Last Thursday started out as a stunningly beautiful spring day here in New York. I had planned to take advantage of the sunshine by running straight from work to Central Park to do some yoga and meditation – a little sliver of peace and solitude in an otherwise typically hectic weekday. About an hour before I was to leave work, however, the skies suddenly turned black and opened up into a drenching downpour.
I was absolutely crushed. My entire day had been moving toward this one fabulous treat, and my energy was completely inspired by my anticipation of some much needed communion with our little Manhattan patch of nature. Instead I wound up running around like a chicken with my head cut off, half-changing plans as the weather would seem to clear and having a massive communication failure with my boyfriend over where we should meet now that I was suddenly free. I fought in vain to keep tears that I thought were completely ridiculous, but that stubbornly kept showing up, from falling.
I overreacted so intensely to this disappointment, which was by no means earth shattering or life changing, that it truly frightened me. I could not let it go and cheer up for the life of me. It didn’t help that I became more upset at the thought that I, a yoga teacher who is enthusiastically learning and teaching about accepting and embracing the present moment, no matter what it holds, could so easily cry over proverbial spilled milk. It took me a good two hours to bounce back to my usual cheerful self.
Two days later, the beautiful day I had been anticipating was in full bloom. I’d already had a lovely adventure riding the Staten Island Ferry just for fun with my fantastic boyfriend, and the three hours before my next scheduled adventure were dedicated to running home to Queens to do laundry and catch up on some reading.
As I got out of the subway after the long ride from the ferry to Astoria and headed home, I had a massive revelation that nearly stopped me in my tracks on bustling Steinway Street.
I didn’t have my keys. Not to his place. Not to mine. I was stranded with no book, no iPod, a phone that was mere seconds away from dying, and not much else.
Although it quickly occurred to me that I could very easily freak out about this potentially tragic turn of events…I didn’t. I fully expected my brain to throw an absolute hissy fit over three hours of potential productivity down the drain, but I just shrugged my shoulders and set off for a simple, quiet walk by myself instead.
Why was I so embarrassingly devastated when plans didn’t go my way one day, but a mere two days later I embraced the same sort of unpredictability gracefully with a smile on my face?
Well, I could psychoanalyze myself till the cows come home, but that’s what my personal journal is for. I’ll strive not to subject you to too much of that. What it really got me thinking about was the illusion of control and how we react when we discover we’ve lost some (or all) of it. I’ve always been a compulsive planner but since I moved to New York it has graduated from quirk to absolute necessity. If I’m not totally on top of what I’m doing every second of every day, chaos ensues and things don’t get done.
So how do we learn to deal gracefully when carefully laid plans blow up in our faces?
Studying yoga has given me an infinite number of answers to that question. There’s a pose, a breathing technique, a chant, a visualization practice, a meditation, a passage from the Yoga Sutra or Bhagavad Gita for pretty much anything under the sun. They’re all invaluable tools and I know for sure that I’m a much better, stronger, more patient person for having these tools at my disposal. One of my personal favorites is to tell myself (or have my conscientious boyfriend remind me), “The purpose of life is to enjoy every moment.” And I didn’t even get that nugget of wisdom from a class or my teachers – it’s from a Yogi Tea bag! Gotta love modern American yoga.
It has surprised me to discover that for dedicated yogis and teachers, these inevitable stressful situations in life can sometimes be made harder, not easier, because of our dedication to our practice. It can often be scary and discouraging when you spend so much time and energy learning to live in the present and accessing the constant peace that resides inside all of us no matter what happens in the external world…and then you learn that you’re still a human, vulnerable to these things called emotion, frustration, and disappointment. It’s something that have personally been struggling with a lot since I began teacher training, and all it does is compound the stress I’m already feeling by adding guilt for not being able to let go of it.
Learning peace, patience, and acceptance is unbelievably life changing and important. Learning compassion and forgiveness for yourself when you have a disappointment, big or small, and can’t just close your eyes and immediately access blissful equilibrium with a few ujayih breaths is just as, if not more, important.
Beating yourself up over negative feelings does nothing but produce more of them. Sometimes you have to yield to your emotions and accept that as your present moment instead of trying to force those emotions into wherever is the most convenient storage place for them in the body or mind. You have to just let it run its course instead of imposing a false peace that isn’t peace at all but repression.
It’s very easy advice to give and usually not quite as easy to take. The important thing is that you still give it to yourself – and give yourself a break.