Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Loosen your grip on the sand

Being out of control is not my forte. I like to get things done, move them along. I've always done this. Senior year of high school, I forced my (then, and still) best friend Judy to stay home with me many consecutive Friday nights to work on our our college essays. I still take credit for her going to college. My mom talks about the time when I was seventeen that I planned for myself and five friends to spend spring break in Sanibel Island, Florida. I had no credit cards and no check book and really no money. Somehow, though, I arranged for all of us to fly from Chicago to Newark to Fort Meyers on People's Express Airlines. We stayed for eight nights at a retirement hotel and, unable to rent a car, walked everywhere or stole bikes into town. I even coordinated peach Schnapps and orange juice for the fuzzy navels on our layovers. Those were the days when liquid on planes wasn't a homeland security issue.

My greatest strength turns out to also be my downfall. In the face of the unknown, the ambiguous, I am a disaster. My mind races, I obsessively go through every possible incarnation of every possible scenario for any given event. Years ago, while walking home from work, I spent 45-minutes imagining all the different ways it would play out if I dropped my keys through the grate on the University Bridge and jumped off to get them. And I hadn't even dropped them.

One of my yoga teachers once said that, if you are planning to know what the next thing is (in this context she was obviously speaking about yoga poses), then you miss out on so much. You miss the newness that comes from being surprised. You learn much less because your mind has already formulated what is coming. My therapist describes this uber-controlling behavior using sand as an analogy. He says having to be in charge of everything is like squeezing a handful of sand. The more you squeeze, the more sand seeps out through your fingers. If you just let the handful of sand rest in your cupped palm, it stays there, a soft, pretty little mountain. You lose only a few grains.

I struggle with letting go in almost every area of my life. I think this is why yoga for me has been so important. First it was just as a student. I don't know how many years it was before I even realized what I was getting from my practice. For the first few years, I think I just loved how my skin felt. I felt clean and perky, like someone from Alaska. Over time, I got more comfortable with my body and that felt good. I was more physically relaxed, less self-conscious. Then I quit my job. I quit my career. Of course I eventually became a teacher of yoga and I felt something new. I was at home, content, in the right place. I understood finally what yoga had been giving me all these years. I could see, because I was teaching it, preaching it, that the trick was, and had always been, to let go.

But control is still my default. It's who I am on a deep deep level. Growing up in childhood heavy with chaos probably bolstered my need for control. It is likely that being the oldest in a line of five gave my controlling tendencies a boost too. Even if I committed to daily therapy with Dr. Phil and weekly visits with the Dalai Lama himself, I'd still be controlling. But I'm okay. I have yoga. When I teach, I am the letting go messenger. I am responsible for getting 20, 30, 40 different bodies and minds through 90 minutes of rigor, challenge. Letting go is the only way. On days when I practice, my teachers remind me. The message is never the same. It comes in different words and configurations of silences. I just wait to hear what's coming, knowing something always will, to help me lighten my grip on the sand.

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