I had my proverbial panties bunched up in knots for a couple weeks around Some Thing that is not new and has not shifted in any major or even unexpected way. I do not want to get confessional about what this Thing might be, only say that I know intellectually and from past experience that it’s never actually the Thing that twists my insides up. It’s my relationship to the Thing.
There were many other perfectly good things in my life when The Thing decided to increase its decibel level to deafening. For one, I’m back to Sunday New York Times delivery after a several-year hiatus. The Sunday Times is even more insidious than crack for smart girls. Even as I wrote the first sentence in this paragraph, I found myself editing. Could I find a better metaphor than “deafening?” I blame the Times for this, as I’ve been reading in its pages how lower frequency tones being used in new police sirens can affect people, even when they measure significantly lower on the actual decibel scale.
(Actually, this also explains why after listening to a panelist speak loudly and directly into a microphone for 20 minutes straight, I felt queasy. This despite my having held my index fingertips in my ear canals for a good 15 minutes of the talk, while I contemplated the cost-benefit analysis of appearing to be a total asshole by said gesture versus preventing my breakfast from becoming public knowledge. It took more than an hour before my bones stopped shaking.)
It’s possible that my hearing — literally and metaphorically — is more sensitive than most. (Ironic, given that I was raised by a man with only 10% of his eardrum left — due to scarlet fever or some other childhood virus. He referred to himself as “hard of hearing.”)
When I coach folks, or do a Reiki session, or teach a yoga class, people are often surprised by the questions I ask, the observations I make, or the poses I put students in. “It’s like you’re inside my head,” somebody said last week. For me, a lot of it is about listening — for what’s being said, verbally or in some other physical way — and discerning meaningful patterns.
Sensitivity can be incredibly useful, though I really despise when my sensitivity to things like sound or heat makes me feel weak. (I will leave it to another post to share what happens to me after a “hot” yoga class.) Worse is when I let Some Thing get so big inside my head that I can’t hear other things as clearly, like the birdsong that’s begun again in the early morning just on the other side of my bedroom wall.
I think what is probably going on is actually just what normally happens in the transition between winter and spring. The daffodil stems are now inches above the soil, and the scent of boxwood hits me before I spot it as I’m walking alone on quiet streets. There’s the mist moistening my thoughts. And the mud sinking me into this place, as though she refuses to let me go. Life feels like it’s about to emerge, and I wander back to my unconsciously scheduled musings this time of year: how do I want to live in this new season, in this opportunity to start again, even as I continue doing what I have always done? How might I feel the freshness in what’s been repeating in my life for many years?
Sometimes I worry that I will never learn to listen closely enough to what wants to move inside of me.
And then I remind myself to listen to what I tell others.
A few weeks back, I spent an afternoon with friends whose child had just died. I have no sense of what that’s like. But I’ve dealt a fair bit with death, and knew enough to know that there’s no right or wrong thing to say or do, that the biggest gift I can give is my presence. So I went to their place and hung out, feasting on leftovers from friends who had baked and roasted and marinated pure love. (I offered to bring my own version of love and they insisted there was no more room in the fridge; the bigger mitzvah would be eating.) There were stories and slide shows, and Reiki. When we laughed, it was from the low belly, and when we asked each other questions about where we were in our lives, they came from a place of genuine curiosity.
I feel like a bad cliche when I say that I feel most alive when death caresses the small of my back with a soft touch.
I walked from their house for a few miles to clear my head, and to make the transition I needed to teach a yoga class.
It has taken me years to enjoy teaching yoga — maybe because I’m one of those types who need to feel like they’re good at something before pleasure enters the picture. Now, it feels like a huge honor to share something as simple as noticing your breath, or where you carry your sorrow. My students work in nonprofits and public schools, government agencies and international aid agencies, unions and law firms, art studios and out of their kitchens. Generally, they’re people doing good work in the world. I like to think my teaching opens doors to a wider sense of self, and what’s possible when we’re fully awake and at our best.
That night, when I checked the psychological weather in the room, a few folks complained about their days at work.
So began one of those vomiting-thought evenings, with me sharing quotes during class like “better to strengthen your back than lessen your burden” and having students hold poses forever while I told stories of a friend who was killed when his wife was pregnant with their first child. She somehow managed to stay super grounded and open and courageous, I said, because of her daily spiritual practice.
Which may be all true and good.
But in retrospect, it’s pretty obvious how little I was listening to my students that evening. I had heard their exhaustion and their kvetchiness, but not the root of it.
Rather than feel overly guilty from throwing big bricks at them when rose petals would have done fine, I took it as a sign to start listening to myself more.
I listened to how I had been talking about the Thing.
I listened to the pressure shift in my body after a couple of minute of ujjayi breath.
I listened to the familiar script the Thing was looping in my brain.
Within a few days, I was back on track, with a strategic course of action around how to deal with the Thing in the next couple of years. I’m still not so sure about how to cope with it in the next two months, but sometimes it’s helpful to keep your eyes on the destination rather than on the potholes.
How perfect was it then when I learned (today, because I pooped out early last night) that Halle Berry gave a moving tribute to Lena Horne during the Academy Awards, which included wise words from the late trailblazing artist: “It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”
So I recommit to listening to how I carry things, and to change my relationship to those things that aren’t working, even when those things must stay in my life for the time being.
Basically, people, I’m saying that in my experience, doing your regular spiritual practice will help fix that uncomfortable wedgie you’ve been walking around with. Just in time for the cutest spring fashions.
As always, please check out my upcoming events for book readings, workshops and other places where you can find me.
Thanks — and remember that I look forward to “hearing” from you!
Yael, you are such an amazing writer, thinker, ‘feeler’, friend, teacher, and so many other things. (And tho it almost induces vomit to over-use the word) you are so wise. You are wise in the way you continue to practice and share, in the way you carry your load. Thank you!
Sometimes the load is wildly unbalanced and on top of my head. But thanks for your confidence in me. Means a lot.
It is an honor to listen to you and to learn from you, today and all days, and to try to find ways to make good use of what I have learned. Thanks. Zeki
And my apologies for getting didactic at times! Thanks for your presence and good energy.
You made me realize that the things I’m most passionate about ask for the greatest amount of careful listening—the stories of loved ones, the way the music sounds when I try to make it, the bark of my old dogs when something isn’t right in their world, to name a few that come to mind. Kind of makes me think that if I took the time to listen to new stuff, even stuff I have avoided or been afraid of, I could discover passions yet unknown. So that’s what I learned today.
You reminded me a cool little book by W.A. Mathieu called “The Listening Book” which you might want to check out of the library. and a group in dc called the listening lounge which does audio pieces — some of it of rain, or traffic, or old dogs (and other more traditional stories): http://www.dclisteninglounge.com/
Thank you and thank you!
When i was a traveling girl i used to carry all my stuff in a wicker basket with a little rod/lock gizmo that made me feel like it was protected. I learned to put a folded sarong on my head and to then balance the basket up there. It changed the pace of my walk. I got taller from centering my head and neck with each step. I was in total awe of the way other women did this effortlessly, could talk and walk at the same time, turn their bodies and keep everything in balance.
It is just amazing to me, every time i read your words…i have memories pop up that remind me of really special parts of my life. Thanks Yael….
Ooooooohhhhh i love how you connect the things we carry — especially when perfectly placed — with growing taller and more graceful. Glad that you are remembering — and sharing.