If you’re looking for me among the moms in the pick-up line, I’m in the blue Toyota Highlander.
Jeans or yoga pants.
90% chance of ponytail.
I grew up with a New Englander’s reserved sensibility: nothing flashy, not too bohemian, definitely friendly but not effusive, covered with freckles but no tattoos. I went to Williams College and worked in book publishing in New York, married someone wonderful and moved back to my suburban Boston hometown. Each step of the way I was surrounded by smart, practical, hardworking go-getters.
Given my sensible, stable background, It took me a while to get used to saying things like “stay with the sensation of breathing and tune into the sweetness that underlies each moment” in front of a room full of yoga students. That’s not the way my people talk. At first, I worried about impatient eye-rollers waiting for me to deliver a workout already. But I’ve developed a deep respect for honesty and those words ring true to me. In fact, phrases like those have enriched my life in every way I can think of. So I say them. I may look pretty normal, but these days, I’m all about the love.
Here’s how it happened. When my kids were very small they both had daunting lists of food allergies. Much of my time went into cooking for them, so that they could have “safe” food, (as opposed to “this-mistakenly-eaten-crumb-could-kill-your-precious-child” food). Quite a bit of the rest of my time went into laundry and housework, though nothing stayed clean for long. And, like all new moms, I was constantly fending off a world of loud and opposing opinions about how best to raise babies, trying to find my own way.
None of this was, as they say, in my comfort zone. I was used to reading and writing and doing what was expected of me as well as I could. And when things got tough at work, I could always retreat to my “real life” at home with my family and friends where I knew I was valued. I was not used to cooking and cleaning (poorly), forming and fighting for my own beliefs, and having no place to hide when things felt unfair or frustrating. What had been my safe haven, was now my battle ground. I felt ill-equipped and unarmed.
The stakes were so high it was unnerving. Perfect, innocent, fragile lives were in my hands. Any number of catastrophes, even a speck of a stupid peanut, could ruin us. I loved being at home with my little ones. I was so grateful to be blessed with them. Still, it was disorienting, scary and sometimes lonely.
Being a young mother is an ordinary experience. Billions have done it. Statistically, almost all of them have been in more challenging circumstances than mine. Still, it wasn’t easy.
My first sanity-saving discovery was that I could listen to audiobooks while baking my way through nap time or even while nursing in the middle of the night. I could have my old friend, books, back! In our local library’s then small selection of Books on Tape, I came across a new title by Martha Beck. I’d read and enjoyed her memoir, Expecting Adam, so I picked up The Joy Diet with interest. I’m not sure I even registered that it was a self help book. I’d never read one. When I listened later that day in my kitchen, the book affected me physically. Something at the center of my chest relaxed and I could breathe better. My shoulders dropped. I smiled. And thus, an English literature major and barely confirmed Episcopalian, entered a long term relationship with the Self Help/Spiritual genre.
This is the part that got me:
The best way to break through any barrier is to access a point of perfect stillness at the center of your being, a self deeper than your senses or your mind… every ancient tradition holds that from this still core of the self, this infinitely fertile emptiness, springs all that is authentic about you: your identity, your ability to recognize truth, the real operating instructions for your life.
“Really?” I thought, “There are operating instructions? And they’re conveniently located at the center of my being?! Plus, you can get power from stillness? I can be still! I don’t even have to get a sitter for that!!”
Martha Beck, PhD., was writing about meditation and I was intrigued. She was describing the benefits of doing nothing at all. What I heard was that it could teach me how to be a grown up.
But what about the housework that I should absolutely do more of since it was never finished, and all of the other important things that needed doing? Glad you asked.
The problem is that perpetually doing, without ever tuning in to the center of our being, is the equivalent of fueling a mighty ship by tossing all its navigational equipment into the furnace. Fully occupied by the process of achieving innumerable goals, we lose the ability to determine which goals really matter, and why.
I see. No wonder I was lost. Then came this:
(Doing nothing) will also make you aware that your life can be blessed by a constant undercurrent of love, even in the midst of suffering.
Yes. Please. I was so uncertain and afraid at that time. When my husband was out of town, I’d keep myself awake wondering how I might get a toddler and baby out the window with me if the house caught fire. Even though everything was okay, I felt vulnerable and raw. I needed to know about this constant undercurrent of love.
So I sat myself down and tried out some meditation. The first thing I noticed was that I could fall asleep right when my head hit the pillow after sitting and “observing the breath” for twenty minutes. Those twenty minutes saved me the two hours it usually took to nod off. I kept at it.
There’s a long story about how my self-taught meditation practice led me to yoga teacher training at South Boston Yoga, and to volunteering as a Reiki practitioner at a nearby cancer center, and how it came full circle to life coach certification with Dr. Martha Beck herself. The story includes some mysterious energy situations (my working term for various crazy weird stuff that I can’t explain, but which certainly has reduced my skepticism regarding the unseen side of things). It is the tale of how I became, what my kids call, a Hippy Yoga Vegan Weirdo. I’d be glad to tell you about it sometime.
Here’s what all of the meditation, yoga, reading, living, training and mysterious energy situations have led me to believe so far (my apologies if this gets I Believe from The Book of Mormon stuck in your head):
- The most effective way to change your experience of life and your actions, for the better, is to adjust the way you think. This is possible to do.
- Kindness, honesty and clear boundaries are essential to lasting happiness and wellbeing.
- Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. However, it’s a heck of a lot easier to say this when you’re not in pain.
- Accepting things as they are gives you more power to affect change. It also saves time.
- Treating others the way you’d like to be treated is probably the one true key to life. So you’d better know how you like to be treated.
- If you don’t deliberately and methodically treat each and every aspect of yourself with kindness and compassion, one way or another, you’ll end up being a jerk to somebody else. (Which isn’t the end of the world. I don’t mean to hurt your feelings. But we can do better.)
- We’re all in the same boat.
- We are all part of a boundless creative experiment born of love’s desire to experience itself. (Okay, this one’s more of a theory than a belief, but I like it.)
- The Universe is benevolent (and if it isn’t, I’d rather not know about it).
- If you dwell in stillness, kindness eventually arrives and your life begins to feel magical.
What I mean to say is that, with practice, I’ve learned to trust myself. Now I’m willing to make time for the things I care about, risk the judgment of the eye-rollers in order to say what I think is true, and share the tools that I believe make life better for all of us. I want to offer what I can, in classes, coaching, writing and conversation, so that you feel relaxed and energized, able to breathe freely and at home in yourself. So that your shoulders drop and you smile. I want us all to feel confident that we can be the grown-ups we want to be. Grown-ups who keep growing and have amazing adventures along the way.
I know what it’s like to feel shy about stepping away from what’s expected of you, to find out who you are. I know how to rediscover and remix the things you’re good at as your circumstances change. Here’s one more thing I believe: The world needs smart, talented women to use their skills to lead rich, satisfying lives. That’s the best we can do. We, the moms in the pick up line, the young and not so young, the working for pay and working for love, can tap into infinite power and creativity, right from the center of our beings, and use our magic for good. Is anything in your way? If so I’d be honored to help.