Learning From Loneliness, Loss, and Stagnation

Focusing on the past and trying to make sense of my previous mistakes and experiences used to be a much bigger part of my mental landscape. I think when I was younger it was easier to line things up in a neat and orderly manner in order to create a story that made sense and gave me a sense of direction. Eventually it seemed like I had created so many memories, lived through so many years, met and lost so many people that I started to lose the plot. There no longer seemed to be a way to make all these seemingly random pieces fit together.

One of the good things about shifting my focus away from the past is that I don’t ever dwell on regrets. Someone asked me the other day what one of my biggest regrets was, and it honestly took me a long time to even come up with any. I’ve certainly made a lot of egregious mistakes throughout my time on this earth, but do I really regret those mistakes? I don’t know. I do regret the way I’ve treated a lot of people in my life. But even then, that’s more because of the way it affected them, not how it’s affected me. Although I feel guilty for being so cruel and selfish when I was younger, I never would have learned what I know now or become the person I am today if I hadn’t behaved that way in the past.

For instance, one of my biggest regrets is probably the way I treated my mother during my late teens. Part of me does wonder how I might be different if I had been willing to accept her support and love during some of my darkest, loneliest times. Still I think I wouldn’t have the perspective to appreciate her the way I do now if I hadn’t rejected and hated her all those years ago. Despite my coldness, I was able to feel just how much she loved me. Even when I basically threw her love away each time, she continued to offer it to me at every opportunity. She never returned my disdain or cruelty. She never left or gave up on me. Because of that time in my life, I now cherish her more than I think I ever could have otherwise. One of my biggest regrets still led to the discovery of truly unconditional love and the unwavering support of a mother for her child. And understanding just how lucky I am to have that.

Lately I have been feeling completely stuck and without direction in life. I keep struggling to move past this uncomfortable stagnation. At the same time I just can’t seem to envision how or when this feeling will change. Looking back at the past, particularly our own mistakes, can be painful, but there is a value to exploring our own story every now and then. There is a lot that we can learn from piecing together the seemingly disconnected parts of our colorful pasts. One of those things is refilling our faith that things might not make sense right now, but one day they will.

No matter how badly we might feel we have failed, or how irredeemable our actions may seem in the moment, you can never be sure the future benefits, knowledge, and value we may gain from them in the future. Just because we can’t see it right now, can’t even conceive how that could be possible, we can at least acknowledge that it’s happened in the past. By reflecting back we can recognize how some of our darkest moments eventually, without our conscious awareness, transformed into some of our greatest strengths, our deepest insights, our most valuable lessons.

Even though things have been confusing, difficult, and unsettling for me for what seems like ages now, it won’t feel like this forever. One of the scariest things is the feeling that I’m wasting time, years of my life, of my youth. But our time can never truly be wasted. No matter what we are doing, whether we want to be, or believe we are, we are always growing, learning, and changing. This time is not being wasted, despite how it feels. Periods of stagnation can just as easily be viewed as periods of incubation. This perspective might not make it go any faster, but it does make it just a little bit easier to keep going, even when you don’t know where you’re going or when it feels like you’re actually going no where at all. One day it’ll all make sense again. You’ll be able to look back and see that it was all necessary, that it was all worth it. An egg just looks like an egg from the moment it’s laid to the moment it hatches. Just because we might not be able to see or understand what’s developing within, doesn’t mean that tomorrow won’t be the day it’s finally revealed.

Spiritual Backsliding

At the beginning of my yoga practice nearly 8 years ago, I felt that I was irrevocably changed. I could hardly believe the powerful shift I began to notice within myself. A daily 7 minutes was all it used to take to completely transform my mental state. A sense of gratitude, humility, and awe seemed to follow me wherever I went. My heart felt open for the first time in my life. I experienced a new sense of self-acceptance that I had previously thought impossible. My only hope was that some day I might become a yoga teacher as a way to repay the universe for bestowing this gift upon me by sharing it with others.

Driving home from the Saturday morning class I’ve taught for three years now, all of that seems like a distant memory. I feel bitterness, stagnation, regression, apathy. Not only do I suffer greatly from these states, but they also illicit a strong sense of imposter syndrome. Who am I to teach yoga? Who am I to promote meditation and gratitude and self-love? When I seem to have utterly lost my connection to everything. I know that no one is able to avoid these experiences forever, but I had hoped they would pass over me more quickly. I have been waiting for so long now. I fear that my rejection and refusal of them has kept me trapped beneath their weight. Despite this I feel helpless to free myself or accept where I am.

Nothing feels right anymore. Nothing feels worthwhile. I can hardly remember what it was that once sparked such joy inside my heart. I no longer enjoy my morning writing ritual or my daily drawing sessions. These few hours used to be what I looked forward to, the passion that kept me moving forward. I was filled with such energy and inspiration, pride and contentment and gratitude. These were my natural reactions to many parts of my life that have now lost all color. I often think that this is a sign that the things I’ve been doing are no longer serving me, that it’s time to come up with different habits and hobbies that do bring me happiness. Yet when I search my mind for a new direction, a new interest, I find nothing. “What’s the point?” is the only reply I am able to hear echoing back from the walls of my hollow heart.

I can’t even remember now how long it’s been that I’ve felt this way. It seems like a lifetime. I’m trying to take comfort in the fact that I do generally become more depressed and withdrawn at this time of the year. The lack of warmth and sunlight finally begins to grip me once the holidays have passed. It’s always so hard to convince yourself it’s just a transient state of mind when you are currently being consumed by it.

I think it would suit me to slow down and take notice when I find myself in these difficult periods. Rather than keep pushing myself to produce, to create, to transcend, it’s time for me to draw back, to let go, to be still. Intellectually I know that to have balance, I must incorporate rest. There is always a part of me that fears it. I’m afraid that if I stop moving, especially when I’m feeling down, that I’ll never get back up again. I’m afraid that momentum is the only thing keeping me alive, keeping me sane, and just barely at that.

The worst part is feeling as though I’ve completely lost all the progress I was so proud of a few years ago. It’s as though all of my effort, all of my lessons were for nothing. I feel like I’m right back where I started. Worse even, because now I’m also beating myself up for backsliding. A persistent shudder of shame and self-denial has been my constant companion for the last few months. And part of me feels at home here to be honest. A snide inner voice says, “See? This is just who you are. How foolish you were to believe that you could change.” Even when I know it’s not true, I have succumb to this voice. I’ve allowed it to suffocate all remaining self esteem.

My last hope is holding out until spring. While my heart may not even have the strength to long for the sun, part of me still has faith that there is healing to be found under its powerful rays. It is inevitable that some day soon, this long dark night of the soul with be flooded with light once more. I pray that it will be enough and that I can sustain myself upon my last scraps of inner strength until then.

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Remember Why You Started

As you know, I’ve been thinking a lot about exactly how I ended up so enmeshed in the repetitive behaviors I now perform daily. I thought back to the first time I remember giving myself a similar list of tasks. In the beginning, I remember it being so exciting. I had big plans about bettering myself and working towards becoming the person I wanted to be. I’ve come a long way since then. I’ve made a lot of progress towards those goals. However, sadly I seem to have lost the passion that drove me to start this journey in the first place.

It feels like in the last few years, I’ve started to stagnate. These efforts at self-improvement were supposed to be fun. I want to get back to that passion that I once had. I was energized by these activities rather than exasperated by them. I believed in myself, in my potential. I was excited at the idea of reaching my goals. Somewhere along the line I seem to have lost all that faith in myself. I lost sight of the self love that once spurred me onward.

Thankfully, spring always reawakens something inside of me. I feel filled with a new energy as the air begins to heat back up and the sun reemerges. And with the coming spring, I’ve also had an important realization. I’ve been scrambling around inside my head trying to figure out a way to make time to meet a new vegan friend I met online. I’ve been ridiculously stressed out by the effort of trying to cram yet another activity into my already busy schedule. Only after a few days of this psychotic planning did it suddenly dawn on me, it doesn’t even matter if I miss doing all of my usual things for ONE day. How obvious.

The whole point of the things I make myself do everyday is self-improvement. Doing them every day was just a way to get into the habit. It was just supposed to give me direction and a way to feel productive on days when I had nothing else to do. I don’t know at what point it started to dominate my life instead. It seems like for years now, I have been prioritizing these “hobbies” over everything else in my life. I don’t make plans with friends and family because I tell myself I don’t have time for it. I neglect other, more important things, in favor of completing my these rituals. Only very recently have I realized how absurd that is.

These activities were supposed to help me become a better person, not prevent me from living a normal life. The ultimate goal isn’t 365 consecutive days of checking off these arbitrary boxes, the goal was to use my time wisely and learn new things. It completely defeats the purpose if in the end these habits inhibit my life rather than compliment it.

This is why it is so important to have clear intentions for yourself. My intention somehow got lost along the way. Luckily I’m finding my way back to it. Maybe a few years ago, what I needed was to have a more structured routine, but needs change. It’s time I allow myself to change with them. These habits were meant to serve me, but instead they’ve consumed me. Now what I need is learn how to give myself a break. I need to remind myself that it’s okay to rest. I don’t want to look back on my life one day just to see hundreds of checked off to-do lists. I want to give myself the freedom to have spontaneous adventures and make meaningful memories as well.

Tomorrow I want to give myself a long over due gift. I want to have a day off, a day free from my own demands. I want to meet someone new, get to know them. I want to explore and be curious and flexible. I want to not worry about whether or not I’ll have time to read later or write in my gratitude journal. How silly that the act of writing down a list of things I’m grateful for everyday became more important than allowing myself the time to enjoy what I’m grateful for. It’s no wonder I’ve lost all of my drive and passion. I’ve burnt myself out a long time ago. I’ve been running on fumes. It’s time to stop and recharge. It’s time to take a day just to breathe, to reflect, to enjoy the progress I’ve made, and to share my new and improved self with new people and with the ones I love, the ones that have stuck with me through all of these years of being distant and uninvolved. It’s time for me to thank them for that. It’s time for my to thank myself and enjoy how far I’ve come, how strong I’ve been. Time to refocus on my intention and reignite that excitement, that passion for my life.

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The Mirror of Yoga

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A yoga practice is quite often a reflection of the yogi’s inner life. Yoga has the potential to be a window into our personal struggles, fears, strengths, weaknesses, and much more. Even before I knew about the spiritual side of yoga, I could feel it changing the way I thought about and perceived the world as well as my place within it. Those who have a personal yoga practice as simply exercise or stretching like I once did, still can’t avoid the deeper impact and insight it provides.

It is a rare opportunity to go within, to be alone with ourselves, to notice the patterns of our own minds. Are we easily frustrated? Are we critical of ourselves at every turn? Is it hard to let go? Is it hard to be still? To remain focused on what’s in front of us? Can we learn to settle our minds, to use our breath? Yoga provides us with a chance to learn all of these things about ourselves. When we practice yoga, we are not only training the body. We are also training the mind.

I have noticed my own struggles reflected in my practice lately. It has felt like my safe haven recently, a way to escape from my reality. Yet yoga has a way of showing us things, even things we don’t want to see. Having an “escape” inevitably begs the question, why is one needed? Allowing my practice to be a shield from the rest of my life, has caused it to become rather stagnant. I feel stuck. Just as I do overall right now.

Our daily lives feed our practice just as much as our practice feeds into our lives. That vital loop has been severed for me for awhile now. It is hard to feel passionate, inspired, playful, or courageous in your practice when you aren’t able to feel that way day to day. It is hard to practice self-love, self-care, compassion, and ahimsa in a one hour vacuum. It is hard to teach from the heart, when you have been hiding your heart from even yourself.

Lately my practice, while always an enjoyable time of peace, rest, and rejuvenation, has felt like hypocrisy at the same time. I am isolating myself within my yoga, instead of allowing the nutrients of my practice to sate the gnawing pangs of my real life problems.

My yoga mirror has been showing me the reflection of my fear, my avoidance, my inertia. I am afraid to challenge myself. I am afraid that I won’t be able to rise to those challenges. I am afraid to fail, to fall. I have remained in one place for so long, not progressing in life, nor my asanas. Telling myself I can’t do it before I have even given myself the chance to try.

But I should know better. Because yoga has also taught me that there is no reason to be afraid. There is no reason to fear failure. Because even failure is not final. When you are learning to do a headstand, you are going to fall. A lot. If I had taken that first failure as proof I was incapable, my body would not be able to do any of the incredible things I’ve taught it to do. Yoga teaches us that failure is a necessary part of growth. When you fall, you laugh, get up, and try again. And with each fall, you learn something new. I need to engage my core more. I need to place my hands wider apart. I need to focus. I was holding my breath. Failure is not something to avoid, it is a valuable chance to learn vital information.

I want to use these lessons and the many others yoga has given me. I want to move forward in my practice, in life. I want to try new things. To be playful again, curious, excited. To laugh and learn and love myself despite my missteps along the way. No matter what happens, I know I’ll always have a safe place to rest. On the mat, and within. We all do.

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Contentment or Complacency

My mind has been playing tug-of-war with these two seemingly conflicting ideas recently. I am trying to enjoy this brief time I have been given in this world. I want to enjoy every moment, no matter what it may bring. Just the idea of allowing myself to be happy with my very imperfect life is calming. Yet at the same time, it is causing me to ask myself a lot of hard questions. And I’m not sure I’ll ever really have the answers to them.

On one hand I want to enjoy where I am, on the other I fear this is another way for me to just ignore and avoid my problems and responsibilities. After all, it is discomfort that keeps us moving forward and growing as individuals. I don’t want to be choosing to become complacent with a way of life that isn’t what’s best for me. But I also don’t want to waste my entire life waiting until everything is “perfect” before I let myself be happy with who I am.

Perhaps this is that black and white thinking of mine creating this confusing disconnect. Maybe there is a way I can be happy now and still strive to grow and improve. Part of me thinks allowing myself to be imperfect is the only way I ever truly will be able to make meaningful changes in the future. I have been striving for more for as long as I can remember. I have never really been able to give myself credit or enjoy my progress. Maybe I need a few months or even a year to just sit down, breathe, and reflect on how far I’ve already come. Maybe I need time to remind myself that this growth is voluntary and not a requirement to feel worthy or be happy.

However then the pendulum of my thoughts swings the other way. I tell myself I am just creating this flowery narrative to cover up the fact that I’m afraid to change, afraid that maybe I can’t change, and just using this as an excuse so I don’t have to face reality. I genuinely don’t know which is the truth. Is this something other people rely on their intuition for? Because I’ve never been sure if I even have any. Maybe I am just not used to listening for it, so I don’t hear anything.

This is how intelligence combined with anxiety leads to paralysis. I think too much. I see pros and cons in everything, all the various angles and outcomes. Not often is one choice obviously better than the other. So I remain stuck in indecision, eventually avoiding the choice all together and mindlessly pressing onward.

The voice of Noah from The Notebook sometimes comes to mind yelling, “What do you want?” And right now I just want to be happy. I just want to be nice to myself for awhile. I want to stop worrying and just enjoy my life, love myself even with all of my problems, shortcomings, and bad habits. To let the pieces fall where they may and stop trying to control everything. I don’t want to wait anymore. With all the things going on in the world who knows if I’ll even have much longer to wait. I want to savor each and every moment I have left.