In yoga practice, the balancing poses usually occur sometime after the standing poses and flows in a vinyasa. They come before we move to the floor and snake through stretches leading to savasana. During the balancing poses (tree, dancer, bow, eagle), the teacher will often instruct us to focus our gaze on one point in the room; something that doesn't move. (So, not yourself in the mirror.) This focused gaze is called drishti in Sanskrit. It's a place that you can send your thought and energy while you allow your body to balance itself. Drishti is a necessity to maintaining poise and grace during the balancing poses. It's also a powerful concept to apply to larger issues with balance in life.
I suffered a major setback in the last few months. I was rejected for a doctoral program at Stanford. It makes me feel like a real idiot to even write that, because . . . most people get rejected from Stanford. There is nothing special about me that makes me different or unique because this happened to me. There are a thousand idiosyncratic reasons this could have happened, and perhaps there is really just one salient reason: I'm not qualified.
But it still just sucked. Rejection is so unbelievably hard, especially because I tend to take others' dislike or indifference for me as a challenge to show them how much they secretly love and need me inside. (Analyze that one for a little bit!) I have a very hard time flouncing and detaching in these scenarios. Rather, I tend to double down on convincing the party who rejected me that I'm actually the choice they want. They just don't know it yet. This kind of persistence has generally yielded great results in my life, but at significant personal and emotional cost.
When I shared about my experience of rejection from Stanford, my old friend Andy Piper popped up and reminded me of something I had shared with him during a challenging time in his life many years ago. He said, "You once told me that in times of distress, you "zoom out." I have thought about that nearly every single day since then." Zooming out has indeed been my strategy of choice for escaping the pressure cooker. It's like a release valve. I picture myself floating up from the dense underbrush of whatever is entangling me. I begin to see a pattern from the tree canopy. As I get further away, I see that the dark tangle is just a little blip. The forest is so beautiful and rich. There are gorgeous areas just beyond whatever I was struggling with. The way things are won't last forever - I can escape the dangerous endlessness that threatens to overwhelm me.
"Feeling are intimate, but not infinite." My best friend Amanda shared this with me a few months ago. Yes. It's so true. Finding perspective and zooming out, fixing your gaze, using drishti, is terribly challenging in times of disappointment and distress. But it's a skill we have to cultivate if we are to maintain any kind of balance in the poses.
Monday, March 27, 2017
Friday, March 24, 2017
This year, for the week I turned 32, I decided to head for the hills. I had booked four nights at the Hermitage at St. Mary's Sewanee. I was feeling emotionally drained, tense, anxious, not eating much, and had suffered some significant personal stresses lately. I left the number for the center with Jeff, kissed my kids good-bye, asked a neighbor to feed the chickens, packed some clothes and books, turned off my phone, and retreated into the silence. I was both excited and terrified. Would my mind be too loud? What if I got lonesome? Wouldn't I get bored?
I made the 1.5 hour drive, threw down my bags, observed a breathtaking misty sunset over the bluff, and set off to find something to eat. I turned the wrong way out of the center and drove to Alabama before turning around and coming back. Life with no phones - how did we survive?
As I was scaling back up the mountain, "Let It Be" seeped into my ears from the stereo. "When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me . . . there will be an answer: let it be."
Let it be.
I scampered into a little burger joint in Sewanee just before the kitchen closed. I ordered a cheeseburger and a beer. I finally felt hungry - for the first time in months. I drove back to the Hermitage and drank some wine and drifted off. I had troubling dreams. But I did sleep for hours and hours.
I don't remember much about the next day. I did some hiking and a lot of reading. I did my prayers in the morning. After I made a big steak and Brussels sprouts for dinner, I sat down in a chair and cried and cried. There is someone I miss cooking for, and I don't think I will ever cook for this person again. Food is love for me. Making it and sharing it. Knowing just how someone likes things. Kneading the dough that will rise into the bread that will become the French toast. Stirring the milk that will be pressed into the paneer that will get mixed with spinach and yogurt. Perhaps I have been avoiding eating because it reminds me of these meals that will go unshared?
I slept with the windows open that night; that's a tradition I've been keeping on the night before my birthday for at least 20 years.
On my birthday, I went into town and read for awhile after I hiked some of the backtrails on campus. I went to evening prayers at St. Mary Convent, and met a community of women who immediately became special soul friends. Also one man (a priest), who is dedicated to their Benedictine way of life, but lives nearby with his wife. A huge storm blew up during prayers. The sky had that greenish cast that all Kansas schoolchildren fear, because it means one thing: tornado. The poor little convent dog, Penny, cowered under the kneelers. I waited out the storm and walked home.
The next morning the air was fresh and the ground was spongy. My prayers had a theme of peacemaking and reconciliation. Ouch. It can't be forced, can it? One of the appointed readings was 2 Corinthians 5:18-19: "All this is from God, who reconciled himself to us through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation."
All day long I pondered: how does it all fit together? Peacemaking, forgiving, forgiveness, reconciliation? Is there an order to it? How do I know that I have forgiven someone? I went to the noon office, and - surprise - 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 was the reading from the Office. Am I getting the message?
I went into town to read at the coffee shop again. Over the speaker: "There will be an answer: let it be." Ah. Ask forgiveness, and there will be an answer. Let it be.
That afternoon, I went to hike the Perimeter Trail around the edge of the Sewanee University property. I got about five miles in and realized I had completely lost the trail. The daylight was fading. No phone, no map, no compass, no flashlight, no water. Why did I think this wasn't going to be a big deal!? It wasn't too cold, and I wasn't too panicky - yet. I found a gravel road that I was sure must lead somewhere. Followed it about a mile. Then, I was rescued by an Episcopal priest and her husband, out for an evening jog. They were the first people I had seen in miles. I realized that I don't have time to waste in asking forgiveness. I got home, showered, got the feeling back into my hands, went into town, and tore into a huge order of fish and chips.
The next day, my last day, I went for morning Eucharist at the convent and shared spiritual conversation with the sisters (and father) over breakfast. Sister Hannah gave me the literature about becoming an oblate. Either they felt the same thing I did, or they just really need some more oblates. Either way, the place already feels like home.
As I drove home that morning, I felt fresh and alive. It felt as if it had been winter in my soul when I left, and that spring had come into my heart in those few days. I did get lonesome, and bored, and my mind was too loud. But I think that was the point. Only once I learned to endure through those sensations, did I receive any insights.