The Thing I Was Born To Do

While I do enjoy my day job as an Office Manager for a local environmental nonprofit, I had always sensed that there was something more I was meant to do in this world, something bigger and more courageous. I’d had several inklings of what that thing might have been, but steps toward them had never felt quite right. Freelance writing was the closest and most persistent, but I had never felt I could give up the structure, financial security, and other benefits provided by a full-time job. Whatever new thing I was going to take on would need to be sandwiched in around my day job. I had still  never understood why I couldn’t manage to make writing that thing. Maybe it called upon too many of the same resources as my job? Whatever the reason, I had stopped trying to force it – trusting that if it were going to happen it would be in a way that felt more graspable.

One day, after I’d registered for but before I’d attended my Kripalu workshop, I was doing some gentle yoga and meditation in my bedroom. I was rolling up from a forward bend into a strong standing mountain pose – leg muscles engaged, spine straight, crown of my head reaching to the sky, all four corners of my feet grounded, shoulders relaxed down my back, palms facing outward, when it hit me. A giant bubble of knowing bumped into my brain, bursting open a waterfall that cascaded down and around me, washing through my brain and body, speaking a life-altering and entirely certain truth. I should teach this to kids.

I should teach this to kids. Yoga. Meditation. Breathing. How to be strong like a mountain, flexible like a tree, free like a bird. Immediately and unshakably I recognized this was The Thing. The Thing I Was Born to Do. The thing I never in a million years would have guessed or predicted, but here it was in this moment of undeniable glory. My love of nature, my intermittent but intense reliance on these practices to help me surf the waves of life rather than letting them crush me. What if I’d had access to these tools when I was in elementary school? What if all kids did? What would our world look like? Obviously, I couldn’t go back in time and give these gifts to my 9-year-old self; I might even be too late to teach them to my own then-9-year-old son. But I could reach others. Soooooooooo many others.

While Kripalu is primarily a yoga center, the workshop I had signed up for included no yoga at all. It was a writing and meditation workshop. But it never crossed my mind that it might somehow be the “wrong” workshop. Clearly this one that had spoken so powerfully to me was just another puzzle piece that would serve my overall goals. If I’d had any doubt, it would have vanished after my first night in the dining hall at Kripalu, when I sat down next to a woman named Lorie. She was there for the same program I was, and when I told her I had recently decided to train to teach kids yoga, she smiled and said, “Oh! That’s exactly what I do for work!”

Ding ding ding ding ding!

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Catching Up With Myself

Stop. Stop. Stop. The voice insisted. Or at the very least, dear God, woman –  s  l  o  o  o  o  o  w  w  w  w     t  h  e     h  e  c  k     d    o    w   w   w   w   w  n   n   n. The voice was louder and more insistent than it ever had been about anything. You will never be able to figure out who the heck you are and what the heck you are doing if you keep up this frenzied pattern. January is not enough time to recover from July through December, and it never will be. You need a deeeeeeep pause. (Deeper than any correctly-spelled English words I can think of will describe, apparently.)

When my now-husband and I were first dating, we were living in Los Angeles and walked a lot of places – the coffee shop, the ice cream parlor, the beach. At some point he became enamored by this little thing I would do – something I’d probably done my whole life without realizing it. We’d be walking along and for whatever reason – a passerby, a telephone pole – I’d drop into single file behind him for a moment, and afterwards I’d do this little skip-shuffle to regain my place beside him. One day he observed this, smiled, and said, “I love how you do that little thing where you catch up with yourself.” More accurately, I was trying to catch up with him, but I enjoyed the way he phrased it better. The insistent voice that led me into the year 2019 was determined to finally catch up with myself.

I’d legitimately fallen quite far behind. While my twenties had been largely focused on developing a career, a loving partnership, and a place to call home, my thirties had shifted the focus almost entirely to parenting the wonderful boy I gave birth to in 2009. My forties seemed like an appropriate time to rediscover who I was and what I wanted, now that my son was 9 years old and relatively self-sufficient.

The inner voice is no fool, and its insistent tugging at my sleeve was well-timed. It was my least-busy time at work, and I had a bunch of vacation time saved up. Also, one of the things on my 2019 list was to attend some kind of retreat, most likely at Kripalu, a world-class yoga and meditation center I am fortunate to live less than a 3-hour drive from.

An oddly counterintuitive sign that you’re really onto something is that as soon as you get clear on what you want and start to take steps in that direction, mild forms of resistance pop up as if to say oh yeah, just how bad do you REALLY want this? In that vein, the biggest critic of my plan was my therapist, who scoffed at the idea of me “taking time off work to basically just hang out with yourself.” I’m glad I knew to trust my inner knowing over her, that those years of watching Dr. Phil had paid off by teaching me to “never substitute another person’s judgment for your own.” In retrospect, I think she was probably jealous. I know I would have been.

After passing these little tests of resolve, I find the energy shifts to feels more like there’s a red carpet unfurling before you. Circumstances line up, and little winks of synchronicity and coincidence tingle up your spine in reaffirmation. I perused the Kripalu catalog and came up with three retreat finalists. I sent the links to my BFF/Soul Sister to see which one most tickled her soul, and predictably she responded immediately with the one I had felt most drawn to. I got myself registered and coordinated time off work – both to attend the Friday-Sunday workshop, and then spend the full week afterwards basking in all the percolating lessons and clarity and exploration, and integrating them into my “regular” post-retreat life.

It is often said that the benefits of a personal growth program begin in earnest as soon as one signs up. For me, this retreat was no exception.

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January: The Long, Slow Exhale

My life for the past 8 years has followed a relatively predictable rhythm. Beginning in late June, my busy-ness level, both personally and professionally, amps up. School ends, there’s the 4th of July, then my son’s birthday which always involves both a party and a visit from my in-laws.

I live in a coastal New England town where summer brings with it an imperative to play. Long stretches of hot sun and cold water beckon like sirens, day after wonderfully exhausting day. Then school begins, and with it both my biggest personal and professional projects of the year kick off in earnest before wrapping up in late October. Which is also fall in the land of legendary foliage and perfectly crisp autumn days of apple picking, corn-mazing, and long leaf-crunching walks in the woods. Before I have a chance to recover from all that, we’re on to Thanksgiving, some early-December work deadlines, Christmas (and Hanukkah, in my family), New Year’s, and… and… and… B R E A T H E……..

January is like my long, slow, delicious exhale. I catch up on sleep and all my most mindless pastimes. I recommit to my yoga and meditation practices. I spend many of the short, cold days indoors, cuddled under blankets and staring out the window. I write, I do some home decluttering, watch movies, and reflect.

But in the weeks leading up to 2019, my inner voice was insisting that the customary relaxation January brings was not going to be enough this year. The years had been going by faster and faster, and the building momentum felt less like the jigsaw puzzle sweet spot I referenced yesterday, and more like that part of the rollercoaster where you’re going so fast you feel like you might literally pass out.

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Puzzling It Out

I really enjoy jigsaw puzzles. I plod along for a while, trying to make sense of how all these tiny and seemingly random pieces will fit together. I spend lots of prep time making small piles of like colors and patterns, studying the final photo to identify the largest and easiest-looking areas to tackle first.

I surf through periods of frustrated mismatching peppered by little bursts of joy when I get on a roll. As I go on, more and more of these small successes become especially pivotal – say when I complete the border, or find the piece that joins two large sections I’ve been working on separately, bringing the final picture into sharper focus. Eventually – and this is my favorite part – I reach this sweet spot once a critical mass of pieces have been placed, and suddenly the whole thing feels like it’s taken on its own momentum. My hands are reaching blindly for pieces I don’t even remember seeing, snapping them into place one after another, propelled by a sense of inner knowing. Having stared at all these pieces for long enough and fit enough of them together, I’ve come to viscerally understand how the full picture is assembled. My instincts take over, as if my mind has separated from my body and now hovers above, pulling the strings that control my motions, dripping bubbles of knowledge into my consciousness, whispers of familiar colors, patterns, and shapes. The laborious consideration I had given to each piece and placement up until now is replaced by that wonderful feeling of being swept into a flow that feels natural, easy, and strangely almost beyond my control. This relief is so immensely enjoyable in part because I earned it. All the minor missteps I made helped train my brain to persevere until it reached this beautiful, hard-fought and deservedly won culmination.

This is kind of what 2019 was like for me – the part of the puzzle when I’d put in enough work that something outside of me appeared to take over and lay out the path before me step by step. The tiny voice within me that I’d always known was there rose to a shout, refusing to remain in the background any longer. After years (Decades? A lifetime?) of what had felt like sporadic and aimless wandering, I had finally earned my place in the zone.

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2020 Vision, a.k.a. Happy New Year

If you need me, I’ll be in my bed, writing, for the rest of my life. Hey, a girl can dream, right?

This thought popped into my head this morning. I thought about making it a Facebook post, but then quickly reconsidered, thinking that would invite all sorts of meddlesome comments and questions that I didn’t feel like addressing. It felt too real and raw to share in such a big, open, unregulated forum. It wouldn’t be understood there. It wouldn’t land the way I intended.

But it did feel like a thing I wanted to share, just not in that particular way. It felt more like something I might share on a blog, if I had one. Ding! Starting a blog was one of the things on my “20 for 2020” list, and the first day of the new year seemed like a perfectly poetic time. While I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with New Year’s Eve, my love for New Year’s Day remains strong. Over time, in fact, it has blossomed into a full-blown love affair with the entire month of January.

I have always adored beginnings. The idea of letting go of what doesn’t serve us and transitioning into a truer version of ourselves with renewed resolve… using another year of wisdom and experience to inform our priorities and clarify our vision… these things feel extra powerful and well-supported when done at a less arbitrary time, particularly when also done in concert with so many others.

January marks a beginning, but it also ties up an end. An end to a period of chaotic frenzy, and a transition into a calm and unhurried time of reflection, regrouping, and planning. A clean slate, a blank canvas, a fresh start, a make-your-own-metaphor.

This particular January marks not just the end of a year, but also a decade. For me personally, concluding 2019 feels extra powerful because it was such a hugely transformative year for me – a year during which I really “came into my own.” In 2019, I finally started to pay close, consistent attention to the soft voice of my inner knowing. More importantly, I started finally trusting it enough to start doing what it asked of me.

So when that voice spoke this morning, I didn’t want to brush it off. I wanted to offer it a chair and invite it to hang out so I could hear everything it had to say. I wanted to capture it like a firefly in a jar. Not to keep forever, but to observe and enjoy until it was time to let it go.

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