Wednesday, May 23, 2012

On turning 31. (Better late than never.)

I have a picture of my tenth birthday in an old photo album somewhere in my basement.  For this particular birthday, my parents set up a wooden picnic table underneath an enormous oak tree that shaded most of our backyard.  Pastel colored streamers and balloons hung in the tree’s leafy boughs swaying in the light breeze of that late-May afternoon.  A silver boom box sat on the corner of the weathered table.  My best friend, sister and I excitedly awaited the arrival of my guests, and to pass the time, I hit “play” on the tape deck.  Early 90’s dance jams emanated from the speakers.  I danced under that large oak, swinging my hips from side to side and running my hands through my crimped hair like Madonna did in her music videos I wasn’t supposed to watch.  Soon my best friend and sister joined in; holding pretend microphones in our hands, we closed our eyes and felt the music course through our bodies, the wind brush our skin, and the blades of cool grass tickle our toes. The photograph captures this very moment  - little girls dancing, decorations hanging, guests en route. It captures a moment of absolute and pure bliss. It was my birthday, and although it wasn’t a huge over-the-top bash, I was the happiest girl in the world.

Really, I don’t know if I remember this birthday because I’ve seen this picture so many times or because it was that poignant of a memory.  It doesn’t matter, I suppose, because what I remember is the joy that came with turning another year older.  What is it about being young that makes us want to be older?  To young minds, being older means having more privileges and less supervision.  It means coming closer to being independent, which sounds so flippin’ cool when you’re an angst-filled teen with door-size New Kids on the Block posters plastering your walls. But, when do we make the switch?  When do we, as a culture, start freaking out over our age and grasping for earlier days?  Is it gradual or sudden?  Conscious or sub-conscious?  Healthy or detrimental?  Why can’t we embrace our years like a child does?  “I CAN’T WAIT TO BE OLDER!” we should be screaming from the mountaintop.

Recently, one of my friends told me something that struck me funny yet was so completely true.  “If you’re not older, you’re dead,” she said matter-of-factly as she sipped her cucumber mojito on our most recent “Mommy’s Night Out.”  We continued on to discuss the importance of celebrating every day of our lives and enjoying each moment, which, let’s face it, is tough in this busy life full of kids, careers, relationships, etc.  After our conversation, I began to consider how to embrace getting older versus fall into the stereotype of the bitter, aging American woman. I started to think about all of the big deal, joyous events, like my son’s first birthday and making the commitment to be a stay-at-home-mom, that have brought me to this birthday so grateful and content.  And then, inevitably, I reflected on all the pain and sorrow I’ve faced head-on this year, like my mother’s stroke and my father’s death, which has brought me to this birthday so grown-up and strong.  Then, there are all the moments in between, which I refer to as “normal,” and I realized that this is where I fall short.  What’s crazy is that bumbling around in “normal” is where I spent most of my life this year, yet I’m unable to define what traits I have gained from living through it.

Why do we blow through “normal,” sometimes at top-speed, juggling diapers, cell phones, appointments, and jobs, and neglect to remain fully present?  We’re all guilty of it.  We don’t stop and pay attention until something amazing takes our breath away or something tragic steals someone or something away too soon.  But when you stop and think about it, isn’t “normal” awesome?  Isn’t “normal” spectacular?  Isn’t “normal” WHERE IT’S AT?!  Sure, those really joyous moments make us happy and those painful ones teach us something, but think about what it would be like to arrive just as fully and intensely to every situation no matter how “normal” it seems.  I think this is the secret to embracing our climbing ages, and as simple as it sounds, it clearly is not, or more of us would be doing it.  My focus for this coming year is to discover and experience how beautiful “normal” is and truly appreciate how amazing it is to grow one year older in this life.

Just like on my tenth birthday, this year on my birthday, I danced.  Only it wasn’t under a tree with streamers and balloons, and it wasn’t to 90’s pop, and I don’t have a photograph to document the event.  But I did let loose and dance, next to my sister, a good portion of it in tears, celebrating this year and all the impressions it has left on my heart.  It was a real “normal” moment, and I was in it, all the way, one hundred percent. And you know what?  It felt damn good.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

I cry during Savasana.

The practice of yoga grounds and reconnects me to who I am in this great big world.  Yoga is my church, my therapy, and my safe haven; besides being outside, it's the closest I come to understanding my true purpose.  After my weekly yoga class, I feel a sense of renewal, and by the time the week passes and class is on the horizon, I can feel what I call “the crazy” creeping back in.  The final pose of every yoga class is Savasana, and the experiences can vary depending on the instructor, music vs. no music, state of the body, temperature of the room, sneezes, coughs and farts, etc.  The one variable that remains the same is that during Savasana, we rest the body, mind, and spirit.

The first time I cried during Savasana was one year ago at a post-natal yoga class.  As I rested on my purple mat, I felt a strange sensation swirling in my belly and around my heart.  I had a split second to notice a burning feeling, before suddenly, as if someone flicked a switch, I erupted into sobs.  It caught me completely off guard, and I felt embarrassed by the obvious noise I was making in the completely silent room.  The instructor, a sweet, sweet soul, quietly walked over to me, knelt down, and whispered, "Let it out."  Of course, this made me cry harder and more intensely, which in retrospect was probably exactly what I needed.  However, what I felt right then was extremely self-conscious and aware that I had turned a beautiful moment into quite an awkward one.  After all, an integral part of yoga involves watching and noticing thoughts and emotions without engaging with them, and I had just epically failed.

At yoga classes following this incident, I would occasionally feel that same sensation picking up speed as it moved through my body, but I learned how to suppress it, will it away, and hold it back until I stopped feeling it at all.  Soon, I was back in my comfort zone, resting at peace in Savasana along with all the others.

It wasn't until a few weeks ago, at my Thursday night yoga class, that it happened again.  Just like the first time.  Out of nowhere.  Resting, eyes closed, thoughts still, allowing the "So Hum*" chants to wash over me, and then WHAM!  I'm crying.  Tears welling under my eyelids and pouring down the sides of my face, creating little pools in my ears.  I’m shaking and overwhelmed with emotion, but this time, for some reason, I allow myself to feel it, experience it, and own it.  And you know what?  It feels all right.  Good, even?  Necessary. 

Ever since, I’ve been trying to determine what it is about this moment of stillness, about Savasana or yoga in general, that makes me cry.  What is it about Savasana that evokes this stir of emotions inside my being?  It’s not as if I'm thinking sad thoughts or about difficult times before I spill over.  It just seems to happen.   

After class that Thursday, I spoke briefly with my instructor and told her about these experiences.  “I’m laying there, focusing on my breath, emptying my mind, and suddenly I’m so overwhelmed with emotion that I have to release it by crying.  I don’t know what’s going on,” I explained.  I told her the brief version of my past year – birth of a child, death of a parent, loss of a job, gain of (what feels like) a hundred new roles – and asked her if it could be related. 
“It’s absolutely normal,” she assured me. 
I must have looked worried. 
She continued, “It’s when we really allow ourselves to let go that we are confronted with the soul’s truth.”

Her words deeply resonated with me, and I’ve been thinking about them a lot recently.  It’s when we really allow ourselves to let go that we are confronted with the soul’s truth.  What is my truth?  Is it that I have unresolved feelings about times I’ve been through?  Maybe, but who doesn’t? I think it’s deeper than that.  Something is happening at that moment.  Something “soulular” vs. “cellular.”  It’s a ceremonial sort of event where the body and mind allow the soul to step back, recognize, and acknowledge what humanity has had to endure.   I believe it’s the soul’s way of honoring our own sufferings as well as the sufferings of those around us.  There’s both a discomfort and pleasure in creating spaces in our lives where this can happen – an oxymoronic place.  It may not occur for all of us in Savasana or yoga even, but chances are, if you’ve found yourself in this quiet space whether in nature, church, your car, or lying in bed at night, you might have experienced something deeper than you can explain.

Just because many of my quiet moments have resulted in tears doesn’t mean yours will.  I’ve had other experiences where I’m filled with joyousness and celebration, especially in that soft space right after (my pathetic excuse for) dancing where I can feel my energy radiating outward to reach others.  Part of the intense emotion I’m experiencing while I’m alone, I believe, stems from the fact that in my daily life, I’m so rarely alone without an agenda.  I don’t allow myself to meditate regularly (or even not-so-regularly) or pray often (or even not-so-often).  In fact, the meditating or praying I do happens because it’s been scheduled!  For now, though, that’s OK with me because I’m letting go of my inhibitions and allowing myself to feel it, trying not to analyze it, and arriving closer to understanding my truth by way of letting go.

I wrote the above post and then became curious about whether other people have had similar experiences while practicing yoga or laying in Savasana.  After a quick Google search, I found that indeed, I am not alone.  Check out these links:

And many more…

*"The So Hum (aka So Ham, Soham or Sohum) Mantra Meditation, done sincerely, is very effective in bringing about a complete transformation of individual consciousness.  So Hum literally means "I am That" (So = "That" or "Thou" or "Divinity"; Hum = "I am") and the mantra’s aim is to bring about this union (yoga) between your individual consciousness and Divine Consciousness.  Another way to interpret this purpose, is that the meditation brings about the realization that all that you see is yourself — The Observer is the Observed."  -