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Denise Ullem Headshot

Beginning Again

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February embraced me with her gray folds. Hibernation-worthy fatigue walloped me after a harsh winter and, frankly, a long year. Looking back, I could see why I was exhausted. Surgery. Recovery. A cross-country move. A CROSS-COUNTRY MOVE. Heart-breaking goodbyes, soul-mending hellos. Cardboard boxes. F*cking boxes. Unknown quantities of pizza. Big changes. Small changes. Using GPS to get everywhere in a city that, while new, feels familiar with the sturdy, Midwestern sensibilities of my youth. Being the New Girl. Again. Navigating social circles. Again. A broken leg for Henry -- a full-leg cast and crutches through the mounds of January snow. Abby was sick. Henry was sick. Abby was sick. Henry was sick. Hubby was sick. Then I got sick. The temperatures hovered around zero for weeks. I didn't write. I didn't run. I ate many french fries and drank red wine and my muffin top flourished.

I judged the progress I made with my new life and our new home. I judged the lack of it, too. I judged my emotion and judged how slowly my To-Do list shrank -- if anything, I watched it grow exponentially each day. I struggled to feel as if I progressing.

Judge judge judgity JUDGE.

Beginning again. Starting the momentum, gaining the energy to sustain. When at the beginning, it seems that beginning again is the hardest part.

...

I stand in the vestibule outside my Yoga class. I begin to shed my exterior winter armor and whittle down to a tank and black leggings. The hushed greetings of students mill about. My winter skin glows garishly. I pad, bare-footed, across the hard floor, dodging puddles of melted snow on my way into the studio. I find a spot near the wall, slightly separated from the other students, slightly alone.

I unroll my mat and thawp it down on the floor. I love the certainty of this sound, mat to ground. I find my shoulders, standing attention at my ears. My life, stresses and the past year are very much alive in knotted colonies in my muscles. Rock like, rigid, terse.

Ahhhhhhhhh.

From several mats away, a fellow student enviably exhales as she lays in repose, awaiting the commencement of our practice. I am jealous of her languid exhale as my staccato breath punctuates the calm, open room. Subtle incense burns.

I step gingerly onto my mat, a vessel with a destination in which I've placed a lot of stock-delivery back to myself. I try to stretch iron chains, tangled and rusty from misuse and neglect. My knees pop in the silence. A dust mote saunters by.

...

A thick, stubborn, glacier-like dam resided at the end of our driveway. A temporary break in the frigid temperatures (a balmy 38 degrees F) yielded a brief thaw. I stood at the end of my driveway, surveying the ice dam. It was just me and a big shovel, slowly chipping away at the ice. A brave bird chirped. I lowered and lifted the spade. Slowly. Repetitively. I began to enjoy the methodical work which I knew would make some dent in the ice. I shed my coat as the physical labor warmed me. I paused and turned my face to the golden, late afternoon sun.

Returning to my work, I listened to the comforting gurgle of melting snow and ice, trekking downhill to hidden tributaries below. I surveyed the black slush, the marred shoulder of my street, the gravel, the fray of this winter. The fray of this life.

...

Ever since the last box left my house, I've been practicing yoga. The yoga poses have started to become more comfortable and familiar and have lost their intimidating edge. During my practice, my thoughts monkey about, tapping my mind like a petulant child,

Should we get a Lulu tank? Everyone has one and they loooove them.

You need to schedule your mammogram.

Loooook, she knows all the poses.

You need a pedicure!

Nice effort, muffin top. Way to gain the real estate.

I'm hungry. Are you? Can we get french fries after this?

I try to release them. I shoo them away.

Each time I come to my mat, I am amazed at how long it takes me to join my physical body in the present. And once I am fully present in that stark yoga studio, tears often come. Like buried bulbs, my emotions unfurl in the warmth of my attention. They stretch into the room, into my consciousness, into the light. My teacher guides me into this foreign terrain, the fertile ground of my experience. There I twist, raw emotions and muck tumbling out into the room, onto my mat, down my face IN PUBLIC. Then, I worry. I worry that my fellow students will hear my emotion and that I will disturb their practice.

My teacher guides us to child's pose and I rest with my knees pointed east and west, my forehead on my mat. She begins reading a passage and her words reach me, open and splayed on the ground:

There is Buddhist story about the lotus and the mud, an ancient anecdote which chronicles the necessity of the dark, fecund mud to produce the glorious lotus bloom. The mud. The lotus.

It seems as if her words have been selected just for me. I've been tilling this fertile soil, layering the compost of stress and life so I can wriggle my toes, spread my roots and bloom.

The sun beats down on my face and my feet are grounded firmly in the mud. The moments of grace exist within this regular life, filled with normal challenges and frustrations. The warm connection of new friendship. The solid comfort of tenured friendships, physically connected again. Dissonance. Gratitude. Stress. Joy. Happy Sad. The satisfaction of having Made It Through. Watching the walls of a house transform from a place to a home.

The dark, rich, fecund muck.

Stretching, reaching, growing.

And, the resulting, beautiful blossom.