January is officially in our rearview mirror, my friends. Was it as dark for you as it was for me? Like, literally lacking sunlight. Typically, I’m a gray day kind of girl, but hooooooboy last month tested even my most ardent drizzle-loving spirit. We’re on to February–a month of hopeful primroses and pink candy hearts and crushed expectations. But first, a few words about January.
THING ONE: DARKNESS
After the blur and chaos that is my typical December, January descends like a welcome, weighted blanket, just ready for me to tuck myself under and breathe again. I like the “clean slate” feeling of January, the empty wall calendar, the tidying up, looking ahead and dwelling in possibility. Here in the Pacific Northwest, January days are maddeningly short on light, with sunrises not until 8:00AM and sunsets rushing in by 4:30PM.
That is, if the sun bothers to come up and out at all.
It seemed darker than normal this year. Maybe it was the reflection of my mood about the political mess in our country. Maybe it was me leaning into the comfort of my shadows just a bit more heavily, putting both of my shoulders into it and getting lost in the depths of my own darkness. I was acutely aware of the short span of daylight this year, to the point of feeling panicky as the late afternoon shadows grew long.
I wanted to sleep. A lot.
Naps are a regular part of my routine and I consider myself fairly advanced in my napping skills. More psychologically necessary than physically for me, my introvert self needs a time-out to recenter after teaching a large yoga class. I scroll through my podcasts, press play and let myself get lulled to sleep for about 30 minutes. It’s quick and efficient and gets me back into balance so I can tackle whatever is next, which often is another yoga class. This January was different, though, with my bed holding a much tighter grip on me than usual.
Was I depressed?
I tend not to worry too much when I have a blue day or two. There is something about leaning into the blue that suits me. Don’t be sad! my mother would implore, most likely triggered by the memory of her sister’s suicide so long ago. But I like it here, I would tell her, just wanting to feel the contrast of my many flavored moods. I consider myself to be realistically optimistic, but not artificially cheery. But there was an endless drone of days in January this year–each one as dark and dank and drippy as the next, with the occasional deluge of rain to soak all of us to our core.
I haven’t washed my car in months. Why bother?
Maybe it wasn’t depression as much as it was a simple lack of contrast, day after day, each nearly indistinguishable from the next. The outside mirroring my insides, a general dull and lackluster energy that seemed to envelope every day. A hike outside, a sweaty workout, a lively yoga class, a rousing rock show with a pal would help brighten things temporarily, but those shadows were always lurking right around the corner, ready to sneak out again.
Think happy thoughts. Count your blessings. Insert cheerful platitude here.
Did you know “Blue Monday” is thought to be the saddest day of the year? Traditionally, it falls on the third Monday of January. Just far enough away from the revelry of the holidays and yet still miles out from the hopefulness of spring. I don’t remember how blue that Monday was for me but I’m fairly certain it was about as flat and gray as all the other days in January had been.
I stopped by Central Market the other day and felt compelled to snap a few photos of the bright and happy primroses arranged in front of the store. I bent down and stuck my nose in the white hyacinths, inhaling their scent of spring. Enough of this leaning into the blue, I thought. Good riddance, dear dreary January. I’ve had enough hygge to last awhile.
The sun’s gotta be out there somewhere. I just know it.
THING TWO: DRISHTI
In yoga, drishti is what we call the soft, focused gaze we take in our physical postures. Up, down, inward, to the side. It changes with each pose. It is part of the fifth limb of the eight limbs of yoga–pratyahara, or the withdrawal of senses. We choose an intentional gaze, focusing our eyes on a specific, neutral point, rather than allowing ourselves to be distracted by this or that. (Squirrel!) Drishti is a powerful practice and I’ll often say in my classes that what we fill our eyes with is what we fill our head with.
So what are you filling your head with?
Get up, make coffee, scroll Facebook. My morning habit, my routine, the achilles heel of my day. Somewhere along the way, my morning date with social media has morphed into something far more depleting than enriching. Inflammatory headlines, social media rants and nasty fights playing out right before my eyes. Vaguebook, humble brag, fake news. Refresh, refresh, refresh. I’d find myself lingering for far too long, waiting for that one update from a friend, the newsy post with a photo or two from a neighbor’s vacation, a funny anecdote from someone’s day, something inspiring to launch into action. Instead, I’d finally push away and log out feeling empty and anxious, watching that 30 minutes or more of my day get swirled and flushed down the drain.
Social media is awesome and entertaining and awful and addictive. Like nearly every modern invention, it has the potential to do powerful good and cause considerable harm. And the lines between the two sometimes get very blurry. After the most recent presidential election, I looked to Facebook to find solace and community, unity and energy to forge ahead with positive change. I found a little bit of that, but I found far more divisiveness, tribalism and name-calling. I unfollowed and unfriended and attempted to make it a more productive place to set my gaze, but it’s just not working.
I need less.
I love the peek into other people’s lives, no matter how carefully curated and polished that peek is. I’m a bit of a voyeur at heart, and although you won’t find me peeping into windows at night, I’m happy to look into your world that you present for public consumption. I love your words and ideas, your photos and reflections. I love the birthday greetings and your kids’ milestones and your brave honesty. I’m always curious as to how other people live, but Facebook has seemed to crumble into a vacuous time-suck.
When I spend time out at the coast at La Push, I begin each day with a hot cup of coffee, bundled in blankets, sitting on the deck of my cabin, gazing out at the crashing surf. It’s one of my favorite parts of being there–those mornings on the deck, unencumbered by digital distraction. It is as much of a deliberate practice as yoga is–and it is yoga–the mindful, intentional gaze of my drishti, the focus on my breath and the clarity and energy that comes from that.
What do I choose to look at? What am I filling my head with?
As February begins, I am paying more attention to my drishti. Habits are tricky little devils that are tough to break free from, but like most things, the first step is the hardest. A fresh morning routine, perhaps with the quiet of my breath and some written reflections. Maybe a few minutes paging through my new book of Mary Oliver poetry. Less digital, virtual relationships and more real, in-the-flesh human ones.
I’ll meet you for coffee. Or whiskey, if that’s your pleasure.
THING THREE: DIARY
I lied to you.
I spent much of January remembering scenes from my youth. Glimmers of ideas for stories and memoirs swim in my head and, in an effort to get a bit more clarity, I pulled out a few dusty journals that I kept along the way. Writing has always been my sanctuary, my place of peace. Writing was–and still is–where I escaped to when I needed to work things out. Like a lot of people, I documented much of my young, cringe-worthy life within the pages of my diaries. But it hasn’t always been my place of truth.
Who lies to themselves in their diary? Me, for one. Also, someone (like me) who couldn’t face the true awkwardness of themselves.
Awkward doesn’t even begin to adequately describe how I was in my younger days. I was a late bloomer in everything and when I did bloom, the transition was less an ugly duckling blossoming into a swan and more like the duckling growing, well–into a duck. When I lost a lot of weight in junior high, I finally felt more “normal” but at some point losing the weight morphed from self-improvement into self-obliteration. An effort to erase. I fumbled about, starved myself, pretended and tried to be everything that I wasn’t. I was the girl who appeared cool enough to hang out with rock and roll bands from the time I was 16 years old but too self-conscious to really enjoy it. I was 17 when I was included on the guest list at a Pat Benatar concert when Pat Benatar was the hottest ticket in town. I took my seat in the audience–a prime spot a few rows back at the Paramount Theater in Seattle. I was no stranger to rock concerts, but when Pat Benatar came out onstage and the music pulsed and everyone around me jumped up and began to dance, I stayed glued to my seat. Embarrassed and unable to move. Awkward and frozen. I could hear Pat Benatar, but I didn’t see a thing. My journal entry doesn’t mention anything about spending the entire show on my ass, but instead I made sure to wax on and on about how fabulous everything was. Trying to convince myself how fabulous I was.
My general lack of worldliness–despite outward appearances–was so shameful to me that I even lied about losing my virginity. Writing in my journal very vaguely about various experiences with boys, with a wink and a smile, I insinuated that I was far more seasoned in my sexuality that I really was. After all, everyone else was doing it. I lied to myself and I lied to my friends, dreaming up stories about my exploits, making them more than they were. The saddest part being that when I actually did lose my virginity, it barely even warranted a mention within my journal pages. I had to save face–to myself–in my own diary.
Uncomfortable in my own skin. Who was I trying to impress? Myself?
Having kids and yoga helped me filter out the bullshit. Becoming a mom was the catalyst I needed to get out of my own way. Yoga was the medium that enabled me to do so.
Who do you think you are?
And who are you really?
Writing has always been my sanctuary. Now, it’s also my place of truth-telling. You know, it’s good to grow up.
I’m sorry I lied.