I DON'T WANT TO BE IN THIS ROOM!

This week, one of my yoga teachers had to bring his son into class for the first few minutes. His little boy followed him around as we were laying in child's pose and quietly breathing. 

Suddenly, he whispered, "Daddy? I DON'T WANT TO BE IN THIS ROOM!"

My feelings exactly, dude.

Getting to my mat has been a struggle lately. Mysterious wrist and shoulder pain has made this practice that I love hurt in a physical way, but if I'm being honest, it's been more than that. I've written at length here about all the ways that yoga makes me think and feel and confront things about myself.

It's basically the worst. 

The past few months have been a challenge. It's not any one thing or situation, to be sure. The things I'm feeling have been rattling around in my brain for years and are once again rearing their ugly heads. By nature, I tend to be a pretty happy person -- or at the very least, a not-sad person. I tend to deal with uncomfortable feelings by making a to-do list, handling my business and calling it good. I don't like to be uncomfortable or sad or anxious or anything that doesn't feel totally great at all times. When I get a hint of feeling even slightly down, I like to fix it, immediately if not sooner. 

That's the issue: I'm a fixer. I like to-do lists and things that I can point to and say, "HANDLED." I don't like ambiguity or waiting or not knowing. I like things that can be neatly tied up in bows and for uncomfortable feelings to pass as quickly as possible. I like plans, security and clear direction. If someone could just write me a list of how to feel good all the time, and how to handle every single situation in my life, and exactly how to be the best and feel the best and deal with things the best way, I would be SO ON BOARD. 

Feelings and sadness don't work like that. And the past few months have shown me that I can avoid my yoga mat or those thoughts in my brain all I want, but they're still there. I feel like my yoga teacher's kid: "I DON'T WANT TO BE IN THIS ROOM!" except "this room" is my own brain.

I've gotten really good at distracting myself and ignoring things that feel icky, convincing myself over and over again that I'm fine and that really, it just isn't so bad, but in reality, the feelings are always there, just waiting in the wings. One of my friends described it as having a mirror and throwing a blanket over it: you look the same whether you see your reflection or not. 

Right now, I'm coming to terms with some difficult truths about life. Learning to love and accept oneself is not something that happens overnight or via the love of another person or a number on the scale or any sort of achievement. There's no magic fix for these feelings, and in fact, it's less about fixing and more about accepting. The way I'm feeling right now is no one's responsibility but my own. It's no one's fault, and there's no person or thing who can change the way I see myself and my life. This is an inside job -- one that just happens to feel pretty craptacular right now. 

The good thing about my practice is that yoga reminds me of how to bear uncomfortable things. Every time I sink deeper into a chair pose or stay for just one more breath or fall on my face attempting crow, I get a little bit stronger. I show myself that I can bear whatever comes my way. Yoga really sucks sometimes -- as does life! -- but that's okay.

This practice reminds me that I can choose to breathe into whatever is going on, to avoid fixing or changing, and instead work on just being in it, no matter how it feels. Because eventually, the chair pose will end. We'll move out of the twist. And just like on my mat, these feelings will change. As my teachers remind me over and over again, everything is impermanent. Even this.

I'm committing once again to showing up on my mat, even when I'd rather not. And more importantly, I'm committing to showing up for life as it is right now -- to seeing what's before me and staying, breathing and feeling -- and also trusting that everyone in the history of time has been right when they've said that this too shall pass. 

Present /// Truth --- non-goals for 2014

I spent New Years Day in Venice Beach, CA. I ate some so-bad-it's-amazing Mexican food and sat by the beach and drank coffee and watched people nearly kill themselves on the bike trail on a myriad of wheeled toys. 

The best part of the day was sitting on the beach watching the sun set. The colors were unreal, and the waves crashed in front of me. It was quiet, save for the ridiculous 19-year-old girls trying to take pictures of themselves being silly in front of the ocean, but even they quieted down as the sun dipped closer to the horizon. 

It was a moment not to be missed. It felt extra special for a lot of reasons --- maybe because of the company, maybe because it was the first sunset of the new year, maybe because it was so extraordinarily beautiful --- either way, it was a moment I'll tuck into my heart and hold for always.

Being the good blogger (HA) and social media user that I am, my first instinct was to Instagram it. OBVI. But instead, I resisted. I sat back and I watched and I was just there. No worries about a witty and/or deep caption or finding the right filter or waiting until the surfers below me were out of frame. 

In that moment, I realized that as beautiful a sunset as it was, I wanted it to be just for me --- to live it instead of document it. 

People more articulate and thoughtful than I have written time and time again about social media and our/my obsession with it. I know I'm guilty of posting things simply for the attention of having posted them.  As embarrassing as it is to admit, "likes" become a way to see if I'm okay, if others enjoy what I'm doing, and/or to show everyone that I'm having an amazing experience and that I'm doing something worthwhile. So to not document this beautiful sunset felt so liberating, and more meaningful simply because I appreciated it on my own terms, without needing approval or interaction with anyone else. 

In a weird way, this stepping back is representative of my goals for 2014. One thing that 2013 taught me is that it's really easy to do things because they look or sound like what you should be doing. After years of being a "good kid" and living life pretty publicly online, I find myself wanting to live on my own terms, with less concern about "likes" both on and offline. I want to fully inhabit my life as it is in each moment.

In past years, I've made lists of goals of things that I want to do each year to become the best human being I can be. I still have goals, of course, but there are only two I really care about this year, and they can be boiled down to two words.

First, present. I came across this quote by Lara Casey in several places this week: "Put your phone down. Close your computer. When something great happens, don’t say, 'I wish I would have had my camera,' say, 'I’m so grateful that just happened!' Look people in the eyes and give them the gift that changes things."  Instead of looking around for ways to document and share so many aspects of my life, I want to simply be grateful that it happened --- to keep it just for me and let that be enough. My life is full of so much joy and goodness right now that I don't want to miss a single thing behind the screen of my iPhone. Presence really does change things. 

The second word I want to focus on is truth. What does it mean to listen to and live by my OWN truth? What does it mean to tell the truth about how I'm feeling and where I'm at all the time, worrying less about how that will be perceived? I want to be braver about telling the truth and living from my own inner voice, and while I don't know what that looks like exactly, I know it's something I want to focus on this year. I continue to be pleasantly surprised by the good that comes from just being myself and I want to live from that place as opposed to one focused on living a truth that works for other people.

So, 2014, let's do this. Let's do things while being fully present and fully truthful. I'm ready for an amazing year. 

 

In which I have a terrible day & realize every cent I've spent on yoga is well worth it...

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Today was an epically terrible day; however, it was also the day I realized that every single cent I've ever spent on yoga was 100% totally worth it. 

My morning started with me shattering my brand new iPhone 5S screen. It fell onto tile floor and before I even picked it up, I knew it was ruined. It continued with me coming down with a mild stomach bug, which I understand is uncomfortable for most people, but when you have a horrific phobia of barfing AND you're at work, it's basically the worst. I was teaching, and tummy troubles aren't exactly convenient when you cannot just run to the restroom because you have 36 8th graders waiting for you to teach them about independent and dependent clauses. On top of that, none of my technology was working for the first two periods, meaning that my carefully planned Power Point about sentence fragments was out of commission, therefore ruining my entire lesson.

While I realize that these are first world problems, it was not the best start to the week. And if you know me at all, you know this is an Amy trifecta of hell: bad day in the classroom plus barf potential (it's been 17 years since I last puked) and my beloved iPhone broken. Pretty much all my least favorite things in one horrific day.

Despite all of this, for maybe the first time in my adult life, I was able to simply deal with it. No tears, no dramatic tantrum, a minimal amount of f-words. I arranged to get a new phone (for free, HOLLA!), I left campus to get some Diet Coke and medicine to finish the day, and I rearranged my lesson plans.

I don't write this as some sort of humble brag, but more in COMPLETE ASTONISHMENT that living this way, with the ability to not react and just deal, sans tears, dramatics and waterworks is possible and a thing that people do, all the time. Like, WHAT? I kept asking Andrew, who is quite possibly the world's calmest and least dramatic human being alive, "IS THIS HOW YOU FEEL ALL THE TIME?" It felt so foreign.

In yoga, my teachers speak over and over about how important it is to have a non-reactive mind. They tell me over and over again that the path of a yogi is to be in a place where the world can crumble and you are still there with a calm mind and an open heart, trusting the flow of the Universe. To move through with power and grace.

When I first started practicing yoga, I would get so angry when classes didn't go a direction I liked --- when the music wasn't what I wanted or the flow of the class wasn't ideal for me. I'd find myself angry when I couldn't get into poses --- blaming the teacher, labeling my body as not good enough and mentally tantrumming, time and time again. As my practice has matured, my reactions have as well. When poses are difficult, I'm more likely to return to my breath instead of freaking out, and when a class is just not my cup of tea, I gently remind myself that there are always going to be times like this, on and off the mat, when things just don't feel good for me.

It was the first time I saw myself practicing this wisdom off the mat. Because despite my teachers speaking over and over again about the importance of being in things without reacting, I brushed it off, saying that with my fiery personality, that kind of calm attitude was never going to happen. Ever. I'd tell myself that sure, I could calm down a little, but when things happen, I'm just gonna lose it! That's my way. 

A few weeks ago, I kicked into handstand for the first time at a yoga workshop. Being upside down was something else I'd always assumed wasn't for me: I was too fat, it was too scary and there was just no way it'd ever happen. Until it did, and then I felt strong and free and invincible. It was such a high.

While these feelings weren't exactly a "high" (more like a desperate attempt not to barf while teaching), the calm non-reaction made me feel more powerful than any tantrum ever did. It made me grateful for all those times I've silently cursed the teacher for planning a class I hate or silently cursed myself for falling out of a pose, because I was learning and training for these moments off the mat --- the ones that really matter. 

In some ways, it was a bit humiliating to realize that my reactions all this time have been me --- that this way of being in the world has always been ready and waiting, but I had to embrace it. I used to roll my eyes so hard when my teacher would say things like "the best thing you can bring to any situation is a calm mind." REALLY? It seemed so ridiculous. And yet, having lived it --- even just ONE TIME --- I get it now. Things work out. It all becomes okay. And better yet, with a reaction that's calm and controlled, there's no fall out to clean up once the dust settles. 

The good news for an over-reactor like me is that this isn't magic or a fluke. This is a practice. An exercise in non-reaction that will (hopefully) carry me through the next time I want to absolutely lose it, whether it's on my mat or when I face something much larger than busted technology and feeling gross. Because I will. Another goodie from my teacher? "Figure out what you stand for, because what you're standing in will change." I get it now. I don't want to stand for tantrums and anger and hurtful words and freaking out. At least I want to try.

 

11 Friendship Truths...

I think a lot about friendship. You can't swing a cat (um, please don't ever actual do that) on the Internet without reading a post lamenting how difficult it is to make and maintain friends as an adult. 

Does it make me a jerk to admit that friendship has actually gotten easier as I've gotten older? Maybe. I'm sorry. Yet, it's true. I think adult friendship, especially of the close girlfriend kind, is the actual best thing on earth.

Here are 11 things I know for sure about friendship. 

1. Friendship takes effort to get started.

Maybe this seems obvious. I’ve been to a host of blog conferences and there’s always a few people pinned to the wall, constantly refreshing Twitter and waiting for people to approach them. Not surprisingly, there seems to be a strong correlation between these people and negative posts after the event complaining that no one talked to them. These are usually the same coworkers that never come to lunch or the people at yoga who don’t say hello to anyone else. Don’t be that person. Meeting people usually requires putting yourself out there. If you have nowhere to start, volunteer, join meet-ups, chat up the co-worker that seems cool, take some classes at the gym. Don’t wait for others to find you. Find them and say hello.

2. Friendship takes effort to maintain.

If you want a friendship to take off, you better work! If you like someone and want to be their friend, invite them to do something. Cast a wide net, and it’s likely you’ll find your people. 

Once you have a friendship, continue the effort. I might not see my BFFs every week, but there are emails, phone calls, texts, videos, and voice memos. We visit one another and make plans in advance. Friendship requires effort and energy to grow, no matter how established. And when it’s a new friendship? Double that effort. That said…

3. Friendships don’t always work out.

 Sometimes, friendships just don’t feel right. My rule is generally to give a new relationship three opportunities to blossom. If it's not happening? No hard feelings, but no forcing it either. I believe we all have limited energy, and if a friendship isn’t working, it’s not working. Let it go! Don’t pull a guilt trip, hound or pester. It doesn’t feel good to spend time with someone out of obligation. Letting something go gracefully is ideal for both parties. 

4. Friendship means you have to show up, consistently.

Hands down, my biggest deal-breaker in friendships are cancellations. Cancel on me once, it’s fine! Cancel on me twice, I’m pretty irritated. Cancel on me a third time? It’s unlikely we’ll hang out again. I want to fill my time with people who want to hang out with me, and who make time to do so. When I schedule time to be with someone, I’m declining the chance to do other things, and I take that seriously. Show up for the people you care about, and do it regularly.

5. Friendship is like a bank account.

When you have a shared experience, it’s like a “deposit.” You’re building up your friendship. Every time you cancel/don’t text back/blow someone off, you make a withdrawal. We all “spend” sometimes, but ideally, you're working hard to build a healthy balance. The same thing goes for sharing things about who you are. I’ve spent time with people who verbally vomit everything about their history when we’re having our first coffee or brunch. TOO MUCH. Conversely, I’ve shared parts of myself with people and then never heard anything about who they are. Ideally, a friendship builds over time: you start sharing, and then the other person shares in return. You slowly but surely build a mutual respect and trust, one “deposit” at a time.

6. Friendship means trying not to take things personally.

I struggle with this a lot. I think it’s really easy to feel left out or excluded sometimes, especially on social media when you can see everyone’s check-ins and Instagrams and wonder where your invitation went. More often that not, it’s not about you. If you often feel left out and excluded, become that inclusive person you wish existed in your life. It always stuns me how often I hear people who I perceive as popular and busy say they feel the opposite. If you feel like there’s a void in your friendship life, than fill it yourself by reaching out to people you want to know.

Also? It’s perfectly okay for people to want to spend time with other friends without you. Many of my best friendships are from larger groups of friends, yet I still really treasure the one-on-one time I spend with my best friends. And I know they feel the same about their friendships with our mutual friends. It doesn’t mean you aren’t important or they don’t value your friendship. It means they have a relationship they’re nurturing. No one friend can or should fill every need in your life. 

7. Friendship should only happen when you genuinely LIKE the other person.

This seems to apply to the Internet more than real life, yet it's worth mentioning. I find blogging events hilarious because people get so crazy trying to talk to the “it” blogger of the moment --- the high school equivalent of trying to befriend the Homecoming Queen in hopes of boosting your own popularity, regardless of whether you like them or not. Don’t do that. Find people you like, regardless of their blog traffic or social status, and build those relationships. I have several friends whose blogs are a million times more successful than mine will ever be, and guess what? They’re normal humans who want normal friendships. I feel lucky to know them because of who they are, not because of what they are doing. 

8. Friendship requires you to grow and change.

I used to have a MAJOR issue with gossip when I was in high school and my early 20's. Finally, enough friendships were ruined by my careless talk and I stopped doing it. My friendships have improved dramatically. It took awhile to change my ways, but it literally changed my life.

If you’re getting the same result from your interactions over and over again, it’s probably not them, it’s you. If you're continually struggling to get friends to stick around, or friendships are ending in the same manner or whatever it is, be willing to take a hard look at yourself, and be open to change. Be aware of how you come off to other people and the energy you’re putting out there. If it’s not working? Shift.

9. Friendship means constructive criticism and clear communication.

If you don’t like something a friend is doing, tell them, gently and kindly. Foster open discussion. My best friendships are ones when I know my friends are acutely aware of my shortcomings and love me anyways --- when we can openly and honestly share about things that annoy or hurt, and then move on. Don’t let things fester, don’t ignore problems and don’t be unduly harsh. Make sure that you can take gentle feedback, too. It makes all the difference in the world. 

10. Friendship is cyclical. 

Most friendships that last a long time go through different phases. I've had some of my friends since elementary school, and many since high school and my early 20's. There are some periods when I see the same people all the time, and others when we take a little break. Go easy on each other. The best friendships I have are ones where no one gets their feelings hurt when you're busy or you're invested in other things for a bit. Eventually, things come back around. I've found that the less I try to force and control my relationships, the better they are. 

11. Friendship means letting people know you love them.

Everyone likes to know you love and appreciate them. If you find someone you’re grateful for, tell them. Knowing that your friends love you makes all the difference. Let those you love know you’re glad they’re around. Successful friendship is worth treasuring and celebrating. Do it often.

 

Some thoughts on happiness...

I've been thinking a lot about my middle school experience recently and remembering what a weirdo I was at age 13. SEE FOR YOURSELF. Besides my weird bangs and John Lennon glasses, my friends and I had a variety of weird obsessions. Namely, "perkiness." We all owned and carried around copies of a tiny book called 14,000 Things To Be Happy About and drew smiley faces on everything. We all wore these weird plastic rings that we called our "prozac rings" (I DON'T KNOW EITHER GUYS SO DON'T ASK) and constantly worked to portray how happy and cheerful we all felt.

In all reality, I rarely felt happy in middle school. I felt lost and confused, unpopular and uncomfortable in my own skin and pretty sad much of the time. And yet, I consistently tried to convince everyone around me that I was "perky" and full of happiness.  

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For a long time, I believed that happiness was the image I tried to portray in middle school: big cheesy grins and everything being all smiles and high-pitched "Everything is soooooo awesome!", even if that was not what I was feeling inside.

I still think about happiness and joy a lot. Maybe because if I'm being honest, the above definition of happiness doesn't come naturally to me. I'm not a negative person by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm also not one I would consider relentlessly positive. I'm no cheerleader. I consider myself a slightly cynical optimist.

Several years ago, when I was emerging from a particularly rough time, I told my therapist that I was better, but not waking up feeling "perky" everyday. I thought that at some point, I'd just start waking up feeling full of sunshine, and only then would I really be okay.

At that point, she broke the news: few people wake up feeling perky and joyful every single day. 

For me, most days are good. There are some that are so amazing I can hardly stand it and some that are so awful it's almost comical, but for the most part, my days are fine. The older I get, the more I realize that is kind of a miracle. Happiness need not be a 24/7 sunshine and rainbow explosion: it's more of a quiet assurance that overall, life is good, and there's much to be grateful for. 

I recently came across this quote from Elizabeth Gilbert that says just about everything I think about happiness: 

"Happiness is the consequence of personal effort. You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it.”   

One of the most important things I've figured out about happiness is that it takes work. Living a joy-filled life doesn't fall into your lap. It takes effort to find the good in the mundane. And it takes even more hard work to turn the mundane into joy.  

I don't have a list of 10 tips to find joy or anything crazy, but I do know what works for me. Joy really isn't that glamorous -- I find it in weird, small things: making coffee in my classroom while making a to-do list. I find it in my yoga practice. I find it in the last moments of my day when I'm laying in bed with Andrew and Harry cat and everything is quiet. I find it in a lesson well-taught, a good book, and at the farmer's market. I find it in text messages with friends or nights out or a really good song. 

It all sounds kind of boring. I know. But isn't that just it? Life is kinda boring sometimes. Joy is what takes things from being boring to fantastic.

I really love that bit about participating relentlessly in your own blessings. I'm sure there are people who wake up feeling happy naturally, but I believe that for most of us, finding joy requires our participation. It means looking for the good and doing the things we know will make us happy, over and over and over again. 

I don't think I'll ever be a person that others think of as overly exuberant about every last thing. I mean, I can't even keep a gratitude journal for more than a day, so OUTLOOK NOT GOOD for becoming some sort of sunshine and rainbows person. But what I can commit to is at least looking for the good in the day-to-day. 

My middle school self might have been totally weird, maybe she was on to something with the heavy pursuit of happiness, because even though it might not be  as simple as a plastic "Prozac ring," it's definitely worth chasing.