in being the most fundamental thing. We have to be seen before we can be anything else. And not just by others, though that is clearly imperative. But I’d argue that as seeing another comes before loving another, seeing yourself comes before loving yourself.

Change

At the beginning of yoga on Monday, the teacher announced that she wanted the day’s class to be about Change. She shared a little bit about the difficult relationship she has with change and encouraged us to think about what we do when we are confronted with it – do we resist it or do we allow it to move through us?

I didn’t and don’t need much time to contemplate my answer to that question— I’m 100% not good with change. I like plans. I like knowing what’s coming. And if something is going to change, I like to know in as far advance as possible so by the time it happens, it doesn’t really feel like change anymore, but rather “part of the plan”.

So of course when this year began with a large part of my social life being upended in one night, I handled it with grace and aplomb— except for I didn’t. I still am not. The simple use of the word “aplomb” in that sentence should have been a dead giveaway. Full disclosure: I’m wrestling with how much to share here because while on the one hand I want to be vulnerable, on the other hand I think it’s important to protect one’s own confidentiality. I’m also very aware of how easy it would be for this to turn into an indulgent, melodramatic transcript of my life, which nobody wants, so I’ll try to avoid that. But here we go.

Okay so yeah, the start of the year brought with it a lot of change, and it wasn’t great. I ended up losing my life group and what felt like several important relationships to me in one fell swoop. I felt powerless— I feel powerless—and this whole year has been a clumsy and sometimes painful dance of reorientation. Often I find myself wanting to go “back”, wishing it was last August, or wishing it was last summer—some time before all the shit hit the fan. Which makes sense right? When the present is hard and the future is inscrutable, of course we desire to go back. To revert to the way things were before whatever change we perceive to have ruined everything transpired (“#MakeAmericaGreatAgain”).

But the first important thing to understand about life and change is that there is no going back. Whatever happened has happened and the past is gone (are you listening, Donald Trump?) Even if you were able to recreate it somehow in the present, it is literally impossible to make it the same. Forward is the only way through anything and there is still progression in “regression”. When you’re dealing with a difficult or painful change, that can be a really harsh reality. But its harshness makes it no less real.

Second thing I’m learning about Change is that it is extremely humbling. A reminder that Life is not under your control, maybe you don’t actually know what’s best for yourself or anyone else, and you are very much in over your head. But in letting change happen rather than resisting it, we can experience freedom alongside that humility. Recognizing our limitations and constraints gives us permission to relax and, for lack of a better phrase, let it ride. Every day as I walk into work, I pass by a car with a bumper sticker that says “Love more, fear less. Float more, steer less”, and every day I am convicted. Being “good with change” requires a tremendous capacity to trust in the present and relinquish control of the future, both of which I am naturally terrible at. But it sounds nice right? Allowing ourselves to be swayed, flexible, and open. Allowing change to move through us like a river through a valley, taking some old things with it, leaving some new things behind. You’d think because I came up with such a peaceful metaphor I’d be better at handling the real thing. Nah.

Of course there are those people who seem to naturally bode with change— feathers consistently unruffled, always wearing shirts that say shit like “chill vibes” or have peace signs on them or something. For the rest of us, being good with change is like everything else: a practice. And it’s hard. I think when we do learn to accept change, it makes us better people. We become softer, less reactive, more contemplative, less presumptuous, less self-important. But the road there can get pretty rough, at least I know I’ve had a rough fucking year. And I don’t know when it’s going to be less rough. Adapting is a skill that takes real concerted effort. If you’re in the middle of a comprehensive change process right now too, I mean, the best I can offer is encouragement. Or condolences. Either way man, you’re doing it and you should go get a drink and cheers to yourself.

It Is Well With My Soul

This past Sunday at Flood we concluded a series called “Happy Hunting”, about learning what it means to live a Joy-Filled Life. Please don’t stop reading— I know how it sounds. It sounds like a bunch of hysterical, perennially “happy” Christians trying to teach you how to never frown again. “This is how to keep a smile plastered on your face 24 hours a day, seven days a week for the rest of your life!” I swear that’s not what I’m talking about.

Honestly the phrase “joy-filled life” usually reflexively evokes an eye-roll from me. I have seen too many books and heard too many sermons by that title, most of them proving to be extremely trivializing and reductive. As if even though your heart is broken, or you can’t pay your bills, or you have an incurable disease, you’re just supposed to be happy. Just BE happy, what’s the problem?

But I believe we need to reconstruct the definition of “joy”, because I don’t think this manically cheerful, borderline insanity is what joy actually is. Like I said in my post about grief and loss, if we’re to understand spirituality, or just living, we have to first acknowledge and embrace reality. Reality, as some of you may already know, is often times an actual piece of shit. Just the worst. From like, shitty upbringings, to shitty jobs, to shitty relationships… Life is really hard and sometimes really shitty. But the joy we aspire to goes deeper than that. It’s deeper than happiness and deeper than the sometimes-shittiness of reality. I think of it more like a deep well of steadiness, restfulness, and rootedness. Real, actual joy is grounding and stable.

In yoga, the teachers regularly talk about how part of the practice is learning to maintain an even state of being, or contentment, regardless of the circumstances. Regardless of the uncomfortable position your body has been twisted into, or how long you’ve been asked to hold yourself up. We use our breath to return to equilibrium, to become healthily detached from the present. That is not to say that we ignore negative emotions as they surface—again the first step is facing the reality of our situations. But it helps in gaining perspective, and I think the peace, stillness, and contentment that comes from that practice in yoga is the same as the joy I talked about earlier. Living a joy-filled life isn’t a “Christian” thing, it’s a human thing. And you can call it whatever you want: peace, contentment, steadiness, satisfaction. I am on a personal journey to reclaim the word “joy” but please feel free to use whatever nomenclature feels good to you.

I can personally appreciate and attest to the fact that achieving joy is hard, and achieving joy in the midst of a difficult circumstance sometimes feels impossible. But I also believe that joy and unhappiness can exist in the same space, at the same time. We are big enough to hold both. Can’t tell you how yet, still figuring that one out for myself, but I’m sure it’s possible. I’m also sure that if we ever learn to live lives marked by joy, it will have taken our entire lives to get there, so I hope no one’s in a hurry. Just add it to the list of lifelong processes to work through, and be kind to yourself as you learn.