go ahead and don’t- you’ll be glad you did.

I was talking with a colleague the other day about my slow and wandering bicycle ways, and she handed me a little sign that she keeps on her desk that says “you don’t have to go fast, you just have to go”. I took a deep breath, thinking that that this couldn’t be truer for where I am in my life- on my bicycle, on the yoga mat, and in general. There’s nothing I’m fast at these days …and very few things that give me so much of a sense of urgency that I feel the need to get frantic. This little sign, granting permission on one hand, and offering an alternative on the other, made me happy. I don’t have to go fast, but I do need to keep trucking forward, because life has a way of moving in that direction, and whether I want to or not, I have to go with it.

So I thought about all of the other things that I don’t need to do, just to take the pressure off. I offer the list here that I made for myself. I call it the “go ahead and don’t” list:

You DON’T have to make everyone happy: Because the more you try, the more frustrated, defeated, lonely, exhausted, and sad you will be. Trying to make everyone happy is impossible. (Note that this is not saying not to do good things, to be loving and compassionate, give gifts, or smile at the world- it is saying that despite all of those acts of love and kindness, some people are not going to be happy. They may not even like you. And that’s ok. You don’t have to like or be liked. And, also, people can take care of themselves….for the most part).

You DON’T have to act small: It’s ok to take up space. In fact, it’s liberating to be big in this world and to show your beautiful ways. Take pride in the things that you feel good about, toot your own horn, dance when you want to shake your backside, and sing out loud when the inspiration hits. People may look at you like you’re crazy or bitchy or they may even ask you to tame it down, but you only limit your possibilities by shrinking down, and you almost always resent or regret it when you do. So be large. Take up space.

You DON’T have to be perfect: In fact, perfection is not only impossible, it’s also very, very boring. The scars are what make you interesting and unique. The process of learning and trying in life add to the journey. The fact that you can’t do a handstand without the aid of the wall does not make you a lesser yogi, it makes you a person who is working toward doing a handstand. Period. The process itself is what matters- be authentic and real. Fail sometimes and learn from it. The handstand moments will come, and they will be mind-blowingly fabulous.

You DON’T have to follow: Trust your gut- it’s the best compass you have for your own life. Although others may know a more direct path, you’ve always appreciated the scenic route. Continue on your journey and ditch the map so that you get the chance to experience reality from your own perspective. Less metaphorically speaking, it’s acceptable to recognize that what works for other people often fails to work for you. So do what feels right for you and make up your own mind when you can. You’re a smart cookie.

You DON’T have to have the answers: Sometimes not knowing is far more interesting. Be curious and open yourself to learning through new interactions and experiences.  You will gain far more knowledge through shutting up and listening generously than trying to pretend you know something that you don’t. Genius is not gained through talk alone. Be humble with what you don’t know to make space for the new.  

You DON’T have to keep moving: Remember that you will not reach enlightenment through house cleaning alone. You have permission to stop cleaning, making, and doing. Take deep breaths and sit still from time to time. It feeds you in ways you rarely admit, and despite your antsy nature, you always appreciate it when you make space for silence and stillness. You deserve that for yourself.

the yoga of tea

Listen,
if you can stand to.
Union with the Friend means not being who you’ve been,
Being instead silence: A Place: A view
Where language is inside seeing.
-Rumi

I don’t sit still very well. Never have.  I’m always scheming about what else I could or should be doing. Even in meditation or asana practice, I’m often battling a case of the “could/shoulds” and cursing myself for not having a cleaner, less cluttered house or thinking about what I could be eating or should be doing for some radical cause or things I could be creating out of my insane amounts of craft supplies. Just sitting isn’t going to change the world or get things done. Or is it?

The funny thing is, the older I get, the more I find that I need periods of sitting in order to get things accomplished- even when I feel as though I’m going to crawl out of my skin. I need time to acclimate to all of the changes that are happening in my life and to force my mind to settle just a little. And even in the chatter that happens when I sit still, a miracle occurs and the could/shoulds come into a clearer perspective and become more of a case of the “maybe laters” or “I can’t remember why that was so important in the first place”.

Since yoga camp (aka: yoga teacher training), two amazing changes have happened in my life that have helped me to find a greater clarity about my need to sit still; Friday morning yoga book club (which should  really more aptly be called “yogis sitting around talking about life and bringing up yoga philosophy over baked goods, green juice, and intermittent cursing”, but that’s just not as easy to fit in my calendar) and periodic marathon afternoon tea dates (lasting upwards of 5-6 hours at a stretch) with some new friends that my partner met in her job as a cheese steward at the local grocery store.

If anyone would have told me a year ago that I would be dedicating large chunks of my time sitting over green juice or hot tea with friends, I would have rolled my eyes and explained that I have very little time for such things.  Now, I can only say that I can’t imagine not making the time to commit to cultivating friendships, dreaming, talking about philosophy, and hearing stories about someone’s life while sipping tea out of dainty little tea cups in an antique filled dining room. These times have helped to remind me that sitting still can often settle my spirit in ways running around and multitasking never do. And, more importantly, I actually get to spend time just being with other human beings- being seen, heard, validated, inspired, and honored.

I spend so much of my time trying to fit an insane amount of things into my life in order to connect more, learn more, create more, or to get more done in less amount of time. I don’t know if there’s a theory in quantum physics to explain it, but I can tell you that in my own experience, it doesn’t work. No amount of tweeting or facebooking or emailing or even talking on the phone can compare to the deep connection that happens when I share time with people face to face (though video chat comes in as a close second). And the less I do at any given moment (meaning the more I slow down and notice what I’m doing), the more time I feel I have. Running at a rapid pace does not make the clock slow down. It just makes me tired.

My new(ish) friend June has been one of my greatest teachers for this very reason. We spend entire afternoons into the evening sitting still in uncomfortable antique chairs while she spins the metaphorical yarn of her life. Rarely do I speak more than a sentence or two, and I have heard many of her stories multiple times. Yet every time she repeats a story, the spark in her eyes shines as if she is offering it up for the first time with worldly wisdom that I will take into my own life (and she is). June believes in the importance of tea, complete with a charming tea set, and connections in a way I’ve never experienced before, and it always feels as though I’ve entered another time where women connect over the dining room table to share oral traditions. It’s lovely. And despite my occasional tendency to get antsy or to fall into my could/should ways, I am honored to call her friend.

I think this must be the yoga of friendship; committing time to cultivate loving relationships over hot tea (or green juice). Looking in the eyes of another person and validating their existence as integral to your very own. Recognizing the divine experience of being human together and practicing patience, compassion, humor, and vulnerability through real connections.