Getting through the ups and downs

You know when someone says, “I’m sure it’ll be fine” and you lunge at their neck while screaming, “How the hell do you know?”

No? Just me?

I am not a full-time yoga teacher. (It’s a pretty nourishing side gig as far as side gigs go.) But I just don’t have any desire to do it day-in and day-out. I do have a day job – a good one. One I don’t mind coming into even though it occasionally drives me batty. (That’s what yoga is for!)

But, yesterday, I was told that I might lose that job. The contracting company I work for didn’t win the re-bid for the project I am on. So the new company can either replace me with someone else, offer me the job with a significant pay cut or keep everything the same (the ideal situation, of course). As a pragmatist, I am definitely updating my résumé and holding off on major expenses. I am also trying not to freak out.

“What if they cut my pay? What happens to my benefits? My 401k? What if my new supervisors are jerks?”

Uncertainty is a bitch.

But one thing is keeping me from Meltdown City…

A few months ago in one of my yoga books, I came across a Chinese parable. There are many versions of it but all have a very similar gist and it goes like this:

A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to break one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

This story is often told when teaching non-attachment. For me, it very clearly conveyed that not all good things are good and not all bad things are bad. It’s best not to get attached to the present situation. I have experienced that some good things have led to bad things and some bad things have resulted in good things. Like when I was happy about being able to get on a crowded elevator in SOHO because I was in a rush and then my elevator ended up being stuck between floors for three hours in 95-degree temperatures… (I no longer run after elevators by the way).

Maybe I’ll lose this job. Maybe I’ll find another job. A better job. Or a worse job that will force me to pursue another line of career, which could lead to who knows what? Fame? Fortune? Glory? For better or for worse, the possibilities are endless!

So I don’t have a panacea to offer you when things aren’t going well. But I am sharing this story with you because it gets me through rough times – especially during times of uncertainty. I hope it helps you as well.

In the meantime I’ll be playing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” on repeat.

Rainbow

It could have been worse

Right now I am sitting outside on my balcony. It’s a beautiful day. I’m wearing shorts and an old shirt. I have a glass of ice-cold lemonade nearby and my favorite songs are playing. A soft breeze just picked up to remind me to take a deep breath and acknowledge how perfect things are right at this very moment.

Life feels really easy.

It has been far from being a perfect day. In fact, I started the day seeing that someone had hit my car and left without a note… again. While assessing the damage, a person who has made my family and me uncomfortable rode by on his bike and said hello and lingered as if we weren’t one incident away from getting a restraining order against him. After that, I went for a run and felt like I was being chased by all the unpleasant feelings those two events had generated.

So how did I get from this morning’s ugliness to this afternoon’s calm? Well, at first I felt out of control, angry and disappointed. And I thought my day was ruined when I so desperately needed to relax, rest and work quietly. I wanted to salvage the day but didn’t know how until this thought popped into my head, “It could have been worse.” And, boy, did I have enough experiences to know how bad “worse” can be. For example, the damage could have made my car undriveable. Crazy guy could have been wielding a machete. It could have started to rain… And a million other things that could have aggravated the circumstances.

And you know what? That single thought changed the trajectory of my day. I could breathe a little more. I could enjoy this lovely, quiet day and find ease in my body despite this morning’s chaos. This moment of peace is enough to get me through the next few past, present and future unhappy events. Sure, I could use more money, more responsibilities at work, more space at home, less stress on my commute… I’m not happy all the time but more importantly I’m not UNhappy all the time either. It’s true that life is hard. Which is why one of my favorite quotations is by the Dread Pirate Roberts from The Princess Bride. He said,

“Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”

We can add to our suffering by holding on to pain tightly and relentlessly. But how exactly does that serve us? Sometimes life really sucks (and it certainly doesn’t need our help to make it so) but it doesn’t always and those small (or big) good moments are what’s going to get you through the rough ones. So recognize when things are good as much as we recognize when things are the pits.

There are many ways to find ease in a hard life. And only you have the right tools to make it happen. Only you can allow yourself to find that ease. And your way will look different from someone else’s. For some it’s a long bike ride, for others it’s a good book or movie… Sometimes it is wallowing in the crappiness of it all. We have to be good to ourselves in whatever way that we can. Even if it means loosening up some of the hard and fast rules that govern our lives.

So how do YOU find or create ease in your life?

Balcony

Meditating without even knowing it

Meditation is not as big a mystery as you think it is.

Have you ever said something to yourself over and over again? Maybe under your breath or out loud? Maybe right before a big presentation and you’re telling yourself “I can do this. I can do this.”

Have you ever gone to someplace quiet or took a walk so you can sort out your thoughts? Or to escape your thoughts temporarily?

Have you ever used music to enhance your mood? Whether to cheer yourself up or as a way of expressing your feelings?

Have you ever taken deep breaths to calm yourself down when you’re upset or anxious?

Well, guess what? Those are all ways of meditating.

Meditating Couple

And there are countless of ways to do it. You might not realize that you’re already doing some form of it in your day-to-day life. We picked up these techniques from different people – maybe we saw it in a movie or read it in a book… Regardless, you have been unwittingly meditating to improve your life and get you through stressful times.

This is not to say that you couldn’t learn so much more about meditation. Only that it’s not as inaccessible as you think. You don’t need to be in an ashram, sitting on a cushion, surrounded by incense… It is a tool already found within yourself that you can use at any time.

And imagine this, if you are already benefitting from the little meditating that you are doing, how much more would you gain if you put more time towards practicing or studying meditation?

Need advice on getting started? Check out my post “Meditation: It’s here to cure what ails you.”

Good luck!

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Kevin Labianco.

How to have a good day

We wake up every morning – some days feeling like P-Diddy (couldn’t resist) – not really knowing how our day will go. Prepared for the worst but hoping for the best. Some days unexpectedly exciting things happen and other days cat videos are the highlight. But there are a few things you can do to help yourself along to a good day.

Cat and Egg

  • Give yourself plenty of time to get ready in the morning. Even if it means 10 minutes less of sleep.
  • Wear clothes that make you feel good. Not too tight. Not too loose. Clothes that are just right.
  • If you have a crappy commute to work, expect that it will be crappy and stop fighting it. Put on some music instead or bring a book with you.
  • Make a to-do list. Then attack it. Maybe celebrating every time you check an item off of the list.
  • Get up from your chair and chat up a co-worker about something non-work-related.
  • Play your favorite songs. You know, the one you can’t help but sing along to or tap your foot to.
  • Do something nice for someone. No need to be extravagant. Just a random act of kindness.
  • Drink lots of water. Coffee and soda don’t count.
  • Have lunch away from your desk. (Even if it means sneaking into an empty conference room).
  • Get some sunlight. (Pull your chair right up to that window).
  • Give someone a hug. (Preferably not a stranger on the Metro).
  • Try not to dwell on or rehash unpleasant events from your day or the day before.
  • Read or watch something funny.
  • Tell someone how much you love and appreciate him/her.
  • Do yoga. (Duh)

These are just some suggestions. Maybe an impromptu dance party will dispel cranky thoughts or an ice-cold glass of something. It doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you not get mired in the muck of your day. Break away from your train of thought and give yourself some space to breathe. We don’t have complete control over our day-to-day but since spending our days hiding under our covers isn’t an option, I suggest you try any of the items above.

What do you do to make it a good day?

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Mar O.olmL.

The Alchemist is full of crap

Yeah, I said it.

The Alchemist with its message of the universe conspiring to make our dreams come true is (in my humble opinion) a bunch of baloney. When I first read the book 10 years ago, I was totally on board. I wanted to believe it. I bought it hook, line and sinker.

So did everyone else apparently. As of 2012, this book has been translated into at least 56 languages and has sold over 30 million copies.

Universe in a teardrop

But my feelings about it over the years have changed. Why? Because we don’t function in a vacuum. Our actions have consequences and affect others. If one person wins, it means there are losers. Picture this scenario: What if your goal is to win a baseball game or be the best team ever? Well, the universe conspiring to make that happen for you means it’s working against the other team. And all I can say to that is “WTF?!? Not cool, Universe.” That kind of arbitrariness is not something I want to live with. Not to mention that karma will tell you that wishing that kind of bad juju on someone else is going to land you in a whole heap of trouble. (Disclaimer: I am not necessarily a believer of the machinations of karma either).

So what do I believe? Personally, I take huge comfort in the idea that the universe is neither working for me or against me. Things just are – whether they’re beautiful or ugly. Imagine how much better it would feel for everyone if we were all prepared for and accepted whatever life threw our way? I don’t mean settling or compromising but more like doing our best and if things don’t go well despite our efforts, then so be it. That’s just how it’s going to be. Peace and coming to terms with unpleasant things happens so much more quickly when I don’t spend time trying to analyze and re-analyze everything. Ultimately, we will never know the “why” behind the events in our lives anyway. Though I guess you could then argue that it doesn’t matter what you believe or what rationalization you attach to life events… (If that works for you, why not?)

We are all so caught up in trying to find the meaning of life or trying to figure out how the universe works. Whether things happen for a reason… Or whether if we behaved in some terrible way (in this life or a past one) and simply “got what was coming to us…” I don’t know if spending time trying to figure that out serves a purpose when the truth will never be known. Why can’t we just be good to ourselves and others?

Like the Staple Singers sing in their song “Respect yourself:”

If you’re walkin’ round think’n that the world
owes you something ’cause you’re here,
You goin’ out the world backwards like you did
when you first come here…

But in case I am wrong and the Universe really is paying attention, then I would like him to know that I am still interested in, nay, dedicated to winning the lottery. And that I’m being good, praying to him every night and I have left him some milk and cookies for when he comes down my chimney. 🙂

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by H.Koppdelaney.

On the other side of the alcohol fast

I have seen and soaked in the light at the end of the tunnel!

Giant hand

My husband and I went alcohol-free for 43 straight days. It started on February 1 and ended, fittingly enough, at a St. Patrick’s Day party (in case you were wondering about the random number). Together we do this fast annually.

Despite not being a heavy/binge drinker (less than 2 – 3 beers a week if that), I slogged through this year’s second annual alcohol fast. There were many moments that reminded me of how prevalent alcohol was in my life. Especially my social life. I didn’t go out much during the fast. Without alcohol I just didn’t feel like it. Why put myself in the path of temptation, right? Not that it was considerably easier to avoid at home… At the end of the week, my husband and I like to sit back with a beer after dinner, talk, laugh and let the absurdities of the work week slide away. One Friday night my husband and I were playing music that we liked for each other and halfway through the night I paused and blurted out, “I miss beer. Are we crazy for doing this?” The few times I did go out with friends, including to attend a Super Bowl party, involved people who were light drinkers so there was no pressure to drink. It was still hard but we survived and even had a really good time.

Now that I am free to drink again I am feeling a little anxious. A little hesitant to start again. Maybe even a little guilty…

You see, during this year’s fast, a friend invited me to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting with him. He thought that maybe I would appreciate and benefit from the solidarity. I was nervous – not knowing what to expect. But I found the meeting to be very powerful. Somehow. Some way. Not sure why. It seemed like a straightforward enough formula. Just people meeting everyday and talking about their experience with alcohol recovery. There were no counselors or other “professionals.” It was a meeting for alcoholics – run BY alcoholics. And yet, this simple act of gathering with others and talking is helping a lot of people cope with alcohol addiction.

Listening to their stories made me think about my own relationship with alcohol. They didn’t seem so different from me and yet I am not an alcoholic. (Yet?) But I realized then that the only reason I can do these alcohol fasts is that at the end of the 30 days (or however many days I decide to abstain) an ice-cold beer is waiting for me. It’s not forever. Not even close. That is not the future that these people see. If you told me I couldn’t have alcohol ever again, I don’t know how successful I would be. I just don’t know if I could give up something forever… not willingly anyway. And now that I’m drinking again I feel a little bit like a coward. Even though I know their battle is so very different from mine.

Ultimately, I am tremendously ill-equipped to grasp the struggles of recovering alcoholics. I could try but not without coming off as patronizing or just plain stupid. There are people out there with problems bigger than my own. And I walked away from that meeting immeasurably moved but also feeling small and petty. And a little silly for thinking that my few weeks of abstaining had some sort of meaning in the larger scheme of life. But I’m not sure it has to. Maybe it’s enough that it has meaning for me…

We don’t have an understanding of addiction. Let alone a solution for recovery. We try a hundred different ways including acupuncture and for some people it works. But for others it’s back to square one.

As for me, I will continue to abstain for a few weeks every year, in the hopes of learning something – maybe about myself – maybe about others. And I encourage you to do the same. It doesn’t have to be alcohol. Anything really that you think you can’t live without. You will learn so much about yourself – good or bad. Maybe, like me, you already have…

What would you give up temporarily if you were to embark on your own experiment?

Your yoga will change…

Or maybe it won’t. Either way, it’s okay.

When I started doing yoga, I was at a low point in my life. I was directionless. Uninspired. Lost. Depressed.

My sister took pity on me and magnanimously bought me a full year’s membership to the local gym which offered free yoga classes. And then she dragged me to one. (I think she was tired of seeing me moping around the house).

At first, yoga was purely a workout for me. I had an emotional attachment to it but only in the sense that it made me feel good (and look good!).

It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized that yoga had become this physical AND mental practice for me. I mean I always knew that yoga was so much bigger than me doing poses. I was starting to benefit from yoga beyond the mat. I was using breathing techniques learned in class during stressful situations. I could channel into the good feeling that resulted from my practice even when I wasn’t on my mat. I was also starting to follow yogic principles of practicing self-care and non-violence. I was no longer just a gym rat who happened to be in a yoga class. I felt like a yogi. I had finally (maybe accidentally?) tapped into the larger fabric of yoga. Despite myself I had moved beyond yoga as a workout to yoga as a way of life. And HOLY HELL I liked it! I could not get enough. My heart felt bigger than my chest. I was calmer. I was happier. I didn’t feel so alone.

One of the more beautiful things about yoga is its independent existence. Whether or not I believed in yoga, it just was. When I stepped on to the mat, I was joining the millions of other people who have done the same poses for hundreds of years and sharing in the cosmic energy. I didn’t have to be special. I didn’t need to be able to do certain poses to gain access to its full potential. In whatever measure that I wanted to take it on, it was enough and there for me. I don’t even have to be vegetarian (though some would argue with that – but that’s for another blog post).

One of my teachers spent over ten years trying to define “his yoga” and he finally concluded that yoga was anything good that he was doing for himself. It could be anything from practicing, meditating, going to bed earlier or choosing a healthier meal to eat.

And so maybe like my journey with yoga, your relationship with yoga might change as well. Or maybe it won’t. It’s okay. You will get there when you get there.

So tell me, has your yoga changed?

Yogitastic on the beach