Defining Moments

Each of us have moments throughout our lives that come to define us. It might not even seem like a memorable event at the time, but looking back years later we come to realize that it was an important turning point for us. One of the things I find most beautiful about the human experience is how often some of our darkest hours turn into something to be grateful for down the road. We are able to find resiliency and meaning in the most difficult and harrowing of circumstances.

For some reason, I have really been contemplating my past recently. When I was younger it seemed like my memory was an organized folder of events laid out in order. As I’ve collected more and more experiences though, that folder has become a complete mess with huge sections that seem to be missing entirely. As a child, I was sure I’d want to remember everything about my life and have detailed records to look back on fondly once I was older. However, at some point, maybe around the end of high school, I changed my mind. It felt like I was collecting a lot of notebooks full of worthless musings rather than important accounts of my daily life. Besides, I had yet to feel any need to look back through those early diaries.

Now it seems like I’ve changed my mind yet again. I’m quite distressed by how cluttered and unclear my memory has become. At some point I’d like to start working on a timeline of my life, adding details of whatever form as they come to me. That is a daunting endeavor, but I thought I could at least start by recounting some of the significant, what I would consider “defining moments” of my adult life.

1. Discovering Neuroplasticity

This may seem like a silly, impersonal moment to consider as one that defined who I am now, but looking back I know I would not be where I am today without it. Although my education in psychology has not necessarily been a great financial decision in the long run, it provided me with a wealth of information that is priceless to me. I wanted to study in this field because the brain has always fascinated me. I wanted to understand what is was about me that made me feel so different and separate from everyone else. I wanted to learn what was “wrong” with me and how to fix it.

One of the most impactful, useful pieces of knowledge I collected in this pursuit was the concept of neuroplasticity. From the brief bits of psychology I had learned before that, I had assumed that after a certain age (an age I had already unfortunately passed) the brain stopped developing. I felt hopelessly trapped in the thinking patterns and habits that I had already unconsciously been developing my whole life. I wasn’t happy at the time, so I would never be happy.

Finding out that no matter how old we are we have the ability to actively and intentionally change the pathways in our brains, strengthening and forming new connections, was groundbreaking. For the first time in my life, I really felt like I had control over my own happiness. It gave me the hope and confidence I needed to finally trust in all the woo-woo self help nonsense I had always cast aside as wishful thinking. That was the day my journey to create myself truly began.

2. Hopelessness, Helplessness, and Heartbreak

The second defining moment I had as an adult was losing the love of my life for the second time. Although it happened once before, I felt the second instance was more devastating, more final. When this person came back into my life after years of no contact, I actually cried from sheer joy and gratitude. I still remember wishing I believed in God at the time so I would have someone to properly thank for my unimaginable good fortune. Little did I know that hardly over a month later, I would have been cursing that same God as it all came tumbling down around me.

I won’t get into the details, but when he left that day, the pain was so great that I numbed myself from it. I sat is silence for a long time. I was speechless, directionless. I felt utterly hopeless. I felt no other option other than to surrender to that immense ocean of sorrow before me. But that surrender allowed something beautiful to bloom inside me. It made me realize that clinging to the image of happiness I had always had in my head, wouldn’t make it any more possible. I accepted that perhaps I may never achieve that particular dream.

As heartbreaking as it was to let that dream go, when I did it allowed me the space I needed to realize that what I had been envisioning certainly wasn’t the only possible form of happiness. I knew that I had the ability to craft another, different, yet equally happy life for myself. Even if that life would be one I’d spend alone. At that moment I felt a shift. I felt a swell of energy inside me, urging me not to give up just yet.

This is the night I remember when I hear people talking about their “dark night of the soul.” Painful as it was, it taught me that I am much stronger than I thought I could be. It has given me a new image of my inner strength and resilience. It forced me to finally take the reigns of my own life.

3. Yoga Teacher Training

The previous life events were what I believe ultimately prepared me to delve deeper into my yoga journey. When the stars aligned and I somehow found myself in teacher training, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Before then I thought yoga was just about exercise and flexibility. I was shocked and delighted to find that there was so much more to it than that. I am so grateful for all of the amazing things I learned in teacher training that have helped me to continue to deepen my own practice.

It has even helped repair my relationship with spirituality in general. After years of ardent atheism following a Christian upbringing, I never thought that I would be open to anything anywhere near religion or “faith” ever again. I still consider myself an atheist, but that hostility and hatred I once harbored for anything religious or spiritual has finally faded. Yoga has helped me make peace with a lot of the grey areas of life and make peace with myself in general. It is a privilege and an honor to be able to share what I’ve learned and continue to learn with my students each week.

Overall, the combination of these three events in my life completely changed the trajectory I felt my life was on when I was younger. Contemplating these moments reminds me just how amazing this life really is. Just when I start to feel like I know it all and can predict exactly what will happen for me next, life surprises me yet again. What a beautiful thing it is to be a part of this world. I can’t wait to find out what else the universe has in store for me. Stay curious, keep learning, and be open to everything that comes your way. You never know how important it might be.

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Sitting In the Sun

I can only hope to some day find the same satisfaction of a cat lying in sunbeams as they pour through the window. Even my dog, sweet little oddball that she is, loves basking in that warm glow. They always look so peaceful. You can almost see them savoring each delicious moment as they doze on the edge of consciousness. Perfectly peaceful. Precious angels. If only they could tell me their secret to serenity.

The closest I ever came to this simple bliss was one summer evening at the peak of an acid trip. I forget what my companion was doing at the time. They must have been absorbed in something inside that didn’t interest me. I had decided to go outside just as evening was giving way into another luscious, humid summer night. Summer nights are my favorite. I don’t know what it is. Perhaps they remind me of being a kid, watching fireworks on the 4th or catching lightning bugs with my sister and grandma. Or maybe it’s my teen years, sneaking out to meet friends, having midnight swims, trying my first cigarette as the rain drizzled down lazily, drinking by a fire in a friend’s backyard. There was always a certain excitement saturating summer nights, a sense of danger and adventure. Hedonism and recklessness and youth.

As the sun’s warmth still lingered in the soft air, I went out to use my newly set-up trampoline. I’m certain I would have appeared insane if anyone had been around to witness the sight. A young woman in her mid twenties, alone, at night, laughing her head off while jumping on a trampoline. I have no idea how long I was on that thing, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt like a kid again, with all the innocence and sheer joy I once knew.

When I finally got tired of that, I got down and sat breathless on my back porch under the stars. I think back to that moment a lot. Ever since I learned about yoga philosophy, I can’t help but think about it when I trip. It’s always funny to me how simple and true it all feels when I’m in that altered state. I see it all so clearly. It feels like I’ll be able to keep that insight and inner peace with me when I wake up the next morning, but of course I never can.

This evening as I sat there alone, I felt more alive and safe than I ever have before or since. I breathed in the thick air of that summer night slowly and deeply. Enjoying every subtlety of this slight movement as the air passed through my nostrils and expanded my abdomen. Feeling this oxygen infusing me with precious life. In that moment I knew everything I needed to know. There was no grasping or worrying or fear. I was truly at peace with myself and the universe. I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be. I knew that I was one with everything around me. That this whole universe was a part of me and I a part of it. I felt the lines of the self blurring into eternity. Anything that I could ever need or want was already a part of me. It was all so beautiful. I could have sat there, utterly content, forever. Everything is as it should be. Never had these words felt so poignant and true.

If nothing else this experience stands as an example of the power of perspective. Nothing has changed since then except my state of mind. Things that felt so simple then have reassumed their complex and elusive nature. That peace that felt ever-present now escapes me. Even the memory can’t compare to the perfect state I was in that night. My brief moment in the sun has now passed. Yet still, the residue of that moment lingers within me.

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The Weight of Our Actions

I was watching some show the other day and there was a scene depicting a kid being bullied. This led me into a long reverie about when I was younger and all of the cruel acts I witnessed or was the target of in school. I particularly remember being made fun of one day for drawing anime in class. Even though this was a mild mockery and only happened one time, it led me to stop drawing for years. Back then I would have done anything to just not be noticed.

I began pondering the vast difference in experience between the two parties involved in bullying. To the bully, it is pretty meaningless. It seems like just a way to pass the time or have a laugh. It isn’t a significant moment in the bully’s life by any means. However, to the one being bullied, it can be a life-changing experience. It can change them forever. It cuts so deep. It leaves emotional, if not physical, scars. I doubt most bullies ever stop to consider this inequity of experience. While it may mean little to nothing to them if they were to just not pick on someone, the target of this attack could be spared so much anguish.

This lead me to thinking about how this might apply in other areas of life. As I don’t bully people, I wondered how I might still be able to use this insight myself. I started to consider all of the things that my mother would always pester me to do as a kid. Clean the cat’s litter box, put my shoes away, put my clothes in the hamper, wash the dishes. I get so frustrated with my past self for being so obstinate and inconsiderate. It would have taken me only a few minutes to do all of those things. I had plenty of free time. No job, school was always easy. I spent most of my time lounging around watching TV. Yet I couldn’t be bothered to do these tiny little things that would have meant so much to my poor, overworked, under-appreciated mother. I want to kick myself every time I think about it.

At the time, of course, I didn’t consider this at all. I was just thinking about myself. I started to wonder if there were still things like this that I overlook. Are there still tiny things that I could be doing that would mean the world to those around me? The answer is yes. Sometimes it’s just the gesture itself that counts.

Whenever I am at work and I go wash out my coffee mug, I will also wash any other stray dishes in our communal sink. And sometimes my coworkers repay the favor, washing my mug before I get the chance to. I don’t think any of us would be overly burdened by washing our own mug once a day, but it is still touching each time I find it already washed. There are small acts of love and consideration like this waiting for us everywhere.

Perhaps you just got a bonus at work and have extra cash so you leave a generous tip for your waitress even though she was struggling to provide good service because she was new. You might not think twice about this event, but the waitress may be moved to tears. You never can tell what small acts of kindness like this could mean to someone.

I hope to carry this out in my own life in the form of a game. Just a lighthearted excuse to be creative and find new ways that, with minimal effort, I can spread maximum kindness. It might look like cleaning the snow off of my neighbors car in the morning after I do mine. Perhaps it’s giving some undivided attention to my pets when I first get home instead of immediately getting distracted by something else. Maybe it’s making a point to leave positive reviews online when I truly enjoy a place or product. All of these things would be simple enough, and not be burdensome to me by any means. But it could make or break someone else’s day, month, or even year! Imagine what it would be like if we all took the time to find these little opportunities for spreading goodwill in our lives. Let’s all try to do at least one small thing like this every day. It’ll be fun.