Time to Believe in What You Know

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Back in high school, I had exactly one driving lesson with my father. It was a barren, bright morning in the vacant lot of a nearby state park. I learned quickly that I did not have a knack for making that big ol’ Buick smoothly stop and go. Apparently, despite there being two pedals on the floor–and us drivers (and wannabe drivers) having two feet–I wasn’t allowed to use them at the same time. This was a fact that boggled my 15-and-three-quarters-old brain.

Still, I drove around the parking lot that way–left foot stop, right foot go. It an unpleasant experience all around. Jerky and stressful and confusing for us both. Being that my feet were largely hidden in the wheel well, I continued with this approach, even after being told otherwise. Not only did two pedals and two feet seem like it should be a given, the stop-go-stop-go technique felt like the safer option to me.

Eventually, I enrolled in driver’s ed and learned the right way to get around. But it took me a while to shed that instinct to tap the brake at the littlest flicker of concern. Now I could retrace the last 30-plus years of my life and probably point out hundreds of instances of me tapping the metaphorical brakes. Or I could just fast-forward to the latest and most relevant one: moving forward in my personal life.

I’m all for minding the signs and paying attention to the signals–literally and metaphorically. But I can feel that old instinct to hover my foot over the brake, to insert little halts when unnecessary, creeping in–just as life starts to get a little more unexpected. A little more interesting. Riding the brake is a fear-based action. Sure, it may seem wise at first, but it’s no way to smoothly move forward.

There’s a time and a place for caution and there’s a time and a place for letting go of the restraints. I’ve decided to let go of the restraints.

In the days following my breakup, I replaced the family photo on my desk at work with this quote:

“Step into uncertainty–today and a little bit every day. That is how an epic life is lived.”

At first these words served a bit of a fake-it-’til-you-make-it purpose. But after a few weeks of reading and rereading these words, I believed them. I embodied them. I began to welcome the mystery that lay ahead. And now–that feeling of being smack-dab in the middle of a Choose Your Own Adventure book is the most alive I’ve felt in a long, long time.

I haven’t a clue what next turn of the page has in store for me, but I can tell you it’s an exhilarating way to be living my life right now. It reminds me of the long, winding road that led to my old neighborhood back where I lived in those early days of driving. It dipped and curved endlessly and erratically, like the scalloped edges of Valentine made by a child. Once I became comfortable behind the wheel, there was nothing I loved more than touring all of that road’s curves, never really knowing what lay around the next bend but trusting myself to handle it all with grace. Without obsessing over the brake.

In a moment today when my head and my heart were having a bit of a private debate over the brake metaphor, I came across this piece on the HBR blog: How to Have a Year That Counts. Its simple, elegant reminders to (1) start with your dreams, (2) walk toward the fire, (3) venture beyond certainty, and (4) let life happen were all the confirmation I needed that yes, it is time to get out of my head and experience life outside of my comfort zone. It’s time to take my foot off the brake. That’s where my story will start to get interesting . . .

Soundtrack: “Shine” by Alexi Murdoch

Getting to Yes

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I came to yoga looking for an easy way out. I was a junior in college and needed a gym credit–and bowling was already full. So, yoga it was for me. Dressed in leggings and the requisite ’90s flannel shirt, I made my way to the wrestling room in my campus’ athletic center. It was a windowless, padded, smelly cell of a space. I took my seat on the floor and waited to be told what to do so that I could follow the instructions, earn my credit, and get back to my life . . .

Funny the way those unexpected little things grab ya. 2014 will mark 20 years that I’ve been practicing yoga. Aside from writing (and reading, walking, and breathing), I haven’t stuck with anything in my life for that long. What started out as a easy way to earn a gym credit has grown to become one of the most important ways–mentally, even more so than physically–that I choose to take care of myself.

The mental benefits took much longer to cultivate. Or maybe they just took longer for me to realize. Whatever the case, their lessons have been both subtle and profound. My yoga practice has taught me:

  • To fall gracefully, and to enter into new things with grace, too.
  • That perfection is an unattainable moving target I shouldn’t be aiming for in the first place.
  • That feeling sensation–that experiencing experience–is the real beauty of it all.
  • That my body is a living, breathing thing. Embody it! Embrace it. Respect it.
  • To feel my heart beat, to quiet my mind with inhales and exhales, and to use these tools to return to my home base.
  • To go at my own pace, and not to worry about comparing my trajectory to anyone else’s.

I know there are plenty of other ways for people to learn these lessons. But for me, there’s just something about using a physical activity in order to tap into something mental. So, *that’s* what that whole mind-body thing is all about . . .

For the last four years, I’ve consciously kicked off my new year with my radiant friend Chanel‘s soul-stirring class. We flow, we stretch, we restore, and we rock out a little bit to one of her awesome playlists. At the end of it all, we grab a sparkly slip of paper and an envelope. On that paper, we jot down for ourselves just one word that we’re going to carry with us into the new year. Last year, I chose “truth,”–a word that has proven itself to be so daunting, so eye-opening, and so (deep exhale) right.

This year, I am going with “yes”–a word that came to me when I spotted a metallic wine-colored tote bag at the Cole Haan outlet last week. I’ve spent a lifetime already saying “no” to things. Not just “thing” things. To people, to opportunities, to possibilities. To my body, my soul, my heart.

I bought the bag–and a matching cosmetics case. I almost talked myself out of going to the outlets in the first place. Crowds. Sales. Chaos. Stuff. But I said “yes”–and then I said “yes” again. And then, as I drove home, I thought about all of the things I can’t wait to say “yes” to in 2014.

And when I feel the “nos” start to creep back in, I’ve got all those tools listed above that will remind me how to get to “yes.” Incidentally, there’s a negotiations book called Getting To Yes–and every time I see it on a bookshelf, my brain translates it to “getting toys.”

I sort of think saying “yes” is like getting a toy. It’s fun. It’s new. It brings about a smile, yes?

Soundtrack: “Blackbird” by Paul McCartney

I Climbed a Mountain and Turned Around

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A week after A and I called it, I was putting in an offer on a condo. A gorgeous condo with 10-foot ceilings, recessed lights and dimmer switches, and top-down Levolor blinds. Did I mention that it was a two-minute walk to one of my favorite yoga studios, too? Well, it was. Even the wall colors looked like an exact match to the Ben Moore Manhattan tan and sea glass that filled my current home.

I told myself–and my realtor–that I was just looking. Researching. And that I wasn’t ready to fall in love right away. With a house–or another man. But this place had everything I wanted. (Read: everything I was already used to, everything I associated with comfort.) I tried my best to ignore my inner Veruca Salt, but I was determined to make this place mine. I wanted it now. So, my realtor and I reviewed comps, talked strategy, and I scrambled to get myself pre-approved, even though my down payment was locked up in my current home.

Apparently, 11 other buyers wanted it now, too. And even with my endearing letter, a best-and-final that was well over asking, and a bank that backed me up, I lost out. I was mentally prepared for this outcome–just as I was prepared for that Friday night conversation a couple months back, but the reality stung. Hard. Now what?

It took a little wallowing before I was able to see that, hidden in this heartbreak was an opportunity. A real golden egg. A day or two later, I got a blast e-mail from Dave Romanelli, the yoga + wine and yoga + chocolate teacher from NYC that I once took a workshop with at Exhale a few years back. The guy who inscribed my copy of his book with “Forever Drakkar” and then gave it a spritz. He was holding his annual Yoga for Foodies retreat in Sedona at Mii Amo in December. The retreat that I had read up on every year since and passed over because it was a bit pricey–not to mention far, far away. I signed up that very day.

In the six weeks leading up to my trip, I started to read up on Sedona and chatted with friends who had been there–both to the town, as well as to the all-inclusive destination spa/resort where the retreat was being held. And apparently, I had just booked myself a four-day trip to heaven on earth. A sage-scented, red rock-ensconced heaven where a handsome man would greet me with a necklace made out of ghost beads by a Native American elder, presents would be laid out on my bed every night, and my dessert would await me by the fireplace in my bedroom after I returned from my evening massage. Which I would follow up with a dip in the hot tub under a starry sky, a glass of wine resting on a ledge behind my shoulder. That kind of heaven.

That kind of heaven also included some decadent spa treatments like facials and clay wraps, and some powerful, emotion-releasing ones, too. One of these was a reiki healing attunement. With nothing more than her two warm, healing hands, Dana conducted and released the doubts and worries and uncertainties that had been caught inside me. Since the break-up. Since well before then. Palpitations that knew no better.

Words can’t do justice to the experience, but it was a release like I have never felt before. Like a door that had been sealed shut for so, so long was now able to swing wide open. From my heart center to my hip bones, all I felt was space. Lightness. Freedom. Right then and there, in this body of mine that I’ve been carting around for all these years, I found myself at home.

Soundtrack: “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac



Scars Are Souvenirs

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A few years ago, I got a call from A after work as I was driving to yoga. “Hey, I’ve been in a car accident. Can you come rescue me?”

The accident was on the route I was headed, just five minutes ahead. Glass in the road, a police officer, diverted traffic. Nothing horrific–just bad news at a bad intersection. Thankfully, A was fine. It wasn’t until we drove over to the tow lot that I got a good look at the car and its gnarled-up front end. With our hands on our hips, we surveyed the scene, replaying the what-ifs. We reminisced about all the good memories with that car. We chuckled at the irony of being hit by a vehicle owned by the tow truck company. Even having seen the wreckage, I was certain that a trip to the body shop would fix things up.

Not so much. The insurance assessor deemed it to be totaled. But what about this and this and this? They’re all still good, right? A few days later, with a big check in hand, A was deciding whether to go with the latest model in black or blue. Everybody had already moved on . . .

* * *

A few weeks ago, I got a text from A as I was leaving the office. “When it rains, it pours. Just got into a car accident. Minor, but ugh.”

Traffic was crawling, and with all the stop and go, he dinged the back bumper of an SUV. From the outside, it just looked like a scuff, a bump, and a busted-up emblem on his front end. Not such a big deal. The other, bigger car was fine. While the damage behind the scenes on A’s car was more serious than visibly apparent, at least this time the car was reparable. But the headache and the expense of this tiny ding seemed to be so much more frustrating to him than the car that was totaled.

* * *

Totaled. Ex. Break-up. Split. There’s an abrasive finality to these words that I don’t like. When a relationship ends–even amicably as ours did–society resorts to the “game over” lexicon. But what about the relationships that are worth salvaging? We need new words to describe these transitions. Realignment. Adjustment. Tune-up.

Neither one of us is looking for a “good as new” or “better than before” fix as we move ahead separately. To do so would just diminish the journey we’ve been on–these past 14 years, as well as the journey of the last month and a half. So what if our “boyfriend/girlfriend” emblem has cracked under pressure and fallen to the ground? So what if the cause of incident sounds so trivial? It just is . . . so let it be.

So for now, we’re going to just drive around in this mightily imperfect and time-worn exterior with no plans to take ourselves in for repair. No damage here. Only character. Only stories. Only life experience. We may have a lot of miles on us, but we we’re still moving forward.

“Scars are souvenirs you never lose . . .”

Soundtrack: “Name” by the Goo Goo Dolls

Strength in Kindness

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In packing for my move, I came across an old one-subject spiral notebook from high school. It was hot pink and tattered–a hodgepodge of dramatic and overly adverb-y short stories and sappy love poetry, all written between the ages of 14 and 16. Quality stuff, I assure you. But toward the back of the notebook was this list of goals that I wrote for myself the day before entering my senior year:

1991 goalsIn two separate instances, I told myself to (a) be a nicer person and (b) be friendlier. After coming across this gem of a list, I posted it on Facebook, which was met with a whole slew of “I remember you being very nice” responses. And I believe I was nice. Very nice. So, what gives?

My 39 year-old self chewed on these judgmental words from a 17 year-old for a bit. Knowing how quiet and shy I was, I think perhaps what I was trying to say was “be more outgoing.” I think “be a nicer person” was my way of expressing a desire to be more popular. More well liked. But, but . . . again thinking back to those days, I was well liked. Just not by myself. And therein lies the truth: I needed to be nicer to myself. And no rigid list of goals was–or is–going to make that happen. Just compassion. Just kindness. Just acceptance that who I am is wonderful and enough. As is.

Like those instructions from the flight attendant about fastening your own oxygen mask before helping others, sometimes you simply have to put yourself first. And that’s okay. Wise even. Human nature has us wanting to help others. To do things to make them happy. To do things that make them feel liked and loved, safe and secure. But I don’t think it’s possible to selflessly give your companionship to another person if you aren’t able to love yourself first. Otherwise, that companionship is a sneaky bartering tool. I gave you this . . . so you should give me that. (Insert hurt feelings here.)

I’ve been making lists for my entire adult life–some functional (return mirror, pay parking ticket, refill prescription, bake muffins), some more emotional. In fact, earlier this year, I did some work with a life coach and one of the goals I had set for myself was to “be more loving.” Again, if I can do something for another person, I think it will make me happier. And it may–for a minute. A day. A year. But then what? There’s always more to “do”–but what if, for once and for all, I decided to just “be more loving” toward myself?

“Don’t look for love in faces, places

It’s in you, that’s where you’ll find kindness.”

Soundtrack: “Be Here Now” by Ray Lamontagne



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