Two days ago I left Portland in the early morning to make the long drive back to Ojai. Following a bittersweet first visit back after moving to California 5 months ago, I had made the decision to pack my car with the rest of my stuff that had been in storage in Stumptown and make my way south to plant both my feet in my new home.
I stopped for gas just 20 minutes south of Portland, still groggy from sleep and tender from my last evening with dear friends. Seeing my packed car and California tags, the gas station attendant excitedly asked me if I was moving to Portland.
I paused as I was about to reach for the squeegee to clean my windshield and instead of casually responding that no, in fact I was leaving Portland, I found myself unable to speak.
Tears suddenly and uncontrollably poured forth from my eyes. All I could muster in response to her question was an exaggerated shake of my head “no,” and then a bit later, through a mix of gaspy breaths and apologetic laughs, “I’m moving away from Portland.”
“Oh sweetie!” she blurted as she left the nozzle in the tank of my car, threw her arms wide and scooped me up in a giant hug. I was so stunned and touched and emotionally raw that I just let it happen. My body pressed into her giant chest. Her rocking me side to side. My shoulders hunching with sobs. Her eyes wet with empathetic tears.
And for a minute while my gas tank was being filled for the long trip, I emptied the contents of my breaking heart out my eyes and onto the woman’s shirt.
It was as ridiculous as it was beautiful. I don’t remember feeling awkward or embarrassed of what the morning commuters around us must think. All I could feel in the moment was that the kindness of this woman was one of the reasons why I was going to miss Oregon. And that she must be some sort of angel sent to help me feel the potency of that moment. To let me not miss the snot dripping sadness of leaving, to let me acknowledge the immensity of my love for that place and the people in it who helped to shape who I am. And how the sadness and the love are the same alive, sweet fullness within me.
You see it’s come to my attention that I have four tendencies when it comes to uncomfortable circumstances in my life:
Figure it out.
And pretty much in that order.
My mind tells me that if I can figure out what’s causing my shoulder pain or why this once lovely relationship is now so full of struggle, or why my guidance says it’s time to live in Ojai even though I love and miss Portland so much then I can fix it and not have to feel whatever lies beneath the solid mass of frozen numbness that makes me feel always just a few steps away from my life.
Should figuring out or fixing not work, I go straight to f*ck it. Forget about it. Walk away. Shut down to the whole idea that it, whatever it is, is not worth even a moment more of my time.
Rarely do I simply feel as my first option. Even though I know that feeling is the fastest way to figuring out or fixing a situation. Though in the context of feeling, figuring out or fixing are no longer necessary. It’s more that through feeling, the problem or the suffering melts into clarity, compassion, courage or whatever it is that is called for.
And I know I’ve said this a million times before in countless other ways, but it still astounds me at just how resistant I am to feeling.
I’m familiar with it in my approach to my practice. How I go to my mat with the agenda of fixing the tightness in my calves so the soles of my feet won’t hurt so much when I first wake up in the morning.
How, without the phone, computer and other people to distract me, I can become a thinking machine as I move my way through the shapes. I have done some of my best thinking while absent-mindedly picking at the dead skin on my feet and setting it into a little pile next to my mat.
And of course there are the days when I just say f*ck it, and come up with any number of sorry reasons for why it’s actually not a good idea for me to practice that day. All the while knowing that I’m just avoiding having to feel some thing or another.
Not to say that yoga for physically therapeutic reasons, taking advantage of distraction-free time for thinking things through and taking days off from my mat are inherently bad things. It’s just that without the feeling piece I miss the vital information about what moves me. I miss the sweet struggle for my own strength as I keep my feet lifted in lolasana or the radical stillness of my being in savasana.
I miss getting to participate with what is. And despite what my mind would like to convince me of, there really isn’t anything else. As painful and comforting as that is.
Since the way you do anything is the way you do everything, it should have come as no surprise to me when I realized over the last few weeks how the four F’s show up in my teaching. I catch myself in how I read a student’s body or mood to try to figure out what to teach so that I can help to remedy their tweaky low back or sense of being ungrounded. So that I can fix them.
Though part of my expertise as a teacher is in remedying physical pain through precise alignment, if I forget that facilitating presence is my foremost job, I can get carried away by trying to make something happen in or through the poses. And when I’m trying to make something happen rather than participating with what is happening, I sabotage my student’s ability to just have themselves in the moment. And though there’s great joy in achieving physical strength and healing, there’s even greater joy in feeling it happen along the way.
Or not happen, as the case may be.
Because God knows we’re not always heading in the direction that is most pleasant, familiar or free of anything disagreeable. But that’s ok. What’s important is that we take our whole self with us whatever direction our practice or our life takes us, and remain willing to root into both feet no matter where we land.
May we all be blessed to have attendants along our path who help remind us of this.