I know that most of my blog entries are about life-giving adventures, the kind that we want to undertake. And, that’s as it should be. We should focus on things in life that we want to achieve. We only go around once; we should make the best of it. Sometimes, however, there are other risky adventures we should undertake, ones that make us uncomfortable. These are emotional risks. Funny how some people find it easier to jump out of a plane than to say something important to a loved one.
Earlier today, I was sitting in my office doing some work and listening to a playlist of John Mayer songs I put together for a friend who had never heard of him. (I promise that my friend does not live in a cave in Afghanistan.) At any rate, as the songs were on in the background, “Say” came on and I got choked up…again. That song gets me every time. I suppose it’s because I so heartily believe in the song’s message: “You better know that in the end it’s better to say too much than never to say what you need to say again.” This is my mantra. I’d rather say a bit too much than to say nothing and risk regret.
Now, this is not to imply that it’s easy for me to do this. It isn’t. I struggle with the spoken word constantly. I speak in fits and starts because I am keenly aware of how razor sharp words can be and how quickly they can inflict seemingly irrevocable damage. I’ve spent my lifetime crafting written words because I can control them. This is why I prefer texting or emails to phone calls. I can go back and edit. I can rearrange my thoughts, cut the parts that might be misconstrued, and carve my words into a clear and concise communication. And then, when I feel I have drafted a genuine and appropriate message, I can hit Send with confidence. It’s all so tidy.
But, let’s face it. Life isn’t tidy, and it rarely gives us the opportunity to design perfect messages in difficult situations. Sometimes words attack us, and even those words precisely chosen can strike a chord we don’t appreciate. Then, instead of taking the time to recognize our true feelings of hurt, we lash out with anger and confusion. Sometimes we even take it so far as to sever a relationship rather than putting ourselves out there again to explain our point of view and work towards a solution. Sometimes we think we can’t handle any further pain, so we send something that was entirely fixable off to the relationship scrapyard and move on.
While I understand it’s in our nature to avoid pain, I sometimes wish we were more brave. I think that the best relationships are the not the ones that are never tested but are the ones that are tested time and time again and survive. To have relationships like that, though, we have to be willing to take emotional risks and go on adventures of temporary discomfort. We need to take the time to say what we need to say, and we have to afford other people their chance to express themselves while keeping our mind open and our mouth shut. It’s know it’s scary, but avoiding emotional pain is tantamount to avoiding life. It’s no way to live.
It’s much easier complain than it is to compliment or to be sarcastic than it is to share. But, if we don’t put ourselves out on that proverbial ledge occasionally and go on an emotional adventure, we risk everything. The lyrics to that John Mayer song are always with me. As stressful as it is for me to open up my heart, I don’t ever want to find myself in a situation where I regret not having told someone how much they meant to me. Life is fleeting. Don’t waste a minute of it being too proud or too fearful to say something genuine to someone you care about. They might reject it and you might get hurt but, then again, they might not and it might be the best risk you ever took.
“Even if your hands are shaking and your faith is broken, even as the eyes are closing, do it with a heart wide open…say what you need to say.”
A year ago, I did something I swore I would never do, and it truly changed my life: I attended my first power yoga class. I have to admit that my decision to attend this class had little to do with a desire to do yoga at all. In fact, I was basically strong-armed into yoga by my well-intentioned sisters-in-law who purchased a $75 yoga gift card for me for Christmas because they thought (and I quote) “yoga is great as your body ages.” Ouch. I would like to tell you that this gift thoroughly annoyed me, but that would be admitting that I am an ungrateful brat, and I try not to be that transparent.
At any rate, I wandered into a beginner class at a CorePower Yoga studio near my home to fulfill my duty and use up my gift card. I didn’t expect much from the class. I had already convinced myself that yoga had nothing to offer me. I was certain I would be bored. I knew it wasn’t much of a cardiovascular workout. I was positive that my body was plenty strong and balanced. Still, I brought my mat, a water bottle, and a towel and situated myself in the back of the room so no one could watch me make a total ass of myself.
The class was led by a very mellow and earthy gal named Melissa. I was already rolling my eyes. She had us get into the easy and relaxing child’s pose, which I immediately discovered was neither easy nor relaxing for me. Melissa reminded us that yoga is a practice, not a competition, and that we should let go of judgment. That statement stabbed me right in the heart. I’m my own worst critic. Then she told us to focus on a worry we brought into class then exhale and let it go. So, with a big exhalation, I decided to let go of ego and enter into the experience without negativity.
That hour of yoga flew by for me. I was shocked. I was not bored, my mind did not wander, and I didn’t once think it was too “easy” for me. She had us do an abdominal workout that messed me up for days. And, I actually broke a sweat even though the room wasn’t heated. I was so excited to learn something new and I was determined to get into Crow pose. I was genuinely surprised by how the whole experience had left me feeling peaceful, positive, and poised. I left that class absolutely knowing I would come back to do another one. Wonders never cease.
Well, it’s a year later. I did get into crow pose. I did it within the first couple months once my core strength improved. I am much stronger now and love it when the guy in the pet store asks if I need him to carry the 40 pound bag of dog food to my car. (I always respond with a giggle, “No, thanks. I think I can manage.” Then I hoist that bag onto my shoulder like it’s nothing and stroll out the door.) Could not do that before. When I entered that first class, I could barely touch my fingertips to the floor. Now, my palms sit flat on the floor even with straight legs. My balance is better, I’m more limber, and you can actually see my abs (although you’d see them much more clearly if I could give up my nightly need for dessert). The most amazing thing for me, though, is that even after a year of classes I have not once gotten bored on my mat. Every hour long session is a challenge. I never wonder when it will be over. On that yoga mat, I am 100% fully present in my life. Yoga challenges me, relaxes me, balances me, clears my head, and gives me confidence. I guess these folks who have been practicing it for centuries were onto something.
Last month I did the unthinkable: I started doing hot yoga. A year ago I said I’d never be able to handle yoga in a 105 degree room with humidity. Now, on freezing winter days when I can’t thaw out my toes, a hot yoga studio is a quick, pseudo-tropical escape; and I welcome the opportunity to sweat and remember how miserable summer can be. It’s amazing how your perspective can change if you’re just adventurous enough to take a chance on the “no way” things in your life.
(Postscript: The day after I published this, I got into a headstand in yoga class for the first time. Yay me!)
Clearly, I am perseverating about this whole “not where I wanted to be” topic; I am not ready to move forward just yet from yesterday’s blog. I find myself still moving thoughts around in my muddled head, puzzling them out, and piecing them back together for different insights. For example, in my lamenting yesterday I forgot one important thing: my life isn’t over yet. I may not have yet achieved the things I dreamed of for myself, but my opportunity to do so is not gone. It might be more difficult now than it would have been when I was in my 20s, unmarried, and sans children, but that doesn’t mean that it is impossible.
In working at coming to peace with what I thought were my goals versus where I am now, I need to remember that the path I wandered down led me to become the person I am today. While sometimes I may not love the rather prosaic state of my life, I am genuinely happy with who I am on the inside. That is something I most certainly could not say when I was 21 and dreaming of who I would like become. How could I have known then who I truly needed to be when I didn’t even truly appreciate who I was?
A shift in the wind may have gently persuaded my parachute away from my intended target, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I completely missed my mark. I may have just overshot it a bit. Now that I’m firmly on the ground, I can decide if I need to back up a bit to reach my expected target or if I should boldly go forward down the new path that has presented itself to me and chart a different course…you know, two roads diverged in a yellow wood and all that. The change from what I thought I wanted to be to what I have become doesn’t need to be a negative. I can bounce forward on optimistic, Tigger-like paws and see where I end up. Or, I can go back, regroup, and figure out a new way to reach my goals if they are still what I want for myself. It’s not really over until it’s over, and as long as I’m still living and breathing it’s not officially over. There’s this great quote by George Eliot: “It’s never to late to be who you might have been.” I think George (aka Mary Anne Evans) and I might have had some wonderful conversations.
Maybe it’s the level of endorphins I’m riding right now as I consume another Little Debbie Swiss Cake Roll (after an hour of strenuous hot yoga, nonetheless), but I’m feeling happier today with where I am and less concerned with where I am not. The only trouble is that when I get like this, I often find myself searching for my next adventure. For a long time now I’ve been seriously contemplating jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. Anyone want to parachute down with me this summer and see where we end up?
(This blog was originally entitled Run, Jus, Run but upon a second reading of it I realize it’s more about the little things that get us moving than about my actual attempt at running. So, let’s go with that.)
Just a short entry today because I’m inspired to go run. Yes. Run. I never run. In fact, my regular statement when asked if I run is that I only run when being chased (preferably by a small yappy dog and not by a mountain lion). But, yesterday a friend of mine posted a link to this blog by a guy who is a weight loss/life change superstar. On Jess’ stellar recommendation, I checked it out.
Oh. My. God. If doing so wouldn’t get me arrested for stalking, I would track this guy down and follow him around every day just to experience his energy. I have a feeling that he could create a positive experience out of standing in line at the IRS to hand them an appallingly large check for back taxes. And, to top it off, he’s absolutely darling. Consider these three things: 1) he’s cute, 2) he’s funny, and 3) he loves his grandma and his running partners are his dad and his brother. Can I get a collaborative “Awwwwwwwww”?
The web site is called Ben Does Life, and it is well worth investigating. Make sure you watch the video called “My 120 Pound Journey” in the About Me section. This young man went from couch potato to Ironman in two years. If I can’t run a 5k by summer, I am hopeless.
Firing up the iPod and heading out with the dog now. It’s going to be a slow, ugly, and unpleasant mile marked by copious profanity, but I’m going to do it because Jus does life too.
I’ve heard recently from a couple friends who said they could never do what I do because they don’t have the support, money, or the time to train for events, take classes, or otherwise find adventures. That’s a common and fairly legitimate complaint. Women are swamped with obligations. I recognize that I am lucky. I have a supportive spouse who happily hangs out with our boys so I can disappear. I also have an extended family living nearby, which means I can find reliable, competent (and free) sitters when I need them. And, my children are now in school most of the year, so I usually have a few free hours each weekday to myself without interruption. All of those factors make the life I am creating for myself vastly easier to maneuver than if I had a full-time, paying job or was a single parent or had a husband who was not quite as family-oriented as mine is.
However, the more I reflect on this, the more I think the real problem is that women are too adept at creating roadblocks that keep them from what they truly want. Heaven knows I did it for years. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a woman (including myself) say, “I feel guilty leaving my kids alone for so long,” or “Our schedule is already too packed to add another thing to it,” or “My husband wouldn’t know what to do with the kids if I wasn’t around,” I’d be living in a beach house on Kauai. From the minute our children are conceived, by nature, necessity, and society, we are awarded the role of primary caregivers. We’re judged if we don’t take that role seriously. If my husband flies to Utah for the weekend to go skiing with friends, no one says to him “Wow. Who’s gonna take care of the kids while you’re gone?” Conversely, though, if I take a weekend for myself, I can almost guarantee you that there is someone out there ready to award my husband a medal of honor for successfully parenting in my absence. When it comes to raising children, the playing field has never been level.
My point (and I do have one) is that we women allow this unfairness to continue. We take on everything when we could learn to let some things go. We enroll our children in so many activities that our entire day is overwhelmed with obligations for someone else. We agree to volunteer for things we could not care less about. We say, “I’ve got it” and “I’ll do it” rather than saying, “It’s someone else’s turn.” We put everyone else first. And, then we sit back and complain that we have no freedom when we’ve fostered our reality by allowing guilt and societal pressures to permeate our personal space.
It’s not easy to find time to work out. It’s difficult to negotiate fair trade with our spouses. It’s hard to convince our children that they should be without us once in a while. And, it’s challenging to tell others “No.” It’s taken years for my children to understand that we are a family, and that in a family each one of us has a right to choose once in a while. I know that deals have to be made, discussions have to be endured, and priorities have to be changed if we as a family are to carve out any time for my personal pursuits. It’s never been easy.
Ultimately, though, I think women need to stop making excuses, put on big girl panties, and stand up for what we need; otherwise someday we’ll find ourselves with an empty nest and no hobbies, interests, friends, or memories to occupy our time. You have to make some tough choices now and possibly disappoint some people if you’re going to make your life one worth looking back on. Maybe you think the struggle isn’t worth it, and it might not be for you. But, my biggest fear has always been regret. I don’t want to be in that senior center someday watching The Price is Right alone (because that show will last longer than cockroaches after a nuclear blast) and feeling abandoned, empty, and disappointed. I really hope I’ll be playing cards with friends and recounting my experience climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro.
I haven’t climbed that mountain yet, but I have no doubt that if I put on my big girl panties, save some money, and negotiate a bit, one day I will make it happen.