There are no reservations for the revolution - not for the ones inside of you, or the ones outside (as if they are different).
All around me, I can see the unmistakable beauty in all the seasons that have passed, especially the really difficult ones. I can honor the one I am in. This is the season of my adult aloneness. The season of writing my first book. The season of goddess friendships and living in my body. The season of mothering and becoming an aunt. The season of my 39th year.
How did you manage the first week and first month? I am trying to take things day by day, but I feel overwhelmed by the obstacles in my path including a fear of losing livelihood. Things set me off in a big way. How long do mood swings, insomnia, and this constant dull headache last? What were the tools you used to get through everyday without drinking and still be productive in your work life even when you felt like you couldn't?
A friend once said to me, after she'd patiently heard me recount the same old story about a guy for the 600th time, "Laura, some things do not need to be pondered any longer. If you want something to ponder, pick up the big book." (She was referring to the big book of AA.) I wanted to punch her. And then punch her again. Because I knew she was right.
I was in the midst of struggling hard to get sober. I had real, big, serious issues to face: debt, some small challenges with honesty, a lingering divorce, a court date for my DUI, a kid that needed my attention and an unfortunate habit of getting drunk when I didn't mean to.
Now that those issues are no longer screaming at me, I find myself clinging to all the reasons I should stay stuck. I wake up in the morning and the committee is there, waiting - Oh look! She's up! - ready to hand me the list of well-constructed arguments about why I should be pissed off, disappointed, and otherwise unhappy with things as they are. As they're delivered, I gobble them up like candy.
Yesterday the voices worked so well I didn't write the "Ask I Fly" responses I'd promised you all. Instead I went back and watched old episodes of "Tell Me That You Love Me" on HBO - an incredible, heavy series that aired back in 2007 and only lasted one season, but is among my favorites of all time. It follows the lives of six couples connected by the same therapist. In the last episode, the therapist counsels a couple whose marriage was on the brink of shattering, and as they start to turn a corner, she tells them to "have the courage to be happy." I forgot how alarming that message was to me at the time, when I was at the bottom of my own deep well of desperation in my marriage. I didn't want to be happy. I thought happy meant I'd have to stay.
So what would it mean if I had the courage to be happy now?
This morning, as I sat down to do Day 1 of the Oprah and Deepak Meditation challenge, I heard Oprah's voice come through and say "gratitude is the way toward grace." I smashed my palms into my face and said, "You've gotta be fucking kidding me." If I hear another thing about gratitude, I'm going to puke. Really.
But I didn't get up. I didn't throw my phone. I listened to the words and I sat there, with the committee, and promised myself to just remain teachable for those 20 minutes. It was hard.
My mind wants to continue to coddle the ways I can stay stuck. The more I grow, the stronger it resists. This morning I went to court (again) to settle up what I hope will be the last of my license and car-related idiocy that stemmed from my drinking nonsense. It's done. That part of it is all done. I left and thought, what next?
Today I am reminded that sometimes we need not unpack things any further. Sometimes it's time to have the courage to be happy (and it does take big courage because it means you have to drop those age-old arguments and patterns and blame games and self-pity that let you play small).
This Maya Angelou quote came to me as I rode the train into work.
"Life loves to be taken by the lapel and told, ‘I’m with you kid. Let’s go.'"
If this speaks to you (which might feel like the heartbeat of rage in your temple) maybe it's time. Maybe it's time to grab life by the lapel, to do the hard work of dropping your arguments and resentments even though they remain unresolved - even though they may forever remain unresolved - and get on with the business of your life.
Sometimes it's not time. Sometimes you need to continue to unpack, to nurse your wounds, to stay in the bath or cry in bed for another day or week until you're strong enough and ready.
But if it's time, don't wait any longer, okay? Kindly, lovingly, but firmly tell the committee to fuck off. Because you have work to do.
Stay with yourself.
This is something I used to tell my yoga students when we were holding a particularly hard pose. It came out of my mouth during one of my first classes and I thought, where'd that come from? But it felt like exactly what I was trying to do myself. And what I wanted to try and give others. Stay with yourself.
Not like, grit it out with a stiff upper lip. More like hang in when you want to bounce. Just a moment longer. Hold your own hand. Sit there with your best pal: you. Make an ugly face, wince in pain, grit your fucking teeth, let the sweat drip and the body shake. Check out the edges. On your mat and in the world.
Stay with yourself.
You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically, to say “no” to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger “yes” burning inside. - Stephen Covey
Last week I wrote about a yoga retreat I attended last fall and one of the big lessons I took away from that weekend: the necessity of starting where you are.
The second big thing I took away from that weekend was the concept of “non-negotiables.”
The teacher, Seane Corn, talked about how in her life there are a handful of things that are absolutely non-negotiable. They are not things that are nice to do, when there’s enough time, money, space. They are not things she does now and then or when in an emergency state. They are daily doings. Every day (more or less) practices. They are the core things that sustain her, allow her to stay sane, centered, and most importantly, to do her life work and serve others.
And if they go by the wayside, shit starts to fall apart, quick.
For Seane, they are: asana practice (the physical practice of yoga), meditation, prayer, good nutrition, sleep and therapy.
Many of us might look at that list and think, Well, that would be nice. If I could do yoga every day, cook perfectly nutritious meals and the extra hour or two each week to go to therapy my life would be… someone else’s life.
What about those of us with kids, really demanding jobs, rough travel schedules, ill health, or a spouse or a kid with ill health, mental illness, financial issues, no time? What if our “non-negotiables” are showing up to work, feeding our kids, taking care of our sick parent and paying the bills? In other words, what about the rest of us?
The thing is this: the circumstances of your life don’t exempt you from being a human being with physical, mental, spiritual and emotional needs. Ever. No human on earth is an exception.
But we forget this. We are so caught up in doing our lives that we forget who we are, all the time. The non-negotiables are all about remembering who we really are, daily, so that we can help others do the same. It’s really that simple. Could there be anything more important than that?
“Remembering who we are” can sound squishy and privileged, but it’s the exact opposite. Remembering who we are is the underlying mission of all good self-help, spiritual and religious texts since the beginning of time.
It is the real purpose of yoga (not to have a nicer ass or be really bendy) and talk therapy and meditation and creative expression and relationships.
Remembering who we are is really about remembering who we are not. We are not the big job, the alcoholism, the failed marriage, the sexual abuse, the cancer, the mother, father, the various roles we play as parent, child, wife, friend. We are all those things but they are not who we are. Who we really are is timeless and perfect and whole already. Who we are is “the diamond in the shit,” as my friend and teacher Zoe Wild puts it.
We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
(Side rant: The thing I loved most about Seane’s workshop is how not woo-woo it was. While in the past decade we seem to be churning out yoga teachers by the hundred-thousands and it’s all very pop culture to be carrying a yoga mat around and practicing “mindfulness,” Seane was doing her thing long before all that. She’s a New Jersey girl with a foul mouth, a fierceness and urgency in her delivery, and a passion for social justice. Her shtick is that this work – the business of twisting our bodies, balancing chakras and deepening our awareness – that some of us get to do on the mat is an utter gift and it’s our responsibility, our duty in fact, to carry that work into the world. To raise the collective vibration. Not so we can all ohm and hold hands and hug while we sip coconut milk lattes, but so that we can save the earth and each other in a very real way. Hunger. Child prostitution. Poverty. Violence. Addiction. These are the things she tackles.)
Hearing this concept allowed me to solidify my own non-negotiables, and more importantly, gave me permission to have them. I’ve also taken notice of the myths we have about a concept like this in observing myself and talking to others about it.
For the record, my non-negotiables are: prayer, recovery (meetings), physical activity (I must sweat), alone time, creative time (usually writing) and sleep. The recovery process has laid a good foundation for this type of thinking because I’ve learned without staying sober, everything – like, every single thing – will fall apart. The starkness of that has forced me to prioritize, but I’ve also learned that being “sober” isn’t just the absence of booze. It starts there, but also includes emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being, which is where the other non-negotiables come in.
Before I got sober I would have told you “me time” was one of my non-negotiables, and my version of “me time” was going out and drinking and shutting the world out (or being at home and drinking and shutting the world out). But real non-negotiables don’t have downsides, which I cover below.
So here’s the deal with non-negotiables.
- THEY ARE NOT LUXURIES. It is not a luxury to take care of yourself. Women, especially a lot of the moms I know, feel like they’re pampering themselves if they “take time for me.” BULLSHIT. Buuuuulllllshiiiiit. You must take time for you. It’s not selfish to take care of yourself; it’s selfish not to. When I don’t take care of myself the version of me that other people get – especially my daughter - pretty much sucks. I repeat: it is not a luxury to take care of yourself. Okay?
- THEY'RE NOT COMPLICATED. Non-negotiables are almost always very, very simple. Difficult, maybe, but not complicated. For example, it’s difficult for me to sit down and write most of the time, but it’s never complicated. It requires a pen and a paper or my computer and some attention (the difficult part). It’s definitely difficult for me to run some days. Never complicated. They are the building blocks for your foundation on which all else can be built. James Altucher, one of my favorite nutty writers and thinkers, covers his version of non-negotiables in what he calls The Daily Practice. He attributes all his failures and successes to whether or not he's follwing his Daily Practice (He is great and funny, I recommend.)
- YOU HAVE TIME. You do.
- THEY BELONG TO YOU. Your non-negotiables are yours. They don’t belong to your partner, your kids, your co-workers, or your mom. Your list might involve them (e.g. time with your children) but I would argue you could explore that part of the list. Is time with your kids or partner really part of your non-negotiable list, or is it something you put on because you feel guilty if you don’t? I love and need to spend time with my daughter but she’s not on my non-negotiable list. My list – and your list – is about filling up your own tank, putting on your own life preserver. Your list belongs to you.
- THEY ARE NOT SELFISH. This is related to all the points above, but worth stating on its own again. It is not selfish to take care of yourself.
- THEY ARE DAILY (OR CLOSE TO DAILY) PRACTICES. These aren’t things we do only in an emergency. I have a good friend Matt, who when he was going through a really rough period, got into meditation. It helped immensely, along with other things. A few months later he came to me feeling like shit again. I asked about the meditation, and he said he had got away from it when things got better. This is so common; I do it all the time. But it’s funny, right? And so indicative of how we live. We only pay attention when we are in an extreme state of despair or discomfort, and then the second we escape that state we go right back to what we were doing before that got us to that point. Hellooooo, wine *raises hand*!
Which brings me to my last point.
- REAL NON-NEGOTIABLES HAVE NO NEGATIVE SIDE EFFECTS. Aside from the perceived side-effects of opportunity cost and possibly disappointing others by taking the time, real non-negotiables don’t have a down side. Even if they cost money (e.g. travel). Real non-negotiables are not about pleasure, although they can be pleasurable. They are about happiness (what we often confuse with pleasure as Mark Manson so defly points out). You might say sex is a non-negotiable – and perhaps it is – but I’d challenge you to examine what it is about sex that you need every day. The connection with another human? Physical contact? The stress release? Maybe it’s sex, but maybe what you need is to feel your body. I don’t really know. But I’d stretch to say that if we really dig down our real non-negotiables don’t rely on other people. They may involve them, but not rely on them.
That’s it, lovelies. Consider your non-negotiables. Write them down. Commit to them. Take them so seriously. You are amazing. I love you.
If you missed part one of this, where I talk about the necessity of starting where you are, it’s here.
I need to get something off my chest. I have to call myself out. I have to tell everyone that I've been kind of lying to, or even sort of lying by to withholding. I have to rat myself out because today it just has to be said.
Here it is:
I HATE MEDITATING.
Like, I loathe it. I hate even the thought of it. When I'm doing it, I hate it 99% of the time. The other 1% of the time my ass falls asleep and I think the blood to my brain gets cut off, so I forget how much I hate it for that second.
I don't like it at all.
I'm not sure if you've noticed, but today kicked off one of Oprah and Deepak Chopra's 21 Day Meditation Challenges.
I saw it everywhere - in my inbox, on Facebook, in text messages, Instagram, everywhere. People I respect and admire and who are my teachers like Gabrielle Bernstein and Pema Chodron and Mastin Kipp were blasting out reminders yesterday and today to Join! Be a part! Love! Hug! (Groan.)
I even sent texts to people yesterday with the same info, like I was giving the FYI to join, that I'd be doing it (obviously, DUH!).
But then today looked something like this:
- 5:15 am - Alarm goes off. Hit snooze.
- Repeat above unconsciously every 8 minutes until 6:45. Fuck off all intentions to wake up early and meditate and write.
- 6:45 - Roll out of bed, annoyed, and already a little behind.
- 6:46 - Drop to my knees to say, Hi, God. Can I get some help today? Please? Cool. Thanks.
- 6:47 - 7:54 - Do the morning routine with my daughter, which is incredibly organized for me, but far from "organized." Success is: we both leave the house clothed, she eats something that's not the leftover cupcake in the fridge, teeth get brushed, she has a lunch she won't throw away, and I remember the keys and will not be locked out later. We both suffer a little every day.
- 8:03 - We pull up to her drop off lane at school and she cries because her ski pants were still wet from the night before, because she peed in them mid-ski. Cars are honking and I'm trying to tell her it's ok, that she'll be able to play in the snow tomorrow, and please get out of the goddam car.
- 8:04 - I drive away successful. She is not tardy today! She's been tardy 16 times since November, I found out Friday. 15 of those are on my watch.
- 8:05 - 9:12 - Commute to work. Try to find zen on the train, but fall asleep instead.
- Start Monday. Negotiate with the parts of my brain that are at work, and the parts that are elsewhere, which is about 94%. Ask some of that 94% to please join me here, now. But the tug of war has already started and I'm agitated and battling myself at about a level four. Level five has tears. I breathe deeply. I exhale. I close my eyes. I plot my to-do's, I write them down, this helps.
- 10:47 - The school nurse emails and Alma isn't feeling well. I toss out my plans to go to a noon meeting or the gym to fix myself.
- 12:18 - I go to pick her up.
- 1:20 - We are home. She watches a show, I retreat to the bedroom to work.
- All afternoon - I pivot between work and me baby, resenting both.
- 3:50 - She comes to hug me and presses her hands against my face and I'm suffocated by the smell of POOP. I jerk back and scream, What the hell?! And she says, well, we ran out of toilet paper. (She's right. We did.) I say, NO EXCUSE, and I start to run the shower, but she won't get in, she's screaming at the top of her lungs, so I strip down and drag her in with me. Because this is what we do. We do what works.
- 5:14 - I get a meditation reminder from fucking Deepak and Oprah and decide maybe this is a good time, before I try to do anything else, before I make dinner, because maybe I should hit the pause now. Like my snooze button.
- I tell Alma I'm going to meditate for 20 minutes, and what is she going to do? She says, watch a show. Perfect. I put on a show.
Now, the fun really starts.
I put a pillow down and shut the door to my room. I go to find today's meditation in the app and see an Instagram notification and dive into an Instagram rabbit hole for about seven minutes before I regain consciousness and remember the task at hand. Then a call comes in for work that I answer. Then I get a text from a friend who just came out of surgery. Then I remember Alma has homework. Then I remember: MEDITATION.
I open the app, find Day 1, sit down and close my eyes, assuming the position.
Oprah's voice comes on, welcoming me to the journey. Cool.
The recording suddenly stops. I open my eyes and grab my phone. Another work call. Inhale, answer, talk, work it out, go back.
I start over. I listen as Oprah does the intro, then Deepak takes me through today's mantra.
Alma turns the iPad up to full blast in her room, then screams for me.
I ignore her.
She comes in, grabs my hand, drags me into her room and asks me to buy a game.
I say unkind words and walk out.
I hit play, again. Restart.
A minute or so in the thing happens that usually happens when I sit down to meditate and my mind fucking EXPLODES.
My brain releases every to-do and distraction. Every thought I've had for my entire life and a few more.
My body starts twitching.
My brain says, GOD, you suck at this. Seriously? You're a YOGA TEACHER. WHAT THE FUUUUUCK. Stop this right now. Sit up! STOP. Stooooooooooooop.
And I remember everything I've ever learned from every teacher I've known and I say to my brain, I see what you're doing and I call BULLSHIT. Now please, please darling, get out of the way.
I get lost in a spiral of thought, pew! Like a pinball! Pew!
One thousand monkey squirrels on adderral dance around.
One hits my eyelids and forces them to snap open, STOP IT, YOU'RE MESSING IT ALL UP!
My legs twitch and bounce.
My butt loses circulation.
I shift and stretch my neck.
It has been about three minutes.
You get the point.
What Meditation Really Looks Like
Meditation for me does not look like this:
But more like this:
And then this:
And then probably this:
And then, finally, total despair:
But, I will do it again tomorrow.
I wanted to post this to say:
- If I've ever told you I love meditating, I was lying, and I'm sorry if I made you feel dumb because you don't love it.
- If you feel like you're doing it wrong, you're not.
- If you feel like you don't have the time, or the right spot, or the right life, or too much chaos? Me too.
- I'm going to do it again tomorrow, and I need you to do it with me.
Why? Why would I do it again tomorrow? And why do I want you to join?
Because I've learned in the past year that when I'm pushing against something really hard, when I meet up with resistance this strong, I need to face it. Because it's the one thing - literally the one thing - that every spiritual teacher from the beginning of time swears by and agrees on and I'm going to assume maybe they're on to something.
Because that same part of my mind that tells me I can't meditate told me I couldn't live without drinking, and it was so totally wrong.
But I wouldn't have known that if I believed my brain.
Because maybe, if I can cultivate the ability to sit with myself for one minute, I can do it for another, and another, and all that might lead to a lifetime of hanging out with myself as a compassionate friend, versus being with myself as an enemy.
I don't know.
I still hate it.
But I'll try again tomorrow.
Will you please, too? Pretty please?
"And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." I taught my first yoga class in over a year tonight and, oh, it was nice to come home. I also had another offer to teach at a new studio near my home. I want for more stillness, more of the heart work, the hard work that feels purposeful, even if only to me.
I was hit with a knowing this week that when I leave this job, I will be leaving this industry for something much different. I do not know when, but I know that I will. This knowing has brought an incredible peace.