My apartment is quiet, so quiet in fact that after years of listening to free Pandora radio, last night I finally gave in and paid for the ad-free upgrade simply so I wouldn't be sharing my silence with the repeated ads for fertility preservation. I'm 31 and in the last six weeks I've started a new full-time job, yoga teacher training, and another quarter shaping young minds at the art college. I've lived through my first Burning Man, my first international work trip, broken up with a boyfriend I love and had to send my dog to my dad's. It's felt, generally, like my life has unfolded in the eye of a storm.
Tonight is my first unaccounted-for evening. No dog. No man. It feels like the beginning of an infinity of aloneness. It's the kind of zone we all go into sometimes, this I know, but that knowledge also doesn't auto-magically transform me into a Zen master, content and wise. Tonight I am just sitting with my sadness, and it is not easy.
This morning around 5:30 a.m., I followed the moon down to the yoga studio, where my teacher Pete Guinosso performed a ceremony honoring the four directions in the Native American tradition. He shared the words of his own teacher, Ana Forrest, quoting:
It's really helpful to feel the damage fully
in order to let it go.
And that's kind of a bitch.
But if you keep pushing it away again and again,
you encapsulate it and you think you've handled it.
How do you let go of those things
that keep making you into a victim
or keep you in shutdown
or whatever it is that dulls or disconnects you?
Can you get more enchanted with being turned on
than with being dull and disconnected?
-- Ana Forrest
This morning I cried through a solid portion of yoga, and came back in the afternoon for my teacher training feeling quiet and shutdown. I didn't push away the sadness, but neither did I push away the moments of brightness, sipping tea in a patch of sun in the parking lot while talking about wild, romantic love with some of my new yogi friends. I made no apologies for my lack of bubbliness and I made no excuses as to why. I accepted hugs and I sat, and like a sponge or a seedling plant, I absorbed the energy radiating around me.
But tonight, I'm back on my own and I'm wondering just how long I need to "feel the damage fully" before it becomes unhealthy, before I sink into being "dull and disconnected." I curl into my couch and open a well-loved book. How do we honor the grief, the loneliness, the sadness, the sunken spirit without going into shutdown mode?
In my case, it starts in the smallest of moments -- watching a flock of shorebirds skim the bay at sunset, their wings catching just enough light to mirror back the sky; the hummingbird who just flashed outside my kitchen window, its tiny beak sunk in a purple flower I hadn't even seen; picking up the guitar and strumming the only two chords I know... it's the subtlest of decisions to wake up to what's around, to "get turned on," as Ana says.
And sometimes the waking is slow. And bittersweet. This week my therapist said to me, "I can see it's really hard for you to just sit with yourself." I told her I'm scared that I'll stay this way forever, and in the moment where she shook her head and smiled, I was grateful to have some kind of sanctioned authority telling me I'm going to be ok.
It's hard to wake up to our bodies, to we feel the parts that speak to us, acknowledging the aching and not rushing out to fill it with other things, people, OkCupid dates. Our entire culture is armed with an arsenal of tools to keep us distracted and disengaged from what's really going on inside, and it's no wonder it works. It's scary as shit to feel sad. It's much easier to fill our days with busyness and distraction. But can we sit with our uncomfortable feelings without making them into a grandiose story that drags us deeper into the spiral?
As my yoga teacher Pete says back in the studio, "What are you making that mean?" It's okay to slow down, to feel sad, to have a dark period -- this doesn't mean that we're broken, or bipolar or that we'll be like this forever. Can we trust that this too shall pass?
I have a quote hanging in my bedroom that's followed me since college. The words are from Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet." He writes:
You must not be frightened when a sadness arises within you of such magnitude as you have never experienced, or when a restlessness overshadows all you do, like light and the shadow of clouds gliding over your hand, you must trust that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand. It shall not let you fall. -- Rainer Maria Rilke