Finding Meaning and Beauty in Isolation April 1, 2020 16:22

I’m not looking at the clock much these days. My life is not revolving around clock-time, anyway. I am following a schedule, of sorts, but it’s more intuitive—and highly dependent upon the present moment.

 I’m not waking up to an alarm clock. Actually, we’ve found that we don’t really need one. Zora usually wakes us up at 4:45 A.M. with her cat opera. Her feline sense of time is amazingly early and consistent.

Staying home has encouraged me to let go of compulsive list-making and bustling around to complete tasks A to Z. My day does revolve around a few requirements, such as meal preparations, household chores, and movement, meditation, and japa practices, but they don't have to occur at a specific time.

So, I’m not tethered to a clock—and I feel a bit unmoored because of it. I’m not accustomed to being guided by my own needs, priorities, and intuitive leanings. For example, I didn’t wake up this morning planning to deep clean the living room (If I did, I would typically think of a million other things to do instead), it just happened organically. And, I enjoyed it. I took my time dusting, sweeping, mopping. It didn’t feel like a have to—or a burden.

This “new normal” of not looking at the clock and fretting about “all the things” was not a spontaneous realization. It was a process—and not a very comfortable one. For three weeks I have been struggling with anxiety. Usually, it manifests as a hard knot of pressure around my heart that comes and goes throughout the day, or the nervous energy to do, do, do—compulsively checking emails, Facebook, the news, of all things, for reassurance—and, of course, not finding much there.

However, I noticed a shift occur sometime last week. I woke up and noticed thick, heavy fog outside my bedroom window. The old me (the one from three weeks ago) wouldn’t have considered walking outside in it, especially without having showered first.

The new me recognized immediately that this phenomenon was fleeting, so I threw on a pair of jeans, a sweater, and shoes. I grabbed my phone and Maya (our Yorkie), and we took a slow walk down our long driveway (800 ft) in the fog.

Everything looks different in the fog. It obscures familiar reference points, depth perception, and even sounds are more difficult to pinpoint and locate.

Walking in the fog became a practice of being present with what is. Because I couldn’t see the familiar, habitual landmarks, my attention was captured by the shapes of branches, pavement cracks, small puddles, droplets of water clinging to pine needles, a rabbit darting under bare branches of a mulberry bush, Maya’s small body shivering against my jacket, cool air against my cheeks.

The fog kept us rooted in the present. When I turned to look back at the house, it had disappeared. When I looked toward the end of the driveway, it was invisible.

Typically, when I walk down the driveway, I’m on a mission to get the mail. This time, I walked slowly, mindfully. I took time to take pictures—to be curious—to observe small details with an open heart and mind. This, too, was a practice.

Maya and I made it to the edge of the driveway to an empty, shrouded street. We had no destination, really, or objective. We were on a little journey, an awareness field trip.

We turned to walk back home, the fog slowly lifting with the sun. Each step along the way was like a recitation—a mantra of movement. This practice of slowing down—of doing less—no planning—no striving—nothing to attain, achieve, or realize—is just the beginning.

I still have moments of recurring anxiety. That tight knot returns around my heart, and I feel the pull of clock-time, that compulsive need to do, strive, and effort.  I think about this walk in the fog with Maya—of simply being, immersing in sensations, the present moment, and appreciating the beauty and stillness of uncertainty.

Thank you for reading--feel free to check out the Middle Moon Malas online collection of hand-knotted mala designs. This period of social distancing and isolation is ideal for personal practice. Not only will you benefit, you'll also be supporting a local online business with your purchase.  

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Trusting the Circuitous Path: Navigating the Journey with Japa December 6, 2016 14:01

I was late to school this morning—over 45 minutes late. Normally, this would really bother me.  I hate being late, the inconvenience of waiting and making others wait. However, today was different.  On this cold, rainy December morning, the universe was placing necessary detours in my path in order to give me more time to slow down and think. A fender bender, flashing police lights, and a long line of traffic forced me to turn right instead of left. An endless stream of yellow lights and a delay on my usual interstate exit ramp convinced me to go way out of my way and explore the side streets instead.  I took a break from my usual routine, letting go of time, letting go of the usual obligations, and, along the way, reflected on what I’ve learned during this past year.

*Trust Yourself: Follow Your Own Compass

Feeling lost has always been unsettling for me. I have friends who deliberately try to lose themselves in a forest or new city—they enjoy the adventure of finding their way out of the tangle of uncertainty. For me, that uncertainty creates mind-numbing anxiety and fear.  I like to know where I’m going, and I’m really bad with directions, so finding my way is often a challenge and a real struggle.

This year I’ve had several opportunities to venture off the usual path, literally, and metaphorically—to explore new places—to interact with new people—to trust my own instincts and rely on my internal guidance more than external markers and guideposts. The more I can breathe, relax, and allow, the easier this process becomes, and the more I can enjoy the adventures.

*Establish Necessary Boundaries

Because I like to know where I’m going, I crave parameters. Unfortunately, I have a tendency to honor other people’s guidelines before following my own. This year, however, I have practiced making my own boundaries a priority, paying much closer attention to what’s happening in my own mind and heart. For seven months, I taught yoga at a studio that was an hour’s commute from my home.  While I enjoyed teaching the class, and I enjoyed working with my students, the business owner wasn’t paying me regularly. After a couple of bounced paychecks and one too many half-hearted pleas for understanding and patience had worn thin, I walked away. I felt bad for leaving my students, but this obligation was becoming more of a burden than a joy. My regret, however, was short-lived. I currently enjoy having more time to spend with my family, and more time to devote to my own personal yoga practice at home.

*Relax, There’s Plenty of Time

Time dissolves when I do what I enjoy. For more than a year, I have dedicated time each day to a japa practice. I have worked with a single mantra (the long version of the Gayatri) and a specific mala for this practice, and I have noticed significant, positive changes as a result of this practice. I’m more patient with myself and others; I’m more flexible and willing to adapt when unexpected surprises occur; I’m more relaxed and comfortable with myself and others, and, most importantly, I’m able to recognize that time is an imposed construct--and that no one’s life truly revolves around it.

I was 45 minutes late to work this morning, and I didn’t really care.  I listened to music on the way, I enjoyed the drive and the time to reflect, I arrived safely, and I was able to assist my students in a meaningful way during the course of the day.

Despite all of the setbacks and disappointments of 2016, this has been a good year.  I’ve learned and grown a great deal, and I look forward to what 2017 has to offer. My japa practice has helped me navigate and manage the many ups and downs, and it’s been the steady needle of my life’s compass, helping to guide me along this amazing, circuitous path.