So, I’m a yoga teacher. At the end of every class I like to read a little something while my peeps rest in savasana. Give them some words to chew on and digest into their stretchy, sweaty bodies to send them out the door rejuvenated. Sometimes it’s a poem or a quote that seems appropriate, but mostly I read from this book of daily meditations that I discovered way back in the day when I was a freshly-minted teacher. I’ll often have a specific reading picked out to suit the theme or mood of the class, but my most favorite way to choose is to simply flip the book open to a random page and read the first thing I see. I like to think of myself as a pretty straight-shootin’, meat-and-potatoes kind of yoga teacher and not a woo-woo kind of yoga teacher, but this thing I do is definitely my way of throwing it out to the Universe. I do this, and more times than not, someone will approach me after class and ask how I knew to read exactly what they needed to hear.
It’s kinda fun that way.
I’d been teaching a lot throughout the summer, using this random methodology to pick my meditation reading and the most annoying thing kept happening. Every stinkin’ time I flipped to a page, it opened to the same day, the same reading. I’d glance at it quickly and decide I didn’t like it, it didn’t fit, it just wasn’t right and move on. Damn worn-out book, I’d think. Maybe it’s time I get a new copy of this thing. I’d then flip to another page and trust that that one was the one the Universe meant me to read. It seemed to work.
Last Monday evening I was tucking my yogis into savasana for the night and damn if that very same reading didn’t pop open in my hands. What the hell, I thought. Might as well read it.
It’s not at all unusual for me to read a passage from this book and feel that it resonates with something I’m going through in my life. After all, these meditations address that universal life slog we all deal with. Sometimes I’ll even get a little teary in the eyes or a bit lumpy in the throat as I read words that I see myself in. But Monday was, well…different.
So, I’m a yoga teacher but I’m also a writer. Writing is what I have always done since my earliest memories, and yet I’ve managed to dance and duck and weave around it for the better part of my life. And even though in recent years I had been freshly inspired and had faithfully pounded out essays and blog posts with some regularity, the hard truth of the matter was that now I was a writer who had stopped writing. I just stopped. As if I had pulled up on the emergency brake, turned off the headlights and killed the engine. Bam. Not moving.
Four months, eight days, two hours, nineteen minutes. That’s how long it had been since my last blog post.
I spent many hours trying to figure out why. Writers are a neurotic bunch, after all, and I fit right in. Not good enough? Hmmm…maybe, sometimes, for sure, but that’s not it. No more stories to tell? Oh hell no. I mean, sure, writer’s block happens, but I still have a few tales left to share. No time? C’mon, now. I’ve got one kid in college and another in high school who I don’t see for twelve hours of the day. I’ve got more time now than ever.
Well now. You might be getting warmer.
Scared and tired.
The reading I had been avoiding for weeks went something like this: “At some point in the journey, we may become tired, weary and confused. Homesick. All the mountains, the scenery, the food, the people, the experiences just don’t do it for us anymore. We want to go home. What am I doing here? we wonder. Nothing worthwhile is happening. Yet another part of us knows the truth and whispers, Yes, something is happening, something worthwhile.”
My college-journalist son often chides me for the time and emotion I spend when I write. A 1000-word essay can easily take hours and I emerge from the office, tear-stained and spent. I get it. Some writing, like journalistic reporting, is factual, straight-up and concise. Deadlines are stressful–absolutely, but the emotional mining isn’t quite the same. The stuff I do feels like therapy. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s scary. And even though I have shed multiple layers of gunk over the past few years in my writing, I know I have only just begun. And like therapy, sometimes we just don’t have it in us. Our energy is shot. That Greek dude, Socrates, said “The unexamined life is not worth living” and while I am totally onboard with that philosophy, it’s hard as fuck sometimes.
It’s hard. Do it anyway.
That’s something else I tell my yogis. Who said it was easy? Yoga is hard and so very worthwhile and you usually feel better afterwards. Show up and do it. And don’t be so surprised when it’s hard.
My breakthrough in my writing happened when I saw an artist bare her naked soul. Honest and raw and courageous. I witnessed this soul-baring and then I watched what happened. Her audience connected with her. They shouted back, “Me, too! That’s my story, too!” and the dots were connected, one by one. That relationship between an artist and her audience was forged through her stripping away of layers. It was inspiring. It was after that that I went home and wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote. I wrote about my experiences, my friends, my family. What it was like growing up as me. What hurt me, my thoughts, my fears. I stripped myself as naked as I possibly could at that moment.
A few of my essays were published and I gained a bigger audience and I immediately heard a chorus of, “Me, too!” It touched me. Deeply. It gave me confidence, affirmation. I finally felt as though I was stepping into what I had been destined to do all my life. Damn, it felt good.
And then I stopped. Cut the engine. Stalled out. Wondered if I needed to cover up a bit. I couldn’t escape the vulnerable chill of feeling exposed.
Over the summer, I had a conversation with one of my siblings. We were riding the ferry across Puget Sound on a brilliant July afternoon, talking about my writing and musing over why I wasn’t anymore and I told them I thought it was odd that very few of my family members would ever comment on my essays. “It mostly makes me kind of sad,” I said, “But there is a part of me that wonders if they think my writing sucks.” I come from a very educated bunch, you see, and even though I really don’t want to say I’m the “dumb one”, sometimes I feel like the dumb one. “The thing is,” my sibling went on to tell me, “We all know you as you, our sister. You, the writer, we relate to differently.” There is a span of nearly two decades between me and my oldest sibling. It goes without saying that my experiences in our family might differ dramatically from some of theirs. I get that. And even if they took issue with any of my stories, no one ever told me I was wrong or suggested it didn’t happen. For that, I am grateful. Another close friend of mine confided to me that they felt caught off-guard when they saw themselves described in my essays. What I had written wasn’t derogatory, so hadn’t given it much thought. Honestly, I was that girl who always dreamt about some cute boy with a guitar writing a catchy love song about me. I mean, who wouldn’t? (“Alison” by Elvis Costello, “Jenny 8675309” by whoever that was…the list could go on.) As long as what I wrote wasn’t nasty and I didn’t name names, I figured I had free rein. What I didn’t realize is that reading about yourself in someone else’s words is not unlike walking past the storefront window, catching your reflection by surprise. It’s not that you look bad, it’s just that you weren’t expecting to see yourself that way.
It’s hard. Writing is hard. Telling your story is hard. Stripping down to your bare soul is bloody hard. Do it anyway.
I’m learning as I go. I know there is more to write, more to absorb, more to describe, more to feel, more to share. Yes, I get scared. As I peel back the layers and tell my stories, it can get messy. I never intend to have my writing be harmful or hurtful to others, and yet I know that can still happen. The names have been changed to protect the innocent, for sure. And yes, I get tired. The journey seems never ending and I want to go home. As each layer is peeled away, more fresh, sensitive flesh is exposed. Sometimes it sucks and sometimes it hurts and it would be so much easier to make popcorn and cozy up to the “The Bachelor.” But then I’d wake up the next morning a bit bloated and realize that I managed to avoid myself for yet another day, another night, another week. Another month. The comfort of home is so enticing. My fuzzy socks, the purring kitties on my lap, the glass of wine in my hand. Home is good and home is comfort, but it’s time I get out more. I have more stories to tell.
The reading continued: “You’ve only seen a little of what life has to offer. You’re about to walk through a door. Now that your heart is open, you’ll see, touch and know even more of life’s wonders. It’s the reward for where you’ve been. Keep feeling your feelings and trusting your guidance. Let the magic begin.”
I finally read those pesky words out loud to my peaceful, resting yogis Monday night. I finally read those words out loud to myself. I had to pause between sentences to make sure my voice didn’t catch. I am so not a woo-woo kind of yoga teacher, I like to tell myself. But Monday night, that crazy Universe brought me the very message I had been needing to hear.
Don’t stop now. Walk through the door.
I know. It’s hard. Don’t be so surprised.
Do it anyway.
(Excerpted from “Journey To The Heart” by Melody Beattie)