“We are not hammock people!” she proclaimed, not long after the start of our Tofino weekend. This comment, coming on the heels of more than one less-than-graceful entry and subsequent exit from said hammock, slung invitingly between two heavy beams on the deck of the rental house on the coast of Vancouver Island. She being Sandy, the straight-shootin’-wise-crackin’-tough-as-nails chick from Newfoundland. It wasn’t an unreasonable observation.
But after returning from a boozy afternoon on the beach, our travel mugs now drained dry, and having inhaled as much salty sea air and admired as many scruffy, tattooed young surfer boys as we could muster, a nice, relaxing swing in the hammock seemed to make perfect sense to me.
Alone on the deck, I began by gingerly lowering my hips as close to the center of the hammock as possible. Leaning back slightly, my legs swung up next, quickly positioning into the center of the hammock, coordinated by a swift rotation of my upper body onto the pillow. Ahhhhhh, I thought. There. Perfect. No sooner had I relaxed into the gentle sway of the swing when Kris, the mastermind behind this weekend, threw open the double doors of the deck and decided to join me. “No, no, no, no, no!” I began to plead, knowing full well that the fine balance I had just achieved was soon to be disrupted. Sure enough, as soon as she sat down on the hammock, it began to tilt. Not expecting it, I went with the tilt to the point of no return and the hammock handily flipped the both of us out onto the deck. We landed in a heap, laughing so hard it was tough to breathe, let alone talk. I managed to gasp that I was done and started to move away from the swing. “No way!” Kris insisted, as she refused to let me leave. We tried again, carefully coordinating movements, only to have me begin to list heavily to one side again. “What the hell are you doing, Jansen?!!” was the last thing I heard before we hit the deck once again, this time the both of us lapsing into the out-of-control-silent laugh, inevitably peeing our respective pants. Third time’s a charm, we thought, as we clambered back into the hammock and voila! Balance was struck and there we swung, heads and feet on opposite sides of the swing, wiping the sweet tears of laughter from our eyes.
It was a weekend of leaning heavily to one side of life. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately.
I am a yogi and a yoga teacher, and the practice of yoga has a lot to do with finding balance. Equanimity. Balance in our bodies, our minds, our souls. For me, balance usually equals optimum health. All systems working in concert with one another, no disequilibrium. And when I’m there–in balance–there’s no doubt. It feels good. But what I’ve come to recently discover is that allowing myself to swing (at times, wildly) out of balance has it’s perks as well.
I believe it’s when we lean heavily to one side of life that life often tastes the very sweetest.
Many yogis out there would beg to differ. They advocate strict discipline–in practice, in diet, in sexuality, in study, in lifestyle. Discipline, in general, is not a bad thing at all. To achieve certain goals, balanced discipline is a must. But I come from a background of disordered eating, a self-imposed prison of rules and regulations. I spent years with friends and family complimenting me endlessly about “how disciplined” I was. How “good” I was. Little did they know, I was stuck in a hell of my own making.
I remember telling boyfriends I couldn’t eat dinner (or anything, for that matter) later than three in the afternoon. That I had to finish all of my prescribed exercises before going out, sometimes taking hours to complete. Even after I had clawed my way back from the depths of anorexia and exercise obsession, I still conducted my life in a very careful, measured way. I cared too much about how others saw me, and far too little about how I felt about myself. I didn’t try new things for fear of looking foolish. “I only do things that I do well,” I remember smugly telling people. It was a sad defense conjured up to keep me from being in situations where I felt or looked uncomfortable in any way. Having babies and young kids only made me more careful. God forbid if the other suburban mothers in my playgroup saw my house a mess, or my child eating a less-than-balanced snack. Being a mom was always a good reason not to go out, not to explore new things, to stay status-quo. Was my life balanced? Yeah, pretty much. Kinda. Sorta. But as the kids grew up and built lives of their own, I was left with, well…myself. Balanced, careful, safe ME.
And then I remembered that wasn’t me at all.
These past nine months have been an exercise in leaning heavily to one side of life. It began in earnest back last September when I threw caution to the wind and bought myself a ticket and a hotel room on the spur of the moment to see Amanda Palmer in Portland. By myself. Only to drive back and a day later bribe my way into her sold-out show in Seattle. I saw more live music–lots of it–most of it loud and edgy and crazy fun. I bought clothes just to go out in. I stayed out past my bedtime and got up to teach yoga with my ears still ringing and a smile on my face from the show that ended just hours prior. I bought a very expensive ticket to see Prince in a tiny club and have never regretted it. Was it within my balanced budget? Definitely not. But I knew the price of the ticket wouldn’t be the difference between my family eating and not. I began saying “yes” a hellava lot more.
Trust me, life is sweet on the edge. But you do need to know how to get back.
Extra sleep, regular yoga, gallons more water and ample fresh vegetables all bring me back to balance, both physically and mentally. And that’s important. My daughter’s riding instructor once wisely said “you need to go out of balance to find your balance.” I know this to be true. It’s not unlike working your “edge” in a yoga pose–holding back, staying safe and ruled by fear that you might get hurt or look foolish won’t make you stronger–but it will usually keep you safe and fearful. Dipping your toes into the unknown of a pose, that outer edge, that place that’s a bit (or a lot) uncomfortable–that’s the sweet spot. That’s where we grow and that’s where we see our true self, even our true strength reflected back to us. Certainly there’s a measured risk of physical injury, or more likely a bruised ego, but what’s the alternative? Is it worth it to hold back? Conversely, having a practice that is constantly pushing, striving and over-efforting won’t get you what you’re looking for either. Sthira sukham asana is what we call it in yoga-speak. Steady and strong. To find it, however, we sometimes need to lean out over our edge.
Back in Tofino, moderation was in moderation. If there had been any visions of mindful meditations and salad cleanses, they were quickly dashed upon arrival. Six women, brought together by our mutual friend, Kris. Most of us arriving as strangers and leaving as soul sisters. We stayed up far too late, drank far too much and laughed until our stomachs hurt. We did have salad one day for lunch, but otherwise it was a magnificent melange of whatever was rustled up from the generously stocked fridge. Cheese, crackers, shrimp, chocolate, tequila and barbecued pork, to name a few. Bacon and mimosas for breakfast. Back on the ferry home Monday afternoon, I glanced at my reflection in a mirror and saw a woman who had spent three days leaning heavily to one side of life. But what my bleary eyes lacked in clarity, they certainly made up for in spirit. My heart, not visible, but full to bursting with the sweetness of a life lived out loud.
“We are not hammock people!” Sandy had insisted. But I don’t know that I agree. I say bring on the swinging hammock of life and let yourself lean heavily to one side. You might very well get flipped to the ground in a messy, tumbling heap. You may very well look foolish. I sure hope you’re laughing.
And at least you’ve found your edge.