The Thief of Joy

The Thief of Joy

When Akiba was on his deathbed, he bemoaned to his rabbi

That he felt he was a failure. His rabbi moved closer

And asked why, and Akiba confessed that he had not lived a life like Moses.

The poor man began to cry, admitting that he feared God’s judgment.

At this, his rabbi leaned into his ear and whispered gently,

“God will not judge Akiba for not being Moses.

God will judge Akiba for not being Akiba.”

-From the Talmud

 

A couple days ago I posted a video of myself on Instagram doing pull-ups. I was super excited because I’ve spent a lot of time in the weight room these last couple months trying to get stronger. We have a pull-up bar in our foyer, so I took a quick video of my seven, yes, seven pull-ups and I put it out there. Before I started strength training, I could only do two (I posted that too). I love seeing progress and I wanted to share my excitement.

Before I hit the “post” button, I thought to myself “wait, seven isn’t really that many, and I don’t have any weights hanging around my waist to make it more fancy or challenging” I thought about a woman I follow on Instagram who has posted videos of her own endless weighted pull-ups and I started to think that my accomplishment wasn’t that grand after all. Maybe I should wait until I can do something better, something more impressive. I thought, maybe I shouldn’t post it at all. In a matter of minutes, the pride I felt in my accomplishment was completely wiped out.

When we moved up here 5 years ago, I thought teaching yoga would be easy. I was a successful teacher in my life downstate. So, when the opportunity to open my own studio arose a year after we moved to Rochester, I jumped at it. It was going to be so fun! What I forgot in those moments before Cycle Swami opened were the six years it took me to get where I was at my old studio downstate. Six years of teaching small classes (during which, some people walked out!), six years of building relationships, and six years of investing my time in a community so that it would (and did), in time, invest in me.

During the first year we were open, another yoga studio opened – a beautiful space with talented teachers. I found myself going online and checking social media to see what they were up to, what kind of classes they were offering. It seemed to me that they were flourishing where we were not, and I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. I stayed up at night doubting my value as a teacher, doubting I had anything to offer but at the same time I was angry because I knew I did; how could the people of Rochester not know that? In those two short years we had the studio, I lost sight of who I was as a teacher. I was so unraveled by self-doubt that I tried many ways of teaching, and each way took me further and further from my true way of being.

Like Akiba, I bemoaned the fact that I was not this other woman – this wonderful teacher running a studio full of good vibes and sunshine. I did not consider how long she’d been teaching here, how long it had taken her to get where she was, or what struggles she had to endure to get there. I did not consider the fact that I had no place yet in this community. I expected to transplant my six years of work and immediately reap the benefits. When I didn’t, I became acutely aware of how “not her” I was, and it sent me reeling.

Mark Nepo, author of The Book of Awakening says, “we are born with only one obligation – to be completely who we are.” But when we get caught up in comparison, that becomes almost impossible. Social media has made this even more obvious. Very rarely do people share their failings to the broader audience – it’s only the envy-inducing eye candy shots that ever make it out there. In the same reading Mark Nepo also says that “when we compare ourselves to others, we see neither ourselves nor those we look up to. We only experience the tension of comparing…”

I completely understand the tension of comparing. Even today, I need to be vigilant and guard against that voice in my head that says: “sure that thing you did was cool but look what she’s doing.” Some days the tension of comparison is so intense I feel as if I may snap. Thankfully, there are more days I when can see it for what it is, and I can drag myself back to my center. I can appreciate where I’ve been, how I got to where I am, and I wouldn’t change it for the world – or for a prettier Instagram feed.

So, yeah, I posted that video, and you should too. Don’t wait until you can strap 50 lb weights around your waist, show the world your one, assisted pull up. Let it be okay to not be perfect. Just be you. Dr Seuss said it best: “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You.”

Comparison will not steal my joy anymore, so stop letting it steal yours. I’m no Ninja Warrior and you’ll never see me on Titan Games but I’m the lead-role bad ass in my story and I’m proud as hell to say it. And, you bet your ass when I get to ten, you’re going to hear about it.

New Year's Revolution

New Year's Revolution

Well, 2019 is in full swing. Hopefully you’ve settled back into your regularly scheduled chaos and the stress of the holiday season is a distant memory. I love this time of year, it always feels so fresh and full of promise. Even though the temperatures are brutal, it seems a little easier to dream big and believe it’s all possible in the early days of January. I have a few plans of my own for this year and have made a couple resolutions I’m proud to say are still going strong. I wanted to share just one that seems to be working a bit of magic into my life.

I decided to write down one thing every day that made me happy, or one thing for which I’m grateful. I tried this last year, but only got 3 days in before I canned the whole operation. This year, I figured out why and upped my game. See, last year, I used the big plastic barrel we had laying around from the time Sebastian coaxed me into buying 5lbs of cheese balls. I didn’t have any specific paper for the job, I just ripped corners off unopened mail. Basically, it was set to fail from the beginning. My heart just wasn’t in it. This year I pulled out a pretty vase from the basement and Nick bought me a big block of note paper. I have the note paper and a pencil set out right next to the pretty vase. It’s all there (and visible from my couch), so there are literally no excuses. All I need is 2 minutes each night to quietly reflect on my day. I find the best bits and scribble them onto the small square of blank paper, and I walk upstairs to tuck into bed with that moment’s recognition of gratitude still on my mind.

Some days the things are small: we got our coffee machine back, so today I’m super grateful for my morning (and afternoon) latte. Some days the thing I’m trying to fit on that little square seem too big to verbalize – like the all-encompassing love I feel for my kids or the flood of gratitude I feel for the tender words of encouragement from Nick after a hard day. But it doesn’t really matter how big or small the thing is. I want to tell you something about keeping track of the things in your day that put a smile on your face: it puts a smile on your face. I’m not saying it’s the silver bullet to all bad moods, trust me, I still have my share of them, but something shifts when you ask yourself to look at all the gifts life has to offer, even on a small scale, from day to day. I find myself thinking about which moment I’ll record for the day, so it isn’t just the best moment that I recognize, but all the others too. Yes, it’s all magical, but I find now that I’m writing it down, I stop a moment and acknowledge the magic instead of just letting it pass me by.

What is even better than all that? I find my mindset is slowly moving away from focusing on the things I lack and it’s moving toward all the amazing things I already have. Taking stock of the good stuff throughout the day has made it much easier for me to see how lucky I really am. I don’t need a nicer car, mine runs fine. I don’t need a bigger house or a better wardrobe. I don’t need fancy trips around the world to see how happy I am, I have a pretty vase right in my living room and it’s full of all the proof I need that I’m doing just fine.

The Shit You Hate

The Shit You Hate

I recently bought a card that said: “This year, quit doing shit you hate.” And on the inside, it simply said “Happy Birthday.” I thought it was a brilliant card, and isn’t it the best gift to give yourself? Quit doing shit you hate. Quit doing things you don’t want to do. Quit doing what you think is expected of you because you think the world would stop spinning if you didn’t. I wish I could send this card to myself every year, just as a gentle reminder.

For most of my life I’ve been the girl who did what she thought was right; what she thought other people wanted her to do. I’ve made choices based on how I thought people would see me and what they would think of me. Over the years I allowed the fear of other people’s negative opinion to shape the very core of who I am. I’ve made tons of decisions based on the belief that it was my duty to make everyone else happy, and that if I didn’t, they’d think I was selfish or self-serving. If I didn’t, I thought I was selfish and self-serving.

As I get older, I see things differently. I cry at Subaru commercials and get choked up over episodes of West Wing that I’ve seen dozens of times. I get angry when I see those yellow pesticide signs that tell me more bees have been killed for our comfort (don’t get me started) and I see my family as the people they are: imperfect but doing the best they know how (just, coincidentally, as I am doing). I see myself tired of fearing what other people think, and I see my need to please as what it really has been all along – the need to avoid conflict. If you know me well, you know I hate conflict. I will do anything to sidestep it. Anything. That includes doing shit I hate.

The problem is, you can’t always do what you think will keep the peace and be a good friend, lover, daughter, mother, father, or son simultaneously. It almost never goes according to plan.  Because of it I’ve lost good friends, ones who just needed to hear my truth, who needed me to be honest when it was painful, who needed me to show up when I wouldn’t. Sometimes, that need to keep everyone peaceable, well, it pissed people off. At other times, it simply pushed them away.

When I was younger, I had good friend and we grew closer still during our years just out of high school. She was a woman I admired: self-assured and confident. We were close until I did something that I should have been open with her about. Instead, I kept quiet. I was afraid of what she would say and how my actions would make her feel. I didn’t want to hurt her, but it was possible that my choice would upset her. So, instead of speaking up, of telling her that I’d chosen a path that made me happy, I avoided her and the uncomfortable conversation I knew would come. Months passed, and I still didn’t speak up. Then, of course, she found out. Guess what? She was upset. But really, she was more hurt by the fact that I felt I couldn’t tell her than by what I had done. My silence and my need to keep the peace had shown her that I didn’t trust our relationship to weather the upheaval. My avoidance didn’t make things better, it made them worse. It took us years to talk openly about it, and when we did, the hurt was still there. On both sides. Maybe one day we’ll be as close as we were those years ago, and maybe we won’t, I’m not sure. What I am sure of, is that if I’d had the guts to be open and tell her how I felt back then, even if it meant hurting her temporarily, we’d still be close friends today.

It’s hard speaking up. It’s hard making your thoughts known. Maybe one of the scariest things you can do is to say what you want out loud. But even scarier is going through life so afraid of your own voice that you move through your days with your ringer on silent; afraid to disrupt or create waves. You “yes” everyone to death and you forget that you have your own desires – you forget and forget until they’re blurred and gone completely; your voice and self-value gone with them. Worse, the people around you get hurt too, because you’re not being true and honest.

So, quit doing shit you hate. It sounds simple, but really, it’s quite profound. Say “no” occasionally, draw lines, re-establish boundaries and step out of your own shadow. You may upset some people. That’s okay, the ones who matter will get over it. I read somewhere that the only people who are mad when you set boundaries are the ones who benefited from you having none. It is not your job to make the people around you happy. It is your job to show up, to speak honestly, and most importantly, it’s your job to have the uncomfortable conversation, to step into conflict with compassion and courage. Do this and the people you love will be happy, because instead of going through the motions just to please them, you’re committing to making your relationship healthy. And, in the end, doesn’t that make everyone happy?

 

lose yourself

lose yourself

Back in May I kicked a chair leg and broke my pinky toe. It wasn’t a horrible break, but one bad enough to sideline me for the race I’d been training to do. At first, I was devastated. I’d spent months preparing for this race, hours upon hours of training – hours I wasn’t spending with my husband and kids, hours missed hanging with friends, hours not spent on my yoga mat. But the time spent was worth it and though I missed my “A” race, I had a back-up planned for early September, so no worries. My foot would be better by then, and all that training time would still have the outlet I was hoping for.

Recently, I saw my orthopedic Dr. I went to her to make sure I was healing right and that my continued training wouldn’t do lasting damage. For the most part, I’ve been feeling great, running hurts a bit, but I spent seven weeks not running, so I expected that. When she told me that my race in September was out of the question and that even a shorter distance later in the month wasn’t a good idea, I wasn’t sure what to say.

On the car ride home, I lost the composure I’d kept with the doctor. For the first time in months, I didn’t have a plan. I didn’t have a goal, something I could strive for. I felt lost. Maybe it sounds silly, but up until that moment, my schedule had been so structured around triathlon, I wasn’t sure what to do. I set this plan in motion because I thought a half iron distance triathlon was way out of my league. Over the months of training, I started to realize it wasn’t, that it was possible; and now because of a damned pinky toe, everything had to be put on hold and I wasn’t sure how to move forward. I failed at the one big thing I’d set out to do.

It wasn’t just the race that had me spiraling though. For the past couple weeks, I’d been struggling to feel like an even mildly good mom. The kids have been home for the summer and my patience has been somewhere else. Their bickering and teasing each other had me on edge. I wasn’t being the mom I thought I should be, I was yelling and losing my cool way more than I wanted to. Part of me just didn’t want to parent. What kind of a mom thinks like that?

Once I started down this road of self-reflection, I realized that I wasn’t being the yoga teacher I wanted to be either. At the beginning of the year I made a conscious choice to put my yoga on the back burner and focus on triathlon. With training, there just wasn’t the time to dedicate to expanding my practice further. I stopped rolling out my mat, and for a time I felt uninspired as a practitioner and a teacher. Let me tell you, there’s nothing worse than a yoga teacher who doesn’t practice yoga. Not because it makes her bad at her job, but because a yoga teacher who doesn’t practice yoga is adrift, whether she knows it or not.

So, there I was, in the car, the boys in the backseat and tears streaming down my face. If I couldn’t do triathlon, if I was a bad mom and a lackluster teacher, who was I? These were the things that defined me, that made me who I was. These were the things I used to describe myself to other people, they were the bedrock of who I was. To think that I was failing at all three at the same time, it was more than I could handle in the moment. When I got home though, I played it cool; I casually told Nick there wouldn’t be a half ironman race for me this year and went about the rest of my day. I felt broken, and at odds with myself, but I was determined to act like it was nothing.

Later that night, after the kids went to bed, Nick asked me what was going on. I was trying desperately to hold on to some sense of normal, but he knew better. Reluctantly, I laid it out for him. Though I felt a little silly, I told him how I felt like I was failing at almost everything I loved. I was a triathlete who couldn’t do triathlon, I was a mom who was doing a crappy job, and I was a yoga teacher who never practiced yoga.

The whole thing was a recipe for meltdown. Thankfully, after talking it through, I felt better (isn’t that how it usually works? Why, then, is it so hard to do? I’m not sure – we’ll get into that on some other blog).

If you were to come into class and we had this conversation, I’d tell you that you aren’t what you do. You aren’t your job, or your hobbies; you aren’t your kids, or your car. What kind of house you have (and how clean it is) isn’t who you are. You aren’t your hair, your skin or your weight. You aren’t how much money you have. You aren’t the labels you’ve been given (by yourself or others): funny, happy, boring, fat, skinny, smart, I could go on and on – I have tons of them myself, layers upon layers of them, like a big, greasy blooming onion. The good news about all this is that you aren’t your failures either.

You are something much bigger than all that, I’d say. You are a beautiful, complex soul who cannot be defined by simple titles. As Rumi says: “you are not a drop in the ocean, you are the ocean in a drop.” I’d tell you all this with the deep belief that it is true. I would want you to understand it down into your bones so the next time you feel boxed in or stuck, or just really low, you could remember the miracle that you are – no matter what labels you may wearing.

Ride for the Missing - from 2016

Ride for the Missing - from 2016

I like to think that I’m a good story teller. In person, I mean. I like to tell a good story. I like to make people laugh and, well, I like to talk. Somehow though, when it comes to relating a great experience through writing, I seem to fall short 9 times out of 10. I’m going to give it one more try to see if I can get my percentages up a bit. When the story is done being told, I do hope I’ve communicated the magic of the day, but if I haven’t, you’re just going to have to join us next year to see it for yourself.

Here goes. As most of you know, Nick and I rode last Friday in the Ride for Missing Children. It’s a 100 mile ride that winds around the Rochester area – it’s a charity ride, not a race so the pace isn’t too crazy and everyone rides together. I thought I understood what that meant (and frankly, I wasn’t looking forward to riding in a huge group, but I get it now and we’ll get to that eventually), we all stick together, and ride around, right? Well, yes. What I didn’t understand was what 277 riders, all wearing pink and blue jerseys and lead by a police escort really looked like.

The day started early, we all gathered at some big sports place in East Rochester – there were bagels and other goodies to stock up on. They had guest speakers during the opening ceremony, one was a young girl; a survivor of sexual abuse. Her speech was moving and brave. She ended it by thanking everyone there for riding, for giving her and all the other kids like her a voice. It wasn’t yet 8am and I was already fighting back tears. I knew then that it was going to be a long day, but not because of the 100 miles.

We started off at the head of the group, close behind the police escort. It was a beautiful morning and I was psyched to spend the whole day with Nick by my side. We ride well together and no matter what, we always have fun. I hadn’t really thought about the logistics of it all, but not only were there police officers at the lead of the procession, they were everywhere, blocking off intersections, holding cars at side streets, and keeping the flow of traffic at bay so we never had to stop (I’m sorry if you were one of the drivers waylaid by our procession, but I’m sure it was a sight to behold). I was told by one of the shepherds that it takes a full 7 minutes for the whole group to stop – from the head of the line to the back – 7 minutes. The best part though about the escort were the policemen on motorcycles. They were zipping by the column of riders all day, like they were taking turns racing to the front.  It was like we were all in a video game and the motorcycles were asteroids or spaceships rushing past.

It was amazing too how many people were out to cheer us on. There were people standing on the sidewalks with signs, people cheering from their porches and front doors, people who stepped away from their desk at work to clap and give their own encouragement. We made stops every 20 or so miles to get off the bikes and get some food to refuel. Most of those stops were at schools. They had music blaring at each one (somehow every single one played that song “Geronimo” – now I know why Gabriel likes it so much, it’s a grade school staple) and some had organized cheers to perform, or songs to sing.

After one of these stops we ended up closer to the end of the pack. When we got out onto more open roads, we could see all the way up to the police motorcycles in front. It was a huge sea of pink. I can’t imagine the planning and organizing that must have gone into it all and though I was dubious of everyone riding in a pack at the beginning, I totally get why it’s done that way. 277 people on bikes is something to behold, and not easily forgotten.

The best part by far were the school loops we rode through. It was our first year, so I had no idea what to expect but I was blown away when we went through the first school. Kids and teachers were outside lined up on the sidewalk. They were cheering, and holding up signs that said things like “We believe in you” and “keep going, you can do it!” some even chanted “go riders go!” It’s hard to describe, but being there was remarkable and overwhelming. Each kid’s face reminded me of Gabriel and Sebastian and with every school, tears came fresh to my eyes. With all those kids, how many of them were victims of violence themselves? Certainly they were there too, cheering like all their friends; putting on a brave face for 277 strangers.

Nick and I will do everything we can to protect our boys growing up. It’s our job, and it’s the most important one we have. But what about all the other kids out there who don’t have someone looking out for them? I thought about those kids too when riding through those schools. Maybe it sounds idealistic and naïve, but I hope when they saw the army of pink riders come through that they felt, even for just a moment that they weren’t alone, that there are adults out there who care, who can be trusted and who want to help.

I could go on and on about our day – the silent ride through White Haven Memorial Park with soldiers standing at attention in dress uniforms, the high fives from the kids at each school, the Oreos at the snack stations. We ended the day with nearly 8hrs spent in the saddle. In 100 miles we passed through 9 schools, saw hundreds of kids, had 6 different law enforcement agencies helping out; I ate 2 chia donuts, 3 granola bars, 4 Oreos, a chickpea salad sandwich and drank 4 liters of phytosport hydrate. To say the day was epic would be an understatement but the accomplishment we felt when we were done was nothing compared to the knowledge that the money we raised will go into protecting the kids we met along the way. I can’t wait for next year! Who’s with me?