For almost two years, I have been a regular practictioner of Bikram Yoga. That’s the hot, sweaty, hold your balancing and strength poses for what feels like a very long time, yoga. The instructors call it “a 90 minute moving meditation.” Every day of practice teaches me many valuable lessons.
One of the biggest lessons from my practice has been the value of surrender. I am not a come by surrender naturally type of girl. I generally feel the need to meet force with opposing force. One of the yoga instructors emphasizes “effort with ease.” This is not my usual M.O. My mindset has tended to be if you meet resistance, will yourself to push harder; if you feel like quitting, suck it up; if you’re tired, tell yourself that you’re not… you get the picture. This is the mindset that got me through running a marathon, several half marathons and a crazy 10K mudrun. I can almost believe that this mindset served me well in those moments. However, it becomes annoyingly difficult to operate in this mindset in a 110 degree humid room full of hot, sweaty bodies, where you’re sweating like you’ve never sweated before and pushing yourself to your mental and physical edge repeatedly, all at someone else’s prompts. In that room, at some point, it’s all too much- all of the feedback from my mind and body- and it is in those moments that I just surrender, because there is nothing else I can do. That is not to say that I leave the yoga room. Instead, I stop thinking about how hot it is, how hard the poses are, how inflexible my body is, what tasks I have waiting for me after class, how this class compares to the last one that I did, etc. and I give in to the yoga. I do not will my body to do the yoga, rather I accept that it can. The chatter and feedback that are generally ever-present in my mind fade away. In those moments I am fully present in my mind and body, but also fully accepting of the limitations and strengths of both. And oddly enough, there is a certain, dare I say, bliss, in that surrender. Because I just don’t care anymore, and with that lack of care comes an almost exhilarating freedom, and that is perhaps why I keep going back for more.
I have a dining room full of girl scout cookies right now. My business-minded seven-year old is thriving under the prospect of selling all 90 boxes, counting the money she has collected and the boxes she has left to sell, and wondering about what event her troop will spend the money on. It’s been a good lesson in business, counting, collection, customer service and goal setting for her. However, it has not been so good for my waistline. You see, I like to eat sweet things, especially cookies. I always have. Despite having the experience of being sick from eating too many girl scout cookies (thin mints) as a child, I still indulge (though to this day I will not eat chocolate and mint together, in any form). So I stay away from the thin mints, but not the other kinds.
Yesterday, I started my day off with quite a few cookies right after breakfast, and continued a downhill slide into sugar oblivion until the early afternoon. Later in the day I wasn’t feeling so good. I even took a nap on the couch in the afternoon, causing my daughters to wonder aloud “what’s wrong with mom?” Aside from the physical ill effects of eating too much sugar, I was also beating myself up mentally. There have been times in my life when I have struggled with emotional and compulsive eating of sugary foods, but I had thought that I was beyond that. A few years ago I read the book Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth (which I highly recommend if your relationship with food is not as healthy as it could be). After reading the book, I took a hard look at my relationship with food, especially sweets. I also have done some inquiry as to how the status of my relationships affects my want of sugar.
In the past I would have characterized my overindulgence in sugary foods as a way to run away from emotions that were hard for me to process; I don’t think that was the case yesterday. It was more like revisiting an old habit, in the form of an almost out-of-body experience of not truly living in myself. For each round of cookie eating, I wasn’t really tasting them that much beyond the first cookie, but I was still eating. I wasn’t inhabiting my body and really experiencing the cookies, which would have caused me to eat much slower. Instead it was a mindless rush of sugar ingestion with a certain numbness to it, after which I felt worse than when I’d started, leaving me with the question of “why did I just do that to myself?” The overindulgence seemed to be a way to revisit some old feelings of self-criticism and self-contempt; and I didn’t really like what I found there. I was left feeling empty and not whole. That feeling stuck with me until I went to bed last night.
One of the beautiful things about life is that today is a new day, a new start. And I’m back to feeling whole and loving myself with all my faults. I had one cookie this morning, and stopped at that. And thanks to yesterday, we have that many fewer cookies for which to solicit purchases from our neighbors and friends.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about my risk aversion and what it has meant in my life, and on the flip side, about others who have no qualms with risk and what it has meant for how they live their lives. I’ve realized that security is important to me- physical security, financial security, secure relationships, etc. These are all important aspects of living a fulfilling life, as long as they are not taken to the extreme. In the Christian faith, we ask forgiveness for both the things we’ve done and the things we’ve left undone. This can be applied to the things we’ve done or haven’t done to/for others, as well as ourselves. Things left undone has been the much bigger issue for me than things done. And honestly, until recently, I’ve always thought that it was a better place to be, because rarely had I intentionally hurt someone else or myself. But perhaps this is not a better place. If you want to live a full and intentional life, you have to take some risks, and you can’t easily default to “no, I won’t do _____ because I am not sure how it will turn out” or “no, I can’t do _______ because don’t want to make a mistake (or fail)”. Sometimes, this is where my risk aversion has left me, with fine opportunities that I could have seized upon and didn’t. Part of my risk aversion has come from not listening to or trusting my inner voice, which would have included looking closely at how I felt about something, rather than just weighing the hard fact pros and cons (which generally led me down the road to over-analyzation). While I wasn’t comfortable with the notion of having to regret something that I had done, I downplayed the feelings that could come from regretting something that I hadn’t done.
This is not to say that every opportunity that comes our way should be taken. Evaluating these opportunities requires discernment. And for my friends who err on the side of not considering risk enough, there may be a different lesson for you here; to consider using the more logical aspects of decision making and not just follow your feeling impulse in any moment. In addition, to realize that actions can have unintended consequences and require trade-offs in our lives that we perhaps wouldn’t be willing to make if we’d thought through those.
As with so many aspects of our lives, we’re left with trying to find balance; balancing the knowledge of who we are and what our default tendencies are, as well as balancing the two sides of the risk spectrum.