The image of an hourglass popped into my head as I was driving home one night at the end of 2014. Admittedly a mindFULL, not mindful, moment. I imagined the opening scene of that soap opera. You remember, the gigantic hourglass with sand passing from top to bottom through a narrow opening. "Like sands through an hour glass, so are the days of our lives..."
The first 6 months of 2014 felt like a race against an hourglass in my mind - pressure to find our first house, to pass my yoga therapy training and to launch a workplace wellness program all by mid-June. These were big "to-dos" on the horizon and I was driving towards them with intense discipline and focused attention. On a deeper level, there was another hourglass - a bigger one - staring me in the face. Through self-study and reflection, I encountered a nagging fear that I was getting older and hadn't achieved those societal measures of a "successful" adult life: home, marriage, kids. This was the triathalon of grown-up milestones and I was still running 5Ks (literally AND figuratively). On the surface, I acknowledged that I was on my own path in life and things would happen in their own time. Intellectually, I believed I was content with that. Living my "niyamas" like a good yogi - contentment and surrender to what is.
But the hourglass kept looming, the sand seeming to fall faster as June approached. I became obsessed with finding a home before our rental lease expired - finishing one leg of the triathalon. I convinced myself if I had one, the others would come soon after and I'd be caught up to everyone else - back on track. I got so close. Then, the hourglass exploded. Our relationship ended suddenly, shockingly.
Shards of glass and sand everywhere - pain, loss, sadness, anger. The mess was overwhelming, too much to clean up, so I laid in it for a long time. When I found the strength to get up, I didn't get far before stepping on broken glass - sharp, sudden, unexpected pain. Watching TV, riding the train, driving home from work, taking a walk, anywhere, anytime. As the months passed, I got used to walking through the glass. Maybe the edges wore down or maybe my skin hardened a bit.
One thing I promised myself was not to bury the broken glass deeper in the sand. I forced myself to feel everything I was feeling, no holds barred. In the words of the Buddhist meditation teacher, Pema Chodron, "let it pierce you in the heart". If this pain was my path, I was going to let it in. Fully feeling the heaviness, the emptiness, the hurt. Not running away from it or filling the void with new hobbies or ice cream or shoes - the ghosts of breakups past. Pema says, "nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know." It might have been easier to push the pain down, but a sudden gust of wind could blow through and expose the edges to the surface again and again. I could have buried my head in the sand too, distancing myself from the people I love and the passions I care about. I didn't. I couldn't. This time, I knew better. The veil of ignorance, called "avidya", was lifted when I started studying the deeper aspects of yoga to better understand the mind and the ways it can cause us to suffer if we allow it to. Intentionally, I chose presence and acceptance of pain instead of avoiding or resisting it.
As devastating as the explosion was, it liberated me from the hourglass, from the race against time, against our social culture's measure of my life's worth. I can accept and even enjoy just walking through the sand, able to live life according to a new measure of happiness and success. One that I determine for myself. I'm the most free and the most me I've ever felt. Trust me, it's not all lotus flowers and mala beads over here. It is a long, hard road from devastation to liberation, from judgment to acceptance, from fear to love. It's an ever-evolving process with many ups and downs. How did I do it? Where did I begin? In a word, yoga. My studies, and more than anything, my practice taught me everything I needed to heal my heart and mind. The journey itself surprises me; the aspects of yoga that have had greatest impact on my healing are not the ones I expected. I'll share more in my next post, "My Lost and Found Summer".
"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured." BKS Iyengar