The Speed of Summer

This has been the summer of slow: of washing the morning’s dishes; scraping and sweeping up Cocoa Pebbles off the ceramic kitchen tiles; straightening the throw pillows on the couch again; hanging pool towels on the line. There have been days when I wanted to scream, when I wished for salvation in the form of a plane ticket to Philadelphia paid for by my mother. There have been days I’ve feebly attempted to convince my 12 year old to wake up before 11 so we can spend a morning off the kibbutz doing “something,” but he’s never acquiesced and I’ve never pushed it.

It is August now, and we’ve done nothing, he and I. It is August, and we’re closer now to the end of the summer than the beginning.

Read more of this post at The Times of Israel.

I know what I know if you know what I mean

I am a reformed know-it-all.

I used to roll around in knowledge like a warm Dunkin Donut munchkin in powdered sugar. I wanted to be covered in it and then I wanted you to lick me.

Because I knew something. And if I knew it, you should know it, too. Then all our lives would be better.

My knowing has always been a well-intentioned sort.

It didn’t matter what the knowing was: At some points in my life, the knowing was boys. At others, it was Judaism or organized religion. At another junction, it was true love. And at yet another, it was friendship.

I knew what I knew and knowing it made me right. Being right made me feel safe. Not just on-the-surface safe — not the kind of safe we feel when we double-lock our doors or put on seat belts. No, a kind of subconscious, impregnable bubble of well-being that convinced me I knew people and I knew the world and I knew what should be done to make things right or better or good.

Then, something happened. Someone convinced me that there were things I didn’t know. Not only that, someone convinced me there were things I could never know — like what it was like to live during the French Revolution or what it felt like to be in the 2004 tsunami — no matter how much studying I did; no matter how much learning; no matter, even, how much listening. Some things are just unknowable because they are unique experiences. Even if, God forbid, I one day faced a tsunami, it would never be the 2004 tsunami. No matter how many videos on YouTube I watch, I am still an observer.  No matter how many poignant blogs I read, I am still only a participant in my own experience. And so therefore, there is a distinction to be made between what I know and what I know.

Once I knew this — once I knew this — I looked at life very differently. My experience of life and people changed when I understood “I know what I know” and when I accepted “I know there are things I will never know.”

There are things I cannot possibly know no matter how loving, how compassionate, how empathetic, how caring, how interested, how hungry I am. And this matters because it impacts my point of view, it affects how I see the world, people, opportunities, challenges, and risks.

My life changed because I stepped out towards life then as a curious observer; the kind of curious observer we are all born as and remain until life teaches us over and over again to be afraid.

Afraid of being out of control.

Afraid of being in danger.

Afraid of looking stupid.

Afraid of being stupid.

Afraid of being unloved.

Afraid of being unloveable.

You know the list … it’s longer than this.

This isn’t to say I am always acting as the curious observer. Today, for instance, as a man walked out into the street directly in front of my moving car, I thought immediately, “idiot!” But the curious observer now sits in the passenger seat and says, “maybe he had a belly ache and was rushing to the bathroom.” What she doesn’t say, but I know is, “Remember when you did that once?”

The thing is: the frightened know-it-all is constantly whispering from the passenger seat. Remnants of her will float up from deep inside me as ego-scented vibrational waves. Usually this happens when I am on social media or in heated conversations with my husband or my mother. The frightened know-it-all is sensitive to emotions, especially rejection and accusation. She is reactive, especially when under duress. She is only, after all, trying to keep me safe.

But she no longer can hang out there ruling like a queen bee on the playground of my life, one that is indeed filled with mines, but probably less dangerous than I perceive. The curious observer is there, too, asking questions; waiting for answers before stepping out.

 

Why yoga is the ultimate “ex”

I’m on again in my on again-off again relationship with yoga.

This, perhaps, is why you might find more typos in this post than normal. My right shoulder is a little upset with me. It’s even trembling as I type.

I’ve been practicing yoga — and practicing is truly the operative word here since I’ve never quite committed nor become expert — since 1997.

It was through an employee-friendly work environment at Scholastic that I found myself first sitting cross legged in a dimly lit room and mumbling “Ong Namo. Dguru Dev Namo.” At the time, Scholastic offered exercise classes to its employees after hours, in addition to a fully-equipped gym both during the work day and after. (My current teacher on Hannaton also offers yoga in the workplace. More corporations would do well to adopt this mindset and strategy.)

In my fickle 17 year relationship with yoga, chanting, and meditation; I’ve found that the only thing that’s really changed over time is me. Yoga stays the same. It’s my needs and my approach to the practice that changes.

I’m very fortunate, in that case, that yoga is willing to welcome me back, time and time again.

This time around I’m noticing, of course, how my almost-40 year old body can’t quite meet the floor the way it used to. Where I once prided myself on always getting my heels to the ground for Downward Dog, I now notice the inch of space between my heel and the floor. Where I once used to marvel at my inner innate gymnast, I now realize that gymnastics is really suited to the under 30 crowd.

Mostly, I’m noticing my mind more than my body, this time around. Interesting, I suppose, as my body becomes more of a point of struggle for me than my mind. Whereas I used to be less accepting of my mind both in yoga practice and in life — my anxious thoughts, my incessant inner dialogue; I’m now open to what arises.

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I truly notice, as our yoga teachers suggest we do, instead of judge. Not all the time, every time (there’s still some judging, especially when it relates to my aging body). But in most instances when furious thoughts arise during my practice, I find curiosity has replaced judging.

“They” say that women at 40 are in their prime. That women at 40 can have any man, any woman. That women at 40 find themselves at an intersection of confidence, knowledge, and life experience. That, at this intersection, we can choose to focus on whatever we want — career, family, relationship — and succeed.

Don’t they say that? They say something like that.

I think there is truth in it. But in addition to confidence, knowledge, and experience, I think what women at 40 begin to develop is curiosity and wonder. It was always there — curiosity and wonder– lurking under the surface since before adolescence. But somehow was pushed down by either Self or society in order to achieve our personal and professional goals. Women these days take on the world. Control becomes our goal.

As I approach this intersection, and as I invite yoga back into my life, I’m noticing the return of curiosity and wonder, and the slow exit of control. The gentle inviting in of uncertainty.

Yoga knew I had it in me all along. But like the wise older gentleman in a May-December romance, understood I had to discover it on my own, in due time. Yoga knew that no matter how much he tried to convince me I was beautiful and perfect just the way I am, I would not be convinced. Not truly, deeply. I’d have come to that conclusion on my own.

As I laid on the yoga mat in shavasana today, I felt the aches in my tight hips and the pulsing in my under-used shoulder muscles. And I quietly laughed. There aren’t many things in life, certainly not in fitness, that are so willing to accept used up, broken down bodies. Then I thought to myself, maybe it’s because yoga doesn’t see us as broken. Yoga sees us as whole and complete. Yoga sees us as perfect.

And this I chose as my intention for the day as I sunk down into relaxation. Yoga sees me as perfect.

In the dark

I was one of those kids who was afraid of the dark.

Now, when I say “one of those kids” I do pause for a moment and wonder what kid isn’t afraid of the dark.

What adult isn’t still?

I think most of us are afraid of the dark. Even grownups.  We just pretend we’re not or drug ourselves or sex ourselves up to believe otherwise. We do something to smother the very innate fear we have of unknown monsters creeping like fog through the slats of our windows or more corporeal, through a locked door with the help of a plastic credit card.

There’s a reason why dark thoughts float to the surface of our mind at night.

I am still afraid of the dark. My bedtime routine? I read a book in bed with the light on until my eyes are practically closed and then I reach for the light and quickly fall to sleep. On the nights when I can’t fall asleep quickly, I’m troubled.

The dark is simply not a place I enjoy being.

It’s possible that not everyone is afraid of the dark.

If you’re one of these people, I’d be curious to hear from you. I wonder if it’s just us: Those of us with overactive imaginations; those of us with stress-related ulcers or migraines; those of us who jump at the sound of a ceramic plate falling to the ground; those of us who are afraid of the shadow we see at the corner of our eye when we’re drying our hair in the mirror. Is there a human being who welcomes the dark? Are you one?

My discomfort with the dark presents a quandary for me at bedtime with my kids. They all want me — still — to lie with them til they fall asleep. If they had their druthers, they’d sleep up against me all night long like spoons. One against the other in a row like a cartoon Tom & Jerry sandwich.

I can’t really blame them for that.

As much as I need space from them, space from people, space to be alone, I hardly ever want it at my own bedtime. This is not to say I enjoy tiny feet in my face at 3 am, but this is to say that I might, in some alternate Blade Runner reality, pay for someone to tickle my back and comb their fingers through my hair til I fell asleep. I might like that. It might be something I’d consider voting for in an election.

I want to know someone is near in the dark. But more important, I want to know someone is there to protect me.

I just want to know I am safe. Even if it’s a false knowing. Because, come on, do our kids really believe deep down we could protect them from ghouls, intruders, burglars?

No. I don’t think so.

They just want someone to whisper softly in their ears as they drift down into a subconscious that will take over for a time. They want the whispers to be true enough:

“You are safe. The world is safe. You are free to drift away. You are safe.”

I’ve been whispering these words to my middle son these past few nights. He had been having trouble sleeping the few nights before and our bedtime routine had become quite anguished, for both him and me.  I could continue to fight him; try for the 50th time to “sleep train” him successfully; or I could just acknowledge that my son is like me, afraid of the dark, not just the absence of light in his room but of the dark thoughts I know bubble up for him, too, at bedtime. Thoughts about people he loves. Thoughts about the fragility of life.

Who should have to be alone with such thoughts?

So at the end of an evening meditation I take him through, I speak the words I wish someone would speak to me as dreams carry me away.

“You are safe. The world is safe.”

Perhaps the more I speak them, the more the words will be true.

The less the dark will overpower me…and him…and you.