Sunday, July 29, 2012

Your Personal Mount Everest

What’s your personal Mount Everest? Your mountain that you have to climb? The thing that you haven’t done in your life that you really want to do, the goal that you hope to reach, the obstacle that you hope you’ll one day overcome? The challenge that you face? The thing that looms large, wide and tall in your path that you sometimes feel you will never conquer, tame, or accept?
            I have a few of them (and I’m sure you do, too). Recently, when I was talking to a friend I’d lost touch with during this past year, I mentioned that I’d gone on a yoga retreat in New Mexico (a blog I posted about a month ago). My friend absolutely could not believe it. “You?!!? You flew on a plane? You went by yourself? You camped out?” She was astonished. “Why,” she said, “you have climbed your personal Mount Everest!”
            I loved the phrase, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since our conversation.  I began to think of various people I know and what their Mount Everests are, and I realized that although it’s tempting to think “Oh, that’s nothing!” the fact is some of the hurdles that my friends, family, and acquaintances have faced are even steeper, even scarier, even more difficult than the challenge of climbing a real mountain.
            Just in my relatively small circle, I have friends who have successfully battled alcoholism, who have suffered the loss of a child, who have lost their beloved parents one after the other and way too soon, and quite a few (myself included) who have stood up to cancer. And, in addition to these more dramatic mountains my friends have climbed, I have also known many who have faced the torment of unrequited love, who have stared down extreme shyness, who have learned to live alone after divorce, or lovingly raised kids with special needs, or gotten up the courage to speak or play music in public even while quaking with fear. And, I've found that what may seem like Mount Everest to one person may be a gentle, rolling hill to another, and vice versa.
            Yes, I really like the idea of a personal Mount Everest! In fact, most of the people I know climb mountains every day. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Best Years of Your Life?

I spent the weekend pretending I was a college student, and I had a blast.  No, I wasn’t out playing beer-pong or dancing. Nor was I studying Proust or writing a paper on Beowulf.
 I was in Pittsburgh visiting my son (who actually graduated from college here last year but now has an apartment and a “real” job). But while my husband and he did the heavy lifting of moving him into new digs (I was excused due to potential back problems!) I sat in his old bachelor pad with my computer. For an entire afternoon and morning I was completely alone. No need to make dinner. No need to clean anything. Just working on my computer, and imagining that I was on my own again. Pure bliss!
            Now, of course, I don’t really want to return to my college days. I’m not mentioning all those term papers, all-nighters, and emotional entanglements. I don’t really want to live in a dorm again or in a third-floor walk up with eclectic décor (the décor in my own home is eclectic enough as it is), with a kitchen you can scarcely turn around in, and no dining room table.
            So what I mean by I was pretending I was a college student really had nothing to do with the actual experience of being in college; it was more about the mindset. And the mindset of college, as I fondly and perhaps inaccurately recall, was that it was all about me. It was all about when my paper was due, when I felt like going to dinner at the cafeteria, and whom I would spend my evening with. In college, I basically had no one to think about but myself. It was a very, very different life than the one I live now, in which I pretty much think about everyone else all the time as a mom.
            At a recent Kundalini yoga class I attended, my teacher asked what we do to nurture ourselves. People said things like do yoga, take walks, or eat well. My first thought was “be alone.” Solitude is a golden gift, and just spending a few hours by myself in my son’s messy aerie, gazing out over the Pittsburgh rooftops, revisiting the days when I had nothing to do but take care of me (a full time job as I recall) reminded me of that fact. Yes, yes, I know. It’s not about me (or you, for that matter). But sometimes it’s fun to pretend it is.


Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Time

If you’re a mother, no doubt you are also an alarm clock. Many mothers are. I used to wonder how my father would ever have gotten up for work, or my siblings and I would have gotten to school without my mom to wake us up. Yes, we had real alarm clocks, but we didn’t rely on them. My mother calling “Abram!” (my dad’s name) or “Kathy!” was the only thing that really got us moving.
            As much as I vowed never to be an alarm clock myself, like many mothers I fell into that role once I had kids. “It’s time to take a bath!” “It’s time for a nap!” “It’s time to do your homework!” The role doesn’t end when kids get older, either. “It’s time to get those college applications in!” “It’s time to go to work!” And, of course, “It’s time to get up!” though it may well be past three pm in the afternoon.
            I suppose there’s nothing inherently wrong with this (though it does keep kids and young adults not to mention husbands from learning to manage their own schedules). But the question I really find intriguing is: if you are an alarm clock, what kind are you?
Are you a calm, peaceful Zen alarm clock that melodically chimes (like the one I finally bought myself?)? Or are you a screaming, screeching, panic-stricken alarm clock that threatens, cajoles, and terrifies? Are you a patient, gentle clock that gives your kids (or husband) plenty of time to get up, or are you one who bellows, “GET up now or ELSE!” as if the world is about to end?
            I fear that in the past I may have been the former variety. But lately, I liken myself to the other kind. With the passing of years I’ve realized that it’s better to begin slowly, warm up, and then take a steady pace than it is to shoot out of bed and rush like a maniac to wherever you’re going. And I’ve found that the Zen approach sets a different tone in a family: no more hysteria, no more threats, just a gentle reminder that a new day has begun.
            Sometimes, I fantasize that the whole world will be on “Zen” time. We are all going to get to where we’re going eventually, anyway. Why not take our time?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

What's Bugging You?

The other day, while I was taking my morning walk, I realized that my sandaled foot was about to come crashing down on an unsuspecting ant. I tried to soften the blow midway (and I’ll admit I kept on walking), but I have a feeling the ant was toast.
            Now, I’m not a bug lover. In fact, I’m the opposite; I’m absolutely terrified of insects. But I try not to kill them, anyway. And I’m not like the monks who will sit and be eaten up by fire ants. If a bug is out to sting or bite me, I will definitely read him his last rites.
            However…neither am I a person who consciously goes out of my way to harm a spider, ant, fly, or other crawly creature. And there’s the key word: “consciously.” When I was taking my morning walk that day, I wasn’t really being conscious. Otherwise, I would have realized immediately that I was about to step on an ant. Instead, my thoughts were in the clouds.
            And I guess that’s okay. But thinking about the ant got me thinking about other things, and before I knew it I was wondering how many people I’ve inadvertently “stepped on” in my life.  How many times have I said something sarcastic or hurtful to my husband or one of my kids? How many times have I said something unkind or unthinking to a friend or a stranger? How many feelings have I “stepped on” without even knowing it? Have my words, or thoughts, or actions ever made anyone wither or cry? I bet they have.
            I’m not here to beat myself (or you) up, but it does make you wonder, as we’re going through our busy days, if there are some moments when we could be more conscious, more aware, more purposefully kind? Or are we in such a rush and such a frenzy to get to where we need to go (or even not in a rush but just in a spaced-out state of not paying attention), that we forget to even notice how our actions and words are affecting others?
            Like I said, I’m not overly fond of ants or anything else that is small (or large), has wings, or too many legs, or just looks plain yucky. But on the other hand,  I’m really not on a mission to harm them. And I’m not on a mission to harm anyone else, either.
 It’s just that it’s easier to walk through life with your head in the clouds than it is to concentrate on where your foot is going to land. This is something I need to work on: Maybe you do, too?

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Polar Opposites

I don’t know if you can read the labels on the vehicles in this picture, but I snapped the image at my local library last week. The car in front, of course, says cremation urns & supplies. The one in the back says “Edible Arrangements," referring to a great business that provides juicy, fresh fruits arranged like flowers (coincidentally, I bought an arrangement just a week ago, and dropped it off at my pediatrician’s office as a thank you for watching over my three kids from birth until age 21…).
            Here’s my point: life is full of polar opposites and we may think we are “one way” or “another” but really we’re all a combination of the two. We all have male/female (sun/moon) qualities; we all have dark parts of ourselves and light spots, we all have days when we are dead serious (think cremation/urns here) and days when we are full of fruity fun and laughter.
            Lately, I’ve been doing two kinds of yoga which seem to be polar opposites, in fact.  Kundalini yoga—the “yoga of awareness” is filled with beautiful music, chanting, mantra, mudra, and challenging “kriyas” or exercise sets (some of which seem virtually impossible) that strengthen the immune and glandular systems. The practice is precise--don’t get me wrong; it’s not a flowy, vinyasa kind of thing. But it’s more concentrated on the soul than on perfect alignment.
            Iyengar yoga, my other passion, is the complete opposite. There is no music, no chanting, only an occasional “Om.” Iyengar yoga doesn’t inspire tears or deep introspection (at least, not in my experience, though I may want to cry when our magnificent but exacting teacher notices that my Triangle pose is out of kilter). When I first began practicing Iyengar, truth be known, I thought it was definitely not for me. I am a "go with the flow" kinda gal who doesn’t really care if my blankets are neatly folded or if my toes are properly flared in a shoulder stand.           
            I stuck with both practices, however, because I began to realize that what we get from accepting the dark and the light, the straight and the wide, the good and the bad, the male and the female, and so on and so forth…is something quite priceless: Balance. Left to my own devises (without the yin and the yang), I just might topple over, fall off a cliff, drown myself in my own misery, or fly away on a broomstick. But open your heart to everything, stop pigeonholing yourself as one thing or another, and you may be surprised at the benefits. To put it succinctly, I’ve found that balance is everything--whether you’re talking about diet, love, sex, exercise, relationships, work, raising kids, or anything else.
Now, please excuse me while I go practice my Tree pose.